Blank Slates

Blank Slates

by Stephanie Lovegrove January 28, 2014


The older I get, the more a new year makes me reflect on the past, rather than look to the future. The passing of loved ones, the challenges and triumphs, the regrets, and the ridiculously fast growth of the many kids in my life all make me marvel at what a year can bring. This year, however, I find myself very much looking forward at the vast expanse of 2014 ahead of me and delighting in the possibilities of its blank slate.

In the last two months of 2013, my husband and I had a baby and moved into our first (non-rented) home. And so, as we counted down to midnight (honestly, we did the UK midnight, because actual midnight seems to get later each year), we faced a house rife with potential and a new roommate whose every day offers a new experience. For him, the world is covered in a blanket of fresh snow awaiting his footprints. As he learns about the world around him, I’ve returned to this poem by Margaret Atwood, who captures the newness of this time beautifully:

You Begin, by Margaret Atwood

You begin this way:
this is your hand,
this is your eye,
that is a fish, blue and flat
on the paper, almost
the shape of an eye.
This is your mouth,
this is an O
or a moon, whichever
you like. This is yellow.

Outside the window
is the rain, green
because it is summer, and beyond that
the trees and then the world,
which is round and has only
the colors of these nine crayons.

This is the world, which is fuller
and more difficult to learn than I have said.
You are right to smudge it that way
with the red and then
the orange: the world burns.

Once you have learned these words
you will learn that there are more
words than you can ever learn.
The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table,
your hand is a warm stone

I hold between two words.
This is your hand, these are my hands, this is the world,
which is round but not flat and has more colors
than we can see.

It begins, it has an end,
this is what you will
come back to, this is your hand.

When we were packing to move into the new house, the space seemed immeasurable and grew in our imaginations. Once we got there, though, we were overwhelmed by the quantity of “stuff” we had accumulated over the previous four years in our last place. And so, as we unpacked, we also purged. It would have made sense to get rid of things before moving them across town, but it took the clean slate of the new house for us to be properly motivated to not fill it with useless clutter. Books, records, clothes, even keepsakes all got sorted through with ruthless determination.

Of course, part of the purge is also that we suddenly find ourselves with so much new “stuff” these days—baby stuff. For as small and portable as infants are, they come with a vast empire of toys, gadgets, papers, keepsakes, books, blankets, and photos. And the new-baby smell of those things put into stark contrast everything else we’d previously thought indispensable. This new perspective made us even more eager for a fresh start in a fresh house, and the purging felt good—cleansing in more ways than can be witnessed in our closets. John Clare’s “The Old Year” touches on the “out with the old, in with the new” feelings that come with a new year, both in terms of physical objects and of time itself:

Old papers thrown away,
Old garments cast aside,
The talk of yesterday,
Are things identified;
But time once torn away
No voices can recall:
The eve of New Year's Day
Left the Old Year lost to all.

As we unpacked boxes and circled around the topic of godparents for our son, I keep thinking about baptism and the metaphorical and spiritual cleansing that it offers. As other parents can no doubt attest, this brand-new baby feels to me like a cleansing of my own--my life is new in its relation to him, and as I accompany him through each of these early days of his life, I am likewise offered the opportunity to be new, to be and do whatever I want. It’s a freeing and also terrifying proposition. The blank page is intimidating, and that first pen stroke inevitably falls short of our hopes. But as I venture into this new year and all its possibilities, I think of Hayden Carruth’s playful and powerful poem, Quality of Wine, which reminds me that the days “fly like the wind,” so we may as well charge forward into the open stretch of years that lie ahead.

A new year is a time when many make resolutions, using the new calendar as an excuse for a new start. As writers, such an opportunity can be just the invigoration we need to get out of a rut or to free ourselves from old habits and try our hands at something new. So here's to a forward-looking year, seeing our lives through the eyes of a baby, and facing the clean slates and pages that lie before us. 

Stephanie Lovegrove
Stephanie Lovegrove


Stephanie Lovegrove had two poems featured in Ruminate's Issue #04, and was so impressed with the magazine that she volunteered to work for them. She served as Ruminate's poetry editor from 2007-2014. Since 2002, she has worked in the book business--at literary magazines, publishers, and bookstores, and as a freelance copyeditor. She holds degrees in English (with a focus on creative writing), classics, and linguistics. She currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she works in marketing for the University of Virginia Press. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, Cream City Review, and Poet Lore, among other journals.

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