“A nothingness that compounded nothing into being” ~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems

Rwanda Genocide Aftermath by Larry Towell (Magnum Photos)

Two for Tuesday: The Rwanda Genocide, Twenty Years Later

Tuesday morning, sunny, cooler, 64 degrees.

I had this post planned for last week, but then life intervened. I came upon a link on tumblr that led me to this incredible site, and I knew that I had to write a post about it.

100 Days by Wangechi Mutu

A little back story: In 1994, a world away, I found myself horrified by ongoing reporting of the Rwanda genocide because no one anywhere in the world truly intervened in the madness. The images that I saw made me seriously contemplate what genocide means and how some genocides seem to matter more than others based on exactly where in the world they occurred and what peoples were involved, and I have just never understood that.

Over 800,000 people were slaughtered during the 100 days of this ethnic cleansing. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Rwanda genocide, this article provides a good explanation of what happened and how the rest of the world reacted. When it was all over, we heard that pat phrase “never again” once again. Never. Again. Empty words. Small comfort, hollow placation. We even have a month for it:

You hear this solemn pledge a lot every April, since the month commemorates not only Holocaust Remembrance Day but the official anniversaries of both the Armenian and Rwandan genocides. Leaders at every level seem to love hearing themselves declare “Never Again.” But those who mean it have no power and those with power never mean it. The record speaks for itself.

I won’t apologize for the politics of this post. I’m tired. I’m tired physically and emotionally. I’m tired of myself. I’m tired of things, and I’m so tired of the state of this country and of the world at large and all of hollow promises and untruths that continue to fall from the lips of politicians and world leaders.

As to the following poems I chose for this post, I think that the best way to describe the 100 days project is to use Juliane Okot Bitek’s words

On April 6th, 2014, Wangechi Mutu posted a picture on social media via Facebook and Instagram. It was the photograph of a woman whose somber pose was that of an exhausted spirit. She titled the picture #100Days #Kwibuka20 – and immediately, I knew what I had to do. The photograph provided me an “in” to the conversation that I’ve wanted to be a part of for more than twenty years. I wanted to think about what it means to be a witness, however obliquely, and how to create solidarity with people who have some idea about the experiences of people I know and love. I decided to write and post “100 Days,” a poem for every day from April 6th forward, inspired by Wangechi Mutu’s work . . .

I wrote to Wangechi and suggested that I compose a poetic response to her photos, and she agreed. I have been posting a poem a day, thinking about what it means to engage with such knowledge today, twenty years after. What do commemorations and declarations do for people who are still deeply haunted and scarred by those events that we think of as History? What is it to be in a world that witnessed yet did nothing about your suffering? How do we hold just enough bitterness to keep us focused on what needs our attention? Above all, what does it mean for us to witness the suffering of others? It is so easy to stay hypnotized by the swirl of information that comes at us from the internet, in print and, of course, on television. How much out there does not reflect the reality of our day to day hauntedness?

It was hard to choose just two images and two poems, and if you are at all interested, I suggest you follow the links.

There will be more later. Peace. Please.


Day 78 by Wangechi Mutu

Day 92

We wish for absolution, for a clearing,
for a forgetting, a filling of the heart
& a joyousness once more

We wish for children of innocence
we wish for an instantiation of things
a rationality that resonates with our emotions

We wish for the silence of the moon
the quieting of ghosts
& a peace to rest in

Day 96

What is the essence of beauty?
Why do mists swirl and rise but never completely disappear?
Why should iron gleam through soil?
Why should our dances be graceful, our cloths bright
Our memories long, our language rich and layered?
Why should beauty render us speechless?
What is it to come from a land that swallows its own people?”

~ Wangechi Mutu and Juliane Okot Bitek, from “The Rwanda Genocide, twenty years later: 100 Days of photographs + poems”


Music by Svrcina, “Who are you?”

 

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“ . . . 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

 

“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

“See, the darkness is leaking from the cracks. | I cannot contain it. I cannot contain my life.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice

“Portrait of Ted Hughes” by Sylvia Plath*
“There is an emptiness.
I am so vulnerable suddenly. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice

It’s been almost two years since my life was upended into total chaos. Two years since my idea of normalcy faded into a new normal that is anything but. Two years since I felt like my life and those within it might be moving back into some semblance of everyday existence.

I was so very wrong.

“Boats off Rock Harbour, Cape Cod”

Any approach to normalcy that we may have been nearing exploded into shards of glass in one afternoon, and there was no chance of normalcy after that. Not one second passes when I don’t ask myself what if . . . what if I had done this or hadn’t done that . . . what if I had never, or if only I had . . .

“What if” is a phrase that will kill you, you know. My ability to blame myself for everything is a long-standing state of being, as long-standing as my love affair with guilt. I honestly don’t know where it all started, if I was just a child and felt such profound guilt that my parents’ marriage wasn’t the storybook kind, that somehow it was my fault. Kids take on a lot more guilt than adults give them credit for. But it started long ago, and it has never abated, this consuming sense that I am the one who could have prevented this or that tragedy, that I am the one who should have seen the signs before this or that happened.

It’s pretty frigging arrogant, right? This sense of omnipotence and omniscience with which I feel I should be imbued. Only children are great at seeming arrogance. It hides their insecurities well.

“I have had my chances. I have tried and tried.
I have stitched life into me like a rare organ,
And walked carefully, precariously, like something rare.
I have tried not to think too hard. I have tried to be natural. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice

If left alone with my thoughts for too long, I inevitably begin a deep dive. It matters not how well I know exactly where I will land nor how badly I will fall. That never even factors into it. The truth is that I really have very little control over these dives.

“Citronnade Stand in Tuileries”

My mother never understood this, nor did my first husband. They were both of the school of think happy thoughts to fix whatever ails you. He saw my depressions as self-absorbed; she saw them as completely perplexing. What did I have to be depressed about? What, indeed. I lived in a nice house in a nice suburb. I had friends, family, seeming popularity in school. I could go on and on, but it doesn’t really matter.

Ask a person suffering from debilitating depression why, and the chances are very good that they cannot answer you; just as if you begin to list for them all of the things for which they should be grateful and happy, you will only push them farther down. Trust me. We know what we should be grateful for, but we can negate your list and add 50 more things before you take a breath.

“What is it I miss?
Shall I ever find it, whatever it is? ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice

The irony of the moment is that I am not within the full throes of a debilitating depression; rather, it’s just more of a commonplace, ordinary depression. You know, a run of the mill kind of thing in which no one specific thing is wrong. Nothing has really happened. It’s just there. On the fringes, as it were.

“Cambridge: A view of gables and chimney-pots”

So how do I know that the deeper fall is incipient? How do I know that night will be followed by day, and so on? Years of experience, my dear. Years. For instance, there was that song that came up in my YouTube playlist, the one that made me teary-eyed, and then there was that thing that reminded me of that time, and the smell that hearkened back to that day.

I cannot explain it to you. It’s like trying to catch rain in a colander. You can’t, and we’ll both end up wet. (The glibness is affected, and it hurts my heart, yet I provide it for you, don’t you see?) Shall I call you listener, or reader, or friend? No? Should you call me wanderer, sojourner or wayward one? Perhaps.

“The voices of loneliness, the voices of sorrow
Lap at my back ineluctably. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice

It’s strange, you see, in that the way I feel about my life at the moment hearkens back so clearly to exactly how I felt after I lost Caitlin. Then, I had no control over anything, no power to make anything better or right or good. Now, it is the same, but not. This time, the losses are not from death, but they feel as if they are. They feel just as permanent, and sometimes I feel as if I have been rent, from stem to stern, as it were, and there is no clear path to healing.

I could pause here and say, “oh, don’t listen to me. I’ll be fine in the morning.” And there is a distinct possibility that it may be so. And there is also a possibility that it may not be so. It all depends on how far my mind races with these thoughts before I am able to call a halt, if I am able to call a halt, that is. I keep thinking that I could have fixed all of this, that I could have done something to make everyone  and everything okay in the end.

“Tabac Opposite Palais de Justice”

Isn’t that what mothers are for? To offer a salve for the hurts? To be the one that brings everyone back together after a rift? If not for that, then what? That’s a real question, dear reader. I don’t know what my role as mother means, any more. I realize that there are all kinds of mothers out there, and plenty of them are perfectly happy not to have constant contact with their offspring. Everyone moves along on their individual life trails, rarely crossing or interacting. Weird.

What you have to understand is that I was raised in a household with a decidedly Filipino approach to family, in spite of my North Carolinian mother. In a Filipino household, generations live together, and there are often cousins, too, first, second, no matter. The terms uncle and aunt do not necessitate blood kin. They are honorifics. The point is that children are rarely very far away from their parents in these kinds of households. It’s completely alien to me, and it’s also another source of pain: to realize that if either of my parents were still alive that this state of affairs would absolutely kill them.

Perfect. Now I’ve added the parental guilt (mine for them, not theirs for me) to this particular dive.

“I am calm. I am calm. It is the calm before something awful:
The yellow minute before the wind walks, when the leaves
Turn up their hands, their pallors. It is so quiet here. ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice

I deliberately left the last parts of this post unfinished last night, thinking that if I came back to it later, that I would no longer feel the need to finish, that I would be calmer, more fixed. I am neither, and the constant thrum of a migraine sits somewhere just behind my eyes; this does not engender any sense of well being, only adds to the unease . . . dis-ease? Disease?

Hmm . . . never approached that word in that way before. Curious.

“Harbor Cornucopia, Wiscosin”

Today is grayer and colder than yesterday when I began, and even though I slept for most of the night with only 3 awakenings (few, for me), I still began the day unsettled, which is how I began this post. Dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are, I apologize for this self-indulgence. Better are the days in which I skate just along the surface of everything, as it is on those days that I can actually breathe most freely, feel less in order to feel better.

Forgive me for that last bit—it made complete sense in my head. I suppose that my point is that on the days in which I am able to block many of my thoughts, on those days I can find a calming peace in the simplicity of my life now, here, on this land, surrounded by trees, wildlife, and no sounds of traffic or people or cities. But I must admit that when I do finally allow my thoughts to brook my consciousness at some point, I always feel just a tad guilty for trying to shut everything out.

Yes, I know, that makes little to no sense. Alas, alack, as it were.

“Again, this is a death. Is it the air,
The particles of destruction I suck up? Am I a pulse
That wanes and wanes, facing the cold angel?
Is this my lover then? This death, this death?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice

In my attempts to respect the privacy of others, I find that I am frequently talking in a coded language that only I can understand, which tends to defeat the purpose of sharing, does it not? It’s like collecting shells on a beach after a storm: There is always so much detritus at hand, but finding unbroken shells always requires a careful search and much sifting out of the unnecessary.

“The Pleasure of Odds and Ends”

Nevertheless, share I will. I will toss these scattered thoughts out into the ether in the hopes that in so doing, I might be able to purchase a little peace for myself, or if not peace, exactly, at least a few hours in which the widening gyre that Yeats so often spoke of does not continue to spin. Of course, he was alluding to the constant movement of history towards chaos. I speak only of my personal history and my attempts to stop its spinning towards entropy.

Enough. There will be more later. Peace.

*All images are pen and ink drawings by Sylvia Plath, who was originally an art major before switching to English. In 2011, a collection of 44 drawings by the poet went on display at the Mayor Gallery in London. According to an article in The Independent, “the sketches were given to Plath’s daughter, the artist Frieda Hughes, by her poet father and Plath’s former husband Ted Hughes before he died . . .The drawings date from 1955, the year Plath graduated from Smith College, Massachusetts and won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, in England, where she was to meet and marry Hughes. In 2017, the National Portrait Gallery of The Smithsonian Institute hosted a retrospective of Plath’s art and memorabilia.

No poem today as I think that I covered that aspect well enough with all of the Plath quotes.


Music by Larkin Poe, “Mad as a Hatter”

 

 

“The past is always carried into the present by small things.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Divisadero

“The Fire” (1943, oil on canvas) by René Magritte (reminded me of the California wildfires)

“The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “Gerontion”

Thursday evening, cloudy and cold, 41 degrees, warming temperatures.

Well, where do I begin this post? So far, I’ve kept it light, telling you a bit about our move, the mountains, the animals, but I haven’t touched on how we ended up here, which is a long and convoluted story, one that cannot be shared in its entirety because other people deserve their privacy, even if I put everything about myself down here. So let me go back, back to 2017.

Last year began one of the absolute worst times of my life, I mean, ranking right up there with the loss of Caitlin, the loss of my father, the loss of my mother. Emotionally, we began 2017 on what can only be described as a roller coaster in hell, and it only got  much worse. I don’t mean to be cryptic, but I’m not going into specifics; I just wanted to set the mood a bit.

“The False Mirror” (1928, oil on canvas)
by René Magritte

Suffice it to say that by the middle of the year, I had, not by my choice, officially—emotionally and somewhat physically—lost any contact with either of my sons, and contact with my daughter was fraught at best. Perhaps I should backup even more. If I’m going to tell some of this, I need to go back more, back to that time in which, for various reasons, younger son chose not to have much to do with  me, and older son followed suit, more by accident than deliberation, I think.

Eldest son has always been independent, and he has been closer to his dad than to me since about the age of 13 or 14. His dad exited our lives when the boys were only 7 and 6 respectively, but he did his visitation regularly, always paid his support, so I’m not slamming him here, just stating facts. Anyway, eldest son has much in common with his father, some good and some bad, as we all tend to be, so I was not entirely surprised that once eldest moved out for good, I didn’t see or hear from him regularly, not that it didn’t wound me or that I didn’t miss him tremendously, just saying it wasn’t a surprise.

But separation from youngest son? That wounded me to my very core, and it is still a very fresh wound. I really don’t know if it will ever get easier or better.

“Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling they’re given wings.” ~ Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

Youngest son is also my youngest child, so he was the one who was with me alone after the other two moved out. We did pretty much everything together, watched movies, exchanged books, went to poetry readings and thrift stores, and I always loved how close we were, but life happens, everyone grows up, and nothing stays the same. If that were all that it were, I could accept it. But that’s not it. For various reasons unrelated to me, he began to withdraw, which is not to say that there aren’t reasons related to me because there are. The problem is that I don’t understand a lot of those reasons. I can, however, pare it down to one particular devastating accusation though: He told me that I was abusive, emotionally abusive.

“Memory” (1948, oil on canvas)
by René Magritte

Okay. Well, then . . .

No. Not okay then. Not okay at all. Yes, there are all kinds of ways to be abusive, and god knows that there is an entire generation approaching life through trigger warnings and needing safe spaces, and no, I don’t really understand that either, but whatever. Look, he’s had social anxiety issues for most of his life, and who am I to criticize, hermit and agoraphobic that I am. But I tried many times to help and to get him help, not wanting him to end up like me; nevertheless, he began to deal with other more serious things as he got older, but I always approached him honestly and with all of the understanding that I had, and I always told him that I would love him no matter what, and I have. But apparently, I must have loved him abusively . . . is that even a thing?

I know that helicopter parenting can create a slew of problems, but I never saw myself as a helicopter parent. I tried hard to help when asked, comfort when needed, and to butt out when it warranted. I never said anything to anyone about having the wrong friends or the wrong boyfriends or girlfriends or significant others. I didn’t snoop, even when I really, really wanted to. And I promised myself that I would never break a promise and that I would always try to be truthful. The brutal truth for parents is that ultimately they must step back and watch their sons and daughters make mistakes, watch them fall, and although it is a painful thing to do, it must be done, but that doing is never easy. So what is it that I did, exactly?

I believed to my soul that I owed my kids all of that—truth, love, understanding, and yes, protection. But I never thought that I coddled them. My kids didn’t have everything that they wanted or asked for; they didn’t wear designer clothes; we had some lean Christmases, and we even lived without cable for years (shudder). But they had a solid roof over their head albeit a smaller one with old furniture, and they never went to bed hungry. They weren’t deprived, but neither were they spoiled rotten.

“Memoory” (1948, oil on canvas)
by René Magritte

I’m not claiming to be blameless. Of course I’ve done things. All parents do, even when they don’t really mean to. I’m certain if you asked any of my offspring if I ever screwed up, that they could come at you with a list, and each of those lists would probably not contain that same things. What? I’m only human, after all. But this, this accusation, this statement, whatever it is? I just don’t understand it, and I really, really really want to understand it because the gulf just keeps widening, and as it does, my heart just keeps breaking.

Years ago, when I used to talk about moving to the mountains, I told youngest that he could come and build his own place wherever we went, and when I would daydream about that move, he was always a part of it. But now? He’s hundred of miles away, and the chances that he will ever move here and build his own place are completely non existent.

“Don’t you get tired of wanting
to live forever?
Don’t you get tired of saying Onward?” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “Circe/Mud Poems”

I know that I began this post talking about 2017 and how we actually ended up here in the mountains on 100+ acres, trying to live the dream, but it looks like I’m going to have to come back to that later because this has morphed into a post about parents and children, and loss and heartache and . . . yep, all of that and so much more.

“Secret Life IV” (1928, oil on canvas)
by René Magritte

Suffice it to say that the entire family on all sides went through emotional hell, and there are some wounds that may never heal. Corey and I have only very recently begun to allow ourselves to attempt to move on and get along with our lives, but all of that crap about resolution? Resolution is a gift, and some receive it, and others do not, and a great deal depends upon the individual, so you can rightly assume that I do not feel that resolution has been bestowed upon me.

But as for youngest son, I no longer contact him, and that is as he wishes, not as I wish. Does that mean that I don’t want to every hour of every single fricking day? Need I bother to answer? But again, it’s that thing of trying to respect your child’s wishes because that child is no longer a child, is no longer the unexpected miracle of your life, no longer the boon companion of years previous.

“And if you are not a bird, then beware of coming to rest above an abyss.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from unpublished fragments dating to June-July 1883

Look, it’s November, for me the time of bad anniversaries, and the holidays are upon us, and as usual, it’s the beginning of my annual dive into the depths of my personal abyss, so here I am. And even as I type these word, I wonder to myself will I actually post this? Will I really put this out there? And the answer is . . . I have no idea.

I came back to this forum recently for several different reasons:

The political climate and the state of our democracy made me want to rant, really, really rant.

The new location seemed to afford me a new beginning, so I wanted to talk about that and all that it encompasses.

“Clairvoyance (Self Portrait)(1936, oil on canvas)
by Rene Magritte

But mostly, I missed it. Admittedly, I missed the small group of regular who always had something to say to me. But more than that, I missed me. I missed the me that sat down and just let the words flow like water from an open faucet. I missed the me that not only felt things deeply but who also shared those feelings. And mostly, I suppose, I missed the me that took great care in creating this personal space that was mine alone, mine to do with whatever I deemed worthy or appropros, regardless of who I offended or who I enraged, regardless of who I might alienate.

Honestly, I don’t want to alienate or offend anyone, but I refuse to self censor. Ever. What I will do, from this point on, is be more respectful of other’s privacy. That I will do, but that is my only concession. What is the point of having a personal blog that isn’t personal? Everything else just seems like time wasting, like gathering wool, as it were.

And so in beginning again, in returning to this forum, I feel, no, I need to talk about my own truths. I need to work through what I can with my words. If that is callous or heartless, then I apologize for that, but I won’t change the words, any more than I could change my inner core of being. The truth is that most people who create are patently self-absorbed. I am no different. So to the question of whether I will post this . . .

Hmm . . . things that make you go hmm . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by Ben Abraham, “This is On Me,” featuring Sara Bareilles


Black Maps

Not the attendance of stones,
nor the applauding wind,
shall let you know
you have arrived,

nor the sea that celebrates
only departures,
nor the mountains,
nor the dying cities.

Nothing will tell you
where you are.
Each moment is a place
you’ve never been.

You can walk
believing you cast
a light around you.
But how will you know?

The present is always dark.
Its maps are black,
rising from nothing,
describing,

in their slow ascent
into themselves,
their own voyage,
its emptiness,
the bleak temperate
necessity of its completion.
As they rise into being
they are like breath.

And if they are studied at all
it is only to find,
too late, what you thought
were concerns of yours

do not exist.
Your house is not marked
on any of them,
nor are your friends,

waiting for you to appear,
nor are your enemies,
listing your faults.
Only you are there,

saying hello
to what you will be,
and the black grass
is holding up the black stars.

~ Mark Strand

 

Two for Tuesday: Snow

Rudolf Koppitz In Weiner Wald 1910
“Im Wiernerwald” (c1910)
by Rudolf Koppitz

 


“For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” ~ Wallace Stevens, from “The Snow Man”

Tuesday afternoon. Clear and cold, 31 degrees.

We were hit with snow, sleet, and freezing rain yesterday and into the night, so of course the whole area is shut down. It’s quiet, though. Funny how you don’t notice the quiet until it’s there.

I always love waking up after snow because there is a blue light hovering outside the windows and a dampening of all of the grating sounds of cars and trucks and noise in general. But I was reminded of my father last night as Corey was complaining of being cold: My father, who hated winter, hated snow, hated the cold . . . my father who would rather stay on a ship thousands of miles away for months at a time rather than be in a city blanketed with winter.

                   

Valerius de Saedeleer, Sneeuwlandschap in Etikhove 1924
“Sneeuwlandschap in Etikhove” (1924)
by Valerius de Saedeleer

Too Much Snow

Unlike the Eskimos we only have one word for snow but we have a lot of modifiers for that word. There is too much snow, which, unlike rain, does not immediately run off. It falls and stays for months. Someone wished for this snow. Someone got a deal, five cents on the dollar, and spent the entire family fortune. It’s the simple solution, it covers everything. We are never satisfied with the arrangement of the snow so we spend hours moving the snow from one place to another. Too much snow. I box it up and send it to family and friends. I send a big box to my cousin in California. I send a small box to my mother. She writes “Don’t send so much. I’m all alone now. I’ll never be able to use so much.” To you I send a single snowflake, beautiful, complex and delicate; different from all the others.

~ Louis Jenkins

                   

Graham Noble Norwell Landscape oil on board
Winter Landscape (oil on board)
by Graham Noble Norwell

Smelling the Snow

I’ve heard it said
there are those on such
close terms with night
they can smell the very light.

Not only does the moon,
they say, give off a scent
nothing like the sun’s,
but old moon smells

sweeter than slivered new.
Monks of old claimed sin
took the breath away, while
God was wild onion, lilac, pine.

I know a carpenter who
boasts he can sniff out a maple
in a woodlot of ash and oak.
A stalking cat knows

the unsinging sparrow
from the finch. This day
as it returns to Ohio, like
some feathery creature

seeking the very moon and tree
where it was born,
I can smell the snow,
which seems to me,

against the dark trees
moving in slow procession,
a few birds stark and silent,
an essence close to love.

But any old fool can smell love.

~ David Citino

                     

Music by Joan as Police Woman, “To Survive”

“How do we forgive ourselves for all of the things we did not become?” ~ David ‘Doc’ Luben, from “14 Lines from Love Letters or Suicide Notes”

/Portals/14/EasyDNNRotator/61184/2vmm2jv5.jpg
September 8-14 is Suicide Prevention Week

“You were said to have died of suffering. […] You died because you searched for happiness at the risk of finding the void.” ~ Édouard Levé, from Suicide

  stigma_2

Monday afternoon. Stormy and cool, 74 degrees.

I’ve been holding on to the center of this post in anticipation of this week. You see, this post began as a reflection on Robin Williams, but after doing some pondering, I decided that the subject matter was so much bigger than one person. To that end, I have included lots of links that I hope may be useful to anyone just wishing to learn more, anyone looking to help a friend or family member, or anyone feeling a bit lost.

If the information I have gathered here helps even one person, then the entire reason for this blog and some of what I try to do here will have been validated.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and September is Suicide Prevention Month for the military. You might be surprised at the statistics related to suicide. Follow this link for a detailed list of suicide facts. Go here to learn more about military suicides, or call the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

Suicide Oncoming2

If you think someone you know may be suicidal, here are some key warning signs from AAS (American Association of Suicidology):

How do you remember the Warning Signs of Suicide?
Here’s an easy-to-remember mnemonic:

IS PATH WARM?

 I  Ideation
Substance Abuse

Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness

Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes

A person in acute risk for suicidal behavior most often will show:

Warning Signs of Acute Risk:
Threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and or,
Looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means; and/or,
Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary.

These might be remembered as expressed or communicated ideation.  If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a referral.

Additional Warning Signs:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all of the time
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

If you are looking for a crisis center near you, click on this link.

Suicide StickFigures5

Here are a few key facts to ponder:

  • According to the New York Times, suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.
  • The Center for Disease Control reports that U.S. suicide deaths now outnumber deaths by automobile accident, the rate has jumped almost 20 percent in the last decade The suicide rate among Americans 45 to 64 has jumped more than 30 percent in the last decade.
  • One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds around the world, the World Health Organization says in a new report that finds few countries have specific policies focused on preventing suicide.
  • According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices in Education), there are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
  • There are four male suicides for every female suicide, but there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt. (AAS)
  • Each year, 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 die by suicide.(SAVE)
  • Last year, 185 active-duty Army soldiers died by suicide, surpassing the 176 soldiers killed in battle in Afghanistan that year. The Army’s annual death toll from suicide has more than tripled since 2001, when 52 active-duty soldiers took their own lives. (Huffington Post)
fenway

“And the whole landscape seems littered
with fallen dreams.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Possibility”

A few weeks ago, I encountered an emotional body slam the likes of which I had not experienced in quite a while when I heard of Robin Williams’s suicide, and while it may seem a bit strange that I was so affected by the suicide of someone I had never met, you have to understand that I grew up with Robin Williams, first as the alien Mork, and then later with all of his various movie incarnations and one-man shows.

To me, the comic/actor’s frenetic energy belied his incredible wit and intellect. Williams could improvise instantly on any given topic thrown at him by the audience. In the Disney movie Aladdin, Williams first improvised his lines, and then his character was animated. His performance in Bird Cage with Nathan Lane makes it one of the few comedies that I will rewatch. Williams was a throwback to the very physical comedians of the 40’s and 50’s.

Robin Williams in Las Vegas
Robin Williams in Las Vegas (Reuters)

Of course, like any actor, Williams had his hits and his misses, but even in his misses there were moments of pure genius.  It’s as if no one project could contain him, his persona always bigger than the vehicle. But I loved his turns in dramas as much as I loved his comedies. It was his face, his ability to move his face in improbable ways, and his deeply sad blue eyes. Like many people, if I had not already read of his depressive episodes, I never would have associated the man with suicide.

Yet as we now know, on August 14, the funny man chose a final exit, one from which he would never return. And that isn’t funny at all.

Of course there was the morbid reporting, the details of the death, the rampant speculation, including some bizarre claim about the Illuminati. Nothing can hold the vultures at bay. Yet within all of this were a few nuggets worth notice: Williams was talking about future projects. His family was unaware of his suicidal thoughts.

And what this means is that Williams, in death, was much the same as any other person considering suicide: how much is hidden from everyone, how much is faked, how little is actually shared—until it’s too late. Although his unrestrained demeanor was on display for the public, we can never know of the great sadness he kept private.

And that is the very nature of suicide: its two opposing faces.

“Silence. Everything here is now clothed
in strict grief; and this passion,
like bad kerosene, barely burns.” ~ Cesar Vallejo, from “Plaster”

As I’ve said, I loved so many of the man’s projects, but I stayed away from his recent television show simply because the previews seemed a bit forced. I really don’t know what I mean when I say that, only that it just didn’t appeal to me. I loved him as the killer in Insomnia, and the creepy stalker in One Hour Photo, and as contrived as it was, his turn in Jack broke my heart. Unlike many, I loved the fantasy of What Dreams May Come, and he remains my favorite Peter Pan from Hook.

But I won’t hesitate to say that my favorite Robin Williams’ movie was Dead Poets’ Society

Years ago when I was teaching an American literature class, I used the movie Dead Poets’ Society to discuss place as it influences characters. I invited the students to view the movie in a different way, paying attention to the time period in which it was set, the cloistered effect of an all-boys’ elite boarding school, and the different roles of the three main characters (Keating, Neil, and Todd) and what made them outsiders.

As Keating in Dead Poets’ Society

I always thought that casting Robin Williams in this period drama was genius. The fact that he wasn’t completely restrained only added to his characterization as the prodigal student returned in the role of faculty member; his interjections of John Wayne impersonations only cemented the fact that Keating would never really belong at Welton Academy, no matter how much he tried.

And while some of my colleagues criticized the movie for being too simplistic and predictable, I found myself loving it for so many reasons—watching the moment Todd sounds his barbaric yawp, seeing the young Josh Charles as the lovestruck teen. And who can forget the final scene when the boys stand on their desks in an homage to their captain . . .

To this day I cannot watch DPS without weeping at the ending, at the loss of the artistic tortured Neil, at the forever changed idealistic Todd, and at the tempering of the inspirational Mr. Keating for the sake of the status quo. Williams’s Keating was the kind of teacher few of us ever encounter in real life, but the one whose classroom we all wish we had sat in, even if for only an hour or two.

But I would be remiss if I did not address the elephant in the room:  the irony of the plot is not lost on me now as I write this. The character Neil commits suicide rather than be forced into a role he cannot play, and everyone is left to pick up the pieces and go on. It is the coda that we do not see: Mr. Keating walking out the door knowing that a beautiful light has been extinguished forever.

R. I. P. Mr. Williams. We are all poorer for your passing.

If you’d like to find out how you can get in involved in the fight against suicide, please contact AAS’ Central Office at 202-237-2280, email us at info@suicidology.org, or reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter. If interested specifically in making a donation to further suicide prevention, or in the U OK? t-shirt campaign, click here.

Music by Richard Walters, “Infinity Street”


                   

Post Hoc

It happened because he looked a gift horse in the mouth.
It happened because he couldn’t get that monkey off his back.
It happened because she didn’t chew 22 times before swallowing.
What was she thinking, letting him walk home alone from the bus stop?
What was he thinking, standing up in the boat like that?
Once she signed those papers the die was cast.
She should have waited an hour before going in; everyone knows
salami and seawater don’t mix.
He should have checked his parachute a seventh time;
you can never be too careful.
Why didn’t she declare her true feelings?
Why didn’t she play hard to get? She could be out at some
nice restaurant right now instead of in church, praying
for the strength to let him go.
It all started with that tattoo.
It all started with her decision to order the chicken salad.
Why was he so picky?
Why wasn’t she more discriminating?
He should have read the writing on the wall; listened
to the still small voice, had a lick of sense. But how could he when he
was blinded by passion? Deaf to warnings? Really dumb?
Why, why, in God’s name, did he run with scissors?
If only they’d asked Jesus for help.
If only they’d asked their friends for help.
If only they’d ignored the advice of others and held fast
to their own convictions, they might all be here, now,
with us, instead of six feet under; instead of trying to adopt
that foreign baby, instead of warming that barstool
at the Road Not Taken Eatery and Lounge, wondering how it might all
have been different, if only they had done
the right thing.

~ Jennifer Maier