“At the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy.” ~ Federico García Lorca
Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy, warmer and humid, 79 degrees.
Woke up with the same headache and a buzzing sound in the back of my head only to realize that Mike was out back with the chainsaw working on the tree that fell on the fence. Corey is paying him to do the work while he’s gone, and man, is it a job and a half. I don’t think that Corey realized just how much stuff was overgrown back there; I know I didn’t.
Anyway, it’s another necessary part of getting things done around here, so that’s a half check on the list (project isn’t completed). Moving right along . . .
The following series of images appeal to the part of me who wishes she had been an art history major. More and more, I wish that I had gotten one of my degrees in art history, as I find that my love of art is almost as intense as my love of words. I only wish that I had been exposed to the art that I see and share on a daily basis back when I was working for the art museum. I think, no, I know that I could have gotten even more out of the experience.
I spent more than one lazy hour wandering the galleries when I found myself overwrought and overstressed. It never failed to calm me.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure that I’ve shared the video by Italian animator Rino Stefano Tagliafierro before, but I don’t think that I’ve posted the images individually. I find these animations of Renaissance paintings so compelling, and admittedly, some more than a bit creepy. Tagliafierro took around 100 images and brought them to life using the 2.5D effect. I’m reposting his short video “Beauty” below.
The aspect of this that truly amazes me is how, because of the rich details and layers of light, these paintings lent themselves so well to being animated, not that I’m implying that what Taliafierro did was in any way easy. Do I dare to think that many of these old masters would appreciate the repurposing of their original works? I do, and I think that they would. But that’s just me.
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water: and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
“I keep remembering—I keep remembering. My heart has no pity on me.” ~ Henri Barbusse, from The Inferno (L’Enfer), trans. Edward J. O’Brien
Sunday morning. Partly cloudy and mild, 66 degrees.
I am forcing myself to sit here and make an honest attempt at a post. I make no promises. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, more that I am in the midst of one of those times in which linear thought is hard. It is much easier to focus on the fact that the furniture should be polished, or perhaps that I should clean the light fixtures—inanity over creativity.
But I will eschew the temptation to wander into mindlessness.
Perhaps it is better if I approach this as a random thoughts post and see where takes me. So . . .
Corey’s ship is due in port this evening. They had to reroute to go around a storm. He is supposed to be in port for five days.
He is coming home to sad news: His grandfather died last night.
I never really had a grandfather. My mother’s father was in a nursing home, and I only met my dad’s father that one time when we were in the Philippines. The only thing I remember about him was that he was a short man who did not smile.
During times like these, I miss my father, miss how much he loved his grandchildren. He would have adored Olivia.
I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to finish this as I am filled with longing and grief.
“We are dancing in the hollow of nothingness. We are one flesh, but separated like stars.” ~ Henry Miller, from Tropic of Capricorn
I’ve never read Tropic of Capricorn. I don’t know why. I knew someone once who had met Henry Miller at a party. I was so naive at the time that I thought he was talking about Arthur Miller.
When I think about how much I thought I knew then that I didn’t actually know, I cringe a little inside.
It’s too bad that we cannot go through our whole lives with the surety of knowing everything that pervades our youth. The years strip us of this blissful ignorance and replace it with the weight of knowledge.
I was so self-assured in my 20’s, so completely certain that I knew more than the next person. I feared nothing and no one. What happened to that person?
I remember after I had been in my new job at the medical school for a bit and had made friends, I asked one of them why she had been so cold to me in the beginning. She replied that I scared the crap out of her. I was completely taken aback.
It took the death of Caitlin to humble me, to make me realize that everything that I had thought I knew and believed simply wasn’t true.
“… this is the wreath of love, this bed of thorns is where I dream of you stealing my rest, haunting these sunken ribs cargoed with grief. I sought the peak of prudence, but I found the hemlock-brimming valley of your heart, and my own thirst for bitter truth and art.” ~ Federico García Lorca, from “Wounds of Love (Stigmata of Love)”
I stepped outside a few mornings ago and realized that the air was beginning to smell like fall, the aroma that resembles mountain water and dead leaves, a commingling of smells like no other.
I have an ongoing battle with autumn: It has always, always been my favorite season, and it has always, always been the time of year in which I find myself helplessly, hopelessly depressed.
By last night I knew that I was already in the midst of a major depressive episode; as I lay immersed in the hottest water possible in my new tub, I had a sudden sense of being completely overwhelmed.
When this happens, anything and everything can set me off: a song, a smell, a sound.
I applaud those of you who never feel this way, and I am completely astonished that not everyone feels this way.
My skin feels foreign, too small for my body, too taut for my emotions.
And I just want to be far away, preferably in the mountains, where there is enough air, where the walls do not contain me.
“Skin, though it takes pains to remember caresses, is marked by the road that pain takes.” ~ Rosmarie Waldrop, fromDriven to Abstraction
My antidepressant does help, some, but nothing can help completely. I think that many people think that antidepressants are cure-alls; they are not.
I resisted going on medication because I thought that I would not be able to feel, because I liked my extreme highs and lows. Let me back up a bit—the first antidepressant I tried (and I tried many) completely numbed me. Who wants to feel nothing? Certainly not I.
I view my medication as a large band-aid—it protects me from harm, but there is still a wound under it that takes time to heal.
It’s strange really, how I have come to know the precise second an episode has arrived, as if it has rung a bell or announced itself somewhere in the recesses of my brain. I suppose after all of these years it makes sense that I would be so attuned.
But back to my initial resistance: having felt the extremes for all of my adolescence, I battled attempts to fix me in my 20’s. I suppose that is a natural response, not to want to be dependent upon something, to want to be able to fix things without the benefit of drugs. It’s a battle that I still fight, actually, looking at the pills in my hand for my various ailments, wondering what would happen if I just stopped.
But I don’t. Age has allowed me, at least, the wisdom to recognize that I will probably take pills until the day I die.
“A brief parenthesis in chaos.” ~ Thomas Lovell Beddoes, from “Insignificance of the World”
I remember sitting in my first psychology course in high school, the very moment I was able to put a name to what was happening to me, when the teacher began to describe manic depression (as it was called then), the extreme highs and lows, the split second changes between the two.
I told no one.
I really don’t know why I’m rehashing this; it’s not as if I haven’t mulled over this again and again and again.
But then, I don’t really know why I do a lot of things, at least, not when I feel like this.
Nothing seems to make sense, and everything is hard.
Everything is hard.
Everything is hard.
If only chocolate really were a cure.
Thanks for tuning in.
More later. Peace.
Music by Noah Gundersen & The Forest Rangers, “He got away”
Although things vanish, are what mark our vanishing,
we still hold on to them–ballast against the updraft
of oblivion–as I hold on to this umbrella in a world of rain,
of heavy wet greens and grays dissolving into a new
atmosphere, a sort of underwater dulled electric glow
off everything, the air itself drowning in it, breath
thickening, growing mold. Yesterday I felt the smell
of grass greeting me as across a great distance, trying
to tell me some good thing in an underglaze of memory,
some forgotten summer trying to speak its piece. It is
the way of things and it never stops, never calls a halt–
this knocking and dismantling, this uprooting, cutting out
and digging down, so tall oaks and honey locusts are
laid low and drop to earth like felled cattle, shaking
the ground we’ve taken a stand on as if it were a steady
establishment, a rock of ages to outface ruin itself, not
the provisional slippery dissolving dissolute thing it is–
which we have against all the evidence set our hearts on.
Corey picked the most amazing rose from our backyard bush. I planted this bush many, many years ago, and it still offers up the most beautiful blooms every year. It’s called a Peace Rose. Here are a few select shots:
Music by Lianne La Havas, featuring Willy Mason, “No Room For Doubt”
a woman had placed
after jorge luis borges
a yellow rose
in a hotel glass
the man had kissed her
on the neck
had kissed her
on the mouth
but these kisses belonged to yesterday
there would be no moment
yellow roses came from china
open in may before our hybrids
unfold pink rugosities and baroque scent
expose dusty fissured yellow pearls
“How do I start this day, I who am unsure of how my life has happened or how to proceed amid this warm and steady sweetness?” ~ Albert Garcia, from “August Morning”
Friday, late afternoon. Sunny and cool, no humidity, 71°.
I’ve been sitting here for a while trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to say. I just don’t know. Part of me wants to write nonsense, cover subjects that require little thought, and truthfully, little active participation on the part of my little grey cells. But another part of me is quite introspective today, but I’m not entirely sure that I can go there.
Two choices. Two paths. The one less traveled by, and all of that, but I don’t know if I want to go down either. I feel a bit like Alice asking the Cheshire Cat which path to take. He doesn’t really answer her, just tells her that she’ll arrive somewhere.
Today when I was outside with Tillie I found a fallen bird’s nest, and it made me inexplicably sad. I mean, I looked it over, and the craftsmanship was impeccable. I had to hope that the nestlings were already long gone, that the feral cats that live in the bushes in the park next door didn’t find the nest and its inhabitants. Yes, it’s in a cat’s true nature to hunt, but that doesn’t mean that I like it.
Each year a bird builds a nest in our mailbox. The mail carrier and I have a tacit agreement: I don’t remove the nest, and he puts the mail off to the side away from the nest. But one year we had a substitute carrier, and when I went out to get the mail, I found the nest removed from the mailbox.
“What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them?” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
My love of songbirds comes from Mari, from whom I learned which birds like which seeds. In the house that she used to share with her ex-husband there was a picture of Mari standing in a rubber rain coat and galoshes in a downpour. She was filling her bird feeders. Nothing deterred her from this daily routine.
Because her house was situated a bit off the beaten path and near water, she had phenomenal luck with hummingbirds. I put up hummingbird feeders but was only successful in creating a habitat for fire ants. I’ve never been able to attract any hummers to my yard; although now that I have so much more shade, perhaps I’d have better luck in growing hardy fuchsia plants, which are like beacons for hummingbirds. They don’t like really hot, humid weather, and every year I would hang several baskets only to have them wilt and die by mid summer.
I used to do so much more in the yard when Mari was around. Her love of gardening and birding was infectious, and we would spend hours roaming around garden centers buying pants and feeders. Even though I had planned to fill my planters this year with colorful annuals, I never got around to doing so.
My relationship with Mari enriched my life in countless ways. I miss that kind of friendship.
“Today in my heart a vague trembling of stars and all roses are as white as my pain.” ~ Federico García Lorca
You know what else I miss terribly? Teaching literature. It’s been so very long since I stood in front of a class filled with people who were eager to discuss a new poem, a new short story. I feel as if my mind is atrophying from a lack of outside stimulation. The creative mind is emboldened, nurtured by like minds. I remember one student in a section of American literature who began the class very quietly. Within a few weeks, he was volunteering to read poems aloud, and I could always count on him to add something meaningful to the discussion. In my mind, I can still see his face over a decade later.
Should I go back to school? I know. You’re wondering where that came from? To be honest, it has never left. It is always there, right next to the haunting knowledge that I will never have another child. The two things have carved out niches of emptiness in my soul that will never be filled. I can subsume them, and very often I can make it through a few days without thinking of one or the other or both, but never for very long.
It’s my ongoing inability to separate, to forsake that which is no longer a part of my life. I do not carry my heart on my sleeve—I carry my entire soul there, the esse that is me, omnipresent, looming just within reach, a tether that will never be long enough for complete separation.
“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I warned you from the outset that this post could go either way, and now it’s obvious as to which path I chose.
In a symphony, the whole truly is the sum of its parts. A viola chord slightly off, or a cymbal a millisecond to soon—this things bear weight. Nothing is innocuous. Consider Mozart or Beethoven, who heard the sounds of these individual instruments within their minds, who heard the collective and the individual, who translated these imaginings into sounds of such pure beauty.
Now, consider Clarence Clemons and his impeccable saxophone solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungle Land.” The sound is raw and deep and it cuts straight to the soul.
The sounds are antithetical, yet not. Clemons’s rendering when he played was filled with the same kind of passion that is often associated with Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy” from his 9th Symphony. So, too, the individual. We are capable of such beauty, and we are capable of such destruction. We can be rough and raw in our dealings with others, and completely tender in our interactions with a small child. Both the darkness and the light exist, and both carry weight.
“When I think I see clearly and, therefore, think about thinking about, let me be in the dark, measure and strain . . . And when I think it’s okay to sleep or that memory’s a comfort less malicious than happiness, give me the courage to deal these cards to the wind and keep walking.” ~ Ralph Angel, from “At the Seams”
Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, and still fewer dwell at either extreme, but some of us move back and forth like a child’s teeter-totter.
I can only tell you this: If I do not speak about these things, I will break. No, I am not a prodigy like Mozart who heard fully realized pieces of such immense splendor that they needed little rearrangement. But I do bear within myself a constant stream of thoughts and words, and sometimes the weight of these things threatens to drown me.
It’s as if somewhere an instrument is slightly out of tune, and I can sense this discord, and when this happens, the melody is simply impossible to realize, but time and life are fickle, always conspiring to steal bits and pieces from our lives unless we grasp what matters most firmly and refuse to relent.
As I sit here with the waning rays of the late afternoon sun bathing my face, I will leave you with this final metaphor, as this post has been rife with bad ones, so why not one more? Wood, specifically a newly felled tree. At first glance something of such mass would appear to bear so much weight that sinking beneath the water seems the only possible action. But when these logs are pushed into the water, they float. They are filled with air pockets. Borne by the current, they travel to their destination. Water, wood, and air come together in a perfect symbiosis.
Yes? See? Well, of course that’s ignoring that the log used to be a tree hanging out with a bunch of other trees before someone with a chainsaw decided its fate. And that bird’s nest used to sit in a tree before a predator knocked it to the ground.
More later. Peace.
Music by Matthew Perryman Jones, “Amelia,” just beautiful
I Like the Wind
We are at or near that approximate line
where a stiff breeze becomes
or lapses from a considerable wind,
and I like it here, the chimney smokes
right-angled from west to east but still
for brief intact stretches
the plush animal tails of their fires.
I like how the stiffness rouses the birds
right up until what’s considerable sends them
to shelter. I like how the morning’s rain,
having wakened the soil’s raw materials, sends
a root smell into the air around us,
which the pine trees sway stately within.
I like how the sun strains not
to go down, how the horizon tugs gently at it,
and how the distant grain elevator’s shadow
ripples over the stubble of the field.
I like the bird feeder’s slant
and the dribble of its seeds. I like the cat’s
sleepiness as the breeze then the wind
then the breeze keeps combing her fur.
I like the body of the mouse at her feet.
I like the way the apple core I tossed away
has browned so quickly. It is much to be admired,
as is the way the doe extends her elegant neck
in its direction, and the workings of her
black nostrils, too.
I like the sound of the southbound truck
blowing by headed east. I like the fact
that the dog is not barking. I like the ark
of the house afloat on the sea of March,
and the swells of the crop hills bedizened
with cedillas of old snow. I like old snow.
I like my lungs and their conversions
to the gospel of spring. I like the wing
of the magpie outheld as he probes beneath it
for fleas or lice. That’s especially nice,
the last sun pinkening his underfeathers
as it also pinks the dark when I close my eyes,
which I like to do, in the face of it,
this stiff breeze that was,
when I closed them, a considerable wind.
“rush of pine scent (once upon a time), the unlicensed conviction there ought to be another way of saying this.” ~ Paul Celan
Thursday evening. Cold. Incipient migraine.
William Blake once said that “in the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.” I found a card once that depicted a series of doors, and the Blake quote was printed at the top. I had that card on my collage for years.
I think that we very often go through doors without a clear conception of what may be lying on the other side. In our attempts just to move through life, we open a door, hoping that some kind of truth will be waiting on the other side. And that truth may indeed be there, but it just isn’t the truth that we were anticipating.
Does that make any sense?
“There is this white wall, above which the sky creates itself— Infinite, green, utterly untouchable. Angels swim in it, and the stars, in indifference also. They are my medium. The sun dissolves on this wall, bleeding its lights.
A gray wall now, clawed and bloody. Is there no way out of the mind?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Apprehensions”
Let me back up and attempt to explain: Each year, in the months of November and December my nuclear family undergoes a change. The change is not sought, nor is it necessarily wanted, but without fail, it rears its head and begins to bite little pieces out of our souls, mine and Corey’s, that is.
You see, in November I try so hard to bring to the forefront of my mind the face of my father and the face of my daughter. Both gone for years, I hope that by being able to conjure the lines of their faces, the shapes of their eyes, their noses, I will be able to regain some semblance of closeness to them.
It is, undoubtedly, an exercise in pain. I know this, but the knowing does not stop me. For the entire month of November, whether or not I realize it, I am a walking time bomb, tormented by slights—real and imagined. My family, being keenly aware of this, takes pains to compensate for my temporary insanity, and I try very hard not to lose too much of myself in my heart-madness.
December 5th passes (my father’s birthday); I begin to emerge, and I try to reset my mind, to move into holiday mood. I do this because my childhood love of Christmas is one thing that I cling to in the hopes of recreating a Currier & Ives holiday that probably never happened. Nevertheless, in my hopes of sharing smiles of happiness with my family on Christmas morning, I use the holidays as my means of escaping the brutal realities of November.
The problem with this scenario? Corey hates Christmas. I don’t really know all of the reasons why, but he has never shared in my childlike (childish?) fondness for all that December encompasses: the lights, the smells, the trees, the gifts, the presents, the appearance of Venus in the sky, brighter and seemingly nearer than any other time of the year. For me, it’s not the spirituality but rather the idea of family, and sharing, and beauty.
For Corey, I don’t know what it is other than something he would rather skip. In fact, Corey becomes downright desolate in December, and that desolation on the heels of my November decline inevitably leads to friction, misunderstanding, and distance.
“While I was looking the other way your fire went out Left me with cinders to kick into dust What a waste of the wonder you were
In my living fire I will keep your scorn and mine In my living fire I will keep your heartache and mine At the disgrace of a waste of a life” ~ Kristin Cashore, “Dellian Lament,” from Fire
The overlapping of these two emotional falls never bodes well. It is as if we are two pieces of tinder, small enough to be borne about by the wind, but infused with enough power to ignite a fire of immense proportions. Trust me when I say that this is not a good thing.
For the past two weeks Corey has been one raw wound. He snipes, and with my perceived wounds, I retreat into a sullen silence. Today was no exception. So here I sit feeling bitterly sorry for myself and wondering what I hope to achieve by writing all of this. Hence, the Blake quote about the known and unknown and the doors in between.
When two people are together, no matter how much love is between them, the moments of discord loom larger than the moments of harmony. That is a simple fact. I think that the more love there is, the more potential there is to be hurt. But the very nature of love as a double-edged sword is what draws us to it, what makes us yearn for it, and what makes us fear it. Because of this, some people close themselves off from the potential to be wounded, and then there are those of us who rip off our sleeves, beat our chests, and yell, “more!”
Love is inherently insane, and its slaves are doomed to be made fools again and again.
“I sought the peak of prudence, but I found the hemlock-brimming valley of your heart, and my own thirst for bitter truth and art.” ~ Federico García Lorca, from “Stigmata of Love”
It is now 3:30 a.m., early Saturday morning. The incipient migraine hit me full force while writing this post, and I have not been able to return to it until now. I should probably go back and try to make more sense of what I wrote before, but quite frankly, I just don’t care. That I am not asleep is a reflection not only of the effects of the migraine but also of the deep depression that crept upon me in the last 48 hours.
The depression is an amalgamation of many factors that have been building over the past few weeks. When Corey asked me a few nights ago just why I was so prickly, I took his question to heart and made myself do some searching within. These are the things that have been bothering me:
My mother, with whom I lived during the time immediately after her fall and during her recovery, had a sort of mantra with which she filled our days together: She was on a fixed income (lost count of how many times I heard that), and paying her bills was of such import to her that she tried to get out of her sick-bed only a few days after falling so that she could make out her checks. As I mentioned in previous posts, I ended up doing her bills for her in the interim, so I have more than a passing knowledge about her income and her financial obligations, which are, for the most part, just the costs associated with day-to-day living: utilities, food, insurance. She is not well off, but neither is she in the poor house.
So when she began to talk of buying another car so that she could give Alexis her 2002 Honda Civic, I listened/only half-listened. I had heard it all before, and she changed her mind daily, depending upon whether or not she was angry with Alexis. This is how my mother operates. Not to mention the fact that I did not want to think about the complaints that the coming months would bring if my mother took on a car payment, how she is barely making it. I know: I sound like the bitch that I am.
Admittedly, I was also not necessarily pleased with the idea of my mother giving my daughter yet another car (third since my father died), mostly because Alexis is still not working and not making any attempts to find employment. I thought that such an act on my mother’s part would only continue to reinforce Alexis’s less than responsible behavior. But what do I know as I am only her mother . . .
The short of it is that my mother ended up buying herself a new Honda Accord and gave Alexis the Civic so that she (Alexis) can look for a job. I tried to stay out of the whole process as much as possible, which is pretty much impossible in matters involving my mother as she is a master at guilting me into doing things that I would prefer not to do. I acquiesce because it is easier and because I carry an inordinate amount of guilt in matters concerning my mother.
I decided to put my foot down in the only way that I thought made sense: I declared that Corey and I would not be footing the bill for Alexis’s car insurance, which we have been doing without any recompensation from her for quite a while now. Corey declared that I was being petty, which led to some of the discord to which I referred above.
“Nothing adds up. It all adds up. How long will this storm go on?” ~ Raymond Carver, “Stupid”
I have never thought of myself as petty, so the word hurt terribly, especially coming from Corey. Is it petty that right now I have problems of my own that consume me? That right now, I find that my empathy, my sympathy, my whatever-pathy is lacking? More guilt.
But what was and is really bothering me? So much and so little, as usual. Alexis, 26, no job, no apparent ambition, coasting and casting about and living off the kindness of those who love and care for her. ‘She has problems,’ I am reminded, words that I have spoken myself on occasion. I despair of what will become of her; I know that whatever that is, it is beyond my doing now. That realization is hard as the love that I bear for my children is so powerful, so all-consuming.
My instincts always are to protect, to help, to soothe. But is this not a disservice in some ways? Have I not contributed to my daughter’s sense that someone will always be there for her? And yet, I never want her to feel the despair that I have felt. I never want her to feel as if she has no one in the world who is there for her as I have felt.
As a parent, will I ever reach a point at which I do not feel both responsible and burdened? Perhaps this time of the night is not the best time to try to unravel these mysteries.
Yet I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life in which melancholy will not be able to envelop me so completely. I feel as if I am deep inside a crevice, looking up towards a sky that I know is there but cannot reach. I have no ulterior motive—no arrière pensée, if you will—for revealing the turmoil which I feel.
I long to have someone to call in the middle of the night who will be able to discern just from the timbre of my voice that while I may feel impenetrable, I can still be reached. I miss having a best friend.
Enough already. I have written myself into a corner. As I have said before, it is all too much and not enough, and to continue pick at the wound will only leave a scar.
More later. Peace.
Music by Glass Pear, “My Ghost” (what an incredible voice)
All the True Vows
All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.
There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.
Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.
Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.
Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen
nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.
By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.
Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,
it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.
in this place
no one can hear you
and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,
that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not.
I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.
Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
for the first time
after all these years
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Remembrance, reflection, recrimination, and finally, regret.
Once upon a time, I had four coffee mugs, each with a different quote by Shakespeare. My favorite mug, the one that I used at work for several different jobs, was the one inscribed with the quote above. That mug is gone now, and I have never been able to find another set of mugs like the first one.
Odd the things you remember when you least expect it.
“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” ~ St. Augustine
I’m in a melancholy place. I realize that this state is due in part to Jennifer’s situation and my inability to separate completely what is happening to her from what happened to Caitlin. Last night when Alexis called me to give me an update, she said that she was afraid to call me because I always seemed to get upset. I told her that I wanted her to call, that I needed to know what was going on.
Jennifer isn’t Caitlin. I know that. I also know that I harbor knowledge that no one should have to have imprinted on memory but unfortunately, too many people do: the names and categories of brain tumors, what a shunt is and how it works, the questions to ask a neurosurgeon and an oncologist. It’s the kind of knowledge that I wish I did not own, never had to incorporate into my life.
I also know fear, real, palpable fear, the kind of fear that takes over life and makes every second a study in emotional torture: Fear of the unknown and the known, fear of the uncontrollable, fear of that which is in our control, fear of time passing too quickly, and fear of not having enough time. It is the kind of fear that you can know intimately but be unable to articulate, and it certainly cannot be described adequately to inform someone who is in the midst of it.
“There are places in the heart that do not yet exist; suffering has to enter in for them to come to be.” ~ Léon Bloy
So many decisions still need to be made, decisions about who will care for Reilly permanently should Jennifer not recover. I remember being Jennifer’s age, remember my own fallibilities at that time, and cannot imagine having to make these decisions with my younger sense of self.
This is part of the unfairness of fate: only having the knowledge to face the worst when the need for that knowledge no longer exists. I do not believe in that saying that a person is never given more to bear than he or she can handle. These onerous loads are almost always placed upon the people who are most unprepared. That is because most people live life forwards, hoping for the best and guarding against the worst.
Only people who have touched the face of relentless pain and despair realize that the future is dependent upon the past, that normalcy is a myth. When the impossible becomes reality, it is almost always more than any individual is prepared or able to bear. Survivors, those left behind, almost always wish not to be. Those who survive are forever changed and not necessarily for the better. Survivors muddle along after the life-cleaving event, never again complacent, some small part always thinking about the worst that can happen.
The truth is that two kinds of people exist in this world: the whole and the broken. And the whole become broken after sharing intimacy with tragedy.
“Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied.” ~ Pearl S. Buck
As sentient beings we make thousands of choices during our lifetimes. Sometimes the choices are easy, requiring little thought or reflection. Other times, the choices that we make ultimately change the courses of our lives.
I have made too many choices that I regret, choices about Caitlin, choices about my father, but the decision that I made 12 years ago is the one haunting me today. When I found out that Alan had cancer, I called his sister and asked if I could visit him. I set a date, but on that day, I stayed at school late; I don’t remember why. By the time I was supposed to drive to Alan’s house, I was exhausted. I did not go.
Alan died before I saw him. At his funeral, his sister told me that he had gotten dressed and had come downstairs on the day that I was supposed to visit. He waited for me. It was one of his lucid days. I know that she did not tell me this to shame me; she was trying to let me know how much Alan still cared about our friendship.
My reasons for not going that day are worthless. Some of you may wonder why I still think about something I did not do 12 years ago. I can only tell you that I am haunted by my bad decisions, particularly those that directly affected someone else important to me.
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ~ C. S. Lewis
I’m really not certain as to why this post took this turn. I can only say that after talking with Alexis last night, I was overcome with feelings of regret—the insufferable what-if of life.
And then last night I did sleep, but it was fitful and filled with disturbing dreams: I had a baby, a girl, and I was amazed that she was talking so soon. Then the girl child turned into a boy child. I was sitting in a waiting room while Corey was in a class. Someone said, “Does anyone know whose baby this is?”
I said that he belonged to me, but he was supposed to be with his father. The boy came running to me, and I swooped him into my arms. Throughout the dream, my ex kept appearing, and I thought it odd that he would want to spend time with me now that he is living with his girlfriend. Corey was not happy to see him.
Brett, Alexis and Eamonn were helping their father to drag bags of empty cans into a place for recycling. My ex asked if we would help. The baby disappeared. Corey and I turned away and began walking down a sidewalk.
I woke up with another headache.
“In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real.” ~ Libba Bray
Chiaroscuro ((k-är-skr): The practice of using the contrast of light and dark pictorially; also called clair-obscur. What a great word and also the perfect description of my life.
Sometimes I think of life in photographic terms: light and dark, what is seen versus what is shadowed. The images that are crystal clear from a distance can become unfathomable when looked at too closely. And some images that are easily interpreted upon first glance later morph into something that cannot be comprehended when revisited.
Perhaps this accounts for my preoccupation with the sky: my love for blue skies is matched only by my love for night skies. I am a study in contradictions: I am comforted by the mountains as well as the sea. What wounds me also nourishes me.
Would that I could be the kind of person who accepts things at face value, who moves through life unfettered by the need to question, to analyze, to disseminate, to cull. Would that allow me to move past the past, to bury all of the speculation and regret? Or perhaps it is just as Oscar Wilde once said: “One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.”
More later. Peace.
Music by One Eskimo, “Kandi”
Sonnet of the Sweet Complaint
Never let me lose the marvel
of your statue-like eyes, or the accent
the solitary rose of your breath
places on my cheek at night.
I am afraid of being, on this shore,
a branchless trunk, and what I most regret
is having no flower, pulp, or clay
for the worm of my despair.
If you are my hidden treasure,
if you are my cross, my dampened pain,
if I am a dog, and you alone my master,
never let me lose what I have gained,
and adorn the branches of your river
with leaves of my estranged Autumn.
“If you had never been to the world and never known what dawn was, you couldn’t possibly imagine how the darkness breaks, how the mystery and color of a new day arrive.” ~ John O’Donohue*
While the above sentiment is beautiful, greeting the dawn for six mornings in a row has just gotten old. I mean, I was thinking about it. If I worked the night shift, then my body clock might make sense, but as I am not working at all, this biological time-out has become overwhelmingly stale.
This most recent episode began on Sunday after my birthday (great sushi for birthday dinner, by the way). I woke up on Sunday with a headache, so I spent most of the day lying on my back in the dark. Slept on and off. By Monday, headache had receded to pressure, but I felt exhausted. Or, let’s just say that I thought that I felt exhausted. Now I truly know what exhausted is: I feel as if I am one of those movie zombies, wandering about aimlessly looking for my next victim, but even that description doesn’t quite do this state justice.
Last night, I took my bedtime meds early (around 10). Nothing, nada. Around 12:30 Corey came into check on me; I took Benadryl. Nothing nada. At 3:20 when Corey (Mr. Nightowl himself) came to bed, I took half a trazadone, since a whole pill normally puts me out and gives me a medicine hangover. Nothing, nada. Creeping towards 5 a.m. and still no sleep. Not even spurts of mini-sleep. Ab-so-lute-ly nothing. By this time I figured that it had been 9 hours or so since I had taken any muscle relaxers, so I chanced it, even though thoughts of putting myself into a pharmaceutical coma were lurking somewhere.
At 6 a.m. I heard Brett’s alarm go off, but he didn’t get up. I was just starting to drift a bit when I squinted at the clock: 6:16 and still no movement from Brett. He had two exams today, so he had to go to school. I knocked on his door, and behold, he was not awake. I nudged Corey around 6:45 and told him that there was no way that I could drive even though I was awake since I was definitely under the influence of something. I finally fell asleep around 7:45 and slept until 11. Took two ativan and slept from 11:30 to 2:30.
Those last three hours were the only uninterrupted, sound stretch of blissful sleep that I had. Every night since Sunday has been like this.
“I’m sleeping while awake, standing by the window, leaning against it as against everything.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
In between tossing and turning, I play computer games. I think about writing, but realize that if I begin a post, my mind won’t settle—it will only come to consciousness fully. I know, computer games aren’t the best idea either, but I try to find something mindless, like Bejeweled, just moving jewels around, but mindless games don’t seem to fix the problem either.
I have noticed that the quality of my dreams when I do sleep is pretty wild: Something about a really ugly dress, a work dream thrown in there (work dreams have taken the place of algebra finals for my stress dreams), and then the other night, I had a full-blown action/adventure movie in which Corey and I were holed up in some seedy hotel, trying to find ammunition. Apparently, we were on some job that involved taking out someone, and we had run out of ammunition.
I remember being quite enamored with my gun, which was a Walther PPK, à la James Bond. It had a weird siting mechanism, and the safety was on the back, not the side. Weird. I have never owned a gun and have never fired a handgun, but in this dream, my gun was my best friend.
“Only mystery makes us live. Only mystery.” ~ Federico García Lorca
Although, what is more strange is that when I am not sleeping, in those long stretches of painful wakefulness, I find myself doing very odd things like math equations. Trust me when I say that while I am good at math, I do not like it, so why is my mind in overdrive doing word problems?
Do you ever compose in your sleep? I do, not as much as I would like, but it happens. I compose verse, which in my dream state sounds perfect, but I almost never wake myself to jot down what I have composed. I think that I do, but it’s just my body tricking me. However, on Monday, when I finally did fall asleep, I composed a piece of music, which is something that I have not done in many years.
I am a classically-trained pianist, which I may have mentioned. I was good, but not great, and I knew it. I just loved it, which is why I took lessons for so long, but knowing that I didn’t have that special whatever that would set me apart, I did not major in music in college. So when I realized in my dream that I had composed a piece of music, I felt overjoyed. Once I woke up, I managed to hum just a tiny bit of it, but that was all that was left to me in my conscious state.
However, I interpret the way in which my mind has been working recently during my semi-awareness to mean that I might be embarking on another creative spurt, at least I hope so. I mean, math? Music? Of course, the two are closely related . . . perhaps my mind is making connections that I have yet to reach once I am alert, although describing myself as alert these days might be going too far.
“I have a sense of something imminent coming closer. But then I lose it again, become ordinary and inadequate. I feel like someone who is trying to guess an object being described by music. The sound grows steadily louder; he thinks he is on the point of grasping it, and then the sound becomes weaker again and he has to look for another answer.” ~ from the diary of Kaethe Kollwitz
Who knows what is really going on in my mind? Certainly not I. Of course, if I were to venture a theory, it would be that the stress of our lives is currently wreaking havoc with my body. Yes, there is the pain, but that is omnipresent. It is more the sense of my head being very full and tight, my ears ringing, and an inability to focus.
Of course, it has now been exactly two years since Corey was laid off. His job with Vane Brothers, which his contact said should start at the beginning of this year, now has a tentative start date of mid-February. We haven’t given up hope because if he does actually manage to get a job with this company, it would be wonderful. They have a great reputation in the shipping industry, good benefits, and people who work for them seem to be satisfied, which is not commonplace in tugboating.
I have learned that people who work on tugs jump from company to company, often returning to companies once, twice, even three times. I suppose it’s just one of those industries that is a bit incestuous: everyone knows everyone else; being part of the in network secures a job faster than qualifications, things like that. Anyway, I am really, really hoping that this comes through. We’ve been due for a change of luck for some time now, and I find that time has become somewhat unreliable as a result.
By that I mean I look up, and it’s the end of January. I was just getting ready for Christmas. But at the same time, it’s been two very long years without a second regular income, and that seems interminable. It’s almost as if I am somnabulating through the days, getting nowhere, so my body cannot truly rest.
“If you could only keep quiet, clear of memories and expectations, you would be able to discern the beautiful pattern of events. It’s your restlessness that causes chaos.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Oh listen to me, going on about a whole lot of weirdness. I can say, though, that my back feels better today after getting my caudal yesterday, even though I felt as if I was going to throw up on the procedure table. This nausea crap is really getting old, but as I told Corey, I’m sure that this, too, shall pass.
I just have to hold on to the idea that next week or the week after, my body will begin to right itself, so to speak, and I will be able to concentrate more fully on the things that matter, like writing this blog, for example. This overwhelming sense of restlessness cannot last forever; can it? I mean, a person could really and truly go crazy without the ability to find focus.
Ah well. For now, I will continue to exist between these states of tossing about in the bed covers, stumbling to the kitchen to get something to drink, sitting at my desk in front of this computer waiting for inspiration. I don’t think that I have killed my sleep like Macbeth did, but I do believe that something inside of me is churning about too much, hence the inability to sleep soundly. Exactly what that something is, I have no idea. But as Emerson said, “What you are comes to you.”
I have to believe that given time, things will begin to shift course. The receding tide will remove all the detritus that life has scattered on the shore for the past two years, and dawn will again become something that I greet with a sense of hope instead of dread.
More later. Peace.
Music from the Dixie Chicks: “Landslide,” which seems wholly appropriate: getting older, children getting older, being brought down by a landslide . . .