I was the first patient to arrive, but not the first person. The lights were on inside the dull concrete block building illuminating a receptionist, nurses, counselors and doctors as they set about their day. Those other cars were apparently for the protesters who positioned themselves along the road and beside the entrance, waiting for people like me to arrive. Apparently their conviction hadn’t quite hardened yet so I walked a weak gauntlet as they halfheartedly make the case that I’m going to hell.
I waited 19 years to lose my virginity and 4 years to have sex without a condom and 1 month to take a pregnancy test and 3 weeks to get this appointment scheduled. All things considered, the wait wasn’t long but the weight of this secret on my conscience these 21 days has been like a migraine of the soul, or maybe something like what it feels to be pregnant past the due date– skin stretched and streaked, back bowed and aching, kicked at from within but helpless to meet the implicit demand of the one inside knocking to be let out. I’ll let you out, far before you asked. I almost wish for the physical manifestation of this feeling to make itself apparent because the feelings are so much yet I have nowhere to place them. This is the lump that has been bearing down on my mind since the day the stick silently shouted at me like this feeble line of picketers who share many of my feelings but none of the perspective. Fuck them. Fuck me.
Inside, I sign in and take a seat, setting the wheels in motion for what will be a strange mixture of medical and social services. First is the ultrasound, a process I’ve never experienced but have witnessed 1,000 times in the fantasy realm of television. Hollywood is obsessed with the symbolic poignancy of glimpsing a grainy sight and a muffled sound of The Future personified. I am making small talk with the nurse about her daughter’s summer camp activities in an effort to focus my attention and to portray myself as a more balanced person than this experience alone might suggest me to be.
Continue reading “Mother-to-be, to be”
I was halfheartedly listening to the radio a few days ago when a woman, finishing up her interview, declared flatly: “God is on my side.” I punched the radio off and sat in the silence wondering why those words provoked such a powerful irritation in me.
I used to be vehemently atheist and outspoken about it, but now the word “God” doesn’t offend me the way it used to. Now I allow myself the luxury of faith and the gift of prayer. But I still cringe with the irritation of the atheist at the incredible hubris of someone who dares to declare that they know God and hot his endorsement. It feels like the worst sort of name-dropping. It feels like a secret that loses its power as soon as the words hit the air. It makes me sad and angry at the same time.
A “side” is a terrestrial thing it is a construct of the physical world, it does not apply to the divine interconnectedness of life. God has no side, it is deep and round and dimensionless. It is incapable of choosing one person or one concept at the exclusion of another.
God– whatever that means to you– does not confine itself to a single person or even a single idea. God is not binary, God is not the winning team of a rivalry, God is not the big brother that can beat up your enemy’s big brother. If there is any “side” of God, it is Truth, and truth exists in all of us. God is on your side only in that there is only one side. There is no Point and Counterpoint, there is only baseline. Continue reading “The God Side”
I love to read. There are many books that have changed my life through inspiration or escapism or a new way of seeing the world.
I love to write. Poems and songs and essays and stories fill my computer and many journals.
And yet. I never take the time to write to my favorite authors. I ascribe some sort of Otherness to those special people. There is some perceived inaccessibility based on a unilateral relationship wherein they are the source and I am consumer. There is the buffer of the text that separates the author with the reader. A new book exists silently on a shelf and I pick it up. It’s true that many of my favorite authors are long passed- Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Earnest Hemingway, Jerzy Kosinski- but there are many others whose time on earth overlaps mine. my time on earth overlaps theirs.
It many ways it is totally normal not to write to a famous figurehead, but some part of me finds it practically immoral to coexist with someone who has literally changed my life and not tell them so.
So, this year, on Valentine’s Day, I offered back words to those who had moved me with theirs and wrote to some of my favorite authors. It felt heady and surreal to address these titans by name: Joan Didion, Barbera Kingsolver, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Leach, Davis Sedaris, Thomas Lynch, and, Jim Harrison. “Dear Joan” I wrote, with a grin.
The little exercise was immediately gratifying in the act of writing alone, but it became every more rewarding when I got a letter back from Barbera Kingsolver (a form letter, but nonetheless very nice) and a postcard from David Sedaris (hand-written, very very nice).
Then there was this: Jim Harrison died today. When I saw the news, my first reaction was sadness for his passing, quickly followed by a wave of relief that I didn’t let my words of gratitude go unspoken. I was so glad that I got the chance to tell him how his words kept me company on the trail while I hiked the most remote stretch of the Upper Peninsula, how the dead mosquito bodies decorated the pages of Dalva, how I read while walking along straightaways because I was so engrossed, how I began to imitate the writing in my own dairy because he was my sole external influence during those solitary days. I’ll never know if he read those words, but then I’m in the same position he was when I read his.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
RIP Jim Harrison
There is an additional peace in writing this today because I have made the mistake before of procrastinating until death interrupted and I dearly want to be done learning that lesson.
Originally published by ModelD
From where he sits in his tiny booth on the north side of the Fisher Building, Gerry can see about half of a city block. Gerry is the attendant for Tony’s Parking on Lothrop Street. He has spent at least 60 hours a week here for the past 30 years, and he knows this place and its people with an alarming intimacy, though he is oblivious to what occurs just around the next corner. When I moved into the apartment building adjacent to the lot that is Gerry’s province, I had no idea that this outspoken parking attendant would have such a persistent, if minor, role in my life.
Above all else, Gerry is a witness to this neighborhood. His official territory includes only the parking lot, but his domain extends as far as his vision. He is the type of figure that Jane Jacobs would herald as the best kind of “eyes on the street,” with mutual trust, if not affection, on the part of the observer and its subjects.
Gerry arrives to work every day before 7 a.m. He calls “information” to make sure the time on his clock is perfect so no one can say he overcharged. He surveys the area, shoveling snow away from the sidewalk or sweeping puddled rainwater into the sewer. As people arrive, he files cars in rows according to the duration of their stay to maximize capacity and minimize block-ins. It’s an endless game of horizontal tetris.
“How long you gonna stay?” he says in his faintly antagonistic way. Gerry is so severely gruff that it’s almost endearing because he seems to care so little about what others think of him. In Gerry’s eyes, everyone has an agenda and he’s not in it. He preempts others’ dismissal with casual conspiracies about people who look at him the wrong way “I know what she’s about.” Gerry knows that the people who visit his lot aren’t there for him; they are there for a service. After a brief exchange of money and words, Gerry is left to watch people’s prized possessions, alone, like an underappreciated nanny.
Gerry is famous for his non sequiturs: “Good morning!” might be answered with “My life is more complicated than yours” or “Ain’t nobody else could do this job.” Sometimes he just repeats himself by way of extending a conversation that lacks momentum: “You gotta go? You gotta go now? Where ya going? You gotta go?” This elementary form of interrogation actually works to the point that Gerry is the keystone of gossip in the surrounding social landscape. (You’d be surprised how much personal information you give away when everything you say is answered with “what else?” five consecutive times.)
Continue reading “Parking Lot Gerry”
It takes something truly egregious to catalyze public action – we all now know the harm that was done and the toxic combination of neglect and manipulation that led to it. Will Flint be the tipping point?
Originally published by Occupy.com
The violation of human rights in Michigan has been going on for decades – the inevitable result of maintenance deferred in a strained economy. The canaries have been singing for awhile with emergency management, crumbling infrastructure, job loss, poverty, failing education, and so on. But since we keep falling it seems we haven’t hit bottom yet. As with other social movements, mere mistreatment isn’t enough to provoke true change.
It takes something truly egregious to catalyze action and Flint may provide the spark.
Continue reading “It Takes A Flint To Start A Fire”
Originally published by ModelD
Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for the inexcusable failures of leadership that led to the current situation in Flint, where tens of thousands of individuals, including children, have been poisoned, dismissed, neglected, and lied to. What’s clear at this stage is that great harm has been done to both people and the city’s infrastructure.
Now that state and local government have acknowledged the truth, they will have to do something about it. Any good nerd knows that “I’m sorry” doesn’t de-corrode miles of water piping or detoxify children – we need money to pay for that. But how will we find it? Here are some policy suggestions that could help ameliorate the water crisis in Flint and buttress the rest of our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.
Top it off
In the midst of ongoing financial and social instability in many of Michigan’s cities, the price of oil happens to be at a 10-year low. The current approach to this happy circumstance seems to be to just enjoy the break at the pump, but we are missing a real opportunity. The fact is that Michigan is facing grotesque infrastructure disinvestment, with aging roads and water infrastructure that our governments have proven to be either unwilling or incapable of addressing. We need to take collective action to take advantage of the opportunity that low oil rates present. What Michigan needs is a “Top Off” law that would set a price floor on gas prices.
Under this law, any time market rates of gas fall below $2.00/gallon, the gas station would become a savings account for state and local infrastructure fund. The differential between market rates and that indexed value (which could grow gradually over time) would provide funding for projects from road repairs to water pipeline modernization. If market rates exceed $2.00/gal, then we pay nothing. If prices stay above that index, well, we’re no worse off than we are now. The law would create a fund to address infrastructure issues that aren’t getting paid for now, and certainly won’t be when gas rates hike back up again. Continue reading “Policy ideas to fix Flint’s water crisis (and help avoid another)”
Get in your car. Wait for it to warm up, like he would do.
When your impatience catches up to you, 20 seconds later, put the gear in drive and head onto the highway, north. Pass the 7-mile and 8-mile and 11-mile exits and the accompanying suburbs thereafter. Don’t check your phone or pick at your hair or worry about how long it will take. Listen to public radio and hear what they have to say, or put on the same CD that’s been in your console for two years and sing along to Ella Fitzgerald, or turn everything off altogether and see what your brain turns the silence into. Pass the outlet malls and fast food signs and let the hotheads of the leftmost lane pass you. Think about what you will do when you arrive.
Turn off the highway and take a right. Pass the final gasp of the commercial uniformity and pass the turn-off for the landfill/skihill and pass the Springfield Inn and the empty restaurant with the baldly desperate sign that says “Eat Here or We’ll Both Starve!” Take a right again. Drive down the one-lane road beyond the mustard yellow house and the fake pond and the lonely-seeming houses on what some living memories knew as farmland. Take a left. Watch out for the pothole and go down the final stretch, maybe sneak a look at yourself in the rearview mirror and decide what song you want to end your drive on. Right where the road splits, don’t take either fork but a hard left up a dirt road that is actually a driveway. Curve up past houses that are almost-but-not-quite it and park your car at the gate by the 60-foot pine-tree. Get your bags out of your car, straddle-step over the fence– careful not to rip your pants– and walk the path in the snow to the front door that you have always felt comfortable letting yourself into without knocking.
There he is.
He may patiently wait while you take off your shoes and greet the dogs and set down your things. He may listen as you comment on his beard or lack of beard or work coveralls or t-shirt– in this weather? Or he may stride past the frenzied pets to your watchful side and hold you so long and so sweet that you almost cry even though you’re not sure why.
You made it. Here is this man, tucked away in the woods even though they said all the good ones were taken. Here he is and you have found him. Let him make you coffee and put some logs on the fire. Let him spread some of his peace onto your heart and, for god’s sake if you’re smart, let him love you.
Somewhere between the meetings and the writing and the car rides, I learn something that surprises me– I don’t actually want to shave my head. I want to want to do it, but I don’t actually want to. I know that if I do it, it won’t be free– it will take some sort of emotional toll. I think back to my little prayer the other night and I just don’t feel the need to take from myself more than I’m willing to give. I don’t want to have to recover from today if I can help it. If the means to the end of balance requires me to imbalance myself, I don’t trust it.
I especially don’t want to do it now, on new years, for the same reasons that I did want to before. To perform an act like this, on a day and in a way so steeped in symbolism and expectation would all but guarantee my failure.
In the miniscule space between the question and my decision, I’m already almost floored by how effectively I distracted my over-conscientious mind into obsessing about this question. What a ruse! What a joke! I spun an impulse into a thesis statement. All the reasons I told myself were true to a point, but the core of this desire was sheer and sharp, razor blade desperation. I guess I’m not desperate right now.
Three years ago I started the path that began with a divorce and has stirred my restless soul around almost a dozen different residences (you can hardly call them all homes). When I lost most of what I had, I gave up the rest. I had nothing and nothing to lose. But I’m not there anymore. I have a life, I have a lot to lose. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of work to build the shaky foundation I’m navigating from now, and I know firsthand how much easier it is to destroy something than to create it. Let me be gentle with myself right now, let me not throw away what I have, even if it is just, you know, hair. Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 5 “Suffrage””
I leave the solitude of my cabin and spend some time in Nashville for New Years Eve. I’m not quite sure how to properly honor the occasion but I do know that I want to see more of what this city has to offer.
I’m self-conscious with my haircut and half-wishing I had already shaved my head in order to practice dealing with its awkwardness in the company of strangers. I can’t tell what exactly it is that I want out of this night. To make friends? To flirt? To have some great epiphany? No way to guarantee any of them but my choices of how I spend my time will make some outcomes more likely than others.
I go to an OA meeting, I take myself out to lunch, I write and drink coffee at a downtown cafe and almost order a cookie. I know where that leads and that is one thing I definitely don’t want for myself today.
As it gets dark I walk around and into a trashy-yet-self-aware “boogey bar” with some of the best free live music I’ve ever heard. Now you’re talking. After awhile I float down the street and into a karaoke bar. To sing karaoke in Nashville was the one cultural goal of my trip and here’s my chance. The bar is pretty much empty and I get picked right away to sing “Bobbie McGee.” I love that song but its hard to sing and Janis is so weird and I as self conscious so I don’t make it through very many of the la la las. Why did I even pick that song? It’s so much longer than I remember, I wish they’d cut me off. At least I did what I came there to do. Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 4 “Song””
I drive around a lot, partly to get groceries, partly to explore Nashville, and most especially to resume my “reading” of Eat Pray Love in the car. I left the windows down when I arrived in the dark that first night and the rain that so soothed me on my marathon nap also happened to soak the interior of my car, which now smells mildewy and suspicious. No one hurt but me and me hardly hurt, no big deal.
I drive to Nashville and am surprised by my lack of curiosity. Maybe it’s the grey day, or the good book, or the pedestrian-free sterility I see all around me, but I have no desire to leave my car. I finally park but wait to withdraw my keys until the end of a chapter. And there, as I gaze out the window listening, a large metal sign loosely nailed to its post swings in the breeze to face me and invites me to read it. “Parking By Permit Only” it says. I smile. I didn’t want to get out of the car anyway.
I drive all the way back to the small town near my little cabin, and I pass a few easy at a coffee shop. A woman– apparently a regular– enters to compliments about her hair. She announces that this was the first day she’d worn her hair “down” in 5 years. She’s had cancer. She lost it all, and now it’s back. Such talk to announce in public! My ears perk. Everything seems to be about hair. I see it everywhere. I am self-conscious of mine already– I can only imagine how I’ll feel if I actually shave it. I am so thin-skinned. Will this make me stronger or pierce me? Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 3 “Spiral””