“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”

serendipity-500x380

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”

“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.

sailboat-tiarescott fcc
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)

“I’ve a grand memory for forgetting” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

if-i-only-had-a-brain

If I Only Had A Brain . . .

“Stress is basically a disconnection from the earth, a forgetting of the breath” ~ Natalie Goldberg

fiber-reconstructions-in-the-brain
Very Cool Image of Fiber Reconstructions in the Brain

For the past month, my brain seems to have been losing grey cells more quickly than I am able to regenerate them. The disturbing truth is that I cannot remember anything. I had been attributing this inability to form linear thoughts solely to stress because this family seems to be mired in a stress swamp.

However, I will allow that the probability of my synapses misfiring may be directly related to the medications in my regimen. For example, I was on Topomax for my migraines. A psychopharmacologist that I consult pointed out that the nickname for Topomax is “Dopomax” because the medication has a direct effect on an individual’s cognitive abilities. I just really wish that someone had told me about this before my dosages kept increasing until I was on an extremely high dose.

Actually, I thought that my brain was atrophying as a result of my no longer being in the workforce full time. As in, the more stimulation the brain receives, the better it works, and my brain stimulation is all self-imposed these days. Of course, this is still a possibility. My interactions these days are with my family and my dogs, instead of students, professors, and marketing reps. Slight difference . . . but I have to admit that I like my dogs better than most of those people.

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe

alfie-looking-confused
Alfie Looking Confused???

All of this could explain why I can’t seem to remember things from one moment to the next. I do write things down as reminders and make lists for the store, but then I cannot remember where I put the lists. Stop laughing . . . I’m not joking here.

In some ways, I remind myself of my canine friends. You know how a dog will come running into a room, tail wagging, and then suddenly stop and look around as if to say, “why did I come in here”? Well, that’s me. I find myself retracing my steps more and more in efforts to remember why I am in the garage, or why I walked from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Corey, as patient as always, suffers the most from my memory lapses. I’ll call him to come into the room and then forget why I called him. He stands there patiently while I retrace my thought process in my brain. Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I don’t, or I don’t remember until a half an hour later, and by then, the context is gone. What’s really annoying to me is when Corey will ask me for a word, and I cannot remember it. Being a wordsmith and former English instructor,  this need to hunt in my memory for words is frankly, demeaning, not to mention that it makes me appear to be clueless. I fear the day that Corey will turn to Brett for references as he is tired of waiting for me to get my synapses firing in order to answer his questions about words and writing.

I’m afraid that I may be rubbing off on him, though. The other day when he was going to the store, he came into the room and said, “We were talking about something that I forgot to get at the sore. Do you remember what it is?” Of course I didn’t remember. I asked him to call me once he go to the store in the hopes that I would remember by then. He called, and neither one of us had recalled what we had forgotten.

Isn’t that just terrible?

“The brain is a monstrous, beautiful mess . . .”  ~ William F. Allman

neurons-in-the-hippocampus-by-tamily-a-weissman
Neurons in the Hippocampus (detail) by Tamily A. Weissman

So I did my usual bit of research on the brain just so that I could appear to know something about that which I am deprecating: my brain. One of the things that I discovered earlier is that scans of the brain make beautiful pictures. If the viewer does not have the least inkling of what she is seeing, the images resemble everything from tree branches to colored sperm to an intricate root system.

What I learned on my most recent exploration is that people who know these things or postulate about these things are now beginning to rethink the whole mediotemporal lobe as the memory center. Apparently, two of the key parts of this lobe, the hippocampus and the perirhinal cortex function alone and in different ways.

The hippocampus, which is shaped like a seahorse is more focused on consolidation of new memories; it is responsible for converting short-term memory into long-term memory. The hippocampus also helps humans to recall spatial relations, emotions, and navigation. Navigation? As in what tells me how to get to Baltimore, Maryland? Actually, I think it means more that if my hippocampus were functioning at full speed, I would have remembered that there are three steps leading into the garage instead of thinking that there were only two, which led to the fall and subsequent sprained ankle. (http://biology.about.com/library/organs/brain/blhippocam.htm).

perirhinal-cortex-in-brain
Perihinal Cortex in Brain

The perirhinal cortex plays a role in encoding object recognition memory. Studies have been done in which subjects are shown a series of images. They are later shown the same series of images and asked to identify those which they remember (“familiarity-based recognition”). Through imaging, scientists have been able to determine that the perirhinal cortex resets itself between sessions, which I find to be pretty cool. Sort of like hitting control/alt/delete when you need to reset your virtual brain. This resetting indicates that this part of the brain is working actively rather than passively. ( http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(08)00634-X)

Amazing what you can find with a Google search.

“Brain: an apparatus with which we think that we think.” ~ Ambrose Bierce

jws_winnie_the_pooh_classic_with_butterflyWhich leads me down another path . . . what if my brain is just getting old? I mean, what if my brain has begun to sprout brain grey hairs in the same way that my temples have? Fixing the hair problem is easy enough: a visit to my stylist and a loss of money. But do they have Miss Clairol for brains, and if so, how do I go about getting some?

I know that I’m probably over-thinking this (audible groan), but I mean, come on. Don’t you get just a wee bit concerned when you feel like Winnie the Pooh—all stuffed with fluff and a mind that is fixated on only one thing? Of course, there aren’t many things more adorable than Pooh, but it’s a bit embarrassing for a grown woman in her after-30’s to have the thinking power of A.A. Milne’s most beloved creation.

“The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things do not come to our mind when we want them to.” ~ Friederich Nietzsche

Which brings me to the actual reason for this post: I joined Condron.us just after it appeared in my blog stats. Condron is a new blogging community that is fast becoming as popular as that other blogging community whose name I shall not put in my blogs any more.

fruitfly-on-appleWhen I joined Condron, I had great plans to be a contributor to its forums and to visit the site with every new post that I published so that I could seek out other interesting blogs on which to bestow my words of wisdom and praise.

But then I forgot. Completely forgot to comment, forgot to visit. Mind wiped clean. I would remember to list the site in my tags, but that was as far as it went, and if I am to be truthful, I remembered to list Condron in my tags because it’s a most-used tag.

Now, my stats have been lower of late, and I’ve been pondering the reasons why. But in pondering, I would be distracted by something else on my stats page, like a new link or something like that, and then I would forget to ponder the problem any longer.

I know, I’m making it sound as if I have the attention span of a fruitfly. Trust me, the fruitfly is more focused. At least it knows what its purpose is in life and why it has landed on an aging apple.

“It is good to rub and polish our brain against that of others.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

So my whole point is this: I need brain stimulation. I need to do more exploring of other people’s blogs and let my mind be filled with new voices (not the ones in my head—admit it: That’s what you were thinking), new ideas from different places.

condron_usDon’t misunderstand: I love my little community of blogs that I visit daily. It feels as if we’re having coffee together all over the world. I find that immensely gratifying. But I want to find more people to collect, which means that I need to start visiting Condron.us regularly.

If you’ve never visited a blogging community before, and you are interested in seeing who is out in the blogosphere and what they are writing, then I would highly recommend that you visit one soon. It’s a great way to get people interested in your own site and to share information and comments with other people who might be writing about the same things that you are posting.

So don’t be like me, or like I was. Visit Condron.us soon at http://condron.us. It’s worth remembering.

More later. Peace.