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In Spite of Me, the World Moves On (Thankfully)

July 17, 2009

[This is for Kaya Brielle, for Isabella Jean, for Stella, And for Children of Any Age Everywhere.]

 No tienes más recuerdo que tu vida. (The only thing you remember is your life). –Neruda, “Births”

There are times when it’s nice to be a poet.  Granted, there’s not many. There’s little money and next to no fame to wrought from obsessing over the exact word to convey the precise meaning in a line of poetry.  When people find out you’re a poet, they almost always ask the inevitable (and annoying)question : “Does poetry HAVE to rhyme?”  Most people smile and nod at you like you’re a retarded child or a precocious monkey. If you’re a guy and a poet, somewhere in the back of that person’s mind he’s questioning your sexual preference. Sometimes people squint and rub their heads like they’re developing a sudden migraine and say something like “I just never UNDERSTOOD the stuff. Nothing personal, though.”  My daughter Stella recently informed me (she’s here for her summer visit) that she tells people I’m a writer to explain my oddities.  This is apparently enough for them 

I suspect my obsession is fueled by an ounce of regret: once, a long time ago, I tossed away my Roget’s International Thesaurus (which happened to be a high school graduation present) and I stopped looking up words in the dictionary in a fit of what I thought was a declaration of artistic independence.  Somewhere the spirit of Daniel Webster is seething. 

Moreover, poetry has made me a language obsessed, precision haunted, and thoroughly dissatisfied writer  — not only of poetry, but of fiction and essays.  I remind myself, like I have reminded my students in the past, that there are over one million words in the English language according to the Oxford English Dictionary. And yet  I’m always at a loss for the appropriate term.  I plod through crossword puzzles. I always lose at Scrabble. It’s goddamn infuriating. (My mother has often asked me why, since I’m so educated and read so many books, why I insist on cursing like a longshoreman on leave. The reason is simple: sometimes there is no word that quite expresses the appropriate pathos like the word FUCK.) I’m particular about writing utensils and paper;  I thrive on a routine that puts my already expanding ass in a chair for several hours a day. 

When it’s good to be a poet, though, is when you find those moments in life that are, in and of themselves, a kind of poetry.  In these moments, a poet recognizes (because he looks for these things in his own work) that there’s symmetry and resonance to events reaching  beyond the petty, deplorable, and inhumane  shit that happens on a daily basis.  I’m usually the guy who likes to remind people that there’s a lot of badness in the world; that there are reasons to be paranoid, angry, and dissatisfied.  I think it’s fair to say I live daily at a certain level of indignation, and I don’t mind who knows it. In fact, I want as many people to know as possible –  so I’m not the only one.  

And yet –I am struck by the profundity of simple things.  Two babies were born recently – one to my friend of more than 20 years, Bret and his wife Nicole (Kaya Brielle), and the other, to my friends and fellow Outlaws (You all know who you are!) Peggy and Matt (Isabella Jean).  These births have occurred around the time of my own daughter’s summer visitation. Stella is going to be 15 in September and will wander into the wasteland of high school as a freshman.  My wife told me last night “It seems like everyone is having a baby.” And NO, we’re not – and don’t wish it on us, either.  I’ve done my diaper changing duty.  But I like it when my friends have kids.  I feel like I should qualify – MY FRIENDS. I see a lot of people that probably should NOT procreate. A LOT. There’s not enough room in the Grand Canyon to stack all the people who shouldn’t be having kids.  

I’m glad when my friends have kids because that means those attributes – those things that make me count them as friends – will be passed on.  I also like knowing that there are people out there who are probably better suited to parenthood than me; over the last couple of years I’ve really questioned whether I’m a parent or whether I’m Stella’s excuse for a vacation. Mostly I don’t feel parental, and so I’m NOT going to offer advice. As the parents of newborns, you will (and probably have) been inundated with all kinds of well intended advice – most of which you’ll have the common sense to ignore.  I’ve always taken the position that our kids aren’t really ours; we’re just the people who are supposed to make sure they get to adulthood as close to unbroken as possible. Our kids belong to themselves, so I guess that may explain my lack of identifiaction with what I consider the more parental of attributes. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take some ownership, intended or not. 

For my part, one of the things I’ve noticed about myself as Stella ages is that while I am constantly amazed at the person she is becoming, my amazement grows at pace with fear and worry. 

As I have mentioned earlier and on multiple past occasions, I firmly believe the world is a damn mess and that humanity may be the messiest part of it.  Part of my worry and fear is rooted in the fact that, despite all the progress we seem to have made, it’s very different to send a girl into the world than it is to send a boy. They are judged and measured differently – and while it may not be politically correct or even fair, this is one of those things that never seems to change.  If you don’t believe me, start looking at toy advertisements,  baby clothes, and the accessories for baby rooms. We are color-coded, niched, and hand-picked before we learn to walk – and if you think that you, as a parent, have any say in any of this, you’re fooling yourselves. There are larger machinations with more power and connections than you can imagine. And yes, they are out to get our kids – just like they’re out to get us. 

The good news – things DO change. And with every child that’s born, that’s one more bundle of infinite potential for change.  So – Kaya, Isabella, Stella, and All Other Kids in the World – we’re doing the best we can until you’re ready to take over.  I have to tell you – we’re not very well suited for this and chances are we’ll make shit a whole lot worse by the time we hand it off to you. But we’re trying. Really. With any luck, the environment will be in better shape, the cars will be cleaner, education will be easier to get, and you’ll never have to worry about being able to afford a doctor’s appointment.  I don’t know how much I think we’ll get done. But we’re working on it.

Just be sure to forgive us for our many and multiple mistakes  (like those naked bath pictures we will always take and keep to show your future dates) when it’s time to wheel us off into a nursing home. Pick the ones with the nice nurses.

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