I have big things to write about. Hefty things. Sorrowful things. Things that are sitting in my stomach, not like butterflies, but beasts, ready not to fly, but to devour.
I need the beasts to satiate themselves not on my mind and heart and soul, but on a well-told story. The problem is, I cannot tell a story well right now. I think the beasts are meant to be felt and not yet contained in a story.
I don’t like this part, when I must feel, and I can’t use my words. It happened a few years ago, and it was a dark time. Everyone who knows me knows I am a sensitive person, but it is not easy for me to only feel. I prefer to do something with those feelings. This is also why I’m known as a fidgeter or why I run. It is a reason why I write. My feelings are big, and I need them not to stay with me for too long.
My husband Jesse and I went for a walk with our dog, Corby, a few days ago. I was getting ready to tell him about my beast-like feelings when he said, “Listen — birdsong.”
He told me it was the birds of spring. Soon we’d hear them before we woke in the morning. Soon there’d be a nest on the side of our house, like there has been every spring since we’ve lived here.
“But it’s not spring,” I told Jesse. ‘We have a long way to go,” I said, kicking a chunk of snow out of my way. “Plus, we’re in Michigan,” I said, and I said it like an insult.
“Well, the birds are singing,” Jesse said.
We walked, and I didn’t tell him about the beasts. I didn’t say anything. Instead I thought of a poem by Anna Kamienska called “Small Things.” In it, she writes about how Eternity is built, and you do it with “clumps of moments.” Smiles, “quivering carrot leaves,” and “laundry hung on a balcony.” I thought of a bunch of yellow daisies I bought to give to a loved one, an apple pie with a homemade crust I believe I’ve recently perfected. There was an extra hour for an afternoon coffee in the sunshine, a giggly conversation with a friend while I sat in the car as my daughter played soccer under the university’s stadium lights. There is the way Corby wags her tail with her whole body when she sees us first thing in the morning.
In her book Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, Beth Kephart writes that she “wrote love one fragment at a time.” I remember when I first read that, when my children were young, and I thought, “Yes, that is what I will do.” I had beasts then too. I helped them do the gruesome and grueling work of emerging, and they eventually took off and shared themselves with the world. Some were butterflies; some were still beasts.
They need my help again. I will start small.
This week, work with the small things, and write a poem — one “fragment of love” at a time.
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I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.