Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swan Dives into the Ineffable

I had a professor who called poetry a swan dive into the ineffable. That's nice. I like that phrase. It's lovely and it makes the making of poetry sound terribly important, and as the wife of a poet, I do think poetry's important.

But I bring up that phrase for a different reason altogether. It has been a little over 10 months since Atticus was born and I'm still swimming madly against the rapids of the ineffable. He still doesn't make sense to me, his whole existence doesn't. I sit in the backseat next to his carseat everywhere we go and I often, frequently, almost always look at him with a sense of wonderment nearing displacement. How did he get here? Where did he come from? Is this kid really mine?

It is not without love or attachment or a great desire for him that I ask these questions, but I'm trying to figure the ineffable here: once there was no one and now there's a whole Atticus. Any parent who doesn't get horribly confused by that fact is either not thinking very hard or far more wise than me.

And self-identity is still somewhere in that ineffable ocean. I know I'm a mother, but I don't always feel like a wife. Here's an inescapable truth of having a young baby in the house. Wait for it. Are you ready? Not a lot of sex happens in that house. Not that sex defines wifery, but certainly it has something to do with it. Have I disclosed too much? Will my husband cringe at reading this? But it's the truth and one that needn't be shushed or whispered or alluded to in quiet tones between other mothers. It is really damn hard to be anything more than a mother as being a mother is so all consuming. Any other pursuits feel selfish, reckless, and tiring at the end of the day.

I don't want it to be like this. I'd like to go out for an evening and let it be okay that my son is not as comfortable as he would be if I were with him. I'd like to put my husband first sometimes. Hell, I'd like to put myself first sometimes.

But I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

Last week we met up with some old friends in my old town and I became acutely aware of the difference in our lives now. It was a reading at a very hipster bar in Grand Rapids. The readers were great, real artists with presence and content and craft; it was the type of reading that makes you ache a little bit to go home and write and be a creator of things yourself.

That was at the beginning of the evening, but as the evening wore on, my creative impulses were overtaken by my maternal ones. It happened quickly and completely. The "must get home to baby" internal chant gained momentum and volume and I forgot entirely about wanting to write or eventually have my own readings.

Will it be this way forever? Will I ever feel like Atticus would be better served by serving myself first? Am I okay with this?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Babies and Travelling

Travelling with a baby is tough stuff. Funny thing about babies - they like sameness. They like the same faces and smells and places to sleep night after night. Now that I think about it, I'm not really all that different from a baby.

It's good to be home. While there was tremendous fun and excitement to be had up north, there is nothing so tremendously fun as ones own bed.

Our travelling baby was a trooper. Sort of. Mostly. Kind of. Pretty much. But now he is in his own bed and while I have more to say on this matter, the pull of my very own bed is too strong.

More soon on other things related to babies and mothering and the intellect precariously balancing between.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ruggedly Confused Patriot

"America: The Story of Us" is a series from the History channel that tells, well, derr ..., the story of America. I'm enjoying the show immensely, but at the same time, I am becoming increasingly queasy with the unsavory truths of our history.

This is a tired conversation. We've all become enlightened about the less glorious moments of our short American history, but then there are the those things that remain in the darkened shadow of glorified language, hidden, tucked away under that hearty phrase "rugged individualism."

What does that phrase even mean? Herbert Hoover was the guy to first bring that healing term, that salve of all salves, into our lexicon. To be rugged is to be capable of enduring great adversity, to be hearty, to be manly, to look a bear in the eye and roar right back. And to be an individual is to know your mind and give it free rein over your interests and conversations and life goals. Put those two together and heck, you have license to pretty much kill everything in front of you.

Or so it was with the patriots. And I WANT to call them patriots. I want to give them the respect they questionably deserve. What our American forefathers did was rugged and individualistic and scary as hell and you wouldn't catch me doing it for all the tea in China. If it were up to me, we'd all still be in England saying, "Yes, mum, indeed, mum, here's all my money for the Crown and sure, I'll go to whatever Church you tell me to, mum."

But that's not our patriots. Our patriots left, got on ships, landed in harsh conditions, starved or ate each other, died from smallpox, died from smallpox inoculations, died from milk disease, cut out the Erie Canal with their bare hands working fingers to literal bone, and all for what? Could they imagine the glory their sacrifices would allow? Could they imagine a highway system and sanitation and education for all? Did they know - could they have had any indication of the superpower we would become? George Washington thought it would take a 1000 years to settle America. Not with rugged individualists at the helm. No sir. We are only a couple hundred years into the great experiment and look at us. We rule the whole freaking world.

It's not hard to love the patriots, our forefathers, our bold leaders, our rugged individualists. How ungrateful would I have to be to not love them and respect the hell out of their accomplishments?

And yet.

To wit, a list of the things young America did to earn the term "rugged individualists":

1. Defeated the British who were defending Native American boundary lines

(How, you ask? By killing off the Native American guides in the service of the British and by employing sharp shooters to take out British captains. Stay classy, patriots.)

2. Defeated the Mexicans who had welcomed us into their territory only to have us take it over entirely

(Remember the Alamo? Remember when the Mexicans said, sure, come on in? Then, hey, wait, there's too many of you? Then, hey, what the heck just happened here?)

3. Indentured the free Africans who had fought for America right alongside every other America in the Revolutionary War

(Hey, somebody's got to take care of the cotton on the land we took from the Cherokee.)

4. Crossed 2000 miles to get to the gold rush in California where men died and didn't even receive decent burials

And on and on. But look how tough we are. We keep pushing through. We tame the lands and flourish despite it all.

And there are longers lists of our better deeds. History books are full of them. I am, I must admit, a huge fan of John Adams and his contribution to American history. Also, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Pretty much in that order. And they are all that term for good or ill.

But it's the ill that has me at the moment. That Machiavellian sensibility that pervades our history and probably the history of every history. We are no different from each other. Perhaps if I had been a part of the Donner party, I would have made the same choices. Perhaps I would have believed in freedom and self preservation at all costs. Perhaps I am just as ruggedly individualistic as the next guy.

Lucky for me, my life is so posh, I don't have to find out. Thanks, patriots. Thanks for my cushy, easy life. Thanks for setting me up in a free society where I can blog about how murderous your sacrifices were. Thanks for this life, this liberty, and this pursuit of judging the heck out of you and all you have done for this great country.