b ~ In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.


We have a saying in my house, or at least one that everyone feels
applies to me: “Both ways is the only way I want it.” It’s the title
of a Maile Meloy short story collection. That line, it turns out, is
from a poem by A.R. Ammons. The poem is concise, direct and only one
sentence long.

“One can’t have it / both ways and both / ways is the only / way I want it.”

I have become the master of filling my life. I can conjure miscellany
and stuff the way a magician works with rabbits. I can make work
appear where once there was seemingly open space. Time that could have
been spent observing, contemplating, thinking, listening or—heaven
forbid– sleeping,  is crammed with any task I can dream up or favor I
can do for someone. And sometimes I double book my minutes. My husband
can tell you all about that, ’cause then it spills over into his free
time. I’ll agree to bake something for a blood drive or bake sale and
ask him to help me prep. Or volunteer for an event at the Library and
plead with him to help me set-up, take down or clean up. You name it,
he’s been kind enough to do it. I can’t seem to let those free minutes
meander and wander of their own accord.

But this week is a slightly different work week for me. I’m spending
two days at a lake resort learning about math literacy for
preschoolers. While I am here I am not working at the Library, I am
not selling books, nor am I teaching anyone about the wonderful world
of Children’s Literature. Maybe all of these things would be possible
if I had myself cloned. It hasn’t happened yet, but I  have thought
long and hard about making this My Life’s Goal. I can only imagine
what two of me would accomplish in this world. Instead I am just me.
Me sitting and learning, laughing, gluing, measuring and taking it all
in. At the end of the day I grabbed my camera and headed outdoors.
Looking at that big expansive sky and the lake stretching out in all
directions loosened something within me. I listened to the geese
flying overhead and my friends chatting in their canoe and I felt
peaceful. I can’t remember when I felt so unburdened. I could almost
imagine taking off with those geese to destinations unknown.

Dinner was spent in the company of two women librarians I didn’t
really know. We talked about traveling and trains, cheesemaking and
baking. The food was delicious and the conversation delightful. Anyone
who knew me might have marveled at my ease and demeanor–talking to
almost strangers does not come natural to me. Then after we parted, on
a lark, I went to check out the movie in the little theater. As luck
would have it they were just getting ready to start. I sat for two
hours, completely surrounded by teens, immersed in the world of a
teenager who checks himself into a psych ward. In one scene he’s
talking with a doctor who asks him to remember a time when he was
happy, a time when he was completely carefree. He says it was when he
was in eighth grade before girls and grades, wars and the economy
completely falling apart. He tells her it seemed to all happen in one
day. I get that. I get that feeling like everything is heavy and
sometimes you wake up in the morning, surprised and then resigned to
whatever heavy things you’re carrying around on your back. Or resigned
to the race you know you’ll be running because you are certain that a
break is just around the corner. “If I can just make it to the
weekend…” How many times have I said that line to myself? It is the
carrot I hold out to keep me moving forward.

Walking back to my room, I decided to answer the doctor’s question and
think back to a time when I was happy and maybe carefree. I was afraid
it might have been a childhood memory, but instead I thought about the
time after my graduation almost two years ago. It snowed so hard that
weekend and I was stuck for a few days with my friends. I didn’t have
any responsibilities; my thesis had been delivered, and the snow was
so stunningly, heartbreakingly beautiful, that I felt like I had won
Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. In some ways this conference is the same
for me. I am here, and yet removed from my life. But how to reconcile
those two halves? How to have carefree but purposeful minutes–’cause
both ways truly is the way I want it. When I am frenetically busy I
wish I could be calm. And when time is open, looser, it stretches out
in front of me like an open mouthed canyon that I must tightrope
cross. I can’t help but think of a scene I saw this weekend, in which
two women were lying next to a record player listening to a violin
symphony. It cracked my heart open and made me long for a simpler
time. A time when you could sit next to a stereo and actually listen
to the music. Allow it to wrap itself around your heart, consider how
it made you feel, not think about the work needing to be done or the
people that needed to be helped. Knowing deep inside that the sitting
still was your true purpose, and at the same time the answer to it

About andi

Writer, editor, wrangler of small boys and dogs.

One comment

  1. penny mcconnel

    Lovely writing and thoughts Beth. I feel that I am getting to know the you who will not come out in regular conversation. Can we have tea and talk about this sometime?


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