F’s Drawings

Frankie completes a 14″ x 20” drawing in marker and crayon. I tape it up on a wall in the living room. Sitting with it brings me joy.

The Greek word phantázein means “to make visible” or “present to the mind.” Art is the outward manifestation of this process, this power of forming mental representations of things not present to the senses.

Notes from Another Past

Hiro Kone’s “Mundus patet” hisses out from floor speakers into the space of my living room as I sit and pack books for my journey. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning, drive conjunct with Winter Solstice. “Others are awake, living wild magical lives,” thinks the Traveler. “Let us get with them.”

I walk the path of a time tunnel, listening intently, sight reduced amid the day’s cool air as I head to the beach. ‘Tis a somber tale, if all one hears is squawking — so listen. Laughter, wheels of strollers rolling on boardwalks, children conversing with caregivers, waves crashing along the shore. I gather shells along my approach and then toss them gently into the ocean. A makeshift offering. One does what one can. Shorebirds pass; seagulls dive down and collect. Other beachgoers share the beach with us, wandering solitary or in pairs. I close my eyes and meditate, awakening myself at a set interval with a timer. Languages confront me with occasional meaning — terms like “Moses,” “nope,” and “Sunken Meadow.”

My eyes fall upon Pringles potato chips, left behind in the upstairs bedroom in the wake of Frankie’s visit. “Eat, Eat, Eat!” I hear her saying. She brings such joy, such willful, day-shaping energy. Yet here I lie, feeling crumpled and broken, sleepless and alone atop a bed of crumbs. “Until summer, I’ll be running from one thing to the next, barely able to feel my face,” thinks the Traveler. Struggling to cheer up out of this self-administered genre/affect/mood. Struggling to awaken. Until it’s not really a struggle after all. One awakens all the time: birds fly by, light shines through. And there are companions! playgrounds! friends of the forest! an immeasurable capacity to forgive.

Light Amid Darkness

Frankie has been a consistent source of light amid this darkness. Upon waking from her nap yesterday, she asked to go to “Dada’s House,” with “house” sounding a bit like “horse.” Why have I been inattentive to her here in these trance-scripts? She likes Dada’s House. She requests that we go there, cries if we don’t. Cats; playgrounds. Beautiful tall houses ‘round a bend. What’s not to like? Perhaps tomorrow we can embark on a stroller ride ‘round town. Time to stop ruminating. “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” sing The Tams.

By nightfall, my sentiments align with a line from Chance the Rapper’s “Blessings”: “When the praises go up,” he sings, “the blessings come down.” Blessings make us feel, make us like as they land in our lap. Let us ready ourselves with praise.

Time to communicate lovingly, share the love out on the streets, hang with neighbors, chat with artists, bond through shared love of Buffalo Poetics and Black Mountain College. I feel like a lightning bug: if not a social butterfly, still a giver of gifts. 2022 will be a Lovers Year. Right now, though, I feel a bit crushed. Hurt. Heartbroken. Awaiting something beyond silence — some new adventure. For tonight I feel apart from the life I imagined. The narrative coordinates that have held are about to change, thinks the Time Traveler, scalp pricked and hands stigmata’d by impetigo. The hope is that love will prevail. And it does, it does, as soon as I listen to the record of the year: Moor Mother’s Black Encyclopedia of the Air.

The Hero’s Journey: A Revision

K. sends me Jessi Klein’s article, “Epiphany in the Baby-Food Aisle.” Klein writes from her experience as the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old — her child the same age as my daughter Frankie. Klein describes an epiphany of sorts that occurred recently as she listened to Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert talking on Oprah’s Super Soul podcast about Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The gist of it is that Gilbert thinks we need to reconceive the hero’s journey. “It’s not the exclusive territory of men,” writes Klein, “and it does not have to involve faraway lands.”

Instead, she argues, we ought to reconceive the hero’s journey in terms of motherhood.

“The article is powerful. It makes me ‘feel all the feels,’” writes the Narrator afterwards, wincing a bit at his use of that phrase, though he means it sincerely. The article really does trigger in him a wide gamut of emotions.

“Parenting is hard,” he adds. “We doubt our capacities. We rise to the task as best we can.”

In that sense, motherhood is heroic — undoubtedly so, notes the part of me committed to truth. Why, then, do I respond defensively?

“What about Alice and her journey through Wonderland?” wonders the child in me. “Why, upon imagining women’s journeys, must we rush automatically to motherhood?”

“My positioning as a subject,” writes the Narrator, “bars me from believing fully Klein’s account of motherhood as a hero’s journey that rarely gets its due. My sense, instead, is that that narrative is nearly universally adored; it plays on repeat throughout the culture, always to loud applause, my applause included.”

“Why, then,” adds the Narrator, “is there within Klein’s narrative this insistence that the story is neglected and isn’t getting its due? Its image of itself as victim is reminiscent of Christianity once the latter becomes the state religion of the empire: its priesthood amply compensated, able to walk proudly amid the halls of power. Christianity, in other words, when it is no longer the religion of the persecuted few, but still happy to paint itself as such, as it subjects others to its evangelical zeal.”

“And besides,” he adds. “The hero’s journey is of questionable worth anyway. In order for persons to write themselves as heroes, others must be written as villains.”

“And I am not a villain,” he insists. “Nor is anyone else in my narrative. If mine is to be construed as a hero’s journey, then the genre would have to behave other than it usually does. The tale’s villain, if it is to require one, would have to be something other than a person — not an agent so much as a structural flaw immanent to the system. A source of inner conflict.”

Sunday June 27, 2021

The day is a difficult yoga session writ large. I hold poses through tasks required of me: grocery shopping, lawn mowing, parenting. When time allows, I sit eyes closed and meditate. There is an alchemy in this working-through, this processing of desire. The day is the site where one practices care for an absent other. Come afternoon and suddenly it’s a pool day, world redeemed by popsicles and coconut bars. I rise up onto the surface of the pool and float there, big happy smile on my face as I imagine the act shared with another. My friend at The Alchemist’s Studio reminds me of a saying attributed to Vincent Van Gogh: “Yellow is capable of charming God.” The charm of that rhymes later in the day with “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’),” the 21:24 B-side to Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics.

Hassell passed away yesterday at the age of 84. After listening and giving thanks, I receive J.R.R. Tolkien’s St. Andrews lecture, “On Fairy-Stories.” For this is what we wish to write, is it not? A story about Faerie, “the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” As Tolkien emphasizes early on, “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” Tolkien also calls Faerie “the Perilous Realm” — the source of peril, I presume, having something to do with the realm’s magic. Faerie’s virtue lies in its capacity to satisfy various desires: “to survey the depths of space and time,” for instance, and “to hold communion with other living things.”

Friday June 18, 2021

I stare up at, gather attention toward a set of newly mounted tape racks. We’ve been busy with various projects around the house: repairing the AC unit, installing a shelf in Frankie’s closet. Frankie resents the distinction between meum and tuum, a distinction learned via conflicts over toys at the pool. But the pool works its magic: sun shines down, conflicts are forgotten, and baby is happy, happy, happy.

Thursday April 22, 2021

My eyes travel across spines of books, searching, seeking ways to proceed. Parenting, though, leaves little time to read. As Mark Fisher notes in Postcapitalist Desire, “In order to raise consciousness, you need time” (265). Time is the terrain of struggle. Time is what capitalists steal from those who labor. Stolen time equals stolen consciousness.

Thursday April 1, 2021

We rejoice upon word of the rapid, successful birth of our niece. My sister FaceTimes with us: she and baby are well. We care for her boys until her return, while teaching and caring for each other. The boys are into lightsabers and Fortnite. I race after them, pushing Frankie in a stroller, as they bike to the neighborhood park on the bay. They request “Lava Monster,” where I roar and give chase.

Tuesday March 23, 2021

Kids and I play in my brother-in-law’s back yard.

Geese swim up and greet Frankie and I on the canal, splashing, squawking loudly.

I build the kids a fort.

I drive my nephew to preschool.

Sarah and I see his brothers to the bus stop, send them to school.

It’s a day of many moving parts.

Sicilian pizza for lunch from my favorite pizzeria.

I return home with slices for Sarah and Frankie.

L. attends the same preschool I attended forty years ago.

Clear skies, sunlit afternoon.

I man the grill and prepare dinner.

A day of actions rather than words.

Sunday March 7, 2021

Grieving as I wander in sadness amid old records in my basement, or, while kneeling, I collect Crayola crayons and plastic mixers off the dining room floor. Frankie enjoys tossing these from boxes and jars. She also likes to make us pick up after her with her sippy cups. These she chucks from her high chair, big grin on her face, squealing with delight. I listen to Charlie Parker’s The Verve Years (1950-51) in the basement after she falls asleep. This has been my pattern of late. While listening, I read statements by a group called The Unseen Hand. On their website, the group offers retreats for those in need of its care. “The Songs of Creation,” they write, “are to humans what migration pathways are to monarchs or whales, warblers or the continents. They return us to true: true sound, true north, the position of prayer.” The group seems to be the work of alchemist-acupuncturist Laura Clarke Stelmok. Her words appear on the liner notes to Battle Trance’s Blade of Love, an album of tenor saxophones as opposed to Parker’s alto. Searching the stacks, I happen upon Jan Hammer’s The First Seven Days. I awaken to the album’s mid-1970s synthesizer wizardry by about Day 3, amid a track called “Oceans and Continents.”

Bored by what follows, though, I wander off into the stacks and peek at Kenneth Burke’s Language as Symbolic Action, interest piqued by the latter’s chapter on “Kubla Khan.”