“I am no longer coded and deciphered. I am all emptiness and futility. I am an empty stranger, a carbon copy of my form. I can no longer find what I’m looking for outside of myself. It doesn’t exist out there. Maybe it’s only in here, inside my head.” ~ David Wojnarowicz

Mysterious Walk by ~jjjohn~ (FCC)

                   

“Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.” ~ Haruki Murakami

Tuesday afternoon. Cloudy and very warm, 80° F.

The house is quiet, just the dogs and me. The laundry is going, and the dishes are soaking. My country and folk playlist is running in the background.

Finally, I get to use the computer for my own writing. Yesterday was spent helping Brett with a paper for his technical writing course. It’s very hard for me to accept how his instructor has structured the class—haphazardly at best, formulaic at worst—after I was instrumental in shaping this particular course while I was in the English department at ODU.

Foggy View from Oberfallenberg, Dornbirn District, Germany (WC 2007 Picture of the Year)

But she’s there teaching, and I am not. Such is life.

It’s quite warm today, too warm. It should only be this warm in November in the southern hemisphere. But that’s how the weather is in this area. I remember one Thanksgiving we ate on my m-in-law’s deck because it was so nice outside.

I made the mistake of eating my Hardee’s leftovers just before I began this post, and I must admit that I’m feeling particularly icky at the moment. Leftover grease is worse than original grease, I think. What a bizarre statement. Knowing my body, this will not end well, so I suppose that it’s good that I’ve had to postpone my lunch with my friend Rebecca tomorrow. She has a conflict, so we’re shooting for two weeks from now. We used to have lunch together all of the time when we worked at the realty company. It was one of the bright spots in my day.

“For what can one know even of the people one lives with every day? she asked. Are we not all prisoners? She had read a wonderful play about a man who scratched at the wall of his cell, and she had felt that was true of life—one scratched on the wall.” ~ Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

I’ve happened upon a new (old) band, Nickel Creek. They are a bit folksy—mandolin and violin along with acoustic guitar. I like their sound. They have a song called “Sweet Afton,” which is bittersweet for me as Afton Mountain has been such a big part of my life. I’ve driven that mountain more times than I can count going back and forth to Blacksburg and other places. Love the name Afton.

Fog by Dr Gray (FCC)

Finding a new group that I really like is a kind of gift for me. It means discovering new songs to add to my playlists. I’ve never really wanted or needed an MP3 player, but if I ever get a newer car with an MP3 adapter, it would be nice to have one so that I can download the hundreds and hundreds of songs that I have amassed over the years. Alexis has that function in her new Honda Civic, and it’s very nice.

But the reality is that I will be happy to have a working, safe vehicle. Along those lines, I think that we are really (really, this time) nearing the end with the truck. Corey took that part to have something shaped, now it’s just a matter of Vic putting it on and finishing. After which, we have to pay the back taxes to the city (hate Virginia’s personal property tax laws), get new tags, and (shudder) new tires and possibly brakes.

Not so little when it’s all spelled out, unfortunately.

“And then I felt sad because I realized that once people are broken in certain ways, they can’t ever be fixed, and this is something nobody ever tells you when you are young and it never fails to surprise you as you grow older as you see the people in your life break one by one. You wonder when your turn is going to be, or if it’s already happened.” ~ Douglas Coupland

The last few days have been trying for me. Every once in a while something happens to bring me up short. I mean, I encounter a truth of which I was unaware, or perhaps it’s a truth that I’ve been hiding from myself. We all do that I think—hide things from ourselves, whether because it’s easier or because it’s harder. Who knows . . .

Morning Mist, Stockholm, Sweden, by ashraful kadir (FCC)

But when reality shifts that tiny bit, when the world tilts at a slightly different angle, the reality with which you have become comfortable is permanently erased and replaced with a new reality that you must encompass. There is no choice to be made as the decision has been made for you.

I hate sliding down that slope because each time the bottom is in a different place. And what awaits me there never has the same essence. It could be well and truly devastating, or merely saddening. And although I am an old hand at these slides, although the encounter with the precipice is far from new, it’s painful nonetheless.

I have wished more than once that I could be the kind of person who rolls with things easily, that I could be the kind of person who does not question, the kind of person who can live with a lie, the kind of person who can embrace illusion as truth. But I am not, and I cannot. And more’s the pity. I mean, do you think that I like pain? Better question: Do I think that I like pain?

Now there’s a question.

“There is a twilight zone in our hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves—our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and our drives—large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness . . . We will always remain partially hidden to ourselves.” ~ Henri Nouwen

Perhaps I do. Perhaps I relish the pain because it reminds me that I am alive. Perhaps I embrace the pain because it lets me know that I can still feel. Perhaps this is all just a load of crap.

Regret is Cold, Unfocused, and Lonely by russell.tomlin

I have always gone through life so certain of some things and so uncertain about others.  And the things of which I am most uncertain relate directly to me: my perception of myself, my dislike of certain aspects of myself, my deep-seated insecurities. How is it that a woman who is so confident, so self-assured in some ways can be so damned uncertain in others? How can I be simultaneously haughty and insecure? How do I reconcile being arrogant and audacious with also being self-conscious and unsure?

I know that we are all made up of contradictions, but is everyone else just as torn as I am? I don’t think so. I mean, I know people who embody the very idea of conceit. If they have chinks, they don’t seem to worry about them.

Look. I don’t know why I am the way I am. I have some ideas, but not really. And I also know that I’m lucky in that my spouse, my life partner is supportive, doesn’t denigrate me, lies to me when I say that I’m fat. I know that I drive Corey crazy with my insecurities, and if I could like myself more I would. But I also know that the very nature of our relationship, the age difference, puts me at a disadvantage, at least in my mind. At first, the age difference didn’t bother me so much, but with each birthday, I feel the years more.

I cannot compete with women in their 20’s; they do not have thicker waists or wisps of grey hair. They have not yet begun to obsess over their arms. However, they also do not have my life experience, which allows me to roll with the turbulence of life a little better. Where they have drama on a daily basis, I have the somber reality of having seen the worst that life can deal.

“There’s nothing more personal, I think, than the shape that emptiness takes inside you; nor more particular than the means by which you fill it” ~ Clive Barker

When I say that I would not go back to my 20’s for anything, I really mean it. I’m not even certain that I would care to repeat my 30’s. There was so much angst, always right at the surface. Being my age gives me perspective, but it also gives me pause.

The Mist by bruce... (FCC)

I will never again look the way I did when Corey first laid eyes on me. But then, neither will he. This is the kind of thing that I must remind myself. Corey has a self-assurance that he has worked hard to attain, and he hides his insecurities well. He says that he loves being married and that he loves being married to me.

I believe him.

I just wish that I could believe in myself more. I really dislike needy women, so when did I become one? Exactly at what point did I turn the corner and run into a reflection that I no longer know? Truthfully, years and years ago. The mirror has never been my friend, from the time I was in grade school and wanted to see blue eyes and blond hair staring back at me, to the time my ex described a woman with whom he worked as voluptuous and I looked down at my own small chest to the time I first noticed that my back was no longer sexy.

In other words, always, for as long as I can remember. The person I have seen in the mirror has never quite been the person that I expected. And so it goes.

My keen intellect? My incisive mind? My ability to hold my own in a political debate? My power with the written word? My empathetic heart and devotion to family and friends? All fall away the moment I look in the mirror. And I hate, really and truly hate that.

More later. Peace.

Music by Nickel Creek, “Sweet Afton”

                   

Ruin and Beauty

It’s so quiet now the children have decided to stop
being born. We raise our cups in an empty room.
In this light, the curtains are transparent as gauze.
Through the open window we hear nothing—
no airplane, lawn mower, no siren
speeding its white pain through the city’s traffic.
There is no traffic. What remains is all that remains.

The brick school at the five points crosswalk
is drenched in morning glory.
Its white flowers are trumpets
festooning this coastal town.
Will the eventual forest rise up
and remember our footsteps? Already
seedlings erupt through cement,
crabgrass heaves through cracked marble,
already wolves come down from the hills
to forage among us. We are like them now,
just another species looking to the stars
and howling extinction.

They say the body accepts any kind of sorrow,
that our ancestors lay down on their stomachs
in school hallways, as children they lay down
like matches waiting for a nuclear fire.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this:
all ruin and beauty, vines waterfalling down
a century’s architecture; it wasn’t supposed to end
so quietly, without fanfare or fuss,

a man and woman collecting rain
in old coffee tins. Darling,
the wars have been forgotten.
These days our quarrels are only with ourselves.
Tonight you sit on the edge of the bed loosening your shoes.
The act is soundless, without future
weight. Should we name this failure?
Should we wake to the regret at the end of time
doing what people have always done
and say it was not enough?

~ Patricia Young

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Say it and mean it: I’m proud of you

I wonder if we ever reach a point at which we feel that we have finally made our parents proud, that we have finally gotten enough A’s on our report cards, made enough touchdowns, earned enough certifications, learned enough skills, gotten enough degrees, painted enough masterpieces, won enough statues . . . or is it just a completely hopeless task? For me, I know that it will never be enough. I lost my father before I could redeem myself, and I know that with my mother, I will never quite pass muster.

This is not to say that my parents do/did not love me in their own way. But I remember standing at my father’s casket after almost everyone had left on that terrible night that they call “the viewing” and just keening (a word that my friend Kathleen gave to me years ago) and apologizing for not making him proud. It was an intensely personal moment, and one that I had not planned on, and I wish to god that everyone had left me alone until it had passed, but of course, my mother sent someone over to keep me from making a fool of myself, and so, it was left unresolved because it was an apology that I truly felt that I needed to make. My father never saw me dig myself out of the hole that I had fallen into. After my divorce, I went through a succession of short-lived jobs and he despaired that I would never find myself, but I did. I went back to school. He never had the chance to get to know my second husband, a man who stepped in and really was there for me and my children when we needed someone, a man I really think that my father would have respected and liked. My father never had the chance to see any of this. So much was left unresolved.

My mother, on the other hand, has been around for all of this, and still doesn’t quite know what to make of me. She still believes that I’m the same person I was ten years ago: lost, irresponsible, guided by my twofold grief. That I have changed she is unwilling to acknowledge for it is easier to believe otherwise. And so we have reached an uneasy existence: One in which I try to do my best by her with her many ailments and failing memory, and I promise myself not to be impatient when she makes remarks that could be construed as cutting. This is my only parent, I tell myself. I have no idea how many years I have left with her. She is not outwardly loving, and I remind myself that she is a child of the depression, that perhaps they did not have time to say “I love you” to one another in a family of 12 children, that hugs were probably sparse in a family in which the mother died young, that my own mother did not have a mother after 8, and was sent to live with sisters and so, while she was cared for, perhaps outward signs of affection were not passed out generously.

So I have to be content to know that deep in my heart, I am not a failure. I received many A’s on my report cards. I supervised a newsroom before I was 20. I finished graduate school at 21. I’ve done some pretty cool things in life. But that doesn’t stop the deep-seated insecurity that I carry with me to this day. Was my father proud of me? I hope so. The not knowing is a wound that pierces me. And this brings me to the second part of my entry: the fathers who are alive and have no concept of how they wound their children no matter how old they are.

I have tried to teach my children since an early age that they are all valuable people, yet I sense in each of them insecurities of different sorts: deep personal insecurities in one that come from a sense of abandonment, emotional insecurities in another because of a sense of not understanding the concepts of the give and take of love, and basic social insecurities in another because of a feeling of not understanding society and his place in it. Luckily, these insecurities can be worked on and there is still time for some parental love and understanding to help. Granted, motherly love can only go so far, and it is only a balm, not a curative, but if accepted, it can help. But in spite of it all, the one thing that we all give to each other freely are these three words: I love you. Each and every day. I’d like to think that that helps.

But what about the adults in my life who I see still hoping for recognition from their parents without ever getting close to acknowledgement? How much will it take for some parents to realize that their children are successful adults, living, working, and succeeding in a hard world that is actually not tied to their parents any more. The truly awful reality here is that some parents will not allow for that one moment of pride to slip between the overall facade of disappointment and bless their child with acceptance for being who they have become, choosing instead to hold onto the disappointment, whether that disappointment is leftover from a decade or even two decades ago. These individuals cannot let slip the noose of supposed injustice done to them, some wrong on some slate that has been tallied and memorized by only that person, while everyone else has moved on, happily ignorant through the years, thinking that yes, perhaps the purported love and forgiveness were genuine, not given with an unspoken caveat, i.e., yes, I forgive you, but only if you behave as I would have you behave.

Put that fatted calf back in the freezer. You haven’t lived up to my expectations yet. Well, sure, you’re a successful adult by everyone else’s standards. You’ve put yourself through school? Great! But it wasn’t the school I wanted you to go to. You own a house? Great! But it’s not where I want you to live. You’re married with children? Great! But it’s not to the person I chose for you, and those aren’t really your kids. You’ve expanded your horizons to learn about new ideas and concepts? That’s wonderful, but they aren’t in the approved curriculum. You’ve traveled to far away places and seen new things? My, my how you’ve grown, but was that really the best way to spend your money? You’ve become politically active? Well now, you know we don’t believe in voting for that party in this family. Actually, I don’t know who you are any more. I really think that you need to come home and spend more time with your real family. We have more work to do.

It’s been going on since Mars fought Jupiter. Since Antigone stood up for what she believed in. Those darned kids, always getting into trouble, not following the rules.  But seriously, I wonder how many of us have run out of time and let our pride get in the way and not said what we should have said. I swear it will never happen to me again. I will never stand before another coffin and realize that I haven’t said everything that I needed to say, as a child or a parent. Nothing is worth that moment of pain, that realization that that moment is never going to end.