Rainy Day Musings

Sunday, May 7, 2019

Dear friends,

It’s been raining at my house on and off for days now. A little over a year ago, we moved into a new-to-us house on the outskirts of town where we are surrounded by trees and grass, and it’s very peaceful. On rainy days, I like to be especially quiet and maybe open a window or two so I can hear the rain fall.

Our old house was the very last townhome built in a neighborhood full of them, and there were not many quiet days, even in the rain. The main road of the neighborhood was a long, slow, downhill slope, and we were at the very end of it. There was a storm drain in the parking lot, but it was often blocked by trash bins, children’s toys, and other debris that washed or rolled down the hill. Children from all over the neighborhood lost basketballs and other playthings that ended up blocking the storm drain, littering the grassy commons in front of our house or washing into the woods. The rain would trickle from the top of the hill, form a small stream in the parking lot, be rebuffed by the blocked storm drain, and form a rushing river down the broken sidewalk.

It was there that I last played in the rain, nearly ten years ago, shortly after Chris and I moved into that house. We were renovating the whole place ourselves with some help from friends and family, but most of our time at home was spent laying tile, building a deck, demolishing old drywall, replacing studs, patching and painting. The to-do list was epic. When we got our first good storm, I stood by the front door, gazing out in astonishment. There were actual rapids. It would have been dangerous for a small child. Someone’s tricycle was pushed by the stream all the way down past our door and up against the retaining wall we’d built to try and prevent our little slice of land from washing out from under us, as the property ended in a steep hill that plummeted into forest. At that time, I felt the pressure of adulthood descending upon me as I realized I’d just willingly taken on a debt I’d probably never see the end of — ain’t home ownership grand?

I was certain our neighbors would not like us much. At our first courtyard cookout, I drunkenly told our neighbor my mostly uncensored feelings about the Catholic Church only to learn that she and her family were practicing Catholics. I was also pretty sure they’d heard us having sex with the windows open one afternoon around the time all their kids were coming home from school. I didn’t think I was doing a very good job of adulting. That day when we got our first real rain storm in the neighborhood, I was briefly taken by an impulse from my inner eight-year-old. I stood in the rushing stream on our sidewalk laughing and dancing like a crazy person while Chris stood just inside the door, sipping his coffee and questioning my sanity lovingly.

I only stayed out a few minutes. Playing in the rain is not the same when you’re an adult. For one thing, I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential parasites in the mud around me. Lots of our neighbors had dogs, and the grassy area in front of our house was a favorite place for walking them. Not everyone was consistent with picking up after their pets.

It’s also more fun when you have someone to play in the rain with. As a kid, I had my two friends Justin and Drew with whom to actually do stuff in the rain, like fight. We would find a particularly wet sinkhole in someone’s yard to fight in. Or we would just … run around. No direction, just glee. Me and Amanda played on her swingset in the rain. Her mom was really mad about that one. It was either hailing or sleeting. She said it was too cold to be out in the rain, but I don’t remember it being cold. I remember the exhilaration of absurdity — how good it felt to do something so out of the ordinary.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why adults didn’t want to play in the rain. Everyone complained when we had rainy weather. They’d call it ugly, dreary, gross, and bad. That made me sad because I thought rainy days were just the best. What an amazing opportunity, you know? And adults were not only passing it up but scorning it —  running to their cars to get out of the rain but splashing their pants along the way, and carrying stupid umbrellas that helped a little but then dripped on everything in the car and in the house. It seemed to me that everyone was just determined to make a bad thing out of something beautiful. It would have served everyone better to just enjoy the rain.

I asked my friend’s mom why adults never wanted to play in the rain, and she said it was because, “then you’re all wet,” and I was like … that’s the point? But she said it’s a pain when your clothes get all wet because you have to wash them. Also if you’re out running errands and you go into stores, you track water everywhere, and it’s just a big mess. Plus the air conditioning is on in stores so you’ll get cold. And also, you don’t want to get the inside of your car all wet and muddy. She did have a pretty convincing point about how car seats would feel gross when you’re all wet, but I didn’t see how any of these things should stop a person from enjoying rainy days. On the other hand, I didn’t do my own laundry back then.

I’ve gotten a bit more practical about when I’ll play in the rain, but only because I had to. For example, right now, I will not play in the rain because I’m very comfortable sitting here at my desk with a blanket over my lap, sipping coffee, and day dreaming about the best parts of childhood. Also, it’s Mother’s Day, and my mother-in-law will be coming over soon, and I don’t have time to play in the rain and take a shower and then still help cook lunch.

I have had some chances to hang out in the rain lately, though, thanks to these on-and-off storms that roll through spring. My derby league had a round of headshots done in the rain, and we’ve had some after-practice parking lot beers in the rain that have been super high quality hangouts. However, much to my inner Ramona Quimby’s chagrin, I have always stayed under an umbrella, except for the few brief moments when I  modeled for the camera and did a handstand in the rain. She really loved that part.

But the main reason I won’t go out is that it’s still a little chilly outside, as we’re not quite half way through spring, and I am a summer person. I thrive on heat, and nothing makes me happier than a downpour on a sweltering day. I am so looking forward to summer. I can’t wait until the Renaissance Fair starts — the fair grounds are within walking distance from my house, and on rainy days it’s far less crowded, and I will be there, ready to maximize my enjoyment of the people, the shows, the trees, the fresh air, and every drop of rain I can catch.

I wonder what it’s like where you are, my friends. If you’re close, are you in the city or the woods? What does a rainy day feel like for you? Or are you in a place where it’s very dry? Would rain be a welcome change for you? What does the air smell like where you are? How does your environment embrace you, and you it?

I ask these questions knowing I most likely won’t get responses. I always tell the recipients of my letters that they don’t have to write back, and that’s true. But it’s not for lack of curiosity about them. I love getting letters back, but I also know sometimes it’s enough to have received a letter, and for me, it’s enough to have written one.

Thanks for reading. May you always play in the rain,

Mary

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for one day a very long time from now

It’s 2 a.m. and for some reason I’ve been unable to sleep tonight. I was thinking about this poem I wrote a really long time ago and how I haven’t been able to find a copy of it for years. I decided to go through my old journals to try and find it. I didn’t find the poem, but I did find this:

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Today, Dad gave me a hug. Not just any hug, but a hug to save specifically for a day when I am grown up and feeling lonely. He said, “One day, a very long time from now, you’ll be standing in your kitchen in your own house, and you’ll be feeling lonely, so this is for then.” Then he hugged me and said I should remember that. I hope I never forget it.

Of course, I forgot he did that, but I’m really glad I wrote it down. Apparently 17 year old me was not entirely stupid.

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Writing is Like Swimming Across an Ocean

virginia woolf

I’ve been readin the diary of Virginia Woolf, and I love it. I found this passage particularly heartening.

Tuesday, May 11, 1920
It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly on beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything. I’m a little anxious. How am I to bring off this conception?

She wrote this as she was beginning work on Jacob’s Room.

During grad school, someone giving a lecture told us that writing a book is like swimming across an ocean. Reflecting on it now, I realize that statement is far more true than I could have known at the time. Realistically, swimming across an ocean is a stupid idea, but then, so is writing a book, isn’t it? There’s no telling if you’ll get to the other side, and most people who try don’t. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

There always comes a point in the creative process where we look back at where we started and we can’t quite see the shore, nor can we see any promise of another shore if we keep pressing forward, but we have little choice. We press forward.

When you reach that point of feeling lost at sea, take heart. First, it means you’ve gotten somewhere. You have ventured very far out from shore, and you are meant to feel lost at this point. Second, absolutely everyone who has ever created anything has been at that point. You are not alone, no matter how much it may seem that way right now.

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the poetry journal

This week, I found a bunch of old poems I wrote during high school.
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It always makes me sad to look at those notebooks because for a minute there, I was this cocksure little punkass — starting around the acid incident, leading into the ecstasy incident, peaking somewhere during the friendship with Kat, then plummetting when I met J. It raises a distressing issue for me. In the past, my creativity was wrapped up in drugs and sex, and when I got into that relationship, I let it all go.
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I had once written that using was like being in a bad relationship, but then I went and actually gave up drugs for a bad relationship. Why’d I do that? Well, at least now I can vouch for my own words. They really are quite similar, except that one destroyed my writing and the other didn’t. And that’s where I have trouble — the belief that he destroyed my writing — that because I gave up so much for him, I can never get it back.
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I had created … I had been given a sanctuary in which to flourish. In my parents’ house, I had the run of the entire second story, and I transformed it into a temple of my own creativity. As a little kid, I’d thought of becoming a nun, but by 16, I’d discovered the myth of the sacred whore, and I became a different kind of nun — one who celebrated the body electric. I immersed myself in poetry and lust — for life, for art, for bodies, for language. I truly believed in ecstasy — not the drug but the state of being.
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It was a small, predictable and very costly failure when I, like a completely average teenage girl, left all that behind for the approval of an older man — just some guy — an imbecil with a penis. This is why I’m a feminist now: If there is some other girl who has cultivated this incredible artistic existence for herself, I want her to know her own sovereignty. I’m talking about the power of self-validation.
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It’s true that I will always write — I can’t not write — but if I knew then what I know how, I would have become a very different kind of writer.

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