Thursday, June 27, 2013

Aroostook County, Maine

We bathe in oil.  We drink it.  We clothe ourselves in it, line our homes with it, feed it to our babies and animals and plants, baptize ourselves in it like water.  We suck the earth dry of its dinosaur marrow.

That much is true.  What is less certain is how much our atmosphere will change as a result of our 450-year-long binge.  I applaud the president's stance yesterday, his resolve to do what he has the executive privilege to do and the Supreme Court mandated, however little what he is able to do may matter in the face of looming apocalypse.  The challenge is that even his first stab at the 40 percent of electricity emissions--which is huge, don't get me wrong--but doesn't count fracking or meat or cars--not to mention Walmart or airplanes or agriculture--is nowhere near enough.

What he deserves the most respect for is his affirmation of this quest as a moral one.  He is doing what he as one man can--and although he may be the most powerful American alive, although only perhaps--it's about time for us to realize that we live not in a democracy but in a corporate oligarchy and that our real leaders are CEOs and Chairmen of Boards--and his call to us is to do the same, to do the best we can as singular people.  For me, yesterday, that meant calling my bank.  Perhaps moved by Obama's announcement that he would pursue an executive oil strategy, giving up on a bipartisan one, I finally called my mutual fund company and initiated divestment.

On NPR, a coalworker called to protest, angry, saying:  Of course I care about my children's future--I have two boys and I'd do anything for them!  But I have to feed them first!

Feed them, yes.  But what would you feed them--dust?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Om bhur bhuvah svah

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, as framed by Earthbender Iris Jenks Henry,
immediately before the battery in the camera died
One of the things I've been doing is writing sixteen-sentence prose pieces. I call them essays, or something. My favorite thing about modern essay, other than the blog, is the way it combines various ideas into one, read Brian Doyle and Patrick Madden and the Festival of Faith and Writing (the best conference in the greater US of A), and the way it can jump from one idea to another, the way it does with this sentence, and this short story at Haystack, and the way I keep thinking that I can self-publish, like a self-titled EP, Melissa Jenks, the Short Stories, but I'm too chicken, and then I think about the article I read in fu**ing Oprah about vulnerability. Of all places.

It reminded me of a lot of the things that I've been reading about brain chemistry and human evolution (pop quiz: what happened 100 million, 1 million, 100,000 years ago?) and how scientists (of the hard and not the Christian variety) believe that homo sapiens evolved its complex brain architecture in response to compassion. And that dogs evolved their domestication with us at about 40,000 years ago; and that many of the things about the ways that our neurons map up against our evolutionary architecture has a connection to morphogenic fields; and Darwin wrote about red fields of algae bleeding from South America in Voyage of the Beagle (nota bene: he was a 25-year-old biologist aboard a clipper rounding Cape Horn by sail, in the noble day of sail, when Captain Josh Slocum was out there in his Spray, and all of us and our bilious climate change were just a gleam in their eye, praise Jesus); and now I carry my Shadow behind me and he pees on my floor when he is anxious and I am alone as my life partner sails across the Atlantic and I realize how Ahab's wife must have felt, not to mention all the wives and sweethearts that were never to meet. I'm here with my dog, my Shadow, and my shadow, my terror at the silence of the strawberry moon. And also the television, the only thing aside from meditation and dreaming that offers alpha waves for the evolved brain.

And the internet, I suppose. I propose this as a cautionary tale. I am home, like Emily Dickinson who wouldn't leave hers, but I have MBPN and factory-farmed pork and myth and the USPS and the future falling backwards behind me as I look up at the stars and thunder in the sky. Yeah, I'm home.

Whatever that means. With my Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and Joy of Cooking laid out in front of me. It's weird, being here, the end of June, one month of spring already gone, half the garden not planted, because of us, our pursuit of adventure or art or whatever it is. Rolling thunder rumbles.

(Answer, inverted, if I could figure out the html: dinosaurs explode because of asteroid, neanderthals evolve tools, and homo sapiens emigrate Africa.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Grand Rapids, Michigan (by way of Marion, Massachusetts, and Muskegon, Michigan)

An Ingrid interior--a boat on the boat list
Traveling again, this time for my parents' fortieth wedding anniversary (believe it or not) and a three-day camping trip with Sonia and her two beautiful boys. We pulled into a campground I'd chosen on the internet, sight unseen, with thunder roaring and lightning cracking directly overhead, rain flooding the ranger station, at ten at night—me coming directly from the airport and two awake children in the car. Luckily the kind ranger allowed us the use of a cabin for one night, because when we pitched the tent in the morning, we discovered we had no poles. Not to worry. The 1920s army tent we'd brought as a playplace for the children pitched just fine. Another victory for the brave, foolhardy, impulsive travelers who do not plan.

As is this one: K. is currently in the middle of the Atlantic, racing to Bermuda. Check here. He is on the little pink boat, Elusive, almost dead last. It's okay. It's a rookie boat, class C, and although we'd had our names on the crew list since last year, it was only when we took the brave and foolhardy step of waltzing through the yacht club doors to handwrite our names on the bulletin board that we got a call. So he gets to cross (or half-cross—let's call a spade a spade) the Atlantic before I do.

I'm not jealous. Really, I'm not.

Okay, I am. Desperately jealous, but also so immensely thrilled and pleased for him. His first real ocean race, his first experience with a structured watch list, and five blessed days in blue water under sail.

He'll come back either ready to settle down and farm again, or even hungrier for one of the steel ketches he's been surfing online, the ones with built-in woodstoves that we could sail to Iceland or Greenland or through the Northwest Passage. Casting Off has been metaphorical for a time now, but it's a good reminder that it could always become literal.  Again.

And tonight we dined on kale and beets and local fennel sausage in downtown Grand Rapids, a town which has suddenly, and without my noticing, become hip. I used to say, when I visited my family here, that it was like stepping back in time to 1952. But now it feels the opposite—like stepping forward to, say, 2020—a place where all cafes have their own greenhouses, and art galleries host their own deejays, and every bar stocks jalapeno-infused local vodka. One can only hope.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Aroostook County, Maine

Ann Armstrong, in the fabric studio

And just like that, it's gone. So fast the time passes, even if I was able to accomplish much of what I wanted at Haystack: even flax paper haiku. I wrote almost every day with Betsy Sholl, former Maine poet laureate, an absolute gift—she is an astonishing wordsmith—and now have friends dotted around the hemispheres: in Grand Rapids and Poland and Capetown and Austin and Providence. And the best thing about spending two weeks with a community of artists is the new beauty I find in the world.

These people see all material as a substance to be crafted, to be shaped according to the muse, to be made more beautiful at all costs. Maybe some people think that's unimportant. But those people are wrong.

I came home (you know with what effort I type that word) yesterday, limping in the Volvo, praying the whole way, and using Deepak Chopra-style visualization along with deep breathing and a light touch on the gas. Within in ten minutes of being here, K. had the engine cover off and discovered oil leaking into my spark-plug wells. Which means he had the problem fixed in another twenty, but it also means I could have lit my engine on fire during the twenty-minute drive home. Allegedly. Thank goodness for small mercies.

I even assisted: bringing a tool as requested without having to figure out what the word meant. And I cleaned some receptors with alcohol, q-tips, and paper towels. I'll be a mechanic yet.

The bridge off Deer Isle, though. The thing is a blue behemoth, with a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit, and all week I stalled every time I dropped down to a low speed and climbed a high hill. No shoulder—only ocean—on the bridge. All I could think was that I'd stall at the top, which panicked me, so I imagined instead the relief I'd feel on the other side. Or the relief I'd feel, pulling into the white trailer, with its dim traces of mold, and my Shadow, and the partridge nesting, and the jerusalem artichoke as high as an elephant's eye. Saying: I didn't stall once!

So: I didn't stall once. I left my haikumobile as ephemera, a minor tragedy, but only a minor one. And now the bell no longer tolls my hours and my meals—I am responsible for myself again. The respite is over.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Birchbark canoe at the Haystack Gallery, built according to ancient Penobscot tradition
One thing that has been a constant source of conversation around here—and maybe it's just because I keep bringing it up—is the intersection between art and commerce. Maybe I'm an idealist in believing that it's possible to make objects that appeal to a wide audience, in such a way that they can sustain (read: feed) the artist, and these things can also achieve critical success. These are not easy questions. I love the things being made here—they are exquisite, magical, beautiful—and gradually coming into being, made by my friends—but I worry that these things aren't accessible to a wide audience.

Some people simply say: no. They aren't. 99 percent of people will never understand art and aren't even worth trying to reach. But I vehemently disagree.

Yes, we have a major problem in education in this country. Many people don't understand art, or can't see its value, because they've never been taught to. But people can still consistently recognize beauty, and they could not fail to see the beauty in the work being created here. Maybe its purpose, they could question. Beauty for beauty's own sake.

A friend of mine back home, a beer-drinking Nascar-watching member of the hoi polloi, has recently fallen in love with Beethoven and Mozart. He sits in his backyard, listening, as arpeggios swell, and this to me is proof of the triumph of music. All of us have little beautiful things we treasure—maybe just for the memories they bring us, of a beautiful moment, a beautiful time. I'm still not sure what art is, if I can define it.

Although, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, I know it when I feel like the top of my head has been blown off.

We had a lobster bake on the picnic rocks by the ocean last night. My first lobster bake, my first lobster eaten with my hands by the sea, and maybe my first Maine lobster ever, believe it or not. It was delectable, of course, ambrosia of the sea, no more so than when sucking the juice from the claws, distilled ocean nectar. But I have to say—and please don't shoot me—Cape Cod lobster gives them a run for their money.

In other news, my car broke down on Friday. Which leaves me with a mechanical problem to solve during my four last precious days of focus. I am trying not to play the martyr. But seriously. Could I have worse timing? Of all the gin joints in all the world where a Volvo could funk out.