I’ve been to Nantucket just once.
I was a senior in high school, and I had the opportunity to go on a 3-day photography trip. It was March, and some alumni of the school had a bed and breakfast on the island and they offered us cheap rooms because no one goes to Nantucket in March.
But they should. It’s gray and wide and cold. The sea is the same color as the sky and the ice and on that tiny island so far out it’s impossible to feel anything less than small.
We were a group of 10 students with film cameras in the time before you could take a thousand pictures in a day. We had limited film and limited time, and we slowed down enough to find the shot that came to us.
I remember a soup from that trip, a rich beer cheddar soup I ate in a tavern sunk below street level. It was the place that would later inform all my images of the introductory scenes of Moby Dick. I had the good fortune of reading Moby Dick just when Joey and I were getting together, and as a result I got to sit in the foreign orange dirt and low piñon forests of New Mexico with him and describe the cold New England air as it whipped in the door of that subterranean tavern. This is what that’s like.
The other part I remember from that trip is a particular swing set that sat right on the edge of the beach. It’s something I’ve seen before since, but at the time it seemed like an unnatural place to park a swing set. There was a girl on the trip I didn’t know outside of that time. She played hockey and sold ritalin and we didn’t cross social circles so much, but we found that swing set and ran for it. I remember it took no time at all to get high–so high that we hit that hiccup at the top of the curve. I usually avoid that sort of height; I’ve always been careful. But I had the cold breath and intensity of travel in me, and I swung through the full extent of the curve, watching my feet as the world beyond them changed so quickly: sand, ocean, sky, ocean, sand, grass behind me, and over and over. We swung at opposite ends of the curve, passing by each other, gulping air, and because we were so far out in the Atlantic the swing felt like it might propel itself into a wider and wider curve until I could swing across the the dark ocean to whatever rooted itself on the other side.
I’ve never liked thinking about depth and water. When I was a kid I used to have nightmares about the rusty underside of large boats, and even now when I drive into port cities I look away. But being that far above–the combination of height and such constant movement–it made me look the gray right in the eye, if it had one.
I’ve been thinking lately about next steps and what my friend Alice so aptly named the Miss Rumphius element. (If you haven’t read this book go to the children’s room of your local library and read it the next time you’re driving by and have 15 minutes.) I’m not sure lupines are my answer, but who can tell? I’m finding myself in a particular moment of motherhood where it seems more than ever to be essential to the role to step outside of it, to remember where I’ve come from, and most of all to keep working at life as a project in itself. I have in some way created a career out of being home and being a mother and making dinner, but it only makes sense that that career would shift as the days do. I’m not being vague as part of any effort to make any sort of big announcement or anything. I’m still here, still writing, still creating recipes, still working at the farmers’ market. I’m just being vague because it seems more honest than to make up words that don’t quite reflect the reality.
I had a moment in Venice last month when Sadie stood on the sea side of the city and water was so green and gray. The sun was strong and it hit me in the eye in that way that always makes me think of The Stranger, and I told her about Camus which I read in school when I was barely older than her, and about how even now I don’t know if I’m understanding the image incorrectly, but that description of the sun has stayed with me, and every time it hits my eyes at that angle I feel both angry and alive and like someone else has taken over, like I want to swing my arms and beat the world off. More than anything it’s a feeling and I can always rely on that particular angle of the sun to inspire it. I actually love it, because it’s always comforting for me to have a literary image to describe something so true. I tried to explain that, even as the sun ducked away and I returned to my old self, at least as much as one can on a day in Venice.
She laughed and leaned out farther over the water. Oh mom.
And I felt the swing and the rushing of the cobblestones and the water and the sky, my feet ahead of the speeding world, and I thought here, here, here.