Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interminable tales of two kinds

I love my new city. While waiting companionably for the light to change this afternoon, a woman turned to me and said "It sure has gotten cold, hasn't it?"

This may not seem particularly earth-shaking to some, but a friendly conversation initiated by a complete stranger has become as foreign to me as a house-high sugar maple. Then, as I biked a few blocks further (yes! my bike is back! you can tell the new parts by their lack of rust) I was WAVED TO by some passing joggers, and then I saw a happy man skip down a flight of stairs from his workplace on the second floor. These people are people who like being alive. My tribe!

There is a new game I play these days that has helped to develop my sense of this community. Every morning when I first wake, I write down any urgent questions that spring to mind. The other day my questions were: "how does one enroll a child in public school?" and "where would I find the best cupcakes in town?" Sometimes they're deeper, like "Can you teach a child gratitude?" Then, throughout the day, whenever I see someone interesting---the sort of person I would normally be too shy to approach---I ask them one of my pressing questions. So far the response has to put this? Worldview altering. People, it seems, are hardwired to help other people. These people are unanimously overjoyed to be asked. They call friends who might know. They tear a page from their calendar to make me a hand-drawn map. They apologize, profusely and repetitively, for not knowing more. And here I was scared of them all these years. I have learned through the playing of this game that we are not meant to figure it all out by ourselves. There are BILLIONS of people who know all about any given subject and their knowledge bank is like a lending library. (I'm sure there are exceptions to this, very private people or cruel ones, but I'd be surprised if they comprised more than a few percent of the population).

When I arrived home I found that the recent rains have made my little collard seedlings swell into plants large enough to harvest from. I sauteed the bright new leaves with garlic for dinner. The zucchini has finally sprouted, I saw one pole bean poking up, and little sunflower sprouts are unfolding cheerily all amongst the grass. There would be no grass for them to be cheerily amongst if I had my druthers, but I am renting, and grass is sort of like bike helmets. So I'm treading carefully. (Ha! Don't tread on the grass!) I took some cuttings of my friend's concord grape vine; when they have rooted I will plant them where they can climb up the pergola and provide both shade and a Bacchanalian atmosphere for the summer.

Try as I have (with the grit-teethed hatchet-faced brick-brained determination I've become known for) I cannot interest my eldest son in gardening. He is five, and although "defeating" earwigs has been known to appeal to him, there is nothing remotely of interest to him about vegetables or the boring old "environment" mom is always yapping about. This boy proves that children are matched to parents for the sole purpose of providing belly laughs to a mischievous universe. Why else give a dippy, wifty back-to-the-land neo-Luddite vegan-affiliated bohemian mom a child who was born knowing how to log into Youtube? And who said the other day when I asked him to join me in the garden "But I want to be entertained." GAAH!

The one place we share common ground is in the telling of stories. We spend hours this way, marching alongside the stroller, stretched languidly in the grass of some park or other, perched on the back seat of the bus. In the evenings when I build a fire outside he will sit there happily exchanging stories and jokes with all comers long past the rising of the stars. This weekend I told him a story he loved so much that he even made a painting of it, a painting which now hangs on the refrigerator. I can see it from where I write this. (Well, I can see it from everywhere really. The bathtub, the front door, the kitchen sink, the inside of the closet...) Joan Didion wrote that the telling of stories---the imposition of a plot, a moral, a storyline on what would otherwise be just an overwhelming jumble of experiences--is what makes us human.

The sun has gone down and it's time to light a few candles and unfold the bed. Good night to my new town, and to my new friends, and to the mountain that looms over my own little house in the valley. Good night to the painting of a bloody smear and a baby and a lion and a crying mom--tears flying out liberally on either side of her--that I can see from anywhere.

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