So I started reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It’s on those damn literary life lists of 100 books you simply must read if you’re going to hold your own in pretentious cocktail party conversations. I don’t go to cocktail parties and I am probably pretentious enough, since I am worrying about my pretentiousness quotient, but here I am slogging through it, feeling uninitiated and vaguely confused. This, I tell myself after putting down my kindle for the night, is why folks should take literature classes – so someone can tell you what to think and feel when you read stuff that you kind of just read. It’s just words. I feel dense, like I’m reading with my eyes only, skimming the surface. Reading the words this prize-winning author wrote, knowing every sentence was crafted and labored over, and probably contains more subtlety than I will ever grasp, even with assistance, I feel inadequate. It’s a theme these days, so it’s not surprising that my leisure activity (reading a novel – how utterly decadent) makes me feel inadequate.
I have become that archetypal mom of toddlers, as if I gave birth to demon triplets, say about 3 years ago. Tom comes home from work and all I have to offer over our ritual beer is talk of poop and biting. Brody ate poop again. Hawk bit me when I said playtime was over. They dogs listened. The dogs didn’t listen. They were good; they were horrible. I’ve become a stay-at-home mom to five psychotic toddlers.
Like most moms of toddlers, I love it. I am incredibly fulfilled by my miscreant charges. And I am resentful and sick to death of them. They are my pride and joy and my ball and chain. I watch the clock when I am away from home, knowing their exercise and feeding schedule shall not be disturbed, come what may. The price of such disturbances may be indoor poop or shredded cashmere sweaters. Keeping the house civilized and sanitary is my Sisyphean task.
Not really. I mean, I’m too busy to be bored, and too passionate about all the elements of dog care and pack dynamics to be less than fulfilled. But I remember when I thought about other things as well – art or literature, music or politics. I remember when I could do things out in the world, like have a cup of coffee with a friend, and that wasn’t constrained by the needs of five canine toddlers. I miss being all parts of me.
So Things Fall Apart. It was the title that drew me in. Things do fall apart, predictably and regularly. I tend to have a bit of a death grip on life, approaching most tasks or projects with a control freaky type A intensity. I take all failures, large and small, very personally. And yet things fall apart willy-nilly, from dog training efforts to my own half-a-century old body. This week I had to have general anesthesia to undergo an endometrial biopsy. For most women, this would be a brief, albeit uncomfortable, office procedure. No anesthetic needed. But I have cervical stenosis, a condition that has rendered my cervix impenetrable, more closely resembling leather that has been left out in the rain and sun for a few seasons – dried, tough, and rock hard — than a part of a living human body.
And Peeka killed a porcupine. Talk about training efforts falling apart, everything that could have gone wrong did. The end result was a dead porcupine and a very large (and growing – we’re not out of the woods yet… so to speak) vet bill. While many people see porcupines as nuisance animals, I can’t quite line up behind any excuse. The porcupine was exhibiting odd behavior for sure, but my dogs are supposed to have rock solid recall. And they do… except when they don’t. Countless times, my dogs – including Peeka – have successfully been called off porcupines. Big ones, little ones, ones in trees, ones on the ground, ones in dens, and ones on the trail. Famously, Hawkitt did the unthinkable – he made friends with a HUGE porcupine. Just walked up to him, and said hi… slowly, gently, and without any drama. They touched noses, and each went on their way. If I hadn’t seen it myself I would never have believed it. But that’s Hawk – he also smooched a fawn he found in the woods. His first response to new and unfamiliar beings is to smooch. Peeka, not so much.
So it’s been a week of reading about white missionaries arriving in Nigeria, waiting for biopsy results, and nursing a very swollen Peeka… all the while nursing feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, and anticipation. It’s been a long week. I still don’t have biopsy results, nor do I trust that I can keep both Peeka and the porcupines of Bramley safe from each other. Things fall apart, and somehow we have to live with it. I go out alone with my camera a lot more than I used to, and hope that I’ll be rewarded with glimpses of wildlife that the five canine toddlers would render impossible. So far the results are meager, but so are my efforts. Dusk and dawn, that’s when I need to be out there, with a tripod and a metric ton of patience. Each morning that I lie in bed contemplating the width of my consciousness (wide awake? I think many days I find myself “narrowly” awake.) and not leaping out of bed, grabbing the camera and yelling “Honey, take the dogs out after I leave” is a morning I miss the dawn’s parade of coyote and bobcats, foxes and fishers and godknowswhat else across the trail on the lower loop. I know they are all there – I see the tracks at 9 am. But 9 am may as well be noon for all the good it does me.
Things fall apart. Trying to hold them together may well be shoveling sand against the tide. Perhaps that’s the lesson contained in Achebe’s subtle and carefully wrought prose. I’m still not sure, but I’ll soldier on. And I’ll let you know what I find out.