But I did take the kid to the zoo the other day, and this stork was clocking me the entire time we walked past, as if to say, "I've got your number, pal."
I finally set up an etsy shop for some of the photographs people have been requesting. I had them printed in small editions and they are matted and ready to frame.
But I did take the kid to the zoo the other day, and this stork was clocking me the entire time we walked past, as if to say, "I've got your number, pal."
There are weeks of preparation, bedtime stories that start like this: "Once there was a little tramp, who fell asleep on a statue covered by a curtain."
"What's a tramp?"
"A guy who doesn't have a house or anywhere of his own to sleep."
"When I get older I will build him a house, and probably a bed too."
If she doesn't want to know why the girl in the story is blind, she wants to know why she sells flowers. When I say because the flower girl is poor, I have to explain what it means to be poor. "The tramp is very poor, too," I say. "But he gives everything he has to the girl so she can get an operation that will help her see."
"I will give them all my money," she says, speaking, I assume, of her piggy bank that contains a fortune of at least $1.68. Such selflessness from a creature who screams at the mere possibility of a classmate wanting to use the crayon she's currently holding. For days we practice speaking in tiny whispers. We talk about sitting in the dark and not being scared.
At the ticket counter we are told, "No children under five." It's just as well. There's hardly anyone under fifty at the theater. As I brace myself for the crush of her disappointment, a friend of a friend who works for the theater recognizes us and gets her boss to make an exception. The usher lets us into the old movie palace, built in 1927 (four years before the movie we are about to watch itself was released), and as I point to the gilded cherubs hovering above the seats, I notice the faces of our fellow film goers. Never have I felt such collective ill will directed towards me. We are suddenly those parents, the idiots who bring a toddler to an inappropriate movie. I'm sure they would have hated us less if we'd brought her to Cloverfield or Saw XIV. My wife decides she wants to sit on the other side of the theater, so we have to walk in front of this blue-haired mob flinging silent malice at us. I wish I'd had a microphone:
"Fear not, fellow appreciators of silent film! We are not here merely because we don't have a babysitter and the 7:00 showing of Alvin and the Chipmunks was sold out at the AMC megaplex; no, no, we are cruel yuppie parents who do not allow our child watch any television or movies other than DVDs of slapstick comedy shorts from the jazz age. She actually enjoys Charlie Chaplin films because she doesn't know any better! See how precocious we have bullied her into being? She couldn't identify Squarebob Spongepants in a lineup of trousered poriferans!"
I hunker down in my seat. Juniper snuggles in the crook of my right arm, oblivious to the maelstrom of furtive whispering and the fact that she is at its nucleus. The curtains slide clumsily aside, the theater darkens, and the the screen descends to say City Lights. I look at her face lit by the opening credits: she is awed into respectful silence by this, her first real taste of the cinema. I whisper the intertitles in her ear. During the pratfalls and gags, her toddler laughs cry out alongside adult laughter. Chaplin would approve. When the adults laugh at something she doesn't quite understand, she whispers in a voice I can hardly hear, "What's so funny?" and I try to explain. She never complains or raises her voice above the tiniest whisper.
By the end she is tired; she puts her head down on my shoulder and I feel her yawn there as the little tramp is set free from prison, his humble suit in tatters. No one with a human soul can watch the scene that follows without being touched by it. James Agee called it "enough to shrivel the heart to see, and it is the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies." This is still true in 2008. The kid nearly sleeps through it, and as the credits roll I hold her close, overcome by emotion as I always am at the end of this movie. The three of us get up to leave the theater, vindicated, at least until she has a meltdown in the lobby because she doesn't want to leave. "But everyone is leaving. See?"
The baby stirs deep in Wood's belly, and she winces. "Contraction?" I ask, and she shakes her head No. Still, all this feels like the end of a great experiment. The kid who never gets to watch television has managed to sit through a feature film few adults would be willing to watch in this day and age. And after three years of exhaustive adherence to our strict yupster ideology, it was about to start all over again. In three years time, no doubt, this one will be wearing SquareBob pajamas and playing with Bratz Princezz dolls while we tread water just trying to keep the two of them from killing each other. You can keep on trying to be a cool parent, I suppose, but your coolness just becomes another form of tyranny. And tyranny is so not cool. You think, when they're born, that you're not going to give up on who you were, that you're just going to bring this new being into the fold. Holding something so tiny gives you that imbalanced sense of power, and for a time, I suppose, it's true: they wouldn't silkscreen Black Flag onesies by the thousands if it weren't. But in time even the closest-held sense of one's coolness will drift away in lacy jags, disappear entirely amid pathetic denial. I picture myself, middle-aged in bad glasses that I think aren't bad glasses, and I'll tell my teenage daughter that the first movie she ever went to was Charlie Chaplin's City Lights, and that she loved it, that she sat in my arms when I was young and desperate for her to love it. So not cool, I know. But so much a part of who I was then. Someday she will watch it again, I hope, and realize it is a really funny film about selflessness, about giving yourself over completely to someone else, someone who needs you completely. It is about giving up everything you have in your pocket, your freedom, your dignity, even. Because you love without asking for anything in return.
And then you stand there before them in joyous shame; in frightened, prideful awe.
This is the fourth and final part of the story of the time I spent as a cowherd on a dysfunctional farm in western Ireland in 1998. The first part is here, the second, "In which Dutch conquers the Irish countryside riding on the shoulders of a gentleman who has just consumed 23 pints of Guinness" is here, and the third part, In which Saint Patrick causes Dutch to betray his own countryman for twenty quid, is here.
My days living among the Irish farmers were waning, and this filled me with incredible relief. I was growing tired of sharing the barn with Christopher the Bull and the 15-year-old Swiss kid who you might remember couldn't stop pestering me about "the pussy, it is good, yes?" while at the same time pandering to our Catholic overloads by promising to spend his life protecting the Pope. One afternoon I stumbled upon him masturbating vigorously to his dog-eared porno and he tried to play it off like he was practicing karate chops, but he knew that I knew he was lying so we just kind of stood there uncomfortably for a second before I grabbed what I needed and left. Eventually he put a framed picture of the Pope next to his framed photo of Bruce Lee and later added a small sticker of Padre Pio to the shrine. Tessie had been giving us an earful about the many miracles of Padre Pio for weeks. Trying to have a conversation with all these intensely-Catholic chronic masturbators with their Swiss/German-cum-bog-Irish accents was like plodding through a particularly impenetrable passage of Joyce. It was just too much damn work for what little satisfaction it actually provided.
One day I coasted on the old Raleigh down to Fisherstreet in Doolin to catch a ferry bound for the Aran Islands. I just needed to get away from these people for a few hours. The Aran Islands are creepy, desolate juts of rock in the Atlantic Ocean inhabited by a few hundred aging hobbits who wear piss-colored cable-knit jumpers and have skin like rhinoceros hides. While I was there a German fell off the wall of a ruined castle and they had to helicopter him back to the mainland. The island people were so excited by all of this you'd have thought the reanimated corpse of John F. Kennedy had just walked across the sea to announce the winner of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest as well as Britain's hasty departure from The North. I ordered a cheese sandwich and a beer in the one pub on the island, but afterwards quickly grabbed the boat back before the locals could finish hatching their plot to lure me into that giant wicker statue out by the cliffs to burn it while listening to really bad techno music made with bodhrans and uilleann pipes.
On the way back to the farm, I stopped at the big field by the sea to count all eighty of Aideen's heifers and bullocks. When I got there, I saw that the bastards had knocked over part of a wall and some had strayed into the neighboring field so I knew I wasn't getting back to the farmhouse any time soon. It started raining heavily as I herded them back and began repairing the wall. When I finally did get back home, Aideen laughed and Tessie hobbled over to me from the stove, splashing me with holy water to prevent me from dying of consumption and then ordered Aideen to get me "some spirits." She then whispered in my ear, "Now ordinarily you know I don't approve of whiskey, Jimmy, but it can be a mighty elixir when you're as wet and cold as you are now." Aideen reached into her mighty chiffarobe of whiskey and poured me three shots' worth of Tullamore Dew, pouring herself about four. Tessie shook her head and stirred at her vat of cabbage.
We were nearly drunk when Davey O'Dwyer showed up for dinner. Aideen told him I was at Aran that morning. "Did you fall in love with an Aran woman?" he asked me, and I told him most of the Aran women I saw looked just like him. He grabbed for the bottle of whiskey and poured what remained into a pint glass for his apertif. I took another sip of my own. I've never held much stock in the wisdom of the Irish, but that whiskey did put a fire in me that warmed me to the core.
Davey knew I'd hoped to help birth a calf before I returned to the states. I'd been up in Belfast when the last one was born. He told me he'd been out to see Aideen's pregnant cows that day and promised that so long as I didn't head back to Dublin before the next full moon, I'd get to see one born. I had lived among these farmers for a few months, and never had I known a people so insistent that the moon plays a role in our everyday lives, that it pulls on the water in our bodies like it pulls on the water in the sea. The moon was always the scapegoat for any monthly aberrations or some violence down in the spa. These people could sit around and talk about the lunar calendar and the intricacies of the weather for hours. In this community, Davey was more popular than the veterinarian when it came to birthing livestock. Instead of money, you could give him a few chickens or half a salmon that you caught last winter from your freezer, and he'd come over and help you birth a calf. He insisted that cows always gave birth by the moon, and planned his social life accordingly. When the moon was thin he’d go off to Liscannor or the spa to drink himself into oblivion. When the moon was full and heavy he would wait at his house for the phone calls.
Over the next few days, Aideen had me bring the two pregnant cows in from the fields to the barnyard, and I warily moved Christopher the Bull to a small nearby field. A few days later, when the moon was full, she relieved me of my other duties and had me stay by them to wait for any signs: the rupturing of the placenta, the fracture of some bone she said I would feel massaging their haunches. It was early evening on the second night of the full moon and I was wrapped up in a blanket when I checked on them and saw an enormous wet spot behind one of the cows. Aideen wasn't home, so I told Tessie and jumped on the bike and rode up to Davey's place, a dirt-floored shack with lots of pictures of the virgin hanging on walls covered in ancient floral wallpaper. His daughter, Clare, was sitting lazily on a lumpy old recliner when I opened the door to her half-hearted come in. With adidas track pants, dirty runners, and bleached-blond hair, she had a look of trouble about her. Davey was sitting on the couch, his feet under three inches of water in one of those plastic foot-soaker tubs.
"The old gal’s giving birth, is she?" he said, without turning his eyes away from the episode of Friends they were watching on the small color television. At the commercial break, he let out a long slow whistle. "Let me change into my birthing clothes." He left me alone with Clare, the foot massager emitting a constant sorrowful moan.
"Yer from America, are ya?" Clare asked, and I nodded. "I want to go to New York and meet a black fella. I think black fellas are brilliant." I assured her there were plenty of black men to meet in the five boroughs.
Davey was back a few minutes later looking like himself: tweed cap, blue jacket, wellingtons. The bike had a flat tire but I coasted down the hill right behind his little Ford hatchback. I led him into the barnyard and he took one look at her and said she was ready. "Where's Aide?" he asked. I told him I thought she was all the way down in Milltown, so he had me help him get the cow into the birthing stall, a narrow corridor of heavy-aluminum piping that she was not at all interested in entering. We shoved the poor old cow in, and Davey rammed a pipe into a hole in the wall behind her legs so she couldn't back up or kick. The cow let out a defeated low and, in one gesture, Davey pulled up his sleeve and stuck his arm up her vagina. She hardly stirred. "There you are, crater," he whispered into the vaginal canal. "Shhhh, everything will be alright now."
He turned to me and pointed into the gaping cavity. "Feel him?" I rolled up my own sleeve and stuck my arm into the sticky warmth. It was so spacious in there I was sure I could have crawled all the way inside with a lit candelabra whistling "Flight of the Valkyries." When my arm was so far inside that the mucus from the ruptured placenta was creeping up past my elbow, I reached beyond the cervix and finally felt the warm, soggy calf. "Grab his legs, will you?" Davey said, and I felt around until I recognized a hoof and dragged it up and out of the cow's uterus. "There's one," Davey said, and quickly tied a rope around it. I groped around looking for the other, but couldn't find it. Davey reached back in and pulled out a soggy hoof with a laugh: "Would you look at that, I found another one in there." He tied a rope to that one as well.
While he was messing with some contraption that looked like a long metal pole with bicycle handlebars attached to one end, tying the rope to some winch-like mechanism on the pole, Aideen burst out in the yard in her long red coat.
"Davey O'Dwyer! Were you planning to birth this calf without telling me?" She'd been drinking.
"Git over here Aideen, you know this American is dying to take some pictures."
With one end of the contraption pushing up against the cow's backside, and Davey holding the other end, they let the cow out of the stall. She sent out a long, anguished moo that was answered by several of her colleagues in a distant field. After a few seconds of Davey dancing with her across the barnyard, and Aideen holding her tail and swatting her still with a stick, a calf's head emerged behind its outstretched arms, its eyes begging Davey to put it back in, and then its entire body landed hard on the concrete in a pool of blood, followed by the the sliding slap of the massive placenta, and the cow turned around to start gently licking her calf. "Let's get her over there, Jimmy," Davey said, and together we carried the shivering calf---"a girl!" he shouted---over to a pile of hay while Aideen led her mother over to her.
"Let me get a picture of you, Davey," I said, and he posed up against the wall:
We went off to wash our arms, then returned to watch the calf take her first tenuous steps. I asked if they were always that easy. "No, that was nothing," Davey said. "That cow's given birth twelve times before. She hardly noticed this one." I thanked them for letting me help. "There’s nothing you Germans or Americans enjoy more than seeing a cow give birth," he said. "I don’t know what’s so special about it. We do them all year long." Then he stood there in silence and stared across the yard.
"I'll never look at cow vagina the same," I muttered.
"What's that?" he asked.
"Nothing," I said. "Next time this happens, be sure to bring Thomas the Swiss boy out to see it. He's very interested in the cycle of life. He also told me he wants to help you collect semen from Christopher the Bull."
And with that, I packed my bags and returned to the states.
The other night I woke up around midnight to find my husband lying on the floor with his head on the dog bed watching the sixth straight episode of Ghost Hunters. He'd made several unsuccessful attempts to lay with me on the couch and finally gave up, I guess. My sleep had been corrupted by terrible nightmares. "We need to stop watching Project Runway during the middle of a Ghosthunters marathon," I said to him. "I keep hearing EVPs of a Latino homosexual crying about how this is his one big chance to make it as a designer." Then I realized he was asleep down there, unable to appreciate my humor, so I didn't bother with the one about how I kept hearing knocking sounds coming from my belly.
I have reached the point where I feel pretty useless as anything but a massive vessel for another being. Jim does all the cooking and cleaning so that when I get home I should just sit. I can't, though -- I feel lazy. So instead I make everything worse for everyone: I lurch about the house, trying to pick up toys in the kid's wake (she's like a gastropod that propels herself along the ground by laying down a track of stuffed animals, crayons, and crude drawings of her unborn brother). I swear at the dog when he gets underfoot because surely it's his fault that my pubic bone feels like it's cracked in half.
I don't get anything done at work, either, despite the massive pile of things I need to finish before I start maternity leave. I waste time on the spinning babies website, trying to guess at the baby's position. A week ago, when I saw my midwife, he was breach. It was the first appointment I've gone to by myself. My midwife did an ultrasound to check the baby's position, and as she slid the gooey wand over the top section of my stomach, the unmistakeable profile of the new kid's head came into view. He was completely breach. But before I could say anything, she just pushed down on him while sliding her hands around, and then suddenly, miraculously, he was head down; she had flipped him over. She told me to buy a gigantic stomach corset that's supposed to keep him from turning again, and it makes me feel like Violet O'Hefty, Scarlett O'Hara's rotund cousin from Macon.
After turning him, the midwife hooked me up to a fetal monitor for half an hour to ensure that the baby's heartbeat was steady and strong, and alone in the examination room I started to panic. This pregnancy has been pretty uneventful. I've been so confident, cocky even. I started to write a post last week where I said: "labor: bring it on." But in that room, watching every bump and dip of the baby's heartbeat as it printed out of the monitor, I finally acknowledged that this may not go exactly how I want it to, that not everything is within my control, that just because it went well last time doesn't mean it will this time.
Jim, for his part, has been worrying about the baby's position for months. When I was only 30 weeks, he pestered the midwife with questions about what techniques she'd try if the baby was breach. He always does my worrying for me, always assumes everything that can go wrong will go wrong so he'll be calm and collected should something actually happen. I prefer to plod along ignorantly, never contemplating how quickly things can change, playing the odds that I won't have to be prepared for something unexpected.
My nights since that appointment have been full of restless half sleep. Anxiety over the baby's position has bled into anxiety on at least twelve other topics, including, but absolutely not limited to: Juniper's upcoming birthday and the fact that she is almost three, how she will react to the new baby, the long list of baby stuff we don't have yet, labor, delivery, recovery, stitches, breastfeeding, and the possibility of hemmorhoids or anal fissures. Sorry about the graphic turn that took. Right now it only takes my mind ten seconds to move from planning a birthday party to stressing about anal fissures.
The other night I looked down on Jim, snoring away on the dog's bed, glad for once to shoulder a bit of the burden of worrying. I saw my midwife this morning, and the baby has remained head down, and his heartbeat was found along his spine where it's supposed to be. I'm relieved of course, but still aware of how delicately everything is balanced as we arch towards the inevitable. I'm doing my best to acknowledge how little control we have over exactly how things are going to happen in the next few weeks, while telling myself that we'll manage to handle whatever comes our way.
1. Design*Sponge Detroit Design Guide- Right now at Design*Sponge, Grace has posted a guide to the city of Detroit that I have been working on writing for months. It's been a real pleasure driving around the city, talking to business owners and meeting a lot of cool new people. The guide isn't just about shopping, but nearly everything in the city of Detroit that would be of interest to those who love design (particularly modern design). It's even more detailed than the piece I wrote about San Francisco before we left, so if you ever find yourself planning a trip to Detroit, I hope this guide will help you plan some interesting things to see and do here.
2. Status of Graffiti Alphabet Books- I get a ton of e-mail about what happened to the two graffiti alphabet books that were available for purchase on lulu (the one with urban characters ("personae urbana") and the one with mythological characters ("fabulae urbana")). Last summer I was contacted by a publisher who wanted to release the books, and as we entered contract negotiations they asked me to stop selling the books on lulu, and I obliged. Initially, the publisher wanted to publish the books as they were, but I refused for the same reason I refused to sell the books for any sort of profit: the graffiti art in those books was crated by anonymous artists for the enjoyment of all, and whether or not I could, I did not want to profit by their work. So I started doing my own art (mostly wheatpastes) for a new book that would include both my work and some of the art that was in the original book. After I'd spent several months putting up art for 18 or so letters of the alphabet, contract negotiations fell through for boring legal reasons related to my sensitivity to the copyright of those six original works not created by me that we wanted to include in the book. So I am left with a nearly-complete new alphabet book that I spent a ton of time on that isn't going to be published any time soon. After being so close to getting these published in a bound hardcover format, I'm too unsatisfied with the quality of the lulu books to allow the old ones to remain on sale. So if you were one of those folks still interested in these books, eventually I hope to either find another publisher or self-publish these in a format that meets my satisfaction. Trust me though, the new one will be so much cooler than the first two.
I am walking in Mount Oliver, a hilltop borough surrounded by the city of Pittsburgh, when I turn down a side street and see the building in the photo above. Living in Detroit, I am accustomed to corner shrines of stuffed animals, empty malt liquor bottles, and flowers taped to lampposts. I have seen half of the graffiti RIP murals between the Bay Area and Belfast. But I have never seen any piece of street art that blew me away like this one painted on a few plywood boards replacing the window of a vacant storefront:
The small piece of text on the right says simply, "In Loving Memory of a Brother Named Brice." The work is centered on one shirtless man looking skyward in anguish and holding the body of another man, presumably Brice:
The tattoo reads: "I don't know what tomorrow holds but I know who holds tomorrow," a religious saying without attribution. I consider the limpness of the dead man's head against the resolute stiffness of the mourner's, his bald head against the mourner's halo-like afro, the way the grain of the wood is left above above the dead man's head like emanating light. I feel like I'm staring at a medieval allegory or one of the elder Bruegel's aphoristic paintings. A boy, the victim's son, perhaps, pulls against a scantily-clad woman, reaching in vain towards the dead man. The look on the young woman's face suggests she may have been his girl, and perhaps the mother of this child:
Behind them, a witness yells into a cell phone, a cop seems poised in a fruitless search for the attacker, and then there is a woman, heavyset, her face sunk in grief, being comforted by another man. The dead man's mother?
A white police officer casually holds an attacking German Shepard-like dog, long a symbol of police brutality:
The painting seems to be focused on mourning rather than vengeance, though the artist has chosen to show a separate scene of violence. Three heavily-armed men fire upon another with a handgun hiding behind a tree while a ghostly face oversees the action:
The artist seems to say that even while people suffer, the acts that cause further suffering do not stop. Along the cityscape in the upper-left corner, we even catch a Hitchcockian glimpse of the artist himself, painting a similar scene on a different building:
The entire painting is done in this blueish-gray monochrome, except for the blood flowing from Brice's wounds at the center, the most striking part of the painting. The pietà is such a common theme in European and Christian art. The word itself comes from the Latin pietas, one of the core Roman virtues, untranslatable but something close to the prostration of one's self in duty to one's father or the gods. In medieval German and eastern Europe, pietà artists emphasized the gore of Christ's wounds.
I stand there looking at this anonymous painting, trying not to wallow in all this pretension, aware of myself as the white boy who cannot possibly understand the world the painting represents, associating it only with ancient things, with art born of suffering, art from a time when men were far closer to suffering than most of us are today.
They say Alexander the Great lamented at the tomb of Achilles, not for the dead hero but for the lack of a Homer to herald his own mighty deeds. The painting may be slightly amateurish, fading across two rickety sheets of plywood in Mount Oliver, Pennsylvania. But who among us will have something so heartfelt and beautiful created to remember us when we're gone? If we're lucky, maybe a few lines in the local paper about our works and days, the names of those we'll leave behind. A wake full of uncomfortable people eager to move on with their lives.
Yeah, the painting is no Picasso. But I am almost breathless when I finally walk away.
This pregnancy is, of course, different from the first and I don't just mean the unexpected shock of increased flatulence. Physically, it seems like there are many differences, and I hope Wood is able to write about them soon (maybe even this afternoon? tomorrow?). I am hoping to drag her out of hiatus by mentioning the flatulence. Did I mention the epic flatulence?
To make any sense of this, I need to take you back to the halcyon days of 2004, when two married 26-year-olds were childless and loving childless life in San Francisco. All was well until the girl was informed by a rogue obstetrician that she had a wonky uterus and it would take her many months, maybe even years to get pregnant. I believe his exact words were, "You're a lawyer so you think you can control everything. But you can't control this and you need to get it out of your head that you can just do this when it fits into your career." This set off a frenzy of reproductive activities in the coming weeks, and soon the boy who was once sure he didn't want to be a father until he was 36 found himself a decade earlier surrounded by urine-spattered positive pregnancy tests stacked like cordwood around his grungy apartment. One evening after he got home from his law firm job he sat in the closet and plotted an attack on that obstetrician, lifting him by the collar of his lab coat and saying, "What about the wonky uterus, huh?" Slap him around a bit maybe. Knee him in the groin. Then, coming to his senses, the boy wondered if he could sue him instead. Causes of action danced in his head.
The truth is I was terrified. I didn't know any fathers. The only men I knew in San Francisco with kids wore Façonnable shirts and listened to the Kronos Quartet. Although I knew I loved kids, I wasn't so sure about babies. I'd never held a baby. The only babies I'd ever even been around were at weddings or other events with enough post-menopausal women to ensure that no male my age would ever get close to one. Now my wife was pregnant, and at such events babies were suddenly thrust into my arms and all the post-menopausal women gathered around to stare at me like a Roman mob waiting for an emperor's thumb, like a royal court watching a taste-tester who'd just bitten into the king's crème brûlée. Was he fatherhood material? Will he be ready? Would he drop it?
Several friends of ours have had their first babies in recent weeks. Visiting them, I remembered the advice I'd given them six or seven months earlier: "Don't listen to anybody, especially me. Pregnancy takes a long time partly so you have plenty of time to ruminate on all this shit for yourselves." Standing on their thresholds, removing shoes, seeing them bleary-eyed in the afternoon, still in pajamas, everything stained by breastmilk, I realized I haven't been thinking near enough about how my own life was going to change again. The entirety of my wife's first pregnancy was characterized by my extreme anxiety. This one, I'd say, has been characterized by the absence of it.
Over the last few days, we have taken advantage of the warm days by spending the afternoons hiking on Belle Isle. With the kid and the dog running together up ahead, I had plenty of time to myself to think. I knew that part of my fear with the initial pregnancy was the loss of my self. I had lived so many years bent inward, thinking only of what I could accomplish, defining myself by my career and my aspirations. That's what I was taught to do anyway, wrap my identity so tightly around what I was accomplishing and where it would lead that I somehow came to believe all that stuff was actually who I really was, or that such concerns would lead to eventual happiness. I could never have anticipated that this would be what I would be doing one day, chasing a little blond gingerbread man through the woods on a warm workday afternoon. I never could have imagined being seduced by parenthood as I have been, by the selfish joy abandoning that old self brings.
This change didn't sweep across me suddenly at any point during the first pregnancy; it didn't fill me like some mighty, pentecostal wind on the day she was born. When Wood first got pregnant and I was so frightened, I think it was partly because I was sure I didn't want to feel like this about a kid. I was so entrenched in that old identity I couldn't believe I could ever undrape from it and escape. I knew things would have to change, and that's always scary. I still have anxieties, concerns that I am ruining any chance at a career. But I can only hope that there will be enough years to try to recapture what I've lost by leaving the working world, and trust in the fact that there will never be any way to recapture any of this.
It was sixty-some degrees in January. The air was filled with the smell of the false hope of spring. I pictured myself with my son in a sling, my 3-year old chasing the dog, me yelling at her not to follow him into the cattails. It was summer.
And now the only thing that I am really scared of is somehow losing this.
"I packed carrots. She's wearing that apron dress with the carrot print, too."
"I'm even wearing that t-shirt you bought me for Christmas with the vegetables on it."
"So it's like a theme?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"You're like the stay-at-home dad version of the guy who wears the shirt of the band he's going to see. Don't be that guy."
"Whoa, I am that guy. If you ever catch me yelling 'freebird' at a class sing along, please put me out of my misery."
For the last few years I've written about ten albums that I enjoyed during the previous year, and I've always received a nice response from people who wanted new music. This has never been intended as a true "best of" or "top ten" list (given how little music I get to listen to these days, I could never make such a claim). These are just the new records I found myself listening to and enjoying the most over the last twelve months. I've had this damn post written since before the new year, but with my debilitating hangover, a frustrating site re-design, and the technical issues involved with making a playlist of songs from these albums available to everyone, it's taken me until now to publish it.
Here is the streaming playlist. I tried to choose good songs that were also available for free downloading if you decide you like them.
Okkervil River: Stage Names (JagJaguwar)
Song: Unless It's Kicks
I probably listened to this album more than any other in 2007. The kid loves it, particularly the song with the xylophone, which I now hate because of the thousands of times she's asked to hear it. Kids are the new frat boys who show up to see your favorite band and sing along with all the best songs. They ruin everything.
Shearwater: Palo Santo (Expanded Edition) (Matador)
Song: Red Sea Black Sea
This is kind of cheating (the original release came out back in 2006, but I didn't hear it until Matador released the expanded edition in 2007). But this Sheff-less record is epic and so beautiful.
Menomena: Friend or Foe (Barsuk)
Song: Wet and Rusting
Feist: The Reminder (Interscope)
Song: I Feel it All
This album was like Dancing With the Stars at our house, man. Everyone could agree about it, from Grandma on down. Plus, Leslie Feist is the best excuse ever to completely forget about Chan Marshall and all her fucking antics.
Bishop Allen: The Broken String (Dead Oceans)
Song: Click Click Click Click
My favorite song on the album is actually The Chinatown Bus, but the camera song was a free download at their site. The first time I heard this song on my illegal advance copy I wondered how long it would be before I heard it in a camera commercial. Not long.
Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Merge)
Song: Don't You Evah
Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl)
Song: Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse (also one of the greatest videos of the year).
So this is the band that made that "Let's Go Outback Tonight" song, yeah, and then they made another incredibly beautiful non-commercial record and wrote the most life-affirming rant about selling out ever. Reading it always warms my federated heart. An excerpt:
"The pseudo-nihilistic punk rockers of the 70's created an impossible code in which no one can actually live by. It's such garbage. The idea that anyone who attempts to do anything commercial is a sell out is completely out of touch with reality. The punk rock manifesto is one of anarchy and intolerance. The punk rockers polluted our minds. They offered a solution that had no future. . .Now we have all of these half-conceived ideas and idiot philosophies floating around to confuse and alienate us. I think it is important to face reality. It is important to decide whether you are going to completely rail against the system or find a way to make it work for you. You cannot do both -- and if you attempt to do both you will only become even more bitter and confused."
New Ruins: Sounds They Make (Parasol)
Song: I'll Sleep in Your House
White Rabbits: Fort Nightly (Say Hey)
Song: While We Go Dancing
Rogue Wave: Asleep At Heaven's Gate (Brushfire)
Song: Lake Michigan
Christ, I guess 2007 was the year every song I liked turned up in a television commercial. Oh well. I'm off to grab a bloomin' onion.
I am still trying to figure out what is wrong with me this year. Apparently I thought my body was in the kind of shape that a mere three hours of sleep on the floor of my friend's house could be remedied by chugging a warm can of Trader Joe's triple espresso mocha and then handwashing all three-thousand dishes left over from the NYE party that lasted until five in the morning. I should have known something was wrong with me when I started doing dishes. Such benevolence is not at all in my character.
The sound of rattling glassware roused several of my friends who'd also been sleeping on the floor, and when they came sleepyeyed to the kitchen they viewed my dishwashing with warranted suspicion, asking me point blank if I was gathering the empties just to lay claim to their return value. "I think something was wrong with that champagne," one guy said and then disappeared. He'd spent the morning sleeping on the staircase, vomiting in the upstairs bathroom. An hour later, after someone's girlfriend started cooking collard greens in a giant stewpot, and the viridian fog started to crawl out of the pot and rub its muzzle on the window-panes, lingering in sour condensation on the window-panes, I finally fled out the back door and heaved rat-colored vomit into fresh snowfall, the kind of morningsnow you dream about as a kid, all wet and clinging effortlessly to the branches. Who cooks collard greens at ten in the morning? Why do they smell like Oscar the Grouch's armpits? What the hell is wrong with my brain?
I'd like to pretend that soliloquy continued for some time, but I think I then shoved my head into a snowbank and spent the next two hours trying really hard to string more than three words together. I've had bad hangovers before, but they were always when I was in decent drinking shape. I have hardly had a beer since Wood got pregnant. Suddenly my entire body was rising up in an effort to secede from my head. My skull was filled with collard greens stewing in sulphuric acid.
On the way home that afternoon, I puked again in a rest stop parking lot right in front of a grandma wearing a Christmas sweater. Thinking I could bring some dignity to a situation where it was markedly absent, I told her the truth, "I don't know what's wrong with me. I only had five beers the whole night."
"Wuss," she said, and stepped over my puke to climb back into her Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight.