In phone calls a mere hour apart from one another, I receive word that my department has voted to hire me into a better, more permanent position, and that my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, has tested positive for the virus. He has a large, loving family — children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — all of whom would like to be with him. It’s a lot to take in and process, these waters of March.
What is happening in this moment? Birds are singing, springtime is upon us. Families connect, celebrate, commiserate in a state of preparedness through phone, FaceTime, text messages, mail and email. We go for walks, we spend time outdoors, work made remote amid break. It’s a strange situation, certainly. We’re entering a period of change, transformation, adjustment. A perfect time, in other words, to practice hope and exercise care. Somehow in this moment of polarity, solidarity means keep your distance. The question is: for how long? Until when? How does crisis become revolution?
A short walk and a phone call to wish a nephew happy birthday: things I do over the course of the afternoon. Earlier in the day I rescued my mother-in-law’s earring. The day has been a chilly one — though sunny now after a morning of rain. The day’s walk is a time to range about, thinking about life on reservations. My familiarity with Native American literature, however, is shamefully quite limited. Time to change that. Use the year ahead, I tell myself, as an opportunity to pursue what Fred Moten calls “fugitive study.” But also remain present, centered, exchanging greetings and conversation with members of the community. Note development across time of stories, forms, archetypes, mythopoetic patterns. Parallel compute across multiple modes.
A beautiful afternoon — a time to celebrate after several days of rain. Though even those have been wonderful: F. sleeping in my lap, or with her head resting on my shoulder. Sarah writing thank yous as friends and family visit us, bestow gifts on us, and feed us, local friends and colleagues having established for us a meal train. A circle of giving. Freedom is ours when we join and grow these circles of reciprocity. Extend the giving outward through the polis and the cosmos. Support the Sanders bid for the presidency. Make the vote count. Correct the outcome of 1972. Participate, too, in the antiwar movement. Make its number swell.
On this autumn afternoon I don the role of sous chef, chop cauliflower and onions, mix with ground turmeric and paprika, the lot then brewed into a soup. My brother calls after dinner announcing wonderful news: he proposed to his girlfriend. The two are now engaged to be wed. A group-text ensues, my other family members and I all congratulating the couple, all of us filled with joy.
Among the patterns swirled into the stucco ceiling of my office appears the face of a small terrier — happy, excited to be here. In it I sense a correspondence. A cat has also taken to visiting Sarah and I on our back deck, a grey one with black stripes, dozing in a chair midday. Butterflies have come to visit as well — beautiful swallowtails, and out on the sidewalk, a “red-spotted purple” with blue stripes and orange dots on its wings. A white plastic tape dispenser on top of my file cabinet resembles a white whale. The world appears blessed with a multitude of entities and beings. And much the same is true here in the home. Sarah and I are expecting a daughter. From the two of us has come a third. Thus begins our life together as a family. With great respect and reverence, ears attuned to our many co-creating friends and neighbors, we set out on our way.
The line traced by Agitation Free’s “In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise” runs along an axis that transcends the usual three-dimensional plane on which I’m trapped — or so I like to imagine, though I freely admit my ignorance regarding matters of topology. Point being, I can’t help feeling like I ought to be elsewhere.
With capacities renewed, however, the feeling gives way to joy, increased attentiveness, a sense of excitement. There I was griping, whereas now I can see. Beauty everywhere: a pot of garden lobelia, beside which I meditated this morning, and from which a tiny bee finds sustenance. Plants do that to us: they heal us, they modulate consciousness. From them comes that phrase in the Bible mistranslated into the English of the KJV as “our daily bread.” So sayeth Reverend Danny Nemu in a conversation with podcaster Lex Pelger in an episode of The Psychedelic Salon. Out of me pulses and flickers eidetic imagery — maybe even the tactile, fully immersive vibrational sphere of a cannabis-induced liminal dream. Family also provides sustenance, equally necessary. Time to get out there and love. That’s where I stumble, though. My every move feels judged and found wanting. Can I change those vibes, feed back something pure rather than base? My nieces step outdoors and cheer me up a bit. One talks about missing her kindergarten classroom, with its rugs, couches, and tables. The other one tells me that she does not like men, and that her favorite thing is bubblegum. Afterwards I tip-toe sentence by sentence through the section of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America titled “The Message,” the words on the page threatening to cohere into some fearsome allegory. What I find instead, though, is further evidence of a loving cosmos waiting patiently for me as I struggle toward an approximation of its wisdom.
Well placed to notice memory’s modularity, losses and accretions, rooms refurbished by time. I was real or so I thought. Like a golden birthday balloon made of creased mylar, I press against a ceiling, inside filled to bursting, wondering how I got here. Birds, planes, sunset skies of pink, orange, and blue. Time with family overwhelms me, wears me down. The finest moments are the silent ones, a light breeze, water lapping the sides of a canal.
Colored flags lift and flap in the air above a parking lot as I ease myself back into the patterns and rhythms of life in the United States. People here seem hard-shelled and prickly, the air between them charged with menace. But the sun is out. The sky is clear. Allowances have been made for potted plants and beleaguered trees amid rows upon rows of strip malls. Hulks with tattoos order breakfast sandwiches at deli counters, but birds still sing outdoors, despite idling motorists, in the silences between waves of traffic. Next thing I know, we’re in crisis mode: an afternoon visit to a pool thrown into disarray when a nephew bangs his head on a diving board while attempting a back flip. Within a few hours, he’s back home with eight staples in his head playing Fortnite on his Nintendo Switch.
I often know not how to participate lovingly in time with family. So much of it descends into staring despondently at what others watch on television in garish consumerist disdain or at least ignorant unconcern for my personal preferences. The emotional and psychological investment in biological tribalism that I witness in members of my extended family seems superficial to me given their unwillingness to aid me out of my economic nightmare. How can I continue to pay to visit people who throw money around as the system through which they profit tramples me underfoot? Perhaps we just need to center. “When we are on center,” writes M.C. Richards, “we experience reality in depth rather than in partition” (Centering, p. 53). Richards knows that centering is a difficult process. It’s easier to say one will love one’s enemies than to do it. “How are we to love,” she asks, “when we are stiff and numb and disinterested? How are we to transform ourselves into limber and soft organisms lying open to the world at the quick? […]. Love, like its counterpart Death, is a yielding at the center…figured forth in intelligent cooperation, sensitive congeniality, physical warmth. […]. One gives up all one has for this. […]. One gives up all the treasured sorrow and self-mistrust, all the precious loathing and suspicion, all the secret triumphs of withdrawal. One bends in the wind” (54). The more I read of Richards’s work, the more I want to investigate the Gate Hill Cooperative, an experimental artists’ colony that was located in Stony Point, NY. Richards wrote Centering while living there from 1954 to 1964.