activism, Choices, Take Action

How Carrying More Weighs Less

girl carrying lunch pail

While little has the power to shock these days, 45’s evisceration of climate change rules still horrifies. Here in America, it’s a matter when-not-if we’ll start donning face masks to walk the dog. Also, when-not-if we’ll look back with something like fondness for such a quaint inconvenience as a face mask. This week marks yet another threshold moment we’ll someday read in history books about humankind’s relationship with its home.

Sweet notion, isn’t it? That we’ll have books? That anyone’s left to write them?

I understand that we need to fight back. Win at least one chamber of Congress. Jail another white supremacist or two, block the next attempt to gut the ACA, block the cops in riot gear with our cameras and bodies.

What I don’t understand is why we still insist on paper plates.

Continue reading “How Carrying More Weighs Less”

Parenting, Poetry

Side Way

hidden-door

Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1

In case of paralysis, break glass. Out there
is here. Stairs, a whining thud, fat-bellied
cicada trapped in a breezeway
flings itself from wall to wall
until it surrenders
to defeat, so much like gravity.
Even with its trident of five eyes,
it is blind to the way through.
Corridor becomes vault. Had it been born
a bluebottle butterfly, it might stand a better chance,
its photoreceptors detecting
a million colors
more than those five eyes,
and far beyond what our feeble pair perceive
(and so believe). We are as wary of spectrometers
and their evidence of hidden hues
as we are of quantum wavefunction
and infrared snapshots of the Kuiper belt. Continue reading “Side Way”

Growing Up, Things I Can, Writing

69. Things I Can Tell Myself: One Small Truth

I am not going to read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday.

Never mind that he’s on deck for a Monday evening book group at the Unitarian church right up the street. And I have two full weeks until then, which is more than enough time. And it’s an opportunity to talk ideas and raw human family concerns with like-minded, world-eyed liberals right here in my community.

And that I want more than anything to disrupt this aching lonely purposeless robotic toil-consume-pick up-drop off-sort-pay-do-it-all-again-tomorrow middle aged existence by weaving myself into a project bigger than me, and attending this group is one simple step towards a richer life.

Because that’s a lie.

I want other things. This I want, yes, but only as much as other things, not more than. Maybe even less than, if I’m really honest.

My 7am Zumba is a few notches higher. That’s why, instead of reading past 11pm, I turn off the light and quiet myself down.

Also higher on the list? Long, meandering walks through the neighborhood with Noodle.

Making my own hummus from scratch is up there too.

Drawing crayon doodles on the envelopes into which I fold letters to Bug at camp. And scritch-scratching in my journal. And tip-tapping here: All higher.

Also whirling through loops and riding over soft plateaus in nighttime phone conversations with My Mister. And deadheading the basil. And transplanting the peppers. And mining the deep vein of creativity when the tough tasks come calling during my 8 hours.

Lunchtime yoga. That’s higher too.

If I really want that book club and the currency I imagine it carries — I mean, if I really want it — the choice is simple. Kick Jared Diamond up to the top of the list. Let something further down fall off.

And here I am, standing at the local library about to wave my key-card under the scanner. I look at what I’ve got. An Alice Munro collection of short stories, a thin volume of poetry exercises, a Stewart O’Nan novel called Last Night at the Lobster.

And Jared Diamond.

I think, What would it hurt to just take him home? Maybe if he’s there on the bedside table, I’ll pick him up. He might enthrall me. Just imagine how edifying, how engaging that discussion group! Fourteen days? No problem.

But why do this to myself?

Why this relentless work to repair, mutate, improve?

(Or prove?)

Somehow, I still fear the call chorusing through me is a siren’s song. The desire I drive so hard to override must be Peter Pan at the window, stunted id and stars for eyes.

Somehow, I am still trying to get this growing-up thing right. And still doubting that the woman right here in this skin is actually enough.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

I’ll do better (because doing better seems to be so damned important) if Jared Diamond makes his 512-page case somewhere other than my bedroom. I set his down on the re-shelf cart.

The moment I do, two quick but powerful currents rush past from opposite directions. The first says, Rock on, Girl! You’re free of that pointless assignment!

The second one is harder to decipher, but I still manage to catch its gist. It says, There goes another chance to be a person of substance. Have fun playing in the shallows, my friend.

And because my father earned a PhD, lists dozens upon dozens of publications on his CV, and spends a good chunk of his weekends reading not only the entirety of the Washington Post but a good portion of the works of nonfiction reviewed in its “Book World” — because of all of this, I am forever falling short of the mark.

That mark written on the bones of ghosts.

That mark mapped in disappearing ink.

I beep through the library checkout with only poetry, short stories, and a novel. As I do, I take a deep breath and tell myself the true small truth. This one has nothing to do with Jared Diamond.

It is this:

I will never be my father.

The heart shivers, resists, cries out for the comforting lie.

Then lets go.

I carry home my works of fiction and image. I walk my dog, slice peaches and cherries, talk on the phone with My Mister, then come here to write.

Fiction. Image.

Lyric. Story.

(So much closer to nonfiction than anyone let on.)

Something alights outside my bedroom window. It calls softly.

This song, I’m learning.

This song, mine.

 

 

Mindfulness, Poetry, Things I Can

20. Things I Can Close: My Eyes

Snake Oils:

Fret about it
Complain about it
Excavate the underlying cause
Make another promise
this one, really
Mop the house
Dial the number
Detail the feeling
Eat
Facebook
Sidestep the feeling
Itemize the failings
File the taxes
Register for classes
Rearrange the closet
Rewrite the resume
Revise the story
Make soup
Start sourdough
Start seeds
Regret the follies
Rehearse the maybes
Cry
Run
Gaze up
Stroke the dog
Squeeze the kid
Write on a blog
Disappear into
Page
Body
Voice
Breath
(No
Not even breath)
.

It may take months
trying every tincture
to ease a tired
so deep it
leaches marrow from bone,
thins tissue
to husk
shedding away from the once wet
core,
years even
to absorb
the stripped bare
lesson.

It is the single
remaining
vial
the message a fortune
as maddening
and true now as it was
in infancy
as it always only ever was.

The only cure for exhaustion
is unbroken silent eight-hour potion-free
rooted deep held in night’s
annihilating arms
sleep.

Growing Up

Driven Out

Just like all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: What will happen next? So if we think of our fears as more than just fears but as stories, we should think of ourselves as the authors of those stories. But just as importantly, we need to think of ourselves as the readers of our fears. And how we choose to read our fears can have a profound effect on our lives. – Karen Thompson Walker in her TED talk, “What Fear Can Teach Us”

I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel. . . Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

The reader can’t put down the book. It’s well past midnight and her bloodshot eyes stagger across the lines. She turns another page. This is better than Stephen King, not even in his league, clipping along against a minor chord shuddering in the shadow of the action. Every door opens on a freefall into hell, each descent rank with its own unique boil and famine.

She does not look up. She is ready for anything without being the least bit prepared.

The crack across the ceiling spiderwebs without a sound while her pinhole focus contains only one character marooned on one desert island where melting icecaps have designs on the shore. Fingers, each alone as huge as her thigh, push through. A gaze presses close, taking in the whole of the room. Still she hasn’t noticed. Those fingers wedge wider an entry, those fingers give way to hands.

The pages of her fear are a shield. They fasten her yet again into the cockpit’s choking chemical burn, strap down her arms and freeze the throttle. The churning sea races to greet her. The certain but predictable disaster is comfort of a sort. If any of this came true — which it surely will, because something enough like it already has (how do you think this became her personalized Choose-Your-Own Adventure?) — what would happen if she closed the book? What if, halfway through her final descent, she yanked the cord, severed the word, and cast the whole thing onto the nightstand?

What if she looked up?

Giant eyes, each the size of her own skull, take the measure of the room. Of her shape. Her scars, her tics, her threadbare sheets.

Of her.

What if she looked right at (it) and watched the pulp of those hands jarring loose chunks of drywall, ripping back the illusion of structure? What if the impenetrable box containing her artless version of Dante’s fifth circle — forged, as it was, in infancy, no doubt — is penetrated after all?

She will not be able to unsee.

She’s already had her shot at that.

Those unbreathing, rolling, unmoored eyes are glass buttons made real by some inverted pinocchio magic. (He) is the golem she moulded from the debris of punishment and silence, the same one that slipped eventually down the side of the bed and fed on skin cells and broken sleep for three lifetimes.

Until now.

She never reached down to tend him but neither did she root him out. Such concentrated matter does not fade or decay, certainly not without its turn in the light.

He comes trailing the stink of hunger. And something else.

He crawls in beside her, filling the not-forgotten space between her and her dogeared book, spilling into corners. This is where he began. She watches him peel back a crusted mouth that is a funhouse image of her own. She has no choice but to let him show her what she stuffed down his throat when she was not ready to bear what she couldn’t name.
 

Determination, Poetry

Damned Spot

A year at least.
A splash on the threshold
in the shape of a star
if stars were ink
or soup. From the long slate
corridor into this rhomboid cocoon
breathing in the milk perfume
How can I help you?
step the fresh and the fretting
alike. They pass over
and over months, we tuck
paper into tray, stand up
the silver frame and spiral
notebook at right
angles to the phone,
slake the incessant thirst
of the philodendron and before emptying
the recycling bin, fan
pencils into bouquets of pink buds promising
industry
or at least
the pleasing semblance of it.  Continue reading “Damned Spot”