The Work of Community

I saw this bird outside while on a run. I thought it was dead, so naturally I got my face really close to it and laid on the ground to take a ton of photos. Sprawling on the sidewalk is a good way to make people think you’re nuts, by the way. FYI: the bird was sick but not dead. It valiantly kept trying to take chomps out of me whenever it decided I was getting too close.

I felt a twinge of guilt at walking away and leaving it there. Feo wanted to rescue it… we have a history of these things. He and I rescued a wounded pigeon back in Oakland, kept it in a shoebox overnight and drove to a wildlife sanctuary a few towns over. It died, and if I am honest with myself, we probably made its last days more terrifying than they needed to be.

I tell myself that is the reason why I don’t help this bird. In reality, I was just tired and didn’t feel like bothering. The guilt persists.

Being in relationship with others, being part of a community, is a form of bondage. I mean no ill-will through that term. It is an obligation, but often a beautiful one. An Iron & Wine song said it well once, that “Everybody owes something to everybody else.” The more you love, the more you owe.

Well, and I have been trying to be a part of my community. Trying to weave myself into these Hawaiian tapestries. My dad’s church has adopted a few homeless families. A dozen or so men (including my dad) gave up their Saturday to build a fence around a mother’s encampment, so CPS wouldn’t take her children away from her. They bought the materials, drove for an hour, spent the whole day sweating in the sweltering heat for this.

I have nothing but love and gratitude for them. Nothing but abject admiration. I feel humbled by their kindness.

And now we’re at: what can I do? How can I use my strengths to benefit others? Little writer/artist/cook, and what do I do with that? We’ve got to do the work, and it’s not just an exercise in self-aggrandizement. The world needs one of you and one of me. Hands to build the fence and hands to write about it, to tell the story after.

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Wildness and Marriage (and a lot of questions about both)

When I was a kid, I didn’t dream of being President or being rich and living in a mansion. At 5, I wanted to live in a shack in my grandma’s backyard, and I wanted to bake donuts at Safeway. (Mind you, I’d never baked anything in my life. I think I just liked the free cookies and thought their cakes were beautiful.)

I grew up. My tastes changed, but not by much. When I was 15, I wanted to be an artist and move to some exciting-sounding city, like New York, Seattle, or San Francisco. By 17, I wanted to be a professional street performer and/or run away and join the circus.

I wanted to travel around in a van and hitch rides and sleep in a pup tent in fields with my lover—  because there was always someone else there, in the dreams. I wanted a forever-love and had the suspicion that he or she was out there: my partner in crime, my patient companion. I always wanted them.

But I never wanted to get married. I wanted us to wake up every morning and choose each other all over again. I wanted our love to be a constantly evolving decision and not a given.

All this to say, I never saw myself getting married. The “big white wedding” that we say all little girls dream about, it never even occurred to me. I want a life more wild, and that life sounded tame.

And yet, I’ve decided to get married, so now I’m trying to figure out what that means to me. No one ever tells you that saying yes to a proposal might come with some hard thinking. I wish I had more examples of wild marriages. Images of future domesticity and pleasant tameness horrify and frustrate me, and I’m not sure if that’s youthful naivete or just an indelible part of my personality.

engagement_ring_hand_rightsideup

This picture sums it up pretty well, I think. I have perpetually chipped nail polish, burns on my hands from work, and tattoos. And a beautiful diamond ring that’s a little too big for me. “Too big” strikes me as poignant.

So when people start talking about designer shoes, invitations on special paper, and centerpieces, I get a little freaked out. It’s not that I’m ungrateful— please don’t mistake it for that. I’m just afraid of uncritically going with the current. I want to know why and for what purpose?

I want to know, does marriage oppress women? If my father “gives me away,” does that imply that I am an object for men and not a sovereign person? Do I need to make sure that my vows don’t say that I will “love, honor, and obey?” Why does the woman wear an engagement ring but not the man? Does this mark me as property? I’m not property. Do I keep my last name or take his, and what does each option mean to me?

There are so many layers to these things. I can’t ignore the cultural and historical whys. I am trying to figure out what to keep and what to discard: what traditions are good and where we should create and substitute our own.

So if you see me on the street and I get a little cagey when you talk about the wedding, please know that it’s not you, it’s me. And it’s not that I don’t love my partner dearly, it’s that I’m working through my thoughts on the whole institution of marriage, and why we do it, and what it means.

I have the creeping suspicion that marriage isn’t too small, so much as my current perception is too small to contain it.

Time as Thief

My grandparents have been sleeping on the same sides of their bed for 63 years. That’s just under three times as long as I’ve been alive. Yesterday I was over at their house, listening to my dad talk them into getting mechanical beds that will raise and lower so they can get out of bed more easily.

They are adamant that they sleep in the same room, next to each other. Much furniture will be rearranged to make this happen.

It’s beautiful, and it’s sad. Watching loved family slow down and make concessions for their age is a sad thing. Time comes and it steals things slowly. I wish I could help. I wish it didn’t have to come to this, robbed of the ability to sleep in the same big bed by the relentless march of time.

“We can hold hands,” my grandma tells her husband.

They smile, and it’s so sweet it breaks my heart.