The Wisdom of Angela Chase

So I don’t remember who I am anymore. What moves me, what makes me swoon. I have heard this happens to some mothers. That we put so much focus into the lives of our small children that when they grow to a certain age, we find that we are standing there alone, so distant and removed from the person we used to be. A chasm separates us, and even if we could cross it, we wouldn’t be able to stuff ourselves back into that old body. It’s been too long.

Fifteen years ago, I had just finished grad school, and I was in the process of looking for my first grown-up job. I had been nanny, hostess, waitress, cashier, secretary, barista, and bookkeeper. Briefly I had worked as one of those office muffin people, like the guy from Love Actually or Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors. I had been a student my entire life. I was in love with the man who would become my husband, and I think I must have been happy.

We saw Romeo and Juliet starring Claire and Leo and after it was over, we went to the cemetery and drank wine and talked about Shakespeare and love. We cranked the music and danced in my bedroom and burned candles while we slept, which one night resulted in a small and manageable fire. I painted his fingernails and he gazed at me with gentle lion eyes. Mornings, I wrote aubades from my bed, which was only a mattress on the floor. Everything was shimmering and everything was alive. This, of course, is youth.
I was listening to a lot of Radiohead. I was waitressing at a really posh senior care center in Chico. We bought a 1971 Volkswagen bus and camped whenever we could. I was an outdoorsy emo punk rock flower child poet. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to learn everything and read everything and write about it. I hiked to the tops of hills and dove into icy streams and I felt everything. Like my skin was electric.

There’s this line in an episode of My So-Called Life. Angela says in a voice over, “People alway say you should be yourself, like yourself is this definite thing, like a toaster or something. Like you can know what it is, even.” When I was young, I heard that line and thought, I don’t have inner dialogue like that. I want it. I had been walking through life in a sort of a haze, thinking constantly, yes, but not philosophizing. Not getting down to the marrow of these thoughts.

And so, thanks to Angela Chase, I started thinking about my thinking. I started paying attention to things. I like this song, but why? I like this flower, how would I describe it to someone who couldn’t see? Things like that. I asked someone to give me a word and I would write a poem about it. I carried a notebook everywhere and I wrote constantly. I started grad school, wrote a bad novel. Graduated, and a month later, learned I was pregnant, which was lovely and much desired news. I had babies. I held them. I made baby books and I wrote in them. My life was full and I was happy.

But somewhere along this beautiful heartbreaking path of raising two beautifully alive children, I have lost that old inner dialogue Angela Chase helped spark. I gave everything to my kids, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I played with them, I read to them, I crafted and cooked and talked and joked and cuddled with them. I wanted to be with them as long as they wanted me around. I was a stay-at-home mom and I am forever grateful that I was afforded such a luxury. And I still read. I still wrote, a little (although it wasn’t until my son started first grade that I felt able to write anything substantial, like a novel). I still talked with friends and drank wine and saw art and listened to music. But somewhere along the way, I tuned myself out. These days, I mostly go through the motions.

I want to fall in love with life again. October is the best month for falling in love. I want to talk about things and write tiny poems and become breathless when beauty presents itself. Maybe I am romanticizing my former self (and that is a distinct possibility) but I miss that feeling of being alive.

Last weekend my family and I went to visit a friend at his cabin in Truckee. The air was crisp and autumnal at that elevation. I brought along some poetry to read and and a notebook. I wished so badly to be happy. I fell asleep against a rock at the water’s edge.

Since then, I have been having language-driven ideas as I fall to sleep, and I force myself to get up and write them down. This is when I know the muse is present. The pieces are in place. I breathe in, I breathe out. Come on, world. I am ready for some magic.


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