One way of holding on to Paris and create some type of routine was to take a French conversation class. Each week, I nervously joined the zoom meeting. Each week, I vowed to drop out. Since the microphone in my computer isn’t very good, sometimes, I couldn’t hear what was said and, probably more telling, I wasn’t up to the class’ level of French. I’ve taken several immersion classes in France, I was once fluent in my 20’s, yet I can’t seem to get it back. Partly, it’s performance anxiety. One summer during an immersion class at the University of Marseille, I couldn’t speak for a week. Blocked. So I said “Avoir” to the zoom class, felt immediate relief, and went back to my habit of listening to Pimsleur’s French CDs in my car.
I’m not the only one struggling with growth: my garden’s not faring well either. My three treasured hydrangeas took a hit during a recent storm, and the butternut squash hasn’t shown itself. Although my French isn’t doing well, my French radishes are flourishing. Ils sont delicieux.
Plants and Animals.
Morven, an 18th century building once home to New Jersey’s governors’ and a signer of the constitution, is now a museum with public gardens. Each year my daughter and I attend it’s plant sale held around Mother’s Day. This year, I did curbside pickup- alone. Although the virus has robbed us of these small pleasures, I looked forward to growing heirloom tomato plants, butterfly weed, and veronica.
Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Weed Speedwell, Veronica
Later that afternoon, after planting my bounty, I rolled my wheelbarrow full of weeds to the back garden. In the northwest corner, a fox rested near the magnolia tree. I assured him he was welcome as I backed my way out to the front yard. He sunned himself for another half hour.
Sometimes, it occurs to me that I don’t have a life. What does it mean to do a little gardening, to talk to a fox, watch a female cardinal battle with robins for time in the bird bath? What does it mean that playing solitaire for hours soothes me? How much television can one person watch? What am I doing? Then, all my privilege smacks me up side my head. I have food, wildlife guests, friends, a garden. Maybe isolation feeds this discontent. And yet I harbor a dream of living on an island, alone.
In her memoir, 50 Days of Solitude, Doris Grumbach describes a self imposed winter isolation in Maine, but she had regular contact with the “butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.” That might do it for me. Now there’s no time for chit chat at the market or pharmacy. To be safe, it’s a quick in and out.
Before the world closed down, my library was a constant source of pleasure. I first visited one with my friend Karen. Instead of going home after our kindergarten class, we decided to travel to Elmwood Library just a block away. It was the start of a long love affair. Sitting in a library browsing through books delights me, gives me peace. My mother often chided me for always having “my nose in a book” forcing me to leave those worlds behind to play outside. Now I can enter a book but not it’s home.
Elmwood Library, East Orange New Jersey
A friend sent me Lucia Berlins’ A Manual For Cleaning Women. He wasn’t sure if he liked them or not, if she was brilliant or not. I had difficulty with the short stories and didn’t know why. I felt bombarded by the “I.” Then I read “Point of View” and loved it: she put distance between me and the protagonist using an “impartial voice,” the third person. Suddenly I was at ease and could enter the story. Also, I’m a sucker for any discussion of writing and reading. Her other stories can be brilliant but the prose is unrelenting. I wanted to escape from the first person which is strange since this is my modus operandi.
This aversion may be related to my state of mind in these “worst of times.” Consider what I’m reading or have read: a 600 page biography of Samuel Beckett, The Great Irish Famine, then two memoirs, Doris Grumbach’s 50 Days of Solitude and Patti Smith’s Year of the Monkey. The first three engage me but don’t threaten me. The first two are written in the third person, the second two in the first person which I’ve been finding difficult. However, Grumbach’s prose lulls me whereas I struggle with Patti Smith: she challenges me when she starts imbuing inanimate objects with some sort of life force (maybe she’s read too much Murakami), in my face so to speak. I guess I need protection.
I had a disturbing dream this week.
There was some sort of struggle and a few of us (who?) escaped to a house where we rested. Outside on a beach were two boats shaped like motorcycles. I jumped on one and used my feet to pedal into the waves. The horizon was broken in half: above, an overcast sky streaked with blue, below a shimmering silver sea mirrored the heavens. I felt free, liberated, happy. I came back to the shore so we could make plans to escape or to fight. Then, we were in the street surrounded by rubble, hiding but preparing to fight. There was a young man with us who seemed too aggressive, but I assured everybody that he would be okay.
My dream resembles my days- some beauty, some fear, some moral dilemmas.