Month: November 2015

Giving (in) to Resistance

Lately I’ve been writing less and sleeping more. Nighttime arrives at my house and my children, naked from their baths, chase each other around the house. They are full of joy and it’s my job to curb them. I must wrestle a diaper on Stump. I must remind Smoke dozens of times to brush his teeth. I must say things like “Please do not engage your brother right now.”

By the time we climb into bed for books, it’s been dark for at least three hours. I read a book or two or three, or sometimes the same book three times and then I turn out the light. “Tell a story,” Stump says, and Smoke cheers as he climbs into his top bunk. They listen while I make up some string of events about dragons or sharks or Sponge Bob that only counts as a story if you’re applying the loosest possible criteria. One thing happens and then another thing happens. At some point the things stop happening and I begin to fade into sleep. “Tell rest of the story,” Stump whispers. I wake up enough to continue by stringing on yet another random event. I pause again, but Stump is insistent. “Tell rest of the story.” As far as Stump is concerned, the bedtime story is never over.

The story is never over, but at some point I’m off the hook because he’s tired enough, or because I tell him “I don’t want to talk anymore.” And then I do something that I wouldn’t have done a month ago. I lie there, and it’s so warm beneath the covers, and I can hear both of my children breathing, and I just can’t imagine getting up. I don’t want to read my own book, or write a new blog post, or watch something grown-up and funny on TV. I just want to lie there, half asleep, and give in to how tired I am.

320px-FMIB_44178_Dog_of_Chum_Salmon--O_Keta

I was twenty-three when I decided that writing was a thing that I wanted to do. I bought a computer and set up a desk in a small heated room in our shed. I picked out a color for the walls—tangerine—and Kellie painted the room for me. Every day I sat down to write and about five minutes in, after I had my tea just so and my document open, I would be hit with a sudden wave of fatigue. How could I possibly write when I so badly needed to nap? This sleepiness felt so real that at first I took it seriously. Was I getting sick? Did I have an immune disorder? But over time, I came to recognize it as a friend—the kind who drops in uninvited at an inconvenient time. That friend’s name is Resistance.

Here’s the thing. I wanted to write. I wanted nothing more than to write. It’s just that also: I didn’t want to write.

320px-FMIB_44178_Dog_of_Chum_Salmon--O_Keta

For Thanksgiving this year, we were planning to drive to our cabin. For weeks I looked forward to it. Getting there would be a bitch, it always is. Packing for a weekend away from civilization is daunting. Driving for seven hours with two kids in the back seat is daunting. Imagining days away from phones and internet is daunting. But I know from experience that we get there and start the fire and make the beds and watch the sky and very quickly it all becomes worth it.

Except this time, this Wednesday night as I darted from room to room putting things in bags, I found that I could not keep packing because I was crying. Nothing in particular was wrong. I just had so much to pack and my brain couldn’t focus. I would go to pack the toothbrushes, and start to worry that I’d forget the flour. I couldn’t imagine being finished, and I couldn’t imagine waking before dawn and hauling my children into a cold and unlit truck.

“Do you want to not go?” Kellie asked me.

“I want to go,” I insisted. I wanted mountains and snow and quiet. I wanted all of my life’s screens and beeps and notifications to go away. And besides, our friend Dee had left this morning. She’d be waiting for us.

My phone rang. It was Dee. She had driven six hours, had made it to our dirt road in the dark, had driven over old snow for the first half mile and then attempted to drive up the first steep hill. Her wheels spun. Her car slid backwards. When she regained control and caught her breath, she turned her car around and drove to safety. The ice had directed her to move with gravity, not against it. She would spend the night in a hotel and drive home in the morning.

That settled it. I unpacked all of the grocery bags I’d accumulated over the course of the week. I unpacked the brown sugar, the can of cranberry sauce, the six yams, the bag of potatoes, the sharp knife and the peeler that I’d wrapped in a towel.

I remembered what a friend had told me earlier this week: “It’s okay to take an out breath every once in a while.”

320px-FMIB_44178_Dog_of_Chum_Salmon--O_Keta

Because Dee had come home for Thanksgiving, and because we’d never left, Dee suggested a walk to a nearby waterfall. I pictured something quaint and underwhelming. We parked in a friend’s driveway and walked on a private trail through the woods. Smoke cried because Dee’s dog kept stealing his sticks. Stump was tired and wanted to be carried. I heard what sounded like two small chirpy birds but turned out to be two bald eagles in dialogue. They were perched in nearby snag, talking about salmon, about how many there were and how far they’d have to fly to reach them. I still hadn’t seen any water, but I was starting to hear the rush of it. “When will we get there?” Smoke asked. “Listen,” I said. Twenty feet later, the ground opened up. Water spread like fingers and spilled over a hillside, a trickle for the first twenty feet until it gathered and rushed and plunged into the reservoir below. Gravity, again.

“I never even knew this was here,” I said, as if I had assumed all waterfalls, all natural wonders were public, were advertised on brown signs with white arrows.

320px-FMIB_44178_Dog_of_Chum_Salmon--O_Keta

I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase giving in to resistance. I’ve been thinking about the word giving, as in offering. How is giving in to resistance different from caving or folding?

The bigger question is this: what can I give? Sometimes the giving in means giving up, allowing the force of resistance to guide me. Dee turns the car around. I unpack the things I packed. But sometimes resistance just requires a nod. “Oh, Resistance,” I used to think when I sat down to type in my orange room. And then I kept typing even though I was sleepy.

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Lately, all of my weekday mornings end in a crisis. Smoke falls to the floor on purpose and then insists that he cannot get up. He is so tired, he says. He literally can’t move. Though he doesn’t fool me, he seems to fool himself. “Do I need to make an appointment with the doctor?” I ask him, “Because even if you’re exhausted it’s not a normal thing to be stuck to the ground.” “Yes,” he tells me. “Call her.” Meanwhile, Stump kicks so hard and so fast that I cannot get a diaper on him. Before I was a parent, I might have thought that if you needed to you could force a young child to get dressed even if he was determined not to. Now I realize this isn’t so. Sometimes Stump holds still for just long enough that I can get him in a diaper, and then he immediately removes it.

I ask what I can give to this particular resistance? Because what I give now is not an offering. I storm away from my children. I make demands. I threaten consequences. I ask them why they do this every morning, even though I know. I know why. They don’t want to go. They don’t want to step out into the rainy cold world. They don’t want to sit beneath fluorescent lights in rooms full of people. I don’t want to either. And yet there I am, the sinews in my neck bursting with tension. In these moments I cannot stand myself. I cannot stand my life.

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Our Thanksgiving walk ended a half mile upstream from the waterfall, where hundreds of salmon had come to die. We stood on the muddy banks—Kellie, Dee, Stump, Smoke, and me—and took in the whole scene: giant silver fish lying still on their sides in the shallow water. If you bent over and looked closely, you could make out the eggs, small orange orbs mixed in with the gravel. It didn’t quite smell like death yet, but it smelled wet and fleshy, bodily and dank. Some of the Salmon weren’t yet dead but were dying. Though they lay still you could tell them from the others; they were green instead of silver and occasionally, amidst all the stillness, a single tail would rise up and then hit the water, making a tremendous splash. The fish would then wriggle in place for a minute or two, and then resume the work of succumbing. There was nothing more to do. They had hatched in this creek and journeyed to the ocean where they traveled north along the coast. They swam away from killer whales and sea lions. They avoided trolling lines. At some point they turned around and guided by scent memory they swam hard against the current and returned to the place of their birth to lay eggs of their own. They were dying, but also they were home.

image credit, chum salmon drawing: Freshwater and Marine Image Bank

Riot Grrrl in a Minivan

Last Thursday, as I was walking through a rainy parking lot, I spotted a bumper sticker that read Reelect Obama, 2012. I smiled at first, because I thought it was a joke—that 2012 was the year of our next election, and that the owner of the car was suggesting we elect Obama for a third term instead of Hillary or Bernie. Then I did the math, and realized that we’re approaching 2016.

Every day I do math like this. How old am I again? 38. How long has it been since I graduated high school? 20 years. But hasn’t it been just two years since my fifteenth class reunion? No, that was actually five years ago.

Huh, is my internal response every single time. I remain unconvinced. I don’t quite feel twenty anymore, but I’m not sure how I arrived at middle age, and so I keep looking around, befuddled, trying to get my bearings.

My past has been haunting me extra hard this month, and for some reason it keeps taking the form of Carrie Brownstein. Maybe it’s because she has a new book out and so she’s everywhere—she’s on Fresh Air with Terry Gross; she’s on a book tour of major cities. If you don’t know Carrie Brownstein, I’m not quite sure how to introduce you, except to say that plenty of queers like me spent a chunk of our youths standing in line and then pushing through crowds to be near her, to watch as she played guitar next to Corin Tucker. Corin may have been the vocal powerhouse of Sleater-Kinney but she sang to a distant point beyond the audience while Carrie looked into the crowd and danced as she played. She welcomed you.

If you lived in the Pacific Northwest you might have spotted her buying coffee on Broadway in Seattle, or you might have seen her lined up for a show at the Midnight Sun in Olympia. You might have heard that she sat next to the friend-of-a-friend in a college writing class. You might have lost track of whether Carrie was really a celebrity or some kind of distant acquaintance.

http://www.electrip.com/sleater-kinney/1html/showsH/1998shows.html

Though it’s been about a month—wait, I mean a decade—since I last walked downtown to watch a Sleater-Kinney show, Carrie has been reincarnated into my adult life as one half of the TV series Portlandia. A few weeks ago I took up the project of catching up with it in the late evening hours after my children had fallen asleep. (Because of the way that time moves now, I had missed four full seasons.)

For me, Portlandia is part sketch comedy, part internal reckoning. As I watch the show, my ghost-self is always hovering, mulling over Carrie Brownstein and the Sleater-Kinney legacy. Why is she an actress now? When your band has been widely acclaimed as one of the most seminal voices of your generation, what makes you want to set down your guitar and do skits on TV instead? I ask myself this question over and over because it is unanswerable; I am not Carrie Brownstein and so I will never know. Also: I ask myself this question because I am struggling to understand the choices we make in our twenties and thirties. I wonder if there’s a linear process to becoming who we are, a point of destination at the end of a long path, or if there is no true self, just a series of options, some of them more interesting than others. Carrie helps me remain confused by all of this.

Last Thursday, on the rainy evening that followed my sighting of the Reelect Obama sticker, I met a friend downtown for drinks at a bar I hadn’t visited for years. We settled into a private booth and hanging directly above her head was a Sleater-Kinney poster. I must have blinked and shook my head to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. My past was following me everywhere.

For that hour at the bar my friend and I remembered our lives in the late nineties. As we talked, my ghost-self wandered my old neighborhoods: I stood in the crowd as Sleater-Kinney opened a set with Little Babies at RKCNDY. I sat on the floor as Miranda July led interactive performance art at The Midnight Sun. I made spaghetti in the kitchen of my studio apartment with the music turned way up.

I looked again at the poster over my friend’s head, signed by Corin Tucker, and realized that it was memorabilia, an artifact from a bygone era, not so unlike the vintage Beatles lunch boxes and figures that my older siblings collected.

I’ve always thought that the pain of nostalgia is simply the sting of longing to visit a time you can never get back. But that night I started to wonder if it was more than that. For me nostalgia is tinged with regret at having been there without fully having been there. I went to a few shows, but not all of the shows; I bought some of the albums, but not all of the albums. Sometimes it takes the space of years to appreciate how good something truly was.

As I drove home I thought about how just as I pine for my early twenties, I also pine for a future life several years from now where my children don’t bombard me with multiple requests every waking moment, one where work-life balance comes with a little less effort. Most days I’m just trying to make it to bedtime.

And then I pined for Now. I wondered what it would mean to immerse myself more deeply in the present moment so that twenty years from now I won’t feel the same sting. Because that sweet spot that I’m waiting for—the one where both of my kids are young and sweet but not so relentlessly demanding—that will not a be a permanent life. Before I know it, my children will be gone and I will meet myself once again in a home so empty and quiet it begs to be filled with loud music.

There’s a Sleater-Kinney song, one of the first I ever heard, that’s kind of an anti-conformity rock anthem. Here are some of the lyrics:

They want to socialize you
They want to purify you
They want to dignify
Analyze and terrorize you

Your life is good for one thing
You’re messing with what’s sacred
They want to simplify your needs and likes
To sterilize you

(from Call the Doctor, 1996)

When I was young I was suspicious of this track; I could never tell to what extent it was satire of that heavy metal fuck-the-man trope, to what extent it was in earnest.

Now that I’m thirty-eight, I no longer care—in fact, I prefer earnestness. At thirty-eight, I realize that I need that song more now than I did at nineteen, that I need rock and roll while I’m driving my two kids around in a minivan, juggling family and work and asking myself what really matters, when I’m noticing how quickly my own life is passing, when I’m coming to terms with the fact that some day it will all be over, and if time keeps speeding up the way it does the end will be here faster than I think, and I’ll have wondered what I did with it all, and why I made the choices I did. That’s the moment I most need Corin Tucker’s voice reminding me of what I knew as a young adult: that the forces of the world conspire to make you numb and normal, that owning your life requires a battle.

Featured image by Jon Rubin, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonrubin/687640891

RKCNDY flyer from http://www.electrip.com/sleater-kinney/1html/showsH/1998shows.html