The basement of my childhood home comprised the entire footprint of the house—thirty by sixty feet. In the corner just left of the staircase as you descended was the hollowed-out remains of an old riding lawnmower. My older brother had painted it green—a racing green I guessed. On a day when he was not jamming with his friends in his psychedelic band, I was able to compete for his attention and win. We took turns pushing each other in the makeshift go cart in a long oval the full length and breadth of the basement. The smooth cement floor marred with numerous long, black skid marks was a testament to the times my brother and I could actually forget the six-year difference between us and just let our mutual exuberance fill the cavernous bottom area of the house.
Now, as a middle-aged man, I can see the time together in all its dimension, like I could reach out, grab one of the long black skid marks, tear it from the burnished grey floor, and eat it like a strip of licorice as I watch my brother push me so fast that I nearly lose control, tipping the go cart up several inches so that only two knobby tires touch the floor. Best of all in those years was our hard laughter and for me to see him smile in a way that assured me that he and I were one, regardless of the many times he had told me to go away and leave him and his friends to their own laughter, which I could only hear from a distance while thinking how nice it would be when we would once again look at each other and grin before we headed downstairs, imitating sounds of racing cars.
There was an old artist with his cat named Ganymede. They sat before a window high in a tower. Below was the market, above was the sky, and a circus on rooftops where all animals could fly. In the morning the market filled with pastel figures, buying candy balloons and jewel-colored food. The cheese monger sang as notes left his mouth. The fish monger danced with salmon and trout. Hawkers sold wares that all came to life, and helped the old cutler polish his knives. A mime mimicked windstorms, a flutist the night. And the florist threw roses to every person in sight. Down flew a lion, a zebra, and clown and sprinkled confetti all over the ground. The old man cried as his breath grew faint, and his paint-covered fingers started to ache. For a moment the market was dirty and bare, and the rooftop circus existed nowhere. Then Ganymede purred and pawed at the panes and the old man saw god in all living things.
During this summer’s residency in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Art, I was one of six student lecturers sharing critical insights regarding picture book authorship. My presentation focused on the textual reference to setting, and one of the books I critiqued was Meg Wiviott’s Benno and the Night of the Broken Glass. Unknown to me at the beginning of the residency was that Meg would be attending the residency. We became good friends in the short time during the residency, and I will not forget her response upon the conclusion of the picture book panel lectures.
As Meg approached me after the lecture, I could see she was somewhat teary-eyed. We gave each other a hug of mutual respect, and it was at that moment I realized the impact critical writing can have beyond intellectual curiosity. Meg’s amazement that her book could elicit such fascination and scrutiny and be loaded with so much subtle meaning was a testament to the power of the essay to inspire and connect writers.
The dual emphasis at the Vermont College on both critical and creative writing to foster stronger and more informed writers is one of its many strengths, and that it brought two writers together in a new friendship is a joy that is beyond the words of this writer to express. I share this with her permission and my gratitude.
Between two forces—one pulling us toward the person we are destined to be, the other toward the person we long to become—lies a liminal space of infinite possibilities. A place of continuingly coming into being, where words, faith, intention, and love merge. A place where longing and bliss caress each other. I struggle to exist in that space without the forces tearing me apart.