Lie Fallow

I’m in my mid thirties. I barely have any wisdom to impart on myself. I honestly don’t have much to offer that is original material.  I absorb it like an amoeba just swallowing things as they are pelted at me through time and space.

But, I am a writer. So, I am good at panning for the nuggets of insight in a conversation, pocketing them, and bringing them back to my lab to melt them down into something gleaming and important. Someone else thought it up. I just made it shiny.

 

This is all a preamble to say that I was wallowing in the high tide of change and adjustment to our new life, the other day, to a good good friend of mine. As our children destroyed the patio of a local brewery. We ignored them, drank our beer, continued talking.

I relayed my fish-out-of-water feeling here. Like being a Donkey at a Horse party. Kind of blends in but… something isn’t right.

But my friend said, “Have you ever heard of the term ‘to lie fallow’? Its a farming term. It kind  of means, to hang out and just wait, just be ready for the next opportunity.” I absorbed this idea like a shock wave, she continued, “You can just simmer.” I chewed on this. I convinced my daughter to get down off the 6 foot chain link fence. I drank my beer.

There are actual brain scientists studying the effect of uncertainty and change on the human brain. To sum it up. Not great for cortisol levels. We have built a world that is too stressful for our evolved psychology. The amount of mental, and physical stimuli we are constantly assaulted with is just too much for our processors. Our brains hate change and uncertainty, it treats these things like a threat, akin to being chased by a predator.  This is the root of modern anxiety.  Humans, we are our own worst enemy.  We expect too much from our psychology.

 

It has occurred to me many times that in our culture, hyper-business is virtue, resting is considered lazy. In America, we “seize'”, “persist”, “pursue”, “hussle”, “gather”, “grind”… One of the reasons we ended up out here, was to peel away from the Grind. But I still have this “seizing” mind set. That if you are not actively pursuing an idea. If you aren’t constantly on the Grind, you are worthless. This is an idea I have struggled with as a primary parent. Choosing to forgo the Grind for story time at the library, mid morning stroller rides, breastfeeding and watching Netflix. I was suffocated by guilt for this decision. Watching my partner leave early every morning and take extra work that I knew he was too tired to take, framing decks in the pouring rain. It took years of deprogramming in therapy to feel like my choice to stay home with my kids wasn’t weak and selfish. That even though I wasn’t bringing in money, I was still contributing. And even now. After six years. I still fall back into this “grind” mindset. Treading water isn’t enough. I must also be knitting a hat and cooking dinner.

 

I am not alone. This is not just me. This is a cultural problem. The value of “household management” or “the mental load” (i.e. care of children, cooking, cleaning, pet care, doctors apts.) is not valued or lifted up here in western society. It is something that, if we can, we hire others to do for us. No matter what your work distribution is like in your house, these chores will largely fall on the female partner (in a heterosexual partnership). I’m not making this up, it’s like part of lots of studies and shit. For example, I order the toilet paper. No one else in my house knows where  it comes from or how, it just appears for them and never runs out. If I died suddenly, there would be a panic as Rob took down the last roll on the shelf in two weeks. But, then, 24 rolls would appear the next day, on the front porch, because I automatically subscribe to that shit! And I have perfectly timed it. No one would ever figure out my password to stop the toilet paper from coming. I’ve made sure of this.

 

Save your excitement. I don’t have any answers. I still feel the pressure to contribute, even though, I run this place with the efficiency of the Barry Goldwater campaign.  This is  strictly an observational regurgitation of other people’s wisdom. But I am going to take my friend’s advice, and lie fallow. Not worrying about the grind, about my place, about  contributing. I’m just going to soak in the enormous amount of upheaval our lives have been for the past six years. I’m going to process the nutrients, and let the flavors coagulate. Don’t rush it. Like a curry. Always better the next day.

 

In October, the sunsets are burning hot and short. We often get stuck behind tractors on our way to/from town. The dogs come in wet and smelly. We throw an extra log in the stove before bed. We are pulling the quarts of soup out of the freezer for dinner and drinking a lot of tea in the afternoons. The  one hundred year old floor groans under me in the morning.

The kids are still little enough to fit in my arms and carry up the stairs. My son still has this one little baby curl that hides under the hair on his temple. It is fine and soft. He doesn’t care if the kitchen table is a crime scene and we haven’t found a bookshelf for the living room yet. The day I am sitting next to him at the kitchen table and run my hands through his hair to find that his little baby curl is not there anymore,  I will  wait until he leaves for the day, then I will sob into my pillow and curse time that wretched thief.

 

What will happen if I just lie fallow, stay quiet, wait, and watch the year unfold? What if all thoughts of inadequacy just left and never came back? What if doing dishes, making lunches, chopping wood, and reading stories was just enough for now? What if I could  just be slow and soft. Watch how the light comes in and stay open.  I’m going to try this out. I’ll let you know how it goes.

First Dispatch from Bow Hill

My Aunt Sheila says it takes two weeks in your new house not to feel like you’re just on a  bad vacation. And she’s right.

I have moved a lot in my short life and I hate it so much that I wonder why I keep doing it. I am a person that loves to make is fluffy little nest to retreat to away from people and things. I am a person who is very good at doing nothing at all. I will make any excuse to “rest”, “recharge”, “take it easy”. In other generations that would have been called “lazy.” But I am lucky enough to live now in the era of “self-care, ” that most ego-centric of past times. I am a person who very unapologetically puts myself first. Always have been.

“No, I don’t want to.”

“No, don’t put capers on that.”

“Ugh, I hate this place, I’m leaving.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to work for me.”

“Nope.”

“No, I brought my own wine.”

Are all things that you may have heard me say. Periodically, through out the day. Even to my kids! (GASP!) I am historically not great at transitions, although I seem to go through them, a lot, by choice (i.e. kids, marriage, moving constantly). But perhaps I keep returning to the things that cause me trauma because I am a sadist? Perhaps. Maybe I just love hard exhausting things because everyone else says “wow you must be so tired” and then I get to go rest a lot afterwards while being congratulated.  That sounds right.

 

I hear my husband say things like “I could never just hang out, I need a project, I like hard work.” I think he has a mental illness. I hate hard work, and I think people who like it are weird. If I could, I would just sit around all day drinking coffee and reading every single page in The New Yorker, which is easily, my favorite thing to do.

 

Yesterday and the day before we chipped up what felt like an entire forest of branches that had to come down of the surrounding trees. I got the worst blister of my life. Rob even took down two massive old dead Hemlocks with a chainsaw. Which was, the highlight of the day, because I got to watch someone else work super hard.  And watching a massive tree fall is nothing less, than thrilling. Especially, if you haven’t watched TV in a month.

 

There is an indescribable amount of hard work that this property and house require and I am so, not, prepared or looking forward to any of it. Also, it has occurred to me, that I am just about the least qualified person to buy and fix up a 100 year old farm house and try to build a working farm on it.

Rob is better suited to just about everything around here. It’s too bad, none of these weeds, dead trees, overgrown blackberries,  or rat-infested sheds, would respond to critical analysis, or a deeply cutting remark, in which case,  I would actually be useful as something other than a warm body, who makes sandwiches, and coffee, I DO make the best coffee of anyone in the family.

 

Rob absolutely excels at all things domestic. He is an amazing cook, carpenter, gardener, parent, wood chopper (the list could continue for three pages). I am excellent at things that are not useful in a survival situation, which, for us has always worked fantastic in an urban setting. But, here, it seems, my lack of domestic skill is exaggerated, in a way that feels unbalanced.

I analyze the weather.  I change diapers and do dishes. I assist in raking, weeding, and trimming. I mitigate toddler misbehavior. I demand apologies from children, and bribe or cajole them into eating, washing, and sleeping.

 

 

I spend about an hour every afternoon on my knees, in the front yard,  with my headphones in, listening to a podcast or an audio-book while I rip up decades of grass and weeds. Someone, more than 40 years ago, paved an intricate stone pathway connecting the side door to the original front door and covered porch.  It is well built, shaped nicely, adds stairs around the steeper parts of the yard. They must have spent weeks on it.

Judy, the previous owner has no more information for me. It was like that when I bought it. She says, with a shrug, and she walks back to her truck with an armful of mail.

But I make up stories about this person. With at least two truck beds of stones, piling, sorting through each one. Digging out the holes, trying out different ones, like a massive nonsensical puzzle. What a delightful project it must have been. They must have really been trying to avoid something way harder than that.

My trowel clinks and scrapes as I peel back the mat of grass and dirt. Bugs, bags of spider eggs, worms, beetles slugs dive and scuttle to avoid my advance. Like the Russian front. Being discouraged only by nature in her power to dwarf human ambition.

 

Humans have always harnessed death and decay to advance life. When something dies it adds richness, sticky nutrition. Serving a purpose. Death is not senseless in the garden. It makes way and nourishes the new. Time’s up spiders. We will be using this pathway anew.

Composting, for instance. Rob is in the middle stage of building a 3 bay composting system where we will  dump our cast offs from the kitchen and garden, and they will rot  and become something rich and fantastic. Again, Rob is so, so good at this.

 

In the evenings I nurse my wounds in warm water,  and pick dirt out of my nails. I slather all kinds of potions on my crackling skin. I make Rob dig out splinters while I whimper. My body stiffens and aches upon waking from the deadest sleep I’ve ever had.  One day we will look back on the first year in this house and feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment and then we can go take a well deserved nap.

 

 

 

Make This Place Beautiful

GOOD BONES

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

by Maggie Smith

 

It is quiet in the house during nap time. I pretend that I will do something useful, like vaccum or clean the bathroom. But just for a moment, before I do something really useful, I’ll sit down at my laptop with a cup of tea and think and write. Just to get it out of my head, this feeling, this terrifying feeling that it is going too fast and I am not paying attention.

 

Pay Attention.  In my consuming worry, in my distracted planning, packing, unpacking, planning, washing, cleaning, wiping, cooking, cleaning, folding, planning, talking, planning…. I missed it.

 

My son can button a shirt. He used to just lay there and cry and poop his pants. Now he can button a shirt. He can scale the cabinets to find our hidden stash of jelly beans. I am out of candy hiding spots.

 

I have this horrible feeling that we are in the best part of our lives and we don’t know it. Will we look back at pictures from these years and think about how good we had it.

 

We are always at parties where someone is pregnant or buying a new house; someone has gotten a new (better) job/car. Someone has just gotten married/engaged. We pass babies around like joints. An assortment of children weave around our legs to get to the cookies.  We are young but not too young. We still get carded at grocery stores and it makes us feel really sexy.

Our adulthood is spread out before us, our kids are not old enough to resent us, our bodies still resilient, flexible. We have wrinkles but not WRINKLES.

Our marriages are still repairable with a kiss or a little gift; No, there is never enough money, but we will make more money next year, hopefully.

 

Our responsibilities are heavy but not crushing. We still hold our breath a little bit every time we check out bank accounts. And we feel a bit more mortal than we did before we had kids. But we still take our health for granted. Death and illness do not drift among us like a silent fart, yet.

 

There have been tragedies, and there will be more.  But now, right now, while the early summer is seeping in. The air is warm but the grass is almost cold. The kids go barefoot, and it is easy to grab their attention, to make them laugh.

 

We have each other, we are weaving this net of peers in anticipation of future hardship. We help each other with the dishes… we never did that before.  We no longer burn bridges,  we are old enough to know the importance of bridges.  We add more and more people to the “emergency contacts” list.

 

One of the most vivid memories of my grandmother was sitting around her small dark living room. It was the only house I knew that had a working wall clock that you could hear. The AC howling in the hot California afternoon. Carpet scratching my knees, reading a forty-year-old edition of National Geographic. Watching TV in the late afternoon as she was reading the paper. She read the obituaries every day. And today she let out a disappointed sigh. “Aw, Betty is dead, that’s too bad, they are dropping like flies.” She spoke of an old friend like she was an independent bookstore.

 

I used to stare for hours at the old pictures around my grandparents house.  The creamy black and white school photos in those old oval-cut frames. The patina’d people in bell-bottoms and lace, smiling, standing next to a station wagon. A group of teenagers lounging on a dock at a lake. All people who I know and love but in those pictures, they are strangers to me. I am years away.

 

What will my kids think of  our wedding pictures? What will transpire between our wedding and my kids being grown ups? Will it be tragic? Will it be boring? I hope it is boring. Always enough of everything. Smart and lucky enough to be bored. I hope that my kids will go to their therapists when they are in their thirties and complain about how boring their childhoods were. How they had to escape their boring lives and their boring parents that were always embarrassingly boring.

 

Boring Childhood = Best Parents Ever

 

I can feel the future me poking past me  in the arm and telling me to just press pause right here. With our little kids and our little houses and happy marriages, and pregnant bellies. Lets live in this picture of all of us, healthy, happy, tired, angry, bored, unappreciated, loved,  and desired. I want to live here for a while longer. Before we are real grown-ups. Not just a bunch of teenagers playing house.

 

Invite them in

675-rob-molly-wedding-anderson-island-petrichor-photo

The Guest House

By Rumi

This being human is a guest house, 

every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond

Entertaining a crowd of sorrows is what my people do best.   Beneath the surface shimmers a pod of anxiety whales; singing in the distance their chord of unease. They sing about suicide bombers, car accidents, avalanches, bacterial infections, viral infections, falling bookshelves, kids with guns, our nuclear arsenal, and unattended boiling pots of water.
We live in fear of all encompassing sorrow. That we will survive and have to go on living. It is the fear of this kind of pain that drives our decisions. We wash our hands, we vaccinate, we wear seat belts, buy organic; we tense up on crowded trains/buses/concerts etc. or avoid them all together.
Many of us have been visited by this kind of pain over and over again and it can make our fear grow stronger. Or, if we let it in, like a flood, let it ruin our house and then recede… we can start again.If you fight current you will drown. We must float on it. We must let it carry us out. So we can calm down and see clearly a place to swim in.
If we can sit with sadness and pain for a while then we wont have to feel fear later on. Because we wont be afraid of pain. We will know that we can sit with pain and sadness and not be ruined. Because we can. Because when we come out on the other side of that pain -that sadness – we are stronger than we were before.
Something learned from childbirth; you cannot hide from the pain. There comes a point when you cannot distract yourself. You must sit inside of it. At the very heart and focus deeply on it. Because that is the only way out of it. No way but through.
Pain and sadness are the best teachers. I see this everyday watching my kid. The only way he learns about “hot” or “cold” is to really feel it. The only way he learns not to hit his friends is when his friends hit him. He feels the pain and the sadness. He learns that he doesn’t want to feel that way or make others feel that way. 
I am always tempted to jump in front of him and a small injury. My instinct is to make the other kid share the damn toy.
 But I can’t protect him from everything.  Being human means that we will suffer. We will feel pain and sorrow. There will be more bombings and more shootings. Someday my little boy will get his heart broken by someone or some job or some childhood idol.
The only way I can help my son through this world is by letting him feel the little pains and sorrows of everyday life. Not by shielding his eyes. But by keeping him open and raw to it. Helping him value every single life on earth. Teach him to make eye contact. To understand the pain of others. To see the humans, not numbers. So when he grows up and knows real pain or sadness…he wont go out and shoot people or punch his partner, because he will know how to be sad.
I want him to be someone that invites them in, because he will know that he is strong enough.

…Just to pass the time away…

We pulled off the highway in the dark high dessert sometime close to 9pm into a dirt lot that has a stone edifice in the middle with a plaque on it. He still doesn’t tell me what we’re doing here. I figure he has to pee. Then he turns around and talks to the back seat:

” Hey kid, you wanna see some stars?”

“Yesstttthhh” with a deep nod. He has been awake for a while, “reading” books and eating snacks.

We must be miles and miles from any large city, because the night sky is doing that thing that makes it look like there might be more stars than emptiness. Mr. Eagle scout knows all the constellations of course, and the kid loves to point at things so it’s a great little time we are having – pointing up at the little pearly specs and naming them – telling him the old stories behind all the shapes. The warm wind blowing our voices away. How can it all be so fragile and so magnificent? How is this one blue and that one yellow? What is the damn meaning behind all this?

Nothing or everything. We are nothing or we are everything. We are either the center of the creators attention, we have paths, purpose, and a personal relationship with a great magnanimous and omnipotent being OR, OR, OR…. we are a product of happenstance. Here by the shear willpower of our ancestors to keep producing. Evolution shaved and wittled us down into these upright animals that will find any way to make our own existence more leisurely.  I am only here because my stout celtic ancestors were smarter, meaner, luckier and hornier than all the other families in the area.

A product of luck and carbon molecules.  I prefer this theory because it makes me feel more interesting and yet, more like nothing, so much less to worry about when you know that your life is really nothing at all. You aren’t “straying” or “obeying” or having to ask some one else for guidance. Because It doesn’t matter. We are smallest specs of nothingness gone in a blip. It’s just a ride. And so far, I really enjoy this little ride. If I need guidance I just ask myself. And myself is a great guide. I have a very sweet little ride right here with this Eagle scout and this baby monkey. I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s. The best we can work towards is feeling happy everyday in little ways, and everything I have is of my own making. Nothing is bequeathed me by the grace of someone else. Everything is either luck, choice or hard work. I like that but it’s surely not a philosophy for everyone, it’s just mine. I always get like this when I look at stars.

We are made up of the same dust that’s in that star and that cactus, and that stone, and that plaque that says something about these dudes that came out of the Mojave on horseback at this very spot. They spent a whole year traveling together, looking for that great golden California promise, and parted ways. That’s it. Just a couple of dudes, younger than me,  that said goodbye to each other right here after going on a trip together. Now there is a little river stone chimney here that smells like urine. What strange, strange creatures.

I can hear the power lines before I see them. Almost directly above us, buzzing. Carrying light back and forth across empty miles of nothingness and sage. Power – to have power, to need power – the human condition is –

“Hey, peanut or plain M&Ms…?”

“Um, shit…plain.”

We pile back in the car and sing “I’ve been working on the railroad” for the millionth time until the kid falls asleep. Then we can enjoy our M&Ms without sharing and listen to LotR on tape. I don’t need to say it, but I will, life is good.

Soft and sharp

Soft and sharp

The foot print of our love makes us stronger. We sharpen each other, we soften each other – that’s what love does.

-Gunnar Larson

A long weekend in bad weather in the eastern sierras with no cell phone service. We meet our carefully plucked handful of family at a big disney-esk mountain resort. Woodland creatures whittled out of logs and manufactured river stones adorn the  gas fireplaces. A dry winter has made for pleasantly uncrowded town life. The snow is one long afternoon away from mud. A storm blows in, barely cold enough  – but it tries to snow. The gale winds howl and howl for snow. At night, walking back from the bar, (where the bartenders pass joints around as they close up) the flakes brush our cheeks and into our collars. But by mid-day it is wet again.

We look forward to meals, movies, a puzzle is the main attraction. The winds drive us back inside again and again.

We are a family that cracked open and reformed. Like a bone, family will always reform. It may not be as it was, it will not work the same or feel the same. But you learn how to incorporate it’s new level of functionality. We learn how to be a family by sitting around a living room playing games and pushing at each other. Little pushes, little prods. We take our new family out to dinner and test it, use it as we once did. It feels different but it is still our family.  We are happy to be the table in the restaurant that is always laughing. We are the people that you see and think “what a nice family.” Only we know how long it took and how hard it was to get here. Love isn’t easy, and often its painful but it makes us better – and really isn’t it the only thing?

We take our new family to the hot springs about 20 miles from town. It is a long dirt road to a little wooden path. A hot creek comes up from nowhere – a little fold in the earth that loosed. Low blonde grasses and sage spread in every direction until they hit the bald gray hills. The white mud is actually crusty tufts of salt and it’s fun to stomp on it.

image

The water is warm and gooey with mud. We dip our shoulders back down into it every time the wind picks up. We watch the storm roll in over the mountain – low and promising. The toddler throws slimy rocks at us – babbling nonsense. We are eventually driven out by two groups of co-eds with selfie sticks and heavy beer coolers.

“We don’t know what it’s going to do, until it’s happening” is what people say about the weather on Mammoth mountain. I think you could say that about pretty much any force in life organic or engineered.

It’s Failure February already.

Here is a list of all the New Years resolutions I already failed at:

1.Get 30 minutes of exercise a day = 3 times a week at best.

2. Don’t eat dessert every day = have eaten dessert everyday accept for like 4 days when I fell asleep before I could.

3. Don’t ask people “So what do you DO?” instead ask them “What do you do for money?/What do you do for fun?” = totally bombed that one at the Super Bowl party yesterday.

4. Don’t impulse buy things. = I should just never go to Target again.

5. Be a model healthy frustration management and emotional capability to my kid = yeah…. until he laughs at me while  throwing clean & folded laundry on the floor or the dog jumps all over the couch with poop on his paws.

6. Say more nice things than negative things = I might as well have said “teach a rainbow trout to ride side-saddle in two days.”