As I sat last night with the smell of my son’s hands (grapes, tomatoes, basil from our farewell-to-the-garden harvest) and the image of a Somali immigrant high schooler carefully blowing large, perfect bubbles and laughing with joy as my three-year-old chased them down, I realized that these were my touchstones for the day.
I need these touchstones; I need specific memories and moments to ground me in the world. Community does that for me, ideally, through its webs of friendship, caregiving, mutual tedium, shared challenge. But lacking that, I’m needing to build some of these pieces for myself.
One of the ways I’m doing that is through my work with the Maine Humanities Council, especially this new series I’m creating on the agrarian novel in the USA. The more I read of these glorious novels and the insightful criticism related to them, the more caught up I am in questions of nostalgia, utopianism, political structures, and illustrative details. The difference between a polemic and a novel, after all, is largely about the level of detail in plot, character, setting. The particulars are what pull us in and what make a difference, and those of us who tend to view the world from a distance sometimes have a hard time remembering that. What’s beautiful about agrarian novels in particular is the synchronicity between what they advocate (attention; local knowledge; reverence for beauty and for nature) and what they do (demonstrate each of those principles in their own process and language and plot). It’s a harmony that’s well worth seeking in the other fields of our lives.
Some particulars of today: at the Bread Shack, while I waited for my car to get fixed down the street, I had a cup of cocoa. When it came, in a perfect round white cup with a dollop of chocolate-sprinkled whipped cream on top, Dara (owner and friend) asked the server to bring a spoon. A demitasse, specifically. It needs it, she said. It’s just crying out for it. And she was right.
At bedtime, Ezra wanted to read Brown Bear again, because we’ve finally (after a year or two) finished putting up the remainder of the wall decals from his Brown Bear set. (He had been missing the aquatic creatures: the yellow duck, goldfish, and green frog, on account of us having no body of water to put them near/in. They now occupy wall space near a picture of a duck pond. It’s all out of proportion, but Ezra could not be more thrilled with the whole thing.) So a reading of Brown Bear involves him reading to us and pointing energetically to each creature in its place on the four walls of his room. His face is full of light as he searches and finds, over and over, the brown bear climbing in a tree; the red bird soaring toward a bird house; the yellow duck waddling toward the pond…and on and on. “My friends,” he calls them. “My friends are so happy to be all together.”