Was today a memorable day? (Or: Why I Blog)

August 17, 2006

My day could be summarized as follows: got up, went to dentist, went to work, ate dinner, went to bed.

If I wasn’t sitting here, filling up this little scrolly square with words that I think I won’t mind having other people read, my understanding of today might go no deeper than that. The whole of August 17, 2006 might get painted over with a big beige brush. Instead, because I am sitting here frantically lowering my standards, I am looking back over the hours and realizing that even in an average day I have encountered grace and mystery that I could not have planned, and I’ve assembled a few more touchstones that I will use to grope my way along tomorrow.

So yes, today started with waking up, remembering that I had vowed to be grateful for every minute of every day, even the minutes that involve alarm clocks. I wasn’t sure that I was up to gratitude, but at least the word crossed my mind. At least the word stomped down a couple of bitter observances I might have made as I stumbled around feeding the cats, such as it’s early and my kitchen is a mess. Almost immediately after I woke up, I remembered that I had an appointment at the dentist this morning. This in itself would normally have been enough to me into my usual Mr. Worry routine (ah, I might have a cavity, stupid insurance making me change dentists and miss my cleaning, ah it will cost so much money, ah ah ah) but for some reason this morning I had the presence of mind to nip all that in the bud and calmly tell myself that I was mostly likely fine, the appointment was most likely covered by insurance, and that in any case I was lucky even to have insurance. Whoah! That’s so not like me! I enjoyed my coffee and my bran flakes and left home at just the right time to get to my appointment on time despite missing my left turn on the first go.

I was all good until I was actually sitting in the chair underneath the bright light, getting the roof of my mouth poked at by those little x-ray things, feeling more sure than ever that my first cavity was imminent. The attendant asked me if I was nervous, and I said no, but that was a lie. She was also talking up a storm about how she works in a dentist’s office but has no benefits and therefore can’t even get her own cavities filled or even take a sick without losing pay. Almost made me wish I’d gone the union organizer route. Still, even though I felt another one of those pesky tear attacks coming on (really people, I barely need a reason… just ask MAW about me and The Brave Little Toaster) Finally, the dentist came, and looked, and pronounced me cavity free. I was thrilled, and it didn’t end there. Just as I was about to leave the office, the receptionist stopped me and said she’d just had a cancellation on a cleaning appointment in an hour. Called my boss and sat my butt back down in the waiting area, I had a cleaning appointment. I really wasn’t going to have to wait another six months because of the insurance company!! And bonus, another hour to work on my Pelecanos!

Speaking of the Pelecanos, as I started reading I remembered this passage from page 142 of George Pelecanos’s The Night Gardener, in which a secondary character reflects on his work day:

That had been his day. Driving a rich man to and from appointments, waiting for him outside those appointments, and taking him to the airport. A nice chunk of change, but zero in the accomplishment department. Which is why his eyes never snapped open in the mornings when he woke up, as they ahd when he was police. Back then he couldn’t wait to get to work. He didn’t hate this job or love it: it was an odometer turning, a ride with no destination, a waste of time.

Despite the fact that this passage does employ the unfortunate “describe it three times” convention, it got me thinking. Is this why I’ve been cursing the alarm clock ever since I stopped pursuing a career in what I thought I really loved? Hmmm. Is it anemia or lack of purpose that’s been making me sleepy? That’s not a question a doctor can answer for you.

So after Francisco the Columbian expat dentist and scraped my teeth into shape for another six months I drove to the library to get started on my own work day. I did my usual routine of interspersing actual work with copious use of the libary’s periodical databases, in which I turned up an article in Vanity Fair about the upcoming Diane Arbus movie called Fur, starring Nicole Kidman as the crazy brilliant photographer. I was a little familiar with Arbus because in high school, some of the hardcore visual artists were really into her, but at the time her photos just freaked me out. Anyway, the article was by Patricia Bosworth, who wrote the thus far definitive biography of Arbus. It was all about the Arbus she knew and how long it took to bring the bio to screen in any form. What struck me was Bosworth’s insistence that Arbus should not be defined by her suicide, that she really wanted to be a good mother and a great artist and was always engaged in both those journeys. She didn’t kill herself for the sake of fame, in other words. It got me thinking, maybe I should give Diane Arbus another look. Maybe it’s not so scary now. So I looked up the MOMA Arbus retrospective book Revelations in the catalogue. The photos, of course, are brilliant, but she also did some great writing, and one of the quotations they highlighted was this (which I am putting in bold in case you are bored with the entry and only skimming, because I think this quotation is amazing and likely to be important to you):

When you try very hard to do something by the time you can do it it is easy to do, so effort is maybe a kind of prayer.

Sitting in the nearly empty fourth floor of the library, reading those words, my mind kicked over the immense efforts I made in my teenage years to learn the oboe and how, eventually, just like Arbus suggests, the blind faith of effort eventually yielded moments of music that felt truly effortless. I thought about learning Greek, and how it was the same thing. I thought about how I have so far avoided putting in the effort necessary to become a working writer, even avoided beginning this effort, and wondered why, and wondered what all this had to do with being able to wake up in the morning.

I checked out the Bosworth biography and came home. D made a wonderful dinner of spaghetti with sauce enhanced by sauteed mushrooms and roasted eggplant, and we cracked open a bottle of cheapish red wine, and I looked at all the books I have assembled still to read before classes start again and thought about Arbus a little more. What does it take to sit down every day and work at something you want? Why did I have that when I was a teenager but shrink from it now? Really, really, do I want to be a librarian? Does it matter, as long as it pays for the wine and the trips that peel open my eyes to a world beyond bran flakes and rent? Where does the faith of effort come from?

The point of blogging is, I think, that the world is so full of clues to who we are meant to be and what we are meant to do, and that any clue that you find is likely to be a clue for someone else if that other person only knew that it existed or that it spoke to you too. In the average media saturated day, we find these clues casually, incidentally. Sure, most of these things will get filed away under subconscious, but maybe some of them should be contemplated just a few seconds more. And maybe someone else’s puzzle needs the piece you’ve just found.

Now I’m wrapping this up and thinking about falling asleep, maybe reading late and maybe not. This, I think, was an average day. If I hadn’t taken the time to jot down all of these fragments that led me from minute to minute, I might have forgotten how substantial average really is.

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