“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” ~ Carl Jung

Spitfire Lake Reflection by Will Forbes (National Geographic Photo of the Day)

                   

“At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman, and these hills, the softness of the sky, the outline of these trees at this very minute lose the illusory meaning with which we had clothed them, henceforth more remote than a lost paradise . . . that denseness and that strangeness of the world is absurd.” ~ Albert Camus

Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and mild, thunder showers.

Carl Jung again. I’m finding more and more that I really like Jung, but I probably should read more of him before I become a devotee.

Foggy Landscape by Vadim Trunov (Voronezh, Russia)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about mothers and daughters, the relationships that are carved from necessity and that  ineffable fragility that exists between the two. I’ve tried to think of the kinds of things that I’ve told Alexis over the years, and whether or not I’ve been the kind of mother that she has needed.

Truthfully, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve always said the right thing, and probably, I have not. I don’t know if I’ve always been the sounding board that she needed, or if I’ve shouldered enough or too much of the burdens that she has borne. No one gives you a manual when you take your first child from the safety of the hospital. Suddenly, you find yourself holding this tiny bundle who has needs, the kinds of needs you have never before had to consider. It gets easier with subsequent children because you have already had to learn what the different cries mean, what the different body postures may signal.

But that first time? You know nothing. It doesn’t matter how much you cared for other children when you babysat for the neighbors or how often you had to take care of younger siblings; with your first child, you enter foreign territory, and it is nothing less than terrifying.

Alexis is entering that territory. She told the family at Christmas that she is pregnant. Surprise!

I had wanted to wait until all of the tests were done and she had passed that iffy 16-week mark before saying anything. She has had to undergo more testing than the average pregnant young woman, mostly because of that unexplained seizure that she had a few years ago. Thankfully, everything seems to be good, normal, whatever that is.

“Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. So suffering must become Love. This is the mystery. This is what I must do.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, from The Journal of Katherine Mansfield

So of course, I am filled with trepidation and joy, simultaneously. My daughter is not as strong as I was at that age; that is simply an observation, not a criticism. She is an entirely different kind of person. Everything worries her, and she becomes emotionally distressed easily. Having said that, I have noticed that she seems to be handling this rather tremendous life change with a kind of quiet grace.

Colibita Lake, Romania, by bortescristian (FCC)

This is not to say that she doesn’t have her meltdowns. Hormones, that and the fact that she cannot take her usual medications. She is a bundle of raging, unchecked hormones. Thankfully, Mike is very excited about becoming a daddy, and he seems to be balancing her well.

Now ask me how my mother took the news? Not well. She made a rather biting comment in front of everyone, and then said that she was joking and couldn’t understand why everyone got so upset. Luckily, she has since progressed a bit and is now purchasing baby clothes. Regardless, her initial horror at the news really affected Alexis adversely, understandably.

Which brings me back to my original thought: mothers and daughters.

“The tiny space I occupy is so infinitesimal in comparison with the rest of space, which I don’t occupy and which has no relation to me. And the period of time in which I’m fated to live is so insignificant beside the eternity in which I haven’t existed and won’t exist . . . .” ~ Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

I am hard on my mother, judgmental, critical. And I have to wonder if Alexis views me in the same light. I would like to think that this is not the case, that I have managed to carve out a good relationship with my daughter, even though I know that it has not always been good, that there have been times when the estrangement between us has seemed to vast to ever be repaired.

I have not always liked the males that she has chosen as boyfriends, nor have I always liked those she has chosen as friends. I think that those things are probably standard fare for mothers—thinking that the person with your daughter or son is not good enough, believing that your daughter or son does not make the wisest choices when it comes to friends. No matter. Alexis has a tight group of friends that she has been with since grade school, and she has been with Mike for nine years. Obviously, I was wrong about some things.

Morning Fog, The Meadows, Edinburgh, Scotland by keepwaddling1 (FCC)

But I suppose what I am really wondering is if I have instilled in her the knowledge that she needs to face this big new adventure in her life, whether or not I have shown her by example how important it is to love even when it is hard to love, even when everything within screams NO, I will not, because even though you may not want to, sometimes with children it is better to give that inch in order to gain the years.

Does that make sense?

When you are a mother, you subsume so much of your own personality at certain points in order that your child or children can become stronger individuals. You bite your tongue, or you walk away, even when you really don’t want to. And those mothers who are unable to do this, mothers like my own mother, are never able to retain their own identities, continue to live through their children, long after their children have become separate individuals. And conversely, mothers who have very strong personalities, such as myself, must take care not to try to impose that personality on their child or children.

It’s so easy to think of your child as a miniature version of yourself when you first start out. So many people come up to you and say things like, “She looks just like you,” or “She has your eyes and nose,” or whatever. It is much more difficult to remember that genetics are not destiny.

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.” ~ Aldous Huxley, Island

In other words, just because this tiny individual looks like you does not mean that she is you. And that’s a hard but important lesson to learn—early. And while I am talking mostly about mothers and daughters, the same is true of fathers and sons, or parents and children in general.

Morning Lake Mist by basheertome (FCC)

My god, it’s hard. It’s hard not to invest everything in this little person, and I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t invest everything. I’m only saying that it’s so important to remember that at some point there is going to be a separation, a time in which that little person is no longer little, no longer your mirror image, no longer content to live life as you see fit, and that point, that moment is when so many parents fail.

They try to hard to hold on with everything they have in any way that they know how, whether it is by proximity or money or guilt or something else.

As an only child, I have always felt that I could not move too far away from my mother because who else is there to be there in emergencies, like when she falls and breaks her leg? And even though I write often about my longing to be elsewhere to see other countries, I know that I am bound to this place indefinitely. I would be lying if I said that a part of me doesn’t resent this, but I also know that in the end, family is family, and my mother has me, only me, which is why she is determined to hold on so tightly, to try to control things in any way that she can.

“what matters most
is how well you
walk in the
fire.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “how is your heart?”

So in the end, what have I taught my daughter, my children? What things do I hope she retains in her reservoir of knowledge that may be of some use to her in the coming months and years?

  • That voices raised in anger can say things that can be as damaging as a hand raised in anger
  • That a hand raised in anger can do irreparable harm
  • That the words I love you cannot be spoken too often
  • That calling a child a hurtful name is the same as marking that child
  • That hugs are for sharing
Old Gate in Fog by elias_daniel (FCC)
  • That it is more important to listen than to hear
  • That promises are meant to be kept
  • That a child remembers if you break a promise
  • That children learn trust from being trusted
  • That there is no good time to lie to a child
  • That compassion for others helps you to be a better person
  • That beauty can be found in unexpected places
  • That the toilet seat should be down
  • That body image is cultivated at home first
  • That tenderness should be expressed frequently
  • That hatred for others who are different is learned not inherited
  • That it’s okay to be silly at weird times
  • That we are stewards of the earth
  • That music and art are important aspects of life
  • That it is impossible to spoil a baby
  • That babies are meant to be held
  • That Law & Order is the best show that has ever been on television
  • That your children see and hear more than you realize
  • That truth is paramount
  • That a loving relationship with your partner helps your children to form loving relationships
  • That respect should never be taken for granted
  • That you only have one body and you should respect it
  • That you should always look someone in the eye when you shake their hand
  • That being tolerant should never be underestimated
  • That animals are sentient beings and must be treated as such
  • That until you have walked in another’s shoes you should not judge
  • That stuffed animals do in fact need homes
  • That words hold more power than you can ever imagine
  • That the rich should pay more taxes
  • That simply being a celebrity of any sort does not imply being a good person
  • That the Golden Rule is the most important rule of all.

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” ~ Sarah Kay

I know that I’m running long, but what it boils down to is this: I cannot remember the last time that my mother told me that she loved me. It has been years, maybe even since my father died.  I tell each of my children and Corey that I love them anytime they leave the house and before I hang up the phone. Is this too much? Can you say such a thing too much?

My mother’s constant patting of body parts and the tsks that followed taught me to be ashamed of my body. I hate my neck because she spent years telling me to do exercises to get rid of my double chinssss. I hate my belly because she does not hesitate to pat it and say something like “you’ve gained weight.”

Bridge in Mist by jamtea (FCC)

My mother’s inability to trust, especially my father, made it very hard for me to trust men. And her difficulty in showing intimacy gave me very mixed signals as a teenager. I was taught that sex was dirty and an obligation, and while I realize that this is a generational thing, don’t think for a second that being taught such a thing didn’t screw me up.

I want my daughter to bring her daughter into this world full of hope and a recognition that there are always possibilities. That heredity is not destiny and that we are only limited by ourselves. And one more thing: I will actually be a real Lola now.

More later. Peace.

Music by Peter Bradley Adams, “I May Not Let Go”

                   

Miracle Fair

Commonplace miracle:
that so many commonplace miracles happen.

An ordinary miracle:
in the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.

One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.

Several miracles in one:
an alder tree reflected in the water,
and that it’s backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.

An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.

First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.

Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.

A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.

An additional miracle, as everything is additional:
the unthinkable
is thinkable.

~ Wislawa Szymborska (translated by Joanna Trzeciak)

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“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

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"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

georgia-okeeffe-from-the-lake-i
"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

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"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

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"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe White Sweet Peas 1926
"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

Georgia OKeeffe Jack in the Pulpit No IV
"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Georgia OKeeffe Black Place No 3
"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.