I Live Here

It’s been a fulfilling Saturday, after a very long pair of weeks. I am on my porch right now – our porch – sipping at the little cooled coffee left in mug while I listen to the neighborhood.

There’s the constant bass thrum of traffic. Some of the rumbling comes as far off as the river, some as near as the deep purr of the motorcycle that cruised down the street. Higher traffic noises make an occasional counterpoint, from the zip of semi tires on the bridge, to the broad white hum of cars pushing air as they fly from one side of the river to the other.

There’s the sound of birds – too many for someone other than an ornithologist to count. Tuneless staccato chirps, single notes, high whistles and complicated warbles doppler up and down the street from the arms of old silver maples and green ashes, and young honey locusts.

I keep being visited by ants, who seem intent on crawling up my legs while I write. Bumblebees careen through our garden, and little pale butterflies skirt the porch.

Hydrangeas, foxglove and lilies will go in the beds this weekend. For now they’re chilling on my porch with their more fortunate potted siblings.

I’ve potted and watered plants that we bought today. The buttery yellow calibrachoa and electric purple pinball gomphrena make splashes of color that match the rag rug. No tomatoes this year; they took so much water without producing much fruit last year. It was good for me to have something to fuss over last summer, but for now the tomatoes from the farmer’s market will have to do. There are precut raised bed kits at the hardware store though; maybe next year even a girl with no power tools but a cordless drill can have a vegetable garden.

My partner is here beside me, reading while I write. It’s been a busy day, with errands to run and flowers to choose on this first good day after so much cold rain and gloom. I’m doing whatever I can to make this day pass slowly. I’m doing whatever I can to rest my spirit in this moment, in this place, and allow myself hope.

I live here. Where the leaves of an ash we pay the city to keep alive, hang over the house. I live in the shadows of maples and fir trees, of flitting cardinals and fantailed mourning doves. I live where the monarchs come in the summer, and where fireflies hang in the June dusk like stars.

I love this place. And it’s mine. Not in the kind of possessive ownership of my American ancestors and their Manifest Destiny. It’s mine in how I’ve left an impression behind like a handprint, in flowers and colors, trees and perennials and bright rag rugs. For the small span of time I am here, before the tracks of me are rubbed out by time and entropy. If you were to come up the battered steps onto this porch, you would know – if not me, specifically – that someone is here.

Lives here.


Parenting My Thirtysomething Self

I’d like to think of myself as an adult. An adult that buys anything with unicorns plastered on it and believes in ghosts, yes; but an adult. When it comes to anything that requires effort, discomfort, self sacrifice, commitment or responsibility; however, that adult persona wields about as much real influence as the mother of a tired toddler in the middle of a supermarket.

Go to the gym? You mean we have to do this AGAIN? A year into this I’m still overweight and my knees hurt and I don’t wanna.

Write? How is it that with all this technology I STILL can’t vomit my thoughts straight onto my laptop? I haven’t had a minute to myself all day and my work is crap and Netflix has documentaries on sushi and I don’t wanna.

Paint? My studio is six blocks away and it’s cold and the walk is cold and it’s lonely and I suck and I don’t wanna.

Get up on time for work? My bed is soft and warm and I’m sick of smiling at people when I don’t feel like it and I don’t wanna.

See what I mean? I’m not kidding myself here – getting my selfish, self-absorbed asshole self to do things that are tough doesn’t require responsibility or commitment or whatever other buzzwords my adult delusions want to throw at it. I have to parent this mulish idiot. Sometimes that’s reminding myself of the consequences – if I don’t scoop the litterbox the cat will just shrug and do her business on the library carpet. Sometimes it’s reminding myself of the positive outcome – if I write today, I’ll feel better; I like how easy it is to go up the stairs and that’s because of the gym.

And sometimes it’s just flat-out, unmitigated bribery.

Go to the gym for thirty minutes and you can spend time in the locker room hot tub. Write for thirty minutes and you can have that cupcake you’re lusting after in the fridge. Get up and shower quickly enough and you’ll have time to play a couple levels of Juice Jam. You can scroll through Pinterest for kitten pictures and misty country mornings for an hour if the inspiration will move you back into the story you’re revising. Get up out of your office chair and walk to the end of the hall and you can refill your coffee. Drink half of that liter of water and you can have another cup of coffee. Drive to the grocery store by yourself and you can get a lemon poundcake slice at Starbucks afterward. Call the doctor when your social anxiety has made you put the phone down eight times, and you can disappear into episodes of Chronicles of Shannara for as long as you want.

It works most of the time. It works because I’m still a messy animal with an animal brain that responds to the biological reward system like a champ. I can talk about the beauty of the creative process and the deep love I have of writing and design but I don’t come to those processes easily or willingly 85% of the time. It annoys me that it takes the promise of a huge McDonald’s iced tea to get me the fuck off the couch and to the art studio, but I know the gears get rusty and stuck and need the lubricant of bribery to get moving – but once they move, they’ll spin baby, spin.

Strangely, shifting my perspective to seeing my stubborn self as a child I have to parent has softened the way I treat myself. I’m not as harshly critical. When I’m irrational, instead of ordering myself to stop being irrational, I can shrug, find some amusement in my own stupidity, and work myself through the root of it without feeling guilty. We expect children to behave in ways we find ridiculous and unproductive, but we frequently don’t have such forgiveness for our own silly selves. Parenting myself is equal parts acceptance and hope: acceptance of my ridiculous behavior, and hope that next time I’ll come to the work with fewer promises of cookies and Bubble Shooter. It means not beating myself up for my failures – because I’ll be honest with you, sometimes all the threats and the promises of treats later just don’t work – and it means trying again later.

This doesn’t mean I’m allowed to scribble on walls (without permission) or throw tantrums on the floor of a department store when I can’t indulge in a pretty necklace. This means I’m allowed to feel the impulse and move through it with empathy. More often than not, we speak to ourselves with words we wouldn’t use even on an annoying stranger. Being nasty to myself doesn’t work, but the promise of a hot soak with a Lush bath bomb? Yep. Like a charm.

I’m no saint. I’m not a reliable creature of habit either. But I guess, so long as that freaking bucket of iced tea from the McDonald’s Drive-Through window still holds enough appeal to get my laptop open, I stand a chance of getting stuff done.