Thursday, November 27, 2008

Where Am I?

At first it seems silence reigns, but standing still and patient I soon realize I am not alone. Creaks and rustles betray this place, seductive whispers spill trickling sadness, blending and swirling into echoes of hope.

I am surrounded by roads on every side, as different as they are plentiful.

Directly before me, short, lush grass, screaming green with the endless promise of spring, lapped with newly born sunshine, lies waiting to be tread upon—gently—by black flats accented aqua. My name is engraved on this path, cut into the dirt beneath the living sheaves, and it calls to me. I remind myself that I carved my name there, it did not appear of its own accord; soft earth does not generate its own letters. It took time to write myself into this path; the pen dragged slightly against the ground, which soon yielded to my determined pressure. Surely there is work to be done along this road; heavy stones to lift with mental acuity. The ones nearer to me are smaller, but I see that down the road they grow larger; as my muscles gain in strength so will my burdens. And along this path I see ghosts, transparent, looking at me expectantly. Some have slight lines of concern etched into their foreheads, some look confused but not disapproving—but most of them smile at me, encouraging. A few reach out with hands that, even in their milky whiteness, bespeak courage and wisdom. This path appeals to me. I am tempted not to turn my head, to walk straight onto this well-balanced road and never look back. It urges me on, telling me that therein lies happiness.

I am ready to move, I look down to go forward—and catch myself.

My feet are bare. I feel no cold, no discomfort, but my revealed skin reminds me that I cannot choose a path prepared before its time. I am no manufactured specimen. I do not yet wear the aqua-accented flats of my dreams. And so I turn my head.

To the right I see a road paved with small pebbles. Pansies grow at intervals along the sides of the path, and sometimes crop up between the stones. There are few obstacles along this path, and few rewards. The flowers look small and drab compared to the road’s expanse. Yet at the distant point where my eyes strain and give out, I see something that shimmers, elusive. I cannot make it out; I cannot even be sure it is there. This path waits for delicate ballet flats.

To my left is a flat road paved with paint. Red, blue, orange, green splashed along its length. My eyes dance with the colors. I laugh in delight. The sky reflects these bright hues, full of bold, fearless possibility. My eyes sparkle. But then I notice, creeping along the path, creatures of black with red tongues that pant. They are not malignant, these things, but they have desire—strong, hot, relentless. They have ambition, they have needs, and they haven’t time to think of who or what they will harm to fulfill them. One of the creatures smiles at me, and the smile is friendly, welcoming. It asks merely to be petted—nothing more—if only I will walk toward it in my crimson heels.

I shake my head to clear it of the gleaming grin, and with that movement the roads before me multiply. Suddenly I see that each one has offshoots, and offshoots of offshoots, variations into the infinite. I can take the grassy path toward a boulder too large to lift, before which a ghost of myself sits crying glassy tears. I can take it toward a tall specter who reaches out to me with longing but retreats ever farther as I come closer. I can take it to a place that turns in bright circles until I am dizzy. And then there is a point on the pebbled path that intersects with the grass, a clearing full of small ghosts who laugh at a butterfly. On one offshoot of the paint-splashed road a raised platform waits, beamed with clear light. Another piece of that brightest way ends in a ladder stretching upward without terminus.

I cannot process all the options, each unique, each demanding my full attention. My head is spinning, and so are my bare feet, and then, without warning, I am facing the road that lay behind me.

Yet it hardly should be called a road, it is so overgrown—tall bushes covered with brown leaves blocking the way, vines that twine around lampposts and stopsigns, small and large stones hefted to the side or sitting stolidly in the center, blue paint covered in red to make purple, and a lost patch of pink gerbera daises in the distance. A feeling of longing overcomes me. I want to plunge headlong into this messy path, returning to each point of familiarity, caressing the things I find there. But I discover that I cannot move. I am rooted to the spot, as before my eyes my bare feet are suddenly shod—by crocs and boots and sneakers and pumps and sandals and spike heels and platform heels and black flats and brown flats and flat shoes with bright stripes and a buckle. Each shoe flashes a moment and then is replaced by another, and the shoes on each of my feet never match. I almost topple over as my left foot abruptly bears a moccasin and my right a stiletto. In my head loud voices ring, I begin to crumple to the ground, I close my eyes and—


With eyes still shut I turn carefully 180 degrees, facing again the sunny, grassy path. I open my eyes slowly, with trepidation, and breathe. I look down at my feet, and smile a shy smile.

I am wearing black flats, accented aqua and orange, magenta and chartreuse. They are comfortable, flexing with my arches, supporting my heels, leaving space for my toes. They feel natural on me—but innately I know they won’t let me relax for long. These shoes are made for walking, for exploring, for movement, for work. They are made to wander; they will never be satisfied.

Inside I feel a conflicted peace. I know now that I must not know. I close my eyes, and begin to spin around in place, faster and faster, so that the wind tugs at my long hair and my skirt billows in a ring.

Twirling still, I stretch out a groping foot—and blindly surge forward.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Call Me Margaret

I went to Central Park today, looking for inspiration. I hoped that the sunshine and the people and the leaves and the sky and the city at its best would help restore to me some of my lost excitement.

Waiting for the subway I scanned the crowd intently, reaching in my mind to describe each person, hoping that in words I would discover the bliss of successful connection to my surroundings. Yet everything I thought was trite, and not a single person sparked the avenue of a story.

Smashed together on the 6 Train, I eavesdropped and eavespeeked over the shoulders of the tall, duck faced women looking at pictures on a digital camera. Mother and daughter visiting the city, trying to capture it all, discussing the revelrous habits of their various friends. And shockingly enough, the pictures contained artistry, telling me that the woman who took them saw things, still life moments hidden in alleys, the kind that most people overlook entirely. There was something there, yet still I remained uninspired. I was listening out of habit, out of a sense of duty perhaps, but my overloaded soul couldn't feel the thrill of the involuntary window I peered through.

Out of the subway and walking toward the park, I stared down the avenues to the haven at their terminus, brightly-colored foliage growing ever closer as I approached it, framed by buildings and slanted in sunlight. Mimicking the women on the train, I took out my digital camera and attempted to capture the sight. With time and proper care I knew I could frame a perfect shot, lines and angles, colors and textures, blending to a harmony that would say something about that moment. But on the street with the people rushing by, with my backpack making me feel weighted down and awkward, with the fear of being condemned as a tourist, I was too much a coward to stop. I took pictures without pausing, and they did not give me what I sought.

In the park I walked down paths and up stairs, looking at the faces of the people for some who would match my own. None did. I looked at the trees. I looked at the ground. The ground was covered in leaves, huge expanses covered with thick carpet, and I walked across them and thought the words of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of my favorite poets.

And after I wandered aimlessly around the meadow feeling alone until I chose a spot at random, and after I lay down on the grass and bent my head over my book, and after I didn't start a conversation with the two British guys who looked down as they walked by and said hello, and after I lost myself in my book for a while, and after I got too cold and decided to leave, I walked again through the worlds of wanwood and thought Gerard Manley Hopkins in my head.

And that is the only inspiration I found today. And it is a cold, backward sort; the kind that leaves me feeling lost. And here I am: but where?

Spring and Fall
to a young child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.