Thursday, February 23, 2006

Breast Wielding: Yes, Hippy:No

Four or five years ago, a woman I knew from my graduate program said it always made her happy when I walked down the hallway because it always makes her happy to see a hippy. I hadn’t been aware of the fact I looked like a hippy, and I had never decided to look like one. I made a pretty solid effort to change my wardrobe. And even though I’ve been fairly paranoid about looking like a hippy since that day, it is true that about every two or three years I find my wardrobe has reverted back to something somebody might think is hippy-like. When I complain to my family and friends about how I might be looking a little like a hippy they look at me like I’m crazy: “What?” their looks say, “You honestly think you aren’t a hippy…?”

In the sixth grade, my best friend Holli was befriended by a girl named RR, who convinced her to hate me. One recess I found them both perched atop the monkey bars with some other popular girls, and I called up to Holli to ask why she, particularly, had decided not to be my friend. From her lordly, monkey bar embellished height, she looked down at me near pityingly.

“Let me give you a tip,” she said, in the way only a sixth grader can, “Nobody has worn their shirts tucked in since the fourth grade.”

I looked down at my tucked-in, knockoff Izod shirt, then I looked out at everybody else’s untucked shirts. I nodded my head in recognition of my error, corrected my shirt, squinted back up at Holli, shrugged, and said, “Okay?”

No. It wasn’t. Because Holli hadn’t been talking about my shirt, really. She was really offering up a detail that described a pattern of mine, one that seriously blighted my position within the sixth grade social order. “MaGreen,” she was actually saying, “you are totally and embarrassingly oblivious to what other people find obvious.”

If I am a hippy, I reserve the right to declare that I am definitely not a cool hippy that produces magazines like Plenty or Yoga Whatever. If I am a hippy, I am not a “hip” hippy, either, because if I am hippy I will not try to dilute the fact.

But I am not a hippy, so neither of these conditions matter, really. I feel like some obvious choices of mine randomly happen to be like the choices hippies make. I don’t wear makeup because it makes me feel fake. I am sensible and romantic, so I want to save the earth. I am interested in not destroying the planet and in not causing other beings unnecessary pains.

I am also very slowly getting around to how breastfeeding makes me feel very much like a hippy. I once heard somebody describe some hippy who whipped out her breast anywhere she went, no matter where. A hint of disgust in the tone of that observation. And I pretty much agreed with it. Something upset me about the whipping out of breasts.

But at the same time, once a houseguest of ours brought her daughter over and breastfed with the little girl under a blanket, and I felt horrible that the mother was so embarrassed.

AND it turns out, that now that I have BabyG, I breastfeed at coffee shops and restaurants and once I walked down the street while she breastfed. But again, at the same time, I still think breastfeeding is weird and hippy-like, and it doesn’t jive with my own perceptions of myself even though I actually love to breastfeed (a thought that seems hippyish to me).

The part of me that understands that sixth grade really never ends is baffled and put off by my breast wielding behavior; but the part of me that tucks in her shirt also whips out the boob about anywhere I go, and I only think to remember I think its weird when I see some old guy (my dad, family friends, etc) hastily jump up and remember they need to immediately leave the room at the site of my suckling babe.

So breastfeeding makes me look like a hippy. And it makes me feel like a hippy. Except when its funny. (Which is a whole other post.) And I guess my appreciation of funny is really what I think most separates me from the hippies, that and the fact I don’t want to be a hippy, I want to be a plain old Green Parent (which is another whole other post).

Kate Schmitt is Better Than Fire, Fabric Paint & Glue,

I once used red duct tape to cover an entire kitchen counter that I hated. It actually worked out well for a couple of years, but cleaning the counter at move-out was one of the thirty worst things I've ever had to do. Duct taping a couch, or cloth taping it, might have been fun if the couch was in a stinky dive bar.

Reupholstering is too expensive & or time consuming, though we got this pile of great material from some lady giving things away out of her garage. Most people like me who decided to reuholster a couch on their own write bitterly about the costs they incurred via money & time. My friends K8 & Kayte are both artistic and detail oriented and could swing it; I'm artistic and sloppy and studying for a major exam to get my Phd and have a little baby who makes spending three or four days on a couch a silly idea.

My favorite idea was to sew, or somehow glue or stick patches all over the couch. I still like that idea, but also found it too overwhelming given my time constraints.

Raj's friend Laura said she saw people riding a couch down a hill, which reminds me of an old friend who, during a Minnesota winter, set his couch on fire and rode it down the hill with this girl he always had a crush on but who never loved him back. I always thought that was symbolic of something or other.

My solution, though?

Freecycle it!

Because why?

Because Kate Schmitt is giving us her old couch! Or, at least, we're going to buy it from her for cheaper than it would cost to paint our old one. Which means I spent months thinking of creative solutions and in the end I'm sacking the old fellow. Kate's couch needs a little patching on the sides, which seems like nothing compared to revamping an entire couch.

What I did discover on the internet: if some entreprising young soul thinks of a cheap, nice-looking way to revamp old couches, she would be rich.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Oh, Winsome Death: Ramblings

Last night while I was driving BabyG home from a local Vietnamese restaurant, Van Loc, an exceedingly cheerful song came on the radio.  Though the lyrics were in Portuguese, the tune and tone were reminiscent of goofy, go-lucky Hollywood music from 1940s.  Pina coladas, dancing, a thatched roof restaurant, the Caribbean, stars, outrageous declarations of love…I imagine the songwriter intended to conjure these sorts of images.  

Unfortunately, in this day and age a song so unconsciously blithe, so naively unsuspecting of disaster only makes a fiction writer like me exceedingly nervous.  In fact, the song probably made anybody who’s watched a movie in the last thirty years nervous, because everybody knows that unapologetically optimistic songs always equal convulsive sadness.  

So last night when that go-lucky song started playing I literally began waiting for some Hummer full of drunken club kids to come careening over and flattening me and my daughter inside our poor little Mazda.  There would be no steam coming from the grill, no screaming:  BabyG and I would be flattened and done for.  The only thing left of us would be the coming onset of sirens and devastation.  

I didn’t used to be afraid of dying.  For most of my life I have had a definate faith in death.  I’ve worked eight years at a pediatrics unit in a cancer center, and I’ve watched many of the kids I love die.  I’ve seen dying people skirting two different worlds.  Sometimes I’ve seen a certainty and calm overcome someone when death has become inevitable, and though I would rather all of my children survive their cancers, my faith in the strength and the peace of death has been shaped by my experiences with the deaths I have witnessed in the hospital.  Sometimes, I realized, death is a good thing.  And so for years, I thought I was at peace with it.  I wasn’t afraid of it.

I had believed I could handle death better than most people because of my special understanding of it, but after marrying GreenDaddy I started worrying he was going to be run over on his bike.  I couldn’t imagine how I’d be okay without GreenDaddy, or even, how the world would.  I had never though of somebody in this way before, and it unnerved, me, but my worries were fluttering and easy enough to quell.  

It’s only been with the birth of BabyG that I’ve become terrified of death and dying.  I used to think the world could go on without me, if it had to; now I can’t imagine thinking that.  I think:  I have to be here for BabyG, I am the person who looks after BabyG, only GreenDaddy and I can love her the way she needs to be loved in her childhood.  I know both GreenDaddy and I will protect her and love her and do anything we have to so that she has a good childhood.  We want to guide her into adulthood.  The only thing that seems worse than one of us dying is if anything at all bad happened to BabyG.  The other day she got shots and there I was, one of the mothers I never imagined I’d be, crying to see her get stuck with needles.  She is the most important thing in the universe, so far as I’m concerned, the most lovely creature on earth.  

So suddenly I’m afraid for me and for GreenDaddy and for BabyG.  I walk past the closet and think: those bedrails could kill fall and crush GreenDaddy, or somebody could run over BabyG and me with the stroller, or a crazy person might shoot one of us randomly.  Having a child, having the joy a child brings, feels very much like always driving around with an unabashedly cheery soundrack blasting on the stereo.  Which puts me a little on edge.  

It’s no wonder then, that through so much of my twenties, I was a diehard Tom Waits fan.  His music is the opposite of cheery;  its syrup made of all sorts of human tragedies.  Last night, it occurred to me that in the same way margarita music is a death magnet, Tom Waits’ music is a cosmic rabbit’s foot.  You can’t be smashed by a hummer when you’re listening to it.  No god could be that obvious.  

If there’s a universal force that goes around leveling unduly high levels of sadness or of delight by counterbaling them with opposing emotional states, I am in trouble.  To avoid the trouble, perhaps I can take up listening to Tom Waits again, in hopes that the cosmos will let me provide my own counterbalance to the bliss of being BabyG’s mother.  Or perhaps this isn’t a world of counterbalances, and all the movie directors are wrong.  Maybe it’s a mathematicians world, and I should seek out more positives to multiply with the ones I already have.  Maybe the world is ready for the ecstatic to kick the ironic’s ass.    

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Old Couch Advice?

We have this very old and ugly sun-bleached & stained mint green couch.  Raj and I don't have the dinero to reupholster it.  We are quite willing to experiment on it, however, as there's pretty much no way to make it look any worse than it does. So the question is: Does anybody have any suggestions about what we might do to the couch?  We can make it an Art Couch (ala Art Car) so long as it can still function as a couch that doesn't stain peoples' clothes or endanger babies.    

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My Secret in the Backyard, Part II

It was a Sunday afternoon. I went out to look at the compost pile I started six months ago. About three feet high, the pile was covered by a mix of leaves – oak, maple, hackberry, and grass – in various states of decay. Also, littered here and there were: peelings from an avocado; weeds yanked from the yard; the scatterings of coal and hickory ashes from our tenant’s smoker; shuckings from corn we cooked with MGreen’s dad; green beans we bought at a premium organic price from Whole Foods but never cooked; bitter melon our friend Nicole bought us but that we were afraid to eat; curled tulip blossoms; and half an onion, its layers thrown in high relief from having dried out, separated, and pulled back, as if onions are tulips’ dark sisters, blooming as they decay.

I wasn’t back there looking at the compost pile for nothing. I had with me half a pot of brown rice and a container full of mashed yams, both too old to eat. Time to turn the pile, long over due actually, and add some new matter. I was excited to unveil the pile, not only for the physical labor my office body badly needs. Perhaps the sloughings and detritus from our lives -- MGreen's, BabyG's, and mine -- would reveal something to me, whatever it is I search for by light of day and never find. Each artifact brought back traces. An avocado sandwich MGreen made me, snatches of conversations from my in-laws’ visit, and an inane argument I tried to make-up for with flowers. Perhaps turning the compost pile would be like peering into the hippocampus and poking at memories unmediated, rummaging through the jumbled scraps of the past before they get reorganized into the Past and my Memory.

With the first scoop of my shovel, I saw a black beetle the size of my thumb tip scramble away. Then innumerable, tiny bugs (are they infants?) moving in every direction, their white bodies set off against the black rot. They disappeared. They seemingly dissolved back into the mound. I dug down deeper and there were dozens of white and tan roly-polies. The sweetness of the rot was in the air. The leaves lost all trace of shape, the rot had a consistency of its own. But even towards the bottom of the pile, I would encounter the occasional intact stump of a cabbage, a whole lime still deep green, or a cross-section of a sweet potato. Deeper down – where the rot was the rich black of mature compost – I came upon something astonishing. I didn’t know what it was. My heart raced. I rushed to the house with a clod of dirt on the shovel blade to show MGreen.

MGreen wasn’t even showing when I started that compost pile. BabyG weighed less than a pound. Composting was just one task in our greater effort to become green parents living responsibly in the urban beast called Houston. However, the compost became something more without my really expecting or understanding it. The expecting parent who does not carry the baby (i.e. the father, the other mother, the non-receptacle person, or what have you) carries the psychic burden of expectation and fear, but has no embodiment of that stress, no physical growth in the womb to focus on. The compost pile became my substitute womb. Baking cookies in the oven, remodeling the bathroom, building a crib – parents do all kinds of things to project their desire to control an uncontrollable process onto something that can be controlled. Compost has the advantage over these other activities of being biological in a way that is both scientifically explainable and yet mysterious, much like pregnancy. Compost incubates. Nine to ten months, in fact, is a typical length of time for maturation.

Parenting guidebooks usually acknowledge the stress that the non-pregnant parent(s) experience, but stop there. Some books and magazine articles tell you that it is your duty to work out your baggage for the sake of the baby. But an expecting parent can’t always be expected to work it all out in forty weeks. What if there is a history of incest, abuse, divorce, death, difficulty conceiving, or multiple miscarriages? What if one or both of the partners is in the middle of a crisis? Will the mother and child have a safe place to stay after the delivery and money during a time when she cannot work? But even when there are urgent matters to focus on, expecting a child has a way of turning the psyche. The mental exhumation is overwhelming. Memories unearthed. The fear of reproducing everything you loathe in relationships. Worst of all, the truths are always scurrying away into the recesses of your mind like tiny albino bugs. Your psyche keeps turning on itself even if you try to will it to stop.

When you turn a compost pile, you don’t figure the compost out. Compost is, after all, a mass of decay, not a time capsule or an analyst’s couch or a laboratory experiment. The unknowability of the compost’s totality does not keep you from turning the compost over. You turn it regularly, once a month if you don’t want the heat at its center to fizzle out. You turn the compost if you want it to become rich fertilizer for a garden. In the process, you might come face to face with the creatures that commonly live in compost piles – beetles, roaches, mice, rats, possum, worms – animals that will not kill you but that you might fear. You get over it. The possum and the rats move away if you keep the compost moist. The worms are good for garden soil. They leave casings. For me, the compost pile became a useful embodiment of what for me could only be an idea. An idea that I was to smile about at all times but that threatened to eviscerate my sense of self. Compost was an alluring metaphor for me precisely because of its productive darkness and mystery.

When I got back to the house with my shovel and clod of dirt, I opened the door and called for MGreen to come quick.

“I found something at the bottom of the compost pile and I don’t know what it is,” I said.

MGreen rushed over and looked down at the shovel blade. We were in the kitchen. In the middle of a black chunk of compost, there was a shining white ball about the size of a marble. It unfurled. The thing looked like an overfed, albino caterpillar as long and thick as my finger. There were many more where I found it. I was delighted that throwing my refuse in a pile could make a habitat for such a fantastic thing, but I felt bad exposing it to light. Could I be killing a future butterfly? Even a moth? MGreen took digital pictures and googled around the net. After some time, she shouted out, “I know what it is – beetle larvae.” The little white bugs were probably mites, which are actually arachnida and often thrive alongside beetles.

Was it disappointment that I felt? Wouldn’t it have been better if the larvae were meant to become beautiful creatures, not the hard-backed survivors of millennial ruin known as beetles. MGreen said she was terrified of beetles. She’s afraid of the compost now. When she said that, it became clearer to me that when I unearthed the shining larvae, I had experienced the sublime. Sublime in the sense that Edmund Burke had meant it -- the astonishing union of terror and beauty, danger and excitement, fear and awe. And what could be better preparation for the (hoped for) resurrection of the self that is called “becoming a parent”?