I am a mystical motherfucker

Small Desire

Last night I was reading the book I'm reading about Zen Buddhism and I came across something that I had to read three or four times until it all really sunk in:

The first thing great human beings need, according to Dogen, is "small desire."
Dogen quoted Buddha, who said, "People of abundant desire abundantly seek gain, and so their suffering also is abundant. People of small desire never curry favor and bend in order to gain the minds of others. They are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things, they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction."
Notice that we're talking about small desire here and not some imaginary state of desirelessness. We can never be completely free from desire, anyhow. But the less desire you have, the less of a pain in the ass your life will be. It's only when you desire things that you can't be yourself, and that you end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.

I feel like the last sentence is grammatically a little weird, which is part of the reason I had to read it over a few times, but I'll go ahead and assume it was the author's clever way of making sure the reader stops and puzzles the concept through. You can't be yourself when you desire things, and when you desire things you also end up worrying way too much about what everyone thinks of you.

Desire things like what? I mean, I desire a job so I can help pay the rent, I don't think that's too much to ask. But it's the unbalanced desires that make you miserable. Sex comes to mind (as it does occasionally, despite my advanced age). I was always the girl who got totally tongue-tied and shy around boys I really, really liked because what did I want? I wanted them to like me back so much that out love would consume our very souls and melt us into some sort of pillar of eternal, mystical oneness, but I was too embarrassed to say all of that so I just acted quiet and creepy and, gee, I wonder why they'd never pick up when I called?

But more than that this quote makes me happy because it directly addresses the main fear that blocks people from their own creative expression, whether in writing or with music or, I don't know, wearing homemade hats to church. Because when you desire approval/success/fame, it's harder to just let loose and see what happens when you express yourself and then shape it into something unique that makes you glad. 

We now turn to this Shouts and Murmurs piece from a few years back that I photocopied and stuck to the staff bulletin board at the library because I loved it so much. No one ever commented on it so I can only assume that all my coworkers were too ashamed to admit that they were illiterate. If you haven't clicked the link and read it yet, which I'm sure you'll do in just a minute, it's entitled, "Book-club Guide to a Remaindered Book," By Rebecca Mead and George Prochnik, and it's a wonderful list of discussion questions for an unsuccessful book of fiction. The Venn diagram of Buddha and the New Yorker overlaps in the very first paragraph:

1. When the author’s agent initially asked the author who he thought the readers of his proposed book would be and he defensively replied, “Everyone,” do you think the author should have immediately realized that there is a thin line between everyone and no one?

True wisdom is everywhere.

In Clover

February whooshed by, as it always does, but this year found me burrowing with increasing satisfaction into the unending loop-de-loop of my daily routines. Peewee often wakes me up with his grimbling and herffing some time between 6:00 and 7:30 with the hope that Jack or I or someone tall enough to turn a doorknob will free him from the cozy prison of Jackson's room so he can go take a pee, for god's sake. On the mornings he sleeps in past 8:00 I think he must have tried to make one of us feel sorry for him a lot earlier but we all just slept through it. 

This is a photo I took of Peewee on our front "lawn," which you can see puts him chin-deep in clover, despite the drought. Jack uses this photo as the wallpaper on his phone, and I realized that every one of us has a different photo of Peewee as both wallpaper and lock screen on five or six different devices.

If I wake up before Peewee has started grinding his engine, I lie in bed and do a kundalini meditation. This is something I started doing last year when I was researching enlightenment for my book. I've boiled it down to a short routine where I concentrate my mind/energy/feelings on the base of my spine until the whole sitting area of my body feels kind of tingly and warm. Then I move up and forward to chakra #2, the sex-parts region, until it feels the same way. Then #3, just below the navel, where I'll usually start to feel my digestion rumble a little. Then #4 heart, #5 throat, where I'll occasionally feel my pulse tapping in my neck, or sometimes just a weird sensation in my chin. After that I go to #6 between the eyes, and #7 the top of the head. Six and seven are the hardest, a lot of days I feel nothing at all when I get up into my head, though one day last summer I felt quite literally like I had a third eye that was trying to blink open, and that was enough to make me take the exercise a lot more seriously from then on. Then, lastly, I start at the bottom and inhale my way up from one to seven, then exhale down my body from seven back to one. I do that three times and then I get up in case Peewee is ready to lose his bladder all over the floor. 

While Peewee has his pee (oui), I start the coffee machine and start rolling up his many doggy heart pills in little balls of whatever meat we have on hand. Cold cuts, raw hamburger, leftover fish -- you know, the sorts of things you really want to stick your hand into first thing in the morning. I leave the back door propped open while I make a double cappuccino so Peewee can come in when he's done investigating the yard. Then he'll walk into the kitchen and sit in the doorway to show me he's ready for his pill-breakfast.

Who's a good boy? Peewee is.

After that I have about twenty minutes to sit and drink my coffee alone before I have to get Jackson up, make lunches, etc., and these are the twenty minutes where I open up my novel doc and tweak a scene or two because I'm draft number four now and, barring the need for a giant rewrite based on some devastating feedback from the friends I am lucky to have reading it right now, I'm pretty close to done. Good ideas seem to come to me in bed about once a week. At 7:15 this morning, for example, I remembered that one character had just disappeared about three-quarters of the way through my story, but I suddenly knew the perfect way to wind up his storyline in a sentence or two near the end. These solutions don't always come when I want them, but they seem to show up when they're ready. I know that probably sounds annoyingly mystical, and it's probably just a cheap way of saying that I wrote a really, really shitty first draft and it took me two years to figure out how to resolve the story arc of the main character's pug. Take it however you want it.

So, happy March! My wish for you this month is less snow and more sun, or less sun and more rain, or for whatever seasonal norms your area depends on to prevail despite what we've done to the planet's atmosphere. And maybe loosen up your chakras a little -- it's good for your skin, and it's not bad for your orgasms, either.

 

You must change your life

August was an eventful month! The first thing I did was move out of the house for five days. Alice flew in and we took over my friend Jennifer's Airbnb rental. Vacationing six blocks away from your own home is a little weird, but it has its advantages. You develop new neural pathways by figuring out how to work another family's coffee maker. A strange bed forces your body to use new muscles while you're sleeping. Dogsitting a pet not your own asks your hands to discover the intricate pleasures of unfamiliar fur.

That is Alice lying on the floor with Maggie the Irish terrier. Maggie's fur is so usefully, Irishly coarse that Alice, in her love of all things doglike, was forced to admit that petting what felt like a live loofah opened up fascinating, unexplored vistas between them. At one point Maggie actually growled at me when I came through the front door and I can only assume it was because I was not Alice. From then on I always let Alice enter the house first, though it did become awkward to fling rose petals on the ground before her wherever she walks. Turns out rose petals fling a little farther if you soak them in cold virgin spring water first. I made it work.

We had planned to use our time as a writing getaway, though it was a getaway where Jackson could ride his bike over any time he wanted a hug. One night Alice and I couldn't figure out what to make for dinner so I called Jack and we came back to my house and let him make ossobuco for us while Peewee sat adoringly at Alice's feet. We did get some writing done, however, and the rest of the time we talked about writing and ate and watched Say Yes to the Dress and My Child is Haunted, or maybe it was called There's a Ghost Inside My Child, or was it My Child Is Obsessed With The Titanic And The Only Explanation For It Is That He Is The Reincarnation Of One Of The Traumatized Crew Sent Back To Earth To Heal. I may also have tried to explain kundalini meditation to Alice, and she in turn explained to me how to release my psoas, and then we Googled all the tools you can use to reverse the corn, bunion, and posture damage caused by pointy lady shoes. And after more than two weeks of deliberation, I finally ordered some Yogitoes last week:

They stretch the shit out of my feet, but it feels pretty great, I must say. About fifty percent of that "great" feeling comes from imagining I'm heading off a geriatric health crisis somewhere down the road, but whatever. Whatever! KALE.

ELSEWHERE . . .

Jackson went to two sleepaway camps this summer, both of them required living in a dorm at UCSB and playing basketball from morning to night. The dorms were nothing like the ones I lived in in college. My college had single rooms, with doubles for freshmen, and big, communal bathrooms down the hall. These UCSB dorm rooms were suites with three and four beds crammed into each room, with adjoining bathrooms and a shared couch area. These kids had no privacy, not that they wanted any, I guess that's part of the camp experience, having people keep you up all night and flick you in the face to wake you up in the morning. All I know is somebody got his socks soaked in the toilet and he backed the hell off after that.

Jackson would text me at night sometimes just to check in, and one night he sent me a video. It was of a kid doing some shooting drill with Michael Jordan, and I texted him back and said, "Ha, that kid must have been stoked," and he texted me back and said, "That kid is me." It turns out that MJ picked Jackson to play a game of two-on-two against another kid in the camp who was paired with Kawhi Leonard, who currently plays for the Spurs, one of my most-hated teams, now even more hated because they beat Jackson and his old, slow, millionaire teammate.

FROM THERE TO ETERNITY

Jack and I have worked our way up the home furnishings ladder to the point where we have graduated from Well, it was free to where we have finally ponied up for what I think of as a piece of Investment Furniture, which is a couch from the Restoration Hardware outlet store. A half-price leather Restoration Hardware couch with scratches on it is still a goddamn leather Restoration Hardware couch, so we're pretty pleased. One of the guys who delivered it set it gently on our living room floor and then said, "This couch will last an eternity!" He seemed genuinely moved by this couch.

When I was growing up we always had just one couch. My parents had bought it when they were young marrieds and they had it until they both died fifty-odd years later. My father actually died on that couch. It was a couch for all eternity!

Our new couch is so deep and cushiony that I did briefly try to imagine myself as an old person trying to get out of it, and the vision that arose before me was so vivid and final that I immediately dropped and did thirty sit-ups. This couch will swallow the elderly if we're not careful. This is a couch you have to stay in shape for, and kale and toe-stretching alone will not be enough.

LASLTY

I migrated my website, with the expert guidance of Elan, to Squarespace, and so far so good! My old hosting service kept finding all sorts of interesting ways to increase my fees every month that I was helpless to complain about because it was all so far over my head, so fuck them. Change is good. Eventually the fussy.org URL will phase into emkennedy.net entirely, and I've dumped the fussy@fussy.org e-mail address so don't e-mail me there anymore! My new e-mail is emk@emkennedy.net, please feel free to address all your concerns to me there. I haven't forgotten I still owe you a drawing.

 

And now it is February

My birthday present to myself this year was going to be a car adapter so I could listen to my phonePod while I drive (safely, without ever looking at it to switch songs, even if I'm listening to some tragic police procedural and it suddenly becomes desperately important to hear Burt Bacharach). Instead, I took a small wad of money that I'd collected in my yoga jar (I put a dollar in a jar every time I practice -- someday I hope to save up for a soul of my own!) and went to see Adyashanti (whom I have mentioned twice before) speak at the Methodist church down on Garden Street. It wasn't a class on how to meditate so much as eight hours over two days, with a lot of breaks, of listening to this guy talk about his experience as an awakened person and former student of Zen, and then answer questions from the crowd. So it was sort of post-Zen instruction on meditation, inquiry, contemplation, getting out of your own way, etc. There were no cushions or robes or sitting precisely this way and doing that thing with your hands and inclining your head just so. For him, meditation is mainly about finding a comfortable position and then persuading your ego that everything will be much better if it would stop making up stories and allow things to be as they are. ("Wholehearted cooperation with the inevitable," in the words of the Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello.) Once you manage that, then full, universal awareness will pour through your entire being and you'll become the change you want to see in the world, I'm pretty sure. You know, like Jesus and Socrates and Gandhi and all those other people that we admire so much that we want to kill them.

When the floor was opened up to questions from the audience, one woman who was nearly shaking with grief stood up. She explained that she'd had a terrible year but to get through it she'd been trying to live one particular teaching, which was to always keep an open heart. To her, being open meant saying yes to everybody that asked something from her until she became utterly exhausted and felt like a total doormat. But she couldn't stop saying Yes because isn't that what we're supposed to do, walk through the world with an open heart? Like Mother Theresa or something? But it was crushing her.

So Adyashanti looks at her and he says, "Maybe you should try closing your heart for a while, then." And she was all, "Uh, what?" Speechless. I mean, what kind of spiritual teacher would tell you to shut your door and tell the world to fuck off? Yet here he was, giving her permission to do exactly what her heart was begging her to do, which was give it a rest. He explained it really concisely by saying that sometimes No is actually a deeper Yes. In other words, saying no to someone else was saying yes to herself. And this woman, who'd been so bound up in trying to be spiritual and do the right thing even though it was killing her, was so grateful for such a simple thing, but you could tell it was going to completely change her life. I'm sure it had an effect on all of us, to one degree or another, but especially on those of us who have a tendency to let ourselves be heaped with burdens like little emotional pack mules.

He said a bunch of other wise stuff that helped people, too. Some of it was really specific and intellectual and over my head, some of it was deeply emotional, some of it was funny (especially the Japanese woman who asked him if, now that he was enlightened, he still wanted to have sex with his wife). Good times.

A few days later I was working at the library and I got a call from one of our older, homebound patrons asking me to order a book for her, which I did, no problem. Then she says, "So. Do you have absolute power?"

And I, thinking she's making a joke, like she's going to ask me for something that she thinks will be really hard to get so she's flattering me like I'm some sort of genius, I go along with it and say, "Why, yes! I do have absolute power."

And she goes, "You do? Is it right there in front of you?"

And at first I'm thinking, Well, of course I do, I'm right in front of a computer with Internet access, and then I realize that she's asking me if we have the book Absolute Power by David Baldacci. I hope I am not the only library worker that this has happened to, because I would like to join a support group for people who think they know what they're talking about but actually don't.

It turns out that Jackson, at twelve, has about two-thirds more emotional intelligence than I do and 100% more gratitude.

Jackson, sitting on the couch doing something on his iPad, not even looking up as I walk past with a load of laundry: "Thanks, mom."

Me: "For what?"

Jackson: "I don't know . . . anything."

It was my birthday on January 10, and Jack and Jackson threw me a surprise party. Actually, they made it an even bigger surprise by throwing the party on the 18th. Have you ever had a surprise party? I'd always heard people say things like Never throw me a surprise party, surprises are the most dreadful thing imaginable! so I spent my life thinking Surprise parties are terrible! I hope I never have one!

And then I got home from work and this happened:

surprise!

I'd never had an experience where I screamed involuntarily like that. I mean, I've been in the movies and screamed when a monster burst through a window or whatever, but it had never happened in 3-D real life that I opened a door and was confronted by people yelling and throwing shit at me when I had fully expected to open the door and see Jack sitting on the couch watching a Lakers game. I am glad Jack invited our neighbors to witness it or they would have heard me screaming on our front porch and the police would have arrived three minutes later. (I hope. I hope they would have called 9-1-1 and not just turned on the blender or whatever their loudest appliance is and waited for me to stop.)

Anyway, I clearly survived the experience, and I honestly loved it, once my pulse returned to normal, which probably took half an hour. But surprise parties are great! As long as your house is filled with people you think are awesome.

Lastly (since these updates are monthly now I have a lot to cram into them): sweater update! When last we met I was committing myself to doing things right instead of just slapping my life together with Elmer's glue and good intentions, and to that end I decided to rip out the weird, wrinkly top of Jack's sweater that I had supposedly "finished" in time for Christmas. So last month we had this:

Jack's new sweater

and this month we have this:

reindeer

I'm changing the plain yoke to a fair isle and I'm using the Fornicating Reindeer pattern, which I found on Ravelry. I've knitted right about up to where the sexy times are happening and because I am still the person doing the knitting I am pretty sure that I'm going to run out of yarn before I'm done. My plan B is to start unraveling yarn from the sleeves to finish the neck, and then figure out some other way to finish the cuffs. It probably won't matter anyway since it's going to be so pornographic that Jack won't be able to wear it in public.

I love you enough to keep waiting like this

Some time ago a friend told me about a birthday or Mother's Day card her now-adult son had made her when he was a kid. Not one for Hallmarkian displays of sentiment, inside it he wrote, "I love you more than five hundred bucks." I always thought that was a pretty good approximation of how much love you can have for some people. Five hundred bucks is a lot of money whether you're a kid or not; I don't have anywhere near that in my wallet right now. I briefly had more than that in my bag a couple of weeks ago, after we'd sold a bunch of my deceased mother-in-law's jewelry to a local guy who only paid in cash, but I only had to worry about it for about fifteen minutes or so.

  • I love you more than how anxiously I drove to the bank to deposit that cash before someone realized they should rob me
  • I love you more than the relief I had afterward (and the spinach and goat cheese crepe you bought me for lunch at Le Petit Valentien)
  • I love you more than 7.5 hours of sleep per night, which I keep not getting because of you (JACKSON)
  • I love you enough to spend two years knitting a sweater even though I'm worried it won't fit you very well when it's done
  • I love you enough to watch three seasons of a show you adore even though I have to concentrate more than I'd prefer to follow the plot
  • I love you enough to wash, dry, and fold your laundry, but I will not put it away because I am not your maid

And now a word from our sponsor.

This link is sponsored by The Prowl.

(The content of this post is not sponsored by The Prowl.)

Thank you, The Prowl.

I finished the first draft of my novel on Monday, 49,000 words, all of them mine, every stupid last one of them. The manuscript is a mess and the ending is awkward and the number one thing that feels great about it, apart from the sense of achievement (I wrote a novel! No, you can't read it yet!), is the fact that I went to bed on Monday night going, Hmm, well, now what? and I woke up Tuesday morning finally understanding the whole purpose of the thing and knowing everything I had to do next to get it into shape. I was just lying there and it came to me. Because I am magical.

And then I forced myself to take the day off and not think about it. (I have a lot of blogging, drawing, and knitting to catch up on.)(Oh, god, so much drawing!)

My blind hope when I started working on this book last September was that if I just trusted and typed out words that made English sentences, maybe something deeper would activate while I worked. I recommend this process if you're interested in becoming more comfortable with uncertainty and don't mind running around in circles for a year. It's totally demoralizing, but in the end it kind of works. I also recommend Alan Watt's The 90-Day Novel, which totally spoke to me on the woo-woo level where I spend half my time anyway (though in my hands it became The 385-Day Novel).

When I started I didn't have a plot, all I had was an interesting situation for two people to be in, a husband and a wife, with some sort of offspring (male? female? toddler? high school sophomore?) to be determined later. Almost as soon as I began writing I realized that the husband needed to be the wife's character and the wife needed to be the husband. When that finally felt right, then the age (fifteen) of their child (daughter) suddenly became clear. Next, other characters began popping up and doing what they needed to do, situations began suggesting themselves and were duly explored, paragraphs were written and either kept or shelved, and third-person omniscient changed into first person halfway through and then back to third and I'm really not looking forward to sorting that out.

Some days I'd write 90 words, some days I'd write 2,000. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to build an air-conditioned birdhouse with no blueprints, or put together a jigsaw puzzle of the sky, or flex a muscle in my head that I wasn't sure even existed. One day about six months ago I felt the barest glimmer of something new inside coming to life, and (I don't know how to describe it without sounding like I've lost my mind) what I was doing suddenly felt so precious, felt so sacred, that I didn't want to move or think or breathe for fear of scaring it away. I sat so carefully and gently, building my birdhouse so respectfully -- because suddenly a bird that was supposed to be extinct was on my windowsill looking at me.

Along with that bird came a feeling that I thought was extinct. It felt like being in a kind of love. And I apologize for all of this if the book ends up being total horse shit, but it felt like finding the thing or the one who (perhaps? maybe? if I don't push or get clingy and ruin it?) was going to fall for me, too, all the way. The feeling was completely mutual. It's something that I haven't felt for a very long time, not since I used to write poetry. It seems particular to writing, for me? It didn't last for very long, maybe a day or two, but it was the luckiest, scariest feeling in the world while it was in bloom.

It faded a bit after that, but everything fell into a nice routine. I began to really trust myself now. It felt like I/we were building something with a lot of potential. Of course, there were times when I felt like picking a fight, or ignored it for days on end, but that all felt like part of the process. On bad days I was bored and just went through the motions. But I didn't want to throw in the towel so I talked it through with a third party until I reached a new understanding. I apologized for being so distant, I resolved to try a different approach, to be attentive and adjust my pace, to take breaks when I needed them, but to keep showing up. And that's how we made it work.

The Rules of Writing an Interesting Story say that you're supposed to be throwing bombs at your characters all the way through so they can battle their way past every obstacle in search of their goal, their grail, their Rosebud, their Revolution, their Happily Ever After, and through this journey they refine their fondest wishes and grow and change and become worth following for 300 pages or so. Maybe that's old fashioned, to tell a story like that, and that's fine. I'm interested in seeing what happens when you follow those rules, and then maybe to see how far they'll bend. As we all know, you need to learn the rules before you can throw them away, if you're going to say anything new.

Now onto draft two! This post is too long! Here's a photo from my dog's Instagram account. Peewee always has something new to say.

the wee

Yesterday I was a jerk but today not quite so much

The astrology app on my iGoogle home page is so weirdly on-point sometimes that I am often happy to think that Venus, Saturn, and the bones of Copernicus are responsible for who I am today. But invariably I'll read one of those long monthly forecasts online that predicts the best days for me to plant corn or have an orgasm and I'll get all excited, and then I'll get mixed up and plant my corn on my orgasm days and then our garden goes CRAZY and I'm finding Doritos in my underpants. According to my latest horoscope, Wednesday was supposed to be some amazing career day where if I asked for a raise I'd totally get one, not taking into account the fact that I work for a government agency and am about as likely to get a raise as to get a city-sponsored hot air balloon to pick me up for work in the morning. Ironically, however, I finally got the insurance check for my totaled car and put it into the bank on Wednesday, so it was a big money day? But the astrologer who told me to ask for a raise maybe has a limited imagination about how creatively the stars and planets can reach into my wallet.

I have to say, there was some weird energy in the air around the middle of the week. We were watching the most recent Downton Abbey episode on Tuesday night and Jack made a crack about Lady Mary wanting to learn to cook and I burst into tears. Then Wednesday I just felt itchy and manic, which means I was probably tailgating you and thinking uncharitable thoughts about your inability to use your turn signal, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wondered what it would be like to smack into you if you opened your car door just a little wider and stuck your ass out just a little farther into the street without checking for oncoming traffic. I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I glared and complained into the airless dark of my goddamned rental car with its mushy steering and terrible shocks and lazy acceleration and ugly interior.

I was on my way over to Renaud's the next morning to buy croissants for an early morning staff meeting and as I got out of my car I sort of fell in next to this woman who was clearly going to Renaud's, too. It's awkward enough to be walking next to a total stranger through an empty strip mall, but she was walking at a pace that made me really anxious because I was going to be late if I didn't get my hustle on, but she was older than me and my God, who was I becoming? Someone who fantasized about clipping pedestrians and beating old ladies to the front of the croissant line? So I sped up to a trot and passed her, and she made this little gasping noise, and when I got to the door I held it open for her so she could go in first. SWITCHEROO. It was really funny how relieved she was to find that I wasn't actually a giant asshole. She ordered her latte and was so happy, now she wouldn't be late for school (she was a substitute teacher), and what did I do? Oh, libraries are wonderful! Librarians are wonderful, too! You're buying croissants for librarians? THAT'S WONDERFUL.

So I felt like I got my karma straightened out a little. I did some other nice stuff for old people that day, too, but I'm not going into it other than to say you need to watch out for some of those old guys, they are super flirtatious. I bet they know all sorts of things about plowing corn.

This drawing was a long time coming, it's for someone who got on board after I'd closed donations so she just sent me $20 and told me what to draw, which is a "witty, postmodern version of Alice falling down the rabbit hole."

alice

Get it? She's falling into a black hole! Which you might have picked up even if my little Stephen Hawking in the corner didn't tip you off. I put a stretched-out pocket watch in there for a reference to the March Hare with a dash of Dalí. (Like I need to explain that to you.) Anyway, this took an inordinate amount of thought on my part, plus I was intimidated by having an actual commission. I will try to get over it, because this was fun and I want to do more.

Hear this!

Jackson now goes this local preschool that's governed by some interesting principles.

After mom and dad say goodbye, the students' morning routine begins with an assembly of the entire school, from the little kids up to the eighth graders. A couple of things bother me about assembly. One is that they kick it off with the Lord's Prayer. Most of the littlest kids just stand there and blink, they haven't really figured out how to recite anything yet, and the bigger kids just mumble along. But still. I knew it was part of the program when we signed up, but I kind of made myself overlook it because the rest of the program is so academic and child-centered. Maybe you've noticed that Jack and I aren't churchgoing folk -- as a matter of fact I've seen holy water turn into boiling pitch at Jack's touch. But in the end I rationalized keeping Jackson in this school because it allows him to learn French, Latin, and coloring within the lines while being exposed, obliquely, to one of our culture's dominant strains of belief. My best hope is that morning prayer is kind of like giving him a live polio vaccine: he might feel a little weak at first, but in the long run it will make him immune.

The next thing that weirds me out about assembly is when one of the third graders walks up to the front with a big piece of foam core that's been stenciled with an affirmation, usually something reminiscent of Louise Hay crossed with L. Ron Hubbard. Honest to god, I don't know where they get these things, they're always some kind of weirdly conformist meditation on a not very interesting truth, like, "I will always strive to maintain a cheerful demeanor because a smile communicates good will. Oh, lord, help me to be of good cheer even in the face of those I wish to kick."

Again, I like that most of the kids are half-heartedly droning along, and while I'm sort of listening it warms the cockles of my tiny, fossilized heart to see a few displays of stubborn individuality in the face of a not-terribly-oppressive dress code. One of these days I'm going to take this one kid aside and shout You! Fifth grade boy with the wiggy red corkscrew hair and the puffy skateboard shoes! Let your freak flag fly, son!

Things move along at a pretty good clip after that, and next an eighth grader walks up to the front carrying a big, laminated map of the United States with the states all colored in pink and yellow and blue, which the kid hands to a teacher to hold while the kid then begins pointing to each state while everyone mumbles the state being pointed at and that state's capital. They're in no discernible order, we seem to be hopping up and down the eastern seaboard at the moment, adding a state or two every week, presumably until the end of fucking time.

Seriously, though, I'm learning my state capitals all over again. Quick! What's the capital of Kentucky?*

However, what I love most about sticking around for assembly is that it takes me through the entire spectrum of feelings I have toward children viewed from afar while they're singing. Because the next thing they do is hand out some amazing Americana sheet music. Everything from This Land Is Your Land to some thing about Forty-niners starving to death to -- my God, this was my favorite -- Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho.

Little, tiny Afro, Anglo, and Latino children singing in slave dialect! It took me two days to figure out that Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. One first-grade girl spent the week belting out JERICKA!, thus influencing an entire class of impressionable kindergarteners to do the same.

Then, one day not long ago we were driving home after school and Jackson said to me, "Mom! Hear this!" And he started singing a little song:

The Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me
The things I need
Like the sun and the rain and the apple seed
The Lord! Is! Good! To! Me!
"

And I looked at Jackson in the rear-view mirror and said, "So what's this lord, giving everybody everything they need?"
And Jackson shrugged, "I don't know."
And I said, "Is the lord, like, the earth? Giving people everything they need, sun and rain and food?"
And Jackson said, "Can we go to the toy store?"

The more I read about the debate between "intelligent design" and evolution, the more tightly science grips me. And believe me, I've always been inclined to embrace the mystical explanations, the karma and the destiny and the fate and the maybe you needed this lesson to get to the next level of consciousness. So this is new for me, and I'm finding that what's changing about my approach toward life now that science is seeping in is that I need to do something, I need to act. You know? Like, the rollercoaster of least resistance that I've been riding since God knows when, well, it's time to get off.

So, you know, I'm selling t-shirts. Want to buy one? They're still cheap until Tuesday.

*FRANKFORT, ya big dope. Well, don't feel too bad, that's what Google is for.