It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling— that really hollowed-out feeling. ~ J.K. Rowling


“Strange how we decorate pain.
These ribbons, for instance,
and the small hard teardrops of blood.
Who are they for?
Do we think the dead care?” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “Morning in the Burned House”

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and cooler, 76 degrees.

Last night I had a very melancholy dream: I was working for the government contractor again, preparing a major proposal, but for some reason I was doing the writing/editing at home. At one point during the dream, I’m in a coffee bar, and I’m waiting for a male friend of mine to finish his conversation with his lover. While I am waiting, I begin to draw with colored chalk on one of the walls. I don’t askI just do. The image that I create is incredible, swooping colors and forms emerging from my fingertips, and I wonder where this talent came from.

While I’m drawing, my friend leaves, so I sit down on a bench and just stare at what I’ve created. I ask for a glass of wine . . .

Daniel Vasquez-Diaz Window in Bidasoa, Fuenterrabia 1918
“Window in Bidasoa, Fuenterrabia” (1918)
by Daniel Vasquez-Diaz

Return to home and the proposal . . . for some reason, I’m trying to take a shower so that I can go in to work before the deadline, but I can’t quite get the shower to work, and it’s because i have too much on my mind. This idea of being late for work frequently appears in my dreams. I’ve run into a man with whom I used to share a very deep love, and he tells me that he has remarried and has a child, and this is the last thing I am expecting. I ask him why he didn’t tell me before, and he says that he didn’t know how.

I tell him that I still have to finish one whole section of the proposal, and that I cannot deal with what he has said right now. I turn my back on him so that he cannot see how much he has hurt me, and then I get in the shower with all of my clothes on. By the time I get out, he has gone, and I know that I will never see him again. My mother comes in and asks me why I am taking so long.

When I awake, I’m trying to remember the name of the person in the company who prepared the budgets for the proposals. I can only remember his first name: William. He wasn’t in the dream at all, but somehow my mind has carried on with the proposal theme into waking. I begin the day with a heavy heart.

“All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.” ~ Miranda July, from It Chooses You

I won’t pretend that I’m doing better. I mean, I was, for a few days at least. But at this moment, the dining room table is covered with everything that I removed from the small, antique bookcase that sits in the corner of the living room. You see, the other day I decided to try to touch up some scratches on the dining room table . . . hours later, and I had touched up the finish on the coffee table, two end tables, the Bentwood rocker, another rocking chair, and the bookcase. I have no idea how any of this came about. I only know that I worked myself into a state of great pain.

Pierre Bonnard Landscape through a Window c1918
“Landscape through a Window” (c1918)
by Pierre Bonnard

So two days later, everything remains off the shelves and on the table, and I am no closer to having the house clean for Corey’s homecoming on Saturday. So here I sit, tired and depressed and completely unable to muster even a scintilla of energy. At least I have two more days . . .

At the moment, it’s raining, and thankfully, the temperature has dropped. But my mind is still on the dreams, on the chalk image and the heartbreaking words. I haven’t seen this man in decades. I have no idea as to where he is or what his life is like, so that he makes an appearance in my dreams and leaves me feeling devastated is, shall we say, unwelcome? But more, I am wishing that I actually had the artistic talent that I had in the dream, the ability to blend colors, create shapes, all without hesitation or thought.

I don’t know which part of the dream hurts more, and I wonder if other people dream this way: complete scenarios, emotions, colors, smells, tastes . . .

“But I won’t go there again.
We are all and only our distances
And when we touch that is what we touch.
Our messy shelves. Our sullen privations
And overabundance of lemons.
Our grief, our mountains and fields
And rivers of grief.” ~ Dan Chelotti, from “My Sparrow”

Other things: The air is so heavy, and while there is no mist, it feels that there should be one. Does that make sense? I don’t know . . .

Lately my nights are taking on a strange hue: the color of loneliness and ennui. I sit in bed and watch television. The dogs follow me from room to room, looking at me with anticipation as if I am going to do something incredibly exciting, and then sitting rather resolutely when I do not. Do you know how it feels to know that you have disappointed even your dogs? I am thankful for the company, but this loneliness will not lessen. This small house now has too many rooms.

My mother has been much on my mind, of late, and she pops up in my dreams constantly, even when she doesn’t fit the narrative, and that’s how it was in life as well. There is so much my mother never knew about me because at some point I stopped sharing, feeling that I would only receive scorn and negativity, as in, “why in god’s name would you do that?”—a comment I heard more than once in my life.

(c) Henrietta Garnett; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“A Venetian Window” (1926)
by Vanessa Bell

My mother would call and ask what I was doing, and I would tell her that I was on the computer. She would ask what I was doing on the computer, and I would use that catch-all word: writing, because to explain blogging would have been just too damned hard, and perhaps I didn’t give her credit, and perhaps she didn’t earn that credit, and perhaps I was too hard on her, and perhaps I learned hardness from her.

I only know that this year will be full of firsts, and I am not looking forward to any more of them: Olivia’s first birthday without her, my kids’ first birthdays without their Oma, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas, and truly, I would like nothing more than to be far far away when those dates roll around, having no desire to meet them head on.

“Sorrow is so woven through us, so much a part of our souls, or at least any understanding of our souls that we are able to attain, that every experience is dyed with its color. This is why, even in moments of joy, part of that joy is the seams of ore that are our sorrow. They burn darkly and beautifully in the midst of joy, and they make joy the complete experience that it is. But they still burn.” ~ Christian Wiman, from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

And it’s funny, but when my father appears in my dreams, he is just the same: quiet, unassuming, and I can deal with this visage of my father because it is so like the reality that was. But now, when my mother appears I do nothing but question. Why was she in that dream? What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Because, you see, she is different in the dreams, somehow. It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly. All I know is that sometimes she is so much more caring in my dreams, more concerned about my welfare, and it makes me wonder, really wonder, if she was this way in real life, and I just didn’t see it.

Too much . . . . . . . too much . . . . I am reminded of the Wordsworth poem, “The world is too much with us”:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Late and soon . . . . . . late and soon . . . . .

East Coast Window exhibited 1959 by Mary Potter 1900-1981
“East Coast Window” ()
by Mary Potter

My life is on a loop replay of literary quotes from things I read and studied so very many years ago. Funnily enough, I came across an older profile of myself in which I called myself a “Virginia poet,” and that really took me aback. How very pretentious of me. I write poetry so seldom now, having little to no faith in my abilities where verse is concerned. Needless to say, I changed the profile, but coming up with even the barest of descriptions for myself was taxing. I mean . . . . . . what am I?

Gah! I am too old to be doing this who am I crap.

“Some begin to talk,
to themselves, as do the mad;
some give their hearts to silence.” ~ Stephanie Strickland, from “The Red Virgin:  A Poem of Simone Weil”

I have said many times—in jest and not—that this world is purgatory, this here and now—this is the realm in which we are destined/doomed to work through our sins, resolve our issues. Again and again and again and again.

I feel as if I have spent my whole adult life to this point just waiting, waiting for life to begin. I will be able to do x once I have done y. I will be able to leave this area once my mother is no longer alive. I will be able to do to do . . . what??? It’s maddening, I tell you. How have I lived this long, done this much, and still have absolutely no idea as to who or what I am?

Konstantin Adreevich Somov View through a Window 1934
“View through a Window” (1934)
by Konstantin Andreevish Somov

I am (was?) a daughter, a mother, a spouse, an ex-spouse. For so many years I wanted to be someone’s sister, but that’s another story . . . I have been an editor, a staff writer for a weekly news insert, a newsroom supervisor, a proposal development specialist, a marketing director, a publications manager, and a sales manager. I have taught college, and I have taught middle school. I have managed staffs of 45, and staffs of 2. I have worked in a steak house and in a donut shop. I have been a nanny, a housekeeper, and a restaurant server. I have coordinated special events and memberships.

I have dated navy pilots, a devout catholic boy, a sociopathic liar, lawyers, and others. I married and divorced my best friend, and I married the man who has tried to make my dreams come true.

I have lost a daughter, a father, a mother, a woman who was like a mother, an uncle who was like a father, and many more.

What is the point of this litany? Well, you would think, wouldn’t you, that after all of this I might have a better idea of who and what I am, but I don’t. I really don’t, and part of me, a small part, envies those people who do one job their entire lives; I mean, for them, it seems that everything is clear cut. You work in factory x or business y. You get up, go to work, come home. You get raises and promotions along the way, and when someone asks you what you do, you have an answer.

“Wherever I turn, the black wave rushes down on me.” ~ Franz Kafka, from “Diaries”

Look. If I am to be honest, and that is what I am attempting to do, I would have to say that I have never been satisfied, even in my dream job of teaching English at ODU. While I was doing that, I kept thinking that I really needed to be in a doctoral program, and perhaps if I had followed through with that, I would still be teaching English at some college somewhere.

Richard Edward Miller Woman by a Window
“Woman by a Window” ()
by Richard Edward Miller

Follow through. Key words, those. I’m great at starting, at doing, but continuing? Going all the way to the end? As my dad used to say, “Shee-yit.” (I really miss hearing my dad say that. It was his one- word exclamation for just about anything, good and bad.)

Anyway, the point is . . . there is no point. I have reached and passed that milestone birthday, that one that signifies you are now definitely on the downswing of life, and I used to point out to Mari when we were adrift that May Sarton didn’t publish her first novel until she was in her 50s. Somehow, when you are in your 30s, that seems like all of the time in the world, that you have plenty of time to write your own verse.

When I presented Dead Poets Society to my literature classes, I was so finely attuned to Mr. Keating’s words, his query of the young boys: “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” I thought, then, that I did, indeed, have a verse.

Late and soon . . . . . . late and soon . . . . .

It is very late, and it is too soon, and I am no closer to any answers than when I typed the first word of this post. I am doing nothing more than decorating my pain. Atwood and Wordsworth, two worthy wordsmiths. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

More later. Peace.

Music by Lucius, “Go Home”

                   

Sailing on Lake Superior

Before us now the edge of the earth,
below us the nearly endless cold.
Around us nothing but shimmering
water,
the miles of empty and sparkling blue.

For a few hours, the sail fills on
toward infinity. Shadows of
our delicate bodies ebb and flow
across the deck of our delicate boat.

What if the beautiful days, the good
and pacific temperate moments,
weren’t just lovely, but everything?
What if I could let it fall away
in the wake, that ache to extract
meaning from vastness?

Let this suffice; the ease of thinking
it all goes on, whether we’re here
to see it or not. The splashing waves,
the suntipped gulls arcing across
the radiant world.

~ Kirsten Dierking

“Memory doesn’t remember but receives the history raining down on it. Is it in this way that beauty, past beauty come back to life in a song not suited to the context of the hour, becomes tragic?” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982

Henri Matisse Olive Trees 1898
“Olive Trees” (1898)
by Henri Matisse

 

                   

Joaquim mir Trixnet Camino de la Casa Guell aka The Path to Casa Guell 1918 oil on canvas
“Camino de la Casa Guell (The Path to Casa Guell) (1918, oil on canvas)
by Joaquim Mir Trixnet

Two for Tuesday: One really long poem by Mahmoud Darwish

“My privacy is what
doesn’t lead to me, and it isn’t a dream
of death.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish from “Tuesday and the Weather is Clear”

Click here to read the poem in its entirety.

Tuesday and the Weather is Clear (Selected Passages)

Tuesday, clear weather, I walk on a side road
covered by a ceiling of chestnut trees, I walk lightly
as if I have evaporated from my body, as if I have
a meeting with one of the poems. Distracted,
I look at my watch and flip through the pages
of faraway clouds in which the sky inscribes
higher notions. I turn matters of my heart over
to walnut trees: vacancies, without electricity,
like a small hut on a seashore. Faster, slower, faster
I walk. I stare at the billboards on either side
but don’t memorize the words. I hum
a slow melody as the unemployed do:

“The river runs like a colt to his fate / the sea, and the birds
snatch love from the shoulder of the river.”

I obsess and whisper to myself: Live
your tomorrow now. No matter how long you live you won’t
reach tomorrow… tomorrow has no land… and dream
slowly… no matter how often you dream you’ll realize
the butterfly didn’t burn to illuminate you.

Light-footed I walk and look around me
hoping to see a simile between the adjectives of my self
and the willows of this space. But I discern
nothing that points to me.

If the canary doesn’t sing
to you, my friend… know that
you are the warden of your prison,
if the canary doesn’t sing to you.

There is no land as narrow as a pot for roses
like your land… and no land is as wide
as a book like your land… and your vision
is your exile in a world where shadow
has no identity or gravity.

You walk as if you were another.

……….

I walk lightly and grow older by ten minutes,
by twenty, sixty, I walk and life diminishes
in me gently as a slight cough does.

I think: What if I lingered, what
if I stopped? Would I stop time?
Would I bewilder death? I mock the notion
and ask myself: Where do I walk to
composed as an ostrich?

……….

I forget as I remember, or I remember that I forgot.

But I remember today,
Tuesday
and the weather is clear.

And I walk on a street that doesn’t lead
to a goal. Maybe my steps would guide me
to an empty bench in the garden, or
to an idea about the loss of truth between the aesthetic
and the real.

……….

Do I resemble the ancient
pastoral poet who the stars crowned as king of the night…
the one who renounced his throne when the stars
sent him as a shepherd for clouds?

……….

I walk as if I have a rendezvous…
maybe my steps would guide me to an empty bench
in the garden, or to an idea about the loss of truth
between the imaginary and the real.

……….

Was he the one I was
or was I the one I wasn’t?

She asks: Why do the clouds scratch the treetops?

I say: For one leg to cling to another beneath the drizzle.

– Why does a frightened cat stare at me?
– For you to put an end to the storm.

– Why does the stranger long for his yesterday?
– For poetry to depend on itself.

– Why does the sky become ashen at twilight?
– Because you didn’t water the flowers in the pot.

– Why do you exaggerate your satire?
– For song to eat a bit of bread every now and then.

– Why do we love then walk on empty roads?
– To conquer the plentitude of death with less death and escape the abyss.

– Why did I dream I saw a sparrow in my hand?
– Because you’re in need of someone.

– Why do you remind me of a tomorrow I do not see you in?
– You’re one of eternity’s features.

– You will walk alone to the tunnel of night when I’m gone.
– I will walk alone to the tunnel of night when you’re gone

…and I walk, heavy as if I have an appointment with one of the defeats.
I walk, and a poet within me readies himself for his eternal rest
in a London night: My friend on the road to Syria,
we haven’t reached Syria yet, don’t hurry, don’t make the jasmine
a bereaved mother, or test me with an elegy:
how do I lift the poem’s burden off you and me?

The poem of those who don’t love describing fog
is his poem.
The coat of the clouds over the church
is his coat.
The secret of two hearts seeking Barada
is his secret.
The palm tree of the Sumerian woman, mother of song,
is his tree.
And the keys of Cordoba in the south of mist
are his keys.
He doesn’t append his poems with his name,
the little girl knows him
if she feels the pinpricks
and the salt in her blood.
He, like me, is haunted by his heart,
and I, like him, don’t append my will to my name.
And the wind knows my family’s new address
on the slopes of an abyss
in the south of the Distant.

……….

The night became tranquil and complete, I woke up
as a flower and breathed by the garden fence.
I said to myself: I am witness that I’m still alive
even if from afar. And that I dreamt about the one who had been
dreaming, like me, I dreamt he was me and not another…
and that my day, Tuesday, was long and spacious,
and that my night was brief like a short act appended
to a play after the curtains had come down.
Still I won’t harm anyone
if I add: It was a beautiful day,
like a true love story aboard an express train.

If the canary doesn’t sing,
my friend,
blame only yourself.
If the canary doesn’t sing
to you, my friend,
then sing to it… sing to it.

Translated by Fady Joudah

                     

Music by Tom Odell, “I Think it’s Going to Rain Today”

“The heart is a foreign country whose language none | of us is good at” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “Meanwhile”

                   

“It turned out that being together
at twilight in the olive groves of Umbria
did, indeed, measure everything after that.” ~ Jack Gilbert, from “Living Hungry After”

Some poems from Jack Gilbert’s book The Dance Most of All: Poems

Winter in the Night Fields

I was getting water tonight
off guard when I saw the moon
in my bucket and was tempted
by those Chinese poets
and their immaculate pain.


After Love

He is watching the music with his eyes closed.
Hearing the piano like a man moving
through the woods thinking by feeling.
The orchestra up in the trees, the heart below,
step by step. The music hurrying sometimes,
but always returning to quiet, like the man
remembering and hoping. It is a thing in us,
mostly unnoticed. There is somehow a pleasure
in the loss. In the yearning. The pain
going this way and that. Never again.
Never bodied again. Again the never.
Slowly. No undergrowth. Almost leaving.
A humming beauty in the silence.
To having been. Having had. And the man
knowing all of him will come to the end.


Going Home

Mother was the daughter of sharecroppers.
And my father the black sheep of rich Virginia
merchants. She went barefoot until twelve.
He ran away with the circus at fourteen.
Neither one got through grammar school.
And here I am in the faculty toilet
trying to remember the dates of Emperor Vespasian.

                   

Music by Black Lab, “Weightless”