We gather in warm brick houses with brocade paper on the walls. Candles burn in jars and the hands of the boys move so quickly that they become blurs as they play.
The people are happy, the people are smiling and clutching one another mirthfully as they dance. Singing, urging the band on, they are fevered and joyful and shine; the people shine so hard that the stars would be jealous if the roof was not protecting their feelings.
There is shalom in every bounce, in every handclap, in every laughing face of every dark-haired girl.
Dance, women. Shout, men. Play on, beautiful music-makers. Hold back the evils of the world, make us one with each other. Help us to hear God.
(a very special thank you to Demian, to Katy, to Derick, and to the Flying Balalaika Brothers for the amazing time….also to Sean for that crazy-assed drink that I still don’t know the name of but that suited the mood perfectly)
SO, I just applied for some work (I think that was what I was doing?) with this experimental magazine, and they asked the awful ‘tell us something about yourself’ question. Here is my answer:
“When my Mother was weaning me from the bottle, she slowly disposed of all of them until I was down to a single one that I apparently wagged around everywhere. To break me of the bottle once and for all, one day she opened up the screen door and threw my last one out into the back yard. Just as it landed, a stray dog came along and picked it up, then trotted off with it. She said I never gave her any shit about wanting it back.”
I forgot to add the part about how it was my way to pitch fits when I felt strongly about something, but that –even at the tender age of sometime-less-than-two– I know a sign of importance when I see one.
A few years back, my life was in a state that could best be described as ‘high and dry’.
As I started regaining myself, I met a man who was drunk and kind and whose smile had this ridiculous mix of boyishness and let-me-show-you-what-can-happen. We waved hello and goodbye at parties, we played cards at crowded tables heavy with cigarette smoke and laughing drawls. It did not occur to me to date him until one night he said to me, “The next time I see you I’ll be taking you home with me.”
There was a lot of whiskey involved. When I told him of this later –the third or fourth time we slept together, maybe– he sheeted crimson and I shook my head, holding my amusement in check. A smile leaked past my lips but what I really wanted to do was laugh so hard that it shook one of us out of that bed.
We dated for a good while. He had a fair amount of change in his bank account, but we did simple things: We went shooting, we made runs into Georgia for scratch-offs and forties and just for the simple satisfaction of riding some back roads, listening to some good music.
There came a day when he turned to me and said, “Babedoll,
(yes he said babedoll in a way that no fancy movie cowboy will ever, ever be able to nail)
“you like to shoot pool?”
Well do I ever, sir: I owned a pool cue when I was just about chest-high to a table and I wish my dad would have taken me and my sister to a pool hall and hustled the shit out of the patrons with two little toothless ruthless billiard-rounding towheads. Alas, he did not, and we had to satisfy our competitive natures sharking the neighborhood boys who hadn’t got the memo yet (it was forthcoming; this was the late seventies in rural middle America) that Sisters Are Fucking Doing It For Themselves.
“I do indeed enjoy a game or two on the now and again.”
People, I had been such a billiards dork between the ages of seven and twelve that I watched televised matches whenever one was aired.
I found myself being escorted into the local pool hall, which –despite its existence smack dab in the middle of the main street in town– I hadn’t known was there. It was, ah….stealthy and low-key on the outside, but inside was the magic of wide industrial windows facing an alley at the back and high, high tin ceilings. This place had always been a gathering spot and never wanted to be anything else; you could tell.
So we lined up healthy stacks of quarters and played and played; I was the only woman in the place and I was treated well, with respect and deference. At one point we noticed the group of men that had been occupying the other tables were loosely gathered around a television in one corner of the room. We made our way toward them; the televison was older, with rabbit ears and flip dials. It rested on a metal teevee tray, but nobody seemed to be worried that it would tip its perch and explode upon impact with the concrete floor. A flat metal stool that stood nearby held a cup and an ashtray.
The fellas were watching ‘Jeopardy’, flipping quarters into the cup between questions. Trebek would read the answer, and the first person to roll out the correct question won the pot. They were playing with two cups, so that each time a quarter-heavy one was pulled, an empty was put back onto the stool. The game had a rhythm, a frankness, a confidence that was exciting. The cowboy and I hung back at the edge of the group, taking in the scene. Thing about him, well…he was a gambler. He was so good that he likely could have made a living at it.
As we watched, I shot out questions under my breath, knowing ninety percent of them and beating everyone in the room. I was wearing the cowboy’s leather coat, the cuffs of it skimming down around my knuckles. I tapped the tips of my fingers against them when I issued a correct question; I can still feel them rat-tat-tatting, the index and ring fingers of each hand, but mostly my overexcited right. The cowboy began to move his eyes from the television to me and back again, quietly running the numbers in his head.
A week later we went back; in his jacket were two pocketfuls of quarters and Jeopardy started at six on the money. We steered to our previous position; my job was to roll out responses and his job was to pull the cup. Over and over, glory hallelujah, he pulled that cup as I calmly navigated the rounds. My voice was clear and measured where the week before it had been tucked into my chest. I’d had most all the questions. I just hadn’t been speaking them loudly enough to be a competitor.
At the end of the episode, I was given a civil nod from the other players and we found an old Folger’s can to hold what our pockets wouldn’t. We sat later at the kitchen table, rolling and counting. When we were done, he pushed the winnings toward me.
“My God, woman, that was one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. That was one fuck of a lotta fun.” I bit my lip, because my mouth was threatening to melt off with all the smiling, all the smiling.
I feel something happening. Don’t ask me to go into details, because hell if I know that bit.
It occurs to me, though, that I’ve known a fair share of what I’ve needed to all along, and I have been speaking it low and to myself, getting a feel for the rhythm of the game. I’m pretty sure that I’m about to start speaking up and out, pulling quarters and having a fine time.
Sometimes I wake up and I think, “I don’t know who the fuck I am.”
That is what age and wisdom does to you. The more you discover yourself, the less you know who you are. The trick is to get comfortable with being off-kilter most of the fucking time, standing ready in the rocking shift of consciousness. You get to pick from “I am enlightened and tickled about it,” or “I am a nervous fucking wreck.” Some days you’ll swing from one to the other like a big ole meat pendulum, you with your smirking mouth and your weak ankles. But you have a strong back and your bowels work, so there’s that to make up for the other.
Back to this waking up business: You wake up every morning and there is a certain amount of magic and science you expect to be on your side. Most of us are lucky enough that it is a fair deal of the time.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Apparently I have gotten far too comfortable in my life, is what the universe is trying to tell me today, All You Folk.
I don’t know a lot of things. Wait, scratch that. Yes the fuck I do. I know a metric ton of stuff. One of the things I know is that I’m very self-aware (metaMetaMETA!), and I have a good grip on my strengths and weaknesses. Mostimes I am just as liable to tell you the ways in which I’m a sore fuckup as the ways in which I am strong and capable. I try not to make excuses for myself, especially if I’ve engaged in poor behavior. If I can be proud of the good things in my life, I can own the shabby ones, too. I try not to luxuriate in the one or self-flagellate with the other. These are all just things. There are happies and there are sads and graces and contemptuousnesses and all of the other point-counterpoint that life weaves through you. You enjoy the one, you motor through the other. You take a knee where it’s called for and you jump around like a fool where it’s appropriate (and, if you’re like me, sometimes where it’s not).
I like to be in the moment, to wring everything I can out of it. It’s simple, really.
Another thing I know is that your secrets are the very things that will kneecap you and make you worthless. The tighter you hug them to yourself, your burdens, the colder and heavier and more unrelenting they become. They will drag you down without compromise. Some people will tell you to keep your game face on, to always telegraph surety and success. They want you to believe right alongside them that you should never leave your neck exposed, even if it means sacrificing the act of turning your head, craning it for all it’s worth, to look at something amazing like a baby’s laughing mouth or a pretty, unselfconscious woman. You know, things worth exposing your soft meat for.
I can do stoic like nobody’s business. I learned from some of the best. I’m not convinced it’s the best way to live, though.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
I have been sitting here all day fretting. I’m not supposed to tell you that. I was raised by a mother who took on as our family motto the phrase, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” I see where she was going with that, and it was a well-intentioned route, one that encouraged us –my sister and me– to be proactive and not wallow and not have a sense of entitlement. She wanted it to be clear that we were to do our part in our destinies, whatever those may in fact be.
But you know, over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking, and those thinks tell me that “If it is to be, it is up to me” is just a titch arrogant, and inadvertently prideful. It implies that I can do it all on my lonesome….or worse, it implies that I should do it all on my lonesome. So my father actively drilled superiority into our heads while my mom passively did so, even as she touted the good virtue of humility in our hearts. That’s startling. (It also makes me think: “How many didn’t-mean-tos am I responsible for where my own bairns are concerned?” We are all so well-meaning, aren’t we?) If there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I need a tribe. I’m not especially co-dependent, but I am hugely loving and tribesmen bring the lulz and sometimes buy the beer and they let you hug them. Most of them hug back. My tribe doesn’t need to be huge. It just needs to be mine.
I am a tough motherfucker. I can take a shot to the head, no sweat. Depending on who you are, I may taunt you for another (I’m off-kilter but I ain’t dumb) . I can take a verbal bludgeoning and laugh and shake it off later via elaborate voodoo rituals on your person
by knifing your tires
with a rowdy game of darts and your picture,
leaving it be. This is not to say that I don’t believe in being vulnerable, however. I do. I just need to correct myself in the error of thinking that I should have absolute control over where and when I’m vulnerable. I mean, I don’t advocate walking around being a slobbering mess, but what’s the harm of showing armor chinks? I’m sure as shit not afraid of someone seeing me beat my spear on my shield. Truth be told, I don’t even need a spear OR a shield: I have a fearsome haka, just ask anyone who’s seen it.
Hell, ask my husband. I love him the most fiercely of all, and he has seen my most brutal parts and all the weapons that I brandish outwardly, only to turn them inward on myself.
Now then, there is something that the guys with the no-vulnerability mindset and I agree on: Faking it until you make it; I believe in a certain degree of that for sure. I don’t believe in lying. I do believe in saying, “Fuck yeah I can do that,” partly for the other guy in the room, but partly for yourself, too. You gotta hear yourself say that you can do something. You gotta hear those words. Then something in you is beholden to step into them and make them fit, see? Something in you is challenged, awakened, teased out. I believe in challenges, because I’m big on adventure. If you’re not an adventurer, then that’s fine. You can, for instance, believe in challenges because you are a glutton for punishment. Hahaha. (no really)
(I love you. We will get to the end. You can take a pee break or whatever and come back.)
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
A friend tells me that the air conditioning in his house has broken again, almost as an aside in another conversation we are having. I know that when the air goes out he gets sick. I also know that his clients have been slow to pay. I pray for his air to work, both so that he can be well and so he doesn’t have to lay out any more money on that damn unit. He doesn’t know that I am praying. I pray for his wife, who must surely worry and fret over him when he is sick, even though she may not actively show him her worry so as not to cause him any strain. I know this dance; I am a wife.
I pray for life to be less mean for you.
I pray for the doctors to find out what’s going on in your physiological self so that it will stop being an albatross on your spiritual self.
I pray for you to find a job.
I pray that you don’t have to make the shitty choice between medication and shelter, between living and L!I!V!I!N!G!
I pray for those little shitbirds at school to stop bullying your sweet kid.
I pray for you even though you mock people like me, people who pray and believe that it works.
I pray for peace and understanding between you and your family, for them to accept and love, for you to forgive hurts, for unification and joy and laughter around a laden table.
I pray for you to stop being scared of the world, and for it in turn to reward and be good to you.
I pray for your beautiful son, locked in a different self, and for you, because the way you parent him is so big and so lovely and so perfect that you could never, ever fail.
I pray for you to stop believing that lying thing inside you that says you are not enough.
I pray for your trust, your openness, and your ability to receive those things from others in return.
I pray for understanding between us.
….and so on.
I’m pretty bad at asking God for things for myself. I used to be pretty bad at asking a few select people to pray for me, over me, but I’ve gotten better at that. There have been a handful of people praying for me and my family about a specific thing for about a week now.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
Today I sat with myself, dragging myself from task to task until I just finally quit trying to focus on other things and sat frozen, petrified, unable to do anything but cry, even though I hate to cry and I believe that worry is unnecessary things like a) taxing and b) a flavor of abomination. Up and out, right? Crying is the emesis of the soul or some shit and today I just couldn’t quell the spiritual nausea and so I bawled like a tit on and off, using a corner of an old towel I’d torn up for rags as a kleenex.
That! Is how thrifty! And repurposeful! I have become! Behold my prowess! I will never ‘make my own toilet paper’, though. There are leaves and catalogs and corncobs left in the world, my Lord.
Then I reached out tentatively to some more people, willing myself to place in them the trust I know that they are worthy of, because they’ve never shown themselves to be full of anything other than integrity and goodwill. (some of them are full of beer, too: tribesmen)
I told them: There is a very strong chance that we may lose our house. I told them: I need every bit of Spirit you can muster my way. I told them: This is humiliating. This is infuriating. I am on the cusp, on the cusp, but there are still bricks to be shoved into place, and I’ve set enough of them that it makes no kind of sense to turn back. I told them: Maxim’s income has steadily declined. Worse, his morale has steadily declined as he’s had to slash away at the jobs of others. His nerves are taut and he has this stress tic where his jaw clenches and unclenches and I am furious at the state of this country for what it has done to the state of my husband, the state of many of its families. The pigs that stole away with all the lifeboats cannot so much as throw out the stray pair of arm floaties to the drowning masses they’ve helped to shipwreck.
Banks, you see, would rather a corpse be fished out of the drink than aid the able-bodied to survive and swim. They don’t hear you when you tell them, “Um. Ahem. I see rocks ahead,” and ask about preventative measures. They aren’t concerned with the fact that you have dwindled your modest but promising nest egg (YOU HAD NEVER BEEN ABLE TO SAVE BEFORE! IT WAS EXCITING TO SEE THOSE NUMBERS TICK GENTLY UPWARD!). They don’t give a shit that I love that studio up there, the one it took me so long to get. It doesn’t matter to the suits that my dining room is the heart of this house, and that so many amazing things have happened in there. They would just blink at me if I told them how this big ole ambly thing was a literal garbage dump when we found it and although it’s not the Taj Mahal yet, we do a little at a time as we can and everyone but everyone without fail remarks on the easy sense of peace they pick up on when they come into this place. I’m not the only one, you see, with a story like this. They probably don’t even hear the words anymore.
It’s only been a few days since I’ve known the full gravity of our situation and something in me is insistent that I cannot allow it to mow me under. If I keep it a secret, it will.
….and so now I’ve told you, too. I need rooting-for. I need LOUD, SPIRIT-FILLED, YODELING-TRIBE HOLLERING AND STOMPING ON MY BEHAAAAAALLLLF!
Freedom. I am speaking freedom over myself, whatever it turns out to look like. It may have different square footage or even be in a different town, another state altogether. It may be right here where I will bounce fat-cheeked grandbabes on my lap (“this is the way the farmer rides, hobbledy-hoy, hobbledy-hoy”) someday. Whatever. However. I’m asking for you to speak freedom over me, as well. I trust you. I trust you over there with your integrity and your goodwill and your hoping heart inside your rowdy chest.
::: :: ::: :: ::: :: :::
In the last few weeks I have been communicating with someone in a deep and meaningful way. We’ve been pondering on the nature of our respective beliefs and how it’s hard sometimes to be what we are in a world that either misunderstands us or perceives us to be something that we are not; they do so based on a mess of ignorant zealots who act like they don’t know anydamnbetter. We have been awkward and vulnerable and funny with one another. We have been mortifyingly honest, broken, excited to be in the company of someone of the same ilk: “Hi. I’m the fuckup who is here to love you.”
I have never written a truer or more naked assessment of myself: “Hi. I am the fuckup who is here to love you.” See what happens?
Anyway, I shakingly asked for prayers. I got a message back saying, “well. it isn’t a coincidence that I was listening to this when I got your message:”
And no. No it wasn’t. Because that freedom paragraph up there? I’d written it a couple hours before I reached for a hand.
‘Only chain a man can stand / Is that chain of hand in hand /Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on’
Somewhere in the neighborhood of two weeks ago I pinned a photo to one of myPinterestboards (the one entitled ‘loud as words’, where I post up images that are striking or powerful to me). It was this one, an AP file photo shot by Al Steinkopf on 20 December 1940.
The faces it depicts are those of Jewish children living, at that time, in a Polish ghetto (one in Szydlowiec, to be exact) under Nazi occupation.
A few days later I got an e-mail from one of my beloveds, a pocket person from way, waaaay back:
The girl, the defiant girl in the center, slightly unfocused…
She is the maternal grand aunt of my biological father. She is related to me and to him because she was defiant. She stayed in Nazi occupied Poland and helped Jews escape until she was captured in 1943 and sent to Auschwitz. She worked with Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter, until her death.
She was the only member of his family that gave a damn about us after he died. I think I get my devotion from her.
I have dim memories of her.
And her chicken soup recipe.
Her name was Eva. The photograph had struck me, but now –in a very real way– I am connected to one of its subjects.
But yep that’s her. It makes me wonder how many quiet legends are also a nurturing figure in some boy’s room, adjusting his blanket as he stirred in sleep. Just a sense of some indomitable Spirit passing through his life.
That that Spirit may have touched your life is frankly mind blowing. As in physics and metaphysics I can’t comprehend were messing around with us.
And I know it is because I know you, but I would bet real money that she was the one that you identified with. Visually she’s in position to be seen first, but I think she would be seen even if she was obscured by another child.
I’m about to set sail some experiments in my life. One of them involves telling a big story and a central character to that story is your basic snapshot; it has the feel of a good idea’s infrastructure….but we’ll see. Another of them involves the realtime recounting of history in a vibrant and personal way. Something akin to a voyeurnal, but more exacting and more moving. In time I’ll be inviting all of you to come with me, some in more hands-on ways than others.
The longer I live, the more purposeful ‘accidental’ connections seem to become, and they leap out at me more often. I’m there, part of you, and you’re here, part of me. It’s messy and painful and sexy and expansively, terrifyingly wonderful. Take my hand. Let’s go look for the dots so that we can link them up. Then let’s tell everybody who’s not paying attention aaaalllll about them. Let’s feed them Eva’s chicken soup; it’s seasoned with defiance and care.
I am listening to Pure 70’s and I am thinking evil thoughts. I have a sadistic grin on my face as I do all of the above.
In other news, my mom and dad are here. DAMN, what a hoot.
Shall I give you a pat explanation? Okay, you twisted my arm. I will.
For future reference (and past too, for that matter), you should be aware that I call my stepfather ‘dad’. When I refer to my father (a.k.a. ‘Daddy-Warbucks-Who-Ain’t-Gonna-Spend-It-On-Anyone-’Cept-Himself) I am acknowledging He Who Donated Half My Biological Make-Up. Clear on that one, plebes?
So my mom and dad are here. It is always a riot and a half when I spend time with my dad. He is all wry humor and one-liners and they are never repeat one-liners. Fresh material every time. In case you didn’t realize it, that is a strong indicator of a sharp mind/intellect. He is so, so, so clever and that alone makes me love him. It is second only to the marvelous way that he reveres my mother in my list of things to dig about him.
One really funny thing about his visits is the fact that he finds it necessary to undertake a ‘project’ every time he abides under my roof, however brief the stay might be. One time I commented that I hated my cabinet doors and their grody pattern/hardware combo, just sort of offhand, not one of those ‘hint-hint’ comments that you sometimes ply your parents with. Well, I went off to work and when I came home 7.5 hours later, my whole kitchen was sporting new cabinetry. We’re talkin’ a LOT of cabinets here, folks.
Well, my mom and I bundled the toddler for an excursion today. Dad opted to stay at the house, as we would not be gone long. Two eldest chirrens opted for fun and heckling with Papaw. Shortly before mom and bambino and I left, dad says, “Hey hon, what’s this over here?”
Well, he knew damned well it was our new satellite dish, which had not been installed yet. I have 4 boxes still packed in the hallway and I have explained to my husband that I’ll be fucked if the satellite dish goes up before those boxes get unpacked and I get a Christmas tree put up. SO, he has conveniently stayed just busy enough to avoid putting said dish up (and, AHEM, to unpack those last 4 boxes). We don’t watch much boob tube anyhow, so no big deal.
“It’s our satellite dish, dad….we’ve not had time to mess with it.”
“Hmm.” he says knowingly, nodding at the same time. Mom and I look at each other and smirk as he busily observes the box and its contents. “Go find Papaw a hammer, son,” he says to my oldest boy. “Sis, go get our coats,” he says to my daughter. “Typical.” says my mother. We leave.
We come back two hours later to feed him and children and find that he has moved the dish all over the yard and is not getting the proper signal. “96 or better!” is his battle cry on this particular day. I remark that the 74 that he has been consistently getting is suitable enough. He gives me that “You blame crazy woman” look and I go in to rustle up some grub.
Mom and I leave again as he is departing for Radio Shack. More cable seems to be the mission. He is also muttering something about azimuths and global trajectories….who the fuck knows?
When we return two MORE hours later, my son is observing something, perplexed, in a mirror image of his granddad. My daughter, Little Miss Tattle Pants, marches to the car and expertly informs us, “Not done. Don’t ask.” Mom and I decide an afternoon nap is in order and go into the house to tuck the baby in.
One gossip session, two cups of cocoa, and a start of dinner later, the dish was installed. At 8:30 CST tonight, we re-joined the world of digital television reception.
Thanks, dad. I like the ways you convey your love to me. I adore you and I couldn’t have hand-picked a better man for my mom. And for me. And for my children. You embody what a good man should be.