Pinning Down the Physical


The ruminative parts of my life are generally easy for me to express, but it is the tangible elements that often go unrecorded, and this is one weakness of my writing.

Experience must be gained in the setting of scene.

Physically, then:

I sit in a green upholstered vintage chair with nine small fabric buttons inset into the back. Its raised arms curve around me on the sides, creating a comfortable bucket-like seat. It has good back support—stiff and not too cushiony. There is enough room for me to sit with my legs down, or propped up on a footstool, or crossed underneath me, which is my present position with my laptop sitting on my lap, mainly due to some chest/lung pressure due to pregnancy. I find that often, particularly in the morning and evening, I feel cramped internally and like it is hard to get comfortable. The baby in my womb weighs upwards of six pounds already, probably seven-something at this point, for she was over six at just 34 and a half weeks, and I am now at 37 and a half. Bending forward is getting more difficult, either while driving or leaning down to pick something up.

The chair is situated in the corner of the room, to the left of the door as you enter. On the wall on the right side of the chair is a woodblock-style print of an image from Miyazaki’s “Totoro” cartoon. Next to that is a floor lamp, and next to that is a bookshelf with a moon nightlight sitting atop it, and on the highest point of the wall above it hangs a large crocheted piece of art in blue, white, brown, and green yarn that JJ’s mother, Susan, created to represent the element “Water.”

To my left is a print of an ink drawing, framed in green-painted wood, which bears an illustration of a black bird figurine nose-driving toward the earth and the words, “flight of fancy – A bird made from stone can only fly as far as it is thrown.” Running along the wall next to it are other prints by the same artist, a local creator whose work JJ and I discovered for sale at the Starving Artist’s Café in Lee, Mass. 

The other furniture in the room consists, at present, of a short rectangular side table, a knock-off “Eames” style chair with a bucket seat and stylishly spindly wooden legs (on which Elektra is curled on a cushion, sleeping), two footstools, a large rug in shades of blue, red, white, and beige, a small particle-board dresser that used to belong to me and which is missing the bottom of its bottom drawer, a desk with a changing pad atop it, a “diaper genie” for disposing of diapers, a black faux-leather ottoman that contains clean sheets, an infant “swing” in plush gray, a moses basket, a bed-side bassinet, and a crib. 

There is a large double-window on the wall opposite the door, and in the morning a great deal of light comes in through this window, brightening the yellow of the stained wood floor and the matching yellow-painted walls. On the wall above this window a sparkling wooden turtle of yellow, blue, and red is affixed, legs spread, to lead the way forward (a wedding present from JJ’s uncle Roger).

There is also an exposed wooden beam (part of the building’s original architecture), that runs from one side of the slanted ceiling to the other, and atop this thick beam lies a statue of the reclining Buddha—a recent gift from one of JJ’s former students, who took his course on Nietzsche as well as his course on Virtue Ethics in East Asia this last year.

This amount of description seems excessive, and yet still I could go on. Out the window, across the street, the great green leaves of an immense white oak tree are visible—appropriate, since the street we live on is named “White Oaks.” The trunk is thick—it would take two people to circle it, joining hands, and it divides into two main sections at about the midpoint of the window, the leaves spreading lushly out and around it. It sits against a foliage-covered incline, at the top of which live neighbors with fenced-in dogs. The three lines of a power line are strung along the street in front of the tree.

This is the nursery, and what will eventually become Athena’s bedroom, though for the immediately foreseeable future she will sleep in our bedroom with me and JJ, after we have moved the bedside bassinet in there.

I can see how this form of writing, as much as any photograph, is a battle on the side of memory, to fight against forgetting as the material world changes with the passage of time. Thus pinning the world into place with words is also a tool by which we are invited to re-enter memories, and those particular material objects which may have appeared in the memories of many people—for example, a cat’s eye marble—can be a device by which we re-enter the terrain of our own past.

This is one of the great successes of Margaret Atwood’s work, and one of the things I want to learn to do myself. I pay a great deal of attention to the internal and the mental, and a great deal of attention to certain physical sensations and human interactions, but the material physicality that surrounds me is something I must train myself to become more practiced at pinning down.