Monday, February 12, 2007

I'd give anything for one more hour of light

I got a call this weekend from a young woman who lives here and is moving to New York City to make her way as a writer. Her call took me back to the days of foreign telegrams and the all-night rock and rolling. We was wild then.

I'm channeling Michelle Shocked here, of course, from her song Anchorage, one of my favorite songs ever. I once had an argument with a friend from Wellesley about this song. At the time, I was a reporter at LIFE magazine and living my version of a skateboard punk-rocker in New York City.

My friend, a former housewife, was a single mother working like a dog to finish her degree from Wellesley. Her days of foreign telegrams were all ahead of her, and she latched onto the housewife lines: "I sound like a housewife / hey, 'Chel, I think I'm a housewife." She just heard "housewife" and decided the song was sad and the letterwriter was depressed. I, who had never been a housewife but who fully expected to become a mother some day, took a longer view, that life changes and one day I'll outgrow my current experiences and move on from this place into something else.

Later, when I became a mother living in Brooklyn, essentially a housewife with a part-time job and my wild life over, I still related to the song. Even today I do, I think in part because I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with being a housewife, nor do I see it as being the final experience of my life. I like how my life has changed, how I am now living in the Happy Valley with my husband and daughter, looking for work, making new friends, and building community.

My friend Shante says she sees that we have made a decision based on our desire to see who and how we are elsewhere, out of New York City. I think that's right. We are finding out who we are outside of this mythical city that I so identified with for so long. (I think perhaps Lily wasn't done finding herself in the city, but I know she can return when she's older.) And guess what? I'm still me! No matter where you go, there you are.

I'm reminded of this song as I try to help my new aquaintance make happen her version of The Dream in La Grande Pomme. We talked a long time on the phone on Saturday afternoon. I want so much for her to experience the glory and charge of New York City so I try not be too much of a downer about how expensive it is and how hard it is to come by a decent job. There's no guarantee of making it, whatever that even means, and maybe everyone should spend at least a year in New York City during their lifetime.

But I also find myself feeling a sense of poignancy talking to her, a kind of mourning, perhaps, for the life that I had. I truly do not miss it. I'm about to be 46 at the end of the month and I am too old for the New York City that I enjoyed in my youth. I don't want to live there now, and although this transition period is hard, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love my new, unfolding life, and mostly, I love my family, my daughter and my husband, and I love how we are pioneers making our way in this strange new land where you can see stars, and the horizon.

For some reason I've also been flashing on the Elgin Marbles, too, the one that depicts the moment that Atlas has returned to Heracles with the Golden Apples. Heracles has taken the heavens from Atlas, as he is the only one able to collect the apples. Very soon, Heracles will trick Atlas into taking back his burden. But for a brief moment, he gazes at the precious apples that will allow him to complete the 11th task, while Atlas gazes at Heracles and the possibility of a life now that he no longer shoulders the heavens.

This frieze used to make me feel a bit anxious for Heracles -- hurry up, give him the heavens and get the Hades out of there! -- but now I feel I'm more of an Atlas. I've had my glory. I am shouldering my responsibilities, a better life for my child, my husband, and a better remainder of my life, I suspect.

And with that, one more song comes to mind, May I Suggest by Susan Werner, as sung by Ellis Paul and Vance Gilbert. Here's the last verse:

This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they're gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we'd give anything for one more hour of light

And I suggest this is the best part of your life

This woman is young and energetic and an awesome writer. She's been a beat reporter for the Hampshire Gazette and she's about to go on tour with the Sister Spit group. She's ready to work a crummy job if she has to in order to pay her dues and break into the writer's world. I've given her some names of my friends who are working journalists and if you have any ideas, send 'em on and I'll forward them to her.

Keep on rocking, girl. Keep on rocking.

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