Happy Belated Anniversary

I just realized the anniversary of my blog was in November. I find that very hard to believe. I'm proud of myself for sticking with it this long, even if I often let a month go by without posting.


all hoods make not monks

T: So who is Joseph, anyway?
A: What?
T: Joseph. You know, the guy with Mary.
A: What?
T: Is he her friend or something?
A: What?

I find Trent's complete lack of religious education mindboggling. But I love the perspective it gives me on the crazy ideas I've lived with all my life.

A: Joseph was Mary's husband.
T: Wait, she was married?!?! Then how did they know Jesus wasn't his kid?
A: Because she was a virgin.
T: The marriage was never consummated? And then she had a baby? Didn't Joseph have a problem with this?!?!

I wasn't at church on Christmas Eve with my parents this year, perhaps fortunately, but my sister tells me that when the priest made some comment during the homily along the lines of how generous it was that Joseph married Mary anyway, my mother let out an outraged "What?" loud enough for the people in the nearby pews to hear. And later she said something like "People actually believe this crap?" So I guess even people who lived with this stuff all their life can step back and be gobsmacked by it.

Apparently my family hadn't been to church in so long that one of my sisters said "Thank you" instead of "Amen" when she received Communion, and the other couldn't remember what she was supposed to say so she just mumbled something unintelligible. Fortunately the church was prepared for them, and had left pamphlets about lost Catholics coming back to the fold in all the pews.


We two alone will sing like birds i the cage.

Trent and I are sitting next to each other on a couch each with a laptop typing a blog post. Not unusual, except that we are not online. We are at his mom’s house, far from cell phone towers and apartment blocks with overlapping wireless signals. The tribe has multiple wireless networks, but we can’t seem to connect. I have to resist the urge to sit at my computer trying over and over again, fruitlessly, to connect. It’s maddening to know there is a world of information that should be at my fingertips. Yet here we are, to all outward appearances doing what we always do, each staring at a computer screen. Are we closer because we are locked into our word documents, unable to publish, unable to connect?

At first I wasn’t going to do this, to write a blog post that I’d publish later, although several ideas were floating in my head waiting to be expressed. I didn’t feel like doing it without the promise of immediate gratification. Not that my blog offers any real immediate gratification. It’s not like anyone jumps on my comments right away to yell First! I could go to my AdSense statistics to see if I’ve gotten any hits, but usually they don’t start showing up til the next day. But the motivation just wasn’t there, and I shut down my computer and went back to my book until Trent started writing his post.

He’s writing about a Raymond Carver story I think. We named our son for Raymond Carver. I didn’t really know his work until afterward, I guess I just trusted Trent’s taste. I was thinking day before yesterday when I dipped into some Carver stories at Trent’s aunt’s house that Carver writes the way I would like to write. He paints his characters harshly but with sympathy. They’re not likable people, they’re often people you wouldn’t even want inside your home perhaps, but they’re accessible and forgivable. And the stories have a spiritual center, They’re sad and dark but not empty. Most short stories are depressing I find, at least if you sit and read a whole bunch of them, inevitably I find myself depressed after a couple hours. I think it’s the sense of futility that often imbues them—there’s no big movement or change in the characters, probably because they’re too short for such a change to be meaningful—and so the snapshot of a life in motion is often just a picture of life in all its big empty meaninglessness. Somehow Carver manages to avoid that, although he writes about drunks and death and the hapless violence of domestic life. It is strange though, to contrast those stories with my son’s joyful personality. He is such a happy baby. It thrills me and fills me with wonder that two such serious, reserved people could produce such joy. And I was thinking the other day about the fact that we created his happiness from nothing. From our bodies came his moment of pure joy, and what more could anyone ask to do in this life?

Of course, one could ask for a lot more, and one does. I read a small section of Infinite Jest tonight, because my husband, who is reading the book despite much grief from me, said it was a brilliant passage, and, since I incessantly criticize DFW without ever having read him, I decided to succumb to the feeling of encumbency and read at least this passage, which Trent said was only six pages. After getting through two, I asked him whether I could stop reading if I hated it. He said to read at least to the middle of the next page, and I did. It was a passage about depression, written in DFW’s signature (or what I understand to be his signature) pretentious, overly-intellectualized style.
We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self.… We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naivete.… Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right looking in fact dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool.
I think DFW writes without sympathy, and that’s what turns me off. I certainly identify with this idea of a love affair with jaded ennui—ennui was my favorite word for a while in high school—and certainly, the naïve sincerity of a certain segment of a population fills me with a kind of disgust. And “encagement in the self” as he puts it is one of my central obsessions. But I guess I don’t see the point of writing about that without trying to understand it, and to me that understanding doesn’t come without sympathy. Not just empathy but sympathy. So maybe I’m being unfair, having read all of three pages, and maybe you have to read the whole thing to see the character development and the story and maybe that’s where the sympathy and the understanding and the emotional depth comes in. But I can’t help thinking, with the smugness of the living, that DFW killed himself because he didn’t have sympathy. If you can’t forgive other people their failings, you probably can’t forgive yourself.

DFW’s suicide is what I started out to write about before I got sidetracked with that little rant. Specifically this passage:
… the standard take on Dr. J. O. Incandenza’s suicide attributes his putting his head in the microwave to this kind of anhedonia. This is maybe because anhedonia’s often associated with the crises that afflict extremely goal-oriented people who reach a certain age having achieved all or more than all than they’d hoped for. The what-does-it-all-mean type of crisis of middle-aged Americans…. the presumption that he’d achieved all his goals and found that the achievement didn’t confer meaning or joy on his existence …
I guess it’s sort of obvious—and in fact it’s an explanation that the narrator rejects as overly simplistic in this passage—but it suddenly struck me in reading this that my reaction to DFW’s suicide: how could he kill himself when he was adored by millions? misses the obvious—that continuing to experience the bone-aching depression that he’d experienced before achieving the massive success he’d been striving for after achieving it must have been a shattering disappointment.

Which brings me to my point: what would happen if I got there myself? Would I be gutted by disillusion? I guess I’d still prefer to find out.

Trent put a hula hoop around me while I was writing this and I told him to leave it there—my magic circle. This isolation, me and the page, is something I’ve been thinking about lately. With all the writing that goes on these days—the renaissance of the written word stimulated by the internet and its ravenous hunger for content—I think there is still a place for the novel that one person slaves over for years without exposing it to the world until it’s been laboriously honed and shaped and polished. Not that this blog post is laborious—in fact the whole goal of my blog is not to be polish; to allow myself to be spontaneous and thereby, hopefully, to write, instead of being paralyzed by lofty aspirations. Which means that now I’ve written this post in a word document, I have to save and close it, and keep myself from reading it until tomorrow.


that you alone are you?

This is the song I consider my anthem:
Leonard Cohen's A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes

I guess "the meaning of life" is a pretty personal thing. For me, it's telling my story. That's why however satisfying my current job is, and it is pretty satisfying, I don't know that I'll ever feel completely fulfilled in it. I was at a dinner one night some months ago that a partner held to thank some associates who'd worked on his treatise, and he asked us whether we had any desire to be famous. Only two of us had that desire. One is now running for the state legislature, and the other one was me. I've always had that desire, and I find it surprising to realize that other people don't. It's not a matter of immortality to me -- I don't feel like leaving a legacy is any substitute for actually continuing to exist. I guess though, if we really die when we die, I want to feel I did something. And for me -- I recognize this isn't true for everyone -- having lived well and died happy is not enough. Nor would a life of quiet, anonymous good deeds be enough. I'm not that selfless. And it's not just about doing something good, though I hope that telling my story would be useful for someone somewhere. I just feel that I have something worth saying. I hope one of these days I get around to saying it.


symbols of redeemed sin

Trent and I have talked about whether we should get Nugget baptized. So far he's still in danger of eternity in limbo. Or whatever the current catechism is. I think it would be easier if my parents insisted that we get him baptized, then at least we could do it without feeling like we were buying into anything ourselves. But they don't seem too bothered about it. And I simply cannot stomach it on my own steam. First and foremost is the why: I cannot, will not believe in a god that would condemn a child. I do not accept original sin, with every fiber of my being I do not accept it. That makes baptism pretty superfluous. When we first discussed it, Trent did not know what the point of baptism was. When I explained the original sin doctrine to him, his reaction was: are you f---ing kidding me?!!!! Which, well, exactly. It is hard for me to have that reaction to it because I've lived with an understanding of it all my life, but when you step back, yeah, that about sums it up. Strangely, after living with that understanding for a little while, Trent has backslid on it and now wonders whether we should do it just in case. He doesn't want to be responsible for Nugget going to hell, or something. That's just the kind of guy he is I guess, however baffling this particular manifestation is to me. He's cautious. He's the one badgering our condo association about the fire extinguishers needing an inspection, for example. Which brings me to the second stumbling block, which tends to silence Trent when he wonders if maybe we should do it just in case: we would have to stand up and swear to all sorts of ridiculous things on Nugget's behalf. (Basically, the parents take the vows because the kid's too young, and then the kid has to "confirm" those vows when he comes of age.) Funny thing is, I think what bothers me most -- at least insofar as I dimly recollect the baptismal vows (they are repeated at Mass every year around Easter but I haven't exactly been to church much lately) -- the thing that bothers me most is the part where you renounce Satan and all his works. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not embracing Satan and all his works, but I find the idea of renouncing him ludicrous. I've really never bought into the whole Satan thing, I think even when I was a kid. Let's get intellectual about it, although my disbelief here is more deeply rooted than reason. First, an embodiment of all things evil is just way too simple. You can avoid all sorts of heart-rending moral dilemmas with this pat notion, and I think that's unforgivably lazy and cowardly. Not to mention likely to lead to ignorant intolerance for other people's perspective on those moral dilemmas. Second, to the extent I am able to believe in any god at all, I cannot and will not believe in a god that would relegate part of Creation to live outside His Love. ("His" and all capitalization used here for familiarity of reference.) Seriously, this is one thing I do not understand about religion: if you are just going on faith anyway, why the hell (no pun intended) don't you shape your faith to suit your needs? What is the point of sweating balls to hold onto someone else's ideas about how things should be? Anyway, so Nugget's not baptized, and sometimes we worry about it. Trent more than me, even though I was the one who spent ten years in Catholic school and had my forehead painted with oil by a priest when they thought I was dying once, and whatnot. Go figure.


A Christmas Gambold

I thought this had to be a joke or hoax:
but it really is him: "Hark the heeeerald angels sing ..."
(Didn't Bob go back to being Jewish?)


the forc’d gait of a shuffling nag

The hubs posted a video of a poet reading a poem (the italics indicate nose-wrinkling) that--after I got over my initial irritation at that voice that people use to read their poetry that as far as I can tell is meant to convey how full of ennui they are--inspired me to write something here. Go listen first, it's actually good after a bit. (No offense, I just have to be this way because despite all my efforts I still don't get it. The poems and the poetry and all that.)

So here's what I thought about it: that lanyard? I think to a mom it's not such a humble gift. I would swoon for anything Carver gave me, especially if he made it himself. Although I don't buy Freud's thing that the first gift a child gives its parents is poo. Speaking from a whole two years of experience as a mom (I count pregnancy, it's just common sense to me, and if we all weren't all so f-ed up over the abortion wars I think it would be obvious to everyone else too), I think moms need very little in the way of returns on their investment. If my son is a good person and is happy with his life, there is nothing more I could ever want from him.

Funny how that can get twisted though ... good and happy are subjective terms, and it's all too easy to start meddling and controlling because you want to see your version of happiness and goodness in someone else. Which is why everyone needs to give their moms a break. Yeah, I'm talking to you.