“My real self wanders elsewhere, far away, wanders on and on invisibly and has nothing to do with my life.” ~ Hermann Hesse, from Siddhartha


“A cold grey morning—houses have a faraway look; a bluejay screams; imminent sunshine from east light up palely the eastsides of houses.” ~ Charles Burchfield, Journal entry 3 November 1917

Tuesday afternoon, partly cloudy, 52 degrees.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope 2019 is safe, happy, and healthy for you.

Yesterday when I realized that I couldn’t gather my thoughts adequately to write, I spent many hours going through my drafts, pairing quotes and poem for future posts. I try not to repeat quotes or poem or music selections within posts, but after so many years, I’m certain that I’ve had some repeats inadvertently.

Tumblr is a great source for the quotes and poems that I use. Several of the people who I follow always post wonderful things that serve as a source of inspiration for me. But when I first began posting, before the advent of tumblr, I used to do quotes searches on subjects, like water, or spring, or whatever I was thinking about.

The internet has a plethora of quote sites, but I would caution any of you who choose to use these sites that the attributions are not always accurate. I always try to verify any quotes that I use so that I can be sure to list the correct work or individual from which the quote was taken. Goodreads is also a source for quotes, but again, as the site itself does not verify sources, anyone who belongs can post quotes, and I have found several that are inaccurate. Just a bit of housekeeping information

“My road, that I do not understand, leads me
Toward a blue, lost distance” ~ Hermann Hesse, from “Holiday Music in the Evening” (trans. James Wright)

We think that Tink is getting better slowly. Today, she managed to keep down a bit of mashed rice and chicken that Corey made. So far, the fluffy boy shows no signs of being sick, but both Tillie and Bailey are a bit lethargic today. They’ve had all of their shots, so they cannot get canine parvovirus (CPV), but we’re thinking that maybe they can get a mild form of a virus. At least, that’s what we’re hoping is the case.

The vet said that once a dog has had the virus, they will never get it again, so if we can just get her out of the woods, we’ll be okay. Here’s hoping. There’s a lot of hoping going on in our house right now.

Dallas says that he vaccinated all of the puppies at six weeks, so if that’s accurate, Maddy cannot get the virus. The most interesting part of all of this is how the older dogs, as well as the male cat Ash are treating Tink. Maddy has been seen curling around her as she sleeps. Ash approached her very slowly and licked her, and neither Tillie nor Bailey have growled at her since she came home. The older girls are impatient with the ongoing puppy frolicking between Maddy and fluffy boy (no name seems to stick to him; it’s the strangest thing), but they all seem to know that Tink is sick.

Animals are amazing.

“And only the wildest of the forest creatures continued to hear the echo of a despairing, tortured wail in the soft whisper of the wind.” ~ Diane Hoh, from The Accident

It’s now almost four hours since I first began this post. At first, I thought that I had it in me, but apparently not. I don’t really know what to say, other than we’re taking it slowly, hoping no one else gets sick, working with the puppy, and kind of ignoring the whole idea of holidays.

Obviously the stress of such a sick animal is taxing, in many ways. I just try not to think about all of the implications, and focus instead on the good: watching Maddy and the fluffy boy have play fights; watching Tink sleep soundly on the couch, hoping that the sleep brings her rest and energy.

You might think me extreme for this focus on my dogs, and perhaps I am, but truthfully, I do not care. They are our family for now. They bring me great joy and much needed company. I cannot imagine any of these animals deliberately breaking my heart, and so I will care for them with everything that I have.

Perhaps tomorrow will allow me to write more.

Peace.


Music by Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” (Unplugged version)


Today’s poem is by someone I don’t know much about; I found her on tumblr: Ingeborg Bachmann. For more information on her life and work, you can visit this very good article on Alejandra de Argos.

[Everything is lost, the poems first]

Everything is lost, the poems first,
then sleep, then after that the day
then everything else, what belonged to the day
and what belonged to night, then when nothing
more could be lost, more was lost, and then more,
until there was less than nothing, not even myself,
and there really was nothing more.

Time to retreat to an inner hinterland
with all the promised years and pictured places
still before one’s eyes, where the earth
no longer exists nor the shame, far
back when there is still space, open stretches
covered with doves, silent and bright beneath
the talon, within calling range of him,
the arrival, the silencer.

For the silence, there is desolation
with its perceivable web
that softly spins its madness
until it creates its glass hotel.

~ Ingeborg Bachmann (trans. Peter Filkins)

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“I wish to write; I wish to write about certain things that cannot be held. I want to create a sea of freely-flowing words of no definite form and shape waves of fluent exactness.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909

A Gaggle of Canada Geese on Parade (FCC)

“Then I sit down at my desk and can’t remember how it’s done. Only now and then the lines attack like birds of prey, any time, any place. And demand to be written.” ~ Anna Kamieńska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook

Wednesday afternoon. Beautifully sunny, 48 degrees.

Hello out there. The sun is blazingly bright today, and not a day too soon. Earlier, when I was outside with the animals, I realized that I could actually hear the horses walking in the pasture, and that just blew me away. I mean, it was quiet enough that I could hear horses walking on the grass . . . no cars, no sirens, no loud obnoxious mopeds roaring through the neighborhood . . . nothing. Just the sky, the sun, the birds, and the animals. It was lovely.

Pot-bellied Thrush with an Apple (FCC)

So enough about me—how was your Christmas? Peaceful? Uneventful? Rowdy? Good food and good friends? However you like it, I hope that you had it just that way.

As for us, well, it was a bit eventful. Corey came home with two puppies that someone had left on our driveway. They could only be about four weeks old. Yes, they are adorable as all get out, and I know that I had said that I planned to rescue dogs once we moved here, but, well, it’s a bit soon, especially as I just stole a puppy from Dallas a few weeks ago. Did I mention that our house is small?

“To be a poet is to surface plainly
from the wound of sleep. To observe how thickly feathered
the heart, how small & bright the planet of human thought.” ~ Kiki Petrosino, from “Cygnus Cygnus”

Nevertheless, Corey couldn’t exactly leave them where he found them, and so now they have a home. We’ll deal with it just as we deal with everything else: as it comes.

Truthfully, him coming home with the puppies is probably the only thing that saved me yesterday. I was doing poorly with the prospect of making it through the whole day. I heard from neither son, and only from my daughter in the evening. And Corey and I had decided to wait a few days before exchanging presents, for various reasons. About the only thing that I had to look forward to yesterday was the ham that I had in the oven.

Vogel in Winter (FCC)

That sounds absolutely pathetic, doesn’t it?

I realize that I’m a bit of a broken record lately, going on and on about my kids. I just never envisioned myself in this place—living each day without hearing a word from any of them. Marking holidays, birthdays without a call, or text, or email. As they were growing up, I took such great joy in watching every aspect of their lives; I believed that my relationship with each of them was inviolable. Until it wasn’t.

I would not wish this kind of pain for anyone, and I’ve wished pain for people before, so that’s quite a statement.

“Everything was a broken line for me in those days. I was slipped into the empty spaces between words.” ~ Betsy Cornwell, from Mechanica

You know how you do something in your youth, and your mother hits you for the first time with the words, “I hope you have a daughter/son/child just like you one day. You’ll see”? (Note on the punctuation: A question mark goes outside the quotation mark when the question is about the entire sentence; just thought that I should point that out, you know, to stay in practice.) And you look at her as if she has taken leave of her senses because you are so certain in your own heart of hearts that you will never make the same missteps that she has made with you, that you will be so much closer with your own children . . .

Male Cardinal in Winter (FCC)

Mothers. Always. Know.

I know that I gave my mother fits when I was around 14 or 15. And 16 and 17 weren’t terribly better. But then I got into college and decided to become a productive adult, and from that point on, I was a model daughter . . . No. Wait. I wasn’t, was I? I wish that I could say that it was true, that I straightened up and never gave my mother another day of heartburn or heartache, but I gave her plenty of both.

I tried so many times to get it right, and now looking back, I see that I probably erred more than I soared. But I never stopped talking to my mom, at least not for months and months at a time. She gave me the silent treatment for weeks at a time because that’s how my mother was: she was vindictive. Where do you think that I learned it? But still, I really tried, honestly tried not to hurt her.

So this is payback, then?

“But you remain with me as a winter sky
shot through with swans of iron, swans of steel.
Let no harm come to the dark you have made.” ~ Kiki Petrosino, from “Cygnus Cygnus”

I would like to say that I never hurt my mother or broke her heart, but I’m trying to be honest here. I know that I did both. More than once.

Cygnus: Lake Ontario Swan (FCC)

I know that I could be surly, and nasty, and darned unpleasant when I was a teen. And later, as a married adult, I was never good with money, and when I lost Caitlin, I spent my way into oblivion rather than drank like my first husband. But they were both escapes, and neither much better than the other once they became an addiction. And unfortunately, my mother had to bail me out more than once.

I wonder if that’s part of how I did my kids wrong, that I bailed them out too many times and made them weak . . . We can love too much, make the landings too soft sometimes, when an abrupt encounter with the cold, hard earth might be better. But that wasn’t how I was raised—for better or worse. I was raised, and in turn I raised with love and a soft cushion, most of the time. Oh, don’t think for a moment that I wasn’t punished (I have vivid memories of a flyswatter on my bare legs), or that I did not punish when called for, but it was never a matter of whether or not there was love. There was always love, and when I used to see Alexis with her own daughter, I saw how tender she could be.

So much love there.

“Motherhood means doing penance not only for your own sins, but for your children’s too . . . Niobe. Niobe—that’s me. That’s every abandoned mother.” ~ Anna Kamieńska, from A Nest of Quiet: A Notebook

I think that this is the loss that I feel most acutely: They are not near me so that I can give them love. Do they still know how much I love them, regardless? Can they possibly believe that I do not care? How do they not realize what their absence costs me every single minute of every single day? How is it possible that they move through their days without me?

Brown-Eared Bulbul (FCC)

So many freaking questions. Absolutely no answers.

It’s now many hours since I first began this post, and the sun is long gone. I apologize, dear reader. I was supposed to be asking after your own holiday, not gazing morosely into the empty glass upon my table. But then, you must have known that I couldn’t go for very many sentences without falling back into old patterns. You see, it’s what I do, and I do it very well: I have supreme confidence in my ability to, or rather, my inability to let go. I just cannot do it, even when I should, even when I have been given every single reason to let go and move on—I simply cannot.

Apparently, I am immune to betrayals of the heart, of any kind. My loyalty tends to be complete, blind, and perhaps dumb. I just never realized from whence such betrayals could come. And perhaps betrayal is not the best word choice, but at the moment, it is the one that seems most apt. Then again, perhaps that is what my sons think about me.

Tomorrow may be different. Who knows? Certainly not I.

More later. Peace.


Music by Billie Marten, “Winter Song”

 


The Abundant Little

We have seen the population of Heaven
in frescoes. Dominions and unsmiling saints
crowded together as though the rooms were small.
We think of the grand forests of Pennsylvania,
oaks and maples, when we see the miniatures
of blue Krishna with farm girls awkwardly
beside a pond in a glade of scrub trees.
The Japanese scrolls show mostly Hell.
When we read about the Christian paradise,
it is made of gold and pearls, built on
a foundation of emeralds. Nothing soft
and rarely trees, except in the canvases
of Italians where they slip in bits of Tuscany
and Perugino’s Umbria. All things
are taken away. Indeed, indeed.
But we secretly think of our bodies
in the heart’s storm and just after.
And the sound of careless happiness.
We touch finally only a little.
Like the shy tongue that comes fleetingly
in the dark. The acute little that is there.

~ Jack Gilbert

“Do you ever feel words have gone dry and dull in your mind? Your mind like a sponge in the dust? You squeeze it and nothing comes?” ~Virginia Woolf, from a letter to Vita Sackville-West, The letters of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 3

Frank Dicksee, “The Funeral of a Viking” (1893)

“Those words had gone deep into her eyes, deep into her nerves, deep into her brain, far into the blackness of her brain behind that white face. They had made a gash back there, a match streak of memory, a flare she would carry to the grave, an impression.” ~ John Fante, from The Road to Los Angeles

Thursday afternoon. Overcast again and rainy, 46 degrees.

I haven’t been walking on the property in weeks. It’s a mosh pit out there in the driveway. And each day that I wake up and look out the window and see nothing but clouds, my heart becomes heavy. It does rain a lot here, definitely more than in Norfolk. But it’s the clouds. They just seem to cover the ridge and cloak all of the beauty.

Anne Burgess, “The Burning Galley” (Wikimedia Commons)

Between that and trying to house train the puppy—unsuccessfully at the moment, I might add—I’m feeling a bit lost in the fog. Yes, I finally took my puppy from Dallas because it was the only way that I could get her as he is so attached to his dogs, but he had promised me one, and I had taken a shine to the runt. Her name is Maddie, for Madeleine L’Engle, and she’s black with hound ears. She won’t be nearly as big as Tillie or Bailey, both of whom act as if she’s an alien, and the cats are definitely not taken with her.

Don’t ask me why a puppy now, other than it seemed like a good idea at the time, and she’s adorable. It doesn’t take any kind of Freudian to tell me that I substitute the animals for my kids, so whatever . . .

“We walk
and walk towards meaning
and don’t arrive” ~  Mahmoud Darwish, from “How far is far?”
Dave Brockie AKA Oderus Urungus gets a viking funeral from his GWAR bandmates, by D. Randall Blythe

So it’s December 20, five days until Christmas. Corey and I are having a very small Christmas this year, which is fine. It’s not about the presents for me, ever. It’s about the pageantry: the tree, the wrappings, the centerpieces, the dishes—just the way that I can make the house look. One year Corey’s mom finally got to see our house decorated, and she commented that everywhere she looked, she saw something. That’s what I strive for when I decorate—creating an experience.

So I’m going to suck it up today and put up the tree. I know that it will be a lot of work to make it look the way that I want it to look, and no, I can’t just put on a few ornaments, so there’s no point in suggesting that approach, but thank you anyway. I know that once it’s up, I’ll feel better. So maybe I won’t have the snowmen and the Santas, and all of the rest, but at least there will be a tree.

I need that, and the only way that  I’m going to get that is if I do it. So, ‘nuf said.

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.” ~ Raymond Carver, from Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose

The other major thing that I need to accomplish is to write some people and send cards. I still cannot find my Christmas card box with addresses and all of the rest, but I’m hoping that Corey can find it for me. If nothing else, I’ll just send the letters. It’s important, and I really want to communicate with my sister-in-law in Germany. She has gone out of her way to write to both of us, and as usual, I have been lax in replying, so that’s a must do, maybe later today or tomorrow.

Bálför Viking Funeral Card

It’s the words, you see. I just don’t have the words to say how life is, how we’re doing. I need to lie, to say that things are good, that I’m fine, that we’re both doing well. Making pleasant conversation used to not be so hard for me. I suppose I’m making too much out of it, that it will be fine once I start, which is how things usually are, or at least I hope so.

Being a self-imposed recluse can become problematic when moving beyond the safety of my environs enters into the equation. The irony, of course, is that writing this blog is taking me out of my safety zone, but now that I’m back into it, it seems to be working, at least most of the time. Granted, some days are harder than others, but my goal is to try to write at least a little each day, to get back into the practice of using words, so that I can try to get myself going and maybe, just maybe, begin to polish my manuscript.

Who knows? Certainly not I.

“It’s a losing battle:
my words have no chance against time.
Sometimes,
unable to catch up with imagination,
I leave the battle,
candle in hand,
in complete darkness.” ~ Jalal Barzanji, from “Trying Again to Stop Time”

I had a very disturbing dream last night, featuring someone from my past, a gay man with whom I used to be very close. I had met him at the museum, and we developed a very fast friendship, for lack of a better word. We used to do all kinds of things together. I know that he filled the gap that I had in my first marriage as far as doing things with my spouse.

Viking Funeral, Created by yoguy108

By the time this person came on the scene, my spouse and I had developed a separate set of friends and weren’t doing much of anything together. I don’t blame him. That’s just what happens when neither of you work on your marriage. Of course, there were many other factors at play that I just would rather not go into. It’s still a tender wound all of these years later, although, not quite as tender.

Anyway, in this dream, this person had photographs of me at a lake that I just couldn’t remember visiting. I was very bothered that he had proof that I’d been somewhere that I could not recall. It was disconcerting. The dream happened at my parent’s house, and in the end, both of my parents made an appearance; overall, one of those dreams that leaves you gasping when you awaken because they are so disturbing. Well, at least, that’s how I awaken from them.

“I go to meet my words and feel I bring them back to the surface, unaware that I lead them to their death.
But this is an illusion.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions Vol. 1 (Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop)

So, I have plans for today, and perhaps putting them out there isn’t the best thing, especially if I have to come back tomorrow and say, “never mind.” But it’s raining, and I’m really trying to accomplish a goal that I’ve set for myself. It might seem silly, that my goal is to put up a tree and to write letters. Maybe normal people can do all of that in the span of a few hours in the morning with their first cup of coffee. And once, I would have done all of that and more by December 5.

My friend Kathleen used to give me a hard time for being so type A over Christmas. I used to vow to have my shopping done and my cards in the mail by the beginning of December. My tree was up and the house decorated by December 15 at the latest. That was another time. Another life. One in which I had boundless energy and a very different outlook on life. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss that version of me. Well, at least the more positive aspects of that person. Some aspects I’d just as soon convey to the ash heap of time

Viking Boat Funeral, via the Good Funeral Guide

That ash heap is very, very tall, and I am reminded of it whenever that stupid commercial comes on that shows a woman climbing a mountain of cigarettes. I understand the symbology, but it’s disgusting, nevertheless (this, of course, from someone who used to smoke occasionally). My ash heap is composed of old letters, bad poems, broken hearts, scents I can no longer recall, and many, many, many regrets.

In some ways, it reminds me of the funeral pyres in India, except that once the body burns, onlookers are left with a sense of freedom and peace that the departed has gone on to a new life. My ash heap has a slow burn, and absolutely nothing is resolved, so maybe not so much like the cleansing cremation fires of the Hindus. Maybe more like the supposed Viking funerals that happen in movies: a slow-moving vessel floating out to sea, the flaming arrows shot and hitting home, and no one really knows if the person makes it to Valhalla or just disappears into the flowing waters.

Sorry. Morbid? Then you’ll love the Lorca poem below . . .

More later. Peace. 


Music by Fever Ray, “If I Had a Heart” (still miss Ragnar)


Gacela of Dark Death

I want to sleep the sleep of apples,
far from the tumult of cemeteries.
I want to sleep the sleep of that child
who longed to cut out his heart at sea.

I don’t wish to hear that the dead lose no blood;
that the shattered mouth still begs for water.
don’t wish to know of torments granted by grass,
nor of the moon with the serpent’s mouth
that goes to work before dawn.

I want to sleep for a while,
a while, a minute, a century;
as long as all know I am not dead;
that in my lips is a golden manger;
that I’m the slight friend of the West Wind;
that I’m the immense shadow of tears.

Cover me, at dawn, with a veil
since she’ll hurl at me fistfuls of ants;
and wet my shoes with harsh water,
so her scorpion’s sting will slide by.

For I want to sleep the sleep of apples
learn a lament that will cleanse me of earth;
for I want to live with that hidden child
who longed to cut out his heart at sea.

~ Federico García Lorca

“ . . . She had wild eyes, slightly insane. She also carried an overload of compassion that was real enough and which obviously cost her something.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from Women

Leon Spilliaert, “Tree Trunks” (1929 watercolor and gouache on prepared board)

“As if keening on your knees
were somehow obscene
As if there were a control
so marvelous
you could teach it
to eat pain.” ~ Maggie Nelson, from Jane: A Murder

Wednesday, late afternoon. Cloudy and 52 degrees.

I’ve been sitting at this keyboard for hours, trying to figure out what to say, or if I had anything to say because I feel guilty that I haven’t posted in a few days. There’s that operational word: guilt. But the truth is that I don’t think that I really have anything to say. I answered a long email from my daughter this morning, and then I put together a small package of things for her so that Corey could take it to the post office for me; in that, I also included a handwritten note.

I seem to have run out of words.

Only this: two days ago, I was on a cleaning binge, and I thought to myself, I can put up a tree. I can do this. That was two days ago. I realize now that I was only deluding myself. Unless Corey helps me to decorate it, and he really doesn’t get much out of decorating the tree, then I cannot do it. Look. I’m forcing myself to wash my face and get dressed. I just don’t think there’s enough energy for more than that. Just as there just isn’t enough energy for here. Maybe tomorrow.

Peace.


Music by The Dixie Chicks (I always think of this song when I think of my daughter)

 


Postscript: I will share a poem from a poet who I haven’t posted in too long: Lisel Mueller. I cannot believe that I haven’t posted one of her poems for over five years. For a good description of her background and thoughts, go here.

Why We Tell Stories
……….For Linda Foster

I
Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground

and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers

and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened

and learned to speak

2
We sat by the fire in our caves,
and because we were poor, we made up a tale
about a treasure mountain
that would open only for us

and because we were always defeated,
we invented impossible riddles
only we could solve,
monsters only we could kill,
women who could love no one else
and because we had survived
sisters and brothers, daughters and sons,
we discovered bones that rose
from the dark earth and sang
as white birds in the trees

3
Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

Because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
and grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and

~ Lisel Mueller

 

“He no longer trusted words.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Divisadero


“Maybe I have written to see; to have what I never would have had . . . from the tips of the fingers that transcribe by the sweet dictates of vision. From the point of view of the soul’s eye: the eye of a womansoul. From the point of view of the Absolute, in the proper sense of the word: Separation.” ~ Hélène Cixous, from “Coming to Writing”

Thursday afternoon. Partly cloudy and warmer, 45 degrees.

Not really certain as to what I want to say today. I took a little time out to put on some makeup. Don’t ask me why. I mean, for the dogs? I suppose for myself more than anything. Sometimes I just feel so dowdy, and then I turn to my vast collection of makeup that goes unused day after day. I never used to feel like that—dowdy. Of course, I had a job to go to, people to meet. I dressed in more than yoga pants and t-shirts. I fixed my hair and my face. It seems like a lifetime ago, and actually it was—a decade this past October.

I cannot believe that it’s been that long, and at the same time, I cannot remember what it was really like, only the idea of what it was like. Does that make sense?

Who was I then? I had a full-time job, career, and my sons still lived at home, were still in school. My house was crowded with people and things, and it was a good time. I was in graduate school again getting my publishing degree. Corey was going to sea and enjoying his career. We took vacations as a family and as a couple. Things were so different. I’m not really sure what I miss the most. All of it? Some of it? Who knows . . .

“Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.” ~ Gabriel García Márquez, from One Hundred Years of Solitude

I can honestly say, though, that I didn’t get back to my writing in any kind of regular way until I was forced to go on disability in 2008. Between approximately 1999 to 2008, I wrote only sporadically. I worked, a lot. Writing didn’t really fit into that schedule, but then I met Corey, and I wrote during the beginnings of our relationship, and then, not so much. Well, that’s not exactly true; when Corey started going to sea, we both started journaling, and then we would exchange journals for his next trip. That was very meaningful for both of us, I believe.

But after the back operation and the disability decision? I mean, it was a matter of write or go crazy, and so this little blog that I had begun as part of a project for a publishing class began to take on more shape, began to turn into something regular and predictable in my life, and that, too, was good.

I don’t know why I never wrote my book, books. There were so many starts and stops, and I kept telling myself that I had time, that May Sarton didn’t even get published until she was in her 50’s. I had time, I kept telling myself. The irony is not lost on me.

And now I feel as though I’m out of time, out of time to write that book, that is. God. So many plots, so many characters, so many spurts of dialogue and settings. So many pieces, so disparate and so cohesive at the same time. It was going to be a mystery, a memoir, a biography, a history, a thriller. It was going to be a confessional with poetry, essays and photographs. It was going to be . . . so many things.

You can begin to see my problem. It’s nothing new. It’s a matter of having too many words and too few words simultaneously. It’s also a matter of a seeming lack of discipline.

“You are looking
for mountains to climb.
I am looking
for the words to a poem
I can’t remember.” ~ Sarah Kay, from “A Place to Put Our Hands”

Other people write books all of the time, and other people who write books go on to be not famous, end up working in tech or a grocery store, but dammit, they tried, at least. I never wanted to write to be famous or rich. I wanted to write for validation, to prove that I could, to show that my words could mean something, could touch someone besides me.

My first husband, I’ll give him credit, used to read my poems and try oh so hard to be nice. He would say things like, “I understand this, but maybe not everyone would.” It was so frustrating and yet, comforting. I knew that he was trying to be kind; that was when we were still kind to one another. And then he left, and I wrote and wrote and wrote, so many words that so many women who had gone through the same thing could understand. I wrote for days on end. I still remember the words just flying from my fingers, unabated by anything. Yet still, I never sent out my poems. Never tried for publication.

Look. It’s not that I don’t think that I could get published. I’ve sent out three poems in my life, and one was published. I entered two writing contests, and placed third my first time. So I know that there is a grain of talent here. And yes, I know that self-publishing is a thing now. People on tumblr seem to do it successfully all of the time . . .

Maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe, I’m so fricking insecure and so very afraid of criticism that I continue to try to protect myself by not even trying. Maybe . . .

“The world seethes with words. Forgive me.” ~ Paul Bowles, from “Next to Nothing”

Okay. All of that is all well and good. So what about here? What about this blog? This blog takes discipline, work, and dedication. I mean, 90 percent of the time I put my words down here. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes informative, and sometimes they even speak to the heart. More often than not, they are nothing more than a journal like Samuel Pepys, who recorded daily life in London from 1660 to 1669. The ironic thing is that his diary turned out to be a very informative document that included entries on the great plague and the great fire of London.

Will my blog be famous 50 years from now because I talked about horses and dogs and trees? Or because I talked about the heartbreak of losing a child in infancy and then losing children in a different way in adulthood? Or because I bemoaned the loss of friends over the years, mostly due to my own consistent inattention. Yes, a lot of what I say is relatable to a lot of people, and a lot that I say is not relatable at all. So will this blog become some kind of marker of life here in the mountains, or in a small town, or life during this turbulent political time? Doubtful.

I mostly write these words to try to keep my brain and my spirit nimble, and if someone in the ether reads what I have to say, that’s wonderful, but I cannot count on that. Writing my way through is what I’ve always done, and it’s what I’ll always do, in one way or another. I know that I’m self-absorbed; I’ve never claimed otherwise. But then, I am simultaneously too empathetic to the plights of those around me. Other’s pain affects me more than I care to admit. A dichotomy. Again, nothing new. But these aspects of my personality feed into my creative side, at least.

“Words, I think, are such unpredictable creatures. No gun, no sword, no army or king will ever be more powerful than a sentence. Swords may cut and kill, but words will stab and stay, burying themselves in our bones to become corpses we carry into the future, all the time digging and failing to rip their skeletons from our flesh.” ~ Tahereh Mafi, from Shatter Me

I have another admission: I always imagined that living in the mountains in the midst of such natural beauty would offer a wellspring of creative drive, that I would be like Thoreau and suck that frigging marrow out of life, etc. But one reality is that creative people, while they like to work in solitude, often feed off other creative people, and I just don’t think that I’m going to find a writing group anywhere around here, especially as I cannot even find a decent doctor.

But technology has fixed that. There are countless writing groups and communities online Diana Gabaldon, creator of the Outlander series, began her writing career as an exercise on a forum, and now look at her, how many books later? Other people began their writing careers while they were working full-time jobs as lawyers, publishers, university professors, coroners, whatever, and they passed their writing around to colleagues, friends, for feedback, criticism.

So why can’t I get it together enough to put one word after another into some semblance of a manuscript? Why? Nothing? Several years ago I promised myself that I would look for an agent. Did that happen? Need you ask? Did I complete NaNoWriMo? Nope.

I know that I’m spitting into the wind (such a lovely turn of phrase that), but I am genuinely searching for an answer here. I want to know why I cannot move from the safety of this screen beyond, into . . . into whatever is out there. Why am I so freaking scared? What is it in me that is so fragile that causes me to shy away from what I want the most for myself?

I have no answers. I seem to type that a lot lately, but it’s true. I have absolutely no answers. The only thing that I can say is that I’ll keep looking. I owe myself that much at least. And as Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) said in Dead Poets, “and the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

I have no idea. Yet.

More later. Peace.

All images are taken from Wordstuck, which is currently dormant, but you can find it here.

Music by Sleeping at Last, “Saturn”


I Want to Write Different Words for You

I want to write different words for you
To invent a language for you alone
To fit the size of your body
And the size of my love.

I want to travel away from the dictionary
And to leave my lips
I am tired of my mouth
I want a different one
Which can change
Into a cherry tree or a match box,
A mouth from which words can emerge
Like nymphs from the sea,
Like white chicks jumping from the magician’s hat.

~ Nizar Qabbani (Trans. Bassam K. Frangieh and Clementina R. Brown)

“What will you build? Only you know that. What is shame worth? You’ll find out once you start digging in.” ~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

Jupiter Swirling Pearl Storm image from NASA’s Juno Spacecraft
“When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it . . . you can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it.” ~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

Wednesday late afternoon. Cloudy and still cold, 29 degrees.

Today’s post is a bit different—it’s a direct reaction. I stumbled upon an article in “The Cut,” which is part of New York Magazine. It was a letter to the “Dear Polly” advice column, which is written by Heather Havrilesky (all headers are from this), and the title of the letter was “I’m broke and mostly friendless, and I’ve wasted my whole life.”

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) image of our sun

I cannot begin to tell you how much that title brought me up short—it’s too close to two of my favorite sayings: “I’m fat, ugly, and my mother dresses me funny” (thanks for that, Kathleen), and “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.” I actually sat and just stared at the title for a long time before I even began to read the actual article, and what the writer had to say could have been written by me, only a younger me.

In essence, the woman, 35, feels as if she is floundering because she chose to move around a lot; she rationalizes her moves and choices as being, “adventurous, exploratory,” and now she feels that she has nothing to show for it: no lasting relationship, a job that she doesn’t enjoy, and few friends. Additionally, she is now saddled with a lot of debt and few prospects for advancement in her career. Ultimately, the woman says that she now “feels like a ghost.” As a result, she finds that she is drinking too much, and ultimately feels old and past her prime. The woman, who once considered herself creative, now says, “I’m jealous [of artistic people] and don’t understand how I landed this far away from myself.” She signs herself “Haunted.”

Honestly, I could have written that letter with a few adjustments, and I could have written it at several different points in my life, including when I was 35, which was a lifetime ago.

“When you carry around a suspicion that there’s something sort of embarrassing or pathetic about you, you find ways to project that shame onto completely innocuous things . . . to tell yourself that everyone is laughing at you behind your back somewhere . . .”

Obviously, there are some differences. I have had children, while she has not. I have had one previous marriage and am now in my second marriage with a man I’ve been with approaching two decades. In spite of these major differences, I understand this woman much more than I like. I remember having a crisis of faith in myself when I was at the museum. I just felt as if I didn’t know who I was any more.

NASA’s Voyager 1 image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

I hadn’t done the work on my doctorate or my MFA while I was teaching at ODU, and that was part of my plan. I hadn’t really done anything with my writing, other than entering a few contests and sending off a few poems. I felt as if I was suffocating in my own failure.

Let me pause here. Yes, I am well aware that I had a lot to be grateful for at that time: a family, a home, a job, etc. But you cannot know nor understand the kind of suffocation that I felt unless you have been mired in it yourself. My children have always been the great joy in my life, but I have never seen myself as a wife/mother. That was never my chosen identity. My then spouse knew that going in, but once we had children, I found myself relegated to many of the traditional parental roles; for example, I always took the kids to the doctor, never him, yet when we married and discussed everything, we had agreed on 50/50.

So what happened?

“Shame creates imaginary worlds inside your head. This haunted house you’re creating is forged from your shame. No one else can see it . . . You find ways to say, ‘You don’t want any part of this mess. I’m mediocre, aging rapidly, and poor . . .leave me behind.’ You want to be left behind, though. That way, no one bears witness to what you’ve become.”

What happened was time. Time has a funny way of changing everything, including all of your plans. We never planned to lose a daughter. We never planned to have a third child. We never planned to grow apart.

NASA’s Voyager 2 Image of Neptune

It just became easier to move into roles with which we had become comfortable . . . until it wasn’t.

I didn’t plan to have a major identity crisis. It wasn’t a midlife crisis. It was a true identity crisis, as in I didn’t have the least idea of who in the hell I was. Like Haunted, I just couldn’t figure out who I was, and as a result, I began to push people away. I subconsciously believed that I didn’t deserve to have people who loved and respected me. I wasn’t worthy of any kind of admiration or praise. I felt like a terrible human being.

And I wish that I could say that it was the only time in my life that I felt that way, but it wasn’t.

“My shame is the fuel that keeps me writing . . . What if you just decided that you’re an artist, today, right now? You’re sensitive and erratic, maybe. You’re maudlin and also expansive. What would it look like to own that identity, as a means of making art . . .”

Havrilesky’s advice to Haunted is to let go of her shame, which is all well and good, but oh so very hard to do. Granted, Havrilesky does a mighty job of relating to Haunted, talking about how her own shame shaped her and how she tried to write her way out of it. And maybe Havrilesky’s words genuinely helped haunted. At least, I hope so.

NASA Image of the Gullies of the Matara Crater on Mars

But I know those words wouldn’t have helped me. I read so many books after Caitlin died, trying to find an answer, trying to find a way to assuage my guilt. Nothing helped. The books just made me mad. It’s hard to take advice from words in a book or on a page or a screen, regardless of how much you really want to.

Then later, after I had my sons, I actually felt right for a while, felt as if I truly could move on, let go of the guilt, enjoy life just as it was. And I tried, oh god how I tried. I worked, and I wrote once in a while when I felt moved—which is a terrible approach to writing, just ask any professional writer—and I tried to live on love and hope, and I wish that I could tell you that it succeeded, and it did, until it didn’t.

“You might feel proud of your small creations and you might start to see how every single thing you’ve done, every place you’ve been, every town you’ve lived in and left, every friend you’ve gotten to know and then forgotten, they all add up to a giant pile of treasure.”

I chose to use Havrilesky’s response to Haunted for my headers because it’s a beautiful piece of writing; it’s sincere and compelling. And I know in my heart that she probably did help some individuals who read it. In fact, I would urge you to read both the letter and the response if you have time.

Cascading Post-coronal Loops in the Sun’s Atmosphere

But ultimately, if you carry shame or guilt or any such debilitating feeling around for too many years, it melts beneath your skin and becomes permanent, and all of the homilies and all of the wonderfully written books, or articles, or passages, or quotes—all of those will not penetrate nearly as completely. That is not to say that they cannot be temporary balms because they certainly can.

Whenever I’ve had a particularly thoughtful comment on this blog over the years, it has touched me and delighted me and just maybe made my day better than before. So yes, words can and do help. But my point is that Haunted, who in many ways is a younger me, can only help herself once she is ready, and she may never be ready. But, and this is a big but, Haunted obviously has hit a point at which she is ready for change, otherwise she never would have written the letter, and that’s a very important point, so here’s hoping Haunted has better days.

I do want to close with this wonderful passage from Havrilesky’s response. Do try to read the original:

She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.

~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

More later. Peace.

*All of today’s images were found on NASA’s official image gallery, which you can find here. (I felt like I needed images of swirling storms.)

Music by Cloves, “Don’t Forget About Me”


Lost
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~ David Wagoner

“Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx.” ~ Claudia Rankine, from Citizen: An American Lyric

French apartment of a Mrs. DeFlorian, found unchanged for 70 years.*

“The wind of longing blows to your right, from the orange groves, and to your left, from the sea salt. A fog, approaching the chambers of your heart from the north, makes it difficult for memory to distinguish what is private from what is public ” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Saturday afternoon, cloudy and cold, 34 degrees, winter storm warning.

I spent the entire day yesterday alone, just the animals and me. It’s the first full day into evening that I’ve been entirely alone. I didn’t mind it. It made me think of how originally the plan was that Corey would go to sea for a few months, and I would be here alone with the animals. I was fully prepared to embrace that, although I’m not sure if Corey believed that.

Marthe DeFlorian painting by Giovanni Boldini found in apartment

Before moving here permanently, I wrestled with the idea of loneliness versus being alone, and truthfully being alone does not make me feel lonely. I know, though, that if I had been in a better place with both of my sons before I left, that it might be different, that the loneliness might be more present. I mean, the person I miss the most is Alexis. I miss seeing her and talking to her, however briefly our encounters might have been. I miss my sons constantly, but it’s not so immediate as the lack of my daughter, if that makes sense. The way in which I miss them is an internal ache that is always there, but I have become accustomed to it.

I never thought that I would be saying something like that.

But as far as being lonely? No, not so much. I miss fast access to any kind of food and easy access to my physicians. I miss the idea of living in Norfolk and being able to see my parents’ house anytime I needed to, or being able to ride over to where my other mother used to live just to see the house for a few minutes. I miss those ideas of things.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Hollow Men”

I have always known that I don’t need a lot of people around me. My friends have been few but fast. And as an only child, you become comfortable with the idea of yourself. You have to. No matter how much I told my parents that I wanted siblings when I was a child, I always kind of knew that I’d never have any.

Being an only can be very lonely, but it can also make you able to withstand things that people with siblings might not be able to withstand alone—like death. I never had siblings to lean on during tough times. It was just me, the dogs, and to some extent, my parents. Whenever we lost a dog when I was a child, I grieved alone. I would go into myself and just deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I learned to build walls and had a harder time taking them down. Who knows . . .

Look. I know that for a lot of people siblings are a burden. Not everyone loves, let alone gets along with their siblings. Brothers and/or sisters can be an incredible pain, especially if there is a big age difference, and brothers/sisters who grew up very close can grow apart as years pass. That’s what I saw happen to my sons, who were the best of friends when they were young but who became one another’s nemeses as they got older. That bothered me, but you cannot control your children’s emotions. A hard reality.

Still, I always wanted a sister.

You fear for the present stifled by the hegemony of the past and fear for the past from the absurdity of the present. You do not know where to stand at this crossroads.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Perhaps if I had a sister, this alone thing would be different. I’ll never know now. The person most like a sister to me for so many years is now in a different city, living a different life, and liking me not at all, for a variety of reasons, some of which I will never even know or understand.

But getting back to the idea of loneliness—I do not claim to be immune from the emotion. There have been times when I have been so lonely that I just wanted to find a dark closet and hide. I remember being very lonely in my first marriage. In fact, I remember one day standing at the bedroom window and watching my then spouse drive away, going to work, and just holding my hand to the windowpane and weeping. I don’t remember the why, only the what. It’s not a good memory.

And when our marriage fell apart, I would spend many weekends alone while the kids visited with their father, and the house seemed too big to hold me. In fact, I went to my boss at the time and told him to schedule me for every Saturday because I didn’t have a life. The arrangement worked well for both of us. If I was working, I didn’t have to think about the state of my life, so I worked a lot.

“Rising from the past, my shadow
Is running in silence to meet me.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “The souls of those I love are on high stars” (trans. A. S. Kline)

My job, my career was always important to me, always an extension of my self, but never my total identity once my children were born. But before that, I relished the self-importance of my career, the power, the seeming limitless ways in which I could grow and prosper. The thing is that it was only years later that I realized that while I considered myself a groundbreaking female in a mostly man’s world, my ability to grow and prosper was always hampered by the positions I held simply because I was a woman. Funny, that.

I once had to make the case for being paid more than certain males because I had more education and experience, and they were just out of college. That shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I did win that argument, by the way, but that’s the kind of thing I faced regularly. I know that things have gotten better for women in the workplace, but that’s not to say that sexism does not still exist. We all know that it does . . .

Ah, but that was then, as they say.

Now? Now, I have no job, no career, no profession, unless I own up to the fact that writing is a profession, well, maybe for other people. It’s just that I’ve never made money with my writing, never even tried, even though I’ve had probably hundreds of ideas for books. So I refrain from calling myself a writer because it’s not like I’ve ever done anything with it.

Are you what you were, or what you are now? You fear you will forget tomorrow while mired in the question: In which time do I live?” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Which brings me to the Darwish quotes, which are from one longer passage that I broke up for the purposes of this post. It’s this last part really: “Are you what you were, or what you are now?”

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Who am I? Who do I want to be? Is that the same person I wanted to be before or different? In which time do I live?

I live in all of them, really. My past is so intricately woven into my present that it’s impossible to separate them. But my present self is so very different from my past self that sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the two. I care little for money, or fame, or things, or what anyone else has. In fact, more and more, I am genuinely put off by the excesses of life today.

Will I always want to buy and to own books? Of course. But do I need a big house with a separate library just for my books? No. Maybe my answer would be different if I still owned the hundreds and hundreds of books that I once had, but I lost those when we lost the storage unit, so there’s that. Losing a collection like that, over 1,000 books, changes you, definitely.

But possessions? Thousand dollar purses or shoes? What good would they do me? My house is old. My furniture is old. My clothes, for the most part, are old. And you know what? I like old things. It’s another thing that my mother never understood, my love for things with history. If you showed me a brand new chair that was the perfect color of red, and placed an old Queen Anne covered in faded red brocade beside it, there’s no questions to which I would be drawn. History over new. Worn over pristine.

So ultimately, standing at the crossroads between past and present, more than likely I just wouldn’t move, I think, which is why I find myself always wondering in which time I really live.

More later. Peace.

*All images are taken from the former apartment of Mrs. DeFlorian, a Parisian woman who fled before the German occupation of WWII. The apartment was found to be exactly as she left it when it was opened in 2010. For an article on this beautiful artifact, go here.

Music by Julia Brennan, “Inner Demons”


A Person Protests to Fate

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

~ Jane Hirshfield, as found on poets.org