A few months ago, I co-launched an expat women's writing group here in Oslo. We have eight talented, enthusiastic members, hailing originally from countries all over the globe. I love my group. Seeing them every other week lifts my spirits and inspires me to write often and better.
(Note: We are not accepting new members at this time because we strive to allow everyone to share their writing at every meeting. With eight people, this is already often a stretch. However, I can attest to how helpful it is to find and link-up with a group of writers wherever you are. My best advice: If you can't find such a group... start one! It's easier than you might think, and always absolutely worth it. I'm happy to share the steps we took to get ours off the ground, so please don't hesitate to contact me with questions about that.)
Occasionally our assigned exercises yield some really fun writing on each of our parts. In particular, I enjoyed the 10-minute exercise we did a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I'd share my response to it here.
10 Minute Exercise: Think of your favorite animal. Why is it your favorite? Tell us about the first memory you have of one, seeing it up close or in a photo, hearing its name.
Now, here I must admit that I cheated a little bit. My actual first memory of a giraffe is a terrifying one. My mother owned a wall-hanging, three giraffes at a watering hole, black paint on bamboo slats, like window blinds without the window. She hung it on the wall of my childhood bedroom, the one I shared with both my little brothers until I was six-years-old. That wall-hanging scared the bajeezus out of me. I believed I saw it come alive at night, and that the giraffes bared their teeth at me. I believed they were going to eat me in my sleep. This was real, blood curdling, screaming-fit fear.
I got over it quickly once I saw giraffes at the zoo, and that's the memory I describe here. The intelligence and analysis are retrospective, of course. The romance of the moment is absolutely real.
Christmas cards and Christmas letters, chronicles of our year at a time of supreme reflection, appear to be a very American phenomenon. It's one I like. I have a box of cards collected over the years from my friends, and in the pictures I can see them fall in love. I am reminded up their weddings. I can marvel at the growth of their children and follow their adventures throughout the world.
We may live in a digital age that allows us uniquely (and sometimes disturbingly) intimate access to the lives of friends and acquaintances alike, but these paper cards are important to me. In fact, the more digitized the world becomes, the more special it is that someone would take the time to sit and put pen to paper or lick a stamp and press it to the top corner of an envelope. (I'm exaggerating. No one licks stamps anymore.)
This year, due to the cost of printing and shipping and paying for international postage, I wasn't able to send as many of the paper cards as I have in years past. To make up for that, I thought I'd post the card here, too. After all, if you read my blog, you're important to me. You remind me that my writing is worthwhile. You help hold me accountable. You make me go on.
So... drum roll please...
At first I think it is a plane, the first star in the evening sky. So bright, it seems like the pearled end of a pin stuck through the fabric of the sky to hold it in place. So bright, I can see it even though the sun hasn't entirely set. I am caught by the beam of it, ensnared, drawn in. The sky is banded with the late-afternoon ripeness of the sunset, burnt orange, gray-green, turquoise. But the star shines through, so bright I can see it glitter. I understand why we draw stars the way we do, with flashy points signifying the burst of light in the night.
This is the shortest day of the year. The first day of winter. As I walked home from the grocery store after lunch, the cold numbed my fingers, bare and hooked through the handles of my shopping bags. I hauled home my groceries: milk, juice, soda, a whole chicken for roasting on Christmas Day. I passed dogs wearing bright red sweaters and women in full-length fur coats. And now my neighborhood streets are almost empty, long before dinner time. The darkness has pressed us all indoors.
And perhaps because today has been so short, it has felt like one of the busiest days of all. I have run from one end of my flat to the other putting things away, hanging Christmas decorations, reorganizing cupboards. I have been writing and editing and revising. All the things I writer is supposed to do. My checklist for the day has been looking pretty good.
Then the star caught my eye.
The black digits blinked against the fluorescent orange background of our alarm clock. 1:30 a.m. All the bedroom lights were still on. Jonathan and I were sitting up and staring at each other across the rumpled down comforters. Our expressions were heavy, numb, the calm after a storm. For a moment we were absolutely quiet. My cat raised his head sleepily and eyed me as if to ask, "Are you done now? Can we all go to bed like normal people?"
Jonathan yawned and pressed his bookmark back between the pages of his book. I shook my head against the sleepiness and tried to remember how we got here, why we were up so late.
It had started as an ordinary Sunday night. I took my birth control pill while Jonathan refilled his nightstand water cup. He switched on the morning alarm and I peeled off my socks and tossed them into the dirty clothes bin. We eased under our blankets side by side, lamps on, books out. He is re-reading The Lord of the Rings; I'm working my way through Robert Wright's The Evolution of God.
This is, again, pretty typical: Jonathan swimming in a fantasy novel while I root around in a work of non-fiction.
That's sort of what the debate was about.
A predictable post, I suppose, considering that I'm a California girl at the commencement of her first winter in Norway.
For California kids, certain Christmas songs and lore carry a different kind of mystique. Not only Irving Berlin's White Christmas, but also Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, and Frosty the Snowman. We don't understand these things. That is, unless our parents dragged us to the house of a relative who was fortunate enough to live someplace where it snowed. While my Illinois cousins spent the afternoon of Christmas Day throwing snowballs and sledding, my brothers and I were out rollerskating on sunny sidewalks through our neighborhood. Without coats on. And while my cousins might have debated the point, I still say we were the ones who drew the short straw.
So, you can understand my excitement when, after the warmest November Norway has on record, big, fat flakes of white began falling damply and intermittently from the evening sky.
Seven years ago I was an undergrad at UC Davis, living in Livermore, California with my husband of four months, and I was a first-time mom to an itty-bitty kitty named Disney. Since then, many things have changed. I'm a graduate student at Lesley University, and I'm living in Oslo, Norway. Oh, and Diz isn't quite as itty or bitty anymore. In fact, he's quite a chunk! But a couple of important things have remained the same:
-- Marriage. Seven years later, Jonathan and I still feel like newlyweds in many ways. Lots of cuteness. (Thankfully the cuteness is woven in with a learned patience, humility, graciousness, and maturity... all things that only time can provide.)
-- Wardrobe. The shirt was $3.50 at Old Navy in 2002. It's a keeper! And the Santa Hat. The bow and ears are Minnie's, of course, and Jon has Mickey's to match. We picked them up on one of our early Disneyland trips in 2003. Again, I think they'll be around for a while. (We'd wear them outside, but we think it's a trifle soon to show the Norwegians our true, dorky colors.)
-- Humor. It lives here with us always. Often at Disney's expense. And if we're lucky and we work really hard at it, the laughter will still be around in 2018, 2025, and beyond.