“She lived with us for 56 years. She raised me and my siblings without pay. I was 11, a typical American kid, before I realized who she was.” ~ Alex Tizon, from “My Family’s Slave”

Lola Pulido with the author and his siblings (all images are Tizon family photos)

“Push away the past, that vessel in which all emotions curdle to regret.” ~ Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, from Before We Visit the Goddess

Thursday late afternoon, cloudy and cool, 51 degrees.

I’ve had this one tab open on my laptop for about two weeks, maybe more. I haven’t wanted to close it as I wanted it to be a constant reminder that it needed attention on my part. It’s one of three posts that I’ve been trying to write longer than I care to admit. This particular tab is for an article that was published in The Atlantic called “My Family’s Slave,” by the late Alex Tizon, and although I’ve wanted to write a response to it ever since I read it, I cannot seem to find the best way in, if that makes any sense.

Lola age 51

The article deals with a Filipino tradition (for lack of a better word) of the better-off taking in someone not so well-off and offering them the opportunity to live with and work for the family. Better-off is very subjective as it means anyone with more money than you. The only catch is that working for implies receiving a salary of some sort, and these women (mostly) never receive any money. Tizon explains:

Slavery has a long history on the islands. Before the Spanish came, islanders enslaved other islanders, usually war captives, criminals, or debtors. Slaves came in different varieties, from warriors who could earn their freedom through valor to household servants who were regarded as property and could be bought and sold or traded. High-status slaves could own low-status slaves, and the low could own the lowliest. Some chose to enter servitude simply to survive: In exchange for their labor, they might be given food, shelter, and protection.

. . . Today even the poor can have utusans or katulongs (“helpers”) or kasambahays (“domestics”), as long as there are people even poorer. The pool is deep.

“If ever I lose
my memory of you, walk beside me
like a stag; like a bird heard, unseen” ~ Anne Michaels, from Correspondences

Let me offer a bit of my own background here: For three summers, starting when I was just 14, I worked for my Aunt Remy, taking care of her five kids. I arrived at 7 in the morning and left at 6 in the evening, and for this I received $50 a week, and I felt lucky to be making such good money. In addition to taking care of the kids, my cousins (a term loosely used by Filipinos to identify anyone close to the family), my daily chores included cleaning the entire house, doing laundry, and attempting to cook. I never saw this as being too much work; after all, they had an in-ground pool and I could spend a few hours every day hanging out in the crystal blue water. I viewed the entire transaction was quite equitable.

Lola passport photo

These were my “rich relatives,” as I always referred to them. I loved my aunt and uncle like a second set of parents, for good reason. My uncle lived with my parents before he got married, and he was one of my frequent babysitters. My aunt lived with my parents when she came over from the Philippines before she married my uncle. They were always a big part of my life, and their deaths wounded my heart almost as much as those of my parents.

When my summers became too full with cheer leading practices for me to continue my full-time summer job with them, my aunt found a Filipino woman to live with the family. I never knew if she was paid, only that she lived with the family full-time. I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot remember her name. But this article immediately called her to mind.

“This memory was not painful to her now. Her life was an open window and she a butterfly.” ~ Simon Van Booy, from “French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake”

Another memory: When relatives from Newark visited one summer, they brought with them their live-in woman. My aunt asked me not to mention that I was paid because she didn’t want their live-in to feel bad. I realize now that the woman probably wasn’t paid anything. That’s just how it was done.

Lola Pulido at age 18

We never had one of these women in our house, probably because it was just my mom, dad, and me, that and we weren’t well off. However, over the years we frequently had a relative of some sort living with us. Again, that’s just how it is, and it never seemed odd to me. I think that if my parents had wanted a live-in that there were certainly many relatives in the Philippines who would have jumped at the chance, life in the States being much preferred to a life of poverty in the islands.

That being said, I don’t think that my American mother would have ever been comfortable with such an arrangement, not because she was opposed to have help, but more because she was such a very jealous woman and having another woman living in our house would have stirred her monster, which was always seething just below the surface of her marriage to my dad.  Truthfully, though, my father gave her good reason to be suspicious. I can admit that now without feeling that I’m betraying either of them.

“Stare at the monster: remark
How difficult it is to define just what
Amounts to monstrosity in that
Very ordinary appearance.” ~ Ted Hughes, from “Famous Poet”

What has made it so hard for me to write about all of this is that my aunt and uncle were good, generous people, and I wouldn’t want it to seem that I’m criticizing them in any way, but if I am to be honest, then I have to admit that the tradition that they carried on was very much like the slavery the article’s author discusses. It is hard, painful even, to try to think of my relatives in these terms.

Slavery is a hard word—it is filled with negative connotations, rightfully so, and when most American heard the word, they think about that shameful period in our country’s history in which the color of one’s skin dictated how the individual lived, whether or not the person was paid or could vote or even if that individual could have the barest education. Tizon’s article recounts another form of slavery, one that most white Americans know nothing about, but one that most Filipino Americans know about but rarely acknowledge.

Lieutenant Tomhow

But back to the article: Tizon narrates how Lola (an all-encompassing Tagalog word for grandmother or nana), lived with his family after his mother died, and after Lola’s death how he took her ashes back to her family in the Philippines. It’s a bittersweet story, told in retrospect through a child’s eyes and then later through the wisdom that being an adult sometimes imparts, too late more often than not.

Tizon recounts the story of how his maternal grandfather, Lieutenant Tom, a “cigar-chomping army lieutenant named Tomas Asuncion” brought an 18-year-old Filipina girl named Eudocia Tomas Pulido into the family in 1943 to take care of his mother whose own mother had died in childbirth. Pulida, or Lola—a cousin from a marginal side of the family, rice farmers—was a gift to Tizon’s mother, and Lola stayed with various members of Tizon’s family for almost 68 years, 56 or them as an utusan (people who take commands).

Lieutenant Tom had as many as three families of utusans living on his property in the Tarlac province of the Philippines. He had lots of land but little money, and he was shrewd. As Tizon explains how Lola came to be the family’s slave, “The lieutenant was shrewd—he saw that this girl was penniless, unschooled, and likely to be malleable . . . She could have food and shelter if she would commit to taking care of his daughter . . . Lola agreed, not grasping that the deal was for life.”

“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.” ~ Evelyn Waugh, from Brideshead Revisited

Another memory: My parents and I spent several months in the Philippines after my dad retired from the Navy. The plan was for us to live there, but that didn’t work out as I became ill and found to be allergic to pretty  much everything. But while we were staying at my grandmother’s house in my dad’s village of Gapan, we would visit my great aunt Tiba’s house. I recall that she had an utusan, but that’s all I remember. Later, when we moved to Quezon City, two of my cousins moved with us. They helped out, but I honestly don’t know if they were there as utusans or as family, or even if there is a difference.

We were Americanized. We weren’t rich, but as compared to many in my father’s family, we were well off. We stayed in an air-conditioned apartment in Quezon City at a time in which air conditioning was a luxury. It may still be a luxury—I have no idea. So the opportunity to live in the city with us as opposed to a small village must have seemed appealing.

Lola age 82

My mother, born into a large family during the Great Depression, never had servants, so I don’t think that she would have been able to order people about naturally; at least, that is how I like to remember things. My father made it out of his small village by becoming a Guerilla during WWII and then later enlisting in the U.S. Navy; he was never entitled but he believed ardently in helping out family whenever he could.

If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself that for those few short months we did not have a family slave, I am, but I’m also trying to be realistic, reconciling the parents I knew with the parents I couldn’t have possibly known well as a child. What we know of our parents is what we choose to know, and few of us choose to know or to remember that side in which our parents were human beings, with their own likes and dislikes, wants and desires, shortfalls and foibles.

That’s just not how it works. Is it?

Utusan. Helper. Servitude. Long hours. No pay. No personal life beyond the family’s environs. Bottom line: slave. It’s ugly no matter how memory shapes it. If you get a chance, I do recommend reading the article that jump started this post. It is a lovely narrative, one to which few white Americans can actually relate but deserves a wide audience nevertheless.

More later. Peace.


Music by Billie Marten, “Bird”

“The air alive, | memory lifts her head and I nearly | disappear.” ~ Anne Michaels, from “Skin Divers”

Yajuro Takashima Mangetsu 1963
Mangetsu 満月 (1963)
by Yajuro Takashima

                   

My birthday present to myself: I spent two hours doing a practice Literature in English GRE subject sample test. I am woefully unprepared to take the GREs, so I suppose it’s a good thing that I found out today I’ve missed the deadline for submitting applications to the doctoral program at GW.

Ah me. Instead of rambling on and on about something that is bothering me, I’m going to post a lovely poem by Anne Michaels, which I found on  What the Camera Sees on blogspot. Please click here to see the post.

Skin Divers

Under the big-top
of stars, cows drift
from enclosures, bellies brushing
the high grass, ready for their heavy
festivities. Lowland gleams like mica
in the rain. Starlight
soaks our shoes.
The seaweed field begs, the same
burlap field that in winter cracks with frost,
is splashed by the black brush
of crows. Frozen sparklers of Queen Anne’s lace.

Because the moon feels loved, she lets our eyes
follow her across the field, stepping
from her clothes, strewn silk
glinting in furrows. Feeling loved, the moon loves
to be looked at, swimming
all night across the river.

She calls through screens,
she fingers a white slip in the night hallway,
reaches across the table for a glass.
She holds the dream fort.
Like the moon, I want to touch places
just by looking. To tell
new things at three in the morning, when we’re
awake with rain or any sadness, or slendering through
reeds of sleep, surfacing to skin. In this room
where so much has happened, where love
is the clink of buttons as your shirt slides
to the floor, the rolling sound of loose change;
a book half open, clothes
half open. Again we feel
how transparent the envelope
of the body, pushed through the door
of the world. To read what’s inside
we hold each other
up to the light. We hold
the ones we love or long
to be free of, carry them
into every night field, sit with them
while cows slow as ships
barely move in the distance.
Rain dripping from the awning of stars.

Waterworn, the body remembers
like a floodplain, sentiment-laden,
reclaims itself with every tide.
Memory terraces, soft as green deltas.
Or reefs and cordilleras –
gathering the world to bone.

The moon touches everything
into meaning, under her blind fingers,
then returns us to cerulean
aluminum dawns. Night,
a road pointing east.
her sister, memory, browses the closet
for clothes carrying someone’s shape.
She wipes her hands on an apron
stained with childhood, familiar smells
in her hair; rattles pots and pans
in the circadian kitchen.
While in the bedroom of a night field,
the moon undresses; her abandoned peignoir
floats forever down.

Memory drags possessions out on the lawn,
moves slowly through wet grass, weighed down
by moments caught in her night net, in the glistening
ether of her skirt. The air alive,
memory lifts her head and I nearly
disappear. You lift your head, a look I feel
everywhere, a tongue of a glance,
and love’s this dark field, our shadow web
of voices, the carbon-papter purple
rainy dark. Memory’s heavy with the jewellery
of rain, her skirt heavy with beads of mercury
congealing to ice on embroidered branches –
as she walks we hear the clacking surf
of those beautiful bones. Already love
so far beyond the body, reached only
by way of the body. Time is the alembic
that turns what we know
into mystery. Into air,
into the purple stain of sweetness.
Laburnum, wild iris, birch forest so thick
it glows at night, smells that reach us
everywhere; the alchemy that keeps us
happy on the ground, even if our arms embrace
nothing, nothing: the withdrawing
trochee of birds. We’ll never achieve escape
velocity, might as well sink into wet
firmament, learn to stay under,
breathing through our skin.
In silver lamella, in rivers
the colour of rain. Under water, under sky;
with transparent ancient wings.

Tonight the moon traipses in bare feet,
silk stockings left behind
like pieces of river.

Our legs and arms, summer-steeped
slapped damp
with mud and weeds.

We roll over the edge into the deep field,
rise from under rain,
from our shapes in wet grass.
Night swimmers, skin divers.

~ Anne Michaels

                   

Music by Shawn Colvin (with Alison Krauss), “Shotgun Down The Avalanche”

“I can’t exactly describe how I feel but it’s not quite right. And it leaves me cold.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “The Love of the Last Tycoon”

Dark Night of the Soul
by David Hepworth (FCC)

                    

“He is like an old ferry dragged on to the shore,
a home in its smashed grandeur, with the giant beams
and joists. Like a wooden ocean out of control.
A beached heart. A cauldron of cooling melt.” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “Refusing Heaven”

Very early Friday morning. Cloudy and cold. 2:30 a.m.

I had thought that after I wrote the last post I might be able to find sleep. I was wrong. Apparently my attempts to purge my grief did not succeed. Each time I laid back and tried to close my eyes, my mind began that headlong rush into a miasma of thoughts, thoughts that I cannot control, so here I am. I can change the channel on the television, or play another hand of spider solitaire, or walk out to the kitchen. But I know what is wrong, why sleep eludes me: There is no warm snoring body curled into the crook of my knee.

Twisted Tree in Mist, Stanmer Park Great Wood, UK
by dominic’s pics (FCC)

Oh, he was smelly, between the ongoing crud in his ear and his perpetual halitosis, Shakes was a smelly dog. But I knew that smell. That smell followed me from room to room, sat patiently as I washed dishes. Daily spritzing with Febreze helped, but the smell persisted. Now that smell is gone.

You might find this an odd thing to think about, but smell does that to me. After Caitlin died I carried the outfit she had worn to the hospital in a plastic bag. I took that bag everywhere with me, and once in a while, when I felt the need to torment myself, I would unseal the bag and inhale deeply. It took a long time for her smell to fade.

“My brother once showed me a piece of quartz that contained, he said, some trapped water older than all the seas in our world. He held it up to my ear.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘life and no escape.’” ~ Anne Carson, from  Plainwater

Shakes could also be mean. He hated to have his nails cut, and his ear problem never fully resolved because he fought attempts at cleaning and medicating. I bear a few scars from when he bit me. In fact, on my right arm, I have a c-shaped scar that I have seriously contemplated having a crescent moon drawn around. Turning a scar into a badge, if you will.

Forest after Fire
by Steve Slater (Wildlife Encounters) (FCC)

So he could be mean, and he smelled. But he was also fiercely loyal, very jealous, and quite funny. I know that I’ve posted pictures of him as he lay with his head upon my pillow, or tented beneath the quilt, or sitting by the window.

In these last few months, I tried to take him on car rides when I could, and I didn’t scold him when he stole a piece of French bread. He knew that he was being spoiled, and he probably took advantage of it. Who cares. I just hope that he had a good life, one filled with memories of cookies and treats, doing army crawl across the grass to scratch his belly, playing games of tennis ball and jumping into the pool. I hope he knew how much he was loved, in spite of his grouchy old man demeanor. I hope that I did right by him.

“There are still days you can catch me
tape recording eternal silence
and playing it backwards for an empty room” ~ Buddy Wakefield, from “Human the Death Dance”

I suppose I am trying to write myself into oblivion. If I type enough words, if I confess enough, if I reveal everything—bad and good and in between—if I do all of these things, perhaps then my soul may find some rest.

Winter Trees in Mist at Dawn, Stamner Park Great Wood, UK
by dominic’s pics (FCC)

Perhaps.

Or perhaps I’ll just keep writing and keep feeling and keep scratching off that thin veneer of a scab that is only just forming, worry it in that way that I do, pull on it until the wound that is bared is deeper than it originally began. If you tear at something long enough, it will fray. Mess with it long enough, the fabric will wear, erode, crumble. Perhaps I will do all of these things enough times that when I finally lay back and close my eyes, I will see . . . nothing. And (one can only hope) be blessed with dreamless sleep.

Too bad the waters of Lethe are not accessible in this sphere. Forgetfulness would be a good thing.

“Even in a place you know intimately,
each night’s darkness is different.” ~ Anne Michaels, from Miner’s Pond

Friday afternoon. Cloudy and cool, 50’s.

So I eventually found sleep around 4 a.m. Awoke around 7 with another headache. Actually, Tillie woke me at 7, then again at 9:30. At 7 she wanted out, but at 9:30 she wanted to play. I asked Corey to wake me no later than 11 so that I could try to sleep tonight.

Blandford Nature Center
by mikemol (FCC)

The headache is gone for now, but my back muscles are like a basket of walnuts—all crammed up against one another and compressed into a space that is too small to accommodate them. In spite of the pain, I feel a bit better emotionally. I haven’t cried once since waking, and I don’t appear to be leaking incessantly. My chest also seems to have loosened, as in it doesn’t feel so constricted and painful. I suppose I have begun the long process of healing yet again.

But we all know not to expect too much of that. Right?

So my dog Shakes was smelly and temperamental and funny and loyal and fluffy in spots where dogs shouldn’t be fluffy, and his mouth looked like it had been lined with black eyeliner, giving him perpetual lipstick. He would do spite pees in the house, as in if I left him for too long alone, he would mark something, usually the end of my iron bed. He was a Jack Russell without spots and with long legs. For some reason, I remember the sire’s name was Simon, from the litter into which both Shakes and Alfie were born. They were the last two pups left, and the woman sold both of them to my mother for the price of one pup, which is how I came to own two male dogs.

“And he told stories about the stars above, about the earth below. He told them to make the night pass, and also because his heart was all reflections in which the soul of the world moved.” ~ Jean Giono, from The Serpent of Stars

I think that when I’m finished here, I’ll curl up beneath a blanket and read. I’ve abandoned NaNoWriMo mostly because I’m so far behind that I know I cannot catch up, especially as it is past the mid-point of the month. However, I have not abandoned the story. As I mentioned, I like my protagonist, and I like the sketchy plot that I have so far. I just know that I’m not in the frame of mind in which to flesh out characters and plot lines.

Macclesfield Forest in Winter, UK
(Wikimedia Commons)

I need to spend the weekend cleaning and polishing silver, getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner. I think because we’re going to have so many people that we’re going to cook a turkey and a ham, at least that’s the plan for now. When I first began planning the meal in my head, I had considered trying to bake a special cake. Not going to happen now. Apple and pumpkin pies from Costco—always a good plan.

Look. I’m just holding on at the moment. I’m better, but not there yet. I’ll spend my time this weekend doing mindless chores, and with any luck, I can burn away the pain. I don’t want to be a complete emotional wreck when Corey’s parents get here.

For now, we’ll just see how the days unfold.

More later. Peace.

Music by Benjamin Francis Leftwich, “Sophie”

                   

A Journal of the Year of the Ox (excerpt)

It is as though, sitting out here in the dwarf orchard,
The soul has come to rest at the edge of the body,
A vacancy, a small ache,
the soul had come to rest
After a long passage over the wasteland and damp season.
It is as though a tree had been taken out of the landscape.
It is as though a tree had been taken out
and moved to one side
And the wind blew where the tree had been
As though it had never blown there before,
or that hard.

~ Charles Wright

“The enormous silent poem of color and light…of sea and sky, of the woods and the peaks, so far surpasses imagination as to paralyze it.” ~ Lafcadio Hearn, Two Years in the French West Indies

One of the Nereids, Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress, DC, Artist Roland Hinton
by jcolman (FCC)

                   

“Winter dawn is the color of metal,
The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.
All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Waking in Winter

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy, drizzle, high 60’s.

When I let the dogs out around 4 a.m., the sky was beautiful—streaked with clouds and a kind of purplish hue. The moon looked like it was covered with gauze. Oh to have a camera that would capture such a sky.

The Channel Gardens: Nereid Thought, Rockefeller Center, NYC
by artist Rene Paul Chambellan

Last night I dreamed I was babysitting for a couple who were renovating their home. The husband was morphing into something with wings. He would bend and contract, and then the faint impression of wings would appear on his back. The baby was eating rice. The mother was getting ready for an interview with Oprah. I had nothing to wear. My sister-in-law Alana had a beautiful cream-colored sweater that she had just bought from Hecht’s, but I knew that I would look like a sausage in it. The husband had concave grooves on his back where the wings would go.

Make of that what you will.

So Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm and then upgraded right back into a hurricane. It’s going to be one of those. My biggest worry is the back door; other than that, I’m as prepared as I’m going to be.

I really don’t feel like leaving the house today, but I’m supposed to drive Brett and Em to a Halloween party this evening. We shall see . . .

“We depend on nature not only for our physical survival. We also need nature to show us the way home, the way out of the prison of our minds. We got lost in doing, thinking, remembering, anticipating; lost in a maze of complexity and a world of problems. We have forgotten what rocks, plants and animals still know. We have forgotten how to be – to be still, to be ourselves, to be where life is: here and now.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Why was I awake at 4 a.m.? The dogs, of course. Unfortunately, Shakes is wheezing more and more, and his breathing is ragged. But the big culprit last night was Tillie the Lab, who wanted to go out every hour. I don’t know if the impending storm is making her antsy, but for some reason, she will not be still.

Underwater Amphitrite, Grand Cayman, BWI
by Simon Morris

I’m on the fourth (fifth?) day of this headache. I have intermittent respites from the pain, but this is a bad one. Probably the swaying barometric pressure combined with anxiety of weathering a hurricane and worrying about Corey, although he is out of the storm’s path.  Around here, all of the ships have left port, standard procedure when there is a hurricane coming. They go out of port to ride out the storm, to avoid getting buffeted against the piers. That’s a lot of ships.

The governor has already declared a state of emergency, and closings were being flashed on the television screen last night. Forecasters are predicting damages in the billions—that’s with a b, not an m, and everyone is bandying about that phrase “perfect storm” again. Images are all over the Interwebs and television of rising tides and ferocious seas. I think of my friend Sarah and hope that she does not suffer another flood with this storm.

I guess everyone is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, but nature will do what she will, regardless of the humans. I’m just hoping selfishly that we don’t lose power for an extended time like we did back in 2003 with Hurricane Isabel. I think we were without power for days then. We really should have brought home that generator that Corey’s parents were going to give us.

“I like to live in the sound of water, in the feel of the mountain air. A sharp reminder hits me: this world still is alive; it stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I’m part of it. Even my breathing enters into this elaborate give-and-take, this bowing to sun and moon, day and night, winter, summer, storm, still—this tranquil chaos that seems to be going somewhere. This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it. This motionless turmoil, this everything dance.” ~ William Stafford

So, what else is going on besides hurricane news?

Channel Gardens: Nereid Imagination, Rockefeller Center, NYC
by Rene Paul Chambellan

Ooh, a memory from Hurricane Isabel: The boys and I set up Risk and played by candlelight. We played for days, and never finished the game. I was winning. Those were good times. I bought the boys a Lord of the Rings version of Risk. We have never played it. That makes me a bit sad. I doubt that we shall ever play it. They have grown up, moved on, changed so much since those powerless afternoons of almost a decade ago.

The longer I write, the more my head hurts, but I’m determined to get a real post up today. The earlier satellite images do not count as today’s post because . . .. well, they just don’t.

I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t feel better about the hurricane if Corey were home with us. Of course I would, but we’ll just have to muddle along without him, at least for another couple of weeks.

“How to photograph this,
the dark when one has said
too much. The dark
of sudden feeling. Love’s
darkness.” ~ Anne Michaels, from “Fontanelles”

I have put Anne Michaels on my list of poets whose books I would like to own, a list that continues to grow and grow. Speaking of which, I still have not shared anything with you about the two poets I saw during the literary festival. I’ll get to that, just as I’ll get to the three book reviews for the books that are sitting on top of the pile.

Sea Nymph Riding Sea Horse, Court of Neptune Fountain, Library of Congress, DC
by Roland Hinton Perry (Wikimedia Commons)

I remember the first time that I went to Mari’s house, I was so pleasantly surprised to see that she had piles of books in every room in much the same way that I do. That was how I knew that I had found a kindred soul. Speaking of which, the other night I dreamt that I had missed a week’s worth of classes for some graduate literature class, and then I showed up right as it was time for the final exam (usually these are math dreams). Mari was in the class with me, but she refused to share her notes with me, and she wouldn’t talk to me.

Then I was meeting with the class’s professor who was very upset with me for missing so many classes, and she didn’t want to let me take the exam, even though I told her I was ready, but I knew that truthfully I wasn’t.

How weird is it that I still have classroom dreams so many years later? What does that say about me, about my inability to move on? Probably way too much, I fear.

“I liked the solitude and the silence of the woods and the hills. I felt there the sense of a presence, something undefined and mysterious, which was reflected in the faces of the flowers and the movements of birds and animals, in the sunlight falling through the leaves and in the sound of running water, in the wind blowing on the hills and the wide expanse of earth and sky.” ~ Bede Griffiths

So, let me end this post, yet another disjointed one, by talking a bit about the Nereid, sea nymphs in Greek mythology. Why Nereids? Why not? Well, mostly because they embodied the sea.

Amphitrite
(artist and location unknown, ??)

There were 50 Nereids, daughters of Nereus and Doris, and they were specific to the Mediterranean, as opposed to the Naiades, the nymphs of fresh water, or the Oceanides, the nymphs of the great ocean. Nereus and his 50 daughters dwelt on the bottom of the Aegean Sea in a silvery cavern. The Nereids were considered good fortune to seamen as they supposedly came to the aid of sailors in distress. Individually they represented aspects of the sea such as the foam, the brine, the waves, the currents, etc. In ancient art, the Nereids were depicted as beautiful young maidens riding on the backs of dolphins or as having small dolphins or fish in their hands.

The Nereid Amphitrite was the queen of the sea, and all of the Nereids made up the retinue of Poseidon, god of the sea. Together with her sisters Kymatolege (end of the waves) and Kymodoke (steadying the waves), Amphitrite possessed the power to still the winds and calm the sea. One other Nereid worth mentioning is Sao, the Nereid of safe passage, or the rescue of sailors.

So here’s hoping the Nereids are doing their respective jobs in the coming days.

More later. Peace.

(Images include the beautiful Nereid fountainheads in the Channel Gardens of Rockefeller Center, NYC)

Music by Peter Bradley Adams, “Keep Us (from the storm)”

 

                   

You are Tired

You are tired,
(I think)
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.

Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)

You have played,
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
Just tired.
So am I.

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.

Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.

~ e. e. cummings

“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

“People melt, break beneath the fire of an intolerable pain in which they, at the same time, are also regenerated.” ~ Albert Camus, Notebooks: 1951-1959

Tree Tunnel, Aberglasney, Wales by Kev Bailey

                   

“Overhead the geese are a line,
a moving scar. Wavering
like a strand of pollen on the surface of a pond.
Like them, we carry each year in our bodies.
Our blood is time.” ~ Anne Michaels, from “Miner’s Pond”

Wednesday evening. Hazy, hot, and humid.

Llanrwst Bridge, Conwy River, Wales

More bad news. How much bad news can any individual withstand before beginning to shut down? Wondering about that.

The contract that Corey’s employer was so certain was going to come through, the one that would have put him in a supervisory position, the one that would have guaranteed him at least 40 to 48 hours a week, that contract? Not happening. So far this week, Corey has worked 12 hours. Obviously, we cannot survive on so few hours, especially with no promise of more to come.

And Transatlantic, that shipping company to which Corey applied months ago and then forgot about because he hadn’t heard from them, that one? They called today to offer him an AB position on the boat beginning in June. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Corey had to let his MMD and his AB certification expire in April because the renewal cost more than we had, and we had planned to use some of the tax return money to pay for that. No papers, no job.

Things just keep getting better and better.

Did I mention that I have a Sisyphus watch? The second-hand is a stick figure of Sisyphus pushing the boulder around the face of the watch. When I bought it for $5 last year, I felt that it sort of represented my life—a constant uphill battle to gain ground. It was a bit humorous at the time. Now, not so much. I wonder if they make a Prometheus watch, you know, the Titan who was chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains only to have his liver pecked out by a great eagle each day and then have his liver grow back each night.

Obviously my Edith Hamilton Mythology was well read . . .

“This is how my sorrow became visible:
its dust,
piling up for years in my heart,
 finally reached my eyes . . .” ~ Faiz Ahmed Faiz, from “Bangladesh II”

Coastline, Wales

There are other factors at work, here, of course, and I cannot talk about them. And the not talking about it is causing me great internal strife. I can only say that the anger that I did not feel initially has finally risen to the surface, and it is roiling, like a great sea. I have no desire to feel this way. I do not want to own this anger. I want to pretend that it does not exist, be a bigger person. I want to subsume these feelings, to repress them until they disappear, and I wonder if that is possible with a disposition such as mine.

I want . . . such a loaded phrase, one that I use frequently without any real meaning behind it, as in “I want that desk,” or “I want to go on a cruise,” things that I want in passing but know will not happen. But what do I really want? I want not to feel this way. I want not to feel as if I am forever climbing a mountain only to slide back down to the base without ever making any meaningful forward motion.

I want to be happy, I mean really and truly happy, which is quite a statement for me as I know that I do not have a happy soul. I have a deep soul, a thoughtful soul, a searching soul, but a happy, content soul? Can I truly say that I have ever possessed that at any time in my life? No, not if I am to be completely truthful. I mean, I have been happy, and I have felt true happiness at various moments in my life, but I am not that person who walks around with a smile on my face, not the person who walks into a room and makes it brighter just by being there.

I have known people like that. I have envied people like that, but I don’t know that I have ever wanted to be that person. Truth be told—and apparently it is a time for brutal honesty—people who are perpetually cheerful get on my nerves. It’s as if they just put on that freaking happy face and put away any bad thoughts. Bad thoughts, don’t think those, according to the philosophy of my mom. In her words, I dwell too much. Really? Had no idea.

I need . . . almost as loaded as I want. If you were to ask me what I need at this precise moment in my life, I don’t know that I would have an answer for you. So much is unsettled, and so much seems to be out of my control. How does need even fit into that equation?

“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Four Quartets”

Green Bridge, Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales

Christopher McCandless fancied himself a modern-day Thoreau. He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp and went into the wilds of Alaska, only to die of starvation in an abandoned school bus that he had called home. But in those months in which he was in the wild, how alive did he feel? How much of himself did he truly explore? What did he experience during his period of forced solitude, in his determined journey away from society.

I do not desire to go into the wilds of Alaska, but I have always thought that at some point in later life, I would live alone. Don’t ask me why I have harbored this belief as I could not possibly answer you. In my mind’s eye, I live in a small cottage by the sea, close enough to smell the salt air. I have my dogs and my books and my cups of tea. And little else.

But in the here and now, I do not have the cottage or the sea. I only have this deep abiding feeling that there has to be more to life than this. That the dreams that I have night after night about my unsuccessful forays back into the workforce are not just some type of Promethean mind-game, my mind’s way of torturing myself, only to awake to the same thing. My liver has regrown, but I know that the great eagle is coming to attack me again.

We have been on hold for nearly three and a half years. That we have survived is, I realize, something that I should acknowledge as something of a feat in and of itself. But surviving is not living. Surviving is existing.

“We may enjoy our room in the tower, with the painted walls and the commodious bookcases, but down in the garden there is a man digging who buried his father this morning, and it is he and his like who live the real life and speak the real language.” ~ Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

Welsh Coastline by SusanAstray (FCC)

Yes, yes. I remind myself that so many more have it so much worse. I try to maintain perspective, but honestly, perspective is not what I want right now. It is hard to wallow with perspective. It is hard to let the heart hurt with perspective. Perspective would tell me to be thankful for what I have because it all could be taken away so easily, in the blink of an eye. Perspective reminds me of the tumultuous weather patterns of the past year and the devastation left in the wake of storms.

But at this moment, right now, perspective is akin to saying that life is a bowl of cherries. In other words, not.

Am I stronger for having endured the last three and a half years? Probably, but I already had to undergo the trials to find my stockpile of inner strength. I did not think that I would have to keep being tested. Is it karma? Joss? Fate? All the same thing, really.

If it’s karma, then what in the hell am I paying for? I am not perfect, never claimed to be, but then too, I am not evil. I do not take pleasure in the harming of others, nor do I take pleasure in the bad fortune of others. So what am I paying for? I am reminded of that movie with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Se7en, in which the killer is making people atone for their sins, going through the seven deadly sins one by one and meting out appropriate punishment (appropriate in his mind). What is my deadly sin? If anything pride, hubris. The killer in the movie attacked a supermodel for her vanity/pride, and if I recall correctly, he made her decide between death and disfigurement.

Anyone who reads me regularly knows that my pride is not vanity, but rather pride over my brain. Is working your whole life to develop your intellect a deadly sin? Who the hell knows. I just know that I would have rather been reborn as a cockroach than to have to atone for something I cannot identify.

Yes, regrets (as the song says), I’ve had a few, maybe more than a few, but not for most of the big things. So what is it, the great big elephant-in-the-room it that I cannot identify? The it in my life that I have done to cause fate to rain down on me with a vengeful wrath? I have no answers. None.

Enough already. The migraine has arrived and some nerve somewhere in my body is pinched causing my right hand to pulsate.

More later. Peace.

                   

Music by Miranda Lee Richards, “Life Boat”

                   

The Archaeology of Childhood 1: House

If the house in a dream
Is how I imagine myself:
room after room
of furniture no one could use;
stairs leading upwards
to nothing; an empty hall
filling with snow
where a door has been left ajar;
then whatever I make
of the one  room high in the roof
where something alive and frantic
is hopelessly  trapped,
whatever I make
of the sweetness it leaves behind
on waking, what I know
and cannot tell
is awkward and dark in my hands
while I stop to remember
the snare of a heart;
the approximate weight of possession.

~ John Burnside