There is much to do: course preparation, childcare, cooking, housekeep. And all the while, we’re learning — trying to, here and there. Trying to do so lovingly. Growing with that which is growing all around us. A potter’s wasp builds two nests, each one a tiny architectural marvel, on the side of a wood post, part of the railing on my front porch. The nests look like little round adobes fashioned of mud and clay.
Sarah looks into how we might remove bats from beneath a section of our attic. They’re endangered and they’re cool to have around, in the sense that they eat thousands of insects per day; but their poop isn’t something we want collecting next to our house. Perhaps we can arrange for them a small bat house. Build them into a workable permaculture. Jonathon Engels is one of many who recommend that we “utilize wildlife.” Create good habitats for frogs, lizards, birds, rabbits, deer, bees, butterflies. Add fertility, spread seeds, create compost. Bats are skillful pest eliminators — pests that could otherwise endanger crops like corn, tomatoes, and beans. Bat guano can then be recycled back into the land as fertilizer. Bats are also pollinators. So let us build or buy a bat box. Mount it on a post in a sunny spot in the yard. The box should perch about thirteen to sixteen feet off the ground. Let us do our best to provide all creatures with homes. Scale up the ladders of the allegory; apply the principle more broadly. In all cases, it means overcoming fear of otherness. Build a culture that uses narrative to occasion imaginative identification with all of nature as kith and kin, while also responding lovingly to difference. Think of this as an alternative to the relationship to Otherness proposed and imagined by Thomas Nagel in his famous essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”
Sarah has had to hold the baby for much of the past few days as I work on the floors of the new house, preparing it for our move — and we’re isolated from our families due to the lockdown. Both of us find each other reunited each evening, busy boxing and bubble-wrapping items, though also finding moments of rest, relaxation, comfort, moments of peace and quiet, amid days filled otherwise. The physicality of each day appeals to me even as it pains me. The move is happening, though, and all is well.
The new house is magnificent, majestic. I pulled up most of the carpets, I’ve removed much of the padding, I’m in the midst of removing staples and tack boards. A crew will help us sand and refinish the beautiful hardwood floors. Each day we transport boxes and objects as we begin our move. It’s work — we also plan to paint several rooms, plant a garden — but it’s coming along, the whole assembling before our eyes. And we’re working together. Baby gives loud, satisfied sigh.
Is the bourgeois subject the one who finds by way of money-power the way to a home? Shouldn’t self-determination of Oikos through communities of mutual aid take place wherever it can? Can we get a revolution? Jefferson Airplane seemed to think so in their 1969 song “Volunteers.”
“Look what’s happening out in the streets,” they sang. “Got a revolution / Got to revolution.” The revolution means dancing down the street like in a musical. Get people out singing in the streets. John Sinclair’s version was a bit more like West Side Story: “ROCK & ROLL, DOPE AND FUCKING IN THE STREETS.” But then others like the Stones demanded “Gimme Shelter.” And for them, that meant “Make Love Not War.” (Sinclair’s papers, by the way, are held at the University of Michigan, with boxes dedicated to Artists’ Workshop Society, Trans-Love Energies, and the Rainbow People’s Party.)
She’s growing quickly. She’s active, inquisitive, communicative, discerning. We hang out. We go for walks. We return home to home cooking and mother’s breast. The household looms large around the edges of each day. I come home from walks eyes heavy with pollen. Allergy season. I’m interested to see what students do with this week’s readings: texts by Abbie Hoffman and John Sinclair. I dig in and learn about Abbie’s friendship with Allen Ginsberg. The two writers admired each other’s work. Ginsberg influenced Yippie politics and Hoffman’s brand of revolutionary political theater through a piece he wrote called “Demonstration or Spectacle as Example, As Communication.” (Abbie’s archives are available, by the way, at University of Texas at Austin.)
We’ve begun purchase on a home. A Craftsman bungalow fixer-upper on a decent-size piece of land. And I’ve drafted my job talk amid the disruptions of a pandemic. Big changes ahead, but also “continuity of instruction.” Despite the pandemic, I remain oriented toward hope. “Social distancing” is necessary for the time being, but no need to be excessive about it. We’ll grill, we’ll cook, we’ll garden, we’ll grow. By these means, we build the Oikos of our dreams.
A Monarch explores blooms of ivy beside me, some of the latter grown up the side of a tree, with bees, too, attending to its nectars. Sarah and I received word today that we’ll have to move within months of the arrival of our child. It will be an in-town move, however — and while moves for us are difficult, not least because of my masses of books and records, our hope is that out of this will come purchase of a home, whereas before we’ve always rented. The hope, too, is that the home will be a place where we can grow a garden and assemble an herbarium. Birds come over and sing to me. The butterfly folds its wings, and in shadow, as if camouflaged, disappears in the ivy, before flapping open, the ivy leaf transfigured, hosting in its place beings of vast beauty, elegance, and intelligence. Our minds begin to play with a name, one we share with others. It’s the name of my mother’s maternal grandmother; in its history, it’s associated with patronage of animals and nature; musically, it evokes a flowering cosmos.
Home again, stretching, settling in after seven weeks of travel. Initially I find myself needing to focus on nesting, repair, self-care, readjustment. Vacuuming feels like manual operation of a Photoshop airbrush. I get better results and greater satisfaction when I kneel down and clean the floor with a wet rag. If that’s what the life-world needs, then so be it. I give gladly. Throughout the day, I catch myself renegotiating use of will, contemplating my relationship to various entities and objects. Slugs, spiders, chairs, old bits of clothing, bottled water: all of these things require care and attention, as does Erik Davis’s High Weirdness, a copy of which I pluck from the pile of mail that arrived for me while I was gone. Also in the pile is a copy of Fredric Jameson’s new book Allegory and Ideology. Time to start reading, I tell myself. Both books feel weighty, but High Weirdness is the one that warrants immediate attention, I decide after some hemming and hawing, the Stranger Things soundtrack modulating through my head. The Davis book is the one I’ve been waiting for these last few months. It feels timely. It speaks to present hopes and concerns. As Jeffrey J. Kripal notes in his blurb on the back cover, “May this book, like a glowing UFO, land on your lap, and every other lap, and weird our world beyond all measure.” I approach it with a degree of trepidation — but also with great excitement. Across from me on the wall of my dining room hangs a reproduction of the famous Ambrosius Holbein engraving from Thomas More’s Utopia, looking suddenly like an emblem representing macrocosm and microcosm: Genesis, Paradise Lost, and Frankenstein woven into a single grand narrative, the figures down at the bottom reminding me of the debaters from the garden of branching paths. “The devil in the details,” as one commentator puts it. The figure I’ve imagined in the role of Adam wears the name “Hythlodaeus” in the engraving, referring to the character in More’s text whose name means both “God has healed” and “Speaker of nonsense.”