About a boy

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.

How were the trails?

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.

Addressing the wind

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!”

The breakup: three tableaux

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.

Honey on the comb

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.

News that stays news

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.”

Poem made of lines from other poems

The artist formerly known as my wife is the poet laureate of our town. A little while ago she hosted an event that featured a bunch of people reading poems by other people. And she added a wrinkle: during the course of the reading, audience members were to write down lines that caught their attention. After all the poems had been read, the audience would compose a poem made of lines we liked, spoken aloud in an order that made sense to us.

Such a great idea! I didn’t record the audience-generated poem, but I did keep the lines that J. (my 10-year-old son) wrote down. They are:

I went looking for my childhood.

Why empty the house when it can’t be emptied?

Why must we die to live and live to die?

We curse money.

A grand old heron, its wings spread to eternity.

A word about love

From James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time:

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace–not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

The false step

Hugely inspiring lines from Agnes Martin, via Jennifer Higgie’s excellent Instagram feed, which is dedicated to women artists:

“Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track, I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes, all that seems like error is not error; and it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is the next step.”

Behold! My daughter!

She is in 8th grade. Two things she did today:

Thing one: At the end of her half-hour shift hosting a “youth radio” show on a community radio station, she attempted to play “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Mis, intending to sing along with it. But there was a technical glitch and it wouldn’t play–so she just sang the song on her own. If you’ve never heard your daughter sing a soaring ode to solidarity–a cappella!–on a local radio station, I’m telling you it’s pretty great.

Thing two: In math class, the teacher instructed the students to perform a certain set of tasks online–but there was a technical glitch, and for 50 minutes the entire class sat at their screens, attempting and failing to get online. At some point, during a moment of collective silent exasperation, W. said–in a mock-plaintive voice, not quite under her breath–“Is this hell?” And laughter echoed along the halls of the middle school.

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