Let’s pretend that the natural world heals all wounds, OK?
For a while there today I was traipsing around the woods with the Mid-Hudson Mycological Association peeps and I felt that things were going to be just fine. I was correctly identifying mushrooms right and left and all seemed right with the universe. All the pretty leaves even made me feel a little bad for saying that I fucking hated fall yesterday.
But life is not Walden Pond, and we don’t all have rich (pencil-factory-ownin’, if I recall correctly) daddies who will finance our trips into the peaceful woods – oh, the luxuries of transcendental meditation. My daytrip to the woods was just that, and afterward I had to go to the bank and the Asian market and the whole thing, that Saturday swirl of commerce and cars. I decided a long time ago to live in and patch up this battered world, instead of frolicking around in my own head in a little cabin on a pond.
I often regret this choice – action over intellectualism, realities of poverty and injustices over romantic ideals – but I know it was the right choice. I was once a mighty fine academic, but one day while walking through the quad and wondering just exactly how Lacan’s analysis of the inherently unstable nature of language itself was such a victory for feminism, as my professors seemed to believe it was, I made a choice to live in the world. I loved Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. I loved Toni Morrison and Adrienne Rich, conjugating French verbs and scrutinizing perfect iambic pentameter blank verse. But language games will never bring about revolution, no matter how ardently WST 101 professors deeply believe in them. And since I was about twelve I’ve known that my business was to be the business of revolution.
So today I live in the world. And the world hurts my heart so badly.
But mushrooms. So pretty. The poetry of their Latin names give me goosebumps, and the idea of a mycelium – that mushrooms are the fruits of vast underground networks that are constantly breathing and expanding right under our feet – thinking about the world wrapped in its skin of mycelium is deeply calming, isn’t it? Do you know about mycoremediation? Mushrooms, quite literally, are cleaning up the world we have so badly damaged.
But after the mushrooms comes errands, and work, and while making the tempeh and peeling potatoes I watched the series finale of M*A*S*H. And I know, I know, don’t say it – I’m a softie. I try to cover it up with a lot of “fucks,” and sometimes I’m able to transform the heartache the world gives me into cleansing, purifying, motivating anger, but after M*A*S*H tonight I just slid down onto the kitchen floor and cried.
How can the human brain adequately wrap itself around the concept of war? I know, I know – I’m being overly sincere and a little ridiculous. But seriously. Not just war, and yes, I know M*A*S*H was a sappy TV show, but: war.
M*A*S*H depicts the Korean war but everyone knows it’s really about Vietnam. Both useless wars, (if you subscribe to the idea that there can be useful wars, which I don’t, of course, but clearly especially Vietnam was doubly and triply useless in the scale of things), both indescribably heartbreaking. M*A*S*H would have been heartrending enough if wars had ended there, but what got me down tonight was this: how can my heart have space to feel sad about these fictional characters in a real war, when my heart is made almost unbearably heavy just thinking about the war(s) taking place right now?
How much sorrow can one heart hold?
I’m not trying to be dramatic or annoyingly softhearted here, but the truth is that I’ve always felt I lacked some essential membrane that helps people move about in the world without it just eating them up. Most people pretend to at least have a protective coating that allows them to swim through the world without the assorted horrors of life – homeless people, starvation, everyday cruelty – paralyzing them. I’m able to do that for stretches, but then I have stretches like this, where the real world drags my heart down so far I have to literally sit on the floor for a while.
War, and economic meltdowns, and even everyday heartbreaks like the Saturday night bar scene in my town – for some reason it just breaks my heart. The essential brokenness at the heart of America right now, something like that.
And again: mushrooms. Old as the universe, they just keep on popping up. Some of them will kill you, but I had a few boletes for dinner tonight that were, well, poetry on the tongue. Transcendental, actually. And the push and pull starts all over again – beauty versus truth, and trying to mix the two up in your head just to make it a little easier to get through the day. I’ve rambled on about it before, you must be tired of it. But that’s what my life turns on when everything gets so heavy: balancing the pleasures of the material world with the horrors.
Things are pretty unbalanced right now, but I’m holding onto things like mushrooms and mycelium and M*A*S*H and hoping and waiting and working hard. What else is there to do?