FROM THE MOMENT I pushed open our home's blue front door on the first day of vacation, my 14-year-old, her black bangs bouncing, reminded me of the elusiveness of solitude. What about the shopping trip for pills for water purification and socks and denims for a trip she soon would make, she wanted to know.
It wasn't that I was desperate to escape motherhood and responsibilities, but a stay-at-home vacation seemed as good an occasion as any for a needed respite, a renewal.
My idea had been to organize a period of planned renewal, to return to work mentally and physically reinvigorated, with new energy and fresh perspective. At the moment I left a few weeks ago, I tried to WILL renewal -- to embrace it, smooth out the creases with it. What I found out was that planned renewal has its limitations, and that spontaneous renewal is a lot richer.
A part of me knew that renewal springs not from inactivity, but from a different utilization of the same equipment. So I went daily to a tiny rented hideaway and started pecking on an old electric typewriter, writing what (I hope) will become a television play:
"Dr. Charles Drew gets out of the taxi at Union Station and pulls himself to full height to stand face to face with a redcap whom he recognizes as a former classmate at Dunbar High School. They talk of other times -- opportunities lost and those never offered. "Don" asks Charlie why he gave up athletics for medicine: "You coulda been a leader in the field of physical training for the whole race, Man!" Charlie Drew smiles tightly and says he must hurry. He boards the segregated car . . . ."
How refreshing to get inside a character's head, to try to psych him out and to solve the many mysteries of why he did as he did.
But it is strange, nevertheless, that I began a period of renewal planning by working -- setting deadlines, pushing, driving toward a moment of climax. Is it a too-rigid ambition? Am I jogging too doggedly toward success? I would eventually say to the family, "I'm going to take a few days off and do absolutely nothing." The children say, in unison, uncharacteristically, "Good!" I took this to mean both that they had demands they wanted met, and that my planned renewal produced a crankiness not entirely different from life the other 48 weeks.
It was at that point that I began to consider the limits of planned renewal. It was not that it had been an awful experience, but if the effects were not overflowing bounteously to those I loved most, willing renewal was going to be pretty awful.
Coincidentally, it was when I waved goodbye to the last camp-bound offspring that the mood changed and touched deeper emotions, and the renewal stopped being planned and became evolutionary.
For many years, I thought that anger and love were rarely intimates; I used to feel that eventually one would cancel out the other. (A good friend lays such muddled thinking to the genteel upbringing of many blacks a generation or so ago, the idea that by proper decorum blacks could transcend the racial stereotype whites had of allegedly unseemly group behavior by blacks.)
I was wrong. You can say of emotions shielded what poet Langston Hughes says of dreams deferred: "They dry up like raisins in the sun."
It was when I faced up to this issue and had some free-wheeling discussions with friends that another aspect of the renewal started.
What is the hesitation today to fight openly and love hard and forgive "seventy times seven?" It was when I talked this over with my friend, sitting propped up on pillows on her sofa, that she leaned over from her perch on the floor and talked about our "genteel upbringing." I think part of this hesitation, too, is our feeling that it is a betrayal of feminism when what we're seeking are emotions that really are "human."
Is it a sign of the times that so many people talk about their craving for "peace," for solitude? I came to realize that struggle builds strength and that thinking and relating and feeling are the stuff of life, and not a deliberately structured attempt at trying to impose renewal on myself. As my friend put it bluntly: "You find peace in the grave."
I was right in thinking that taking joy in work is renewing, but the mad rush for success without taking time to live each day is like mistaking the me-ism that is currently in vogue for true self-awareness. Me-ism makes one afraid of adjusting to change, afraid of taking a risk, while self-awareness replaces the doubt with hope.
And renewal is not entirely solitary either; I found it envelops friends and family.
"Write about the summer, the wisteria and the trampoline," my artist husband said. I was mildly surprised when he said this, for he is usually public primarily about his art. I know the trampoline and the wisteria are metaphors for movement and growth. "Tell the truth."
This is a truth that I have learned on vacation. A renewal that I thought would be structured turned out to be unplanned and evolutionary, for renewal is chancy and continuing and not without pain. But I got the same end result, maybe even a better end result -- a real renewal.