Thursday, November 15, 2012

God Is in the Numbers:Republican Math and Self-Disclosure

I feel for the Republicans. It's no fun to confront reality after years of believing one's own math. But of course, I am not a Republican, and this time around, the numbers, AKA the Truth, were on my/our side. I had been passionately, nail-bitingly watching Nate Silver's polling data and analysis. Every time Gallup would say Romney was up three points, my friend Liz would say, "Check with Nate Silver. When he gets worried, I'll get worried." For weeks before Nov. 6, I'd run into parents at pickup and say, "I'm just so scared!" "Me too!" and we'd grimace at each other and hurry off to collect our offspring. Elle voted in an election at her school and refused to tell me for whom she'd cast her ballot. "It's a secret ballot," she said firmly. Although that same day she said, "Mama, what's a saint?" I said, "Hmmm. A saint is someone who is very very good, very close to God and who takes care of poor people." "Oh," she nodded. "Like Barack Obama." "Um, no, not exactly," I said, but I did take it as evidence of how she voted.

I am finally home again after a wonderful weekend away in the DC area. Katryna and I did a benefit for Revels at which three of our lifelong music teachers were in attendance.
with Nancy Taylor

with Katherine Nevius

I also brought my kids who had a fabulous time visiting with their grandparents. The weather was wonderful; coats were left unpacked in the suitcase. My mother and I talked books (Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot) and writing (we are each deep in the midst of our novels), and my father squired the kids around on his shoulders even though he was getting over a cold. On Sunday night, when I told Jay we were going to be leaving the next day, he sat at the top of the stairs and very quietly wept. I knew how he felt.There was a sweetness to this landing spot at my parents, where, though I was woefully low on my normal self-care regimes, I was tunneling my vision into watching the Republicans try to figure out why they lost, and soon I'd have to go back to business as usual (Suzuki, cooking, exercise, teaching, etc.). Call it political rubbernecking, but I really am obsessed. When I wasn't reading the New York Times or the Huffington Post, I was talking to my parents and anyone who would listen to me about this particular delusion.

I am not a numbers person. I never have been. I get easily confused, and I like a world in which the margins are nice and soft. Numbers don't have this advantage. Numbers are crisp and permanent. So I have to take some extraordinary measures to be clear on numbers instead of being vague, which I much prefer. I write down everything I buy, and I write down every penny I earn. As a self-employed person, I keep spreadsheets on all my income and expenses. This is an ongoing process, and I have to keep refining, keep finding my errors, keep working to come up with a clearer, better system. I've come (somewhat reluctantly) to see it as a spiritual discipline. I am not just responsible for myself; these numbers have ramifications for my kids and my husband, and how I give to the world. And yet, now that I am working with numbers every day, keeping track of my income and expenses, seeing where I need to work harder, and just as importantly, where I can work less (so as to be available to my kids, my husband, my writing, my spiritual life), I have a real respect for numbers. I have come to love them. "God is in the numbers," says a friend of mine. I get this. This is a side of God I know--the one who loves me no matter what, yes, but who can't save me or my friends from death, cancer, hurricanes or bankruptcy. This is the God called Reality.

We left Northern Virginia in our ridiculous big-ass black Ford mega vehicle (I let the kids choose--oops) and drove to BWI where, I knew from an email from Southwest Airlines, our flight had been delayed. We went through baggage drop off and were told to get our boarding passes at the gate. We had a lovely chat with a family from India relocated to Albany and I tried to get them to come to our show this Saturday in Cohoes. We made it to the gate a half hour before take off, the kids scooting on their little Melissa & Doug Trunkees. And there we discovered that SW had overbooked our flight, boarded it at the old time and that there were no more flights to Hartford until the next morning. "But," I sputtered. "I am in a unique employment situation! No one can do my job tomorrow! I need to get home!" [I was supposed to teach my Parent Guitar Class at 10am Tuesday.] Moreover, I had no car seat anymore since it was in the belly of the plane bound to Hartford--without us--along with my guitar and our suitcase, which incidentally had our coats and basically everything else except the kids' Trunkees which housed some stuffed animals, cars and drawing materials.

So I rented a Prius with car seats and we started to drive back to Massachusetts at 4pm. Like the Republicans, I had not exactly done the math, but somewhere in southern NJ around 7:30pm I realized we were going to hit the Hartford Airport around midnight, if there were no traffic in NYC, and I'd have to, at that point, get sleeping kids from the rental into a van to take to the terminal to collect a big suitcase, guitar and car seat, then another van to our parking lot, put everything plus kids into our Jetta and drive another 45 minutes home. So I called my aunt and uncle in Fairfield and we crashed there, playing with their little red dog and sleeping in a heap on their living room floor. Fairfield was hit hard by Superstorm Sandy; their house had had almost 3 feet of water and sewage in it. They were finally getting back to normal, but they were tired. These superstorms cut a swath through New York and New Jersey that was easily predicted by scientists who study climate change. God is in the numbers, and God is in the science we use to figure out why the weather is becoming so volatile and why the demographics are becoming favorable to the Democrats. Dear Republicans: please wake up. Please come back from your 1950s-era fairy land, put the ball back on the field and play with us. We have real problems to solve, and it's going to take all of us to solve them.

God has no other hands but ours. This is where the soft margins come in. Katryna's sister-in-law reported that after her home in Red Hook was flooded, friends, family, volunteers and complete strangers showed up to help bail her and her family out. The woman at Budget gave me 50% off my rental car and somehow magicked the tolls into the payment, though there was no EZ Pass transducer in sight. (These may show up on my credit card in the future, however. But for the moment, this is my own version of Republican Math). My aunt miraculously lives where she lives, and we were able to find a landing spot.

The last day we were in Virginia, I noticed the picture of God on the floor in my parents' living room. "What is this?" I asked Elle picking it up. "God," she said. We'd gone to church and heard a rousing and inspired sermon on stewardship by our friend Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt, and because Elle's God has a purse, I wondered if she had been somehow able to listen from her Sunday School room. But God is not carrying a purse, she explained. That bag is God's bag of tools. And the headband and long hair is to show that God is both a man and a woman. God's face is the sun ("the actual sun," she emphasized.)

I love the hands most of all. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away--perhaps. Steve Philbrick says, "In Isaiah it says 'I, God, make peace and create evil.' [Elle] shows why. (Or: why you want to be sitting on the right-hand of God...)" There is something comforting about this view of the Divine, too, in its own way: it makes pretty clear our powerlessness.

But what I really believe is that God Him/Herself is happy and sad; God shares with us (if we can listen) God's own grief about our cancer, our election disappointments, our bankruptcy, our missed flights, our climate crisis. And God extends a hand to us no matter what our mood, or God's mood. And this morning, I opened an email from Franciscan Richard Rohr. Here's what he had to say about the hands of the Risen Christ, which I thought was apropos:
Fullness in a person cannot permit love because there are no openings, no handles, no give-and-take, and no deep hunger. It is like trying to attach two inflated balloons to one another. Human vulnerability gives the soul an immense head start on its travels—maybe the only start for any true spiritual journey. Thus the Risen Christ starts us off by revealing the human wounds of God, God’s total solidarity with human suffering. He starts with self-disclosure from the divine side, which ideally leads to self-disclosure from our side. The Bible first opened up for me in the 1960s when the II Vatican Council said that divine revelation was not God disclosing ideas about God, but actually God disclosing “himself” (sic). Quickly Scripture, and religion itself, became not mere doctrines or moralisms for me, but lovemaking, an actual mutual exchange of being and intimacy.

Excerpted from Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, p. 167

Friday, November 02, 2012

Post-Diluvian and My Own Weird Climate Change

I can’t shake the images of the water flushing through the Subway entrances and exits, the cars floating in the parking garages of lower Manhattan. The eeriest thing about these pictures is that I’ve seen them before—in my mind’s eye after watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, six and a half years ago. I left the movie theatre on that scorching June day resolved to do whatever it would take to be a climate change activist, or at least an awake aware person doing her tiny little cloth-diapering, biodiesel-driving part. “Well, now we know,” I said to Tom. “Knowledge is power. Certainly after learning what this movie taught us, we’ll begin, as a country, as a unified world, to change our fossil-fuel burning ways.” I’d had a similar optimistic thought in 1981 when I was 14 and I first learned about nuclear war. Now that we have this power, I reasoned, we’d never use it. We’d know better. War, surely, was obsolete now.

Al Gore and his ilk were predicting the kinds of floods we saw earlier this week to occur in about fifteen to twenty years, if memory serves. When climate change aficionados spoke of receding coast lines, as a former New Yorker I thought first of my sister’s in-laws on West 4th street and Red Hook and wondered if it was wise for them to continue to live where they lived. Maybe in ten years they should think about selling, I thought. Property values won’t diminish much between now and then. I imagined the waters rising up over the Henry Hudson, taking the joggers and the cyclists along with them.

Earlier this year, in July, I experienced my own weird climate change. For the first time in 16 years, I got my period. Without getting too personal and TMI, I’ll just say that the stress of my years on the road in my twenties had taken a pretty significant toll, and one doctor on my case back in the 90s had commented, “Evolution takes pretty good care of these things. You wouldn’t want the matriarch of a starving tribe to be pregnant with twins.”

My bandmates thought that was uncannily apt.

I did everything I could to restore my cycles, trying acupuncture, diet, yoga, alternative healers, psychics and finally western medicine. With the help of a talented endocrinologist, not to mention a patient and loving husband, I was able to conceive and deliver two gorgeous healthy babies. And then a few months after the last one weaned, to my great surprise I discovered I was menstruating.

At the age of 45, chances of my getting pregnant are slim, but not impossible. Every month when I feel that twinge in my side, I start doing the math: if I conceived now, would it interfere with Falcon Ridge? If we had three kids would we have to ditch our extremely fuel efficient Jetta wagon for a minivan? Could we pay three violin tuitions per year? (The answers: yes, yes and no). More importantly, how would a younger sibling impact the two I already have and cherish and want to give the world to? I know the answer: I asked them. “Nah,” is what they each said. No baby brother or sister, thanks. They are smart enough to know that the emotional resources around here are scarce.

I say that with no self-deprecation, which is new for me. I’ve spent the past 6 years feeling guilty about the quality of my mothering: that I am too distracted by my career, too spiritual, too ADD, not willing enough to get down and play with them on the floor, not silly enough, not strict enough, not crafty enough, not soft and flabby enough. I knew about the mom wars, and I thought I was too smart to fall victim to them. I was wrong.

But I got my feminist on recently; probably sometime around Mitt Romney’s reference to his binders full of women. I got reminded by some kick-ass mom friends of mine that motherhood is the hardest goddamned job on the planet, and one that rarely wins its practitioners the Nobel or a Grammy (no pun intended). When a girl was raised to be everything she could be career-wise; when she has a deep abiding love of something other than family (art, God, humanity, the Beatles) and then tries to excel at Motherhood as if it were just another arena, she is doomed. Not that I know this personally.

I’ve gone back to the Winnecott mantra: don’t even try to be a good mother; just be a good enough mother. Just good enough. See this as a long marathon, not a sprint. Your reviews after one evening’s meal and violin practice might be scorching one day, but you’re in this for the long haul. Get the food into the kids. Get their practice in. Read them a book. Cuddle them until they fall asleep. Rinse, repeat. When Elle was an infant and I was on hallucinogens (metaphorically speaking),a friend of ours--father of 2 teenagers--said that he experienced parenthood as being like working in a button factory. “It’s mind numbingly boring,” he drawled. I could not begin to relate then, but now it’s a relief to know that some others feel this way too.

Oddly, as I began to accept myself as wholly imperfect and frustrated, something shifted. I stopped feeling so frustrated. It might have helped that they’ve moved on from 24-piece jigsaw puzzles to those new Lego trucks and campers which I find so thoroughly absorbing that I am tempted to work on them on my own when the kids are at school. So I actually am on the rug with them more these days. (Elle recently said, “Mama! Go away! They are my Legos! Stop playing with them!”) It’s also helped immeasurably that I know this is the last year I have a preschooler, and I am in that sweet spot of treasuring each day I have with him. (Which doesn’t preclude me from sitting him in front of Thomas the Tank Engine so I can get my writing done, as I did today. Also, did you know that Ringo narrates Thomas’s earliest episodes?)

Here's the thing. Even though every part of my rational mind knows that I should not have another child, and for most of the month I really don't want another child, for those two or three days when I am ovulating, all I want to do is procreate. And no, I am not endorsing this insane article suggesting that women while ovulating were more likely to vote for Obama. I am just saying that even I, a well-educated mostly sensible person who has deep roots in addiction recovery, have a hard time not just going for what I want when I want it. If someone with my level of dedication to restraint (not to mention fear of what others will think of me) could lapse and find herself with child, what hope is there that billions of people will voluntarily band together and agree to drive a lot less, consume a lot less, procreate a lot less?

A child is supposed to grow up. I am supposed to feel the gap, feel the grief of separation. It’s part of life. Losing Manhattan—not so much. So this new ache in my heart, this helpless helpless feeling, I can’t get my mind around. I am left, yearning for connection with others who are willing to seek answers, policies, leaders who can speak the truth about what’s happening and give us orders. We can’t dig ourselves out of climate change perfectly, and we probably can’t even slow it down, even if we were a united front. I am left with these words from Job:
38 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 “Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3 Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
11 When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
And caused the dawn to know its place,
13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,
And the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It takes on form like clay under a seal,
And stands out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
And the upraised arm is broken.

42 Then Job replied to the LORD:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”