Monday, January 21, 2008

Why is it so satisfying to destroy things?

Yesterday C and I worked for a couple of hours in the yard, pruning the fruit trees, cutting back the prickly stickly thorny undergrowth of rose bushes, lemon trees, climbing ivy, castor bean sapling, and various unidentified green beings who had Napoleanic complexes and were bent on taking over the yard as a precursor to the world.

We had bought implements at Home Despot: loppers and whackers and a long pole with a saw attachment that I was afraid to even touch. It was a beautiful day. We set to and immediately started arguing.

If our relationship were the TV sitcom The Odd Cuple, (which it kind of is,) I would be Oscar (Jack Klugman) and C would be Felix (Tony Randall.) C is a measure twice cut once type of worker, methodical, precise, thorough. I am more of a just wade in and start whacking kind of girl. So I waded in and started whacking at a leggy rose bush that was hopelessly codependently entwined with an ancient peach tree, half of whose limbs were dead or close to it.

Whack, whack, clip, clip. I started throwing long thorny stems around the yard.

"Wait!" C yelled.

He made me cut them into small pieces and put them in the green recycling bin. I did not like being "made" to do anything. The argument quickly escalated, and grew to include such phrases as "I got along FINE for 48 years, trimming my own backyard," (me), and "If you got along so well doing it your way, why is the yard so overgrown?" (him.) Both of us had sharp implements in our hands, and sharper ones in our mouths.

(Note to self: "Quit saying, "I got along just fine without you for forty-eight years." It does not advance the conversation in a positive direction.)

When we were able to cool down and talk, or as we say in the Bay Area, "process," we uncovered a few things: C has used to working collaboratively on construction sites, with other men using dangerous tools and heavy equipment. He is a licensed carpenter who's good with tools and equipment.

I prefer to run my own show. When I teach at Writing Salon, I'm in charge of the class; when I work as a poet in the schools, I collaborate with the other teacher, but for the hour of my lesson, I take the lead. When I write, of course I'm the only one responsible for the words on the page.

I like to imagine that I play well with others, but when I look at my work life I find that that happens best when it's on my terms. I've said that I want a collaboration, but the fact is collaboration is challenging for me.

I am used to being the sole owner of this house for the last seven years. It's been good for me, if stressful at times. When something breaks, I've figured out how to get it fixed: call a handyperson, or call a boyfriend. But the buck has stopped with me. I haven't been a perfect homeowner or a perfect landlady. But it's been good for me to have this material-world responsibility to grow with. And the house is still standing.

Now it's time to shift into a new way of being, one that will entail negotiation, compromise, and tons of this processing business that is so time-consuming. Oh man, what have I gotten myself into?

For his part, C was sad that he had gotten angry at me. I assured him that he needn't be: I've prayed for a relationship where the two participants could get angry. It's not that I enjoy being on either the giving or the receiving end of anger, but having lived through a marriage where the unspoken rules were that we would never come into conflict--and having suffered through the awful explosions that came at the end of nine years of that--I'm glad for the opportunity to practice pushing back at someone who has their own agenda. It's like a martial arts instructor: don't hurt me, but throw me your best shot. Help me learn how to stand my ground; help me learn where my ground is.

And: I know down to the bottom of my frost-bitten toes that this relationship is what I signed up for, what I want. Communication. Honest feelings. Sweat and scratches from the thorns. ("Roses have throns, and silver fountains mud." Shakespeare.) Integrity, independence, and respect.

We moved around to the front of the house, and by the time we were done with the front yard the green bin was overflowing and we had pretty well decimated most of the overgrown shrubbery. This being California, everything will grow back in two weeks.

It's much easier to prune, clip, and cut back than it is to plant and make. I remember putting my four kale plants and six broccoli starts in the garden space in the backyard: hard work, squatting, digging, grunting. When I stood up I felt dizzy. Couldn't wait to be done. But lopping things off, cutting away deadwood, doing demolition--bring it on. I love it. It's cleansing and a great relief.

(Is it easier to criticize than to create? To kill a person rather than to spend nine months carrying him,m a day pushing him out into the world, and years trying to teach him to be a mensch? Of course. That's why the world is the way it is.)

So now the front yard now looks like one of those news photos of trailer parks after a cyclone has ripped through. There's a huge pile of felled branches, topped off with a roll of abandoned chicken wire. This all goes nicely with the Collection of Dead Appliances along the side of the house--the dead microwave, the decaying plastic doll house, whom nobody has claimed responsibility for, and the abandoned cooler, which is probably harboring Ebola virus. Very picturesque.

After our foray into gardening and processing, we had fun kissing and making up, including a group shower during which I washed some of the sawdust and organic debris out of my hair. Then we went to see Rebecca Riots perform at Kehilla Synagogue. It was a special show for children and families; the kids and moms were up front, a very multi-cultural patchwork of them, since half of Kehilla has adopted children from various third world countries.

I had terrible baby lust, watching the little ones get up and dance, and especially when I ran into an old friend of mine who had been actively trying to become a mother for seven years. She had finally gotten her daughter--a one-year-old, from Guatemala, only a few months ago. I was so happy for her! I remember the long heartbreak of infertility and then her frustrations trying to adopt as a single (lesbian) mom. Finally, finally, she has her heart's desire, cradled in her arms, a gorgeous little girl whom I wanted to hold, but who is too attached to her mother (a good thing, a sign of health,) to go to a stranger. It lit up my world to see them.

Then I went off to teach at Writing salon again, another good group, I'm going to enjoy them. Today: rain, gloom, and a bunch of food shopping for C who has been fighting a sore throat all week. I made him chicken soup with lemon, dill, ginger, and a ton of garlic and onions; it turned out very well if I do say so myself. I remember making this soup for my friend Susan and her boyfriend Scott when Scott was run-down from chemotherapy.

"My soup can heal the dead, " I boasted, and we laughed. Enver had accompanied me up there, with a wig and lace-up boots and a mini-skirt--he dressed up in drag and lip-synched a great show for Scott, and we ate the soup and laughed. And now Scott is dead, but that was a good moment, for all of us.

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