“Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx.” ~ Claudia Rankine, from Citizen: An American Lyric

French apartment of a Mrs. DeFlorian, found unchanged for 70 years.*

“The wind of longing blows to your right, from the orange groves, and to your left, from the sea salt. A fog, approaching the chambers of your heart from the north, makes it difficult for memory to distinguish what is private from what is public ” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Saturday afternoon, cloudy and cold, 34 degrees, winter storm warning.

I spent the entire day yesterday alone, just the animals and me. It’s the first full day into evening that I’ve been entirely alone. I didn’t mind it. It made me think of how originally the plan was that Corey would go to sea for a few months, and I would be here alone with the animals. I was fully prepared to embrace that, although I’m not sure if Corey believed that.

Marthe DeFlorian painting by Giovanni Boldini found in apartment

Before moving here permanently, I wrestled with the idea of loneliness versus being alone, and truthfully being alone does not make me feel lonely. I know, though, that if I had been in a better place with both of my sons before I left, that it might be different, that the loneliness might be more present. I mean, the person I miss the most is Alexis. I miss seeing her and talking to her, however briefly our encounters might have been. I miss my sons constantly, but it’s not so immediate as the lack of my daughter, if that makes sense. The way in which I miss them is an internal ache that is always there, but I have become accustomed to it.

I never thought that I would be saying something like that.

But as far as being lonely? No, not so much. I miss fast access to any kind of food and easy access to my physicians. I miss the idea of living in Norfolk and being able to see my parents’ house anytime I needed to, or being able to ride over to where my other mother used to live just to see the house for a few minutes. I miss those ideas of things.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Hollow Men”

I have always known that I don’t need a lot of people around me. My friends have been few but fast. And as an only child, you become comfortable with the idea of yourself. You have to. No matter how much I told my parents that I wanted siblings when I was a child, I always kind of knew that I’d never have any.

Being an only can be very lonely, but it can also make you able to withstand things that people with siblings might not be able to withstand alone—like death. I never had siblings to lean on during tough times. It was just me, the dogs, and to some extent, my parents. Whenever we lost a dog when I was a child, I grieved alone. I would go into myself and just deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I learned to build walls and had a harder time taking them down. Who knows . . .

Look. I know that for a lot of people siblings are a burden. Not everyone loves, let alone gets along with their siblings. Brothers and/or sisters can be an incredible pain, especially if there is a big age difference, and brothers/sisters who grew up very close can grow apart as years pass. That’s what I saw happen to my sons, who were the best of friends when they were young but who became one another’s nemeses as they got older. That bothered me, but you cannot control your children’s emotions. A hard reality.

Still, I always wanted a sister.

You fear for the present stifled by the hegemony of the past and fear for the past from the absurdity of the present. You do not know where to stand at this crossroads.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Perhaps if I had a sister, this alone thing would be different. I’ll never know now. The person most like a sister to me for so many years is now in a different city, living a different life, and liking me not at all, for a variety of reasons, some of which I will never even know or understand.

But getting back to the idea of loneliness—I do not claim to be immune from the emotion. There have been times when I have been so lonely that I just wanted to find a dark closet and hide. I remember being very lonely in my first marriage. In fact, I remember one day standing at the bedroom window and watching my then spouse drive away, going to work, and just holding my hand to the windowpane and weeping. I don’t remember the why, only the what. It’s not a good memory.

And when our marriage fell apart, I would spend many weekends alone while the kids visited with their father, and the house seemed too big to hold me. In fact, I went to my boss at the time and told him to schedule me for every Saturday because I didn’t have a life. The arrangement worked well for both of us. If I was working, I didn’t have to think about the state of my life, so I worked a lot.

“Rising from the past, my shadow
Is running in silence to meet me.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “The souls of those I love are on high stars” (trans. A. S. Kline)

My job, my career was always important to me, always an extension of my self, but never my total identity once my children were born. But before that, I relished the self-importance of my career, the power, the seeming limitless ways in which I could grow and prosper. The thing is that it was only years later that I realized that while I considered myself a groundbreaking female in a mostly man’s world, my ability to grow and prosper was always hampered by the positions I held simply because I was a woman. Funny, that.

I once had to make the case for being paid more than certain males because I had more education and experience, and they were just out of college. That shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I did win that argument, by the way, but that’s the kind of thing I faced regularly. I know that things have gotten better for women in the workplace, but that’s not to say that sexism does not still exist. We all know that it does . . .

Ah, but that was then, as they say.

Now? Now, I have no job, no career, no profession, unless I own up to the fact that writing is a profession, well, maybe for other people. It’s just that I’ve never made money with my writing, never even tried, even though I’ve had probably hundreds of ideas for books. So I refrain from calling myself a writer because it’s not like I’ve ever done anything with it.

Are you what you were, or what you are now? You fear you will forget tomorrow while mired in the question: In which time do I live?” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Which brings me to the Darwish quotes, which are from one longer passage that I broke up for the purposes of this post. It’s this last part really: “Are you what you were, or what you are now?”

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Who am I? Who do I want to be? Is that the same person I wanted to be before or different? In which time do I live?

I live in all of them, really. My past is so intricately woven into my present that it’s impossible to separate them. But my present self is so very different from my past self that sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the two. I care little for money, or fame, or things, or what anyone else has. In fact, more and more, I am genuinely put off by the excesses of life today.

Will I always want to buy and to own books? Of course. But do I need a big house with a separate library just for my books? No. Maybe my answer would be different if I still owned the hundreds and hundreds of books that I once had, but I lost those when we lost the storage unit, so there’s that. Losing a collection like that, over 1,000 books, changes you, definitely.

But possessions? Thousand dollar purses or shoes? What good would they do me? My house is old. My furniture is old. My clothes, for the most part, are old. And you know what? I like old things. It’s another thing that my mother never understood, my love for things with history. If you showed me a brand new chair that was the perfect color of red, and placed an old Queen Anne covered in faded red brocade beside it, there’s no questions to which I would be drawn. History over new. Worn over pristine.

So ultimately, standing at the crossroads between past and present, more than likely I just wouldn’t move, I think, which is why I find myself always wondering in which time I really live.

More later. Peace.

*All images are taken from the former apartment of Mrs. DeFlorian, a Parisian woman who fled before the German occupation of WWII. The apartment was found to be exactly as she left it when it was opened in 2010. For an article on this beautiful artifact, go here.

Music by Julia Brennan, “Inner Demons”


A Person Protests to Fate

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

~ Jane Hirshfield, as found on poets.org

“The problem with listening, of course, is that we don’t. There’s too much noise going on in our heas, so we never hear anything. The inner conversation simply never stops. It can be our voice or whatever voices we want to supply, but it’s a constant racket. In the same way we don’t see, and in the same way we don’t feel, we don’t touch, we don’t taste.” ~ Philip Glass, from “Listening to Philip Glass”

“West Coast of Ireland” (1913, oil on canvas)
by Robert Henri*

                   

“The business of words keeps me awake.” ~ Anne Sexton, from “The Ambition Bird”

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy and chilly, low 50’s.

Sitting here in a white sweater, yoga pants, and Christmas socks thinking back on the past week. It’s been a long and tiring one.

“Sea and Cliffs” (1911, oil on board)
by Robert Henri

I did start my NaNoWriMo on Thursday, and have written on Thursday and Friday, but not yet today. This novel business is hard. I couldn’t get to sleep on Wednesday night because I was fretting over what I would write, which storyline I would chase. I came up with something and even came up with a working title, and of course, I didn’t write it down. Dammit, I was completely awake when I thought of it, so you would think that I could remember later, but noooooooo.

So far I’ve written about 1800 words, which isn’t really a lot. One of these posts can be almost that long, and I can fire that off in a few hours. I think that I’m overthinking it, editing as I go, which is not how you’re supposed to do it. I believe you’re not supposed to do any editing, just write, writing down to the bones, as it were.

I already fear that I won’t make it through the entire 30 days, and I’m only on day 3. How completely discouraging.

“I have written down the words
I have long not dared to speak.
Dully the head beats,
this body is not my own.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “Evening Room”

I think that what’s holding me up is that I have no clear direction, only an idea, and then as I get going, I want to stop and research this aspect or that aspect, which is not possible under these conditions. I don’t think that this is the best way to write; no. I know that this is not the best way, yet I am determined to try because for me, it’s the best impetus to actually get something down, something more than fleeting thoughts, plot lines, character names, working titles. It comes from that incredibly stubborn part of my personality, the one that refuses to let something or someone get the better of me.

“Rough Seas Near Lobster Point” (1903, oil on panel)
by Robert Henri

It’s just like sewing Brett’s costume, which turned into almost a 20-hour production. Man, talk about painful—and not just in my hand. I had to use my mom’s sewing machine, so she kept wanting to help. It was impossible to make her understand that I wasn’t working from any clear pattern, only an idea if what he wanted. I worked the first day for seven and a half straight hours, only to come home and find that the sleeves were too tight for him. Crying seemed like a good option.

The next day, I approached it in a more linear fashion, and was pleased with the outcome, so I guess that should tell me something about this whole write a novel in a month idea, or not.

Whatever.

“The body is a book and we the words.” ~ Michael Bazzett, from “The Body

I hear rumors of a storm that’s supposed to hit around Wednesday. I hope it stays away until after election day, that whole low voter turnout for Democrats in bad weather thing. All I know is that it’s getting downright cold at night, and there are still people without power, gas, and water in New York and New Jersey. Truly, I feel for them. It’s one thing to be without power during warmer months, but during cold ones, it really sucks. It wasn’t that long ago that we were heating our house with space heaters, and I could never get warm, no matter how many layers of clothes I wore.

“Big Rock and Sea” (ND, oil on wood panel)
by Robert Henri

So here I am blogging instead of working on the novel, and I have to tell you—it’s kind of a relief, just to write aimlessly, or rather with aim but without intention. Do you follow?  I know. I’m being a bit confusing, but I’m confounded, truly.

Anyway, there was the sewing of the costume (which he did not wear to the convention, by the way, but that’s another story), the whole Halloween thing, during which I may have had a total of 20 kids, this after I went out and bought more candy so that I wouldn’t run out. Then Lex didn’t make it to my mom’s house with Olivia in her monster costume on Halloween, so the whole guilt trip thing, which we fixed by dressing her up again on Thursday and taking her over for a visit. So the week was filled with time with Mom, sewing (which I am not very talented in executing), telephone calls with the SSA people, and getting the news that my health insurance is going up next year.

Hooray.

Oh, and Corey will be home probably on Thursday, which is also making me antsy as I feel the need to clean, the need but not the ability. It will be so good to have him home finally, and he’ll be here until after the holidays. The two of us plan to take a mini vacation between Thanksgiving and Christmas, spend some quality time together. We so need a break.

“Our words should cauterize
all wounds to the truth.” ~ Chase Twichell, from “Vestibule”

Lately I have taken to using Alexis’s bathtub for hot soaks whenever I get a chance. The holes in our bathtub make long, hot baths a thing of the past, at least for now, and the water in her apartment is really hot. I’ve only done it a couple of times, but boy did my back thank me afterwards. I only bring this up because I’m sitting here now with one of those heat wraps around my neck.

“Marine Storm at Sea” (1911, oil on canvas)
by Robert Henri

Colder weather, a double-edged change: boots and sweaters versus aching joints and bones. On any given day my love of one is not enough to outweigh the pain of the other.

But getting back to the whole writing thing . . . In those 1800 or so words, someone has been murdered, someone has given birth, and someone has gotten bad news. I couldn’t give you a synopsis of the plot if I tried because it’s unfolding as I write it. I have a vague, very, very vague notion of who my protagonist is, what the conflict is, and where most of it takes place. Other than that, I just don’t know.

This is precisely why I need Corey to come home. He’s so wonderful to bounce ideas off, that, and he remembers everything, ideas I told him years ago. He doesn’t forget like I do, and I have this nagging sensation tugging at my brain that I’ve forgotten something really, really important about this particular story.

Man, I wish that I had a writing shed. Don’t ask me where that came from because I do not know. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

“The world is greater than its words. To speak of it the mind must bend.” ~ Wendell Berry, from Window Poems

Since I began this post, the sky has cleared, and the sun is out, making it a beautiful but cold day. Tillie the Lab is very restless as I haven’t been playing with her daily, and she feels neglected. Shakes is much the same, still wheezing, still having his coughing spells, but he has an appetite, and he still wants to go for car rides, so I take that as a good sign for now.

“Sea and Cliffs (Maine Coast” (1908-11, oil on canvas)
by Robert Henri

I’m really wondering how it got to be November, though. Where did the summer go? It was such a strange summer, so much of my time spent away from the house. Now to most of you, this isn’t a big deal, but remember, I have become a virtual hermit in recent years. Between the baby and Corey’s absence, I have been forced well beyond my comfort zone and back into the world. Some days I like it, and some I don’t. Some days, I still hate the world in all of its narrow-minded stupidity, and other days I feel such a keen sense of loss that life is not as it once was—so full of promise with far more days ahead than behind.

Don’t mind me. It’s one of those days, my thoughts carried of on so many different tides that I cannot possibly contain them or steer them. I’m not being morbid, but I do wonder when I reached my halfway point. I mean, think about it; it’s not something that we ever consciously know, is it? And it’s different for everyone. Someone asked me once if I wanted to live past 100, and I told them quite honestly no. I think that by that age life would be too impossibly heavy to hold, the weight of all the memories, all of the people come and gone, all of the loves and losses, all of the wars, all of the genocides, all of the social change.

So, no, I don’t want to live to be 100, but I suppose I could do 88. But then I remember P. D. James, who was born in 1920 and is still writing.

Hmm . . .

More later. Peace.

*Images by American painter Robert Henri, a leading figure in the Ashcan School in American painting. Of course, I migrated to his seascapes.

Music by Eddie Vedder with Natalie Maines, “You Can Close Your Eyes”

                   

Adios

It is a good word, rolling off the tongue
no matter what language you were born with.
Use it. Learn where it begins,
the small alphabet of departure,
how long it takes to think of it,
then say it, then be heard.

Marry it. More than any golden ring,
it shines, it shines.
Wear it on every finger
till your hands dance,
touching everything easily,
letting everything, easily, go.

Strap it to your back like wings.
Or a kite-tail. The stream of air behind a jet.
If you are known for anything,
let it be the way you rise out of sight
when your work is finished.

Think of things that linger: leaves,
cartons and napkins, the damp smell of mold.

Think of things that disappear.

Think of what you love best,
what brings tears into your eyes.

Something that said adios to you
before you knew what it meant
or how long it was for.

Explain little, the word explains itself.
Later perhaps. Lessons following lessons,
like silence following sound.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

“Gaze into the fire, into the clouds, and as soon as the inner voices begin to speak . . . surrender to them. Don’t ask first whether it’s permitted, or would please your teachers or father or some god. You will ruin yourself if you do that.” ~ Hermann Hesse

The Fairy Host
by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law*


“I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still” ~ Sylvia Plath

Tuesday afternoon. Cloudy, showers, much cooler, low 60’s.

Well, Corey is in the Ascension Island for a few days. He hasn’t seen any giant sea turtles, but he says that the island is beautiful, crystal blue waters, clean beaches, no touristy stuff. Apparently, the turtles nest at night, and the road to their nesting ground is actually closed to traffic at night so as not to disturb the turtles. Isn’t that cool? Unfortunately for him, his watch shifts haven’t allowed him to be off the boat at the time the turtles are on the move, but he has seen the tracks in the sand, and he says that they are huge.

A Dream of Grace
by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

From there, the ship is supposed to head to Brooklyn to go into the yard, where it will be for a month or so. He sounds content, but tired. I haven’t heard that tone in his voice in quite a while, so it’s very nice. I can’t express how wonderful it is to know that he’s doing something that he loves and is very good at doing, especially after four years of a roller coaster ride.

Four years? Yep, since 2008. Wow. That really is a long, long, long time to be unemployed and underemployed, but I know that we are fortunate because many people who lost their jobs when the recession hit are still out of work. I truly fear for this country, its shortsighted leaders who continue to believe that the struggling lower classes are lesser citizens, and who continue to reward the elite.

What happened to equity? Democracy? The American Dream?

“What syllable are you seeking,
Vocalissimus,
In the distances of sleep?
Speak it.” ~ Wallace Stevens, from “To the Roaring Wind”

I don’t want to go off on a socio-political rant as it will just depress me, and I’m actually feeling a bit better emotionally. I haven’t been weepy in several days, so that’s a good thing.

White Knight of Bright Morning
by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

We got a graduation announcement from Corey’s niece, his older brother’s daughter. Apparently Steve texted Corey twice for our address, which just stymies me as we send them a Christmas card every year, and have done so for over a decade. Anyway, his daughter is graduating, which is kind of weird as I remember when she was just a little girl who followed Eamonn around Corey’s parents’ house when we were visiting at Christmas.

They refuse to stay young.

In ten years they will all wish that they were just approaching their 20’s again. After ten years of the stresses of young adult life, they begin to see how easy life really was. I’m not at all saying that being a teenager is easy, because it’s not. The stressors are there, just of a different nature. And far too many young people come out of their teen years scarred and scared, with absolutely no idea of what the future might hold for them.

I never thought I’d be talking about today’s youth in that same tone of voice that I hated when I was younger, so I try to remember that all of those things that seemed terribly important, life-changing, heartbreaking, all of those things really did matter then. Only now am I able to place them in context.

“I closed my mouth and spoke to you in a hundred silent ways.” ~ Rumi

I ate a snack bag of Cheetos last night, really wanted them, but today I’m paying for it as I can feel the migraine creeping into my head. MSG. I don’t understand why food producers continue to use MSG when so many other things are available and so many people are sensitive to the additive. I try to tell myself that it won’t bother me, but 98 percent of the time when I ingest something with MSG I get a migraine. It’s that two percent that I’m hoping for.

Filling Up the Sea
by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Silly me.

Last night Richard Gere and Mari were in my dream. Very, very strange. Apparently, I knew Gere. In the dream I’m taking Mari to the airport, but we’re in the Underground in Crystal City, Arlington, and we keep making wrong turns. At some point, the cast from “Law & Order” makes an appearance, and Jack McCoy is standing outside of the courtroom talking to Abby. I think to myself that Abby really is just as beautiful in real life as she is on television. Then I notice that she has a scar running down the side of her legs, and I think that she’s had an operation to make her thighs smaller. Richard Gere is wearing a white dress shirt but no tie, and he’s going in the same direction as Mari and me. The newspaper is across the street. Mari tells me that she has chronic pain but wonders why she didn’t get my old job at GW. There is a yellow Volkswagen Beetle.

Make of that what you will.

“Whatever I looked at was alive, everything had a voice,
but I never found out were you a friend, an enemy,
was it winter, summer? Smoke, singing, midnight heat.
I wrote thousands of lines. Not one told me.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “Fragment, 1959,” (trans. Stephen Berg)

That creative spurt that I was going through a few weeks ago seems to have dried up. Gone. For a while, I had poems running through my brain constantly. Lines upon lines kept appearing. Now the only thing in my brain is pain and bad dreams. I knew that it wouldn’t last.

Tam Lin the Knight
by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

I’ve started to request galleys of books again. I thought that I would try to get back into writing reviews, like I was doing a few years ago. I had stopped requesting galleys when I stopped reviewing the books I was being sent. Knowing the publishing process, it didn’t seem right to request an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) without writing a review.

I’m also trying to stay caught up on Goodreads. I hadn’t updated my profile in ages, so I set a reading goal for myself in 2012: 60 books. I’m a little behind, but I should be able to make my goal by the end of the year. I don’t really do the social part of Goodreads—chatting with other people about what they’re reading, making friends, all of that. I just don’t get into that whole social networking, even if it is a reading site.

I know. I’m a curmudgeon. But you can’t say that I’m not honest about it.

If you’re an avid reader, and you haven’t discovered Goodreads yet, you should click on the link on my sidebar. It really is a nice resource for readers; they do book giveaways each month, and people do write some good reviews of books. At the very least, it is a great site for keeping a record of your books and for finding literary quotes.

“‎When you do not speak, the thousand stars that lay upon your tongue slide back down your throat only to be swallowed one by one, jagged, pointed and weighing more than planets.” ~ Tama Kieves

Speaking of age, as I was earlier, the Doobie Brothers and the Beach Boys are touring. Aren’t they all 100 or so? I mean, even though Mick Jagger is ancient, I can kind of see him touring (not really sure why), but these guys? Whenever I think of the Beach Boys, unfortunately I think of Charles Manson. I know. It’s a weird association, but Manson’s desire to be taken seriously as a singer, his relationship with Dennis Wilson, are all part of what drove him to do the crazy things that he did.

Climbing the Dragon Gate
by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

You know what’s really crazy? Manson’s music was actually used by some bands after he and his followers killed all of those people. Guns ‘n Roses and Marilyn Manson have covered his songs. Weird, huh?

If anyone does not deserve that kind of recognition, it’s Manson, but hey, we’re that kind of society: desirous of fame no matter what. Okay, maybe I’m generalizing, but I remember as a youth I wanted to be famous, wanted to sing on Broadway. Of course, my dreams of fame had nothing to do with being infamous, but I wanted that recognition, nonetheless.

The desire for fame is as old as time, though. As long as humans have been able to speak, someone has chosen to be the one to lead, and people have followed because of what they have heard. Even before speech, someone always stood out, took charge, and others went along. It’s a pack mentality that has evolved into the kinds of government that exist today. Think about it: Are our Congressional members really so different from the early hominids? In both cases, someone pounded their chest (literally or figuratively) and declared that he should be heeded because he, and only he knew what was right . . .

Yep.

More later. Peace.

*All images used with permission from the Fairy Tales and Mythology Gallery on Shadowscapes, the website of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. I recommend clicking on each image to see full size.

Music by the Alialujah Choir, “A House, A Home”

                   

Of Distress Being Humiliated by the Classical Chinese Poets

Masters, the mock orange is blooming in Syracuse without
scent, having been bred by patient horticulturalists
To make this greater display at the expense of fragrance.
But I miss the jasmine of my back-country home.
Your language has no tenses, which is why your poems can
never be translated whole into English;
Your minds are the minds of men who feel and imagine
without time.
The serenity of the present, the repose of my eyes in the cool
whiteness of sterile flowers.
Even now the headsman with his great curved blade and rank
odor is stalking the byways for some of you.
When everything happens at once, no conflicts can occur.
Reality is an impasse. Tell me again
How the white heron rises from among the reeds and flies
forever across the nacreous river at twilight
Toward the distant islands.

~ Hayden Carruth