Sunday, October 7, 2018

Fire


for some tree species, particularly conifers like pine, sequoia, cypress, and spruce, the release of seeds is delayed until a specific environmental trigger is present. Serotiny is the process in which a plant relies on an external trigger – be it fire, flood, increased rainfall, or death of a parent plant – to signal the release of seeds. In the case of pyrophile trees, that trigger is fire.


Sometimes, I cannot remember how old I am. Am I truly 41 years old, 11 years out from my first marriage, 1,700 miles away from my start? Did I really make it here, despite, because?

I am certain I am not alone in how numb and dumb I've been these past few weeks. Since that November night two years ago, but moreso these past two weeks. The Kavenaugh nomination and inevitable confirmation is a gut kick. Is, as so many have alluded to, prelude to the Handmaid's Tale made manifest, Red Clocks in real time.

I think of my women's lit students all those years ago, when we were reading The Awakening and The Handmaid's Tale and how annoyed many of them got at the protagonists. Just speak up!

This would never happen here. 

This would never happen now.

Of course abortion is murder.

Just don't have sex.

Etcetera. Likely, at the time, I was going home to a marriage that defined cognitive dissonance. By day, I was a feminist; by night, I was fucked with a hand on my throat. My bodily autonomy was nil. I had--have--an eating disorder. When things become uncertain, out of control, I do whatever I can to smash myself into oblivion. Stop eating. Punch myself int he face until I bleed. Slam my head against the wall until I can't think anymore.

I was so fucking angry. I would take my dogs to the woods and for a few miles, be able to breathe, feel like I didn't have a body. Which is to say: my body worked the way bodies are supposed to work: in service to the spirit.

Then, as the miles came to an end, and my car was in sight, I would get angry. Enraged. It wasn't just at the tail end of a hike, it was all the time. I knew exactly how to sublimate my needs to the needs of my husband--I was well schooled at the ways of being a woman, a wife. I knew also how to direct that rage where I knew it belonged. At myself.

Of course I had cervical cancer. I was a whore who had sex before marriage. Of course I had to stay, even if he was cruel and hurt me.

I'm not writing this because I'm in crisis. I've had years of therapy and the moments when I'm at the brink have grown more infrequent. In fact, for a few years, I thought I'd moved past it.

But.

I have also known that the patriarchy, men in power, don't fucking care. Not about me. Not about you. When my ex called my midwife and told her I needed medication, I was crazy, I was too emotional. When he threw me against the wall and said he thought I was the dog. When he told me I dressed like a whore and I needed to button up my shirt because I was inviting men to look at my tits. When he said he loved me for my body, not my mind that's a fucking joke, Sara, don't be so dumb that you don't know a joke. When my ex threatened to chop me into bits, when he raped me again and again (I didn't think it was rape. I was his wife, I was obliged to have sex with him, I was frigid, there was something wrong with me, at least he wanted to fuck me looking the way I did, damaged as I was, et-fucking-cetera), when the police came and the officer didn't need to tell me it didn't matter, that he didn't believe me that my ex had my baby, my ex had threatened to kill me multiple times. When the judge told me I had been foolish to agree to such a shitty custody agreement but since I'd agreed, there was nothing she could do. When a boyfriend put me on a diet. When I agreed to go on that diet. When another boyfriend said you know, you have a lot of baggage. When I found an anonymous article in my work mailbox explaining how women can avoid being slutty slutterton at work. When my ex husband cautioned my new husband that I smelled like fish.

Because I have had an eating disorder for at least 25 years and because I have believed--despite feminism, despite graduate school, despite being smarter than most people--my worth lies in my body, my sexual desirability to heterosexual men. Because that is a kind of power, sometimes the only power, women can yield in a patriarchy: when a man wants to fuck you, if he's not an overt rapist anyway, leveraging that desire can sometimes yield a woman what she wants. Or a facsimile of power. Except it doesn't, really. It doesn't.

It often goes off the rails, though. It rarely works the way she hoped. A cage is still a cage, even if be gold.

I am a white woman in a heterosexual relationship. I am enormously privileged. That I could leave my ex husband is due to having a tenured professorship: even though I didn't have an attorney because I didn't know, at 30, how to navigate divorce and laws and how to get a lawyer when your ex has stolen all your savings--I also had the benefit of a stable job. I was better off after my divorce, financially, than I was before it. And now I have a husband who is as liberal and kind as a white man can be. I have known hell, but I also can breathe, I can insulate myself, somewhat, from the Handmaid's tale that I'm afraid is coming: I'm 41. I'm not having any more children, and my husband had a vasectomy so I don't have to worry about the availability of birth control or abortion. I have a stable job and a little pension and two incomes.

I could, I suppose, do what a lot of white women have chosen to do: enjoy my proximity to power and pretend that since I'm safe (now) that it's because the choices I made, that I had some control over my privilege, my safety. Or, I could be outraged like a lot of white women also are: suddenly cognizant that this system is fucked at the core, and designed to screw over every person who isn't a rich white man. But Jesus Christ, if we only pay attention when it affect us, if we only scream when we are ones on the firing line--well, in a White Supremacist Patriarchy, by the time white heterosexual-presenting women are being ground up, it's probably too late. And if not too late (please, let it not be too late), then shame on us for only giving a fuck about ourselves.

I am writing this mostly as a pep talk to myself. I have been so sad. I have wanted (and had to literally sit on my hands to prevent this) to hurt myself, to try to control the situation by locating the blame for my blinding hot rage and sadness on myself. I am writing this because I am the mother of two teenage boys. I am writing this because I am in a heterosexual relationship that is sanctioned by the state and the nation and by the White Supremacist Patriarchy.

I am writing this because I am angry and I am not going to be silent and I am not going to hurt myself in order to prevent the world from hurting me. I am writing this because I have the responsibilty to care about people other than myself, because i have the responsibility of privilege and because so help me god I will do everything I can to force the Rich White Men of the world to look at me and my sisters, look us in the eye, before we burn their fucking patriarchy to the ground.







Monday, September 24, 2018

Harvest Moon

My garden has been garbage this year. Two--literally--two zucchini, a handful of snap peas, a few cucumbers and maybe a dozen tomatoes. It's the equinox, and the majority of my tomatoes are still green on the vine. What went wrong?

A Midwestern girl, I guess I'm used to soil and climate that means: plant it and it will grow. Here, I'm not sure. All of my lettuce seeds failed this spring. Only now, in late September, have some of them--maybe one--sprouted. I amended my soil, watered. And yet, not much happened. When plants failed in Michigan it was for two reasons: deer and dogs. Nothing else. Here, there are no deer and the dogs have no access to the beds. Here, it's something different. There is no laissez-faire gardening in the Pacific Northwest, I guess.

But the chickens are laying, and we're going apple picking next weekend. But the chickens eat out of my palm come when I call them and I can hold them under my arm and they tolerate my snuggling. But Jonah and I stood on the second story deck last night and hollered at the family of five raccoons who were tap-dancing on the roof.

But the school year has begun--midterms for Jonah, start of the term at the college. But I'm still an administrator, five and a half years from a classroom and unsure of what to make of this, how to move forward. The full moon leaks into my office; when I pull tarot, I pull Justice, the Devil, the High Priestess. I haven't been able to write in weeks; I am glad for this season of darkness. Jonah and I don't have to travel for another four weeks; then it's the season of travel and miles and airplanes and I cannot yet open my thoughts to it. It's so good to have him home, to have him hug me every day when I get home from work, his tall, thin body in my arms. His head in the crook of my neck though he's taller than I am. How he runs outside every night and gathers the chickens, picks one of them up and talks to it, soothsayer. How we stood on the deck last night and yelled at the raccoons. When i was his age, I remember my father sitting int he back yard peppering the barn with a bb gun, 'shooting' at raccoons. When I heard them outside, I'd run out and caterwaul. One night, I brought two sauce pans and clanged them together. Both pans broke off their handles, and my father milled two new handles on his lathe. He loves telling these stories about me. How I scared the neighbor's daughter by sitting in my bedroom and, using my best witch voice, saying hello, little girl and how she'd scream and run home, how I'd scare the neighbors' cats, how I broke two sauce pans scaring off raccoons.

Last night my boy and I threw rocks from a bucket and I yelled get out of my yard motherfucking fuckingface raccoon king! and five pairs of eyes gleamed back at us, unfazed.

My dad shot the neighbor's dog with the bb gun when it cornered my sister in the garage. My dad got drunk on cheap American beer every night when he got home from his 12 hour day at the airport and went into his woodshop/the garage and made furniture, listened to the Cubs on WGN. Upstairs, we have the armoire he made--golden oak, solid AF, the clock I made in eighth grade (Jonah's age, my god) in shop class.

No one take shop class anymore. I'm in my office eating zucchini bread from our second zucchini, drinking moderately-priced sauvignon blanc.

My boy is upstairs, painting. Two weekends ago, he requested watercolors and has been experimenting.  R is in the living room with a belly ache, probably watching something violent and artsy on TV.

How does grace enter in? How does one relax enough to be okay?

A thin slab of moonlight on my desk. The youngest cat snoring on the rug.

I don't know. Hope is a four letter word.




Monday, August 27, 2018

What is the War Cry of an American Raccoon?

It has been cool all weekend--the sky a mottled grey, sometimes blue, the air mostly breathable, the smoke only blurring the west hills. On my run, I pet three cats.

When anxiety looses its hold, you can feel it. My chest, my heart.

 Jonah is home--thin and tall and my sweet boy. We have a new start. Eighth grade for him; my 19th year at a community college.

I miss summers with him, where our time was our own, where we'd go to the Nature Center or the Lake or simply lay about the house, garden, chase the dogs with the hose in the back yard. And I appreciate the gift of time with R., the ability to walk to the bar when D. is not here, to have dinner out. But. I have never loved unstructured time, and these summers are shot through with a thread of anxiety, terror, with my boy not here.

The other night, we heard a fracas in the back yard as night fell--a wild scree scree scree! The dogs leaped up, and Jonah and I did too from his bed. There are raccoons in the chicken coop! I yelled, and we clambered down the attic stairs. R. was already on the back porch, and a raccoon was halfway up the chain link fence. He would have been successful,t he raccoon, if he hadn't let loose his battle cry as he leaped into the yard.

The chickens are fine. I reinforced the hardware cloth around the run, the coop. Let the dogs into the run to mark around the edges.

I can hear the chickens snuggling up in their roost, crows raucous as night falls and they fly wherever it is they fly. We've baked cookies, walk the dogs, let the last days of summer vacation drift into autumn, the school year, my boy home, my boy home, my boy home.  The air smells like smoke; crows still calling, the sky a pale grey-blue, the trees just shadows.

When does D. come back from his camping trip with his mom? Jonah asked as we walked home from his best friend's house. The boys are eager to see each other too, having spent only two days together since Jonah has been home, playing some crazy made up card games and the Wii upstairs in their new living room.

It rained a bit overnight; the patio was dark grey, the air smelled of petrichor, wet, clean. I spent the last hours of Sunday pulling up one raised bed and filling it with compost and garlic cloves and beet seeds and have my fingers crossed that my tomatoes in the other bed will ripen. It's been a strange garden, a strange summer this year. A handful of red tomatoes, one zucchini, a few almost round and bitter cucumbers. I am doing something wrong, but I do not know what it is.

And today was the first day of school for my boy, my heart. Eighth grade and it hit me, as i drove away from the school, Jonah already leaping into the arms of his friends, hooting and hollering as my grandmother would say. Anyway, it hit me how far we have come. My tiny bird who slept in my bed until he was nine, who moved across the country with me, who taught me how to be an adult in my thirties when it was just me and him, our little team. He is so smart, so kind, so funny. So serious too; there is something still at the heart of him, a well of compassion. He is upstairs right now, folding his laundry, organizing his room (something I didn't think would ever happen in any lifetime).

And at the grocery store today, the cashier rang up my tampons, a chocolate bar, a bottle of wine and asked for my ID. Oh, you sweet boy, I said, handing him my license.

I love autumn, then winter, the turning inward, the smell of leaf mould, woodsmoke, the yellow lit rooms in houses, rain. That we are all with each other again.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Middle Distance

Outside the hotel window, an oak snag, trees covered in wild grapevine, porcelain sky, humid air. I am in the Midwest. My origin story, a place both fundamental to how I understand the world and myself, and also a place I needed to leave. Maybe forever. Maybe for now. But I haven't really left, as I return a dozen times a year. As I find myself in a humid lobby waiting for a rental car, driving down a flat highway toward the hotel, or the Lake. Again and again.

There are rituals when I do this. Wake up early, go through the alphabet when i can't sleep (i can never sleep) and list three animals, three cities. Alligator, antelope, armadillo. Amsterdam, Amarillo, Albion. Get off the airplane and walk as quickly as possible to the car rental counter, drive to the grocery store. Bread, cheese, fruit. Wine, chocolate, yarn. Toothbrush (Christ, i have so many travel toothbrushes in the cabinet at home, and I forget them every time), razor, lip gloss. Something I would never buy in real life--black, or glitter, or palest orange. Fake eyelashes, once. Hair dye, numerous occasions.

Go to the hotel. Run on the treadmill or do a million squats or 100 pushups or all of these. Watch Netflix while drinking wine out of a can. Eat cheese, bread, chocolate--things I don't eat in normal life. A peach.

Get wine-drunk. Sleep alone in a bed in a clean room, take up as much space as I want. Text my husband, plan out the next half marathon, try not to look at myself in the full-length mirror, don't look at my belly, those stretch marks from where Jonah pushed out into the world, that skin like the pink of a fish scraped of its scales, knife slit in the belly, flesh unmoored from the small bones. Don't, don't. Take up space, Sara. Animal, body, dirt.

Let the light eke out of the humid, human world.

I wrote most here when I am in this space, this in-between, this place where I am alone, suspended, in my body and out of it.

I will see my boy tomorrow. I will hold him in my arms and we will go home. I finished working on the edits of my book and will send them to my editor when I am back home. I wept when I hit save, because when I first started writing those poems, I could not have imagined being here. Still being.

Be a small, fierce animal, Gail Griffin told me when I was in graduate school and terrified everyone was smarter than me. It has become my mantra, my touchstone. I am so scared, all of the time. I am so small, so afraid that I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. That I'm fucking it all up. That whatever it is, it isn't enough.

Who doesn't. Who isn't in their animal body thinking the same things.

Burn this motherfucker to the ground.

I see my boy tomorrow.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I'm Here

I am undone. As the Victorians might have said, hysterical. Not meaning that I'm freaking out, but more of the roving-womb affliction; catatonic, crying, unable to move from the chaise in my office. R. is often overwhelmed by the onslaught of my depression. Is it depression, or is it anxiety? JOnah comes home on Wednesday. I fly out to the Middle-West near dawn on Tuesday, spend the night in the airport hotel that I know almost as well as I know my childhood home. Then we reverse course, do the same thing I've done over a hundred times now in four years. Almost five.

And inside of me there is a wave; transitions are always hard. I cannot, cannot wait to see my boy, my heart-outside-my-body, my almost-man. 

But I am also struggling to keep my shit together, as it were. There is a tsunami inside of me, a tornado, an overwhelm, as Jonah once said.

R. has hugged me, sat silent next tme on the porch, attended a literary reading in a beautiful garden. He's gone to get food, the neighbors are walking their dog, my dogs have busted the screen on the back door and the chickens have almost come inside. They escape, every day. Wander the patio, the narrow side lawn. They haven't laid yet, but almost, soon.

Jonah is home in two days and I am beside myself, I am drinking whiskey, the porch is dark and the sky is a river of crows, smoke-pink, Mt. Tabor to the south and east cast in a haze. I ran through the West Hills today, or ran-walked, stumbled up hill and stumbled down.

I do not know how to be open with those I love, I do not know how to ask for help, to be held, to hold myself sometimes.  And yet. And the moon is waxing and halfway there. And the crows keep coming, east to west.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Dog Days

Today, we hiked on the slopes of Mt. Hood, a few miles to the Zig Zag Canyon, then a little past it, then the flies got bad and we turned around. The air was clear up on the mountain, not the pink-fire haze of the valley, where smoke from fires north and south of us has settled in, turned the sunsets and sunrises orange.

I am terrified of heights. R. promised to turn around if I started to panic (we've had these moments, in the Gorge and at Smith Rock, so he knows). And yet, we made it. There were a few escarpments, but the trail was relatively wide and sandy, instead of being uncertain basalt scree. A month ago, when we were in northern California, I hiked by myself up San Pedro mountain, behind Dominican University. Of course, San Pedro is a mountain in a different way than Mt. Hood is a mountain, but it was far more steep than I have done without panicking. And I did it.

And today, though I had to look down a few times as we drove up, and though I said to R. a few times I don't think I can do this, he calmly said It isn't so bad, I think, after this bit. Let's just go and see and he was right, it wasn't. It was beautiful--heart-stoppingly so. I didn't take many pictures, or say much. Just watched R.'s back in front of me, put my hand on his knee in the car, in the restaurant. We ate lunch at Timberline Lodge, I texted Jonah a picture of the summit of Mt. Hood. The alpine lupine were blooming, and some kind of aster. It was dusty and cool, though the sun was hot and my arms are burned, and my legs are tired.

Then we drove down the mountain after a few hours, and here we are at home, the city hot but not as hot as they'd threatened, the sky a milky pink and a small breeze lifting the arms of the deodar cedar. And in a little more than a week, I fly to Michigan and gather up my boy, then turn around and fly back home the next day. I am neck deep in thinking about the edits on my book. And though it is ungodly hot, the shadows are starting to slant toward autumn. I am having panic dreams--about mountains, airports, Jonah, teaching. My garden is faltering--the tomatoes still not ripe, the zucchini flowering but not producing fruit, the cucumbers small and fat instead of long and slim. I wandered the nursery yesterday, fantasizing about buying fruit trees and pushing my urban homestead a little further, but I need to do more work to figure out how to make these beds better produce, figure out how to eke out more sun in this tiny lot.

And now I'm on the porch with a glass of wine, back in the city, listening to two hipster twenty-somethings on bikes stopped at the bottom of the hill discussing their boyfriends, or one of their boyfriends, and a bar and last Saturday's plans and Instagram and they have pulled beers out of their backbacks and have cracked them open--clearly tonight's plans need some fortification. R. is inside, the dogs curled at his feet and the cats likely on his lap.

I love living here. I love that my boy is coming home in a week. I love that we live an hour from the mountains, an hour and a bit from the ocean, a few minutes from woods and buttes and extinct volcanoes.
the summit of Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge

somewhere before or after Zig Zag canyon

Saturday, July 21, 2018

After Midsummer

Behind us tonight, the neighbors have lit a bonfire in their firepit, have turned the radio loud enough that my chickens are unsettled, moving around their coop and ruffling their wings, pecking nervously at the ground, at the hardware cloth of the enclosure. The air smells like smoke, like whatever accelerant they needed to start those flames, licking up high and awfully close to their house.

They're renters. I don't think they much care. For an hour or so yesterday evening, they pulled weeds, cleaned up the majority of the crap in the yard--old beer cans, solo cups, dog shit. People keep showing up, parking in front of our house, walking up the dirt road next door, carrying booze, Trader Joe's bags of cheeze puffs, chicken wings.

In Michigan tonight, Jonah brushed his hair from his eyes and said 32 days. Not even four and a half weeks. Sooner. His sort-of step sister opened his bedroom door and said tonight's dinner is pizza rolls and chicken wings. We've got a lot of ranch. The door clicked shut. Is there a more Midwestern dinner than that? I think I'll probably make myself something to eat, Jonah said. Except I know him, and know he'll either eat what they offer or not eat at all. He hates to be a bother. His hair is long again, to his shoulders. Yours is longer though! he said. For now, I replied. I am becoming increasingly uneasy with the hyper-femininity of long hair (changeable) and a hyper-feminine body (not particularly changeable, though race-training helps some. Being 41 works against me, though).

On Friday his father will force him to see the hack therapist, who--though he was assigned by the court years ago for one session, and though he is legally compelled to communicate with me refuses to do so, whom Jonah calls "Dr. Fatfingers" instead of Fatzinger, and to whom Jonah spins tales of his sudden (and false) interest in planetary science, algebra, jazz music. Then his dad will take him to the doctor (who also refuses to share records with me) for a physical.

Please come home soon, I say, which I know I shouldn't. But nine weeks is long. But I miss him so much. I will mom, I promise. I'll tell Dr. Fatfingers I'm contempt with my life. I want to be with my friends. I want to live in both places.

You mean 'content,' not 'contempt,' I say. Content means you're happy; contempt means something else.  What is a Freudian slip, what is the truth? I want to come home, Mom. I can't wait to see you.

The sprinkler in the tomato bed is sputtering. Crows fly east to west, as they do every night. The sky is a thin, pearly blue fading to pink. Tomorrow it will get hot again, and stay hot. The grass is yellow. Fires crop up everywhere.