Finding a Smithereen of Soul

We lose each other, my wife and I. This woman and I spent our first five years in an extended honeymoon, but it’s hard to continue our feral love-play when the kids constantly vie for our attention. The thrown-together siblings want their Mimi (their biological grandmother) for attention, permission, and cuddling. They narc on each other to me (the grandpa with boobs). They take our reserves and leave us with nothing—not for ourselves, not for each other. My writing sucks right now, and there’s nothing for it but to keep at it and trust, in time, something will break free.

Kev (I guess you could call him my son-in-law—not in fact, but in relative relationship) used to mow the yard, back and front, so his son could play in it. This good man could not sit still, always needed something to work on, and our backyard was a joy to him. Since Kevin’s death in November, I hadn’t needed to mow—not really, just enough to run the gasoline out of the mower before winter. But spring eased in through the cold and, damn, if summer isn’t coming–the grass was knee high, in late May, before I could make myself drag the mower out. The hedges are overgrown. Weeds everywhere. Rats have been digging under our air conditioner.

Fucking Kevin, you damned dead junkie, how will I fill your shoes around this place?

But the grass is mowed finally. And the boy loves it.

Our daughter doesn’t quite know what to do with herself—I don’t know if it’s the awkwardness of puberty or something else, but Gail and I sit on a bench swing and watch the sky roll over our heads, unable to decide if we’re going to do anything about the invading duckweed other than mow it, while Miss M sits in a swing with her knees above her elbows trying to get the boy to play some game he’s not interested in.

20140106_115123

A day or two later, feeling cut off from myself (I’ve all but dropped out of my creative community, read lately more than written, scribbled journals more than drafted manuscripts), I dropped November’s addition to our family—Kevin’s son, a charming, tax-your-limits, four-year-old boy—at daycare and, rather than rush home to the endless list of what must be done before we rattle apart, I wheeled over to Montrose Harbor to be alone. Lately, the little guy’s been punching the rest of us without provocation and throwing a kind of tantrum I’ve never witnessed before, not even in Kmart. But he’s out of the car and it’s a relief to have him off my hands.

My wife and I used to throw peanuts-in-the-shell for crows. We’d get up before her nursing shift and, while waiting for the daycare to open (I tend to be insanely early for everything, as if lateness causes death), toodle up and down the park, feeding squirrels and crows. Even our daughter, who is now might-live-to-be-thirteen (yes, that’s a real age), remembers when a half dozen surrounded the car at a time, snatching a peanut or two and winging a short way off to peck, eat, and brag raucously. This is back when she was in the same daycare where we’re now taking the young boy. This was back before my wife’s head injury, when she was still a working RN. Back when there were enough crows to wrestle space from the insanely greedy gulls. I didn’t find any crows this time, and I missed them.

I ended up staring at the water’s chop. I’m ashamed to say the flash of shadow and light reminded my blunted mind of television static. I caught the thought as it flit through, numb and sad, and pulled out of my parking spot in hopes of shifting into a better mindset and rolled into the turn-around to listen to sailboat rigging clang in the wind.

Before reaching the end of the long arm sheltering the harbor, I came upon a goose family spread into a couple clumps in the grass swath between the main drag and the dockside parking lot. Two adults with five still-fuzzy goslings just shy of the size of grown mallards. After a three-minute rest, the geese rose to peck in the grass, their fuzzy miniatures following with similar movements (so orderly and cooperative!), then one parent walked across to the water’s edge and one gosling climbed on the sidewalk, too, while the rest lined up against the curb and the rearguard adult joined them there for a lie-down. The way the light played on their fuzz suggested how heart-meltingly soft they would be to pet, not that I’d brave adult geese to touch them. A flock of adult geese lingered across the road, but apparently only one pair had young just now.

No doubt, the kids would have loved to see them, but I chose not to share this with them, not, at least until I’d brought my sweet. The next day Gail and I found them at the east end of the harbor, near where we sometimes find a rabbit or two, and call out, “Shank!” when we do. They made their slow walk through dappled shade and sun, and it was peaceful to watch. A mother, father, and their young daughter in hot purple strolled along the harbor walk, until the father pulled the daughter with him, running, arms wide, chasing the goslings.

“I hope that goose pecks him in the balls,” Gail said, and I wished it, too.

“He doesn’t think, does he, of how he’d feel if something bigger came along and chased his daughter,” I said.

But then the people were past and the goose family collected again, goslings pecking as their parents kept their heads high, watching after the interlopers, wary of the sidewalk.

That evening, we took the kids, grabbed some Long John Silvers, and headed for the Skokie Forest Preserve.

At Long John Silvers, under a low, wide shrub, a young rabbit, no more than a handful of fur, edged into the grass eating clover. If anyone approached, it dove under the greenery, but once they were out of range, right back out it came, undaunted. Somehow young creatures—well, young animals, anyway—have a renewing effect children don’t always have. I suspect it is because young animals act in accordance with expectation, they share instincts with their parents. Human children are much more up for grabs, especially those whose home situations have landed them with relatives.

At the forest preserve we picnicked and threw the leftovers to the raccoons.

Though he showed an interest in potty-training at eighteen months, we have had to wean the little guy out of Pull-Ups (trust me, cloth training pants work better) since November, and he’s mostly got it down, but this evening the boy wet himself rather than tell us he needed to go, so we cut the stay short. Reinforcement. Luckily the fit he pitched was small, straight-forward.

And so, we’ve begun returning to our drives through Montrose Harbor and up the park toward Foster Beach and back, and to the forest preserve. There’s not much to it. If there was, we’d find it beyond our scraping-the-bottom capabilities. We linger to watch animals, take stock of changes in the landscape—the beaches are coming inland, and the forest preserve staff have cut out the underbrush, giving the trees a nakedness not there before. We don’t know if we’re disturbed by these changes.

Eventually, we showed the goslings to the kids, too, as I knew we would. My proprietary secrecy was because I had wanted to share it with my mate first, to put us first for a change.

Gail has asked what I saw in her idiosyncrasies—in her fierce, biting kisses, in the way she craved my scent—and I chalk it up to us knowing we are animals—clever animals with opposable thumbs, but animals just the same. I don’t know if this is the only reason, but one way back to ourselves lies in the out-of-doors, in whatever nature we can find, first just us, then maybe with the kids.

Someday, I will figure out how to tell these nothing drives so you see, too, how they help the soul.

Morehead-20120718-00065

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

To Make Friends with Crows

Back in better days, I used to drive my wife and sometimes my daughter along in a lake shore park and we would throw peanuts-in-the-shell for the crows. After a while, it seemed like they knew our car and understood our good intentions — but I was never sure if my ego was drowning my common sense. My wife sent me the link to Vicki Croke’s “The Secrets of Gift-Giving Crows” and it warmed my insides. Love crows or hate ’em, it’s a terrific article with audio, video, and links. I think I’ll take time again on the way to or from work to feed the crows, and maybe one or two will remember me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Wave and the Sand

I’m trying to figure out this thought I’ve got. This isn’t completely it and the writing kind of sucks, but this is an initial go at it:

While taking David G. Goodman’s Literature of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during my undergraduate years in Champaign-Urbana, I saw The Woman in the Dunes (directed by Hiroshi Teshigarhara, 1964), and the image of digging in the sand to keep from being swallowed by it has stuck with me. Much like the stoker and the castle and The Father lingered for Kafka.

When my students are daunted by the demands of rewriting, I have often asked, “If you were not working on this, what would you be doing? You’d be writing something else. And if it has real energy, that’s fine—but it would probably eventually need rewriting. Why not work on what is in front of you instead of starting something new only because you dread what it takes to finish something? A life as a writer is like digging a hole in the sand—the sand falls in, always, but sometimes, if you dig hard enough, you hit damp sand and it buys the digger time before it falls in. Rewriting is where you’ve hit the damp sand. It feels heavier because it has enough moisture to hold its shape.” I often forget to tell them that you have to love the sand, love your shovel, or you might as well move to a less shifty landscape. And then there’s the sand of those before you–the sand you eat.

Right now I am eating The Homewood Books by John Edgar Wideman and wishing I had read these books decades ago.

And there’s when you’re busy making art or devouring art in order to make art, and life intrudes–a wave slams flat the hole you’ve dug, filling it with water. So much for damp sand.

There’s a litany of possibilities for the intrusive wave. Off the top of my head—thyroid cancer, hysterectomy with complications, bilateral knee replacement, a hinky mammogram*; a long-time favorite aunt and her whole branch of the family insulting us when my wife and I chose to marry (in a handfasting, no less)—even now as this aunt is dying from long-ignored breast cancer I will have nothing to do with her; my father’s decline and death from bladder cancer—which left me feeling strangely unanchored (echoes of which are called up by a friend’s father also dying from cancer), long-distance worries about my brother, rescuing a seven-month old from her meth-addicted mother and raising her (she’s now twelve), a thirty-something female junkie and her son moving into our basement when her relationship with the boy’s father became abusive, the endless mystery of how a junkie who doesn’t eat can shit and puke so much while detoxing, the father of my grandson dying two heroin deaths (the first in Summer 2011, the second grisly and permanent), dealing with first responders and after, the mother’s series of homicidal/suicidal psychotic breaks, taking in a not-potty-trained four-year-old boy who likes to say “OK” when you tell him something and once your turn your head it’s as if you never made utterance (he’s still four), the bills are sliding because you’re outside a semester and your wife has used any cushion cash you have to put out a series of family fires, the union asking for your help (but really, really fuck-all if you’ve time or health or energy to offer), a twelve-year-old girl six weeks behind in school and seemingly unconcerned, who stores months of clothes on the floor of her room and expects it all laundered upon demand (I laugh. What else is there to do?), a wife whose back (due to a failed back surgery) doesn’t allow her to do laundry, load the dishwasher, or vacuum, etc., a wife who often takes the kids’ side against this angry grandpa-with-boobs that I am, a daughter who leaves the dishes in the sink (the dishes and feeding the cats are her only chores beyond “clean up after yourself”) for weeks at a time and doesn’t get why you’re pissed about gnat clouds in the kitchen, and finally, palpitations, rages (some brought on by perimenopause and some not), the disarray of our home keeps me from inviting anyone over, and finally, the guilt of not being able to help my mother as much as I would like. I may have forgotten a couple dozen things. Forgetting can be expected, I’m told.

In our house life seems to intrude more than average, though I know trouble visits everyone, given time..

I have friends who have offered help. I don’t know what to do with their offers. It’s something I get from my mother and my mother’s mother. Do not underestimate the power of the matrilineal legacy.

And what happens when I use all the help available? Does it ever replenish? Does it put me in a debt I can never repay? And what if someone who has helped me needs help and I am unable to give aid? I have never wanted to use people and have dealt with the supreme un-neatness of it all by trying to stand on my own two feet–or my wife’s and mine four feet. I begin to suspect this is a fool’s position; one I am ill-equipped to change. So I keep writing (I was completely derailed for a couple weeks but am warming back up again). I’ll write badly for a while and fuck up the chronology of my thoughts, but let the dust and cat hair and bills pile up around me, I have sand to shovel, sand to eat.

*all bold is shit that’s hit our household since mid-November 2014

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Impatience

Morehead-20120718-00071

While eyeballing a doodle in my journal, I realized that I had become impatient with it. I used to daydream and draw for a long time at a stretch. I am now impatient with myself. It brings me back to last summer’s concurrent reading of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden and the Journal of a Novel. Over and over, he says that he must pace the writing out slowly.

The hurry helps nothing. It merely brings a given project to completion prematurely, and the final product is not as good as it might have been had you merely gone at a natural pace.

If you must hurry, to which end?

To be done? Why, when you know after a very short time, you will be drawn back to the work in another project?  And will you rush it to a mediocre end?

To reveal it to the world? You know there’s no money in it, and that fame is an unsettling alternate reality. So you reveal it, and then what? If it captures anyone’s interest, you become bankrupt: A negative reaction will initially offend you and leave you angry, but you will have brought it upon yourself. Praise will render you shy and embarassed. Either way, you will know you could have done better, transcending whatever your rush has begotten.

It is dissatisfying because the lust for result is a destructive urge. John Kennedy Toole provides an example. After this unsatisfying result, what would you do? Begin again, as Kafka journaled, “in the shameful lowlands of writing.”

There is only ever the work. This is as true in writing and art-making as it is in magick. The work itself is your joy.

“For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust  of result, is every way perfect.” — Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law, I: 44

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Signs

Signs

Religious signs appear in the oddest of places–the underpass Virgin Mary, a cross in the ruins of the World Trade Center, Jesus on a grilled cheese sandwich. How often do you come across the pentagram?

I found this pentagram–check out the center of this photo–in a Chicagoland forest preserve at a time I really needed a lift.

What signs have found you? What do you make of them?

1 Comment

2013/02/09 · 12:44 pm