The kids were reading a manga and laughing at a panel in which a character says, “My navel laser is both strong and cool!” This will now be my profile on dating apps.
Jem had to write an essay answering the question: What is the best form of government? Most of his classmates picked one and argued for its merits. Jem said something different: No form of government is good or bad. Its goodness or badness depends on the people within it. Please discuss.
The other adults in the family unit took the kids to a cabin up north over the recent school break. The cabin was decorated with seasonal and state-related geegaws and notions and faux-stamped signs–about bears and moose and lobsters and skiing and so on. Willa made a list of the signs; there were around 20. Her favorite sign portrayed a snowman complaining about the amount of snow: “Even I can’t take the snow anymore!” But when she first saw it, part of the sign was obscured by a lamp, so she misread it as an existential cry: “Even I can’t take it anymore!”
My kids were recalling a sign they once saw at a birthday party, or perhaps a country fair. The sign was a list of events happening at the party/fair that day. At 1:30, the event was: “Muffin the Clown begins to roam.” Which they have never forgotten.
At dinner one night I was talking with my 10-year-old son, we must have been talking about myths, he’s been in a myth phase for a couple of years, Greek and Roman and Norse and Egyptian, and this must have led us to compare myths to contemporary religion, and then to science, and he said “science is like a logical myth,” which, I mean, come on, that’s pretty impressive, but then he said something so subtle and sophisticated that it almost made me gasp, it was like witnessing a comet. Oh! We were talking about how people throughout history have tried to make sense of the natural world, that’s what it was, and when he came to the Greeks and their myths, he was saying that the Greeks were trying to explain something they hadn’t yet found language for, and he said “It was like they knew without knowing.”
They knew without knowing.
That. Is. Profound.
The interwebs tell me that that line may have first been used in Plato, but I’m pretty sure that J. hasn’t been reading Plato. Maybe he came across it in a more obvious source–Adventure Time or Rick Riordan’s novels. Maybe it’s part of our collective unconscious, and at dinner one night it arose from the world’s reservoir of unspoken wisdom and arrived on his lips. I don’t know. But to hear him say it, this sweet, goofy boy who still needs a little assistance brushing his teeth . . . I don’t know. I don’t know.
I was talking with a friend who lives on a lovely plot of land way outside of town, her driveway is a dirt road at least a mile long, halfway into it you’re sure you’ve taken the wrong road, but the point is that she and her husband can wake up in the morning and go cross-country skiing on trails they made on their land.
Which they did the other day, after a storm, a storm strong enough to cancel schools and close businesses. They expected to be skiing in deep, clean powder, but in fact there had been only a little accumulation, the storm had been blinding winds and eccentric drifts, the land was hard and the roots of trees showed through a dusting of new snow. So the outing was underwhelming.
We were talking in a cafe, talking about other things, and a neighbor of hers came in, and they waved at each other, and he asked how the trails were, and she said eh, they were bony. Bony! She’s a secret poet, my friend is.
Yesterday I was walking in town, and the air was frigid and the wind was stinging, and I was reminded of the times when I lived in Chicago, the coldest place I’ve ever lived, and although I am not known around town as a guy who talks aloud when wandering the streets alone, I found myself shouting at the wind, “Stop! Stop hitting me!”
I was walking around a small town in Maine, and I passed a couple–a man and a woman–in their 20s, talking on the grounds of a brick-faced Customs House. It was in fact a museum, closed for the day, with a short brick walkway, a fair amount of lawn, and knee-high wrought-iron fencing.
They were . . . in the middle of something. They were talking–mostly the woman, rarely the man–in earnest, intense tones.
I passed them once, then again, and then once more. (It was a small town! There weren’t a ton of places to walk.) Each time I passed them, their bodies were arranged in a new tableau:
The woman sitting on stone steps, knees together, arms extended and crossed at the elbows; the man facing her, swinging slowly on a gate.
The two sitting next to each other on the steps, the man pressing a palm into his brow–and then the woman stepping down and kneeling in front of him.
The two sitting once more on the steps, the man crumpled against a pillar, face buried in an elbow, the woman with her spine straight, pulling at a blade of grass or perhaps the strap of her purse.
The other day I sent my kids to the farmers’ market, and they came back with a little container of honey on the comb.
Have you ever had honey on the comb? I had not. Nor had I understood that bee’s wax is, like, wax that bees make. They make wax! Little (or large?) catacombs of it. Into which the honey goes.
I know so little about bees. But what little I know makes me wish I knew more. They appear to be freaking geniuses.
Plus, the experience of eating honey this way was exquisite. A little square of the wax comb in your mouth, sucking the honey from it–dang. That is some sacred nectar. A friend said she had a love/hate relationship with honey on the comb; she thought it was “decadent and freaky.” Which is exquisitely put. More of that, please.
James Baldwin. The Fire Next Time. 1963.
“People are not terribly anxious to be equal (equal, after all, to what and to whom?) but they love the idea of being superior. And this human truth has an especially grinding force here, where identity is almost impossible to achieve and people are perpetually attempting to find their feet on the shifting sands of status. (Consider the history of labor in a country in which, spiritually speaking, there are no workers, only candidates for the hand of the boss’s daughter.) Furthermore, I have met only a very few people–and most of these were not Americans–who had any real desire to be free. Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.”