From the first chapter, “Man”:
“A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture. Or so it seemed for now, to a woman with flame-colored hair who marched uphill to meet her demise.”
And so begins FLIGHT BEHAVIOR by Barbara Kingsolver.
It is love at first sight and as Dellarobia opens the curtains on her life (where she’s going, what she’s doing, the pinch of her second-hand cowboy boots) I immediately invest. Everything about her is absolutely real to me. I follow her up the hill; feel the stab of each of her doubts and the thrill of her hopes. I let her cast the colors of everyone in her life without flinching. We’re friends now.
But then this thing happens. She gets halfway to her destination and encounters something unexplainable. An intense orange glow in the trees. A wildfire? No. The sun rising over the hill? No. It’s otherworldly, so frightening and ominous that she deserts her plan and flees to the safety of home.
And … I lost interest.
Despite writing that lifted me from my chair and placed me in another woman’s life (in an instant), writing so authentic to the rural experience and attitudes thereof, I kind of just rolled over, meh, finished the chapter and put the book down.
I am sick of plot. I am bored with mysteries. I have no use for anything paranormal. And if it comes down to me decoding a metaphor for God or death or enlightenment, I’m out. I’ve got plenty of patience for drama, however, and an open mind when it comes to morality, just don’t make me go back up that hill with Della to figure out what the orange glow is and then make it our mission to do something to, with, or about it. Keep telling me about her neighbors, the one with the kids whose names are misspelled. Or her mother-in-law because she reminds me of Frances. Help Della sort out her depressing life while I watch and cheer for her, but let’s not go all Pelican Brief up in here.
Have I become too lazy for literature? I fear I have. Or maybe my vision was clouded by Rules of Civility. The twists and turns of relationships, the coincidences, the revelations, that’s what I want—people doing things to, with, or about each other. Surely, I’m not the only one. It’s possible to execute the 8-point arc without stumbling upon murder, aliens, or hidden treasure, isn’t it?
Can an ordinary life, on paper, hold water? And if not, why am I writing this at all? Existential crisis? Meh.
Apparently so do a lot of other people I know. I see this a lot:
Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains. ~Winston Churchill
But guess what? I’m not. Not stupid at all. What I am is a Momma.
A Momma with a sixteen year old baby girl.
And that girl will turn seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and twenty years old while the President of the United States we elect today sits at the helm of this country. While he appoints two, maybe three, Supremes.
During the next four years, she will spread her brand new wings and leave this nest. Off to school. Her first apartment. An independent life.
I celebrate the wealth of opportunities she has before her. Education. Travel. Passion.
If you know us, you know we don’t draw many hard lines for our children. We have never tried to mold them into our shape, bend their spirit to fit some track that pleases us. It has always been our mission to offer them opportunities and opinions and to then sit back and let them choose, let them experience the value and concerns of choice. And while the consequences of such parenting could render poor outcomes, in this home it has not. We have five confident, fiercely independent thinkers who serve as valuable citizenry of their own micro-communities and of this family.
And while I could wax on ad nauseum, there’s no need. You know what I’m talking about. That thing they have. That thing that makes them awesome.
But, you see, there’s this funny thing about Freedom; it only exists when you trust those whom it’s bestowed upon.
I trust my girl to make good choices. About her education. About her relationships with boys and us and God. About her affiliations and finances and future. Her body and mind and spirit. I know there will be pitfalls along the way, but I trust her. I trust her.
The Republican Party does not. Half of this country does not.
And so I’ll use my vote to show her that I actually believe in her Freedom. As a Woman. As an American.
If that makes me a one trick pony, so be it. If it makes me brainless, oh well. Anyone who knows me knows that I understand our history; that I care a great deal about the direction this country takes, about our ability to function domestically and abroad as a great nation. I believe in that City on the Hill, but I also believe that when we cry Freedom we don’t do it standing on the backs of our daughters.
My son’s coach shouts, “Protect, protect!”
Two strikes. The kid is sweating bullets. Doesn’t want to disappoint. Protect the plate, protect the team. “Protect, protect!” Widen the zone, shorten your swing. Make contact.
So easy in theory.
Not so much in practice.
I hear those words in the air all the time, not that it wasn’t maternally intrinsic before, but now there’s a voice that carries the word, the order. No longer predisposition, the instinct has wings and legs and a hundred eyes. It hums behind my ear, breathes down my neck.
So every day I widen the zone. Shorten my swing. Try to make contact.
I don’t have to hit it out of the park; I just don’t want to strike out.
In the practically wifi-less world of vacation, left with only the books presently in my iBooks library, I went with a classic.
Lately, I am very much into highlighting, scrawling on paper pages, hanging digital bookmarks, bending corners. Savoring. The best way I can explain it is to compare it to my dinner the other night. There were these divine Pumpernickel rolls and I didn’t eat the last bite until after I finished dessert. I wasn’t even aware; it was pointed out to me. That’s where I am with words. I want that final rush of the thing, the delicious thing that melts your shoulders when it crosses your tongue and leaves you in a puddle in the chair. Sort of a depression-era mindset. Conserve. Reserve. Sustain. Save. Exist. Survive. Acquiesce just to choke on a cloud of reality and catch your desire again.
This passage isn’t the most elegant or the most famous, but isn’t it scrumptious? And so, just a bit ago, after my plate was licked clean, I came back for those last bites I’d put to the side.