Perfection

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A lot of my inventions don’t work out very well, but usually this doesn’t stop me from trying again. The lure of perfection shimmers on the horizon. For example, I dreamed up a way to install window trim that would reduce cold drafts, but it turns out that this  severely complicates the process of taking down the shades–to the point of aching arms, hammered thumbs, obscenities and temporary defeat.

So this morning, with the shade half in and half out, I’m thinking about perfection. Is intention enough? Does anything fit the definition for long? Does detaching transform imperfection? Achieving perfection seems both precarious and potentially boring. Some people think God is perfect, but if there’s a God, it’s unlikely she’s boring. Is perfection an end state or a process?

“Both,” God said, slowly materializing near the woodstove. “And hey, did I slip in gradually enough this time?” She was dripping eucalyptus oil into the hot water, trying to calm me down and perhaps, dilute the odor of this morning’s burned toast or maybe the toxic fumes from the varnish I’d applied to an imperfect tabletop last night.

I nodded. “Want some tea?” I asked, my voice tight, embarrassed about the window shades and the black crusts of toast.

“Sure,” she said.

The eucalyptus was stinging my eyes. “You may’ve overdone that essential oil thing,” I said, as I put the tea kettle on the stove.

“Well,” God said. “Essence is hard to calibrate.”

I gave God a glance. “Why do you say things like that?” I asked. “You’re so obscure and elusive.”

“Am not,” God said. It was such an adolescent response I smiled despite myself as I put tea leaves in the boiling water. The scent of spearmint mingled with varnish and eucalyptus. The aroma of burned toast had dissipated, being a more transitory odor.

“So, about perfection,” I said. “Is that what you are? Is it possible? How would you define it?”

God blew across the surface of her tea. “It’s like…well…” She eased back in the rocker, looking thoughtful. “Seeds,” she said finally, glancing out the window. This hit a sore spot. An irregular layer of snow blanketed the garden beautifully, but the last few summers, that damn garden had resisted anything near perfection. Trying to address the problems had only made them worse. Things had gotten ugly. I felt a bit defensive.

God continued, trying a different angle. “Perfection lives inside perception. Perfection is not the thing itself.” But my mood had deteriorated. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I said. “Want some toast?”

“Sure,” God said, sighing. “But no jelly.” I nodded. “And I’ll try not to burn it,” I said in a self-deprecating tone.

“Perfect,” God said with an impish grin. I knew she was joking around, but I felt like burning the toast on purpose.

“Either way, sweetheart,” God said. “I’ll eat it either way.”

Grieving in the Old Blue Chair

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Today, I sit in the light of the rising sun, rocking myself in the old blue chair–the one I loaned my mom before she died. It’s an unusually small recliner. For a few months, with planning and effort, she could get out of it by herself. But then she couldn’t. She fell and laid helpless on the institutionally-bland carpet for who knows how long? They found her tangled in the floor lamp, alive but not coherent, her body bruised from her efforts to get up. That was Mom. Never stop trying to get back up.

Dylan Thomas would have approved. Mom did not “go gentle” into any dark nights. In her stubborn way, she raged against the dying of the light. When faced with a challenge, she’d clamp her thin lips tight, stomp on the gas and shoot down the road, her ever-shrinking body taut with determination. She’d arrive in her shiny white Ford, peering at the road from just above the steering wheel. She never stayed long.

God has stopped by to reminisce. He’s wearing decades on his shoulders, and our whole upstairs has become quite crowded. “Oh God,” I say, shifting to make room, glad for the company. “Remember how she believed that when she got to heaven, she’d have to give Dad an account of how she managed the ranch after he died?” God nods, a little teary. He really admired my mom over the years. “And remember how much she gave away?” I added. God smiles with pride.

There’s not much else to say. Those last three days, death pulled her tenderly down through the layers of life until it was just her brain stem fighting for air. The Wasabi sting of emotion threatens my placid mood as I sit with the memory of her  insistent breath, sucked in and out, in and out, irregular and awful. Not a memory anyone needs to have.

After she fell out of this chair, she never sat in it again. I brought it home—slightly more worn. I’ll keep it a while.

“Tell her, will you?” I ask God.

“Tell her yourself,” God answers, and holds up a mirror Mom carried in her purse. She used it to reapply her lipstick and smooth her hair. God slips open the purple plastic cover, and I see the unadorned eyes and lips of eternity–of now and forever. I see the eyes of God, wide like a baby, and the lips of God, as full as Bob Marley’s, singing.

I fight to let God’s swaying body save me–to believe in mercy and compassion in this broken, greedy, hungry world. To use my breath for good, and welcome my demise with grace. I rock in the old blue chair, sun warming my bones, while God, as audacious and angular as ever, dips and weaves as he hammers out the beat on the steelpan drums.

Strong-armed women

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Strong-armed women driving big red trucks inspire me, as does the defiance of hollyhocks. Marathoners over 65. The ways of wrens and eagles, aspen leaves whispering, greenery, brownery, the long gray rain, the blaze of sun returning, my pen moving sluggishly across cheap white paper, reluctant to lay down ink that later, I will have to obliterate. These are the things giving me life today. Are they going to be enough?

“No,” God says, joining my thoughts reluctantly. “No.”

The shovel handle, rotting. The soil, moist. Blight, mold, mildew, rust, dominant plants crowding out the tender herbs and delicate flowers. Voracious insects, mealy worms, centipedes. Lichen, moss, quack grass, locusts. Hoards and hoards of greedy, lying locus. Forces of destruction. God, is this what you intended? I don’t speak. I just think. God speaks.

“In your way of understanding, no. But yes. In my way, yes.”

But I want a different way of understanding. I never meant to be human. I meant to be a planet, at the very least. Or a savior. I meant to have a bigger meaning. I meant to be someone who could translate the songs the stars sing to the infants who need to know the words.

God interrupts. “They don’t need to know the words. The melody is their sustenance. Soon enough, they’ll find their words. And yes. It’s not especially easy being who you are.”

Damn straight. Damn right. Damn ugly. I would fix it all if I could. I can’t. I’m going out there right now and poison something, or someone. With soap, I’ll destroy the tender nest of bugs in my kale. With vinegar, that binder weed will back off. With cayenne, I’ll stop the march of ants toward my pantry, or at least, they’ll veer off the trail. I’ll recycle, compost, push back, and do battle–and in the end, it won’t matter. But I’ll laugh it off, won’t I God? You and me, laughing it off. Moving on. Living to fight or run another day, until, well. Until I give up, or there are no more days. Then what, God? Then what?

“Dancing is an option. The neutrinos have begun a dance it will take you centuries to learn. You’ll love it. It involves a lot of spinning. You like being a little dizzy, right?”

“No,” I said. “Not since the pregnancies.”

Oh, yeah,” God said. “I remember now. That will change. Again.”

“Change,” I said. “Revert? Evolve? Entropy? Complexity? End times, end games—you don’t really understand my perspective, do you God?”

“Not really,” God admitted. “But that’s okay. I get a real kick out of trying.”

 

Slow Awakenings

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“You awake?” I ask God. We got home very late. Time zone hopping is hard for me. I assume God doesn’t love it either, but I want to talk through my disorientation. Maybe with a cup of strong coffee, I can rouse the sleeping giant.

Our travels took us to cities cluttered with Homo sapiens arrayed in colors and shapes one sees less frequently in Montana. Beautiful, disturbing fractals–repeating patterns of hope, defiance, and despair. God on stage. God embodied. God black. God white. God with a face no one could love. I was reminded that God is, by definition, homeless. Such exposures can be unsettling. My usual world is small. My town, smaller.

Here on the rising river, God groans and pulls the alfalfa field over his shoulders, a shimmering quilt, greening as I watch. A red-winged blackbird lands on the garden fence. Then a robin. The boulders of winter have been rolled away, leaving the tomb empty again. The eyes of God are bleary, the breath of God questionable. The garments of night are crumpled at the edge of the riverbed–riffraff to contain spring runoffs and preserve riparian areas essential to survival.

In the natural order of things named God, I catch my breath and await further instructions. God yawns and rolls over. The hills pillow his sleepy head, and he gives me a nonchalant wave before snuggling back in. Generally, I don’t like being ignored, but this morning, I can tolerate the slow awakenings. I am growing more patient as my years dwindle and my soul thins out. Reality has become more translucent. When I really concentrate, I catch glimpses of the beyond where my thin bones and thick arteries won’t matter anymore.

Closer in, everything seems to matter. There are hills to die on, but I don’t know which ones. This is why I wish God would wake up. The fight to survive winter is over, but the wrong-headed weeds of early spring romp through my dreams—nasty little gargoyles grinning and drinking while I stand in the rain, chilled and uncertain. Exactly which battles should I wage, God? And how will I know if I win?

God snorts in his sleep. Likely, he’s dreaming gargoyles too. In the underworld, they’re everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

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“Hey, Original Source,” I said, feeling magnanimous. “Want to borrow a brush? I’ve made a lot of extra orange.” It’s hard to mix a good, true orange.

“Sure,” Original Source said. “I love orange.”

“Cool,” I said, growing self-conscious as she scrutinized my cheap paintbrushes.

Lately, I’ve been painting sticks and other smooth surfaces. Furniture. Old wooden boxes. Broom handles. Sometimes, I follow the patterns in the wood. Other times, I find an image and sketch it on whatever recycled object is available. I feel a little guilty, but the truth is, I’m a copyist. A reconfigurist. What I add is imperfection, which turns out to be an oddly satisfying addition.

No one creates from emptiness. There’s always preexisting light, or former acts of creation, partially dismantled. Digested. Great artists translate and solve problems. I envy their inner vision. But even then, Original Source is present, sometimes made more salient by denial.

“Look,” I said, showing Original Source a picture of a trout I’d painted on a piece of discarded trim board. “I saw this fish on the internet and painted it. I call it fish stick.”

She laughed. Original Source laughed. She howled. Her mouth opened wide; her beautiful teeth gleamed. Her mouth was a river. The room filled with clear water and rainbow trout. They swam in adoring circles around her, and after I grew my gills and fins, I joined them. Original Source troubled the waters with ribbons of lavender light. I longed to grab them, but I had no hands. In fact, there wasn’t much left of me, and it was such a relief. I wanted to give the rest away. I offered myself to the fish.

“Oh no you don’t,” Original Source said, as the waters receded and the fish went home. My limbs regrew, my old body reassembled. The awkward mixture of secondary colors that define me returned. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to dissolve into a single, primary color. “Not an option,” she said. “Your complexity is my delight.”

I lifted my hands to protest, but she continued. “When I lean into your soul and whisper a secret, you naturally mix it with what you already know, and when you pass it on, it takes a fraction of you with it.”

“Well,” I said. “That seems like a bad idea.”

“Not necessarily,” she said. “It’s one of the ways the universe expands. Keep painting. Whisper the truth. There are so many reasons for violet. Chartreuse. Magenta. Glaucous and marengo. In time, you’ll learn to love them all.”

“I already do,” I said.

“Ok, then,” she said. “Let’s use up this orange before it dries.”

 

Taxes

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God and I stayed up really late last night, watching pretty much anything we could get on regular TV. Except we avoided the news, or anything like the news. Being both omniscient and omnipresent, God has a harder time avoiding current events than I do, but we colluded as best we could. I ate left-over soup. God wasn’t hungry.

God stretched out on the loveseat, and I got my yoga mat, intending to do a few sit-ups during advertisements. The TV droned on.

“What’s on your mind?” God asked.

Nothing,” I said. “Why do you think we’re watching Big Bang reruns? Just call me Empty Mind. Checked Out. Clueless. In fact, let’s not talk right now.”

“Okay,” God said. The TV droned on. God got another pillow and dozed. I turned the lights down low and watched her instead of the TV for a while.

“What’re we going to do?” I silently asked the sleeping God. She was so beautiful. The steady rise and fall of her chest, the perfection of her eyebrows, her out-breath filling the room with a wild mixture of sage and lilac, animal musk, homelessness, and newly-minted money.

My human condition crept into the room, and settled beside me. I tried to slap it away and just watch God at rest, but it snuggled up, greedy, ugly, lazy, mortal, needy, vengeful, and as afraid as ever.

Look,” I whispered to it. “What if we could rest like that?”

My human condition gave me a sideways glance. Almost a dare. Then it eased itself alongside God and went to sleep. I curled up fetal on the floor. The TV flickered, grabbing at my attention like it was for sale. Which it is. Everything is for sale. We all have our price. Except God. Some may not realize this, but you can’t buy God off. And God really isn’t into tax breaks that hurt the poor. With God, it’s more of an all or nothing kind of thing. But she’s never believed in trickle down economics. Never.

God stirred. “Rough week,” she said sleepily. “C’mere.”

My human condition had sprawled itself into all the available space. The loveseat looked uncomfortable to say the least, and I was about to refuse, but God had opened her eyes. I can never resist those deep pools of unspeakable welcome.

So I awkwardly squeezed in, between my human condition and God. In the tangle of all those urges, elbows, and defeats, God found my hand. “Tomorrow, do what you can do,” she said. “Tonight, rest.”

“But that’s the problem,” I said, already drowsy. “I don’t know what to do.” Then I slept. And now she’s gone. And my human condition is awake, demanding breakfast. I’m struggling to be hospitable.

“That’s it,” I hear from the corner. I make more toast and watch the snow drift down.

Confessions

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I don’t know if there’s a God.

(Neither do you)

I’ve witnessed or been the center of miracles. Full-on, Shazam miracles.

(So have you)

I listen to the news and scream inside.

(There are millions screaming, weeping, withdrawing, and dying)

I am Christian like Jesus was Jewish.

(You can decide what this means)

I’m a believer of all things because I choose to be.

(Having a choice is the defining feature of what it means to be conscious)

I am conscious.

(This is one of those miracles mentioned earlier)

Joy is different than being happy. Gratitude is different than self-satisfaction.

(Each involves courage)

Love is a word most of us misuse. It might take many lifetimes to grasp this Word.

(I like words)

The light in my brain greets the light in your brain.

(And that is enough for now.)