“I’m a ghost that everyone can see;” ~ Franz Wright, from “Empty Stage”


“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

 Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Still incredibly hot and humid, 91 degrees.

I’m going to try to do this again. No distractions. With any luck, I’ll get past the first few sentences.

This is my immediate problem: my children. As you know, I have three grown children, but their stages of grown do not match their calendar status of grown. My eldest child, my daughter, will be having one of those major milestone birthdays on the 7th of this month, but the reality is that I think she is probably the youngest of my children. And for the moment, I choose to focus on my eldest/youngest child.

Max Beckmann Beach Landscape 1904 oil on cardboard

“Beach Landscape” (1904, oil on cardboard)
by Max Beckmann

To be fair, Alexis has gone through a lot in her short life, and the loss of her sister, something her brothers do not share as an immediate memory, affected her greatly. Alexis has never been full of self-confidence; in fact, the exact opposite is true: If one person could be so completely uncertain of her selfhood, I would have to say that it is my daughter. Please understand, I’m not criticizing, only commenting; after all, I, too, am very insecure about certain aspects of my self.

I don’t know how much of my daughter’s problems are a result of nurturing, but I do know that I have been the primary nurturer in her life, which is why I probably have a tendency to blame myself for so many of her woes. But at what point do I draw the line and acknowledge that she has very real problems that are completely separate from my relationship with my daughter?

You see, while I love my daughter beyond words, I am not entirely sure that I like certain key aspects of her personality. Does that make sense?

“there is something else that drives us, some
rage or hunger, some absence smoldering
like a childhood fever vaguely remembered
or half-perceived, some unprotected desire,
greed that is both wound and knife,
a failed grief, a lost radiance.” ~ Edward Hirsch, from “Mergers and Acquisitions”

Again, let me say that I probably should not be writing this, but I need to work through some of this tonight as it is pressing on me much too acutely, and I know that I will have no peace unless I do something. I had to cancel my therapy appointment this week because of the chest cold that I have. Too much talking makes me cough, and coughing is, well, painful. Hence, the writing my way through . . .

I so wish that I had the ability to make things right for my children all of the time, but then again, don’t most parents? But I don’t have this ability, and talking to Alexis is futile, at best, and an invitation to a verbal fray, at worst. My daughter, like my sons, unfortunately inherited the family predisposition to clinical depression and anxiety. We all suffer in our own various ways, to lesser and greater extents, depending upon, well upon a lot of things. But Alexis is alone in one thing: she sleeps far too much for any human being. She can go to bed on Friday night and not wake fully until Monday morning.

(c) DACS/Anne Morrison; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“Summer Sea” (1961, oil on paperboard)
by Joan Eardley

When she was a teenager, she would sleep forever, but I really didn’t worry about it because I did the same thing as a teenager. However, she is an adult with her own child, and this sleeping sickness, for lack of a better term, has not abated. Corey and I have had several conversations in which we have tossed about this problem, mostly in relation to Olivia, as in, does my daughter’s sleeping sickness impede/impair her ability to care for her own daughter?

I can’t tell you how guilty I feel just for giving this concern words, but there. It’s been said. Now what?

I mean, this is more than my concern that she has absolutely no ambition, that she doesn’t seem to have any sort of life goals, which granted, is a real concern. But this particular issue has such larger implications as it affects everyone.

“I sat in the dark and thought: There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones.” ~ Neil Gaiman, from Signal to Noise

I’m so conflicted.

If you were to ask me if my daughter is a good mother, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Yes. Absolutely.”

Copyright York Museums Trust / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

“The Wave” (1898)
by Roderick O’Conor

But then, I must pause. Does she love her daughter? Without question. Does she want what is best for her daughter? Again, yes.

But what makes a good mother? Love, concern, respect, patience, empathy, sympathy . . . cobbled together with a willingness to teach, to share, to laugh, to cry . . . Like it or not, motherhood is an endless procession of decisions, and if we are lucky, most of them are right, and if we are smart, we learn from the wrong ones, but first, we must be able to identify the wrong ones.

Look, being a mother is a thankless job. Your children resent you a lot of the time. They don’t like you some of the time. They wish you would be quiet a lot of the time. They appreciate you only some of the time, and to them, you are never a person with feelings and wants and needs. And no one can teach you how to be a mother; it’s purely on-the-job training, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get good advice along the way, and if you’re smart, you’ll realize which advice is good and which is bad.

So what’s my point?

Damned if I know . . .

“Life must be back there. You hid it
So no one would find it
And now you can’t remember where.” ~ John Ashbery, from “Vaucanson”

You know shaken baby syndrome? Well obviously that’s something that must never be done, but what about shaken adult child syndrome? Is it acceptable to want to grasp said child by the shoulders and shake him/her until the eyes come into focus and you think that perhaps some semblance of sense has entered said child’s brain?

William Henry Johnson Untitled c1930-35

Untitled Seascape (c1930-35)
by William Henry Johnson

I know that I’m making light, but trust me, I am so close to tears much of the time that to laugh would be nothing short of achieving a state of grace.

But back to the problem. Did you know that there is an actual illness called Sleeping Beauty Syndrome? It’s actually called Klein-Levin Syndrome:

Klein-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare and complex neurological disorder characterized by recurring periods of excessive amounts of sleep, altered behavior, and a reduced understanding of the world. The disorder strikes adolescents primarily but can occur in younger children and adults. At the onset of an episode the patient becomes progressively drowsy and sleeps for most of the day and night (hypersomnolence), sometimes waking only to eat or go to the bathroom. Each episode lasts days, weeks or months during which time all normal daily activities stop. Individuals are not able to care for themselves or attend school and work. In between episodes, those with KLS appear to be in perfect health with no evidence of behavioral or physical dysfunction. KLS episodes may continue for 10 years or more. KLS is sometimes referred to in the media as “Sleeping Beauty” syndrome.

Seriously, I think my daughter has this. Some people think that Alexis is just lazy. I honestly don’t think that’s it. If I did, I would say so. Laziness can be fixed; well, at least, I think it can be fixed. Alexis is too OCD to be lazy. I just don’t know if she has any control over these sleep episodes. And the brutal reality is that it’s gotten to the point that it is having a serious impact on every single relationship she has.

“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” ~ Umberto Eco, from Foucault’s Pendulum

So what to do, what to do? I can do nothing. Not yet. And even if the time were right for me to do something, I have absolutely no idea as to what course of action I should take, if any.

Wassily Kandinsky Stormy Day 1906

“Stormy Day” (1906)
by Wassily Kandinsky

Familial relationships are so damned draining. Awash in a sea of eggshells, and trying to find just the right way to cross without breaking anything, without breaking any . . . one.

You know when you are young, in your early 20’s, and you think about life, think about the future as I always did, I would bet that most of the realities of later life never enter the realm of possibility. I mean, how could they, really? Real life is so far from what you think will happen to you when you’re young and trying to decide whether or not to drop a huge chunk of change on some toy or the other. Real life is so filled with pitfalls and trenches so deep that few of us would ever contemplate that such horrible things might actually happen.

Nothing in my 20’s prepared me for real life, even though I was so certain at the time that I had all of the answers. I was so sure of my certainty then. It takes being slapped in the face by fate to make you realize just how little you actually know.

So here I am, finally able to admit how little I know and knowing how little I am able to effect any kind of meaningful change in the lives of my children. Is it any wonder I walk around in a constant state of pain-filled angst?

Probably shouldn’t have written any of this . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by I Will, I Swear, “Long Days”


                   

Mind

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity’s
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

~ Jorie Graham

 

 

“It’s often said that we’re haunted by memories. Sometimes I think it’s the other way around: we’re the ones who do the haunting.” ~ Will Boast, from “Where It All Went Wrong”

#6 UTA Flight 772 Desert Memorial 16.864841, 11.953808 Sahara Desert, southern Ténéré of Niger
This image strike me as being incredibly poignant


“I think you wear the dusk like a thin veil. I think
your voice rises from the deepest caverns, your touch
settles like the darkness I try to hide inside.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Self-Portrait As Window”

Arthur Boyd Nebudchadnezzar, Rainbow and Waterfall 1967 oil on canvas

“Nebudchadnezzar, Rainbow and Waterfall” (1967, oil on canvas)
by Arthur Boyd

In the first part of the dream, my mother-in-law is dead but she hasn’t been cremated yet because Ann wants to give everyone a chance to say goodbye. By the time we get there, it’s been a week, and I pretend that I do not smell the smell of decay because I do not want Ann to get mad and throw me out. My father-in-law is looking at his coin collection, and I suddenly remember a piece of fabric that my mother-in-law said that I could have. It is an ornate brocade.

In the second part of the dream, my mother is alive when she’s supposed to be dead, and I know that I will have to tell her that she needs to die. She take me to a Chinese restaurant where she knows everyone, and they let her order anything she wants not on the menu. The owner, a tiny Asian woman, takes me back into the kitchen to let me sample desserts. While I am in the kitchen I realize that I will have to tell my mother that she can’t stay. When I go back into the dining room, the place is filled with American tourists. While I was gone my mother went to campus to pick up Brett, and I see that he has gotten a haircut, half mohawk in the front and mullett in the back. I decide not to say anything.

My mother tells Brett to order anything he wants, but he only wants chicken nuggets. I apologize to the owner, who has just cut the head off a very large fish. I look at my mother and realize that she is very tired. She nods to me, and I know that she is ready to go, but I want to stay in the restaurant longer. I want to stay in the company of these people. It feels like home.

                   

Take a look at the story of Dillie the Deer

                   

All Days Lost Days

Living
in and out of the past,
inexplicably
so many things have died
in me.

In and out like a tide,
each tear
holds a tiny hologram.
Even this early
I am full of years.

Here are the little gravestones
where memory
stands in the wild grass,
watching the future
arrive in a line of big black cars.

All days
lost days, in and out of themselves
between dreaming
and dreaming again and half-
remembering.

~ Carol Ann Duffy

 

 

Happy Father’s Day

Don Hong-Oai Spring, Bamboo Boat

“Spring, Bamboo Boat”
by Don Hong-Oai


“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it
Gathering light as glass does,
As glass does when the sundown is on it
and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”

My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.

Don Hong-Oai Lanters Light the Way, Guilin

“Lanterns Light the Way”
by Don Hong-Oai

I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.

And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.

Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.

Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.

I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.

My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.

Don Hong-Oai Fishing Journey

“Fishing Journey”
by Don Hong-Oai

I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.

In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.

In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.

All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.

Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”

                    

Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five

I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.

I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.

All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.

So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.

~ David Budbill