Wednesday, April 9, 2014

To Have These Gifts Approved

In My Long Night
by Charles Simic

I have toiled like a spider at his web
In the dome of a church
Where only the upraised eyes of martyrs
In their torments could see me.

Where one cold spring day,
With rumors of war in the air,
My young parents brought me
To be baptized by the priest.

Where years after, my grandmother
Was to lie in an open coffin
Looking pleased to be done with
Having to bury other people.

Where I once saw a crow walk in,
Lured by the gold on the altar
And the light the candles cast,
While I dangled up there by a thread.

from Master of Disguises, copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

Two nights ago, while making the short trek from my car to our front door, I witnessed the following scene two doors down, the site you may remember as home of the feral baby.

EXT. Neighborhood street - night.  Two adolescent girls teeter down sidewalk on bikes.

FIRST GIRL:  The rock candy takes a couple of days.  The marshmallows (pauses, calculating) a couple of hours.  (Turns head to house)  Jeremy!  What are you doing outside without clothes on? 

SECOND GIRL: (Looking at house) Jeremy, put some pants on!  Aren't you cold? 

I couldn't see this Jeremy but I'm pretty sure I know what he looks like: toddling, blond, nude most hours of the day.   Last night, I saw a boy I could only assume was Jeremy tossing a juice box over the fence into our neighbor's driveway.  I know it's wrong but the tossed box and the rock that followed it, along with the little boy's assurance to his big sister, "I'll just throw one more," delighted me. 

In other news, the March issue of O magazine had an interesting article about loneliness and connection called "Just Say Hello" that cites a statistic that "roughly 60 million Americans [suffer] from loneliness."  Loneliness was defined as passing but "acute" melancholy as well as "a yearning for someone to truly know you, get you, see you." 

This yearning to be truly known reminded me of something I read once that rocked my socks off.  I was reading a book called The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community by Malidoma Patrice Somé (while swinging in a hammock, no less, beneath the pine tree in our back yard which is, in essence, one big patch of dirt).  I have referenced this book before on this blog and while I have never actually finished it, now that I am collecting books like an ivory tower on my bed table and hammering through them as I recover from the gift of sciatic spasms at my late stage of pregnancy, maybe I will add it to the pile.  

In any case, here is what I read years ago that made my hairs stand on end:

"Whether they are raised in indigenous or modern culture, there are two things that people crave: the full realization of their innate gifts, and to have these gifts approved, acknowledged, and confirmed" (italics mine).

When I read that passage, I suddenly had a word for the chronic yearning I was experiencing, which was a need for the acknowledgement of gifts.  Sometimes it takes another to see us before we can fully see ourselves.  This is how we heal each other, I believe, and something profound happened when I met a mentor who recognized my talents and confirmed them for me.  As part of this exchange, I was able to fully claim my abilities as an artist and stop worrying about how the clairvoyance and supernatural qualities of bringing spirit to matter freaked out some people.  I came to see my impulses to offer beauty through words and images as a strength rather than a liability I had to hide from other people. 

I may always struggle to stand behind the activities that come most naturally to me (drawing animals, talking about feelings, urging people to take care of themselves above any other demand on them), but where I used to see these activities as a burden, an embarrassment of delicacy in a loud, abusive world, I now see them as a kind of medicine.  To skip doses of the medicine I need is to become unwell, so I try to obey these needs of my heart.  The older I get, the more second nature this obedience becomes.  Without my health, I have nothing to offer anyone else, and offering something that comes as natural as breathing to me is one of the greatest pleasures I've found in this life.  

In a section of his book, a section called Healing, Art, and Community, Somé writes about the power of the artist to heal a community.  Calling the artist "the pulse of the community," he says:

"Community can create a container for natural abilities that can find no place in a world defined by economics and consumerism...Artistic ability, the capacity to heal, and the vision to see into the Other World are connected for indigenous people.  In my village there is only a thin line between the artist and the healer.  In fact, there is no word in the Dagara language for art.  The closest term to it would be the same word as sacred." 

Last week, I sought out a semi-famous mentor in my town, a person Tim jokingly called The Oracle, as in, When are you going to see The Oracle?  Though we had slotted two hours together, I spoke to this man for just thirty minutes.  In fact, as I drove to this man's house, I knew he did not have what I needed and feared we had nothing to say to one another, a fact that shortly proved itself true. 

However, while I marveled at two massive chairs carved from gnarled wood in his living room, the oracle told me about a woman he met at sixteen who later became his wife.  He brought out a picture and told me that his long marriage to this woman was what healed him and gave  him all the courage in his long, prosperous life.  This was the story I had come to hear. 

In my own life, I know this kind of healing.  I experience it on a daily basis in my own marriage and can honestly say that every good thing in my adult life stems from the support my husband gives me. 

When I was a young single person, I remember people saying how hard marriage was, and though it was hard, it was worth all the sacrifice.  Now I think of those people like corrupt pastors trying desperately not to sleep with their secretaries (again).  Marriage has been, for me, one of the best things I have ever taken on.  This is not to say that Tim and I agree on everything, that we don't fight about chores, the color maroon, and how much chard belongs in a person's diet, or that we don't occasionally sit through crappy movies at the other person's request, but the sanctuary that the right person can offer to a sensitive individual is invaluable.  In my case, it has been life-changing.  

I hope, too, that for all the stories about the difficulties of raising children, there are gems and miracles hiding inside, just as there were for me in all the warnings about marriage.  Maybe we all need a little more credit for the efforts that go into raising children (or marriage, for that matter).  It isn't a game, and it may not come that naturally to the wilds in many of us.  I get why people need to let off a little air about the subject of child-rearing, and how they might feel the need to warn you that your life is about to change.  But I'm also going to go out on a limb and guess that family can contain as much magic, play, and community as the right life partner can, and that's why I'm placing my bets on the little green branch of this family tree that we are growing.

Finally, I want to give my mother a shout-out for being one of those people who have always said good things about marriage and children.  I've never heard a cross word from her about men or the art of raising kids, and that kind of healthy environment, I am certain, has kept my heart open to both throughout the years.  That kind of encouragement makes this next stage of life - parenting alongside a really nice person - one I truly look forward to.

And so, I hope that each of you finds at least one person to see you fully, to acknowledge your gifts and confirm them.  In my experience, it only takes one other biped, and it doesn't matter what shape that relationship takes or even how long it lasts.  Of course, that kind of support is bouyed by all the other lost souls we claim as friends, the mentors who rain love on our thirsty ground, and the spaces like this one here, where I've found so much healing, thanks to your receptivity and shared creativity.  So thanks for reading and more importantly, taking the wild shape that only you in this life can take. 

With love,

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

(Thank God for) Other Women

I spent last weekend reading Louise Erdrich's The Blue Jay's Dance and Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place, both books about motherhood.  Erdrich's book is a compression of the first year of her three daughters' lives into one memoir about motherhood, writing, and nature and is, as you might imagine, stunning.  Corrigan's memoir is about her father, falling in love, starting a family, getting cancer, and becoming an adult in the midst of it all.  Hers is one of those books with such clear prose it runs through your fingers, cleaning and refreshing whatever it touches.  Even though its central conflict is the cancer diagnosis of both the author and her father and their ongoing treatment, it is so open and funny and strong, it sort of takes you into its arms and leaps over the sadness and is a thrilling portrait of family life.  

After finishing The Middle Place, I found myself looking up more of Corrigan's work, clicking on videos of her reading and talking about her writing, and was struck by how solidly she has always wanted a family.  I can't say I have ever felt that way, at least, not until I met Tim.  Then it was like a flip switched, and I wanted a family with him.  Watching Corrigan read in front of a fancy fireplace in a living room packed with beautiful women, many of them moved to tears by her reading, I felt an odd mix of emotion: admiration, appreciation, envy.  I envied her audience's clear embrace of their experiences as women and as mothers, and wondered if I have what it takes to identify as a sister to all of them.  I sure hope I do. 

One of my friends who also happens to be pregnant - see pic below - recently sent me this blog post by a stay-at-home mom responding to the cattiness of a radio program tackling the "To-Work or Not-To-Work" question.  I love this part of the post:

"So, angry, debating ladies…here’s the thing.  My daughter is watching me AND you to learn what it means to be a woman.  And I’d like her to learn that a woman’s value is determined less by her career choices and more by how she treats other women, in particular, women who are different than she is."

It goes on from there, but I will let you discover its loveliness and humor on your own, if you so choose. 

On a somehow related note, the same friend who sent me that post has been keeping me in good reading: she also sent a link to the Lena Dunham article in Vogue.  I think I've written about Lena Dunham peripherally on this site before, or on Grizzly and Golden, but I can't find it right now!  Anyway, I like her.  Best of all, I like that my husband watches Girls with me and finds it just as entertaining as I do.  I love thinking about my own disasters in my twenties in New York while I watch it.  And I like that our country is ready for a moment like the one Lena Dunham is having right now. 

My favorite part of the Vogue article is when Dunham broaches the necessity of making mistakes, in reference to a conversation she had with her boyfriend:

....In such moments, she thinks about an observation Antonoff made one day when she was feeling low. “He’s like, ‘You know what’s hard? People want the person who wants to share it all. But they want the person who wants to share it all minus foibles and mistakes and fuckups. They want cute mistakes. They don’t want real mistakes.’ If I placed that many censors on myself, I wouldn’t be able to continue to make the kinds of things that I make. And so I just sort of know there are going to be moments where I take it one step too far.”

 Though I aspire to bravery in my living life, I can't say I always live with the same bravery in my art.  I don't give myself a long enough leash in my creative life, and I'm starting to understand how essential it is to give myself more permission to just fuck up.

There are a million maxims about this idea, and they run rampant in the business world, cutely, cloyingly.  Incidentally, this could be what I love about the business world: just as the myth of inspired genius haunts many creatives, entrepreneurial fever haunts the business world, as if on any day, any of us could break out and become a millionaire.  (Truthfully, I think what I both love and loathe about business settings is the people - on good days, I find their openness and lack of self-consciousness a real relief.  Other days, I find the lack of imagination pretty lonely.)

In any case, it seems that most of us human beings hope for that feeling of transcendence, of power over or in our lives (unless we are also just looking for health insurance.  Which is its own kind of transcendence?).  And while this sort of mystical hope amuses me in business settings, in artistic ones, I find it closest to the bone, in the work itself. 

In my own life, few of my creative products satisfy me.  Maybe this is good - dissatisfaction might drive habits like a hunger.  But I've been thinking lately, I'm ready for a little, I don't know, gratification.  And maybe that feeling comes as much from a good product as it comes from giving everything to the work itself, and knowing that nothing was left behind. 

I think this is why I love baking, and walking, and crafts.  There is no way to "fail" at glueing things, or looking at trees, or pouring water into a bowl of flour, and in these activities I allow myself to wholly give.  I allow myself so much freedom and happiness in these activities.  I want to uncuff that sweetness when I sit at my writing table, too.  

Is this a goal, a prayer, a real possibility?  I guess I'll find out.  In the meantime, I cook this baby for a little bit longer (ten days??) and then I'll be practicing many of these principles - humility, going for it, fucking up and starting again - very shortly.  Wish me luck! 

In seriousness, I have received so much support in my pregnancy - it has changed me in many ways.  Before my friend came over and saved me this weekend (same Vogue article friend, same blog post sender: it seems I am really racking up a debt!) our living room was a wreck of objects, gifts, cards, and flowers, and it felt pretty good.  Putting things away has been hell for me, but staring at the mountains of kindness in our home, receiving the sentiments flowing toward us from friends and strangers alike, has been a wondrous thing.  I wouldn't trade it for all the Feng Shui in the world.  Sometimes I lay in bed clutching the stuffed animals meant for our daughter, listening to the whale song station on her little white noise maker, and luxuriate in this magic her presence has bestowed upon us.  

So I hope the seeds of abundance are finding each and every one of you this season, and you are diving in, leaving a trail of fine mistakes in your wake, too.

With crazy love,

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Everything Is Workable

I chewed through George Saunders' Tenth of December a few weeks ago and read the Bonus! Materials! interview between Saunders and David Sedaris at the back.  It was a little weird to watch two famous authors dance with one another, politeness and craft and modesty all circled like tigers in a cage.  What are you going to do, though?  Writers are a neurotic lot, perfectionists to the core.  It was comforting to see that even the most accomplished of us are not immune to this dance of self-consciousness. 

In addition to getting my little socks rocked off by the collection of stories while enduring plane delays on our way to a baby shower, I found Saunders had some pretty things to say about the work of writing itself, and I wanted to share a few with you. 

"Part of the artistic contract is: no preaching.  And knowing how a story is going to end before you start it, and why it has to end that way, and what it will "mean," is (at least when I do it) a form of preaching.  It has an inherently condescending quality, and any sensible reader would be offended/bored."


David Sedaris
: There are so many fantastic names in this book...Do you make these up or are they the names of friends?

George Saunders: ...I try to come up with those sorts of things at speed, feeling that if I do it that way, there may be an accidental organic authenticity to it that will go slightly beyond rationality.  Making the selection in a full-bodied way, I might get lucky and get that extra x percent of implied meaning.  Whereas if I was collecting them, I think my tendency would be to steer the story in a direction that would allow me to use some of the good stuff in my notebook, if you see what I mean.  I guess my working theory is that if I fill up my mind with whatever I naturally come across, when the time comes to invent something, I'll be well-primed to just take the leap.


"When something is failing, I try to ask it (gently!): 'Okay, so why are you failing?  What's the problem?' And also ask: 'Where are you failing, exactly?' This is done at the line level - just going over something again and again, sentence by sentence, trying to see where it departed from its natural energy...With this approach, almost everything is workable, if I can be patient enough."

Ah, patience, and gentleness, and talking to paper like a beloved child!  These, I believe, are the things of which sanity is made. 

Speaking of sanity, mine is hiding under my pillow lately.  I recently heard that the last part of pregnancy is a lot like the first trimester, and I really get that.  I feel slower and foggy and full of emotions for which I find no rational handle.  Walking down a sunny street, I see a robin or a glossy red house-door, and my eyes sting with tears: one part appreciation, one part terror for the beauty of the world.  I hope I can bring a child into all this with some kind of grace.  Sometimes I wish my job were to simply keep wild animals from eating her, a la cave days.  The idea that I have to hold things together while keeping her alive as I (maybe) impart some wisdom is more than daunting.

And while pregnancy has been, in some ways, a hibernation, it has also made me fully awake to the world, and especially my place in it.  Along these lines, I resist the idea that "pregnancy brain" is a bad thing.  I love how easily my mind lets go of anxieties and work details.  Frankly, who gives a shit?  There is a big ball of fire outside the window every day, at night the moon glows over the house, and in the middle of it my body grows ripe like a forest.  I feel a little bit like a bear in a field - nose to the wind, belly growing down, paws planted on the dirt.  This open physicality is a welcome respite. 

And, as Tim joked when I said how nice everyone is to me all the time, kindness towards a pregnant woman is at least one thing our country gets right. 

If you want a peek into some things we might be skewed about it, check out the Ricki Lake-produced documentary about hospital births called The Business of Being Born (you can stream it on Netflix).  I found it utterly fascinating.  While I tend to feel really comfortable around doctors and hospitals, having been the beneficiary of modern medicine's abundance and healing at critical times in my life, I also found that the statistics presented in the film echoed my own feelings about the body's ability to do the work it needs to do - both in birth and in healing - without extensive intervention.

The topic of birth choices is a hot one, and while I feel passionately about natural approaches to almost everything, at the same time, I honor every woman's choice and experience in birthing a child, and every family's passage through those experiences.  I'm grateful for doctors of all kinds - surgeons, shamans, and angels-in-scrubs alike.    

Speaking of angels, a woman approached me at the grocery store to give me a gift card yesterday.  I was scared she was going to bless my belly or perform Reiki on it in the cereal aisle, but she just passed along a gift card to share what she called the blessings her family had experienced.  It was sweet, awkward, and our groceries were $25 lighter on the pocket, something I will take any day.  When I told Tim what had happened, he said we need to get me a new coat - mine must be looking a little ragged. 

I find the well of grace to run a little deeper than surprise gifts but, at the same time, moments like that really make me pause.  As much as I write about gentleness and trusting the process of life, I continuously work to embrace the world as a safe place.  Moments like the one with the gift card or - more often - lunches with girlfriends and phone calls to my grandmother remind me of the treasures in my life, and how little I am holding up the sky. 

With that, I wish you a beautiful weekend.  I hope the above words of George Saunders, someone with his nose to his craft or art or passion, whatever you want to call it, remind us all of the wisdom that comes from deep listening. 

With love,

P.S. The pictures in this post are, like most pictures on this site, courtesy of Tim's camera.  Several are from a trip to the Galapagos Islands. The hot tub pic (hellooooo eighties!) is from a motel we found after a 10-hour Interstate ordeal.  The last was taken on a road trip through Utah, and while we are not reading some roadside sign about Billy the Kidd, there is a lot of opportunity to do that out West. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Famous Misogynists and Admirable Men

This is awkward, but I don't know how to count the progress of my pregnancy.  On Saturday, I crossed the mark that means I have 8 weeks left.  This is easier for my brain to hold onto, rather than the 32 weeks along measurement some use.  Then there is the lunar counting system used by some books (and witches?), as well as the standard month by month count of my mom's generation, which seems sane to me, but sounds confusing to others. 

For example, by monthly standards, I am in my eighth month, which sounds like I will have a baby in a month, because I'm so used to talking about gestation being 9  months long.  But that's 9 full months, so, really, I have 2 months left. 

Don't worry, this is not what I spend my nights thinking about!  I save unsolved algebra problems from high school for that.

The whole point of the disastrous anti-math experiment above is that I am currently caching entertainment to pillage when breastfeeding (although I've heard that screens are as addictive for babes of a certain age as they are for adults, so this may be a bad plan?).  This brings me to the fact that I saw Anchorman 2 on Saturday night, and boy, did it make me feel good about my years of parenting ahead.  If that's what cinema has to offer, I and the library's DVD stash are going to get along just fine. 

There was plenty to laugh about and, despite its shocking amount of race-joke fails, I'm not sorry I went to see it.  In fact, it made me feel great about my stay-at-home ways of late.

On the Road
The movie I did have trouble shaking, however, after watching it recently, was On the Road.  I haven't read the book in about ten years, and although he has the ability to ruin lots of things for me, Tim's tepid feelings for Kerouac and other Beats has not poisoned my well of fascination for them.  I can't say I regret watching the film, but it is not a good film by any means.  The interior sets in New York and San Francisco far outweigh any casting, acting, or direction in the thing.  (Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen do, however, kill it in their few scenes.) 

When I read On the Road in high school and then again after college, I found it to be about freedom, and friendship, and adventure, and about "losing it," in a way, in order to find "it," "it" meaning bliss and true love itself - that is, the wild life-force that binds us all and does not necessarily come in romantic or conventional containers. 

The movie didn't appear get the memo about these themes, however, and seemed to fall down a rabbit hole of brute sexuality, with entirely too much of Kristen Stewart's swollen lip-pout thing (sorry, Amerz).  But the dingy colors and washed lighting had fantastically claustrophobic effects on this viewer, which was probably its aim.  And I came away wondering what the hell it was like to be a woman in the fifties, because even the women running in literary circles (or perhaps those women more than any others?) seemed to have a pretty lame hold on their relationships. 

I know I'm not saying anything new here about the depiction of women in On the Road, or the treatment of women by the real-life characters of the book If I were a different person, I would be doing proper research right now, reading essays written by people much smarter than I am.  But since I spent the night layering a chicken with carrots and onions in my crock pot, and walking outside in such low temperatures my legs needed to thaw out when I returned home, all we have to work with right now are my thoughts.  Which are:  WTF, women of the fifties??  Why so okay being sex objects?

I've rarely had the, er, opportunity??, to be regarded as a mere sex object, so maybe I don't understand the power, or the allure, or the circumstances around it.  But I am haunted by the character of Camille, played by Kirsten Dunst, in On the Road, whose life is wracked by her love for Dean Moriarty and nearly ruined by her commitment to him and the family they build together.

Is life way better for women in our country these days?  I guess what I'm getting at is: it sure as hell seems like it. 

Phew.  That was long and messy and, unfortunately, my whole point.  

I read an essay today about insomnia, something to which I 100% do not relate, but maybe I just eat too many carbohydrates and sugar?  In my experience, that stuff will knock you out.

The essay kept listing books the author read while not sleeping.  Lists can be kind of fun.  Indulgent, sure, but hopefully entertaining.  Here is a list of books on my desk, books on which I am making zero progress because I keep doing weird things in the kitchen like making my own sauerkraut, and doing other weird things like going to work:
  • Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith (Still need to finish!!)
  • Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich (Adore L.E.)
  • Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz (This book's design makes teenage room decoration look totally sane)
  • Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild, Ellen Meloy (Features big horn sheep on the cover.  Nuff said.)
  • Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, Jon MooAllem (Has picture of growling polar bear on cover, in glass case.  Not as cool as big horn sheep in the wild, sorry Jon.)
  • PapaDaddy's Books for New Fathers: Advice to Dads of All Ages, Clyde Edgerton (Tim recommended for my peace of mind as a mother.  I don't always ask, I just follow.)
  • Love At First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself, Julie Klam (Dear friend sent to me, can't wait to read.)

That's all.  I couldn't even manage to just list the books properly.  Had to jam all my own narrative up in there.  I also realized that, while the author of the essay listed books he has gotten through, which is kind of cool, I listed books I have failed to get through, which is sad. 

Cake Advice

Lastly, I stumbled upon Cake's website today (Cake the band) and found an Advice page where you can write in with questions.  On the subject of being or not being a sex object, this advice was given:  "The tragedy is when girls don't work towards becoming completely self-actualized because perhaps they learned at an early age the value that being a sex-object can bring."

I just love that, don't you?  Without overly dissing my body and the natural strength of my non-leggy legs, I have often thought, yes, without some of the shame I experienced as a young woman, of not feeling beautiful enough, I would never have made my way to art, and to writing, and would have missed out on many opportunities to feel compassion for the other people in my life.  Is that weird to say?  Maybe so.  But it's true - like that freaking Garth Brooks song.

With love,

Kara Norman: Sex Object

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Human Project

I discovered a new podcast and I am obsessed.  It's called Other People with Brad Listi.  I want to say it's a podcast for writers and book lovers, but that might not be the right description. The show's tagline is "in-depth, inappropriate interviews with authors," which makes me laugh and also reminds me how badly Lukis and I need a tagline for our movies podcast, Rabbit Hat Fix.  If you have a good one for our bastion of 90s movies, please email me!  If we use it, we will give you credit, props, and some kind of demented present.  

Speaking of book lovers, even though I can disappear into a book for whole days, I've never considered myself one.  I went on Good Reads once and had to leave because I got confused.  When people recommend a book to me, it takes six or seven times before I think, Hey, maybe I should read that.  Or, I stumble upon a book that my mom has recommended repeatedly and, finally reading it, go tearing around my days, my brain jacked up on its story like a frat kid on a coke binge. OHHHHHHH, I say to myself, this is what she was trying to tell me.

I think I might be an idiot, but that's neither here nor there.  I am constantly amazed at how "late" I come to things: marriage, vocation, Weezer.  When I discovered Wilco in my twenties, I called my friend from Chicago and terrorized her.  Why didn't you tell me about these guys?!  When I first pressed play on Summerteeth, I realized how egregiously I had wasted my youth.  I quickly caught up on early albums and Uncle Tupelo lore before disappearing down a hole of Tweedy fandom where I have lived ever since. 

So maybe you already know about Other People with Brad Listi.  If so, good for you, and I mean that sincerely.  You are probably also one of those people who exercise regularly without getting into a fight with yourself about it, and actually prefer eating vegetables to granola for dinner.  Really, good for you.  That must be awesome!

I recently listened to an Other People episode featuring Jennifer Michael Hecht, whose strangely beautiful poem appeared on that website I'm always raving about.  (Incidentally, while I adore The Writer's Almanac, I generally run screaming when Prairie Home Companion comes on the radio.) 

Hecht's newest book came out in November, and is titled Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.  With how often I muse on the subject of suicide, like here and here, it might seem like I am obsessed with the topic.  I'd like to go on the record as saying I am more interested in the ways we are connected as human beings, and how much our spiritual evolution depends on being there for one another.  Suicide seems, to me, a dire forgetting of this connection. 

The statistics for how suicide influences others inside communities touched by it are astounding.  This is before you get into the depression, anxiety, and anger it causes loved ones of those who take their own life.  This is not to say I pass judgment on those who make that choice, but I do grieve deeply when it happens, even when I don't know the person.  If suicide prompts that response in a total stranger, I can only imagine the havoc it wreaks on those who are personally touched by it.

Hecht puts it beautifully her interview with Brad, who started the ambitious arts & culture website The Nervous Breakdown.  In the interview, they discuss her book and the philosophers who have written or spoken about suicide eloquently throughout history.  I am paraphrasing here, because I was cooking ground turkey while I listened to the episode and wasn't about to touch my computer with scary turkey hands, but in the interview Hecht says something like: The human project is very real, and we must keep up the beauty of it.  Meaning, I think, we are all going somewhere as a people, and we are citizens in this project of caring.  Her book Stay might therefore be an argument to consider the people around you when you are at your lowest, as much as it is an attempt to raise the issues of isolation, loneliness, and despair to the surface of our conversations, so we can take care of one another and stay connected to this project of being human together. 

This past weekend brought the chance to dive into Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, a book our friend sent in an excellent care package.  I laughed so hard I cried while reading it.  And while Brosh has two beautiful chapters about her own time facing down suicidal thoughts, her pieces about adopted dogs and a goose in the house are really what stole my heart. 

In HAAH, Brosh writes about her sometimes illogical interactions with the world, and how she gets upset that the world doesn't always behave as she wants it to.  I realized, reading the book, this is how I interact with getting dressed: I know it has to happen, every single day, but I still get mad when I have to do it.  An illogical series of thoughts happens in my brain, and I don't really understand why I have to get out of my pajamas.  This happens every single day, unless there is a trip to a donut shop or a breakfast diner in the works.  In those instances, I can hardly wait to get dressed, because there may be nothing sadder than not being able to get dressed for the prospect of hot coffee and treats. 

Anyway, here's to all you, and the human project of which we are all a part. 

With love,

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Essay / Essayer

Our house fell under an evil flu-like spell upon our return from Christmas break, and as Tim and I convalesce, our humidifier pumps steam at all hours of the day.  I feel like the grandfather character in Stuart Dybek's Chopin in Winter.  That lovely story hovers in my memory this week as steam fogs the windows. 

I also feel exceptionally close to my reading life, and have been blowing through essays lately.  Some I like, some, not so much. 

Anyway, my whole point here is that I've been sick, and as in pregnancy, I feel like I really know how to be sick, you know?  It seems like me and pajamas were made for each other, and if I start reading only to look up three hours later without having stood once, I feel okay with that. 

Once I rest, though, and I mean, truly rest, I return to the world with renewed energy and greater perspective.  It's like, rather than taking LSD, I just come down with a cold instead.  From what I hear, the mind-expanding results of taking LSD are about the same as ones I get from laying around in bed for a week. 

In one of the ridiculously smarty-pants essays in Zadie Smith's book Changing My Mind, she discusses E.M. Forster's role in the British canon, and mentions that the author found it increasingly necessary to open his mind and spirit as he aged. 

She highlights a paragraph he quoted in a BBC Talk, from a memoir called As We Are:

"Unfortunately there comes to the majority of those of middle age an inelasticity not of physical muscle and sinew alone but of mental fibre.  Experience has its dangers: it may bring wisdom, but it may also bring stiffness and cause hardened deposits in the mind, and its resulting inelasticity is crippling."

I was sort of jolted awake when I read Forster' take on humanism:  "Do we, in these terrible times [WWII], want to be humanists or fanatics? I have no doubt as to my own wish, I would rather be a humanist with all his faults, than a fanatic with all his virtues." 

If an old British novelist doesn't let himself grow certain and crotchety, what excuse do any of us have for doing so? 

I wrote recently about the hibernation that has taken over the majority of my pregnancy so far, and while it is winter in Colorado, and the roofs and sidewalks are coated in a fine crust of snow, and crows flit imperially around the open skies, roosting like paper cuts in naked trees, well, it's also the start of a new year and time, perhaps, to turn over some of those dead, wintry leaves skittering around my head. 

I also keep thinking about the epigraph in Changing My Mind, a quote from Katherine Hepburn's character in The Philadelphia Story, a movie that Smith adores and really is just about as perfect a movie as they come.  The quote? 

The time to make up your mind about people is never!

Well.  I've been meditating on that one for days.  I've been thinking back on my fall and how crabby I was for much of it, and how much that crabbiness can be traced to the stories I was telling myself about life around me. 

I once heard a definition of insanity as being at war with "what is."  I don't think the person saying it was referring to a traditional definition of insanity.  I remembered it because that's exactly what emotional resistance feels like to me: a riot of insanity on the cellular level, like a thousand tiny bonfires eating away at peace. 

Geez, that's a lot to think about.  Happy Freaking New Year!! 

The real reason I wrote today was to post some pictures of my trip to Ohio with Tim, Ohio where the skies are gray and the dispositions a great spectrum of taupes, beiges, and milky yellows.  I can't say why I love it there so much, although I know the land has something to do with it.  And the skies.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker for open spaces.  They make me want to drag out every book I've been meaning to read and sit down and read them all, and one day a week later look up proudly at a pile of books I've chewed through and say to myself, See those books?  Written by people you don't even like?  You gave them a chance!  Aren't you a grown-up!

Seriously, though, Happy New Year!  May your year be full of good intentions and two hundred corrections, so we all end up as sunny as we possibly can be.

With love,

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Introvert's Manifesto

There is so much about winter that I love: twinkling lights, candles in every room, Christmas trees, Christmas services, presents, wrapping paper, cookie making, curling bows, wool everything (sweater vests, skirts, ornaments, farm animals if you're lucky enough to have them).  Someone congratulated me yesterday for not having to be pregnant through the summer and I said I would be a holy terror if I had to go through that. 

Of course, saying this out loud basically ensures a future pregnancy in Mexico in August, does it not?

Last night was our final childbirth class, given through a local hospital that boasts some number of national honors.  As usual, I left with heartburn, and my customary confusion: are they trying to get everyone to abort before it's too late?  The general messaging seems to be: this will be hard, hard, hard.  It's a good thing I didn't meet these people before we decided to get pregnant.  I don't think I would have the guts to go through with a thing. 

But, like most challenges, the further along this road of carrying a child I go, the stronger I feel.  The first three months of pregnancy were a nausea-fueled secret; at any point, I thought, I could still be making it up.  As my body changes, though, and I recognize the wondrous bubble I have seen on other women covered by my own clothing when I glance in the mirror, a tap root sinks further into the ground of my being, and I feel really tall, and strong, and indifferent to so many winds that used to blow me around like a sapling. 

I have been thinking about social bonds a ton.  I process things so internally, and my personality has always had a huge component of introversion, one which I did not always understand how to honor.  But this component is so present right now.  I haven't seen some of my neighbors in the longest time.  I was already pregnant when Bear died, and was changing jobs within my company at the same time.  I have been either processing grief or new life or motherhood for half a year, and I find myself with little energy left over for much besides my writing, my job, and my husband. 

Tim and I had been hoping for some terrific stories coming out of our childbirth class.  We wanted to meet the smorgasbordy, non-toast of our town.  We wanted awkward questions.  We wanted a comb-over at the very least, but we got the most normal group of folks, and I wonder if our collective middle-class decorum was the source of the class's over-arching dryness.  Let's just say, whenever a teacher asked, Any questions? she was almost always met by silence.  No one was opening up, ever.   

Still, leaving class last night, I was sad to not be able to see our non-friends the following week.  I had grown a little attached to the shy women, the eager men, the baby-faced couple I was sure would secretly beat the pants off the rest of us in birth - not because of their youth, but because their sporty, somewhat clueless look held a glowing charm within it: they were the sure underdogs. 

Tim joked, "I'm going to miss all these people we never talked to!"  I agreed.  Not quite ready to go to bed yet, he then drove us to a house blazing with Christmas lights, a house with its own low-frequency radio station.  At first, I didn't understand why Tim was changing the Cat Stevens on the radio, but once he explained that we were going to "hear the lights," I was game.  When he tried to drive away a minute later, all I said was, "I need to stay here." I was putty in the hands of whatever mad Christmas genius lived inside that house, who had synchronized music to the lights leaping around his yard. 

Sometimes I struggle with the fact that I like to spend so much time alone.  I worry I will wake up in four years and everyone will have forgotten about me.  I sometimes have to learn and relearn the limits of my social abilities when I get over-cranked and grow toxic inside.  Then, I know, it is time to put in my headphones and go for a walk, or drag out my art supplies and make a collage, or just rant and rant in one of my drugstore notebooks.  Whatever it is, I have to do something for me and me only.  It feels powerful to block out the world, even for five or ten minutes, and just be inside myself, listening.

Other times, like the present when my body is gripped by such a primal experience, I can't quite muster up the pep it takes to offer myself to others.  I feel very selfish right now, like I am saving everything for me and my baby, but I find it nearly impossible to care how I may appear.  I'm sure this is natural, and will someday pass, but I've never quite felt this level of indifference to what other people want from me.  It is freeing in many ways, and makes me wonder if real confidence is simply taking care of what you know you need, no matter what anyone says. 

In the Paris Review Interview with Jonathan Franzen, he discusses something I have often felt about the pleasures of writing fiction.  Speaking of his conversations with David Foster Wallace and the publication of his latest novel Freedom, Franzen says: 

The China piece came out of a question that Dave and I talked about constantly: How can we keep sitting in our rooms and struggling with fiction when there is so much wrong with the world?  During the summer after I signed the book contract, my sense of duty became utterly oppressive.  So much bad stuff was happening in the country—and happening to wild birds around the world!—that I felt I just couldn’t keep wasting months.  I had to go out and do something, get my hands dirty with some problem.  Only after the China piece failed to find a discernible audience or have any discernible impact did I get it through my head that I might actually have more effect on the world by retreating to my room and doing what I was put on earth to do.

I love to poke fun of this man, but I honestly have a lot of respect for his work and person.  He is trying so hard, and I find his focus enviable.  I also find myself watching his spiritual side develop in non-fiction pieces and, like some crazed old piano teacher whose students are off in the world now, I see myself cheer when he steps closer and closer towards some inner peace. 

Anyway, it is a busy but beautiful time of year, yes?  I find myself rooting around the kitchen often, brandishing impromptu cakes, just for the heck of it.  I think this is my version of nesting; the "nursery" is still a far-away idea, but a whole chicken waits to be buttered and stuffed with rosemary sprigs, and I am incredibly sad I can't do this before Christmas vacation. 

Some early presents for you: 

* An article about the healing affects of spending time alone, written by one of my heroes, Jancee Dunn, who used to write for Rolling Stone.

* 7 Reasons to Date (Or Marry?) A Guy With a Beard. Those of you with a weakness for beards, you can now proudly raise your hands.

* A beautiful post by my friend Amelia about her relationship to her father, who sadly passed away this Thanksgiving.

That is all!  Go out with the candles of your heart lit this season and, if you find yours in darkness, lean close to someone who can share the light from their own.

With so much love,