A lovely day today, our Sabbath—warm, sunny, available. We took our biweekly picnic to the ocean, braving the brisk wind but determined to sit outside on the bluff, enjoying it all the more because it wasn’t the blithely easy thing it will be a little later in the spring.
Around us, everything’s so goddamn fraught. Talking with a friend who is beginning to question how long she ought to fight for the means of existence, being a woman beyond childbearing whose skill sets are no longer cutting edge in the workplace—what use is she? Well, I said, she is really good at joy. She’s nurturing her aging mother and taking pleasure in these waning but beautiful moments of togetherness. She has a strong bond with horses and is renewed and strengthened by the animals in her care. I went out on a limb. Joy, I said, is Gaia’s food. Drink deep and radiate joy, that’s a good job.
Joy’s a tricky gig. I think it’s distinctly different from pleasure or happiness, it’s primal and gusty and difficult. There can be an element of joy in profound howling grief. One thing’s for sure, it isn’t small.
I wake when the sun is streaming through the fan window into our bedroom, painting its image on the warm wood of the ceiling, and I think, “Thank you for this beautiful red day you have given us.” I go down to the kitchen and drink the first cup of water of the day, hot from the little thermos pitcher I keep by the stove, and have a bump of awareness: I can have hot water, clean, abundant, whenever I want, and there are so many who can’t.
I fall into bed deliciously tired at night, and I have my beloved naked by my side, with sweetly soft pillows and coverlets nestling us, and I think of those who shiver on newspaper pads in piss-fragrant doorways.
And I fall back into that childhood blare, “Clean your plate, there are kids who are starving.” I never really got that, how my eating food I didn’t want would help those who didn’t have it. I had a point. If I didn’t really want it, it wouldn’t do anybody any good, whether I ate it or not, unless I gave it to the dog.
So it was a great comfort to remember the words of the poet Jack Gilbert:
There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
That’s a gnarly one to parse, but it’s worth it. I will not praise the work of 45, and I will not make him the gatekeeper of my life-stream. I will do what I can to stem the tide of his destruction, but most of all I will do what I can, alone and with others, to foment joy. Drink deep, Gaia!
Second draft of our novel CHEMO, and it continues to be a challenge to prevent our main character Victor from going off on a dystopian riff that he thinks is quite brilliant, even though he hardly has an image of himself much higher than that of a hairy worm. He needs his own blog, I guess, and then he could limit his blather in the novel.
One riff that will probably survive the next draft goes like this:
I envied her complex simplicity. As loony as she was, she possessed a dignity that transcended the dreary files of Stipson Associates and my own eavesdropping. Once in a while, you’re able to look at human beings with an unfamiliar eye, as if looking at puppies or a beast who was once a pup, who eats, excretes, mates when possible, aspires, loves, cries and dies. You see these creatures born out of one womb. Three or four billion wombs, in fact, but all one; form, structure and chemistry the same, the implacable urge of the push. A single billion-pocketed goddess spawning its creatures broadcast.
It wasn’t me said that, it was some guru on the remainder shelf. But it struck me. Every human is a tryout, a sketch for the idea. It could look this way, that way, it could live its life by whatever principles, embody whatever contradictions. The nose could be shaped this way, the mouth pursed like that. One grows up to write an opera, one to rob a Seven-Eleven, while one toddles into the path of a truck. And having made a try, the womb resorbs its tissue. Every once in a while there’s progression, a breakthrough, a creature who shows what’s possible. We celebrate these characters or we crucify them, but things are never the same.
The comfort is that whatever kind of shit you pull, you’re part of the experiment. As is the guru on the remainder shelf.
In the novel, Victor has a lot to answer for, but probably won’t.