Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Ritual to Write to Each Other

or, 'this is how it happened...'

12 months ago today, on the 12th September, my friend Joel was on his way to a family wedding in Texas.
In the preceding days, or indeed months, Joel and I had been discussing (through emails that were growing increasingly frequent and fervent) the idea of 'the canon' and maps, fidelity, Ray Bradbury's wedding vows 'to always love dinosaurs', wonder, Mary Poppins, comics, hegemony, genre, and Michael Chabon's idea that everything is a sequel to The Aeneid - all our ideas over the weeks were being added to a mental wiki - in which nothing gets left out and everything is interlinked...

The night before he'd been out for dinner with Gail and given her Chabon's Maps and Legends as a birthday gift and after cycling home in pouring rain, wrote to me about a poem he found on the Writer's Almanac - A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford, which opens,
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

I woke to that mail and sitting at my writing desk, just as I am now with my coffee, I sent Joel a response to say I'd discovered from Garrison Keillor on that morning's Writer's Almanac that Joel's nephew and bride were getting married on the anniversary of the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, whose story is equal parts tragic and hopeful and the source of some of the most famous lines in English romantic poetry... I continued...

They also have significance because they surely are now living happily forever in the land that was created and everyday grows and breathes with the words and spirit of personal correspondence. A part of the canon-map that is as real and true and significant to that world of words as the terrain made from poems or audio-plays or novels.
(I like to think it is reached by mail coach. And to reach that genre one passes through cities built with office managers' post-it notes  and memos. cities which are saved from being eternally grey cold edifices because they are decorated by notes from loving spouses and children's paintings sneakily slipped into briefcases on Monday mornings.
The city parks trees are made of quotes and ideas and vacation postcards stuck on fridges. And standing atop soap boxes on the street corners, orators entertain and inspire passers-by with recitations of mottos on fridge magnets - no longer tired cliches ('Life is too short to drink cheap wine!' 'Bloom where you are planted!' 'Jesus is coming. Look busy!') but spoken each time as if it were the first, and heard with eternally new ears.
And the land beyond - that is built on personal letters exchanged between families and lovers and friends and strangers kept apart by distance, and estrangement and war and prison walls - is spoken of by those who visit it as the most breathtaking place they ever saw:
Carved from such raw, unedited, deep emotions of love and fear and patience and hope that its majestic beauty is almost too much to bear. That's the place where Elizabeth and Robert dwell. Although they continue to traverse the map when they head out together on poetry tours each spring.)

A few short hours later, after little sleep, his shoes not yet dry from the cycle home, Joel woke in Nashville, and rushing to get to the airport for his flight to Dallas, he wrote a mail that irrevocably altered everything, closing with,

'Love, which I'm using very cary-fully, and which is definitely changing my life'

I replied with a 'holy crap, Batman' and from there we acknowledged we had been shifting into a realm of togetherness beyond friends and never wanted the conversation to end...

4 months later to the day, on the 12th January, 2010, (although the date wasn't intentional), we got engaged. Again by unintentional coincidence, 6 months from this day, on 12th March, 2011, we'll be holding a service of celebration and throwing a party for family and friends.
[We hope and pray somewhere in the interim I'll have been issued a visa, emigrated and we'll have gotten married. I have a frock for the occasion and we're remaining zen about the unknown-ness of when that's actually going to happen.]

So, Happy Anniversary, Joel. I'm so glad we paid attention & didn't miss our star...

Sonnet 43: How do I love thee, let me count the ways

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Public domain.)
(Image of my fridge I sent to Joel on 3rd September, 2009 including a Dr Who quote Joel had shared with me.)

Feeling deeply blessed and gratitudinal...



  1. Tears. This brings me back to my wordfull courtship w h, and reminds me of how vital a foundation it continues to be, 7 years into a blissful, passionate partnership.

    So very happy for you, friend. Happy anniversary to you and Joel. Maybe I'll have a baby today to celebrate.

  2. thanks, friend. that's lovely. :)

    rootin' and praying for ya. can't be long now... hang in there. you'll be great. xoxo

  3. "Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation. Every golem in the history of the world, from Rabbi Hanina's delectable goat to the river-clay Frankenstein of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, was summoned into existence through language, through murmuring, recital, and kabbalistic chitchat -- was, literally, talked into life."
    Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

    Here's to the ongoing delight of good transatlantic conversation, g.

  4. Sooooo sweet. Hope you continue to write on your fridge long after you've started to share one!

  5. BEAUTIFUL. The two of you are beautiful.

  6. Loved reading this. thanks for sharing the "how'd they do that?" :-)

  7. this is so beautiful

    so wishing i'd been well at greenbelt. i missed the very best reasons for being there

  8. How perfect and just that Joel be known by a woman like you. The more I read your words, the happier I am for him.