“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

From The Cycle “Windows of My Studio,” Joseph Sudek (1954)

                   

“I have always spent most of my time staring out the window, noting what is there, daydreaming or brooding. Most of the so-called imaginative life is encompassed by these three activities that blend so seamlessly together, not unlike reading the dictionary . . .” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Thursday afternoon. Clear and cold.

Steps in Snow, New York City, by Merg Ross (1964)

To say that this week has been unproductive would be the height of understatement. The headache from hell continues to march on within my skull relentlessly. I saw my headache doctor on Monday, and he finally admitted that he can do nothing for me. Next step, a referral to a neurologist. Meanwhile, I am on a series of steroids (hooray, not) and all of the attendant side-effects: bloating, water retention, increased appetite, and my personal favorite: headaches.

I decided to try to post today for two reasons: It’s been over almost a week since I last posted, and when I sat down to begin, the pain had subsided a bit, as it always does—here and then gone, assault and then retreat—much like the incoming and outgoing tides. I have no control over when the next onslaught will come; none of my pain medications are working, alone or in combination; and this particular battle is leaving me weak and mostly bed-ridden.

A situation I truly abhor. Of course, whenever I am phsically incapacitated like this, my thoughts always turn to the Social Security judge who said that my pain was not beyond normal parameters, and that I could hold down one of my former positions, say sales manager or marketing director. That man holds a very special place in my heart.

I was able to read a book on Tuesday as the pain was mostly dull, and reading did not seem to exacerbate anything, but sitting in front of the computer screen is still not the best situation, and since I am my own worst enemy, I got up from the computer this afternoon after only a few minutes to take care of a few things around the house, like the dishes and laundry. I wanted to take advantage of the lull. Of course this means that now that I am back at the keyboard, the tide is coming in once again, and rather quickly, too, I might add.

“When Heraclitus said that everything passes steadily along, he was not inciting us to make the best of the moment, an idea unseemly to his placid mind, but to pay attention to the pace of things. Each has its own rhythm: the nap of a dog, the procession of the equinoxes, the dances of Lydia, the majestically slow beat of the drums at Dodona, the swift runners at Olympia.” ~ Guy Davenport, The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays 

Chairs with Leaves, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris, by Ilse Bing (1952)

Eamonn stopped by for one of his 15-minute visits this afternoon, and he brought his friend Sean with him. Sean enlisted in the Army right after high school graduation, and he is due to go back to Iraq in the spring.  Fortunately, he does not have a combat position. He told me that he has been asked to go out on missions, but he has the option to decline, and he has chosen to take that option; however, he says that the other people call him a girl, and various other military slurs for coward. (I did not comment on the whole sexism thing as I just wasn’t up to it.)

I told Sean that there is nothing wrong with wanting to stay out of combat. His current position is a very necessary one, and he is serving his country in his own way. Actually, I was a bit surprised that he enlisted in the first place; in the past, he has displayed a terrible temper (he and Eamonn got into a fist-fight in middle school, and both were suspended) and lack of self-control, but the military seems to have helped him. Having said that, I am awfully glad that Eamonn did not enlist with him.

Truthfully, who among us would want a son or daughter in the army at this very precarious time in our country’s history? I’m just not that person, not when it comes to my kids. Oddly enough though, I once thought of joining the military and said quite boastfully to my friends that I would willingly go into combat if I had to, and I think that I really meant it—at the time.

When you think about it, isn’t it kind of amazing how many vastly different people we are during a lifetime? A would-be warrior here, a want-to-be politician there . . . and then looking back, thinking how odd life would have been if we had walked that path.

“Illusions are important. What you foresee or what you remember can be as important as what really happens.” ~ Javier Marias

House in Demolition by Petr Helbich (1985)

I’m not ready to write about last Saturday yet. It’s a subject that is fraught with emotion, and I know that I am not able to deal with all of the thoughts that are around inside my brain regarding yet another senseless American tragedy and what it means to me, to this country, to both sides of the ongoing fray.

Perhaps tomorrow. We’ll see.

Brett went back to ODU this past Monday, and I don’t think that winter break could have ended soon enough for him. I was starting to notice a definite downswing in his overall mood, and I am fairly certain that it was caused in part because he found himself at loose ends without classes and the company of his friends. 

On other fronts, I went a few days without calling my mother because of my own maladies, which means that when I did call her I got the expected “I could have been dead over here” complaint. I knew that it was only a matter of time before she returned fully to form once I moved back home. All of the kindness and intimacy that passed between us during those months in which I took care of her have already been put on the back burner, only to be replaced by the same old refrains.

I wish that I could say that I am surprised, but I am so not. I was, however, surprised by my mother’s response to my offer to drive her to Roanoke to see her sister whose condition is worsening quickly. My mother wanted none of it as it would upset her too much. I suppose I should have remember her reaction to her older sister’s death a few years ago: My mother wouldn’t even attend the funeral as it would be too upsetting . . . for her.

She has declared that she will never go to another funeral. Her assertion bothers me, although I am not exactly certain as to why it would or should.

“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Victor Frankel

Sunset on Lake, by Fausto Mirandoli (Pixdaus)

I suppose that that’s her prerogative  (Bobby Brown totally ruined that word for me) choice, so I should respect it, but it rankles me for lots of reasons: Funerals, obviously, are for those left behind; the dearly departed participate only corporeally. Usually, those attending are family and friends, perhaps coworkers, all of whom are brought together for their own various reasons: grief, love, fear, loneliness, guilt, and occasionally (but, it is to be hoped, rarely) joy.

I don’t know much about funeral customs in other religions and cultures, but the oddly termed post-funeral reception that I have attended many times is probably the most honest part of the entire process. At the service, the deceased is remembered, sometimes lauded. At the reception, after a few glasses of whatever, the stories begin to be told, and those who did not know the deceased quite as well as others get an earful.

They hear about exploits better forgotten, family events at which the departed individual acted particularly rude or obnoxious or funny, and sometimes, little tidbits from the workplace are revealed, tidbits that no one in the family had heard about before this gathering. Truth is part of grief in an odd but integral way, and I think that that’s the part with which my mother is most uncomfortable: the moments in which truth comes out and is bandied about like some kind of Jello salad with miniature marshmallows making its way from person to person: Not everyone necessarily wants it, but most will sample it to be polite, and a few will secretly enjoy it. My mother, on the other hand, refuses to partake.

Hell, what do I know . . .

“Imagine if all the tumult of the body were to quiet down, along with our busy thoughts.
Imagine if all things that are perishable grew still.” ~ St. Augustine 

Village, by Hajrudin Murselovic (Pixdaus)

I’m sorry that this post is so disjointed; it seems to be going all over the place without any clear focus, which is probably exactly what is really happening (and not just imagined) as that is exactly how my mind feels. Example: I walked from the bedroom to the dining room to do something. I stood there for a few minutes trying to remember what I had come to do. I walked back to the bedroom. Several hours later I remembered that I had gone to the dining room to get a piece of chocolate.

Okay. I probably/definitely did not need the chocolate because of a) the migraine, and b) the calories. But how discouraging . . . to decide that a piece of chocolate would be nice only to forget immediately after taking a few steps only to remember once the desire was no longer there.

It’s especially frustrating for the dogs who jump off the bed to follow me to the kitchen in the hopes of getting something, anything for their efforts only to be thwarted by my abysmal lack of linear thought.

More sooner rather than later (I hope). Peace.

Music by Natalie Walker, “By and By”

                   

Lines for Winter
for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

~ Mark Strand

“Let us sculpt in hopeless silence all our dreams of speaking.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

 

                   

“rush of pine scent (once upon a time),
the unlicensed conviction
there ought to be another way
of saying
this.” ~ Paul Celan

Thursday evening. Cold. Incipient migraine.

William Blake once said that “in the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.”  I found a card once that depicted a series of doors, and the Blake quote was printed at the top. I had that card on my collage for years.

I think that we very often go through doors without a clear conception of what may be lying on the other side. In our attempts just to move through life, we open a door, hoping that some kind of truth will be waiting on the other side. And that truth may indeed be there, but it just isn’t the truth that we were anticipating.

Does that make any sense?

“There is this white wall, above which the sky creates itself—
Infinite, green, utterly untouchable.
Angels swim in it, and the stars, in indifference also.
They are my medium.
The sun dissolves on this wall, bleeding its lights.

A gray wall now, clawed and bloody.
Is there no way out of the mind?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Apprehensions”

Writing in Old Notebook (ca. 1884)

Let me back up and attempt to explain: Each year, in the months of November and December my nuclear family undergoes a change. The change is not sought, nor is it necessarily wanted, but without fail, it rears its head and begins to bite little pieces out of our souls, mine and Corey’s, that is.

You see, in November I try so hard to bring to the forefront of my mind the face of my father and the face of my daughter. Both gone for years, I hope that by being able to conjure the lines of their faces, the shapes of their eyes, their noses, I will be able to regain some semblance of closeness to them.

It is, undoubtedly, an exercise in pain. I know this, but the knowing does not stop me. For the entire month of November, whether or not I realize it, I am a walking time bomb, tormented by slights—real and imagined. My family, being keenly aware of this, takes pains to compensate for my temporary insanity, and I try very hard not to lose too much of myself in my heart-madness.

December 5th passes (my father’s birthday); I begin to emerge, and I try to reset my mind, to move into holiday mood. I do this because my childhood love of Christmas is one thing that I cling to in the hopes of recreating a Currier & Ives holiday that probably never happened. Nevertheless, in my hopes of sharing smiles of happiness with my family on Christmas morning, I use the holidays as my means of escaping the brutal realities of November.

The problem with this scenario? Corey hates Christmas. I don’t really know all of the reasons why, but he has never shared in my childlike (childish?) fondness for all that December encompasses: the lights, the smells, the trees, the gifts, the presents, the appearance of Venus in the sky, brighter and seemingly nearer than any other time of the year. For me, it’s not the spirituality but rather the idea of family, and sharing, and beauty.

For Corey, I don’t know what it is other than something he would rather skip. In fact, Corey becomes downright desolate in December, and that desolation on the heels of my November decline inevitably leads to friction, misunderstanding, and distance.

“While I was looking the other way your fire went out
Left me with cinders to kick into dust
What a waste of the wonder you were

In my living fire I will keep your scorn and mine
In my living fire I will keep your heartache and mine
At the disgrace of a waste of a life” ~ Kristin Cashore, “Dellian Lament,” from Fire

Quill and Writing Desk

The overlapping of these two emotional falls never bodes well. It is as if we are two pieces of tinder, small enough to be borne about by the wind, but infused with enough power to ignite a fire of immense proportions. Trust me when I say that this is not a good thing.

For the past two weeks Corey has been one raw wound.  He snipes, and with my perceived wounds, I retreat into a sullen silence. Today was no exception.  So here I sit feeling bitterly sorry for myself and wondering what I hope to achieve by writing all of this. Hence, the Blake quote about the known and unknown and the doors in between.

When two people are together, no matter how much love is between them, the moments of discord loom larger than the moments of harmony. That is a simple fact. I think that the more love there is, the more potential there is to be hurt. But the very nature of love as a double-edged sword is what draws us to it, what makes us yearn for it, and what makes us fear it. Because of this, some people close themselves off from the potential to be wounded, and then there are those of us who rip off our sleeves, beat our chests, and yell, “more!”

Love is inherently insane, and its slaves are doomed to be made fools again and again.

“I sought the peak of prudence, but I found
the hemlock-brimming valley of your heart,
and my own thirst for bitter truth and art.” ~ Federico García Lorca, from “Stigmata of Love” 

Selection from Old Manuscript

It is now 3:30 a.m., early Saturday morning. The incipient migraine hit me full force while writing this post, and I have not been able to return to it until now. I should probably go back and try to make more sense of what I wrote before, but quite frankly, I just don’t care. That I am not asleep is a reflection not only of the effects of the migraine but also of the deep depression that crept upon me in the last 48 hours.

The depression is an amalgamation of many factors that have been building over the past few weeks. When Corey asked me a few nights ago just why I was so prickly, I took his question to heart and made myself do some searching within. These are the things that have been bothering me:

My mother, with whom I lived during the time immediately after her fall and during her recovery, had a sort of mantra with which she filled our days together: She was on a fixed income (lost count of how many times I heard that), and paying her bills was of such import to her that she tried to get out of her sick-bed only a few days after falling so that she could make out her checks. As I mentioned in previous posts, I ended up doing her bills for her in the interim, so I have more than a passing knowledge about her income and her financial obligations, which are, for the most part, just the costs associated with day-to-day living: utilities, food, insurance. She is not well off, but neither is she in the poor house.

So when she began to talk of buying another car so that she could give Alexis her 2002 Honda Civic, I listened/only half-listened. I had heard it all before, and she changed her mind daily, depending upon whether or not she was angry with Alexis. This is how my mother operates. Not to mention the fact that I did not want to think about  the complaints that the coming months would bring if my mother took on a car payment, how she is barely making it. I know: I sound like the bitch that I am.

Admittedly, I was also not necessarily pleased with the idea of my mother giving my daughter yet another car (third since my father died), mostly because Alexis is still not working and not making any attempts to find employment. I thought that such an act on my mother’s part would only continue to reinforce Alexis’s less than responsible behavior. But what do I know as I am only her mother . . .

The short of it is that my mother ended up buying herself a new Honda Accord and gave Alexis the Civic so that she (Alexis) can look for a job. I tried to stay out of the whole process as much as possible, which is pretty much impossible in matters involving my mother as she is a master at guilting me into doing things that I would prefer not to do. I acquiesce because it is easier and because I carry an inordinate amount of guilt in matters concerning my mother.

I decided to put my foot down in the only way that I thought made sense: I declared that Corey and I would not be footing the bill for Alexis’s car insurance, which we have been doing without any recompensation from her for quite a while now. Corey declared that I was being petty, which led to some of the discord to which I referred above.

“Nothing adds up.
It all adds up. How long will this storm go on?” ~ Raymond Carver, “Stupid”

Quill and Inkpot

I have never thought of myself as petty, so the word hurt terribly, especially coming from Corey. Is it petty that right now I have problems of my own that consume me? That right now, I find that my empathy, my sympathy, my whatever-pathy is lacking? More guilt. 

But what was and is really bothering me? So much and so little, as usual. Alexis, 26, no job, no apparent ambition, coasting and casting about and living off the kindness of those who love and care for her. ‘She has problems,’ I am reminded, words that I have spoken myself on occasion. I despair of what will become of her; I know that whatever that is, it is beyond my doing now. That realization  is hard as the love that I bear for my children is so powerful, so all-consuming.

My instincts always are to protect, to help, to soothe. But is this not a disservice in some ways? Have I not contributed to my daughter’s sense that someone will always be there for her? And yet, I never want her to feel the despair that I have felt. I never want her to feel as if she has no one in the world who is there for her as I have felt.

As a parent, will I ever reach a point at which I do not feel both responsible and burdened? Perhaps this time of the night is not the best time to try to unravel these mysteries.

Yet I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life in which melancholy will not be able to envelop me so completely. I feel as if I am deep inside a crevice, looking up towards a sky that I know is there but cannot reach. I have no ulterior motive—no arrière pensée, if you will—for revealing the turmoil which I feel.

I long to have someone to call in the middle of the night who will be able to discern just from the timbre of my voice that while I may feel impenetrable, I can still be reached. I miss having a best friend.

Enough already. I have written myself into a corner. As I have said before, it is all too much and not enough, and to continue pick at the wound will only leave a scar.

More later. Peace.

Music by Glass Pear, “My Ghost” (what an incredible voice)

                   

All the True Vows

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

David Whyte, from The House of Belonging

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One of Corey’s Handmade Keepsake Boxes 

“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened” ~ T.S. Eliot

Well, I tried to do a favor for my mom, and it didn’t quite work out the way that I thought that it would. Big surprise. She needs to file an amended tax return for 2007, and since I’m fairly good at taxes, I thought, how hard could it be? It turns out, pretty hard if she does not have a copy of her 1040 in the files. Apparently, my mother has been getting her taxes prepared for free at a community center that specializes in doing tax preparation for senior citizens. Sounds great, right? It would be great if they had given her a copy of her completed tax return; instead, they gave her a summary sheet.

This makes completing the 1040X form darn near impossible since I need to pull specific items off the 1040 for the amended return. Trying to explain this to my mother was almost as taxing as trying to recreate her 1040. My mother is not a stupid person by any means, but she is woefully tech unsavvy, which means that trying to explain to her exactly what I needed and why I needed it turned into a 45-minute conversation. Her response to me was that I should just get on the computer and find her 2007 return.

You see, my mother is a big believer in the permanent record, you know, as in “that will go on your permanent record,” and unfortunately, after watching the Sandra Bullock movie The Net years ago, my mother is convinced that everyone has a permanent record that looms out there somewhere just waiting to be accessed. I tried to explain that I really needed to know how they filed her return, and her response was “the computer.”

Arghh. Good grief, Charlie Brown.

“Some things don’t last forever, but some things do. Like a good song, or a good book, or a good memory you can take out and unfold in your darkest times, pressing down on the corners and peering in close, hoping you still recognize the person you see there.” ~ Sarah Dessen

Yesterday, Corey had a surprise for Brett and me: Corey has been working on a secret project for a couple of months, and he was ready to unveil his project for us. Turns out, he’s been building boxes, you know, as in keepsake boxes. He had seen one in a catalogue that he liked, but it was listed for $30, which gave Corey the idea to see how much it would cost to build one of his own. He built four, images of which are included in this post. It was hard to get a good shot of the Led Zeppellin box as it is very glossy, which does not translate well to a picture with the lighting in our house.

I was pretty impressed. He did all kinds of cost analyses on materials; he tried different techniques, and he came up with four versions. Corey said that he was aiming for a rustic look, kind of like old ammunition and fruit boxes. These four were just his experimental models, he told us. They are nice, solid wooden boxes that can be used to store games, or letters, or whatever. Now I know why there hasn’t been any room in the shed . . .

All of us—the kids, Corey, and I—have our own special boxes in which we put cards, awards, letters, and miscellaneous other things. All of our boxes are full. I have filled three of these over the years. Now I have the “Imagine” box that Corey made with me in mind. Brett claimed the AK-47 box.

Now that he has experimented and seems to have worked out many of the kinks, he says that he wouldn’t mind making personalized boxes for presents, which I think is a lovely idea.

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” ~ Antonio Porchia 

Speaking of presents, we have three birthdays in March: my mother’s, Eamonn’s, and my other mother-in-law’s, on the 15th, 16th, and 17th of the month.  I have no idea what Eamonn wants for his birthday this year, but I do know that he may have to wait before he gets anything. That’s just how life is at the moment.

Other than those tidbits, not much is going on. The Academy Awards were on last night. I did not watch. I find the program itself to be unendurably long and boring, and the supposedly witty repartee that each year’s host engages in inevitably falls flat. I cannot imagine the combination of Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, and from what I’ve read, most people wish that the combo had not been hosting.

I will probably watch the red carpet wrap-up on VH-1 as I love to look at beautiful gowns, as well as the less-than-appealing ones. You know, the ones that make you scratch your head and say, “what could she possibly have been thinking.”

I was very glad that Kathryn Bigelow won for “Hurt Locker.” I have heard many good things about the movie, which is on my want-to-see list. It’s about time a female director won. Part of me really did not want insufferable egomaniac James Cameron to win so that we did not have to endure another “I’m King of the World!” moment.

More later. Peace.

Music by Bon Iver, “Stacks”

Stacks

This my excavation and today is kumran
Everything that happens from now on
This is pouring rain
This is paralyzed

I keep throwing it down two-hunded at a time
It’s hard to find it when you knew it
When your money’s gone
And you’re drunk as hell

On your back with your racks as the stacks are your load
In the back and the racks and the stacks of your load
In the back with your racks and you’re un-stacking your load

Well I’ve been twisting to the sun and the moon
I needed to replace
The fountain in the front yard is rusted out
All my love was down
In a frozen ground

There’s a black crow sitting across from me
His wiry legs are crossed
He is dangling my keys, he even fakes a toss
Whatever could it be
That has brought me to this loss?

On your back with your racks as the stacks are your load
In the back and the racks and the stacks of your load
In the back with your racks and you’re un-stacking your load

This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be
Safe with me