Archive for May, 2010

Positivity 4: Parenthood

May 11, 2010

Today, I want to talk about my daughter, Natalie. While I always thought I would like to someday have children, I was never terribly sure about when. My own father was 25 when I was born, and in recent years, he once confided in me that he was vastly unprepared to be a parent. This had the effect of making me even more cautious.

Still by early 2007, with my schooling over, we were ready (or so we thought) to plunge toward the world of parenthood. At the end of August/beginning of September 2007, we lost our first baby. It couldn’t have been more than about six weeks of gestation, but its tiny cells ceased developing. The loneliness of losing a child is something that you can only understand by going through it, I’m afraid. Fortunately, I was shocked by how many people HAD gone through it, and told us so. The sadness at the loss of that baby gave way to a certainty that parenthood was something that we definitely wanted to do.

So it was doubly difficult when we lost another baby in March/April 2008. On a Saturday night, Julie and I stood in Cincinnati and I watched Bruce Springsteen sing a song called “Magic”. It’s a song of foreboding, and darkness, and Julie had already begun to experience the symptoms which would culminate in miscarriage two days later. “This is what will be” goes the tag line of the song, and I’d never felt quite as sure that somebody was singing to me.

Losing one baby was just bad luck. Losing two worried us. Would we ever have babies? At least one concerned family member started to broadly hint that adoption was not a bad thing. The uncertainty and worry could be overburdening. We had a drawer with our pictures of our two tiny little balls of humanity, which had never advanced beyond that stage. It had other baby artifacts that people bought. There was a yellow Dumbo sleeper, and I would sometimes take it out and hold it and cry, thinking of the babies who never got to grow to fill that tiny garment.

In late November 2008, my friend Ryan Clark and I collaborated on one of our UK sports weekends. Ryan bought basketball tickets and we watched Billy Gillispie’s team open its season by losing to VMI. The next night, my football tickets landed us in the freezing cold, watching Vanderbilt beat Kentucky, and thus clench their first bowl appearance in a quarter century.

Sometime around the very same time, though, my wife and I collaborated on a much more important event, which delivered a victory bigger than any ball games.

Our daughter, Natalie, was born in August 2009. We worried through nine months, but felt better as the little fetal ball of cells grew into a person. In April 2009, we learned that she would be a girl, and I went to Target from the doctor’s office and bought her a little green sun dress that she would wear home.

Anyway, I apologize for the clouds on the posts of positivity. I bring these things up to point out that the difficulties of parenting, and they are not insubstantial, are always much less to me than those frustrated months of not parenting.

I also wanted to share this story because I want other people to know that these things do happen, and that the grief is intense and excruciating, but that it isn’t everything.

I thank my wife for her selflessness and patience– and for giving me her permission to share the intimate details of our story today. I thank God for the miracle that finally did happen, and even for the journey that led us here.

Natalie is nine months old. She likes to laugh and hop in her Johnny-Jump-Up toy. She will sometimes reach out and grab my face and pull it toward hers and slowly, deliberately, put her mouth onto my nose. She bit it a little yesterday.

If you have your own child(ren), I don’t need to tell you that I think she is the smartest, funniest, most beautiful and wonderful little person ever. I have so many hopes and wishes for her and her future– and a determination to enjoy every day I share with her. Life is sacred and mysterious and precious. I am reminded of it every day. Even when it bites my nose.

Positivity 3: William Faulkner

May 11, 2010

My apologies for the 30 days not necessarily being calendar days. Time spent helping a friend move and celebrating mothers got in the way of a new post. In any case, I assure you I haven’t stopped being positive.

When I was 21, I took a class on Hemingway and Faulkner under the phenomenal Mr. Walker Rutledge up on the green hills of WKU. I had read Hemingway before, and knew I liked his work– sparse, athletic, muscular writing that was easy to dip into. Faulkner, well, he was some Southern weirdo who wrote bizarre short stories.

Over the course of the semester, Mr. Rutledge, as he has a profound gift for doing, brought Faulkner first out into our world, and us then into his. We traveled to Oxford, visiting the venerable square, with the watchful eye of its old Rebel soldier, and its statue of Mr. Faulkner, looking out enigmatically across the square as if to wonder how John Grisham would become Oxford’s best selling writer. We ate catfish and later enjoyed the hospitality of the venerable Dr. Noyes, who told us tales from the days when James Meredith struggled valiantly to integrate the University of Mississippi.We traveled to Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, where at outline of one novel is written on a study wall, and his telephone cabinet features the numbers of various family and friends, similarly inscribed in pencil on the wall itself.

Somewhere in there, I realized that Faulkner was crazy like a religious prophet. He spoke in shadowy rambling phrases, because the mind works in such turns. He wrote about people and places that were more real than the truth itself. I started to stretch out my own phrases into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. William Faulkner was a man whose words reached to the heart of the human soul, and what he brought back, while sometimes lacking in literal sense, stands alone.

Why?

I’ll let him speak for himself.

(paste portion of 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Positivity 2: Hot Chicken

May 11, 2010

And so, the plan continues. Another day, another target of positivity and gratitude.

Lest I offend my wife by following up her entry with hot chicken, I would point out that I’m trying to keep it somewhat light here– following the sacred with the profane, if you will.

Sometime around the 1940s, Thornton Prince stayed out too late one night. When he came home the next morning, his girlfriend/spouse/significant other decided that she would have revenge. She fried Thornton some fried chicken for breakfast (sounds good to me)… and then doused it with some manner of fire peppers (Cayenne maybe, who knows?).

Thornton Prince liked it. And eventually opened a store selling it. And this very day in the north end of Nashville, his niece, Andre Prince Jeffries is selling hot chicken. You take chicken and fry it in a cast iron skillet with a liberal helping of lard… and you add SOMETHING. Who knows what? Crack, plutonium, liquid fire, I’m not sure. But whatever it is, it is GOOOOOD.

Picture the best fried chicken you ever had, made into the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten. And then multiply it by 10… and you might be close.

I started eating Prince’s back around 2008, and for a period, I couldn’t go to Nashville without my hot chicken fix. Julie has eventually prevailed on me to cut back, so it’s just an occasional treat. But I’m still grateful for its existence and the chance to enjoy Nashville hot chicken.

A few tips, if you’re curious:

1) There are three or four places in Nashville that make hot chicken. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack on Ewing Drive is apparently the gold standard. It’s not the nicest part of town and the chicken takes a looooong time to fix, particularly when they’re busy (basically, when they’re open).

2) Approach the heat cautiously. Prince’s serves the chicken in mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. I’ve never made it above medium, which will cause you to shed tears and turn red. Go above that only either with experience or an iron stomach.

3) If you want a sample of the hot chicken culture, Nashville has an annual hot chicken festival on the 4th of July. It’s a good time, although the lines are long.

Peace and chicken grease. Possibly literally.

Joe

Cross Promotion: 30 days of Positivity, Part I

May 11, 2010

I’m cross-promoting my facebook here. In an effort to put something positive into the dirge of social networking, I have embarked on a “30 days of positivity” posting spree. I’ll past them in here as well…

(begin post 1)

I’m pretty much always ambivalent about the Internet. Basically, on a given day, or sometimes even within a given day, I can’t decide whether it is a blessing or a curse. Keeping up with people is a plus and knowing about events and gatherings is good… but the constant flood of complaining, griping, and sniping makes me want to set fire to my computer periodically.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a college buddy of mine (and note, I did not write an “old college buddy”, even though college is somewhat old, because I didn’t want her to think I was suggesting that she is old– see what getting up to in or around 30 will do to your writing!) had a good idea. She posted 30 days worth of things that she is thankful for. Personally, I thought this was a great idea and a nice chance to avoid the cycle of negativity. So I’m stealing her idea.

I am embarking on a 30 day journey of things/people/places that I am thankful for. I’ll hopefully post one of these per day, but if not, I’ll try to catch up.

And so:

1)

I cannot imagine what my life would be like without my wife, Julie. I met Julie in 2000, started dating her in 2001, and married her in 2002. I can say without reservation that, religious decisions aside, there is no better decision that I have ever made, and that I definitely married up.

There are many, many benefits to marriage. None are greater than the fact of acceptance. I am incredibly blessed to know that my wife loves and respects me exactly the way that I am. Of course, this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get angry with me when I forget to pay the phone bill or leave food in the refridgerator until it turns new colors. But in terms of overall character, it means that I don’t have to apologize for my flaws and shortcomings. It means I don’t have to be anything that I’m not, and that whatever direction life takes me, I know she will be with me.

In the strictly tangible world, my wife is a beautiful lady, an excellent cook, and a snide humorist, who occasionally breaks out with hysterical witticisms (such as the day when she called Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew “the house wines of the South”).

In the intangible world, she is a thoughtful and spiritual partner. I cannot think of anyone who I would rather have as the mother of my child. Or anyone with whom I’d rather have shared Rally burgers in the impoverished days of law school.

Love and character are life skills which are nearly irrelevant in the spoken form, and invaluable in the active form. The best testimony to our marriage is the times when we have worked through difficulties and struggles. Marriage, like life itself, is ultimately a volitional, intentional act. My wife has chosen to stand by me, and I by her, day in and day out for eight years. I don’t say “thank you” anywhere near enough for that. But today I am. I am humbled and grateful and glad to call Julie my wife. So thank you, Julie. And I’m sorry about the phone bill and the mold covered food in the fridge.