Saturday, May 31, 2008

last Saturday of May: mulch, rain, lilacs

The neighbors on the street above mine are speaking streams of Portuguese over one another at such a pace I can’t discern if they are arguing or agreeing enthusiastically—I can’t tell if they hear one another. My little neighborhood has ordinances against clotheslines, unfortunately for us, but the street above has no such compunctions, so Maria hangs her laundry (including her husband’s skivvies) to dry from the chain link fence that tops the stone terrace above my vegetable garden, eye level from my third-floor bedroom window. My downstairs neighbor threatens to cover the chain-link with willow-fencing for privacy, but that seems a little drastic. They are nice neighbors, friendly through the language barrier and the chain-link fence, and I can’t imagine asking them to change laundry habits for me.

Some years I’ve managed to grow enough Morning Glories and green bean vines to block the sight of drying jeans and tshirts and skivvies, but some other years the green beans don’t even sprout. The women talk rapidly and loudly while Maria hurries to pull her laundry before the rain begins in earnest.

We woke with the sound of the mulch delivery truck and Scott hurried to organize the weeding of our front and back terraces, the layering of mulch in the places not yet filled with plants. I do the slow gardening tasks, splitting perennials and weeding between plants. Scott does not know a weed from a desirable plant, but he knows roughly where paths ought to be, and he has the desire to cover things with a new layer of brown, like a new coat of paint. It's fun to see his gardening motivation. Because I’d obsess over every ripped up Forget-Me-Not, I let him do his work outdoors. Madeleine is planning for a class camping trip and we have enough work to do, inside.

Monday marks the end of my first year of graduate coursework in creative writing, and while I’ve been wrapping up my creative work, my critical paper, and my book annotations, I find myself itching to step back and observe how my life has shifted and changed with this new adventure. Not yet—need to turn in these assignments first, need to finish my own school year and the children’s, first. Need to plot out summer camps and plans, first. But soon. It’s been quite a year.

I type with the timer set to five minutes, when the coffee will be finished brewing, also, and it will be time to get back to work on my writing for class.

True to form, a due date for homework sets off the need to clean house, just as it did when I was a college student. After Madeleine and I pack for her trip, I set her to cleaning her room. We’ve still not quite recovered from the bunk-bed-building project in April, and each week I find homes for another round of her stuff. Today she patiently sorts four bags of recycling, art supplies, old projects long forgotten, lost treasures. And I clean the sand from the futon and floor for another week, pack up another four bags for the thrift shop, make a few small repairs.

Thanks for being a part of my ongoing letter home—I know these quick missives are anything but deep. Still I remember my senior year when a classmate named Eileen babysat me through my final project for statistics, the only course I nearly failed in all my school years. She brought me a bucket of lilacs and sat at the typewriter at my very clean desk, taking dictation while I leafed through our class project. I’m leaning into the scent of lilacs today, likely the last bunch of the season, writing and editing as hard and fast as I can toward Monday. It's amazing how much one small goodness (lilacs in bloom) can make such a difference. I move a bouquet from the kitchen into my bedroom, where the bed is spread with books and notes and my laptop.

The timer goes off, my coffee is ready, and now my fingers and words are warmed up well. Scott and the kids left their mulching to paint flowerpots and eat pizza at a neighborhood “spring party.” I see Maria finished taking down her laundry before the storm, which is starting up well, just about now. The lilacs remind me: Time for me to get to work.

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