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"My work is loving the world."

from Messenger, by Mary Oliver

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Wednesday
Apr162014

Avoid the Worst

Literature has low enough standards. But we can avoid writing the worst literature if we make ourselves ask ourselves, every two or three sentences we write, 'Is that what I really think?'

--Carol Bly, born today in 1930

Monday
Apr072014

Here I Be

When she went into 'Willow, Weep for Me,' you wept. You looked about and saw that the few other customers were also crying in their beer and shot glasses. Nor were they that drunk. Something was still there, that something that distinguishes an artist from a performer: the revealing of the self. Here I be. Not for long, but here I be. In sensing her mortality, we sensed our own.

--Studs Terkel in 1956, after seeing Billie Holliday perform.

Monday
Mar102014

Very Hard Work

Ultimately literature is nothing but carpentry. Both are very hard work. Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work involved.

--Gabriel García Márquez

 

But that magic is so good, when it's there...

Wednesday
Mar052014

A Hard Earned Place

Money can't buy my soul
'Cause it comes from a hard earned place

--Ryan Bingham, "Southside of Heaven"

This song, track one side one of "Mescalito," was everywhere when we first moved to Austin in late 2007. Writing that date astonishes me; we're no longer new arrivals here. We're turning into the ones who were here back when... the particulars of the when being relevant to whatever we're talking about.

In a way, I think my brain forgets to tally the three years of Felix's life in the "Austin Years" total, because we have, in some way, been in a completely new city and existence since he was born.

Tomorrow, he turns three years old. Three years ago, I was pregnant for the last day. I don't remember much about what we did that day. I do know that we ate at Rudy's BBQ with a dear friend and her out-of-town visitor. And I remember that I stayed up until 1 in the morning, full of energy, to write a list of 41 gratitudes about my pregnancy.

I think about the e-mail I sent out to friends on the second morning of Felix's life, while he slept on Chris's chest in the hospital bed while I took a break and sat on the little window-ledge bed reserved for birth partners. I haven't read that story in a while, but I know it was honest, hopeful, and maybe it skipped over the raw disappointment I had about the way the birth had gone.

I wonder how I would tell my birth story now. It was surely only the beginning of an initiation, not the sum total of the rite itself, as I had expected birth would be.

I look up from this page and meet the eyes of Kali on my corkboard, with her words below: "The old must be released so the new can enter." Yes, my Sister.

That is what birth was. A scorched earth passage, a sharp-knife hollowing out. A flood that filled my entire existence and did not recede fully until three years later, when I discovered that the soil beneath was rich with seaweed and magic and the rich minerals of the water beneath the water.

The new was not only the new life, my astonishing son who grows in his own way every second, but a new me, too, one that looked the same in the mirror but felt entirely different inside. Women told me, in the muck-filled grief after my birth and unwanted cesarean, that time would soften the story, time would heal and evolve my understanding of it.

I feel now how true they were, even though I wanted out of that crucible right away, even though I was clawing the walls like a trapped wild animal to be finished already.

Three years and I see how my birth cracked me open in ways that have allowed light to rush into places I thought would never change, never heal. I see how quickly my old tools turned to sand during birth and after, and how I have had no choice but to craft new tools out of bone, blood, hair, grass, tree branches, tears.

And I feel now, even now, as I crest a hill and feel my words, mind, and creativity coming back to me, how tomorrow or the next day -- and certainly someday -- these new tools will crumble and I will have to fashion new ones.

"The work is to keep doing the work," says Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and I nod.

I nod on the eve of Three, I nod with my hands sunk deep in ink, elderberry juice, shit, soil, rage, vision. I bow at the feet of She Who Died three years ago tomorrow, and I kiss that self, who will live forever, even as she is gone.

Thank you

Thank you

Thank you.

Photo of me now, by Felix

Friday
Feb282014

Above the Average

The book was an immature experiment written for the purpose of getting all the wise cracks (known by sophomores as epigrams) and all the autobiographical material (which hounds us until we get it said) out of my system. [...] I think I shall write some very good books indeed. The next one won't be good nor the next one, but about the fifth, I think will be above the average.

--John Steinbeck, about his first book, Cup of Gold. His fifth novel? Of Mice and Men.