Only Love Can Conquer Hate

Happy Place, cleverly hidden behind sea grass.

Pete and I needed peace and quiet and some clams, so we drove down to Atlantic Highlands yesterday. The weather was bright and sunny, the breeze fresh, the boats all had good dogs. We ate steamed clams dipped in butter and jalapeno sauce until butter dripped from our elbows. I really needed that.

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We’ll Be Able To Fly

Months ago, one of little Swedish Black hens and sometimes Chicken Chicken started kicking up fusses just after dawn. Local ordinances forbid residents from keeping roosters because sunrise squawking makes the neighbors cranky. Anyway, In June and July, I found myself running down the stairs before dawn and out the back door to shush chickens almost every day. Andie, who is not an early riser, was calling the little hen “Chicken Soup.” I developed a plan: we would identify which of the hens was the complainer, if there was only one, through the clever use of chicken jewelry. Yes, I bought different colored plastic leg bands. Andie and I chased the nearly identical chickens until we caught them and gave them name tags. Sort of. We determined that the tiny hen with the white leg band, LaVerne, was our vocalist.

As a matter of fact, those are hot dog rolls on the ground.

LaVerne, in the corner, evading capture. Chicken Chicken, nearer, acting nonchalant.

The professor from the organic farming course of last summer agreed to take LaVerne to the Chicken McMansion on her farm. When the day came, Ellen arrived with a cat carrier. Andie was working, so I resigned myself to chasing LaVerne without backup.

You haven’t lived until you’ve climbed halfway into a chicken coop in your street clothes. Remind me to burn these garments later.

Note: no part of this is not gross.

Of course I’m dressed badly. How should I be dressed to chase a chicken through gross shit?

This went on for quite a while. Before I climbed in here, I’d warned Pete, “You have two jobs here: take pictures and heckling.” As you can see, it’s not easy to photograph a chicken roundup. Or my butt.

So glamorous!

I am literally chasing a small chicken around the coop with a cat box pooper scooper.

Finally, I got my hands on the little bird, who pecked my hands, but settled right into Ellen’s arms. After a few minutes, we stuffed LaVerne into the cat carrier and off they went. I still get up before sunrise most days, but with the solstice behind us and the equinox ahead, that time is a bit later every morning. Chicken Chicken, without the goading of her sidekick, sleeps in. This morning, I didn’t see her in the run until just after 7.

Wait, I'm not your real Mom?

The recipient of this chicken finds her charming. Her feelings are reciprocated. I feel left out of this lovefest.

Ellen says she holds LaVerne in her arms all the time. I could never get near her. It was obviously meant to be.

The Village The Peaceful Village

We’re about to have houseguests and chaos and July is my favorite of the months. I am trying to enjoy every July day, because I miss it every day that is not in July. Like, every one. That’s quite a few, so every day, I am saying out loud, “It’s July, which is my favorite.” If this sounds to you like I’m brainwashing myself, you underestimate my ability to argue with me, because I am also like, “August is boss, Ta.”

Don't forget to floss!

Pride Month brought out all the dudes.

Obviously, there’s a lot to be said about June, too.

Our Best Wine Is Clotting

I’ve been staring at the blank page for some time now. Here, you look at some pancakes:

Ever seen pancakes look hungry?

My pet sourdough starter Frothy, Jr. needs regular feeding. So do chickens. Guess who ate these rhubarb pancakes?

On Friday morning, Anthony Bourdain died by suicide in France, devastating news in many ways. If you’ve ever suffered depression, you know someone else’s suicide can make you think itchy, uncomfortable thoughts. I won’t go into difficult detail, in case you have suffered depression, but please understand: I know. Also: other people know:

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we explore the righteous anger of Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This.

Oh boy. Live Through This was the soundtrack for my years-long swan dive into the dark. It completely captured my rage, anguish and inability to make sense of my life.

…for Love, who watched grunge break through to the mainstream only to find that the freedom and rebellion it promised was reserved for her male counterparts. In grunge, men could be scruffy and rude and defy gender norms—they could be rawer than the men modeled in synth-pop music videos or hair metal concerts a few years prior. Women, for all the space afforded them in the subculture’s spotlight moment, might as well have been Lilith.

By then, I was already Lilith, flying off the edge of the earth (that link references Enid Dame, whom I knew and loved.)

The album’s pummeling opener “Violet” baits the ear with a jangling guitar tone cut from the same cloth as R.E.M., and then drummer Patty Schemel churns the song into a fury. “Go on, take everything/Take everything/I want you to,” howls Love, her bitterness oxidized into defiance.

In a second profile of Love, published in 1995, Vanity Fair conducted the first-ever interview with the singer’s mother, the therapist Linda Carroll. “Her fame is not about being beautiful and brilliant, which she is,” Carroll said. “It’s about speaking in the voice of the anguish of the world.” That the anguish of the world would have a female voice was an idea new to the music industry. It’s still new. Love makes a bid for universality on Live Through This in that it’s hard not to get swept up in her energy, but she also acknowledges that female pain is marked, that it is compartmentalized and dismissed because it is felt by women, not people.

Siobhan, between jobs briefly and camping on my couch, saw me come home from a terrible job to a failed relationship in a disastrous living situation, howling this song  and remarked, “Oh good, you have an anthem.” Violet was my anthem, but when I lost my home, my memory, my artwork and my man, it didn’t seem incidental that I also lost my singing voice and my ability to write by hand after decades as a prolific journal writer. I lost everything I recognized about me. Essentially, I spent four years in absolute darkness, six years building a new self and a new life, and the last eleven years teaching myself how to learn again, and a new way of living without much of a past.

This morning, I listened to Live Through This to find out how I felt, more than twenty years later. Busy at work, I found there were songs I didn’t remember and songs I wished I’d heard recently. Credit In the Straight World is a fantastic song. I have little idea what the lyrics are about, but I love the jangly, swooping guitar sounds and Love’s voice skimming their surface like a skipping stone. “I don’t really miss God, but I still miss Santa Claus,” from Gutless, for my money, sums up Love’s ambivalence about men and authority figures. God punishes the people He supposedly loves, and giver-of-gifts Santa has no respect for personal boundaries. Either one could have behaved a little better if he tried, but at least Santa leaves presents.

Blind cats rock!

Adorable Wednesday is adorable, but also brilliant and ferocious. And adorable!

Live Through This was released four days after Kurt Cobain’s suicide. On She Walks On Me, Love sings:

Hold you close like we both died
My ever present suicide
My stupid fuck, my blushing bride
Oh tear my heart out, tear my heart out
She walks over me
I don’t know what this song was about, and that never mattered. He was dead and she was absolutely wrecked by his death and everything that followed. You can read about her life anywhere; I don’t have to repeat that for you. This is almost prophesy.
Few people get up in the morning and decide to kill themselves. Most people who commit suicide think about it for a long time, make decisions about how and when and who will find the body. I understand the state of mind of a person who feels he/she cannot live this life anymore and is looking for a way out. I don’t blame them at all. I feel in the lyrics Love wrote before Cobain died that someone was not committed to surviving. Maybe it was her. Maybe him, but he beat her to the finish line.
___________________
I stared at this page, at words, at pictures, for two weeks, not sure what to say. I’m still not sure. Bourdain’s death kicked my ass. After some dark days, he finally seemed to have gotten into shape, come to terms with the failings of the food industry, found the right ferocious woman, mentored the right people, met his heroes, and gone to places that he loved and that needed him. Essentially, he appeared to have gotten his shit together. If you’ve ever been depressed, discovering that wasn’t 100% true was like a shot to the gut. He wasn’t lying. He was just holding it together in a way that was invisible to me, and since we’re now talking about me, I felt deeply shaken by his death. The following Monday, I felt like I’d gone back to work too soon after a death in my family. I can’t explain that.
I’ve been staring at this page for two weeks now. I’m going to hit publish and move on to the next thing. I have to. I’m still speechless, but there are other things we have to talk about, and we have to talk about them now.

The Goat Won’t Stop Shrieking

 

They hardly suspect I brought scissors.

A lot of people will tell you carrot greens are not edible. Those people are full of shit. Carrot greens – especially young carrot greens – belong in salads and soups.

I was taking miserably bad pictures of my garden for a few weeks. Why? I don’t know. Inspiration left me and joined the Foreign Legion or something. This morning, I weeded the garden of plants I didn’t remember planting and plants I regretted planting. It was pleasant for me to spend time in my garden on a Monday morning. I suspect the plants on the compost pile might offer a different report.

The garden, as it is currently constituted, is difficult to photograph, by which I mean I suck at photography. The soil is dark and rich. The plants are vibrant shades of green. The chickens are surly and demanding, the neighbors are full of crazy and Andie’s garden cat Kitty refuses to come in the house since it stopped snowing. I go out the back door and have no idea what I’ll find, no matter how many times a day I crack open the door.

 

I cannot overstress how tiny this garden is.

It’s rained every day or every other day for about two weeks. The ground is saturated, the river is high and lettuces laugh maniacally.

Tomorrow is a big day at my job. All Hell is going to break loose and for the next little while – hold onto your hats – I’m going to try staying calm and being reasonable. STOP LAUGHING! I’ve been reasonable once or twice. Probably. I mean, it could happen, or we could have blocks of chocolate delivered to my office, for general gnawing purposes. I guess therapy dogs don’t drive themselves places, but I can’t rule out ordering them from Amazon.

 

Suitcase And Guitar In Hand

For a bunch of years in a row, I took a picture of the backyard garden from the top of the back steps, usually on Sundays because that was probably the day I charged the camera battery. Or milked the cow. I don’t have a cow. Anyway, taking pictures from that vantage point is a big old failure now. To show you, Poor Impulsives, the exceedingly homemade garden, I had to walk down the steps and walk around the entire ridiculously small garden, and what a sacrifice it was. You are welcome!

Tools and dirt, check!

At the bottom of the back steps and to the left, the temporary greenhouse and the solarizing bed.

Almost as soon as we put up the temporary greenhouse, two storms came along and threw everything inside on the ground. Stuff is now growing on the floor. I don’t know what that is, exactly. Can’t wait to find out if it bears fruit or tries to kill me.

Some plants, check!

At the bottom of the steps, slightly less left: the berm in the foreground; in the background, the stairs that will be covered with window boxes, a composter, the high raised bed.

Pete and I built the plant prison with chicken wire sides, which was a total pain in the ass and was guaranteed to whack me in the face every time I tried to get closer to my plants. He revamped this dealio with plastic fencing along the sides and I am the very happiest of happy campers. At no time has plastic fencing attacked my person and the squirrels are totally out of the big raised bed.

I have a splinter. I'm sure it's not from all this wood.

Standing in front of the greenhouse and looking straight back at containers full of potatoes, sweet potatoes and asparagus. The higher raised bed in the distance is full of garlic. The chicken chateau to the right is full of surly chickens.

I plant a lot of potatoes. Nothing is more fun than dumping out a container of potato plants to find wonderful new potatoes on the surface of the solarizing bed. Dudes, you can grow food in hilariously small spaces – if you can protect it from voracious wildlife. And your neighbor with boundary issues.

Yep, that's a container of lemongrass in New Jersey.

The higher raised bed is full of garlic and clover. I love garlic and I’m experimenting with cover crops. I’m at that age, you see. Against the fence to the left will be a forest of peas & beans; against the forest to the right will be a forest of asparagus, a couple of years in the future.

I like walking around the plant prison to the space near the higher raised bed. This is the center of the garden space and from here, I can see most everything. From here, I see things I should fix and things I should be patient about. Place your bets.

Can you believe I wasted the battery power to photograph this?

Presently, the somewhat anemic forest of peas & beans. The favas are doing well. The beans sprouted nicely. The peas? I’ve re-seeded.

This is the spot where Andie’s cat Kitty likes to nap on sunny days. I love finding her here. I wish the squirrels were a little more nonplussed.

That's not my shed, but my plants lean on it.

Walking around the berm/plant prison, there’s the tumbling composter, the stairs Pete built to hold planted containers, the layer composter, a container of potatoes. Also visible: a whole lot of garden fence pieces put away carefully.

The other day, I took a weed-whacker to the yard. I like this part of the garden green and mossy, but weeds are aggressive everywhere. I was careful to pick the dandelion greens for the chickens before I weed-whacked this area to within an inch of its life.

You would not believe how much time I spend staring at eggplants.

Turning directly around, this is the backside of the berm/plant prison; beyond on the left, the higher raised bed filled with garlic; beyond right is the chicken run and coop.

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but lots of seeds are sprouting in the plant prison. This planting method is working for me. I have backaches, but for other reasons.

In my day, it was "Yellow Submarine." Why is this kid singing music from before his parents were born?

Behind the berm/plant prison, looking straight back at potatoes, the garlicky higher raised bed, the future home of an asparagus forest, and the fence between me and the little boy singing, “JET! OO OO OO OO! JET!” over and over again.

When I was a kid, the retired neighbors across the street spent all of their time and energy planting flowers and trimming their hedges and adjusting their pansies and I thought they were crazy people. Maybe they were. But about the plants: I get it.

I’m excited about getting up tomorrow morning to water plants. Because: craaaazy.

Bright In A Hollow Sky

This spring, we’re up to all sorts of wild new stuff. I cut off all my red hair and now I look people in the eye and wait for them to say something about it. I built the berm in the low raised bed and Andie and I covered it with fertile soil. Andie moved the blueberry bushes to the front of the house and planted the currant bushes. My job has taken a turn for the more interesting and serious and – surprise! – I rather like it.

What? I assembled it before breakfast, mofos!

Five foot by five foot by too high for me to reach, dammit!

Over the winter, I took a part-time job to send Panky to space camp, but plans change. Miss Sasha and Mr. Sasha decided that Panky should wait another year before he goes to sleep away camp, but found Panky a summer robotics program near them. In an exciting turn of events, I’ve made enough at my part-time job to send both Panky and Buckwheat to summer camp. Do you know what that means? That means in the future, Mama can pay some bills.

I like the sound of that. Everybody wins.

Nobody expects it. Especially not me.