I love children. I love my children. I love the many children I have taught, and my nieces and, in an abstract way, I love all the children I will never meet, and the children we all once were. They see the world through fresh eyes and as they grow they taste and smell and hear the world. Their senses are open, as are their hearts, at least for awhile. And so are their minds. At least for awhile.

I also love life. All the ridiculously perfect things about life, like the smell of fresh basil and a balsam fir tree, the way fresh polish looks on toes, long guitar riffs, the sticky air at the beach, standing next to greatness at the MOMA or touching lips with a loved one. And all the other things I can’t list here. And all the not perfect things – well, I don’t love them, but I love that I am alive to experience them and think about them and accept them or rail against them, as is my wont and my right.

I love that we are alive and have free will and can choose. I can choose to drink decaf in the morning. You can choose to give a tenth of your paycheck to Amnesty International. My son can choose to live in a tent. Your son can choose to shop at Wal-mart. Or not.

We can choose for whom we vote. We can choose not to vote. We can get drunk every day or we can lie down and choose never to make a choice again.

But what I do not get about the abortion debate is that it is always about life or choice. Why doesn’t anyone talk about the kids?

So here’s what I think. Children are invited into life by adults. Because of that, we have a responsibility to them. All of us have a responsibility to all children. Because all children are here at our invitation. Not a party crasher in the bunch. That’s the bottom line. And even IF every adult in the world signed off on free health care and food for all children living in poverty, we could not give them that one ineffable thing they deserve and only one person in the world can give them. To be wanted. We can’t get Congress to sign being wanted into law.

So, okay. Sure. A woman needs to have control over her body. Yeah, she needs to have control over her life. But why is that so important? Well one big reason is so that she is not forced to bring a child into the world that she’s not ready for. Or doesn’t want. Or can’t take care of.

90% of the time, when I hear the talk on the radio, or see the rants in the paper or online, it’s about precious life vs. a woman’s right to choose.

What is so precious about a life that no one wants to take responsibility for? If that life will not be treated as precious, who has the right to insist on it? The very fact that a single life is precious is why those laws are so stupidly blind. The ones that seek to take away a woman’s right to choose to raise a child as it deserves to be raised – or not have it at all.

Remember that George Carlin rant about how the pro-lifers (and I so strenuously object to their calling themselves that) are all about the rights of the fetus but when it’s an actual child, they throw up their hands and say, “Taking care of your unwanted baby is not my problem aka the government’s job.”  I mean, George Carlin said it better, but you get the drift. The government can legislate you out of your right to choose to terminate a pregnancy but has no interest in helping you provide for the child once it’s born.

For years I had a sticker on my bumper that read: Pro-child/pro-choice: every child a wanted child. To me that sums it all up.

I know what people say and I am sure it would be true for me too, had my outcome been different. You love all the children you have, previously wanted or otherwise. But I don’t know what it’s like to live in a one room apartment, a single mom with a child I can’t feed, unemployable because I could not finish high school or maybe because I can’t find affordable child care. Does she love her child? Yes. But it is specious in the extreme to say that every woman who has had an abortion is missing something. She is simply carrying out her choice to wait. Until she finishes school. Until she has a job. Until she has a partner. Or whatever it is for her. And maybe her choice is simply not to bear children.

Maybe people who are pro-choice are wary of bringing the child into the conversation. Maybe they don’t want to remind everyone that there is a child at stake. Not just a fetus, but a future child who deserves to be wanted and have the basic rights to love, food and shelter, and also education, healthcare and the chance to get a job one day. But skirting the fact that choice is as much about life as it is about a woman’s body is just artificial. It is about the baby’s life and the mother’s life. And yeah, her body. But pregnancy only lasts 9 months – motherhood lasts a lifetime and no one should be forced to do that job against her will. It is the most important job there is, and a woman brave enough to admit she’s not ready to take it on is all right by me.

pregnant women

Moon Music

Full moon or close enough. Saratoga Performing Art Center – known as SPAC. Late afternoon of the first day in over a week that was not too hot to breathe. Sitting under the roof in ticketed seats (as opposed to lawn seats, which is where I used to be when  my kids were with me through the baby, toddler and rug-rat years). The sun slants in through roofline gaps and sears my eyes into blindness. Ryan Bingham, young folk singer in the Dylan lineage, croaks out a string of blues tunes, sexy voice wailing.

Then the trippy, soulful music of My Morning Jacket, swinging like a pendulum from hardcore to lyrical. Jim James, with hair like a tangled halo that drips down over his eyes, pierces the cooling air with his unsettling voice. The sun slides further down in the sky and the crowds gradually fill more of the space. Outside, the lawn-sitters line up their chairs in courteous rows. Around us, under the roof, a few people stand to dance. My son had played me some tracks of the band a few times, but I had no idea how the fullness of the sound and the slightly twisted murkiness of the lyrics would work by osmosis in my cells.

The sun lowers with day’s receding tide, and the air turns that familiar blue. The sourceless daylight of dusk.  Wilco comes on stage. My legs grow restless. I am still processing Morning Jacket and feel dissatisfied with the transition. So I walk out from under the roof, away from Wilco revelers, to feel the breeze and look for the rising moon. Not visible yet. I listen long distance to the music as I wander. Wilco grows on me and in time I am ready to go back to them. I’m primed, now, for their twanging rock and roll, the thunderous undertones and the smiling high notes. The end of their set leaves me in good spirits. Outside, it is fully night.

The lights on stage come on. The bustle of the hive takes over. More amps, more keyboards, more machines, lights and those mysterious musical accoutrements that plebes like me don’t understand.

Now someone kills the lights and when they come back on, Bob Dylan and his band make beautiful noise.

Dylan, aged 71, who never speaks to us, never acknowledges the audience that stands as one, rising to his presence. He knows we are there. He sings towards us, his face a pale focal point in the gloomy stage lighting. His band faces him from one side of the stage, attentive to his gestures, small nods, forms of musical communication the rest of us are not privy to. Few of his songs are readily recognizable. He has (as he usually does) created new arrangements for each of them. “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate” – off my favorite album – are recognizable only by a small musical phrase and the lyrics, half mumbled in that Dylan way, but so tattooed into my brain that I hear both versions, the original and this one, playing in symbiosis inside my head. “Hard Rain,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and many more familiar, iconic songs treat themselves to rebirth through his ever-restless vision.

I know many of his fans are disappointed not to hear exact renditions. But I respect him more for not resting on his laurels. A hard working man of music and words, Dylan is not ready to lie down in a bed he made 50 years ago.

I am moved to see him there in his black clothes. Dark curling hair dusty gray now and body slower. The harmonica sings just as achingly as ever. My eyes tingle in sympathy for the young girl I was when I first saw him play in Washington DC and then again, in my later 20s, newly married, at Madison Square Garden in a double show with Tom Petty. But I feel none of the pity for aging musicians that I have felt before as I watch them try to recapture what once was. Tonight, Dylan plays songs from his newest album, Tempest, and from his first, and many between. His opus continues to grow and his interest in what he does never seems to wane.

We walk into the darkness after his last song; I wonder if this is the last time I will see him play. I can’t know. I look up to see the moon full and high in the sky. She understands all of it. The music, the night, the feel of the air, the sense of lost youth, and the promise of more to come.


The seats were good, not that you can tell....

The seats were good, not that you can tell….


Creative Emptiness Part II (water)

There is a pool. It is not mine, but for now, it is mine. I have stood under the midday sun stroking the pool’s floor with a strange vacuum that sucks up the slimy stuff and leaves clean behind, but until today, three weeks in to my month long exile in this beautiful place, I felt no affinity for the pool.

Though I’ve tended to its needs, I never put a toe into it until yesterday when the heat blackmailed me into dipping my body into the water that is clearly not my element. And my conversion was so complete that today, I was actually disappointed to hear the rumble of thunder when I went back, ready to give myself to the pool again.

My relationship with water is not altogether clear cut. No right angles or black lines about it. Though it is not my element of natural affinity, I love rain. Soft rain, steady rain, torrential rain, storms of any kind. I also love the ocean. I fear the ocean. I succumb to the ocean, but awkwardly. My children tease me for the uncomfortable way I enter and exit the surf. But when I am held up by the gentle mountains of water during the quiet tide, I feel the emptiness of space enter me.

Lying there atop the swells, I think about the way every inch of my world is full of something tangible. People, coffee pots, computers, wooden spoons, grassy fields, forested mountains, huge oceans and an atmosphere of gassy atoms that sneak in to every cell of my body without my knowing it.

Water does not change any of that, obviously, but the way it seems to defy physics by lifting my weight off my feet and cradling me—doesn’t that seem like an open door to all possibility, even emptiness?

The good emptiness of naked space and naked time.

When I was young, the future was empty, for I had not invented it yet. I still have a future and I am still inventing it, but the space that the future inhabits seems less empty. Not to mention all the trajectories of my already-lived time. They shoot out possible futures ahead of me like laser beams.

Lying in water, even a swimming pool, lets me for a moment feel the space of time yawning at my fingertips, full of possibility.

Words and color, images, music, even my spirit guides – the intangibles that fill the spaces that are not spaces – have a chance to enter my head when my eyes are closed, my ears muffled by the water and my body lifted improbably by a substance I can drink, or that can disappear into a mound of sand.

A pool and a promise....

A pool and a promise….

Creative Emptiness Part I

The light from windows reaches hallways through half-opened classroom doors. The shadowy inner spaces of the school seem sad. A school the day after a summer holiday is as empty as a place can ever be. The skeleton part-time staff of July is at home enjoying a long weekend. The arts camp that uses the building and grounds for a few weeks is closed down, too.

When I first got there yesterday, hauling a lamp and some picture frames, a desk calendar and other supplies into the building from out of the blistering sun-baked car, a young colleague was sitting in her classroom writing a grad school paper. But then she left.

Alone is being in a place where people are supposed to be, but aren’t. Alone is also starting a new job in the same place I spent my career doing something else altogether. A new job as unfamiliar as the hallways, classrooms and libraries are familiar. I go to work, and sit at my desk, inventing myself in a new image. Bravely being new again. Again.

I have reinvented myself so many times in the last 12 months that I wonder anyone can recognize me.

Maybe that’s what alone is. The fear of being by myself in a world that can’t see me because I am simply unrecognizable. “Who is she? I thought I knew her….”

The limbo of summer meets the limbo of newness and the limbo of solitude. And something else to consider, I tell myself. I am living in someone else’s home again. Again. With someone else’s skillets and someone else’s pets.

I miss my skillets and I miss my pets. I wonder how I manage to get myself into these situations. These new-old situations. This new-old version of me. Instead of counting the minutes until I can be reunited with my skillets, I am trying – I swear – to embrace all that is new as well as the aloneness and the emptiness. I see now that being the new-old me in these empty places is quite perfect, really.

Alone is good. Empty is good. The emptying out that happens now and then inside my chest cannot be filled if I am not left alone with my thoughts and my new self loving my old self, and my old self returning the favor.

I found this photograph titled Woman in Progress.

I found this photograph titled Woman in Progress.