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Postcard from now: canyon

Yellowstone canyon | edge of evening

Yellowstone canyon | edge of evening

Like the diaries I tried to keep as a child, the blog seems harder to come back to the longer I leave it. The gap between the ‘I’ and I myself growing until it is like the Yellowstone canyon we looked out over in the summer —not particularly wide, but deep, so very deep.

*
Walking into town one morning last week, I waved at a playground acquaintance walking in the other direction.

You’re alone! she called across the street.

Yes, I replied. I feel very alone.

You’ll have to get a job! she shouted.

Yes. I will.

She too was alone, I later noted. But, yes, she does have a job.

*

(The waving. A tick that I can’t seem to stop. I greet everyone with hi and a small wave, as though I think everyone I meet is two-years-old.)

*

There is the usual question of what the normal week might look like. First there is the week when the older two go back to school. Then there is the week when the youngest starts part-time. Then comes the week when he lies on the sofa with a fever by day, coughs at night. This is followed by the week when B & I are both ill, but all three kids are at school. Then came the week that B started his new job and I was alone. That was last week. Now there is this week and there will be next week. Then it is half-term.

*

I’ve read Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath twice. Both times I have tried and failed to write about it. Or rather, I have written about it, but some failure of nerve has prevented me from hitting publish. Cusk writes about the stay-at-home mum’s ‘pitch, her line, should anyone — a working mother, for instance — care to enquire’. More and more, I notice that people’s responses to things (my own responses to things) say far more about them (me) than they do about the thing. This sounds like it should be self-evident, but it’s not. Not when you’re the receiver of the response that is more about its giver than you, but feels likes it’s an obvious truth.

*

Sitting at my desk I hear a child’s voice outside. It sounds just like my youngest son. Mumma, the voice calls. Mumma. It’s strange because not many people are ‘mumma’ round here. I know it’s not him, yet I wish it was us out there, walking home together hand-in-hand.

*

I go to the dentist for the first time in three years. Despite my paranoia, everything is fine. She takes an x-ray and I’m asked to bite down on a piece of blue plastic. The plastic digs painfully into the soft folds beneath my tongue. The dentist and her assistant retreat from the room and I watch the red second-hand on the wall clock which ticks forwards and then tocks a tiny fraction back every second. I repeat my standard, post-labour, discomfort mantra to myself: I can make this stop any time I choose. A definition of pain: that feeling which you cannot choose to stop.

*

My mum retired in July.

Are you retired, Mumma? asks C, as we drive away from a weekend at her house.

I explain that, no, I’m not retired. But that I haven’t been going to work because my job has been looking after him. It’s called a career break, I add.

Isn’t that maternity leave? pipes up ten-year-old T.

A few days later, snack-time. I sit at the table slicing apple. C asks if I’ve decided what I want to do when I go back to work yet.

No, not yet, I say hopefully.

Well, he says, in the tone of one about to offer advice, you could be a teacher like my teachers. You’d like that.

*

I felt so self-conscious the first time I went out alone with a pushchair. I felt like a fraud. Now I feel naked walking along without a small child’s hand in mine. Later on the day of the dentist a friend comes over. She has also been to the dentist that morning, to have a filling replaced. Her two-year-old burst into tears at the sound of the drill and she spent the rest of the appointment with him nestled face-down on her chest.

*

Another friend goes to her GP about the intermittent chest pains she has been quietly worrying about. From the surgery she is sent straight to hospital. Four days later she has open-heart surgery for a congenital heart defect. I meet her husband in the playground the day after she comes out of hospital and he is so very kind to me, so gentle and patient when, although I’m offering help, sending love, I know I’m really saying, Tell me that the world isn’t like this, tell me that everything is going to be okay. He tells me that they just feel very lucky. The doctor said it could have been like that, he clicks his fingers, any time.

*

B’s new job is back in the City. For the first time he feels old at work. No one else on his team has kids. Most are in their first jobs post-graduation. I felt like we had children relatively early. I was twenty-eight when our daughter was born; thirty-four when our second son was born. A decade has past. They are still quite small: 10, 7, and 4. But it’s true, in some unfathomable way, we’re no longer young.

*

I like the idea of having a job that would stand in for me, a job that I could hide behind. Like a cardboard cut-out that would hold a space of a certain easily recognisable shape for me in the world. A job that would do the work that the word mother has done since we left London nearly seven years ago.

*

I get up early, read a few poems. The day is full of possibility. Later, when my children have gone to school the house will seem bigger, unmanageable, filled with the detritus of their lives: plasticine animals on the TV; Matisse-like paper cut-outs on the floor; art work and scissors on the table. Later, the house seems wild, untameable. Later, I don’t so much inhabit it as try to reclaim a tiny corner. Later still, they will come home and again it will be filled with noise and desire; arguing and making; their treasures and their still-tiny bodies.

*

On Sunday, when I go out to run the hour before sunset, I see my friend walking slowly with her daughter. It is nine days after the surgery on her heart. She looks drawn, but she smiles her very own radiant smile. I had forgotten its intensity. I don’t want to keep them standing for long. I don’t want to burden them with words that say more about my own fear than about what they’ve been through and the long recovery ahead. We speak for just a few moments and then, afraid to hug her, I blow her a kiss.

I run and run and every time I want to stop I think of her and know that I can’t.

Postcard from now: August

wildflowers, riverside | edgeofevening

2 August

We leave for Seattle on Saturday. These grey days are days of errands and packing; loose ends and last minute planning.

For the past three days the littles have been at forest-school summer camp, making bows and arrows, fashioning clay animals, and toasting marshmallows in the woods. T has been taught how to light the fire. R is the only one who comes home without fingernails ingrained with the kind of mud that won’t wash off without a long soak. ‘I just haven’t had time to do the mud kitchen yet,’ he explains. C is reunited with his dear pre-school friend A. They like to do lots of playing in the mud kitchen together he tells me. I ask him what they make. ‘Well, mud pies of course,’ he replies.

It seems like the strangest kind of indulgence, to have them on holiday and yet not have them with me. We had years worth of childcare vouchers saved, which, with C starting school in the autumn, we’re not going to use. But when we booked, we didn’t know that B would be at home too. And so I feel a strange guilt — not about the littles, who are having a far better time than we would be giving them — but a vaguer guilt about those summers when I could have done with this kind of help but didn’t have it, and to those who can’t afford to make a choice like this.

So, packing, errands, loose ends. I write edgeofevening on my to do list, feeling that here too is a dropped thread. What have I said & what haven’t I? What happened to the book posts that I meant to write — the one about rereading Carol Shields & how addictive I found her prose. The one about my entire book group liking a book, a book that I still can’t get out of my head (Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel). The posts about the end of term and the books the children have been reading and loving. The one about how I’ve (semi-accidentally) taught C to read, how, unlike the others, he has no hesitation in just picking up an older sibling’s book and going for it. ‘Seems I can do these early readers,’ he commented, waving one of R’s beginner’s chapter books in my direction as I cooked breakfast.

We’re road tripping to Yellowstone. Camping in Yellowstone and the Tetons. Driving across to Portland and then back up to Seattle. We’ll be in Idaho for the eclipse. It seems that if you have one ‘trip of a lifetime’, all you really want is another. It all started with this, though in the end we’re not going to Tippet Rise & I don’t even feel that sad because it was about the landscape, not just the sculptures. We’ve watched Kelly Reichardt’s entire oeuvre (Certain Women remains my absolute favourite), seen My Own Private Idaho for the first time. Read Gretel Ehrlich & reread Annie Proulx. We’re ready, but not ready, because, for one, who is ever ready when travelling with kids? But also because there’s so much pleasure in the anticipation.

It’s time to drive in the rain now, to pick up my muddy children. Last night, in that liminal & disorientating space between consciousness and sleep, I lay and thought of them, cosy in their beds, their little bodies curled in nests of cuddly toys, and I could hardly believe that they are mine.

Mitzi Bytes

Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare | edge of evening

Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare | edge of evening

The day was wide open before them, which could go either way. Elastic enough to hold all the things they’d fill it with, or gaping wide and bloated–it would depend on the kids’ temperaments and her own. Everything was still possible from where she was lying now, though, and she relished the moment. The whole house quiet, life as she knew it. This, this, this.Mitzi Bytes by Kerry Clare

I‘d been looking forward to meeting Mitzi ever since I first heard about her. But Mitzi, it turns out, is kind of elusive. Although she’s been blogging since the final years of the last century, and has even had a couple of moderately successful books published, no one but her creator knows Mitzi Bytes’s true identity. No one, that is, until Sarah Lundy gets an email from the mysterious Jane Q: “Guess what–this game is over. You’re officially found out.”

If I were to make a list of the things that I love in books, Mitzi Bytes would have them all. Feisty children; domestic mess; the sense of what a day lived-well with small children might look like; characters reading books; ambiguity; conversations about identity, motherhood, selfhood, blogging and books. And, secretly, who doesn’t love a page-turning mystery, a puzzle to keep revolving in your mind as an array of suspects are presented before you?

My first read of Kerry Clare’s debut novel was a speedy affair, a page-turning romance. The six hour crossing we take to France has never gone faster. I remember sitting through the shouts & laughter of the kids’ magic show totally engrossed in the domestic life of Sarah Lundy & her Mitzi-sized problem; then later hunching over one of the child-sized tables in the soft play room wondering how we’d got to a point where I could spend the whole ferry ride reading & just which of Sarah’s friends or family was going to turn out to be the increasingly unhinged Jane Q.

Then Mitzi Bytes went to rest on top of B’s bedside table and accompany him on his commutes to work. There was a lot of laughing (puppet sex scene! — which, incidentally, wasn’t the only puppet sex scene I read over Easter, there’s also one in Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap) — and also a lot of snorting.

Just how much have you told Kerry? he kept asking, amused at the similarities between me and Sarah Lundy. Same name, check; programmer husbands, check; “secret” blogs, check; fathers who died when we were eleven, check; proclivity for curtain twitching, check. And this reminded me, happily, of those among Sarah’s acquaintance who, after she’s been revealed as Mitzi, are certain that they’ve found themselves and their stories in her blog posts, even though she is adamant that their lives never interested her enough to write about.

Sarah’s more immediate concern is the friends she has written about, the stories she has told which she is now forced to see have more than one truth. “Life has always struck me as a many-sided shape, no single moment experienced by any person ever existing in just one way,” Sarah writes in a blog post late in the book. One of the joys of Mitzi Bytes is following this thought, and Sarah’s musings on the multiplicity of the self and the connections between who we are online and who we are in the world, as well as whose stories we are morally able to tell.

By the time I got my hands back on Mitzi Bytes I’d reread Carol Shields’s first novel Small Ceremonies, quickly followed by her last, Unless. They were both just as good as I remembered, but it’s Small Ceremonies I found the most enchanting. There’s something about the modesty of its scope, the tightness of its construction over an academic year that is irresistible. While Unless is a masterpiece, Small Ceremonies is the most beautiful and endearing apprentice-piece, a small, perfect cabinet, displaying all of the preoccupations and themes of Shields’s later work, but with a rough-edged freshness, the joints just-visible if you really look.

Rereading Mitzi I thought often of Small Ceremonies. The books share a similar preoccupation with family life, and in particular what it means to be known within a marriage. Sarah Lundy and Shields’s Judith Gill, both discover that their perfectly-known husbands have hidden compartments and secrets of their own. I hope that Mitzi Bytes is just the start of what Kerry is going to do, that, like Small Ceremonies, it will be a jumping off point as well as an enchanting destination in itself.

Mitzi Bytes is funny and clever; page-turning and thought-provoking; light and perceptive. All in all, it’s a contradiction that might be worthy of Sarah Lundy herself.

Full disclosure: It’s with the greatest excitement that I have anything to disclose — a first for this blog! Kerry sent me this copy of Mitzi, who is rather hard to get hold of in the UK, with the most lovely dedication. We’re online friends who’ve met once, so I can vouch for the fact that her own daughters are just as wonderful as Sarah’s.

Solstice in three parts

Astrantia Roma | edge of evening

A couple of weekends ago I went to Bath with friends. We were there to celebrate A-M’s 50th birthday. I remember, so clearly, trying to leave the house for her 40th birthday party, at a community centre five minutes up the road from our Colliers Wood flat. T was a little under two weeks old. I was sitting on the bed feeding her and each time I thought that she was finished & I would be able to slip out, a blush of pink would rise on her face, clouding to red & a curl of displeasure would appear around her mouth, before she again began to cry & I again began to feed her.

Late, sometime after nine, I did slip out and felt all the strange vulnerability one feels out in the world postpartum, without an obvious pregnancy or a tiny baby to signal to people that they shouldn’t knock into you, should treat you with an exaggerated care and concern. I must’ve stayed less than half an hour.

A decade later and a two hour train journey alone — alone! — still feels like the most delicious possible treat. I had four or five books with me because who can be expected to choose on such an occasion? But the one I turned to first was one I started a few years ago and now can’t imagine why I ever set aside — Eavan Boland’s Object Lessons, a beautiful meditation on being a woman and a poet.

These paragraphs have been haunting me, made all the more tender by the fact that Boland herself is now in her early 70s:

It is an evening in summer. The suburb is almost quiet. The Dublin hills are the last color they will be in the succession of colors they have been all day: a sort of charcoal violet. […] A bicycle lies sideways on the ground. A child’s plastic mug, with an orange beak on the lid of it, is thrown at the bottom of a step. Everywhere you look there is evidence that this is a landscape of rapid change and ordinary survivals.

I am talking to a woman in the last light. I have just finished cutting the grass at the front, and we are outside between her house and mine. We make that temporary shape that conversing neighbors often assume: not exactly settled into a discussion yet not ready to leave it either. She lives across the road from me. her children are teenagers. Mine are still infants, asleep behind the drawn curtains in the rooms upstairs.

As we talk, I feel the shadow of some other meaning across our conversation, which is otherwise entirely about surface things. That it is high summer in my life, not in hers. That hers is the life mine will become, while mine is the life she has lost. And then the conversation ends. I turn to go in. I lift the bicycle and the mug.from ‘ Making the Difference’ in Object Lessons by Eavan Boland

*

I couldn’t sleep last night. We’re in the middle of a heatwave: the fifth day of temperatures in the low 30s. I showered after the little ones had gone to bed, but I was already sweating again before I got to the relative cool of downstairs. Slowly the evening came and the heat mellowed. I read and B played the guitar. Moths and mosquitos came in through the open doors and window. A little after ten, Tilly came in from the garden and lay spread on the floor boards, twitching with fleas picked up from the garden.

We went to bed late & I lay thinking about Samantha Hunt’s stunning ‘A Love Story’ which I read & listened to last week. It’s such a miraculous piece because its fragments and digressions are utterly gripping in themselves, but then resolve into something unexpected — beautiful & strange, and impossible to access in a more direct way.

There are so many lines that I could quote to you from this story — lines I maybe did quote to you — but the ones that kept coming back to me last night were these:

The bedcovers look gray in the dim light of chargers, laptops, and phones scattered around our bedroom. In this ghost light I am alone. The night asks again, Who are you? Who will you be when everyone is gone? My children are growing, and when they are done I’ll have to become a human again instead of a mother, like spirit becoming stone, like a butterfly turning back into a caterpillar. I’m not looking forward to that.

Who are you? Who will you be when everyone is gone? It’s not such an abstract question for me as it might be. In September, the Pip-Pop (who we actually still do call Popsy) will start primary school; T will be in her final year; for one year, and one year only, all of our children will be at the same school. For many years, we’ve joked that this will be the glory year, the pinnacle of life as a young family. And now, here it is, just around the corner — and though that’s not the same as ‘everyone gone’ it’s still an ending, a moving on, a symbolic threshold in our life as a family.

I lay, cradled by the heat, legs free from the sheet, the windows open and cooler air washing through the room, on the cusp of sleep. In that strange half-dream from which it’s possible to trip and stumble, to jerk awake again and again as you fall. I thought of waiting for Pops to come out of the reception classroom — how I will have to wait alone, without the comfort of a small hand in mine, without the alibi of scanning the playground for a younger child. I’m too shy to wait alone, I thought. And, who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

*

This morning, summer solstice, I ran early but not as early as I’d meant to. The sun was already high; the air heating up again. I listened to another New Yorker podcast, Anne Enright reading her story Solstice’, which started with a man driving home to his family on the shortest day of the year:

He wants to tell her how he sat in the car, outside his own house, thinking, Whatever happens when I walk in the door, that’s the thing. When I walk in the door, I will find it. The answer or the question, one or the other. It will be there.

And what did he find? These people. This.

‘Nothing ever seems as scary as it did in the middle of the night,’ Hunt says about her story. The sky is blue. The air is warm. The children are sleeping in their beds and here I run. When I get home, when I walk through the door, there they’ll be, eating breakfast. The answer and the question both.

Gone camping

cow parsley | edge of eveningcow parsley | edge of evening

It sometimes seems to me an enormous act of hubris, the planning we do for the coming year in those short December days after Christmas. But plan we do. Sitting on either end of the sofa, sipping coffee. Alone with a notebook. We talk of holidays and milestones; dreams and desires; the simple things that we would like more or less of in the months to come. They’re not usually grand plans. Some new meals in the rotation; early nights in January; a plan to spend more evenings reading or playing the guitar. Yet, still, I wonder if the Gods are watching. The small but persistant thought: just let us all still be here this time next year. That is the baseline, the everything, the true extent of my ambition.

This year, we did make bigger plans. Shifts in the balance of our days; a move towards a more equal share in the work of home and the work of the world. And then we backed away from those plans, postponing but not abandoning, in favour of a big trip in the summer, a steady-state solution to the question of earning and caring.

But now, life has once again slipped free of our plans. Things have changed, and B is, for at least the next few months, free from commuting, free from work. And I, in turn, am free from being the only parent at home between a little after 6 in the morning and a little before 8 at night.

It’s reassuring to see how the little ones just take it all in their stride. Okay, daddy’s in charge this morning. No real questions asked. T, now 10, can remember a time when her days were shared between us, but neither of the boys can. For them it’s amusing to find out that someone doesn’t know exactly what we take with us to swimming, or the route to band, or who has what in their lunchtime wraps (this the most complicated by a mile!).

For us, there’s a strange exhaustion, like we’ve been climbing higher and higher up some invisible mountain and can only now see how just how far from the ground we are. We don’t live near family, and so even the relief of knowing that if I’m ill there’s someone else here is huge. Late night pick-ups don’t require me to drag the boys along. I can leave the house alone, or stay in it without thinking of school pick-up. Heady stuff.

This morning it was raining too much to run so I went to the pool at the end of our road and swam lengths for twenty minutes, returning home before 8 to the sight of breakfast already being eaten. So simply, but a freedom beyond imagining a couple of weeks ago.

elderflower blossom | edge of eveningcamping | edge of evening

Last week, for half term, we took our new found freedom and our pre-kids tiny tent on the road to the green hills of Gloucestershire. Our pitch was in an elderflower orchard, the scent of the blossom deep and spicy. At night we cooked on a fire, then as the light faded (10 — so late!) we lay down, head to toe, and waited for the giggles to subside, and for whoever was complaining of their neighbour’s elbow or knee in their back to get over it, & let sleep take us until we were woken by an owl or the dawn. (This was our campsite — highly recommended.)

During the days, we visited Newark House and Chedworth Roman Villa, Stroud and Cirencester. On our last day we drove to my mum’s, stopping at Hidcote to picnic in the light rain. And now there are seven weeks until the end of term. Seven last weeks of pre-school. Concerts & sports days. Residential trips & ballet shows. All with the advantage of two parents to share the watching & the waiting; the joys & the tears.

******

This is from Tuesday. Since then, many election/life related sleepless nights. Maybe we should have stayed in our blissful orchard.

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Of Woman Born

Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich | edge of evening

I don’t know why I thought I could get away without reading Of Woman Born. Its canonical status felt off-putting; its age (it was first published in 1976) surely meant it would be dated, unnecessary. But still, it was always there. It was reading, and loving, Rachel Zucker’s Mothers, itself interspersed with quotes from Rich’s classic, that finally pushed me to read it.

And, of course, I was wrong. Reading Of Woman Born, during long February evenings on the sofa as B played acoustic guitar beside me, I felt it cracking open the very ground I find myself standing on. As Rich writes in her 1986 introduction,

“Some ideas are not really new but keep having to be affirmed from the ground up, over and over. One of these is the apparently simple idea that women are as intrinsically human as men, that neither women nor men are merely the enlargement of a contact sheet of genetic encoding, biological givens. Experience shapes us, randomness shapes us, the stars and weather, our own accommodations and rebellions, above all, the social order around us.”Ten Years Later: A New Introduction, Of Woman Born, Rich (1986)

Rich works to separate mothering as experience (open in theory to both women and men, whether biological parents or not) from motherhood as patriarchial institution. In a beautiful short essay on Of Woman Born, Miranda Field writes,

Of Woman Born intends to liberate. To make us see how much of what goes unquestioned outside of feminist thinking—considered “part of our nature,” “our natural position”—is actually engineered. Rich wants us to know that there’s a long, continuous umbilical connection between the societies we live in, our personal lives and our art. It might strangle or anchor. It’s wise to be aware of its phenomenal tensile strength, or at the very least, of the slippery fact of its existence.Going for Motherlode: On Adrienne Rich’s Of Woman Born, Miranda Field

It’s the way in which Rich approaches this work — her “odd-fangled” approach (her term in the 1986 introduction) — mixing personal history with research, and developing a theory from both, that I loved. I had expected something drier, a more academic approach (a masculine approach?), but instead I found a real life, messy and personal, riddled with contradiction; unique and yet transcendent. Rich writes,

I believe increasingly that only the willingness to share private and sometimes painful experience can enable women to create a collective description of the world which will be truly ours. Of Woman Born (1986), p15

Yes. The conversations in the playground, or here on the internet. The spaces on social media where I watch people affirm one another’s experience of mothering. Where I see, and felt seen. And this integration of the personal brings, what for me, were some of the book’s most vivid, beautiful and lyrical moments, suggesting other ways, different paths, a life being lived. Remembering a summer when her husband was abroad and she and her three boys, then nine, seven and five years old, were living alone in a friend’s house in Vermont, Rich writes,

I watched their slender little-boys’ bodies grow brown, we washed in water warm from the garden hose lying in the sun, we lived like castaways on some island of mothers and children. At night they fell asleep without murmur and I stayed up reading and writing as I had when a student, till the early morning hours. I remember thinking: This is what living with children could be — without school hours, fixed routines, naps, the conflict of being both mother and wife with no room for being simply, myself. Driving home once, after midnight, from a late drive-in movie, through the foxfire and stillness of a winding Vermont road, with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a “bad mother.” We were conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood; I felt enormously in charge of my life. Of Woman Born (1986), p194

(Rachael Nevins, taking her cue from this passage, writes wonderfully about what it might mean to self-identify as an ‘outlaw’ mother, rather than a ‘bad’ one.)

There is something else of the 1986 edition that appealed to me beyond measure: where Rich disagrees with her decade-younger-self, she doesn’t amend her original text, but instead, in a footnote, disagrees with or questions her earlier thinking. The grace of changing one’s mind, knowing that knowledge is evolving not fixed, and having the courage to leave one’s tracks as a path for others.

Rich’s chapter on mothers and daughters takes up the idea of matriphobia — “the fear not of one’s mother or of motherhood but of becoming one’s mother” — which took me back to thinking about Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (truthfully, I’m never that far from thinking of Ferrante) and Lenù’s troubled relationship with her mother. Rich writes,

Matrophobia can be seen as a womanly splitting of the self, in the desire to become purged once and for all of our mothers’ bondage, to become individuated and free. The mother stands for the victim in ourselves, the unfree woman, the martyr. Our personalities seem dangerously to blur and overlap with our mothers; and, in a desperate attempt to know where mother ends and daughter begins we perform radical surgery. Of Woman Born (1986), p236

I’m still thinking about this, but following this thread is yet another reason I want to return to the Neapolitan quartet.

Reading Of Woman Born — reading the actual text, rather than reading about it — felt such an important rite of passage, and one that I should have tackled far sooner. (Though it seems almost no coincidence that I got to it as I emerged from a decade of mothering small people — my oldest child nearly ten and my youngest, at four, finally leaving those years of sleeplessness and constant demand. Which is to say that, for me at least, mothering very small people has been incompatible with reading the classics of feminist mothering.) I felt enormous despair that a forty year old book should be so relevant; but I also felt the distance that has been travelled, and a deep, deep gratitude that it was written.

Mostly my thoughts were urgent, personal. Rich seemed to be speaking directly to me. I’ll leave you with the passage that broke me, standing here at the cross-roads of oh, this is what I’ve ‘chosen’ and now what? The underlining is mine.

The most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities. For a mother […] [i]t means that the mother herself is trying to expand the limits of her life. To refuse to be a victim: and then to go on from there.

Only when we can wish imaginatively and courageously for ourselves can we wish unfetteredly for our daughters. […]

As daughters we need mothers who want their own freedom and ours. We need not to be the vessels of another woman’s self-denial and frustration. The quality of the mother’s life — however embattled and unprotected — is her primary bequest to her daughter, because a woman who can believe in herself, who is a fighter, and who continues to struggle to create livable space around her, is demonstrating to her daughter that these possibilities exist.Of Woman Born (1986), p246-247

Postcard from last week: the weeks/the years

I think that the weeks are rolling by. Then I start to think that the months are rolling by.

The weather is cold, mostly grey, and it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that it’s May. There are still flowers on the magnolia, hiding behind the soft flush of new leaves. The wisteria, which we planted last spring, unfurled leaves of copper-tinted green which were all frazzled in the heavy frost last week. The budding leaves of the hibiscus too are curled with frost damage. The lawn, each year narrower than the year before, has been bolstered by new turf along one edge. The other side is patiently waiting its turn. The new grass is growing thick and lush, several shades darker than the rest of the lawn.

We went to France for Easter. Early one morning, I climbed out of the bedroom window & down the stone steps to the garden to go for a run. As I left the thick walls of the house my emails came through and I found myself looking at the Pip-Pop’s school acceptance. In September we will have three children at school. And, for a year, they will all be at the same school. A time of endings; a time of new possibilities. I exist–wave/particle–in an unresolvable combination of sadness & possibility.

(Both times I ran when we were in France I saw a hare at the same turn in the road.)

WordPress congratulates me on ten years of blogging. Though this isn’t strictly true (there’s a five year gap between one post and the next), I still remember setting up my blog in the days of maternity leave just before T was born. I remember thinking that a year’s maternity leave would be an ideal time to write (to which I now, of course, think, ha!).

Because she was eleven days late, I spend a long time each year thinking of those days just before she was born, just before we became parents. I think now of how very young we were. Of how the more days that went by, the less likely it seemed that we were having a baby at all. I remember B sanding the floor of the room that would one day be her’s (–though we didn’t set up a nursery because, in a two bedroom flat, it was a room that we wanted to be ours for as long as possible). There’s a photo of me from those days of waiting. Sitting alone on the sofa, huge, smiling, knitting on my lap. The blanket I was knitting is still on the needles ten years later.

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magnolia stellata | edge of eveningmagnolia stellata | edge of eveningmagnolia stellata | edge of evening

September 2016

The idea is that by right living I might come to right feeling. Therefore: run three times a week even in the freezing cold, go to sleep by 10PM, write 500 words of prose a day six days a week, eat well, listen when the children are speaking, have sex with husband, etc.Mothers by Rachel Zucker

November 2016

Hi. I feel shy. I just forgot my wordpress password, moments after my fingers hesitated over typing edgeofevening. I do think of you. Often actually, especially when I’m cooking & so writing anything down is especially inconvenient. I compose whole blog posts in my head. An alternative way of looking at this is that often, when I’m cooking, I talk to myself in blog posts. Anyway. Here we are: Thursday night & it’s already getting late & everything I wanted to say has vanished.

This morning there was a frost & the rose leaves were edged in white, the last buds still closed. Today, Pops & I have written the invitations to his fourth birthday party. Big(ger) children have worked hard on decorating strips of paper which will one day be fashioned into paper chains for Christmas (!!). We had our Thursday evening ‘family meal’. I thought of Kerry as I always do when I make Anna Jones’s lentil ragù, heeding Kerry’s hard-won advice that an oven glove is necessary for the successful pouring of half an empty tomato tin of boiling water.

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I’ve been having a problem with narrative. A few weeks ago, I picked up Lauren Groff’s acclaimed novel Fates and Furies at the library. I enjoyed the first couple of chapters, but then I just couldn’t go on. The narrative had moved back to the childhood of one of the main characters & my interest was waning. I reread Kerry’s review. I read James Wood’s damning (and plot revealing) review. Then I spent half an hour skipping around, missing whole chunks of the hefty book, finding the pieces that I wanted to read. The end still moved me, but the idea of spending a week or two of my reading life within its pages wasn’t appealing.

The novels I’ve enjoyed the most this year have either dispensed with plot — Ben Lerner’s 10.04, Renata Adler’s Speedboat — or skipped through time, like In Certain Circles, or, like Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Child, been restricted to a time frame of a few days. I’ve become annoyed with books that are long seemingly just for the sake of being long.

March 2017

Like Zucker, I hope to come to right-feeling by right-living. February was lived right: a routine that I stuck to, time that I zealously guarded as my own, pages of handwritten notes that quickly filled notebooks. I find February easy. It’s short, the year is still young. Everything is still possible. This is never how I feel about March.

But here it is anyway, waving daffodils and fat waxy magnolia buds at me. When the sun shines it’s hard not to be seduced. A friend is picking Popsy up from pre-school today. When I got back from drop-off at 10.10, I had a whole five hours to myself. I discovered cat shit on the kitchen floor, changed the litter, took the bins round from the back to the front for tomorrow’s collection, made coffee. Still four & a half hours. I wrote, I ran, I showered, I ate lunch. I visited you, dear old blog. And look, still half an hour to go. The smell of spring in the air. Fingers moving lightly over the keys.

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The Pumpkin Eater

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer | edge of evening

A womb isn’t all that important. It’s only the seat of life, something that drags the moon down from the sky like a kite and draws the sea in and out, in and out, the world’s breathing. At school the word ‘womb’ used to make them snigger. Women aren’t important.The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer

I‘ve been doing a lot of rereading these past few weeks. Looking back at books I’ve loved & trying to  see them afresh, wondering always how they cast their magic. But one new-to-me book I have read is Penelope Mortimer’s slim 1962 novel, The Pumpkin Eater, now reissued as both a NYRB Classic and a Penguin Classic.

It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a woman married to her fourth husband, an up and coming screenwriter (based on the author’s husband, John Mortimer) and the consequences of his infidelities and her focus on their home and many, many children. The writing is so fresh — funny and moving by turns — with wonderful dialogue and a great deal of space between what is said and what is left for the reader to infer. She’s also wonderful at getting children onto the page in all their living, breathing, infuriatingness (Penelope Mortimer herself was a mother of six), reminding me of the brilliance of Penelope Fitzgerald’s young characters.

Mortimer mangages her brilliant and visceral autopsy of a modern marriage in a little under 160 pages, and it made me incredibly sad to think how little remembered she is compared to her former husband. I’ll definitely be seeking out her other novels, but I think they’ll have a hard job to displace this one from my heart.

You can read more about Penelope Mortimer and her novels here.

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And with thanks to Kerry, who sent me in PM’s direction.

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Do you change it? Do you leave it the same?

swans, 22 December | edge of eveningjuvenile swan, 21 January | edge of evening

Top photo: December 22, 2016; Bottom photo: January 21, 2017

 

                      Do you change it? Do you

Leave it the same?

from ‘Mind Core’ by Juan Felipe Herrera

 

I went running last Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t go in the morning, as I have been recently, because of an ill child and because we needed to eat lunch at 11.30 to get another child to her extra ballet practice. It was because of the ill child and the ballet child that I didn’t march, a trip to London being just too awkward to fit in. I thought that I was okay with that, but as the day progressed — coughing child, breakfast, supermarket, lunch, hour-long wait in the car for ballet child — I felt less and less okay about it, until I felt very un-okay in a frustrated and angry kind of way. Which is where the run came into things.

Chunks of thick broken ice on the boardwalk. Silvered grasses. Pied wagtail. Robin fluttering just ahead of me. 

I listened to Michael Silverblatt interviewing Ottessa Moshfegh as I ran (recommended) and then started Rachel Zucker’s interview with Bernadette Mayer before realising that I was so cold that it was time to head home. This week I’ve started reading Mayer’s book length poem, Midwinter Day which fits into the gaps in my day, as I wait for a kettle to boil, or a child to get ready. “I want poetry that contains everything,” I wrote on Instagram & this book is certainly one answer to that desire. My recent morning reading, Solmaz Sharif’s lucid, beautiful, mindfucking, heartbreaking Lookand Kaveh Akbar’s miraculous Portrait of the Alcoholic  are other answers, other consolations, other reminders of what wouldn’t be if one man’s vision of America is allowed to prevail.

Last Saturday, as I rounded the top of the nature reserve, I saw the juvenile swan I’ve been watching all summer alone for the first time. His parents, usually fiercely protective, seem to have decided it’s time. There was something both moving & comforting in even this. Now, as the news seems worse and worse each day, it’s hard to believe that all this was only a week ago.

Is reading poetry, writing poetry any kind of defence? The lines from US poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera I quote at the top have stayed with me all week, though my real questions are how do you change it? how can you leave it the same? This brief interview with Herrera, from 2015, consoles me and commits me to reading more poetry that changes me, cracks me open, reveals me to myself as I gain an brief insight into someone else’s truth. To see and be seen, I keep thinking. That would be a start.

“Poetry is one of the largest, most beautiful, most intimate and most effective ways of participating” in public life, he said.

This political potential of poetry isn’t something that’s obvious to everyone, but it is to Herrera himself. “Poetry, as odd as it is, and as hard to figure out as it is, many times, it’s almost something that we’re used to,” Herrera said. “It’s kind of like a dream language that we had centuries ago, so that when we speak poetically, or write a poem about what’s going on, a real difficult issue that’s facing our communities, people listen.” It carries a power that pamphlets and reports cannot, he says.

It’s not that he expects a poem to transform all of society in one sweeping movement. But, “the justice and change probably [comes] in those five seconds where the person gained an insight.”interview with Juan Felipe Herrera, The Guardian, June 2015