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It's Nelly's World

Sisyphus in the Augean Stables

alec vanderboom


I live in a powderpuff heaven, fragranced by milkweed. It is entirely just, isn't it, that these flowers are not to be possessed by the likes of us: you imagine a fulsome bouquet in your favorite vase, these pink explosions perfuming every molecule within your house, but they won't comply. They don't want to be cut, so they tell you by immediately keeling over. They are wild and wish to stay that way. Also alive.

But that's all right by me, because they fill, even more fulsomely, the field behind my new party cabana (aka bizarre car shed appended to this funny little house which has so quickly felt like home--and also irksome in its minor details: the stove timer that doesn't work; no phone jack in the office, or indeed anywhere downstairs but one place; no woodstove, oh ache in the heart; the shower's downstairs, so my hairbrush is always upstairs and the towel down or vice versa). What I don't like is minor. What I do is major. That I do is major.

Relief--so sweet. After a long, long time of pushing a wheelbarrow full of manure up a steep hill, only to have it roll back to ever more crap to shovel in at the bottom.

I am about to start work again. (I think: I shouldn't say I definitely am, of course, in order to ward off the Great Jinx in the Sky who waits for us to pronounce on our future good luck, and then, as soon as the words leave your lips, swoops down to snatch much-awaited fortune from your grasp. Just because you spoke of it.) That's because I have what appears to be some bad luck but is actually a paradoxical gift--my life specializes in these suddenly--of having to watch children two days a week at the park. The summer schedule is a killer. Not for the kids, but for the moms (especially the single ones) who have to watch their offspring after the three-hour-long camp is over. Ever wonder how long an afternoon can be? But I set up my camp chair, open a can of Diet Dr. Pepper (come on, we all have dirty little secrets best left unveiled), and write. Below me, the children jump off the dock into the water in an endless loop; I glance up from my notebook occasionally to re-enter the past, the dreamy summer days of merging with water, of moving through and in and out and hitting down, wanting never to stop, in a seemingly half-conscious state.

I write this, for example. Last week was the first time I composed directly into the computer, and it showed, and I'll never do that again, and I'm sorry.

I have other things I need to write, am compelled to write, and I hope and trust it won't feel anything like pushing an excrement-laden cart up a hill.

The summer schedule has made me even more efficient with my time, though frankly I thought I was already pushing the envelope there.* I put Nelly, my child, his lunch, and swimming detritus in the car, drop him off at day camp, hit a different portion of the rail trail for a half-hour so Nelly will be set at least until I get home after child-minding duties**, and then I'm able to do as much in two hours at the computer, telephone, sink, and washing machine as anyone can. In the evening, after dinner, we all three take to the woods out back for a postprandial walk, with the added bonus, right now, of wild blueberries.

Memories of cannonballs splashed in another life. The sweet taste of a berry stolen from a bear. Perfume in the night air. My child, with me but also over there, far, in his own world of water. Nelly asleep and dreaming at the top of the stairs. Freedom and the feeling of happiness floating by.


*I think I'll have t-shirts made that bear the legend "Mothers are people who think of everything." On the back it'll say, "Because they have to."

**Thank goodness dogs experience a similar lassitude in the heat; they prefer their walks in the cool of the morning or evening, and spend the rest of the day panting on their sides on a cool wood floor in a breezy hallway. So you don't have to feel guilty about not taking them on grand hikes.