I Will Do My Best to be Who She Thinks I Am

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.

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Yeah, Yeah, I’m Supposed to Be “Glowing”.

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.

Who knows…

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.

sad sack selfie

Summer Bread Baking: Part 1

Summer is my favorite season. Tomatoes, berries, stone-fruit, salad, cold wine, days that stretch from 5am to 10pm (at least in the Pacific Northwest), bare skin, swimming, barbecues, sunshine. I’d rather be hot than cold; I’ll take sweaty and sluggish over frost-nipped and shivering any day.

me ayla ice cream

And yet, this year, it’s a little more challenging: As of today, June 12th, 2015, I’m 30 weeks pregnant (that’s 7-and-a-half months for you non-preggos). I’m bigger than I have ever been in my life, my blood-volume has almost doubled, everything is hard. And I am hot.

Opening the three windows that actually open in my apartment doesn’t accomplish much beyond letting in the aromas of vehicle exhaust and my neighbor’s overflowing ashtray, baking in the sun. At night, I’m down to just a sheet, promptly kicked off.

The upshot of this is that I really, really don’t want to turn on the oven. This is problematic, since my summer diet is fairly sandwich-centric, and I’m getting really sick of mediocre store-bought bread. Don’t get me wrong: Seattle is replete with good bakeries. But nice bread is expensive, I’m more squeamish about dumpster-diving in my present condition, and the artisanal hearth-loaves that make such exquisite toast often fall short when it comes to sandwich-making.

When I looked at the weather forecast (which I do obsessively) and discovered that today was only supposed to hit 68 degrees, I jumped at the chance to make bread.

sponge

Bread baking, unlike many other kinds of baking, is not an exact science. I relish the opportunity to add a little of this, a little of that, and to vary my rise times. Today, I decided to make a large batch, fermented in several stages. I started with a wet sponge: a couple quarts of lukewarm water, a mix of all purpose and whole wheat flours, and about 1 ½ teaspoons of yeast. I let that sit for a couple of hours until it was bubbly, then added more flour, ground flax seeds, and salt. I kneaded the resulting dough to smooth elasticity while listening to an archived episode of This American Life.

i love flax seeds

dough

kneading

Lacking a bowl large enough to let the dough rise, I resorted to a stock pot; miraculously, it fit in the fridge. (I wanted to keep the dough cold to allow for a long, slow rise in order to develop more flavor—and so I could hold off on baking until nightfall!)

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I’m going to proof and bake my loaves later this evening. Heck, as long as the oven’s on, maybe I’ll even make a pie…

Please don’t take my pastry away.

I wanted to avoid medicalization of my pregnancy. I’ve chosen to work with midwives, to give birth outside of a hospital setting, and, as far as possible, to avoid interventions.

Now I’m sitting at my midwives’ office, just having chugged a foul, cherry-flavored syrup, feeling betrayed.

During the routine screening for gestational diabetes (GD) they gave me at 28 weeks, my blood glucose measured 139—over the cut-off of 130.

The only risk factor I have for GD is being over the age of 25. Everything else—my ethnic background, family history, and BMI—puts me solidly in the “low risk” category. According to my research, 3-14% of women develop GD during pregnancy. Of those women, 40-60% have no risk factors.

I could go on. I’ve been drowning in percentages and probabilities for the last few days, scouring medical journals and pregnancy forums (fora?) and WebMD. My (perhaps ill-advised) internet trawling only led to increased confusion and anxiety. Last night, I dreamed of the test.

After finding out that I *might* have GD, I reduced my consumption of carbohydrates dramatically and completely eliminated added sugar and refined grains from my diet. I’ve felt envy and resentment and something approaching grief upon seeing anyone eating pastry or an ice cream cone. It’s certainly much healthier to avoid refined sugars and starches, even for people who don’t have diabetes. But, if I’m honest, that wasn’t my real motivation: I was hoping (irrationally) to influence the test.

Now I’m sitting at home, eating granola with fresh strawberries from the farmer’s market and organic, non-homogenized, grass-fed whole milk (which I’ve learned, since embarking on my hypothetical-diabetes journey, actually contains a fair amount of carbohydrate in the form of lactose). It’s delicious.

They told me today at the midwives’ office that they weren’t worried about me; that the three hour test was essentially insurance to prevent my baby from being immediately whisked away in the unlikely event of a hospital transfer and treated as if it had been born to a diabetic mother.

I’m all for minimizing risk, but being consumed with anxiety for several days, then forgoing food, drinking a toxic-looking beverage made with 100 grams of glucose, and sitting still for three hours felt distinctly unhealthy. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t necessary, probably for the best, etc. I just really, really didn’t like it.

I probably will try to be more conscious of my diet now (although I’m certainly no slouch when it comes to healthy eating), replacing my beloved conventional pasta with whole-wheat and eating smaller portions of it, cutting down on my gelato consumption, upping my protein intake.

Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get good news tomorrow; I don’t want to be petulant when my partner tells me he made peach pie at work. And although sugar is the nutritional boogey-man du jour… YOLO.

Everything in moderation, including moderation... right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)
Everything in moderation, including moderation… right? (Goat cheesecake with blueberries <3)

Hi, I’m Back

I wasn’t chastened into silence by the Seahawk’s Superbowl loss (although, at the risk of sounding like a total chump, I will admit to having shed a couple tears).

What did lead me to stop writing (as I’ve done many times before, though never, perhaps, for so long a duration) was a combination of things: the self-reinforcing cycle of failure to produce, which eventually calcifies into a habit of defeat. Pure and simple laziness. And, probably most of all, pregnancy.

It’s almost as if the generative processes occurring within my body obviated those that may have occurred outside of it, all of my creative energy bound up in the creation of a tiny human. It’s weird. And hard to write about. This state that’s been the central fact of my life these last seven months has defied exploration via the usual channels (prose, poetry, drawing). Even my journal has been barren.

At first, it was easily justified, explained away by the intensity of my condition. Although being pregnant is pretty damn normal, that doesn’t diminish the world-shaking significance of the experience. So I gave myself some slack (see the “Resignation” post a couple of entries ago).

It’s time to begin again, though I don’t quite know where to start. So I’ll just start with this.