Once again, the exercise for today comes from Old Friend from Far Away (The Practice of Writing Memoir) by Natalie Goldberg:
Write what’s in front of your face. This is a grounding exercise when your mind is flitting all over. Begin with the most ordinary…If something not in front of you comes to mind, jot it down…What is in front of you anchors your mind so when you go off into memory there is weight You don’t just fly around and never land.
I sit at the desk, facing north. Two double hung windows, mounted together, are directly in front of me. There is a breeze today, and it would be pleasant to have these windows open. That is impossible. Several years ago, when a crew came through to winterize my house, the best solution they saw for curing the draft from these old windows was to permanently seal them shut. I grumble about it all summer long. There are big, old maple trees on the north side of my house. The rustling of their leaves was a pleasant sound when the windows were open; the air coming from the shade of the trees was fresh and cool. Now, I watch spiders raising their families in the unreachable space between the window and the storm window.
The mullion between the windows has a calendar hanging on it, right in front of me. The computer screen blocks the view of all but the first row of days. That’s okay; the computer is portable. I can see the image. The calendar was a gift from my friend, Jeff, who had it made for me, featuring the Beaver Beacon. The picture for June shows an old red pickup truck. On the door of the truck are the words, “The Beaver Beacon is AWESOME!” Above the calendar hangs a framed intaglio print by David Bigelow. It shows a pig – with an elaborate pair of strapped-on wings – stepping off the edge of a cliff. The title is “Moment of Truth.”
On the bottom sill of the window, more artwork. On the left, “Welcome to Hell,” a photograph by Jason Lome; on the right, a print by his mother, Mary Rose. The image is of a moth fresh from the cocoon; the colors are blue, green, pink and gold. The title is “The Transformation from one World to Another.” On the sill that divides the windows top to bottom, from left to right: another of Mary’s images, this one a small rose; a sepia-toned photograph of seagulls over the road by Larissa McGinnity; a “View from My Window” watercolor by Mary Blocksma, painted on my birthday.
Despite the art, and a large hanging plant besides, I can still see out the window. If I look to the right, I see one edge of the newly de-limbed pine tree that stands too close to the electrical service. Directly behind that is the large beige propane tank, spattered with rust and mildew stains, a dent in the cap, from when a huge part of one maple tree split from the trunk and fell. A gnarly chunk of tree, a remnant of that incident and too large to move, sits beside the tank. A few blackberry brambles and tall stalks of grass complete the view.
If my gaze falls to the left, though, the scene is more like a Zen garden. Three stoneware sculptures stand like sentinels among the shrubbery. A low stone wall divides that wild area from the side yard. Maple seedlings soften the edges. In the distance, the sun shines through the trees, causing the trunks to stand out darkly against the wild fluorescent greens.
The desk is made of two pine boards laying on top of two black metal filing cabinets. On the right are three clay crocks full of pens, colored pencils and markers, one glass of water, a yellow legal pad with notes, my day book, a roll of packing tape and Natalie Goldberg’s book, open to this exercise. Dead center is my computer. On the left, a small stack of checks and change-of-address cards, one roll of stamps, my camera, one lavender-scented candle in a purple glass holder, a clear glass canister full of dog treats, two small succulents in terra cotta pots, and a cork coaster with my coffee cup on it.