“We become aware of the void as we fill it.” ~ Antonio Porchia, from “Voices” (trans. Gonzalo Melchor)
Monday afternoon. Sunny and warm, 66 degrees.
Sorry about the confusion with posts in the last few days. I had set up one to post on Friday but forgot to update the information, and then the Tyson post was supposed to be on Saturday, but again, my days were mixed up. Daylight Savings Time always wreaks havoc with my brain. Anyway . . .
Random things that I’m thinking about today:
I once stopped traffic on a small bridge in Corey’s hometown so that I could take a picture.
We do not value ourselves until someone tells us what we are worth. If no one tells us, what happens then?
I wonder how many children went to bed with empty stomachs in the U.S. last night? In 2013, children still starve in America. We should be so ashamed.
A vet with one leg gave Brett directions in New York. I have to wonder where that vet sleeps at night.
I realized something about humanity while watching “The Walking Dead”: a person’s true personality emerges in times of war.
Some people just look like they would rather be alone.
Not everyone in this world is made for casual conversation.
I think that my fascination with old buildings stems from a feeling deep inside that I belong within them.
Along those same lines, I have always wanted to write a mystery in which the dead bodies are hidden in abandoned swimming pools.
“Everything is a little bit of darkness, even the light.” ~ Antonio Porchia, from “Voices” (trans. Gonzalo Melchor)
I truly bemoan the state of higher education in this country in which seemingly anyone can come up with a name, add the word university to it, and promote an online college.
What is really sad is that so many people will not realize that a degree from most of these places is not worth the wrapper on a Snickers bar.
The majority of online colleges are nothing but businesses and diploma mills, but the people who will suffer the most are the individuals who desperately want a degree but cannot afford a traditional education.
Last night when I got up to let the dogs out, I noticed that the stars were incredibly beautiful, and then I remembered that I was only seeing about 1 percent of what was there.
Corey thinks that I want to leave the country, and part of me does, but what I want more is to be able to see the stars.
“Almost always it is the fear of being ourselves that brings us to the mirror.” ~ Antonio Porchia, from “Voices” (trans. Gonzalo Melchor)
In just the last decade, we have jumped so far in technology; I don’t expect the pace to slacken, only to quicken, which means that Olivia’s generation:
will probably never use a land-line telephone,
will find it odd to own both a camera and a phone,
will not own a paper phone book, and will probably not have to remember telephone numbers because they will be programmed,
may never see a paper daily newspaper,
may not have to hear Rush Limbaugh,
will probably only have a tablet in their backpacks and no actual books,
may never send or receive something via the U.S. Postal Service,
will watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as classics
“No one can help going beyond, and beyond there is an abyss.” ~ Antonio Porchia, from “Voices” (trans. Gonzalo Melchor)
Things that show my age:
I remember who shot J.R.
I look at my sons’ penmanship and wish that they had gone through those classes with the divided lined paper and practiced writing the letters J and F over and over again.
I once knew how to develop black and white film.
I used to think the height of convenience was having an extra long phone cord.
I have used a rotary telephone.
I remember movies of the week and miniseries.
I have an album collection
I have lived without air conditioning.
I remember unleaded and leaded fuel.
I could fill the tank of my VW Bug for under $5, and it would last a week.
“There are pains that have lost their memory and don’t remember why they are painful.” ~ Antonio Porchia, from “Voices” (trans. Gonzalo Melchor)
Things I wanted to be when I grew up:
A marine biologist (high school)
A hairdresser (six years old)
A pediatrician (freshman in college)
A lawyer (graduate school)
A poet (first grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, ninth grade……………)
An English professor (graduate school)
A newspaper reporter (senior in college)
A news editor (senior in college)
When the superficial wearies me, it wearies me so much that I need an abyss in order to rest.” ~ Antonio Porchia, from “Voices” (trans. Gonzalo Melchor)
I never wanted to be:
A marketing director
A membership coordinator
A development officer
A proposal development specialist
A technical editor
A program coordinator
A middle-school teacher
A medical administrator
I have been all of the above and none of the above above.
More later. Peace.
(Haven’t posted any images by Japanese painters in a while, so today’s artist is Yokoyama Taikan (aka Sakai Hidemaro, 1868-1958), a pre-WWII Japanese painter.)
Music by Trent Dabbs, “Better Off Now”
A Breakable Spell
I don’t know
with what tongue
this world’s constant question—
whether the tongue
of red enamel, or blue,
whether the tongue
of flowing water, or ice,
or the tongue of mountain,
or the split-songed
tongue that embraces first light.
But it keeps asking
and so I continue
trying cucumber, trying window,
For a moment
she stands with her
black in the water.
Below her, another looks up.
there is no sound between them.
inside apples and subways,
in blossoming roses,
the heart’s machinery starts up again,
hammering and sawing.
“The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse
This poem came to me a few words at a time, the rough opening lines a few weeks ago, and then they took shape as I drove Brett to school on Monday. The rest came over the past few days. Tuesday night I could not sleep until I committed the middle to paper, and I’m glad that I did as too often I say to myself, I will remember in the morning, and I never do.
It’s still a bit rough, but I think that I’m almost there.
Late prayer for my daughter, heavy now with child
your father brought me lilacs
pale purple blossoms
to quell my anger.
you sat so still,
holding your sister,
mere weeks from the womb.
Your Easter dress—
covered with pink rosebuds,
the picture I took,
lost somewhere to time.
you wait for your own girl child,
counting down the days,
a mere wisp on your lips
where happiness untroubled once dwelled.
Memories of other Aprils
reminders of spring’s inconstancy.
both heaven and hell in my heart
like a tea cup full of fragrant blooms.
“All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.” ~ Aristotle
Late Saturday afternoon. Overcast, low 50’s.
Second day on antibiotics. My chest still feels as if it’s in a vise, though. The cough is more painful today than anytime in the last week. Go figure. Still, I thought that I would try to bang out a post. We’ll see how far this goes.
By the way, do you like the new header? It’s from a photograph that I took last February when Brett and I were wandering around Forest Lawn Cemetery. Let me know.
I’ve had to restart the computer twice so far today. Perhaps computers are like people in that as they get older, they are more affected by the weather: cold and damp, hard to move . . . Perhaps I am anthropomorphizing again. Probably the latter.
I woke up to migraines today and yesterday, or it might be more accurate to say that the migraines awakened me. I don’t know if the Botox is already wearing off or if the bronchitis cough is the cause. I’m really hoping that I have at least another month on the Botox. It would really suck if the shots only lasted for less than six weeks.
I had planned to decorate the house this weekend, but that’s going to have to wait. Maybe sometime this week, but Corey has to work the next five days in a row, so I’m not sure if decorating will happen. More of the wait and see mode. He also has his biology final this Thursday, so it will be a very busy week for him.
ODU finals start next week and then break. Eamonn already had his final in medical terminology. I’m so glad that he finished at least one of the classes; of course, both would have been nice, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.
“Out of my wounds they have made stars: Each is an eye that looks on you” ~ James K. Baxter, from Howrah Bridge
I’ve been thinking about stars. I’ve had a lot of sky pictures show up on my tumblr dash recently, some really beautiful shots of galaxies, nebulas, night skies. I want to live somewhere that in which I can look up and see a myriad of stars and galaxies, unpolluted by lights from the city and the suburbs. I want to be able to drink in the heavens, the boundless beauty of light and color.
I remember when I was in graduate school in Blacksburg, we lived in an apartment on a hill, and the night view seemed to stretch on forever. I remember the sound of the train horn echoing in the middle of the night. Sounds from sirens were few and far between. Life was so completely effortless then: school, studies, friends. Open spaces and cold mountain air. We lived on $7500 a year, and that was probably the best year in my marriage to my ex.
After that, life intervened. Obligations to people and things mounted. Possessions grew. Simplicity faded away and never returned. When we are in the midst of happiness, we never realize it. Few of us are in touch with ourselves enough to know that this moment here, this experience, is perfection, that this slice of life will never be replicated, can never again come close to the periphery of our existence.
Retrospect alone offers us truth and perspective. The now slips away, eludes us—we are such transient creatures, appreciating more that which we have already lived.
“We can speak without voice to the trees and the clouds and the waves of the sea. Without words they respond through the rustling of leaves and the moving of clouds and the murmuring of the sea.” ~ Paul Tillich
A few memories of that time:
Eating homemade Brunswick stew by an open fire with other graduate students from the department
Crying as I walked through a snowfall after learning that John Lennon had been killed
Making a bottle of wine last longer than possible
Driving my car into a vast countryside, completely undeveloped, almost getting lost
Don’t misunderstand. I do not long for the relationship with my ex, but I do long for that simplicity. I long for the hunger I had back then, a constant hunger for new things, new tastes, new smells, new people.
I approached life so differently then. It’s not the youth that I long for, but perhaps the openness of youth. Not to be so jaded. Not to be so cynical. Not to be completely inured to life’s foibles.
I don’t know. I seem to be rambling. I cannot quite grasp the words to describe what it is that I am thinking. Sorry. I’m not sure if I can finish this post. I had thought that I knew what I wanted to say, but . . .
I’ll try again tomorrow. I know the poem is long, but it seemed appropriate.
More later. Peace.
Music by J. S. Bach, “Cello Suite No. 1, i, Prelude, performed by Mischa Maisky
Finding the Space in the Heart
I first saw it in the sixties,
driving a Volkswagen camper
with a fierce gay poet and a
lovely but dangerous girl with a husky voice,
we came down from Canada
on the dry east side of the ranges. Grand Coulee, Blue
Mountains, lava flow caves,
the Alvord desert—pronghorn ranges—
and the glittering obsidian-paved
dirt track toward Vya,
seldom-seen roads late September and
thick frost at dawn; then
follow a canyon and suddenly open to
silvery flats that curved over the edge
O, ah! The
awareness of emptiness
brings forth a heart of compassion!
We followed the rim of the playa
to a bar where the roads end
and over a pass into Pyramid Lake
from the Smoke Creek side,
by the ranches of wizards
who follow the tipi path.
The next day we reached San Francisco
in a time when it seemed
the world might head a new way.
And again, in the seventies, back from
Montana, I recklessly pulled off the highway
took a dirt track onto the flats,
got stuck—scared the kids—slept the night,
and the next day sucked free and went on.
Fifteen years passed. In the eighties
With my lover I went where the roads end.
Walked the hills for a day,
looked out where it all drops away,
discovered a path
of carved stone inscriptions tucked into the sagebrush
“Being a somewhat dark person myself, I fell in love with the idea that the mysterious thing you look for your whole life will eventually eat you alive.” ~ Laurie Anderson, Notes on Melville’s Moby Dick
Monday late afternoon. Party cloudy and cool. Lovely
I had the most horrendous nightmare this morning, and of course, I awoke with a migraine. Actually, what I awoke with was spots, a harbinger of a migraine. I took my medication, and at the moment, the pain is in my left eye.
I dreamed about this crazy man named Viktor (I don’t know why I know that it’s spelled like that, but it is). I was in a beauty supply store looking at combs and nail polish. I remember that I was looking for a particular shade of Revlon lipstick, and I was pondering the purchase of a yellow comb (?). The bad guy came in with two women and one other man, and apparently, I offended him by something that I said. He started to rant at me. Other things happened that I cannot remember. Something about a former Navy Seal tackling him so that he couldn’t kill everyone in the store.
Cut to new scene: I ran into a grocery store to get away from him. When I came out, I noticed a fracas in the parking lot, so I walked over. He was lying there with one of his legs cut off. The leg was about 20 feet from him. Somehow I knew that I had to keep him from getting to his leg or he would be able to put himself back together and come after me again.
More fuzzy details. I awoke panting. Really hate dreams like that.
Later Corey told me about his dreams, and there were men with knives in his dream too. Weird, huh?
“. . . the time was neither wrong nor right. I have been one acquainted with the night.” ~ Robert Frost, from “Acquainted with the Night”
Wednesday afternoon. Absolutely beautiful blue skies, low 70’s.
Monday just wasn’t cutting it as far as having something worthwhile to say plus I had things around the house that I needed to take care of, and then yesterday, we had electrical problems, so here I am, 48 hours later.
When I drove Brett and Em to school this morning, it felt more like a spring morning than a fall one. I had the sunroof open, and I kept hearing birdsong each time I stopped. The long pants and hoodies that were on campus just a few days ago were replaced by shorts. I know that a lot of students from up north come to ODU because it’s considered a beach school, what a hoot. Well, it is definitely warmer that upstate New York, but I used to love the kids who came to class in shorts and sandals all winter long, as if to say, “Winter? This is not winter.”
Today reminded me of that.
This week the annual literary festival is going on at ODU. I looked at the schedule, and I have to say that it was pretty unimpressive. The lit festival used to be such a big deal, drawing names from all over the country. I remember seeing Mary Oliver one year before she changed her style drastically and got much more mainstream. Then there was the year that Carolyn Forché read. She had a big impact on me.
The great thing about being on faculty was being able to meet all of these writers, talking to them in a casual setting after the readings. I really miss that. The bad thing about the literary festival was that I could pretty much count on its timing to coincide with my fall cold. It never failed to happen.
“Everybody’s born with some different thing at the core of their existence. And that thing, whatever it is, becomes like a heat source that runs each person from the inside. I have one too, of course. Like everybody else. But sometimes it gets out of hand. It swells or shrinks inside me, and it shakes me up. What I’d really like to do is find a way to communicate that feeling to another person.” ~ Haruki Murakami
Yesterday I read a book by Ian Rankin, one of my favorite authors. his Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel (pronounced Dee-ell) is such a finely crafted character, the kind of character that aspiring writers envy. He is complex and multilayered, irreverent and serious. I haven’t read all of the Dalziel and Pascoe books in the series, and one day I hope to get my hands on the ones I haven’t read and read them through chronologically. That would be lovely.
I fear that this computer is truly on its last legs, which is painful for me as its demise means the end of computer access for me until I can get my new hard drive installed on my computer. But each time I begin to write on this one, I never know if the damned thing is going to lock up on me or give me a blue screen or a black screen. There is definitely too much junk on the hard drive, but that comes from having three different people share the computer.
I’m on the third or fourth day of this particular migraine, can’t remember. It’s settled mostly into my right eye, which means that the afternoon sunshine that streams through Eamonn’s window that I usually love is causing me great discomfort at the moment. I’ve adapted by typing with my eyes partially closed. It sort of works.
I really want to call that nurse at the neurologist’s office and say “Hey! I’m on the third day of this particular migraine. Does this count?” But I’m not going to. Instead I’ve decided to see if any other neurologist’s in the area treat migraineurs (such a cool name for such a horrid thing) with Botox.
“This is the poem of the air, Slowly in silent syllables recorded; This is the secret of despair, Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded, Now whispered and revealed To wood and field.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,Snow-Flakes
When I was a child, Longfellow was one of the first poets I read, him and Robert Louis Stevenson. My dad bought me A Child’s Garden of Verses, and I carried that book with me everywhere. I wonder whatever became of it . . .
Then, believe it or not, I got my hands on some poetry compilation with a yellow cover. Odd the details you remember. My favorite poem in the book was by Shakespeare:
Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.
I memorized it and recited it to myself in kind of a sing-song. Who knew that it was from The Tempest? Who cared? I remember singing this to myself when we were in the Philippines. I didn’t really have any friends, so I would go out in the tiny front yard of our apartment and sit under the mango tree and sing to myself.
These memories just came to me, not really certain as to why.
“This pain, this dying, this is just normal. This is how life is. In fact, I realize, there never was an earthquake. Life is just this way, broken, and I am crazy for dreaming of something else.” ~ Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You
When my dad retired from the Navy, he took us to the Philippines. Of course, my mother did not want to go. I remember huge rows over what we were going to do, and I remember my mother threatening to take me away. God the fights they had were nasty.
Anyway, we did go to the Philippines, where we lived for about six months or so. We started out in my dad’s village of Gapan, which is on the island of Luzon. It really was a village, dirt roads, water from wells, ice from ice trucks. Then we got an apartment in Quezon City. I hated the apartment because at least in Gapan I had cousins that I could play with.
I remember that during the rainy season, it began to flood, and my mom and the two relatives who lived with us had to open the back and front doors and just let the water run through the apartment. In the meantime, my dad had gone back to the village for someone’s funeral. He was on a bus with one of my uncle’s, I think, and the bus got stuck on a bridge and began to fill with water. My dad got a cramp in his leg, and his brother helped to get him off the bus.
Scary stuff, but for me it was a grand adventure, sitting on the staircase (we had two floors) and watching the furniture float out the door. Soon after, we came back to the states. My grand adventure resulted in pneumonia in both of my lungs and hospitalization, which, for my mother, was the last straw. I’ve never been back.
I really don’t know where these memories are coming from, the part about my dad getting a leg cramp? I had completely forgotten about that.
“I wanted to feel the blood running back into my veins, even at the cost of annihilation.” ~ Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn
My mother called me the other day. She wants me to go to the funeral home with her so that she can plan her funeral. Her logic? That she doesn’t want us to have to go through that when she dies. She doesn’t want a viewing. She doesn’t want a service. I don’t even know if she’ll let us have a graveside service.
My mother is really quite morbid. At the same time, she has this great fear of death and the dead. I know that a lot of this stems from her being so young when her own mother died, eight, I think. In those days, the dead person’s body was kept at home. She still remembers seeing her death mother. I think that it scarred her; actually, I know it.
She hates funerals, refuses to go. I’m amazed that she did the whole viewing and service thing for my dad. Probably because I was with her when she made the plans. I was equally amazed that she went to my m-in-law’s service, but I know that she did it because there was no body there, just ashes.
The whole concept that funerals and memorial services are for those left behind doesn’t mean anything to my mother because she doesn’t think that way. She’s thinking about how she feels about death, so those of us who might want to attend a memorial service for her are basically SOL.
So I told her I would go with her to this place to make the arrangements that she wants. I so hate this. She got really, really morbid right after my dad died, looking for containers to put her ashes in because she wanted to be cremated. Now the cremation’s out, and she’s back to being consumed with making preparations for her own death. Is everyone in my family insane? Probably.
Is it any wonder that I keep a constant headache?
More later. Peace.
Music by The Cure, “Something More than This”
October, An Elegy
The whole month of October
is an elegy, a used book store
getting rained on. This weather
makes me read endings first. Partings
and farewells, the way we’re baffled, startled
when happiness falls. Let me tell you something about darkness, though,
because there’s been enough about light. But first
about the handwritten poem copied out in the back
of a Rilke translation. It begins with beloved,
I’m tempted to tell you, or with rest,
and is written in the kind of couplets that are made
for each other, lines with stories of how they first met,
and I’m tempted to say that after I read it, light didn’t matter,
nor darkness, that poetry somehow gathers
them both into one word. O, how often we are baffled,
startled by our own happiness. I read the poem
and kept its last three unresolved lines: our
line break hearts. There is a pause always around the word heart, the history
of leaving, the small right-angled scars of loss. Another line break
then into, a space, then the words: like small trees. We are made up
of small trees, limbs that reach for each other, forest
of longing, root systems of light, small blossoms of darkness
and there is a poem handwritten after pages of Rilke and, after Rilke,
how can our hearts be anything but small trees. The book was used. The lines
unresolved. It was raining so I sat in the store and read
the ending first. Here happiness falls, sometimes
the only difference between our
and hearts is a line break after a long elegy. This is the season that begins
by ending. The space between light
and darkness is unresolved
as the space between our hearts
and small trees. Beloved, rest. It’s true. I read the ending first
but I kept reading it until I got all the way back
to the beginning.
“This is June, the month of grass and leaves . . . already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me.” ~ Henry David Thoreau, Journal, June 6, 1857
Saturday evening. Party cloudy and very warm.
Thunder storms rolled through here last night, which gave us a break from the oppressing humidity that has been choking the area lately. I spent a few hours floating around the pool and playing ball with Tillie and Shakes. Then Corey and I gave the Jack Russells baths outside so that we could put flea medicine on. We’re trying the new flea medicine that Wal Mart and Sam’s club has that’s supposed to be the same formula as Frontline but for half the cost.
We’ll see how that works.
I have these two strange marks on my left knee that look like someone tasered me. I don’t believe that anyone tasered me as that would tend to be something that one would remember. But the marks are strange nonetheless. I noticed them yesterday when I was riding with Ann in her minivan on the way home from visiting her dad in the hospital.
Brett went with us, and as usual, he said nothing. His grandfather actually didn’t look half bad. He’s having breathing troubles because of his emphysema (more proof that smoking sucks), but he seemed to be in relatively good spirits. His nurse came in while we were there and said something about him going home. Ann didn’t know anything about it, which is not surprising as her dad’s wife doesn’t tend to share information.
It would be good though if he could go home and spend his remaining days with his dog and his roses. I remember when my father was dying in the hospital he kept asking to come home. My mother wouldn’t hear of it even though I offered to stay and take care of him. It’s but one more thing that I regret about his final days.
“A breeze blew over the garden, dropping dew and dropping petals, shivered over the drenched paddocks, and was lost in the sombre bush.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, Prelude
Corey has to work tonight. Once again, he only has three shifts scheduled for the coming week. He is quite depressed over the situation, and I really don’t have any answers. It seems that he’s stuck again, and that’s such a helpless way to be.
He wasn’t able to enroll in summer classes, mostly because the financial aid didn’t come through in time, but plans are still on for him to start classes this fall. I think that once he does that it will help him to feel more grounded. College will be a real, tangible thing, and it’s part of his long-term goals for himself, one that he has had to postpone for too long.
In other news, last night Corey installed a new AC unit in the living room. We got a really good deal on a reconditioned 8,000 BTU unit to replace the dead unit. It’s so much quieter and more energy efficient, and it cools the living and dining rooms and into the hall, so the whole house feels much more comfortable. The bad news is that when Corey took out the old unit, the water damage was pretty obvious.
We know that we are going to have to replace part of that wall and part of the master bedroom wall when we finally replace the windows in this house. But as with everything else in the renovation plans, this must wait.
“If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” ~ The Gospel of Thomas
I came to a realization tonight. It arose in the middle of some drama that I really could have done without, drama that was completely unnecessary and ultimately, peripheral. The realization is that I have much better control over my temper than I used to have. I used to have a hare trigger temper, one that I would unleash indiscriminately, the consequences be damned. Not to say that it’s gone completely; witness the ordeal with Ford.
In a recent conversation, one that would have gone much differently a few years ago, I didn’t lose it, did not curse, did not go for the juggler, though mightily tempting it was, I must say. I don’t think that my calm has anything to do with age. My dad’s temper remained quite volatile even when he was older. I say volatile, but I should clarify that it took a great deal before he lost his temper. About the only person who could really bait him was my mother, and to be honest, she’s just really good at that, even now.
When we were in high school, it seemed that every other day brought some kind of crisis worthy of tears and shouting, storming out of rooms and slamming doors. It seemed that I wore a proverbial hair-shirt all of the time. And in my 20’s I would go off at the drop of a hat. Everything seemed worthy of standing my ground. But not so much any more.
Let me elucidate: I still stand my ground, but the ground that I desire to maintain does not stretch so far. I suppose it comes down to perspective. After losing so much and enduring so much, I have learned to be selective in choosing my battles. As I’ve mentioned, Corey and I do not argue often, and since I am no longer working, I do not have those external triggers to wind me up and make my insides knotty.
In the grand scheme of things, there remains essentially one thing that will cause me to bring my full nastiness to bear: the protection of those I love, especially my children. Be forewarned: Don’t. Go. There.
“The infinite suits you. The infinite where your feet carried you and one evening forsook you, and which now alone has the power to name you.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The book of Margins, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop
I remember one time, much to Eamonn’s great mortification, I yelled at a kid who threw a basketball at him. “Mom. Why’d you do that? I know him.” Okay. So I might have overreacted. Just a bit. But for the most part, I have let my kids fight their own battles. It’s what you are supposed to do, isn’t it?
Alexis, being the first, really didn’t know how to interact with other children, which is why we enrolled her in preschool, so that she would have to learn how to share. She fought her battles by biting the boy who wouldn’t give her a turn on the tire swing. The director of the preschool took Alexis in the office, showed her a bar of soap, and told her that if she ever bit anyone again, she would have to bite the bar of soap. Alexis never bit anyone again, or if she did, she never got caught.
It’s hard to step back, not to run interference. It was much harder for me after Caitlin, and I’ll admit, I didn’t always succeed. I remember the first time that Alexis wanted to ride her bike to school, I followed her in the car. Of course I did. She was so small for her age, and well, it was the first time. And then she wanted to ride her bike to her grandmother’s after school, which meant that she had to cross a main artery, four lanes. I followed her then, too.
She survived, and when she and her friend got into a fight in high school, and Alexis came home with a swollen jaw, I didn’t interfere. I wanted to, really really wanted to, but I didn’t, and they’re still friends.
“Fill yourself up with the forsythias and when the lilacs flower, stir them in too with your blood and happiness and wretchedness, the dark ground that seems to come with you.” ~ Gottfried Benn from “Last Spring,” trans. Michael Hofmann
Oddly enough, not standing up for me was one of the things that really bothered me about my mother. I suppose when you are an only child, it’s hard not to get blamed for everything, but I got blamed for things I never did, and my mother would believe everyone before she would believe me. Actually, it’s still that way. This mistrust didn’t just extend to me; my father got it as well, but . . . well . . . he deserved it most of the time.
I don’t know if it comes from being the youngest in a family of 12 children, or if it’s a result of being a child of the depression, or if it’s the result of being the spouse of someone who was repeatedly unfaithful, but whatever it was, whatever the genesis, my mother is not very trusting. She would accuse me of telling lies when I was being completely truthful. Do you have any idea how that skews a person?
I taught myself to trust because if I didn’t, then I would have ended up like my mother. Granted, dating a pathological liar in my teens did not exactly help in the trust department, especially since I was so naive that I didn’t realize that just about everything that came out of his mouth was a lie. It took me a while, but I did finally catch on.
“When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours?” ~ Franz Kafka
It’s now 10:30 p.m. A big thunder storm blew through the area, and I decided to err on the side of caution and get off the computer for a while.
Of course, since leaving and returning, the subject on which I was pontificating has long since lost its appeal for me. The night has grown dark and quiet; Eva Cassidy is singing “Fields of Gold” with a voice so lovely that it makes me want to weep.
Each time the sky opens up in the evening and the thunder rolls over the horizon, I am taken back to the night on the back porch with my father, how we sat in companionable silence and just enjoyed the moment. I realize how lucky I am to have that memory, at this moment especially when the tenuousness of family relationships is tugging at my heart.
We never know what life is going to give us; just as we do not know what life will take, but we can be assured that it will indeed take as much as it will give. We have moments, just moments of pure bliss, and they seem to fade when compared to those moments of great pain, will fade, unless we hold onto them as if our lives depended upon retaining them, because it does. It most certainly does depend on those connections.
What makes us who we are are moments sitting on cement steps on a covered porch as a deluge rains down from the sky. Who we are depends on who we share these moments with and whether or not we are willing to share at all.
With luck, my own children may look back some day and remember such a moment shared with me, and they will smile, and perhaps they will shed a tear or two, but that memory will keep them going for another day, another week, another year, just as my own moments sustain me.
“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that—I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.” ~ Sylvia Plath
If I give you the impression that I am full of despair and sadness and that my life has no meaning, this is so far from the truth. If you come away from these pages feeling sorry for me, don’t. If you read my words and think that I know nothing of happiness, of bliss, of love, then you have misunderstood me.
Yes, there is grief, and yes, there is sadness. But in turn, there is great love and compassion and understanding. And although I have not come to terms with the idea of getting older, I have come to respect the wisdom that the years have given me. I am so much more comfortable in my skin that I ever was in my 20’s.
And though I have faced storms, storms of the soul, the dark night of the soul, if you will, I have not come away empty-handed. I have been given so much, and I have taken so much, and as a result, I have the pleasure of being capable of feeling so much. I would not trade the storms for anything for I have had more than my share of fields and flowers and cool water.
My tapestry continues to grow. Each new person who enters my life brings their own colored threads, and I greedily scoop them up and integrate them into the pattern. And because I have been weaving this tapestry for so long, it has become tattered and worn in a few places, thinner in those places that I have wrapped myself in when the nights have been too long, but I don’t fret too much. There is no limit on how large we grow the maps of our souls.
Peace be with you and yours.
Music by Eva Cassidy, “Fields of Gold”
The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.
But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.
~ Billy Collins, from Directions in The Art of Drowning
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” ~ Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I haven’t done an update in a while, and since I am supposed to be filling out FAFSA applications for both Brett and Eamonn, I thought that this would be a good topic to keep me from completing more forms. So here goes.
This time ten years ago I was just beginning my relationship with Corey as friends and co-workers.
Five years ago I was miserably working for a real estate company as a marketing director.
This time last year I was doing exactly what I’m doing now: frittering my life away, attempting to write, being a slug.
One of my favorite moments at the museum was the time that I was at the shoot for our Monet exhibition, and there was a frog wrangler. Seriously.
Corey and I were walking through the Botanical Garden when we decided to get married.
My dad loved to go fishing late at night, and when I was a girl, it was always a treat when he took me with him.
The part of my body that I hate the most is my neck. Second, my arms.
I think that Gwyneth Paltrow has a lot of nerve complaining about her bat wings (upper arms) as she is skinny and knows nothing about real bat wings.
When I was in the 6th grade, I pretended that the man in the picture was not my father. I am still ashamed of that.
My cell phone was stolen out of my car by a man I let wash my car. I was so stupid, which is what the police pointed out in a neighborhood meeting about crimes committed by the men who went around and offered to wash cars.
When I was a teenager, I cleaned my mother’s house every Saturday. No one made me. I just did it.
I have a soft spot in my heart for short, elderly Filipino men.
I think the reason that I am so intrigued by my dreams is that they are so much more interesting than my real life.
I am afraid of snakes and centipedes but not spiders.
I love to listen to the birds singing in the early morning, when the air is filled with many different songs, creating a natural harmony.
When I was little, I always wanted to have a sister, but not necessarily a brother.
The most beautiful place Corey and I saw when were in Mexico was the Mayan ruins in Tulum. I much preferred the natural beauty of the ruins, the Iguanas, and the blue water hitting the rocks to the crowded, touristy atmosphere of Cancun.
The Mexican soldiers patrolling Tulum carry automatic weapons, which is quite a jarring sight in the midst of such natural beauty.
I wish that elves and fairies were real.
I have boxes and boxes of photographs that I have taken over the years but have never sorted or arranged. I also have several empty albums that I bought with the intention of putting the pictures into albums.
I don’t think that there’s an episode of Law & Order that I haven’t seen, and the show has been on for 20 years.
I still want to go back to graduate school to get my PhD.
Is there such a thing as a family that isn’t dysfunctional?
I have had three bosses for whom I would work again in a heartbeat—the City Editor at the newspaper where I cut my teeth, the marketing director at the Museum, and the Director of Marketing and Communications at GW.
The worst boss I had was at the department store. He was a misogynist, and he had no sense of loyalty.
“Where am I? Who am I?
How did I come to be here?
What is this thing called the world?
How did I come into the world?
Why was I not consulted?
And If I am compelled to take part in it,
Where is the director?
I want to see him.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard
Twenty-five more things:
I once worked as a temp for a company that was so cheap that they counted paper clips.
I used to clean my guy friends’ apartments whenever I visited.
I used to dream of owning a muscle car. Now, I couldn’t bend down to get into one.
Someone once told me that my legs weren’t perfect and hers were because mine didn’t touch at the top.
I wish that my legs still didn’t touch at the top.
If I were a billionaire, after I paid for college for everyone in the family, I would set up a foundation specifically for young women in need of start-up funds. I would also start a foundation for unpublished writers to get the funds needed to work on their writing full time.
If I were a billionaire, I would donate a chunk of change to the campaigns of whoever ran against Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and a handful of other extremists.
One day I will go to Australia and Ireland.
I sing to my dogs.
I think that I’ve taught Tillie how to say I Love You, but she could be saying “I want cookies.”
One of the most beautiful valentines I ever received was from a boy I was not dating. It was a hand painted butterfly, and in it he wrote a poem about me. I found out later that he killed himself the following year.
I love pens but hate ball point stick pens that run on my fingers.
When I was a little girl, I thought that I would help my mom with the ironing. I melted one of her blouses.
I polished the floor of my grandmother’s house in the Philippines with coconut halves that were strapped to my feet. The dark floors were so smooth that it was like skating.
I’ve always wished that I could draw.
My parents had a tree on the side of their yard that I climbed and from which I could jump onto the roof.
I have wanted to live in Blacksburg ever since I went to grad school there, but I think that it’s more the idea of living in a college town.
Corey and I want to go on another cruise one of these days.
I remember returnable soda bottles.
I have a vague memory of the shops on Portobello Road in England.
The green grocer whose shop was just down the street from our apartment on Goldhawk Road in London was named Mr. Higgins. He gave me sweets.
Two traditions that I think Americans should adopt are tea time and the siesta. Both make so much sense to me.
I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in over two years. I think that must be a record.
Ideally, I would love to have a beach house and a house in the mountains. Then I could have the two environments that I love the most.
I let my dogs steal the covers during the night.
“To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.” ~ Sam Keen
If you could have lunch with anyone in history, who would it be? That’s hard. It’s a tossup between Thoreau, Einstein, or Anne Boleyn, all for different reasons
What is the one thing you want more than anything else at this very moment? A haircut.
What it the one thing you hope to accomplish this year? Work on my book idea to the point that I have something to show an agent.
What do you hate the most? Intolerance, followed closely by a lie.
What do you love the most? Love and being loved
How old were you when you first encountered death in a real way? Twelve, when my mother’s father died
What modern convenience would you miss the most: a computer, a cell phone, a television, a microwave? Definitely a computer.
If you could do one thing for anyone in the world, what would it be? I would get a job for Corey.
Which person that you do not know do you relate the most to? Virginia Woolf.
What is your worst trait? Jealousy followed by insecurity.
How do other people characterize you that doesn’t match how you see yourself? I am frequently told that I am confident, which I am not.
What is the one thing in this world that you would eliminate if you could? Famine.
Glass half empty or half full? Empty.
Are people inherently evil or inherently good? Good.
Do you keep secrets from those you love? No. Absolutely not.
Where is the one place you return to again and again? The cemetery where Caitlin is buried.
Is there a place you go to when you need to clear your head? Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Are you happy with your life? Not really. There are too many things I want to change.
Which affects you more: smell or sound? Sound. Music has a way of playing into my moods.
If you had the power to change one thing in your life, what would it be? I would have had another baby.
What would your super power be? Flying
Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? If one of them is gay.
If you could live in another country, where would it be? Australia or Finland.
When you are away from home, what do you miss the most? My dogs.
Do you believe in revenge? In concept.
Well that was harder than I had anticipated. More later. Peace.
“Pandora,” by John William Waterhouse (1896, oil on canvas)
“The evils of the body are murder, theft, and adultery; of the tongue, lying, slander, abuse, and idle talk; of the mind, covetousness, hatred, and error.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
I’m sitting here in a white cotton sweater that is probably sixteen years old. I love this sweater, even though it is torn. It is soft and comfortable, and it reminds me of my friend Mari, who gave it to me one Christmas.
I have a lot of things that are this old. I’m not complaining, just noting. Why? Well, I’m a tad upset, actually more than a tad, and once again, it has to do with my mother, the woman who can cut me down in two sentences and never glance back.
Today Corey stopped by her house to use the fax machine. My mother had a bone to pick. She asked Corey if we (more specifically, I) had made any big purchases lately. He was, understandably, confused as our purchases are limited to groceries and shampoo. My mother told him that she had heard we had bought a new big bookcase for the living room. I know where she heard this from—my other m-i-l, whose visit I mentioned a few posts ago. My other m-i-l noticed the large wardrobe that is sitting in the living room, the one that is supposed to go in the bedroom, but the bedroom has yet to be painted or carpeted.
This piece of furniture is very large and heavy. Moving it is not simple or easy; hence, we have not moved it into the bedroom. We purchased this piece of furniture four years ago with cash from our tax return at a time when money was not a concern as we were both working in good paying jobs. That this furniture is still not in a bedroom is a reflection of the state of our life right now. However, it is not a reflection of careless spending on our part, or extravagant purchases.
Try telling this to my mother who got the information from my other m-i-l, who lives in a constant state of confusion. Corey explained this to my mother, who informed him that he needs to keep me in line. Corey told my mother that I don’t buy anything, that he pays the bills and does the budget and that I don’t even go shopping, all of which is true. I have been shopping on my own once in the last 12 months—at Christmas—and even then I was very restrained and made no purchases for myself.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
Now let me pause here to interject a bit of history, and I apologize if I am repeating myself. After Caitlin died, I shopped my way through my grief. I have admitted this and owned up to my mistakes many times over. I worked very hard to overcome the need to shop to fill the emptiness in my life. I still like to shop, when I have money, but I do not have a fierce need to shop, and there is a big difference.
I no longer go out every Saturday and buy things just to buy. I no longer go from store to store to store, picking up things indiscriminately simply because I can. I no longer do this not because I don’t have the money. I no longer do this because I realized why I was doing this, and I no longer have the deep well of emptiness inside of me.
I have moved on. My mother, however, has not. She still thinks of me as that person who shopped and shopped as if my very life depended upon it. I don’t know about life, but definitely sanity. I have tried to tell my mother repeatedly that I am no longer addicted to shopping (and yes, it is possible to be addicted to shopping). I have tried to tell her that I do not spend money without any thought of the consequences.
She, for whatever reason, does not believe me. Hence, the snide comment about a recent large purchase on my part. Why does this bother me so much when I know the truth?
Well consider: How would you feel if you had made a mistake many years ago, and you had learned from that mistake, and you had taken measures to correct that mistake only to have said mistake thrown in your face at any given opportunity?
I can tell you. You would feel like a failure, an abysmal failure.
“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
I truly believe that I will never really understand my mother, no matter how long either of us lives. She can be loving and generous and kind, but mostly with anyone but me. She will talk trash about me to just about anyone: my spouse, my children, my friends. She will believe anyone else before me.
There are so many little stories from my life that exemplify this, far too many to bring up, but one in particular illustrates my point: The homes in my parents’ neighborhood had septic tanks before the city installed sewage throughout the area. One time, the tank became clogged, and my parents had to call one of those companies that specialize in fixing such problems. My mother told the workers, my father, anyone who would listen that she was certain that I had thrown a bottle of nail polish down the toilet, and that had led to the clog. I was about 9 years old.
Nail polish . . . really? Why? I never even contemplated doing such a thing, even as a child. I mean, to what end? I didn’t have any nail polish of my own, and as far as I can remember, my mother did not paint her nails. Did the polish appear by magic? I protested my innocence, but to no avail. I had already been judged guilty, so that was that.
I hadn’t remembered this incident until a few nights ago when for some reason, it popped into my head. Funny how memory works.
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
I know that I should not let what my mother said affect me so much, nor should I continue to be surprised when she makes these declarations. But it takes a great deal of self-confidence not to let disparaging words spoken about you affect you, especially when spoken by someone who is supposed to love you in the way that a mother is supposed to love. And self-confidence is something with which I still have a hard time.
At the same time, I know that my mother is a product of her generation, a product of the Great Depression, being the youngest in a family with 12 children, being the daughter of a mother who died when she was only eight, and the daughter of a father who drank. I realize that her life as a child was very hard, and not having her mother definitely affected her ability to show love outwardly.
I try to remind myself of these things when she does something to irk me. It helps, but truthfully, it does not lessen the hurt that I feel. I sound like a petulant child. All that is missing is the stamp of the foot and the protestation that “it’s not fair.” So of the two of us, I try to be the adult. All that being said, it would be so nice if just once I felt, truly felt, that she was not sitting in judgment of me.
All I can do, I suppose, is try to remember not to treat my own family in the same way, to let them know that I am proud of them, to tell them that I love them, and to refrain from interjecting past failures into the present. I hope that one day I do not have to read something written by one of my own children only to find that he or she sees me in the say way that I see my own mother.
Counting to ten doesn’t work. A hot cup of tea helps. Writing about it helps to lessen the sting. Time, healing, and all of that . . . scars remain forever, but my scars are the map of my world, each one a wound healed, a memory filed away, a piece of mortality tasted.