Monday, October 12, 2015

The Mothering

For you loyal readers of Sut Nam Bonsai (thank you!), my love of The Sun magazine has never been a secret.  I've been subscribing to it one way or another since I graduated from college, a span of years that grows in mysterious, rich curls like a cloud of underwater algae. 

Because I am generally in the know, re: Sun activities, when the associate publisher of the magazine, Krista Bremer, published her memoir in 2014, titled My Accidental Jihad, about her passionate relationship with an Islamic Libyan, I was sure I would read it immediately.  According to the back of the book, jihad in Islam means "an individual's striving for spiritual and intellectual growth." Yes please!  I don't know what happened: a pregnancy?  The loss of a furry friend?  A fit of common recalcitrance while trolling the links of Amazon?  I'm not sure.  For whatever reason, I've just completed it now. 

Friends, it is beautiful.  I probably cried about thirty times reading it, hot, stinging tears that pierced my eyeballs without falling, the kind of sensation that, writing or reading, signals that someone is hot on the trail: of truth, of poignancy, of beauty.  I devoured this story about an unlikely partnership and unlikelier marriage that produced two kids and sustains two very different people.  I remember some promotional item for the book highlighting the fact that all marriages are a collision of cultures.  For Bremer, a native of California, and her husband, a Libyan man who fled his country to escape Gaddafi's regime, the culture collision is inescapable.  Bremer writes about it with such honesty, such dignity, such respect for her husband quite a bit older than she is, who at times makes her jaw drop in shock and embarrassment and love, I want to bathe in her prose for years to come and study how it achieves its effects.  

I'm going to quote a passage because it echoes feelings I had when I became engaged and suddenly desired to be part of a larger tradition than one I created for myself.  I write about the sacred in the common all the time, it seems, but one thing I love about so-called basic events such as marriage or having children is how profoundly healing they have been for me.

In many ways, mothers are anonymous in our culture.  Even though I'm a mom myself, when I see a stroller on the streets, I'm just as guilty of glazing over the whole scene, seeing nothing but a boring, fussy stroller and not the dynamic human being who is pushing it.  I don't see a woman or a man.  I don't even see a baby.  I just see generic clothing, skin color and the presence of faces.  Unless I catch myself glazing, being an ignoramus, unless I look into those faces with deliberate, open greeting, the magic and stories inside those people escape me.  

Parenthood, and motherhood in particular, is just not that sexy to Americans, probably because it requires qualities we don't yet esteem: tenderness, patience, yielding, and oceans of loving, nourishing sacrifice.  It requires submission to many things larger than yourself, a concept that has no vocabulary in our national discourse.  To succeed as a parent (listen to me!  first-time mother to someone under two.  forgive my hubris, and here I go anyway) religious training is sometimes more helpful than anything the larger culture might offer, religion with its teachings of acceptance, prayer, and the fruits of asking questions and staying vulnerable. 

Not-knowing is not sexy to us yet, and that's okay (I think??).  What I like about becoming a mother is how underground my life is now.  I am deep in the weeds, slithering daily through work the fruits of which are not yet apparent, sometimes even to me.  It's humbling.  It's rigorous.  It's fun and sexy in ways, too, ways that belong to no one but me.  They are invisible to most eyes, therefore pleasures all mine.  I love that. 

Anyway, here's that passage.  Bremer finds herself pregnant by accident and though she is married to her husband, Ismail, they never got a ring.  When her doctor tells her it's a matter of hours until her baby is born, she and Ismail dash to the mall for diapers and other essentials they haven't gotten around to buying yet: 

"At the mall, we made a beeline toward the drugstore, where we knew we'd find the essentials we needed.  As we passed a jewelry shop, Ismail tugged me spontaneously toward the door.  'You need a ring to wear into the delivery room,' he announced, squeezing my hand.

Throughout my pregnancy I had insisted I didn't care about a ring, but when he pulled me toward the glass countertop and I looked down at row after row of glittering diamonds resting on blue velvet, I knew I had lied to both of us."

That's a tiny excerpt, I know, but if I allow myself to quote more of the book I'm going to want to paste its whole body here. 

We've been busy over here.  October is one of the most beautiful, gratifying months of the year, in my opinion.  My inner bear feels the chill gathering in the ground, and, full of hope, layers my psychic cave with blankets and books, giddy with anticipation for the deep rest ahead.  Cinnamon is called for in every recipe and, in our case, relatives break down the doors with their bounty.  My mom is coming (The Queen Mother is coming!) and we've been jamming lake trips and art parties and small food outings into the weeks whenever we can. 

Also, Samantha is walking now, a skill she's been practicing since July.  On the day of the lunar eclipse, she finally decided to unveil her abilities in perfect, assertive glory.  She is such a magical combination of things: cautious and determined, athletic and communicative.  It doesn't surprise me at all that she waited and waited to let go of our hands and then, when she did, scaled the whole staircase in one go on the same day she finally walked.  It's how I operate, too: steady, steady, underground study and then, just at the right time, when I'm sure no one is looking, I pop into new forms.    

To your cozy, nurturing days, and all the work that happens out of the limelight, in the woods, steady and secret and essential,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Getting Lost

The Waterfall

for May Swenson

For all they said,
  I could not see the waterfall
    until I came and saw the water falling,
      its lace legs and its womanly arms sheeting down,

while something howled like thunder,
  over the rocks,
    all day and all night -

like ribbons made of snow,
  or god's white hair.
    At any distance
      it fell without a break or seam, and slowly, a simple

preponderance -

  a fall of flowers - and truly it seemed
    surprised by the unexpected kindness of the air and
      light-hearted to be

flying at last.
  Gravity is a fact everybody
    knows about.
      It is always underfoot,

like a summons,
  gravel-backed and mossy,
    in every beetled basin -
      and imagination -

that striver,
  that third eye -
    can do a lot but
      hardly everything. The white, scrolled

wings of the tumbling water
  I never could have
    imagined. And maybe there will be,
      after all,

some slack and perfectly balanced
  blind and rough peace, finally,
    in the deep and green and utterly motionless pools after all that

-Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems Volume One, Beacon Press © 1992

We went away for a week and when we returned, a book of Mary Oliver poems tumbled into my hands, reminding me what I always need reminding of: to slow down and take no small part of my day for granted.  

When we returned from vacation, I felt off schedule, full of glorious calories and habits and pleasures, but anxious that in all my goofing off I had lost some essential rhythm to my writing.  By the end of a week away, I had adjusted to the idea that sometimes chaos follows a family with a young child no matter where they go.  Just because there were other adults around didn't mean I could slip away from my daughter any more than I might leave her in a room by herself at home. 

Once I hit that plane of acceptance, I felt ready for wherever the days might lead.  Incidentally, they led to duck-feeding, tons of walks, parks with swings and playgrounds and sandboxes, and short, delicious mornings with a Nell Freudenberger novel.  While the pace never really slackened, it came eventually to remind me of the grace a character finds during a flood in Louise Erdrich's stunning novel, The Last Report On the Miracles At Little No Horse, in which a woman is swept away in a tumble of mud and churning tree limbs, and spit out down river to make her life anew.  

After a week back home I feel finally (finally!) grounded again.  I can locate my mind and hear its deeper currents.  To me, this is everything.  It's why I need the outdoors so much.  I don't have to scale mountains or backpack through pristine valleys to get a hit of nature's giant tuning fork.  Sometimes a piqued chipmunk squeaking from my front stoop is enough for me to pull my head from whatever crazy thoughts it's cycling through and root my soul to the earth again.

My desk is in the dining room, and has been for some time now.  For the most part, I'm okay with this.  Whereas Virginia Woolf grew up in a Victorian household that prized needlework as the pinnacle of a woman's creative work, when I have a room of my own, I sometimes get lonesome.  I prefer to spread out and inconvenience the house I'm living in.  Like a dog, I pull out all my toys, impressing no one but myself, and forget about everything only to discover it an hour later when I walk into a room and see the mess - or the beauty - I have made. 

But but but.  Sometimes when I think about what really makes me happy, very little compares to getting lost in a task.  I can sort of write anywhere - at my desk, in a car, in a coffee shop, in a bed, but sometimes I dream about having my own spot to truly make a mess with my art supplies, like the studio space in Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, where a pot of coffee is always on and it's a little dingy and there are trays of papers and boxes of rubber stamps and I can just be grimy and concentrated and left alone in my cave of wonders. 

This isn't what my desk in the dining room looks like, if you can believe it.  I have a big, polite IKEA desk that drives Tim a little crazy because while we are not fancy people it's probably one of the cheapest things we own.  It has a big surface area, though, and that is the point.  Samantha has discovered its charms lately, too; she loves to climb up to standing in front of it and shake it like the dickens.  Shake-a shake-a shake, like an alligator rattling its prey, she tries to bring down the house with that thing, banging it against the dining room wall. 

I am secretly delighted that Tim is vexed by my piece of crap desk.  It's also not going anywhere anytime soon because I am still mastering the art of eating vegetables and I am not adding desk shopping to my list of things to do this fall. 

I did buy a gallon of beige-y paint for the dining room and am committed to hanging the lovely chandelier we bought when we moved in, which we left sitting in the basement for a year like jerks.  Because I get sad when I see online pictures of rooms lovingly remade by joe schmoes who don't have a design team to make things pop in their photos, I am not going to do the whole before and after thing.  I am not a design pro.  I am a woman who collects feathers.  Just know that I've got a buzz saw cranking over here - or wish I had a studio that housed one, and maybe a jump suit to wear, too - and I'm intent on making a few updates because updates make me happy and I've finally discovered that I can change a room instead of moving to a different state every time I need a little flair in my life.  Progress, people! 

On a related note, 
WeWork, a company that rents creative coworking space around the world, inspired this post.
  I am somewhat obsessed with solitude but after having a child, the idea of renting space outside my dining room is pretty enticing.  On days I need an extra boost of focus, I zoom up the street to my favorite coffee shop.  Some days, though, I can't face the rows of tables or anymore time sitting down.  If I can't have a mechanic's garage converted into an art studio, I would kill for a cloistered spot outside my home.  Wherever I go, there must be crayons and music.  Must!  Chipmunks and a yoga mat are great, too.

Speaking of music, did you see who has a new album coming out?  Look at all that gold!!  Yes, please.  As already mentioned, I'll take the jumpsuit, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sleep, Baby, Sleep

When Samantha was very little and fit in a pouch on my hip like a bulky newspaper, I was on leave from work and spent mornings in a rocking chair on our glorious porch.  I don't know what I did for the rest of the day.  Tried to pee?  Ate whatever I could get my hands on while calories ran through me straight to the mouth of my nursing baby?  Somehow, when Tim arrived home at the end of each day, I was often exhausted and still wearing clothes I had woken up in that morning.

One afternoon, while rain poured outside and a breeze pushed through the window screens, I read a giant book of collected New Yorker stories on the bed while nursing the babe.  I know this is sacrilege, a case of rejecting someone who would never in a million years ask me out, but something about the magazine sort of fatigues me.  Its font and cloudy cover illustrations rarely do it for me, but motherhood has turned me into a paper-shredding insect, starting with that anthology. 

Something about the intensity of my daughter's demands or maybe just the loosening of my mental clock (I don't have to be at a desk at a certain time every day) has made me hungry for narrative and desperate for a good story.   Being around a child all day has the ability to scramble my brain in really frustrating ways, but books have a way of setting it all straight again.  

I feel the same way about sleep.  There were times in early motherhood - and I still experience them - where the only way out of my knot of emotions, the only way to escape the burn of my aching body, the only way to really let my mind go, was to just go to bed. 

In our house, the Never Go to Bed Angry adage doesn't hold.  Ever since becoming a mom, I go to bed angry, tired, hungry, and sometimes all those things.  Morning with her birds of benevolence arrive soon, having swept the rooms of my mind with their powerful, all-encompassing wings.

We co-sleep with Samantha.  I know this is an edgy and controversial thing to do for some people, a beloved activity for others, and it works really well for us.  It also means our bedroom sort of resembles a giant crib.  No toys, no clutter lying in wait of a curious, procrastinating, eager-to-stay-awake child.  This sort of simplicity suits me.  I'm a Feng Shui nut and have been keeping my bedrooms spare since I graduated college and suddenly had to account for my life in terrifying ways: You mean no one else is going to the dishes if I leave them in the sink for days?  Order and simplicity became a balm for me.  When so much else was uncontrollable in my life - hello, career starts and stops - it seemed like making the bed first thing in the morning was a prayer and a gift to myself all at once.

Not long ago, I found myself dressing our bed all in white.  I had just given myself and Samantha a bath and the fan whirred as we laid down for a nap.  Resting there with wet hair, listening to the birds outside, feeling the fan's breeze on my legs, I knew I had achieved something.  I had draped us in a sea of white and was drifting in an Anthropologie-like dream. 

You know how in Just Kids, Patti Smith's beautiful memoir, she and Robert Mapplethorpe live in the Chelsea Hotel for awhile?  Well, I want to do that, but I want to live in a standard no-name hotel with a soft headboard and pictures of pigeons on the wall.  It will be just me and my books, with a coffee pot on the desk and sunlight coming through the window, bouncing around the white sheets. 

But since I have a family and no real reason to spend my days hiding from them in a hotel room (drat!), I might just keep dressing my bed in whites, posting little pots of jade around the room, dreaming of a dreamy home, and letting the box fan reign supreme for one more month.  When Patti Smith's next book comes out, I might stay up too late reading it, tucked into bed with a headlamp on my noggin, my family breathing like a pile of dogs next to me, my heart sailing away on the pages of a book.

In other news, I wrote an article about how to handle being shamed for your parenting choices without losing your cool for this local magazine.  And this delightful conversation between Brad Listi and Lorin Stein, the editor of The Paris Review, is worth a listen, most notably when Stein says we have now monetized distraction with our smart phones and iPads.  I listened to it before the whole New York Times Amazon expose, and now I have to believe Lorin Stein would approve of a distraction-less bedroom, too.     

Here's hoping your head is full of helpful stories these days! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Terry Tempest Williams and the Mysteries of Voice

Last night, I listened to Brad Listi interview Terry Tempest Williams on the podcast Other People.  I've never read any Terry Tempest Williams, probably because Tim accidentally, preemptively ruined her for me when we were living in Arizona and he was reading Refuge, which he kept calling Refuse. 

Welcome to our shameless and irreverent household!

I think Williams' lack of a sense of humor was the problem for Tim, and I can definitely see how that would be a problem.  Her physical voice in my headphones last night stunned me with its gentleness.  I found it reminiscent of a woman I knew in Colorado who gardened for a living.  I really loved the interview with Williams, and hope to remedy this gaping hole in my naturalist education by reading her soon. 

For now, I want to tell you what she said about the idea of "voice" in writing.  Her latest book, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, resulted from something that happened when her mother died, which is that she left Williams all her journals but when Williams opened them, each one was blank. 

This shocked and perplexed Williams.  She grew up Mormon and according to her, women are the record keepers in her community.  Were the blank journals an act of defiance by her mother?  Perhaps more importantly, was her mom just messing with her? 

As someone who grew up in the strict patriarchy of Mormon faith, Williams tried to write a book about voice.  Instead, she says, she might have written a book about silence.  In this Rumpus interview between Williams and Roxane Gay, she says:

"You ask how I create a space for a woman of faith to be heard. I think it could be argued that I am not heard, in the broadest sense. That is not my concern. My concern, a question really, is, do I have the courage to speak?"    

What a question!

In her interview with Listi, Williams said something along the lines of, "Who benefits when I stay silent?" This is also a wonderful question. 

Who benefits when we don't say what we need to say? 

My hair is sopping wet and I need to deal with other parts of life, i.e. the gutter people, and voicemails, and the fact that I can't seem to ever eat enough to settle my bones lately.  The final thing I want to say is that Williams believes all voices arise out of silence.  Does she differentiate between the silence of a repressed life and the silence of the shifting, breathing earth?  I think she does.  In my life, I do. 

This summer has been a tidal wave of chores and attentions. I usually love the opportunity to improve my physical surroundings and connect with other people, but lately I resist too much activity.  I feel worn down by nagging little items, worn out by the wheels of my mind.  Part of me longs for the quiet of winter, but when it arrives and the windows close and the light goes grey, will I miss the chatter of cardinals out my window when I wake?  I don't know.  What I do know: I need big swaths of quiet in order to thrive, to hear the words I need to hear, to repair, to breathe. 

When I heard Williams say what she said about voice arising from silence, I felt an immediate recognition.  Most of my anxieties in life come from the fear that I will run out of time, that I won't sit down in my chair enough to say what I need to say.  But the truth is, I have to roam a lot, and go quiet a lot, before I have anything worthwhile to say.  Trusting that this stillness and silence is actually a fount of energy and activity is the challenge for me.  Writing is its own practice of slowing down for me, too, so it gets confusing: when to work, and when to just listen.  I don't have it all figured out, obviously, but I wanted to say hi and tell you I'm thinking about what I'd like to tell you, and about a woman with a beautiful voice, a woman asking a lot of questions. 


Throwback to younger, hotter days!  And I do mean temperature.

Monday, July 27, 2015

We Went to the Beach

I finally read a Kate Christensen novel.  Tim once suggested reading her and I turned up my nose.  "Isn't she an alcoholic?" was my unfortunate response. 

Of course, I was thinking of her first novel called In the Drink which I mistook for a memoir.  Ha!  Add this to the growing list of literary blips in my brain, like the time I was disappointed to learn that A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was not, in fact, a translated book of nonfiction.  Crestfallen!

In the Drink
is, in fact, about drinking too much.  It's also about being young and clueless in New York City which, on my good days, is something I write about, too. 

I really liked In the Drink, so much that I went upstairs to where my husband hoards - I mean, stores - a metric ton of books.  I pulled down The Great Man, Christensen's fourth novel.  It won a major prize!  The PEN/Faulkner, in 2008. 

In other book news, I finished Jonathan Franzen's book of essays, Farther Away.  Some people think it's fun to hate his guts but I really do like his writing, his nonfiction in particular.  I appreciate when he openly talks about his coming of age as a writer.   In "On Autobiographical Fiction," he walks through his many attempts to not write about his family or his past self while writing The Corrections.  A few things happened in his life that made "going there" safer.  First, his marriage, which was a bit of a hindrance and hotbed of misery, fell apart.  Then, his mom got sick.  Finally, he had a conversation with a friend who called him out on his worry about getting his brother's experience wrong.

To Franzen's shock, his friend says: "Do you think your brother's life revolves around you?  Do you think he's not an adult with a life of his own, full of things more important than you are?  Do you think you're so powerful that something you write in a novel is going to harm him?" 

Franzen also talks about the difficulties of starting new work, and how he has to become a new person to do so:

"I'd like to devote the remainder of my remarks to the idea of becoming the person who can write the book you need to write....I will note in advance that much of the struggle consisted - as I think it always will for writers fully engaged with the problem of the novel - in overcoming shame, guilt, and depression.  I'll also note that I'll be experiencing some fresh shame as I do this."

Ha!  If this were one of the email newsletters flooding my inbox every day, I would highlight "the struggle consisted in overcoming shame, guilt, and depression" and hang a little Tweet This! next to it. 

Except those pre-selected Tweet This! moments drive me up a wall.  Forget trying to write a novel; what could be more arrogant than assuming your thoughts are tweetable to someone else, am I right, Internet?

I'm gonna hop off my essay soapbox now.  My last post on Emily Fox Gordon was its own term paper, and I hope we all survived it!  This week, looking for a blueberry cake recipe for the mound of perfect berries waiting patiently in our freezer, I thought, why don't I just throw up some recipes on this site?  Would you guys think I'd lost my way? 

I haven't lost my way, I promise.  I'm just plugging away at summer, flirting with A/C and trying not to drink too many frozen Cokes.  Scott Spenser said a novelist is someone who sits around the house all day in his underwear, trying not to smoke.  Now that smoking is so out of vogue, the definition is probably closer to someone who sits around in her Lululemon pants all day, trying to do six minutes of yoga. 
Speaking of yoga, Samantha is practicing standing in the middle of the room on her own.  She crouches, pre-Crow pose, and inches up slowly.  If she makes it all the way up, she laughs hysterically.  If she falls on her butt, she takes it like a champ and starts all over.  It reminds me of learning new poses: the elation when I get it, the obsession to try again when I fall out of it, the taste of it like a memory in my muscles, a form trying to express itself, a fire starting in my cells.

I think, if you can get past some the shame or the guilt or the plain inexperience that keeps you from embracing the unknown, life can be kinda sweet sometimes.  What do you think?  Do you agree?  If so, tweet it!

More on beach trips here:

With a baby
With an Eric Vithalani poem
With a coupla self-esteem tips

As a friend of mine would say: You're welcome!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Wilds of Narrative: Emily Fox Gordon On Marriage, Writing, and Therapy

There's nothing like catching a cold in June to make you feel silly about yourself, but I did and I do, and I've basically been recovering from life for half a month now. 

We had visitors over Memorial Day.  We showed them all our favorite spots; basically, we did nothing but shove sugar and/or dairy in their mouths for days.  Now the rains have come to Michigan, ushering in luscious, bee-heavy greenery, making it apparent to everyone in the neighborhood how little education I have in horticulture.

The people who lived in our house before us had extraordinarily green thumbs - not to be confused with Sissy Hankshaw's extraordinarily large thumb, a la Tom Robbins' exquisitely titled Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.  They left behind hydrangeas, hostas, peonies, roses, and a bunch of other beautiful things I'm too ignorant to know the names of.  In fact, I call these plants no names at all as I swing in the hammock and ponder just who is going to pull up the flowering vines that send alarmingly assertive shoots every which way around our fecund property.  It sure isn't going to be me. 

Whenever I get sick and/or stressed, I can usually trace my unhappiness back to a lack of quality narrative.  Either it's been too long since I've watched a good movie or I'm reading too many books at once and can't find a foothold in one.  Worst of all is when I realize I'm not reading anything at all, not even back issues of favorite magazines I keep around, issues Sam has somehow not discovered yet because they hide behind the stroller in the living room - so far, so good. 

This May, I suffered a fit of reading starts.  Nothing quite stuck and I was out of sorts until I got my hands on Book of Days, a collection of personal essays by the divinely registered Emily Fox Gordon. 

Where to begin?  Gordon is a marvel.  I heard her speak on a panel at AWP this year, and I pretty much fell in love on the spot.  As her fellow panelists spoke - including John T. Price who moved half the room to tears - Gordon looked down at the table.  She drummed it occasionally, as if rapping out a rhyme.  Was she okay?  She might have been rehearsing what she had to say, but I couldn't be sure.  I was actually a little nervous for her.  Was she prone to forgetfulness?  Hadn't she prepared?  Would she pull off what she needed to say when it was her time to speak? 

I needn't have worried.  When she spoke on the topic of creating secondary characters in non-fiction, she was candid and full of such fascinating phraseology, I see now why her writing astounds.  What appeared to cause much effort on the part of her brain, her drumming and pondering while waiting to speak, I want to believe may just have been her way.  We all want our artists to be charmingly eccentric, don't we?  Or is that just my wish, my Southerness showing? 

In any case, I wanted to take her home with me. 

Instead I did the far more socially appropriate thing and checked out her book from the library.  The essays in Book of Days spear and turn around the fact that Gordon was institutionalized as a teenager for behavior that was, in essence, symptomatic of deeper rifts happening at home.  Her account of the psychiatric hospital in the Berkshires where she spent several years of her youth is sober and forgiving, wicked and artistic, forthcoming and tactful.  In short: so damn good. 

From an essay called "My Last Therapist":
"My therapeutic education did me harm.  It swallowed up years when I might have been learning, gathering competence and undergoing the toughening by degree that engagement in the world makes possible...I acquired the habit of the analysand, the ruthless stripping away of defenses.  But in my case not much self had yet developed, and surely none of it was expendable...I stayed for three years, years that I would otherwise have spent in college."

Throughout the book, Gordon speaks of the self-identity and self-esteem she finally found in her life through her irascible relationship to her husband, a philosophy professor.  (Her own father was an acclaimed academic, a topic she writes about with a kind of frank restraint in the essay "Faculty Brat," then with her ferocious intelligence in "Faculty Wife.")  She pirouettes through issues of feminism and analyzes the aggression that teemed in her personality for much of her life, aggression that didn't find its proper expression until she started writing after her daughter was born. 

I would never call my marriage irascible, nor use a phrase like "the vehemence of his anxiety" to describe anything about my husband, but I relate wholeheartedly to Gordon's understanding of marriage as an arena for journeying alongside not just another person but - because of that person's particular code of being, and how the two of you relate to each other - a place for discovering your own self, too.  (One of my favorite lines in the book, which of course I can't locate right now, went something like: I wasn't passive-aggressive.  I was passive and aggressive.)  Without dragging you through my own therapeutic garbage, let's just say, I appreciate this aspect of marriage.  I was able to commit to Tim because of the quality of his being, but on an elemental level the alchemy of marriage itself, some days, gives my breath back to me.

Gordon also puts into words the primal healing that occurred for her when she started to write seriously:

"In the years since I left Dr. B's office I've begun to write in earnest, and writing has allowed me - as nothing else, even the wisdom of [revered psychologist] Dr. Farber, ever has or could - to escape the coils of therapy.  I don't mean that writing has been therapeutic, though sometimes it has been.  The kind of writing I do now is associative and self-exploratory - much like the process of therapy, except that the therapist is absent and I've given up all ambition to get well."

She concludes this section about her final therapist with the words: "He was more than competent; he was really good at what he did, and got better as he went along.  Eventually he became a kind of adept.  He learned to vaporize at will like the Cheshire cat, leaving nothing behind but a glow of unconditional positive regard, allowing me spacious arena in which to perform my dance of self.  In resisting his impulse to lure me back into the charted territory of psychoanalytic explanation, he granted me my wish to be released into the wilds of narrative."   

I love that quick leap, in her prose, from the therapist's couch to the "wilds of narrative," and feel it gets at what I'm basically always trying to say: The practice of art is itself a kind of wilderness.  The link between the natural world and creativity is so strong in my life, I become lost without either of them.

I might have first written about this idea in a post I wrote four years ago.  I remember the night I wrote it fondly because my relatives were visiting and were teaching me how to use Facebook (!!).  Four years is not that long ago, in the span of Facebook, so it shows you how slow I was to that game. 

It's also important for me to link to that post because ever since I read this essay by Justin Hocking, I have felt a strange sense of gratitude and schooling, a humbling in the face of what Hocking says about Ken Kesey.  I just re-read the essay to cull some lines, but the language, while brilliant, is maybe stronger than some Sut Nam'ers might prefer.  (My inner Presbyterian is showing herself right now!)  The part I'm talking about, for which I was exceedingly grateful when I first read it, begins: "I don’t think I would have particularly liked Ken Kesey in the 60’s, or any decade, for that matter."  I've written about Kesey a couple of times on this blog, and I want to come clean and say, maybe I should have done a little more research before metaphorically running into the arms of his socio-literary-drinking-the-koolaid circles. 

All right lovelies, we've reached the end.  Check out Emily Fox Gordon and go for a hike, a walk, a seduction of mosquitoes.  And if you're in Michigan anytime soon, please come do my gardening for me.