“We never know the quality of someone else’s life, though we seldom resist the temptation to assume and pass judgement.” ~ Tami Hoag, from Dark Horse

Henri Matisse, “Open Door, Brittany” (1896, oil on board)

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” ~ Paulo Coelho, from The Alchemist

Saturday afternoon, partly cloudy, 45 degrees.

Corey has gotten a ride into Coeburn to pick up the second round of shots for the puppies. The rescue coordinator managed to get someone to donate the shots, not sure who, but it’s a definite boon. The pups are a bit overdue for this round. Here’s hoping that the woman who was on tap to foster them will be willing to take them soon once they’ve gone through this round of vaccinations.

Richard Diebenkorn, “Interior with Doorway” (1962, oil on canvas)

Lately, when I make it into the living room in the morning, I really want to turn around and go back to bed and hide beneath the covers. The living room can best be described as a disaster area. Let me back up: When we moved, we bought an oversized bean bag chair at Sam’s that could be opened into a full-sized mattress. We slept on this  during the moving process. Recently, we decided to let the dogs sleep on it temporarily, mostly for Tillie’s arthritis. Since the arrival of the pups and goats, the bean bag has been appropriated at various times and is in a state of complete breakdown. Someone or the other made a hole in the middle of the cover, and it has become a game to pull out the pieces of memory foam with which it has been stuffed.

The living room floor is covered in pieces of memory foam, and as soon as I sweep, more pieces appear. It’s our own version of a ball pit, albeit one composed of memory foam. Why do I let the puppies do this,  you may wonder. I’m swimming against a tide composed of 17 rapidly growing puppies and two goat kids. What would you do? How would you go about handling all of this . . . this . . . what this is?

I know. You wouldn’t be in this situation, would you? You would have had the females spayed last year. Or you wouldn’t have taken on more dogs when Dallas died. Or you would have taken the puppies to any available shelter and been done with it. Or you would have put all of the animals in the big barn that doesn’t exist. Or you would have gathered all of your family and friends and held a big ol’ barn raising. Or you never would have moved onto a farm without the proper equipment, or structures, or working capital. Or………….

“but we can’t know what suffering will cost us.
It could cost the very self that longed for it,
that winked at its specter, lurking,
blueing the sky. In the wake of its coming,
the small boat of our souls—” ~ Eliza Griswold, from “In Another Year of Fewer Disappointments”

Sunday afternoon, overcast, 49 degrees.

So just as I began to fall into the familiar rhythm of writing, the laptop decided to throw the old problems at me: repeated scripts and constant screen blackouts. It was all too much, and so I abandoned the post in the hopes that I would be able to finish today. It’s odd, really, how one day this laptop will work just fine, and then the next, nothing works, or works consistently. Today seems to be a better day; you could almost believe that this machine has moods.

Almost.

Marcus Stone, “Doorway” (nd, oil on canvas)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, your smooth judgment of our ragged current state of affairs. Granted, I’m assuming that you are judging, and maybe you aren’t, but if the tables were turned, I would probably judge. That’s the kind of person that I am, or rather, used to be. I’ve become much kinder in the ways in which I view people and their circumstances. I suppose that it’s one of the benefits of being on the far side of youth: experience has in fact taught me not to be so swift in my condemnation of others, has taught me the pitfalls of doing so, among many other life lessons that youth in general can never begin to understand.

The fact is that I probably judge myself much more harshly than anyone else ever could. My critical eye is most keen when turned inward. Funny, I just remembered something that my first serious boyfriend said to me, quite without malice—that I should be a critic when I grew up because I was always criticizing everyone and everything. I was maybe 15 at the time. I wonder how I had already become so damned cynical at such a young age, but truthfully, I don’t have to wonder much. My mother was one of the most judgmental people that I have ever encountered. Hands down.

My Aunt Betty, my mom’s best friend for years, once used the word deluge to describe a heavy rain that had been going on for days, and I remember my mom being so put out about the word, going on and on about how Betty used these strange words. But I also remember that at the time I thought that it was such a cool-sounding word, and I immediately looked it up in the dictionary (you know, those books we used pre-Google). So weird when those little blips of memory arrive unbidden.

But I digress . . .

“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

Back to my assessment of my critical eye and my mother: She was always most critical of those closest to her—me, my dad, her family, her friends. I’m not sure if any of us ever measured up, so I’m not surprised that I too grew up to be hyper critical, but for the most part, I have reserved that criticism for those outside of my inner circle, so I was truly surprised when that boyfriend made that comment. I denied it and laughed it off, but alone with my thoughts, I mulled it over. Was I that critical? And for that matter, how does one go about being paid to criticize?

John Singer Sargent, “Venetian Doorway” (c1902, watercolor on paper)

So as regards the current situation in which we no find ourselves—anything that you could say or think, I have already said and thought. Like it or not, having three bitches become impregnated is irresponsible, regardless of the reasons that led to such a turn of events. Corey and I never quite seem to be able to make it to this side of being responsible adults, at least not when it comes to finances. Try as we might, we never seem to get it right, so we keep finding ourselves in these impossible situations.

How does that happen exactly? Seriously. How?

We genuinely try and try and try. We have no extravagances in our lives now, never go to bars or movies, never buy clothes, rarely buy books, never go out to eat. His biggest personal expense is cigarettes, and mine is makeup/skincare, but even those things have been pared back to the barest of bones. We do have internet, and we do have a television subscription service (a cable alternative), but being able to at least watch a few key shows is frankly one of the only things keeping me sane.

“Sometimes you imagine that everything could have been different for you, that if only you had gone right one day when you chose to go left, you would be living a life you could never have anticipated. But at other times you think there was no other way forward–that you were always bound to end up exactly where you have.” ~ Kevin Brockmeier, from The View from the Seventh Layer

I have no answers to any of this. Right now, my biggest concern is transferring these puppies to the rescue people and then doing a major deep clean of the house. Exciting, right?

And in the meantime, I keep questioning my life choices and wondering how and why it seems that an emotional bomb exploded and destroyed any normalcy I once had in my life. I continue to wonder how best to fix everything that is wrong while simultaneously wondering if any of this is in fact fixable. Look, I know that few people actually have lives that are as seamless as they might appear. Behind the safety of doors firmly fixing outside factors and circumstances externally, what happens inside, physically or mentally, can never truly be known by others.

So this brings me back to my original query: What would you do? What would anyone do? How do people with seemingly smooth-sailing lives handle it when it all goes to hell? Drugs? Alcohol? Emotional addictions? I’m not being facetious. Truly. When Corey makes my morning cup of coffee, I ask him to add opium. Am I joking? Yes. No. Probably.

Panaylotis Tetsis, “French Door” (1961)

Let me back up. I don’t have a drug problem. In fact, it would be damned hard for me to do so, first because of the money such a thing would take, and second, and more importantly, because I hate relinquishing control, to anyone or anything, which is why I’ve never even tried anything more than pot and speed (way back in the day). But it feels good to make such facetious comments because it lets me know that I haven’t completely lost myself, haven’t lost the sardonic side, haven’t lost the small ability to make feeble jokes in the face of mountains of ca ca.

And so I continue to slog through it as best I can, and while that may not seem the best way to handle things, especially to someone just looking in, it’s the only way I can, the only way I know how. And that means that at this precise moment, there is a passel of puppies sleeping in a scrum on the bean bag behind me. Small pieces of memory foam cover at least half the surface of the living room floor. Corey is in the kitchen with the two goats and the rest of the puppies trying to put together soup for our dinner, and my most recent to-do list was probably shredded by the goats when I wasn’t looking.

Ask me next week how things are, and I probably won’t be able to cite any major changes or improvements in our current circumstances. But at least we’ll be here, on the ridge, in the midst of over 100 acres of rambling land just ripe with possibilities. And perhaps that’s the most important word of all: possibilities.

There are still possibilities. And so I go on.

More later. Peace.


Music by Onuka, “Time”


Sometimes, When the Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

~ Lisel Mueller

 

“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”

“Its our actions that define us. What we choose. What we resist. What we’re willing to die for.” ~ Karen Marie Moning

John Singer Sargent Home Fields c1885 oil on canvas
“Home Fields” (c1885, oil on canvas)
by John Singer Sargent

                   

Two for Tuesday (on a Wednesday): The Past is Always Present

Apologies for switching things around, but I had these for yesterday but wrote instead, and today I don’t have enough time to write as I’m in pre-holiday panic mode. Enjoy.

John Koch Across the Park 1954 oil on canvas
“Across the Park” (1954, oil on canvas)
by John Koch

Spring Evening on Blind Mountain

I won’t drink wine tonight
I want to hear what is going on
not in my own head
but all around me.
I sit for hours
outside our house on Blind Mountain.
Below this scrap of yard
across the ragged old pasture,
two horses move
pulling grass into their mouths, tearing up
wildflowers by the roots.
They graze shoulder to shoulder.
Every night they lean together in sleep.
Up here, there is no one
for me to fail.
You are gone.
Our children are sleeping.
I don’t even have to write this down.

~ Louise Erdrich

                   

Georgia O'Keeffe Winter Tree III 1953 oil on canvas
“Winter Tree III” (1953, oil on canvas)
by Georgia O’Keeffe

The Testing-Tree

1
On my way home from school
up tribal Providence Hill
past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
I scuffed in the drainage ditch
among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
rolled out of glacial time
into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
split on my magic Keds
from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
with my flying skin
as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
over that stretch of road,
with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
that on the given course
I was the world’s fastest human.

2
Around the bend
that tried to loop me home
dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
riddled with rabbit-life
where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
and a stringy old lilac
more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
remembered a door in the
long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
brushing the stickseed off,
wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
spotting the print of the deer
and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
to an umbrageous trail
thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
gave me right of passage
as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
soundlessly heel-and-toe
practicing my Indian walk.

3
Past the abandoned quarry
where the pale sun bobbed
in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
where the ferns gave foothold,
I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
with the stones in my pocket
changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
to the slightest leaf-stir.
I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
at fifty measured paces,
of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
Jehovah of acorns,
watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
in its annulated core
under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
I have only three throws
bless my good right arm.

In the haze of afternoon,
while the air flowed saffron,
I played my game for keeps—
for love, for poetry,
and for eternal life—
after the trials of summer.

4
In the recurring dream
my mother stands
in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
she is wearing an owl’s face
and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
I pass through the cardboard doorway
askew in the field
and peer down a well
where an albino walrus huffs.
He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
staining the water yellow,
why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
That single Model A
sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
where the tanks maneuver,
revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
Where is my testing-tree?
Give me back my stones!

~ Stanley Kunitz