Kill the Babysitter

newlove

Here comes the babysitter. You’re pumped. His appearance promises a night of board games, TV, living room dance parties. He’ll make mac & cheese for dinner and skip the broccoli entirely. Turn up the volume on bands you’ve never heard of. Dress up like a Sith Lord and let you annihilate him after a protracted battle that covers every floor of the house.

You may pass several hours draped in sequins and spiked on sugar. Playing, yes. But for show, not for keeps. Playing for this night only. Playing with the door closed.

The babysitter has one job: keeping you safe until your parents get home.

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Lacing Into

May 24, 2013

He twines black ribbon around his wrist. With a yellow strand, I mirror him. Weave slips around the thumb and passes through open channels between fingers stretched wide. Twice around and across, the dressing lays itself over the bumps of knuckles where once we counted days of the month. He is finished with both of his before I am even halfway around the first. His fingers turn my hand and graze my left palm just before mummifying its living flesh beneath warped satin dressing.

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Water Born

sand dollar 1

Popham Beach, Maine

These feet mapped in silver. My weight displacing stars.

We are chasing the tide even before we begin, trying to outrun the sea. The sun follows us, staying at our backs for five miles across moonscape and dune. Wind has carved ridges like Atlantis exposed.

Here is where my friend comes now. Every week, a pilgrimage of sorts. She has recast herself a collector of sand dollars, displaying them in gleaming mason jars around her house. She’s brought me along this time and I don’t have questions at first. Now, the stretch of land and water before us is framed by a giant question mark. “Where is it we are going?” It must be the third time I’ve asked, and we’re barely out of the parking lot. She gestures vaguely forward. At the end of a dark ridge, the shore curves then disappears around black tip of land. It is forever away.

She’s checked the tidal charts. She sets a brisk pace.

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Think Global, Hike Local

CCT

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.


– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

With a little vacation away from work and my kiddo off canoeing at day camp, it’s time for a fix of woods.  I pull up Hiking Upward to find something near enough to hit in a few hours but far enough for solitude.

This is the goal: solitude.  And its accompanying quiet.

Humans are social creatures, sure, and we need to be in proximity to people as much for a sense of connection as for all the stuff — the supermarket and hospital, the auto mechanic and school.  To survive, we need to be in community.  Even so, too much proximity to too many others can take its toll.  The buzz of engines and clang of machines, the soundtrack of urban and suburban life, can jam the signals.  When I start to notice myself too focused on the clock and task list, too alert, too aware of every demand and every passing vehicle, I know it’s time to seek out a forest. Continue reading “Think Global, Hike Local”

Injured and Alone

paredes 2

The injury aligns with the breakup, a window sash in its jamb.  One smooth slide to a perfect seal.  In stays the still air.  Out there, bees and dew and all the fecund detritus of summer.

This forced meditation is only welcome because it came in with its trunk and has evaded any attempt to pin down its schedule for moving on.  All I can do is make it feel at home.  I fold myself in beside it and listen to it breathe. Continue reading “Injured and Alone”

Thunder Roll

US - MILITARY - MEMORIAL DAY - ROLLING THUNDER

Blue-white needles frosted with summer rain squat fat and still over the roar.  Every passing growl is a Doppler crescendo lifting away another earthling.   One, maybe two.   Each made the choice to ride.  Every roar for days, hours into night, dawn into searing noon.  The rumble approaches and retreats, again, approaches and retreats, again.  Each one another one.  Each one new.  Each one here, each already gone.

 This freeway usually crouches behind its soft noise, a wash becoming nothing.  Surf without storm, wind over low dunes scoured clean of all breaks.  It fades into air itself, hiding passage in the press of blank white.  Ears become deaf by necessity or maybe laziness here on the other side of the sound wall, deaf to each human pressing on towards the singular objective of a fragment of day.

Now, here, these motorcycles demand attention.  They are designed for notice.  Each growl is a call to the hairs to rise, the jaw to stiffen, voice ready.  Who’s that? What’s there? When is this?

Now, it is now, it grumbles, it rumbles.  Another now, here it comes! There it goes. . .  A neighbor, a choice, a journey, a calling.

 What now?

A pleasure.  A burn.  A rebirth.

Coursing over the tarmac and weaving through white gashes, each in a pair, a pack, a battalion, or one lone rider.  Glove and leather, denim and chrome.  Each thunder roll is a choice to grip between thighs that saddled machine.  To clutch at gears, to stay upright, to cling to blacktop while soaring up, past, through and away.

Who’s that? What’s there?  Time, one moment. 

When is this?  Choice, forward motion, action, revolution.

Drive in, charge in, bite in and swallow the same air that churns out from belly, esophagus, throat, motor, rubber, grease, grit, sky.  The growl is gulp and belch.  It is breath and howl.  This is another man’s life here, passing, gone.  This is another woman’s ascent, crest, recede.  Each a doppelganger in flag starred ink and road scarred steel.

Claim it.

The rumble barks.

Claim you. 

Each single ticking humming second, each imperceptible sweep of the minute hand is one that only goes forward no matter how hard you press against the brakes and crank into reverse the resistant gears.  You can’t erase the odometer, can’t fly backwards down the on-ramp and start again with open road.

You only have this stretch here, the one outside your window behind a spill of ivy and shattered glass, this low sun bleeding over the sound wall and carrying your stunted roar up to smash like shell, yolk, skull, and cry against the day’s vanishing light.


Image: Vladen Antonov, AFP/Getty in Huffington Post from the Memorial Day 2014 Rolling Thunder ride in Washington DC

Audentes Fortuna Juvat

Baltic Human Chain

This is a story about a Metrobus and a jacket.

Yep, as primary returns roll in and the future of our too-fragile (we now realize) democracy hangs in the balance, this is fluff about public transit and rush hour stress.

Maybe this is the best I can manage. Maybe the chilling prospect of the Fourth Reich overtaxes a mind until it can bear no further weight. Maybe getting up early to vote means the work day was long and a girl is weary.

Maybe it’s just because this is what happened.

On a day when the temperature creeps up to 60 degrees, the leather jacket needed to ward off the morning chill becomes an encumbrance by 5:00. I heft backpack, lunch bag, jacket onto the bus to head home. It squeals to a stop, I hop off and walk about 50 yards before I realize.

Backpack (check). Lunch bag (check).

Jacket. . .?

I stand frozen for a full 15 seconds. The bus is long gone, heading north on that crowded rush hour artery. Riding quietly in the back is one of the nicest pieces of clothing I own. The fine leather was a gift from my sister maybe 15 years ago. Trim and versatile, it’s grown buttery with time. It’s one of those rare possessions that helps me feel less poor.

When it goes, I won’t be replacing it. Coats are like the rest of our wardrobe now: Hand-me-down, charity from Grandma, or Goodwill.

I start to run. Not towards the bus, though. Towards home. Backpack and lunchbag flopping against my back, I run through the park past the strollers and dogs and teens shooting hoops. The dog can wait. I pull out my keys and leap into my car.

Where does the bus go? Think think think. I’ve never taken it further than my stop. It must go to the Metro here before it heads further north. I wait at one light, then a 4-way intersection, lines of cars, a polling station. A bus pulls out onto the road ahead as I turn right before I realize — too late — that it was my bus. I crawl through the Metro parking lot back to the main road. Another red light. Another line of cars, another polling place. Idling, I pull out my phone and bring up the timetable. It’s 5:25 now, the next stop is a couple miles down the road, at 5:31. Can I get there?

Nope. Intersections, commuters heading home. Cars and bikes and pedestrians. More buses, the wrong buses. I just miss another light and sit there clutching the wheel for too many minutes. It’s 5:28, then 5:30.

Then the tears come.

They come riding a cold gale of thoughts: I hate rush hour, screw this soul-killing, congestion, this is why I take the goddamned bus, that jacket is one of the last nice things I have, somebody probably stole it anyway, why does everything suck?

And without even a blink of a transition, local winds swell to global catastrophe.

That self-promoting demagogue is going to be president and I’m so fried and weary I can’t even keep track of my stuff let alone do anything good for my kid’s future and here I am DRIVING a BUS ROUTE, as if the apocalypse isn’t coming fast enough already, Smirk.

I hear the swell of self-pity and anxiety, and just when it’s about to drag me under, my tears stop. Click, just light that. A quiet grin creeps up from somewhere buried. With it, this:

I choose my mind.

So I decide, right then, that chasing down this jacket is not a burden. It’s a quest. The light turns green. I crank DC101, roll down the window, and peel out.

Onto the main road, a snaking ribbon of taillights. The lanes widen from two in each direction to three then four. It is 5:37 now. The timetable tells me that my bus will be leaving the monstrous new Metro station at the heart of the mega office-commuter-consumer district at 5:45.

Eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic fan out before me. Buses are turning in and out from every direction. The station is connected to a shopping mall and parking by an elevated footbridge over this surging mass of cars. I have no idea which way to go, so I turn right because why not? But all the buses are the wrong bus, and now it’s a mall entrance —  wrong wrong wrong.

I turn then turn again, back onto a different major road. I pass over the Beltway, its travelers trying to squeeze on and off its ramps into unbroken chains of cars. I cross eight lanes, turn again, go al-l-l-l the way around a second mall (they’re a matched set!) and now it’s 5:44, and the Metro station is somewhere ahead of and above me, and where are the buses? Where is the parking?

Another bus bay. Big red signs say “AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY.” And there, at the end of the queue, is my blinking chariot. I swerve right, pull up behind, and hop out.

My driver is stretching his legs by the shelter, counting down his last minute.

My driver!

I jog up to him. “Hi! I think I left my leather jacket on your bus!”

“That’s your leather jacket?”

“Yep, it’s my leather jacket.”

He steps on board and opens up a cabinet near the front. There next to the fire extinguisher is my soft, folded baby. He hands it to me with a smile.

“Geez, thank you. That would have been one expensive bus ride.”

I stride back to my car with a stupid grin on my face. I pull back into traffic and my driver pulls right out behind me. We inch our way south now on the same road we just followed. He keeps going as I veer off into the first chain restaurant I see, order a plate of fish tacos, and wait out rush hour in the company of my New Yorker.

I am tired. Not like that bus driver is tired, driving back over that same loop again and again, but tired all the same.

Tired of nursing my precious helplessness. Tired of letting crippling thoughts limit my capacity for action. Of depression’s terrible lies. Of assessments based in archaic narratives no empowered person would ever choose.

Demagogues rise in part because each stunned and disbelieving individual fails to act in some way — any small way — to stem the tide.

This isn’t a story about a jacket. It isn’t a story about a Metrobus.

It’s a story about choice. And about power. And about the moment when those two snap together and the truth becomes clear: they are a force, a matched set.

A whole.

Choice + Power.

Choice = Power.

If a series of small acts can buck DC  area rush hour traffic, put the lie to the anonymous self-interest so easily ascribed to strangers, and land my beautiful leather jacket back in my possession, then maybe I — maybe we — have a little power.

Just a little.

But a little is more than nothing.

And that’s all we need, each of us, as long as we keep our purpose in our sights.

Even when we don’t know the way. Or when a thicket of obstacles blocks the view.  Or when — especially when — we break down and want to give up because we have no idea if we’re going to succeed or even if we’re doing the right thing at all.

As long as we choose to hang onto each other and keep tracking what we hold dear, we have power.

As long as we don’t let anyone — especially ourselves — steal our capacity to choose our minds.

We have power.


 

 Image: Baltic Way, a 600+ km human chain linking Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in 1989 as they demanded their independence from the Soviet Union be recognized.