Entries from August 1st, 2019

The Rabbit Hole

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Night feedings are a breeding ground for anxiety, and last night was everything from the state of our world (please let a Democrat return to the White House) and fear of dying young to why I can’t go to the grocery store for a few things without spending fifty dollars. Yesterday all of my meals consisted of refined bread products–two full-sized pastries from our local French bakery, a big bagel, an English muffin, and a sandwich for dinner. With potato chips. Oh, I almost forgot about the afternoon bowl of ice cream.

Earlier this week I passed the postpartum depression screening with flying colors at my post-surgical exam, but it’s a tiny bit possible that I’m eating my difficult feelings. What feelings? Mostly anxiety and its associates–our modern version of fear–and last night my Greatest Hits were playing on repeat at 3am, after I broke out a bath towel to cover the massive area of milk Rowan threw up in my bed (I should probably strip those sheets, huh?). Despite my desire to shed the baby weight so I can return to work without replacing a professional wardrobe, I seem instead to be nursing conditions for diabetes. The relationship between food and comfort forms early, though. Rowan often eats when he just wants to fall asleep in my arms, the little rascal.

So this is my life with an almost seven-week-old baby. I alternate between telling myself I need to be better and do more with the maternity leave (more than love and feed and clean Rowan, that is–more to show for this break from work), and telling myself I am doing great, better than expected, nailing it, even. The truth falls one place one day, another the next. I long to be back at work, if for no other reason than to go eight hours without milk on my clothes, and yet I’m terrified that leaving Rowan with his attentive and competent grandma or our highly-reviewed child care center will traumatize him for life.

All this is to say I am basically the cliche of a new, relatively privileged mom on maternity leave. Last night I thought about my privilege, about the choices available to me that others don’t have, and I went down the rabbit hole of how literally everything I do is a political act–what I eat, wear, drive, buy, say, and do. I know my own actions can’t stop the melting permafrost or dismantle the stupid wall, but I also know I want to be able to answer to my kid about what I did when we knew things were really heating up here. Over the years I have easily fallen into despair and apathy about the bigger picture, letting the one-on-one of counseling be my action in the world, and otherwise, because of my privilege, chosen to insulate myself. But there’s no amount of insulation that will stop climate change or children dying in prisons at the border. So what does it mean to move closer to integrity, to act more in line with my values and concerns, while acknowledging I can’t ever do it perfectly, and I can’t expect to turn the rising tide? Yesterday I caught a snippet of a talk Cheryl Strayed gave where she said a yoga teacher once told her that the important thing isn’t to get into the pose, it’s to reach for it. I’m hanging onto that today.

I think Wendell Berry said something very profound when he said that to truly care for the environment we must have a direct relationship with a place. That worrying about the environment as a whole is too abstract; we need to know the lakes and rivers in our cities and towns, the native trees whose health depend on those local waters, and the farmers who need predictable rains and temperatures to bring their lettuces to market. Berry says a major challenge is that people don’t feel rooted to a place anymore; they feel they come from everywhere and nowhere.

The internet contributes to this I am sure. I don’t think we were meant to know what to do about problems in far flung places; we were meant to know our neighborhoods and communities, to take care of each other and the land around us. I’ve grown up in Gainesville, FL and my husband and I intend to stay. I already know the cemetery where I want to be buried, so I guess I have the luxury of a sense of place, something I’ve tried to explore and celebrate in my art–a personal response to the plants and trees that touch my everyday experience.

But I haven’t done the best job of cultivating community in my town. For many years I came home from work, opened a beer, turned on the TV, scrolled through Facebook, and looked at single men on dating sites. Sure, I had friends and I painted and wrote, but I also kept to myself a lot and harbored the idea that the right man would come along and save me from the burdens I’d created. Now I am married and more content than ever, but if I want to go to the farmer’s market with my baby, I still have to see ex-boyfriends who don’t want to see me, as well as folks who knew me when I was a wild and irresponsible teenager. To get to the farmer’s market on foot involves possibly passing any of these people as well, in their homes or cars or yards. Community isn’t all flowers and casseroles. Sometimes it’s just plain embarrassing.

When I was younger I thought I had endless time, thought that I could make my life anew again just with a little effort and the right self-help books. But more and more I feel my life is lived on one big canvas, and I keep layering on top of the old paint to get the composition right. The old paint leaves its texture, if not its color, and there is no getting away from the underpainting, only working as best I can to grow something atop it. It seems to be this way with our environment, too. The damage is done. We’ve lived as we’ve lived. What now, do we keep working at it, keep trying to salvage what we can? Of course we do.

The rabbit hole (and bread products) caught me, but the important thing is to also resurface. And Rowan is great for that, fortunately. He is almost smiling, and when he nurses he now insists on intense eye contact with me. It’s a bit like interstate driving, tediously repetitive but weirdly high concentration–if I look away I’ll miss something important. So there’s the ballooning of fear, coupled with my desire to reach towards greater integrity, for the sake of my kid if nothing else, and then there’s the present moment, where he is crying as he wakes, hungry again. So I respond and the stuff in my head gets quiet while I stare into his big eyes.

I started this website to write about my art and I guess this post does relate to what I’ve been working on in the studio. An old painting of a palm tree, one I’ve never been happy with, and that I’ve tried to repaint several times already, made its way back onto my easel this week for another go. Here it was before I started working on it again.

Not happy with colors or composition, but I like the fluid lines around the trunk

And here it is right now.

Still not happy but motivated to keep working on it

It’s not done yet, I don’t know where it’s going or where it’ll wind up. But I am gonna keep reaching for it, anyway.

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