November 2002

lazy morning

Tuesday, November 5, 2002, 7:43 a.m.

It's a lovely morning today. The sunlight just hangs in the treetops and makes them glow as though each leaf is lit from within. The rest of the sky is china blue and delicate. I know that the maples in the wood are brilliant scarlets and russets, and the air is crisp and fresh.

Yet getting up is still one of the last things I want to do. Oh, for the soft sweet touch of my pillow against my cheek...

waiting from the window

Sunday, November 10, 2002, 11:00 p.m.

It is again through the window she is watching, listening to the clink-clink-clink of spoon on ceramic as she stirs the cocoa. Outside the day is leaf-covered and rainy; clouds hang in the scarletamberlemon trees, and the sky a great dovegrey sheet hung behind.

The leaves blur all the hard lines of sidewalks, streets, curbs, but it is for a car she watches on this cocoa-flavored afternoon, for wheels turning the corner and climbing the hill. She waits for a knock softly at the door, softer still than a spoon on ceramic, and two ready arms around her waist. Her mind bubbles with the stories she held all weekend in waiting: I saw this and thought of you. All the letters she wrote in her head, all the questions and squirrels and times she forgot he was gone.

Alone is good. Together is sweeter.

rainy night run

Wednesday, November 13, 2002, 9:03 a.m

Sun Salutation to a cloudy sky this morning: I know you're in there somewhere!

At folkdance last night I got a case of the inexperienced blues when I failed to catch onto Glasgow Highlander setting. It had... been one of those days. Hollis put his arm around me as we walked back through the rain to the dorm, and tried valiently to reassure me that I would learn as he had, but sometimes even the kindest words can't bring the self-confidence back up.

At home, I climbed the stairs wearily and drifted into my dark room. By the light of my desk lamp, I practiced the setting step again. And again. And again. I wasn't in a good mental space, though, and so every small error amplified my sense of failure. I slumped on the floor in a pile of skirt and legs and frustration. For lack of anything better to do, I folded my limbs into the old familiar shapes and stretched. At least I can still touch my nose to my knee, I thought, even if my calves aren't as beautifully muscled as the dance instructor's, as firm as they'd been when I used to run.

When I used to run.

There it was, then: that's how absurd ideas come into my head. I didn't give myself time to think it over and reconsider before I found myself pulling on running tights and a sports bra. Then, before I knew it, I was out the door, back into the rainy night. Spontaneous? Yes. Ill-considered? Probably. It was dark and damp and everywhere the ground was covered with slick wet leaves. I didn't stick to well-lit streets, nor even to streets I knew well. No, I just ran. Perhaps it's a miracle I didn't twist an ankle on a broken sidewalk square or lose my way in the darkness. Mother: college is about learning to make it on your own. Don't worry.

It was awkward at first - trying to remember the motion of my arms or how to move at a reasonable speed. Like the cliched riding a bicycle, though, it does come back. I daydream about it, sometimes: the rhythm of one foot in front of the other, steady as a drumbeat heartbeat down the road. The different sounds of footfalls on grass, gravel, dry leaves. The first trickle of sweat creeping down my forehead in a wavering path. The feeling of moving, of going, of getting there by my own power and willpower.

Don't let me delude you. It was far from easy. I had to tell myself over and over again to take it slow or I'd regret it. I felt, in a way, as though I were training a new runner, talking to myself just the same way I used to talk to freshmen at the beginning of preseason. I only ran for about twenty or twenty-five minutes at a slow, easy pace, panting on gentle hills and willing myself to keep running through this cramp or that sore muscle. I didn't get a fabled runner's high, or even really beyond the "I can do this if I push" stage. Yet when I returned red-cheeked to the dorm I felt proud and happy.

Elizabeth the runner is not dead. She's still here, and coming back.

moonnight stage

Tuesday, November 19, 2002, 12:09 a.m.

The moon is almost too bright to look at, and when I close my eyes I see a lunar afterimage seemingly projected upon my eyelids. It is certainly bright enough to write by, when I contort my torso into the beam that highlights my nightstand. I keep pausing, though, and twisting my neck back to look at the source of this ethreal blue light.

I saw a play, once, where the bare stage was lit by a single bulb dangling from heaven, or perhaps from the catwalk. That set is what comes to mind now, though this corner of Shakespeare's oft-referenced stage is hardly such a void. I know that evergreens froth across the sky, and that thousands of pinprick stars also puncture the darkness. Leaves scuttle along the chilled ground, and quiet streets flow riverlike from countless sleeping doors. Beneath my blankets, all is warmth and feather pillows, and each creak of the bed when I shift is only a comforting reminder of my own solidity.

All this, and the sound of soft breathing, and the dreams in my head waiting to be dreamed --but it is truly the moon, the moon, all the moon.

another late night

Wednesday, November 27, 2002, 2:53 a.m.

How does a week slip by so fast? I used to write so regularly... I still mean to. Gentle reader, believe me - I compose just as much in my head as ever I did. Now, though, I never quite make it to the computer in time to transcribe before another day and another hundred stories have gone by. Perhaps I will say that I am living more fully, these days. It is a kinder thing to say than that I am living under greater academic pressure.

But it is academics, indeed, that keep me up so late tonight, not full life at all. This lab paper seems flat and dry and amature, particularly compared to the authors I cite in its pages. I tell myself that I don't plan to become one of them anyway - I want to be an active teacher, not a theorist, spending my time with the children instead of coming up with new jargon - but as I write this I can't help but feel like a bit of a hack.

I think it's hardest when you just start to get it... you reach the point where you start to realize just what's out there. And what's out there is intimidating.

But I was just given a mug of homemade chai, hot and spicy and more complex than any commercial mix. Good cooking isn't so intimidating... nor is good love, in moments like this.


Friday, November 29, 2002, 2:23 a.m.

Thanksgiving began yesterday shortly after one, in an empty classroom, when I checked my syllabus and realized that my afternoon class actually had been cancelled for the holiday. I headed home to spend all evening in the kitchen, singing Dar Williams and baking eight pies. Amelia's cookies slowly conquered the breakfast table, and the room smelled like spice and warmth and happiness.

This morning and through the afternoon I filled in wherever I could, chopping garlic and onions and basil and mint, helping Hollis carry his gorgeous baguettes to and from the basement oven, making tea, and anything else that I could do. A little before five, more people began to drift in - all sorts of familiar and unfamiliar faces, fellow Swatties who also decided not to make the trek back home. In the end, we fed forty, and fed them well. The amount of food that was leftover was staggering - pie for breakfast tomorrow, and mashed potato cakes, and enough canned pumpkin to hold a themed bake sale. As I stood in line to wash my plate, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and saw a hand reaching for my dishes. "You cooked," he explained. I've rarely felt so serenely happy.

Later there was much frivolity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and dancing the poussette to Madonna - a moment which made me truly feel that I'd come home. What a lovely, communist friendly crazy fun way to live.

The sky yesterday seemed done in oils as I walked home. The sun was slipping low in the sky, and all the clouds glowed on their westward sides. "There's a certain Slant of light / Winter Afternoons-" I quoted Emily aloud, ignoring the depressing remainder of the poem. I could not stop grinning, and I think I startled a classmate by bursting into song just before I passed him on the sidewalk.

Cinnamon and vanilla and tea with milk; lacy skeletons of trees and crunchy carpets of leaves underfoot; singing and dancing in the kitchen and the laughter of friends - really, what isn't there to be thankful for?

Days of Beauty
Copyright Elizabeth McDonald 2002

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