It’s beautiful outside today, and I had planned to take a walk with the dogs, but in looking for my other shoe, I began going through boxes, which is never a good idea if you’re trying to do something else. So . . . no walk.
Anyway, still not in a great frame of mind. Easter is always hard for me because of too many memories of Caitlin. In that vein, I’m sharing a video from “The Magicians” because it’s actually a perfect companion to my thoughts at the moment.
The cast of “The Magicians” singing “Take on Me” for Quentin:
“This is the year of burning women in schoolyards and raided homes, of tarped bodies on runways and in restaurants.” ~ Camille T. Dungy, from “Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another”
Monday evening, drizzle, 55 degrees.
Doctor’s appointment today, so sharing this story found on The Guardian in light of Sunday’s arson attack on a California mosque:
Choosing love over hate: In response to the March 15 mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, NZ, a Manchester, UK man stood outside a local mosque with a sign that read, “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.” Andrew Graystone from Levenshulme, Manchester stood outside the Madina mosque holding the sign.
When I heard about this man’s gentle protest, it almost made me cry—one person’s unbelievable humanity in the face of yet another instance of man’s inhumanity to man. We—people, humans, sentient beings worldwide—need more of these small acts of kindness more than most of us even realize. They make us better bit by bit.
“I am tired like the ancients were tired.” ~ Natalie Lyalin, from “Your Brain is Yours”
Saturday afternoon, overcast and warmer, 57 degrees.
So last night was pure hell. Earlier in the evening, Corey spotted a dog that was not ours beneath the swing-set on the side of the house, and then we heard a bunch of howling. He went to investigate, and at the top of the driveway, and he saw several strange dogs roaming around, apparently chasing something.
Anyway, this went on for hours during the night, and each time that the pack would start barking and yelping, Maddy would sit up and begin to bark. It’s really hard to sleep through all that noise. We both had the hardest time getting back to sleep, and consequently, I ended up dreaming that I couldn’t sleep, which is incredibly tiring. I had very strange dreams involving my mother—who has been in my dreams repeatedly lately—a dessert, a gay couple, and Olivia’s toys.
You know the theory that your dreams are your brain’s method of sifting through the day’s detritus? Well apparently my brain was overflowing with many a non sequitur, that is if indeed my dreams are any kind of barometer of such things.
“Let me begin again as a speck of dust caught in the night winds sweeping out to sea. Let me begin this time knowing the world is salt water and dark clouds, the world is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn comes slowly, and changes nothing.” ~ Philip Levine, from “Let Me Begin Again”
Corey has taken all of the dogs for a long walk to the big pond, which leaves the house blissfully quiet, except for my music and the hum of the washing machine. Ever since the first time he took them there, they now head for it anytime he leaves the house; I think that they’re looking for him, but when they don’t find him, they come back. I shouldn’t worry, but I know that there are coyotes here, and the puppies are still puppies, after all.
I know. I know. I worry too much.
When we left the house on Benjamin, I really looked forward to having a house that wasn’t inherently dusty, which that one was; however, as I knew nothing about the soot that wood stoves produce, I was unprepared for the layers and layers of dust that inhabit this house. I suppose as with the mud, I just need to wait for warmer temperatures when the stove isn’t heating the house, and then I can sweep away the dust and cobwebs and start anew.
Of course, I say that now, but who knows how I’ll feel when it is actually spring, and as Corey reminded me this morning, spring is less than two weeks away. My inability to track time seems to be getting worse the older that I get. I’ve always seemed to skip over November and February, but this feels worse, somehow. Don’t ask me how as I truly don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking forward to warmer temperatures too much that I feel as if once again I’m setting myself up for failure; I mean, I have so many projects that I want to finish. Will I just retreat further inside and get nothing at all accomplished?
Who knows? Certainly not I.
“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore
I wonder how other people do it—live their lives, I mean. I don’t remember a time in my life in which I was not living with my depression. It’s a way of life for me, so I truly wonder how people who do not suffer from this crippling disorder manage to make it through their days. I know that some have religion, and some have drugs, and some have money, but what about the rest of them? Are they floating through their lives as seemingly lost as I have always been?
I know that yesterday I mentioned those two incredibly talented people who I knew in high school, and how their lives turned out so differently than anyone ever thought they would or could. But I mean, come on. I know that there are people out there whose days are not filled with self-doubt. Are they sociopaths? Is that how they move through their days, blissfully unaware of pain and anguish? Or are they so completely satisfied with their lots in life that they just move forward and never look back?
How does it work? How does it work for people unlike me who feel everything too much, so much that eventually we become numb, closed off for protection or fear or both? I think again of concentration camp survivors, most of whom are now dead, but how did they get on with their lives after such unimaginable cruelty was visited upon them? How did they have enough strength and faith to raise families, have careers, kindle friendships? As opposed to their great suffering I feel like an ungrateful peon.
“. . . but as you know any amount of time is an uncertain one.” ~ Dalton Day (source uncertain)
Corey is back from his walk, and he managed to tire all of the dogs thoroughly. Tink came in, jumped on the couch and was immediately asleep. I envy dogs and cats their abilities to fall asleep so quickly. I don’t think that animals ever have insomnia, or at least, they don’t toss and turn all night thinking about bills and utilities and missteps and failures. It seems their dreams are filled with running and chasing and playing, as anyone who has ever watched a dog run in its sleep can attest.
Actually, I envy anyone who sleeps easily. Corey is only troubled occasionally with insomnia. My first husband could fall asleep easily. I know that in my youth I could sleep anywhere at any time. On a school trip to New York, I fell asleep at a Knicks’ game, which still amazes me. I have fond memories of curling up on Yvonne’s wing back chair, much like a cat, and falling fast asleep.
When each of my children were babies, I used to lay on the big hammock in my in-laws’ backyard with them, and we would sleep companionably under the shade until someone would wake us. I was never so at peace as the moments I spent with my babes in my arms, asleep, inviolable. Life was so different then, seemingly, but probably not. Whenever we look back, our memories are colored by whatever we wish to wash them wish. I’m not so much a fool that I don’t know that to be true.
“Time is not a solid, like wood, but a fluid, like water or the wind. It doesn’t come neatly cut into even-sized length, into decades and centuries. Nevertheless, for our purposes we have to pretend it does. The end of any history is a lie in which we all agree to conspire.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Robber Bride
There are memories that I can snatch at will, and then there are memories that I can only find the edges of, as if I know that something is there, but I can never quite uncloak it completely in order to take it out and examine it. I am reminded of Oriental puzzle boxes, with all of the false drawers and interlocking pieces; once taken apart, they are so hard to piece together properly, that is, until you find the secret. I think that memories are like that—that there is a secret to the ones stored deeply, and only when you come upon the answer are you allowed to touch them again.
I once thought that I would never forget the way that Caitlin smelled or how soft the skin was on her chubby arms, but I was wrong. I can remember neither. I can only remember the memory of what that was like, but I cannot recall the exact smell or the incredible velvet of her skin. Yet there have been times over the years in which something from some unknown place has assailed my senses, and I am once again in that hospital room, holding her close and inhaling deeply the very essence of her in order to imprint it upon my very cells, the core of my being.
The recall of such memories is both a boon and a curse. I want them more than anything, but once they come upon me, the pain is so acute that I want nothing more than to feel nothing again. And the truly sad part—in my mind—is that I find myself doing that now with memories of each of my children, no longer just Caitlin: the early spring afternoon Alexis and I lay in the hammock in my back yard, and she fell asleep in my arms even though she was six; the time that Eamonn asked me so earnestly when he could tell Corey that he loved him; the many, many times that Brett and I lay in my big bed and watched movies together when no one else was home.
It’s all a deep soul pain t hat never abates, mingled with a spark of contentment that can never be replaced.
Pure love. Irreparable loss.
The heart would have it all again, regardless.
More later. Peace.
Music by Rosie Golan, “Been a Long Day”
End of Winter
Over the still world, a bird calls
waking solitary among black boughs.
You wanted to be born; I let you be born.
When has my grief ever gotten
in the way of your pleasure?
into the dark and light at the same time
eager for sensation
as though you were some new thing, wanting
to express yourselves
all brilliance, all vivacity
this would cost you anything,
never imagining the sound of my voice
as anything but part of you—
you won’t hear it in the other world,
not clearly again,
not in birdcall or human cry,
not the clear sound, only
in all sound that means good-bye, good-bye—
the one continuous line
that binds us to each other.
“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.
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?”
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.
The ice-covered branches of the hemlocks sparkle Bending low and tinkling in the sharp thin breeze, And iridescent crystals fall and crackle on the snow-crust With the winter sun drawing cold blue shadows from the trees. ~ Sara Teasdale, from “Places”
Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and still cold, 30 degrees.
We lost power yesterday until mid afternoon. Luckily, we have a couple of small generators; although, we didn’t really need then for more than coffee. It was cold enough that everything in the freezer and fridges was fine, and we had the wood stove for heat. So I read a book—The Good German, by Joseph Kanon—and Corey and the dogs napped. It was that kind of day. And then once again last night, I couldn’t sleep, wide awake at 3 a.m., 4 a.m., etc.
Today everything is still snow covered, but the temperatures are supposed to start climbing in the next few days, which means we’ll probably have a muddy mess. The last time that it rained a lot, my car got stuck in the mud when I tried to go up the driveway. Eventually, we’re going to have to invest in some kind of gravel or shale.
The first four of today’s images were taken by Corey on the first day that it snowed, and the last two are by me. I spent almost two hours trying to convert a short video that Corey shot into a format that WordPress would accept but to no avail. Sorry.
No stars tonight; the snowflakes came down out of the dark, rushing towards him, endless, uncountable. Silent, too, but not like the stars. Falling snow whispered secrets to itself. ~ Diana Gabaldon, from Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
My other mother Yvonne gave me the book The Good German years ago, but for some reason, I never picked it up. I think that I thought that it was some kind of family saga, but it’s more of a mystery. She had told me that it was good; now, I wish that I had read it then so that we could have talked about it.
That’s what we used to do: swap books and then talk about them. We were the two big readers in the family. When she died, I was supposed to get all of her books, but that didn’t happen, for various reasons. But she had told me that no one else would want them and that she wanted me to have them.
The funny thing is that I had given her many of the books in her collection. We used to give one another books as presents for Christmas and birthdays. Now, I have no one to swap books with or to discuss them with over cups of coffee or tea. I miss her every single day.
“Since it has quietly began to snow, new distances have awakened within me.” ~ Gerrit Achterberg, from Snow Passage
Anyway, I’m waiting for the weather to get a bit more temperate before venturing out for a long walk with the dogs. I haven’t been out for one in days.
I had mentioned to Corey before we moved that I wanted a small ballet barre to exercise on inside the house, and then I forgot about it until the weather got cold quickly. I know how to do basic barre exercises, and I always enjoyed doing them, so today I mentioned it again. There’s really no need to purchase a kit; I mean, I’m not a dancer who needs a professional barre and full length mirrors; I always hated all of the mirrors at the gyms I frequented. Who wants to see themselves sweat and strain, besides body builders, that is . . . Anyway, it should be fairly simple and cheap to make one that’s about 48″ long using supplies from Home Depot.
A wooden rod, probably a closet rod, would come closest to the 1.5″ diameter of a barre, and then all that you need are some heavy-duty brackets, again, probably closet brackets and some bolts to anchor the bar on the brackets. A barre is great for stretching, which is what I’m mostly limited to, but you can do core exercises as well. So here’s hoping I can get that barre sometime in the next month or so.
The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence . . . It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.” ~ Frederick Buechner, from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale
I do have something on my mind that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit: For the first time in my entire life, I’m not looking forward to Christmas. In fact, the idea of decorating for Christmas does not appeal to me at all.
Dear reader, you’ve never seen my house at Christmas, but I decorate everything, every doorknob in the house, even the bathroom and kitchen. But this year? I just don’t think that I can do it, and there are several reasons. First, we still haven’t finished organizing the house, and every time that I think that I might have the energy, I just don’t, so there’s no place for a tree.
But secondly, and more importantly, I just don’t see the point, and that might sound harsh, but why, really? None of my kids will be here, and Olivia will not be here. It will just be Corey, me, and the animals. I know that Corey is thinking about going to Ohio for the holidays, and actually, that’s fine with me. I’ll stay here with the animals.
The idea of a beautiful Christmas with decorations and packages only makes me feel more acutely what isn’t here, and I really don’t want to feel that. To feel that would make me also feel ungrateful for what I do have. Being here on this piece of land is everything I ever wanted. Looking out my window and seeing snow and horses and trees? How can I not appreciate that?
That fact is that I do. I do truly appreciate that. It’s just that right now, what isn’t here is standing out more.
“Small, red, and upright he waited, ………. while the first snows of winter floated down on his eyelashes and covered the branches around him and silenced all trace of the world.” ~ Anne Carson, from Autobiography of Red
I do so wish that there was a way that I could truly compartmentalize everything, but I’ve never been able to do that even though I’ve tried. And right now I’m just past trying to pretend that everything is okay.
I mean, every time I think about youngest son, I just want to cry. I really want to understand the state of my relationship with him, but I don’t. I want to call him, but I can’t. I cannot contact him until he is ready, and you cannot imagine the pain that causes me. And then eldest son has been removed for years, yet I crave to hear his voice, see his goofy smile, hear his stupid jokes.
I cannot even attempt to discuss the lack of Olivia for Christmas as it’s too acute, and I cannot imagine how Alexis is handling it this year, being so far away from her for the holidays, connected only by phone and texts. And of course, there is the lack of Alexis, the lack of a family Christmas dinner, all of the stress of preparation and the satisfaction of seeing everyone sitting around the table with their constant chatter. It just hurts too much.
And so I have absolutely not idea as to what I’ll do. Maybe I’ll cave right before Christmas and want to decorate, or maybe I’ll just spend the days reading books and trying not to think about the time of year. Am I ungrateful? No. Yes. I don’t know. Who knows? Certainly not I.
More later. Peace.
Music by Natalie Taylor, “Come to This”
Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook, not
the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication, not
the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the window.
Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation.
Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it. Let’s stop here,
under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
“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.
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 is sympathetic.
To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
for only the very young,
the very old.
During the long middle:
conjugating a rivet
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.