by Zinta Aistars
Frankly, I’m not sure what I believe. Firmly believing anything, in fact, strikes me as a tad arrogant. What do I know? Well, a little of this and a smidgen of that. More than some. But a person of conviction I am not, at least not in most great philosophical debates—what is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Why am I here? Is there a purpose to all this tomfoolery? Got me.
The older I get, perhaps I get wiser, too. And as I am considering the size and shape of wisdom, it seems to me that being wise is more defined by asking smart questions than it is about stating hard and fast convictions.
Life is cyclical. Very young children pepper adults with a constant stream of questions. Why this? Why that? How come? Because why? Now that I am getting on past midlife, I am finding myself returning to that childlike wisdom. It is those middle years that seem most frightening to me, when youth become just old enough to think they have all the answers and think the elderly have nothing to offer but graying shades of absent minds and drool—to the middling years when we avoid asking questions because we are too busy or too tired for the fight. Just easier that way: following tradition, doing what we do because everyone else is doing it, marching along to the band even if we know it’s all a sham.
For some reason, I’ve never stopped asking questions, and now that I really am older (and more than a little absent-minded), I speak more in questions than in statements. I have no problem saying, I don’t know. I consider it something of a badge of honor to admit to mistakes and to open doors to greater knowledge by admitting a lack of understanding.
So, is there a God? Is there purpose to life? What about destiny? Is there reason to this chaos?
I don’t know.
Lately, however, it seems that there have been more than a few odd little “happenings” in my life. Nudges. Let’s just say, by the Universe. That big outer something, out there beyond the limits of our human understanding, that, methinks, sometimes just seems to have a great old time having fun with us. Dropping things into our lap. Sticking a foot out onto our path to trip us up …. Just so we can lie nose in the grass for a while and check out those kewl ants. You know?
For those who have been reading my blogs for a while, you already know that I am in a phase of renovation, even a renaissance. I have been writing about “my house, my self” as I demolish one structure to rebuild another. It’s a pretty dramatic thing to do, and the metaphor is far more than a metaphor. I cannot explain it, but doing one of these things seems to have a domino effect on other areas of my life. Push this, that falls. It is as if life is a tunnel of mirrors, and I’m not always sure if I am looking at the real thing or the mirror image or if there is anything to life other than reflection.
All that lead in, you see, is to a moment last night when I was sitting at my new dining room table, swinging my legs like a big kid from the new bar-height chair, pondering a stream of words I had just tapped onto my laptop keyboard. My novel is coming along like crackers. You would almost think it was easy to write. Go figure. All this time, it hasn’t been. A trillion times three drafts have gone up in smoke (I love setting fire to lousy manuscripts; I am a manuscript arsonist) or been tossed into random wastebaskets and bins (less satisfying but still good).
Not until I tore the guts out of my house and gave it an entirely new look did the words come free. See the connect ion? I don’t. But I’m loving it. The words flow. And the more the words flow, the more poison flows out of me. I am writing—as a literary friend recently encouraged me to do—dangerously. I don’t care about protecting the guilty. I don’t care whose toes I stomp on. I don’t care if I am standing nekkid on the stage, and I don’t care how stoopid I look, draped in the very thin disguise of narrator.
This is not about the renewed ease of writing dangerously, however. (Hang on, I’m getting to my point here soon.) I have cleaned up my literary act even as I have cleaned up my house even as I have cleaned up my personal relationships. Dominoes. Mirrors. Chamber of echoes.
Now enters my son.
A friend and my son have both been working in the crawlspace all afternoon and evening. The crawlspace is the underbelly of my house, that dark and dingy space of fusty air and boogie men and unexplained shadows and random scritchy scratchy noises and who knows what evil spirits. It is also where I stowed boxes and boxes of stuff when I first moved here, substantially more than a decade ago. That’s a long time not to unpack boxes.
The crawlspace (with its gravel floor) is also, I have long suspected, the extended litter box for my cats and even my dog. Yes, I’ve seen him sneaking out of there lately when he thinks I don’t see him. Not in the mood to scratch at the door, he ducks down in there, following the cats’ lead, and dumps his lazy protest. Nasty. Bad pup. Bad kitties. But no one is listening to me when I am out of the house and at work for perhaps some twelve hours of the day. Bad Mommy.
Still. In the name of attacking my house, my old house, in its reformation into Home, a nice Home, my mood for gutting and cleaning and emptying and discarding continues. I don’t even want to think about it. Don’t even want to see it. Just get rid of it.
Such were my instructions to my two fellas as I heard them stomping away beneath the house, huffing and puffing and bringing the junk out. I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to touch it, I don’t want to consider it. Just burn, baby, burn.
“Mom,” my son called up at one late point in the evening. “We’re about to make a dumpster run. Lot of stuff here. Sure you don’t want to check it over before we get rid of it?”
Sometime later, still swinging my legs, still tapping on the keyboard, I hear my son return. He comes in and upstairs and over to me. He holds out a blue plastic box. One corner is broken off, but the box is otherwise intact and inside it are slides. Do people even know what slides are anymore? Pre-digital cameras took slides, framed in little pieces of cardboard, and I take one out of the box and hold it up to the light.
Oh. My. Yow.
I look at my son, wide-eyed. “Everything from the crawlspace gone?”
“So where did this come from?”
“Fell out of the last box as we pushed it over into the dumpster.”
“And you brought it back home.”
“Thought you might want it.”
I took another slide out and held it up to the light. Another, and another. They date back to a day nearly 30 years ago. These are photographs of my daughter’s birth. Some are too explicit for most eyes but my own. The crowning. The moment of my daughter’s face first seeing the light of day. The moment when her round baby belly, cord attached, emerged. The moment her legs are free and kicking for all life. The moment my husband lay her across my belly, preparing to cut the cord.
I sat there a moment longer. I had stopped swinging my legs.
“All in the dumpster you say.”
“Hey, you want to see the crawlspace?”
The underbelly of my house hadn’t looked this clean and empty since the day I moved in. A lifetime ago. Several lifetimes ago. Most of those boxes, I’m pretty sure, contained clothes, old and less favored books I no longer had the space to shelve, and some unnamed miscellany. My previous life was one, after all, of much greater abundance of stuff, when houses in which I lived were much larger structures and cleaned by a weekly cleaning service, and bookshelves abounded in far greater rooms than mine here, today. Many of the books had been damaged by too many moves. Weathered, bent, flooded, mildewed, ripped. Why bother looking through any of it anymore?
Watching me watch the lit-up emptiness of the crawlspace, my son said: “Really. It was all junk.”
I was still clutching the blue plastic box of slides in my hand. I nodded.
Just fell out of the last box. Just fell out. Landed at my son’s feet. The one little bit of all that junk that had immeasurable value. I decide not to ask any questions about what else might have been in those boxes.
The underbelly of my house is clean. The shadows have dispersed. The boogie men have boogied on to haunt other underbellies of other bleak houses. All that matters I have with me now. My days are filled with renewed joy of watching my children grow into their astounding lives. My evenings are filled with the renewed joy of pursuing my art that now once again is pursuing me, biting at my heels, nibbling at me with delicious unrest, nagging to be told, written down, brought into the clean and open light.
I would love to know who or what caused this one little blue box to fall back out of the dumpster. I would be curious to understand why so many other similar things seem to be happening in my life lately. Requests, for instance, to do things I haven’t done in a long time, letting the demons of the past decade stop me, frozen in fear, irrational as they might be. Requests to give more author’s readings again, for instance. Opportunities like little blue boxes falling from the heavens, invitations, nudgings, benevolent accidents, beckoning challenges. Somebody, or something, is having a bit of fun with me.
I slept well last night, even as I dreamed of dumpsters full of blue boxes. It could be I have lost some treasured memorabilia along the way of this bumpy ride. Many things are lost and ruined when you change addresses more than 30 times, sometimes more than once a year. If I have lost the blue boxes, I have the sources of those memories. The people worth keeping in my life. The few books I may yet reread.
The chance to ask more questions, and wonder, and toss blue boxes right back up into the sky.