creativity

Post-Election: All I’ve Got Right Now

On Sunday evening, Smoke and I found out that his friend Sam’s dog had died. He looked sorrowful for a moment, and then he set to work. He made a small gift out of things he already: three bouncy balls in a box. He stretched three rubber bands over the box so that it doubled as an instrument. And then he grabbed a piece of white paper, made a card, and inside that card he taped three pieces of gum. On the outside of the card he drew this picture: a dog with angel wings and a halo. The dog was chasing a truck that said, in large letters, “Ham.” It was, of course, a dog in heaven chasing a ham truck.

The next morning, I dropped Smoke off at Sam’s house before school. He ran up the stairs carrying the box. When Sam opened the door I could see that he was somber. His head hung low. I couldn’t see his face.

Later that day, I would get a text from Sam’s mother. It said:

Thanks to Smoke! Sam was a mess. Wasn’t going to school because he was too sad. Smoke made it all okay.

For the whole rest of the day every time I remembered the text message I cried just a little. I cried because I was proud of my son for being so big-hearted and earnest. I cried because I had already lost a night of sleep anticipating our elections and so I was feeling raw. I cried because some part of me was preparing for my own grief at the state of our world.

Also: I cried because I knew that it was the dog chasing the Ham truck that fixed everything—not forever of course, but for a brief moment, that a crude gift assembled with love had the power to pull his friend from grief, to help him get up for the day and move forward.

I keep trying to convince my students that the art we bring into the world—the pictures we make, the songs we write, the stories we tell—that it has actual consequences. It changes the chemicals in our bodies and guides our actions. I’m telling myself that now.

And so, in my post-election grief, I am holing up with stories. I am treating them as light, as sustenance. I am snuggling on the couch with Stump and Smoke and watching The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I am replaying this life-giving Radiolab episode about Mel Blanc—the voice of Bugs Bunny and a thousand other characters. I am reading the poems that friends have been placing in front of my eyes. It is escape, but also it is medicine, a salve that allows me to re-gather my strength, regroup, and prepare for the fight ahead.

This is all I’ve got right now: It’s a box with three bouncy balls, three rubber bands, and three sticks of gum. It’s a picture I drew with a black pen on white paper. But I hand it to you with the intention that we can laugh together, or throw things, or make some boingy sounds, and meanwhile, deeper down, we are preparing to smash the patriarchy.

image: Infinity Symbol made from a Rubber Band by zeevveez, CC BY 2.0

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Embracing Darkness

It’s November now, and I’m afraid of the oncoming winter and the speed at which it descends.

I’m afraid of the way darkness begins to swallow my day at both ends. Every week we lose about eighteen minutes of daylight, nine in the morning, nine in the evening, until those minutes add up to hours, and evening isn’t evening anymore–it’s night.

I’m afraid of the way rain descends like a blanket over the remaining daylight hours. When it arrives, it seems it will never leave. I wake to the sound of rain in darkness. Hours later, after tea and breakfast, I peer through the window, trying to assess the shape and force of the rain.

I am afraid of the feeling I get, a tension that sits between stomach and ribs, when I run from my house to my car, my head bent to keep from getting wet, and then bent all day in my windowless office, down, down, always looking down. I leave work in darkness, arrive to darkness, and all that awaits me is a cold house, a tired wife, and a set of tasks to be done before bedtime. That tension beneath my ribs grows and takes over my body until I am nothing but sinew and fatigue.

I am afraid of the television, afraid that it will take over my house like a monster.

I am afraid of the piles of clutter in my house, because now there is no sunny, open yard to escape to.

I am afraid of my nearly 2-year-old son, afraid that his climbing, inquisitive, joyous spirit cannot be contained indoors.

I’m afraid of the noise, the epic screeching noise of cooped-up kids in my very small home.

I’m afraid of the Christmas season, of all the projects I take on and never complete, of obligations I’ll perceive but never fulfill.

Photo by C.S. Berney

I remind myself that winter is a season. Seasons pass. More importantly, each one has its purpose, a goal it wants to involve you in, a prescription for your personal growth.

Spring: Renew.

Summer: Play.

Fall: Gather.

Winter: Look inward.

Earlier this week, I drove alongside the bay at high tide and thought about how the Pacific Northwest, now more than ever, feels like home. It was a balmy morning. I had awoken to the hammer of rain, but by the time I left the house, there were cloud breaks. The world was wet and the sky was dynamic—storm clouds and patches of blue. The kids and I walked the four blocks to Smoke’s school and it was a world of giant puddles and dead worms and, even better: a giant red toadstool that seems to double in size every day.

toadie

I thought about how darkness can be kind, like a womb, how it can push me deeper into myself, reengage me in the creative work of knowing my own soul.

Winter, I am sorry, but you are harder to love than summer with its endless twilight and warm lakes. You are harder to love than green spring and crisp fall. You are just plain hard to love, but I will try.

This is my Dream: No Parenting After 8pm

Several years before I had children, I attended a panel discussion that featured five successful authors. I remember next to nothing about the main event, but I do remember that when the moderator asked for questions from the audience, someone spoke up. She asked:

For those of you who are parents, how do you find the time to be creative?

Four of the five panelists were parents, and their answers were surprisingly similar. They woke up early. By early, I mean four in the morning, or five. But the most striking response came from poet Frances McCue who also woke up early, but added, simply: “I don’t parent before nine am.” This got a laugh of course, but she meant it. Her daughter was nine years old at the time, old enough to get herself dressed and pour her own cereal. If she wanted something at 8:45, she was reminded of the policy.

I believe there’s a reason I’ve been remembering that for the last ten years.

Dre

Currently, waking up early and enjoying time to myself isn’t an option. These days, Stump sleeps relatively well between 8:30 pm and 5 am, but between 5 and 7, he insists on sharing the bed with me. If I get up, he gets up.

Smoke is demanding on the other end of things. Lately he stays up past nine most nights, in part because it’s summer and light outside until ten, and in part because his bedtimes are still elaborate affairs. We can’t simply read him a book and kiss him on the cheek. He wants to read a little, and talk a lot, and read a little more. Then he wants one of his moms to lie with him until he falls asleep. We grant him this because it is the only hour where he doesn’t have to share our attention with his wild and willful little brother.

HarHar

It’s no wonder then that I stay up late most nights. It’s often 10 pm before I catch a moment to myself, and the moment is too precious to sleep through.

This summer I visited a friend with one child, a baby who goes to sleep before seven each night. I tried to imagine what that would be like, to have a quiet house at an hour where it was conceivable that I still might have some energy. I decided that would feel sane. I decided that was something to strive for.

And I will; I will strive for that. It won’t happen next week or next month, and I don’t think that seven is our hour. But I’m imagining the day when Stump is just a little older, when I can read both of my boys a book or two in bed together, then say goodnight and leave them to keep each other company. I will turn out the light and close the door, claim two glorious hours to myself and still wind up in bed at ten.

Please. I’m telling myself that this can happen. Allow me to dream this, okay?