“Life might be brief and transient, scrawled in the sand. But death was written in a much harder alphabet.” ~ Stephen Booth, from Dancing with the Virgins


No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, from Invisible Monsters

Tuesday afternoon. Sunny and 83 degrees, yes, 83 degrees . . . whatever . . .

It’s supposed to be “Two for Tuesday,” but I’m pushing Tuesday to Wednesday because I was up until almost 6 a.m., thinking about words, words that I wanted to say, but I kept myself away from the keyboard because I knew that once I began, it might be days before I stopped. Days, hours, it matters not.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes 1890 oil on canvas
“Closed Eyes” (1890, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

This is what kept me awake: My mother was the one who realized that something was wrong with Caitlin. Not me. She did. She took one look at her and said, “What’s wrong with her eyes?” She said they were bulging. I didn’t really see it, didn’t want to see it, shrugged it off as my mother being overprotective of her granddaughters in the same way that she was overprotective of me.

She was right.

That phone call I received at my very first faculty meeting? That one? It was because my mother had put Caitlin in the car and had taken her to the pediatrician’s office and made them look at her eyes. You see, after the ER doctor had said that she had a virus, I had taken Caitlin to the pediatrician and said that my mother thought her eyes looked funny. The one doctor, the one I never really liked, poo pooed the comment.

My mother was right. I was wrong. The ER resident was wrong. The pediatrician was wrong. It took my mother taking Caitlin to see the other pediatrician in the practice, the gentle one who listened to every word you said—it took that for someone to finally pay attention and send Caitlin to the Children’s Hospital, the hospital that found the brain tumor.

My mother was right.

How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between trees: a hiding place
for everything the grown-ups cannot name.
” ~ John Burnside, from “The Hunt in the Forest”

Odilon Redon Ophelia
“Ophelia V” (c1905)
by Odilon Redon

Look, you’re probably wondering why I’m going over this yet again, but all I can say in way of explanation is one word: fall. Autumn is my best and worst of times. I love every natural aspect of the  season, yet the way in which my emotional well-being goes into free fall more often than not leaves me tortured. Nietzsche said it best when he said that autumn was “more the season of the soul than the season of nature.”

Example: Yesterday, after getting my fasting labs done in the early morning, and then having my six-month checkup with my PCP, all I could think about were curly fries. Weird, I know. So I had to maneuver the hell that is a major thoroughfare that it still under construction to get to the nearest Arby’s. My timing was lousy as the nearby grade school was getting out at the same time. Parents in their cars lined both sides of the streets. No one would let me turn into the narrow street. The resultant snafu left me in tears.

Yes, tears, as in crying in the car, which, if you’ve ever been in the car with me, is completely uncharaceristic. Crying over curly fries, crying over curly fries that I couldn’t eat once I had ordered them. Then yesterday evening as I was trying to force myself to post something, I came across the story about a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS, and again, I cried.

Bed. Yes, bed would make it better. But bed, not so much. No sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother and Caitlin’s eyes, which leads me to this moment.

“. . . how come sorrow is as heavy, lumpen and impenetrably black as an anvil?” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi

November will rear its ugly head in just a few days, and with it I have to confront once again the losses of my daughter, my father, my friend, and yes, even my dog. Isn’t it time to let go, past time, you ask?

Odilon Redon The Yellow Cape 1895 pastel on paper
“The Yellow Cape” (1895, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

Beh. Of course it is. But that’s for normal people, people who do not obsess and obsess and obsess over perceived failings. Example: I did not clean the portal lines that had been inserted into Caitlin’s chest the day that I had taken her in for a follow-up MRI. Why do I remember this? Who knows, but I remember vividly doing a haphazard job of inserting the flushing material in the waiting room at CHKD before they took her into the MRI suite because I wanted to make sure that I had done this one thing for my daughter that I was tasked to do on a daily basis.

Did that failure to use a one-inch square of alcohol on a gauze pad lead to infection? Who knows? Possibly? Probably? Probably not?

The point is that I REMEMBER. I cannot forget. Just as I cannot forget that I did not go back to the hospital that night before my father died even though I had promised his unconscious body that I would come back and spend the night at the hospital. Exhaustion and relief at being away from the white noise of the ICU gave me a false sense of relief, and so I went to bed, and he died in the middle of the night alone.

“How long it takes me to climb into grief!
Fifty years old, and still held in the dark,
in the unfinished, the hopeful, what longs for solution.” ~ Robert Bly, from “A Ramage for the Star Man, Mourning”

Enough, you say. Stop this madness, you say. No, not nearly . . .

When I left my mother’s room that Thursday afternoon, I secretly congratulated myself on making such a speedy getaway, leaving my mother to talk the ear off the social worker. I had work to do. I needed to get her house ready for her to come home. There was snow to be removed. And so I had a brief visit, long enough for her to bitch at me, and then I left, and then she died the next morning, sometime, they are guessing around 9, alone.

Odilon Redon Closed Eyes c1894 oil on canvas
“Closed Eyes” (c1894, oil on canvas)
by Odilon Redon

And did I mention that that best friend I lovingly wrote about years ago in my Vale et Memini series, the one who had a brain tumor and survived? Her? Did I mention that she died and I didn’t find out until a few years later, that I never even went to the funeral because I didn’t know that there was a funeral, and the other night it suddenly came to me that hell, I was her eldest daughter’s godmother, a sacred honor that I had completely washed from my memory.

And that other anamchara friend, the one who I always thought I’d be bonded to in perpetuity? I haven’t corresponded with her in years, other than an obligatory Christmas card. Yes, I am a careless friend, the kind of person who withdraws so completely that the only interactions I still have with friends occur in the midst of troubled sleep.

And then there is the nagging curse I imposed upon myself when Corey and I first got together: I had been so certain that he wouldn’t have to be burdened with me for years and years because I never wanted him to see me get old, and so I had this feeling, this sense, that I would die when I was 56. And you hear of people who have feelings that they will die young, in their teens, who do, and people who have a feeling that they will not live to be old, and they do not, and so what have I done to myself.

“Endlessness runs in you like leaves on the tree of night.” ~ Anne Carson, from “TV Men: The Sleeper”

Listen, if you recently subscribed to this blog because you found it amusing and slightly entertaining, or if you enjoyed the art or the poetry or the music, if that was your reason? Well I’m sorry. Because this post is really what this blog is about. This endless cacophony of doubt, and blame, and grief, and sorrow, and pain.

That other person, the one who offers up stuff from Takei’s tumblr or other such sites? She’s a phony. She is neither glib nor witty. She masks all of the pain behind little ditties about animals and absurd abuses of the English language because to do otherwise would be peering far too keenly in Nietzsche’s abyss, and we all know what happens when you do that.

Odilon Redon GIrl with Chrysanthemums c1905 pastel on paper
“Girl with Chrysanthemums” (c1905, pastel on paper)
by Odilon Redon

The only good thing about this post is that I did not get out of bed at 4 a.m. to begin it. Had I done so, I am completely certain that the maudlin factor would have been  even worse, if you can imagine that.

I always, always know when the words are going to come fast and furious, when there is no stemming of the onslaught. It has always been this way, since I was but a child, hiding in my room, trying not to let my mother see that yet another book had reduced me to tears and heartache because her solution, of course, was to think happy thoughts, and for a soul such as mine, one might as well say something along the line of “you could be happy if you just tried.”

Oh, but if you only knew the truth of my esse, my life force, that tortured, tormented, and torrid do not begin to encompass the four corners of my heart.

More later. Peace.

All images by French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). I am intrigued by how many of the subjects in his paintings have closed eyes or eyes narrowly opened, to which I can relate: going through life with eyes closed, surrounded by beauty . . .

Music by Will Hoge, “When I Get My Wings”

                    

Consider the Space Between Stars 

Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.

~ Linda Pastan

“She loved the sea only for the sake of its storms, and the green only when it was scattered among ruins.” ~ Gustave Flaubert, from Madame Bovary

I didn’t notice until today that the system posted this in April. I knew that something funky happened when the power went out, but didn’t realize it had moved it…..

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida 1909 oil on canvas Promenade by the Sea
“Promenade by the Sea” (1909, oil on canvas)
by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida

                   

“All we are is representation, what we appear to be & are, & are not,
And representation is all we remember,
……….
We go without a trace, I am thinking. We go & there’s no one there,
No one to meet us on the long drive lined with orange trees,
Cypresses, the bleaching fronds of palm trees” ~ Larry Levis, from “Elegy For Whatever Had A Pattern In It”

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida GIrl with Flowers nd
“Girl with Flowers” (nd, oil)

First, let me apologize for the dearth of original material. It’s just not flowing from my fingertips. Second, thanks if you’re still sticking with me in the hopes that I do something interesting soon.

In that vein, I’ve decided to do this list of questions that I copied and modified from tumblr a few weeks ago in the hopes that it will jump start my juices. So here goes . . .

  • The last five songs you listened to on whichever device:
    • Birdy, “Not About Angels”
    • M83, “I Need You”
    • Elenowen, “No Such Thing as Time”
    • Ed Sheeran, “All of the Stars”
    • Lily Kershaw, “Maybe”
    • Ólafur Arnalds, “Beth’s Theme” (Broadchurch OST)
  • If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be? Neil deGrasse Tyson, just because he seems like he’d be fascinating to spend some time with.
  • Turn to page 23 in the book closest to you; what is line 17? “I still wasn’t looking at him, but I felt him tighten to hold back a wince.” (Tana French’s Broken Harbor)
  • What do you think about most? How my life is slipping by so quickly, and I still haven’t done anything purposeful.
  • Ever had a poem or song written about you? Two poems and one song
  • Do you have any strange phobias? Centipedes freak me out; I cannot take crowded elevators (claustrophobia), and I fear that someone will stab me in the eye.

“She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” ~ Carl Sagan

  • What’s your religion? I’m a pantheist if I’m anything.
  • What/who are you missing right at this moment? That’s actually a list: talking to Corey, sleeping with my dog Shakes, arguing with my mother, and having friendship on a daily basis.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Rose Bush at the Sorolla House 1918 oil on canvas
“Rose Bush at the Sorolla House” (1918, oil on canvas)
  • What is the last book that you read? Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight. I didn’t like the ending. It felt rushed and staid.
  • What was the last lie you told? I really don’t remember because I try very hard not to lie to my loved ones. Strangers are up for grabs.
  • Do you believe in karma? Hmm….I think so. I would like to think that the ills that we do people will come back to us threefold, but I don’t think that it actually happens nearly enough to nasty people, like the guy in the red car who followed me.
  • What does your URL mean? It’s the moniker that I have been using for years, and it’s an ancient Greek word for poet or maker.

“A thick frenzy of blossoms shrouding the riverside,
I stroll, listing dangerously, in full fear of spring.” ~ Tu Fu, from Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the River

  • What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength? My greatest weakness is my lack of self-confidence, and my greatest strength is my undying loyalty.
  • Which of the five senses affects you the most? That’s a hard one—a tossup between smell (fresh flowers and herbs) and sound (songs closely associated with certain memories can absolutely slay me in an instant).

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Coast at San Sebastian 1918 oil on canvas
    “Coast at San Sebastian” (1918, oil on canvas)
  • How do you vent your anger? I’m a door slammer, but I don’t resort to it very often. When I was young and immature, I threw things, like teacups, and there was that one vase, all directed at my ex. Now, I mostly write it out of my system.
  • Do you have a collection of anything? Hmmm….booksbooksbooks, nail polish and DVDs
  • Are you happy with the person you’ve become? Not really because I don’t feel that I’ve become anything tangible. I feel unfinished, if that makes any sense.
  • What’s a sound that you hate; a sound that you love? I hate the sound of loud machines, especially jackhammers and leaf blowers, but in the spring, the sound I hate the most is the ice cream truck that plays Christmas carols loud enough to shatter glass. I love listening to thunderstorms and pre-dawn birdsong.

“If what Proust says is true, that happiness is the absence of fever, then I will never know happiness. For I am possessed by a fever for knowledge, experience and creation.” ~ Anaïs Nin

  • Most sensitive spot on your body? Nape of my neck
  • Earth, air, fire, or water? Water and air. I love looking at the sky, and I love hearing the water. I cannot imagine ever living somewhere without some kind of water, and one of my biggest goals is to live somewhere where I can really see the night sky.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Esmeradas de la Cala San Vicente
“Esmeradas de la Cala San Vicente” (
  • What’s your biggest “what if”? What if I had gotten my doctorate way back when when I had planned to do so . . . what if I hadn’t had to go out on disability . . . what if I had been able to have another baby . . . I could do this one all day . . .
  • Your five favorite movies, in descending order:
    • Lord of the Rings (I know it’s three, but I count it as one)
    • The English Patient
    • Silence of the Lambs
    • Braveheart (I can ignore Mel Gibson’s horribleness for this one)
    • Gladiator
    • (five runners up: Henry V, Pride and Prejudice (Kiera Knightly/Matthew McFadyen version), Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Usual Suspects, and all the Harry Potters)
  • Favorite movie or television genre? I’m not big on comedies; I prefer action or fantasy or sci fi. I’ve also developed a renewed interest in horror movies thanks to my spouse, and I really, really have an obsession (probably unhealthy) with true crime.
  • What’s the worst place you have ever been? Stuck on an overcrowded city bus in Mexico. My claustrophobia kicked in big time.

“I carry deserts in my chest,
the hot sand of silence.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions: Volume I

  • Do you participate in social media? Although I have this blog and my tumblr, I stay away from Facebook and Twitter. No one needs to know that I’m in line at Target, and I think that Zuckerberg is an ass.

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida The Yellow Rosebush of the Sorolla House c1920 oil on canvas
    “The Yellow Rosebush of the Sorolla House” (c1920, oil on canvas)
  • Truth or justice? There is no justice without truth.
  • What’s the last thing you downloaded? Helmer Ossland’s “Torne Träsk”
  • What was the last movie you saw? Did you like it? Divergence, and I liked it a lot more than Noah.
  • What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had? The one I keep doing to myself: wrenching my back
  • Do you have any obsessions right now? Finding the perfect mascara (lame, I know)

“Overflow gently — don’t drown.” ~ Albert Camus, from Notebooks

  • Have you ever had a rumor spread about you? I’m sure that most everyone falls victim to this at one time or another, but I did work with one colleague who took great liberties with the truth, especially when speaking with my boss.

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida On San Sebastian Beach circa 1895-1900 oil on canvas
    “On San Sebastian Beach” (c1895-1900, oil on canvas)
  • Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong? See above . . . Seriously, though, I’ve mellowed quite a bit over the years, but I will admit that I still hold grudges against three people who caused me great pain, and I honestly don’t know what I would do if I ran into one of them.
  • Do you and your significant other have a special song and/or place? “Amazed” by Lonestar, and anyplace in which we can spend quality time together, like a beach on an island with an umbrella drink.
  • What’s the last thing you purchased? Besides groceries and prescriptions, nail polish.
  • Love or lust? Lusting after the one I love
  • Paper or pixels? I’m a purist—paper all the way.

“Make a name for the dark parts of you.” ~ Lisa Marie Basile, from “Paz”

  • If you could move anywhere in the country, where would it be?  I would love to move to Oregon or Vermont, but don’t ask me why; they just seem like they would be so different from where I am now, and that appeals to me greatly. I do not want to spend another decade in this house in this city.
  • If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be? If I could move anywhere in the world, it’s a tossup between Ireland and New Zealand.
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Storm over Peñalara, Segovia 1906 oil on canvas
” Storm over Peñalara, Segovia” (1906, oil on canvas)
  • Where is your best friend? My best friend from high school lives in the same city; my best friend with whom I have kept in touch the most lives outside of Richmond, and my soul compatriot lives in Massachusetts.
  • What were you doing last night at 12 AM? Watching the remake of “Rosemary’s Baby”
  • Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend? I believe so because I am loyal to a fault.
  • You are walking down the street on your way to work. There is a dog drowning in the canal on the side of the street. Your boss has told you if you are late one more time you get fired. What do you do? This is a stupid question.

“I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul de sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadows under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from The Bell Jar

  • You are told that you have approximately one month to live. Do you tell anyone/everyone you are going to die? What do you do with your remaining days? Would you be afraid? I would only tell my family. I would travel to as many places as I could in the time I had left. And of course I would be afraid.

    Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Playa 1906 oil on cardboard
    “Playa” (1960, oil on cardboard)
  • Which song always makes you happy when you hear it? “Across the Universe”
  • Which song always tugs at your heart strings? That’s hard to narrow to just one: “Colorblind,” by Counting Crows; “I’m Already There,” by Lonestar; and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” by Bonnie Raitt. Those three always, always get to me.
  • What does it take to make a lasting relationship? Trust, loyalty, friendship, and passion
  • Can a lie ever be justified? No.
  • Do you believe in revenge? See grudges above . . . well, actually, I do believe in revenge in theory, but not sure about in practice.

“Listen to me. I am telling you
a true thing. This is the only kingdom.
The kingdom of touching;
the touches of the disappearing, things.” ~ Aracelis Girmay, from “Elegy”

  • What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far? To allow myself to love again after hurting for so long
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida Rocks and white boat, Javea 1905 oil on canvas
”Rocks and White Boat, Javea” (1905, oil on canvas)
  • What would you want to be written on your tombstone? I’m going to be cremated, but if I were to have a tombstone, I would want a quote by Woolf or Fitzgerald
  • Name the one thing that has been on your bucket list the longest. Riding in a hot air balloon.
  • What is your current desktop picture? “Rocks and white boat, Javea” by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
  • If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be? Well obviously Pol Pot or Hitler, but they’re both dead. I wouldn’t mind giving a serious jolt to the Koch brothers, Fox Noise, and most of Congress.
  • What is the first childhood memory that pops into your mind? A marketplace in Morocco

I have the sluggish inertia of a great big ship. When the port’s in sight there’s no point aiming for the harbour, I’ll pile straight into the sea wall. Even though it’s slow and unremarkable, my existence has caused terrible damage. And yet I did see the lighthouse flashing its anxious message in the distance. I got its warnings and said, yes, yes, I know, I’m going to break everything; but it was too late.” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi

  • Superpower of your choice? Flying
  • If you could relive any half-hour period in your life, what would it be? The first half hour I held each of my children
Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida The Waves at San Sebastian 1915 oil on canvas
“The Waves at San Sebastian” (1915, oil on canvas)
  • If you could erase one horrible experience in your life, what would it be? The suffering and death of Caitlin
  • If you had a TARDIS, where and when would you go? I’d go to France in the 1880’s and buy a van Gogh.
  • If you were offered a free plane ticket to anywhere, where would you go? And if you had to leave in half an hour, would you still take the ticket? I’d go to Ireland, and of course I would still go.
  • If you could choose anyone in the world to be your mentor for a year, who would it be? Tana French because I love the way that she writes; her prose is so lyrical that I often find myself pausing after passages just to drink them in. I would choose her because she has become successful in writing the kinds of fiction that I would love to write myself.

All images are by Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923)

Music by Birdy, “Not About Angels”

                   

May Day

I’ve decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk on
The light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
I’ve decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesn’t matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

I’ve decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

~ Phillip Levine