The Spotted Opossum’s preschool does show’n’tell in small groups, a few kids every Wednesday. Her turn is coming up, so today when I picked her up I suggested we go out to the woods to find something for show’n’tell. “Or, we could…”
“Woods! Woods! Woods!”
So that decision was made. The whole way out to the George Washington National Forest, she chattered away about the silly boys in her class, cartoon characters and our dog who died a month or so ago. She asks me to explain the dog’s death every so often, and to tell her about where the old, blind, deaf, spotted dog is buried.
“Why is Trudy buried there?”
“Do you mean why is she buried? Or why did I bury her in that particular place?”
“Anything. Just why?”
So I just start explaining. Sometimes she wants me to tell her things. It could be about death or not. I’m not always sure I know what she wants, but I do what I can with it. Most of the time she seems satisfied with whatever I come up with.
All this past summer, we went to Rivenrock two or three times a week. There’s a road there that crosses the river and it’s a good place for little people to run around squealing and kicking up water. We found a couple other places there – the waterfall and “where the dam is” – where we went to hang out on multiple occasions. A few times, we went to Rawley Springs, a couple miles downstream. For some reason, the girl decided to prefer Rawley Springs to Rivenrock, so we went there today. It’s not much, just a wide spot in the creek, a few feet deep.
When I go to the woods, I want to go way out, far away from any sign of humanity, as far as I can run, naked and feral, sucking in the oxygen-rich air. I want to see bears and rattlesnakes, scale cliffs and get lost, find some big rock to sit on, smoking a pipe and contemplating the billions of years that rock has seen. The girl isn’t into it. She likes to stay near the creek, where she’s been before and feels comfortable. I convinced her it’d be fun to walk around a bit and agreed to carry her. We followed a trail a ways, found some footprints in the sand, deer, dog, raccoon, saw some tadpoles who better get changed to frogs soon. She wanted to go back to her comfort zone then, so we went, chattering about cartoon characters and silly boys. She likes to build “houses”, which are mounds of dirt, sand and rocks, and then decorate them according to her own inexplicable aesthetic. It’s my job to provide materials for the decorating. I spiral out from her, picking up leaves and pine needles, flowers and seed pods, some of which she carefully arranges, the rest of which she throws away. I don’t know why some leaves are better than others. Today, I went one way and she ventured off in the other direction, hunting for things to decorate the house. She was brightly dressed, mostly in pink, so I could pick her out easily. I kept her in sight, but left her alone as much as possible. I want her to feel at home in the woods, as I always have, to know the dangers but not to fear. She’s getting it. She knows not to mess with snakes – I’ve drilled that in: if you see a snake, don’t get near. Call me. I want to see the snake, too. We’d wander away from each other and then return to the little house. At one point, she was wobbling around on some rocks in the creek. I asked her to not do that, but she could tell it wasn’t a big deal. She knows my tones. If I’m not using the danger-voice or the angry-voice, she doesn’t feel compelled to listen and that’s okay. It wasn’t me who was about to fall in the creek and it wouldn’t have been a disaster if she had, which she would’ve, but I caught her. I haven’t caught her every single time, but my record is good enough for her to assume I will.
“Daddy, I have to go potty!” Always an urgent announcement. At home, I say “You know where it is”, but out in the woods, she needs more help. She won’t just squat. The grass might tickle and buggies might crawl on her bottom.
After a couple hours, she was ready to go. We gathered up her things for show’n’tell – pine needles, a stick, an acorn – and headed home, where she barged into my room and claimed a little antique cream bottle. I was going to give her a sandwich bag to put her show’n’tell things in, but she wanted the bottle, which I found in a wooded part of the city a few years ago, so I let her have it. She crammed the pine needles in, added some plastic beads and gods-know what else. We painted a postcard for one of the silly boys in her class and then it was time for her to go to her mommy’s and me to go to work.
“The most sublime act is to set another before you”, is one of William Blake’s Proverbs Of Hell, from The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell, and it’s my parenting style in a nutshell. The girl is more important than anything else I know and if what I feel for her is what love is, then I’ve never loved anyone else. This should not be unusual. Every child should be the center of their parents’ universe, for they’re the future and we’re just caretakers, worn and world-weary, damaged beyond repair. To protect and nurture the small ones is the best we can do.
After the girl was born, a few weeks after, I was hit by the sudden realization that I had to get my shit together. I’d been fiddling around with art and music for years, getting nowhere slowly and not making any money. I saw that I had to quit daydreaming, get a real job, start bringing home the big bucks. Art and music could wait. And just as suddenly, I saw that for what it really was and these words came to my mind: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedth out of the mouth of God”, which is from the Gospel of Matthew, 4:4. It was Satan, the Deceiver, who put that thought in my head, who whispered, in effect, “You’re a father now. You have to provide for your daughter. Give up what you are and pretend to be something else, to make money.” Satan will use what he can, even a father’s love, to corrupt and destroy, but I knew too much to fall for that. I took a class in college – childhood development – and learned that children learn by example. It isn’t what the parents say that matters, but what they do. If I had shelved the guitar and the art supplies and gone to work in some office or factory, I would be teaching my daughter to give up her dreams, to sell her soul, for filthy lucre, just as her daddy had done. No. Fucking. Way. The mission of Christ, which He knew all along, was the Cross. All His sermons and miracles and witty asides were just events on the way to His triumph over death. I, too, have known my whole life that I am an artist – the music, which is another form of art, came into it later – and I have never been able to imagine me doing anything else. Of course, I have a job: a part-time job that pays just enough and doesn’t occupy much of my brain space. I’m good at my work, good enough that I do more than anybody else and have downtime to work on music or write this or sketch, but my occupation is not what I am. I’m an artist and I suddenly saw that what I needed to do was quit fiddling around with it and get to work. In the year that followed, I banged out recordings, one right after the other. I released some of them myself, found micro-labels for others. I contributed tracks to compilations, did split cd’s and cassettes. I worked on music after work, after I got home around 1a.m., cutting and pasting, plugging electric guitars directly into the computer, sampling and mixing with headphones on because the baby and her mommy were sleeping in the next room. I’d stay up ‘til four, then get up at eight to watch the girl and take her out to play so her mommy could get some sleep without a suckling at her teats. I’d have the Spotted Opossum ‘til five, eat dinner, go to work, day after day. It seems strange now. My memories of that year are blurry with exhaustion, but somehow I kept on going. Actually, it was closer to two years that I kept up that pace, until BDSR titles had been released on four continents and labels were contacting me. I’m still not making any money, but that’s never mattered. I have established a base now, solid ground. There are labels all over the world willing to take the chance and back a BDSR release. Somebody wants whatever it is I’m currently working on. And I learned a hell of a lot. The stuff I did those first couple years still stands up – I’m surprised how well I did then, considering how little I knew – but the more recent stuff blows me away. I don’t know how it happens, but it does. The chunks just fall where they should.
Here lately, I’ve slacked up a bit. I’m doing more drawing these days, actually getting some sleep once in a while. I’m getting involved in a religious community, doing some fundraising for charitable organizations, setting up shows. I’ve actually only got one full-length BDSR project in the works at this writing, which is unusual. There are three or four planned out, but I haven’t started recording, partly because I’m waiting for a guy to send me some bass tracks for one of them. (Yo, Joshu, send me those bass tracks.)
The paradox is that the Spotted Opossum is the reason that it’s so important that I do art and music and she’s the reason why it doesn’t really matter if I do art and music. The contribution that I make to the world will not be a cd of experimental music or a series of illustrations based on Yup’ik tales. It will be that I did the best I could to raise my kid, but I have to do the music and illustrations to teach my kid to be true to her own self, which is what God wants us to do.
See what I did there? I’m saying that what God wants is for every one of us to find the thing He put in us, the thing that makes us who and what we are, and then to bring that to fruition. Christ’s thing was the Cross. Parzival’s thing was the Graal. Arjuna’s thing was the throne. My thing is art and music. I dunno what the Spotted Opossum’s thing is. Today it was building a little housed of river rocks and sand and then decorating it with pine needles and an acorn. Maybe she’ll be an architect.
Whatever she turns out to be, she’ll have learned that money isn’t important. She’ll know that the Voice of God is within her and that following the instructions of that Voice will give her life, her own life. The life that only she can have. The life that the Artist of the Universe intended for her alone. All of us have some thing, some calling, some unique blessing and curse, placed within us by our Maker. Mine happens to include holding a little girl up so she can pee in the woods.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.