Nonfiction, Uncategorized

Stretch.

The sky can be sliced, can be serrated. When we fly, clouds pull apart, the first heaven reconfigures, an unblemished celestial landscape forever alters with exhaust. It has become commonplace, flying. We view it not as an enchantment, but an inconvenience. We are not awed by the height we reach nor the speed with which we may exit one icy clime and find ourselves in the warm embrace of another. We forget that this is only possible — earbuds stuffed into auricles, pillows plumped under our heads — because someone stretched.

Someone enacted an idea with a reach that exceeded his grasp. With a pounding heart and a galloping mind, he sketched, he planned, he fashioned and tested and failed. He had help. He was lifted, both by those whose ideas dovetailed with his own and those who doubted his ability to ever reach higher than they could. He s t r e t c h e d, and in so doing, built something that serrates the sky.

I have gone whole days without stretching, gone full weeks, many years, a lifetime lifting toward spots much lower than those I could reach. I’ve been meek. Once my nana accused me of shrinking: you’re too young to be losing height and too old not to stand like you know you’re tall. Stretch.

Her mother was diminutive. She lived to be 95 and in her final years, when you entered any room where she stood, it felt hallowed. After decades of curling down, she felt close to heaven. My great-grandma trained as a teacher then married a factory man-turned-preacher and raised 10 children, quietly. Old photographs show her sitting, stoic and adolescent, amid her sassier sisters who would grow up to buy land, write poems, perform monologues, ride camels in Egypt.

I like to believe she was content. Perhaps family was her reach. Perhaps her laborious, love-glazed meals were all she needed to grasp. But it was only when her husband passed and left her with a decade alone that I saw her s t r e t c h. She ventured a joke, a smile, a risque repetition, and basked in the laughter that followed. She tested opinions on her tongue, rolled advice around her molars, conjured a voice more confident than I’d ever heard her use. By then, the bones in her back had calcified; her spine, not unlike a comma, separated her new and independent will from years of dependent clauses: if the children are well, if my husband allows, if the weather lets up, if the grandbabies need me. If I can.

Stretch.

My posture is not what it should be, nor is my opinion of myself. This, like my talents, desires, and eyes, is an inheritance. But so are long arms, a galloping mind, an appreciation of aircrafts and their ability to serrate the sky.

Stretch.

This year has been one of reaching, of fingertips pushing past practical possibility. I have stretched my perceptions. Stretched the confines of an INFJ personality. Stretched my patience till it was pulled thin and pliable as taffy. Stretched writing past entertainment, past preciousness, past secrecy till I reached activism. Stretched a dollar till it hollered, forgot its diminished value, and yielded to my will. Stretched beyond my agenda to help others reach an apex. This year has felt like a rack, like I was not so much the agent of my reach than a slave to it.

Stretching is rarely triumphal. It is born of discomfort, desperation. It is born of disgust and necessity. It comes from dangling: yours from the end of a rope and that of the thing you most desire, within sight but just above the air you can touch.

It aches, makes you painfully aware of the parts of yourself you neglect. Stretching intensifies your accountability: the stronger it makes you, the more you can carry.

I am carrying so much more than I ever believed I would.

S  t  r  e  t  c  h.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

On Alice, Erykah, and (Un)limited Possibility.

I found this quote embedded in another essay I read this week:

Someone once asked me whether I thought women artists should have children, and, since we were beyond asking why this question is never asked of artists who are men, I gave my answer promptly.

“Yes,” I said, somewhat to my surprise. And, as if to amend my rashness, I added: “They should have children–assuming this of interest to them–but only one.”

“Why only one?” this Someone wanted to know.

“Because with one you can move,” I said. “With more than one, you’re a sitting duck.”

– Alice Walker, “One Child of One’s Own: A Meaningful Digression Within the Work(s)”

Though Alice and Rebecca Walker’s contentious relationship is very well-documented (as are the relationships between many “women artists” and their emotionally–and physically–neglected adult children), I found an uneasy comfort in Alice’s idea.

I have time.

I haven’t had my first prenatal appointment yet; it’s next week. More than likely, I’ll have something to write about it. (Suffice it to say: the wait between my intuition that I was expecting, confirmation of the same, and this appointment next week has been interminable.) That’s neither here nor there.

The point is: before you’re examined and an obstetrician finally deigns to tells you more than you already know, before you see its bean-sized body or hear its (hopefully) rapid heart or find out any unsettling details against which you couldn’t have possibly steeled yourself, you have the luxury of simple and quiet reason. You have a rare cove of stillness wherein to develop endless theories.

The most complex of all, of course, is the one about who to be. The more I read, the more excerpts I paste to a mental collage (or perhaps a psychic one), hoping they’ll form a new and healthier whole in less than nine months.

Walker’s notion that the birth of one child isn’t entirely inhibiting is helpful. My most underdeveloped dream is to be transient, somehow a world-traveler. In single life, as a writer, office worker and student, I had yet to figure out how to make this happen. I’ve always worried that a child would make it that much less attainable.

Unlike Walker, I don’t intend to sacrifice The Grape’s sense of stability or significance so that I can write or travel or pursue anything I wanted before he/she arrived. Then again, I’m not sure how important stability will be to The Grape. Maybe he/she’ll value wanderlust. Maybe he/she’d rather see the world than plant roots (fingers crossed).

In her memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, Elna Baker speaks of a moment between unlimited possibility and reality:

The city sparkling on the horizon was new and I was about to go to my home and it was all going to be completely new to me. I love the feeling of possibility. For another twenty minutes in Hassan’s cab, anything was possible: my dorm room and my roommate could be anyone and anything I imagined. But twenty minutes later, they’d be whatever they were (7).

This is that particular twilight, for me. I experience it, incrementally, every day. Sometimes I train my mind in the direction of an entirely different life. In it, I write books. They sell. I sing in a band. It’s dope; but we only gig at one bar, once a month. People come more for the food than for our sets, but everyone’s totally genial. When I teach, I pirouette and I wear glitter; the students fancy it. I’m really good to this kid. We travel to another continent every other year, usually Europe. There’s a hammock in our living room, in lieu of a sofa. I don’t accept phone calls or visits from anyone who finds it imperative to stick pins in our zeppelin of possibility with their fork-tongued portraits of an inevitably dark reality. And at some point, I start to believe the best about humanity again; after which, I’ll raise a semi-willing eyebrow at the prospect of romantic love.

In short: I’ll have one child. And I’ll move. We won’t be sitting ducks.

Achieving every possibility you’re brave enough to dream is rare. But frankly, so is an entirely lightless reality. Wherever along my proposed spectrum of Sweet Happy Life we land, I think we’ll be fine. Until that becomes real, I’ll imagine it so and work diligently toward it.

*  *  *

postscript: I wanted to tie Erykah Badu into this entry, as an example of a mother of more than one who didn’t allow herself to become a sitting duck (obviously due to the surplus of income fifteen years of entertaining has provided). And I wanted to embed her Summer 2009 performance of “Green Eyes” in Paris, complete with digressions into modern dance and burlesque, because in my heart (and in my apartment), I do stuff like that all the time. It’s one of the things that makes me feel so akin to her, no matter how utterly far-out she reveals herself to be.

Now, I find myself watching her performances through a different lens. This is a mother of three, I think. In Paris, singing about the father of her firstborn. Are her children with her, backstage? Are they with grandparents? How long has she been away from them? How does Seven feel about this song?

Anyway, I couldn’t find a way to weave it seamlessly into the earlier portions of this writing. Suffice it to say, Erykah represents a counterpoint to Walker’s assertion, as well as a crosssection between unlimited possibility and reality (which is to say, the latter doesn’t have to be an imminent letdown. Sometimes reality exceeds our ideas about what’s possible.)

I’ll embed the performance anyway, in two parts:

Oh. Also: happy new year!

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