Consider the Compost

Dark and crumbly. Soft and warm like a brownie. But sour with putrescence. I can see the crescent of an orange rind, hoary with white-blue mold. I start picking out the unintegrated parts, turning them to a new pile. This is the process.

***

In his essay “No Soil Required,” naturalist Robert Michael Pyle sees in compost miraculous resurrection: “where the slugs and the eggshells, the clippings and bacteria, the moles and the maggots, the worms and the dirt all mingle in such a maze that the gelid breath of Death itself goes hot and the stillness of the quick comes fluid and lithe.”

There’s something Freudian about compost. It’s where the death drive — the instinctual desire to become inanimate matter — meets the life drive, the erotic, the loving, the moving, the nurturing. Compost is both past and future. From death we can reverse-engineer life. We can find the parts that stick out. The parts that beg for integration.

***

I think about death every day. Death makes me a better husband. Death makes me a better father. When I think about dying, I think about my children and my wife. I want them to know I love them. I want them to know they’re the best part of my life, that whatever I’ve given on this journey is theirs to carry on.

***

My creative work as an artist is the second most important thing in my life. I want my work to outlive me. Sometimes I work too hard. I try too hard.

***

I watch a lot of kids’ movies, which is a form of relaxation, I suppose. The Shrek franchise is my favorite. When his wife gets pregnant, Shrek freaks out because he’s an ogre and doesn’t think he deserves a family. He doesn’t think he deserves that kind of happiness.

***

I was raised Mormon. Some feminists remind me of Mormons. I don’t label myself a feminist, but I support feminist goals. My three rules of liberalism are don’t regulate bodies, don’t regulate sexuality, and don’t regulate bookshelves. I want to believe feminism can save the world, men included.

***

When I was sixteen, I had horrible acne. A girl I knew told me it was God’s way of punishing me for sleeping around. Girls liked me. I was a promiscuous teen. I was also severely bullied. Some days I’d go to the library for lunch, sit by myself, and read literature and philosophy. Other days, I’d skip class and drive my old truck around town. I’d go to grocery stores and try to get scraggly-looking adults to buy me booze.

***

When I was eighteen, I joined the Radical Philosophy Association. I considered myself a Marxist. My adult politics reflect greater disillusionment with leftism. I consider myself a liberal but not a good liberal; I believe power corrupts. Sometimes I call myself a humanist but stop whenever people assume this means atheism. I’m not an atheist. I’m agnostic. I like being surprised by wonder. Who knows what I’ll see flying through the sky tomorrow morning?

***

In college, I wore my scars like a badge of honor. I was ruggedly handsome, a good student, a hard-drinking musician and writer, an extreme skier. I loved to party. Women liked me, but I was usually noncommittal. Men liked me, too. I’d fantasize about both. Whenever there wasn’t a party, whenever there was a lull in that electric raciness, it’d feel like falling through a trapdoor — into a sticky and sour inflammatory darkness.

***

For the last ten years, I’ve been trying to learn Spanish to better communicate with my wife, a Latinx immigrant. I’m not yet fluent.

I am fluent in two other languages: Hick and Ivy League.

The first is my native tongue. I grew up in the rural West. I make fun of Hicks because I understand them. I am a Hick.

The second is my adopted language. I learned Ivy League while earning an English degree, and I’ve honed my skills considerably while working in journalism and publishing.

Each language feels like a lie to me, though. My best work combines both.

***

This year I’m thirty-six years old. I’ve come to identify as pansexual. It’s weird and terrifying to tell people because they don’t know what the hell it means. Especially in my Hick town.

It’s easier not to tell people.

***

2017 was the most stressful year of my life, but it was also the happiest. We have two identical twin girls, toddlers. They’re smart and mischievous. They smile at me so quick and lithe I can only call it love: the way my heart soars and dips and spins.

The way I want to protect them.

***

Trump and his ilk and all the fear and drama they’ve caused stress me the fuck out.

Whenever I get stressed, my head feels like it’s gripped by a steel band. My brain locks, the world tilts. I think about vegetables.

***

Yeats wrote “the center cannot hold / mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” But what if instead of apocalypse this were a salutary mantra:

The center cannot hold

The center cannot hold

The center cannot hold

***

Breathe. Silence. Breathe. Silence.

I taught myself to meditate when I was eighteen.

***

A couple weeks ago I read about alter-globalization. In contrast to anti-globalization, alter-globalization looks to realign existing power structures — private and public — toward greater local autonomy and environmental sustainability.

I also read an article in The New York Times on how regenerative agriculture will save us from global warming:

Key to regenerative agriculture is composting. Managed responsibly, compost reduces waste, increases soil fertility, and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere. It’s all about balance and renewal.

***

I put my coffee grounds in a metal bucket just outside the garage door. When the bucket’s full, I mix it into my compost pile. If you don’t have a bin, dark sheets of weed blocker, applied with some weight, can help heat up your pile.

Heat and moisture are necessary for the proper breakdown of waste.

I compost everything: leaves, grass, coffee grounds, food scraps, self-hatred. I love to see what will decompose into nutrients.

***

I first started turning away from leftism after visiting Peru in my late twenties, seeing what Marxism and Maoism did to my wife’s home country.

Revolutionaries often romanticize themselves — and their actions — -at the expense of innocent people around them.

Politics is about choosing which system of romanticization is least destructive.

***

A few years ago, my wife bought me a microdermabrasion kit. Every week, after shaving, I use it on my cheeks. The process isn’t too painful, though it does chafe.

I’m thirty-six years old. My acne scars are slowly fading.

I don’t drink much anymore. Or at least as much.

***

The idea of anarcho-pacifism fascinates me. It seems an oxymoronic political philosophy — subversion, revolution, but only to create peace. As if human morality were in constant flux between a fist and a kiss.

It makes sense to me.

***

Whenever I catch myself being a bully, I apologize. I think about the rage I’ve known in my own life, and I think about forgiveness. I hope forgiveness is a real thing — an act, a process — not just something our animal selves made up to feel better about reality.

I catch myself being a bully whenever I assume a degree of moral authority I don’t have. Liberalism is necessarily rooted in skepticism of one’s own moral authority, as well as that of others. It’s all about checks and balances.

I can’t call myself a Social Justice Warrior because I believe there’s little justice in war.

***

I often wonder about inorganic objects, especially the relics of consumer culture that drift along our periphery. I just fixed up an old basketball hoop. The plastic handle on the hydraulic arm was bent. I tried to reshape it, but I just mangled the plastic more. I couldn’t bring myself to replace the part altogether. It was still functional, working with its own weird dignity.

I had similar feelings remodeling my master bathroom with my wife. We opted for a new countertop but kept the original, somewhat tacky cabinetry underneath. The wood’s composite with oak veneers — beat up, scratched, stained, but still usable. It would have felt like a waste to pull it all out.

***

I can be an obsessive recycler. Plastic peanut butter jars baffle me. Rationally I can’t make the case that the plastic saved justifies the amount of energy and water used to clean the jars. I’ve gone both ways on this. I’ve pulled peanut butter jars out of the trash and scrubbed them righteously.

Doesn’t a peanut butter jar deserve a life beyond its domestic designation? A second chance? The magic of possibility?

***

Two nonfictions converge in my mind. The first is Jonathan Franzen’s essay on “obsolescence.” This appeared in some important magazine in the 1990s, I think. He obsesses over outdated technologies, describing how super capitalism sweeps everything along until we’re left pining for our forsaken toys. It’s fascinating — when we think about it — how vintage and quirk and tackiness are conservative impulses: resistance to change.

The second nonfiction is Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. The famed psychoanalyst predicts an overly serious and sterile scientific age will strip our minds of all the primal and mystic associations we have with objects.

If we’re not careful, we might just kill poetry — the same way synthetic fetilizer kills microorganisms, strips the soil of nutrients.

***

Spotify lets me track unique listeners and streams of my self-produced indie music. Recently I noticed an instrumental song from my shoddily produced first album getting a high number of plays in Australia. Turns out it was one listener, apparently repeating the song on an endless loop — nearly a hundred plays in a matter of days.

When I was a kid, whenever I felt alone, I’d put my favorite songs on repeat. Punk, classical, rap, whatever. I’d latch onto one song for a while, and its repetition would help me get through the day.

***

Maybe we have it backwards. Maybe the verdant parks are a giant bore. Maybe the landfills are where we should be going. The real treasure troves. “The region of resurrection,” Pyle says, “where the living soil arises from the wreckage of what went before.”

***

The most conservative impulse I have is to protect my family, to conserve the family unit in the face of change and dissolution. I thank my Mormon upbringing for instilling in me the importance of family. I stopped going to church when I was fourteen, but some of those values, the good ones, stayed with me and have helped me become a decent husband and father. I wish more churches welcomed people regardless of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

If God exists, she hates binaries.

***

I’m not sure compost is ever finished. After I pick out the sour, unintergrated parts, I rake the fresh humus into a silky mound — soft and pliable, almost like chocolate mousse.

I fill up the flower pots first. I spread it on rough patches in the lawn to boost water retention and root health. Lastly, I comb the compost into my garden. The nutrients will feed tomatoes, corn, strawberries, peas. By the end of summer, each crop will burn on the tongue with a distinct sweetness.

My greatest joy in life is working in my garden with my kids. It’s important they see and understand the process.