The wasps float angrily up through our open windows and bang about between the glass and the curtain. They come all summer long, once or twice each day. I hear the buzz or I see the cat twitch and point. Our fly swatter is neon orange, and when I grab it like a machete, the cat high-tails it out of the room. He knows what comes next.
I stalk the vicious insect, push the curtain flatter to the window so it has no escape. Then SMACK!
The yellow-and-black curl of its dying body drops like fruit from a tree onto our white window sill, between framed photos: Jonathan and I watching fireworks at Disneyland, my girlfriends and I at the Christmas tree lighting in San Francisco, me wearing a cute hat in Strasbourg, France. I don't trust the bug even in its prone position, not so long as its head, abdomen, thorax, wings, and stinger remain intact. I scoop it up with the spatula-shaped end of the swatter and toss it out the window.
This is an exercise unique to my life in Oslo.
On the Monday following the Olso bombing and Utøya massacre, more than 100,000 people converged in front of Rådhusplassen (city hall) to memorialize the victims and support their families. The crowd held long-stemmed roses which they raised to the sky in peaceful defiance again and again. It was, possibly, the most elegant, loving tribute I've ever seen. I took the video, below, with my iPhone, and there IS audio, but you won't hear a thing. It was as if everyone in the city was holding his breath.
When the speeches were finished, everyone walked away. We streamed back through the veins of the city, and along the way, we placed our roses. At the feet of statues. At the cornerstones of the parliament buildings (Stortinget), Oslo Cathedral, the Royal Palace. I added mine to a growing heap of flowers at the Eternal Peace Flame at Aker Brygge. Hundreds of thousands of roses blanketed the city.
It's not up to me, an Outsider, to say whether this defiantly peaceful response is a byproduct of the natural stoicism of Norwegian society. But these people are bred of generations who have thrived in the cold and the dark by drawing closer together. Their ancestors saw the rule of other nations, Sweden and Denmark, and outlasted Nazi occupation. This country has seen its share of adversity and woe.
It is up to me, as a writer, to observe the response and share it. Especially because the echoes of this Rally of Roses were so gentle and lovely. The next day, I walked through town and captured the aftermath with my camera.
I just couldn't resist.
Jonathan and I began dating in 2003, and married in 2004, while I was still in school. We lived in Livermore, 10 minutes from his job, and I commuted to and from UC Davis for the next two years. The round-trip was 160-odd miles, and by the end, I could do it with my eyes closed. When I graduated with my B.A. in English in 2006, I felt grateful for many things, but Jonathan was definitely at the top of that list. He supported me financially and emotionally that whole time. My education was as much his prerogative as it was mine.
Six years later, I graduated from Lesley University with my MFA in Creative Writing, and as you can see, not much as changed. My hair color, sure. And my commute time increased a bit since we moved to Norway. Hah! But we haven't lost our style, our energy, or our love.
Just for fun, though, let's look back about 11 years and see how much times (and Audrey's hair) have changed since graduation from Livermore High School in June 2001...
I am free! I am free!
These cries bring me to the window of my rooftop flat. The first English words I have understood within a burbling stream of mournful chanting. I learn toward the opening of the window, four inches, no more. The morning air meets my face, cool. The sky is blue and streaked with breezy, insubstantial clouds. It is early on Saturday, and I've been awake for less than fifteen minutes. The street far below me is empty, but I am not alone.
I am free! I am free!
It's uncanny how my mind separates the parts of this moment into pieces and analyzes them for me. The voice is a man's. A young man's. He is crying. I've been listening to him slyly, almost ashamed to be a part of something so private for a person I cannot know and do not, in fact, even see. This young man lives in one of the apartments across the street. He is exhausted. I can tell by the warbling crack in his voice. I am free! He stresses the word 'am,' and thus, he is less stating fact than he is pleading for it to be true.
Oh god! You are righteous and mighty! I believe! I believe!
The words come like a torrent. They are unending and mostly unintelligible to me. Another language, one with a thousand undulating foreign sounds. I scan the windows in the building across from me. A few are flung open; French doors on small balconies. In the floors that are lower than mine I can make out furniture shapes between curtains. A mirror above a fireplace. Coffee cups on kitchen tables. Nothing to signal the presence of a lonely, frightened mourner.
I live a life of value! I do! It is mine! And I am valuable!
"The greatest miracle for me was getting started. I feel - and the anxiety is still vivid to me - that I might easily have failed before I began." ~ V.S. Naipaul, 2001 Nobel Lecture
Less than two weeks ago, I graduated from Lesley University with my MFA in Creative Writing. That event, including the teaching of my seminar, a public reading of my work, and the graduation ceremony itself, was phenomenal. All the pieces clicked into place. But this writer's life isn't a puzzle. There is no true culmination, no moment to stop and sigh and count myself a success. The steps I've taken so far are like the teeth on the counter-turning wheels and sprockets in a clock. Moving eternally, progressing, passing similar ways over and over again until the action is smooth.
So, now that I've got the degree, now that someone has told me officially that I'm on the right track craft-wise and voice-wise and passion-wise, what? Now what do I do?
The wheels within the clock turn, teeth tuck into grooves. The hands on the face are propelled forward. This is work. This is what Natalia Ginzburg calls my "vocation." This is what Proust says takes "talent." And this is what Naipaul, that legendary, sexist, literary genius, says takes "luck, and much labour."
The good news is that the work has already begun. I've been sharing my little snippets of good fortune (and much labor) via Facebook and Twitter, but I wanted to recount it here as a record for me and to share it with my readership. (In case you want to read more of me elsewhere!)
For the last couple of weeks I've been on the American road. Jonathan and I were celebrating my graduation by rolling from state to state in a rental car, eating our combined body weight in cheeseburgers, and visiting lots of friends and family. I'll blog the rest of the trip soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to get my red door groove started again by sharing something pretty neat.
At a giant antiques store in Bellefonte, PA, I uncovered this little treasure:
Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Authored by the starlet's mother, Lela Rogers
The best 39 cents I've ever spent. It takes me back to all those childhood hours, flopped down on my stomach on a bed, a couch, a floor, or a grassy field, making time with Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, or the Bobbsey Twins. Now I'll know to keep my eyes open for Betty Grable and the House With the Iron Shutters and Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Castle! (Unfortunately, the guarantee that those titles "may be purchased from the same store where you purchased this book" is unlikely to hold up after 70 years.)