Thursday, July 3, 2014

Poetry On The Doorstep

In Charge
Once upon a time, I helped run a writing camp for high school students.  The graduate department where I studied was in charge of the camp and the whole thing was fun fun fun.  We also, for some reason, launched fundraising efforts each year.  I think I'm remembering this correctly.  If not, it's because I want to block out all memories of fundraising because it makes me squeamish and I'm terrible at it, two things that likely go hand in hand.

One year it was decided we would see which among the writing genres was the most generous.  Multiple containers were purchased and each genre was charged with depositing spare change or larger bills into those containers.  The man behind this believed that writers, being a competitive lot, would be shamed into donating more and more money to meet the donations of their peers.  I don't know what world this man came from, besides a hard-working optimistic one, but in my experience writers have never been shamed into parting with their money, mostly because they have so little with which to part.

Joe Bueter: Man of Mystery. And Miracles.

(Young) Joe Bueter
Needless to say, that fundraiser flopped, but some good did come of it, namely, a dark green jug stenciled Poetry across its belly.  This jug I promptly commandeered at the end of the competition and installed on my doorstep.  I meant it as a real invitation: just as I had a mailbox to receive postcards and bills, I had a jug where anyone who wanted to could drop off a poem.  Few friends took me up on the offer, the exception being our saintly friend Joe who supplied us with poems for a good two years. 

As if to prove his saintliness once and for all, the day Tim and I finally moved from town, Joe gathered all the items that did not fit on our moving truck and hauled them away to Goodwill for us.  My lasting memory of leaving Wilmington is of Joe driving away with my rickety old writing chair sticking out his back window.  I lost a good chair that day and also a good deal of cynicism about human beings.

I write all this because Sut Nam Bonsai used to feature a poem in each post.  The poems, combined with my natural wordiness, added up to quite a lot of text and I feared it was just too much.  I came to believe that the people wanted pictures (and I believe I'm correct on this point).  But when I saw this tribute marking Allen Grossman's passing and read the words, "Poetry is a register of the moral order of experience and of the metaphysical order of nature," I felt a twinge of shame that I had let SNB's poetry habit die so quickly, and so quietly to boot. 

Truth be told, I'm no match for the scads of proper poetry websites out there.  I also felt guilty sharing poems without express permission by the writers or their publishers.  It's one thing to copy a poem for a friend and mail it in a letter, but a whole other thing to make it accessible for copying and pasting on the internets.  I dunno.  What do you think?  What I do know is, due to an appreciation for groceries and electricity, SNB's litigation funds run low.

However, that summation of Mr. Grossman's life sobered me and woke me to the pleasures I gave up when I worked full time, when poetry started to feel like a luxury I could not afford.  So, in honor of a man who said, "the principle of poetry is a collective and perpetually renewed act of love," and in honor of the rhythm my life at home once again affords me, here is a poem or part of a poem, from Wendell Berry's The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

To the moral order of experience, to you, and your renewing acts of love,

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

White Lightning

It's late in Colorado and the Miller Moth migration is in full swing, in our living room.  Samantha and Tim both take advantage of the late hour by cat-napping before bed.  One of them mewls like a real kitten - can you guess which one?  Tim asked that we close the front door as no self-respecting Midwesterner would be caught dead resting on purpose (although he made the crucial misstep of marrying someone so delighted by this fact she records it every chance she gets).

My mom left this morning, returning home after her second tour of Sam Duty.  What can I say - the house is empty and the hours are less fun.  This child-rearing is lonely business some days, but we have more visitors arriving tomorrow.  Hallelujah.  We also spent a week at the beach and I brought Sam to my parents' house for a little fellowship, sleep, and my debut binge on Lonesome Dove. 

Needless to say, among summer fruits and the porch swing, I've got the South on my mind.

I used to store a jar full of water on my desk at work to water plants.  A few times a month someone - usually a man - would joke that I kep a jar of white lightning with me at all times.  I loved these moments, not just because someone really thought a spaghetti sauce jar looked like a Mason jar but also for the peek into these people's psychology and the culture from which they obviously hailed.  While many co-workers were curious about the jar, only people raised in rural environments made the leap to white lightning.  I loved knowing that we came from similar places, that behind our stratified business personae lay childhoods where people farmed or hunted, where tables were set with biscuits or sweet tea, and where everyone knew someone with a mean stash of hooch.

Lest I give the wrong impression, my family attended Presbyterian services and redneck ways were hard to come by in Connecticut, where I grew up.  But my family is unmistakably Southern and the Carolinas are, for me, some Garden from which I left as a child.  My fondness for them is obnoxious, I realize, though I have not lived there for years. 

Maybe I will have occasion to live and work there again sometime.  In the meantime, people who bring me quail feathers from weekend hunts and co-workers who believe my plant water is moonshine light my way home.

I resigned from my completely excellent job to take care of Samantha and I miss my friends at work.  My grandmother worked in an office for most of her career and still gathers with people she worked with - she just turned 90.  I totally get it.  I want to be in touch with these people forever. 

The older I get, the more I realize the best parts of life are the people in it.  Tonight I feel lucky just to be here, broken in the best way, wonder the only available prayer. 



Sunday, May 25, 2014

Family Histories

My mother's grandfather was a writer, a newspaper columnist.  Secretly, I've always wanted my own advice column, like Ask Amy except instead of social mores and faux pas, mine would focus on empathy - how to live with the people around you - and be full of fluffy aphorisms, urgencies toward peacefulness.  Put that way, I guess Sut Nam Bonsai is my monthly column.  In that case, isn't it a bummer the funny papers aren't available on the reverse of every post?

My father's family was full of farmers, business men, and business women.  "They were not the type to sit still long enough to be contemplative," my mother said weeks ago when she was visiting, stopping just short of implying that writers sit on their cans all day.  Truth be told, I love a good can-sitting, especially in the morning before the treasures of the mind get flushed down the toilet of daily living.

Scanning for artistic types on my father's side of the family, my mom and I came up empty.  A rare photo of my father's father with all of his brothers shows the five of them dressed in double-breasted suits, arms crossed, standing proudly in front of a dark car.  Their swirling hair is otherworldly, impressively cinematic.  All are handsome, practical men, or men who clearly think of themselves as grounded beings, like my father himself.  And all are possibly most familiar with tobacco farming, with the chores and responsibilities that go with it, and with family duty. 

My mother's side of the family cradles some comical eccentrics, but I'm not convinced I owe my writing impulses to them.  The truth is, my father's emails are stunning feats of creativity and word play.  So, too, are his abilities to see people for who they are and celebrate their flaws with love.  This is, I'm sure, what makes him a successful sales person, along with his dazzling handshake/self-introduction, which Tim and I used to joke Bear picked up somewhere along the way, as Bear's friendliness and lack of self-conscious entry into strangers' personal space amused us to no end when he was alive.  The ability to celebrate flaws is also, I believe, what makes fiction possible - the ability to honor humanity where others might judge or rush past. 

In addition to saying that writing for me is, in essence, a way to love what is broken or in pain, I guess I'm also trying to say where creativity is born.  For me, it comes both from exposure to the arts, which is for sure my mother's gift to her children, and from land itself.  In this case, my personal relationship to place began in the town where my parents grew up, and on the family farms of my father's family, on land that belonged to his parents and their parents.  (In a recent email, my father wrote that all of his grandparents were farmers, as were all previous generations, dating back to the 1700s.)  Most specifically, my relationship to place began on the tobacco farm on which my dad's mother grew up, where my father spent his boyhood summers in the fields. 

At the close of graduate school, my move to Colorado was a deliberate choice to expose my body to a different rhythm.  Tim wanted to explore the grandeur of the West, and be within driving distance to the national parks and geological craziness that only the West can offer.  Having spent the last three years living in a coastal town, I wanted to expose my body to space: to aridity, to altitude, to desert information.  In choosing our little boom town, we loved both the quiet culture of its university influence and the rocks and mountains and ponds surrounding it. 

In doing so, we have especially aligned with the creatures who live off this land.  I understand now that I am obsessed with place, which is funny because the literary magazine of my graduate school featured place-based narrative, yet I stayed away as if it had fleas.  (Remember when I said I come to things slowly?)  My favorite movies are place-based:
A River Runs Through It, Legends of the Fall, ...Shoot.  Do my favorite movies simply feature Brad Pitt?  My favorite writers are place-based, too: Jim Harrison, Stuart Dybek, Josephine Humphreys, Joy Williams.  I love to move and, like a scientist taking water samples, bring emotional instruments to different towns and take readings and study what I find.  I am interested in biology for its spiritual medicine: I want to learn what I can from animals in order to apply it to my species.  Or, as Joe Hutto says in his new book, Touching the Wild: Living With the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch, "...a more accurate description of this particular study would be the expression of some irresistible necessity to find sanctuary in the proximity of wild things."

Speaking of
Species (Hey-ho!  Lukis and I recorded a Rabbit Hat Fix episode on that movie.  Check it out!), Tim and I had a baby six weeks ago.  Okay, I had the baby while Tim supported me like a mofo.  

Here are some pictures of our little bean who sleeps three-fifths of the day, is golden and plump as a Thanksgiving turkey, and is by far our greatest collaboration yet.  I am so grateful she is finally here.  As I told my friend, I would not have cared if I had to be dragged behind a tractor for days to get her out.  Labor wasn't quite like that (I'm still searching for its right metaphor - there is none) but if the prize at the end was this little miss, I would have signed up for that, too.

I know personal histories can sometimes be a snooze-fest so thanks for indulging this exploration, if you made it all the way through.  When I fully launch my career as an advice columnist, I will focus exclusively on tackling your son’s trashy new girlfriend, your troublesome flirty neighbor, and sisters-in-law who inevitably bring the wrong dish to Thanksgiving.   

Sending love from our little family nest, which turns out to be quite big when you don't leave it very often. 

P.S. I read a book of stories called The Women Were Leaving the Men by Andy Mozina the first week of being a mom.  The book's title story about women up and divorcing their devoted husbands for no discernible reason is
fascinating.  (My grandmother's theory about our country's high divorce rate, by the way, is that "women's lib" is to blame.  This opinion somehow ignores her own admirable and pathological independence, the same independence I inherited which threatens to ruin many of my relationships daily.  I would like to see someone tell my grandmother what to do and live to tell about it, but give women in general equal rights/pay/control over their lives?  No way!)

I recommend the whole of Mr. Mozina's collection
, although the first three stories, of a more experimental nature/narrative, were difficult for me to overcome.  It's worth digesting them and their structure, I think, and then your reward is a ton of relationship stories exploring career identity against rust belt city settings.  Failing relationships, failing economies, troubled personal identities?  Yes, please!  This is the stuff of great literature, and I gobbled it right up. 

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