Thursday, September 11, 2014


One morning last week I rose before everyone else.  Not wanting to stir Samantha in the bedroom, I sat in the comfy chair in the office, waiting for coffee to brew.   

In our (Tim's) new (variation of his old) office, this chair nestles close to a tall, packed bookcase.  We are discovering that this arrangement makes long-ignored books now impossible to ignore. 
Looking for something light to read, something easy to slip in and out of, I perused the books nearby.  I wanted a subject or style of book that wouldn't take me too far, psychologically, from the book I was already reading.  As soon as I could get back into the bedroom where it lay next to sleeping Samantha's head, I wanted to continue reading this book (the autobiography of a horse whisperer, obviously). 

You know what I grab, when I'm looking for an easy read?  Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. 

When Tim rose and saw what I was up to, his eyes lit up.  "I've been waiting for someone to discuss that book with!"  What can I say, I know how to turn on a man.  I was hooked the minute I read the blurbs on the back which, ironically or not, turned out to be about The Corrections.  I started reading Freedom even though I swore I'd never read another Franzen novel after I finished The Corrections.  What's more, in the first three pages of Freedom, I only had one urge to throw the book across the room.  Ditto the thought, "He's not very nice, is he?" 

The truth is, I like Jonathan Franzen.  I like to hate him sometimes, but that's just me being petty, envious, and on alert to sexism, of which I saw plenty that morning.  Or was it just that no one is safe in the world of JF?  I told myself I had five-hundred-some pages to test out my theory, but at the end of that book, I was no closer to my decision than when I began.  I'm pretty sure no one is safe from the shredding wit of this somewhat impeccable novelist, and yet women's bodies seemed to get a lot more descriptive gaze than the male characters in the book.

The following passage sums up what I've come to think of as this book's sneaky sexism, invisible possibly even to the author himself:

"Myriad were the things that Walter hated about modernity in general and car culture in particular, but the confidence of young women drivers, the autonomy they'd achieved in the last hundred years, was not among them.  Gender equality, as expressed in the pressure of Lalitha's neat foot on the gas pedal, made him glad to be alive in the twenty-first century."

Even when the male protagonist, Walter, admires a woman, it comes off as condescending.  The mention of that "neat foot on the gas pedal" pretty much undoes whatever gender equality for which the narration might be reaching. 

Could I Google a hundred cranky analyses of this point?  Probs.  Instead I'm writing you about it.  Over on Grizzly and Golden, I write about recently reading Roxane Gay's book of essays.  I feel on high alert after reading it and my clunky analysis of Freedom reminds me, a little bit, of the responsibility and burden of critical lenses: how it can strip the light from soft-focus living, and sometimes the fun from consuming art.  It is better to be awake, for sure. 

I mean, I think it's better to be awake?  I keep thinking to myself, It's good to be aware: of racism, sexism, and the lack of basic civil rights for everyone, rights I'm not sure how to go about ensuring for everyone, at least in my daily life. 

It's good to be aware, just as, when I listen to a country song that sentimentally croons a line akin to "wasn't it great how Daddy sat around drinking all day?," I'm not buying into a myth that casual, harmless alcoholism exists.  All the same, I know what songs with lines like that are trying to say and the fact remains, I'm sometimes game for what they are trying to say.  (Country music stations are essentially selling feelings, as many of their schlockier songs make all too apparent.  This said, I am in no way game for racism, sexism, or a denial of basic civil rights under any circumstances.)  I guess I'm talking about symbolism, then, allusions and words that radiate once they've been uttered, like a rangy, modern Sanskrit with seed syllables, where whiskey means home, and certain guitars, to me, mean freedom.

Over Labor Day, we visited a tourist town that was absolutely off the hook.  We deserve a medal for not succumbing to a single trance-music-blaring shop.  A car parked by the ice cream shop played "The Humpty Dance," you know? 

In some comical reductionist version of ourselves, I bought a bundle of sage while Tim took our daughter on walkabout, searching for postcards. 

We are addicted to this lake, y'all.  It is wondrous.  I once disparaged it, long ago, on my first road trip with Tim to the Midwest.  (I mean, I was living at the ocean!  At least, that's my excuse.)  That trip was filled with first-time family visits, the newness of our life together, humble, open appetite.  I was also reading The Corrections
on that trip.  Returning to Franzen now when I'm returning to Lake Michigan, with Tim and a new round of hopes for our life together - could this be coincidence?  A sign?  Some subconscious homage to America?  I really don't know.  I liked Franzen's latest book, though, I really did.  His attention, his care, his dedication and ambition are undeniable.

I hope you had a lovely Labor Day, one perhaps full of unnecessary Americana (and maybe one in which your whole family accidentally wore white T-shirts, like ours did?). 

May friendly fall cozy your way soon! 

With love,

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Eat Cake

Hello!  We moved.  To Michigan, of course. 

Earlier this spring, around the time we were tapping our feet for Ms. Samantha to arrive, my husband received news of a professional opportunity, so when Samantha was five days old, we loaded her into the car to drive downtown and do what we always do with good news: eat cake.

It was an unusually busy night at our favorite coffee shop and the barista had to ask an attractive, talented young woman to move her charcoal sketching from a four-top to a two-top to make room for my husband, my baby, my mother and I.  My lasting memories of this coffee shop will therefore be of this woman's gorgeous artwork alongside Samantha's tiny head which was topped by a hand-made, crocheted beanie given to us by a nurse in the hospital, a nurse who was from Michigan herself. 

That was the first and last time Samantha slept in her car seat in public for months, by the way.

In case you didn't know this - as I seemed to forget it every two years in my twenties - moving is hard.  Thankfully, we had lots of help from Tim's industrious co-workers and people handy with a broom.  Tim's father helped him load our entire life into a trailer last week and drove one of our cars across the Great Plains where we camped and took breaks and ate ungodly amounts of peanut butter before arriving at our destination. 

Having accomplished this feat, I have two lasting questions:

1. Why do we own so many basketballs?
2. How did I forget how beautiful Nebraska is?

Last weekend, Tim's family descended accidentally en masse and turned our home into a hive of activity.  His mother washed all our dishes.  His father swept and trimmed and dandied our backyard.  His brother drilled holes into bookshelves and assembled them and blessed our home with his presence.  It was a little like living inside a Nikki McClure calendar and, also, like being Steve Martin in the remake of Father of the Bride.  Or it was like being a bride on her own day-before-the-wedding.  There were not enough minutes in the day to give proper direction: whatever happened was going to happen and it would have to be okay.*

Then everyone left, returning us to what is becoming a theme in our life lately and thus on this blog: I miss them. 

Being pregnant and having a baby and then moving halfway across the country makes me realize more than ever the value of help and in particular the unsanctioned kind, the kind that happens whether I like it or not, whether I am involved (in control) or not.  These days, I like this kind of help.  In fact, I like it a lot.   

I suppose it's all a little cliche, like having a baby suddenly sets your priorities straight, but in my case, life is full of such wonderful chaos right now and if someone wants to unload all my furniture and set things in the "wrong" place, I say, please do.  Because it might be years until I have time to set it in the "right" place, and I can't leave things on my lawn that long. 

Speaking of leaving things on your lawn, I've been unpacking to the soundtrack of a country radio station.  It's like the dog I don't have underfoot anymore - static, company, entertainment.  Molly Wizenberg writes about it in this post, and I write about it in this post, and Tim and I keep talking about it lately, which is this: there is something so satisfying about country music!  Even when the lyrics are terrible.  It's true, I love country music's culture and cliches and even moved out West to be close to some of them: horses I will never ride, sagebrush, a scorching sun, the Wyoming I like to admire from a safe distance. 

But now there is new land to explore: cherries, apples, a big ole lake, and apparently a whole culture that supports inexplicably shirtless people.  The dress code in Michigan is endless fascination already and like a proper housewife I watch it from every window I can.   

Wishing you a blissed out August, full of blessings for which you'd never ask.

With love,

*This is a metaphor I know in metaphor only.  My own wedding was a deftly choreographed thing of beauty designed mostly by my mother, involving everyone lovely in my life.  I simply showed up in a white dress and it was beyond glorious.  The only credit I take is in choosing one helluva handsome man to stand beside me that day.**

**I'm reading Chuck Klosterman right now (IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas) which makes me want to footnote everything.  I am dreaming in footnotes right now.   Klosterman is like a David Foster Wallace sandwich with George Saunders and Rob Sheffield smashed in between.  And while I am (sadly) not one of those DFW zealots who run around this world, I find Klosterman pitch perfect. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Hi.  It is the middle of July and cold in Northern Colorado.  Lots of rain, lots of mosquitoes, and a downstairs neighbor who leaves the back door of our house open and invites in all the flies.  He has a sweet dog - hence the back door left open - with silky black hair, so I forgive him.  Also, this person is very nice, and, while we're on the topic, nice is an underrated quality, I think.

There is that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote, "Well-behaved women seldom make history," which a friend recently (and completely flatteringly) mentioned in conjunction with my name, but within that idea and now all this talk about how bossy is a bad word, there seems to me a danger of promoting one more patriarchal idea: it's okay to step on others.  Although there is nuance in all of these discussions, and behaving wildly does not necessarily mean behaving rudely, I'm afraid I esteem tact and kindness more than almost anything and I don't want these virtues to get lost in a race to be noticed.  I hope my daughter is kind and wild and powerful and considerate.  Is it possible?  I'm not sure.  But the men I surround myself with all share these qualities so: why not?  I guess it's a balance thing we're talking about here. 

Am I ranting about how to behave again?  Sorry.  I am shy about what I really want to talk about which is...birth!  That's right.  You had to know it was coming, right? 

1. A book called Labor Day came out recently with the tagline: "True birth stories by today's best women writers."  At first I was like, who says?  Who says these women are the best women writers?!  (Nevermind that old debate about why we have to tack "women" in front of the "writers" bit.  Oy.)

Anyway, the book.  It's freaking awesome.  I recommend it to anyone who has ever had a child and wants to be in conversation with other smart, wry, honest, open women about it - in book form. 

Ina May
2. My friend recommended Ina May Gaskin's Ted Talk recently and I watched it.  Another friend and I have discussed the dangers of obsessing about having a natural labor as pitfall for feeling badly about yourself if your birth goes otherwise, but I really really like Ina May and her talk!  At one point, she speaks about having "good manners" and not telling birth horror stories, so that as a culture we start taking the fear out of birth. 

As a woman who has now given birth, I agree 100% with Ina May - or maybe, like, 93%.  I agree one should (always!) consider audience when telling a tale, and also intention and content.  But, I dunno, it's sometimes helpful to talk about everything and process it.  Ina May suggests this is what a therapist is for but, in my experience, one great girlfriend can offset decades of therapy. 

Birth Story, Internet Style
3. I've gone back and forth about sharing much beyond pictures of Samantha on the internet because I like to follow social etiquette and keep the private private.  Buuuuuut, I'm a writer, and writing is how I know: it is how I listen, how I feel, how I process, how I love.  So I wanted to talk a tiny bit about the birth of my first child because, like most things in my adult life, I once again found that inside challenge are the sweetest kernels of light.  Also, I am newly obsessed with birth stories - see item 1 - and have found other posts on the internet helpful, generous, and comforting.  Like chicken soup for the internets.  So here we go.

I gave birth to my daughter by caesarean section, after many many hours of natural labor.  When I showered finally after giving birth, because of the medication I was on my husband was instructed to stand guard.  I guess narcotics plus wet tiles are not good in combination?  Anyway. 

Among the many things I never understand until I go through them myself (aka everything), one thing I hadn't counted on was how much my stomach would shrink immediately when my daughter was no longer inside me.  The first time I showered, I undressed from the clothing I had specially bought for the hospital which was already now too big.  My hair was in tangles from days of labor and sleep and being transferred from bed to surgical table to bed again by other hands.  My now-soft abdomen wore its pregnancy line, a deep tan stripe from my sternum to my incision, which itself was reminiscent of Frankenstein: strips of tape like zipper teeth holding my skin in place.  In short, I was a mess, and yet my husband and I both thought the same thing.  Actually, I thought, Holy F**k, I am gorgeous while he went so far as to say it.  "You are beautiful," he said, and I knew what he meant.  My body wore its wounds like a badge of honor, the injuries of a passage between two worlds: pregnancy and motherhood, utero and birth.

In the beginning of my pregnancy, I surrendered my body to its animal nature.  As my skin stretched and muscles cramped, I began to think of my body is as a thing to behold - not just in pregnancy but for the rest of my life.  If an excavation team stumbled on my remains in two hundred years, I felt with pride my body would offer them information.  Like a mare or ewe or cow, my body would tell the story of offspring.  I had been a mother: here was proof. 

I'm sure this kind of reducing myself to biological factoids is horrifying on some feminist level, but it's obviously not the first time I've thought of my life in terms of nature.  Last night, in fact, my husband burst out laughing when he overheard me say that spending my days with an infant is not unlike encounters with a wild animal: even though she doesn't speak the English language, in her eyes, the intelligence is all there.  She is one hundred percent present, and intoxicating.  I guess he wasn't used to his daughter being compared, in essence, to stumbling upon a wild buffalo or a wolf, but I say parenting a young child is not terribly different.  For me, respect and intuition are key. 

So there's my story, a piece of it anyway.  And here is my wish, for all of us: that what we have been through matters, to each of us and all of us, and we learn ways of sharing through the grief and the darkness.  Because therein lies the whole of life's experience, and by such practices I believe we may learn, and love, and evolve together. 

To your story, to those with whom you feel safe enough to share it, and to all the gems that come from living through it, like this little banana boat, my own personal buffalo calf:

With love,


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,