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,

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving, and Little Ones

 "...had he learned nothing from all those years of teaching Hawthorne? Through story after story he'd led his boys to consider the folly of obsession with purity - its roots sunk deep in pride, flowering in condemnation and violence against others and oneself.  For years Arch had traced this vision of the evil done through intolerance of the flawed and ambiguous, but he had not taken the lesson to heart.  He had given up the good in his life, because a fault ran through it." 
- Tobias Wolff, Old School

I can't remember where this picture came from!  I think it was this website or one of their friends

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays.  It ranks way before my birthday, and just may beat out Christmas considering how much I look forward to it.  There is something about celebrations with food at their center, and communities of people required to properly prepare it, with love and devotion, that really does it for me. 

So I hope that every one has had a great Thanksgiving, even if it didn't follow a proper script. 

Also, there is good news on the Sut Nam front: I'm pregnant! 
This baby, my first, is due in late March.  That means I have a little over four months to keep wondering how life will change before, presto, it changes. For someone who never knew if she would marry, or have children, it all feels a bit like I've won the lottery, complete with people who are now calling me a lot and keeping in good touch.

That will be me, on the left, a mama in the sun with her fine collection of logs and rocks, and new things to care for.

I've become a master of steaming vegetables, and taking vitamins, and odd habits of self-care.  I used to have fantasies of listening to music, writing for hours, and going for long walks.  I now find myself dreaming of free minutes to make a nourishing soup. My focus is changing and while it's exciting, it's also a little disconcerting.  I used to love waking early, over-caffeinating, and then dashing off for a run before work.  Now I'm just grateful when I wake in time to properly wash my hair. 

I've never had luck with long stretches of routine.  Discipline has felt more often like a holy ghost waking me at certain seasons for extra morning work, and other times leaving me to catch up on sleep and remember the animal warmth of my quiet, resting body.

In graduate school I kept a strict writing routine.  I also experienced headaches, back pain, and a depression that may or may not have been related to how hard I was pushing myself to keep up with linear plans.  It wasn't until I embarked on an extended road trip with Tim across the country that I rediscovered my love for writing.  Sleeping in tents, eating on picnic tables, driving with the windows down, sweating through our clothes - something about the primacy of driving and being outside all the time woke me from my fog of sadness. I started to write impulsively whenever I could, several times a day, like jumping into a twinkling lake. 

This is all to say, I haven't found the right balance yet.  Giving all my time to the physical needs of pregnancy felt great at first, but I realized recently that I miss my dives into creativity and, without them, may have been going slowly insane.

I have heard professors advise women to get their careers off the ground before starting a family, and I have heard from plenty of people that there is no perfect time to start one.  I think I fall into the latter category, where it seems to be that life is full a lot of the time, and other times there are luxurious gaps to work on big projects.

I'm at a full point right now, and it's about to hold even more abundance, but I'm grateful to be starting a family at this point in my life.  If I had started earlier, I would have had more physical energy, but so much less of the tenderness I want to bring to motherhood.  In short, while there is certainly no one way to do anything, there may not even be a good way to do some things.  At least, that's kind of how I like thinking about life.

Gas Station Yoga Break, circa 2009
It feels like a conundrum that I have not attained some of my goals and yet, my days are still full of miracles. Maybe, just maybe, everything can be explained by a little advice from Julia Child.

Also, here is Alan Jackson singing about being a work in progress, bringing me to today's koan: If your feelings can't be summed up by a country lyric, are they real feelings at all?

With love,

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Living Hearts of Compassion

Beannacht - John O'Donohue

n the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

After months of anticipation, my copy of William Todd Schultz' newest book, Torment Saint, a biography of the beloved musician Elliott Smith, arrived last weekend.  I stayed up many nights reading it, rapt in the story of a gifted artist and his arsenal of demons.  The book itself is a feat of research and devotion.  It is lovely.  You should buy a copy and send up a prayer for all the sensitive souls who find this world too much to bear.  

As extreme as many parts of Elliott's life were, there were parts of it that gave me real pause, as they reminded me of my own struggles through the years.  As I read about Elliott's onslaught of depression in his adult life, I kept thinking, Do all artists have trouble accepting who they are?  Do we create because we feel like weirdos and we need a place to be, a place where we feel safe and in control?  Or do we feel like weirdos because we see things differently and feel in constant need of connection? 

Honestly, I don't know.  What I do know if that I've felt like a weirdo my entire life, even and especially when I was a little girl.  Sometimes I think focusing on your differences as signs of weakness, rather than simply signs of who you are, is a human condition.  Very few of us are immune to bouts of self-doubt.  At other times, however, it seems to me an artistic state of being - constant questioning, constant unrest. 

On a different end of the spectrum, I somehow managed to stumble upon a GQ photo shoot with the band Fun recently, where Nate Ruess, speaking of the band's success (and speaking to GQ, no less) said: "There is a part of me that feels like we will never belong...and I hope that doesn't ever change."

It made me blink, hard, because earlier in the day I had been watching an interview with Elliott Smith in which he said something like, I'm the wrong kind of person to be a big rock star.  He was no doubt alluding to his perception of himself as either a regular guy or an anti-establishment artist, but the truth is, he was a prodigious talent, and like it or not, he was a star. 

I don't mean that as an indictment of anyone's reaction to success, although I think it's safe to say that Elliott Smith did not have an easy relationship to it.  I just mean, geez, I wish he could have seen himself the way other people saw him, which, according to Shultz' was: generous, compassionate, and hilarious, though troubled.  

In any case, I appreciated certain allusions in the book to depression as a breeding ground for compassion, and I related strongly to the feeling of being able to love others unconditionally while sometimes with-holding that devotion from myself. 

Which brings me to my point: it's funny how much I need my friends to show me who I am.  Sometimes, while talking to a good friend, emotional topics will pour out of me that I had not been aware of holding back at all.  I will realize I had been waiting for a safe place for my words, my story, to land.  And when I find those places in others, in someone who accepts the whole of me, someone who sees and still loves the painful parts, the wounded parts, someone who can in the same sitting show me the funny parts, the glowing parts - that is quite a healing. 

I once read somewhere that as you age it becomes increasingly important to stay in touch with the people you knew when you were young.  (I might have read this in AARP the magazine because, in addition to meticulous biographies about tormented artists; I also love me some AARP.) 

I think of this advice now when connecting on the phone with friends, or seeing my brothers, trading old jokes when we are together.  There is a wordless and deep remembrance that happens in the company of these people.  What am I remembering, exactly?  Perhaps who I am, or who I once was. And perhaps I am remembering what I knew before I grew older and sprouted adult concerns: that love is the ground for grace in my life - it is the one thing I am here to get right. 

Driving the dark, leaf-strewn streets of my town two nights ago after leaving work late, I listened to a good friend's voicemail and felt myself in disbelief at the kindness pouring through the phone.  I thought: this is what I need from friendship, and I am so so lucky to have it.  I have friends with whom I am in mutual disbelief, dazzling gems who remind me who I am inside, with whom I trade devotion back and forth with giddiness and gratitude, and I now believe true friendship should be no other way.   

Todd kept writing in his book that music was everything to Elliott, and when I listen to his music, I feel that so completely.  I stop in my tracks when I hear his voice, and it pains me to think that all the people who had the same reaction, the people who bought his albums and maybe considered him a big rock star, were not enough to convince him that he was a gem.

The saddest thing in life to me is the inner environment we are all contending with, the minefields we must walk on our journey to psychological and spiritual health.  Then again, some part of me believes that we are here to heal, simply and purely, and that wounds are invitations, too.  At the very least, when held with care, they can teach us to hold holy the souls around us.

To all of you, and the art in us all,
With love,

Friday, October 18, 2013


A couple of weeks before we put Bear down, when he could still go for a proper(ish) walk, he stopped on the lawn of a small community church around the corner from our house.  He rummaged in the bushes per usual, then he did something he had never done before.  He led me up the steps of the church.  Someone was practicing a song, a tenor with a beautiful voice.  Someone else played an acoustic guitar, and the sound system they used wasn't shabby.  Bear wanted to go further inside, beyond the closed sanctuary doors.  I couldn't work up the nerve to bring a dog into someone's sanctuary, especially as a stranger, so I sat on a wooden chair just outside the doors and listened, while Bear breathed his raspy, old-man breath and tried to nudge us further inside.

I wanted more than anything to go deeper inside, to nestle up to whatever was calling both of us.  I wanted to sit at the feet of whomever was singing and let their devotion wash over me.

Recently, walking by myself after work, the autumn air cooled my hot work blood and I thought how walking by myself is becoming more and more tolerable.  (I almost wrote bearable, but that's not the right word at all.)  The first few times I went out without my partner at the end of his short red leash, it broke my heart.

But walking by myself recently, I remembered the church and thought how, although Bear was still mobile, his breath was already growing rough, and he was starting to do things like wander almost absent-mindedly into spaces he had never cared for before.

One of those spaces was the church narthex, and I wondered as I walked without him if that had been a moment of doggy last rites - if his spirit was needing a final blessings - or if, like always, he was helping me slow down and open my heart to the beauty in the world.  Either way, I am grateful for what washed over me in that strange church while I huddled with my dog, worried someone would come out and wonder what in the world we were doing there.

We walked on that night, and the next time we passed the church, Bear only sniffed their sign.  There was no one singing, no dog pulling me inside.  The curtains had closed, the window passed.  Part of me worries that things like that will stop happening when I don't answer the call.  I chose the world outside the church that night, as I have done for some time, but I want to remember that feeling, something tugging me toward it, something bright and glowing behind those doors.

In a more literal take on the subject, I went to a wild animal sanctuary last weekend and spent a full day with tigers.  There were lions, black bears, grizzly bears, and leopards too, as well as, curiously, two porcupines who refused to show their faces.  (I can't say we actually missed them.)  The website for the sanctuary says they rescue and rehabilitate animals who have been the subject of human "immoderation" - in other words,  people who thought they could raise a bear cub inside their house, or circuses who trained their animals with the handy aid of nicotine addiction before being shut down. 

My eyes welled with tears hearing about these huge creatures spending time in tiny spaces, at the will of people who do not understand or respect their essential needs.  But I love the discreteness of that phrase: human immoderation.  And it is true: that's exactly what keeping a bobcat as a pet is.  I don't know what happens when sanctuary workers rescue an animal.  I'm sure there is deep grief and outrage by all parties, on all sides.  I am just glad there is room enough on the Colorado prairie for these animals to live out their now peace-filled lives. 

There was a sign on the grounds of the sanctuary that read something like: Certainly, saving one animal cannot save the world, but to that animal, it means the whole world.  I've heard this about adopting strays too - meaning dogs and house cats; not, say, a bobcat - and it certainly is true.  There were two things I never forgot when Bear was alive and living with us.  The first was that he was an animal capable of summoning wild qualities at any moment.  He never turned on me, but when I crouched down to his bed at night when he was crankiest, or scratched his chest and tugged playfully at his muzzle in the morning when he was sweetest, I felt honored that he trusted me. 

The second thing I never forgot was the day I adopted him, and brought him home to my room in a spacious basement full of previous tenants' rick-rack.  He glowered at me from the corner of my bedroom.  Neither of us knew what the other was about.  I honestly didn't know if I would be alive in the morning.  I went to sleep worried about the shadow sharing my room, uncertain what he was thinking or what he would do.  He must have had similar questions about me.  It took a couple of years for Bear's glower to disappear, and when it did, I never forgot how far we both had come: me in providing a safe, cozy home for us both, and him in opening up and softening. 

And now I am crying at my computer.  Well, here's to the wildness in each of us: to its strength and ferocity, and striped, tender underbelly.

With love,

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wolves Underneath the Stars

I've been thinking lately about niches, how I might be more successful in the Web-o-sphere if I wrote say, a vegan cooking blog, or had an allergen-rich child who had radically altered my life, and I could now show you how to prosper in the brave new world of wheat-less living. 

I don't have any aces like that up my sleeve.  In fact, trying to come up with a list of rules I like to live by, the first rule of Fight Club came to mind: You do not talk about Fight Club.  Except for me, it was more like - the first rule of living is: there are no rules.

Tim likes to quote the guidance he read in a book called Blue Highways:

1) Don't go around hurting each other


2) Try to understand

If there are rules in our house, those might be it, because there certainly aren't ones about cleaning things on time.

I guess rules are good for understanding how to live in community, how to care for one another, how to make space for those around you.  But I also think the human spirit is pretty intuitive, and when left to its own devices, I find it is a pretty benign, loving thing. 

I once wrote about how much wilderness means to me, and I've been seeing similar themes pop up here and there.  Lily at bigBANG studio wrote a gorgeous post this week about what wilderness does for her, and it made me think of this Wallace Stegner quote I've been sitting on, not quite knowing how to integrate it into the blog.  I guess the best thing is to just whack you over the head with it, so here goes (thump).

Have I mentioned reading Shopping for Porcupine, Seth Kantner's out of this world memoir about growing up in Alaska?  It is chock full of chipped, frozen knuckles, bear hunting, wolf hides, and moose.  In other words, my piece of heaven. 

I don't know how to explain how a girl who grew up in Connecticut, who hails from funeral directors and tobacco farmers in North Carolina, thrills while reading about harsh elements, extreme conditions, and homesteading.  I assure you, most of my free hours are spent day-dreaming on suburban streets, and wandering the fields of memoirs I adore, buns planted firmly on my porch rocker.  But still, I would only be half as alive, half as powerful, were it not for the wild spaces I love so much.

Here is another book that blew the door off my mind, about long-distance swimming in Arctic waters, of all things.  (If your library carries it in hard-cover, as mine does, it is a particularly beautiful cover.  When you get your hands on it, you should probably just sleep with it next to you like a big, watery promise.)

I suppose I'm getting at two things here.  The first is how important it is for me to explore in this life.  Besides woods and vistas and swampy lake curves, I probably enjoy exploring feelings best.  And the reason I love woods and vistas and swampy lake curves is because they resemble the un-tame parts in all of us - the messy, the scary, and challenging parts of being human. The not-easy parts, the one-size-fits-only-me parts, the parts that refuse to behave, and the parts that allow vulnerability and life-on-the-edge to rule supreme. 

Those are the parts of life I like to honor above all.  Anyone who can read can follow a list of rules.  Even more of a challenge, I think, is to let yourself howl wildly, a lone arc of hope across the crystalline night.    

I could end every post with a Josh Ritter song but try not to.  Here is one for you, though.  Do yourself a favor - go out and buy The Animal Years if you don't have it already.  Then go out and live your biggest baddest animal life.


P.S. For those of you following the mysteries of my neighborhood, a family moved in down the street with, like, 15 children.  One of the youngest kids was out in the yard one night at dusk, dressed in a diaper, armed with a long stick, banging it with authority on a mound of dirt.  As Tim and I walked past, Tim joked, "Hey! A feral baby."  But seriously, that little boy took my breath away.  I don't necessarily want to be a baby allowed to run around in the dark past my bedtime without a stitch of clothing on, but the fact that someone out there is living an existence like that, and right on my street, well, that pretty much made my summer.