Sitars and Wood

And somehow in the ins and outs of synchronicity, the day before Livy’s birthday—November 30th—I somehow begin melding with The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” Again.
Year after year, sometime before the last day of November, returning to the ballad where John sings that he once had that girl but wait, no: she’s the one who had him. 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017,….my space becoming the quiet solitude of an evening around the warmth of a fire and a girl who just landed in my life.
And I remember that day of holding Livy. Knowing in an instant (instinct) that gathered into my arms was now the potential for every single bit of love and agony possible to have within one life.
For I’d even worried I wouldn’t love her as I did Julia; that was a real thing for me. Julia was early, born 7 weeks before she was ready then hooked to IVs—“she might die; be blind, deaf; have disabilities”—and before I left the hospital, I’d managed to move the mountain called “should I let my heart fully know her lest she die?” Because that’s what people do; they stand guard over their potential devastation, trying to sweet talk it. Yet I’d found it in me to love her with a passion that conquered the saddest parts of myself and floated through sterile, hushed corridors like magic, with air under my feet like a fairy. Like a rainbow. Like an angel.
Julia was to love beyond words and platitudes, in a way I couldn’t see what I’d even been before. Julia was a Now moment of revelation, my best self, my biggest heart. I didn’t see a “me” capable of being better.
But Life moves us into the more beautiful homes of ourselves. Sitting in rooms of rugs and warmth is the uncertainty of it all, ever pushing us to surrender to vulnerability in order to write melodies with sitars and wood.
And on November 30th, 2000, Olivia Grace Plimpton was born at LDS Hospital. Three weeks early. My mom and 2 year old Julia at the hospital for the entire labor—Julia carrying her stuffed Cat in the Hat, me coloring with her through the pain—and James rushing in from a business trip seconds before Livy’s birth. The hospital staff having told him to park in the loading zone and run upstairs or he’d miss it.
And I held her, my baby, my second girl, and like the song’s first line, she had me.
For of course, I loved her—them—in full knowledge at that point of the attempted deceit of my own heart. And at the core of my self discovered that they were not mine but rather I was theirs, with a certainty that had already invited doubt to have a seat in a warm room belonging to a bird that would fly away.

Yellow Ledbetter

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“Eddie Vedder admits that he changes the lyrics and meaning of the song when he performs it, but he wrote the song with one story in mind.   The song was written during the first gulf war, when “Papa Bush” was President, as Eddie calls him. The story is about a young Grunger kid, all dressed up in his flannels with the long greasy hair. His brother goes off to fight in the war and gets killed. He gets a letter that comes in one of those yellow army envelopes and learns of his brother’s death. So, all upset, he decides to go out and walk it off. On his walk he passes by a neat, middle-aged or elderly couple sitting on their front porch having some tea, and he sees that they have an American flag out. He gives a wave, because he feels like he relates: “The flag, my brother, you know…” But they don’t know, of course. They don’t know what’s underneath the grunge and the long hair. All they see are the outward appearances, and they don’t wave back.”

Today I unfollowed a FB page when one of the members group-texted calling Bernie supporters ‘burnouts’.

It was all pro-Hillary and blah blah blah, look at how over-intellectualized we are followed by invented narratives and name-calling like five-year-olds.

And maybe I’m rushing too quickly to protect myself from those unlike me, but when time is short–and honestly, it’s actually short for all of us, all the time–it becomes less possible to entertain living within such an unsightly, formulaic dynamic.  Because I’m more than the sum of one-word branding and finding space inside to nurture myself has been hard, and I’ve grown intolerant of a world quick to call names while simultaneously wondering why the world is so messed up.

And interestingly, I didn’t get too upset about it, like I might have at one point in time.

It just made me think of this song.  They played it at the Bernie Sanders rally last year.

I went with my younger daughter, Livy (who’s named after Mark Twain’s wife; born in the year 2000–11 months after the Y2K “disaster”, 10 months before 9/11–on the same day as Twain, and gifted too with writing ability, and cursed, as he, with too many ideas) because as we walked back to the car, the sun was going down, and I was like, why not live the big dreams?

Why not believe in a better world? Why not use my passion to unplug a world that instinctively questions the goodness of a broken-hearted grunge kid? Why shouldn’t I live a truth in which the ideas spoken by an older politician gives me hope that the world won’t forget the tender people in tatty shirts?

For when you look at what we do with our thoughts–mindlessly cataloging human beings so as to protect our emotional selves–we are magic beings creating poison worlds, distancing ourselves from one another for no reason, lost inside a world in which somehow it makes more sense to create a docudrama of nefariousness out of someone waving than it is just to pick up our goddammed arm and wave. And why should I not let my heart hold to that hope we can do better? What is so unbelievable about a big dream?

And driving home, we turned up Yellow Ledbetter as we sank into the sky and clouds of a magic day, and passing the golf course, I was singing along with the mournful lyrics–and yes: I was so dreamy that day–but when I looked at Livy in the passenger seat of my car, window down, hair blowing in the air of a warm day, the earth was tilting towards a star and I was like “look at that big dream.”

Look at that art project of sky and skin.  The sky painted color that’s actually just air and the girl of tender-hearted benevolence imprinting the world with a more grace-filled future.

Golf course, Salt Lake City, March 18, 2016

Livy after Bernie rally, Salt Lake City, March 18, 2016

“All Apologies”: Finding the Meaning of Nirvana

“I’m going to single-handedly save this marriage!” blasted itself into the void during our final years together. My brain just couldn’t last a second, at the end of the marriage, without wondering what new and inventive way I could come up with to fix his unhappiness. Because he was definitely unhappy; I knew that much. He told me all the time by criticizing the meals I cooked, the food I bought, the way I cleaned the house, and handled the kids. The gas I put in the car. The way I watered the grass. My ideas. I was surviving from one critique to the next in a mode where you don’t have time to get ahead or reflect and each day is silently punctured as if predated by the same animal who’d expect you to have sex later.

And initially I knew that wasn’t the way I should be treated and stood up for myself. Would point out that he had unrealistic expectations and that he talked disrespectfully to me. For a few months, I even stopped cooking altogether to teach him not to criticize my meals. But my defiance didn’t last. Some of us just can’t do it. The world is looking for targets for which an endless supply is found in the tender folk, and those who by personality won’t fight back. But I’m (pathologically?) easygoing, and as the oldest kid of two young 20-something parents, was born intuiting tension and calibrating my day towards relieving it.

And anyways we know when we’re up against an unreasonable foe. Because nothing works except our own hope that things will change and so I let go, and wafted through “easygoing” and “oh well whatever nevermind” until fighting for equality in my marriage turned into listening to his complaints and trying to be “better.” Doing what I could do to change myself—insidiously—until finally the inevitable happened and he left to be unhappy somewhere else.

At the end, though, I was gasping from the impossible task I’d assigned myself, and an event from February 2007—right before he first mentioned the word “divorce”—has become an emblem.

It went like this: our Dyson vacuum had pulled up some of the new Berber carpet that had just been installed in our remodeled basement. Berber carpet is hooked into tight loops and anchored to the bottom of the backing and, during vacuuming, a foot long strand had unraveled, making a noticeable gouge in the new carpet.

And I knew he’d be so angry at me. So I called the carpet place—in a panic—to tell them what had happened, and see if I had recourse. But I didn’t, she said, because right in the Dyson manual it says not to use it on Berber. And I was freaked out. Told her that my husband was going to be so mad at me. And she was very apologetic and wished me luck before we hung up. Then, Thinking quickly, I grabbed my hot glue gun, gathered the pulled up strand of carpeting and tried to fix the carpet back into place. It was near the futon; he might not even notice.

A few minutes into my glueing, the carpet place called back. I was in a hurry to finish the job before he got home—burning myself with the hot glue as I used a bamboo skewer to push the carpeting back into place–but answered anyways. It was the same woman I’d talked to, who now—sounding concerned—asked, “I just wanted to call you back and make sure that you were okay.”

She wanted to make sure that I was okay.

And it was weird to hear the worry in her voice, reflecting back to me the panic that had inflected my own. It was weird to only experience concern and worry for myself inside the voice of a better-visioned stranger.


What else should I be,

All apologies

I wasn’t a rabid Nirvana fan when Kurt Cobain was alive so wasn’t lost inside the falsity of idolatry. Which I’m guessing is what killed him. The visceral sense that he was disappointing everyone (because just being himself wasn’t enough) and people going out of their way to misunderstand—wielding their critique to even whatever emotional score they’re keeping track of—is a suicidal ideation punch card.

But the Nirvana song–All Apologies–calls me home to my marriage.

Kurt favored poetry over obviousness

I take all the blame, aqua seafoam shame.

and with soft chords leading to reflection and sorrow, orchestral strings juxtapose against roughed-up voices and lyrics, placing the song as the preamble to his suicide. “All Apologies” is knowing that folks only liked him for what they could get out of him. A feminist who hated racists and homophobes—regularly told both to fuck off—he was bought, sold, owned, and controlled by depression created by body chemistry, emotional isolation and a world where “Tell someone!” suicide prevention campaigns are blasted to HD TV sets playing fake life at unnatural volumes, Creating the void within which true feeling doesn’t register.

And everything about those days with James were an apology. I was sorry for what I did, didn’t do, was sorry for the girls, my inadequacies, for his unhappiness. Then after the divorce was sorry all over again for different reasons.

I didn’t yet know how we carve ourselves up. How we vulnerably write songs to impart our crimes to an angry world not listening, and leave Krist Novoselic searching for left-handed guitars after blasting our chins with shotguns.

I didn’t know the world invited us to jump into the maw, screaming at us for more and more, never once even seeing how sad fingers pluck.


“Suicide doesn’t stop the pain, it just moves it” is what I commented on a Reddit post the other day. And I didn’t invent the quote but share it widely because I’ve been in that mental space and need to be reminded that the pain I thought I’d escape doesn’t end; it keeps going; whatever demons we’re running from will endure and trauma will hold our hands until we make friends with it.

And it’s 1 million years past being with James; after my marriage I had to get angry to keep the wrong people away and had to be alone to fully value events. I had to be quiet, and bear the unbearable, and clutch my vulnerabilities and disgust in equal measure like a treasure. I had to discover that “Tell someone!” was missing the entire first and most vital step of gathering tender folks about you.

In writing this song, Kurt’s asking us to remember the tender folk who too quickly get lost inside this madness. And in listening to it, I’m answering him, and as I do, feeling the stiff Berber under my knees and hearing the siren call of my better angels asking if I’m okay.