Pins and Needles - Janet Buttenwieser

Before the trip to the fertility clinic, the sperm sample given, the anesthesia 
administered, the eggs retrieved with a twelve-inch flexible needle, eggs and sperm 
mixed together in the lab to form several high-quality embryos, there is the cat fight.
The Husband runs out the back door, no time to retrieve the spray bottle set 
aside for such occasions, to break up the fight. There are shouts and yowls. The 
battle ranges over uneven territory: across the muddy side yard, through the gate, 
ending in the front garden. The Husband returns to the living room with The Cat, 
both of them bitten and bloody. The Wife tends to The Cat while The Husband goes 
into the bathroom to clean his hand. 

Years from now, they will remodel their bathroom, use a bottle of liquid 
impregnator to seal the river rock floor. Guess we should’ve tried that first The Wife 
will say. Saved ourselves some trouble. The Husband cups one hand under the other, 
careful not to spatter blood on the floor. He rinses his wound under the faucet, 
punctures showing between his thumb and forefinger as the pink water spirals 
towards the drain. It’s his right hand, the important one for his performance in the 
clinic room with the lock on the door and the porn magazines. When they return 
home from the procedure, The Wife will doze on the couch while The Husband takes 
The Cat to the vet to get a shot.

The Husband and The Wife know about shots. The previous month they brought 
a large box home, special-ordered from the pharmacy. Inside, dozens of needles and 
bottles of medicine. Two hundred individually wrapped alcohol wipes. A sharps 
container. Most needles go in The Wife’s thigh. Another shot, one of thick oil, gets 
injected into her butt muscle. In the morning, The Husband warms the oil by 
tucking it into the waistband of his boxers while he shaves. 

The Wife learns to do the shots in the thigh herself: sitting on the edge of their 
bed at home, in the bathroom stall at an author reception in a Chicago hotel. It 
becomes normal, this shot-giving, the trips to the lab for blood draws, the phone 
conversations with the nurse about hormone levels and dosage adjustments. 
Mornings before work, she performs the routine: validate the parking garage 
ticket at the front desk. Enter the dimly-lit ultrasound room. Clothes off, gown on, 
open in the back. Jelly on the wand, the wand inserted by the kind or peppy or 
indifferent nurse. The Wife’s reproductive system displayed on the screen, the 
doctor measuring follicles, pleased with her progress.

She’s willing to become a pincushion, a science experiment, for the sake of the 
children. She trades caffeine and exercise for acupuncture, meditation, Yoga for 
Fertility. Western and Eastern medical treatments mix together in her body, 
whether in conflict or harmony she cannot tell. They charge it all on their credit 
card, earning one mile for every vial of hormones injected. They dream of a free 
flight to San Diego, to take the kids to the zoo. Instead, they drive to the rainforest 
when the treatments don’t work, hike under cloud-swollen skies.

The day of the cat fight, The Wife puts fresh food and water into bowls she places 
on the kitchen floor. She settles The Cat in the armchair, a worn blanket tucked into 
the cushion underneath his body. She knocks on the bathroom door. It’s time to go. 
The Husband finds a band-aid in the cabinet; The Wife smoothes it over his hand. 
She wants to say something to comfort The Husband, something to capture the 
absurdity of the whole experience – the hormones, the clinic visits, the time and 
energy and money poured into this event. The Husband’s wound won’t scar; the cat 
fight will seem funny in hindsight. But not yet. She looks at The Husband, and The 
Husband looks at her.

“Just what I needed to put me in the mood,” he says. She laughs, and he does too. 
Tiny laughs of solidarity, of endurance. They will laugh this way often in the coming 
months, in the house, in the pharmacy, in the car on trips to the clinic. Sometimes, 
though, they’ll drive in silence, the stereo on, wishing they were on their way 
somewhere, anywhere, else."

 

ABOUT THE PIECE:

The creation of this piece came while I was writing a book-length memoir. I decided to write a short essay on a different topic in order to give myself a break. In thinking about when in the long timeline of doing fertility treatments to set the piece, the cat fight came immediately to mind. The entire process was stressful, and at times all of the contortions we went through felt like they bordered on the ridiculous. The moment of the cat fight embodied the tension and absurdity of the whole experience. The 3rd person point of view felt like a good way to universalize the experience and ended up being a fun element of crafting the piece.

Something I love about the short form is how you can get to the heart of an experience in such a small amount of time and space. I am still working on that book-length memoir, and I still interrupt that project to write short pieces – palate cleansers between courses that feel very satisfying to create.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Janet Buttenwieser’s nonfiction work has appeared or is forthcoming in several places, including Under the SunPotomac Review, and Bellevue Literary Review. She was a finalist for the 2014 Oregon Quarterly Northwest Perspectives Essay Contest, and won honorable mention in The Atlantic 2010 Student Writing contest. She has an MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. Visit her at janetbuttenwieser.com

At the Setia Darma Museum of Masks and Puppetry - Angela Woodward

About the essay and audio:

Field recording: street parade, Batuan, Bali, Indonesia Feb 26, 2014

In early 2014 I had the good fortune to spend a month in Bali as artist in residence at the Bali Purnati Center for the Arts. I was there to work on a novel about monkeys, or so my proposal said. However, in the utter splendor of Bali Purnati, I got little writing done. This was a shock to me, as I’d been angling for two years for this chance to get away, and assumed a lovely fairytale would gush out of me as soon as I opened the lap top. The heat, the animals, the bird song, the perfumed air, the sound of the gamelan (the traditional Balinese instrumental ensemble) rehearsing every evening from the temple across the way, all made such a powerful impression on me that there was little I could add to it in terms of my own invention. It seemed better to spend my time simply watching and listening. My essay “At the Setia Darma Museum of Masks and Puppetry” tries to recreate my experience of sensory overload, as puppet after puppet filled the display cases, and the mysterious black light paintings remained beyond my understanding. The music of the gamelan accompanied me everywhere I went. On one of my last days in Bali, the village turned out for a big celebration, and paraded down the alley beneath my balcony. This was like a gamelan marching band, with mobile instruments slung over the necks of the players. You can hear in the background kids talking and birds singing, the birds seeming in rhythm to the percussion. This is a tiny sliver of the music of Bali, and my essay in its hesitations and gushing flow conveys just a fragment of the wonder of my time there.

 

“At the Setia Darma Museum of Masks and Puppetry” 

 

Caption 1 - In ancient culture as a symbol for the goodness to against the evil.

Ongoing nausea even three weeks after my return. Got so sick of my own company. Every time I looked up, a little golden bird flitted by, or an azure butterfly landed on my foot. After not having heard from him for all that time, a short note, a kind of affirming prayer. Very little to put in the journal, she wrote, as the days are all the same. Across the river, white herons followed the farmer around, lifting and flapping down again as he moved along the row.

 

Caption 2 - Barong Sai usually performance at Chainess New Year.

Carried such vast sums with me, it ran into the millions. I was overcome with anxiety at what I was spending, despite knowing the rows of zeroes meant nothing. The sales girls reacted with alarm at the large denomination notes they struggled to make change for, though I had seen three customers come and go before me, surely they had it in the till, it was only their little pantomime of panic, what was due that piece of paper, no matter whose hand it was in. Suddenly, across the street, a flotilla of gray-haired women began setting down flowers, as if something holy existed behind the parked racks of motorcycles, or something in the motor bikes’ vicinity needed to be cleansed. The rain continued to hold everyone else still beneath their awnings. The taxi men occasionally flicked up their signs, but without making the eye contact that for her had been so precious.

 

 Caption 3 - This figure describe a widow from Girah village, when King Erlangga ruled the country she spread disasters to the people, because she felt hearth ace to the king who canceled married her daughter.

The problem, as I saw it, was the lack of antagonist. She vomited in the middle of the night, and then immediately had to clean it up with the napkins she’d filched from various restaurants, because the ants showed up instantly, an immense train of them chugging across the floor straight for the disgusting mess, more and more showing up, grim black avenue wriggling with purpose, to carry away the bounty of her effluence. A small note from him came as a kind of affirming prayer.

 

Caption 4 - Thereby Penasar dancer (narrator character) must have good vowel, adequate knowledge like knowledge of chronicle or history, philosophy, religion, and others related to social control.

After having gone through all the buildings, peering in the back rooms at the wolves and sailors locked behind mildewed plexiglas, the muscular thighs of the go-go girls, the devils and monkeys, the princesses only slightly less made up than the go-go girls and their expressions a tiny bit more demure, the plaid skirts and brocade robes and leather jackets and Parisian gowns of the populace puppets, the hero puppets, the royal puppets, the animal puppets, the animal spirit puppets, the foolish puppets and the wise counselor puppets and the devil puppets and the king puppets and the scorned queen puppets and the old lady puppets and the Barack Obama puppet and the Sukarno puppet and the dancing boy puppets and the ogre puppets and the witch puppets and the courtesan puppets and the crab puppets and the crafty farmer puppets and the lazy girl puppets and the bartender puppets and the villainous banker puppets and the Chinese shopkeeper puppets and the holy man puppets and the recluse saint puppets and the dog puppets and the snake puppets and the green-skinned man puppets and the chorus girl puppets and the fisherman puppets and the mask maker puppets and the man on the street puppets and the  mothers with children puppets and the dragon puppets and the bearded man puppets and the mustached man puppets and the svelte singer puppets and the assassin puppets and the hippie puppets and the rat puppets and the Turkish soldier puppets and the leering puppets and the purely in profile puppets and the vampire puppets and the Michael Jackson puppet and the detective puppets and the stewardess puppets and the great balls of trash puppets, she started to go through the museum all over again. At this point, the guide came up and asked, “You finish?” She explained that there was a lot to take in, and she would start over, at which point the guide made clear with a few words that she would show her the last building, down there, with the two dimension. “Paintings?” It seemed so. The guide brought her in, then pulled the door shut behind her. “You like to see in yellow light, then in blue light,” she said. The stretched canvases, all about six feet by eight feet, hung on the walls and from the ceiling of the drafty barn, all similarly roiled with inked figures of demons and princesses, kings, devils, wise counselors, fools, wicked crones, chariot drivers, possibly all illustrating stages of a story of the abduction of the loved one just as the king was about to make her his. The spirit world and the underworld conspired to thwart the king’s plans, as the woman in question had been pledged to someone else and could never love the king. However, the nonhumans interfered only to mess with the king, who had shot through the eye a holy stag that was actually one of them in disguise, cavorting through the woods one afternoon purely for the pleasure of feeling hooves sink into the rich forest loam, and did not expect to be maimed by the royal huntsman. The feelings of the bride for another man had been used only as an excuse for these wreckers to turn upside down the bridal party. “What are they?” she asked. “Love story,” the guide said. She pointed to one closest, and showed her that every line that made up the cartoonish outlines of the figures was actually composed of very small letters, words in an ancient language the guide could not read. The script told the story of the embattled marriage, while the figures declaimed them. “Who made these?” she asked. The guide either did not know the name of the artist or did not understand the question. She did not know either how long ago they were made, how long the process took, who had collected them, how they came to be at the mask and puppet museum, or more likely she did know these facts but did not understand the questions or could not express the answers adequately in a foreign language developed principally for commerce. When at last she signaled that she’d seen enough, as her senses could take in little more of the ubiquitous red and black and blue demons and kings and princesses and chariots and old women and soldiers and huntsmen and brothers and deadly trees and poisoned banquets and mysterious clouds and disdainful deities, the guide asked if she would like to see them again in the blue light. Whereon she turned off one switch and toggled the other. The panels now appeared completely different, as glow-in-the-dark images in technicolor Victorian sentimentality, such as Snow White eating the apple, Cinderella pointing her toe into the waiting slipper, Juliet leaning over the balcony and calling down to Romeo, these scenes in the blue light completely obliterating the seemingly ancient ink drawings that had been there a moment ago. Again, “who made these, when, how, with what?” None of these could be answered. Bible and Disney stories. Grimm and Shakespeare. By the door, Cleopatra offered her hand to Antony. She and the guide discussed Egypt to no avail, each pronouncing it differently, and probably seeing in their heads not only different alphabets and different maps, but different afternoons and different ensuing evenings. 

 

Caption 5 - In ancient culture as a symbol for the goodness to against the evil.

Having come to no conclusion about what she had witnessed, she climbed up the steps to the small palisade, where her driver and all the other drivers were resting and chatting.

 

Caption 6 - Wrapped in the happy situation; the romantic, the dynamic, and the dialectic come together with the sound of the kendang (traditional drum) and others percussion.

A slightly seasick wobbliness between fear and affection. Finally really quiet, just a few bugs and roosters. That felt like more of the current direction. One bird repeating a five-note call, three notes and a descending couplet. The roosters and dogs start in waves, from far away coming nearer, then it dies down and starts again. Then a lot of noise, and just before six the gamelan and a monotonous low buzzing that could be a bullfrog, could be the priest.

About the author:

Angela Woodward is the author of the fiction collection The Human Mind and the novel End of the Fire Cult, both from Ravenna Press. Her work has appeared recently in Ninth Letter, Salt Hill, Caketrain, and Artifice. She was artist in residence at the Bali Purnati Center for the Arts in Bali, Indonesia, in February 2014.

So I Dated a Bigfoot Hunter - Megan Kerns

High school is often a lonesome place for people with strange and interesting ideas about the world, and so it was for me, and for Henry. When I was fifteen, I wanted to study literature and become a writer; Henry wanted to study biology and find evidence of Bigfoot. Henry’s braided cowboy hats and leather duster jackets had already caught my attention. Just two years earlier, my devotion to Bruce Campbell’s Western steampunk character on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. had given me an appetite for men in bolo ties and high heels.  He thought I looked like Dana Skully from The X-Files.

It took months, but finally Henry asked me out on a Bigfoot-hunting date.  I wanted to know what, exactly, one did when looking for a creature that might not exist–but I also wanted to be alone with Henry.  If I was too young to think about love, I certainly was old enough to consider desire. I wanted to be admired, pursued, studied by him. Like Sasquatch, only sexy.

Not long after that, Henry picked me up and we headed for Salt Fork State Park, Ohio, to meet other serious Bigfoot hunters. As it turned out, I was a terrible Bigfoot hunter. I began to wheeze as we hiked up the steep hillsides. My shorts began to ride up indelicately; I amended my stomping to a demure waddle. When I glanced behind me, Henry’s gaze was chastely downcast. The group delved into long discussions of recent reported sightings; stories of jokers in gorilla suits; the questionable reliability of audio clips. Occasionally, one of the team stopped, cupped his hands to his mouth, and uttered a long, haunting bellow that echoed across the countryside. We all would freeze, and listen.

Then we got lost. The trip was a bust, with zero Sasquatch sightings; it took us hours to get out of the woods. Back to Henry’s house, we ate potato salad and charred hot dogs. We sat next to a bonfire in silence, occasionally poking at the glowing logs and scratching our mosquito bites. Finally, my date looked tenderly at me over the snapping orange flames, and then slowly lifted a sweet vidalia onion to his mouth. Henry bit into the onion like an apple, producing a satisfying crunch. I looked steadily back at him. Henry took a few more bites, then gently set the onion on a log.  He looked away.

“Frailty, thy name is woman,” he whispered.

“Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” I said, because I could quote Shakespeare, too.

And then he kissed me. Forget the onion; I did. I remember instead the way his hands cupped my face; the surprise of his kiss; the way he pulled me close. I remember thinking, in that instant, that we were both such misunderstood creatures. That we were both howling into the wilderness, waiting for someone to recognize the sound of our voices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Megan Kerns was raised in small town in east Tennessee and rural Ohio. She is currently an MFA candidate in nonfiction at The Ohio State University.

Ways We Pace Ourselves - Andrew Johnson

“Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

My eighteen-month-old son, Annen, adores his mama and wakes from his afternoon nap with nimble anticipation of her arriving home from work, tossing her purse on the couch, and crouching in heels to hoist him up for a hug. He can’t wait for this moment. Every day he wakes, toddles toward the front door, puts on a pout and says, “Mama? Mama?”

“Annen, Mama is still at work,” I say, “but she’ll be home in about an hour. Let’s be patient.”

It takes a while, but I think he is grasping what I mean. For several weeks he wakes up and begins mumbling his new mantra: “Mama wook, Mama, ah wuh.”

Then comes the week following Daylight Saving Time. The loss of one hour tosses Annen’s internal clock into chaos, causing him to snooze later into the afternoon and closer to when Kristen arrives. Awesome, I think. This makes afternoon duties of stay-at-home fatherhood way easier. When he wakes up I gladly tell him Mama is on her way from work and she will be home in just a fewminutes!

“Mama wook, mama ah wuh.”

“No no, minutes. It is shorter than an hour. Much shorter. Minutes.”

“Mama wook, mama, minih?”

“Yep, any minute now, she will walk through the door. Minutes!

“Mama minih!”

He gets it. He is content. He’s learning how to build his expectations around the passage of time, I think. This is patience.

*

As a child I looked to my father as my model for patience, especially on Sunday mornings. He would wake early to read the newspaper by himself, then wake me, my three sisters, and my mom two hours before church began. He fixed breakfast for us then returned to his paper while the rest of us showered and dressed for church. My mom spent most of that time helping us, making sure our clothes were ironed and matching, brushing my sisters’ hair, only saving a few final minutes to get herself ready. Dad sat in his chair reading, looking up every five minutes to give us the countdown to departure: “We’re leaving in 15 minutes.” “We’re leaving in 10 minutes.” “Five minutes, we’re out the door.” “Time to go.” And finally, standing up and putting down his paper, my father, the piously punctual, said, “I’ll see you there.”

Dad would walk out the door and drive his truck to church, arriving on time and saving five extra seats in the balcony. We’d arrive late in the minivan, straggle in and find our seats, avoiding eye contact with everyone around. This happened regularly. I used to think my parents preferred church services from the balcony, the expansive view of the congregation. But eventually I learned the truth: no one notices a large family arriving fifteen minutes late to church if they are hiding in the balcony—no one, that is, except for the other large and tardy families occupying the balcony like a monkey house in a zoo.

I hated being late, hated the embarrassment, hated sensing the judging eyes from the pastor in the pulpit, or worse, from Mrs. Potter seated at the organ. I made a pact with myself and scrawled it on the back of the prayer card in the balcony. When I’m grown up, I wrote, I’m never Ever going to be Late to Anything. I couldn’t wait to grow up, to drive, to arrive five minutes early everywhere I went, just to prove that I could.

*

I still hate being late. Twenty years later I’ve become my father’s son, always dressed and ready to go, whatever the destination, anxious to arrive on time, unforgiving of my child and wife when they take too long. But when it comes to my ability to be punctual, there’s a key difference between my birth family and my chosen family: we own only one car. “If you are so worried about being on time,” my wife says softly as I flail my arms at the front door, “you better start running.”

A few weeks ago, I was waiting for Kristen to get home so we could all leave again to meet some friends for a 6:15 dinner reservation. I had the diaper bag packed, the boy in clean clothes, most of the lights shut off, and everything else I could think of to help us leave as soon as she arrived. She walked in the door at 6:07, which gave us eight minutes to make a ten-minute drive and arrive on time.

“I think we can make it,” I said. “Ready?”

“I’m ready,” she said, “but I’d like to change clothes before we go.”

Of course. “All right. Okay. I’ll take the bag and stroller to the car, so you just need to bring Annen and then we can go, okay?”

She picked up Annen, gave him a hug. “Yeah, we’ll be out there soon.”

I walked out the door, loaded the bag and stroller in the trunk, and calmly sat in the humming car. Calmly sat. Sat calmly. That lasted at least four minutes before I turned off the car and raged back toward the house, wondering what the hell was taking so long. I walked in and looked around the house. I found them in the nursery, Annen sitting on Kristen’s lap, Kristen wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, and no shoes, both of them laughing and singing and enjoying each other. I stood in the doorway watching them, suddenly aware of this distance between where they were and where my mind was.

*

 Letting go of my desire for punctuality is not the same as mastering patience. This much I’ve tried to understand. Yet the clock keeps ticking, and time never takes a day off. Like most kids, I learned to tell time in second grade, learned what the big and little hands mean, learned that sometimes one means five and 12 means 60. I learned to watch the clock on the classroom wall, counting down the minutes until recess, lunch, afternoon recess, dismissal. I learned to put my body, my full being, in sync with the rate of movement of those big and little hands.

Surely Emerson had something else in mind other than the passing of time and unhealthy addictions to punctuality. I can’t quite put a finger on the pulse of what he meant, but fatherhood is forcing me to come to better terms with my relation to time.

*

Annen’s newfound patience waiting for Kristen works for several days until this one Tuesday when she doesn’t show up on time. She calls during his nap and says she needs to finish a project before coming home, so go ahead and have dinner without her. Around 6:00, Annen wakes up cowlicked, crawls on the couch to watch out the window and chants, “Mama minih! Mama minih!”

“Sorry bud,” I say, “but mama won’t be home for a few hours.”

“Mama minih!”

Hours… Patience, remember?”

“Mama wook, mama minih!”

After a few more attempts, I give up trying to explain what is unexplainable to a developing mind, a mind that depends on consistency and repetition to make sense of the world. He pouts, I apologize, and I leave him alone looking out the window, hoping he might figure this out by himself while I continue fixing dinner.

*

Before the sun came up on my fourth birthday, Dad woke me up, helped me into my coat and winter boots, and put me in the passenger seat of his truck. A brown paper bag with my name on it rested between his seat and mine, and he told me to go ahead, open it. I don’t remember what was inside, some small gift he picked up on his way from work the day before. What I do remember is his annual ritual on my birthdays: wake me up way before sunrise, load me into the car, and take me to a special birthday breakfast at McDonald’s.

Every day of the week he’d be gone to work before I woke, so those early morning birthday breakfasts were special partly because I knew he was taking time out of his normal routine to be with me on my birthday, and it made me feel loved.

Until I turned twelve. The excitement of small gifts and birthday breakfasts had worn off, and for some reason, a strange sadness started to creep in every November when my birthday came around again. That morning after breakfast, sitting in his truck as he drove me to school, I started crying without knowing the reason. When he asked what was wrong, all I could manage to mumble through the tears were some words about my birthday just not feeling special like it used to. He nodded and said nothing. Then finally, he said, “I know it’s hard, but it changes as you grow up. Soon it won’t bother you as much, I promise.” I calmed down, wiped away the tears, stepped out of the car, and walked into school.

*

It bothers me to no end that patience, like all virtues, takes time to cultivate. So, to pass the time, I read and hope to learn something. I read about Galileo. After abandoning his plan to become a priest, he began studying tides. He thought tides ebbed and flowed because the rotating Earth sloshed the seas about as it orbited the sun. Although his theory proved false—he couldn’t account for why high tide occurred twice a day, and refused to consider that the moon had anything to do with tide—he continued to work out his understanding of the rotations and orbit of our Earth.

Pulsing motions fascinated Galileo, and he turned his attention to the uses of pendulums. Galileo had a friend—his name, no joke, was Santorio Santorio—who found a way to use a pendulum to measure pulse and named his invention the pulsilogium, the first machine used in medical practice. Santorio took science to new extremes: to learn about perspiration, he began systematically and regularly weighing himself, weighing everything he ate and drank, even weighing his own urine and feces. He was among the earliest scientists to argue a mechanistic view of nature, suggesting that the human body worked like a clock. Nature, he argued, could be reduced, studied, and understood completely—we only lacked methodology.

*

Last summer, Kristen, Annen, and I spent a week hiking Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake, Colorado. In our cabin one morning, preparing for the day’s hike, Annen took three wonky steps—his first attempt at walking. He was nearly one year old and had been crawling everywhere for months, showing no interest in becoming a biped. Now he proved ready. On the hike that day, we occasionally unstrapped him from my back and set him on the ground. He wobbled, walked a step or two, then tumbled into the dry Colorado dust.

A pine beetle epidemic had swept from Canada to Texas the summer before, killing half the trees in the park. The landscape of the forest was gray-brown instead of green, dead trees fallen everywhere like pick-up sticks. Occasionally we heard a distant crack as another tree fell. A ranger along the trail said the forest had its natural cycle: every 100 years or so, either fire or disease took down the mature trees, allowing the younger ones on the forest floor to thrive. The fallen trees decomposed back into the ground. The ranger showed us a picture from 1915 of Teddy Roosevelt standing in the forest, declaring it under protection by making it a national park. Around the turn of the century, wildfires destroyed the park, and in the picture the landscape looked similar to how it appeared to us now.

Four miles up the trail the next afternoon, the three of us stood staring at one of the fallen pines. The sunlight slanted through the few living trees and onto the moist forest floor, landing on this pine, the heat causing it to give off steam. We watched and witnessed its decomposing, its passing on, and I tried to listen for what this forest might tell me about the pace of nature. Annen walked into the slant of light and lifted his arm to grab at the dust particles, glimmering like the falling snow that covers the mountains every winter.

*

During her pregnancy with Annen, Kristen regularly read out loud from her copy of the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, telling me about the latest changes happening in her body. For me, pregnancy was a crash-course in paying attention to small and subtle changes. Sperm and egg join together to form a one-celled self. A zygote. In a month, the zygote forms three layers and has everything in place to grow a human child, but is still no larger than a thyme seed. At some point on the 22nd day of pregnancy, our baby’s heart would begin to beat. Skin still translucent, stretched tight around his pin-point body, bone and muscle not yet formed, but suddenly an impossibly small heart in the middle of this mess would thump.

*

Standing in the kitchen, I hear Annen’s gloomy murmurs for his mama, a few sobs, then the sudden sound of Velcro ripping. That would be his diaper coming off. I turn the corner into the living room, and he runs at me hoisting the diaper in the air as if it were a scalped head. “Dypuh! Uffff,” he says with a defiant scowl. In some cultures, tearing your clothing is common when mourning, so perhaps this is just Annen’s way of dealing with his loss of understanding. I thought I had taught him how to wait, but he had simply latched on to a system of tracking time, and when that system failed, he had to act out. So he grabbed at his tiny hips until his fingers hooked the flaps and ripped the diaper off.

I go back to cooking. I’ll put a new diaper on him as soon as the water starts to boil and the pasta is in. A thud comes from the living room, then another thud, and I suddenly have a vision of Annen falling off the edge of the couch, or worse, busting out the front door and standing on our front porch crying for mama without a diaper and my bad parenting on full display for all the neighbors. I run into the room and find him still inside, naked as a newborn except for his feet. He has dragged my hiking boots to the doorway and now stands in them, his chest leaning against the door, a yellow stream running down the white door panels and pooling on the floor, and his Kewpie forehead banging against the door in rhythm with his melancholy chant: “Mama minih…” Thud… “Mama minih… ” Thud

*

A friend of mine recently noticed her heart beating irregularly and she began to worry. The added stress accelerated her pulse, which made it beat more irregularly. She saw a doctor, learned the word palpitation, quit drinking coffee and soda, quit smoking cigarettes, but her heart continued to beat irregularly on occasion. I told her it was all in her head, and it turned out, in a way, that I was right: the human heart receives electrical messages from the vagus nerve in the brain, telling the heart how often to beat. My friend’s average heart rate is 80 beats per minute, sending blood racing through 90,000 miles of circulatory system, completing the full circuit before the 80th beat. A palpitation is arrhythmic; a healthy heart keeps a steady beat.

Perhaps it is here where I can find traces of nature’s pace, in the heartbeat feeding brackish red fluid through my body. The salty flavor of blood, Joseph Campbell suggests, is the salt-same taste of the silent, primordial seas out of which we have spent the last hundreds of millions of centuries evolving. We can taste the pace of life by licking our own wounds and discover that our bodies pulse like the tides.

 

ABOUT THE ESSAY:

I tend to live in my head. I’m drawn to the exploration of ideas. So, in one sense, this essay began as intellectual curiosity. What is patience? How does culture influence our experience of time? What does nature’s pace have to do with my daily life? The first draft was even more fragmented, regularly shifting between ideas, scenes, quotes, facts, and reflections. I was aiming for an essay along the lines of what Samuel Johnson called “a loose sally of the mind.”

But if I’m being honest, this essay really began when I became a father, which is when I realized that no amount of thinking about patience would actually make me a more patient father and husband. When I wrote the first draft of this essay, my son was eighteen months old. It was primarily an exploration of patience with a few cute anecdotes thrown in for the sake of keeping it somewhat grounded in narrative. But as I continued to revise the essay over the following year, the daily experiences raising a son challenged me to rethink how pace, patience, and punctuality influence my relationships and daily life, and challenged me to see how impatient I actually am. The revision process helped me bring Emerson’s words down from their lofty place in the clouds and a bit closer to my everyday experiences and choices of fatherhood. Gradually the essay shifted more toward narrative, became more personal than I anticipated, and ended up in a place that is hopefully more tentative and less declarative about the prospect of learning patience.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Andrew Johnson is an MFA candidate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His work has appeared in New Letters. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife and two sons.

“The Ways We Pace Ourselves” also appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of The Pinch.