Confusion reigns. I glance into the bottom of my mug and swirl the chamomile tea around. I ignore the brown spots on the bottom. They’re from a basil plant that occupied the cheap white mug with the light blue dots and a “J” inscribed on the side. When I tried to scrub it last night, my husband said that next time I should use the mug with red dots that is marked with a “B.” I groaned and kept cleaning out the dirt stains.
“B” for “basil” he added, and then I laughed.
“That’s a good idea, but it’s yucky.” While he was talking, I finished scrubbing most the dirt off and put it in the dishwasher, which never gets all the debris off anything. That’s why I love and hate dishwashers.
Now I’m staring at the same patch of brown that grazes the bottom. It’s like staring into tea leaves except there’s no hidden meaning, other than dishwashers don’t replace hands holding brushes.
I finish the last sip. It’s morning. I’m writing.
He comes in carrying his iPad and five documents he needs to scan. He’s listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers. “They sound good, I was in the mood for them,” he explains, “Their lyrics are scrambled, but sometimes they kill it.” The song, “Scar Tissue” is playing, and these words float to me:
With the birds I’ll share this lonely view.
With the birds I’ll share this lonely view.
My back aches and I hear it raining outside. The water drips down the drain spout. I stand up and then lie down and wait while he scans documents and I think about the song. I’ve always loved it. So many people, ones I’ve never met, never will meet, love it too, and we probably don’t gain the same thing from it, except for the feeling of alienation it suggests.
The water still drips down the drain spout. When it comes out it sounds like a machine gun rumbling and tapping against the asphalt. Maybe machine gun is too extreme. Maybe it’s more like the tapping of fingers on a keyboard. But water can be a weapon; after all, it’s more powerful than earth if it rains hard enough. I would take a walk in it but I’m cold and don’t want to get soaked.
I think, I’m confused, so is Maddie, she knows this feeling all too well, it’s the main theme in her new project, which she’s stubbornly titled, “Where the F*** Are You? The book is about two teenagers, growing up confused and angry in a messed-up world. They’re awake. They remember God. They love Him. And yet the main character, Cass (named Cassia by her mother, a herbalist struggling with bipolar disorder) feels like God isn’t helping. Why won’t God come down and fix this shit, Cassia or Cass asks herself. So she’s angry.
I love this book idea, because a lot of souls are angry too. I want to help Cass sort it out. But I have to wait for Maddie to write the main chapters because it’s her project. Not mine, not yet, but it will be in time, just like all her books become joint works. It’s just how it goes. We work. The world cries. We write about the world crying and try to give hope. Meanwhile, it keeps raining and it’s gonna rain all day.
Meanwhile, Maddie’s angry with God too. Why is the world so messed up? Why is our book not getting picked up? Why do churches preach hate not love? Why am I here? She asks these questions, and I just listen.
She makes me read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. We discuss it in the car on the way into school. “The writing is brilliant, I can’t do all the things she does,” I say.
“But your dialogue is better, and that’s where you put your great descriptions—”
“—I still can’t weave a depressing story about childhood into an equally depressing story about a woman who’s messed up from childhood, the way the book’s going, she’s going to cheat on her husband.” I think about some of Atwood’s descriptions. She uses words like “undulates” and I never can find that word when I’m writing. It’s not one of my words. I don’t explain this; instead, I turn the temperature gauge to the right to warm up the Jeep. It’s not that cold but I’m freezing.
“She does cheat, and it’s like it’s because she had such a bad childhood.” Maddie touches the switch that controls the seat heater.
I notice the Jeep is driving better since we got the tire fixed. The road feels more stable underneath the weight of our four Coopers. They’re American-built and we try to buy American. This is new for me. Buying American. I feel bad knowing my new computer was made in China. They use slave labor. I keep thinking when I learn these things, but I didn’t know, and then I chastise myself for not knowing because there’s things that do matter, like treating souls right when they’re here on earth. I think too much, people say, but not thinking is no defense. It just means you don’t know anything or you don’t know what you should. It’s like plausible deniability if you’re a president. Iran-Contra—and that was a President I liked. I speak of none of this and wrestle with my coffee mug. If I don’t grasp the handle right, the coffee spills and then I’m grabbing napkins from the side pocket and all that’s distracting, especially when you’re driving down a mountain.
“And you also write good action scenes, the best.”
“My action’s okay.” I speak in half-sentences too often. Right now, I’m stuck on the main character having an affair. “Ugh she cheats?” I flip the windshield wiper on. It’s raining, or as Atwood would say, spitting. That’s the term the Canadians use. “That’s awful, I can’t believe she does that.”
“Yeah, with her abusive ex-husband, and I bet Atwood cheats too, she writes the scenes so convincingly.”
We’re quiet for a moment. I wonder if she’s going to correct her use of an adverb. Ever since I told her about Hemingway’s distaste for them, Maddie has excised them from her work. I have too, more or less. We’re ridiculous sometimes, I also think, but I’m stuck on Atwood.
“Yeah, it’s a mistake, I wish she didn’t cheat,” I say. I ease off the brakes on as we head into a tight curve. It’s not foggy but I’m tired and my coffee doesn’t have enough cream in it because we ran out and forgot to get more last night. So I sip as I drive down the mountain and wish I had more cream in my coffee because if I did, I’d drink faster and that might make me feel more awake.
We are awake. That’s the scary thing. We both know how messed up the world is. I don’t say this, but I’m thinking about the President, and the blog I wanted to write about the President’s lawyer. It would be a balanced piece about the Code of Ethics that governs lawyers. A different code governs attorney conduct in each state, and the President’s lawyer is probably licensed in New York. But no state Code of Ethics would allow a lawyer to pay hush money to his client’s ex-lover out of the lawyer’s personal accounts. You’re not supposed to pay bribery funds or extortion demands, for one thing. And even if that were somehow ethical, a lawyer is not supposed to commingle funds or use his personal accounts to pay folks on his client’s behalf. It’s so far beyond the pale of what’s acceptable . . . and yet it was done. Stormy Daniels either bribed the President or was she extorted? I don’t know what happened exactly. But it makes me mad. It’s not right. Funny, the things I don’t know. Funny, the things my daughter already knows. Like when I talked to Maddie about it, I called the President’s ex-lover “Stormy Davis” and Maddie corrected me. “It’s Daniels,” she said, and I wondered how she knew so much about the dirty side of living.
I shake my head. Maddie also wrote a blog but it’s personal. It’s called, “He Loves Her,” and in it, Maddie analyzes song lyrics by Pearl Jam and Eminem. The Eminem song in particular shows a man who abuses a woman and why, and how this makes Maddie feel. It’s personal. And the blog itself is beautiful. Should I try to submit it to a magazine, I wonder? I don’t have time but I should. I never have enough time anymore, not for my writing, not for hers too.
We’re listening to one of Pink’s songs and we both love it. I wonder if the boys, who are sitting with their backpacks stacked side to side, red fabric rubbing against blue, in the second row, like it too, but I don’t ask, because Maddie’s talking some more. She wants to help a friend who’s struggling in school, and the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” might apply, but Maddie worries and wants to help. I have advised Maddie to be a friend first, and also to take care of her own work, but I’ve also smiled to myself while listening to Maddie repeat aloud the same sort of words I would use. I’m hard on her. I expect a lot. Do I expect too much?I ask myself. And then Maddie’s saying, “She’s really got to care about school, if she doesn’t do well now, she won’t do well junior year, she needs to get into a good college, she needs to get off her phone and study more, she needs to have confidence in herself, why won’t she ask her teacher for help? Teachers are there to help, that’s their job, I’m so worried, she really needs to get her grades up . . .” and so on and so on.
We’re already thinking about SAT prep, and Maddie’s visiting the University of Oregon in June. Because she knows already that after she graduates from UVA, she’ll get her doctorate in English from Oregon. Are we crazy? I don’t know.
Pink pleads, “Please don’t leave me.”
The birds have a lonely view. With them we share this, all of us. And yet we’re not alone, we just feel like we are. And that last sentence, the one with the comma, that’s for Atwood. She uses commas in ways I wouldn’t. But she’s great. And her main character is frail. I want to forgive her. Maybe that’s what Atwood’s asking for too. Or maybe she just wants to be understood.
Then she won’t feel so lonely.