I am, despite all evidence to the contrary presented here, a frightfully cheerful person. I whistle far more than anyone around me would prefer. I tap dance and sing to myself a half dozen times a day. I sometimes try to sooth myself to sleep listing all that I love in the world and stay up for anxious hours making sure I haven’t missed one single little thing that brings me joy.

Unwrapping a Hershey’s kiss so that the foil is perfectly intact and can be smoothed and folded into neat quarters, for instance, pleases me immensely. I could write poems about the scandalous surprise of cool, damp grass on a warm day. Or about how my heart cramps up a little when really old men have to be begged not to take from me the heavy thing I’m carrying in my strong, farmgirl* arms. Or about how dirty my feet’s soles are after a day spent walking around a city alone and muttering to myself, as if my skin is changed by the things I’ve seen and thought, and about washing my feet clean with a cool, scratchy cloth. If I didn’t hate my own poetry with the fire of one thousand suns those would be the things I’d write about.

I am, on the other hand, one of the world’s all time teeth gnashers, what the fuckers, and this is an outragers. In the pictures taken at my fourth birthday I am smiling and eating cake and then I am crying because there’s no presents for anyone but me and there is somehow cake tangled in my hair. None of it seemed fair. The cake was decorated with a picture of the bear from the fabric softener ads, whom I have always loved disproportionately.

At work everyday–and on Saturdays and on Sundays when I find myself somehow at work again–I flounce around inside my own personal maelstrom: Why can’t we all try to be a little more competent? Why can’t we care just a little bit more about what’s happening in the lives of people down the street or in some far flung place? Why can’t we dive deep instead of dabbling tentative toes in polished shoes into the message of the Gospel?

I wrestle against cynicism, and I wrestle a reluctant sleep from my tangled sheets. Sometimes I scream in the car or subject my friends and neighbors to rants delivered in increasingly accented English. I swear too much and run as far as my legs will carry me and I have a drink now and again all to take a little of the hone off my sharp, disappointed idealism about all the world. I scheme to worry less and find another job and tell people to go to hell when they ask me to take on one more responsibility.

Not too long ago, I was watching a thing on PBS about Joan Baez. I somehow never latched on to her music during my ’60s folk phase, so I was only paying the documentary halfway attention. She was talking about the bad time in her life when her fellow–who may or may not’ve been Bob Dylan: I really wasn’t listening–left her and her record deal left her and and her politicians left the course she thought the righteous one and all her faith in everything wavered in the face of such foul fortunes.

Oh God, she said and laughed with her crinkly, bird-bright eyes, people are just like that, aren’t they? That is the way we are. She was talking about the people who let her down or who never seemed to do one thing she thought was good, and she was laughing with something like kindness on her face, or charity.

*Farmgirl in heredity, not in actuality. I can’t so much as work a pitchfork. I did see a calf get born the other day though: I was driving past on a windy, dirt road as it dropped free from the business end of a Holstein. Ew. I said. Get me the fuck out of the country.

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