Sunday, February 22, 2009

hopeful vists

it has been a baby-heavy weekend. Driving north through the rain with my niece's kisses still wet on my cheek, I had a moment to do a lot of pondering. We spent time with two babies in the last thirty-six or forty hours, and it really was a blast. They are so hopeful, so honest, so trusting. I wish we all could be.

I had a drawing teacher in undergrad named Clyde Fowler who said to us that it was important for artists to be "child-like without being childish." To be aware of wonder and beauty and to exist as much as possible in the present, to look at the world wide-eyed and to learn learn learn. Clyde has retired now, but his words still ring in my ears almost every day, and spending a little time with children underscored for me their truth.

Two of the babies in our lives right now have grown to the point that they are keenly aware of their surroundings, and have an intelligence in their eyes that makes it very clear that they are checking out the world around them and that they have opinions about it.

Speeding north through the rain, the humming of the wheels and the morse-code blinking of taillights swept me off into thoughts about our own child, sleeping now in my wife's belly. Who will it be, and what will it think about that? Nine months seems so long, at times, but then it suddenly seemed impossibly short. So does eighteen years. I can't help but wonder what kind of world this person will inhabit, what will be it's reality? Will we (as I think we will) be able to undo in that time some of the great mistakes of the last eight years? What about the mistakes of the last fifty? Or hundred? The landscape of the life that my niece has begun is radically different even from the beginnings of my own life, and that was not too long ago. How different will our child's life be? What will be her (or his) battles, causes, talents, hurdles?

I think children are so hope-full. I love to be with them, to feel their tiny fingers around mine, to recieve their slobbery kisses when they say goodbye. I know that there will be many times that I am not in so loving and philosophical a mood once ours arrives, and that there will be many times that they make me lament all of Western and Eastern civilisation and shake my fist at the sky and quote old Baptista crying "Was ever a gentleman thus grieved as I?"

But for now, I am wrapped in a rainy-day reverie, thinking of children and babies. Thinking of lives to come that will carry on the work and the stories of the lives that have gone. Feeling very, very lucky, and putting off washing my cheek for a little longer.

Friday, February 6, 2009

these hands

apropos of nothing (except having had a couple of beers) I just looked at my hands. They are stained with the kind of dirt that several washings do not remove. Working on boats gives it to you. Working with engines. Very occasionally there was work in the theater that would. Blacksmithing and steel in general are another. Working in old houses is what did it this time.

You know the kind of dirty where the little lines that record the wrinkles made every time you make a fist or bend your fingers are etched in a grey-black, highlighting the pink of the skin next to them? That kind of dirty. Some small splinters from old, old wood, some stains from polyurethane and paint. I turned my hand over and was treated to a skinned knuckle and an abrasion from a handsaw that slipped.

These are my hands. So much of what I do depends on them. They can play guitar a little, cut dovetails, write a blog post, caress my wife, and, one day, hold my baby. They have been with me and have functioned perfectly for 35 years, except when I abuse them. They have clawed me to the top of sheer rock cliffs on two continents, hauled on lines on hundred-year-old-schooners, written a graduate thesis, and made a bassinet for my niece. They are the first thing that I offer to a new acquaintance, and the last thing that a friend sees when we part.

They carry the stories of two table saw accidents, an incident with a drill that has left a permanently mangled thumbnail, and the time that I slit my left thumb open on a pane of glass and probably should have had stitches. They bear the only jewelry that I wear, two pieces that indicate my love for my wife and my allegiance to my graduate alma mater.

There is much talk about fingerprints and the fact that they are deeply personal, but I also know that the vein patterns on the backs of the hands are as well, and these are what I often look at. Sometime I will maybe post the story of my father and the veins on Abraham Lincoln's hands, but not tonight. Lincoln's hands were cast, and the casts live at the Smithsonian. And the veins on the backs of his hands are as personal to him as mine are to me. We have both used axes to shape wood, and I count myself lucky that we have that in commmon. I like how the veins wander over the tendons under the skin. I like the wrinkles that form when I extend all of my fingers.

Our baby has its own hads. I have seen them. Grainy, black-and-white hands that already have bones and can make tiny tiny fists. When (god willing) it comes into this world, it will begin to use its hands to tell its own story, to make its own story. I am excited and awed by the thought of holding those tiny hands in mine. I am exhilarated by the opportunity to teach our child to use its hands to make. And I am honored and thankful that my own hands have done such diligent work for me in my own life.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


a friend of mine likes to use time and date stamps in her blog. I like to read them because it is comforting to know where to plant yourself on a map or chart. So I thought I would start that way tonight.

Tuesday, 30 Dec 2008

Driving north from North Carolina where I have just spent a week with my family for the holidays. My sister and her fiance were there, and my other sister and her husband and their daughter and his son, just a chaotic, messy family pile, which was joyful and affirming and wonderful. Now I am hurtling up Highway 81 through the mountains, which is a lovely drive, though perilous, because I am tempted to look at the beauty around me instead of the arbitrary, winding asphalt ribbon that I am supposed to navigate. In the back of the rented van is a dresser that was given as a gift to my great-grandmother by a friend that will soon hold my socks and underwear. Also a lot of christmas gifts that were too big for my sisters and their spouses to take home. I am a courier of family and christmas joy. Suits me fine.

Phone rings. It is Karen.

"I just took a home pregnancy test. It was positive."

Stand by world shift:

World Shift; Go!

In my little steel and plastic box I suddenly inhabit a completely different place, a different reality, with very, very different rules.

If you do not know me (though I do not think anyone reads this that does not. If so, hi. Otherwise, you already have heard this), you may not know that I have wanted to be a father for several years. Only recently has a friend of mine encouraged me to examine why this is, and I am still not sure. The only thing that I know for absolutly certain is that Pampers commercials and babies make me cry, and that I have been really interested in being a father since I was about 3o.


Being (potentially) a father has become part of my life. Which is scary and wonderful and joyous and makes me real proud in a very "boy" sort of way which I am not terribly proud of but there it is. But we have had several people who are very very close to us that have had problems with their first pregnancy, so we played this pretty close to our chests, metaphorically speaking. This engenders a curious double life, because the main thing I have been thinking about I have not been able to really talk to anyone about.

Which feels a little like lying. Anyway.

Fast forward two months:

Tuesday, 03 February 2009

In the clinic we are holding hands and looking at the grainy black-and-white sonogram image of a real, honest-to-god human that is 5.15 centimeters (whatever the hell that is, I think it is equivalent to three quarters of a gallon or maybe six and a half tons or twelve degrees or something) long. I have several times been the recipient of a still photo of this kind of event. The proud parent-to-be thrusts this two-and-a-half inch by three inch image at you, and you resist the urge to make some comment about how it looks like an alien and say something congratulatory and encouraging while thinking "yeah, okay, it looks like a sonogram."

Let me tell you, when it is yours, you suddenly understand. When you see the heart beating (how many times in your life do you see a heart beating. I mean, really SEE the engine of life at work?), when you see the limbs moving, it is a transcendant experience. That little heart is beating because my wife has a separate life inside of her. We saw the arms (real arms! Two of them! With hands and everything!) moving around. It is a person, by god, and we are somehow responsible.

Now I am THAT guy, flashing his sonogram photo around all over the place, proud as all get out, like I had anything more to do with it than some unknown moment. "Hey! You want to see a picture of my kid?!?"

I am trying to resist this. I know in my heart that most people look at it and think "Yeah. Okay. It looks like a sonogram." So I am trying to reign myself in.

It feels good to have it out in the open. I am having a hard time concentrating. I am not doing well at keeping up with my friends. I am a little scattered. It is mostly because my inner monologue these days is wearehavingakidwearehavingakidwearehavingakid. Being out of the first trimester, we can tell people, and it feels good. I have felt, not like I was lying to my friends and co-workers, but that I was not being completely truthful. Now I can be: WEAREHAVINGAKIDWEAREHAVINGAKIDWEAREHAVINGAKID!

Nothing that I have made, nothing that I have done, nothing that I have acheived, has felt this big. Nothing, in thirty five years of life. This is bigger than big. I can't wait.