Every morning Sweetheart makes his way downstairs before me, puts on coffee, stokes the woodstove, blends a thick green juice the color of cedar boughs that is undoubtedly very good for you, and then he puts on the radio. WNYC streaming at us live from his hometown, just like we used to do in our Brooklyn apartment every day (except for the part about having a downstairs, a woodstove, and space for a blender). We are such oldballs. We love the radio. One of Sweetheart’s most mystically endearing qualities is his utter mastery of the radio in modern times. Using the TuneIn Radio app he mines for hours of perfect programming. Weekends it’s music. We spend Saturdays with the Rhythm Revue (WBGO, classic soul and and motown from 10-12), then WKCR funk + soul from 12-2 with Across 110th Street, then Sunshine Daydream on WTJU (the Grateful Dead Hour) at 6pm. On Sundays we take WKCR’s Moonshine Show (old time bluegrass), into The Tennessee Border Show (Early country), and then onto WFUV, which has American Routes into Rich Conaty’s Big Broadcast. For us, because we’re pretty much 137 years old, Sunday nights mean making dinner listening to big band music and doing the Sunday crossword. We pretty much live by the radio like it’s 1923 and we really like it that way. Weeknights, it’s cooking to WWOZ out of New Orleans. Weekdays, it’s talk. Move over, Ira: We LOVE Brian Lehrer. Today he did a thing (that got me thinking about how much I love the radio, see above) where he asked all of his listeners to take a picture of the morning sky wherever they were at 7:10 am and post the shot with the hashtag #BLS710 (Brian Lehrer Show 7:10 am). What a simple pleasure to capture that moment, all of us, radio lovers under the same sky, what commonalities we share, and what perfect evidence of what a great humanizing (and unifying) force the radio is. Lest we not forget. My shot started out the post and here are just a few of the hundreds of shots taken this am at 7:10 (beginning with Sweetheart’s):
Well, here we are. Just a toe dipped into June and all of the requisite tropical afternoons that birth amazing thunderstorms and the gift of cool breezes that come after. Everything in a cycle. Happened: my annual sunburn, a few gardenias blooming on the plant that made it through the winter, a lot of fresh fish and white wine. Yet to happen: fireflies, peach picking tomato sandwiches, the honey harvest, fully conquering this fierce melancholy. Here, right on time, to support the few weeks I’ve been taking to breathe deeply and make balance, some thoughts on happiness vs. wholeness:
I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.
—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life
From here (duh).
I’ll consider this point of view an indulgence for the next two weeks and then I’ll be back to my relentlessly positive outlook. I will say: Sorrow, I acknowledge you, I honor the realness of pain, and the truth and necessary aliveness of the feeling of it, and, thank you, but I’m not going to be spending any more time with you today. These watermelons don’t grease themselves.
And an epic thanks to the beautiful Raphaelite-curled Kaitlyn from Once Upon a Stiletto for including this nest in her Leibster roundup…when the melancholy clears I’m overdue for a link roundup. Le Swoon, Le Sigh.
It has been a wild time. The winter that wouldn’t end ran headlong into spring, stopping only for a moment to catch its breath, send out some delicate green shoots, and deliver some crushing news. Everything here springing up wild and wick, the bees finally hitting their honeyed stride, just in time to get left in a hurry, coffee still on the stove, the needle poised above the record, the bounding radishes and collards and kale unthinned… to head south and attend loss. Then a quick accounting, a slapdash suitcase, and a whirlwind trip out west, full of joy and light and adventure. A perfect time. Then home again, which, after weeks of absence, looked like something out of The Secret Garden or Grey Gardens or Mrs. Havisham or Miss Honey’s House… some lovely testament to elegant decay, but also probably garnering some judgment from the neighbors. Vines and blooms and ripening, peonies bent over double, canary roses full of promise, about to burst, irises sprung up seemingly overnight, grass in the meadow at hip height. Just enough time to gather this hasty bouquet, improbably, the pale yellow broccoli that bolted into unruly flowers in the unexpected heat, the wild spreading white Cherokee roses that make me repeat my grandfather’s mantra (“it’s only a weed if you don’t want it there”), and the sweet buttercups in the yard that I knew would be falling under the scythe in a few day’s time. A funny wild bouquet plucked accidentally, almost out of necessity (leaving the fancy flowers where they were), delicate and dropping petals and perfumed with a sweet fragrance that, for essentially zero reason, always makes me think of Emmylou Harris. Put in the center of the table with a happy sigh. Just in time for more crushing news. And again, we leave the coffee on the stove, the compost in the bin, the laundry on the chair (at least clean and folded if not put away), the bees in the clover, the cat in the window…all to head south and attend loss. It’s what the living do, care for each other in this great yearning, and rejoice together because we must, absolutely, celebrate this wild loveliness that is the. thing.
For that yearning, for this everyday, for the cherishing, so deeply, for the living of it, and for the fierce remembering. I’ve kept this one a secret to myself for a long while, a small burnished jewel in my pocket, but it feels like the right time to share it.
What the Living Do
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
I started keeping a 5 year diary at the beginning of this year (the topic of its own post, certainly), and I told Sweetheart that looking back on this month, at least, the days are beautifully, brilliantly similar: a series of good books, many long dinners, most of them just the two of us and that giddily more than enough, the desire to plant, the thwarting of yet more snow, the killing of a snake, the tireless hijinks of squirrels, the beauty of the birds, the bees coming in with new pollen (red maple and alder), the first stirrings of daffodils and crocuses and the buds coming on the lilacs, the thwarting of yet more snow, burning, burning, burning—the last of the cord wood, the first of the burn pile, the long lingering rays of the now-late evening sun, lots of plaid, long baths, good work-sore bones, and coffee and fresh juice waiting for me in the morning. Time flying, but on golden wings. Forgive the radio silence, the music here has been too sweet.
Yesterday was my birthday. I spent gloriously long days celebrating with my dear ones, playing music, getting snowed in, having big candlelit dinners with Sweetheart’s homemade pasta, exploring the snowy woods and hiking upupup into the gusting mists off of breathtaking icy waterfalls, having surprise cakes baked for me, champagne delivered to me, fielding multiple phone calls from people singing to me, playing games, reading books, baking bread, having breakfast in bed, receiving small parcels of mulling spices, special ancient bottles of wine with Cyrillic labels, feather birds, and talking poetry and unicorns into the wee hours, and and and…like always, I almost can’t believe my good fortune to have these bold and brave, gentle and kind folk surrounding me. Another sweet year passed honestly and kindly, and celebrated well. And that takes guts.