The cherry tree in our back yard has not yet bloomed, but finally, after the relentless snow of this year’s winter and the alternating rain and cool winds of April, the trees are budding. May will be here on Friday. Within one or two weeks the yard, which currently is visible to any neighbor who decides to glance out a window, will be shielded by a circle of trees thick with leaves. The transformation is always amazing; one day I walk out to a cold, gray space tangled with bare branches above and asphalt bordered by brown, flattened grass below…and what seems like the next day I step onto a thick green lawn under a lush canopy of green leaves and white flowers. That’s New England.
This morning, we’re still in that space in the middle, a space I tend to explore a lot in my writing. The past is fading and the future is on the way, but here we are, now, trying to figure out what happens in-between.
The fact is, this is the last spring-turning-to-summer I will spend in this house. As of last Friday, after exactly 50 days on the market (these are the things you know in the days of the Internet and Realtor.com) we’ve sold our house. I suppose I shouldn’t type that out loud; things can still happen between the signing of the Purchase & Sale Agreement and the Closing to cause the deal to fall apart. Our Closing is scheduled for June 26, so we are, again, in this in-between place where the house is technically sold but the deal is not “said and done.” We still live here, we’re not moving yet, but everything is beginning to feel like “the last time.” This is the last time I’ll watch the rhododendrons bloom into a blanket of pink flowers beside the front door. This is the last time I will rake the leftover dead leaves of fall away from the foundation of the house. This is the last time I will plant marigolds along the front walkway. I am feeding the birds and the squirrels a little less each week so that I can wean them from the feeder I’ll leave behind, hoping the new owner will want to fill it.
We’ll be moving to a small house in Cambridge that Jean-Paul inherited from his mother. It was Jean-Paul’s home during his high school years and the house that you’ll remember, if you read Message From a Blue Jay, was the one his mother lived in at the end of her life, the one I drove to one night in the pouring rain when she called and said she desperately needed me to pick up her medicine. To be honest, both of us have qualms about moving into that place, so we’ve set out to transform it into something different for ourselves. We’ll paint the whole house, lay down new floors, and make other changes to try to give both us and the house a new start.
Still, even that house will be an in-between place. We don’t intend to stay in Cambridge forever, just for now. We’re not sure what the future holds. I’m trying to see it as kind of a local “year abroad,” or maybe two…an opportunity to drink in everything that Cambridge has to offer — restaurants and cafes and museums and theatres and bookstores and the benches that look out over the Charles River near the Harvard Bridge. When I was in my twenties I would have loved more than anything to live in Cambridge; now my feelings are somewhat mixed, but I still think it could be fun. I’ll miss the large back yard here and my squirrels and skunks, and the groundhog who recently took up residence. But my guess is I’ll hang a bird feeder in the tiny front yard in Cambridge, and maybe I’ll install a small bird bath there as well so I can make some new friends.
It has been a struggle to focus on writing during this period. After finishing my last essay about a month ago, I drafted two pages of a new short story. It has been sitting on my desktop unattended, staring at me accusingly. I’m looking forward to the semester’s end in a week as well as the end of the chaos of house selling so that I can clear my mind (hopefully) and write some new work.
In lieu of regular writing, I have done some reading. I just finished a lighthearted novel called The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag. The characters in the book face the type of obstacles you find in a Jane Austen novel, but with modern updates and some magical realism thrown in. The book was a nice break from the more “serious” literature I tend to read, and although each of the romantic plots was a bit thin and unrealistic, I enjoyed the book. Reading it at night was an escape. My review on Goodreads is here.
The next book I’m reading will likely be another that will help keep things light during this transitional time, but it will move me back toward the personal essay genre. The Choke Artist is a collection of essays written by David Yoo, who teaches at the Solstice MFA Creative Writing Program. David is funny in person and from the start of the book I can tell he is just as funny on the page. Still, beneath the often self-deprecating humor lies the true experience of a Korean boy growing up in a wealthy Connecticut suburb and feeling somewhat out of place. I’m reading the book partly because I’ve been meaning to read it forever, and partly because I’m considering using it as one of the texts for my literature course in Memoir and the Personal Essay next semester. I’m trying to find books that will be both educational and relatable for the students, as well as examples of high quality writing.
I guess I’ll stop here; writing this post is part of my journey back to my morning writing schedule. It’s now 9 a.m., however, and the rest of the world and the responsibilities that come with it are tugging at my arm.