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steampunk eye

Less than 24 hours ago, Jasmine was checking my vitals and Jolly upping the saline. Sexy Surgeon had autographed my left knee in purple marker. An unscheduled emergency bumped my mundane procedure to the bottom of the queue, so I was the last patient of the day. A little after 5:00pm, the two nurses heard the buzz, flipped up the side rails, and wheeled my gurney toward operating room. On the way, Jolly grabbed two warm blankets and apologized as she unfolded them over me. “The room is a little chilly.”

“You should use a word other than ‘chilly,'” I slur, “when someone has been fasting for 18 hours.” Jasmine grinned and kicked open the door.

Less than 24 hours ago, drifting in a fog of anesthesia, I offered up my torn meniscus to the doc and his team.

Less than 15 minutes ago, I walked the dog around the neighborhood.

It was a slow walk, sure, and a low dose of Percocet smoothed the way.  Yet there I hobbled, pooch patiently ambling at my side.  Just a blink earlier, I was lounging in pre-op, rehashing family lore with my mom. They had yet to jab my joint open debride the meniscus with a pair of miniature tools that clearly need more oblique names than “the biter” and “the shaver.”

Medicine is magical and magical is art

This is a terrifying time to be alive. It’s hard to ignore disasters both present and imminent, and impossible to quiet the urgency for action in so many corners of the world.  Innovation births drone warfare and the venom of dictators screaming instantly into our pockets. We celebrate each new decade by inventing a thousand novel ways to die.

Also, this is a time of marvels. Someone found their way through the call of hunger and greed. Someone tinkered and played and eventually conjured up arthroscopy. Now we head home from the operating theater with absolute faith in the next dance.

The way we look to us all

Even knowing the work ahead, even wide awake to the call to clean up these messes and respond to the surging need of our neighbors on this planet, I’m grateful.

These are the days of miracle and wonder

It’s a blessing to be alive on this bit of rock in this moment in the story.

The dog is pretty happy about it too.


Lyrics: Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble

Image: Roleplayers Guild: The Relics

You Too

mother-and-child-hermel-alejandre

don’t need to hear it
to know it
so i say it
for him. i love you
baby
and you love me
too.

no
he says
no i don’t
i actually
hate you.

tonight
i don’t need to hear it
but he might
so i say it
for both of us
again.

it glides
over the blue fleece
valley between
his twilit cliff
and my watchful shore

he says
faster
as we climb
our bikes towards sunset
he says
the Giant Ogliboy
is an anagram
of biology
he says
give me
a noun or a verb
i say hammer
he says
it’s both

but closes his voice
tight
against affection’s
escape.
at guard, a lock
in the shape of
his neck

but tonight
he forgets to latch
the gate
between worlds
and drifting off
he says
what i don’t need
to hear
to know is true
he says
something
when i say
i love you
he says
you too.


Thanks to Walter Moers for A Wild Ride through the Night, the anagram scientist giants, and the quest that carries us here.

Image: Hermel Alejandre, “Mother and Child”

What young self didn’t know was that cool is a lid that screws down tight on the swelling delight of yes.  From the edge of her ancient eye, older self notices women in the dark corners of the bar bouncing in their seats.  Girls titter near a post trying not to sway — girls who are surely women but seem so far from their fullness.

The dude in an oversized plaid suit and orange ponytail hollers into a microphone while the bassist ducks his eyes under his fedora and yanks on steel strings.  Two spaghetti-armed boys blow brass right through the back wall.

Older self stands and strips off her sweater.  She steps toward the unnamed sister, the one in a cherry red tank top and spiked gray hair. She touches her arm and draws her onto the space in the center of the room.  The worn Persian rug there is a far cry from a welcome mat, but carpet is no great challenge.  Years earlier, she sent her young selves scurrying off to road-test every surface. Concrete, rooftop, mountaintop, pier.  Boardroom, waiting room, snowfall, bed.  Every floor is a dance floor when it’s time to dance.

It’s always time to dance.

She pops her hip and snaps her hand, beckoning to the one across the room who’s been having trouble sitting still.  They are three now.  Soon they are five.  Soon nine.

Low ceilings press in on the battered cafe.  Amateur pencil sketches hang crooked the walls. Light shifts and a gleam slices across the bowl of the saxophone.  Soon it’s a glittering ballroom.  Soon the pulse of the Cotton Club on a Saturday night.

The wall of dudes collectively holds confines itself to straight faces and non-committal postures until one man, pushing 70 easy, steps into and sheds 10 years. The young women form a ring of cool, turning their taut backs out for protection.  The rest shimmy and grin knowing there is no outside and no in.  Guarding one’s soft parts is a survival skill for certain,  but the older ones have learned the taxonomy of danger.  They can differentiate battlefield from playground now.  It wasn’t always so clear.

Here, the belly is free to roll towards the snare’s smash and crack.  That’s lightning for sure, but older self unfurls anyway inside the grounded body of her scars.  She twists the lid loose and drinks the song’s bright rain.  She is growing older still.  Time is running out, so she runs out into it.  She fills her bones until they spill over with dance.


 

Reframe

female atlas

I don’t have to carry all this
because I’m alone.
I get to carry it
because I’m strong.


Image: “Female Atlas” by Heretical Jargon

Cooking for One

kitchen witch

my tongue craves skin, my skin
tongue.  how to eat when the only flavor
is salt? too poor for the extravagance
of a meal served to me, i recall the logic
of giving the beloved what you want
for yourself.  this woman
is her own again, my only lover
here.  In the kitchen i peel
off my clothes and wrap around my hips
an oceanic gust from the cotton bolt
i brought from Zimbabwe
half this life before
and gave to a dear one who returned to me
one yard in thanks, tiny stitches,
this skirt. heat tears through
onion silk. with the long blade
i slice gold threads of ginger. oil pops
as punjabi mc strips the carapace
and wings unfold from my hips.
roil and scrape. peanut, coconut, turmeric, cumin.
cabbage, tomato, cauliflower, honey.
masala dust clings to raw arms, ribs
sweat red clay heat. mouth gorged
with song, the feeding precedes
the eating. my tongue thrills at the naked
steam curling into its hidden cells, my skin
tilts towards the kaleidoscope
of scents. i serve my beloved
a dish and she returns to me
one  birth  in thanks, tiny bloodbeats,
this night. the only flavor
is never the only flavor. the body can taste
every texture of loss. the body can learn
to boil sugar
from the heart.


 

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.


-Wilkins Micawber in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield

The last slide on the budget PowerPoint lays out our school’s financial plan:

  • Increase revenue
  • Decrease spending

(Seriously?)

The boss man knows enough to apologize for it but not enough to skip it altogether.  None of us wants to hear it again.  We are familiar with the formula. Every pixel of internet clickbait loops us back around to yet another listicle that peddles yet another version of the same recipe.

Want to get fit?  Exercise more, eat less.

Tackle the day?  Fewer screens, more sleep.

Be a good friend? Listen more, talk less.

A good lover? Less grasp, more give.

Scale it up and the formula breaks down. Good luck giving global overpopulation the “less babies, more birth control” treatment.  Large-scale social problems have to reckon with the complexity of human cultures, histories, and economies.

This is why we love the personal self-improvement principle almost as much as we loathe it.  While its simplicity balms the wounds of chaos, its refusal to acknowledge complexity drives us batty.

Too hooked on your fix? Use less, breathe more.

Struggling with social anxiety or loneliness? Isolate less, connect more.

Stuck in your career? Hide less, lead more.

Anyone who has ever come up against a tough challenge knows that paths are crooked and terrain that at first appeared solid turns to quicksand in a blink.  It’s only when we’re far on the other side of it — or perhaps when we’re judging some other poor sucker’s fight — that we apply the simplicity principle.

I’m not the only one in the room looking at those PowerPoint bullets through rolling eyes.  As if.

As if all our problems could be solved so easily.

But now I wonder.

What if Mr. Micawber is right after all?

Not for everything, but for one thing in particular: when it comes to this life-choking, spirit-sucking, too-many-decades-in-residence depression, what if Mr. Micawber’s formula is exactly the one I’ve never really tried?

More happy, less misery.

Of course it can’t be that easy.  Not for most of us anyway, and definitely not for the hard core clinical pits into which I stumble, body and mind shattered, bruised and slick with mud. . .

Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of metaphor that costs me twenty pounds nought and six.

Happy = revenue.  Misery = expense.

How might this look?  Here’s an example:  When I remember yet again that awful phone call from Friday in which I learned that Bug and I missed an opening from a many-years waitlist for family camp because I called one minute (the registration lady told me) after the last person who got in. . . I say to myself, “Rehashing this makes me sad. I’m going to think about something else now.” Then I cast around for something nice to notice and remind myself that we’re going to have our own adventure this summer, whatever it is.

Or it looks like this: When my kiddo scowls and tells me yet again that he doesn’t love me and in fact I stink like a rotten poop-eating skunk, I consider how much better laughing feels than fussing. I clap my hands in delight and say I love eating rotten poopy skunk carcasses, they’re even better if they’ve been marinated in worm puke. Then we’re giggling and tickling, and our smiles bounce off the walls.

Or it looks like putting on music when I’m home alone and dancing while I do the dishes. Or texting a girlfriend just to say hello. Or carrying colored pencils in my bag so I can doodle while my son carries on with his buddies at a birthday party.

Or just frittering away my time stuck in traffic counting off the day’s 100 blessings.

It looks like noticing when I’ve started to pay the inflated cost of ruminating while missing an opportunity to generate some pleasure revenue.  A person who tends towards depression needs only one thundercloud to knock the account all out of balance again. Building back up from that kind of debt is a wearying toil — an avoidable one, as it may happen.

When I have enough attention to notice, I might choose to forgo the temptation.  Do not overthink, do not give in to self-pity.  Like walking past the Cheetos at the supermarket.  Just don’t.  Sure, those things are familiar but they make me feel disgusting, and really, they don’t even taste that good.

Can it be this stupidly, improbably simple?

Give it a shot, Smirk.

Choose happy whenever possible.  Or colorful, or musical, or goofy. Choose anything that lifts and ignites over anything that weighs and chokes.  Marvel at the beets, smell a bunch of dill.  Imagine what new recipe to make.  Flirt with the butcher.  Hum while trundling down the aisles.  If it increases the happy income, do it.  If it exacts its price in misery, walk on by.

It makes me smile just to begin.

See? Already, I’m saving for happy.

Simple as that.


Changing Water

#62 of the first 100 blessings is this right here.

This circle of bloggers and readers.

The blessing is you writing in a voice all your own — meditative, manic, academic, vibrant, raw, irreverent, sweet —  and moving your readers to strike their own singular chord.  And you who reads, you who lets the words snake in with your breath, who may even follow one whispering trace to its source.

Below is a handful from the catalog of blessings. The list is in random order and many are missing.  It’s only in the compiling that the sheer magnitude of the community becomes apparent.

What a marvel it is to play in this riot of worlds.

  • dmf and the others over at Synthetic Zero.  “There are many ways to live among and from the ruins”
  • N Filbert at Becoming Imperceptible. “The fierce splittage that occurs.  Rife.”
  • Silverleaf at The Silverleaf Journal. “A silent city wilderness hides, moss-covered and leaf-whipped”
  • Cindy Milstein at Outside the Circle. “For us many, solidarity is an especially strong weapon. It is probably our best one.”
  • Math with Bad Drawings. “Just look at these lovely unit fractions, swaying back and forth, an alternating sequence as lulling and seductive as Marvin Gaye’s best.”
  • Beeseeker.

    Comes a time
    When the trees, like the clouds,
    The waves, the mountains
    No longer answer your questions.

  • Ned Hixon at Ned’s Blog.  “When you find yourself force-feeding Pepto Bismol into your child’s constipated hamster, you figure you’ve faced one of your greatest challenges as a parent.”
  • Matthew Fray at Must Be This Tall to Ride. An extended passage here, because his 13-volume Open Letter to Shitty Husbands series is too potent to parse.

It’s an involuntary sort-of apathy she feels now. Because you robbed her of the passion she once had for you. And she resents you for it.

This isn’t the life she’d hoped for. The one you’d promised her curled up in the sheets and one another on a Saturday morning when you were young and nothing else mattered.

She can’t want you now. Because the fire’s gone. Extinguished.

And the pain and frustration of that realization is almost unbearable for her. That you don’t love her anymore. That you don’t want her anymore. That she matters so little to you now that your job, or your friends, or your video games, or your drinking, or your golfing, or your TV watching, or whatever, has taken priority over her. You’re the person she chose over her parents. The person she trusted with the rest of her life.

Because you’d rather play Call of Duty or watch reruns on the couch, than tell your wife she looks sexy, than clean up the kitchen for her, than spend a couple hours making her climax over and over again.

Right now, maybe you’re nodding your head.

“Yeah, Matt. I would rather do something for myself.”

  1. You’ll regret thinking that.
  2. You deserve what’s coming.
  • Barton Smock at kingsoftrain.  “I am the photo my visions take.”
  • Alyssa Moore at Dear Lily June. “Someday, I’ll set the memories, just as he’s set the bottles, down, and I won’t feel the need to drown myself or anyone else, including you (I am so sorry) in their contents anymore.”
  • Leesha at Prolix Me. “Push through that struggle and sucker-punch that shitty day in the face.”
  • MorgueticiaAtoms at Take a Ride on my Mood Swing.”For Mother’s Day, I got a tantrum from my kid who said, “I want to kill you!” Charming, no? All because I told her I didn’t have the money to take her out to lunch.”
  • Kimberly Harding at Soul Healing Art.
  • Josh Wrenn at My Friday Blog.

    I have decided to offer my exclusive poor people tips to you.  You can use these tips to either save your half-dollar or make it go further.  I ask that you only use these tips if you are poor.  This is the honor system, which likely means plenty of the richest people are going to use these tips as those people have no honor.  For the rest of you, please, do not use these tips and ruin it for those of us living in the abjectness.

  • Black(ness) in Bold: Black Professors, Black Experiences, and Black Magic. “a dialectical display of revolution, research, ideas, theory and love”
  • Writers Without Money. “As the sun goes down on the world capitalism made, I prepare to read capitalism’s manifesto.”

    Image: “Changing Water – Gulf of Maine,” Sculpture by Nathalie Miebach