“In music, in poetry, in life, the rest, the pause, the slow movements are essential to comprehending the whole.” ~ Maryanne Wolf

“Winter Morning,” Igor Grabar* (1907, oil on canvas)

                   

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon quoted in E. A. Poe’s “Ligeia”

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and 64 degrees.

Yes. I know. It’s been a full week since my last post. I haven’t been completely idle, though. The house is decorated inside and out. My collection of santas are on the hearth, and the holly swags are hung. Most of the packages are wrapped. The Christmas cards have been addressed, just need to get stamps and pop them in the mail.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1905, oil on canvas)

Unfortunately, it seems that I’m kind of limited to doing one thing a day, so sitting here and posting has had to take a back seat to holiday preparations, especially since wrapping presents just kills my back, so I’m only doing a little at a time. We’re doing Christmas day dinner here, but fortunately, everyone is making a major dish. We’re doing Filipino food instead of turkey or ham. We did the same thing last Christmas, and it was nice. So there will be pancit, rice, tuppa (marinated beef), stir fry green beans, lumpia, and perhaps a pork roast.

Most of the presents that I had to order online have been delivered, except for Corey’s big present, which is being ground shipped from California. I’m really hoping that it gets here in time. He has no idea that I’ve ordered this particular thing, so it will be a true surprise. It’s something that he’s wanted for a very long time but hasn’t mentioned in a while. I’m hoping that I ordered the right thing. Suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

“. . . every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~ Basho

We got some interesting news this afternoon. The representative from the shipping line that hired Corey called to say that he won’t be on the ship that he was originally slated to crew. Instead, he’s going to be on a big tanker that runs between Russia and Germany. The runs last for 90 days.

"Clearing Skyes," Igor Grabar (1928, oil on canvas)

Major pause here for deep breath.

It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I mean, he’s going to get the deep sea time that he wanted. He’s going to see some new countries. He’s going to be making good money. But . . .

Ninety days straight. We’ve never been apart that long in our entire time together. None of us.

I know that he’s happy at the thought of a new experience, but he is also very worried about the unknown. Going from a tug boat to a tanker is a major jump. He has no idea as to what he’ll be doing. Fortunately, he’s working a shift at the boatyard where the company’s other tanker (the one we thought he’d be on) is coming into port this weekend, so he hopes to speak to some of the crew members about the company, what they’re like to work for, etc.

I’m trying very hard to keep my freaking out to myself. I mean, this is a classic case of being careful of what you wish for . . . We’ve both bemoaned our fate for so long, complained about the lack of shipping when the recession hit, the dearth of jobs available, so now that this has landed in our laps, we need to look at it as the gift that fate has accorded us.

But still . . .

“Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining” ~ W. S. Di Piero, from “Chicago and December”

My dad was a deep-sea mariner, traveling all over the world, sailing in just about every ocean and in many seas. He routinely had hitches that lasted months at a time. During the Viet Nam war he was gone for nine months straight. He liked it. My mother liked it. They liked each other better from afar.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1918, oil on canvas)

That always struck me as so bizarre. They had separate lives, separate friends. It wasn’t until he finally retired that they began to do things together, but it was always an uneasy peace, one that could blow at any second. And the blowouts were horrible, not physical, but loud and hateful. And even as an adult living my own life with my own family my mother still tried to draw me into the middle of the fray.

I’ll never forget the one time that my mother came to my house and announced that she was going to make my father leave. I told her that if she did that, then I would take him in. She was completely taken aback. I knew that she was yet again making an empty threat for effect, but if was the first time that I had ever called her on it.

In all, they were married something like 45 years. I don’t ever remember them being happy together.

“Surrounded by a deep and comfortable sea of blank space, she is right there—one end of a luminous brain-bridge—plain as day, front and center, hidden in full view.” ~ Stacey Schiff, from Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

I’m still trying to absorb this piece of news, trying to be appropriately grateful and happy. Instead, I just feel an ache in the pit of my stomach, and that makes me angry at myself. What Corey and I have is strong enough to weather distance and time, of that I am certain. What I am less certain of is myself—my ability to not withdraw into myself.

"Sunrise," Igor Grabar (1941, oil on canvas)

I mean, I have lived alone before, alone when I was in college, and alone with the kids after my ex left. And I know that being a single parent to young children is much different from being a single parent to grown children. All of my kids are fairly self-sufficient. Eamonn loves to cook, and Brett is learning how to make more things now that he is feeling more secure about his abilities. I mean Lex doesn’t live here, but Brett and Eamonn do, and there are no plans for that to change anytime soon.

I’m hoping that I will be able to use this time to get a little bit more back on my feet, get out of the house more often, loosen myself from my safety nets. As it is, I do not leave the house daily, and that is pretty much by choice. Corey does the grocery shopping and the errands, something that started when my back gave out, and it’s something that he continues to do because he likes to do it, and I do not.

But that will have to change. Change can be good. I just have to remind myself of that.

“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.” ~ Hermann Hesse, Demian, trans. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck

I just took a break to do the dishes and eat the most delicious scone that Emilie’s uncle dropped by the house. Most people who bake scones tend to make them on the dry side, but the ones that he gets from this particular bakery are incredibly tasty and moist. The one that I ate had bits of ginger in it. Ginger is one of those tastes that you either love or hate; I don’t believe that there is an in-between in that, but I happen to love ginger, especially crystallized ginger.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1907, oil on canvas)

Anyway, as to what I was talking about—I am very much aware that I am a creature of habit, much more so now that I do not work full time. But I think that with my sons’ help I should be fine while Corey is gone. If I make myself get back into the habit of writing for a couple of hours each day, I think that that will help considerably in keeping my mind occupied.

Of course, I really have no idea how things will play out as I can only surmise. Perhaps I will surprise myself. Perhaps I’ll use the time to put down one of the many book plots that I have had running through my brain for years. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

I just know that I am truly thankful for this upcoming change in our circumstances. It has been a long time in coming. We have come far too close to losing everything, which makes all of us acutely aware of just how harsh reality can be. We have been close to the edge, but never over it, and we are all stronger for it and grateful for what we have.

Today is a good day: good news, good food, good music. Today I could not ask for more.

As I’ve said before, I know that compared to many, many others, we are lucky, and now, it seems, we have more luck on our side. So let me pause here to say thank you to all of you who have been so supportive, who have sent good wishes and prayers our way. It means more than I can ever say.

More later. Peace.

*All images by Igor Grabar, born in Hungary in 1871, studied and worked in Russia until his death in 1960. Many of his paintings (several of which are entitled “Frost”) are in the Tretyakov Gallery, the biggest collection of Russian art in the world, which Grabar headed from 1913 to 1935.

Music by Rascal Flatts, another version of “White Christmas”

                   

The Letter Scale

One of the objects I’ve treasured most in my life
Is this letter scale which, long ago, you gave me.
I was an active correspondent at the time,
Even sending lots of letters overseas.
While still enjoying the pleasure of going to the post,
I now had another: assessing exactly, in advance,
At my counter, the cost of packets and envelopes,
To which, price list in hand, I stuck my stamps.
I use it less these days, this quite simple device
Graded with little marks up to a whole pound,
For my mailings rarely still exceed the price
Of an ordinary stamp. The tray of polished metal’s now
Covered with dust, without the slightest hint
That the red pointer marking the weight on the front
Has budged. But in the long run, one would, I think,
Discern a difference and see how much the months
Were worth in terms of dust, the seasons elapsed
Since the previous weighing. But having been seized,
Suddenly, just this morning, by a tremendous attack
(Annual) of cleaning, from which nothing is released,
I restored to the tray’s slightly concave stainless steel,
That ever so slightly distorted mirror, its polished shine.
It reflected all of the sky, through which clouds reeled,
And I could confirm that space does not weigh more than time.

~ Jacques Réda

“Some nights stay up till dawn, as the moon sometimes does for the sun. Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way of a well, then lifted out into the light.” ~ Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

Irish Cob Horse (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

“Time is constantly passing. If you really consider this fact, you will be simultaneously amazed and terrified . . . As soon as it arises, it is gone. You cannot find any duration. Arising and passing away are simultaneous. That is why there is no seeing nor hearing. That is why we are both sentient beings and insentient beings.” ~ Norman Fischer

Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and low 50’s.

Four days since my last post, more if you count real posts with words. Have kind of hit a wall again when it comes to posting. Hoping that after the holidays I can get back into the swing. Who knows. Actually, I had really wanted to post yesterday, but the computer was non-cooperative. I had to shut down completely twice, and after all of that, I just thought, bugger it, and stopped trying.

Chilly Christmas on Colton Hills, Wolverhampton, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

The tree is up, as are the stockings, but the house is still half-way done. I need to clear off the dining room table and decorate in that room, and of course, everything needs a good dusting. The living room is still full of boxes from the tree decorations. I would put them back in the garage myself, but you know how that goes. Corey has been called into work last minute the past few days, so he hasn’t had much time around here. Of course, there are my two sons . . .

Hoping to finish shopping this weekend—stocking stuff, underwear, socks, the not-s0-glam presents. I still haven’t done my Christmas cards (we’ve only received two cards so far this year; how sad). I’m thinking that if I get the dining room done today, perhaps I can do the cards tonight, but the past few days have been limited to one project.

The nasty cough is mostly gone, but the wheezing remains, as does the lethargy. I’m just bloody thankful that I did not get the usual accompanying bad migraine from the cough, which always used to happen when I got my annual bronchitis bout. I am fast becoming a true believer in migraine botox. Of course I say that now, but I’ll have to pay out of pocket for the next dose as it will come in 2012 with new my new copayment. Oh well . . .

“You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

When I selected these quotes, I think that I had something else in mind, but I can’t quite be certain. But I have found over the years that it’s hard to go astray with Rilke and Rumi, two of my favorites, obviously.

Attaka in Winter Pasture (Wikimedia Commons)

A blogger friend of mine mentioned a site to me (I Write Like) on which you can paste a sample of your writing, and a program will do a quick analysis and spit out the name of a famous writer whose style is similar to yours (or vice versa). I’ve put in several different samples, and this is what I’ve gotten: I write like E. L. Doctorow, Anne Rice (?), H. P. Lovecraft (haven’t read anything by), David Foster Wallace (well, that’s not bad, I suppose), and one other person that I can’t remember.

What does this tell me? Not a lot, other than I don’t write like Fitzgerald or Woolf, which would have been too much to ask for, I suppose.

It’s interesting though in that I’m certain the program looks at things like sentence length, word choices, phrasing, etc., and from the various results that I’ve gotten it tells me that I don’t write like the same person on any given day. What does that say about me? That’s I’m just as fragmented as I’ve always believed myself to be? That my style depends upon my mood? That I don’t have a style, per se?

Quite honestly, I think that what it says most of all is that—as I’ve long suspected—the interwebs have a brain and wicked sense of humor.

“Man is a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.” ~ Paracelsus, Swiss Alchemist, Philosopher

Last night I dreamt of my uncle, the one who wasn’t really my uncle but was one of my dad’s lifelong best friends, so in the Filipino way, I called him uncle and have always thought of his family as relatives. He died two years after my father died. That I still dream of him says a lot about what a presence he was in my life. I dreamed that he was a jewelry maker and that he had designed these incredible necklaces with beautiful stones. I picked out one that had lovely aquamarine stones.

German Winter: Horses in Snow (Wikimedi Commons)

Then my dreams carried me back into the classroom, and I was teaching math (me? please) to grade school children during summer school. I was with some of the people I had taught with at the middle school, and they did not try to hide their displeasure at my appearance. No one was prepared with any kind of lesson plans, and I was serving the kids cake. Make of that what you will.

Why must I dream of people I would much rather never see again, let alone give a thought to? Why cannot my dreams be more populated with the faces of those I love and have loved? Why does my mind go to such strange places sometimes: math and cake? And why, oh why, whenever I dream about working in some way, do I always have this sudden realization that I cannot be working and that I will have to repay the government thousands of dollars?

I know. There are no answers for such futile questions.

“Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind’s
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer.” ~ Wendell Berry, Stanza VI, “Sabbaths 2001”

A woman with whom I worked once asked me why I used the word dreamt instead of dreamed. I think that it’s probably just an offshoot of my literary training. Shakespeare. You know. But dreamt just comes naturally to me, and seems a bit more poetic somehow.

Non sequitur. Or maybe not.

Horse at Moulzie, Upper Glen Cova, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

I mean, I have been thinking about why I use the words that I use. I have been very, very fortunate throughout my life to have worked with and encountered people with a real command of the English language, not just in college and graduate school, but at the newspaper and even at the government contracting firm for whom I worked years ago. There I worked with two men who were both very erudite and articulate. Then there was the museum director for whom I worked.

Dipping my toes into so many different pools has shaped me in so many ways, has afforded me continuous growth. I miss that as I do not believe that we should never stop growing. I miss the garrulous banter of the newsroom that nurtured me when I was an undergraduate. I miss the deep, rich voice of the man who walked into my office, hand outstretched, and said, “I’m from corporate. I’m here to help,” with just the faintest trace of irony beneath his words.

Sitting here, I do not have the same opportunities to hear the rich pageantry that is still churning somewhere out there without me. I mean, I know that in general, our society is in a period of decline culturally and socially, but I know that there are still people out there who love the word, love the sound of words, love the essence of words, and I’m not speaking of politicians, who use and abuse words.

They exist still, perhaps not those same individuals, but those individuals who just by their very essence enrich those around them with their everyday verse, the verse of Walt Whitman’s common man.

“The time has come to turn your heart into a temple of fire. Your essence is gold hidden in dust. To reveal its splendor, you need to burn in the fire of Love.” ~ Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

I supposed the point at which I have arrived is the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” of which W. B. Yeats spoke in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”—searching for a theme in vain, “What can I enumerate but old themes?”

Winter in Westphalia, Germany (Wikimedia Commons)

You know the rag and bone man. He lives still today, with his shopping cart with the wobbly wheel, his trash bags filled with aluminum cans and other things that the world has deemed as refuse. He (and she) walks along, collects, and most of us have no concept of what might be of value to him.

The traditional rag and bone man, who amassed household refuse and resold it to make a living, the rags and bones of life, what we castoff in search of . . . something. I think that as writers we are all rag and bone men at some point: gathering, sifting, getting rid of what we can, keeping some, always looking for more. And more often than not, we are looking for a theme, a theme that eludes us.

Whether that’s words, or even the perfect turn of the phrase, we wander, perhaps not down streets and alleyways with our rag bags or our carts, but we wander, and we pick up, and sometimes out of what we collect, we are able to make something worth more than the parts alone.

But only sometimes.

More later. Peace.

Music by Diana Krall, “White Christmas’

                   

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott