“She stood upon a continent of ice, which sparkled between sea and sky, endless and dazzling, as though the world kept all its treasure there; a scale which balanced poetry and prayer.” ~ Carol Ann Duffy, from Another Night Before Christmas

Apologies. For some reason, the caption was not showing up with this image. Finally had to delete and reinsert . . .

“Morning Tea” (1917, oil on canvas)
by Igor Grabar

                   

“Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me.” ~ from “Miles Away

Two for Tuesday: Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate of the UK

Love

Love is talent, the world love’s metaphor.
Aflame, October’s leaves adore the wind,
its urgent breath, whirl to their death.
Not here, you’re everywhere

The evening sky
worships the ground, bears down, the land
yearns back in darkening hills The night
is empathy, stars in its eyes for tears. Not here,

you’re where I stand, hearing the sea, crazy
for the shore, seeing the moon ache and fret
for the earth. When morning comes, the sun, ardent,
covers the trees in gold, you walk

towards me,
out of the season, out of the light love reasons.

                   

Tea

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid steams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say,
but it’s any tea, for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes,
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

                   

Music by Yo La Tengo, “Gentle Hour”

“In music, in poetry, in life, the rest, the pause, the slow movements are essential to comprehending the whole.” ~ Maryanne Wolf

“Winter Morning,” Igor Grabar* (1907, oil on canvas)

                   

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon quoted in E. A. Poe’s “Ligeia”

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and 64 degrees.

Yes. I know. It’s been a full week since my last post. I haven’t been completely idle, though. The house is decorated inside and out. My collection of santas are on the hearth, and the holly swags are hung. Most of the packages are wrapped. The Christmas cards have been addressed, just need to get stamps and pop them in the mail.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1905, oil on canvas)

Unfortunately, it seems that I’m kind of limited to doing one thing a day, so sitting here and posting has had to take a back seat to holiday preparations, especially since wrapping presents just kills my back, so I’m only doing a little at a time. We’re doing Christmas day dinner here, but fortunately, everyone is making a major dish. We’re doing Filipino food instead of turkey or ham. We did the same thing last Christmas, and it was nice. So there will be pancit, rice, tuppa (marinated beef), stir fry green beans, lumpia, and perhaps a pork roast.

Most of the presents that I had to order online have been delivered, except for Corey’s big present, which is being ground shipped from California. I’m really hoping that it gets here in time. He has no idea that I’ve ordered this particular thing, so it will be a true surprise. It’s something that he’s wanted for a very long time but hasn’t mentioned in a while. I’m hoping that I ordered the right thing. Suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

“. . . every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~ Basho

We got some interesting news this afternoon. The representative from the shipping line that hired Corey called to say that he won’t be on the ship that he was originally slated to crew. Instead, he’s going to be on a big tanker that runs between Russia and Germany. The runs last for 90 days.

"Clearing Skyes," Igor Grabar (1928, oil on canvas)

Major pause here for deep breath.

It is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I mean, he’s going to get the deep sea time that he wanted. He’s going to see some new countries. He’s going to be making good money. But . . .

Ninety days straight. We’ve never been apart that long in our entire time together. None of us.

I know that he’s happy at the thought of a new experience, but he is also very worried about the unknown. Going from a tug boat to a tanker is a major jump. He has no idea as to what he’ll be doing. Fortunately, he’s working a shift at the boatyard where the company’s other tanker (the one we thought he’d be on) is coming into port this weekend, so he hopes to speak to some of the crew members about the company, what they’re like to work for, etc.

I’m trying very hard to keep my freaking out to myself. I mean, this is a classic case of being careful of what you wish for . . . We’ve both bemoaned our fate for so long, complained about the lack of shipping when the recession hit, the dearth of jobs available, so now that this has landed in our laps, we need to look at it as the gift that fate has accorded us.

But still . . .

“Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining” ~ W. S. Di Piero, from “Chicago and December”

My dad was a deep-sea mariner, traveling all over the world, sailing in just about every ocean and in many seas. He routinely had hitches that lasted months at a time. During the Viet Nam war he was gone for nine months straight. He liked it. My mother liked it. They liked each other better from afar.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1918, oil on canvas)

That always struck me as so bizarre. They had separate lives, separate friends. It wasn’t until he finally retired that they began to do things together, but it was always an uneasy peace, one that could blow at any second. And the blowouts were horrible, not physical, but loud and hateful. And even as an adult living my own life with my own family my mother still tried to draw me into the middle of the fray.

I’ll never forget the one time that my mother came to my house and announced that she was going to make my father leave. I told her that if she did that, then I would take him in. She was completely taken aback. I knew that she was yet again making an empty threat for effect, but if was the first time that I had ever called her on it.

In all, they were married something like 45 years. I don’t ever remember them being happy together.

“Surrounded by a deep and comfortable sea of blank space, she is right there—one end of a luminous brain-bridge—plain as day, front and center, hidden in full view.” ~ Stacey Schiff, from Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov

I’m still trying to absorb this piece of news, trying to be appropriately grateful and happy. Instead, I just feel an ache in the pit of my stomach, and that makes me angry at myself. What Corey and I have is strong enough to weather distance and time, of that I am certain. What I am less certain of is myself—my ability to not withdraw into myself.

"Sunrise," Igor Grabar (1941, oil on canvas)

I mean, I have lived alone before, alone when I was in college, and alone with the kids after my ex left. And I know that being a single parent to young children is much different from being a single parent to grown children. All of my kids are fairly self-sufficient. Eamonn loves to cook, and Brett is learning how to make more things now that he is feeling more secure about his abilities. I mean Lex doesn’t live here, but Brett and Eamonn do, and there are no plans for that to change anytime soon.

I’m hoping that I will be able to use this time to get a little bit more back on my feet, get out of the house more often, loosen myself from my safety nets. As it is, I do not leave the house daily, and that is pretty much by choice. Corey does the grocery shopping and the errands, something that started when my back gave out, and it’s something that he continues to do because he likes to do it, and I do not.

But that will have to change. Change can be good. I just have to remind myself of that.

“I do not consider myself less ignorant than most people. I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teachings my blood whispers to me.” ~ Hermann Hesse, Demian, trans. Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck

I just took a break to do the dishes and eat the most delicious scone that Emilie’s uncle dropped by the house. Most people who bake scones tend to make them on the dry side, but the ones that he gets from this particular bakery are incredibly tasty and moist. The one that I ate had bits of ginger in it. Ginger is one of those tastes that you either love or hate; I don’t believe that there is an in-between in that, but I happen to love ginger, especially crystallized ginger.

"Frost," Igor Grabar (1907, oil on canvas)

Anyway, as to what I was talking about—I am very much aware that I am a creature of habit, much more so now that I do not work full time. But I think that with my sons’ help I should be fine while Corey is gone. If I make myself get back into the habit of writing for a couple of hours each day, I think that that will help considerably in keeping my mind occupied.

Of course, I really have no idea how things will play out as I can only surmise. Perhaps I will surprise myself. Perhaps I’ll use the time to put down one of the many book plots that I have had running through my brain for years. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

I just know that I am truly thankful for this upcoming change in our circumstances. It has been a long time in coming. We have come far too close to losing everything, which makes all of us acutely aware of just how harsh reality can be. We have been close to the edge, but never over it, and we are all stronger for it and grateful for what we have.

Today is a good day: good news, good food, good music. Today I could not ask for more.

As I’ve said before, I know that compared to many, many others, we are lucky, and now, it seems, we have more luck on our side. So let me pause here to say thank you to all of you who have been so supportive, who have sent good wishes and prayers our way. It means more than I can ever say.

More later. Peace.

*All images by Igor Grabar, born in Hungary in 1871, studied and worked in Russia until his death in 1960. Many of his paintings (several of which are entitled “Frost”) are in the Tretyakov Gallery, the biggest collection of Russian art in the world, which Grabar headed from 1913 to 1935.

Music by Rascal Flatts, another version of “White Christmas”

                   

The Letter Scale

One of the objects I’ve treasured most in my life
Is this letter scale which, long ago, you gave me.
I was an active correspondent at the time,
Even sending lots of letters overseas.
While still enjoying the pleasure of going to the post,
I now had another: assessing exactly, in advance,
At my counter, the cost of packets and envelopes,
To which, price list in hand, I stuck my stamps.
I use it less these days, this quite simple device
Graded with little marks up to a whole pound,
For my mailings rarely still exceed the price
Of an ordinary stamp. The tray of polished metal’s now
Covered with dust, without the slightest hint
That the red pointer marking the weight on the front
Has budged. But in the long run, one would, I think,
Discern a difference and see how much the months
Were worth in terms of dust, the seasons elapsed
Since the previous weighing. But having been seized,
Suddenly, just this morning, by a tremendous attack
(Annual) of cleaning, from which nothing is released,
I restored to the tray’s slightly concave stainless steel,
That ever so slightly distorted mirror, its polished shine.
It reflected all of the sky, through which clouds reeled,
And I could confirm that space does not weigh more than time.

~ Jacques Réda

“Words form the thread on which we string our experiences.” ~ Aldous Huxley

“Winter Morning,” by Igor Grabar (1907, oil on canvas)

“After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own.” ~  Oscar Wilde

"Clearing Skyes," by Igor Grabar (1928, oil on canvas)

Unbelievable. Snow. Again. That’s three times in two weeks, more than we’ve had in years. It’s no longer snowing, but the wind is fierce, and boy is it cold. Earlier today the wind had that rumbling sound, not quite a freight train, but very, very loud and prolonged. For a moment I thought about the old oak tree right outside our bedroom window, but then I figured that since it had survived three hurricanes, it was probably not going to be taken out by the gusts.

Removing that particular tree is one our very long list of things to do around here once Corey starts back to work. The list continues to grow despite the lack of job. Funny how that works.

Last night I played music in my dreams. I’m pretty sure that it was a Chopin prelude, but I can’t remember which one. How strange.

I looked at the calendar and realized that I haven’t posted very much at all in February, despite my intentions to post every day. Quite frankly, I just haven’t had it in me. Between the excruciating back pain, and this headache (not quite a migraine) which has been around for over a week, I’m just not feeling very prolific. I mean, I sit here at the computer each day, open the screen that says Add New Post, and just look at the blankness before me. And then nothing. Nada. No joy, as it were.

I know. I know. I’m letting the blank white page (so to speak) get to me, letting it cower me into submission, allowing it to intimidate me. But any writer will tell you that the blank white page is a living, breathing nemesis. It chuckles softly at my inability to put down the opening sentence. Mocks me. And no, I’m not hearing voices in my head. Things haven’t deteriorated that badly—yet. But the white page, the blank rectangle stretched out on my screen fears nothing, which makes me fear everything.

I begin, and then delete. It’s part of the curse of technology. When writing in longhand, it’s so much harder to undo the words that have been written. Now it’s just a matter of holding down the backspace key or the delete key, and voila: Gone. Blank again. I used to hate to cross out my words. It seemed like such a violation, so I would write and continue to write. Maybe I could put something on my backspace key to make it painful to the touch, train myself, you know, like Pavlov’s dog.

Right.

 “Once you know some things, you can’t unknow them. It’s a burden that can never be given away.” ~ Alice Hoffman

"February Day," by Igor Grabar (1904, oil on canvas)

Anyway, on to other things. Corey called his contact at Vane Brothers, but hasn’t been able to speak to him. Considering Baltimore is crushed under the weight of yet another storm, it’s very possible that the office is not open. No need to read too much into things.

I called my mom today (phones are back on as of yesterday) to check on her, but she didn’t answer. It’s entirely possible that she’s mad at me again for not calling her even though Corey went by to check on her while he was out last week and told her that the phones were off. I never know when or why my mother is mad at me. It’s kind of like the phases of the moon: they happen all by themselves (well, not really), and if you wait long enough, a full moon will come around again. That’s my mother.

Who knows the whys and wherefores of her logic. I should talk. But now that the phones are back on, I really need to call my gastro doctor and make an appointment; it’s just the thought that he’s going to put me through some kind of uncomfortable test really sets up an internal roadblock, making me put off making the call. Going to a gastroenterologist is never just an office visit. I mean, there’s the visit, but then, without fail, there is some kind of test involving a tube, or a nasty drink, or something of that sort. I cannot fathom why anyone would become a gastroenterologist. But then, I cannot imagine why anyone would become a podiatrist.

Actually, it’s hard to imagine doing a lot of things that different specialists do, which is precisely why my pre-med major did not last very long in undergraduate school. The first time we had to dissect rats that were still warm I realized that perhaps touching things for a living was not for me, and I retreated to books. They’re safe. They don’t smell (unless they’re old), and they don’t bleed or ooze.

My uncle was very disappointed in me for not going to medical school. For some reason he had it in his head that I would make a really good doctor. When I told him that I was thinking about law school, he had a cow, told me I was wasting my brain. Of course, law school didn’t happen either as I became pregnant with Alexis. I don’t really have any regrets about not becoming a lawyer. I love the research, but cannot see myself working for a corporation or representing some of the people who need lawyers. Of course, my view is skewed from watching years and years of Law & Order.

That particular uncle died just a year after my dad. He actually wasn’t my uncle, but my dad’s childhood friend, and everyone knows that when you are Filipino, you have lots and lots of uncles and aunts who aren’t related by blood. That’s just the way that it is. I think that it’s kind of neat, actually. Anyway, I still dream about both my father and my uncle as he was such a big part of my life.

 “She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.” ~ Robert Graves

"Frost," by Igor Grabar (1905, oil on canvas)

Valentine’s Day is coming up in just a few days. I have very mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. Mostly, I think that it’s a big ripoff. The cost of flowers doubles, even triples. People who have no one special in their lives are made to feel inferior, especially when the florists deliver bouquets to co-workers. The greeting card industry makes a fortune, as do the manufacturers of stuffed animals and chocolates. There’s something wrong with setting up one day of the year on which to display affection for your significant other.

Expressions of love should be a continual thing. I don’t mean flowers and cards. I’m talking about hugs, kisses, saying I love you. Doing thoughtful things for one another.  I think that our society in particular has these manufactured holidays that set up people to fulfill ridiculous expectations. My boyfriend didn’t send me a dozen red roses. He must not love me as much as he says that he does.

Please. If it only takes a dozen roses to prove love, then our expectations about relationships are too low. Let me tell you a true story: A radio station was running a contest; I don’t really remember the exact nature of the contest. The DJ’s had a woman on the line, and they called her boyfriend to tell him that he had won a drawing for a dozen roses. They asked him who he wanted the flowers to be sent to, and his response was his wife. He gave the DJ’s the name of his wife, at which point, his girlfriend interrupted and said, “Your wife?” The DJ’s cut the feed.

My point exactly. Roses do not define a relationship. If Corey spent $60 to send me roses, I would be too bothered about what that $60 could have been used for to enjoy the roses. Buy me a card and write something lovely inside. Tell me every day how you feel about me. It means more. Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s wisdom, or maybe it’s a combination of things, but now that I have someone in my life who lets me know every single day how much he cares about me just in the way that he treats me, I don’t need the roses.

Now diamonds. That’s another story.

Quotes found on Crashingly Beautiful. More later. Peace.

Music by Chopin: Etude in A Flat Major, Opus 25, No. 1

 

 

*All images are by Igor Grabar (1871-1960), a Russian post-Impressionist painter.