Jeff Oaks

The Writing Life, Writing Prompts, Essays on the Ordinary

Month: June, 2014

The Names of the Children

At the Provincetown Monument last week, I read the list of the Mayflower Pilgrim names. I love some of the old names people had–Humility Cooper, Oceanus Hopkins, Peregrine White. One name that grabbed me was Wrestling Brewster, who was age 6 when the Mayflower found harbor in Massachusetts. So many of the fundamentalist’s children were named for virtues, and it struck me odd that wrestling would be a virtue, as opposed to the more settled and placid virtues of Humility, Remember, or Patience.

Imagine what your life would be like if you’d been named Struggling, Restless, or Complicated. Or Football.

At least a couple of the Brewster children seem to have been named after what their parents thought they were being born into–his sister Fear during “the height of the Puritan Persecution,” says Wikipedia, and then Love, a boy (the early 17th century version of a Boy named Sue?), and then Wrestling. Were the Brewsters wrestling with the idea of leaving for the New World then? Or where to find rest at all? Or did they expect their youngest child’s life to be full of turbulence? Was he particularly active in the womb? None of these questions pop up around his oldest brother, Jonathan, whose name seems by contrast to be without any emotional content at all.

What does Wrest mean again, I asked myself? Where does it come from? So I’m just pasteing here some Wikipedia definitions of the word Wrest as it’s come down to us. I like of course that it is the homophonic but reversed-meaning twin of Rest.

Old English wrǣstan ‘twist, tighten,’ of Germanic origin; related to Danish vriste, also to wrist.

Verb: wrest;
3rd person present: wrests;
past tense: wrested;
past participle: wrested;
gerund or present participle: wresting

To forcibly pull (something) from a person’s grasp.
“Leila tried to wrest her arm from his hold”
synonyms: wrench, snatch, seize, grab, pry, pluck, tug, pull, jerk, dislodge, remove

To take (something, especially power or control) from someone or something else after considerable effort or difficulty.
“they wanted to allow people to wrest control of their lives from impersonal bureaucracies”


To distort the meaning or interpretation of (something) to suit one’s own interests or views.
“you appear convinced of my guilt, and wrest every reply I have made”

Noun: wrest;
plural noun: wrests

a key for tuning a harp or piano.


Wrestling Brewster, by the way, died unmarried some time before 1644, when his father, William Brewster’s estate was settled. His sisters Patience and Fear pre-deceased him. His brothers Love and Jonathan survived him.


June: notes

It’s quiet today at my favorite coffeehouse, Tazza D’Oro, although a demonstration of tea brewing is slowly taking shape, an excitement of glass, hot water, and bits of leaves. Experts tire me out quickly these days, all their talk a buzzing around a problem, a pleasure. When I drink my tea, I’m thinking, silence is a main ingredient. I’m not so interested in an over-precision of grams and brew time and homogenization. A large window to stare out of at the random world as it passes is as essential to me as the warmth of the water. A cup as round as my palm, a mug that keeps my hand from forming a fist, these mean something to me. A curious, gentle, sensitive, flexible expertise is what I’m after. I think the same thing about the poems and essays I want to read and write these days. Away from constant revolution, endless war, 24 hour news, a fear of missing out, of losing relevance. There is nothing to report. It’s June for god’s sake. Stop reading this blog and go outside and enjoy the sun. Or go get yourself so involved in a narrative you’ll grow quiet and disappear for hours. Lose your expertise a little.

At Fifty

I come to the ocean. It’s a long drive out of the landlocked city but the idea is to just get to the edge of the edge of the world again. To just be in a place where the world might give a signal. I’ve given up on seeing a face or hearing a voice but not completely yet on receiving some message: which way to go? What’s the secret? The sound of sunlight rising over the vast volumes of calm water is something. The big black cormorant flying elsewhere, a line parallel to the horizon is something. Later today or maybe tomorrow I’ll scatter handfuls of my mother’s dust along the long shore. She didn’t care much what we did with what remained of her, she said. But when I mentioned this place I knew I’d come to to turn fifty, she said, okay, that would be all right. In a way, my standing here is my way of saying, Look, I’ve come this far. To just present myself for inspection, for attention. I can read the small body leaping in the water about fifty feet away as an eye opening and shutting, taking a look. Something surprising itself with splashes of air. The sound of water constantly moving, sucking on, kissing the side of the small white boats someone will take out later. The whole huge blue expanse of water. The slabs of gray clouds over there. The blue above that. I take photographs of an expanse.

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