The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937
Someone asked me yesterday which would I rather have: money or time? After I picked myself up from laughing until I tinkled (and resisted the urge to shake them back to reality) I simply said: Laws, child. We weren’t sent here for gold. Or a 401k. Or a badass new Lexus. Naw, I think folks are a little scrambled in the noggin over this one. I want you to do me a favor.
Sit down. Clear your head. Now, think of every truly wealthy person you know, then consider their (apparent) happiness level. Mmm hmm. Now, think of a relatively poor soul you know, then consider their happiness level. Interesting? Ah, yeah babe. Now, I don’t advocate the haphazard abuse of credit, or the dumbing down of career drive and the like. What I am here to advocate is a bit of common country sense of the meat of life, the marrow of joy and the juice of extracting every real moment out of this little cosmic trip. Everything else is just an anxious, exhausted and logical march to the grave—complete with a hefty legacy of debt and misguided intent. Manure on a silver plate, it is. And people order seconds, every day.
Now, I had to file for bankruptcy several years back to save a wayward son. He had given me every indication that:
I had taken care of all three young’uns all their natural lives without any child support, pulled myself through decades and degrees and a doctorate with little help. And still, there it was. Financial ruin or save my son.
What kind of natural born fool picks the former?
And so, after the 11k in fees—let’s just call them fees—the fat lady had sung and momma went to bankruptcy court. It saved him, by the way. My longhaired hippie boy went on to college, bought his own trailer with his own money and turned twenty-one this past week. Solid as a rock. And not in prison.
Currently, he’s a crepe chef at a private little café and has a modest savings account. What price that child? Why. Everything I could give. And I did.
You know, I tell my university students quite often: it takes so much more courage and tenacity to pull oneself up after a hard fall than to walk straight and have never stumbled. I reckon folks don’t often have the good luck to discover what they’re made of, rocking along with parents who buy them houses and cars and pay for their educations. But there exists others, those whom have scraped their knees on a hunger so deep that starvation becomes something you just survive. That same child struggled through last winter with only one space heater that he wouldn’t turn on—‘cept at night—on account of he didn’t want anyone to shoulder his burdens. And he didn’t tell a soul until after. Looks he learned to be a man along the way. Many of us could use those bruises if they could make us shine like that, all strong and noble and self-sufficient.
(This is going to be a long one. Wine time, y’all. Go pee, settle in.)
Just today, I drove home after teaching freshman and thinking about the idea of “healthy rebellion.” I’m quite the seed of the paternal tree: rebellion seems to be the only real language I speak, natively, that is. Our present culture has vilified rebellion in such deep-rooted ways that we no longer allow even the smallest venture outside of lock-step American values—and as a pagan, I rebel. I rebel against the normalization of college at eighteen, a closeted spirituality, the unbridled passion of teen acculturation and the mindset of “normal.” One of my favorite quotes is from I am Legend by Richard Matheson: “Normalcy is a majority concept,” and in my experience, the majority is usually the most base and mundane example of institutionalization that exists within society. No philosopher is born of that barren and dusty mistress; no revolution is founded in its logic. And yet, we demonize and proselytize at those young souls who seek to their own voices while handing them a checkbook and a waning Capitalistic system as their divine inheritance.
But not my sons NOR my daughter. Yes, they know that certain rules and laws are in place (some of them quite ridiculous) that they must follow in order to fully enjoy their lives. Yes. They have grasped the concept of saving money, paying their debts and working hard for what they want. What they have not lost? Hmm, lessee:
The wild fulfillment of a day at the creek, a case of beer and a sack of barbeque and the necessity of bugspray at dusk.
Standing up for what they believe it—regardless of popularity or the possible black eye.
That critical space of family, regardless of their perceived sins, as necessary to a healthy life.
The freedom that comes from “allowing” others to be themselves, because it means that they can do the same. (“You just do you, Imma do me.” My Z-boy likes to sing that one at me from time to time.)
I reckon that I have not belabored much time lecturing my children on the significance of stocks, bonds or the wonders of student debt. I reckon we have spent more talking about trees, chickens, life, love, hate, regret and nobility. But, riddle me this, Batchildren:
At the end of your life, what would you rather hold? Another dollar? Or another sweet, slow sunset? Myself, I will be happiest if I can own a little house, tend a garden and spend the rest of my life “doing me.” Everything else feels . . . lackluster. What I have invested in have been in the area of friendships, gardening experience, forgiveness practice, long hours on a beach with my children, staining my fingers purple in mulberry blood and learning every single Van Morrison song from the seventies. I paid off my van this year—struggled all the way through bankruptcy to keep the old bitch—and I plan to drive her right into the ground. Pagan, enough.
So. What does all of this have to do with rebellion? Everything, y’all. Everything. In my estimation, one must have a healthy rebellion against the lust for a material world if one is to retain anything of real worth. I will never hire a cleaning lady if my body can withstand the work—it’s good for the soul, and damn if my teenager is gonna get out that easy. I will always strive to grow my own food, throw up my middle finger at Wal-Mart (the filthy bastard), make my children earn their own vehicles (seriously, folks, make them) and refuse the “label” sickness that keeps some of my friends in Dillard’s instead of Lowes. I rebel against work gloves (hell, my ass is IMMUNE to poison oak/ivy) and revel instead in dirty fingernails and the feel of red clay working its way into fertility. I rebel against clear cutting trees for “landscaping,” against careers that rot the soul, against techno music in favor of something played with a string, against religious fanatics (of both Christian and Pagan varieties) who would judge the spirit of another human being, against teaching magic for money, against misplaced guilt and policed hearts. I rebel against emotional blackmail, for I have known the price of caving to another’s will and seen the culling of my own primal thump in its wake. I rebel against placing primacy in “full enrollment” instead of “full education.” And, I rebel against any system that systematically puts a monetary price on a family’s worth with terminology such as “middle-class,” as if such a label could ever qualitatively weigh their laughter across a worn dinner table. Yes. I rebel.
So have my children.
It has cost us, boy howdy. We have learned to balance our need to rebel against our need for freedom, safety and security. Ain’t no right way to get there without scraping yor knees a bit. But man, we love these scars. I don’t hanker to the supposition that the earning of them was payment for some unseen, long past sins. Rather, they are of our own doing, our own learning, our own bleeding and sobbing and often our own sacrificing to level up on this mortal plane.
For me, healthy rebellion works like:
Does it insult my soul? Rebel.
Does it infringe on someone’s heart thump? Rebel.
Will it impede my progress as a child of the Goddess? Rebel.
Will my silence hurt someone else? Rebel.
Is it less important than time with my family? Rebel.
The alternative is less than sweet, y’all. It’s lying in a bed somewhere (or worse) wishing you could go back and waller in a creek with your honey for one more hour . . . counting freckles, smoothing soft hairs on a neck against the gold of late day sun. Or listen to your best friend remember her childhood out loud. Or spend more time under that pear tree with your best dog who only has another year or two (pick up the fucking Frisbee and put down Facebook, dumbass). In truth? I couldn’t be prouder that my son rebelled and threw my high-credit ass into bankruptcy. Why, I might have spent the next ten years building my retirement instead of becoming proficient at living.
No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
Zora Neale Hurston,
How It Feels to Be Colored Me
Meet you under a tree somewhere. I’ll be the one without gloves on and a Mason jar full of mulberry wine.
Do it like this: