Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chickens of a Lesser God

Cosmos will be spades more adorable when he learns where to put the poop.  Blue's Christmas present isn't yet clear on the fact that the Norfolk Island Pine in the dining room is not a fancy outhouse. 

We visited several shelters to find Blue a kitten and when they didn't have one, the question was posed, "Why not a cat?"  And I was tempted, yes, especially by the Main Coon calico.  But the issue is that since holding our friend's baby, Blue has been wanting one of "our" own.  Begging. 
And I say, "Babies are a lot of work.  I'm not really up for another round of that and I'm happy with what I've got."  (Although some days I load the kids in the car and think, "That was too easy," so I momentarily look around for our "third" kid.) 
So then Blue says, "We could adopt!"
giggle giggle "Making the baby isn't the hard part."
"Can I have a kitten instead?"
Baby vs. Kitten:  Where would you tell your bookie to put your bet?  It's not a turtle, lizard, bird or marsupial.  We're already doing the "cat thing", living the cat lifestyle.  We know a good cat-sitter.  And maybe this will keep her from snooping in my room again and throwing out our birthcontrol method.  So no, dear shelter workers in all your guilt-tripping glory, we aren't getting a cat this time.  We're getting a kitten.  King Louis, world's most glorious cat: gorgeous, charming, gopher killer and fully eligible for well-deserved narcissism, came to us from a shelter eight years ago.  We love him.  But Blue wants a kitten.

Coyote offering comfort to the King
The shelter also had dogs.  I shocked us all by suggesting that out of curiosity and just for fun we walk down dog alley.  The psychic energy hit me hard.  The eyes, shaped just so.  The silent doggie pleas screaming in to my head: I NEED someone to love.  By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late.  I was hysterically bawling.
"We're getting a dog!"  I smeared the snot along my sleeve.  
"We came for a kitten.  We're not getting a dog."  Huck held his ground.
"But we talked about getting a dog once, a few years ago!"  WAAAAA WAAAAA.
"We came for a kitten.  They don't have kittens.  We are leaving.  Now."
"Kitten, dog, whatever! These animals are in pain.  And I can stop it.  I am the Jesus Christ of dogs!  I am their savior!"  Cry. Whine. Sulk.

We finally found a kitten at the pet store.  It was discounted and Blue couldn't figure out how it had been there for a whole month.  Because I am her mother, she's well aware of the history of black-cat lore and not impressed with superstition.  Norse goddess Freya, in a star-studded cloak, rode (rides?) in a chariot pulled by two black cats.  When the Christians came to convert the Norwegians, they turned all the evil goddess stuff in to bad luck.  Friday.  Freya's number 13.  And black cats.  Luckily, they left the stars out of their religious wars.  So it didn't occur to Blue that black cats should be left on the shelf.

Cosmos has amazing vertical leap.  You might be standing in the kitchen and suddenly there are claws in your back and you scream in a key not known to man.  Or maybe you are eating breakfast and Cosmos wants to jump on your lap but he doesn't want to hit his head on the table again, so suddenly you find a kitten with crampons climbing up your leg.  Maybe a baby would be less taxing.

The kitten wrote a little poem this morning while he was waiting for people to wake up:

Kitten of a Lesser God
There is an emptiness 
in my bowl and my belly
and someplace else.

My god sits and turns the pages so slowly.

She could fill my silver bowl
with gold stars and I would be so happy.

Am I not a good kitty?
Do I not train hard for the hunt?
Am I not soft and are my eyes not the greenest?
Do I not poop in my box most times?

My god says I am good.
My god loves me.
So why do I feel this hunger
so deeply, for so much.

What can be filled are my lungs.
What can be said is Meow.
And I will go to the parents of my god
and I will say
all night and
all night:
Feed me.

Something comes, something leaves.  My last Buff Orpington, Goldilocks, has joined the living dead.  She keeled over nearly two days ago.  My chicken's head went limp, her eyes are black x's, and she's been curled up in a pile of chicken shit for two days.  The smell could kill anyone.  So I kept moving her head, but she obstinately shoved it back in the pile.  Again and again.  But she's still breathing.  For TWO DAYS.  No food.  No water.  Huck even tried preparing her a grave, but the ground is too frozen.  "She'll be dead by morning."  "She'll be dead by the time Huck gets home from work and then he can bag her up and put her in the garbage can."  "She'll be dead by morning.  She has to be."  So this morning when she was still breathing, I knew enough was enough.  I have no idea how to kill a chicken.  I mean, I could do it lots of ways: suffocation, sledge hammer, lawn mower, saw, ax (if I could lift it).  But I didn't feel like it for some reason.  My neighbors butcher chickens all the time.  Maria was at work, but said Sergei could do it.  I boxed her up and delivered her like a neighborly Christmas gift.  I was expecting to learn how to kill a chicken.  To watch and see just what Sergei did. But Sergei was heading out the door and just shoved the box in his garage.  He barely speaks English, so I was wondering if we had a language-based misunderstanding, after all the whole point was to put the thing out of it rasping, shuddering misery.  "That a sick chicken."  He says.  "Are you going to kill it?"  I ask.  "Later.  I have to go now."  And Sergei leaves.  So instead of dying among it's familiar piles of chicken shit, Goldilocks is laboring through her last gasps in a strange garage down the street. Luckily chickens can't make their eyes go puppy-dog and there isn't much wracking of sympathy on this owner.  May the chicken valkries have mercy on me.  May they understand I tried to help, even if I wasn't particularly emotionally attached to the process.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Immutable Me: an anthem of Truth with a soaring crescendo of Glory

See these photos of my mother?  If you knew her really really well, had ever thoroughly pissed her off, or gotten tipsy with her, or watched her go through tough times with her "stoic" face on, or been embarrassed by her enthusiasm for life which you unfortunately inherited, then you'd recognize these faces as hers, always and forever.  From the beginning, she has been Marjorie.  She changes, she grows, she learns.  And yet always she has this immutable quality, the Marjorieness that has never disappeared.

It's a complex question that's no longer under the purview of philosophy but belongs now in the schools of psychology and neuroscience: what is it that makes you you?  is it continuous?  does is persist in the afterlife?  If you die and then come back as per Hinduism and Buddhism, do you come back as you?  does an interruption in your existence alter you? Our cells change over in 7 years.  Our ideas change.  We change.  We are the flow of life, changing, responding to the shape of our river beds, moving through the landscapes of time.  And yet the Mississippi is the Mississippi and the Columbia, the Columbia.  Like sports teams who change players, names and cities, but never, never their colors; we root for the colors and we align with the uniforms.

When asked, I'd always say it is nature + nurture.  Neuroscience has found that experience can change our DNA, turning elements of it on or off.  Very deeply, nurture affects nature.

But when thinking about myself, I've named nurture as my nature. A pastor's daughter, the middle child, a Libra with the rest of her chart in Aries except for the moon in Sagittarius, a female, a mother, an adventurer, a farmer, etc.  I've looked to my past to describe who I am and how I came to be this way.  I've sought an explanation for myself that is outside myself. 

I remember a journal entry from middle school in which I wonder why it is I write in a journal at all.  I suppose it's for the purpose of self exploration, self-discovery, and self-knowledge.  And then I wonder what is the point of self-knowledge.  My answer confused me even more.  I supposed that the purpose of self-knowledge is to find your shortcomings and work to make up for them.  This opened a new line of questioning where I wondered who says what "short comings" are?  And why?  My teachers said my impulsiveness was a fault, but then they're all about controlling the classroom environment.  So their judgement had some serious self-centered motives.  What are faults?  And who's the judge?  And where do we learn to call them faults? And shouldn't we be questioning that? And then I became bored with the subject and ran off to do something else.  But the questions have lingered, unanswered and likely unanswerable, their value perhaps more in the asking than the likely pat, unsatisfactory answers we could shout out.

Although perhaps the pursuit of self-knowledge, if valuable (and how do we judge value?) might be in knowing what it is we love and what it is we ask others to love. 

Although I have treated others as souls within circumstances (location, birth order, skin color, sexual orientation, gender, and astrological sign), I have not thought of myself as a person with some sort of unchanging and pure quality within circumstances.  But I have always thought of myself as molded and shaped and reshapable.  This is hopeful and true, but there's also something else true about me.  Something I can't name, but exists. Something my culture can't direct and mold.  Something that would have been there no matter where I fell in line with my siblings, if I'd had them, or if I was a boy, or (godforbid) a Scorpio. 

I suspect that my immutable qualities are unnameable and perhaps unknowable.  The circumstances which cradle my Self and are nameable include: female with a female brain with the feeling centers closely located to the expression centers, my farming life, my heterosexuality, my spousalness, my motherhood.  But I suspect that the truest parts of me have no handle but are expressed in every circumstance my soul finds itself in.

It's time I had a talk with myself and the world.  A coming out.  I'm going to take myself to a beautiful little glen in the woods, near a small waterfall. I'm going to sit myself down on a mossy rock and tell myself the truth. 

I've always been inspired by my gay friends who have this moment of truth with the world, a frightening moment to be sure, with the potential to take a bad turn just as in any birth.  The truth is born and they say to the world, "I am who I am. If you have a problem with that, it doesn't change the truth.  If you have a problem with me, that's your problem, not mine."  I've found a lot of courage from them.  As PFLAGG says, "You being you makes me happy."

And so I'm here in a similar way, to say the Truth which cannot be said, the immovable, non-relative Truth about me.  It is the Truth that has no words, no description, and so I'm not sure what the point of writing about this is.  But it's True none-the-less.  I am me and you are just going to have to deal with that.  My self-knowing is NOT about making your life easier and molding myself to your expectations, making your classroom manageable so-to-speak, and ridding my Self of things you call "faults".  My Self will not always please you.  My Self is difficult to understand, but that doesn't get you (or me) off the hook from trying.  My Self is an odd collection of traits that don't fit any mold, like cayenne and lime with chocolate.  I'm smart and I have enthusiasm (which resembles a 13 year old at a slumber party and is often confused for nievete and inexperience), plus follow-through, and that's a hard combination for people to wrap their minds around. But you're going to have to try.  And I'm here to make you.  Plus, that's just the stuff with names, that's not even the hard stuff that's more complex than language. 
And in other news, I'm bravely posting some photos of Huck and I going out for his office party and a subsequent night on the town.  I assumed that because the cruise was leaving from a fancy hotel that it would be a fancy cruise. But it was a solidly jeans and parka affair.  I knew there was a risk of this going in to it, because I live in the Northwest and Every Gol Dang event here is a jeans and parka affair.  A girl gets Sick of it.  Knowing the risks, I dressed up anyway and even shaved my pits for the first time in 13 years.  And I loved it (except for the pits part because they really itch now!).  The camera does not do justice to how beautiful I felt.  The flash and my general chronic unphotogenicness both destroyed my inner glory.  It reminded me of how I wanted to be a rock star when I was 7 and spent a lot of time jumping on my bed belting out the only tunes I knew, "Jesus Loves Me," and "The B-I-B-L-E,"  until I borrowed my brother's tape recorder and cut my first track.  And played it back.  And, oh Jesus, I'm glad somebody loves me.  I never dreamt of spotlights and spandex again.  That's what these photos are for me, my brother's mean ol' tape recorder.  But, in the corner of this boxing ring, cheering for my inner sensation, helping me beat down the reality and ouchy truth of cameras and tape recorders came an elderly rich-looking woman sweeping through the hotel lobby with her entourage and as she passes me she whispers in my ear sweet things that I cannot bring myself to repeat, they were so breath-takingly flattering.  After seeing the pictures, however, I wonder if she wasn't just preparing to die by doing pennance for a life of hoity-toity harsh judgements by whispering incomprehensibly fabulous compliments to every little thing the cat drags in.  Or maybe I really did look stunning and cameras and tape recorders are all liars.  In which case, break out the the laser light show and hand me some tall leather boots and a microphone, I've got a song I'm ready to sing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A fish story

I cooked fish last night.  This is a major accomplishment.  I understand if it's no big deal to you, but I have never cooked fish and have barely cooked any meat at all in 17 years, so this was a BIG FREAKIN' DEAL to me.  And it turned out Great!  Even Coyote ate some corn-breaded cod.  It took a minute to get my mind around the meat + side dish = menu ensemble that characterizes the meat-ed meal.  This is the reverse of the mind warp non-vegetarians have to undergo to understand the complete vegetarian meal.  They get stuck in meat + side and all they can imagine that we eat is sides.  Sides and more sides and they can't figure out how we can be healthy eating nothing but corn and over-cooked green beans with a bun.  Which we don't.  We eat stews and soups and frittata and sautes and tempeh burgers and burritos and beans with rice or cornbread....etc... etc. We vegetarians eat a wider variety and more creative menu that those trapped in the clutches of the cults of meat-eating.  So I underwent the paradigm shift in the opposite direction last night.  And we had a side of home grown fries.  Fish and chips.

I used to cook meat, for about 1 year when I was first married to my first husband.  You cannot imagine the crazy stuff I did back then.  I did this thing where I MADE HIS LUNCHES!  I found it slightly humiliating, but I was 18 and was doing what my mother would do, my mother who's cultural heritage development has been seriously delayed by traditional values.  Obviously, a good, virtuous wife makes her husband's lunches.  It says so in Proverbs.  So I made him 2 lunches a day for his 16 hour cannery shifts.  And I felt really shitty about it.  During this time, Jack in the Box was having its e-coli issues and so when I made the burritos, which had to include beef, OBVIOUSLY, I burnt the hell out of that beef.  It was mostly just beef char that I scraped in to his burritos.  And, scared of meat as I was, that's how I cooked everything.  Fresh deer meat (we lived in various parts of Alaska during this time) was boiled then broiled in butter.  Turkey was basted in one complete pound of butter... although that one was good.  How could it not be?

I never liked the cooking of meat.  My family raised our own beef.  I bottled fed them every morning before and after school and then I was compelled to eat my pets.  There is some boundary that gets betrayed when we get that close to animals and then eat them.  It's like you eating Fido for dinner with your brother (who never liked Fido all that much) with a piece of Fido on his fork, making it make barking sounds.  It would be like this: on a Saturday my mother would come in to my room, close all the curtains and sit on me.  I would hear the shots, scream.  And then I would have to stay in my room until the butcher truck left.  Because my parents knew, and knew they did, that if I got a whiff of this conspiracy, I would chain myself to my beloved steer and hell no, I would not go.  You'll have to shoot me first.  This is why I now have a milk cow.  I love cows, but I'm not eating my own.  Having a milk cow has it's own special heart aches I've since learned.

I was also not allowed in the kitchen during the cooking of meat.  While this did nothing to prepare me for the life of a new and virtuous wife, it did make dinner less dramatic.  A Thanksgiving was seriously marred by my trauma when I cross the kitchen while the turkey neck was being exhumed.  Imagine my joy when we moved to South Carolina and THAT's what was for Thanksgiving dinner at the home we were invited to.

I was saved from the seemingly inevitable destiny of  meat by my brother's thoughtful Christmas gift when I was 19: Molly Katzen's magnum opus The Moosewood Cookbook.  This book certainly contains some awful recipes.  The more expensive the ingredients, the worse she messes it up.  But it's also got my staples.  I've used it so much, it fell apart and is now housed in a three ring binder.  It opened my mind to a new life, a life without bloody patties and mystery hotdogs. I learned to cook from this book.  I learned to make my own lasagna sauce and my own enchilada sauce.  This book became my Bible.  So when I ate enchiladas at someone's house a few years ago, I begged her for her sauce recipe and the entire table dropped it's collective jaw.  Recipe? For enchilada sauce?  It comes in a can, lady.  A can.  We open CANS of sauce.  Wow.  Thanks to Ms. Katzen, I didn't even know enchilada sauce existed.  And now I've shaved over an hour of cooking time off enchiladas!  And all 'cuz I asked for a recipe.

Unfortunately my brother and Ms. Katzen were unable to save me from making my husband's lunches.  I was too immature yet to let myself not do that. I imagine I would have been trapped in the life of the Virtuous mother-y wife for eternity if he hadn't left me.

That was the thing that stuck in my craw the worst.  I wailed, "AND I MADE HIS EFFING LUNCHES!  HIS LUNCHES!  THE HUMILIATION!  AUGHGGHGHGH!"  Despite being played a fool, being cheated on, being abandoned suddenly, it's the lunches that dug at me the most.  THE EFFING LUNCHES.  I burnt meat for that ingrate.  Only once have I made lunch for a man since (excluding in a professional capacity as a pizza cook), and it resulted in lots of tears and anger.  And long-suffering Huck just asked me not to ever do it again.

That's why I don't put Huck's laundry away.  Because if he ever betrayed me, which he doesn't look like he's going to but if I've learned one thing in my not-so-short life it's that people can really surprise you when you least expect it, and that you can't REALLY know anyone.  So, as far as I can tell, he's not going to up and leave all of a sudden, but if he did, it would be putting away his laundry that would make any betrayal even worse.  I've explained this to him.  And he has agreeably accepted the fact.

And that is the story of how I cooked my fish last night.


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