"An artist needs time to do nothing but sit around and think and let ideas come to him," Jacob Kahn said to me one afternoon on that porch after I had sat on a chair for hours, gazing at the sunlight on the water and the sand and the houses farther up along the dunes. "Gertrude Stein said that once. She was an impossible human being. But she was wise." --from 'My Name is Asher Lev' by Chaim Potok, page 239
That idea is true for writers as well as artists, and that is why new posts have not appeared regularly on this blog all summer. One needs time to do nothing but sit around and think and let ideas come. It should be illegal for summers to get this busy.
I went to church this morning in wind and rain. The thermometer shivered around fifty degrees. It is August. "It" has no business being anything less than sunny and at least 70.
But the leaves have begun to turn. I noticed it three or four days ago, but did not admit it until today.
I have gotten more exercise this weekend than the entire summer gave me. Between helping a friend move (there were stairs involved) on Friday, square-dancing and waltzing at a wedding on Saturday, and walking today, I feel good. Sitting too much in chairs leaves one feeling frail. Back in Montana, when I played on a volleyball team, kept sheep and horses, and ran in the wind because I liked the feeling, I felt like a sturdy farm girl.
Of course, I could have gone camping and huckleberry-picking with my boyfriend and his family for the next two days, but I opted out because after two years' distance from my rock-climbing and whitewater rafting days, I have decided that camping is just not little Jennifer's cup of tea. It isn't bears that bother me, or sleeping on hard ground; it is getting dirty and not being able to get clean that irks me. But I will go with them sometime, and I am sure I will enjoy it.
The wedding yesterday was the second this summer, one Saturday immediately following the other. I used to think wedding traditions were all pointless. I have seen reasonably traditional weddings that seemed unreasonably pointless--not, thankfully, among my close friends. But I have changed my mind about wedding traditions. Had it not been in my head to do so before, it would have been after those two weddings.
The first wedding had a lovely reception, and the bride was one of the more beautiful creatures I have seen in some time. The ceremony, however, was officiated by a woman. A woman, moreover, wearing floral print. She prayed to "The Creator" without getting any more specific than that. The vows contained lots of sweetnesses about things like "my arms being your home", but absolutely nothing that I recall about "for richer or for poorer" or "in sickness and in health", let alone "till death do us part". I am not fool enough to think that because it meant nothing to me, it meant nothing to them. But I would not have felt married.
The second wedding was Christian: Catholic, to be exact, though all the bride's family was Protestant. The groom's brother, a Jesuit seminarian, gave a long but lovely homily based on the three Bible readings chosen by the bride and groom. The bride's brother and sister(?) sang the hymn "Come Thou Fount". The bride and groom memorized their vows, which I thought rather daring, but it worked out beautifully. They said the simple, basic promises that have been said at Christian weddings for centuries. "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." The deacon performing the ceremony blessed the rings and officiated the vows with a few brief words that emphasized the sacrament and its solemnity and joy. Perhaps it would have meant nothing to someone, but for me it confirmed clearly why people go through the bother of the giant expensive social and religious ritual known as a wedding.
And then we square-danced at the reception, and my shoe fell off and I stepped on Lou's feet but he never stepped on mine, and at one point during a mixer dance I was partnered with a small girl and she was the "guy", and after awhile my legs went to jelly and Lou and I sat under the tent and watched, with amusement, as the energetic and good-looking newlyweds and about fifty other people danced the Virginia Reel.
After church today, I finished reading My Name is Asher Lev and took a three-hour nap. I woke up to find that the rain had stopped and that the sun had pushed its way through the clouds in places. The wind blew strongly, and it all appealed to me so much that I decided to take a walk that has become something of a ritual for me.
I have taken this walk only three times, counting today. The idea is to start from the bottom of the Taylor Stairs--everyone in Bellingham knows the Taylor stairs--and walk to Boulevard Park, continue on the waterside path toward downtown, take the cut up to State Street and go up Boulevard Road (or Avenue, or Street, or Lane, or whatever) to the stairs that go up to Forest Lane. From there, I continue up the block to North Garden Street, turn left, and go up around the school and past the dorms, down West Campus Way and onto Bill McDonald, which goes back to 21st, and a right on Taylor takes me back to the bottom of the stairs. It takes me about an hour and a half at a steady pace.
Last time I made that walk was last September, and the time before that was in the spring. Each time, it has been an opportunity for me to relax and just think. I get very much into this, so much so that I hardly dare even to talk to myself. No, I am not crazy.
The first time I thought about what it is to be loved, and recognized the ways in which I was loved. The second time came right after I broke up with my first boyfriend; the day was windy and drizzly and autumnal, and I worked out a lot in that hike.
Today, I detoured a little bit and walked around Knox, effectively making my route even longer (it is long, at least, for someone who sits in chairs all the time and hardly ever gets out.) But I did less serious thinking than the other trips. I looked up at patches of blue sky through still-green leaves. The cool wind made me think of autumn, which made me think of transition. The sun got hot in the brief pauses between the wind's blowings, and I thought to myself that it is absolutely shameful for a woman to sweat as much as I do.
Unwittingly, I found myself narrating the trip to myself in short, tortured little sentences like Chaim Potok uses. This became annoying about halfway through the trip. Unfortunately, it did not stop.
I walked past churches of three different Christian denominations and centers of two other religions. I found "Power to the People" stamped on the sidewalk and laughed at Bellingham for its odd ideas about democracy and socialism, and for the fact that it chalks its philosophies on the streets. "Free Tibet" had been chalked on Taylor last year. Moving from one aspect of popular philosophy to another, I thought of the fact that the most hated people in Western society right now are those who fit all of the following categories: white, male, straight, Christian. I thought of the fact that the two best men I have ever known--my dad and my boyfriend--have been all of those things (as have a few of the bad but nearly all of the good men I've met), and that the gentlest, most loving treatment a girl could ever want has come to me from those two. Western society appears to be mistaken. As if I needed further proof of that fact.
It was a good trip. And now it is midnight, and I have to get up at six-thirty. There will have been little point in taking a three-hour nap today if I don't go to bed now.