Saturday, December 31, 2016

I wish I lived in the power and the light

Mother nature's daughter
I miss the days when everyone poured out their heart on epistolary MySpace blogs.  I also miss the Reagan administration, for different reasons, so that should come as no surprise.

Now we live in a world of instant Instagram selfies, and I am nostalgic for the web log of yesteryear, the Livepad courier-font blogs, where we were allotted more than 140 characters to explicate the intricacies of our lives.

So I am announcing the birth of Sagan Tomasik-Jenks, born in October, via the interwebs.  This is a photograph of her from Thanksgiving in Tennessee, in her cast-off boys' and girls' clothes.  Isn't she the most gorgeous thing you have ever seen?

I have posted twice on this blog this year and I make no apology.   The best thing about real friends is how you can pick up where you left off as if no time has passed.  I have eight minutes before midnight in 2016 and that long to catch you up on my life.  Sagan, her father, and I still live in Maine, although we were in Tennessee when we took that picture, and we are in Massachusetts for the New Year now.  Spirit, our boat, still sits in the driveway, and we plan to live aboard her.  Eventually.  Or start a micro-papermill in Bridgewater.  Or farm sheep.

But I see having a baby as no reason to stop sailing.  For reference:

And especially:

It has been a year for grief and withdrawal.  K's stepfather, and also his great-aunt, more like a grandmother to him, died this year.  Also pregnancy, an experience of becoming another being's vessel.  I had thoughts about hollowness, emptiness--and the beauty of feeling a person come alive inside me.  It's hard to put all this into words.  I understand more thoroughly why there are so few mother artists, at least of the canonical variety.  This different kind of more silent art, breeding life.

It makes me think of platitudes and I feel positive loathing towards platitudes.  But of birth and death, seasons beginning and ending.  I am more conscious of the passage of time than I ever have been.  I measure weeks in the inches that Sagan grows.  Already she has outgrown the elephant onesie in the photograph.  She wore another elephant outfit today, and she may fit into it one more time.  I grieve the passage of time for which I am utterly grateful.

And my sister's second son was born yesterday.  For him I am utterly grateful, and for the gifts of God.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I’ve been drifting along in the same stale shoes

Today I continue to struggle with the inadequacy of everything I have to say. On the other hand I continue to SAY it. It’s the human impulse, to spurt out our innermost selves, to have them validated by the other, even a fictional other that may or may not exist. You, dear reader.

Paul Simon sang: “Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears.”

Bob Dylan sang, angry:
“Who killed Davey Moore? Why and what’s the reason for?
It was destiny, it was fate, it was God’s will.”

Isaiah said: “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor.”

And Jesus said: “Woe is the child-bearing woman, the woman with a baby at her breast.” (Matthew 24:19)

Why? Because in loving others we always open ourselves up to disappointment, death, grief?

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Here, here. In my heart.

I find it easier and more comforting sometimes to believe that we are all just animals, and animals live and die by chance, by fate, by the exigencies of mutant DNA. Like I am driven forward inexorably not by my own force of will but by biology. Involuntarily, without a choice. Only characters in fiction can say no their biology. Us living creatures, as neurobiology increasingly suggests, are driven forward by the cortical response in our amygdala, forcing us to eat, to sleep, to mourn, to procreate despite the woes of procreation.

I feel this cloying need for other people’s approval and validation and love, but only people I deem worthy, and when I receive it I no longer deem them worthy, like Woody Allen not wanting to be a member of any club that’d let him join. This endless neediness makes human relationships so hard, and my neediness itself seems another trick of my maladaptive evolutionary brain, an evolutionary need for a troglodytic tribe, a community, oxytocin. It’s easiest to think of it that way, that I am a slightly more complex monkey, 99 percent the same as a chimpanzee, pounding away on my cosmic keyboard. My overdeveloped consciousness yet another trick of mother evolution.

Betsy Scholl, Maine poet laureate and my friend, says in her poem “Bass Flute”:
“No talk here of Meaning,
it’s all ing,
raw urge that nudges the wall between
music and noise.”

It is so, so much easier and more comforting to believe that nothing means anything. I used to question how pure materialists survived, because if I stopped believing in God and Holy Spirit and the noumenal I’d immediately off myself, because then what reason is there not to? But there is a reason, naturally, again—sheer biology. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower also drives me away from death, towards survival, all my ancestors, the force of their genetics driving me to live, live, breed, live, breathe my last breath far, far away from here.

It is so comforting that I cannot believe it. It’s too easy. Another trick of the devil, convincing me he doesn’t exist, that he doesn’t live inside of us, inside of me, in my brain, in my head, in my endless rounds of self-recrimination, self-doubt, self-consciousness.

“For the Lord has not given us a spirit of fear; but of love, and of power, and of a sound mind.”

God is here, in the love Karl and I have for each other. In the love I have for my sister, distant in grief and space and time. In the love I have for those who have died.

Today also I make bread, as I do often in winter. Mixed dry ingredients sit atop my fridge awaiting water, kneading, my careful hands. Also awaiting gluten, a needed ingredient for a primarily whole-wheat recipe I’m trying, which requires additional gluten to obtain a light, airy crumb, as opposed to the dense, doughy breads enriched with oatmeal and eggs and milk I tend to bake. It’s funny to me with all the hype about gluten-free that I’m waiting to make bread till I can find a place to buy extra gluten, which is, after all, just the protein in wheat. My mom used to always add an extra tablespoonful to her bread-machine recipes. Sonia and I used to joke around, when we went to the vegan cafe near her house, that we’d order our squash mac-and-cheese “with extra gluten,” but here I am, waiting around for extra gluten.

The gluten is the protein that forms the architecture of the bread, inside which the yeast bubbles are able to solidify, grow, lift. The gluten is in the flour, milled from grain, grown from seed that each summer again sprouts. Winter turns to summer, snow melts to rain, the green fuse drives the germ to awake, to send forth its budding head. Jesus, of course, is our bread, the bread of life, and perhaps the Spirit is his gluten, allowing the God who lives within to bubble and grow.

Each day layers on the next. Again I grieve. Again I surrender. Again I pray: give me today my daily bread.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Ice dance

My baby nephew Stephen Andrew Henry died seven weeks ago today, after ten weeks of life.  I have been fighting the urge to use words to reconcile myself to his death because his death is irreconcilable.  Writing about it feels futile, as does everything else.  Words are become powerless.

“It’s all one,” said Keats.  “We keep on breathing.”  Or we don’t.  Keats didn’t, at 26.

My nephew didn’t, at 71 days.

Someday I won’t anymore, you won’t.  It’s not just the knowledge of the surety of death that this has brought home to me, but how asinine are most of my pursuits.  I want to hold on to that crystal clarity I found in the days following his death, the purity of love I felt then, in honor of him.

My intention to live only with hope from that moment on.

But it infects everything I do and write now, how God allows bad things to happen to good people, how the problem of evil is the only problem that matters, how death is a living breathing presence behind each of our backs.  And that makes all my inanity seem less important, all the ephemeral photographs of a New England summer.

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted.”

All that’s left is an empty shape, an outline, a blank space, and if we heal then that ragged hole will be gone too and we’ll have nothing left of him.  But words are the only weapon I have with which to fight the darkness.

Art Spiegelman, Maus