“I’m a ghost that everyone can see;” ~ Franz Wright, from “Empty Stage”


“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

 Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Still incredibly hot and humid, 91 degrees.

I’m going to try to do this again. No distractions. With any luck, I’ll get past the first few sentences.

This is my immediate problem: my children. As you know, I have three grown children, but their stages of grown do not match their calendar status of grown. My eldest child, my daughter, will be having one of those major milestone birthdays on the 7th of this month, but the reality is that I think she is probably the youngest of my children. And for the moment, I choose to focus on my eldest/youngest child.

Max Beckmann Beach Landscape 1904 oil on cardboard
“Beach Landscape” (1904, oil on cardboard)
by Max Beckmann

To be fair, Alexis has gone through a lot in her short life, and the loss of her sister, something her brothers do not share as an immediate memory, affected her greatly. Alexis has never been full of self-confidence; in fact, the exact opposite is true: If one person could be so completely uncertain of her selfhood, I would have to say that it is my daughter. Please understand, I’m not criticizing, only commenting; after all, I, too, am very insecure about certain aspects of my self.

I don’t know how much of my daughter’s problems are a result of nurturing, but I do know that I have been the primary nurturer in her life, which is why I probably have a tendency to blame myself for so many of her woes. But at what point do I draw the line and acknowledge that she has very real problems that are completely separate from my relationship with my daughter?

You see, while I love my daughter beyond words, I am not entirely sure that I like certain key aspects of her personality. Does that make sense?

“there is something else that drives us, some
rage or hunger, some absence smoldering
like a childhood fever vaguely remembered
or half-perceived, some unprotected desire,
greed that is both wound and knife,
a failed grief, a lost radiance.” ~ Edward Hirsch, from “Mergers and Acquisitions”

Again, let me say that I probably should not be writing this, but I need to work through some of this tonight as it is pressing on me much too acutely, and I know that I will have no peace unless I do something. I had to cancel my therapy appointment this week because of the chest cold that I have. Too much talking makes me cough, and coughing is, well, painful. Hence, the writing my way through . . .

I so wish that I had the ability to make things right for my children all of the time, but then again, don’t most parents? But I don’t have this ability, and talking to Alexis is futile, at best, and an invitation to a verbal fray, at worst. My daughter, like my sons, unfortunately inherited the family predisposition to clinical depression and anxiety. We all suffer in our own various ways, to lesser and greater extents, depending upon, well upon a lot of things. But Alexis is alone in one thing: she sleeps far too much for any human being. She can go to bed on Friday night and not wake fully until Monday morning.

(c) DACS/Anne Morrison; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“Summer Sea” (1961, oil on paperboard)
by Joan Eardley

When she was a teenager, she would sleep forever, but I really didn’t worry about it because I did the same thing as a teenager. However, she is an adult with her own child, and this sleeping sickness, for lack of a better term, has not abated. Corey and I have had several conversations in which we have tossed about this problem, mostly in relation to Olivia, as in, does my daughter’s sleeping sickness impede/impair her ability to care for her own daughter?

I can’t tell you how guilty I feel just for giving this concern words, but there. It’s been said. Now what?

I mean, this is more than my concern that she has absolutely no ambition, that she doesn’t seem to have any sort of life goals, which granted, is a real concern. But this particular issue has such larger implications as it affects everyone.

“I sat in the dark and thought: There’s no big apocalypse. Just an endless procession of little ones.” ~ Neil Gaiman, from Signal to Noise

I’m so conflicted.

If you were to ask me if my daughter is a good mother, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Yes. Absolutely.”

Copyright York Museums Trust / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“The Wave” (1898)
by Roderick O’Conor

But then, I must pause. Does she love her daughter? Without question. Does she want what is best for her daughter? Again, yes.

But what makes a good mother? Love, concern, respect, patience, empathy, sympathy . . . cobbled together with a willingness to teach, to share, to laugh, to cry . . . Like it or not, motherhood is an endless procession of decisions, and if we are lucky, most of them are right, and if we are smart, we learn from the wrong ones, but first, we must be able to identify the wrong ones.

Look, being a mother is a thankless job. Your children resent you a lot of the time. They don’t like you some of the time. They wish you would be quiet a lot of the time. They appreciate you only some of the time, and to them, you are never a person with feelings and wants and needs. And no one can teach you how to be a mother; it’s purely on-the-job training, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get good advice along the way, and if you’re smart, you’ll realize which advice is good and which is bad.

So what’s my point?

Damned if I know . . .

“Life must be back there. You hid it
So no one would find it
And now you can’t remember where.” ~ John Ashbery, from “Vaucanson”

You know shaken baby syndrome? Well obviously that’s something that must never be done, but what about shaken adult child syndrome? Is it acceptable to want to grasp said child by the shoulders and shake him/her until the eyes come into focus and you think that perhaps some semblance of sense has entered said child’s brain?

William Henry Johnson Untitled c1930-35
Untitled Seascape (c1930-35)
by William Henry Johnson

I know that I’m making light, but trust me, I am so close to tears much of the time that to laugh would be nothing short of achieving a state of grace.

But back to the problem. Did you know that there is an actual illness called Sleeping Beauty Syndrome? It’s actually called Klein-Levin Syndrome:

Klein-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare and complex neurological disorder characterized by recurring periods of excessive amounts of sleep, altered behavior, and a reduced understanding of the world. The disorder strikes adolescents primarily but can occur in younger children and adults. At the onset of an episode the patient becomes progressively drowsy and sleeps for most of the day and night (hypersomnolence), sometimes waking only to eat or go to the bathroom. Each episode lasts days, weeks or months during which time all normal daily activities stop. Individuals are not able to care for themselves or attend school and work. In between episodes, those with KLS appear to be in perfect health with no evidence of behavioral or physical dysfunction. KLS episodes may continue for 10 years or more. KLS is sometimes referred to in the media as “Sleeping Beauty” syndrome.

Seriously, I think my daughter has this. Some people think that Alexis is just lazy. I honestly don’t think that’s it. If I did, I would say so. Laziness can be fixed; well, at least, I think it can be fixed. Alexis is too OCD to be lazy. I just don’t know if she has any control over these sleep episodes. And the brutal reality is that it’s gotten to the point that it is having a serious impact on every single relationship she has.

“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.” ~ Umberto Eco, from Foucault’s Pendulum

So what to do, what to do? I can do nothing. Not yet. And even if the time were right for me to do something, I have absolutely no idea as to what course of action I should take, if any.

Wassily Kandinsky Stormy Day 1906
“Stormy Day” (1906)
by Wassily Kandinsky

Familial relationships are so damned draining. Awash in a sea of eggshells, and trying to find just the right way to cross without breaking anything, without breaking any . . . one.

You know when you are young, in your early 20’s, and you think about life, think about the future as I always did, I would bet that most of the realities of later life never enter the realm of possibility. I mean, how could they, really? Real life is so far from what you think will happen to you when you’re young and trying to decide whether or not to drop a huge chunk of change on some toy or the other. Real life is so filled with pitfalls and trenches so deep that few of us would ever contemplate that such horrible things might actually happen.

Nothing in my 20’s prepared me for real life, even though I was so certain at the time that I had all of the answers. I was so sure of my certainty then. It takes being slapped in the face by fate to make you realize just how little you actually know.

So here I am, finally able to admit how little I know and knowing how little I am able to effect any kind of meaningful change in the lives of my children. Is it any wonder I walk around in a constant state of pain-filled angst?

Probably shouldn’t have written any of this . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by I Will, I Swear, “Long Days”


                   

Mind

The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind. Not unlike
the hummingbirds
imagining their wings
to be their heart, and swallows
believing the horizon
to be a line they lift
and drop. What is it
they cast for? The poplars,
advancing or retreating,
lose their stature
equally, and yet stand firm,
making arrangements
in order to become
imaginary. The city
draws the mind in streets,
and streets compel it
from their intersections
where a little
belongs to no one. It is
what is driven through
all stationary portions
of the world, gravity’s
stake in things, the leaves,
pressed against the dank
window of November
soil, remain unwelcome
till transformed, parts
of a puzzle unsolvable
till the edges give a bit
and soften. See how
then the picture becomes clear,
the mind entering the ground
more easily in pieces,
and all the richer for it.

~ Jorie Graham

 

 

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“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Hurricane Rick, Baja, CA (2009)
Ari Carrington (FCC)

                   

“Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt,
Leap, leap between us and the easy out;
Teach us to seize, to use, to sleep well, to let go;
Let our loves, freed in us, gaudy and graceful, grow.” ~ Marie Ponsot, from “Private and Profane

Sunday afternoon. Rainy and windy, low 60’s.

The wind is gradually picking up, and the sky is white. I can hear the trees outside. We lost power for about an hour, and the storm isn’t here yet. I was scheduling my posts for the week, and was doing my Two for Tuesday when the power went. Of course, I hadn’t saved. Luckily, the autosave kept most of what I had done.

Hurricane Isabel, Virginia Beach Pier (2003)
Army Corps of Engineers/NOAA

I have a big pot of chili simmering on the stove, corn bread in the oven. Seems like good storm food. That’s one of the great things about having a gas range, I can cook even when the electricity goes. Even though my range has electric ignitions on the burners, I can still manually light with any flame, so when the power went, I decided to make chili. It was that or spaghetti, and I decided that chili sounded better. I think I may have left out a spice but cannot figure out which one. I’ll wait until the flavors simmer more and then try again.

Today is my m-in-law Joyce’s birthday. Here’s hoping she has a wonderful day.

“I hadn’t understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Stranger

Hurricane Gustav, Biloxi Mississippi (2008)
Kevork Ajansezian (AP)

When the power went, I kind of lost my writing mojo. I was going full steam, and then all of a sudden nothing. The thoughts that had been coming fast stopped as abruptly as the power. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to finish this post. I mean, if I keep going, it will probably just be a whole lot of blah, blah, blah and not substance.

Oh well . . .

Much later that night . . .

I was right; I just couldn’t focus earlier today to write. My mind was going in so many directions, trying to stay focused and calm. I mean, I don’t usually get too worked up over hurricanes, so why this time? And who cleans when a hurricane is coming? Only someone as obsessive as I am, I suppose. I wanted to get laundry done while we had electricity and water, and then I thought that I should probably clean the bathroom, and I wanted to keep the dishes washed just in case we lost hot water, and then . . .

Anyway, the chili turned out tasty, but the cornbread was kind of icky. Usually I just buy Jif cornbread mix, but I had bought a package of Marie Callendar’s mix. Be forewarned, it has that artificial aftertaste to it. Things to keep in mind.

“Tomorrow, if we should drift apart,
I shall find you by this picture.” ~ John Balaban, from “The Painting

One of Eamonn’s friends made an interesting remark: He saw a picture of Alexis on the piano, and asked how old she was when it was taken. Well, it was taken when the family went on a cruise in 2007, so five years ago. He said that she looked so much younger in it. That kind of blew me away. Isn’t it funny how we do not really notice how an individual changes when we see them day to day, how the gradual changes that occur naturally are just filtered in by the eye, processed and come to rest in our subconscious?

Hurricane Irene, Ft. Lauderdale, FL (2011)
daspader (FCC)

It’s like with Olivia, how when I don’t see her for a few days, I notice more because infants change so much in that first year, but when Corey was home back in September, he really noticed how much she had changed since he had last seen her. Which makes me think about all of those service men and women are deployed for months at a time only to return to virtual strangers. I mean, it’s still their spouse or child, but so much has changed in the months while they were gone. Yet another thing that makes such separations incredibly hard for all who are involved.

And my own father, how many months and months of my life he missed while he was on those long hitches, the longest during the Viet Nam war. If I remember correctly, it was almost nine months, three quarters of a year. As a child, I just knew that my dad was gone, and then he was home, and to be honest, my dad aged so very gradually. It wasn’t until that last year when the strain of his illness and his rapid weight loss really changed his physicality that I realized that he had gotten old somewhere along the line.

“The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.” ~ Willa Cather

When I was a child, about seven or eight I think, my dad’s only sister was killed by a drunk driver. She was a nurse in Chicago, and she was crossing the street after her shift when the car hit her and dragged her down the street. I seem to recall that she had a young child.

Hurricane Sandy, Jersey City, NJ (10-29-12)
WCK (FCC)

My dad was at sea when this happened, and when he got home, my mother found out that someone had given dad some kind of drugs on the ship because he was so wild with grief. My dad got hooked. I never knew what kind of drugs he had taken, and I never even knew that there was a problem. I only found all of this out one day when my mother made a passing remark about my dad’s depression and what had happened.

As children, we never really know our parents as people. To us, they are mom or dad. They have no lives beyond our orbit, but that’s simply not true, is it? They are fully fleshed individuals with likes and dislikes, lovers and enemies. They do things that we never ever know about, just as we do things that they never ever know about—perhaps years later there is an exchange of information, when the gap between parent and child has lessened because of the ensuing years.

But what I find sad about this natural order is that as children, so few of us come to appreciate the people who have raised us as people, real people. We view them in light of how they interacted in our lives, how we saw them with others, what they said while we were within earshot. And then when they’re gone, when we hear their friends telling stories about them, it a bit of a shock.

“Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over” ~ John Ashbery, from “Late Echo”

Two things come to mind: When we used to visit my mother’s relatives in Great Bridge on Sundays, inevitably the kids would migrate to one part of the house or outside while the adults would collect around the big dining room table and have coffee. One time, my cousin Butch and I were actually just in the room off the dining room (we called it the breezeway, a particularly Southern term), and I don’t think that the adults realized this. They began to talk about something pertaining to a neighbor who was having an affair.

Butch and I tacitly agreed not to make a sound. We listened as the story unfolded, completely in awe of what we were hearing. We weren’t discovered until one of the adults walked out and saw us and shooed us outside.

Hurricane Bawbag, UK (2011)
easylocum (FCC)

Another time, my mother was on the phone with her sister in Winston Salem. I picked up the extension in the bedroom (remember those) and began to listen to their conversation. I don’t know what I had in mind when I picked up that receiver, probably that I would hear something about me or my cousins, after all, isn’t that what adults always talked about? Their children? Instead, I heard some very adult conversation.

At some point, I made a noise and gave myself away. Needless to say, my mother was not amused.

Families are strange units, actually. We view one another in a very defined way, perhaps in the way we were when we were much younger, or in our particular roles within the unit, never really acknowledging that life beyond the family unit holds so much sway. As parents, we rue some of our children’s’ choices as friends. As children, we do not always like one of our parents’ friends. But do we always know why?

At what point do we acknowledge that our mother or father is a person? I know that it happens for most of us, but it’s the when that I find fascinating.

Oh well.

More later. Peace.

Music by Dan Auerbach, “Going Home”

                   

Advice in the Form of Confusions

I have been watching the young
struggle through their daily lives
and waste the flesh we all remember
and I have seen the gardens they shine
their leaves in, the kind invented
by distraction and devices that run
on little lithium ion batteries, flat
disks that power music and voice
into strong tremble and staccato chain
that barrels into the angelic orders
we raise our heads to see, or hope
to see, but never do, for they have
sprung into louder volumes and faster
rhythms that disorient and confuse.
There are sounds we can no longer
hear, at our age, and we don’t want
anymore to know what we left
behind on that sill or under
that abbreviated sun. I can’t know
wry substitutions. I can’t hear breath
embrace five-minutes-ago or tomorrow
and there must be a word for that,
but I don’t know it. I know the sound
of thinking a hard whistle into the lung.
I know the shape of houndstooth
and the hang of each tag’s pricing
itself out of so many’s reach.
I swoon and recoil at the tresses blowing
in an arbor without glow
or flame. These are reprieves. Respites
in the demands of sensation
and flow. Know this: you can you can
you can you can you can.

~ Margot Schilpp

(every other line in this poem should be indented; WP formatting does not allow for this)