“He no longer trusted words.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Divisadero


“Maybe I have written to see; to have what I never would have had . . . from the tips of the fingers that transcribe by the sweet dictates of vision. From the point of view of the soul’s eye: the eye of a womansoul. From the point of view of the Absolute, in the proper sense of the word: Separation.” ~ Hélène Cixous, from “Coming to Writing”

Thursday afternoon. Partly cloudy and warmer, 45 degrees.

Not really certain as to what I want to say today. I took a little time out to put on some makeup. Don’t ask me why. I mean, for the dogs? I suppose for myself more than anything. Sometimes I just feel so dowdy, and then I turn to my vast collection of makeup that goes unused day after day. I never used to feel like that—dowdy. Of course, I had a job to go to, people to meet. I dressed in more than yoga pants and t-shirts. I fixed my hair and my face. It seems like a lifetime ago, and actually it was—a decade this past October.

I cannot believe that it’s been that long, and at the same time, I cannot remember what it was really like, only the idea of what it was like. Does that make sense?

Who was I then? I had a full-time job, career, and my sons still lived at home, were still in school. My house was crowded with people and things, and it was a good time. I was in graduate school again getting my publishing degree. Corey was going to sea and enjoying his career. We took vacations as a family and as a couple. Things were so different. I’m not really sure what I miss the most. All of it? Some of it? Who knows . . .

“Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.” ~ Gabriel García Márquez, from One Hundred Years of Solitude

I can honestly say, though, that I didn’t get back to my writing in any kind of regular way until I was forced to go on disability in 2008. Between approximately 1999 to 2008, I wrote only sporadically. I worked, a lot. Writing didn’t really fit into that schedule, but then I met Corey, and I wrote during the beginnings of our relationship, and then, not so much. Well, that’s not exactly true; when Corey started going to sea, we both started journaling, and then we would exchange journals for his next trip. That was very meaningful for both of us, I believe.

But after the back operation and the disability decision? I mean, it was a matter of write or go crazy, and so this little blog that I had begun as part of a project for a publishing class began to take on more shape, began to turn into something regular and predictable in my life, and that, too, was good.

I don’t know why I never wrote my book, books. There were so many starts and stops, and I kept telling myself that I had time, that May Sarton didn’t even get published until she was in her 50’s. I had time, I kept telling myself. The irony is not lost on me.

And now I feel as though I’m out of time, out of time to write that book, that is. God. So many plots, so many characters, so many spurts of dialogue and settings. So many pieces, so disparate and so cohesive at the same time. It was going to be a mystery, a memoir, a biography, a history, a thriller. It was going to be a confessional with poetry, essays and photographs. It was going to be . . . so many things.

You can begin to see my problem. It’s nothing new. It’s a matter of having too many words and too few words simultaneously. It’s also a matter of a seeming lack of discipline.

“You are looking
for mountains to climb.
I am looking
for the words to a poem
I can’t remember.” ~ Sarah Kay, from “A Place to Put Our Hands”

Other people write books all of the time, and other people who write books go on to be not famous, end up working in tech or a grocery store, but dammit, they tried, at least. I never wanted to write to be famous or rich. I wanted to write for validation, to prove that I could, to show that my words could mean something, could touch someone besides me.

My first husband, I’ll give him credit, used to read my poems and try oh so hard to be nice. He would say things like, “I understand this, but maybe not everyone would.” It was so frustrating and yet, comforting. I knew that he was trying to be kind; that was when we were still kind to one another. And then he left, and I wrote and wrote and wrote, so many words that so many women who had gone through the same thing could understand. I wrote for days on end. I still remember the words just flying from my fingers, unabated by anything. Yet still, I never sent out my poems. Never tried for publication.

Look. It’s not that I don’t think that I could get published. I’ve sent out three poems in my life, and one was published. I entered two writing contests, and placed third my first time. So I know that there is a grain of talent here. And yes, I know that self-publishing is a thing now. People on tumblr seem to do it successfully all of the time . . .

Maybe I’m just lazy. Or maybe, I’m so fricking insecure and so very afraid of criticism that I continue to try to protect myself by not even trying. Maybe . . .

“The world seethes with words. Forgive me.” ~ Paul Bowles, from “Next to Nothing”

Okay. All of that is all well and good. So what about here? What about this blog? This blog takes discipline, work, and dedication. I mean, 90 percent of the time I put my words down here. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes informative, and sometimes they even speak to the heart. More often than not, they are nothing more than a journal like Samuel Pepys, who recorded daily life in London from 1660 to 1669. The ironic thing is that his diary turned out to be a very informative document that included entries on the great plague and the great fire of London.

Will my blog be famous 50 years from now because I talked about horses and dogs and trees? Or because I talked about the heartbreak of losing a child in infancy and then losing children in a different way in adulthood? Or because I bemoaned the loss of friends over the years, mostly due to my own consistent inattention. Yes, a lot of what I say is relatable to a lot of people, and a lot that I say is not relatable at all. So will this blog become some kind of marker of life here in the mountains, or in a small town, or life during this turbulent political time? Doubtful.

I mostly write these words to try to keep my brain and my spirit nimble, and if someone in the ether reads what I have to say, that’s wonderful, but I cannot count on that. Writing my way through is what I’ve always done, and it’s what I’ll always do, in one way or another. I know that I’m self-absorbed; I’ve never claimed otherwise. But then, I am simultaneously too empathetic to the plights of those around me. Other’s pain affects me more than I care to admit. A dichotomy. Again, nothing new. But these aspects of my personality feed into my creative side, at least.

“Words, I think, are such unpredictable creatures. No gun, no sword, no army or king will ever be more powerful than a sentence. Swords may cut and kill, but words will stab and stay, burying themselves in our bones to become corpses we carry into the future, all the time digging and failing to rip their skeletons from our flesh.” ~ Tahereh Mafi, from Shatter Me

I have another admission: I always imagined that living in the mountains in the midst of such natural beauty would offer a wellspring of creative drive, that I would be like Thoreau and suck that frigging marrow out of life, etc. But one reality is that creative people, while they like to work in solitude, often feed off other creative people, and I just don’t think that I’m going to find a writing group anywhere around here, especially as I cannot even find a decent doctor.

But technology has fixed that. There are countless writing groups and communities online Diana Gabaldon, creator of the Outlander series, began her writing career as an exercise on a forum, and now look at her, how many books later? Other people began their writing careers while they were working full-time jobs as lawyers, publishers, university professors, coroners, whatever, and they passed their writing around to colleagues, friends, for feedback, criticism.

So why can’t I get it together enough to put one word after another into some semblance of a manuscript? Why? Nothing? Several years ago I promised myself that I would look for an agent. Did that happen? Need you ask? Did I complete NaNoWriMo? Nope.

I know that I’m spitting into the wind (such a lovely turn of phrase that), but I am genuinely searching for an answer here. I want to know why I cannot move from the safety of this screen beyond, into . . . into whatever is out there. Why am I so freaking scared? What is it in me that is so fragile that causes me to shy away from what I want the most for myself?

I have no answers. I seem to type that a lot lately, but it’s true. I have absolutely no answers. The only thing that I can say is that I’ll keep looking. I owe myself that much at least. And as Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) said in Dead Poets, “and the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

I have no idea. Yet.

More later. Peace.

All images are taken from Wordstuck, which is currently dormant, but you can find it here.

Music by Sleeping at Last, “Saturn”


I Want to Write Different Words for You

I want to write different words for you
To invent a language for you alone
To fit the size of your body
And the size of my love.

I want to travel away from the dictionary
And to leave my lips
I am tired of my mouth
I want a different one
Which can change
Into a cherry tree or a match box,
A mouth from which words can emerge
Like nymphs from the sea,
Like white chicks jumping from the magician’s hat.

~ Nizar Qabbani (Trans. Bassam K. Frangieh and Clementina R. Brown)

“Writing: a way of leaving no space for death, of pushing back forgetfulness, of never letting oneself be surprised by the abyss. Of never becoming resigned, consoled; never turning over in bed to face the wall and drift asleep again as if nothing had happened; as if nothing could happen.” ~ Hélène Cixous, from Coming to Writing and other Essays

“Sweetie,” by Terre des Hommes, Netherlands (click here for more information)

                   

“You promised me that oblivion
would strangle me with ringed hands.

You promised me I would remember nothing.” ~ Catherynne M. Valente, from “Helen in the Underworld”

Wednesday afternoon. Sunny and warm, 70 degrees.

Random thoughts on where poems come from:

The intriguing sequence of images above appeared on my tumblr dash recently. I knew I wanted to use them but was unsure as to how I could incorporate them into a post. Then I remembered that several days ago I came across the poem below by Erika Meitner about memory and her grandmother. I never knew my mother’s mother, and I only met my father’s mother once, so the idea of a grandmother has always been abstract to me.

Then this afternoon, I was reading while Olivia napped, and I suddenly thought about eyes, and then the following poem came to me all in a rush:

Grandmotherly Advice

We are peeling potatoes for Sunday dinner
and she says to me in that half whisper
she reserves for curse words
and perceived blasphemous phrases—
“It is in the eyes.
You can always tell by their eyes.”
And I wonder what this non sequitur it is
that my grandmother has suddenly given essence.
Evil? deception? duplicity? worse?
I think I may have seen this it,
once or twice in the eyes of strange men,
somewhere in how they first looked at me
and then through me, never finding me
substantive enough
for more than a second’s glance.
I do not tell her how much
I have wished a man (any man) might have stayed
long enough for me to see something in their eyes.
Anything at all.
She has already moved on
to the near-silent clucking
she issues to the cats
as she pours food
into their bowls,
and I know I will never again hear
of it or them.

L. Liwag
November 12, 2014

                   

Yizker Bukh

Memory is
flotsam (yes) just
below the surface
an eternal city
a heap of rubble
debris smaller
than your fist
an animal with-
out a leash
organized wreck-
age ghost net

or one hanging
silence on the phone—
she’s gone
, my sister said,
and we wept and wept
over my grandmother
while my sister sat
with her body and me
in the static and the rabbi
they sent told her to recite psalms
as comfort so we listened to each other
breathe instead and her breath was
a tunnel a handful of pebbles a knotted
Chinese jump-rope       her breath was the coiled
terrycloth turban our grandmother wore when she cooked
or walked the shallow end of her condo pool for exercise—
our grandmother still somewhere in her white turban sewing
Cornish game hens together with needle and string or
somewhere in her good wig playing poker or
somewhere in her easy chair watching CNN
while cookies shaped like our initials bake
in her oven O memory how much you
erased how many holes               we punched
in your facts since who knows the stories
she never told about the camps there are
no marked graves just too much food on
holidays diabetes my mother’s fear
of ships and the motion of some
suspension bridges O memory
you’ve left us trauma below
the surface and some above
like the fact that I can’t
shake the December
my sister’s red hair
caught fire from
leaning too close
to the menorah’s
candles, our
grandmother
putting her
out with a
dish towel
with her
strong
arms.

~ Erika Meitner

                   

Music by Michelle Branch, “Creep”

“I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet

William Ascroft Sunset in June after Eruption of Krakatoa c1880 pastel
“Sunset in June after Eruption of Krakatoa” (c. 1880s, pastel)
by William Ascroft

                   

“When you feel perpetually unmotivated, you start questioning your existence in an unhealthy way; everything becomes a pseudo intellectual question you have no interest in responding whatsoever. This whole process becomes your very skin and it does not merely affect you; it actually defines you. So, you see yourself as a shadowy figure unworthy of developing interest, unworthy of wondering about the world—profoundly unworthy in every sense and deeply absent in your very presence.” ~ Ingmar Bergman

Sunday, early evening. Partly cloudy and cold, 35 degrees.

No snow. Not a drop. No galumphing for Tillie, and no snow photos for me. Oh well . . .

So I’ve been thinking about clouds, not in a scientific way but in a philosophical way. Let me explain:

William Ascroft Amber Afterglow with Crepuscular Rays 1885 pastel
“Amber Afterglow with Crepuscular Rays” (1885, pastel)
by William Ascroft

When we look up at clouds in the sky, they seem to be buffeted along by the wind, without having any momentum of their own. They bump into other clouds along the way, sometimes just touching the sides, sometimes merging, sometimes completely obscuring. Clouds can be massive puffs (cumulus), multilayered (stratus), or wisps (cirrus), and all of the variations in between.

Now I know that in truth, clouds are propelled and formed by many factors: wind, gravity, moisture content, solar heating, etcetera. Yes, I know all about low level and upper level winds, jet streams, and all of that, but I’m keeping it basic as an extended metaphor for my life.

I realized that I am very much like a cloud: My life has moved along many paths, some of my choosing and others due to circumstance. Often I have felt as if I have had no say in the directions I seem to be traversing. Along the way, I meet people, some who seem to swallow me with their big personalities, and others who I tend to overshadow because consuming them is easy, and then there are the people who I meet in passing who may or may not leave me with any sort of lasting impression.

“After the cups of tea, coffee, public conversations . . . I want to sit down with someone and talk with utter directness, want to talk to all the lost history like that deserving lover.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Running in the Family

Now if all of that sounds like some kind of new age bullshit, well, what can I say? I’m certain that I’m not the first person to have used this metaphor for life, nor will I be the last. I can only say that it occurred to me this morning as my consciousness was coming into waking, and I decided to go with it.

William Ascroft Sustained Light after Sunset 1886 pastel
“Sustained Light after Sunset (1886, pastel)
by William Ascroft

As children, we put our heads on our arms as we recline in the grass, and we look up at the clouds and try to make out shapes—bunny rabbits, cats, dogs. As adults, sometimes we see other things in the shapes—an arrow, a mass like a mushroom cloud, Richard Nixon (okay, maybe that one is just me). When do the innocuous shapes we see as children morph into things more reminiscent of our waking nightmares?

I couldn’t tell you. I only know that at various point in my life I have been content to be bounced around by the winds, landing wherever and whenever. I suppose it’s part of the overall adventure. But at other times I have felt indignant at having so little power to control my path, which reminds me of a particularly crass simile that I have heard many times: It’s like pissing into the wind.

Fate. It’s tricky, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s somewhere in the middle.

“I go, we go. On the way we keep a log-book, the book of the abyss and the shores. Everyone does. My books are thus like life and history, heterogenous chapters in a single vast book whose ending I will never know.” ~ Hélène Cixous

I know. Pretty flaky, and I couldn’t really tell you where any of this came from. Just thinking about life, my life in particular, life in general, and the fact that no one really has control, no matter how much they may think they do.

William Ascroft Sunset and Afterglow 1883 pastel
“Sunset and Afterglow” (1883, pastel)
by William Ascroft

Presbyterians believe in predestination, as in the idea that when someone is born, his or her life is already planned out, from start to finish, as willed by god. I always found that concept incredibly troubling. John Calvin contended that some people are born already condemned to eternal damnation, while others are slated for salvation. Think about this for just a moment: No matter what you do, you are damned if that is what god decided for you before you took your first breath.

Sucks.

I remember learning about this concept when I was about 10 or 11, and even then, it really bothered me. If one holds to predestination, then why try? I mean, if you have a run of bad luck at one point, is that god shaking the omnipotent finger at you, saying, “Tough luck. But this is your road, and you can’t do anything about it”? And if so, should you just give up because, well, what the hell? What’s the point?

“You know, maybe this is how your concerto ends. I mean, not a big end with trumpets and violin. Maybe this is the finish, just like that suddenly. Not sad, not happy, just a small room with a lamp, abed,a child sleeps, and tons of loneliness.” ~ Eran Kolirin, from The Band’s Visit

My awakening cloud metaphor stayed with me even as I read an article in Rolling Stone about Aaron Swartz (The Brilliant Life & Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz). You may not know the name, but Swartz was a brilliant Internet pioneer, helping to develop RSS and reddit, and he committed suicide in January of this year. Swartz was being charged with theft for downloading documents from the JSTOR system of MIT. JSTOR is an online repository of articles for which colleges and universities pay access.

William Ascroft Sky Study 1886 pastel
“Sky Study” (1886, pastel)
by William Ascroft

Swartz, who was a child prodigy, was also plagued by personal demons, including depression and a sense of isolation. What does this have to do with what I’ve been saying? A lot.

Swartz, even though he could create code like others brew coffee, wanted to be a writer. He often felt as if he had no control over the direction his life was taking him. That he committed suicide is sad for all of the obvious reasons, but also because society lost a bright star, one who contributed to much but felt as if he had contributed nothing. When he died, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, wrote that Swartz was “blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good, a maker of things.”

What touched me about this story was how this genius man-boy was so self-doubting, so insular, so afraid, yet others saw him as this fierce fighter for access to information.

We never see ourselves as others see us.

“The time of departure is not mine to choose; I must find my way alone in this darkness. With the shadow of the moon at my side, I search for traces of wildlife in the white snow.” ~ Wilhelm Müller, from “Good Night”

I have spent so much of my life drifting aimlessly, it seems, yet you tell me otherwise. I have spent so many years lost, but not really.

I have had the pleasure and pain of encountering kindred spirits and malevolent spirits, all of whom have helped to build me up and chip away at my soul. I have merged, dissolved, grown layers and lost parts along the way.

William Ascroft Sunset and Noctilucent Cloud 1885 pastel
“Sunset and Noctilucent Cloud” (1885, pastel)
by William Ascroft

I have been soldiered on by winds that were warm and comforting, and I have been tossed about without any ability to tether myself to something solid. If have felt spun, blown, thrown, carried, cajoled and heaved. I have lost my way and in being lost, have found other paths.

All of this is to say that in this third act of my life, I am older, wiser, and still thrashing about completely without a clue.

Just before waking, a woman in my dream said this to me: “Century, century, 25.” I had no idea what it meant, which is to say, business as usual. And all of this brings to mind that completely sardonic Yiddish proverb: “Men tracht und Gott lacht.” (Man plans and god laughs).

More later. Peace.

(All images are by British artist William Ascroft, who drew hundreds of pastel sketches following the eruption of the Krakatao volcano on a small island in Indonesia.)

Music by Mikky Ekko, “Feels Like the End”

                   

The Dumka

His parents would sit alone together
on the blue divan in the small living room
listening to Dvorak’s piano quintet.
They would sit there in their old age,
side by side, quite still, backs rigid, hands
in their laps, and look straight ahead
at the yellow light of the phonograph
that seemed as distant as a lamplit
window seen across the plains late at night.
They would sit quietly as something dense

and radiant swirled around them, something
like the dust storms of the thirties that began
by smearing the sky green with doom
but afterwards drenched the air with an amber
glow and then vanished, leaving profiles
of children on pillows and a pale gauze
over mantles and table tops. But it was
the memory of dust that encircled them now
and made them smile faintly and raise
or bow their heads as they spoke about

the farm in twilight with piano music
spiraling out across red roads and fields
of maize, bread lines in the city, women
and men lining main street like mannequins,
and then the war, the white frame rent house,
and the homecoming, the homecoming,
the homecoming, and afterwards, green lawns
and a new piano with its mahogany gleam
like pond ice at dawn, and now alone
in the house in the vanishing neighborhood,

the slow mornings of coffee and newspapers
and evenings of music and scattered bits
of talk like leaves suddenly fallen before
one notices the new season. And they would sit
there alone and soon he would reach across
and lift her hand as if it were the last unbroken
leaf and he would hold her hand in his hand
for a long time and they would look far off
into the music of their lives as they sat alone
together in the room in the house in Kansas.

~ B.H. Fairchild