No Reason to Reason

Critque is such a rational response. It’s also kind of one-note, boring.

So, rather than harping on the Benighted One, I’d rather consider those things which are orthogonal to logic, those things which obliterate reason. Fear, panic, doubt, rage are all things which fit the bill, but they’re pretty much one-note as well.

Consider Joy. Consider also memory, smell, tricks of light.

Last month, I went with Jerry to the Half Moon Bay Nursery, a great place for all sorts of amazing plants (amazing to me, some of the stuff that grows in the Bay Area, even after ten years here) and ideas for home and yard. I went along just for the ride, but ended up bringing home a large tomato plant, already potted in a large pot, already staked to a support cage. I could have done all these things myself, but it ended up being cheaper to buy it already-done. Go figure.

So the first thing I did, as you are supposed to do (it’s Oral History as much as anything), I ‘suckered’ the plant on each existing shoot below its first fruit-bunch, those clusters of pretty yellow flowers so at odds with the jagged green shapes of the plant. I came into the house to wash my hands and caught the smell of the plant on my hands. It’s a mustard-y tang and one that your first reaction to is to get away from. But I smelled it again, because I wasn’t a 39 yr old San Franciscan in 2003 anymore, I was four years old, in Pennsylvania, with my great-grandmother in her garden. Morning air, ankle-bites of dew as I walked through the plants, an oblique sun throwing long shadows—I didn’t understand at the time how my shadow could be longer than I was tall!—my great-grandmother in a cotton floral-print housedress carrying a metal bucket.

Great-grandmother, “Nanny” we all called her, taught me to make apple pies when I was three. After she died—when I was six—I was the only one who could teach my mother how to make them like Nanny did. I remember noticing whitish marks on my finger nails, asking Nanny what they were. “Flour”, she said laboredly, as she rolled out a piecrust across her kitchen table. The marks, I was to discover later, were just plain old scuff marks.

But to this day, like this morning, whenever I think about her, I look at my fingernails. And of the hundreds of times this has happened since the woman died in 1970, every time there has been at least one scuff mark that I could look at and think, “flour”. She exists, and she is with me.

Coal stoves, the coal chute and coal bin in her basement. Burning the “hairs” off of chicken parts over the gas flame of her “new” stove. Psyanki. Delft-blue of her china pattern. Big, rounded “ice-box” with an enormous lever-arm handle. The overripe, shriveled plum inside that fridge that prompted me to tell Nanny that it matched her shriveled skin.

She laughed and told everyone what I had said. Encouragement for candor? Can I thank her for my hallmark, trademark bluntness? I like to think so. I thank her for so much anyhow.

I often think of the three generations of ancestral women—Marie, my mother; Mary, her mother; and Tekla/Teresa, Mary’s mother—as the Three Graces of my childhood and adolescence, examples of the beauty, charm and grace of being Alive within your own life.

Love exists because I have seen it, touched it, known it. More than five senses exist because love has illuminated those faculties and, in kind, those faculties make love that much more real when it happens.

Existence exists? Who cares. The things atop it are real enough. Intuition, anecdotes, outsized reactions to minutiae, the play of light and imagination. Creativity. JOY.

No reason any of that should exist, but it does. The pinnacle of human achievement is in the Irrational. I know this in my bones, but I can’t prove it. Proof is a rational thing.

And logic is a pretty flower that smells bad.