Sunday afternoon, on a plane ride from DC, I started Anne Lamott's newest book, Imperfect Birds. I should add here that I adore Anne Lamott and have read nearly everything she's written. But after the first two chapters, I had to close the book and, today, returned it to the library. It's about her character Rosie (whom she's written several books about) in high school, now, toying with cocaine, sex, acid, prescription drugs, love affairs, fitting in; and about Rosie's mom, whose head we maze through as she worries about what she knows, doesn't know, and allows for this girl-woman who is so much a part of her and who exists so completely apart from her. She aches and obsesses. I ached and obsessed as I read, nearly holding my breath. It was all too intense and fear-inducing, imagining my little people flung into the wild world. So I closed the book and picked up a pen instead:
I don't have babies anymore. Looking at Eden the other day in her bed -- Eden who constantly says things like, when I grow and grow and am a woman can I drink that coffee? -- I thought she was Silas, her body so long. And Silas, his lanky legs and boyish face has long since moved on from babyhood all together. We are at the juncture between having babies and real kids. It's a change, and changes tend to wring me out. I daily flip-flop between holding my breath, trying to stand perfectly still and SEE them, and wildly trying to gulp all the air in the room, open every pore to absorb these days -- the way Eden's standing by the piano, her 2-year-old run, the way she wraps her arms snugly around my back and holds on hard, Silas 's muttering as he builds with legos and blasts his creation into space, the sounds of words in his 4 1/2-year-old mouth, the way he can't say his R's, the little blond hairs on his legs.
And since I can't really do either, memorize them in their momentary entirety nor absorb every sensation of today, I find myself, here on the plane flying back to them after three nights away, writing portraits. Describing them is writing a kind of love letter, a kind of photograph, a way of cutting off the movies that start flickering in my head about the future with all of the sparking what-if's, a way, perhaps, both to hold still and to absorb.
This weekend I heard Ed Hirsch, quoting Allen Grossman, say that we write to inscribe something against our vanishing, that the urgency to create is really about leaving a mark and speaking into the future. Ultimately, it is a response to the knowledge -- the unbearable parts of it -- that we will die, to our own mortality. He articulated it beautifully and sitting here holding Silas and Eden in my head, having not touched their little arms and faces for days, I feel it well.