“I now know what I want: I want to remain standing still in the sea.” ~ Clarice Lispector, from An Apprenticeship

Igor Grabar Winter Rooks Nest 1904
“White Winter, Rooks’ Nest” (1904, oil on canvas)
by Igor Grabar

                   

“I fear this silence,
this inarticulate life.” ~ Adrienne Rich, from Twenty-One Love Poems

Friday morning. Sunny and very, very cold, 17 degrees.

Well, I had a Friday leftovers post ready to go, but I’ve decided that I’m going to try to do a real post today, you know, one with my actual words and thoughts and not a reblog of someone else’s stuff. I’ve had my first cup of coffee; I have my heat wrap around my neck, the one filled with flax that goes in the microwave; it’s comforting. I’m ready . . . I think.

Izsák Perlmutter  Snowy Trees in the Garden
“Snowy Trees in the Garden” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Izsák Perlmutter

So yesterday was my birthday, and it was as unspectacular as I had thought it would be. My mother did not call to wish me Happy Birthday; she regularly forgets my birthday, which, if you think about it, is quite a statement about our relationship. She will say that she doesn’t remember anything, but she’s been forgetting this day for at least a decade, so . . .

It doesn’t bother me so much now, but it used to really get to me. Lex and Brett both got me early, and Corey texted. I heard from Eamonn in the evening, and then Corey called to see how it went. He knows of my love/hate relationship with my birthdays, how I tend to get depressed, or if I’m already down, to spiral downwards even more. I actually didn’t spiral this year, but I think it’s because I’m in denial and on hold until Corey returns. I mean, Christmas, New Year’s, and now my birthday—all have passed with me being without my life partner, and it’s weird.

“I so often feel that I’m barely here, that to feel weight is to be reminded of my own existence.” ~ Hannah Kent, from Burial Rites

Tillie is better. I’ve only had to give her the sedating cough medicine a few times. I can tell that she’s feeling much better because she and Bailey are having their daily play fights and romps around the yard. It’s wonderful to see her with her regular bright eyes.

Janos Tornyai Winter Landsape with Violet Lights
“Landscape with Violet Lights” (c1934)
by Janos Tornyai

I am on day five of this particular migraine. I don’t even know why I try any more. Nothing works. The Botox obviously isn’t working, or perhaps, is only working some. Admittedly, the pain is not quite as acute, but the duration is hanging in there; no one-day headaches for me. I am nothing if not prolific (in all of the wrong ways). I put a call in to the pain management center, waiting to see is they have any ideas.

So, I’ve been weepy this month, actually since New Year’s eve. It doesn’t take much to make the tears begin to pool. I hate being weepy. So far, I’ve cried at an Apple commercial (the one in which the kid surprises his family by actually being aware of them); I cried at a YouTube video (the one about the guy who gets out of prison only to rob a bank of $1 so that he can go back in). And I cried at last week’s episode of “Bones,” in which one of the characters finds out he has bone cancer.

I have to say, 2014 is starting off with a bang.

“I have travelled so far to remember
Nothing of my former life, though perhaps that is
Truly best. I’ve left everything I’ve ever known

To come here, to stand in the shape of your shadow.” ~ David St. John, from “XVI. A Traveller”

I just went to refill my coffee cup, and while I was standing at the counter, a gust of frigid air caught me around the ankles; it came from the sink cabinet. This house is so drafty, and it’s so damnably cold. The dusting of snow we had a few days ago is mostly ice. The least it could do if it’s going to be this cold is to snow more than half an inch. Oh well. I think I’ll switch to some random thoughts at this point.

Boris Izrailovich Anisfeld Melting Snow, Petrograd, 1917 oil on canvas
“Melting Snow, Petrograd” (1917, oil on canvas)
by Boris Izrailovich Anisfeld

Here goes . . . Things I have realized:

  • If the color slate blue is anywhere in an image, I will immediately be drawn to it; more so if yellow is also present. This is odd considering I used to have a real antipathy towards the color yellow. Now? No longer.
  • Part of me wishes that I worked in an art museum now that I have developed a much broader appreciation of art, well beyond my novice love of the Impressionists. It would be so lovely to roam the galleries unimpeded by ropes and stanchions that keep visitors at a safe distance.
  • My appreciation of duck tape only grows with age, she said, apropos of nothing . . .
  • I’m not agoraphobic, but I don’t much like leaving the house. What’s the term for that? Lazy?
  • I think that I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I will not be getting my doctorate; what program is going to admit someone my age when they have the pick of 20-somethings?
  • This does not mean that I will ever stop wishing that I had gotten my Phd. I will always wish that.

“It is awful to want to go away and to want to go nowhere.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from The Unabridged Journals

Things I want to say but never will:

  • To my ex: You are a cold, selfish shell of the man I once knew. I never thought you would absent yourself from your children’s lives as deeply as you have. You are not worthy of their love or respect.

    Georgia O'Keeffe Winter Trees, Abiquiu, I, 1950 oil on canvas
    “Winter Trees, Abiquiu, I” (1950, oil on canvas)
    by Georgia O’Keeffe
  • To my s-in-law (here): Your mother and I had a really great friendship; she told me once that she liked me better than the son I was married to, so for god’s sake, stop.
  • To my mother: You will never know how many ways you have crushed my spirit and wounded me to the core. You have made me insecure about every aspect of my life.
  • To the boss who continues to plague my dreams: You are a stupid man for not realizing how you were being played and manipulated by the redhead.
  • To the man I spent too much time with simply because I was lonely: I know that you beat your wife. I’m so glad that I did not have anything more than a superficial relationship with you.

   “I thought

of you—              your obvious loveliness,         your obliviousness

to lost things.” ~ Sally Delehant, from “It’s Always Something”

Things I still don’t know:

Gabriele Munter Paysage d'hiver 1933 huile sur bois
“Paysage d’hiver” (1933, oil on wood)
by Gabriele Munter
  • How to make fondant for a cake.
  • How to apply false eyelashes (in what situation would this be necessary?).
  • How to find a literary agent.
  • How to motivate my children to move beyond where they are now.
  • How to motivate myself to do something . . . anything . . .
  • How to make Crème fraîche.
  • How to have my picture taken.
  • How to take a photograph of running water and get that blanket effect.
  • How to lay brick.
  • How to let things go.
  • How to love myself.

“I want something else. I’m not even sure what to call it anymore except I know it feels roomy and it’s drenched in sunlight and it’s weightless . . .” ~ Mark Z. Danielewki, from House of Leaves

Things I still haven’t done:

  • Gone to Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, or Australia.
  • Visited the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, or the Pyramids of Giza.
  • Read Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Homer’s Iliad/Odyssey.
  • Found a literary agent.

    Camil Ressu Winter Day oil on cardboard nd
    “Winter Day” (nd, oil on cardboard)
    by Camil Ressu
  • Gotten past the first 30 pages of a draft without sabotaging myself and convincing myself that no one would want to read what I have written.
  • Seen the Northern Lights or the Grand Canyon.
  • Visited any of a number of stone circles in Britain.
  • Taken a photograph of a hummingbird.
  • Gotten another tattoo.
  • Gotten any work as a book indexer. I would be so good at this. How can I make this happen?
  • Flown in a glider (will never give up this particular dream), or ridden in a hot air balloon.
  • Lived in a house on a cliff by the sea . . .

I guess that’s enough for now.

More later. Peace.

All images today are obviously an homage to the freezing temperatures and my wish for a blanket of snow . . .

Music by Justine Bennett, “Carry Me”

                   

no help for that 

there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled

a space

and even during the
best moments
and
the greatest
times

we will know it

we will know it
more than
ever

there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled

and

we will wait
and
wait

in that
space.

~ Charles Bukowski

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“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ~ John Steinbeck, from Of Mice and Men

Everything in this post (including the title) is from separate posts on A Poet Reflects, but I thought that they went well together:

It has happened.  Each time I stroke a key it diverts me to circuits that forward the quick march to other circuits, rescinding the chance of choices. By the time I arrive at the location of the leaf of my prayer, the yearning has been hemmed in. I cannot recognize it as mine, for it has been altered by the mediating that hedges its spaces.<br />
—Peter Davison, from section 5. “Circuits” of “A History of Reading” in Breathing Room (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

**********

“I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton’s. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

~ Adrienne Rich, from “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children”

                   

Circuits (Section 5)

It has happened.  Each time
I stroke a key it diverts me
to circuits that forward the quick march
to other circuits, rescinding the chance of choices.
By the time I arrive at
the location of the leaf of my prayer,
the yearning has been hemmed in.
I cannot recognize it as mine,
for it has been altered by
the mediating that hedges its spaces.

~ Peter Davison

“But poems are like dreams: in them you put what you don’t know you know.” ~ Adrienne Rich, from “When We Dead Awaken”

                   

“Re-vision—the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction—is for women more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.” ~ Adrienne Rich, from “When We Dead Awaken”

Since I don’t feel up to listening to myself talk today, I thought that I’d share something written by Adrienne Rich, decades ago, just as women were beginning to be taken seriously as poet and writers. They still had a long way to go, and what this essay shows is Rich’s feelings about the patriarchy that controlled all aspects of the teaching and writing of literature

As Rich put it: “. . . some feminist scholars, teachers, and graduate students, joined by feminist writers, editors, and publishers, have for a decade been creating more subversive occasions, challenging the sacredness of the gentlemanly canon, sharing the rediscovery of buried works by women, asking women’s questions,” and this essay was written by Rich specifically for a forum on “The Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century.” Please note that the selections from the essay below are actually taken from the reprint of the original essay, which was published in 1976; I was not able to find the 1971 version.

Selection from “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” By Adrienne Rich (written in 1971):

In rereading Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (7929) for the first time in some years, I was astonished at the sense of effort, of pains taken, of dogged tentativeness, in the tone of that essay. And I recognized that tone. I had heard it often enough, in myself and in other women. It is the tone of a woman almost in touch with her anger, who is determined not to appear angry, who is willing herself to be calm, detached, and even charming in a roomful of men where things have been said which are attacks on her very integrity. Virginia Woolf is addressing an audience of women, but she is acutely conscious-as she always was-of being overheard by men: by Morgan and Lytton and Maynard Keynes and for that matter by her father, Leslie Stephen.5 She drew the language out into an exacerbated thread in her determination to have her own sensibility yet protect it from those masculine presences. Only at rare moments in that essay do you hear the passion in her voice; she was trying to sound as cool as Jane Austen, as Olympian as Shakespeare, because that is the way the men of the culture thought a writer should sound.

*****

A lot is being said today about the influence that the myths and images of women have on all of us who are products of culture. I think it has been a peculiar confusion to the girl or woman who tries to write because she is peculiarly susceptible to language. She goes to poetry or fiction I. looking for her way of being in the world, since she too has been putting words and images together; she is looking eagerly for guides, maps, possibilities; and over and over in the “words’ masculine persuasive force of literature she comes up against something that negates everything she is about: she meets the image of Woman in books written by men. She finds a terror and a dream, she finds a beautiful pale face, she finds La Belle Dame Sans Merci, she finds Juliet or Tess or Salome, but precisely what she does not find is that absorbed, drudging, puzzled, sometimes inspired creature, herself, who sits at a desk trying to put words together.

*****

About the time my third child was born, I felt that I had either to consider myself a failed woman and a failed poet, or to try to find some synthesis by which to understand what was happening to me. What frightened me most was the sense of drift, of being pulled along a current which called itself my destiny, but in which I seemed to be losing touch with whoever I had been, with the girl who had experienced her own will and energy almost ecstatically at times, walking around a city or riding a train at night or typing in a student room. In a poem about my grandmother I wrote (of myself): “A young girl; thought sleeping, is certified dead” “Halfway”). I was writing very little, partly from fatigue, that female fatigue of suppressed anger and loss of contact with my own being; partly from the discontinuity of female life with its attention to small chores, errands, work that others constantly undo, small children’s constant needs. What I did write was unconvincing to me; my anger and frustration were hard to acknowledge in or out of poems because in fact I cared a great deal about my husband and my children. Trying to look back and understand that time I have tried to analyze the real nature of the conflict. Most, if not all, human lives are full of fantasy—passive day-dreaming which need not be acted on. But to write poetry or fiction, or even to think well, is not to fantasize, or to put fantasies on paper. For a poem to coalesce, for a character or an action to take shape, there has to be an imaginative trans-formation of reality which is in no way passive. And a certain freedom of the mind is needed—freedom to press on, to enter the currents of your thought like a glider pilot, knowing that your motion can be sustained, that the buoyancy of your attention will not be suddenly snatched away. Moreover, if, the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. For writing is renaming (emphasis mine). Now, to be maternally with small children all day in the old way, to be with a man in the old way of marriage, requires a holding-back, a putting-aside of that imaginative activity, and demands instead a kind of conservatism. I want to make it clear that I am not saying that in order to write well, or think well, it is necessary to become unavailable to others, or to become a devouring ego. This has been the myth of the masculine artist and thinker; and I do not accept it. But to be a female human being trying to fulfill traditional female functions in a traditional way is in direct conflict with the subversive function of the imagination. The word traditional is important here. There must be ways, and we will be finding out more and more about them, in which the energy of creation and the energy of relation can be united. But in those years I always felt the conflict as a failure of love in myself. I had thought I was choosing a full life; the life available to most men, in which sexuality, work, and parenthood could coexist. But I felt, at twenty-nine, guilt toward the people closest to me, and guilty toward my own being.

I wanted, then, more than anything, the one thing of which there was never enough: time to think, time to write. The fifties and early sixties were years of rapid revelations: the sit-ins and marches in the South, the Bay of Pigs, the early antiwar movement, raised large questions—questions for which the masculine world of the academy around me seemed to have expert and fluent answers. But I needed to think for myself—about pacifism and dissent and violence, about poetry and society, and about my own relationship to all these things. For about ten years I was reading in fierce snatches, scribbling in notebooks, writing poetry in fragments; I was looking desperately for clues, because if there were no clues then I thought I might be insane. I wrote in a notebook about this time:

Paralyzed by the sense that there exists a mesh of relationships—e.g., between my anger at the children, my sensual life, pacifism, sex (I mean sex in its broadest significance, not merely sexual desire)—an interconnectedness which, if I could see it, make it valid, would give me back myself, make it possible to function lucidly and passionately. Yet I grope in and out among these dark webs.

I think I began at this point to feel that politics was not something “out there” but something “in here” and of the essence of my condition.

In the late fifties I was able to write, for the first time, directly about experiencing myself as a woman. The poem was jotted in fragments during children’s naps, brief hours in a library, or at 3:00 A.m. after rising with a wakeful child. I despaired of doing any continuous work at this time. Yet I began to feel that my fragments and scraps had a common consciousness and a common theme, one which I would have been very unwilling to put on paper at an earlier time because I had been taught that poetry should be “universal,” which meant, of course, nonfemale. Until then I had tried very much not to identify myself as a female poet. Over two years I wrote a ten-part poem called “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law” (1958-1960), in a longer looser mode than I’d ever trusted myself with before. It was an extraordinary relief to write that poem. It strikes me now as too literary, too dependent on allusion; I hadn’t found the courage yet to do without authorities, or even to use the pronoun “I”—the woman in the poem is always “she.”

*****

In closing I want to tell you about a dream I had last summer. I dreamed I was asked to read my poetry at a mass women’s meeting, but when I began to read, what came out were the lyrics of a blues song. I share this dream with you because it seemed to me to say something about the problems and the future of the woman writer, and probably of women in general. The awakening of consciousness is not like the crossing of a frontier—one step and you are in another country. Much of woman’s poetry has been of the nature of the blues song: a cry of pain, of victimization, or a lyric of seduction.(7) And today, much poetry by women—and prose for that matter—is charged with anger. I think we need to go through that anger, and we will betray our own reality if we try, as Virginia Woolf was trying, for an objectivity, a detachment, that would make us sound more like Jane Austen or Shakespeare. We know more than Jane Austere or Shakespeare knew: more than Jane Austere because our lives are more complex, more than Shakespeare because we know more about the lives of women Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf included.

Both the victimization and the anger experienced by women are real, and have real sources, everywhere in the environment, built into society, language, the structures of thought. They will go on being trapped and explored by poets, among others. We can neither deny them, nor will we rest there. A new generation of women poets is already working out of the psychic energy released when women begin to move out towards what the feminist philosopher Mary Daly has described as the “new space” on the boundaries of patriarchy. Women are speaking to and of women in these poems, out of a newly released courage to name, to love each other, to share risk and grief and celebration.

“Pick a piece of wood floating in the river and follow it down the current with your glance, keeping the eyes constantly on it, without getting ahead of the current. This is the way poetry should be read: at the pace of a line.”~ Vera Pavlova, from “Heaven Is Not Verbose: A Notebook” (trans. Steven Seymour)

A Young Adrienne Rich
This is how I see my favorite poets: young, smoking a cigarette, drinking bourbon

                   

“Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve” ~ Adrienne Rich from poem of the same name

One of my favorite poets died yesterday—ground-breaking feminist and anti-war poet and writer Adrienne Rich.

I remember trying to teach Rich’s poem “Living in Sin” in an American literature class several years ago, and while the poem was considered controversial at one time by taking on the social taboo of living together before marriage, the young men and women in my class didn’t understand the point of the poem as theirs was a generation weaned on living together without any stigma. It was kind of a wake-up call for me. You know, that generational thing.

I remember reading a quote from Rich once that embodied everything I have ever felt about writing: “You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it.”

Here is a brief from the SF Gate (SF Chronicle)

Adrienne Rich, one of America’s foremost poets and essayists, died in her Santa Cruz home Tuesday after complications from rheumatoid arthritis. She was 82.

Rich was among the first contemporary poets on the early feminist scene to imagine “the personal as political.” In 1997, Rich declined the National Medal of Arts to protest the House’s vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts. She published 30 books; 19 in poetry and seven in prose.

For a more comprehensive write-upon Rich, click here.

                  

This is my favorite Adrienne Rich poem:

Diving into the Wreck

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
Otherwise
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. We will no longer sleepwalk through our life.” ~ William B. Irvine


Freshly Cut Pink Peonies
                   

“And the hands pick flowers
And the soul takes no notice.” ~ Fernando Pessoa

Peony Rose by MinimialistPhotography101.com (Flckr creative commons)

Saturday, early evening. Sunny and mild, 71° F

What a long strange week it’s been. Corey worked two double shifts, and as a result, is dead tired. Brett finished his exams for spring semester and is now preparing to take the summer off from studies. He finished the year with a 3.5 GPA, an A-/B+, which I think is terribly impressive.

Eamonn did not do as well, although he did do better than he has been doing. I’m not sure if his GPA will be strong enough for him to transfer to ODU this semester, but we are going to apply in the hopes that he can get in. I really think that he would like ODU better than community college as it will feel more like he is in college than continuing high school.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day here in the U.S., and I am really not looking forward to it, mostly for reasons that I will elaborate on further later. I was hoping that we would have the pool open for Mother’s Day, but it doesn’t look as if that’s going to be possible. We had to order a part for the filter (luckily under $10), and that hasn’t arrived yet. Of course, not having the pool cleaned hasn’t stopped Tillie from accidentally/on purpose jumping into the pool and making big splashes. She is growing impatient with us as she is obviously ready for swimming season.

“The temple bell stops.
But the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.” ~ Basso

Mobara Peony Garden Mobara-shi (city), Chiba-ken,(Prefecture), Japan by TANAKA Juuyoh FCC

On Friday, I went to see my other m-in-law at the rehab center. Ann, my sister-in-law told me on Wednesday that Yvonne will not be coming home. She has stopped trying to feed herself, and she won’t do physical therapy. She has also been having problems with swallowing. I had planned to visit on Thursday with Ann, but unfortunately, I had one of my sleepless nights and was completely out of it Thursday morning. Amazingly, Alexis went with her Aunt Ann to visit.

Since I wasn’t sleeping, I called our s-in-law in Germany at 2:30 a.m. (8:30 their time). Ann had called last time, so I told her I would do it this time. She seem prepared for the news. Her own mother had died of Parkinson’s about five years ago, and Helma had been the primary caretaker. The plans are for the Germans to come at the end of July; we’re all hoping that they will not have to come sooner.

I cut some fresh peonies from the front yard and took them with me when I visited. Yvonne has always loved peonies. When I arrived at 11:30, my m-in-law was still asleep in bed. Her nurse came in and asked me if I would mind leaving the room for a bit as she was going to get her up and dressed so that she could go to speech therapy for lunch.

We went to the speech therapy room on the first floor, and the therapist put my m-in-law’s food tray in front of her. She reached for the fork and began to feed herself. I have never been so glad to see such a small victory in my life. She did really well, but got tired about half way through, so I fed her the rest of her lunch. She had no problems in swallowing anything.

After her meal, of which she ate almost all, I took her back to the room, and we talked. She was very coherent and not her usually mumbling self. I told her about all of the outrageous hats at the royal wedding, and she laughed. We talked about the flowers that are in bloom, and a few other things, and for the most part, she was with me.

It’s probably one of the best conversations that I’ve had with her in a while.

“I don’t trust the truth of memories
because what leaves us
departs
forever ” ~ Anna Kamienska, from “A Path in the Woods”

Peonies at Window by Muffet (FCC)

Unfortunately, as I was getting ready to leave, I leaned in to hug and kiss her, and she jumped. I had scared her; then she told me something that really bothered me. I won’t go into the details because it’s private, but the gist is that she thinks someone is coming into her room at night.

Now ordinarily I might say that it’s the dementia that was talking, but I don’t think so. She was completely coherent and cogent the entire time we were together. She remembered names, and she even asked how her old house was doing without her.

I had to stop myself from marching down to the administrator’s office and raising hell as it isn’t my place to do so. But I didn’t want to leave her alone. These are the very reasons that so many people do not feel comfortable in placing their elderly and disabled relatives in homes. What goes on when you aren’t there?

The population in rehabilitative facilities is completely at risk in so many ways: fires, natural disasters, caregivers who do not care, and caregivers who abuse.

I am sick with anger, sick with guilt over my helplessness in this situation. This is not how I want this woman to spend her final days. No one deserves to be helpless, at the mercy of people who ignore their plights, or worse, who take advantage of such helplessness. I debated whether to call Ann, who was on her way to Blacksburg to pick up my niece from Virginia Tech. Finally, I called. At the very least, she could make a telephone call and request that her mother not have a male nurse.

I mean, if it is dementia, which is what abusers hope such things will be chalked up to, and it is merely a male nurse who is getting her ready for bed, then if she doesn’t have a male nurse, then she won’t misconstrue the situation. But if it’s something else, it is going to be damned hard to prove.

“At the doorstep you will know
the moment we have
 left to live.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from “The Stranger”

Peonies by Narith5 (FCC)

I just don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to call my ex, but I know that he will not react well, and I don’t know if that would upset my sister-in-law. The family dynamics are so touchy. Ann has been in charge of making all of the decisions as she is the one who has been there full-time caring for her mother.

None of us can be at the facility all of the time. If she really isn’t coming home again, then what is the best thing to do? I cannot stand the thoughts of anyone trespassing on this woman’s privacy, and she has always been a very private, proper woman. At the same time, she was always a woman who took no gruff from anyone.

So you see why Mother’s Day does not really feel like a time to celebrate for me. Eamonn asked me to take him to see his grandmother on Mother’s Day as he was supposed to go with Alexis on Friday morning before he had to go to work, but surprise! She didn’t wake up. I told him that I would take him. Brett is still grappling over whether or not he wants to go. He knows that he should go, but doesn’t know if he is able after how traumatized he was last time.

I cannot really help with this as there is absolutely no way of predicting what shape she will be in on any given day. She could be having a great day, like she did with me, or she could be having a terrible day, like she was earlier in the week. I know that it had to be bad for Ann to go ahead and sign the papers committing her to long-term care, which, by the way, will cost $7,000 a month.

A month. That’s horrible. As long as she still owns half of her house, then Medicaid will consider that an asset. So now the decision over what to do with the house arises: Let my father-in-law have it completely . . . The thought of that really irks me.

“No, none of us seem so very real.
We’re only supporting characters in the lives of each other.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk

Pink Peonies in Mason Jar

I haven’t really spoken of my other father-in-law in this blog, and that’s because I lost tremendous respect for him when he walked out on my m-in-law in 1992 for a younger woman with whom he had been having an affair.

He now lives in a big house on the water thanks to the other woman’s money (which she inherited from her dead ex-husband, whom she left for my f-in-law, as well as some money from relatives). This is the same woman (who looks remarkably like Camilla Parker Bowles, I kid you not), who uninvited me from the family party last summer, so definitely no love lost between us.

Anyway, my ex-f-in-law doesn’t need the money from the house my m-in-law was living in as he is taken care of quite well. He has half of his Navy retirement, half of his school retirement, and all that he does any more is hang out on the back porch and smoke (his health has declined badly, as well).

I don’t hate the man; I loved and admired him greatly at one time. But I have never forgiven him for what he did to my m-in-law. It’s that blind loyalty thing of mine kicking in once again. That and the fact that he completely lost contact with his grandchildren when he left. At the time, the boys were babies, but Alexis was used to spending time with her grandfather, and he made no effort to do anything with her, not until years later after he married his true love and they set up in the big house.

Bitter? A wee bit.

” . . . the old heart

In which I sleep, in which my sleep increases, in which
My grief is ponderous, in which the leaves are falling,
In which the streets are long, in
which the night

Is dark, in which the sky is great, the old heart
That murmurs to me of
what cannot go on,
Of the dancing, of the inmost dancing.”  ~ Mark Strand, from “Dark Harbor: A Poem”

Pale Pink Peony in Bloom by Muffet (FCC)

Family dynamics are so hard and so complicated, a bit like eggs really. Eggs in the wild bring new life, but cracked, the process of development stops abruptly. Conversely, the eggs that we eat become stronger when immersed in hot water, as if the very process of being exposed to harsh elements toughens both the outside and the inside.

People can be fragile, or they can be tough, and sometimes, they can be both at the same time. Put into a basket together, some fare better than others, as is the case in families.

We come together, and at times it can be precarious, and sometimes it seems as if we are safer when we are apart. But who among us does not sigh a bit sadly when coming upon a small blue cracked egg upon the ground beneath a tree because we know that but for the elements or the creatures in the night, a baby robin’s song would have become part of the background music of life.

Sorry, a bit sappy, I know.

More later. Peace.

Music by A Fine Frenzy, “Hope for the Hopeless”

                    

What Kinds of Times are These

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

~ Adrienne Rich

“The world breaks us all. Afterward, some are stronger at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, Farewell To Arms

Where does this road lead? (photographer unknown, Pixdaus)

                   

“I speak to you over cities
I speak to you over plains
My mouth is against your ear
The two sides of the walls face
my voice which acknowledges you.
I speak to you of eternity.” ~ Paul Éluard from “Absence”

Kusugawa Trail, Yakushima Island by caseyyee (Flckr Creative Commons)

Thursday, late afternoon. Thunder storms approaching.

I want to write, but then when I sit down at these keys, nothing happens. So much to say but seemingly unsayable, as if rooting around in my head trying to find words that I know, words that I know I know, but words that have become lost or have taken to hiding in the small creases in my brain.

Here is what I know:

The warmer temperatures are muddling my brain, making me dream of buying air conditioners with my mother and ex-father-in-law. But I become distracted in the dream, and look at plants instead—purple and pink plants in black pots. And I fill my cart with plants and Christmas place mats that are on clearance. This is better than the dream before of a killer chasing me down a yellow stairwell.

I awake sweaty and tired, feeling as if I have slept much too long, and I have, but I cannot get out of my bed. For days now, I cannot get out of the damned bed. Yesterday, I had another medical test done, then came home and went back to bed. I barely remembered the drive to and from the facility. Out-of-body driving?

My body feels spent and heavy with heat, and I long for tall glasses of umbrella drinks with rivulets of sweat running down the side of the glass. Not the alcohol, just the idea of the tall glass, the fruit, the paper umbrella—as the collection of these things would mean that I am not at home. I am somewhere else, anywhere but here.

It seems that the coming storm has taken days to get here. The air has been still, and yesterday evening thunder rumbled in the distance for hours, but nothing materialized. Then suddenly, just a few moments ago, rain began to fall, hard rain, hard enough to drive out the ants that have laid claim to the dirt mounds in the garden, the mounds that have been taken over as ant castles, forbidding the shoots of flowers and vegetables from breaking through. Now the mounds are mud puddles, and I can see green.

A tornado warning south of here. More tornadoes encroaching on this area of hurricanes. More proof that the earth is in turmoil.

“If you can read and understand this poem
send something back: a burning strand of hair
a still-warm, still-liquid drop of blood
a shell
thickened from being battered year on year
send something back.” ~ Adrienne Rich, from “Coast to Coast”

Tree Tunnel, Shirebrook, UK, by James Hill (Wikimedia Commons)

I slip through virtual pages on this screen, looking for the source of a line I cannot get out of my head. “Jesus Love You” pops up right above a line advertising Mexican food and good prices on gold.

The Interwebs have a warped sense of humor.

My body is still in recovery from the preparation needed for Wednesday’s test. A purge, if you will. I find myself craving fresh fruit: peaches and red pears. The orange juice Corey bought me is not enough. My body wants vitamins from the source. I feel as if everything has been leached from my system, not just impurities, but the good cells as well, the ones that make me who I am.

I think constantly of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. I have no idea why.

Speaking of the Fitzgeralds, I read an article that said that the mansion that may have been his inspiration for The Great Gatsby had been demolished to make way for several mcmansions on the same plot of waterfront land in Long Island. I shudder to think about the former grandeur being reduced to rubble so that some developer can erect those paeans to conspicuous consumption that I abhorred even when I was in real estate.

Progress is not always better.

I remember the dark enclosure in my grandmother’s house in the Philippines. In the kitchen. Water from the well in the backyard. Coffee tins filled with this water, and how this was the only space in the house in which to find relief from the heat. I think of my father. I do not want to think of my father, not right now. The loss is acute today.

“I sing the wind around
 And hear myself return
To nothingness, alone.
The loneliest thing I know
 Is my own mind at play.” ~ Theodore Roethke, from “His Foreboding”

The Gate To . . . UK (Wikimedia Commons)

I read other people’s words, wonder how it is they are so talented, wonder where my words have gone, wonder if there are any new poems left to write, any new stories left to tell.

I have been collecting phrases as possible book titles. I don’t know why. I think I have six or seven. This is a recent event in my life; it means that I am acknowledging that the book is there. I think. Maybe not. But why need a title? I love book titles, book jackets. Clever book designs remind me of studying for my publishing degree. I still owe the university a fee. They are holding my diploma hostage until I pay this fee. I wonder if I will ever bother to pay the ransom.

In all of the medical tests that I have had done in the past six weeks or so, this is what I have learned: I do not have sleep apnea. I have a digestive system that does not work at the top or the bottom, and is sluggish in the middle. To learn these things, my body has been assaulted with tubes in various orifices. I think I already knew all of these things about my body and probably could have saved myself the insult of the tubes and the associated costs which will soon begin to turn up in the mail.

I have stopped reading about politics again. It has become too weighty and unbearable once more, and my minds needs a break from the madness, not just in this country, but all over the world. I prefer to live in ignorance for a bit, that is until I begin to seethe in righteous indignation over some maligning phrase out of some politician’s mouth. Then I fear it will be once more into the fray for me.

The wind outside is whipping the trees about as if they are being tugged on by giants. I like that image.

“The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking
into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Mind”

Lane by Derek Harper (Wikimedia Commons)

As the moveable slab upon which I lay slides into the scanner, I look up and am surprised to see the image of cherry blossoms on branches reaching across the faux-skylight above me—a vertical trompe l’oeil, and the technician tells me to hold my breath, and I do and do and do, and wait for her to say breathe, but the word does not come, and my lungs fill to bursting, and then she says breathe, and I do, and I realize that it has been mere seconds, and I think to myself that I have absolutely no stamina left.

I’ve been trying to learn Adele’s “Someone Like You,” but her voice is so powerful and the song so complicated, that it’s just not working. As with almost everything else, my voice is not what it used to be.

But the cherry blossom branches make me think of how wonderful it would be to have a real skylight, preferably above a bathtub, so that I could soak beneath the stars and ponder words, only to forget them as I dry myself with a towel.

I remember when I was about to graduate with my bachelor’s, and I had an interview with a small local paper in Maryland. An editor at the paper for which I worked arranged the interview for me. I stayed with a nice couple who owned a large old house that they were refurbishing. In one bathroom, they had built a wooden bathtub directly beneath a skylight. I had forgotten about that until just this minute.

I turned down the job, or more accurately, withdrew my name from consideration as I was in love, could not bear to continue my long-distance relationship with my ex. I wonder where life would have taken me if I had opened myself to that possibility.

Possibilities . . .

Studying abroad, visiting Greece, seeing the Great Wall, taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs of verdant Ireland and windswept Wales. Drinking wine at a small restaurant in Basque country.

Walking on a beach in Queensland with my flannel trousers rolled. Eating a peach. T. S. Eliot wondered if he dared, as do I.

Will I ever hear the mermaids singing, each to each? And how should I presume?

More later. Peace.

Music by Lanterns on the Lake, “You Need Better”

                   

My Life by Someone Else

I have done what I could but you avoid me.
I left a bowl of milk on the desk to tempt you.
Nothing happened. I left my wallet there, full of money.
You must have hated me for that. You never came.

I sat at my typewriter naked, hoping you would wrestle me
to the floor. I played with myself just to arouse you.
Boredom drove me to sleep. I offered you my wife.
I sat her on the desk and spread her legs. I waited.

The days drag on. The exhausted light falls like a bandage
over my eyes. Is it because I am ugly? Was anyone
ever so sad? It is pointless to slash my wrists. My hands
would fall off. And then what hope would I have?

Why do you never come? Must I have you by being
somebody else? Must I write My Life by somebody else?
My Death by somebody else? Are you listening?
Somebody else has arrived. Somebody else is writing.

~ Mark Strand

“The human heart has hidden treasures, in secret kept, in silence sealed; the thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures, whose charms were broken if revealed.” ~ Charlotte Bronte

  

 

“In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may be, or for what good end they may be set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and evasion means a problem to the moral mind.” ~ Gilbert Parker

What is the difference between secrecy and privacy? Is privacy a matter of choosing whether or not to share something without fear or shame? Is secrecy choosing to withhold something because of feelings of guilt or embarrassment? 

Or, to reduce it to its most simplistic terms: Privacy is a right to which everyone is entitled; secrecy is a choice made to keep things hidden. That being said, where do the lines blur? When does something private become a secret? I think that it’s a matter of intent. Consider: Is the individual keeping the secret because the relationship could be affected adversely if the information were to be revealed? Conversely, is the information merely something that concerns the individual only and if revealed, would cause no harm? 

One article that I read which addresses this issue was written by a therapist who stated the following: 

Secrecy comes with guilt and fear, while privacy results in a stronger sense of self without guilt. Secrecy is about control and destroys trust, while privacy does not. Secrets are often about addictive behaviors, or old defense mechanisms, while privacy is more often about personal history, values priorities, dreams, and visions of the future. The decision to withhold a secret, or to keep something private, is a choice reflecting our values and emotional maturity. Choosing to share a secret is a healthy and mature act even though it may create conflict. Choosing to keep something private, is our right and privilege, however if we choose to share something personal, it has the possibility of deepening an intimacy. 

“Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” ~ Gautama Siddhartha

When I was growing up and living with my parents, I had no privacy. My mother would search my things, look under my mattress, listen to my telephone calls, read my mail. I was determined that when I had children of my own that I would treat them with the respect they deserved and allow them a sense of privacy. Did I find out things anyway? Of course. But 98 percent of the time, I believed that their privacy was their right as individuals. 

Charles Darwin . . . Shh . . .

Everyone is entitled to privacy. I don’t need to know everything that Corey thinks or says. Having just said that, I also don’t believe that secrets benefit anyone except the secret-keeper because the truth always has a way of revealing itself. Sandra Petronio, a professor of communications at Indiana University-Purdue University, devised a rule-based theory on privacy in 2002 called Communication Privacy Management, or CPM. Essentially, CPM states that individuals own information until they decide to share that information with someone else. Underpinning CPM is the idea that information is shared based on a set of rules. 

For example, if I choose to share information about my past with X, and I say to X that I don’t want anyone else to know about this information, then I have established a boundary for that information, making X a co-owner of the information. These rules are understood, and if the person receiving the information breaks the rules by sharing the information with someone else, then trust is broken. Of course, the rules fluctuate depending upon circumstances. 

Another aspect of CPM is the concept of rewards and costs: As the information owner, I control who has access to the information; by sharing this information, I could be rewarded by the freeing aspect of self-expression. On the other hand, sharing this information runs the risk of loss of control over the information or possible embarrassment. Therefore, the information owner sets boundaries to control disclosure of the information. 

I will admit that I have reduced CPM to the barest lay terms and by doing so have left out a great deal, but I thought that it was an interesting concept and a more scientific way of looking at the issue of secrecy versus privacy. 

“Lying is done with words and also with silence.” ~ Adrienne Rich

I saw an interesting clip on Today online about this very issue. Essentially, the premise was that the Internet and e-mail have made it possible for more and more people to be unfaithful digitally. That’s right: digital infidelity. A British study revealed that 20 percent of individuals had checked their spouse’s browser history on the computer. I confess. I have done this, but I’m not proud of that fact. My reasons for doing so—insecurity about where I stood—made sense to me, but I still regret the invasion of privacy. 

While technology has made it easier to be duplicitous, it has also made it easier to find out the truth—a matter of be careful what you wish for because that e-mail you are opening may contain more than you ever wanted to know. As Regina Lynn said in an article on Wired.com, “The internet reveals a glimpse of polyamory to everyone who has ever flirted over IM, entered a chat room or joined a role-playing game. Regardless of whether you have sex online, every coquettish remark gives you a taste of what it means to share attention, time and intimacy with other people.” 

Apparently, more and more relationships are suffering as a result of one partner’s online activity because of the opportunities for secrecy that cyberspace offers. And this harmful activity is not limited to connecting to other people. Other significant issues that can come between two people include online gambling addictions, pornography addictions, even shopping addictions.  The question that the secret-keeper should ask is whether or not he or she would want the spouse/partner to engage in the pattern of behavior that is being kept secret? If the answer is no, then there is something wrong with the behavior. 

One aspect of the Today story that I found particularly interesting was the idea that although digital infidelity is not a physical connection, it is usually an emotional connection or a time connection, which keeps one partner from the other. Then there is the added risk that an online connection may lead to a physical connection. One of the experts commenting on the story remarked that more people are leaving their families behind to be with someone they have never met in real life. Am I the only one who finds this weird, abandoning reality for a perceived connection? 

A true cautionary tale: 48 Hours Mystery episode “Love and Lies” tells the story of Jennifer Corbin, who was murdered by her dentist husband. Jennifer was having an online affair with an individual named Christopher. Turns out, Christopher was a woman. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Regina Spektor, “Man of a Thousand Faces”