Saturday, June 12, 2010

Learning to Walk With Fruit

First of all....somebody finally got up the courage to become my 40th follower! Woot! Thank you 40th Follower.
I don't know why I enjoy blogging so much. I used to write a newspaper column with thousands of readers. They didn't fire me. I quit. I don't know why. It was a popular column. But it felt somewhat restricted and formulaic and it just lost its oomph after a few years. Now? I write for YOU, my 40 followers. And actually, I'm sure that only some of you still check on me. In fact, according to my site meter, I get a massive 30 or so hits per day. And let's face it, most of those are people who are, for reasons I cannot fathom, trying to find out whether or not they should feed sardines to their babies. Occasionally one of them stays on the page for a full 13 seconds. So if you're reading this, you are part of a small and elite group of folks. Congrats!

Now onto Official Sardine Business.

Ellie has spent most of the week at the International Piano Festival at Texas State University. She is one of only 24 kids invited to attend. The other kids have come from all over the place...Chile and China among the most exotic. She's had a thrilling time and enjoyed lessons with Julian Martin of Juilliard, and Boris Slutsky of Peabody Conservatory. Groovy. Then I picked her up on Wednesday night and drove her to Arlington (outside of Dallas) to compete in the TMTA competition. This is the best of the best of Texas - and Texas is a big state with a lot of pianists. There were close to 50 kids in the semi-finals, and then 10 in the finals. She placed 3rd and was ecstatic. She's never placed above Honorable Mention at this competition. She is, at the moment, the best non-Asian in Texas :).
And here she is with her teacher, Ken. She adores this guy. In fact, if it weren't for him I seriously doubt she would still be playing the piano. She's been lucky to have some truly inspiring and loving guides in her life....more than most people, I think. Ken is one of them.

After the competition, I drove her little rear back to Texas State so she could finish out the piano festival. She played in a community concert today. So yesterday was a LOOOOONG day of sitting, waiting, and driving for me.

I love spending time with Ellie. After a day of piano music we hopped in the car and plugged in her Ipod and enjoyed anything and everything from Jimmie Hendrix to Vampire Weekend. She spent the hours in the car reading (The Red Tent), talking to me (about weird stuff), and texting her boyfriend (I can call him that now because they officially "came out" on Facebook. He's a sweetie she's known most of her life. You know his mom as Grilled Cheese Chick.)

So I'm feeling kind of weepy. Michi recently gave me a book by Sue Monk Kidd. This isn't the first time she's shared a Sue Monk Kidd book with me. (Speaking of guides, she seems to be one of mine, at times. "She" being Michi. But come to think of it, Sue Monk Kidd seems to be, as well.)

A few years ago Michi and I read Dance of the Dissident Daughter. It helped steer the spiritual direction of my life and sealed a new friendship, as well. That book touched me so much. It touched me personally, but it also touched my relationship with Ellie. It was shortly after reading Dance of the Dissident Daughter that Michi and I planned our daughters' Rite of Passage, using the book as a loose guide to some of the rituals and spiritual expressions. Here's Michi giving some womanly wisdom to the girls inside the sacred shrine.

It has been about three years since that time, and the book has not lost any of its magic for me. But for some reason, when Michi handed me a present in the form of Traveling with Pomegranates....A Mother Daughter Story, I didn't want to read it. I didn't think I could bear it. Not now. Now while I'm facing my last year with Ellie. My last year before she leaves our home to start her own life somewhere else. I've been carrying this around with me recently. The Upcoming Leaving. People tell me not to worry about it yet. "You've got an entire year!" they say. "You're going to ruin the time you have left!" they say. But they're wrong.

First of all, an entire year? Is but a moment compared to the last 18. (She'll be 18 in August.) A moment. And as for ruining the time we have left, I don't agree. My sensitivity to her leaving is making me more aware of the preciousness of this time. I kind of operate that way. I'm "aware" I guess. So yes, the sweetness is constantly tempered with a little sadness. But the moments are also being all of their sweetness and sadness. And I think I prefer that to the self-induced non-awareness that I probably couldn't muster, anyway.

But this book? I felt it would be too much. I felt I should wait to read it. Maybe until after she'd actually left. But then I found myself sitting at a piano competition with well....nothing to read. Except for this book that had somehow crawled into my computer bag. So I opened it. And was immediately lost in the mirror of Sue Monk Kidd. I call her a mirror because that is what she seems to be. She takes everything inside me, the things I keep to myself (yes, I do actually keep some things to myself) and gives them back in poetic prose. She shines the light on the parts of me that tend to hover in the background, escaping every now and then in an unexplainable urge to weep, or in that little heaviness that lingers in my chest. She says it, and then it doesn't seem so dark as much as it seems suddenly beautiful. And hopeful.

It turns out that this book isn't merely a mother daughter story. That part is there, alright. But the part that is touching me is the message of letting go. Not just of my daughter (because I do need to do that) but of a younger part of myself. This book is about Sue Monk Kidd's journey to meet the Old Woman inside her. It is about her quest to be something she didn't have the courage to try and be (a novelist) at an age (nearing 50) that she no longer felt connected to herself, while coming to terms with the end of a relationship that defined her (one between mother and young child), and searching for a renewed mystery in a spiritual faith she was still forming outside the strictures of patriarchal dogma (she decides to focus on Mary). It is My Story. Just like Dance of the Dissident Daughter had been my story a few short years ago. How did Michi know it was just what I needed?

Walking With Pomegranates uses the Demeter and Persephone myth as a backdrop. If you're familiar with Greek Mythology (I am Totally Familiar with it, thanks to my boys) - then you know that Demeter is Persephone's mother. And Persephone gets kidnapped by that nasty Bad Boy known as Hades. Demeter is grief-stricken and her despair is unleashed upon the earth through barrenness (she is the goddess of the harvest). Finally she discovers that Persephone is being held by Hades and she demands her back. Hades concedes, but first he tricks Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds. This causes her to have to go back to Hades for 3 months every year (which causes Demeter to mourn with the result being winter on the earth) and returning to her mother in spring, when the earth rejoices in the reunion with rebirth. Beautiful, isn't it? Always one of my favorites.

Sue writes:

"I've had intimations of this feeling of loss before, but it was a shadow passing in the peripheries, then gone. After Ann left home, I would wander into her room and catch the scent of dried prom corsages in the closet, or turn over an old photograph of our beagles and find myself staring at her handwriting - Caesar and Brutus 1990 - or come upon her poem "Ode to a Teddy Bear," or open a cookbook to her perfected horse head sketch in the margin, and I would feel it, the momentary eclipse."

This touched me deeply. Because I had spent the previous few days, while Ellie was at Texas State, doing something extremely bizarre. I took pictures of her room. And cried. I took pictures of the parts of her sacred space that captured her essence. She has such a Beautiful Essence. Her bulletin board - all the pins she'd collected during her more dramatic early teens...the picture of Bob Dylan. We teased her that she had a crush on the "young" Bob Dylan. But then one night we watched a Dylan documentary and there he was - all wrinkly-faced and bushy-browed - blowing cigarette smoke out of his nose and looking really and truly Not Very Attractive as an older man and I glanced at my daughter and saw that she was staring at the screen with pure rapture. "He's such a poet," she said. And I was ashamed of myself for noticing the wrinkles when she'd seen nothing but beauty.

I love the many gifts that are sprinkled about her room. So many thoughtful and unique things have been given to her over the years. Or made for her. People like to give Ellie things. They see something and go, "That's so Ellie!" and then they show up with it. Her friend Galen has made her a lamp and a little Asian sand garden. Hannah bought her a picture at an art show. Hannah is getting married next month. Her mom must be having her own harvest of pomegranates.
Who would Ellie be without her favorite Frida print?

Juliana gives her little pots...books...Sarah gave her a little goddess of music...something she squeezed into her hand before her debut with the San Antonio Symphony. She has the article written about her in the newspaper hanging on her wall. I made her hang it. She is uncomfortable with a lot of praise and attention. She is a performing unusual but lovely combination.

Gillian, a young spiritual pilgrim we happened across (she was walking from Canada to she resides in India) stayed with us to rest for a few days. She left this on Ellie's bedroom door.

The books! I looked through them all. They are all intimate parts of her - they are like a timeline of her life. This is All. Her defining book at the age of 15.

She wrote some of the passages out on the pot of a plant I'd been slowly killing. She adopted the plant, proclaiming that it was emotionally needy. It has done quite well ever since.

This is All led her on to Plath and Woolf and authors I'd never heard of. I shared Walt Whitman and Thoreau, my personal favorites. She adopted them as hers. I was happy she'd approved. They mean so much to me. She keeps a version of Walden on her desk. It is old and ratty. It was mine in high school. "Let me get you another copy," I said. "No!" she'd replied. "I like this one. It has all of your hi-lighted passages. And you wrote Dad's name in the margins." I did? Yes, I did.The books took the most out of me last week. I kept thinking, "oh my, I remember when she was reading this...." and then a very specific picture would pop up in my mind.....her hair, her clothes, her language of that week....or month. I loved them all - all the weeks and months and the many different Ellies. I saw her giggling on the couch with Sarah, Hannah, and Juliana - all armed with electric guitars. I saw her marching in DC - so excited and proud and brimming with purpose to spread the word about the genocide in Darfur. I saw her sitting poised and professional (as professional as one can be with blue hair) while being interviewed by a morning talk show about her activism - like this was something she did every day. Holding a baby brother or sister, sitting in a tree...or on the beach...or in the middle of the desert. Or at the piano. Always at the piano. The piano that will be very quiet in another year. How will I stand it the deafening silence of the thing?

Traveling with Pomegranates is narrated via mother daughter journals during a trip to Greece. Sue writes, while sitting at the ruins of Elusis...the temple of Demeter and the supposed site where Persephone returned from the Underworld for the mother daughter reunion,

"Our aloneness in the ruins engulfs me. Quietness rises. the ringing of a church bell. Wind slapping the chain on a distant flagpole. What is the conversation that needs to go on inside of a woman at this juncture in her life? Is it really the one about relinquishment, grief, and return? I look around, and for a moment I think I will forget all of this. Just be a tourist again. But sitting in the compost of this demised world, I know I'm here to enter that very conversation. To face irrevocable truths and grieve a little...or perhaps a lot. then start to let go. Something is over."

So I'm getting older. I have a story to write. And I have recently realized that it isn't the one I've been writing. And this has depressed me a little during a time where I was already being depressed a little. So I have a new story to work on. Both literally and figuratively. I'm a new "old woman" and I'm not sure what that means. I'm letting go of my firstborn, a process that is very counter intuitive, as I've spent the past 18 years clinging desperately. And I'm doing weird things, like taking pictures of books and pots in my kid's room. What can I say? I've never travelled with pomegranates, before. It is a virgin journey for me. More weirdness to come, I'm sure.
And you, my 40 Followers, will continue to find it all right here.


  1. A beautiful piece of writing, and so true. I'm at this stage for the third child, it gets a little bit easier and a little bit harder each time. Oh my, what will it be like in 6 years when it's my youngest, then I really will be a basket case!!
    I'm one of the one who drop by nearly every day, if only you'd post every day I'd stay longer :)

  2. You made me cry. Beautiful post. And I loved, loved, loved the Dance of the Dissident Daughter, too. It spoke to me deeply and changed the way I viewed my faith and how I explain it to my daughters. Sounds like I'll have to read Traveling with Pomegranates, as well.

  3. Thanks Carol, for yet another, articulate, hit the nail on the head, kinda post.
    Enjoy this time with Ellie a little, no?
    I had a dream...about my younger self meeting my older self.
    We'll have to talk.

  4. yes! My picture made the post! I feel special.

    Usually your posts make me laugh, or think, lighthearted and happy. Some, of course, make me feel that twinge of sadness or nostalgia, longing for things past.

    This one gave me chills. Several different times I got that little tummy tingle that radiates everywhere and gives you little goose pimples on your arms. (Even though I think the term "goose pimples" is a little bit repulsive I still use it instead of goosebumps because I'm so eager to become a British poser.)

    Love you and miss you. It has been a really long time since I hung out at your house :(

  5. aww, i gave her that Freda print when i got back from Zacatecas, Mexico. Your Ell is going to do amazing things! She already has begun. You and my mom need to get together and discuss saying goodbye to your kids. She's already started crying on a daily basis, and I'm going to Trinity! Great post as always, Carol. Much love, I miss you!
    --Sarah M.

  6. I, too, am one of the ones who visit quickly, to see if there is more precious new words to read. I feel privileged to be among your 'followers'.

    This latest installment has me crying (yes, as I'm typing). I still struggle with the process of letting go of my almost 20 year old daughter. It's hard and she loves to reminds me that I have boundary issues. I'm so proud of her, but still a part of me wants to keep her close. It's definitely a work in progress!

    Thanks, Carol, for an inspiring read!

  7. I have young children right now, and I can't even begin to fathom that time in my life when I will have to let them go, (we are in the "hold them close to us" phase). That book sounds lovely...I'm going to check it out for sure! Good luck with your own personal journey of surrendering and letting go.
    xo maureen

  8. Just one thing: it's Jimi, not Jimmie. ;)