“We all need mantras, I guess—stories we tell ourselves to keep us going.” ~ Lauren Oliver, from Pandemonium

Toddler in front of Manchester ruins by Shirley Baker*

“There is a beauty in the world, though it’s harsher than we expect it to be.” ~ Michael Cunningham, from The Hours

Thursday afternoon, mostly cloudy and warm, 76 degrees.

Dallas showed up a few hours ago with the horse trailer again. At least Corey was home this time. Dallas is determined to take my horse Napoleon over to his place to stud some mares that are in heat. He also wants to take Sassy to try to impregnate her. The last time he showed up to do this, I almost hit him over the head with a heavy object. The man is infuriating when he’s been drinking.

Boy pushing child in door swing

He’s out there ordering Corey around, doing the same thing that he did to me, telling Corey to be very quiet, even as he yells. Dallas is oblivious to the irony. Neither horse is cooperating, which I find oddly amusing, but I know that Corey must be frustrated.

Apparently, though, they’ve finally gotten Napoleon into the trailer but have given up on Sassy, who isn’t having anything to do with Dallas and his trailer; with any luck, Dallas will be departing soon. The banging and yelling have made the dogs and me nervous. I actually had plans to take the dogs for a walk, but I was definitely not going out there while all of that chaos was going on, only to be called into the fray, regardless of my plans

Neither my nerves nor my patience could have taken it. With any luck, I still might be able to get a walk in. We’ll just have to see, I suppose, but of course, I’m writing now, so it’s doubtful that I’ll actually make it outside. (I really need to manage my time better, or perhaps, it’s my mind. Who knows . . .)

“Still, there are times i am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ~ Jhumpa Lahiri, from “The Third and Final Continent”

Just a week ago Corey and I were talking about how everything in Norfolk would already be in bloom, but everything around here was still bare, and then suddenly, we woke up, and there was green grass, and blossoms on some trees, and bulbs coming up everywhere. It’s finally spring on the ridge.

Children playing in ruins

One of the reasons that I had wanted to get a walk in was to explore just what was in bloom in the various nooks and crannies everywhere. Perhaps next year I’ll have been able to get various bulbs in the ground and more bushes planted that I want: peonies, day lilies, tulips, mock orange, wisteria, Carolina jasmine, wisteria, maybe even a couple of flowering crabapple  and blossoming cherry trees. That would be nice. I miss the huge blooms on my peony plants, and I had fully intended to dig them up to transplant, but as with most things involved in the move, it just didn’t happen. In fact, we’re still realizing exactly how much we’re missing from our belongings that didn’t make it here. Odd.

So I hear the tractor pulling out and Dallas yelling over the engine, as if anyone could even figure out what he’s talking about now. Sorry. I know that I should be kinder, should be nicer, should be less judgmental.

I’m not. Sorry. Not really.

“. . . the ones who dance
As though they’re burying
Memory—one last time—
Beneath them.” ~ Tracy K. Smith, from “Duende”

And by the way, it appears that Maddy is going into heat sooner than anticipated.  I told Corey that we need to buy some diapers to put on her because I definitely to not want her impregnated; I remember that my mother used to keep this diaper thing that she would put on the Yorkies when they went into heat. My life just keeps getting more and more interesting. So now the hunt it on for affordable spaying. Anyone have any ideas?

Young toddler with old bicycle wheel, Manchester UK, 1964

Unfortunately, I realized that Maddy’s condition means that her sisters from the litter, those currently still residing with Dallas, must be going into heat as well, and he is completely irresponsible about such things; witness the two recent litters of puppies he now has in residence. I would really like to steal some of his females and have them spayed and then return them. He’d never notice.

If wishes were fishes . . .

Sleep sucked last night, and I kept having dreams that were filled with strange images and food. I even woke up and wrote down the details of one particular dream because it unnerved me so much. So I dreamed about chicken and dumplings, BBQ, the old townhouse in Alexandria, my former sister-in-law, and my ex. Needless to say it was all jumbled and disturbing, and I awoke feeling like I’d run a marathon, that is if I’d ever run a marathon, or could run a marathon, or would run a marathon (I’ve seen how people look at the finish line; no thank you).

Note: I began this post yesterday afternoon, and then got distracted as usual, that and the whole Dallas interruption; but I’ve decided to finish it today because . . . things . . . why not?

“But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?” ~ Anthony Doerr, from All the Light We Cannot See

Friday afternoon, rain and cooler, 64 degrees.

So, another bad night. Migraine today. Storms outside and inside, I guess. I’m supposed to call some rep about getting the new migraine medication Aimovig with assistance, but the key words here are supposed to and call—easier said than done. I never ever ever thought that I’d miss having a working phone. Is it possible to get a phone to make outgoing calls only, as in no one can call in and bother you? You get to call on your time, when it’s convenient for you?

Someone should invent that . . .

Little girl with a pushcar frame, Manchester, UK, 1969

So I’m committed to finishing this post. Just as I’ve committed myself to doing the taxes this weekend . . . yep, have to do that. I’ve also made a pact with Corey that I’m going to get back to my piano. I’ve cleaned and dusted it, and I’ve been doing scales and exercises to get my fingers back into shape. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll practice 30 minutes a day until I get back into shape, and then an hour a day to get back to Chopin and Beethoven.

I think that it’s a good plan. Now it’s a matter of staying focused.

Now that the weather is warmer, I have so many goals: piano playing, writing, house organizing, furniture refinishing. I can do this, I tell myself, even as internally I begin to panic. I know. It makes no sense. I’ve set the goals. I’ve made the to do list. No one else has done this for me. No one is making me do any of this . . . but it’s that old battle of feeling that I’m not meeting expectations.

Whose? Don’t ask me. I truly don’t know.

“We spend our life trying to bring together in the same instant a ray of sunshine and a free bench.” ~ Samuel Beckett, from Texts for Nothing

I’ve been exploring YouTube again, looking for new artists, renditions with which I am unfamiliar. I like YouTube, but hate the ads that pop up at the most inopportune times. I mean, I realize that those ads are the method by which people on that channel makes a lot of their income, but still, I wish that it was more like the original days of the channel, when you could listen for hours without an ad. Of course, if I were willing to pay for premium, I would have to deal with ads.

Boy with a cricket bat outside a terraced house in Manchester, UK

Not going to be doing that any time soon, even if I did have the money. I mean, it’s the principle . . . at least, that’s what I tell myself . . . Ah, the inequities of life, such small problems that dart into our lives like pesky mosquitoes. At least I have a computer on which I can view the channel. I have electricity, water, a roof over my head. I need to remind myself of these things when I’m feeling pitiful about my current plight.

We may not have a fully-stocked larder, but we aren’t starving. We don’t have to live in a cage, or a processing room filled with desperate people. We don’t have to pick through garbage piles looking for the odd thing that might be turned into coin in order to purchase a meal for our children. This world is so full of want and need, and when I think about it, it just about destroys my soul.

I probably should stop now before I go on a full-blown rant about the haves and the have-nots and how very and truly warped our society is, right down to its very bones.

More later. Peace.

*All images are by photographer Shirley Baker, who is well known for her stark images of working-class people living in the inner-city neighborhoods of Salford and Manchester, UK. Taken between 1961 and 1981, Baker frequently focused her lens on the children in these neighborhoods. For a good biography go here. unfortunately I was not always able to find an accurate caption citing exact date and location.

Music by The Sweeplings, “Carry Me Home”


Necessities (two sections)
1.
A map of the world. Not the one in the atlas,
but the one in our heads, the one we keep coloring in.
With the blue thread of the river by which we grew up.
The green smear of the woods we first made love in.
The yellow city we thought was our future.
The red highways not traveled, the green ones
with their missed exits, the black side roads
which took us where we had not meant to go.
The high peaks, recorded by relatives,
though we prefer certain unmarked elevations,
the private alps no one knows we have climbed.
The careful boundaries we draw and erase.
And always, around the edges,
the opaque wash of blue, concealing
the dropoff they have stepped into before us,
singly mapless not looking back.

5.
Even now, the old things first things,
which taught us language. Things of day and of night.
Irrational lightning, fickle clouds, the incorruptible moon.
Fire as revolution, grass as the heir
to all revolutions. Snow
as the alphabet of the dead, subtle, undeciphered.
The river as what we wish it to be.
Trees in their humanness, animals in their otherness.
Summits. Chasms. Clearings.
And stars, which gave us the word distance,
so we could name our deepest sadness.

~  Lisel Mueller

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“Words carry oceans on their small backs.” ~ Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water

Sunset on the New River by Jo Munday fcc
Sunset on the New River
by Jo Munday (FCC)

                      

“What do you know about yourself? What are your stories? The ones you tell yourself, and the ones told by others . . . I suppose the truth is that we begin more than once; we begin many times. Over and over we start our own tales, compose our own stories, whether our lives are short or long. Until at last all our beginnings come down to just one end, and the tale of who we are is done.” ~ Cameron Dokey, from Before Midnight

Monday early evening. Partly cloudy, extremely humid and hot, 87 degrees.

Part of a comment in my spam folder: your broadcast offered shiny transparent idea. I like that: shiny, transparent idea. Probably the best compilation of words I’ve seen in days, and of course, not mine.

Stream, New River nukeit1 fcc
Stream Feeding the New River
by nukeit1 (FCC)

Spam comments are sometimes worth perusing, if only to find the nuggets above. I’m not making fun of the broken English comments. After all, if someone is speaking broken English, that means he or she speaks another language. How many of us English-speaking Americans can say the same?

Anyway, I don’t promise this will be a lucid post. I’m coming off my second night of insomnia. I have no idea as to what has caused this latest bout, but it’s a serious one. The dogs are snoring, Corey is snoring, I’m thinking about tile.

Let me explain: Corey has decided that we’re going ahead with the bathroom renovation in the next few days. I agree that it’s time. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, it has to be a total gut to see what water damage we have, which means tile, faucets, tub, sink/vanity, toilet, tile . . . The idea of doing this doesn’t scare me. What scares me is making sure we’ve budgeted for every possible scenario.

Too many numbers, measurements, and finishes are roiling about in my brain; hence, the inability to shut it off and go to sleep.

“The mind is constantly trying to figure out what page it’s on in the story of itself. Close the book. Burn the bookmark. End of story. Now the dancing begins.” ~ Ikko Narasaki

So at three in the morning I had a sudden realization that the tub we had agreed on wouldn’t work because it was a drop in without a skirt. Drop-in means we would have to build a supporting frame and create an attractive skirt. I kid you not, I got on the computer at 3 in the morning to research the difference between drop-in tubs and tubs that come with an apron or skirt.

Down by the New River by Jo Munday FCC
Down by the New River
by Jo Munday (FCC)

Then I realized that the original tile configuration I had come up with was going to be too expensive, so back to the pages and pages of tile choices. This is what happens when you have OCD—every detail becomes a challenge. If only I approached my writing with the same verve. No. I save that for tile.

In between the dashes to the computer, I would try to determine which medicine I could add to my nighttime meds that might induce sleep without putting me into a coma. Somewhere around 4:30 a.m. I drank a shot of Kahlua and cream. Whatever.

“Living with one’s passions amounts to living with one’s sufferings, which are the counterpoise, the corrective, the balance, and the price. When a man has learned—and not on paper—how to remain alone with his suffering, how to overcome his longing to flee, the illusion that others may share, then he has little left to learn.” ~ Albert Camus, from Notebooks, 1942-1951

Finally a made myself leave the computer, set a short playlist of soft music, and planted myself in bed. Perhaps sleep . . . no, not sleep as a particular song on playlist began to take my mind someplace I really didn’t want to go, back to my early 20’s, driving up a mountain road with friends in tow, going to New River. I think Dicky Betts was on the radio. I was never a Southern rock aficionado, but I had select favorites, especially the songs with girls’ names: “Amy,” “Melissa,” and “Allison.”

New River Gorge Bridge from Beneath by amanderson2 fcc
New River Gorge Bridge from Beneath
by amanderson2 (FCC)

The playlist I had selected was mostly bluegrass, and I remembered another time, with my ex, when we used to listen to a bluegrass program on the radio every Sunday night. The radio. A little clock radio with the added bonus of a cassette tape player. Big deal once upon a time.

Then it all came back, fast, an oncoming onslaught that I could not have predicted and that I could not temper with a different set of memories from a different point in time. I don’t speak highly of my ex, and there are reasons, but to deny that we had some magic once would just be unfair to both of us. Mostly the magic was in the early days when we were poor students surviving each month on less money than you can imagine.

Poverty makes you creative. You rely on friends, free things (like New River and the Cascades), and mix tapes as the soundtrack to your days. There were cookouts, big pots of stew, a bottle of wine that had to last two weeks.

“Something aches at the very core of me, something ancient and deep and stronger than words: the filament that joins each of us to the root of existence, that ancient thing unfurling and resisting and grappling, desperately for a foothold, a way to stay here, breathe, keep going.” ~ Lauren Oliver, Delirium

I have been poor a few different times in my life. It’s not a preferred state. And I know that it is easy to romanticize the past, to forget all of the horrible exchanges of bitter words and all of the resultant tears. Time allows those things to soften, and if you are really lucky, allows you to forget most of the bad. I’ve never been good at the forgetting thing.

But last night, or rather, early this morning, as I watched the room change from dark to light, as I listened to the birds, I remembered riding up a mountain in a really raggedy Toyota. I remember singing along to bluegrass and sipping cheap cold beer from a can.

Kaymoor Trail Stream, New River urbanwoodchuck fcc
Kaymoor Trail Stream, New River
by urbanwoodchuck (FCC)

I had everything in front of me, bad and good. The kids, the careers, the friends, and the lovers. Corey wasn’t anywhere near my orbit because he was too busy growing up in Ohio. All of the possibilities were still there. All of the dreams were still waiting to be dusted on the wind. All of the words had yet to leave my brain.

My writing back then was so maudlin, so juvenile . . . hearts, flowers, love. No depth. No strength. I hadn’t seen even half of what life would deal me; how could I possibly write about it?

“I need words that mean more than they mean, words not just with height and width, but depth and weight and, and other dimensions that I cannot even name.” ~ Lois McMaster Bujold

So while the world outside was moving minute by minute into the future, I was lost somewhere in the past, somewhere on a narrow mountain road, and life was like a juicy ripe peach, there for the taking. I’m fairly certain we were at the Narrows, New River.

Between the Rails jronaldlee FCC
Between the Rails
by jronaldlee (FCC)

The air was so clean that you could smell the green. The water that pooled around my bare feet was clear enough to see the pebbles on the bottom. Occasionally, the train passed by, a grey line among the green, a sound among the natural silence. Those were the days long before parasailers and kayakers and whitewater rafting groups. Fewer people, more nature. It was a good day. We stayed for hours until the sun began to set behind the mountain, and a chill crept into the air.

But this is why I was left so damned melancholy: I will never have those days again. I am closer to my last chapter than one written in my beginning. Yet I remember feeling everything so acutely, embracing life so completely, inhaling the very essence of the day.

Words are beginning to fail me now. I fear that I my writing is broaching on the clichéd. But for a few hours between dawn and daylight, I was there, and it was richer than anything I have glimpsed with my tired eyes in too long, and I fell asleep with a dull ache in my heart and a very tired soul.

More later. Peace.

All images are used under creative commons license.

Music by Mindy Smith and Matthew Perryman Jones, “Anymore of This”

                    

The Heart Under Your Heart

New River Gorge Bridge at Fayette Station Gary Hartley
New River Gorge Bridge at Fayette Station
by Gary Hartley (creative commons)

Who gives his heart away too easily must have a heart
under his heart.
~ James Richardson

The heart under your heart
is not the one you share
so readily so full of pleasantry
& tenderness
it is a single blackberry
at the heart of a bramble
or else some larger fruit
heavy the size of a fist
it is full of things
you have never shared with me
broken engagements bruises
& baking dishes
the scars on top of scars
of sixteen thousand pinpricks
the melody you want so much to carry
& always fear black fear
or so I imagine you have never shown me
& how could I expect you to
I also have a heart beneath my heart
perhaps you have seen or guessed
it is a beach at night
where the waves lap & the wind hisses
over a bank of thin
translucent orange & yellow jingle shells
on the far side of the harbor
the lighthouse beacon
shivers across the black water
& someone stands there waiting

~ Craig Arnold

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Dance Dance Dance

Iceland colon The Blue Lagoon by Captain Oates
Iceland: The Blue Lagoon
by Captain Oates (FCC)

                   

“It occurs to me, then, that people themselves are full of tunnels: winding, dark spaces and caverns; impossible to know all the places inside of them. Impossible even to imagine.” ~ Lauren Oliver, from Pandemonium

Thursday evening. Very cold, windy, snow flurries.

People are insane around here. They see flurries, real flurries albeit almost microscopic, and they freak. Everyone rushes to the grocery stores and gas stations as if they are going to be unable to leave their houses for days. It’s laughable and annoying at the same time.

Seyðisfjörður - Iceland by Gilles Chiroleu FCC
Seyðisfjörður, Iceland
bu Gilles Chiroleu (FCC)

Anyway, about the whole doctoral program application, here’s the deal: Yesterday I finally found a more explicit page on the website that gave January 5 as the deadline unlike the other two pages that said January. Obviously, I have missed the deadline, which at first gave me great angst but also filled me with a sense of relief.

Corey reminded me that I can use the coming year to better prepare for a return to school, take the tests I need to take, etc. But, and this is a big but, I will be one year older, and the truth is that there is ageism in doctoral programs. Last year the program had 97 applicants and accepted 8. I would be up against people fresh out of master’s programs, people more likely to be able to get jobs.

I’m not really sure how I feel about all of this, but I have ordered some GRE prep materials off EBay nonetheless. I also need to unearth my Norton Anthologies and do some cramming from them. I hope they haven’t fallen prey to the elements or the critters.

“Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?” ~ Mary Oliver, from “Some Questions You Might Ask”

We postponed our sushi date for my birthday until this weekend. I really didn’t feel like putting on real clothes and leaving the house yesterday, that and I was quite full from the Eggs Benedict that Corey made me for brunch. So delicious. So we’re going for sushi and then taking the boys to see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.

Islandsk landskap by nordon dot org cc
Islandsk landskap
by nordon.org (CC)

A special thank you to Leah in NC whose package of birthday chocolates arrived today, feeding my addiction, so bad but so good. Thanks for remembering my birthday even though I would rather forget it.

Oh yes, back to the year older thing and the application: Doctoral programs are very competitive, which makes me ask myself the question, the pertinent question—is this the program that I want, or is it the program to which I am applying because of the tuition assistance. For people like use tuition assistance is a very big deal, but I had really wanted to do my doctoral research on Polish poets, specifically Wislawa Szymborska. I’m not sure if GW’s program would encompass that.

The whole thing is so very confusing. The only thing that I know for certain is that I want to work on my doctorate; I have wanted this since I was in my 20’s and the desire has never gone away, which is saying something. I want this so much that I am willing to prepare for the GREs, and I really loathe standardized tests as I never do well on them.

Perhaps I can still be a gopher for Peter Jackson and fetch his tea . . .

“The thing is to understand myself: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. That is what I now recognize as the most important thing.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

I don’t know if you know this, but I really try not to repeat my quotes, music, or images, which means that sometimes I have to search on key words in my posts past. I did that today to double-check on one of the quotes, and a post from two years ago popped up in which I was talking about seeing Alexis’s friend Jennifer in the hospital. I mention this only because I was so certain in that post that Jennifer would not have long to live. Thankfully, I and so many others were wrong. She is still happily around today, raising her son. It’s nice to be wrong about something like that.

Svartifoss Cascade, Iceland by Victor Montol CC
Svartifoss Cascade, Iceland
by Victor Montol (CC)

I heard from my s-in-law Helma a few days ago. Apparently when I mailed her Christmas Card in which I included a letter, I omitted a digit in the zip code, so she didn’t get the card until a few days ago. I’m just glad that she got it at all. She is having a very hard time with Patrick’s death. I really wish that she wasn’t an ocean away so that we could sit down over coffee and just talk. It hurts to know she’s hurting, but at least she has all of her family nearby.

I find that’s the problem with most of the women with whom I am close emotionally—physical distance, as in too much of it. That’s partially another reason I would like to be back in school, to meet new people, have some outside stimulation beyond these cracked-paint walls.

“Once there was
a ceramicist who cast vessels on the scale
of human beings. Asked why he punctured each
one by striking the soft clay with a two-by-four,
he answered, ‘To let the darkness out.’” ~ Laura-Gray Street, from “Phosphenes and Entopics”

I found a new site for poetry: The Fishouse, which is a site that promotes the oral tradition of poetry by posting recordings of poets reading their work. They showcase emerging poets, which they define as those with fewer than two published books at the time of submitting. According to the About page, “From the Fishouse takes its name, and the spelling of “Fishouse,” from the writing cabin of the late Lawrence Sargent Hall. Hall renovated the former codfish-drying shack and wrote in the space for 50 years.”

See. My idea to have a writing shack is not unique. Space is important. Ambiance is important.

Old Shed in Iceland-XL by Trey Ratcliff Stuck in Customs
Old Shed in Iceland
by Trey Ratcliff, Stuck in Customs

At this moment, I am sitting at my desk, which is tucked away in the corner of our bedroom behind the door. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful to have this space, which in our house, is a premium. But it’s dark and cramped, and I cannot help but feel that I might be more inspired if I could hear the birds outside or at least have natural light pouring in the windows.

Oh, what am I going on about? We’re just lucky to be able to pay for my health insurance (which is finally up to date and reinstated), and I’m whining about not having a room of my own.

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?” ~ Jalal al-Din Rumi

So let me leave you with this thought: When is the last time you breathed? Not the automatic respirations that your body does on its own, completely separate from your will or thought. Not that kind of breathing. But the kind during which you pause and then inhale deeply and slowly through your nose (or mouth if you’re asthmatic), then exhale just as slowly. The breath measured, counted, and in so doing, given meaning.

Dyrholaey, Iceland by Martino! FCC
Dyrholaey, Iceland
by Martino! (FCC)

Bet it’s been longer than you thought, hasn’t it? I know it was for me.

I came upon something, probably on tumblr, that posed that same question, and it made me pause. I couldn’t remember the last time I made breathing active, the last time I paid attention to my lungs expanding and contracting, to the way the air moved into my nose, to the sound that ensued. And I have to admit, it felt good, really good to breathe, not because the opposite would be terrible, but because the act itself was affirming. And for me, that’s saying quite a lot.

Grace in small things.

More later. Peace.

Music by Trespassers William, “Vapour Trail”

                    

The Soul

It disappeared.
It reappeared
as chimney smoke
that burnt through carcasses
of swallows stilled,
and that it portrayed no will
was why I followed that smoke
with this pair of eyes.
It was that it didn’t need
or require my belief
that I leant upon it
as a tired worker
upon
a gate.

~ Katie Ford