On Friday I had the great fortune and pleasure to go see Bill McKibben speak about climate change. With his group 350.org he’s traveling the country starting a climate change revolution. You have to go, if you can—imagine simultaneously being made aware in scary detail of the realities of climate change, but leaving feeling like maybe, just maybe, there’s something you can do about it after all. I felt empowered and excited and happy and scared and all night I had weird vivid dreams and woke up Saturday feeling a little like my life had changed.
Here’s the website, where you can buy tickets to see the show (oh, and it kind of is a show! This is no Al Gore talking with a boring chart behind him). Unfortunately a lot of dates are sold out, but I’ll bet if you emailed the organizers you could get in.
Me, tonight, to B: “You know, if I got offered some editing work in the next few weeks, I think I’d take it. It would be nice to make some extra dough. It might be stressy for a bit around here if I was working a lot more, but no big deal.”
B, wryly: “Yeah, how much more stressy could it really get?”
I had a good belly laugh about that one.
Sure, life could get a lot more stressy (have I mentioned I love slang? That I adore words like “spendy” and “janky” and “stressy”?), but resolved am I to be more positive.
Some people are very clearly optimists. My mother in law, for example, can look down the face of climate change, recession, and world tragedy and declare it a really exciting time to be alive, because the world is in great turmoil and it will be fascinating to see what happens in the next twenty years (!). My dad, on the other hand, can order the wrong thing at lunch and be bummed out about it for the rest of the day (!). I find that I waffle pretty reliably between optimism and pessimism. Small things tend to really get me down (I have a lot of my dad in me), and on the other hand, I am sometimes capable of impressive grace and positivity. When my brother’s wife left him, for example, my mom told me I was a “rock.” I felt like one. I took my brother out to get drunk and wander around North Beach, then I called my parents and assured them he was going to be alright. (Then I let him sleep on my couch for three weeks, and phoned my parents with updates until everyone felt a little better.) The whole rotten experience made me really grow. It was nice to be needed in that way by my family, especially as, a), I come from one of those families where, knock on wood, things don’t fall apart too spectacularly that much; and, b), my parents tend to really be the rocks for their kids and sometime, you just gotta repay that favor.
Over the weekend my mom sent me a video by a guy we know who has cancer. This man has always been one of those extremely full-of-life, happy-go-lucky guys, and he got hit with a real doozie: metastasized esophageal cancer. Man, this video was uplifting. He details all the treatments he’s undergoing, traditional ones like chemo and non-traditional ones like acupuncture, Chinese herbs, qigong, and a macrobiotic diet. He’s talking about everything very cheerfully and calmly–much more calm than I knew him to be–but with this wisdom, just this wisdom. And then he says, “you know, this is really a spiritual journey.” His grace moved me so much. To look at your own possible death and see a spiritual journey? That’s extreme optimism. I hope I would have the strength.
I think sometimes, lately, I have been falling too heavily in the pessimist camp. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for what I have, or that I don’t see my extreme luckiness in the scheme of things. I do. I am grateful for so many things: my health, my family, my job, my home, being a mother–and having an incredible community of friends, good childcare, Netflix, a hook-up for some great wine at low prices, a bike with a seat for L, good books, good food, a future wonderful sister-in-law for my wonderful brother, oh and a brand new nephew–not their kid!–but I also think I feel things deeply. I always have, and since having a child I’ve felt in some ways opened right up, to more joy and to more heartache. I find myself crying when I listen to NPR or B looks at me the wrong way, or the right way. Then two second later I’m laughing. I’m a maniac. And like this blog post–what the hell is it really even about? Oh right, it’s about how I’ve been worrying, dear readers, that I sound like sour grapes all the time.
And it’s about this. A very small thing. About eight feet long by three feet wide. It’s not, yet, very fecund or impressive. It does not make me weep or shout with joy. But it has made me want to get up in the morning to see what’s new. And when we get off the bike after daycare or coming home from the playground, L and I go to see what we’ve missed, which creatures have come to threaten it, which ones we’ve staved off, and which tiny little sprouts are starting to push their way up.
Two weekends ago we took an old flower bed and excavated it. B handily sawed some boards and dug them in. We added compost and fertilizer and tilled it all, and planted cooking greens (collards and Chinese broccoli, to go with the chard and dino kale already there); lettuces (mache, red leaf, baby romaine); and seeds for green onions, two kinds of carrots, and some beets. This adds to our volunteer parsley, the huge bush of rosemary and oregano, some arugula, some thyme, and some mint.
I find that magic shows up in my life when other things feel completely prosaic and mundane. I’ll be totally fed up with my work and my writing, parenting or my relationship will feel humdrum, and then there will be this little glimmer of something–an interesting coincidence, maybe, or a good turn done unexpectedly or even something strange and painful that makes me pause (magic isn’t all good–remember Lord Voldemort). The magical: A few weeks ago, when I did that great yoga workshop, I had an intense moment in meditation when the word “cleave” starting running through my head. For some strange reason–maybe because I am one of those types for whom strange words running through the head is sort of normal–I wasn’t alarmed. More than that, I got it. I have felt since I gave birth to L that the experience caused me to sort of split in two, in a very weird, esoteric, almost-too-deep-to-access (and really too personal to talk about) sort of way. So I’ve been kind of carrying that word around a bit. And this week at a doctor’s appointment I learned that, in fact, part of me did split in two when I gave birth. You ever have something happen that you would never have known was about to happen but then, once it does, you realize you knew it was going to happen? That’s what I’m getting at. It’s a little…magical.
So then, this morning, I was chatting with a friend on the street. She’s not been having an easy time of it, and I remember a week or so ago her telling me that she had been so out of it one day that she’d forgotten to put her son in a nighttime diaper and generally made a right mess of things in her life. I don’t think she told me but she also lost a favorite earring that day. This morning, as we were chatting on the street, I looked down and said, “Oh look, an earring”–at which point she went ballistic with joy. I’d found her lost earring and the weirdest thing was that it was lying at a place on the sidewalk where anyone could have stepped on it. In fact, it was directly in the path of a car that could have backed out of its driveway at any time and crushed it. She lost the earring ten days ago. But it was beautifully, perfectly intact. To me, this was sort of medium magical, but she is convinced I’m the next Hermione Granger.
Well, okay, if you say so.
And oy, here’s the mundane: I had a rib injury in December, as I think I’ve mentioned. I either cracked a rib or pulled a muscle from a particularly violent bout of coughing. This injury was healing, slowly. But yesterday I sneezed and I literally felt something pop in my side. Then: agony. I’m very barely mobile on 600 mg of Ibuprofen. I’ve been able to sit at the computer for a while but I should probably go lie down again. Doctor’s appointment at 2:45.
And can I just say, toddlers are not capable of empathy? Trying to explain to L this morning that Mumma had a really big owee and I needed him to cooperate–failure. After B left for work L climbed back in his crib. He climbs in, but he doesn’t climb out. I couldn’t really go in after him so I had to wheedle to get him to the edge, then one-armed drag him out. He gave me hell putting on his shoes, etc., and all the while I was trying to find some adult place to connect to that would understand why he should be ginger with me. Not happening. Good to know he’s developmentally appropriate, I suppose…
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I am sitting in one of those West coast coffee shops that sells T shirts with phrases like “Death Before Decaf!” emblazoned on the front, and I just noticed, in the bathroom, this great 1950s-style mock movie poster that’s advertising a fictitious movie whose plot is that under-caffeinated people are so lethargic they can’t save the world. Okay, coffee shop, you have made your point. A few months ago I mostly gave up caffeine, but the past couple of mornings I’m dragging so low I’m starting to wonder if a relapse is in order. A good strong latte might just solve all my problems.
Why am I so wiped out? Hmm. I’ll get to that in a minute (I’m at that stage in this blog post where I have two distinct ideas rolling around in my head, and I’m trying to draw a few threads between them before I lose everything).
A couple of months ago I had the good fortune to hear the great poet Gary Snyder read with Larry Ferlinghetti in North Beach, in San Francisco. Ferlinghetti is the more famous poet, but to my mind Gary Snyder is the more lasting and brilliant. A devout Buddhist, at age 81 he lives up in the Sierra Foothills, off the grid, where he has to haul water and shovel snow and fix generators and probably harvest his own food. In the course of his telling his audience about this at the reading in November, an audience member yelled something like “hooray for the simple life!” and Snyder said, “The simple life? Don’t call it that until you’ve tried it. The simple life is living in a studio apartment above a deli, with a big bag of dope.” The crowd roared. I did, too, because it was funny–but it was also undeniably true. Living off the grid in the mountains is anything but a simple life–I know at least one reader who does it, and the busyness of her days could boggle the mind.
And yet, lately I get why one would think to call living out in the sticks “simple.” Here, in the northern California city where I live, we have a car, a washer and dryer, trash pick-up, electricity, heat…all kinds of things to make life comfortable, easier, safe. But life in the city doesn’t feel simple at all lately. My head is so…full. L is having trouble at daycare, again, and I have been trying to make some very non-simple decisions about what to do about it. This entails two to three visits a week, to other daycares and preschools, plus emails and phone calls in between. In the meantime I am in the midst of a last revision of my book, a revision I swore I would not do until I went to proof it for typos and encountered some nagging doubts about its viability. This has me deeply exhausted, quite frankly, in a very complex and non-simple way–it’s an emotional and logistical stress, hard to explain, really. Then there are the acupuncture appointments, the babysitting co-op meetings, the earthquake preparation groups, three+ playdates a week, friends’ performances to attend. And then there is our attempt to live the “simple” life; we cook every night, we have a garden, we generate so much damn compost and recycling, we feel guilty about using the dryer, we walk to the store, we try whenever possible to leave the car at home and bike L to daycare. And school hasn’t even started yet; in two weeks I have sixty students to attend to, plus all this other…stuff.
I have lately found myself wishing that I lived in a studio apartment above a deli where I ordered in all my food and sent out all my laundry–or even on a farm in the Catskills, where I had to milk the cows every morning but didn’t have to write this Goddamned book and there was only one preschool to choose from (if that). I’m not complaining, I’m just noticing. I think a good 2012 resolution for me would be this: be less busy. Say no more. Get off that earthquake committee. Give yourself a break from the book if you need it. Or start drinking coffee again.
Here is a Gary Snyder poem for today. It’s about the simple life, don’t you think? I find it terribly romantic and wonderful, but then, you know that’s the mood I’m in today.
Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout
Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.
I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.
(From Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, edited by Robery DiYanni (Random House, 1987).