Turning Corners

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Walking the downtown streets of a hometown I grew up on the outskirts of. The city became cool as my children grew young, so the Children’s Museum we knew. The excitement and nightlife, though, was something that began as we sang a Dutch lullaby to close that part of each day. Still, I know the town, am familiar with its parts. But I looked up at that moment: companions at my side—younger city-dwellers those two—on a walk together that would have us stopping at various locations to write and be inspired, or be inspired and write. And have beer.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been in this very spot,” I said, more realization than admission.

The building straight ahead reminded me of Boston, where I’d been twice, but only briefly, with my family. Very Bostonian, I think I thought, proud of myself for being so well-traveled and architecturally astute: yes, I do believe it was from the Bostonian period. Unfounded smugness aside, it was odd being in such an expectedly unfamiliar place, a sudden alien in the hometown I grew up on the outskirts of.

Then we reached the end of the street.

A few weekends before there’d been a downtown festival with food and art and music. Streets closed to cars filled with people walking or waiting in line for food or listening to one band or another. I’d gone on Friday afternoon with my family, and there across the street from where I was then standing—my two writing companions at my side—I had been captured on local television, cramming Greek pork into my mouth.

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All I had done is turn a corner and voila! I went from being somewhere entirely new to a place I’d been often—and recently.

Of course, not really. Really I’m just pretty stupid—and unaccustomed to having a beer at lunch. But also: perspective can be a tricky little wench, convincing us with alluring stare. See, she says—such supple lips—it’s just as I’m showing you and no, there’s no reason for you to question or think otherwise.

She turns out the lights and silences all the voices calling out “We’re here, we are here!” And that darkness becomes our world, our past present future. Oh, then, if only we would turn the corner and search the wall with hopeful fingertips for that switch that would change everything.

All I had done is turn a corner and voila! I went from being somewhere entirely new to a place I’d been often—and recently.

Note to self: remember, turn the corner.

Note to my children, my students, and you, patient reader: turn the corner.

The Story Never Told

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“One of the saddest sentences I know is ‘I wish I had asked my mother about that.’” –William Zinsser

If I knew what it was, I would tell it.

Had I known when I remembered, I’d have scaled the mountaintop for stone tablets and set straight to chiseling rock.

If there had been time. If paper and pen had been handy. If I had known. If I could recall. If.

If I am to be damned, it will be for the sins of omission (stories un-lived, much less untold), more than anything I’ve done. So easy to shut the blinds, turn my head, avert my eyes. Much harder to clear my throat and speak up or speak out or down or around or through or about. Oh, I’d have been amazed at Peter stepping out of the boat in the storm, would have applauded and been inspired and felt something stir within me, calling me out onto the water’s surface. Or calling me, at least, to call out. But then he’d begin to sink, and I would have secretly celebrated my discretion—and the sick and sad side of this is that I would also be celebrating his failure and affirming my own inaction.

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So much inaction. So much forgotten. So much lost. I must take comfort in the Snickers: the ones my mom packed in my lunch every day, or if not every day then often enough that these treats became part of my school persona.

All those lunches: what did I eat, where did I sit, who did I talk to, who did I ignore, who ignored me? I could offer some facts but the real fact is so much of it is gone, gone. But the Snickers I remember, the Snickers my mom will still bring up from time to time and she will say, yes she will still say, there was a snickers every day. And it will not matter to either of us that there wasn’t.

Getting In There

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My physical agility was crippled by insecurity and a paralyzing fear of getting hit in the face. So now I’m sitting in the backseat with Charley, claiming more to myself than anyone, “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”

So here’s what I tell my children: wait for the pitch you want to hit, not for the pitch that might hit you. It’s not that I want them to get hit by a hard ball: but it’s going to happen. If you stand in the batter’s box long enough, you’ll get hit.

Failure and fear and the fear of failure are part of life. I have a folder full of rejection slips from writing I have submitted. Had any of these stopped me, I would have no successes. And I wouldn’t be near the teacher of writing I am.