Friday, August 4, 2017

Northernness

The voyageurs thought the call of the loon sounded like a crying woman, which describes less the shrill honk of Minnesota’s state water fowl and more the image of utter loneliness these bachelors must have felt, starved of civilization and the sight and sound of female humans for many long Northern months. The loon conjures up loneliness in his very cry: a fitting anthem for these men who forged a slow and lonely aquatic path in these Northern water ways and woods.

On the other side of the island which Bernadette and I do not manage to hike all the way around, there is a very bare spine of volcanic rock peaking out of the clear water of rainy lake. But the stone is covered in some sparse wildflowers, and, most staunch and foolish of them all: a scrubby evergreen, lacking needles, which bares its naked comb of toothed branches against the cold Canadian wind, shoots down shallow roots into the non-existent soil it ekes out of the old lava in the rock, and grows. It just persists at growing and living, because that is what nature knows how to do.
If a seed falls on rocky ground, it does not give up the cause as lost. Instinct doesn’t even brook a doubt.
It goes on, because that is what it must. And it will often fail, the odds are not always in its favor, but it doesn’t much care for thinking in hard analytics before it sows itself.
And it manages to grow.
Nature has an insistence on survival that is miraculous in its persistent intensity.
Much like families, who seem to weather storms like we do today: hunkered down in our screened-in porch, and persisting until sunny skies appear again, which we can laugh under and splash at one another, floating like fruit loops in a bowl of milk carved out by old glaciers.

We speed across the lake, and I am inundated by sun and pale blue sky, lousy with clouds (and mosquitos), and the fresh spray of water, the horizon is hemmed in by pine trees, and it is utterly beautiful.

I think that this is sort of what life’s adventure means: it means attentiveness to beauty in the small and large moments, it means embracing an adventure from hiking Mt. Tabor to clambering over mossy rocks in one's back yard, it means diving into the Mediterranean alone, and off the back of the boat, even though the water’s deep. It means loving those immediate kindred spirits, and those perhaps hidden from your instant recognition, and it means embracing all these movements of grace as gift. Sacred, divine gift, which you will not clasp onto in fear, try to control in your paranoia, not clamp down on, trying to cling to them as buoys, nor shove them into the mold you had intended for your life. It means embracing this wild adventure—its sad loon calls, its dangerous portages, and its surprise turns—knowing that life is only a preparation for that which comes next. And this life doesn’t have to turn out exactly as you imagined it would.
But it must be beautiful.
And it must reach towards that heavenly vision of communion you can taste in the faces of the congregation at the our Father, in praying together before an empty golden tabernacle, in holding court with friends at sunset on all that’s right and wrong in this world. Our lives must point towards that, if nothing else.
And if we have that firm direction of growing, let the winds land us where they may: be it on the lush fields of the Galilee, or a scrubby Northern rock, not even deigned to be called an island.

I wonder what sort of adventure the voyageurs had wanted, how much of it they had chosen, and what they thought about what they had received in return. Did they ever get to sit in their chairs, surrounded by grandchildren and hear the cry of the loon which reminded them, not of a woman crying into their empty lonely frontier lives, but of the vast Northern skies they forged a path through, and the horizon that constantly spread from underneath their fingertips whenever they called it theirs.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

10 items from a run after the rain

1. I watch my dog cant across the green grass, muscles rippling under his brown silk coat. I've let him off the leash, and he chases geese into the cold water of the lake, until I call him back.
Pippin. Come back.
He only listens if I drop my voice into a lower chest register. But he returns. Unquenchably excited about his foray into the reeds and scummy water, and how tantalizingly close he got to those sneaky water fowl.

2. The man reaches out a fist and I go for the fist bump, because I assume he's not trying to punch me. He seems surprised, and awkwardly splays his fingers so my loosely clenched fist does not produce the satisfying thunk of knuckle-meeting-knuckle, but goes through the gaps in his fingers. The clammy physical revulsion that accompanies a greeting gone wrong shivers through me. As I bound after Pippin, straining on the leash, I consider his midstream change of course may have resulted from the plastic bag I hold in the same fist. It is not yet filled with dogshit, but it looks as though it might be. Certainly an object to shy away from.

3. There is a baby sock, still a fresh white, lying in the middle of the slick asphalt sidewalk. Pippin sniffs it and his roving nose brushes past it.

4. I realize that I am overwhelmingly angry about the fact that women, for millennia, were not treated as men's equals, because they weren't men's equals. Like, metaphysically, perhaps they were. Ontologically, I suppose. But practically and culturally, they simply weren't, because they were denied the power and the education necessary to become so. It must have felt like talking to a child; talking to a woman who depended on you for her social and physical mobility, just as it feels talking to a teenager today. And I am angry that it is only within the last century [not even, if we're taking Mad Men as a guide!] that social pressure has shifted (shifted infintesimally, almost imperceptibly) towards treating women not as chattel or as property, but as other humans. And I am angry that men (and, even more mystifyingly women) have the gall to suggest imagining that that means all work is done, and that there's nothing to talk about, work on, or [heaven forbid] complain about, you whining bitch. Look at how great you have it. How does one imagine that centuries of being treated as second-class citizens can just be easily reversed, sans the slow, systemic conversion that we each have to apply to our own most deeply-rooted sins? How would a society experience conversion any differently? What if we treated micro-aggressions as we treat venial sins: small symptoms of deeper spiritual ills, which must be attended to and confessed. And only can regain their proper perspective within that sacramental act of self-aware acknowledgement.

5. I remember that when I ran down these paths in high school I was not angry. And I wonder how it is that we learn we have need to be angry. I remember how I listened to Colbie Caillat and really didn't concern myself with a larger world outside my own head. There was enough going on inside of it to occupy me, and I splashed in its depths, conveniently and blessedly ignorant of the entire universe. If anger is a price I pay for being saved from living my life in the box of my own context, I will gladly pay it.

6. A man raises his eyebrows, about to address me, as me and the newly-leashed Pippin approach him. I am wary: is he going to rebuke me for some rule of etiquette I am unintentionally trespassing upon? Does he have unsolicited advice about how to control my dog better? If you're continuing down the trail, he says, in the hushed tones of enthusiasm used by acolytes of Marian apparitions, there's a doe and her fawn at the end of it. Thank you! I whisper in equally hushed tones, his excitement catching, as I motion Pippin into a quieter gallop.
This would never happen in the city, I think. It is good to share excitement over nature with another human.

7. How spicy is the slaw?
Uhhh I don't know, the cashier counters, embarrassed flush coloring her cheeks like sunset. She's embarrassed for me, as if I just asked the most foolish question in the world, like there's a joke I'm not in on yet, which everyone else in the softly lit café has understood already.
She shrugs.
like medium I guess?

8. A silver-haired grandmother, holding her grandchild in a baby carrier on her breast, a seat from which her big baby eyes can take in the entire world. They are staring off into the Bambi-underbrush of the woods, into which I imagine their cervine counterparts have disappeared. They watch the woods with an unvarnished intensity, and the grandmother smiles.

9. I realize once you lose faith in someone's good will, everything they do becomes suspect. The latin chant becomes pretentious, their recalcitrance is selfish, their enthusiasm is possessive. Trust is so easily lost. They tell me that once your tank actually runs out of gas, your empty meter will register empty later so that you have less time once your meter hits empty to refill your tank again. I find this mesmerizing. It is as if my car has sprouted feelings and sentience, and her small revenge on my inability to hold up my contract to feed her regularly is to play fickle with the gas meter. My car, it seems, will no longer completely trust me. I have reneged on my commitment, I have wounded her with my casual disregard for her needs in my selfish haste to get from A to B and she responds as I respond to everyone else: small acts of distrust. Burned once, she will not be so injured again.
Perhaps that is where anger arrives: I trust that I can sink into the world and it will receive me as hospitably as Colbie Caillat music and the rich imaginations that swirl inside my head. The world proves me wrong. This place does not promote my flourishing, in fact, it wants to make me fodder for the furnace which keeps it running. No way in hell. Enter mistrust and anger, pursued by bears.

10.
if you have ever felt a small, cool breeze in midst of the most shadeless, scorching summer day
if you have ever felt the first drops of rain break through constipated barometric pressures
if you have ever felt the delicious surprise of a stranger or a friend speaking out loud words you have only heard in your heart
if you have ever seen whatever home you have rear up out of the horizon, or pop around the corner, or emerge from the tangle of city streets, to swallow you up in its familiarity and safety,

then you probably understand how grace feels as she roots new space in the rotten soil of cynic thoughts, as she ripples through the stagnant swamp of self-righteous nursing of old wounds, tired spin cycles of the same grievances. She is so gentle to welcome, and her gracious self floods over these festering internal hills. After building up inside of me fast strongholds, stubborn stone towers, there is nothing more fun than finding that chink, that hole in the dam, and let grace flood through, rivering refreshment as she goes.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

playwright at work

Playwright at work:
talk at your own risk,
date her at your peril
otherwise
you'll one day
walk into a theatre
and as the lights dim and couples
on dates begin to hush
and clear their throats in
the dusk of curtain-rise
you'll find your quirks and cadences
your slight verbal tics
and idiosyncratic talking patterns
your preoccupation
with super marathons
your 30-year-old
celibate naivete
your clumsy charm
and tired pick-up lines
your blue eyes sparkling as they catch mine
will play out in front of you
on stage,
art reflecting,
refracting,
revealing
you back to yourself
in one warped funhouse mirror.