I haven’t written much this October, and so this November I need to come back to writing. Getting back to writing is an acknowledgement that writing will take me back. And that I have written before, I have been a writer, I AM a writer. Just one who’s drifted away.
Two nights ago the Northeast, where I live in a little city neighborhood nestled next to the water, was pummeled by a massive raging storm. All night I woke in cycles, hearing and fearing the hits of the wind against my windows. Damage, trauma, trees down, and then we slowly pick up and get back to work. Do we leave the leaves on the ground? Which branches are big enough to stop us, and which are just reminders of history?
I think often of the damage-inflicting events of our lives. Grief, war, addiction, violence, poverty, racism, abuse. Recently we’ve been talking about sexual assault (some readers may want to stop here) and the ways that it changes us and our ways of trusting and giving and living and being in our bodies. I am trying to listen to my sisters and brothers and hoping that they can pick up strings and tie themselves into their own strength. But I know it’s too much to expect for everyone to be okay.
Right now, I’m reading The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. She names her novel after the site of Geraldine’s rape, and she knows that she has to unfold the truth quickly. There’s been some criticism out there lately about authors using rape as a plot device, but that’s not the case here. The novel is about how to step back up into life after trauma. So far in my reading, Geraldine is not doing it– not resuming, that is. And that has to be okay; we have to suspend judgement. But we also have to want her and will her to get better. Erdrich’s narration forces us to do so from behind the closed door. Instead, we watch Joe, her 13-year old son, trying to go on and grow up. This is a far kinder and more beautiful way to write the book.
The Round House begins with an image of weeds creeping into the cracks of a house. An image, I think, of damage and trouble invading where they don’t belong, multiplying organically. Joe and his father, together, are a unified front against the little trees. Later in the book they carefully tend Joe’s mother’s garden when she won’t leave her room. They bring her cut flowers to show the nurturing they can do. They are gentle and yet fierce in their protection.
Outside my window right now is a prodigious tree made prostrate by the storm. It drapes like the willow it isn’t over the fence of the park next door. It is cracked into impossible angles, yet it still forms one entangled mass. It’s broken and someone will come to break it more and take it away and clean up. The neighborhood won’t be treeless; we’ll resume our ways. But I think it’s right that there’s a time to see it and let it be ruined and count its branches.
In my poetry class, my kids are making family trees. What are their branches? Which kid will hesitate before putting someone’s name down? Which kid will really kind of wish he could chop off an entire branch? Which kid will choose a symbol that’s NOT a tree? Which kid will be thinking about the ways her family could grow?
As for me, I’m letting things lie draped over and slightly broken, and I’m coming back to writing.