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.

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Crushin’

His feet are filthy, dirt in various shades of brown coating the soles in a mottled patchwork, the nails longish and jagged. I want to touch them.

I’m eager to impress and aware of it. I watch myself, amused, as I try to sound smart, to act nonchalant, to rein in my eagerness and play it cool. Is it working? I can’t tell.

I feel obvious, foolish. I want to break free of the game, of the need to put on a show, and instead be completely genuine.

Ah, but where’s the fun in that?

Perhaps it would open a realm more worthwhile than mere “fun.” I can hear K telling me as much.

People fetishize the concept of “life.” I see it manifest in a couple of ways:

1. The idea of life as interesting and noteworthy in of itself, i.e., life on Mars (microbial, whatever).

2. The idea of [human] life as somehow “sacred,” imbued with divine essence.

These views seem to be often at odds. I’m thinking at the moment of environmental degradation, the cataclysmic changes that are occurring as the result of human activity on the planet.

It seems like those who believe the earth was created to be our pleasure garden should want to preserve it in a state as close to original creation as possible, whereas those who believe that all life, simply because it is alive, incredibly, through a confluence of circumstances far from inevitable, would shrug and say, “life persists.”

But in practice it’s often the opposite.

I was thinking about astrology a minute ago, the idea of planetary phenomena causing (or, depending on your school of thought, merely predicting/correlating with) outcomes in human affairs. I think it arises out of a desire to feel connected, at home in the universe. To know oneself, not as pathetic and arbitrary and alienated, but as an integral player in the world, no matter how small the role.

I like the concept of fractals. Echoes of the big in the small, the minute in the vast. The way clouds mimic fossilized swirls of primordial mud. I believe that this phenomenon extends into the realm of ideas and feelings. From the individual all the way up to the cultural, and eventually, the collective unconscious, the Noosphere: The struggles and misapphrehensions and surges of insight and passion and madness that occur on the individual level also happen at the group level.

I want to believe he’s watching me, even though he’s not. It’s a titillating fiction, to think of him gazing out the window upon me unfolded on this rickety lounge chair, writing in my little notebook. The thought of being desired by someone you desire is catnip for the ego.

Running my fingertips over my thigh, I feel how it is both soft and rough. Soft to someone else, maybe, who’s used to the coarse bristles and tough skin of their own masculine leg. Rough to me, because I know each scuff and burl, each little eczema patch and inflamed hair follicle.

Its okay that I’m not all that good at drawing. It’s okay that I take off my shirt to sun my belly, wanting to not give a fuck, then think about putting it back on, giving a fuck after all.

Life’s like a lucid dream: We wake up when we die, and none of this will matter.

I don’t much like your tattoos, but I do like the warm rankness of your flesh, the raw grassy smell of your sweat.

Breaks in the clouds like veins through marble.

Sometimes you just gotta make out with a tree.

The fact that there is injustice in the world doesn’t absolve you from exercising common sense.