“Play a melancholy song.” Watch this if you’ve ever been a melancholy person nostalgic about your best moments.
It’s just a “video essay;” I shouldn’t think too much of it, right? I mean, it’s not like it can expose and diagnose the shadowy parts of us in light or anything, right?
I woke up on our first full day in Dallas to the sound of my wife crying loudly from the bathroom. To my mind it could only be one thing. I was right.
We had been pregnant. 13 weeks. Just basically right at the time where you could expect things, statistically, to go well. But, as my wife, Mellisa, puts it, “I’m cursed so statistics don’t work on me.” She had started bleeding. It didn’t seem very heavy, but it was blood, and it brought back a rush of fear, sorrow and insanity.
In July of 2013, 2 and a half years ago, we lost our son Rowan in full term labor. Pregnancy with him seemed fairly normal. We moved ourselves down to the bay area from Portland to be closer to my family. In one emergency trip to the hospital all those plans extinguished, blown out, lots of smoke left over to live through.
13 weeks isn’t a long time for a pregnancy. But it’s a pregnancy. It’s life. It’s a thing you change your life and your self for. It’s a thing you have to open yourself to. And the life inside a woman starts speaking with her almost immediately. The language of the body, sickness, nausea, giddiness, hunger, premonitions.
We had one of those going. It is gone now.
We talk to some experts back home, “go to an emergency room if you can, get an ultrasound to check on things.” We did. Took the better part of that day. I tried not to be disappointed to miss time with my friends while we were in the same town, a rare time for internet friends. I did well. I know not to tread on the impulses of motherhood. We had to wait for the ultra sound technician, they don’t keep one on staff. We waited.
I knew this feeling, waiting on an ultrasound tech. This very same thing happened with Rowan. “I really don’t want another doctor to look up from an ultrasound screen and say, ‘I’m really sorry to tell you this…’”
The images of an ultrasound are black gradients of blobs and bubbles. I saw one bubble I knew to be our baby (not my first ultrasound.. by a long shot). But 13 weeks is very small. Apparently, by 13 weeks the baby already has unique finger prints. I couldn’t see the finger prints from the black and gray blobs onscreen.
In a moment with emergency ultrasounds there’s not a screen for the mother to look at. They keep that view for the doctor. But dads can see. And I saw. With Rowan, I knew. There was no movement, utter stillness. His fully developed infant heart, usually so clear to see on the screen, stillness. I knew before Mellisa.
I knew this time too. That’s a lot of responsibility for a man, those moments between the screen and the pronouncement. In this case the technician had to leave, wasn’t allowed to tell us anything, by law needed to save that for “the guy who gets paid a lot more than me,” the doctor. Mellisa and I had about 30 minutes together before the doctor came.
I wasn’t sure if I should tell her what I saw. Because there was a moment in there where I think I knew. Well, I knew, but I wan’t to make room for possibility because I am not an ultrasound technician and I don’t know what’s what (especially at this early stage of pregnancy).
But there’s one part I knew real well.
When you go get a regular ultrasound in early pregnancy, the best part, the main event, is the heartbeat. They turn up the static and you hear gurgles and slushing as the tech moves around to find the baby before you hear a… wait… there it… in and out the tech moves to zero in on it. And, like a cinematic reveal, bang, slow motion, beauty shot of the heartbeat. You can hear it like a faithful old generator at a cabin, whirring away in time. You can also see, on the LCD screen, the blips on the time line as the heartbeat is measured visually. You can see it clear as day.
This day in Dallas, our tech didn’t turn up the volume, but the screen was clear as day. There was no heartbeat.
“Heartbeat.” When the tech left and we were waiting for the doctor, I wanted to tell mellisa what I saw, but “heartbeat” felt like too much of a word. It speaks to the person of our child. Doctors use terms like “fetal demise” to be exact and to, I can only imagine, protect somewhat from this kind of person-hood. (They have to do this shit all the time, I don’t blame them.) And in that space, when we were waiting for the doctor, I didn’t know how to tell what I saw to Mellisa, life giver, mother of the heartbeat. Eventually it just came out, “I really… I think the baby is gone… there was no heartbeat… like, in the little lines.”
It was during the ultrasound that the baby became a person to me. As a dad you don’t feel the impulses of pregnancy in your body. I didn’t really sense the personhood of my first son until he started showing signs of recognizing me. With Rowan, it wasn’t until I saw his intensely delicate and detailed finger tips. (I still lose a breath when I remember I never saw his eyes.) In this ultrasound I could vaguely see the arms and legs, the shape of this baby, him or her, and he or she became a bit of a real thing to me. What had, up to then, been plans and calendar dates, was now this isolated little person in some real way.
Maybe you become a person when your heart starts to beat. Doctors pronounce you dead, not when your heart stops, but when your brain activity stops. Brain activity begins to show itself pretty regularly (EEG something-or-other measurements) at 25 weeks into a pregnancy. Seems no matter where you draw the line on when someone is a human, you’re doing the same thing a concentration camp worker has to do: define boundaries, who’s in, who’s out.
When I felt for this baby, when I loved him or her, that’s when a real sense of loss came. Not just loss because we had timed it pretty well this time — some other friends having a baby close to us, with some holiday’s scheduled just right. Not just because we had been trying to have a baby for about 4 years, losing Rowan after a complete and healthy pregnancy. Not just due to the planning and calendaring and striving, but due to the loss of this person I just now realized I cared about deeply.
And you must know that miscarriages really happen. They happen often. 15–20% of pregnancies in the US come to a miscarriage. That’s pretty damn close to 1 in 4. We miscarried once before this, before Rowan, and before our healthy 6 year old Aiden. This was our 4th pregnancy. Only 1 of 4 survived for us.
It’s hard for my wife not to feel cursed. Instead of a warm and welcome space for her children, she can picture her body to be dangerous and uninhabitable. She wants to think of Aiden as our miracle child, the only one to survive the harsh climate of her broken body. Can you imagine feeling that way? Can you imagine how difficult to hold those thoughts at bay, to prop up a sense of hope and self love in the face of it? How tremendously tiring for her to stay in the mindset that life sprouts up abundantly, without help, all over this planet.
If that mentality takes root it chokes the whole garden. We prop ourselves up in the face of it. Pregnancy, motherhood, fatherhood, family, tribe, village, these are the names by which human life has survived, and the ways we’ll keep plowing on as a species. Most of us don’t deal with death and life regularly like our ancestors did, but we have the tools for it. It’s deep code in ancient language. You may not have felt deep personal loss before, chances are you will. And you may not have felt that singular experience of losing your own. If you reach toward recreating human life, whether your child survives or not, you will feel more than you knew possible.
Please, help us and help yourself to open to that great vulnerability. It sometimes seems that things all around conspire to close and harden us. But even now — maybe especially now — life is big. I want to keep greeting life with as big a love as I can muster.
“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”
“Break often – not like porcelain, but like waves.”
“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
“Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self-worth as useful, independent, free people.”
“Half the time you think you’re thinking you’re actually listening.”
Every Morning I am Pulled Apart Every morning I need an hour or so to remind myself that the significance and notoriety I seek won’t make me feel what I think they will, won’t give me what I feel I need.
I am already as significant as I can be. There’s other columns in the spreadsheet — notoriety, influence — they have no real weight to me if I survive past my 60s.
I am already as significant, as important, as meaningful as I can be. Every morning that feels lame. Every morning I have to breathe through it, sink into it. Every morning I remind myself, ask myself to live in the way of my already-there-ness, creating from rest instead thrusting outward at more, always more.
I am ripped apart by this every morning. The call for significance, the impulse to matter more, to be more than the average person erupts every morning like survival’s older brother, an animal instinct evolved. Even as I write this: will they see it? Will they see me? All flows from the source. Every morning I search it out, reminding, re-membering.
And every day I forget: I clutch and reach. Leaning, top heavy, I end the day off balance. I bring myself to my son, my wife, this way. I bring myself to movies and shows and books this way and I thrill: here is the thing I want, to make THIS. I lean into them. Do they support me or just my lean? Is this codependence?
Everyday I remind myself: I am enough. And everyday I forget. I am everyday pulled apart and reformed from the scraps. I hear Allan Watts tell me I am not a put together thing, I am the pulling, I am togetherness, I am all of this. I see it for true, yet there’s some dark magnet inside that won’t let me transform, a black hole in the deep, pull-push of… of what? Creativity? Life-death? Insecurity? Life-death seems best but too on the nose. What’s really here is: WILL THIS MAKE ME FEEL IT!? I am an inconsolable child, my parents love me and whisper over me but I rage on incapable.
There is deep debt within me; there is also enormous wealth. This year, my 33rd, is the first I’m able to say: everything is OK.
“There’s a wonderful moment that comes when you realize, ‘I’m not striving for anything. What I’m doing now is not a means to achieving something later.’ Youth has always to think that way. Every decision a young person makes is a commitment to a life course, and if you make a bad decision, that angle, by the time you get [older] you’re far off course. But after a certain age there’s no future, and suddenly the present becomes rich, it becomes that thing in itself which you are now experiencing.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Get on the list if you want great quotes about creative work and matterful living in an email every Saturday.
This post was originally published at Medium.
This year I found a bunch of amazing moments and quotes about the creative process. I’ve collected the best of the year here in the Editor’s Picks page. Some of my favorites:
If you’re interested in how amazing people think about creative work get on the list and I’ll send you one email every saturday morning with a few to chew on: get on the list »
I’m experimenting with using medium for more thinky-writey stuff, using IcetotheBrim.com for quotes, links, and smaller stuff this year. We’ll see how that works in 2016.
If you only listen to one, do the first. These episodes are some of the most popular this year from The Fizzle Show. I hate how these headlines sound but if you give us an hour of your time you’ll see how much further these conversations go than you’d expect.
My wife and I have been in therapy together for almost a year now. It’s been excellent. I’m seeing a little under the surface of the desires and impulses that push me around my life. I’m very engaged in this process and it’s just getting started.
Here’s a piece that shares a bit more about what I’m seeing and what I expect to shape what the first part of 2016 looks like: Every Morning I am Pulled Apart.
Happy new year, you guys.
“It should be one of the tests,” the old woman said. “Humans are almost always lonely.” Highlighted on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 9:01 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
A world is supported by four things … ” She held up four big-knuckled fingers. “… the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave. But all of these are as nothing … ” She closed her fingers into a fist. “… without a ruler who knows the art of ruling. Make that the science of your tradition!” Highlighted on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 9:21 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
This world has emptied me of all but the oldest purpose: tomorrow’s life. I live now for my young Duke and the daughter yet to be. Highlighted on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 9:01 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
Then, as his planet killed him, it occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error. Highlighted on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 10:09 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
That girl! She was like a touch of destiny. He felt caught up on a wave, in tune with a motion that lifted all his spirits. Highlighted on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 11:03 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
“I’ve been a long time waiting for you,” she said. “Here is my life.” Highlighted on Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 9:01 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
knowledge about it, understand what it was doing to his mother, but the knowledge lacked a natural rhythm, lacked a system of mutual reflection. Highlighted on Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 9:07 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
This drug–he could assemble knowledge about it, understand what it was doing to his mother, but the knowledge lacked a natural rhythm, lacked a system of mutual reflection Highlighted on Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 9:07 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
Paul felt himself at the center, at the pivot where the whole structure turned, walking a thin wire of peace with a measure of happiness, Chani at his side. Highlighted on Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 9:12 AM in Dune by Frank Herbert
I am a theater of processes Highlighted on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 4:42 PM in Dune by Frank Herbert
When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Highlighted on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 5:48 PM in Dune by Frank Herbert
She had quoted a Bene Gesserit proverb to him: “When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way.
Their movement become headlong — faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thought of obstacles and forget that a precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.” Highlighted on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 5:48 PM in Dune by Frank Herbert
I must not die. Then it will be only legend and nothing to stop the jihad. Highlighted on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 9:11 PM in Dune by Frank Herbert
I know the reasons for this, she thought. I shouldn’t let it stir me. Highlighted on Friday, December 25, 2015 at 11:48 PM in Dune by Frank Herbert
Expect only what happens in the fight. That way you’ll never be surprised. Highlighted on Monday, December 28, 2015 at 1:53 PM in Dune by Frank Herbert
“The soul has that measureless pride which consists in never acknowledging any lessons but its own. But it has a sympathy as measureless as its pride and the one balances the other and neither can stretch too far while it stretches in company with the other. The inmost secrets of art sleep with the twain.”
“Oh, Black known and unknown poets, how often have your auctioned pains sustained us? Who will compute the lonely nights made less lonely by your songs, or by the empty pots made less tragic by your tales?
If we were a people much given to revealing secrets, we might raise monuments and sacrifice to the memories of our poets, but slavery cured us of that weakness. It may be enough, however, to have it said that we survive in exact relationship to the dedication of our poets (including preachers, musicians and blues singers).”
“When I pass to and fro, different latitudes, different seasons, beholding the crowds of the great cities, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore—when I mix with these interminable swarms of alert, turbulent, good-natured, independent citizens, mechanics, clerks, young persons—at the idea of this mass of men, so fresh and free, so loving and so proud, a singular awe falls upon me. I feel, with dejection and amazement, that among our geniuses and talented writers or speakers, few or none have yet really spoken to this people, created a single image-making work for them, or absorbed the central spirit and the idiosyncrasies which are theirs—and which, thus, in highest ranges, so far remain entirely uncelebrated, unexpressed.
Dominion strong is the body’s; dominion stronger is the mind’s. What has filled, and fills today our intellect, our fancy, furnishing the standards therein, is yet foreign. The great poems, Shakespeare included, are poisonous to the idea of the pride and dignity of the common people, the life-blood of democracy. The models of our literature, as we get it from other lands, ultra-marine, have had their birth in courts, and basked and grown in a castle sunshine; all smells of princes’ favors. Of workers of a certain sort, we have, indeed, plenty, contributing after their kind; many elegant, many learned, all complacent. But touched by the national test, or tried by the standards of democratic personality, they wither to ashes. I say I have not seen a single writer, artist, lecturer, or what not, that has confronted the voiceless but ever erect and active, pervading, underlying will and typic aspiration of the land, in a spirit kindred to itself. Do you call those genteel little creatures American poets? Do you term that perpetual, pistareen, pastepot work, American art, American drama, taste, verse? I think I hear, echoed as from some mountaintop afar in the west, the scornful laugh of the Genius of these States.”