“I knew on some level that it was an indefensible position, but I wanted to see how far I could get in taking a curmudgeonly stance against the pursuit of happiness.” ~ Phillip Lopate, from “Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character”

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Two for Tuesday: Phillip Lopate

phillip_lopateI’m so excited. I know that I’ve read a few brief things from Lopate before, but for some reason, I have never read the following poem. It is so perfect, so perfect for me, so perfect for my state of mind, so perfect for my continual self-loathing. And then I found his essay on writing essays. I think that I’m in love with this man, well, not in love, in admiration. I think that I’m an essayist. Wow. Serendipity. I need to get his book The Art of the Personal Essay.

“Doubt is my boon companion, the faithful St. Bernard ever at my side. Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with ‘yes, buts,’ ‘so whats?’ and other skeptical rejoinders. I am forever monitoring myself for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity and, guess what, I keep finding examples. Age has not made me wiser, except maybe in retrospect.”
~ Phillip Lopate

                   

We Who Are Your Closest Friends

we who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift

your analyst is
in on it
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us

in announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves
but since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make
unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your
disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective

Anne Lammot’s description of her writing class’s reaction to her reading them this poem:

They stare at me like the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Only about three of them think this poem is funny, or even a good example of someone taking his own paranoia and shaping it into something artistic and true. A few people look haunted. The ones who most want to be published just think I’m an extremely angry person. Some of them look emotionally broken, some look at me with actual disgust, as if I am standing there naked under fluorescent lights.

                   

serendipity

A Selection from “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt

I am an essayist, for better or worse. I don’t suppose many young people dream of becoming essayists. Even as nerdy and bookish a child as I was fantasized about entering the lists of fiction and poetry, those more glamorous, noble genres on which Nobels, Pulitzers and National Book Awards are annually bestowed. So if Freud was right in saying that we can be truly happy only when our childhood ambitions are fulfilled, then I must be content to be merely content.

I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations. In the area of literary nonfiction, memoirs attract much more attention than essay collections, which are published in a modest, quasi-invisible manner, in keeping with anticipated lower sales. But despite periodic warnings of the essay’s demise, the stuff does continue to be published; if anything, the essay has experienced a slight resurgence of late. I wonder if that may be because it is attuned to the current mood, speaks to the present moment. At bottom, we are deeply unsure and divided, and the essay feasts on doubt.

Ever since Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the modern essay, gave as a motto his befuddled “What do I know?” and put forth a vision of humanity as mentally wavering and inconstant, the essay has become a meadow inviting contradiction, paradox, irresolution and self-doubt. The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.

                   

Music by Sarah Blasko, “An Oyster, A Pearl”

“Here’s a prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages.” ~ Tennessee Williams

Lone Gull at Sunset (via desktopnexus.com)*

                   

“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~ Andy Warhol

Tuesday afternoon. Hot and hazy.

Tropical Sunset (via desktopnexus.com)

The house is mercifully silent. Everyone left for Busch Gardens this morning, and they are not expected back until this evening sometime.

I love having the kids home, but I also love my silence, love hearing nothing but my playlist in the background, the tick of the clock, and the occasional sound of puppy paws on hardwood floors. Silence is seriously underrated.

I have always been this contradictory: While I loved being around groups of people and talking for hours, I also valued the time I spent alone, reading or writing. Perhaps that’s why being an only child did not bother me except upon those rare occasions when I felt I needed an older sibling, never a younger one, and since older was impossible, I remained an only.

Of course, the big drawback to being an only child is that your parents focus entirely on you—good or bad, though to be quite honest, I was a very good child. We won’t discuss my teen years, in which I was a terror, as most teens are.

A friend of Alexis’s who is a few years older, has a daughter who is 12. That is so hard to imagine, mostly because she is a contemporary of my daughter, but also because I remember when Alexis was 12. She was still sweet and smart and had not yet decided that she wanted to be neither as that was just too predictable. My Uncle Nick used to comment all of the time how Alexis’s name was on the marquis of her middle school every other week. He would see it and call my mother as he was bursting with pride. She won science fairs, literary contests, you name it.

That all ended with high school . . . It’s as if their hormones build to explosive levels between 11 and 13, and then all hell breaks loose. Overnight you become stupid simply because you are the parent. Overnight they become omniscient, simply because they are teenagers. I do not envy teens and that raging imbroglio that is adolescence. It’s too bad that a TARDIS cannot truly move people from one time to the next, skipping all of the angst in between, but of course, if that were so, how would we ever learn?

“All night love draws its heavy drape of scent against the sea and we wake with the allure of earth in our lungs, hungry for bread and oranges . . . We are sailors who wake when the moon intrudes the smoky tavern of dreams, wake to find a name on an arm or our bodies bruised by sun or the pressure of a hand, wake with the map of night on our skin, traced like moss-stained stone.” ~ Anne Michaels, The Passionate World

Chobe Pier at Sunset, Botswana, Africa (via desktopnexus.com)

Last night I had a very strange dream: I was walking down Hampton Boulevard with a backpack. I had left ODU and my office there without my car as I was quite upset. I was sharing an office with Mari and some other people from the old days, and Mari was acting horribly towards me. She walked away as I was speaking to her, and she said, “I have no desire to drink tea with her.”

So I began the long walk home (to my parents’ house), which is a walk that I take often in my dreams. It’s about seven miles or so, along busy streets, but for some reason, I walk this route often. In the dream, I arrive at the crossroads of Little Creek Road and Hampton, and I stop to repack my stuff. As I’ve walked, I’ve accumulated more stuff, and it has become quite heavy.

I’m in a flea market/antique store, and I spread all of my things across this mattress to try to decide what I should keep and what I should leave behind/donate. I decide to call my father to pick me up from my current location, and amidst my things, I find my old pink razor phone. I put off making the call until I’ve sorted through everything.

Then the surroundings morph into a more exclusive antique shop, and another woman from my past is there, and she is suggesting that we go ahead and take some of the antiques that belong to a female museum patron. I tell her that I don’t think that’s a good idea, but she starts taking things off the shelf. Meanwhile, my black lamb has gotten loose.

Fast forward a bit, and my museum director is there, and he wants to know if I’ve stolen any of the antiques. I tell him that the only thing that I took from the shelf was something that the woman had given me. I ask where my mother is, and he says that she’s being questioned. I walk down a hall and fling open a glass door to find my mother sitting at a boardroom table with about five other people, one of whom is the owner of the antiques. I declare that my mother will not be answering any more questions without an attorney.

Then the officials in the room bring in a container and begin removing antiques and placing them on the table. They ask me about each piece, and I tell them that I do not know how they got into the container, even though I know that the woman from my past took them. They accuse me of taking them, and I tell them that it wasn’t me.

I leave and push my now-packed suitcase before me down the road, crying that they hadn’t believed that I did not steal anything.

Weird, very weird.

“The lake is quiet, the trees surround me, asking and giving nothing.” ~ Margaret Atwood, “Surfacing”

Country Sunset (via desktopnexus.com)

After I finish this post, I’m going to float in the pool a bit with the puppies. Then I plan to work on the bedroom some more; we still need to switch the night stand and move the old trunk into the living room, and for that I will need Corey. Almost everything else in the shuffle has been done. Unfortunately, once again the dining room table has become a repository for those things left misplaced, so that means another few hours cleaning the table and sorting through old mail and various other things.

Oddly enough, Eamonn said that he wanted to cover the one wall that still shows writing on it. I think that he does not want his new girlfriend to visit and see all of the notes from other girls, i.e. “xxx luvs eamonn” (fill in a name, as there are several). Actually, I’m thinking of using a dark color on just this particular wall and then white on everything else. I’ll have to ponder that a bit more.

What is interesting is how both of my sons are now taking an interest in refurbishing the house, when just a few years ago they really didn’t care. Brett even made the offer to Corey a few nights ago to contribute some of his savings to help finish the renovations, but Corey told him that that money was his and that he should keep it in his savings for if and when he decides to move out. It was a very sweet offer, but not one that we would feel at all comfortable in accepting.

“Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Sunset on Field Flowers (via desktopnexus.com)

Let’s see . . . what else is on my plate at the moment? There is so much, yet so little. I have rebates that I need to send, a few official requests, other types of paperwork. It’s all so mundane. Given the choice between alphabetizing my CDs (yes, I still use CDs as I do not have nor do I want an mp3 player) and doing paperwork, it’s no contest—the CDs.

And, oh yes. I do alphabetize and categorize my music and my movies—drama/action, science fiction, history, comedy, documentary. Doesn’t everyone?

When my books weren’t all packed in boxes, they were also alphabetized and categorized: poetry, fiction, non-fiction, art, etc. I love organization in certain aspects of my life, and I abhor organization in others. Well, let me explain: It’s not that I abhor it, but performing the actions necessary to keep those aspects organized is so taxing and unsatisfying.

As I’m typing, Tillie is napping on Eamonn’s bed. It’s her new favorite spot. Just a bit ago, she was remonstrating me quietly, trying to get me interested in going outside. When I ignored her, she went to sleep. It’s funny how much like a toddler she is: all play all of the time . . . unless it’s time for a nap.

I wonder what the black lamb in my dream meant?

“There is immeasurably more left inside than what comes out in words.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sunset Through the Gate (via dexktopnexus.com)

I’ve been contemplating what I wrote yesterday. It’s still with me. I’m not certain that I did a good job of explaining myself.

Yesterday I found myself self-censoring again. And that really bothers me. I do not say all of the words that have built up inside me as I worry how these words will be taken out of context and used against me. I had thought that I had moved beyond that, but as yesterday witnesses, I have not, but I know that I must move past this, move beyond this feeling that someone out there is watching my every move, just waiting for me to stumble, even though that is the reality.

I grow weary of this non verbal tug-of-war. I tire of the incessant vexing nature of it.

When I was in high school, I took my first psychology course. Of course at that time, Freud still held a great deal of sway in the field, and I learned all about the id, ego, and superego, about the theory of the Oedipal and Electra complexes, and while all of this information was vastly interesting, the key thing that I took away from that course was this: there was an actual name for people who vacillated wildly between low and high mood swings: manic depression (or as we know it today: bipolar mood disorder).

I cannot tell you how much better it made me feel to know that other people jumped between highs and lows, that it wasn’t just me.

You see, at that time I had never seen a therapist, had not been put on any kind of medication. And as a result, I used to find myself suddenly in tears, or just as suddenly, filled with this unabating energy. My close friends called me moody, which I suppose was apropos. My parents called me sensitive. When in fact I was suffering from a true disorder, one that had been studied, one that had been named.

When I say that I wouldn’t want to be a teenager again for anything, this is one of the reasons why: To be filled with raging hormones, and to be prey to mood swings over which I had no control, and to be told that it was “growing pains”—can you even begin to imagine my frustration? Of course, were it a few hundred years ago, I would have been thought to be possessed by demons and tried for witchcraft.

Small favors, I say.

Anyway, I was going to mention this tidbit yesterday, but I didn’t. I hit the backspace key and erased the words, made it appear as if they had never existed. But they did exist, and to delete them simply because I do not want to supply more fodder to my stalker is cowardice, at least, that’s how I view it. And one thing that I am not is a coward.

I face what comes my way unflinchingly. Does this mean that I do not feel fear? Of course not. But as Shakespeare put it in Henry V, “back into the fray”:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; (III,i)

More later. Peace.

Music by Amos Lee, “Colors”

*All images can be downloaded as wallpapers.

                   

Things I Didn’t Know I Loved: After Nazim Hikmet

I always knew I loved the sky,
the way it seems solid and insubstantial at the same time;
the way it disappears above us
even as we pursue it in a climbing plane,
like wishes or answers to certain questions—always out of reach;
the way it embodies blue,
even when it is gray.

But I didn’t know I loved the clouds,
those shaggy eyebrows glowering
over the face of the sun.
Perhaps I only love the strange shapes clouds can take,
as if they are sketches by an artist
who keeps changing her mind.
Perhaps I love their deceptive softness,
like a bosom I’d like to rest my head against
but never can.

And I know I love the grass, even as I am cutting it as short
as the hair on my grandson’s newly barbered head.
I love the way the smell of grass can fill my nostrils
with intimations of youth and lust;
the way it stains my handkerchief with meanings
that never wash out.

Sometimes I love the rain, staccato on the roof,
and always the snow when I am inside looking out
at the blurring around the edges of parked cars
and trees. And I love trees,
in winter when their austere shapes
are like the cutout silhouettes artists sell at fairs
and in May when their branches
are fuzzy with growth, the leaves poking out
like new green horns on a young deer.

But how about the sound of trains,
those drawn-out whistles of longing in the night,
like coyotes made of steam and steel, no color at all,
reminding me of prisoners on chain gangs I’ve only seen
in movies, defeated men hammering spikes into rails,
the burly guards watching over them?

Those whistles give loneliness and departure a voice.
It is the kind of loneliness I can take in my arms, tasting
of tears that comfort even as they burn, dampening the pillows
and all the feathers of all the geese who were plucked to fill
them.

Perhaps I embrace the music of departure—song without lyrics,
so I can learn to love it, though I don’t love it now.
For at the end of the story, when sky and clouds and grass,
and even you my love of so many years,
have almost disappeared,
it will be all there is left to love.

~ Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country

“I prefer neurotic people. I like to hear rumblings beneath the surface.” ~ Stephen Sondheim

Andrew Wyeth Master Bedroom

  Andrew Wyeth, “Master Bedroom”

“Neurotics are sure that no one understands them, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.” ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

Well, I think that my body does not like the antibiotic Cipro. I started taking this wonderful med last week, thinking that my body would react as it normally does after taking an antibiotic for a few days: No more icky, everything all better. Not this time.

I’ve been waiting a week for the chills and weakness to go away. So far, no go. I stayed in bed all last week, didn’t even come near the computer. My desk began to look like a laundry rack. Finally, on Friday, I had to get out of bed to go to a family cookout for my German niece and nephew who were in the country. I look forward all year to these family parties, seeing everyone, getting out of the house, getting tipsy twice a year.

Not this time.

I was drinking Coke and ice (no Pepsi, pshaw), ate a grilled burger, no birthday cake even. Had to go home and change into jeans and a long sleeved shirt because I was freezing. Good thing we live so close together.

My one day out of bed earned me two more in it. Yesterday, I woke up early with big plans to put away the laundry and to write a blog. By 8 p.m., I knew that it was a lost cause. Today, we went to the airport to see off the travelers. I came home and crashed and woke up at 7. Unfortunately, I did not know if it was 7 in the morning or 7 in the evening.

Totally discombobulated. Don’t you hate that? I actually went out into the dining room and asked Corey if it was nighttime. But as I asked him, I realized the answer to my question because if it were morning, he would have been in bed, not sitting at the computer in the dining room.

It’s impossible to be able to tell time by the dogs because they are quite content to stay in bed with me day and night, occasionally moving under or above the covers depending on whether or not I’ve turned off the air conditioner.

Oh yes. Life has been pleasant for Corey since I’ve been shutting off the a/c in the bedroom since I’ve been sick. First I get chills, and then I’m too hot. A/C on and no covers . . . a/c off, lots and lots of covers. He said that he woke up a few mornings ago and I had completely buried myself under the blankets. He couldn’t even see my nose.

“No good neurotic finds it difficult to be both opinionated and indecisive.”  ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960 

Andy Warhol Diamond Dust Shoes
"Diamond Dust Shoes," by Andy Warhol

So that’s what life has been like in my house for a while. Completely unexciting. Nothing to tell. No energy to post. I have had plenty of time to ponder a few things, which I thought that I would share with you because that’s just the kind of person that I am:

  1. Why are there six pairs of shoes next to my desk and how did they get there?  I realize that I probably left all of them there, but when? When have I had time to wear six pairs of shoes since I’ve only been out of the house to go to the doctor and the store?
  2. Why did the x-ray technician at my doctor’s office try to take my blood while the lab technician (or whatever the proper term is, sorry) went to help the student x-ray technician do an x-ray? Doesn’t that seem weird to you? It does to me, especially since she missed my vein the first time. I think that my evil, ugly twin may have reared her head accidentally because she didn’t want to try to go for another vein. We waited for the real blood person to come back and stick me.
  3. Which one of the Jack Russells talked Tillie into taking a bag of hoagie rolls off the island in the kitchen when we weren’t home, and did they make her share? I’m pretty sure that Alfie did the conniving, while Shakes used his opposable thumbs to open the bag.
  4. Did you know that eldest son’s name has been changed to Ramonn? When they put all of the cousins’ names on the birthday cake at Costco, they spelled Eamonn’s name wrong. Do you want to know something even more bizarre? When Corey texted me to tell me that Eamonn’s new name was Ramonn, I actually texted him back and asked him ‘Why?’ That’s how out of it I am.
  5. Why is it that nothing I wear ever makes my mother happy? I show up at the cookout in my brown sundress and wedges. She announces loudly, “Why are you all dressed up? I thought this was a cookout. I don’t understand why you do this . . . ya da ya da ya da ya da.” She said the exact same thing on the day of Eamonn’s graduation. This has led to my adoption of the following standard: “I’m fat and ugly and my mother dresses me funny.”
  6. Why can’t there be another series of books like Harry Potter? While I’ve been in bed, I’ve reread books 6 and 7 in ancitipation of the movie coming out on Wednesday, which only makes me wish even more that there could be more books. And no, I’m not going to read any of the Twilight series, just on principle.
  7. Why do I continue to get notices that I’ve won the Irish Lottery, but no one is sending me any money? What’s up with that?
  8. Who will be the next to fall in the continuing saga of politicians who preach one thing but do another? And how does one go about getting on the payroll for John Ensign’s parents, you know, just to get helped out (as they put it)? (I know, I broke the whole tongue-in-cheek motif of the list, but I was just wondering . . .)
  9. Why does a commercial featuring a cartoon line drawing (Slim Shots) need a disclaimer at the bottom alerting people to the fact that results for a real person would not be the same as they are for a cartoon? Have we as a society really gotten that stupid?
  10. How can Bruno be at the top of the box office list? Is this somehow related to #9? You’re kidding me, right? People actually paid money to go see more of this crap cloaked as humor. Yeah, maybe I’ve lost my sense of humor, or maybe, I just don’t find annoying racist, bigoted skits posing as humor terribly entertaining.

I’m going to stop for now because I think that I’ve taxed my brain with just this little bit of fodder. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to piece together something more interesting; for instance, how can John Sandford of the Argentinian boddice-ripping e-mails actually compare himself to David in the Bible and do it with a straight face? Now that’s food for thought.

And to everyone who has been stopping by to check on me, thanks. It’s always nice to hear from you. Mean it.

More later. Peace.