“I knew on some level that it was an indefensible position, but I wanted to see how far I could get in taking a curmudgeonly stance against the pursuit of happiness.” ~ Phillip Lopate, from “Writing Personal Essays: On the Necessity of Turning Oneself Into a Character”

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Two for Tuesday: Phillip Lopate

phillip_lopateI’m so excited. I know that I’ve read a few brief things from Lopate before, but for some reason, I have never read the following poem. It is so perfect, so perfect for me, so perfect for my state of mind, so perfect for my continual self-loathing. And then I found his essay on writing essays. I think that I’m in love with this man, well, not in love, in admiration. I think that I’m an essayist. Wow. Serendipity. I need to get his book The Art of the Personal Essay.

“Doubt is my boon companion, the faithful St. Bernard ever at my side. Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with ‘yes, buts,’ ‘so whats?’ and other skeptical rejoinders. I am forever monitoring myself for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity and, guess what, I keep finding examples. Age has not made me wiser, except maybe in retrospect.”
~ Phillip Lopate

                   

We Who Are Your Closest Friends

we who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting
as a group
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift

your analyst is
in on it
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us

in announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves
but since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make
unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your
disastrous personality

then for the good of the collective

Anne Lammot’s description of her writing class’s reaction to her reading them this poem:

They stare at me like the cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Only about three of them think this poem is funny, or even a good example of someone taking his own paranoia and shaping it into something artistic and true. A few people look haunted. The ones who most want to be published just think I’m an extremely angry person. Some of them look emotionally broken, some look at me with actual disgust, as if I am standing there naked under fluorescent lights.

                   

serendipity

A Selection from “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt

I am an essayist, for better or worse. I don’t suppose many young people dream of becoming essayists. Even as nerdy and bookish a child as I was fantasized about entering the lists of fiction and poetry, those more glamorous, noble genres on which Nobels, Pulitzers and National Book Awards are annually bestowed. So if Freud was right in saying that we can be truly happy only when our childhood ambitions are fulfilled, then I must be content to be merely content.

I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations. In the area of literary nonfiction, memoirs attract much more attention than essay collections, which are published in a modest, quasi-invisible manner, in keeping with anticipated lower sales. But despite periodic warnings of the essay’s demise, the stuff does continue to be published; if anything, the essay has experienced a slight resurgence of late. I wonder if that may be because it is attuned to the current mood, speaks to the present moment. At bottom, we are deeply unsure and divided, and the essay feasts on doubt.

Ever since Michel de Montaigne, the founder of the modern essay, gave as a motto his befuddled “What do I know?” and put forth a vision of humanity as mentally wavering and inconstant, the essay has become a meadow inviting contradiction, paradox, irresolution and self-doubt. The essay’s job is to track consciousness; if you are fully aware of your mind you will find your thoughts doubling back, registering little peeps of ambivalence or disbelief.

                   

Music by Sarah Blasko, “An Oyster, A Pearl”

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“In the morning, you tear up the pages of your fever, but every word naturally leads you back to its color, its night.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from The Book of Questions II, trans. Rosmarie Waldrop

Pasea Sailing by crlbvi fcc
Pasea Sailing by crlbvi (FCC)

                   

“That’s what the world is, after all: an endless battle of contrasting memories.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from 1Q84

Saturday afternoon. Partly cloudy, 51 degrees.

I should finish my cleaning, but I don’t want to. Last night I had really horrible dreams, two involving bad things happening to dogs. In one dream I had a puppy (not one of my real ones) who was attacked by a pit bull owned by a neighbor. The neighbor didn’t stop the attack and told me not to make such a big deal out of it, and I was vacillating between heartbreak and seething anger at the dog’s owner. My puppy was mauled and bloody and looking at me with such unbelievable hurt in his eyes. There was blood everywhere

Sailing on Cayuga Lake by solarnu FCC
Sailing on Cayuga Lake by solarnu (FCC)

In the second dog dream I had taken one of my dogs to work with me at the big department store where I used to be a manager. The store manager brought his puppy to work also. Both dogs managed to get outside, and this one woman who was leaning against the building kicked the puppy. I saw it happen through the glass and went to rescue the puppy, but then I got lost inside the store, and I was also trying to page the manager to let him know, but I couldn’t remember how to work the paging system, and my dog was lost, too.

The only good part was when I was looking at the night sky in my dream and I saw a meteor, and I was trying to point it out so that everyone could see how beautiful it was.

I woke up with a headache again.

“There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.” ~ John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Corey is due in port on the 25th now. Apparently they’ve hit some bad weather and aren’t making good time. It will be so good to see him. Tillie will be ecstatic, and she’ll probably lie and say that no one has paid any attention to her, no one has played with her, her life has been bereft. Dogs do lie you know, especially when it comes to treats.

Sailing Across the Blue Ocean by eyesplash mikul FCC
Sailing Across the Blue Ocean by eyesplash mikul (FCC)

Anyway, I think they’re supposed to be in port for a few days, so I hope we actually get to spend a bit of time together. One time the captain didn’t change to in-port watches, so Corey spent most of his time sleeping and going back and forth to the ship. We’ll just have to see. Of course, now that he’s almost here I’m going into panic mode and thinking about doing stupid things like cleaning the ceiling fans. This always happens. I have to force myself to use restraint so that my back isn’t acting up when he arrives.

I’ll try to sate my OCD need to clean with scrubbing the floors and normal stuff. Brett will help because dusting and vacuuming are his household chores. Eamonn will not help because he’s not even here. Lucky for him, his father took him to Florida for a fishing trip for his birthday. I won’t even get started on how blatantly my ex shows favoritism among his children. What’s the point? Nothing will change.

“Off I go, rummaging about in books for sayings which please me.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

Yesterday, Brett, Em, and I went to a new thrift store in downtown Norfolk. It’s a great place for books, so I was thrilled. What was especially nice was that they have a bag policy, as in for $4 you can fill a bag with books. I brought in one of my shopping bags and asked if I could use it, and the woman in charge said yes, but since it was a bigger bag she would have to charge me $5. Then when I checked out she said that I hadn’t filled my bag, so she only charged me $4. Such cheap thrills.

Sailing in the Bahamas by Skinnede Mink FCC
Sailing in the Bahamas by SkinnedMink (FCC)

Truth is I could have filled the bag twice, but my arms were tired, as was my back from sitting on the floor to look at the bottom shelves. I have absolutely no shame when it comes to searching for books: I will bend, stoop, pull things off shelves, whatever it takes. I found an old HBJ English grammar book and an old encyclopedia, which I grabbed just because they were in great shape. Then I got several board books for Olivia, and about seven hard bound books for myself. I also found this odd-looking mariner’s head mug that was carved out of wood, and the handle is a whale. It’s really wild looking, so I bought it for Corey.

We decided that we’ll have to go back there during their Happy Hour as everything except furniture is 50 percent off. The store uses its profits for abused and neglected children, so all-in-all, it’s a great find for a great cause. Now with the influx of new reading material, I can stop fretting because my reading pile was down to just five books.

Then we went to the international market where we all picked out our various favorites from around the world. I’ll have to take Corey there as he can get squid and stuff like that.

“Unless I write a few sentences here from time to time I shall, as they say, forget the use of my pen.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 13 May 1931

Another thing that I need to take care of before Corey gets home is the pile on the left side of my desk. I’ve been doing bills and correspondence, and I need to organize because I’ve just thrown everything into a pile. Of course, the pile is nothing like the pile that used to exist on my old dining room table when I was with my ex.

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Asail on a Wooden Boat by tiarescott (FCC)

I have never liked going through mail, junk mail, flyers, bills, so I used to just grab everything out of the mailbox and then throw it on the table, which of course, was problematic with my ex. It was also during a time in which I was dealing with my grief via a shopping addiction, so the mail represented real life, and who wants that? However, that being said, did the ex ever take it upon himself to remedy the situation by opening and sorting? Enough said on that.

My ex showed up in a dream a few nights ago, and I know that it’s because I’m torqued out of shape about the Florida trip. It just wouldn’t occur to this man that perhaps his youngest son would like to go on a fishing trip out of state. The only compensation is that Brett just had his NYC trip, during which he had a great time. I suppose we must take our pleasures where we can get them and not rely on others to provide them for us.

Still torqued, though. Bâtard grandes.

Anyway, I saw a beautiful picture of a sailboat on my tumblr dash, which is what prompted my image theme for today. I haven’t been on a sailboat in years; I travel the water vicariously through my love.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sara Jackson-Holman, “Freight Train”

                   

Flour and Ash

“Make flour into dough,” she answers,
“and fire will turn it into food.
Ash is the final abstraction of matter.
You can just brush it away.”

She tacks a sheet of paper to the wall,
dips her hand in a palette of flour and ash,
applies the fine soft powders with a fingertip,
highlighting in chalk and graphite,
blending, blurring with her thumb.
Today she is working in seven shades of gray.

Outside the door, day lilies
in the high flush of summer-
about-to-be-fall. Her garden burns
red and yellow in the dry August air
and is not consumed.

Inside, on the studio wall, a heavy
particulate smoke
thickens and rises. Footsteps grime the snow.
The about-to-be-dead line up on the ramp
with their boxy suitcases,
ashen shoes.

When I get too close she yanks me back.
She hovers over her creation
though she too has a mind
to brush against that world
and wipe it out.

~ Chana Bloch

“We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

Corey got into port tonight. No idea how long he’ll be here . . .

Located in Aalst-Saint-Pierre, Ghent, Belgium

                   

“You die a thousand deaths in a private secret life, for no one knows what you do, what you love, and of course others are doing it, as with song, and you always hear this and die some more.  And you usually wind up converting the private life into some other form, a form which will allow the secret life to remain a secret, yet will still feed the new form.  With me it was writing.  The cost of the conversion was immense—it is twenty-five years later and I am only beginning to realize the cost, even as I write here, to it, for the first time. For the conversion calls for still another layer of identity which often (although, I agree, not always) obscures the real even more.  It is layer upon layer.  Identity to one’s self, others, identity to one’s hat—my hat the writing hat, my arm the arm of memory—now I prefigure a drawing of a man whose arm is abstract, but active—and who has a hat for a head! And where is the heart?  A secret mark, breathing still, what a miracle!”

~ Michael Burkard, from My Secret Boat: A Notebook of Prose and Poems

                   

Music by Jason Mraz, “I Won’t Give” (love this song)