“The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Dance Dance Dance

Chang Dai-chien Splasher Color no title2

Splashed Color (nd, no title, color and ink on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

                   

“Almost impossible to sleep; plagued by dreams, as if they were being scratched on me, on a stubborn material.” ~ Franz Kafka, from Diaries

Wednesday early evening. Partly cloudy, 83 degrees.

Lots of drizzle the past few days mixed in with scattered thunderstorms. My body has reflected the weather: I feel dampened, pending somehow, as if something is incipient. Yesterday, I wasn’t able to get out of bed for most of the day. Hate days like that, but there was nothing for it. I just wasn’t able.

Chang Dai-chien Splashed Color no title

Splashed Color (nd, no title, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

I’ve spent days and days calculating square footage, calculating how much insulation, how many tiles, how much backerboard, etcetera. I am nothing if not a stickler for precision. I know that this is not what Corey had planned when he said he was going to tear out the bathroom, but there was no point in doing it halfway only to have to do more before we sold it.

Tile board (which he had planned to use) looks cheap, but it serves its purpose in a rental property. We’re going with ceramic and mosaic tile. Essentially, we’re gutting down to the studs and starting over. I keep waking in the middle of the night and going to the computer to check something, to make absolutely sure that I have allowed for this or that. Corey says he’ll just be glad when we start to that I will quit obsessing. I concur.

Tomorrow we go to the big box stores to get what I couldn’t get online. Luckily, because it’s the 4th, Corey gets credit for his military service, and we get a 10 percent discount. Any discount is better than no discount.

“I need the shade of blue that rips your heart out. You don’t see that type of blue around here.” ~ Cath Crowley, from Graffiti Moon

Aside from preparing for the bathroom reno, there isn’t much going on. We’re still struggling with puppy training. Still lots of hit or miss. I told Corey that not every dog can be as intelligent as Tillie who seemed to train herself that first week. Bailey makes up for the mistakes in cuteness, though. Would that all of life were so . . .

Chang Dai-chien Snow Storm, Switzerland

“Snow Storm, Switzerland” (nd, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

Ever since my last post about that memory, I have been melancholy. I couldn’t put a name to why, exactly, but it’s here. I know that when I have these health relapses it always throws me, makes me afraid that I’m regressing to those first months after going out on disability when I was so dependent on everyone else, when I could do so very little on my own. That kind of dependence is frightening, perhaps because it may be a precursor to how life will be in the latter years, when so much of life is beyond your control.

I think of Corey’s grandfather, my own mother, how the years are not friendly to the elderly. I watch my mother diminish little by little, unable to finish sentences, repeating things she’s already told me five times. It’s painful. I can do little but watch and try not to add the phrase “I already told you this” to my sentences when we talk.

“I do not want my voice to go out into the air while my heart is sinking.” ~ E. M. Forster, from The Paris Review, “The Art of Fiction”

What am I afraid of, really? Dying without ever doing anything? Without accomplishing a damned thing?

Chang Dai-chien Snowy Mountain

“Snowy Mountain” (nd, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

Yes.

I am mightily fearful that my life will have meant nothing when I am gone, that I will have left my children with little, not monetarily, but in the ways that mean the most—in the kinds of memories that they will share with their children, the remembrance of small moments that might still conjure a smile.

I am afraid that I will reach my last days and that I will still be sitting here wondering when I’m going to get around to writing that book, trying to decided whether or not I should get a doctorate. I don’t want to be that person, that lost soul who never quite found her way. I don’t want people to remember me as the woman who never did anything, who never lived up to her potential.

“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from Thus Spake Zarathustra

God that sounds so narcissistic, as if I have so much to give, so much to contribute. What makes me any different from the next woman, from the woman in the car next to me at the stoplight, the one who is keeping time on her steering wheel, all the while wondering if she remembered to thaw anything for dinner . . .

Chang Dai-chien Mist at Dawn ink and wash 1974

“Mist at Dawn” (1974, ink and wash on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

It’s ridiculous, I know, but I still fancy myself that mysterious woman, the one who people wondered about, the one who a professor referred to as a woman of mystery. I like to pretend that’s still me, even though the mystery has faded, and I am just another person trying to get along, trying to survive without going mad.

Can I tell you a secret? Of course, it isn’t much of a secret considering where I am at the moment, but anyway—I always relished my differentness. Not a word, I know, but difference isn’t quite accurate. I have liked being different, not being able to fit into any predetermined niche. I have liked that very much. I have liked that I do not have blond hair and blue eyes, that my name is not ordinary, that my lineage is not easily identifiable.

And yet, there were days when I would have given anything to be like everyone else. Granted, I was still but a child, but to be different when you are a child is a very hard thing.

“He carries stars in his pockets because he knows she fears the dark. Whenever sadness pays her a visit, he paints galaxies on the back of her hands.” ~ Alaska Gold

There was a scene recently in a show that I follow in which the detective goes inside a closet and looks up; she sees stars, the kind of luminous plastic stars that you can stick to the ceiling in a child’s room. I have those stars above my bed. They used to be in the shape of a few constellations. I took great care in the placement, but in the years since, some have fallen down, and the constellations are incomplete. It wouldn’t have taken much to replace the ones that fell, but I chose not to because somehow the incompleteness of what I had created seemed to make more sense.

Chang Dai-chien Diety Trees 1970 ink and color on paper

“Diety Trees” (1970, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

And that, my friends, is the true story of my life.

I gravitate towards the incomplete, the imperfect, the jagged and the broken, the lost, the wandering. It’s a harder road, one that fits squarely inside Frost’s maxim about the less traveled path. I remember I came upon that poem in high school, and it made perfect sense to me.

Why choose the road that everyone else has already taken? Discoveries cannot be made on such roads. Everything new under the sun, if there is still such a thing, will not be on a well-trod path. This I know, but I also admit that I probably could have avoided many falls and scrapes had I chosen differently.

“Look at how beautiful this ink is. Now do you understand why I needed clear water? Water is the brightness of the day and the whiteness of the paper. Black is the velvet of night and the satiny ink of the paintbrush. If you know how to make ink correctly, you will never again be afraid of nightmares.” ~ Françoise Place, from Hokusai (The Old Man Mad About Drawing)

Chang Dai-chien Earth

“Earth” (nd, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I once wrote a poem about my ex called “For My Husband, Returning to His Lover” in the style of Anne Sexton’s “For My Lover Returning to his Wife.” I mention this now because I remember a particular passage of my poem in which I refer to my stretch marks:

Look closely, these faint gray lines
at the tops of both my thighs, surely
she has not acquired anything
quite as exquisite.  Mine are badges,
earned by keeping pace with him
for decades–the many treks
we made across life’s arduous terrain.

Each scar on my body is a story. And had I gone the easy way, I would not have these stories to tell. I don’t regret any of it.

Chang Dai-chien Spring Clouds 1965 ink and color on paper

“Spring Clouds” (1965, ink and color on paper)
by Chang Dai-chien

Look, I once refused to go on antidepressants because I wouldn’t be able to write. I told that particular doctor—who was a misogynistic quack—that he just didn’t understand, that I was nothing without my extreme highs and lows. Later, a doctor who I respected convinced me otherwise, but there is a part of me that still remembers the intensity of living without medication, and I would be lying if I said that I don’t wish that I had that, had those intense emotions all of the time, but the truth is that living day-to-day with such emotions will kill you, sometimes quickly, and sometimes slowly.

This post has taken on a life of its own, which is what happens when I suddenly unleash the floodgates.

Enough.

More later. Peace.

(I am late in discovering Chinese artist Chang Dai-chien, also known as Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). In 2012, “Lotus and Mandarin Ducks (1947), a  painting by the artist fetched $191 million (Hong Kong) at auction. The price was more than nine times Sotheby’s estimate of HK$20 million.)

Music by Gretchen Peters, “On a Bus to St. Cloud”

We Should Be

We should be born old,
Come wise into the world
Already able to choose our destiny,
Already knowing the pathways that lead from the crossroads of the origin.
Then, it would only be irresponsible to yearn to go ahead.
Afterwards, we’d gradually grow younger,
Come to the gateway of creation mature and strong,
Pass through, and enter into love as adolescents,
Then be children when our children are born.
They’d immediately be older than we are.
They’d teach us to talk; they’d rock us to sleep in a cradle,
And then we’d disappear, getting smaller and smaller,
Like a grape, like a pea, like a grain of wheat …

~ Ana Blandiana

Happy Father’s Day

mom, dad & me in England

Cherish them while you can . . .

                   

My father’s hands

are gnarled and time worn

Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

leaving his hands weak and small.

They remind me of a monkey’s hands—

brown and leathery.

These hands that have tended to so many machines—

fixed so many moving parts

These same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

He has cast lines into many waters,

unhooked his catch again and again,

alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler—

blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

from my skinned knees,

patched my wounds,

only to let me go again.

They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite,

taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

and how to make a seam true.

I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

with the same careful tenderness

as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

from a deadly current

with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

A world away in another lifetime,

my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind—

but never forgot.

Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

in morphine dreams,

sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

and knit them to and fro, over and over.

In the few moments when they are still,

I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

against my beating heart—

they are so diminished within my own.

These hands

that have labored and loved

harvested and hewn

These hands are the man he was

and the life he lived.

And now that his days are waning,

I want nothing more

than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

when everything was safe,

and nothing could harm me

because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

taken back to that instant

when he held the fender of my bike

and guided me on the path.

touched me on the shoulder once

before setting me free to find my way.

L. Liwag

May 31, 2001

                   

Music by Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”

“And never have I felt so deeply at one and, at the same time, so detached from myself, and so present in the world.” ~ Albert Camus

Norman Smith, Landscape II, pastel on paper

“Landscape II” (nd, pastel on paper)
by Norman Smith

                   

“She was desperate and she was choosey at the same time and, in a way, beautiful, but she didn’t have quite enough going for her to become what she imagined herself to be.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from Factotum

Sunday afternoon. Cloudy and 68 degrees.

Norman Smith, Venice Impression pastel on paper

“Venice Impression” (nd, pastel on paper)
by Norman Smith

I still don’t feel that I can string together sentences in any meaningful way, especially since I am struggling for each and every word. I find myself staring at the screen until my eyes completely lose focus, and then I don’t remember where I was going with a train of thought. These phases are nothing new and I know that my inability to find the right words will be a reality that I will have to face again and again without every knowing why.

So, with that in mind, I think that I will just do a random thoughts post, well, because it seems to make the most sense right now . . .

  • I dreamed last night that the feral cats that live in the park bushes all came out at the same time and sat in a group in the entrance drive to the park. They were all black.
  • Brett finally got the radical hair cut he’s been pining for: shaved on the sides and longer on top. Now he’s going to bleach the tips and color them pink. It should be pretty wild once he’s finished.  I can’t wait to hear what my mother has to say about it.
  • Actually, I can wait.
  • The spring pollen is wicked at the moment. Everything has a nasty yellow sheen.
  • So far, I am disappointed in this new season of “Dr. Who.” Just saying . . .

“How fragile we are, between the few good moments.” ~ Jane Hirshfield, from “Vinegar and Oil”

  • A few days ago, I experienced something that I haven’t experienced in a very, very long time: I felt pretty. Not vapid pretty, not glossy print pretty, but pretty all over, inside and out.

    Norman Smith, Last Reflected Light, pastel

    “Last Reflected Light” (nd, pastel on paper)
    by Norman Smith

  • It must have been obvious because my PCP with whom I had my six-month check-up said to me a couple of time that I looked good, really good, better than she had seen me in a while.
  • Does that mean I look horrible the rest of the time?
  • What causes days like that? Is it an alignment of the stars?
  • The “I Feel Pretty” song from West Side Story kept running through my head, particularly the line “It’s a pity not every girl can feel this way.”
  • To be honest, I can’t recall a time in recent memory that I had this feeling, and that’s sad because it was a wonderful feeling.

“We are what suns and winds and waters make us.” ~ Walter Savage Lindor, from “An Invocation”

  • I finally went to a dermatologist to have the mole on my face looked at. It’s completely benign, on the surface of the skin. The doctor was pretty funny, using euphemisms for age and old, i.e. “wisdom,” “knowledge.” He said that it was what used to be called a beauty mark and that it brought out my eyes. What a character.
  • I like doctors who don’t take themselves so seriously. That whole god-complex attitude really breeds antipathy rather quickly.

    Norman Smith, Norfolk Marsh, pastel on paper

    “Norfolk Marsh” (nd, pastel on paper)
    by Norman Smith

  • My mother’s doctor said that the shadow that was on her kidneys has almost disappeared; apparently, the heavy-duty antibiotic they prescribed for the diverticulitis has taken care of everything, which makes me wonder why she was told that there was a “mass” on her kidneys.
  • So why am I so consumed lately with an intense yearning to have my flabby arms fixed? she asked, apropos of nothing.
  • The dermatologist remarked that I didn’t have crow’s feet, and I thought to myself that you have to smile and laugh a lot to get crow’s feet.
  • I go back in two weeks to get the bump on the sole of my left foot removed. It’s been there for years and years, and it, too, is benign, but I’m really tired of it.

“One got the impression that she was following phantoms; she was consumed by shivering sensations of eternally pursuing something unattainable. Something about her was tear-streaming; she existed in the midst of unconsciousness. And she could only be seen not by those who ceased looking but rather by those who absolutely exhausted it.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Stories Of Katherine Mansfield

  • I finally got the paperwork back from the living will registry, and guess what? They misspelled my last name. People always put a y where the g goes, which makes no sense to me.
  • If my name is misspelled on my living will, does that mean that it is applicable to someone other than me?
  • If your name is misspelled on your birth certificate, does that mean that you don’t exist?

    Norman Smith, Marsh Sunrise, Pastel on Paper

    “Marsh Sunrise” (nd, pastel on paper)
    by Norman Smith

  • I had students in my 6th grade class who couldn’t spell their names. What does that tell you?
  • My last name has the same number of letters as Smith or Jones, so how do people manage to screw it up so badly?
  • “Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Man, Nabokov made even the pronunciation of my first name sound sexual.
  • Have I ever mentioned how much I hate that my first name is associated with young girls, with jailbait, with dirty old men? It is a short poem, but society has turned it into a blasphemy.

“She walked roads no one else could see, and it made her music wild and strange and free.” ~ Patrick Rothfuss, from The Wise Man’s Fear

  • I am so glad that Brett’s spring semester is almost over because I’m exhausted.
  • I really am, exhausted, that is. Bone-weary. I don’t know if the lack of energy is allergy-related, tied in with my fibromyalgia, a reflection of my dour mood, or a combination. I just know that I’m damned tired.

    Norman Smith, One Tuscan Evening

    “One Tuscan Evening” (nd, pastel on paper)
    by Norman Smith

  • A couple of days ago I pulled all of my purses out of my closet—not intentionally, but I couldn’t find the one that I wanted to use. Then my bedroom flood was covered with purses, and I was too tired to put them away, so I stepped over them for two days. Pathetic.
  • When I finish this sham of a post, I have two baskets of clothes to put away. I may read instead.
  • I love having Olivia over here, but I’m so tired when she goes home, especially if she spends the night.
  • Corey is supposed to be home around May 10, just in time for our anniversary. He’s probably getting off the ship at that time because they are going deep-sea for 45 days after that, and he doesn’t want to do that. I’m glad, but of course, I’m worried.
  • The dermatologist said that I have worry lines. I refrained from retorting, “No. Really?”

More later. Peace.

All images are by British artist Norman Smith.

Music by Adaline, “Keep Me High”

                   

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

~ Mary Oliver