“It is rescue work, this snatching of vanishing phases of turbulence, disguised in fair words, out of the native obscurity into a light where the struggling forms may be seen, seized upon, endowed with the only possible form of permanence in this world of relative values—the permanence of memory.” ~ Joseph Conrad, from “Henry James: An Appreciation” (1905)

Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall, UK

                   

“the world’s so small, the sky’s so high
we pray for rain it rains, we pray for sun it suns

we pray on our knees, we move our lips
we pray in our minds, we clasp our hands

our hands look tied before us.” ~ Nick Flynn, from “Fire”

Tuesday afternoon. Hazy, hot and humid.

The Green Bridge of Wales, Pembroke, South Wales, UK, by geographyalltheway.com (FCC)

Well, I survived the weekend. Saturday was an endurance test, and when it was over, I fell into bed and slept hard. The many nights of interrupted sleep were gone. My body gave in to exhaustion at last.

The memorial service was very nice. Many people from her congregation shared stories about her, and the reception afterwards was very nice. Several congregation members (some of whom I remembered, and others that I didn’t) came up to me during the reception to say that they had enjoyed my reading. One woman said that it made her wonder what her children would say about her when she died, which made me wonder what people would have to say about me when I’m gone.

Then we (all of my kids, Corey, Ann, Mallory and I) went to her house and sat around for hours. We looked through her things and shared memories. We found a bunch of old photographs, her wedding album, her baby book. We drank wine and ate the leftover food from the reception. It was more than a bit surreal.

Of all my children, Alexis took it harder than anyone. She had a very special relationship with her grandmother, and she is feeling the loss acutely. She closed herself off from the rest of us, didn’t want to be hugged or comforted. We all grieve in our own way. After all of us left, Alexis stayed behind (later I learned for a long time). I think that she wanted the time alone to say goodbye.

The rituals we go through when we say goodbye to those who have died—so strange, yet so comforting. I know that they are for the living, not the dead, yet I’m not entirely certain that I would want people coming together to remember me. I suppose there is always the fear that no one would come and then if they did, they would not have good things to say . . .

I’m still having moments of unexpected tears, melancholy. That I seem to be getting a chest cold is not helping.

“The part of us that has to be burned away is something
like the deadwood on the bush; it has to go,
to be burned in the terrible fire of reality, until there
is nothing left but . . . what we are meant to be.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Irish Coastline

Everyone seemed to like the collage, which is good. The hours that I spent making it really helped me. With each picture, I had a memory. Moving the images around to find the perfect place felt a bit like reliving each memory. I let the pictures speak to me, and when I was finished, they ended up where they were supposed to be. It’s really hard to explain.

I’m sending a CD with the separate images and the collage to Helma in Germany so that she can share it with everyone over there.

I was telling Corey that when you see pictures from the 50’s, everyone looks a bit like a movie star. I don’t know if it’s the black and white film, or the fact that everyone was always so well groomed—perfect hair and makeup. The pictures from her wedding were remarkable. All the men so sharp and handsome. The white gloves on the women. There is a picture of the then happy couple as they left the reception, and my m-in-law is wearing one of those fox furs, you know, the ones with the fox head and feet? So chic then.

Those always terrified me as a child, like someone had just coshed the animal over the head and then draped it around the woman’s shoulders.

The woman in the pictures had sleek hair, bright eyes, a tiny waist. She was young, happy, and filled with possibilities, her whole life before her. I know that she had a full life, that she saw many places, did many things, and I’m trying to hold onto that, not the last years when life was so unforgiving.

“And much of this I fancy you yourself have felt: much also remains for you to feel. There is an unknown land full of strange flowers and subtle perfumes, a land of which it is joy of all joys to dream, a land where all things are perfect and poisonous.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Sea Cave Pembroke, South Wales, UK, by geographyalltheway.com (FCC)

My mother came to the service. I looked at her and realized that she has shrunk so much, in that way that old people do. She told me the other day that she has gained weight deliberately so that she won’t have so many wrinkles on her face. My mother is 79 years old, yet I know that she does not see herself as being that old, any more than I feel as old as I am. She said at one point that she didn’t like being around all of “these old people.” She meant it.

During the reception I was watching her. She seemed so bewildered by it all. And I felt sorry for her because I knew exactly what she was thinking: Will there be people who miss me when I’m gone? Will there be people who say nice things about me?

What is a life? Is it the sum of all things done or is it a reflection of things never done? What defines a person, gives them worth? Religious people, of any kind, would say that a life is defined by the service to the maker, living a spiritual life.

I would have to admit that I have no answers to these questions, only more questions.

“I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter. We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide.” ~ James Kavanaugh

Trebarwith Strand, Cornwall, England (Pixdaus)

When I found the above Kavanaugh quote, I thought about which part I could delete so that it wouldn’t be so long, but then I realized that I couldn’t delete any of it because the entire quote sums up so much of what I feel. I am a searcher, always have been. And I have never been content, not really. That is not to say that I have not had periods of great contentment, because, of course, I have. But if you read me regularly, then you know that I move through a veil of melancholy.

It is just who and what I am. I have those I love deeply, for whom I would do anything, anything at all. I have a man I love completely, who has brought me great joy and a sense of peace that eluded me for years. Yet I would be lying if I said that I was truly content.

But exactly what is it that I search for still? I don’t know. Not really. I can only say that I feel as if I have so much left undone in my life, that while I have done many things, seen many places, tasted many flavors—that while all of that is true, I have still not done all that I had hoped I would do in my life.

I suppose if I had to sum up my life at this point, I would say that I am a daughter who was always lonely for a sibling, a mother who has always longed for a lost daughter, a spouse who has always felt that I should be more. I am perpetually on hold, and that is because I have not moved forward. I live in the past, haunted by loss, and I long for a future somewhere else, somewhere verdant and lovely.

In spite of all my education, I long for more. I wish that I could sit in rooms and discuss Eliot and Woolf on cool fall afternoons as the sun shines through the windows. I long to explore those authors I have yet to read, to immerse myself in new stories, new words set in far-flung places filled with people who are living life, people who are feeling.

I have a hole in my heart that will never be filled because I will not allow it to be. I have lined the walls of that red chasm with my father, my daughter, my uncle, my friends; I have poured into that bottomless vessel all of the memories of old loves and long-ago days. And unlike most voids, this one sustains me. The negative space defines me.

I dream of thunderstorms and turbulent oceans. I smell the faint scent of lavender and honeysuckle. I taste the last dregs of cold cups of tea.

I am a searcher in a world that has little room left for those who wish to explore.

I am old, and I am young. I am everything, and I am nothing.

More later. Peace be unto you and yours.

Music by Kate Rusby, “Underneath the Stars”

                   

Song of Tea

The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second cup breaks my loneliness.
The third cup searches my barren entrail,
but to find therein some thousand volumes of odd ideographs.
The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration;
all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores.
At the fifth cup I am purified.
The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals.
The seventh cup—ah, but I could take no more!
I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves.
Where is Paradise? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.

~ Lu Tung

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“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf.” ~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Gate to the Sea

                   

“Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.” ~ Meg Chittenden

Monday evening. Much cooler but still humid.

Ocean Archway, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Kind of a slow, sad day. Not exactly sure why, but I think that it has something to do with the disturbing dreams that I had last night. In one, I saw my father standing on the shore and fishing; I saw him so closely that I could see the little moles on his face, and then he disappeared.

Later, in another dream or perhaps the same one, I was at a funeral home, but it was a very unusual funeral home: they specialized in creating replicas of the dearly departed, and these replicas did things like talk or blink or in one case, had eyes that glowed. I kept trying to get out, but each door that I went through took me into yet another room filled with the macabre.

And then I was with my cousins on the Filipino side, and the youngest had stolen Caitlin’s soul. I was frantic, trying to get her to give back my daughter’s soul so that she could be at peace, but my cousin was possessed, and everyone turned against me, locked me in a bathroom, and I couldn’t make anyone see how wrong everything was.

Needless to say, I awoke with a killer headache, and to top it off, achy legs.

I read somewhere that people tend to remember 95 percent of their dream upon waking, and then with each subsequent minute, the dream fades very quickly, so why do the images from last night still haunt me?

“One could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair or outrage, any more than one could say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane.” ~ W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

Saintes Maries de la Mer, France, kaneda99 (FCC)

Last night we had our combined Mother’s Day/Father’s Day/Anniversary dinner out. Sushi. So good. Brett and his friend Em came with us even though they had already eaten. Brett cannot resist sushi.

Even though everything was tasty, it was probably the longest that we have ever had to wait for our meal. Only one sushi chef was on duty. Still, everything was tasty.

We came home, and I collapsed in bed. I took three Seroquel last night, which is the dose that my doctor recommended; I’ve only been taking two at bedtime because this is yet another medication that can cause weight gain, so I’ve been trying to be pretty conservative with it. But last night I found myself chewing on my fingers, something I haven’t been doing for a while now, so I realized that for one night at least I needed to take more.

I slept very soundly, and perhaps that is why my dreams were so vivid. Who knows . . . I slept through two telephone calls this morning. I heard the phone somewhere in the distance, but I could not bring myself to get up to find it. This is not a great habit, but hey, at least I slept.

Eamonn came over for a while yesterday for Dad’s day. He gets along so well with Corey; they have a very comfortable relationship. I’m still trying to talk him into moving back here, at least for fall semester because it’s so important that he does well this fall so that he can get into the radiation technology program that he wants. I don’t know if he will come back, but I find myself missing him terribly.

Alexis texted last night. Big surprise there. If she couldn’t make it over for Mum’s Day, I really didn’t expect to see her yesterday. Still, it stings.

Corey brought me a card that he has kept all of these years; it’s an old Father’s Day card from Alexis in which she thanks him for being so supportive and telling him how glad that he is a part of our family. He looked at it wistfully, and I could tell that even though he didn’t say so, he was hurt.

“’I do adore music,’ she said. ‘It just seems to say all the things one can’t say oneself.’ She gave a nervous little laugh and looked from one to another with great benignity, as though she would like to say something but could not find the words in which to express it.” ~ Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out

To the Ocean by Brenda-Starr (FCC)

Truthfully, I think that part of my melancholy stems from the loss of Clarence Clemons. I know that Corey got tired of me playing “Jungleland” yesterday, but that sax solo is so full of emotion that I cannot help but get caught up in it.

So today I’m back to country music, which is also not helping the mood, but I need soft and soothing today.

I think that if Corey and I still went to karaoke it would actually help. Singing is one way for me to release emotions. Sitting here, just me and the computer, singing my heart out seems kind of counterproductive. The dogs seem to like it, so there’s that.

Music, writing, book-making, collages—these are my artistic outlets. I haven’t made a book in ages, and I’ve been mulling over making one for Brett. Now that I have a better idea as to his literary likes and dislikes, I think that I could put together something creative.

It’s funny, you know, but I made my first book years ago, when I was working at the museum. I took a blank book and pasted in pictures, odd paper scraps, and quotes. I made one for Dr. K when she was expecting her first baby. She loved it and said that I really should think about trying to commercialize it. I told her that I didn’t really think that there was a market for such a thing. Less than a year later, the whole scrapbook thing exploded in the marketplace.

Once again, another train missed. I don’t mind, though. Scrapbooks strike me as cookie cutter a bit; I know that some people create really striking visual products, but there are templates and pre-printed sheets; whereas my books are wholly individual: no one else has these pictures or these papers. I’ve made books for Alexis and for Corey. It never seemed like the kind of thing that Eamonn would like, so I didn’t make him one when he graduated. I wonder if I’m underestimating him.

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.” ~ Bertolt Brecht, “Motto,” from Poems: 1913-56, various translators

Walking to the Ocean by maureen_lederhos (FCC)

I have a confession: I have taken a strong dislike to e-mail. Don’t ask me why, but I find myself checking it only once a week, if that often. Perhaps it’s more of that hermit tendency in me, but e-mail, virtual mail isn’t real. I want paper. That and the fact that I get so many unwanted ad and pleas for money from someone I’ve never heard of. It’s virtual junk mail, and quite frankly, I  abhor it.

Corey is outside making home-made stakes for his sunflowers, which took a real beating in the last storm. He heard from his mom today that one of his aunts is willing to help us with airfare to Ohio for Chad’s wedding. That’s an unexpected but quite lovely gesture. Her entire family is like that—very thoughtful and giving.

Corey’s mom had offered to give me all of her sisters’ e-mail addresses for my Avon, but I just didn’t feel right about approaching them since I don’t see them often. I really don’t know if I will be continuing with the whole Avon venture as it seems to be a money pit as opposed to a money-maker. I’m certain that people who are very active and aggressive about it do very well. We all know that of the two, I am not very active. Hence, the standstill.

I hope everything works out that we can both go to Chad’s wedding as it will be nice to see everyone on such a happy occasion. I could do with a happy occasion or two.

“Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling. When the bright angel dominates, out comes a great work of art, a Michelangelo David or a Beethoven symphony.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

Walk to the Ocean

You know, I probably should not write when I feel this way, when the melancholy threatens to overtake me at any minute, but this is precisely when I need to write, when the need is overpowering, the need to make real the words that are inside me.

One of the things that is making me ache is that the peripheral drama appears to be moving into high gear, and it’s hard to stand idly by, to bite my tongue, to remember that this is not my battle. My tendency to become embroiled in the battles of those I love and those for whom I feel a strong loyalty has taken me into the fray even when I pledged to stand apart.

I just find it hard to watch another person hurt, whatever the reason. I long to step in and say, “Here. Let me take that pain away.” But this is not possible. Witness my own daughter: no matter how much I long to make it so, I cannot help her to find her way, cannot help her to regain her footing in this vast world, a world that sometimes seems so completely unforgiving, so scornful of the weak, of the lost.

Too often, I lead with my heart instead of my head, and this is not always best, although sometimes it is the only way to go. Then, too, I find that I am still able to be surprised by the generosity of other people, people I have never met, people who have been out of my life for years who resurface and say, “Here. Let me help.”

“There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened.” ~ Harold Pinter

Path to Nowhere, St. Agnes, Cornwall, by atoach (FCC)

In today’s virtual world, friendship has morphed into a page on the screen on which people list their current state of affairs, their immediate mindset, and missives that may have gone out to only a single friend in the past are now shot-gunned out to however many friends are listed on the side of the page. Close confidences are shared with everyone, almost as if the sharer longs for someone, anyone in the virtual sphere to respond and say, “I hear you.”

Like the paper letters I long for but will not receive, friendship seems to have changed its face with the continual evolution of the web. Who we are is not our icon, not our gravatar, if you will. Our online handle is a reflection of how we see ourselves but not necessarily who we are. With all of this, it is completely expected that we will get lost along the way, that we go through the wrong doors in our attempts to find the exit or the entrance.

And as a result, we have spawned a generation that will know little of the post office, of the possible beauty of a postage stamp. A generation that knows only fleetingly how to converse intimately. A generation that finds comfort in sharing everything, every scintilla of emotion, who knows nothing of self-censoring. We have a generation that is being raised knowing little of shared confidences because everything is shared.

You might find that an ironic statement coming from me, a self-proclaimed confessional writer, but trust me when I say that I know how to keep confidences. I have been told things that I have never revealed to another soul. I fear that this generation raised online will not understand the value of one-to-one sharing, the precious regard for heartfelt confession after a night of wine, and movies, and long conversation.

And this saddens me more than I can say.

More later. Peace.

Music by Kenny Chesney, “You Save Me.” For Corey.

                   

I Have Been Living

I have been living
closer to the ocean than I thought—
in a rocky cove thick with seaweed.

It pulls me down when I go wading.
Sometimes, to get back to land
takes everything that I have in me.

Sometimes, to get back to land
is the worst thing a person can do.
Meanwhile, we are dreaming:

The body is innocent.
She has never hurt me.
What we love flutters in us.

~ Jane Mead

“This, they say, is what we live by—this unseizable force.” ~ Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

One of My Dream Houses

                   

“The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.” ~ Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Times

Saturday evening. Temperatures still in the 90’s.

Priors Wood by Alex37 (DeviantArt)

The dogs and I spent some time in the pool today. The other raft did not have a hole in it, thankfully, so I was able to float on my belly. It was really quite nice—the sun, the dogs, the birds, and no other noise.

Tillie the lab has this thing that she does when she’s tired of sharing the pool with Shakes: She goes after his ball and then drops it over the side of the pool, out of his reach. Then she grabs the free ball. I think that she thinks that she can make him disappear in the same way that she makes the second ball disappear. If I scold her, she just looks at me as if I’m telling her she’s beautiful and wags her tail.

Dogs and kids . . . go figure.

Anyway, not much else happening around the homestead today. Corey had third shift last night and then lost his shift today because the boat left at 6 a.m. That’s the way it goes. He worked a whopping 13 hours last week. We try not to dwell on it too much.

I’ve been listening to country music today, which is probably not the best idea as my country playlist is a cliché of country song themes: heartbreak, longing, loss, and regret. So after a few hours of this, I’m feeling like sobbing into my shirt. Of course, the fact that YouTube is acting up and stopping every few minutes to buffer does keep me from becoming completely engrossed in the lyrics.

I know that this computer (Eamonn’s old one) is on its last leg, and maybe after we get the truck fixed we can get the new hard drive installed on my computer. We’ll just have to way to see how all of that goes.

“I’ve forgotten the words with which to tell you. I knew them once, but I’ve forgotten them, and now I’m talking to you without them.” ~ Marguerite Duras, Emilie L.

Mature Oregon Camas by russell.tomlin

In sitting here, I realize that I don’t actually have much to say tonight. Or perhaps I have many things to say but cannot give them words. It is not one of those situations in which I thought of what to say and then immediately lost the words somewhere in the tangle of my thoughts; rather, it is that the words run too deeply tonight, which has caused my mind to freeze, to stop processing.

It seems that so much is going on: another politician resigning over yet another scandal, blogs supposedly written by women unveiled as being written by middle-aged white men (what, they had nothing better to do than to impersonate a Syrian woman) . . . This world that makes news of how large Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring is—that ring could fund a library for a year or two. The world is going crazy, and quite frankly, I don’t wish to go along for this ride.

I wonder about the most recent flock of college graduates, what the world has in store for them, if anything. Perhaps I am too cynical for my own good, but I would hate to be starting out in this economy, in this world in which so many have so little and so few have so much. I worry about my kids and what kind of world will be waiting for them when they finish college.

If I could, I think that I might spend the rest of this weekend watching all of the seasons of “Dr. Who,” but we don’t have Netflix, so I can’t do that. Or better still, I would take Corey to a dark country bar and slow dance with him to sad songs, just to feel his heart beat against mine. Sometimes it’s good just to feel another person’s heartbeat to be reminded of what it is to be alive.

“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.” ~ Ian McEwan, Atonement

Fresh Lavender at Uzés Market, Provence by Baked Beans (FCC)

I remember that when I worked at the museum and I started to feel overwhelmed by things, I would go out into the galleries and just walk. I would gaze into the faces painted so lovingly by the old masters and I would absorb the glorious Impressionists. That was probably the best part of that job—having at my disposal access to such beauty in so many forms. It never failed to calm me, to center me, to make me feel a sense of belonging.

I think that perhaps I am feeling so out of sorts because tomorrow is Father’s Day, and while it is yet another one of those created holidays, it is a bit discomfiting for me. I found myself looking at cards from daughters to fathers. I can’t help it. I don’t want to do it, don’t want to add that little bit of salt, but I do it any way.

Daughters and their fathers . . .

Then too, I must admit that I still harbor a great sadness that Corey and I never had a child together. He is so wonderful with my kids that it makes me feel that I have stolen something from him in some way. We don’t talk about it any more, but I know that he would still love to have kids of his own.

Who knows why things turn out the way that they do . . . why and how fate intervenes, what the fates take away and what they give. Sometimes I feel as if I am just a pebble being tossed in a stream that is moving far too fast for me to keep up. The movement breaks off small pieces, and it polishes me at the same time.

“It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

Muscari Tottori Hanakairo, Flower Park by kanegan (FCC)

These things I know:

  • The stack of bills in the basket will be the same height tomorrow as today, and no amount of worrying will make that change.
  • There is no wonder pill that will make me lose 20 pounds. Only exercise and a better diet will do that, so wishing for an alternate reality is not productive.
  • My youngest son got the longest eyelashes in the family, and isn’t that always how it is? That a male who does not covet beautiful lashes will have them just by birth?
  • I have come to realize that not everyone talks to their pets as if they are human. Why not?
  • If I suddenly came into money (not going to happen), I would pay a contractor to finish the work on this house just so that it could be done already.
  • If I suddenly came into money (again, not going to happen), the reality is that I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea as to what I should do first because the to-do list has grown so long.
  • I would still love to work for Peter Jackson in New Zealand, fetching coffee or whatever. Perhaps proximity to such brilliance rubs off.
  • My daughter will find her way one day, with or without me, and I can only wait.
  • Very soon, I am going to lose someone I love dearly, and knowing that should make me spend more time with my mother, but I have found that it has distanced me, and I wonder why that is so.
  • No matter how hard I try, I still have a hard time looking in the mirror without being critical of myself.
  • Hate is a very strong word, one for which no apology can compensate.
  • One day, I am going to see the curve of the earth, and in that moment, I will know.

More later. Peace.

Music by Susan Tedeschi “Angel from Montgomery”

                   

The Confession of an Apricot

I love incorrectly.

There is a solemnity in hands,
the way a palm will curve in
accordance to a contour of skin,
the way it will release a story.

This should be the pilgrimage.
The touching of a source.
This is what sanctifies.

This pleading. This mercy.
I want to be a pilgrim to everyone,
close to the inaccuracies, the astringent
dislikes, the wayward peace, the private
words. I want to be close to the telling.
I want to feel everyone whisper.

After the blossoming I hang.
The encyclical that has come
through the branches
instructs us to root, to become
the design encapsulated within.

Flesh helping stone turn tree.

I do not want to hold life
at my extremities, see it prepare
itself for my own perpetuation.
I want to touch and be touched
by things similar in this world.

I want to know a few secular days
of perfection. Late in this one great season
the diffused morning light
hides the horizon of sea. Everything
the color of slate, a soft tablet
to press a philosophy to.

~ Carl Adamshick

“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” ~ Anne Sexton

  

   

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.”~ Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
Barbara Kingsolver, author

 

Wow. Can I just tell you how good it felt to put up a  post yesterday? I know that I didn’t exactly reveal any great truths or ponder any of life’s deep mysteries; nevertheless, it felt good to write something. Since my computer died, I’ve been spending more time on tumblr, reblogging other people’s pictures and quotes, which is always nice as far as finding new things,  but just isn’t the same as moving some words around the page.  

So much has been happening on the political front, but I’m not in the mood to castigate Neanderthal thinking tonight. Instead, I thought that I might just write and see what comes to me—open the window, so to speak, to allow whatever thoughts are drifting by to coast inside and cogitate a bit.  

“You see, I am a poet, and not quite right in the head, darling. It’s only that.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay, poet

 

I found out yesterday that Brett hasn’t been taking his medication, not for about five days. I am of mixed feelings about this. I mean, he seems to be doing okay, and perhaps without the steady stream of stress from school he really is feeling balanced at the moment. However, he starts college in less than a month and a half, and if that’s isn’t a stress inducer, I don’t know what is.  

I do understand his desire to be off medication, to be normal, as it were. I often think of being without medication (not pain medication, but the other kind). I know that as far as writing, creating, it is easier without medication than with. I know from  times past that the highs and lows, the keen sense of soaring when things are good, and the abysmal sense of falling when they are not—these undulating moods can be like a drug to the one who is being tossed about on the waves.  

Pain can be addictive. Pain can make the sufferer feel more alive. Pain separates the anguished from the even; the heady ride into the unknowing can be positively euphoric when compared to notions of normalcy. The years that I spent without medication, immersed in my grief and pain were some of my most prolific as far as churning out pages and pages of angst. But really, how much of it was good, was readable? How much of it would I put out there for public consumption? I do not think that I can answer that honestly, and certainly not without bias.  

“The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. ~ André Gide, Journals, 1894
Andre Gidé, author (LIFE 1947)

 

Those of you who have never ridden these waves probably find me incomprehensible. How could anyone possibly enjoy suffering? Well, enjoy is not the best word. I don’t think that anyone enjoys suffering (well, almost anyone). It’s more that the suffering becomes so entwined in the very fiber of being that to be without it feel as if a hollow has replaced the niches in which the pain and suffering resided.  

Consider Emily Dickinson. Hers was a life of complex solitude that led to pages and pages of contemplation about life, death, grief, spirituality, hope, and pain. Dickinson’s poems often expound on the idea of what life must be like for other people—their dreams, sorrows, etc.:  

I measure every grief I meet
   With analytic eyes;
I wonder if it weighs like mine,
   Or has an easier size.  

I wonder if they bore it long,
   Or did it just begin?
I could not tell the date of mine,
   It feels so old a pain.  

I wonder if it hurts to live,
   And if they have to try,
And whether, could they choose between,
   They would not rather die.  

That no one found the poet’s written pages until after her death reflects her intense need for privacy. Perhaps Dickinson believed that no one else would be able to comprehend that of which she spoke, that no one else would care to share her intimate thoughts. Of course, many years later Dickinson has become a mainstay in the American literature canon.  

“Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Anne Sexton, Poet

 

Does the individual need to be mad to be an artist? Of course not. Is there a tinge of madness in many artistic souls? Probably.  

I think that it, this kinship with madness, comes from feeling too much, that there must be something in the artistic temperament that makes bearing witness to life and death, love and hate, elation and despair—that makes the knowing too hard to be left untold. Hence, reams and reams of poetry and prose, canvases awash with emotion, photographs that capture that absolute essence of a moment in time, songs that run so deep that listeners weep upon the hearing; sculptures, carvings, tapestries, mosaics, and architecture that reflect a connection with beauty, a knowledge of pain, a reflection of loss.  

It’s all here. It always has been, ever since the first person took a finger, dipped it in blood or berry juice, and began to draw on a cave wall, ever since someone else took a rock with a sharp edge and hewed into a larger stone. The need to translate what is felt into something tangible is as ancient as time.  

“The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.” ~ Frank Barron
Pablo Neruda, poet

 

So, the question perhaps is whether or not to medicate the artistic mind. To what end? To allow that person to become more normal? To bring that person some sense of peace? Who decides just what is acceptable, what is normal? Can peace of mind be induced chemically?  

Or is the call for medication more for those around the artist so that the surrounding family, friends, whatever, can live life with fewer disruptions caused by the shifting moods of the odd one? You know, the one who doesn’t really fit in, who has never really fit in—the outsider.  

But consider this: Often when not medicated, the artistic individual will turn to other sources for calming or for stimulation. Alcohol? Heroin? All of it? How many creative geniuses has society lost to the vices employed as balms to the tortured soul?  

  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning (opium)
  • Ernest Hemingway (alcohol)
  • Beethoven (alcohol)
  • William S. Burroughs (heroin)
  • Kurt Cobain (heroin)
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay (alcohol)
  • Tennessee Williams (alcohol, amphetamines, barbiturates)
  • Charlie Parker (heroin)
  • Jack Kerouac (alcohol)
  • Hunter S. Thompson (anything and everything)

And then, of course, are the artists who were depressed, suicidal, and/or addicted: Anne Sexton, Vincent Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, James Wright, and many, many others. Would Van Gogh have painted “Starry Night” if he were on lithium? Could he have even envisioned those passionate swirls with all of their intense aching if were pumped full of prozac?  

Just wondering. More later. Peace.  

                                                                                                               

VII  

 

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.”  

~ Pablo Neruda from Still Another Day  

                                                                                                              

Music by  Neko Case, “Furnace Room Lullabye”