Berenice Abbott: Blossom Restaurant, NYC (1935)
“Autumn teaches us that fruition is also death; that ripeness is a form of decay. The willows, having stood for so long near water, begin to rust. Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.” ~ Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces
Tuesday early evening. Overcast and humid. White sky.
Last night my dreams were filled with people from my past and present: Kathleen, another woman I used to work with in Northern Virginia who told me to keep my doors locked, and Patrick and Helma. In one part, I was living in (or just possibly staying in) the old townhouse that we used to rent in Alexandria. It was a spacious townhouse in a questionable neighborhood. I was there again, but the furnishings were not mine. The belonged to the women who owned the house.
There were four different sets of dishes, and I was trying to decide which ones to use to serve some hors d’oeuvres to guests. Then my ex was there but in the backyard. It was all very confusing as I didn’t know why this particular mix of people were in my home, so I just decided to make food.
In another part, I was on a ship, a cruise ship I think, but the propellers were visible, and they were attached to the bottom of the ship instead of the aft, and I was wondering how they could possibly propel the ship if they were attached in this way. So I decided to touch one, not too smart, I know, but it was made of plastic.
Some woman from the cruise line told me that they had to keep replacing the propellers because people were always touching them, and I thought to myself how inefficient. Make them out of metal (brass?), and put them out of reach.
Don’t ask me . . . they’re dreams.
We must all stop dying in the little ways,
in the craters of hate,
in the potholes of indifference—
a murder in the temple.” ~ Anne Sexton, from “The Children”
The past two days have been very stressful for reasons that I don’t particularly care to revisit at the moment. Suffice it to say that external forces are rearing their ugly heads again like a giant Lernaean Hydra, and each time I manage to cut of one head, two more grow back.
Sometimes, in this particular venture, I truly feel like Hercules, only I’m stuck cleaning out the dung-filled Augean stables over and over again, and my only relief is when I do battle with ugly monsters like the Hydra and the boar. But what I must keep reminding myself is that no one expected Hercules to succeed.
I know that you might be surprised by this particular revelation, but I do not cotton well to males who try to assert their authority over me through power plays. My response is to dig deeper, entrench further, rather than to cede. I’m not suggesting that this is a particularly endearing trait as I am well aware that it is not, but there is just something in me—the same thing that rebels against the idea of being called a housewife—that does not like the idea of someone trying to put me in my place.
I know my place, and it’s not ten steps behind, nor is it in the proverbial kitchen. My place is anywhere I want it to be.
Look, I’m a woman who came of age during a period in society in which roles were shifting greatly, and I like to think that I played a part in breaking some boundaries, that I helped in my own way to educate and enlighten a few people along the way to the realities that women are people, that women can be intelligent and strong, that women can be in charge, that women are not their reproductive system, and all of the rest.
So don’t imply that I’m a “little miss,” even if you don’t have the balls to say it to my face. I won’t act well either way.
“I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed” ~ John Steinbeck
Ooh. I just had the most marvelous surprise arrive by post. My online friend Leah in NC sent me a care package: four bars of Godiva with a tag to use in emergencies only.
Oh, Leah, if you only knew how very, very much my soul delights in such small joy. I have restrained myself from tearing into one immediately (salt caramel . . .) so that when I finally do succumb, the pleasure will be that much better.
I must say that while I do not have a large following, and I am not read by hundreds of people all over the world, the people who do visit me are so incredible: I addition to Leah, I have my dear, dear friend Sarah who continues to stand by me decades later, my friend Maureen in Australia who keeps me close to her heart, my New Zealand friend Veronica who sends me some of her beautiful photographs and shares recipes, and a few others who may or may not want to be mentioned.
As is the case in life in general, I would much rather have a handful of people in my corner who truly want to be there than a hundred people on my side who have but an ephemeral loyalty to my best interests.
“let’s pour the night
into our stone water jars
this song isn’t red flowers
crushed under silence” ~ Yusef Komunyakaa, from “Blues Chant Hoodoo Revival”
Okay, so where was I? (Well yes, I had a taste. Of course I had a taste. It takes a lot of energy to clean these stables) . . .
Oh yes. The stress, and discretion is the better part of valour (prefer the British spelling of that particular word).
I abide by the common courtesies. I know how to shake hands properly and to look people in the eye. I say my pleases and thank yous, and I try (really), try to be polite on the telephone. I was taught the Golden Rule at a young age, and have always found it to be a very good maxim when dealing with people.
All that being said, what has happened to the niceties? People who think they can run roughshod over others? What’s that about? I mean, not just in a personal sense, but take the Wall Street actions. I’ve seen several snarky comments in which critics call the protestors “hippies,” as if that equates them with the dregs of the earth. I’ve read comments in which the protests are being compared to what happened with college students in the 60’s.
Well, hello? What happened because of the 60’s protests was a good thing, remember? Social change, the end of an unjust war, desegregation? Those were actually good things. Those hippies? They believed in peace. No, they didn’t wear the best clothes, and perhaps their personal hygiene wasn’t what you would have wanted, but their messages? Good things.
What is happening in this country right now in New York is but a reflection of what has been happening all over the world in recent years: Social protest against unjust policies, cruel regimes, and financial ruin. I think it’s about time. I mean, the latest news reports indicate that Wall Street bonuses this year are set to equal or surpass last year’s bonuses . . .
How many of us lost a lot of our retirement funds when Wall Street crashed a few years ago? I know that I did. So don’t talk to me about how these protests are quaint. These protestors are doing what so many of us gripe about but take no action against, and if I were in New York, I’d be out there.
“Everything must have been once. That’s why life seems to me like a ghostly undulation. History does not repeat itself; yet it seems as if our lives are caught in the reflections of a past world, whose delayed echoes we prolong. Memory is an argument not only against time but also against this world. It half uncovers the probable worlds of the past, crowning them with a vision of paradise. Regrets spring from the nadir of memory.” ~ E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints, (trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston)
So what does Wall Street have to do with my street, with my personal situation? More than you might think. Far too many of us in American society have had serious setbacks in recent years. Far too many of us are struggling just to survive. Far too many of us have lost jobs, lost homes, lost health coverage, and some have lost everything.
Why? Not because we’re lazy, or because we choose not to work. I read post after post about recent college grads who are coming out of school thousands of dollars in debt with school loans and absolutely no prospects for work. I read about one woman with a college degree who makes $7.50 an hour and spends most of her income repaying her school loans.
Are there slackers? Of course there are. Are there people who abuse the system? Of course. But far too many of us do not fall into that category.
Me and mine? We are better off than most. We have food and shelter and a vehicle. We do not live beyond our means, have no credit cards, have no new car payments, have an old house that needs a multitude of repairs, and some of us in this family have health insurance. But we’re surviving. Things aren’t ideal, but truthfully, are they ever?
Four of the five people living in this house are going to college, thankfully with some Pell Grant money, some scholarship money, and a bit of student loans. Four of the five people living in this house are relatively healthy. You don’t need to tell me that we should be grateful, because we are. I guess I just needed to say that.
“Like the trees
I don’t know what to sing.” ~ Eduardo Chirinos from Reasons for Writing Poetry
So what happened to set me off on this rant? Everything and nothing. I must remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, Hercules finished his labors. He did not stay in those stables forever, and the Hydra? Well she was vanquished as well.
My personal Hydra seems to keep sprouting new heads, and once in a while, that really torques me out of shape, but not because those heads do anything more than smell pretty bad.
Discretion is the better part of valour.
I don’t always remember that, but I try. I just have a really hard time when someone threatens, even remotely, those who I consider to be under my protection, under my sheltering wing, if you will. It does not sit well, let us say, when aggressive tactics, time-wasting efforts start my week off on a bad note. And so I say and do things that I would not normally say or do. Whatever.
It’s Tuesday. It looks like rain. I have chocolate. The music is playing, and I laughed out loud a few times today. Life, in spite of all of my assertions to the contrary, is good. Sometimes I’m looking at it through a veil of pain, and sometimes it is a veil of tears, but when the rain passes, and the clouds break, the sky is still there, filled with stars or sunshine.
Outside the sky is darkening. I can do this.
More later. Peace.
Music by Fink, “Yesterday Was Hard on All of Us”
*All images from New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Berenice Abbott
Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.
~ Tony Hoagland