The liquor store down the street caught fire. It has a diorama on top of it of a little house and chimney with a half-circle of smoke clouds, trees and a white picket fence. It’s called the House of Spirits and Max always says he needs to take a Rolleiflex of its charms. There is a sign in front of it now that reads “Close For Now”. The exterior looks oddly like it’s old self, but the interior is ruins, charred and empty.
Jackie introduced me to this haiku after the fire at their farmhouse…
Barn's burnt down --
I can see the moon.
It was written by a 17th century Japanese poet and samurai, Mizuta Masahide, who studied medicine and words. There is something about writers who study medicine, I am thinking of Chekhov, that make words suit life and life reverberate in words. It’s an alchemy they achieve, a diagnosis of how things are, an anatomical romance with the world.
I was supposed to be a home-owner and a mom by now. I was supposed to be out of debt from graduate school. I was supposed to be the star of a popular TV show and have a successful film career. I was supposed to have written a book and started a podcast. I was supposed to be bilingual, well-traveled, better read and in general more accomplished. I was supposed to make a lot of people a lot happier than they are and I was supposed to have a flatter stomach and whiter teeth and more toned arms. I was supposed to discover deeper truths about humanity and life and massage those truths into my work as an artist. I was supposed to carry less burdens and stand up straighter and eat less saturated fats and wear more color. I was supposed to use fewer plastic cups and paper plates and buy less cheap clothing and volunteer a lot more. I was supposed to rest easier and do a lot less waiting for things to turn around and I’ve complained, judged and succumbed to fear way more than I was supposed t...
My nephew Graham is a smart and inspiring person. Over the holidays, he planned a kickball tournament for his friends, family and neighbors because he’s really fun and has great ideas but also because he wanted to get better at playing kickball. He planned a tournament so he could practice. So instead of making goals or resolutions for this new year, I want to be like my cool nephew and practice the following things I want to become better at:
1. Kickball. Or any fun, not too serious group sport that gathers people I love together to play and run around outside.
2. Doing things. I think about doing things a lot and I want to do less thinking about doing things and more doing them.
3. Spending quality time alone. I am going to be away from my home and my partner for a few months this spring and I am dreading it. I hope I can date myself while I am away and enjoy the silly subtlety of my own company.
Our third night in Kauai, we go to the southwest shore of the island to watch the sunset. We find a cove where families sit on blankets and dogs chase driftwood and a sense of calm prevails. We watch the day saturate with pink and orange and the tide recede. The moored boats lilt and bob. My new husband smiles and closes his eyes to feel the last of the sun on his face.
We walk around the cove and discover a slab of black volcanic rock teeming with crabs, mussels and plankton. Where the ocean meets the rock, the island, the earth, there is a family fishing. The father and the older son crouch to harvest bait but the other boy, the boy that is Graham’s age, maybe not even ten years old, has a fishing pole and is casting.
The sun drops to just about horizon level. It is a tangerine; it is a bowl firing in a kiln. It is God’s blushing cheek and the burning heart of this day. I feel like the orange ball teases us honeymooners,...
Six more weeks of engagement; it is so sweet. Friends and family continue to celebrate our love to the hilt with awesome generosity. If the wedding is half as lovely as the run-up has been, we will soar with happiness. I dream almost every night about the actual day. In the dreams, things go awry, people get angry or disappointed, timing is all wrong and the salad doesn’t taste good. It is fascinating – amidst all this joy – how the mind supplies worry and how the subconscious decorates it.
But engagement is a bigger word than worry – literally more letters and syllables. It means active commitment, being in gear, built into or attached to another part, being occupied, a betrothal. I’ve spent plenty of time being engaging– charming and attracting people to me, smiling and saying the right thing. Engagement feels altogether different from that. There’s a seriousness to it – like honing musculature and reason for nearness...
My dog Vincent is scared of the hardwood floors in our house – or at least he is scared when he remembers to be scared. Sometimes he forgets the web of danger he has spun and maneuvers the house stress-free, but most of the time the floor is lava.
Ironically, he is also head of security, but that’s only the exterior of the house. The interior is another ball game. The floor is always out to get him; it is slippery, suspicious and cunning and it makes him feel small. This wasn’t always the case. When the stork dropped baby Vincent at our house (he’s our actual sonas Max says), he wasn’t afraid of the floor. He didn’t have any problem navigating from room to room. But he had other bigger dangers to occupy his mind: is this my forever home? Are these people going to love and cherish me always or only until the next family comes along?
At this point in Vincent’s life, he’d already been through a consider...
I am on a call list or twenty. It happens four times a day; the phone lights up, grabs my attention and discerns, “Scam Likely”, above a number I don’t recognize. I wish my brain offered the same provision about my thoughts. I can think my way into a hole. Do you do this? It’s been a life-long companion, sometimes as indiscriminate as my shadow and darkening. I framed a greeting card and put it above the bathroom sink that reads, you don’t give yourself enough credit. So far it hasn’t stopped the unwanted calls that try and sell me bad goods, but at least it’s in writing and the frame adds import. Such a small word, credit, but hard to hold.
In a week where a lot of news landed that wasn’t optimal, my phone and brain illuminated with unwanted chat. I’ve heard yoga teachers call it “monkey brain”, where you are attempting to settle your mind in meditation but instead it starts swinging from branches and hurling bananas. Honestly, monkeys...
Cautious optimism is a marvelous contradiction. I split my time between robust positivity and “the sky is falling” trepidation and fear. The idea that I can be both at the same time, that I can be cautiously optimistic, is a uniquely human conceit. I exercise caution and expand into optimism, separate rivers running side by side in me that fork in reality where perception is irrelevant and living happens.
As for my optimism, it is like music swelling. I look around at all the evidence of beauty and favor in my life and think, “it’s all coming, it’s all possible.” I feel fluttery and curious like a baby waking up from a solid afternoon nap. I’m giddy with expectation as the story of my successes waltz around my brain. Do you remember when you were five years old and your body moved all the time for pleasure? At that age, I loved pushing off the couch and kicking my feet up into the air, like a foal. That ecstatic,...
The birds agree: this is the shit bench. How do they choose? A bird caucus? Does one bird run for office and get elected campaigning for said bench? I don’t know, but it appears unanimous. This is the shit bench. Shit here. This is where the shitting happens. It is good to shit on this bench.
I am reminded of a Chinese proverb: Keep a green tree in your heart and a singing bird may come. Seems true. Your heart can house almost anything; a tree, a flame, a jealousy, a person, or a bench where shit piles up and hardens in the sun.
It can happen - hours, days, the occasional dazzlingly awful week - when I discover I am sitting at the proverbial shit bench, accumulating thoughts that I elucidate with past hurts and fears to – I don’t know – relish the stench.
I’d rather not sit on the shit bench but it has an allure. Asking the unanswerable questions often lands me there: What is wrong with the world? With me? With humanity? Why can’t I get ahead...
I’m already running late because I can't get my bangs to curl the right way. My dad is losing patience and says, "Megan, NOW." We get outside and I have the nerve to ask him if I can drive to school. I have my learner's permit. He obliges because he's a nice dad and hands me the keys to his teal Saturn.
I start to back out of our unpaved driveway. Did I grab my lunch? Will Logan Pause sit next to me in Algebra class? Does this sweatshirt look too bulky? I look into the rearview mirror: Are my bangs curling under? Now I look next to me: is dad going to give me the silent treatment the whole way to school? Then, SLAM, CRUNCH, SHIT. Dad yells, "Jesus Christ". I can't even calculate what's happened. Behold, the left side-view mirror dangles like a dystopian Christmas ornament, a festoon of my teenage carelessness.
"Get out of the car."
I did and now the drive to school is DEADLY quiet, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea quiet. I'm rehearsin...