I’m at a loss. There is too much to process, to metabolize, to grieve. I’ve been meaning to write something about the election disaster for a long time, but I haven’t had it in me. I’ve cried, I’ve marched, I’ve called law-makers; but I haven’t been able to write about what happened until now.
My last few attempts at posting were made while my son was napping, or sort of napping, and were about his naps (or lack thereof). But describing the minutia of our sleep travails (suffice it to say that they have been many and excruciating) has gotten really boring. And, while it’s not inconceivable that someone, somewhere might want to read about them – I’ve certainly drawn comfort from other people’s accounts of a baby who only naps while being nursed/held/rocked/worn in a sling in a pitch-dark 71 degree room while their parent does squats and recites The Iliad from memory – I’m sick of writing about them. So, I’m going to at least try to write about something else. (Although, at the risk of jinxing this miraculous event, my son is, at this moment, asleep; in his crib!)
So. Hi! It’s been a while. In the time that has elapsed between this and my last post, I’ve experienced the sublime agony of childbirth, become a mother, moved in with my parents, and reacquainted my liver with alcohol. I’ve made a buche de noel, savory phyllo pies, a Swedish tea ring, chocolate truffles, a Sachertorte, and innumerable cookies, breads, cakes, and pies. (Baking and eating are strong contenders for my favorite pastimes; although I style myself an artist, I probably spend ten hours cooking for every one drawing.)
Over the past (almost six!) months, I’ve exulted in my baby’s smiles, blamed myself for his sleep difficulties, and learned why it’s so damned hard to write about the love you feel for your child in anything other than unctuous cliches. I’ve experienced a previously unimaginable fixation on another person’s poop. I’ve discovered the wonders of breastfeeding and the joys of babywearing.
I’ve also listened to a lot of Brian Eno on Youtube (it’s great nap music). According to my demographic profile, Youtube thinks I wear makeup, which I guess I do – but it’s confined to a single tube of lipstick, a mascara that I bought five or six years ago, and a little 99 cent thing of gold glitter. I am not what you would call “in the market” for Maybelline’s “The Rock Nude” eyeshadow palette (do they have The Rock‘s blessing for this travesty?). That doesn’t stop this one particular ad from popping (I initially typed “pooping,” which isn’t much off the mark) all over my video feed.
Why do I hate this ad so?
Let’s start with the obvious: in no way can these colors be considered “nude.” There is, granted, the deep blue of dark circles under under a light-skinned person’s eyes after an all-nighter. But, last I checked, human skin doesn’t come in metallic purple or silver. So, why nude? Annoying.
Next up: the nauseating voice-over. “Dare to Rock. Nuuuuude,” intones a female voice as cloying as margarita mix from a pouch. I gather that this voice is meant to be scintillating, to make me feel adventurous and frisky and incite me to put on my tiniest skirt and most towering heels in the endless quest for beefy, Axe-scented manflesh. But its syrupy. sing-song artificiality is essentially sexed-up motherese. Ew.
Finally: I gather that the waifish, vacant-eyed teen models are supposed to represent an all-female band who Dares! To Rock! I know that makeup is aspirational, that advertisers are selling fantasy, blah blah blah. But seriously? What, exactly, is so daring about caking on makeup designed to maximize your conformity to an oppressively narrow standard of beauty? How is it rock n’ roll to flaunt a socially acceptable body in revealing clothes? The women in this ad, far from fierce and sexy rock n’ roll badasses, are mere props, ciphers embodying a flat, cookie-cutter beauty, a bland and bloodless sensuality calibrated to the male gaze.
I’m not impervious to artifice, nor immune to aspiration: I can be (and am) moved by conspicuous displays of hotness. Every image of Grimes, for instance, makes me want to do something wild with my hair and abandon my earth tones and simple lines for the dadaist flamboyance she wears so well. Perusing Beyonce’s instagram account makes me lust, I’m sorry to say, after the lush opulence of her fabulous life. And I’m sure that I’m affected by advertising. And yet, the mockery that this ad makes of women in rock and roll really chafes. The rich domain of music is thickly peopled with brilliant, innovative, weird women. People who defied the misogyny of rock and roll culture and mainstream society to create on their own terms. I know that “authenticity” is a very slippery concept, and that folks have been co-opting and sanitizing rebellion since before Constantine took up the cross. But still… this ad absolutely galls me.
And now my poor babe is awake and screaming. See ya!
I love bones. There’s something exceptionally pleasing about the way they feel in your hand, their smooth surfaces and occasionally jagged edges, their curves and swirls. I love their blankness, their lightness, their simultaneous earthiness and ethereality.
When I visited my old home in Colorado in April, my partner asked me to bring him something that could only be found there (“not a rock”).
I brought him some heirloom beans from the Adobe Milling Co. and a smudge stick made from sage I harvested on my grandparents’ property. I also gathered bones. On a walk around the old settlers’ road with my friend and her three kids, we happened upon what I guessed was a scattered rabbit skeleton. As I squatted to collect the bones, the kids helped, picking up tiny vertebrae and placing them gently in my hands.
“It’s a bunny skeleton,” I said.
A moment passed, and Preston, age 3, asked, “Are you making a bunny?”
After I returned home, the bones languished in a wooden box for a couple of months before I felt sufficiently creatively energized to make the mobile I’d imagined. Per my partner’s request, I wanted to make something really special, crafted as an emblem of my love, and as a testament to the enduring magic of the fragrant, sky-suffused high desert landscape that’s one of my favorite places on earth.
As well as Southwest bones and rocks, I incorporated Northwest moss and driftwood, in a union between desert and sea, dry and wet, here and there.
Today I started my morning with part of a Cupcake Royale raspberry pavlova cupcake (vanilla cake, raspberry sauce, lemon buttercream, meringue, delicious) that I’d saved from the night before, and a cup of hot black coffee. In bed. It felt so right.
The coffee, incidentally, was decaffeinated: not because I’m 36 week pregnant (it’s generally accepted that moderate caffeine consumption is just fine during pregnancy), but because I’m extremely sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Anything more than a single cup of black tea makes my heart pound unpleasantly and turns me into a jittery, anxious mess.
It’s a cliché for mainstream coffee drinkers to sniff “what’s the point?” when reminded of decaf’s existence. My partner once mistook this for acceptable banter when I ordered a decaf Americano, resulting in a fight during which I called him a dick in front of the mortified barista (we laughed about it later). Recently, I remarked to a veteran barista friend that I liked a certain coffee shop because I didn’t feel like they were judging me for ordering decaf. “Oh,” she assured me, “they’re judging you.”
But why? Caffeine is a drug, the effects of which don’t agree with some people. I’ve been a caffeine drinker in the past, but after I quit cold-turkey in an effort to address my night bruxism (aka tooth grinding/jaw clenching; it helped, somewhat), my tolerance plummeted. To this day, I reserve anything more than the relatively tiny amounts found in tea, chocolate, or decaf coffee for emergency situations (solo road trips, deadlines that require all-nighters – of which there are mercifully few these days). There are simply those of us who want to enjoy the taste of coffee without corresponding ill-effects.
I’ve heard it said on many occasions that people like me should just avoid coffee, because, you see, no one could possibly enjoy the taste of decaf. That’s news to me: I happen to like it. Admittedly, my taste in coffee is not very sophisticated. I’ve worked as a barista and received training that enabled me to understand the nuances of coffee roasted with restraint. I can appreciate the floral, citrusy, or herbaceous complexity of a single-origin shade-grown light-roast pour-over. But I still prefer the robust, earthy, pedestrian (okay, haters, burnt) flavor of a good dark roast. And, let’s face it – when you’re roasting coffee beans to a charred crisp anyway, the flavor differences between regular and decaf are negligible. There are even some roasters who do a pretty good job with their decaf beans.
Why should anyone care whether I have shit taste in coffee? Does that make me less of a person? I like what I like – why is that a problem for you? The only conclusion that makes sense is insecurity. Why else would anyone be in the business of policing someone else’s preferences?
As a server, I always liked it when someone had the chutzpah to ask for ice cubes with their wine. And if someone wants their steak cooked well-done, or wants to put ketchup on said steak, what business of it is mine?
An apparent lack of sophistication in others stirs up anxieties about the parts of ourselves that may be underdeveloped, unformed, or simply out of step with what the culture considers “cool.” A truly secure person (I’m not necessarily claiming this designation for myself!) has no need to pass judgment on the aesthetic preferences of others. A truly secure person doesn’t waste time scrutinizing someone else’s taste. A truly secure person says (and means) “right on: you do you.”
So, even when I’m no longer pregnant, I’ll still enjoy my decaf, listen to corny 90’s country music, wear brown and black together, and dip my fries in my milkshake. Snobs be damned.
She was sitting on a huge concrete block in the wide gravel no-man’s-land that constitutes a parking lot for shipyard employees, as well as a micro-neighborhood of people who live in old RV’s. I was thinking about where I would shelter if The Big One hit right then. There was a reasonable amount of open space, free from hazards like utility poles and power lines; but the soil in the area, as I’d just learned from a color-coded map, is highly susceptible to liquefication, and I was beneath a slope that would surely collapse into a tree-and-building-laden landslide in the event of magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Bad news.
(I’ve been anxiously fixating on the danger our region faces from a massive earthquake since I read this New Yorker article yesterday. As much as I like to think that I have a deep acceptance of impermanence and the inevitability of death, the thought of being in immediate peril from a natural disaster is horrifying. Strangely, even before reading about the Cascadia subduction zone, I’d been experiencing a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of those who, like me, exist in the complacent ease of relative peace and prosperity. The truth is, it could shatter at any moment. I’d been having vivid fantasies of what it would be like to be involved in a large-scale catastrophe—like the mega-quake we’ve been promised.)
She was sucking on a vaporizer, and Ayla bounded up to greet her.
“You’re such a nice person. Wow. You’re gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous, wow.” She traced the contours of an imaginary pregnant belly.
“Thanks,” I replied. “You’re very sweet.”
“No, I’m not sweet! It’s true! You’re gorgeous. I am so happy for you. You’re going to be amazing.”
I smiled and thanked her, a little bemused, but flattered. As I walked away, she exclaimed,
“Yes. Yes, thank God!” I wondered what she meant, and surmised that she was glad someone as great as she clearly assumed I was was having a child.
When I was about 100 yards distant, she called out, “What’s your name?”
I yelled a reply, but she couldn’t hear, and started running towards me on sock feet. Ayla turned around and raced towards her, and I followed.
I repeated my name, and she launched into an impromptu paean to my beauty, kind-heartedness, loving nature, and overall greatness.
“Your energy is so beautiful! Look at the sunset. Look at it! That’s the energy I see inside you. You have so much love in your heart. You’re going to have a beautiful baby son. Can I give you a big hug? Or just a little hug?”
I assented. She smelled strongly of booze and there was a dampness of sweat between her shoulder blades. A small red bruise showed on her slender arm, and she had a Chinese character that may have been a tattoo but looked like a pen drawing in the center of her chest.
As I walked away, she began to weep.
“You’re going to be a great mother! I’m SO glad I met you. Namaste. What’s your sign?”
“Aries,” I said.
“I’m a Capricorn,” she said, and bowed, forearms drawn together in front of her face. “I love you. I love you. I love you so much!” She sobbed.
Needless to say, it was an affecting encounter. One could as easily dismiss her words as the illogical, and entirely unfounded, ramblings of a drunk. After all, I’m in the habit of dismissing (okay, attempting to dismiss) the nastiness directed my way by strangers who know nothing of me: the guy whose road rage prompted him to label me a “dumbass,” for instance. The screwed up thing is that his entirely unreasonable assessment precipitated a full-fledged emotional melt-down: Whereas the casual cruelty of strangers confirms what I suspect about myself (that I am bad, unworthy, stupid, etc.), the (often far more intense) avowals of my goodness that random people occasionally heap upon me make less of an impact. I don’t really believe them.
“She doesn’t know me,” I thought. “Where is she getting all of this?” Also: “She’s drunk.”
I’ve been feeling great guilt about bringing a child into a world that seems more frightening and unstable by the day. I feel selfish and foolhardy; even though I know that I did my due diligence in trying to prevent my pregnancy, I sometimes question whether it was morally correct to continue it. I question my ability to parent, my fitness to steward a vulnerable life, and even my capacity for love, on a daily basis.
But this evening’s encounter was a ray of hope. The total belief of a complete stranger in my essential goodness, her fulsome praise of my very being, her jubilation at my fruitfulness, buoyed my belief in myself. It made me think that maybe I can be a good, even a great, parent. That perhaps my existence is not a net loss for the world, and that, rather than hastening its demise, I might actually be contributing to society by raising a wonderfully compassionate and effective human.
And it took my mind off the Earthquake.
My apartment is an equatorial swamp.
Inside, I lose my sense of time, watching Netflix and reading fiction like I have the flu. Ayla sprawls in the corner, torpid and immobile; every once in a while I glance over to make sure she’s still breathing. The blue ice I press against my neck, the fan, the copious water I drink, bring negligible relief.
My lassitude is self-perpetuating, and I’m feeling like an invalid. But to return my library books, to go to the store for popsicles and watermelon, to walk Ayla, to leave the stifling box that is my home, is too great an effort.
So I slump awkwardly on the couch, neck twisted painfully, nauseous from thirst, though my belly is quivering with water.
At least it’s summer 😀
My life is no longer my own.
This fragile, needy entity growing inside my body will henceforth circumscribe every part of my existence until I am dead.
Even as I experience physical changes—flesh meeting in unfamiliar places, a new creakiness and frailty in my joints, unaccustomed heaviness and slowness—I’m aware that they’re nothing to the other changes that are imminent.
Insofar as I’ve ever had a stable sense of identity, it’s been wrapped up in feelings of isolation and aloneness that sometimes occasion bitter sadness, but just as often a fierce and exuberant sense of possibility.
Since my family never pressured me to achieve anything more concrete than “happiness,” my disappointment with myself has revolved around my failure to make art, to achieve financial security, to write prolifically enough. Still, I’m fine! I’m not incarcerated or destitute or friendless or miserable. The crushing sense of failure I’ve often experienced has been largely a function of too much time and analysis, too little grace.
From now on, though, things will be different. My failures will have the potential to damage a tender and porous little human for whom I am responsible. It’s terrifying to think of the power I’ll have. I want to purge myself of every particle of dysfunction so as to protect my child and insure that I won’t hurt them. But even if I could accomplish this (and I can’t)—the world will hurt them. How will I cope with that failure?
Even as I reflect on my hopes and fears about parenthood, it still seems very abstract. I don’t feel like a mother yet, and I can’t relate on any level to the women who write gushy letters to their unborn children, signed “mommy,” and accompanied by a photo of a beaming woman next to a cutesy chalkboard illustration of the vegetable or fruit to which her fetus is supposedly comparable in size.
What is not abstract is my feeling of loss. Loss of autonomy, of youth, of the ability to be willfully irresponsible, of aloneness.
Of course, this would all occur sooner or later, with or without children. Maybe the sense of isolation at my core, the origin of which I could never quite determine (was it self-imposed? An intrinsic feature of my character? An indicator of maladjustment? A combination of factors?) is, as much as it feels like an essential part of me, an unwholesome and ultimately poisonous indulgence.
But today, I grieve the loss of the fantasy that I answer only to myself, that I can do anything I want to do at any time, that I can abdicate all responsibility and just disappear. That I can be really, truly, alone.