“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Night Symphony, Paris, by Isik Mater

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice” ~ T. S. Eliot, Section II of Quartet no. 4 “Little Gidding,” lines 118-119, from Four Quartets

Monday afternoon. Sunny and colder, mid 40’s.

Couldn’t sleep last night. Couldn’t sleep this morning. So I said what the hell, and got up and started my day. I know that my heightened anxiety is affecting my sleep. It’s just hard to relax knowing that at any time Corey is going to receive the telephone call that is going to change our lives. Kind of a big thing, no?

Blue Berries in Winter in Felsőfarkasd, Pest, Hungary, by Halasi Zsolt (FCC)

Spent yesterday doing laundry and tidying the house. Cleaned out the fridge and threw away all of the leftovers that have turned into science experiments, and packed away the Christmas dishes and glasses, as well as the good silver. I’m full of nervous energy. Corey found most of his old work clothes, all except for his Carhartt jacket and overalls, both of which he needs. So I’ve been doing loads of laundry as the clothes have been bagged for a few years.

I think that I’m ready to take down Christmas, which is unusual for me. Usually, I like to leave the decorations up the first week in January, but lately when I walk through the house, all I can think about is that I don’t want to see them. I know that it’s all reactionary, and probably the last thing that Corey wants to do before he leaves is to get involved in taking down all of the decorations, so I’ll try to hold out as long as I can.

It’s just a weird beginning to the year.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I took the time yesterday to catch up on reading some of the blogs in my blogroll and sending new year’s wishes to everyone with whom I’m in contact. Speaking of which, the number of Christmas cards that we received this year was abysmal. I did receive a late card from one of my aunt’s in Florida. This year marks her third Christmas without my Uncle Melchor. It was nice to get an update from her and to see pictures of her grandchildren.

Winter Light by Enidanc (FCC)

But other than that, we did not receive cards from about five families who normally send us cards, but I did get one new card from reader Leah in North Carolina, which was a nice surprise. I’m still receiving a card each year from the lawyer who drew up my separation agreement with my ex, which I find very odd as we did not end our business relationship on a good note. I suppose that I’m on some list that I will remain on until he retires. Whatever.

When I began this post, I didn’t think that I would have any problems in writing as I have so many thoughts coursing through my brain, but now I find that it’s hard to pick one from the stream and elaborate on it. Each time that I think that I know what I want to say, it seems to slip away like smoke. I awoke with lines from a T. S. Eliot poem running through my brain: “Teach us to care and not to care . . .” Perhaps it’s my subconscious trying to help me: care about the big things and let everything else go.

Have never been good at letting anything go . . .

“This very second has vanished forever, lost in the anonymous mass of the irrevocable. It will never return.” ~ E. M. Cioran

So I just took a little detour looking for a link, but I’m back. While I was gone I did a bit of laundry, and gave the dogs baths . . . You didn’t even miss me, did you? So where was I? Oh yes, having nothing to say . . .

Into the Blueness by ebergcanada (FCC)

The strangest thing—I seem to be off sweets, at least temporarily. I think that this may be due in large part to the frequency with which I have to use my inhaler, much more than in years past. My lungs are still crackling and heavy, and I think that the albuterol, or whatever it is they put in inhalers now, is affecting my taste buds. During the holidays, I fill a big dish with assorted chocolates, and I’m not dipping my hand into said dish all of the time, not even the peanut M&Ms . . . I even threw out uneaten pecan pie, which I found too sweet to eat.

How strange . . .

This is a good thing, of course, but I would really like it if my lungs would start to act normally again. My asthma hasn’t been this bad since I was a child, and I know that it’s an offshoot of the neverending bronchitis, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

The other downside to this continuous wheezing and tightness is that I could not uphold my pledge to myself to start my walking regimen yesterday. I fully intend to begin walking a couple of miles a day and to take the lab as she will not be getting her usual exercise with Corey, and if you know your dogs, you know that a bored lab is an unhappy lab, much like a bored child. The last time I let a lab get bored, she ate a couch (not that that would be a big loss with our current dilapidated couch).

“Which are the magic
moments in ordinary
time? All of them,
for those who can see.” ~ Tim Dlugos, from “Ordinary Time

Corey and I are going to try to see a movie tonight and perhaps eat sushi—our date before he leaves. We have to snatch these moments while we can.

I know that last year passed so quickly. Outside it was spring, while inside I was still trapped in January. I would wager that this year will pass interminably slowly. I have a list of things that I’d like to accomplish while he’s away. Who knows how much I will actually do, but I would hope that I use this time apart wisely.

Snow Covered Blue Dawn, Elmhurst, IL, by clarkmaxwell (FCC)

I know that I’ve said this before, but in my mind, it seems as if the two of us have been together for years and years. It’s hard for me to remember a time when Corey was not in my life. And yet, it seems that the eleven or so years that we have actually been together has gone by so quickly.

It always  mystifies me, this notion of time, but as I’ve gotten older, time has become less linear and more cyclic. I find myself back in memories, remembering times in which good girls didn’t get tattoos, in which television only had three major networks, in which there was no such thing as Starbucks. Am I dating myself? Probably.

But some of you will understand what I mean: how we continue to move forward but things from the past loom largely, and not necessarily because they were important. I don’t speak of the past that much, and when I was younger, I used to wonder why my mother was always living in the past. I’m not living in the past, nor do I have any desire to do so, but flashes of the past come at me from nowhere, and it’s, at times, a bit unsettling.

I think of things like Hula Hoops and ice pops. I think of my orange Super Beetle and how I could drive around for more than a week on one tank of gas. Things such as this, nothing of significance, but there still, locked somewhere in the recesses of my mind’s many rooms.

“ . . . we are each of us made up of a cluster of appurtenances. What do you call one’s self? Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into everything that belongs to us—and then flows back again. One’s self—for other people—is one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s house, one’s clothes, the books one reads, the company one keeps—these things are all expressive.” ~ Henry James

I suppose that as we age we tend to gain perspective, or at least, I would hope that we do. Youth and perspective do not seem to be compatible, and that is truly unfortunate as we probably need perspective the most when we have it the least.

Winter in Blue by Roger Smith (FCC)

Consider: We make some of the most important decisions of our lives in our 20’s, at a time when we think we know everything, but in actuality, we know so little. We decide what our college majors will be; we decide what fields we wish to pursue for our careers—all things that would best be considered with experience. There is something to be said for living a life backwards.

Yes, I am more than a wee bit melancholy. Titirangi Storyteller posted a photograph that she had taken of a three-week-old boy. It’s an amazing photograph in that it captures the newborn’s fascination with everything and anything. I commented to her that it made me wish for the times when we as individuals could still find everything new and interesting. I wonder when that feeling actually begins to fade, when we no longer see the wonder in the smallest things, when we no longer look with awe and surprise on the seemingly insignificant—a fabulous sunset, the sun through the trees, a bird in flight, the reflections in a pool of water.

Pity, really, to lose that. But lose it, we do. And we begin to view the world through eyes that are tainted with experience, colored with fragments of anger and loss, heartbreak and sadness. And when we do see something truly beautiful, remarkably breathtaking in its brilliance—if we even take the time to notice—then, and only then, do we remember that long-lost feeling of innocence.

“This I know at great cost:
all life is not outward,
nor is all death from within:
time writes in the ciphers
of water and rock for no one at all,
so that none may envision the sender
and no one be any the wiser.” ~ Pablo Neruda, from “The Traveler” in Five Decades: Poems, trans. Ben Belitt

Trees in Rich Light by Snipps Whispers (FCC)

As Walt Whitman said,

O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

To these questions, I have no answers.

More later. Peace.

I found most of today’s quotes on Proustitute’s blog, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, who will no longer be posting on tumblr, so I have added him to my blogroll, Poietes’ Recommended Reading.

Music by Tom Waits, “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda)”


                   

dreaminginthedeepsouth: (via The Literature Collection: Light made from nothing: poems: The difficult simplicity of certain contemplations) By Susan Elbe

~ Susan Elbe, from Light Made from Nothing: Poems (couldn’t find a better copy but wanted to use, sorry)

“Why is it the words we write for ourselves are always better than the words we write for others?” ~ Mike Rich from Finding Forrester

U. S. Postal Service Parcel Post Truck, ca 1950*

                   

“Nostalgia, more than anything, gives us the shudder of our own imperfection. This is why with Chopin we feel so little like gods.” ~ E. M. Cioran, from The Book of Delusions

Wednesday evening. Much too warm (mid 70s) and intermittent showers.

It’s unseasonably warm, so of course, I’m thinking of snow.

Mail Trucks on Parade, 1956

Another sleepless night. Watched the clock hit 7:30 a.m. Not sure what’s going on with this most recent bout of insomnia unless I’m just getting myself too amped for the holiday stress. Stressing over impending stress?

Yesterday I had out of control back spasms. Corey worked on the knots a bit, but I really need some trigger shots. My appointment is in two weeks, which means two more weeks of knots in my back and now, also in my right hand. I don’t know if I have a pinched nerve in my hand, or if such a thing is even possible. I suppose if it’s possible, then I have it.

Brett finishes his scientific writing class with his power point presentation on Thursday, and then he has a presentation in public speaking on Friday. Oral presentations used to really worry him, but he’s gotten much better. Unfortunately, he’s still unsure as to what he wants to declare as his major. That’s problematic as he’s entering his second semester of his sophomore year.

Corey is at work, although his shift today was cut by two hours because of ship departures. His shift yesterday at the boatyard was completely cancelled, but he did manage to pick up a two and a half hour shift at the bank. Some bank in Virginia Beach hires security to walk their employees to their cars once Daylight Savings time kicks in, which is actually a good practice. The downside is that the shifts are very short.

“I was always one for being alone,
Seeking in my own way, eternal purpose;
At the edge of the field waiting for the pure moment;
Standing, silent, on sandy beaches or walking along green embankments;”~ Theodore Roethke, from Section 1 of “Fourth Meditation”

Thursday afternoon. Sunny and much cooler, 50° 

Rural Letter Carrier in Sleigh, 1918

So I just couldn’t finish yesterday. Too lethargic. Of course, now that it’s 24 degrees cooler than yesterday, my cough is acting up. I’ve almost emptied a new inhaler with this bout of bronchitis. Simply cannot win.

House to myself. The dogs are off napping somewhere, and it’s pretty quiet. Corey’s shift today was supposed to be extended by two hours to compensate for yesterday, but unfortunately, not so.

Very good news though: he now has his merchant mariner’s documents in hand, updated licenses and credentials. Hooray. With any luck, he’ll be back on a boat of some sort by 2012. You should have seen how happy he was when he opened the mail yesterday, and his package was there. I haven’t seen a smile that wide in quite some time.

Of course, it will be a radical change for our daily way of life. I’m so used to him being here, taking care of the things that I cannot handle, you know, simple things like picking up the groceries. But the biggest change will be that he’s physically away. We’ve gotten quite used to daily living together. I’m not complaining. We did the sea thing before, just not for the past three years. I am happy for him, though. I know that he’s looking forward to the change. I’m just hoping that he can still fit in at least one online class next semester. I guess we’ll just have to see how things go on that end.

“he told again our great race through the stars
and how the world can’t keep up with our dreams.”~ William Stafford, “Living on the Plains [1990]”

So I’m sitting here as the sky darkens, cup of hot tea on the desk, and Christmas socks on my feet. I wish that I had something interesting to say, but I really don’t. My mind is kind of fuzzy today, probably from the weird sleep patterns of late. It bugs me, though, when I do have the time and access to write, and then when I sit before the keyboard, nothing seems to come forth.

Puttling a Letter into a Doremus Mailbox, ca 1880

Wish that I could ring a bell or respond to a herald: Go forth ye and write . . . No such luck. I’m really hoping that this doesn’t turn into a three-day post. It just seems so lame, somehow.

Last night I had a very strange dream in which I was cleaning out the refrigerator and cabikitchen cabinets in my my-in-law’s house. The kitchen had begun to smell because food from the funeral was still in the fridge. Of course, this never happened. So odd.

I also dreamed that I was walking down a major highway, and in a field off to the right were three young men with a pack of dogs. Tillie was with me, and she ran towards the dogs. The young men told me to be careful because their dogs had ticks. Also strange.

Then in another part I was counseling two men who had just been released from prison. Where does this stuff come from?

“I had the idea that the world’s so full of pain
it must sometimes make a kind of singing.
And that the sequence helps, as much as order helps—
First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing.” ~ Robert Haas from “Faint Music”

Well bugger. I just lost the entire last section of what I had typed. Hate it when WordPress does that.

Friday afternoon. Cloudy and 61º.

Yep. It’s turned into a three-day post. I had thought that I’d be feeling much better by now, but between the coughing, wheezing, and hacking, it’s just not happening. Nice image, I know. I have an idea that I probably waited too long to go to the doctor, so the ordinarily miraculous z-pack is not working as well.

Mail Van in the Snow, ca 1953

When I saw the doctor, he gave me a script for Prednizone, which I did not have filled. I hate taking Prednizone as it blows me up like a turgid balloon, but I think that I’m going to have to just suck it up and take it.

So between the time I first began this post and today, Corey has spoken with the representative from the shipping company that was interested in hiring him right after he had started classes. He seemed to remember Corey and told him that he would move his file to the top of the pile for the next crew change, which is scheduled for early January.

We’re both kind of in shock that things seem to be going smoothly. I supposed living in a perpetual state of waiting for the other shoe to drop makes one terribly gun shy. Daring to hope? Hoping beyond hope? And then when something actually does change, daring to believe that this is so?

It’s hard because we’ve become so accustomed to things not going our way, so inured to the seemingly endless doses of bad luck, so when the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel begins to come into focus, we do a double take.

It’s more of the do I dare? mentality. Do I dare to eat this peach in my hand? What if it’s the very last peach I ever have? Should I savor it or save it?

“It is hard
in the radiance of this world to live
but we live.” ~ Campbell McGrath, from “Storm Valediction”

Last night (after finally falling sleep sometimes after 4), I dreamed that I had been invited to this feast. The hosts were a rich family in New York, and the dinner was at a big, fancy restaurant. What’s significant about this dream is that I could not get anyone to serve me. People all around me were being served food, delicious food, but not a single server would pay attention to me. I wanted to order wine, but no one would take my order. I wanted a steak and asparagus spears, but no one would ask me what I wanted.

Letter Carrier in Snow, 1920

All around me, people were dining on lavish dishes: caviar, mango strips, lobster, crepes, exotic fruits, shrimp. I got a taste here and there, but no plate of food. Corey had food. Somehow, he had a plate, and he was able to take things from here and there, but I had nothing. The sommelier finally came to the table, and seemed surprised that I ordered a bottle of wine without a screw cap, but he never reappeared with my wine.

So does this dream mean that good things are within reach but not quite attainable? Or does this dream mean that everyone gets some except me? Or does this dream simply mean that I went to bed hungry?

Who knows. But now I’m craving steak, button mushrooms, and asparagus. I suppose I’ll munch on a few Wheat Thins . . .

*All images taken from the Flickr Smithsonian Institution’s Photostream, Collection on Postal History

Music by the Perishers, “Sway”

                   

Shopping for Pomegranates at Wal-Mart on New Year’s Day

Beneath a ten-foot-tall apparition of Frosty the Snowman
with his corncob pipe and jovial, over-eager, button-black eyes,
holding, in my palm, the leathery, wine-colored purse
of a pomegranate, I realize, yet again, that America is a country
about which I understand everything and nothing at all,
that this is life, this ungovernable air
in which the trees rearrange their branches, season after season,
never certain which configuration will bear the optimal yield
of sunlight and water, the enabling balm of nutrients,
that so, too, do Wal-Mart’s ferocious sales managers
relentlessly analyze their end-cap placement, product mix,
and shopper demographics, that this is the culture
in all its earnestness and absurdity, that it never rests,
that each day is an eternity and every night is New Year’s Eve,
a cavalcade of B-list has-beens entirely unknown to me,
needy comedians and country singers in handsome Stetsons,
sitcom stars of every social trope and ethnic denomination,
pugilists and oligarchs, femmes fatales and anointed virgins
throat-slit in offering to the cannibal throng of Times Square.
Who are these people? I grow old. I lie unsleeping
as confetti falls, ash-girdled, robed in sweat and melancholy,
click-shifting from QVC to reality TV, strings of commercials
for breath freshener, debt reconsolidation, a new car
lacking any whisper of style or grace, like a final fetid gasp
from the lips of a dying Henry Ford, potato-faced actors
impersonating real people with real opinions
offered forth with idiot grins in the yellow, herniated studio light,
actual human beings, actual souls bought too cheaply.
That it never ends, O Lord, that it never ends!
That it is relentless, remorseless, and it is on right now.
That one sees it and sees it but sometimes it sees you, too,
cowering in a corner, transfixed by the crawler for the storm alert,
home videos of faces left dazed by the twister, the car bomb,
the war always beginning or already begun, always
the special report, the inside scoop, the hidden camera
revealing the mechanical lives of the sad, inarticulate people
we have come to know as “celebrities.”
Who assigns such value, who chose these craven avatars
if not the miraculous hand of the marketplace,
whose torn cuticles and gaudily painted fingernails resemble nothing
so much as our own? Where does the oracle reveal our truths
more vividly than upon that pixillated spirit glass
unless it is here, in this tabernacle of homely merchandise,
a Copernican model of a money-driven universe
revolving around its golden omphalos, each of us summed
and subtotalled, integers in an equation of need and consumption,
desire and consummation, because Hollywood had it right all along,
the years are a montage of calendar pages and autumn leaves,
sheet music for a nostalgic symphony of which our lives comprise
but single trumpet blasts, single notes in the hullabaloo,
or even less—we are but motes of dust in that atmosphere
shaken by the vibrations of time’s imperious crescendo.
That it never ends, O Lord. That it goes on,
without pause or cessation, without pity or remorse.
That we have willed it into existence, dreamed it into being.
That it is our divine monster, our factotum, our scourge.
That I can imagine nothing more beautiful
than to propitiate such a god upon the seeds of my own heart.

~ (January 11, 2010 New Yorker)

“We are fragmented into so many different aspects. We don’t know who we really are, or what aspects of ourselves we should identify with or believe in. So many contradictory voices, dictates, and feelings fight for control over our inner lives that we find ourselves scattered everywhere, in all directions, leaving nobody at home.” ~ Sogyal Rinpoche, from “Glimpse After Glimpse ”

Berenice Abbott: Blossom Restaurant, NYC (1935)

“Autumn teaches us that fruition is also death; that ripeness is a form of decay. The willows, having stood for so long near water, begin to rust. Leaves are verbs that conjugate the seasons.” ~ Gretel Ehrlich, The Solace of Open Spaces

Tuesday early evening. Overcast and humid. White sky.

Berenice Abbott: City Arabesque (from roof of 60 Wall Tower, NYC) (1938)

Last night my dreams were filled with people from my past and present: Kathleen, another woman I used to work with in Northern Virginia who told me to keep my doors locked, and Patrick and Helma. In one part, I was living in (or just possibly staying in) the old townhouse that we used to rent in Alexandria. It was a spacious townhouse in a questionable neighborhood. I was there again, but the furnishings were not mine. The belonged to the women who owned the house.

There were four different sets of dishes, and I was trying to decide which ones to use to serve some hors d’oeuvres to guests. Then my ex was there but in the backyard. It was all very confusing as I didn’t know why this particular mix of people were in my home, so I just decided to make food.

In another part, I was on a ship, a cruise ship I think, but the propellers were visible, and they were attached to the bottom of the ship instead of the aft, and I was wondering how they could possibly propel the ship if they were attached in this way. So I decided to touch one, not too smart, I know, but it was made of plastic.

Some woman from the cruise line told me that they had to keep replacing the propellers because people were always touching them, and I thought to myself how inefficient. Make them out of metal (brass?), and put them out of reach.

Don’t ask me . . . they’re dreams.

“Listen.
We must all stop dying in the little ways,
in the craters of hate,
in the potholes of indifference—
a murder in the temple.” ~ Anne Sexton, from “The Children”

Berenice Abbott: Whelan's Drug Store (44th St and Eighth Ave, NYC) (1936)

The past two days have been very stressful for reasons that I don’t particularly care to revisit at the moment. Suffice it to say that external forces are rearing their ugly heads again like a giant Lernaean Hydra, and each time I manage to cut of one head, two more grow back.

Sometimes, in this particular venture, I truly feel like Hercules, only I’m stuck cleaning out the dung-filled Augean stables over and over again, and my only relief is when I do battle with ugly monsters like the Hydra and the boar. But what I must keep reminding myself is that no one expected Hercules to succeed.

I know that you might be surprised by this particular revelation, but I do not cotton well to males who try to assert their authority over me through power plays. My response is to dig deeper, entrench further, rather than to cede. I’m not suggesting that this is a particularly endearing trait as I am well aware that it is not, but there is just something in me—the same thing that rebels against the idea of being called a housewife—that does not like the idea of someone trying to put me in my place.

I know my place, and it’s not ten steps behind, nor is it in the proverbial kitchen. My place is anywhere I want it to be.

Look, I’m a woman who came of age during a period in society in which roles were shifting greatly, and I like to think that I played a part in breaking some boundaries, that I helped in my own way to educate and enlighten a few people along the way to the realities that women are people, that women can be intelligent and strong, that women can be in charge, that women are not their reproductive system, and all of the rest.

So don’t imply that I’m a “little miss,” even if you don’t have the balls to say it to my face. I won’t act well either way.

“I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed” ~ John Steinbeck

Berenice Abbott: Columbus Circle, NYC (1938)

Ooh. I just had the most marvelous surprise arrive by post. My online friend Leah in NC sent me a care package: four bars of Godiva with a tag to use in emergencies only.

Oh, Leah, if you only knew how very, very much my soul delights in such small joy. I have restrained myself from tearing into one immediately (salt caramel . . .) so that when I finally do succumb, the pleasure will be that much better.

I must say that while I do not have a large following, and I am not read by hundreds of people all over the world, the people who do visit me are so incredible: I addition to Leah, I have my dear, dear friend Sarah who continues to stand by me decades later, my friend Maureen in Australia who keeps me close to her heart, my New Zealand friend Veronica who sends me some of her beautiful photographs and shares recipes, and a few others who may or may not want to be mentioned.

As is the case in life in general, I would much rather have a handful of people in my corner who truly want to be there than a hundred people on my side who have but an ephemeral loyalty to my best interests.

“let’s pour the night
into our stone water jars
this song isn’t red flowers
crushed under silence” ~ Yusef Komunyakaa, from “Blues Chant Hoodoo Revival”

Berenice Abbott: Herald Square (34th and Broadway, NYC) (1936)

Okay, so where was I? (Well yes, I had a taste. Of course I had a taste. It takes a lot of energy to clean these stables) . . .

Oh yes. The stress, and discretion is the better part of valour (prefer the British spelling of that particular word).

I abide by the common courtesies. I know how to shake hands properly and to look people in the eye. I say my pleases and thank yous, and I try (really), try to be polite on the telephone. I was taught the Golden Rule at a young age, and have always found it to be a very good maxim when dealing with people.

All that being said, what has happened to the niceties? People who think they can run roughshod over others? What’s that about? I mean, not just in a personal sense, but take the Wall Street actions. I’ve seen several snarky comments in which critics call the protestors “hippies,” as if that equates them with the dregs of the earth. I’ve read comments in which the protests are being compared to what happened with college students in the 60’s.

Well, hello? What happened because of the 60’s protests was a good thing, remember? Social change, the end of an unjust war, desegregation? Those were actually good things. Those hippies? They believed in peace. No, they didn’t wear the best clothes, and perhaps their personal hygiene wasn’t what you would have wanted, but their messages? Good things.

What is happening in this country right now in New York is but a reflection of what has been happening all over the world in recent years: Social protest against unjust policies, cruel regimes, and financial ruin. I think it’s about time.  I mean, the latest news reports indicate that Wall Street bonuses this year are set to equal or surpass last year’s bonuses . . .

How many of us lost a lot of our retirement funds when Wall Street crashed a few years ago? I know that I did. So don’t talk to me about how these protests are quaint. These protestors are doing what so many of us gripe about but take no action against, and if I were in New York, I’d be out there.

Everything must have been once. That’s why life seems to me like a ghostly undulation. History does not repeat itself; yet it seems as if our lives are caught in the reflections of a past world, whose delayed echoes we prolong. Memory is an argument not only against time but also against this world. It half uncovers the probable worlds of the past, crowning them with a vision of paradise. Regrets spring from the nadir of memory.” ~ E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints, (trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston)

Berenice Abbott: Tempo of the City (Fifth Ave and 44th St, NYC) (1938)

So what does Wall Street have to do with my street, with my personal situation? More than you might think. Far too many of us in American society have had serious setbacks in recent years. Far too many of us are struggling just to survive. Far too many of us have lost jobs, lost homes, lost health coverage, and some have lost everything.

Why? Not because we’re lazy, or because we choose not to work. I read post after post about recent college grads who are coming out of school thousands of dollars in debt with school loans and absolutely no prospects for work. I read about one woman with a college degree who makes $7.50 an hour and spends most of her income repaying her school loans.

Are there slackers? Of course there are. Are there people who abuse the system? Of course. But far too many of us do not fall into that category.

Me and mine? We are better off than most. We have food and shelter and a vehicle. We do not live beyond our means, have no credit cards, have no new car payments, have an old house that needs a multitude of repairs, and some of us in this family have health insurance. But we’re surviving. Things aren’t ideal, but truthfully, are they ever?

Four of the five people living in this house are going to college, thankfully with some Pell Grant money, some scholarship money, and a bit of student loans. Four of the five people living in this house are relatively healthy. You don’t need to tell me that we should be grateful, because we are. I guess I just needed to say that.

Like the trees

I don’t know what to sing.” ~ Eduardo Chirinos from Reasons for Writing Poetry

Berenice Abbott: Gasoline Station (Gremont Ave and Dock St, NYC) (1936)

So what happened to set me off on this rant? Everything and nothing. I must remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, Hercules finished his labors. He did not stay in those stables forever, and the Hydra? Well she was vanquished as well.

My personal Hydra seems to keep sprouting new heads, and once in a while, that really torques me out of shape, but not because those heads do anything more than smell pretty bad.

Discretion is the better part of valour.

I don’t always remember that, but I try. I just have a really hard time when someone threatens, even remotely, those who I consider to be under my protection, under my sheltering wing, if you will. It does not sit well, let us say, when aggressive tactics, time-wasting efforts start my week off on a bad note. And so I say and do things that I would not normally say or do. Whatever.

It’s Tuesday. It looks like rain. I have chocolate. The music is playing, and I laughed out loud a few times today. Life, in spite of all of my assertions to the contrary, is good. Sometimes I’m looking at it through a veil of pain, and sometimes it is a veil of tears, but when the rain passes, and the clouds break, the sky is still there, filled with stars or sunshine.

Outside the sky is darkening. I can do this.

More later. Peace.

Music by Fink, “Yesterday Was Hard on All of Us”

*All images from New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Berenice Abbott

                   

Personal

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—

the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,

the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me

and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.

The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,

and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.

Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk

Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts

but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;

I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,

I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back

and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries

like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.

Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?

You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.

I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:

trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.

~ Tony Hoagland

“Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder?” ~ Iris Murdoch, from The Sea

Barely There

                             

“What you thought you came for is only a shell, a husk of meaning from which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled . . . the purpose is beyond the end you figured and is altered in fulfillment.” ~ T.S. Eliot

Bare Branches

I finally did something that I should have done weeks ago: I went to see Jennifer, Alexis’s friend who is dying of cancer. On Sunday evening, Alexis called and asked me to drive her to urgent care the next morning because she had a sore throat that was not getting better. I drove her there and then took her home so that she could take a shower. She wanted me to drive her to the hospital so that she could spend some time with Jennifer.  

Turns out Alexis has some kind of bacterial infection, and the doctor put her on antibiotics. After I took Brett to school, I went back to Alexis’s apartment and drove her to the hospital. Jennifer was readmitted on Friday night. She was having terrible pains in her legs and could not walk. Turns out, Jennifer got blood clots in both legs, and the clots traveled to her lungs; one lung is now full of fluid.  

When I heard this, I was infuriated. Blood clots are preventable. Most of the time when a patient is going to be in bed for an extended period, the doctors will order these special hose for the patient to wear to prevent blood clots. Jennifer was sent home from the hospital without the hose, and none of the home health nurses bothered to make sure that she got them.  

Things like this make me want to go postal. I just want to find someone and scream at them, point out their stupidity, their carelessness, but it’s not my place. But I mean geez, the leg hose are pretty much common knowledge. Why didn’t Jennifer receive any?  

“Why always expect a definite stance, clear ideas, meaningful words? I feel as if I should spout fire in response to all the questions which were ever put, or not put, to me.” ~ E.M. Cioran from “On the Heights of Despair”  

Waning Sun through Trees

So I steeled myself and went inside the hospital with Alexis. I don’t think that Alexis expected me to go inside, just to drop her off.  

When we got to Jennifer’s room, she was sound asleep, that deep, heavy morphine sleep. I took one look at her and knew, knew down to the marrow in my bones that Jennifer does not have long to live. Her head is swollen and full of fluid. The shunt that was inserted in the beginning cannot keep up with the production of fluid. Her skin has a yellow tint to it, and her cheeks are puffy and turgid.  

I sat in the chair next to her for a few minutes, and then I stroked her hair and kissed her cheek, a finger kiss because I did not want to wake her. Then I went down to the first floor and into the small chapel. One of my long-standing habits is to go into the chapel at DePaul Hospital whenever I am in the building. It’s something that I have done for years, regardless of the condition of my faith.  

It’s a small, circular room with a vaulted ceiling, and it almost always brings me a sense of peace, but not on Monday. I wept hot, bitter tears, tears for Jennifer, tears for her son, tears for Alexis. And I know that the tears were also for Caitlin and my father.  

I said aloud to no one in particular, “I don’t understand.” And that, my friends, is the crux of it: I do not understand.  

I’m telling the wrong lies,
they are not even useful.

The right lies would at least
be keys, they would open the door. ~ Margaret Atwood from “Hesitations Outside the Door”

Ghost Trees (b&w) by John Morgan

Death, that I understand. We are mortal creatures, here for a limited time, dying from our first breaths. It’s a process that cannot be defied, no matter how much people try to stave off the inevitable. Sickness, to some extent I understand. People get sick. They contract diseases. They develop syndromes. They are born with genetic defects. These things, too, are a fact of life.  

What I do not understand is the lot, how the die is cast, as it were. What I do not understand is the suffering, the immense, soul-breaking suffering.  

Do not tell me that there is a plan, or that there is a reason. Do not approach me with platitudes that do nothing but sugar-coat reality. Do not attempt to comfort me with words of reassurance that Jennifer will go to a better place.  

Don’t. Please just don’t.  

I am too bitter and angry to hear anything but the resounding madness (from the Middle English madnesse: frenzy, rage, and ultimately, insanity) that hums continuously within my head. I have moved past my inherent ability to be rational and calm. Within me I recognize a feral animal that has resided here before. It is a beast that will not be tamed by reason or rationality. It will remain inside, roaring silently in its fury, until it has spent itself.  

That is the unfortunate truth.  

Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.” ~ Haruki Murakami from Kafka on the Shore

Black on Blue in Black and White

Beyond my own confrontation with things that have lain dormant and the collision with things that are now, there is the truth: Jennifer is dying, will most probably die much sooner than anyone expects. Her friends do not want to hear this. Her brother does not want this to be the reality. The one person who recognizes the truth for what it is—and I am hard-pressed to acknowledge this—is Jennifer’s father, a man who has been absent from her life for many years, a man who now looks on and sees only his baby girl.  

I ran into Jennifer’s father as I was leaving the hospital. The tears were fresh on my face, and I wondered whether I should say anything to him, but he saw me and began to talk. He had a dim memory from Alexis that something similar had happened in our family. That is how long Jennifer and Alexis have been friends.  

We spoke about how sweet and kind Jennifer is, and he told me that she is uncomfortable with all of the kindness she has been receiving. He reminded her that if the situation were different, she would be the first one in line to help. He spoke of the relationship between our daughters, how it has endured after all of the others have moved on, moved away.  

So I stood there under a brilliant autumn sky, and spoke with this man about his daughter’s coming death. He is the one who has been placed in the position to make the decision, the one that no parent should ever have to make. I think that he wanted reassurance that he would not be vilified for making the decision.  

I could not give him that reassurance. I told him honestly that no matter what he decided, he was going to be the villain, that most people would not understand, but I also told him that if he loved Jennifer, he would remember that she is the one who is suffering, that those who look on are suffering in their own right, but their pain should not override hers.  

“He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Enchanted Study in Black and White by Dmitry Budonov

                     

Having never met this man, I knew him intimately in a way that I did not want. I knew his suffering, and I knew his anguish. When we parted, he thanked me for talking to him and told me to drive carefully. I realized that the next time that I will see him will probably be at Jennifer’s funeral.  

I got in the car and allowed myself to weep once more. I looked out and saw him standing outside the entrance to the hospital, the same half-smoked, unlit cigarette in his hand, a look of anticipation on his face, as if fate itself were hurrying to meet him. And beneath that look lay another face: that of a man so wearied by life that it took everything within him to turn back and walk through the glass doors.  

I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. I did what I do whan I am most upset: I drove. And then when it was time, I picked up Brett from school. Yesterday, Alexis told me that Jennifer was feeling much better, that she ate her lunch and even complained about the food.  

We all take what we can get, even the most minute, seemingly insignificant moments, and we place our hopes on them with every ounce of will left us.  

This is what we do.  

More later. Peace.  

Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Save You”