“But I write badly. The part of my brain in charge of writing ability refuses to work.” ~ Anton Chekhov, “A Boring Story”

Writer Carson McCullers, by Leonard McCombe

“My memory has weakened, my thoughts lack consistency, and each time I set them down on paper it seems to me that I’ve lost the intuition of their organic connection . . . And, remarkably, the simpler the writing, the more excruciating is the strain.” ~ Anton Chekhov, from “A Boring Story”

Sunday evening, ice and snow, and very cold, 17 degrees.

Well, sleep eluded me again last night until after 3 a.m., which, relatively speaking, is not bad for me. There have been times when I’ve been in the midst of an insomnia bout, I’ve watched the sun rise and still couldn’t close my eyes. And yet again, I awoke with a migraine. Nevertheless, I’m going to make a true effort to write today. No promises that I’ll have anything interesting to say.

Eudora Welty Autographing a Book in 1984, by Terry James

Last night the wind whipped around the house with a sound resembling a freight train. I worried about the horses as they still don’t have a shelter. Corey assures me that as long as they have enough hay that they will be able to produce sufficient body heat. They still manage to get out of the pasture each night, and the ringleader, Napoleon, leads them to the front porch.

He’s a beautiful horse, but he’s already spoiled. When he hears me at the front door calling the dogs, he lumbers over and waits for me to give him treats, and often when I do, he comes all of the way to the door after I go inside as if he wants to come inside. Yesterday, both he and the mare Sassy stood at the side window looking in at us as if to let us know, in case we had forgotten, that they were out there.

I no longer wonder if it’s possible to spoil a horse.

“One morning you wash your face,
look into the mirror,
find the water has eroded your features,
worn them smooth as a rock in a brook.” ~ Daniela Gioseffi, from “Some Slippery Afternoon”

So my current problem with words? Probably a myriad of reasons. I still haven’t gotten my other mood stabilizing medication because there’s presumably a shortage, at least that’s what the pharmacy says, and of course, the ongoing lack of my pain maintenance medications doesn’t help things. Added to that the current state of my back is horrendous—it hasn’t hurt this much in years.

Dorothy Parker at Work at Her Typewriter in 1941

I know. I know. Nothing new, but between the ongoing winter depression and the recurrent pain, it’s hard to string thoughts together coherently. The physical always affects the mental, and vice versa.

And so I sit down at my little workspace (because my desk still isn’t set up), and I open YouTube and start playing news stories or true crime stories to run in the background, and then I open up a new screen for a draft, and I stare . . . that, or I work on putting quotes together for future drafts, or I spend some time on tumblr looking for more quotes or images for future posts, and then . . . after wasting more time, I go back to the draft screen, and nothing.

“. . . I hope to learn from you how things really are, why it is that around me things sink away like fallen snow, whereas for other people even a little liqueur glass stands on the table steady as a statue.” ~ Franz Kafka, from “Description of a Struggle”

The house still isn’t completely organized or painted, mostly because Corey has so much to do with all of the outside things that need to be handled, that or he ends up unwillingly wasting entire days with Dallas who always proposes projects and then never gets around to them.

Vita Sackville-West in Her Tower Study at Sissinghurst in 1939

The truth of the matter is that Dallas has a drinking problem, one that seems to be getting worse. I don’t like to be around drunks. I’ve had too much experience with drinking problems, and it really gets to me. I mean Dallas has a good heart and good intentions, but as Corey says, Dallas just cannot stay on task; his mind flits from one thing to another, and as a result, little gets done.

I don’t regret that Dallas entered our lives; the relationship is definitely beneficial on both sides: he’s a lonely man who doesn’t appear to have much of a relationship with either of his children, and I have to wonder if that is because of his drinking. But I do feel sorry for him, and I do really try to be patient with him unless he shows up three sheets to the wind. I know that Corey, too, gets frustrated, but there’s little he can do besides try to keep Dallas focused. Still, the ongoing state of the inside of the house is really starting to get to me; I wish so much that I could do some of this stuff myself.

If wishes were fishes . . .

“The place of language is the place between me
and the world of presences I have lost” ~ Marie Ponsot, from “Imagining Starry”
Writer Clarice Lispector at Home in Rio de Janeiro, ca. 1973

I’m trying very hard, even it doesn’t seem like it, trying not to let things get to me, trying not to think about how my children are far away and out of touch, trying not to think about how there’s always so much to do, trying not to worry too much about Dallas and things that are out of my hands, trying to enjoy once again the act of writing these words . . .

. . . trying hard to be present in my life, which is so much harder than it might seem . . .

. . . trying hard to be thankful for what is here and not devastated by what is not . . .

. . . but no matter how hard I try, I just seem to find myself treading water, and I despise this more than I can say.

“I just can’t live an ordinary life, I can’t pass the time. I can’t organise myself, I don’t have ordinary motives anymore. I can’t even manage my body, when I go to bed I don’t know where to put my arms.“ ~ Iris Murdoch, The Green Knight

And I wonder if I have ever truly been present in my life, wholly present. I have this memory of my first husband asking me early in our relationship why I always worried about the future, always worried about what might or might not happen. I had no answer then, and I have no answer now.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston in 1955

I wonder if part of it is being an only child who always felt that I needed to be the mediator for my parents’ disjointed relationship. If I always worried so much about what might happen between them that I just got in the habit of always worrying about what might happen and never figured out how to just be present in today.

Or perhaps this inability comes from being a teenager and always wondering why I never felt as if I belonged. I had friends, a lot of friends. But still, there was always this feeling that these friendships were tenuous, dependent on my acting a certain way, a way that was acceptable, whatever that meant, and so I fretted and worried. No one ever made me feel this way. It was purely internal, and it went back years: In London I didn’t feel as if I fit in because of my American accent and Filipino last name; In Norfolk, I didn’t feel as if I fit in because of my British accent and Filipino last name.

I cannot tell you how frustrating it is. How can a person even begin to hope to be normal (whatever that is), hope to make her way through the days in any kind of pseudo normal fashion when everything is a question and the answers never seem to be available?

Anyway, more later. Peace.


Music by Coldplay, “O (Fly On),” extended version


With a Changing Key

With a changing key
you unlock the house where
the snow of what’s silenced drifts.
Just like the blood that bursts from
your eye or mouth or ear,
so your key changes.

Changing your key changes the word
that may drift with the flakes.
Just like the wind that rebuffs you,
packed round your word is the snow.

~ Paul Celan (Trans. Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh)

“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)