Not yet 6:30 a.m. and I’m sitting in my comfy chair, drinking my first cup of coffee. The lamp on the table beside me brightens the room, but the outside world remains dark. When I look out through the sliding glass door that leads to the deck all I see is my reflection in the glass. A large pot of yellow mums in bloom that sits on the stone wall directly in front of me appears to be sitting in my lap. I know that bird feeders hang on the other side of the deck at the edge of the woods that surround our house, but in the early morning darkness all I see is a reflection of myself holding an oversized bouquet and the bright lamp on the table.
The early morning reflection is a distortion, a lot like the fun house mirrors of my childhood. In the past few years I have been struggling to write a memoir that is honest, true (as true as memory, oh so unreliable) and loving. Writing about real people, especially those still alive is tricky. Yes, it’s my story, but memory is unreliable. So too, to an extent, are my perceptions. Especially when I am writing about a time 38 years ago. Almost four decades. At times it feels like yesterday.
There is a woman in my memoir who proved to be a catalyst who I described in an early draft as “bat-shit-crazy.” It was an honest perception, but mean spirited and unkind. That characterization did not survive the first draft. As I continued to dig deeper into that brief period of time, I begin to see my reflection in this woman I considered a nemesis. It was humbling to realize that we were alike in more ways than I had been willing to acknowledge. Looking in, looking out, looking deeper. I could have been her.
Now, this early morning looking out, I find myself looking in, impatient for the sky to lighten, for the birds to flock to the feeders, and for more leaves to dance their way to earth. The early morning time is my time for contemplation, for writing in my journal, for turning inward before turning my attention outside.
Fall is my favorite season, the in-between, messy time, no longer summer, not yet winter even though the temperatures here have fluctuated to both extremes in the last week. Three years ago, when we first moved to this house, we had the deck extended to wrap around the back of the outside fireplace and fit flush against the house. We replaced one double window with a sliding glass door and replace the other window with a window the size of the door. The idea was to create a space, both inside and out that felt seamless: bring the outside in and take the inside out.
It’s been a joy living here these last three years in a small house that feels as if it belongs to the greater outside, looking out and looking in.
Poet and essayist Ted Kooser commented on his writing, saying “I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”
A Letter in October
by Ted Kooser
Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,
Then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side – a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic –
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,
startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winter jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned
the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.