“I have dreamed much and done very little.” ~ Gustave Flaubert
Tuesday night. Partly cloudy, 58 degrees.
In this dream I have been placed on my back in a solution that is slowly killing me. As the minutes pass, I keep thinking that I can’t die because that wouldn’t make sense. There is a woman who is pure evil, and apparently, she’s the one ordering people to be put into this solution. As I feel myself dying, I start to give away my jewelry, holding a piece out and declaring that it is for x, and another and another, until I have no jewelry left on my body. I know that someone is going to save me, but I don’t know how I have this knowledge.
Is it any wonder I walk through my days as if lost?
I did manage to get out of the house today and vote. Made Brett go with me. Too many people don’t place enough importance on mid-terms. Eamonn went fishing instead. At least Corey did an absentee ballot before he went back.
Skipping Two for Tuesday again today. You might not believe it, but putting together that kind of post takes thought, more thought than I am capable of at the moment. So some randomness instead:
Just three days after Halloween, and people in my neighborhood are putting up Christmas decorations.
Would it be okay to shoot these decorations with a paint gun?
I do not own a paint gun, for the record, but the thought of doing something radical is oddly comforting.
Days before Halloween, stores were already stocking Christmas decorations . . . I just can’t, just can’t even . . .
“I wanted the moments of my life to follow and order themselves like those of a life remembered. You might as well try and catch time by the tail.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre, from Nausea
My mother collected clowns—figurines, dolls, pictures
I am terrified of clowns, so are all of my children
I used to absolutely hate the color yellow, so much so that I would protest if the graphic designer chose a Pantone shade of yellow for a design.
I now love yellow and all of its various hues.
I cannot explain any of the above.
White noise (noise that is so constant that you forget that it’s there) that fills my days: the cooling fan of my CPU overworking itself, the very loud window unit air conditioners throughout the house
The kind of white noise I would prefer: running water, bird songs
“We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” ~ D.H. Lawrence, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover
I have never gotten my paper degree from GWU for my publishing master’s. I think I owe them $50.
Throughout most of my adulthood, I have had a very hard time with mail, as in opening it when I get it. It bothers me a great deal, and I have no idea as to why.
I have so much paperwork that I need to do, but again, this is something that I put off and put off until I cannot possibly put it off any longer.
I have an abiding antipathy towards paperwork, i.e., completing forms, responding to requests for information, filing, etc.
The above is a direct result of years and years of having to fill out medical paperwork, going all the way back to Caitlin
“Give me a report on the condition of my soul.” ~ Anne Sexton, from “Anna Who Was Mad”
I need (no, really) a new purse.
I am lousy at small talk.
I have always been a bag lady. I asked for and got my first leather briefcase when I was five. True story.
Alexis, and now Olivia are both bag ladies. One of Olivia’s favorite things to do is to go through my purse, take everything out, and put it into one of her bags.
This is not taught behavior. Is there a gene for an affinity for purses and carryalls?
All images are by Italian painter and poet, Filippo de Pisis (11 May 1896 – 2 April 1956). Something in these somber images calls to me.
Music by Beth Hart, “Sister Heroine”
Death Comes to Me Again, a Girl
Death comes to me again, a girl
in a cotton slip, barefoot, giggling.
It’s not so terrible she tells me,
not like you think, all darkness
and silence. There are windchimes
and the smell of lemons, some days
it rains, but more often the air is dry
and sweet. I sit beneath the staircase
built from hair and bone and listen
to the voices of the living. I like it,
she says, shaking the dust from her hair,
especially when they fight, and when they sing.
“We grow up and we get scared of everything — so much so that we try to censor and restrict real life. But that kind of fear keeps us from evolving.” ~ Jeneé Osterheldt, from The Kansas City Star
Saturday afternoon. Sunny and warmer, 77 degrees.
So I just took the new online quiz, “Which Banned Book Are You”, and for my first result I was American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. Then I took it again and changed my answers, and I was Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. As these two are quite different, I thought what the heck, and took it again, trying to go with my first gut response, and . . . wait for it . . . Brave New World again.
Anyway, today marks the end of Banned Books Week, and I just want to take a second away from the reposting and the articles and the quotes to tell you why this particular movement means to much to me:
Reading has always been an important aspect of my life. I began to read at an early age, and I haven’t looked back since. But during some particularly dark periods in my life, I was literally unable to read; the very act of sitting down with a book and concentrating on the words was too much for me. I just couldn’t do it, and so for months on end, I eschewed the very thing that has brought me so much comfort in my life. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the drought ended.
This has happened to me twice, and the fact that I was physically unable to read only made the act of reading so much richer for me once I regained the ability. I simply cannot imagine living in a society in which what I can immerse myself in is dictated by a government or a group, in which someone else decides what is best for my mind to ingest. To me, censorship seems like one of the great evils of a society.
Consider an extreme example most people know: Hitler and the pyres of books he burned. Did his attempts at censorship stop people from reading? No. Did it stop people from writing, from thinking, from discussing? Perhaps outwardly, but try as he might, he was unable to completely quash the human spirit. Witness Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, survivors who went on to write unstintingly about their personal hells.
“Written words running loose have always presented a challenge to people bent on ruling others. In times past, religious zealots burned heretical ideas and heretics with impartiality. Modern tyrannies promote the contentment and obedience of their subjects by ruthlessly keeping troubling ideas out of their books and minds. Censorship can place people in bondage more efficiently than chains.” ~ Time Magazine essay (1981)
If I have my way, my love affair with words will continue until I take my last breath, and until I take that breath, I will continue to buy books for myself and others, to recommend things to read to anyone who asks, to tell anyone who listens about this author or that one. Look, censorship always has the opposite effect, like it or not.
You tell someone not to do something, not to see something, not to write something, not to read something? They’ll go to extreme lengths to do exactly what you have forbidden. It’s human nature. Better to ignore something you really loathe; disinterest breeds disinterest . . . sometimes.
We live in a democracy, and for that, we should express our gratitude to the hills, because there are still too many people who don’t have the freedoms we enjoy. We have the right to disagree. We have the right to wear funny clothes. We have the right to tell the president he is wrong. And we cannot be silenced or jailed for exercising these rights.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone who makes it through James Joyce is a trooper. Tweens who read Judy Blume aren’t reading about anything that their friends aren’t discussing. Decide for yourself is Ayn Rand is boring or if Catcher in the Rye really is the best thing ever written (she is, and it isn’t, in my opinion). And if you really don’t want your child to read something? That’s your prerogative; just don’t assume that you know what’s best for the world, because frankly? You don’t, and neither do I, and that’s what makes life interesting.
“To own ‘Mein Kampf,’ to support its right to exist, is not to endorse its awful venality. Rather, it is to recognize that, as Henry Miller once wrote,'[y]ou cannot eliminate an idea by suppressing it.’ This is a notion that, if we face it openly, offers us a vivid freedom — not to do anything, but to do the right thing.” ~ David L. Ulin, LA Times Book Critic, from “The Implications of Banned Book Week”
Today, in honor of this year’s Banned Books Week, we bring you free online texts of 14 banned books that appear on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list. Next to each title, see some of the reasons these books were challenged, banned, or, in many cases, burned.
Seized and burned by postal officials in New York when it arrived stateside in 1922, Joyce’s masterwork generally goes unread these days because of its legendary difficulty, but for ten years, until Judge John Woolsey’s decision in its favor in 1932, the novel was only available in the U.S. as a bootleg. Ulysses was also burned—and banned—in Ireland, Canada, and England.
Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare often seems like one of the very few things liberals and conservatives can agree on—no one wants to live in the future he imagines. Nonetheless, the novel was challenged in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 for its supposedly “pro-communist” message, in addition to its “explicit sexual matter.”
Again the target of right-wing ire, Orwell’s work was challenged in Wisconsin in 1963 by the John Birch Society, who objected to the words “masses will revolt.” A 1968 New Survey found that the novel regularly appeared on school lists of “problem books.” The reason most often cited: “Orwell was a communist.”
Vonnegut’s classic has been challenged by parents and school boards since 1973, when it was burned in Drake, North Dakota. Most recently, it’s been removed from a sophomore reading list at the Coventry, RI high school in 2000; challenged by an organization called LOVE (Livingstone Organization for Values in Education) in Howell, MI in 2007; and challenged, but retained, along with eight other books, in Arlington Heights, IL in 2006. In that case, a school board member, “elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the internet.” Hear Vonnegut himself read the novel here.
London’s most popular novel hasn’t seen any official suppression in the U.S., but it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929. The book was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933; something of a historical irony given London’s own racist politics.
Lawrence courted controversy everywhere. Chatterly was banned by U.S. customs in 1929 and has since been banned in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), Canada (1960) and, most recently, China in 1987 because it “will corrupt the minds of young people and is also against the Chinese tradition.”
Lawrence endured a great deal of persecution in his lifetime for his work, which was widely considered pornographic. Thirty years after his death, in 1961, a group in Oklahoma City calling itself Mothers Unite for Decency “hired a trailer, dubbed it ‘smutmobile,’ and displayed books deemed objectionable,” including Sons and Lovers.
If anyone belongs on a list of obscene authors, it’s Burroughs, which is only one reason of the many reasons he deserves to be read. In 1965, the Boston Superior Court banned Burroughs’ novel. The State Supreme Court reversed that decision the following year. Listen to Burroughs read the novel here.
Poor Lawrence could not catch a break. In one of many such acts against his work, the sensitive writer’s fifth novel was declared obscene in 1922 by the rather unimaginatively named New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.
American literature’s foremost master of melodrama, Dreiser’s novel was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazi bonfires because it “deals with low love affairs.”
You can learn much more about the many books that have been banned, suppressed, or censored at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Banned Books Online” page, and learn more about the many events and resources available for Banned Books Week at the American Library Association’s website.
“My pen was idle for a long time, perhaps only because the words found it difficult to cross the hostile space of the minute where man is without memory, where life hangs on a thread, a breath.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions Volumes 2 and 3: The Book of Yukel Return to the Book, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop
Sunday evening. Partly cloudy and very mild, 76 degrees.
First, I want to welcome those of you who have recently subscribed to my blog. Thanks ever so much.
However, I feel I might have done you a disservice. In normal years (whatever those are), my posts are mostly written by me about, well, me, my life, my family, my foibles. This year has been quite different. After my mother’s death in January, I never seemed to be able to get back into my writing groove, and as a result, my posts are frequently reblogs of articles I find interesting, silly/funny Friday leftovers, and lots of poems and art, with very little of what is actually me in between.
So if you’ve hitched a ride onto my fading star because my blog seems to be more about being entertaining than being about musings, I sincerely apologize for how I plan to change things: I’m going to try to write more and reblog less. You see, even I have grown tired of my rabbit trails here and there, almost everywhere but where I need to be, by which I mean inside my head, sifting and culling thoughts and ideas and generally opining to my heart’s content. I do plan to keep my Friday leftovers and my Two for Tuesday poems, but aside from that, I’m going to begin the last quarter of this year trying to do more of what I need to do: create, write, actually think about things, ponder the relationships between words and phrases, and with any luck, I might be able to recapture some of what I think I have lost recently.
“I shall never know why Our lives took a turn for the worse, nor will you” ~ Mark Strand, from “The Man in the Tree”
Anyway . . .
This past week has been quite an endurance test for me: I ended up watching Olivia every day from last Saturday through Thursday, with only one night off. Circumstances in my daughter’s household kind of imploded, and out of respect for their privacy, I shall not delve into details except to say that I was left reeling, and I felt that volunteering to watch le bébé was the best way in which I could help everyone muddle through.
You all know that I love Olivia beyond words, but boy is my tired body not up to the challenge of keeping up with a very curious, very active two-year-old. Add to that the challenge of buckets of stress causing my insomnia to rear its ugly head, and the sleep deprivation coupled with the very full days and nights resulted in a physical and mental meltdown for me, one that I couldn’t really share with anyone.
And in between I had to deal with trying to get Brett to the DMV to get his license before ODU starts, finding out that it’s going to cost an arm and a leg to switch around plates on vehicles, and trying to finalize the whole Social Security thing. Not to mention surviving the day on which Brett’s tail lights decided to all die at the same time, ending up with us looking for shade under which I could try to splice wires and change out bulb harnesses (which I did, but it didn’t work).
Hence, no real posts for the past few days, and more than the usual level of stress and anxiety. My only respite was my evening bath with a backdrop of my blues playlist and a chilled wine spritzer.
“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that’s all we have—to hold on tight until the dawn.” ~ Gregory David Roberts, from Shantaram
Thankfully, the week ended much better than it began, with the exception of my pain management appointment on Friday, better known as the pain management appointment that didn’t happen. Yep that medical group that has been playing havoc with my body since March of this year finally ended our relationship on a bruising note: I showed up for a Friday appointment at an office that had shifted to Portsmouth in the middle of the month, and apparently, I was told this . . . not.
They asked me at 2:20 if I wanted to try to drive to Portsmouth for the 2:40 appointment, to which I replied a resounding no as I do not do Portsmouth. My driving relationship with Portsmouth is not the best as I have yet to enter that city and find any location without first getting lost, so I knew that to try to make an appointment that was 20 minutes from the time I stepped into the defunct beach office was impossible.
Two things happened as a result: First, I was finally given the contact information for the pain management doctor who left the practice in March, you know, the one who I adore, the one who actually makes my back and head feel better, the first one in quite a while who actually listens to me (this information for which I have been begging everyone and anyone with whom I had any contact). Yep, he has opened his own practice, and I finally have the phone number (can I get a hallelujah?)
Second, when asked if I wanted to reschedule, I replied, “No. I’ll be seeing Dr. X from now on.” And I carried my weary, achy body out the door and to the nearest Target, where I spent at least an hour looking at makeup and nail polish that I didn’t need, but I felt better afterwards, nevertheless.
“. . . I recognize the lazy murmur of August, the carmine of the sea.” ~ Eugénio de Andrade, from “You Are Where My Gaze Begins”
So tomorrow is Corey’s birthday, and he’s spending it on the ship. However, he will be home on Wednesday, and we plan to have a family dinner in honor of his and Brett’s birthdays, neither of which we were able to celebrate. I’m so looking forward to his homecoming, even though he’ll only be home for two weeks this time so that his schedule can finally be synced with his other crew mates who are going to be on the new ship.
I can tell by his voice that he’s tired, but at least it hasn’t been six weeks this time, which was unbearable for both of us. Now that his sister Alana has had her baby, and we know that everyone is fine and healthy, I think that takes care of one of his major worries. And now that the situation with Alexis seems to have been resolved for the time-being, that is another thing he can stop fretting over.
It’s so hard for him when things are troublesome at home and he is away, and I try not to dump anything on him if I can help it as his focus needs to be on his job when he’s out there. Unfortunately, I am horrible at hiding pain in my voice, no matter how I try. It goes both ways, though. I can read him just as easily from a thousand miles as if he were across the room. It’s that double-edged sword of loving someone completely, which is good, but loving them so completely that hiding anything is impossible, which can be bad.
Oh well . . .
“What would become of us if everything that happens out there were quite clear to us?” ~ Erich Maria Remarque, from All Quiet on the Western Front
Look, I never said this was going to be a deep post, or a moving post, just a real post. I’m working on it. Okay? It’s a process . . .
So I’m trying to begin this week by getting my groove back, as it were (but not as Stella did). I also plan to try to write something to Mari, and to get caught up on paperwork. Okay. Maybe too much for one week, but we’ll just have to see how I do, won’t we?
I do have to say that in recent weeks/months I’ve accumulated a plethora of quotes, art, and songs, so much so that I have about 20 drafts ready to go; I just need to fill them in with my words (just that one minor detail). Additionally, I have that post about Robin Williams that I began about ten days ago, and I do want to finish that, for a number of personal reasons. So let’s just say that I have a loose game plan, and I in coming days I need to remind myself that I’m the only one hanging deadlines over my head, proverbial swords of Damocles, as it were.
At the moment, I really need shots from my neck to my butt, and everything in between. I need botox for my migraines, and I need a vacation, but for now I’ll settle for the first two (sometime in the next few weeks, oh please, oh please) with plans for the third some time next year.
I will tell you this: Corey and I might have a short road trip planned to look at some property somewhere in the western part of the state. That’s all that I’ll say about that for now. Can’t reveal all of my cards in one round, now can I?
I certainly asked a lot of rhetorical questions in this section, didn’t I?
I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.
“. . . It seems no time since I would help him to put on his sleeper, guide his calves into the gold interior, zip him up and toss him up and catch his weight. I cannot imagine him no longer a child” ~ Sharon Olds, from “My Son the Man”
Hallelujah! Brett passed his driving test. He is officially legal to drive . . . anywhere his heart desires . . .
Hallelujah— a little less exuberantly . . . yet another line severed . . .
Hello, small boy no longer . . .
Music by Jorge Calderon, “Keep Me in Your Heart” (a really nice cover of Warren Zevon’s song)
Note: I’m including a poem I may have featured before, but “The Olive Wood Fire” by Galway Kinnell is one of my life-long favorites.
The Olive Wood Fire
When Fergus woke crying at night
I would carry him from his crib
to the rocking chair and sit holding him
before the fire of thousand-year-old olive wood,
which it took a quarter-hour of matches
and kindling to get burning right. Sometimes
—for reasons I never knew and he has forgotten—
even after his bottle the big tears
would keep on rolling down his big cheeks
—the left cheek always more brilliant than the right—
and we would sit, some nights for hours,
rocking in the almost lightless light
eking itself out of the ancient wood,
and hold each other against the darkness,
his close behind and far away in the future,
mine I imagined all around.
One such time, fallen half-asleep myself,
I thought I heard a scream
—a flier crying out in horror
as he dropped fire on he didn’t know what or whom,
or else a child thus set aflame—
and set up alert. The olive wood fire
had burned low. In my arms lay Fergus,
fast asleep, left check glowing, God.
~ Galway Kinnell
I love this messy room you live in
The plants you care for
The nickels & dimes & pennies you pile
Up on your desk like no-good money
The Amazing Spiderman poster on the wall
Tapes paint comic books biographies
Of all you favorite presidents
A picture of the Lincoln Memorial
On the wall facing your bed
An eleven year old dusty red TV
Daphne turning into a tree
Two autographed photographs of
Leonard Nimoy. Dracula.
A cross made of branches
Held together by a rubber band
You love daisies
& keep them alive until
Every bud has blossomed
You are interested in
What everyone is doing
You think of new things for them
To do you make them heroes
In your fantastic head
You look strong & handsome
But you don’t see that
You want to defend helpless people
You want to know why there aren’t
Really super heroes
You ask the same questions
I ask myself & can’t answer
You don’t understand jokes
You think they hurt
You are constantly dodging
Bullets & dreaming up new
Ways to defend yourself
You are stubborn to a fault
A fortress of mind & chest
Eyes never more mirrored
The soul than your
You deny love
~ Susan Cataldo
To a Young Son
Today I passed your room
and you were slowly quietly
combing your hair.
It was a pleasant, calm moment.
I felt the silence of the room
and could almost hear you growing.
You combed without a mirror,
your eyes distant and pale,
your head slowly nodding
like the head of a stroked animal.
Xerxes the King sent out a spy
who returned to camp, astonished to say
that the Spartans were all stripped to the waist
their bodies gleaming in the Aegean sun
and they were all carefully combing their hair.
The king was afraid then.
The Spartans were preparing to die.
I turn slowly from your doorway
and return to the linen closet where I
will fold this memory in my heart
among everything that is clean and fresh and white.
Note: I began writing this post on Monday. Then in the middle of it, I learned that Robin Williams had killed himself, and then nothing made sense any more…….
“Perhaps—I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears.” ~ Margaret Mitchell, from Gone With the Wind
Monday afternoon. Cloudy and probably rain, 84 degrees.
Last night’s super moon was spectacular. I’m so glad that the clouds didn’t overshadow it. When I got up to let the dogs out, the entire backyard was awash in moonlight. So incredibly perfect.
The other day, I saw something I’ve never seen before: a buzzard was hanging out in someone’s front yard, munching on something . . . well, dead. Brett and I drove by, and he said, “Hey, that’s a buzzard!”
Of course I had missed it, so I drove around the block and then slowed as we neared the yard in which Brett had seen the bird. I saw it, and it was huge. Unfortunately, it heard the car and took flight. My, those wings, so massive. It was really something to see; we couldn’t have been more than twelve feet from it. I mean, I’ve seen them in the air, but never this close, and this still.
The other cool thing that happened is that Brett and I went thrifting, and I found a set of glass fish snack plates. I only have one fish plate left, and I’ve never had the snack size (about 5 inches wide), so I grabbed them. A while back I had looked on E-bay, and a set of two of the large fish plates was going for $30. Too pricey. I got eight of the small ones for $20. Such a deal.
Of course, to balance the two good things are two horrendous dreams: In both dreams, I see fire burst through a wall, and I immediately wake up—same image for both dreams, same reaction for both dreams. It has me more than a little paranoid, checking cords and connections, making sure nothing is frayed or a hazard. This particular scenario really has me unnerved.
“Later I’ll sweep away the nest—empty,
again, of everything but a blind
belief in the possible.” ~ Peter Everwine, from “Another Spring”
In spite of the fire dreams, I’m feeling pretty good, and I suppose I have good reason: Social Security has finally, finally approved my disability claim. As a brief refresher, I was first forced out on disability in October 2007. I’ve been fighting with social security ever since.
I know that I am fortunate that I was covered for long-term disability through George Washington’s policy, but the endless fight with Social Security has taken a toll on me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve filled out the same forms, answered the same questions, had the same interviews. So even though they wanted to date it retroactive to November 15, 2012, I decided to accept.
When I asked the lawyer why that particular date, she said that they noticed from my therapy notes that I had taken a real downturn at that time . . .
No kidding. Really? How incredibly astute of them, she said, with more than a trace of bitter sarcasm . . .
What this means is that I don’t quality for Medicare until May of next year (for some reason, dates, times, confusing). And the backdated benefits that I’ll receive all have to be paid to my long-term disability carrier anyway (it’s part of the agreement), so the date doesn’t affect me that much. The irony is that the effective date would have meant so much a few years back when Corey was unemployed, and we were struggling, really struggling to keep my health insurance and a roof over our heads.
“I heard the steady sound of rain and the soft lapping of water, and did not know whether it was grief or joy or something other that surged against my heart and held me listening there so long and late.” ~ Peter Everwine, from “Rain”
Monday afternoon. Sunny and cold, 37 degrees.
Well, it’s been another long stretch between posts. As you can probably understand (or perhaps not), I haven’t had the wherewithal to write. I sit down here at my computer, and then I do one of three things: look online for books or makeup or whatever; take care of more of my mother’s affairs; play spider solitaire.
This morning when I awoke, I seriously thought of just staying in bed, never leaving, but my back hurt, and I needed to stretch, and besides, coffee . . .
My emotions go up and down and up and down, they swoop and swirl like the starlings’ murmurings, but without the natural beauty. I would like to be a bird, to float on the air, to move like that, to concentrate only on the concerns of eating, moving, and surviving, which, I suppose, is what life is, after all.
Sometimes, I sit in the bath at night with nothing but the candlelight, and I cry, sometimes softly, sometimes loudly, but I try to reserve the loud crying for times during which I am alone as I know that it gets to Brett and Corey. Sometimes, though, I just sit there, forget where I am or what I’m doing. I will tell you something truthfully: I did not anticipate how very much my mother’s death would affect me. I only have one message on my voice mail from her, and it’s the one in which she apologizes for forgetting my birthday. Do not ask how many times I have tortured myself listening to it.
“When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. It’s because a little piece gets lost—the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. The whole shape has changed.” ~ David Levithan, from Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Yesterday I went to one of those jewelry parties at my cousin’s house. It was nice to be invited, but I felt clumsy in my skin. All of these women, having easy conversations, laughing, smiling, sharing stories. I sat next to my aunt, and when she wasn’t there, I buried myself in catalogs, pretending to peruse the items.
I do not do socialization with strangers well.
I forced myself to stay for two hours, getting up, looking, nibbling, and when I thought I had been polite, I ordered the jewelry that I could not afford, thanked my hostess, and left.
Don’t get me wrong, I was so excited to receive the invitation. I sent my RSVP back immediately, and I tried to convince Alexis to go with me (she didn’t). I don’t know what I expected of myself, but I was unprepared for how unprepared I was. As you know, I do not leave the house much unless circumstances force me to, or someone in my family needs something. Perhaps I have forgotten how to socialize. People who knew me years ago would be astonished at the change. When I was much younger, I always had a circle about me; I could be lively, engaging even.
But now . . . I just don’t know, and the not knowing makes me want to hide even more.
“And I still don’t know if I’m a falcon, a storm, or an unfinished song.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Ich lebe mein Leben in waschsenden Ringen (I live my life in widening circles)”
I have to admit, my unintentional leave of absence from this blog and from tumblr has helped in some ways. I do not remember the last time I went through my tumblr dashboard. I miss some parts of it—finding new artists, new quotes, new poems—but I am relieved from the sense of obligation that I imposed upon myself, that if I missed a few days, I would not stop until I had caught up, going back for days to see what I had missed.
As far as being here, though, that was something else. I just didn’t know what to say, and so I said . . .
nothing . . .
An old family friend called me on my mother’s birthday, but I wasn’t answering the phone that day. She left a lovely message, told me she was thinking about me, about my mom, that she loved me. I haven’t returned the call, probably won’t. Not because I don’t appreciate the words, but more that I just don’t think that I have words of my own.
The plan was to have a family dinner on Sunday the 16th, celebrate Eamonn’s birthday, and distribute some of mom’s ashes at both cemeteries (dad’s and Caitlin’s). The plan fell apart. Eamonn was too hungover. We had pizza with Lex, Mike, and Brett, and then on Monday, I made homemade spaghetti for Eamonn per his request. And then the weather got nasty again, and we decided just to postpone the ashes.
They are still in the trunk of my car. And I know that it might seem that that’s a horrible place for them, but I find it comforting, somehow. It’s my mother’s car, and she’s still in it.
“Write with blood, and you will find that blood is spirit.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra
This week I have doctors’ appointments, and I need to finish wrangling with more of my mother’s affairs, the federal government and GEICO—both of which make me nauseous just to think about. Last week I set up a new insurance policy on her house, and this past weekend Brett spent the weekend in the house. We moved Earl Grey the cat to Alexis’s house, and he seems to have adapted well, so now the house is quiet when we walk in.
My mother’s house was never quiet. She could not abide silence, which is why at any given time of the night or day you would find the television blaring. But now? Nothing. That is another strange part.
I don’t know. Telephone calls, messages, policies, whatever. Today, I just cannot do it. I just cannot muster what it takes to head once more into the fray, yet I cannot help but feel guilty that I am not taking care of these things. My mother was such a stickler for paying everyone on time, early, never ever late, but I’ve run out of money. I’ve paid everything except for a couple of small things, but it’s the doing that is getting to me. The actual act of doing something.
Pardon me, please. I seem to be saying a whole lot of nothing.
“but I have the kind of patience born of indifference and hate.
Maybe the river and I share this.” ~ Michael McGriff, from “Catfish”
The other morning when Tillie had awakened me around 4 a.m. to go out, I stood at the door and listened to the birds’ morning songs. I heard a new sound that I have never heard before. I stood there for a while and listened, and then I thought that I should probably record the sound so that I could find out what it was. I finally found my phone, went to the door, and the sound stopped.
I don’t remember what it was, or why I was so enchanted by it. I had thought that it might be a bat, but I listened to some bat sounds online, and that doesn’t seem to be it. I know that we get bats in this area, but I’ve never seen one.
Anyway, I had forgotten how much I love the predawn bird song, something I used to love to listen to when my insomnia was in high gear. There is something beautiful about that hour, when the sounds of cars and trucks are almost non existent, the noise of people is tempered, and only the birds and night creatures hold sway.
The house is dark and still. Everyone else is deep in sleep. Just the dogs, me, and the birds. For that brief spell, it is almost perfect.
Music by A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera, “Say Something”
The Piano Chord Most Adjacent to the Inexpressible
The piano chord most adjacent to the inexpressible is the
one that dissolves into flocks of flying birds
The tree as it moves through the breeze most
adjacent to conducting the sonorous
filaments of the air stands as tall as a
doorman to an entranceway to the eternal mysteries
The desert most adjacent to spiritual enlightenment is the
one whose dunes yesterday don’t resemble its
dunes today and whose dunes today
have slopes and dips totally ocean-like and unlike any of its
The rain is finally falling after a month of drought
little earth-lips opening to drink in each drop
and the song each water-drinking element sings
resembles the chorus of an ancient opera sung among
cataclysmic rocks above tumultuous seas
There are no people in this poem
they are either asleep or haven’t been born yet
but the sound in the landscape most adjacent to the
deep heartfelt human voice
is the night-cricket seeming to long for a mate wherever
it may happen to hear its lament repeated
incessantly but melodiously through the dark
So like us
in catastrophe or anti-catastrophe
calling out to space from our centrifugal loneliness
with a voice most adjacent to the
silent nuzzling feeler to feeler of ants meeting from
and lights beaming from north and south and brightly
blending somewhere over the
Arctic in a purple and scarlet shivering aurora borealis
whose ripples are most adjacent to the
music of the spheres hanging down into the
visible from the invisible heavens whose
radiant flowing draperies curving through the folding air
“Did I believe that I had a clear mind? It was like the water of a river flowing shallow over the ice. And now that the rising water has broken the ice, I see what I thought was the light is part of the darkness.” ~ Wendell Berry, from “Breaking”
Sunday afternoon. Much warmer, 50 degrees.
I have no idea how far I will get with this post, but I feel a need to at least try.
The last five days have run together into a very strange loop, one from which I fear I may never emerge. Last Tuesday morning (January 28), my mother called me at 6 a.m. in a panic; she had gone out to the garage fridge to get some milk, and she heard water running. It turns out the faucet on the back porch was leaking, not a flood, but not a drip. I told her I would be over in ten minutes.
Now first, the really odd thing: I was wide awake. I had awakened at 5:30 and was fully alert. This is not a normal state of being for me. Anyway, I drove over to her house and tried to shut off the valve but couldn’t. As I was working, my mother was standing there rubbing her chest with her fist, which is something that she does when she is stressed.
I made her a cup of chamomile tea and sat her down on the couch while I looked up the number for a plumbing company that we had both used. I left her sitting on her couch watching television and sipping her tea.
“I draw in a ragged breath, the kind you take when the pain is too deep to cry, when you can’t cry because all you are is pain, and if you let some of it out, you might cease to exist.” ~ Ally Condie, from Reached
I got back home and made myself a cup of tea and opened the book I was reading. Around 7:30 I was picking up the phone to call my mother to see when the plumbers were coming, but the phone rang first. My mother was on the other end, and she said that she thought that she was having a heart attack. I will admit that I did not believe her because she has been saying that she’s dying for the last four or five months, but I told her to hang up, open her front door if she could, and I would call 911, which I did immediately.
By the time I put some clothes back on, brushed my teeth, and raced back over to my mother’s house, which is only two miles away, the ambulance was gone, which I knew wasn’t a good sign. I went into her house briefly to make sure the cat hadn’t gotten out, and just as I was going to call 911 again to see where they had taken her, the phone rang again; it was the rescue squad. They were taking her to Leigh ER.
I got back in the car, turned on the emergency flashers, and tried to make record time. Let me pause here to say that people are genuinely assholes. Each time I tried to pass someone, another person would deliberately block me in. One guy in a van next to me even laughed. It is truly a good thing that I do not own a weapon.
Somewhere in between all of this my mother had called the water company, and they came out and shut off her water until we could get the faucet taken care of.
“And so does my life tremble, and when I turn from the window and from the sea’s grief, the room fills with a dark lushness and foliage nobody will ever be plucked from, and the feelings I have must never be given speech.” ~ Denis Johnson, from “Now”
I got to the hospital and was sent back to the ER. The cardiologist told me that they were taking my mom to the cardiac catheter lab to see exactly what was going on. I was sent to another waiting room where I began to text everyone to let them know what was going on. Eamonn showed up, and we waited together for some word.
The cardiologist came out and said that they were setting up transport for my mother to the Heart Hospital in Norfolk. He was unable to do any angioplasty as she had too many arterial blockages. They inserted a balloon to try to relieve some of the pain. At this point, I was completely on autopilot, taking in information and disseminating it to everyone as clearly as possible.
I got back in the car, realized I had no gas, and went to Costco to get gas. Another pause here: This was the day that the massive winter storm was supposed to hit, and in this area, any talk of snow immediately sends everyone into a panic, so I waited fifteen minutes to get gas, then drove to the Heart Hospital only to find that my mother still hadn’t arrived.
Another waiting room, another wait. Luckily, they had a canteen where I could get coffee that looked like it was pure bitterness, or use the hot water dispenser to make tea. I chose the latter, found an empty computer, and played spider solitaire.
“Melancholy, being a kind of vacatio, separation of soul from body, bestowed the gift of clairvoyance and premonition. In the classifications of the Middle Ages, melancholy was included among the seven forms of vacatio, along with sleep, fainting, and solitude.” ~ Ioan P. Couliano, from Eros and Magic in the Renaissance
At some point during all of this I was finally able to talk to Corey, who then had the decision to make as to whether or not to cancel his training and come home early. We put that decision on hold until we knew more about the situation.
I spent the day in the hospital room with my mother, who was obviously exhausted, waiting for one of the heart surgeons to come and talk to us about options. Around 5, one of them showed up. He had an Eastern European accent, and I could tell that my mother didn’t understand him. He told us that mom was not a candidate for bypass surgery because the damage to her heart was too extensive; also, that she had an aneurysm sitting on top of her heart.
When he left, my mother was extremely upset. She wanted to talk to other surgeons because she was certain someone else would operate. In all, we spoke with three different surgeons, and they all said the same thing: she would not survive the surgery—mitigating factors included her age, how very damaged her heart was, and the location of the aneurysm.
That evening, Alexis, Brett, and Olivia came to visit, and that really made my mom’s day. She told everyone within hearing distance that her great-granddaughter danced, and Olivia obliged. Brett rode home with me, and we stopped by my mother’s house on the way to take care of the cat. Another aside: I locked the keys in the car, which contained my phone, my purse, and the fast food we had gotten at Wendy’s.
Brett has no spare key to his Honda. Two hours later roadside service finally arrived to unlock the car. I decided to drive my mother’s Honda home because it was higher than Brett’s old one. Turns out it drives really, really well on snow and ice.
What else could possibly go wrong? I should not have asked. By the time I got home that night I was emotionally and physically spent. I fell asleep with the television on.
“Because we are not the owners of anything, not even of our own pain at which we have looked with awe so many times. ……….
We are the owners of wishing everything: what sadness. We are the owners of fear, dust, smoke, the wind. ~ Francisca Aguirre, from “The Owners”
The storm hit as we were leaving the hospital, and it did indeed snow for more than 12 hours. When I awoke, I called Mom, who was resting comfortably. I told her I would be there as soon as I could. That turned out to be hours later.
When I tried to back the car out of the driveway, I immediately got stuck. Brett did some digging, but it was really deep. I took Corey’s truck, which has two bald tires and no brakes and skated to the nearby Taylor’s to get a snow shovel and some salt. I skated back on the icy roads, and Brett got me unstuck. I made it to the hospital around four, and by that time, there were no doctors available for me to talk to. Mom said that they had told her she would be going home on the weekend. I left word that I really needed to speak to the doctors about her treatment plan, and I left around six.
It was a helluva of a day, but Mom seemed better. I mean, she felt well enough to criticize me over some minor things, so that was a good sign, and I was really starting to believe that this was yet another in a long line of her being really sick but then getting back to her old self. Part of me now thinks that she really did know that something inside was very wrong.
On Thursday, I met Mike over at Mom’s house because he was going to fix the faucet. He did that and shoveled her sidewalk and said that he would clear the driveway before she came home. Then Brett and I went to the hospital. When we arrived, Mom was wide awake and alert. She had gotten out of bed, and they had disconnected everything except for the oxygen cannula. Mom sniped at me about everything, and I could tell that she was getting antsy and wanted to come home. She was talking about just living her life, going to bingo, doing what she wanted to do.
I spoke with her cardiologist, who said that she would probably be released on Saturday. I spoke with the home health coordinator, and mom got mad over that as she didn’t want anyone coming into her home. She insisted that she took her medicine just as she was supposed to and didn’t need anyone’s help. When we left, she was talking the ear off a nurse. I felt more relaxed than I had in days. On the way home Alexis and I made plans to clean mom’s house on Friday so that she would stop worrying about it.
Thursday night Corey came home.
“I’ve become someone’s idea of me. You can no longer read the wax seal of the sun. The trees no longer mention anything about the wind. I don’t see who could play me later on. It turns out I am buried myself. It turns out we are all buried alive in the chamber of someone else’s heart.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “Antigone Today”
I should have known, but I didn’t, didn’t have a clue. It really did not cross my mind after Thursday’s visit that she wouldn’t be coming home. I mean, when she first went into the hospital, while she was till in CICU, I had that talk with the doctors, you know the one: to call a code or not to, a DNR order, morphine for comfort. That talk.
But by Thursday night I told Corey that I was almost sorry that I had asked him to come home because she was doing so well.
I should have known. But I didn’t.
Friday morning at 9:15 a nurse from the hospital called. My mother had died.
They had taken in her breakfast tray. She was fine. Then a short time later alerts went off. She had just died. They think it might have been the aneurysm. She was gone and now I am left to pick up the pieces, to try to keep the family together, to find a home for her cat, to cull through over 46 years of stuff. I’m trying to plan an informal memorial service. She didn’t want to be buried, didn’t want a viewing, didn’t want a funeral, so she’s being cremated.
That last day, when we got to the hospital, I sat on her bed and looked at her, really looked at her. That saying, “looks just like she’s sleeping”? Bullshit. She didn’t look like she was sleeping. Then I did something odd: I opened her eyelids and looked into her eyes. They weren’t cloudy. It was the first time I had looked into my mother’s eyes in years and years and years. It was the closest the two of us had been physically since I don’t even remember when. I held her hand, touched her cheek, and apologized for not being who she wanted me to be.
And then I left.
Music by Rose Cousins, “Go First”
You have gone once more to the seashore
and this time you have looked at the horizon
with a fugitive’s lust.
You have asked yourself with sadness
who in Ithaca would notice your absence:
the sea toward which you always look,
the heavens you never question,
the land that waits for you assuredly.
Your bonds are of an impassive nature.
Are you thinking of destroying them,
are you thinking of escaping by denying
that pathway your feet have made?
You feel it, you don’t think about it;
one cannot ponder devastation.
You look at the water with haste:
with tired haste.
You are like an oracle that does not believe in the future.