“Peace, serenity, and integration are unknown to me. My familiar climate is anxiety. I write as I breathe, naturally, flowingly, spontaneously, out of an overflow, not as a substitute for life.” ~ Anaïs Nin Nin*

"Sea Mist" (nd, oil on canvas)by Sir Kyffin Williams
“Sea Mist” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Sir Kyffin Williams

                   

“I change every day, change my patterns, my concepts, my interpretations. I am a series of moods and sensations. I play a thousand roles. I weep when I find others play them for me. My real self is unknown. My work is merely an essence of this vast and deep adventure.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Saturday afternoon. Sunny and cold, 40’s.

Sir Kiffin Williams Barclodiad Y Gawres
“Barclodiad Y Gawres” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Sir Kiffin Williams

Well, the world didn’t end. Boehner didn’t get his Plan B. Westboro creeps were kept from grandstanding at Sandy Hook funerals by Hell’s Angels. And the NRA didn’t disappoint in the “We Know You are a Bunch of Myopic Assholes” category by suggesting that having guns in schools would keep violence out of schools.

Yep. The world continues to turn on its axis, and the inherent stupidity of people marches on.

Heavy sigh . . .

My other boy dog Alfie is dying. We used to refer to him as Mr. Muscle because of his swagger; he walked like a European body-builder in a Speedo. And I am once again filled with guilt because I know that I have not loved him as much as I loved Shakes, but I have loved him still, in spite of the fact that he’s psycho and goes off at the drop of a hat. How to resolve the guilt and the anguish? Probably not possible, nor should it be as it never is.

“I have no confidence in myself and great confidence in others. I need love more than food. I stumble and make errors, and often want to die. When I look most transparent is probably when I have just come out of the fire. I walk into the fire always, and come out more alive.” ~ Anaïs Nin

And because I am bereft and gloomy, I have chosen to populate today’s post with quotes from Anaïs Nin. You’ll forgive me, I hope.

Sir Kyffin WIlliams St Davids Head
“St. David’s Head” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Sir Kiffin Williams

Guilt is an insidious creature. It compels us to make bad decisions, to pursue avenues we would under different circumstances never trod. Guilt wipes from our consciousness any semblance of logical thinking. Its tentacles wrap themselves around our cerebellum and squeeze until the frontal lobe is incapable of choosing between good actions and bad actions.

Guilt resides within the brain but is born in the heart, where it develops on a continuous diet of losses and betrayals. Guilt is weaned on slights and slurs, and it festers on perceived injustices and imagined iniquities.

Guilt dusts the edges of every planned revenge and gilds each false sentiment that leaves our lips.

Guilt is perhaps the progenitor of imbalance in the heart, the mind, and the soul because it works against the Aristotlean Golden Mean. It is impossible to ride the middle when consumed by guilt, and so we fall prey to extremes.

“I think life tragic, not comic, because I have no detachment. I have been guilty of idealization, guilty of everything except detachment. I am guilty of fabricating a world in which I can live and invite others to live in, but outside of that I cannot breathe.” ~ Anaïs Nin

If I had to choose one overriding emotion to define my life, it would most certainly be guilt:

  • I have not done enough
  • I have not loved enough
  • I have loved wrongly

    Sir Kyffin Williams Morfa Conwy
    “Morfa Conwy” (nd, oil on canvas)
    by Sir Kyffin Williams
  • I have lived cravenly
  • I have put myself before others
  • I have not considered myself enough
  • I have not considered the consequences
  • I have been paralyzed into inaction by the possible consequences
  • I have hidden behind false modesty
  • I have worn the cloak of aggression
  • I have watched when I should have acted
  • I have acted when I should have watched
  • I have proclaimed impartiality when it has not existed
  • I have decided when I should have bided

“I am apparently gentle, unstable, and full of pretenses. I will die a poet killed by the nonpoets, will renounce no dream, resign myself to no ugliness, accept nothing of the world but the one I made myself.” ~ Anaïs Nin

And no, this is not a timely post for the holidays. I know that, and I would apologize, but that would be unseemly as I am not at all certain that I would be sincere.

Sir Kyffin Williams Porth Dafarch
“Porth Dafarch” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Sir Kyffin Williams

I am sorry if you have come here expecting folderol (falderal) and instead were met with oblique attempts at rationality. I have no control over the trails my mind will take on any given day, or even at any given hour. The term flighty is especially fitting on days such as these.

I began this post thinking about how the big Mayan prediction (or rather interpretation of the Mayan calendar) did not come to pass (as I never thought it would) and how life continued to march on inexorably, how the madness of our society continues to spiral, how the cheapness of a human life continues to be met with indifference. And then I alit on my other boy dog, which took me down an entirely different road, and unfortunately for you, that particular road is well-trod for me.

And so, I do apologize for that.

“I create a myth and a legend, a lie, a fairy tale, a magical world, and one that collapses every day and makes me feel like going the way of Virginia Woolf. I have tried to be not neurotic, not romantic, not destructive, but may be all of these in disguises.” ~ Anaïs Nin

And so Christmas will be here in three days, and I am completely without the sense of wonder and delight that I hope to capture each year, which makes me wonder when I will grow up and realize that life is simply what is and not what may be.

Sir Kyffin Williams Sunset, Penmon nd
“Sunset, Penmon” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Sir Kyffin Williams

And in spite of my misgivings, I will plant a smile upon my face come Christmas morning, and somehow, I may be able to move from a false face into a real one, if I can just let go of my guilt long enough.

You must wonder how someone such as myself can possibly move through life, how someone paralyzed by deep emotions can traverse the minefield that is life, and my reply is that I try, and on some days, I succeed, and on others, not so much, and today is a not so much day, but life insists on being attended to, so I will leave this page in a moment, and I will spend the next several hours wrapping presents in beautiful paper and adorning those packages with ribbons and bows because that is what I do, and I hope, I really and truly hope, that I can forget about myself for a while.

More later. Peace.

All quotes are taken from a December 1946 letter from Anaïs Nin to Harper’s Bazaar editor Leo Lerman who had asked Nin for a short auto-biography to use in a profile feature. She declined. (as found on Brain Pickings)

Music by Ane Brun, “The Light from One”

                     

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

~ Robert Hayden

Some Wounds Never Really Heal

rebeccas-church
Old English Churchyard by Rebecca Gagnon

Time passes. Landscapes change. People come in and out of your life. This tapestry that we are constantly weaving contains many, many threads, some short, others incredibly long; they pass in and out, unbroken, made stronger by their connection to the other threads that in the end, are the portraits of our lives. But when we step back, we see the barren spots, the threadbare patches. These are the incomplete pieces of our lives, the places in which we were unable to fulfill a part of our destiny, for whatever reason, or a place in which a piece of our life was taken from us unwillingly.

These barren spots on our tapestries are the wounded pieces of our soul, and often, we do not recognize them until late in our lives when we are looking back, reflecting on our lives. But once in a while, we are forced to face these wounds much sooner than we would like, and it is in these moments, when we face our own mortality, that our lives are changed forever, and the weaving of our tapestry takes on a completely different pattern.

Mine changed on November 7, 1988 at 2:42 p.m., the day my daughter Caitlin took her last breath in my arms.

Some years, this anniversary passes me by without much pain at all. In the beginning, each year was like a fresh debridement, a new removal of my skin, and I welcomed the pain like a junkie welcomes the needle. The pain reminded me that I was alive and that she wasn’t, and the pain forced me to relive my self-imposed guilt for being the one who lived, for as any parent in this situation will tell you: the death of a child is not the natural order of things. Gradually, by around year nine or ten, the pain had lessened in its acuteness, and for that I felt a different kind of guilt. And then when I stopped going to the cemetery as much, I felt a new kind of guilt.

There are all kinds of books on the stages of grieving, but none on the stages of guilt, or at least, none on the many stages of imposed guilt: guilt when you no longer buy silk flowers every year on her birthday, guilt when you no longer think of her every single day, guilt when you no longer can recall the smell of her skin, guilt when you can no longer carry her baby blanket around with you everywhere you go . . . well, you begin to understand the idea.

What brings me to this posting? Twenty years. This morning I was sitting in a hospital outpatient waiting room awaiting my mother’s surgeon to finish a relatively simple procedure on her eye, and I felt as if the room was closing in on me. Twenty years ago on this date, I was sitting in a hospital room in pediatric intensive care, watching a machine breathe for my daughter, knowing that this was going to be the last day of her life, knowing that her organs were not going to be able to help anyone after her death because she was too far gone, knowing that I would never brush her hair again, never sing to her again, never sleep on the hospital vinyl furniture again, never, never, never . . . and all I wanted was another day, another week, a Thanksgiving, a Christmas, a birthday. Anything. Everything. And all that I had was another few hours.

They have come so far in treating what ultimately killed my sweet baby girl—ARDS—Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a big name for a tiny child for a toxic syndrome that develops in the lungs from being on a respirator for too long. She was on a respirator because of the pneumonia. She got the pneumonia from the depressed immune system that she got from the chemo. She was on the chemo because of the brain tumor. No one knows why she got the brain tumor.

My sweet baby Caitlin died when she was 7 months, 12 days, and a few hours old.

Some wounds never heal. Some threads are not long enough to create their own pictures. Some holes are burned beyond repair. Some tapestries remain incomplete forever.

Continue reading “Some Wounds Never Really Heal”

The Insidiousness of Guilt

I have already written about my fascination with Catholicism, and one of the aspects of the religion that I have always found terribly unfair to those of us who are non-Catholics is the whole rite of confession and absolution. Now, I don’t claim to know all of the details about this pipeline to god, but from what I can discern, you tell a priest about everything you have done wrong during the past week, ten days, month, year, whatever period of time you are covering; your receive your penance, and then whoosh, you are absolved of your sins, clean slate. Now this seems like a pretty infallible system to me.

I remember reading about the whole system of pardons back in the middle ages in which people could buy their way into heaven, supposedly, until the pardoners were revealed to be less than holy men themselves, which meant that the money spent hadn’t actually bought anyone a seat on the other side of the pearly gates after all, and no one was  guaranteed anything any more than the rest of the peons. Of course, this was just one flim flam in one particular religion, and we know that the world is full of lots of different religions, and I’m not about to go into all of the different methods for gaining access into heaven and who is right and who is wrong, or we’d be here all day, and quite frankly, I find the whole debate too taxing.

Let’s get back to absolution and getting rid of your sins in one fell swoop. What no one bothers to mention is whether or not you get rid of the guilt as well. You see, this is where the Jewish side of me takes over–the whole idea of guilt. Don’t be offended. I am no more Jewish than I am Catholic, but I have an ample sense of guilt that I believe must mean that I was Jewish in one of my previous lives just as my love of the Catholic rituals must mean that I was Catholic in another life, and my deep respect of the Buddha and pantheism probably means that I was a grasshopper in another life . . . you get the picture. Back to guilt. I just don’t think that having someone absolve you of your sins can make the guilt go away. I carry guilt around like a talisman in a velvet bag next to my heart. It is omnipresent.

Some of my best poems have sprung from guilt. I still feel guilty about the Slinky that I stole when I was ten years old (but that’s another story). More importantly, I feel tremendous guilt over the ways in which I am certain that I disappointed my father who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. I feel guilty that my first marriage ended in divorce simply because I never envisioned divorcing my best friend even though we had grown apart. I feel guilty that I have never gotten my PhD in English because it has always been a lifetime goal of mine. But the real truth of the matter is that I feel guilty right now because I am skirting the whole issue of what guilt really means to me because I’m not sure that I can face it.

You see, I will always carry around this pocket of guilt in my heart no matter how long I live, no matter how much I write about it, because there are some things that simply do not go away. My youngest daughter died as a result of complications from a brain tumor. It was many years ago. But as her mother, I should have been able to save her. That is just the way that it is. That is ingrained in your DNA and programmed into every fiber of your being, no matter what the doctors tell you or logic dictates. When she suckled at my breast, I should have been able to transfer that inviolate shield that protects your young from harm, but it did not work.

And so, for years, I have carried guilt with me like an extra appendage, and I probably always will. And any guilt that anyone else might try to impose upon me for whatever reason will never come close to the guilt that is with me constantly–whether it is my mother, who likes to point out the added poundage around my middle as if my sight is failing and I hadn’t noticed that my body is not what it was when I was 20, or it is someone else close to me who, in a vexing mood may feel a need to state an obvious shortcoming so as to try to fight my ingrained passive/aggressive defense strategies. And now that I am experiencing my own physical limitations, it only makes my self-imposed guilt more pronounced, not less, which, I know, is not logical. I have less tolerance for myself, especially when reliving the past.

Her name was Caitlin, and her short life and excruciating death propelled me to write lines upon lines of verse, most of it bad, but necessary to my healing process. But the ensuing guilt has led me to write and write and write all kinds of things: some of it sarcastic, some of it sad, but all of it cathartic in some way. So while guilt is insidious and it can take over your life, I wouldn’t hand it over in a confessional box because it has made me who I am: melancholy, curmudgeonly, creative, spontaneous, cautious, aggravating, and bitchy. I have never pretended to be anything other than what I am, and I wouldn’t pay a pardoner a penny to be rid of that which makes me who and what I am.