“Everything is strange. Things are huge and very small.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from The Waves
Saturday afternoon, rainy and cooler, 69 degrees.
Sorry there were no leftovers yesterday. I never made it onto tumblr this week to collect anything. Weird week.
It started out lousy with the baby bird, but then on Tuesday we picked up a new baby goat, a Nubian now named Roland, which was a nice diversion. Honestly, though, taking care of a three-week-old baby goat is very similar to taking care of a baby—making formula, doing bottle feedings, cleaning bottles—and they act very much like babies: if they cannot see you, you are gone, and so they cry. It’s actually been nice, but bittersweet, if that makes any sense.
Corey and I never were able to have a baby of our own, mostly because I had to have an ovary removed several years ago, and it’s always created both a sense of emptiness and a sense of inadequacy for me. Then that emptiness was filled when Olivia came along, and then suddenly, Olivia was many states away, and I haven’t talked to her or seen her in many months.
This is a hard weekend for me. Mother’s Day without my mother, without my other mother, and without my children. I don’t know if I feel like a mom any more. I don’t know if I feel like a daughter any more. Technically I’m an orphan: no mother, no father. Corey’s mom does a lot to try to fill the gap, and I appreciate it, so I hope that I don’t sound ungrateful. But it’s all just very strange for me. I mean, I haven’t talked to my youngest son since last year. I’ve heard from middle son and daughter off an on, but not a lot, and I walk around with a constant sense of a broken heart, with a feeling of having a hole somewhere inside of me that cannot be filled with anything else.
What do you say after making a statement like that? I have no idea.
More later. Peace.
Hammock, “Together Alone”
Here a snail on a wet leaf shivers and dreams of spring.
Here a green iris in December.
Here the topaz light of the sky.
Here one stops hearing a twig break and listens for deer.
Here the art of the ventriloquist.
Here the obsession of a kleptomaniac to steal red pushpins.
Here the art of the alibi.
Here one walks into an abandoned farmhouse and hears a
Here one dreamed a bear claw and died.
Here a humpback whale leaped out of the ocean.
Here the outboard motor stopped but a man made it to this
…..island with one oar.
Here the actor forgot his lines and wept.
Here the art of prayer.
Here marbles, buttons, thimbles, dice, pins, stamps, beads.
Here one becomes terrified.
Here one wants to see as a god sees and becomes clear amber.
Here one is clear pine.
“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’m like that. Either I forget right away or I never forget.” ~ Samuel Beckett, from Waiting for Godot
Sunday afternoon, sunny and warmer, 64 degrees.
Another wretched night. I kept waking up and then being unable to get back to sleep. The time change always messes with me. I like getting that extra hour in the fall, but losing the hour in the spring throws me off balance, and trying to get the animals back on schedule is a pain. Benjamin Franklin originally came up with the concept of daylight savings time in a letter toJournal de Paris, on April 26, 1784 as a proposal to have more natural light in the home, but the idea wasn’t adopted in many countries until WWI and after as a way to conserve energy. But do we still need it? Is it really effective?
Who knows . . . certainly not I.
Yesterday evening, I was sitting here when I suddenly felt like someone was staring at me. I looked up, and Napoleon was at the door, just standing there, waiting for a treat. I love that horse. Unfortunately, because of all of the rain, his coat is developing bald spots. I have wished more than once that we lived in a community that still did barn raisings. Remember that beautiful scene in the movie Witness, with Harrison Ford, in which all of the Amish men raise a barn in one day? Yep. Like that.
We need a barn, a shelter for the horses, and then we’ll need a goat shed, or a combination building, and we need a shelter for the spring box that feeds water to the house. Each time that we have a deluge, the water becomes discolored because the box needs a major cleaning. The cover is a huge cement block that would take several people to put back in place; we don’t have several people, and as a result, the rain seeps into the box, and we have brackish water for a few days. We still aren’t drinking the water, but we are using it for showers and laundry, which means sometimes . . . ick.
“Dear Forgiveness, you know that recently …………we have had our difficulties and there are many things ………………………………………..I want to ask you. I tried that one time, high school, second lunch, and then again, ……….years later, in the chlorinated pool. …………………..I am still talking to you about help. I still do not have ……….these luxuries.” ~ Richard Silken, from “Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out”
I’m listening to another old playlist today, songs I haven’t listened to for quite a while. Corey and I had a song from years ago, Fisher’s [correction: the title is “I Will Love You”] “You.” Neither the song nor the group were that well known, and I came upon it by accident (pre YouTube); it’s such an incredibly beautiful song, and it popped up a few minutes ago. I was immediately taken back to that Sunday afternoon so many years ago when we danced to our song in front of our families and friends. We didn’t spend a lot of money on our wedding as no one had a lot of money, but it was everything that we wanted. Truthfully, I don’t understand the whole idea of spending hundred of thousands of dollars, or even millions. Who is the pageantry for?
And then, how long do those expensive unions last? We were talking the other day about how not a single couple we knew when we got married was still together. How do some people endure while others move away without a seeming backward thought? I really don’t think that it has anything to do with morality or anything like that; more, that it goes back to the reasons you come together in the first place. There has to be something more to the spark than sex. But as I have already had one failed marriage, regardless of how long we were together, I suppose that I am not really the best person to ponder this.
I truly don’t know; and I think that the reasons that my parents stayed together, mostly finances and habit, belong to another generation. I don’t know what makes people come together, fall apart, never speak to one another again, or stay for the duration. I just don’t know.
“People always talk about how hard it can be to remember things – where they left their keys, or the name of an acquaintance – but no one ever talks about how much effort we put into forgetting. I am exhausted from the effort to forget… There are things that have to be forgotten if you want to go on living.” ~ Stephen Carpenter, from Killer
But getting back to music: If only I had realized weeks ago that listening to old songs would jump-start my writing . . .
The idiotic thing is that music has always been a source of inspiration for me, but I suppose as with most things in the past two or three years, I had forgotten that particular fact. I have this memory of watching some show on CMT many years ago in which it was the top 50 country love songs. Corey was at sea, when he was still on the tug boat, and I sat there and cried and cried, simply because the songs were so beautiful, but Corey wasn’t with me to hear them .
I never used to listen to country music, that is, not until I heard someone sing “Amazed” at the karaoke bar that I used to go to, once upon a time. I had never heard that song before, and as this was before you could find anything at the touch of a keystroke on the internet, I had to ask around to find the song again. It’s a song by Lonestar, but it’s in the perfect key for my voice, so I found the song and practiced and practiced until I felt that I could do it justice. I used to do that with songs, mostly so that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself at karaoke, which, I suppose, defeats the whole purpose of getting drunk and singing karaoke.
Anyway, after Corey and I got together, he introduced me to more country music, and eventually, the line between country and pop became so blurred that it really didn’t matter any more what category a song fell into; consider, Taylor Swift began as a country singer, and now look at her, not that I’m a big Swift fan, as I’m not. Just an example.
“I’m looking to cleanse regret. I want to give you a balm for lesions, give you evening primrose, milk thistle, turmeric, borage” ~ Lory Bedikian, from “Apology to the Body”
I say anyway, a lot, don’t I?
So the point was: music, any kind of music—it’s always been a big part of my life and a key to my creativity. Before country, it was soundtracks especially that got to me, the soundtrack from Legends of the Fall, the one from The Piano, but especially, the one from The English Patient. That music stirred something deep within me. And there is still one particular composition that always, always makes me misty-eyed: Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Mari introduced me to that one. If you don’t know it, I’ll include it below, but you’ve probably heard it at some point during a crucial death scene in a movie or show. I know that I’ve posted this one before, but once is never enough for this one
Another vivid memory: Driving through the cemetery in the afternoons after my morning classes at ODU, listening to David Lanz’s “Cristofori’s Dream” over and over. The cemetery was my sanctuary after I lost Caitlin, especially that first November. It’s full of maple trees, and they formed an amazing golden and red canopy over the narrow lanes between plots. And at the very back of the cemetery, against the very edge, were several old, individual mausoleums. They were beautiful in their stark loneliness, and once I hit that part of the cemetery, I would turn the car stereo almost all of the way up, and then the weeping would overcome me, and I would have to pull over and wait.
“And so it was. So it was that one by one I picked them up, remembered them, kissed them good-bye, and tore them to pieces. Some were reluctant to be destroyed, calling in pitiful voices from the misty depths of those vast places where we loved in weird half-dreams, the echoes of their pleas lost in the shadowed darkness” ~ John Fante, from The Road to Los Angeles
When we first buried Caitlin at Forest Lawn, there were no trees in the infant plot, and it was so freaking barren that just looking at it broke my heart, so the next year, our family pooled money and bought four Yoshino cherries, and then the next year, we bought two more. The people in charge of the cemetery told me that our gesture actually created the memorial tree program, so at least there was that.
It occurs to me that the cherry trees everywhere are coming into bloom now. Corey planted a weeping cherry in the yard at Benjamin, but I think that the weather was just too hot for it to thrive.
As I come to the end of this post, I realize that there exists one particular song for each and every significant even in my life, far too many to list all of them now, but here are just a few that come immediately to mind:
Elton John’s “Your Song” (junior year), Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road (senior year), Janis Ian’s “Seventeen” (second year of college), Robbin Thompson’s “Sweet Virginia Breeze” (graduate school), “Mandolin Rain” (after Caitlin), “Unchained Melody” (Eamonn), Joan Osborne’s “St. Theresa” (Alexis), Bryan Adam’s “I Do it for You” (Brett), Tracy Chapman’s “Promise” (the Museum), Annie Lennox’s “Why?” (after Paul), Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One” (surviving teaching 8th grade public school), Meredith Brook’s “Bitch” (karaoke), Melissa Etheridge’s “Sleep” (Dillard’s), Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply” (the first time I met Alana), Sugarland’s “Make Me Believe” (Corey, only one of many), and finally, because this list could go on interminably, Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You,” which is my anthem.
Enough for now. More later. Peace.
Music by Samuel Barber, “Adagio for Strings” (Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin)
Meridian, Last Night
Last night, I dreamt I went to Meridian again, and
in the dream, a slight dark girl darts from the side
of the house, arms waving, waving while a woman
inside resists the building’s collapse on its own
emptiness. The house is still standing and in ruin.
As it always was. As always.
Of these things on earth I know:
I cannot return. There is no time,
even now, that was golden above another.
Every epoch has its trials. We are human.
We are failing. We are always falling down.
The past was always more menace than I’d imagined;
the past is both retribution and reward
now that it has been endured.
And it is right that we stand in its ruin,
among all this longing and decay.
“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.
“I thought, possibly, that what I really needed was to go where nobody knew me and start over again, with none of my previous decisions, conversations, or expectations coming with me.” ~ Maggie Stiefvater, from Forever
Friday afternoon. Rainy again, 44 degrees.
It’s funny, but when I think about Norfolk, I still get a pang. I don’t miss the house, the nosy judgmental neighbors, or even the neighborhood. But I miss the things that happened there: the two Jack Russells who used to escape regularly, and the nice neighbors who would holler at us to let us know where they had gone; walking across the field in the afternoons to pick up the boys from the local elementary school; even mowing the yard on the lawn tractor that my dad bought me once upon a time. Those things are part of that life, that place.
My kids were raised in that small ranch house with one bathroom. Their friends all lived within a few miles. And now that house is gone. Who knows who will buy it and make all of the repairs that we never got around to making. It’s hard to take care of a house that you hate, which is how it came to be for us the last few years that we were still there. It was as if the house knew that there existed an antipathy and went out of its way to break down piece by piece.
We redid the bathroom a few years ago, from the studs up. We had plans to redo the kitchen and the hardwood floors, but that never happened, and in the end, we left it as a mess, things all over the backyard, a pool that had fish in it, a shed that had old tools in it, an attic that probably still had kids toys in it. It was like shedding a carapace and leaving it where it lay.
You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” ~ Azar Nafisi, from Reading Lolita in Tehran
It’s hard not to think of the things that neighbors must have thought about the way that we left things, but at the same time, there is no way that they could possibly understand the stress and pressure that we were under when we left. If they snooped, which I’m certain that some of them did, they would have seen the hole in the ceiling, the broken back door, the tools that lay in the yard, and their worst impressions would have been confirmed.
Listen, not all of our neighbors were assholes. The guy across the street helped Corey and me countless times, especially when Corey was at sea. He gave me a jump when my battery was dead, repaired things, helped when the yard was overgrown and my back wouldn’t let me mow. He was a great guy, and because he was always hurting for money, we always tried to pay him whenever he did anything. But he was a minority in that neighborhood. There used to be a really nice woman who lived on the other side across the street, but she died; her kids were always friendly, though. Still, I know that we didn’t make as much of an effort as we could have, but there was a history there that made it hard.
And the fact is that I really shouldn’t care any more about what any of them think or thought, but a part of me still does. I still feel as if that house is mine, even though it isn’t. I lived there for so long, and there are so many good memories from there, probably more good than bad. But there are painful memories from there, and it was definitely time to move away, and now here we are, living in a completely different kind of place, with a different pace of life, and different kinds of neighbors.
“I don’t know. You know the mind, how it comes on the scene again and makes tiny histories of things. And the imagination how it wants everything back one more time, how it detests all progress but its own . . . ” ~ Richard Hugo, from “Letter to Matthews from Barton Street Flats”
We had told ourselves that when we finally moved, that we were going to make a true effort to get to know our neighbors, and we have. Of course, it’s different here. Neighbors are curious as to who bought the ridge. They show up and ask questions, introduce themselves, offer to help. And of course, Dallas knows every last person, so there’s that as well.
When we were moving in, Corey was driving the box truck and I was driving the rental Ryder truck, which I was very proud of handling the entire seven-hour trip, but then I came down the driveway crooked and ended up driving the front part of the truck off the drive and getting it stuck. We were so worried about how much it would cost us to get someone to come out and unstick it. But instead, two of our neighbors spent hours helping Corey to get it free. I was simultaneously amazed and grateful. We didn’t even know these people, yet there they were, working their butts off for two people who they didn’t know from Adam’s off ox.
And since that day, Dallas has graded the driveway, made it straight and wider, so that coming down isn’t a problem. That’s what I mean about things being different here. No one asks you for anything, yet of course, there is the expectation that you will repay them in kind somehow when the need arises, and so we will. It was never like that in Norfolk. Perhaps the city was too big, the neighborhood too set in its ways. Who knows?
I seem to be asking that question quite a lot lately . . .
“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” ~ Stephen Chobsky, from The Perks of Being a Wallflower
So the Chobsky quote above is probably the most fitting one that I could choose today. I am both happy and sad, but the difference is that I’m fairly certain as to why. I mean, aside from the fact that I’m still missing one of my antidepressants, and I still haven’t found a good neurologist, and I still don’t have a phone that works—other than those things . . .
But in honesty, those are relatively minor things—other than the pain, which, like it or not, I’m used to—what makes me sad is that in spite of the beauty and life that surrounds me, there is no water, and there are no children, grown or otherwise.The water? That’s just a part of me. I’m an Aquarius, and even though I’m not a strong swimmer, I have always loved water, in all forms. That, and I lived so very near the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean for most of my life that it’s odd not to smell the saltwater, or to see the violence of the waves during a storm.
And yet, to put that down here makes me feel so very ungrateful. I used to say that my ideal place to live would be on a mountaintop overlooking the ocean; the reality is that such a place would cost a fortune. But here, I have the mountaintop, the horses, the deer, the dogs. And god how I love it all. I truly do. I cannot imagine going back to where we were. So why can I not be satisfied?
“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.” ~ Daniel Keyes, from Flowers for Algernon
Will I ever be satisfied? I really don’t know. I do know that I can be happy—happy for me. It may sound as if I’m trying to convince myself, but that’s really not the case. I have a lot to be happy about, a lot to be grateful for in this new life. The caveat, for me, is not said lightly. It’s too complicated, and yet maddeningly simple: I am just too aware of my chemical makeup the way that my brain and heart work. I can be absolutely ecstatic about how my life is going, and yet there will always be this still small voice within that doubts, doubts my worthiness to be happy.
How to explain to someone who has never met this voice? I don’t know if that is even possible. However, that state of being satisfied is not tied to my ability to be happy. Satisfaction, for me, is something entirely different, dependent upon reconciliation with my sons—in other words, I don’t believe that I can ever be completely satisfied until I am able to know that they are an active part of my life again, and since I don’t have any way of making that happen at this point, I just have to live with things as they are for now.
Look, that’s life. You know it, dear reader, and so do I. The basket will never be completely full of unbroken eggs. The day will never be without a cloud somewhere on the horizon. Yet there is always a horn-a-plenty if we but recognize it. What I’m trying to say is that life is complicated. I’m complicated. Every human is a mixture of good and bad, happy and sad; I’m no different, but I am trying very hard to be this person here, the one who is present in her life as it is. I may not be entirely succeeding, but at least I am aware, and for me, that is more than you can ever know.
More later. Peace.
Music by Adele, “Hello”
She Loved Mozart
There’s a sadness to it, of course, my becoming more
and more isolated from the world. I remember, years ago,
when I was living at the motel, there was this woman who
used to come and go, sometimes staying for months at a time.
Every so often I’d go over to her room, sit around, and talk with her.
The room would smell from clove cigarettes and dirty wash.
Over the lampshades pieces of clothing were draped, to bring
the light down to the most remarkable dimness. This light
never failed to charm and attract me, as a moth would be
attracted to a bright light (although, I suppose moths are
drawn to dim light also). Anyway, I find myself steadily
becoming increasingly like this woman, and it’s not always
the most comfortable realization. Although, I cannot say
that I am living with dirty wash. No, this I cannot admit to.
If anything, I’m fanatical about washing clothes. My
clothing has worn thin, not from my wearing it but from
the continuous washings. But, my god, like this woman
I’m letting the house go dark. She died at the motel, from cancer.
Some nights I’d see her crossing the parking lot, meager flesh
on her bones, and she’d knock on my door and she’d ask me
to play Mozart on my stereo set. She loved Mozart.
In her youth she had been a very promising violist, but
injury and shock from a fire had made her a ghost
of her old talent, her old self. I used to feed her also,
the miniscule amount she was capable of eating.
She loved sharing a thin sandwich as much as
she loved Mozart. I told her it takes
a lot of solitude to write a poem.
She told me it takes a lot of solitude
“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 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.
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.
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 triggerwarnings and needing safespaces, 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.
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.
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.
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
Not the attendance of stones,
nor the applauding wind,
shall let you know
you have arrived,
nor the sea that celebrates
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,
in their slow ascent
their own voyage,
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,
to what you will be,
and the black grass
is holding up the black stars.