I wish I could say that this was the most exciting thing that happened the year that I was eight, but 1975 was a big, bad year for me. There was a bleak, unholy heaviness in my home that eventually culminated in the divorce of my parents. I was chronically sick with tonsillitis. There was a new baby. And I learned a poem. Which might, at least in part, account for the unique -- some might say strange -- perspective I have on life . . . that the brightest light can be found in the terrible places. That there isn't anything that happens to you that can't build your wisdom and character. That every single, little piece of your life, every storm -- especially the storms -- are a piece for you to honor . . . whether having been celebrated or merely survived.
Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening has been one of my favorite poems since I was little girl imploring life for words, any words, anywhere, that might explain things, soften the sharp edges. His words were woven early into the fabric of my tiny soul long before I could even understand why and long after I required my sixth grade students to memorize them every year. They are simple and antiquated in their phrasing, but timeless.
Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village, though
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep
I can't say that this is what I intentionally did that day when I feared being ripped apart by an angry, evil dog. I can't say why the memory of the lovely parts -- the sky, the blaze of colors and light, the sound of my name -- preclude the abject terror and fear, and the image of a little girl huddled, wracking with shuddering sobs (I just now remembered that - I swear). But it's a skill that I seem to have developed over a lifetime and one that serves me well as a writer. It's a skill that I've accessed again and again over these last few months during this time that I've very deliberately chosen to slow down and turn over the stones of my life.
Last week my friend Jean challenged me on my writing, on my subject matter. Not in a critical or confrontational way, but in her quiet Jean way, Socratic and leading. She asked about my writing blog. Which one? I had asked her . . . the teacher blog? The back injury blog? No, she had answered . . . the "writing" blog. "Wasn't that the purpose?" she pointed out, "to write about writing." And If you're in the field of education (or used to be), you should especially understand this. There's a buzzword "metacognition" which is the process of knowing what you know. So I got it. She was pointing out that I should talk more about my writing journey . . . write about writing. So this blog is my answer for her. I won't -- probably can't -- stop writing about every little thing that pops into my head, or on my TV screen for the evening news. But her inquiry, her expectation, helped me to dig deeper. It helped me to understand how I want, how I need my story to end (which is actually the question that my Kelsey Brooke recently asked . . . I have more than one muse, obviously). That by whatever circuitous route I need to take to get there, happy is my preferred conclusion. That it is a possibility. And that all of these words that lead up to The Middle of July are soul searching and practice. Not just practice, but the most important part of my journey, the part where I've learned to revisit even the darkest places, stopping to just breathe in the light of everything.