“I am a collection of dismantled almosts.” ~ Anne Sexton, from A Self-Portrait In Letters

Claude Monet Lilacs in the Sun 1872
“Lilacs in the Sun” (1872)
by Claude Monet

“No word in my ear, no word on the tip of my tongue.
It’s out there, I guess,
Among the flowers and wind-hung and hovering birds,
And I have forgotten it,
dry leaf on a dry creek.
Memory’s nobody’s fool, and keeps close to the ground.” ~ Charles Wright, from “Buffalo Yoga”

Friday afternoon. Cloudy with drizzle, 76 degrees.

The weather has been amazing. Yesterday was perfect—sunny and warm, with a breeze, in the 70’s. Wild weather in June. Today is the first day of summer, and it is cooler than it has been in weeks. When Corey got home, he said that it was warmer in Ohio than here. But I’m sure that in a few days it will be in the 90’s with godawful humidity.

Pyotr Konchalovsky Lilacs 1948 oil on canvas
“Lilacs” (1948, oil on canvas)
by Pyotr Konchalovsky

I had thought about having Olivia today and tonight but decided against it. Neither of us are feeling that great, so it wouldn’t be the best of visits. Can you believe my little bug is going to be a year old next month? Time moves much too quickly.

I’ve learned a new word: tendentious, which means expressing a strong, (biased) partisan point of view. I don’t know why I’ve never come upon this word before. Of course, I now cannot remember where I found this word because it’s been a few days. My brain is like a sieve. More and more I fear that the holes are overtaking the grey matter.

Truly, though, all of the migraines would have to have some effect on the brain, wouldn’t they? I cannot imagine an organ suffering such assaults and coming away completely unscathed. I tell myself that my cognitive impairment comes from the migraines. Laying the blame there keeps me from having to think too much about what is going on.

“Leave. Be like the clouds.
Be like the water. Stand for the thing
that will and will not change
for reasons we will accept and still think bad—
be like words, like vague words
belonging to the whiteout of endless work.” ~ Lawrence Revard, from “Incantations to Snow”

I had wanted to post yesterday, but I kept falling asleep, truly.

Night before last, Corey and I stayed up to watch the last half of Game of Thrones season 3, which wouldn’t have been so bad if the puppy hadn’t wanted to eat at 7 a.m. Her stomach seems to be pretty regular—7, noon, 5 p.m. She has already grown so much. I had meant to post some pictures before now, but they’re on Brett’s phone, and he hasn’t forwarded them to me yet. I suppose that by the time I finally get around to doing so, she’ll already be much bigger.

441002-23
“Still Life with Lilacs” (ca 1920s)
by Aristarkh Lentulov

Anyway, the point was that I paid the price for staying up so late because Bailey insisted that I get up on time. She’s a funny dog, and I’m finally allowing myself to enjoy having her without feeling guilty about Jake.

The night that we watched GoT, Bailey came out to the living room, sat down and whined at me. I followed her, and she wanted to go to bed, but she wanted me to go to bed with her. It’s easy to forget that puppies are just babies. At this moment, she’s having her afternoon nap on the bed. Pictures soon. Promise.

“I wanted to say one thing
so pure, so white, it puts a hole in the air
and I’d pass through . . . ~ Robin Behn, from “Over 102nd Street”

The gardenias are in a bloom, a lovely, fragrant rhapsody of white. I missed the blooming of the lilac bush this year, and the spring storms thrashed my peonies; I was able to cut only a few to bring indoors before they were gone. So I’m harvesting fresh white blossoms each day.

Mary Cassatt Lilacs in a Window oil on canvas 1880
“Lilacs in a Window” (1880, oil on canvas)
by Mary Cassatt

I remember that my Aunt Ronnie in Great Bridge used to love the scent of gardenias. My mother would buy her a cologne called Jungle Gardenia, which might have been a musk. I, too, love the heady scent. It is such full smell, one that floats on the air long after the blooms have been cut.

I associate gardenias with a green scent, which is best described as cool and fresh, not sweet. I don’t have synesthesia like Brett, but I do associate scents with colors. Rosemary and mint are green scents. Peonies are a pink scent, deeper, richer, like roses, regardless of color.

I remember wearing a Jovan musk oil called Grass when I was a teenager. I couldn’t smell it after I had applied it, but other people could. I wonder if they still make it . . . probably not.

“Beneath the rhapsodies of fire and fire,
Where the voice that is in us makes a true response,
Where the voice that is great within us rises up,
As we stand gazing at the rounded moon.” ~ Wallace Stevens, from “Evening Without Angels”

When I was a young girl, I remember the first time I found a wild honeysuckle vine. Suzanne showed me how to suck on the blossoms. So much of the neighborhood still had wild growth when we first moved here, the kind of growth that hadn’t yet been impaired by paving and building. Left unchecked, nature is an incomparable perfumer.

Isaac Levitan Spring per White Lilacs 1895
“Spring. White Lilacs” (1895)
by Isaac Levitan

My mother has a bush in her front yard called Daphne Odora (odora L. = fragrant), which produces one of the best smelling flowers of any bush I have ever come across. It blooms in late winter/early spring, and its scent carries into the street so that passersby almost always stop to ask my mother where the smell is coming from.

I have tried at least three times to root this bush, unsuccessfully to date. Called jinchoge in Japan, the blossoms are white and pink, but the fragrance that they produce feels deep red, crimson. Don’t ask me to explain my scent categories as they are completely contrived; I can only say that something feels green or pink or crimson, sometimes yellow. Honeysuckle scent is yellow.

It’s all a lot of falderal, but the idea of color reminds me of a Merwin poem which I have actually been able to find (below).

“the infinite variety of having once been,
of being, of coming to life, right there in the thin air, a debris re-
assembling, a blue transparent bit of paper flapping in also-blue air” ~ Jorie Graham, from “The Swarm”

As an interesting aside, the Ruth Stone in the Merwin poem was a poet who actually taught at ODU while I was in the department. I think that she only stayed for a year, not really being into the whole idea of committed academe; someone once referred to her as the poet vagabond because she taught at so many different colleges and universities.

Valentin Serov Open Window period Lilacs oil on canvas 1886
“Open Window. Lilacs” (1886, oil on canvas)
by Valenin Serov

I remember an older woman with wild hair whose poems were intensely personal, who integrated the natural with her poems about her family, her late husband in particular. Merwin’s poem is an homage to a woman who, though blind, was still writing poems at the age of 96.

As you can imagine, the idea of Ruth Stone the woman, the poet, appeals to me greatly. Admittedly, I did not get to know her while she was in the department, and I really regret that. The timing was bad for me—I was pregnant with Eamonn and very self-absorbed at the time. It’s my loss that I didn’t enter even the periphery of this woman’s life. I could have learned so much from her.

But I can take her example, her complete dedication to her craft until the day she died, take that and imprint it somewhere on my consciousness. Stone serves as an imprimatur of sorts for me: She endured a lifetime of hardship, and was not even widely recognized for her poetry her late 80’s, when she received the National Book award for her book The Next Galaxy. (Click here for an NPR article and some of Stone’s poems)

No, I’m not comparing myself to Stone, only saying that I hope to be even a fraction as dedicated to my craft until the day I die.

More later. Peace.

Music by The Gourds, “Steeple Full of Swallows”

                   

A Letter to Ruth Stone

Now that you have caught sight
of the other side of darkness
the invisible side
so that you can tell
it is rising
first thing in the morning
and know it is there
all through the day

another sky
clear and unseen
has begun to loom
in your words
and another light is growing
out of their shadows
you can hear it

now you will be able
to envisage beyond
any words of mine
the color of these leaves
that you never saw
awake above the still valley
in the small hours
under the moon
three nights past the full

you know there was never
a name for that color

~ W. S. Merwin

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“We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament, and embrace it with passion.” ~ Cyril Connolly

 
 1930’s One-Room School

                       

“You may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn.” ~ T. H. White, The Once and Future King
West Virginia One-Room School

Yesterday was Glenn Beck’s big day, his day of reckoning for the nation, his big “restoring honor” rally, which also happened to coincide with the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Beck’s choice of the historic date was a result of (in his words), “divine providence.” Beck, ever humble, declared that he wasn’t going to try to match King’s oratory, that he was only going to use talking bullet points, to leave room in case the spirit should speak to him.  

Wow. Megalomania, anyone?  

Talk about arrogance. I know that I make fun of Beck as much as possible, but I have come to believe that he may truly be crazy, not crazy as in I’m crazy, but certifiably crazy. A lunatic. Rubber-room crazy. I mean, just think about it: If Obama said that he was waiting for the spirit to speak to him, people all over this country would be talking about the POTUS’s messianic complex. But Beck? No, not so. Instead, people paid to go see this loony, and very few people wondered where the money was going.  

Big surprise: Sarah Palin was in attendance, offering her usual pablum. Is there a bowling alley or convention that she won’t attend? By the way, I wasn’t there.  

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” ~ M. Scott Peck
Old Schoolhouse, Rockford, Illinois

So other than Beck, what’s been going on around here? Let’s see . . . Friday night/Saturday morning, I finally fell asleep at 8:30—in the morning. I’ve been particularly manic for the past week, driven mostly by the details of trying to get Brett ready for school tomorrow. 

He is registered for four classes, and I was finally able to get him a reasonable schedule. Since he registered late in the summer, not many classes were open for registration. I had to check the site every day to see what had opened as he really wanted to take the introductory astronomy class. Ultimately, he is registered for an introductory literature course, philosophy of science, intro to psychology, and intro to astronomy with a lab, for a total of 13 hours.  

He had been registered for 12 hours, but the astronomy lab added another hour, which means that we need to pay ODU more money. Of course. He’s been to campus a few times with his friend, and I took him one day last week to the Career Management Center so that he could get information on an on-campus job. That application is next up on the list of things to do.  

I’ve spent lots of time in the past three days looking for the best possible prices on textbooks, which, as a whole, as incredibly overpriced. His literature book alone is almost $100. I miss the days when I could get free books from the publishers. Anyway, three different sources, and books for four courses, totaling more money than seems possible: over $500.  

Geez. College certainly is expensive, she said not all ironically.  

“I love the dark hours of my being
in which my senses drop into the deep . . .
Then I know that there is room in me
for a second huge and timeless life.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
One-Room School, Fayette County, Ohio (ca. 1910)

Last night was the first time that I fell asleep and stayed asleep while Corey was working. I was so exhausted from the night before that I fell asleep just after midnight. Did my usual getting up every three hours or so to let the dogs out, but never really woke up completely. Heard Corey come in around 9 this morning. His relief did not show up at 7, so he was late in getting home. That’s the second time his relief hasn’t shown up.  

Since I’m fairly rested today, I thought that I would try to put up a real post, with words and everything, not just vids from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” although what they said was far funnier than anything I could have said.  

Brett is very nervous about starting college, as I had expected that he would be. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he settles in comfortably once he realizes that the experience is nothing like being in high school and that he will not have to deal with cliques and in-crowds unless he chooses to. That’s the wonderful thing about the whole experience of attending college: It is exactly what the individual makes it.  

At least one of us is excited, though. I suppose I’ve been doing all of this researching and running around to try to make his first week as stressless as possible, but I also know that doing these things allows me to hang on for as long as I can. My dreams of late have included Brett as a small boy. I don’t need dream analysis to tell me what that means.  

“If what proust says is true, that happiness is the absence of fever, then I will never know happiness. For I am possessed by a fever for knowledge; experience, and creation.”  ~ Anais Nin
One-Room Schoolhouse, Miller County

I know that I have said many times that I would not go back to my youth for anything, and I mean that. However, I would love to be going back to college for the first time, only armed with the knowledge that I have now.  

If I had it do to over, I would go to a different school, and I would major in something else, like oceanography. I would also go straight through to my doctorate.  

Too bad that when we begin these journeys that we do not have the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions. All that we have is intuition, and if we are lucky, good advice from someone who knows a thing or two. Intuition is great if you happen to be in tune with yourself, but how many 18-year-olds are actually in such a state? Very few.  

Advice is double-edged: well-meaning but having little to do with the reality of life, and well-informed but not necessarily what you need to hear. Our parents tend to give us advice that is in keeping with what they would do. Yes, it is filled with love, but usually filled with bias. My mother talked me out of going away to college. I’m not saying that I wish that I had gone to another area for school, but I do wish that I had been more selective in choosing which school to attend for my undergraduate degree.  

It matters. It really does, and I found that out the hard way. College students should choose their schools based on where they think they might want to go, but that doesn’t really happen. I remember that so many of the undergrads that I taught at ODU chose the school for its proximity to the beach. People choose VCU because it’s a party school. People choose UVA for its prestige.  

I chose ODU because it was convenient and affordable, but at the time, its English department was not what would be considered cutting edge. I once had a colleague try to convince me to get a Ph.D. in urban studies from ODU because as he said, “Any doctorate is better than no doctorate.” Wrong. I mean, a doctorate is great, but a doctorate in the wrong field from the wrong school—what’s the point.  

Brett is doing this first year at ODU to get used to the college experience, to get some of his general education requirements out of the way. With luck, we will all have a much better idea of just where we hope to be in the next six months. Maybe then Brett can choose a school that really meets his needs, and if it happens to be ODU, great; if not, that’s good, too.  

I only know that we are all starting a new chapter. Scary, indeed.  

More later. Peace.  

Music by Joshua Radin, “Brand New Day”  

“We work with the substantial, but the emptiness is what we use.” ~ Tao Te Ching

“In the Midst of the Thick Wood,” Kay Nielsen

  

“In this metallic age of barbarians, only a relentless cultivation of our ability to dream, to analyse and to captivate can prevent our personality from degenerating into nothing or else into a personality like all the rest.” ~ Fernando Pessoa
Arthur Rackham, "The Ring" illustrations (#26)

Yes, I know. Once again, I have posted items out of sequence, back-posted as it were. Indulge me, please. I have been unable to get out of bed for three days.  It’s times such as these when I long for my old laptop and folding desk. At least I would be able to write while in bed. Alas, alack . . .

I watched the light creep through the blinds this morning as the clock moved toward 6 a.m. For a minute I considered getting up to write and just forgoing sleep altogether, but then my body reminded me that I really needed sleep, so I turned over yet again and tried to find a position that would allow me to be a bit comfortable as Tillie blew warm dog breath into my face while she slept quite peacefully. I looked over, and Corey was snoring quietly; Alfie was above Corey’s head on the pillow, and Shakes was buried deep beneath the covers, scratching intermittently. Meanwhile, a two-foot square of open space seemed to be allotted for me.

Let’s just say that it was not a tableau that invited the deep sleep of Ameles potamos, or Lethe. I would love to have eight uninterrupted hours of mindlessness sleep, a sleep of pure forgetfulness, no interruptions, no distractions, just sleep, and then once rested, awake to a painless new day of possibilities. That it what I would like . . .

“The perception of small things is the secret of clarity; guarding of what is soft and tender is the secret of strength.” ~ Lao-Tzu
Arthur Rackham, "Undine: Soon She was Lost to Sight Beneath the Danube"

Corey has worked four days in a row. Can I get a hallelujah from the chorus? I must say that the duty sergeant has an unenviable job, having to shift people constantly because of the unpredictability of ship movement. At one point, Corey was scheduled to work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then to go back in at 11 p.m. and work 12 hours, and while that would have been great in the hours column, it would have really sucked in the sleeping column. But he’s hanging in, which is more than I can say for myself.

I seem to be in the midst of a grand pity party, one that was not scheduled, as it were.  I know exactly what started it, what precipitated this most recent excursion into the poor, poor, pitiful me fray: I went on the Old Dominion University site to look at information for Brett’s orientation, and just for grins, I thought, I went to the English Department’s site. After perusing for a few minutes I realized that I knew a grand total of four people in the department. All of the old guard is gone. Names I’ve never heard of filled the department roster, which really set me back until I realized that it’s been a grand total of 16 years since I left ODU.

Sixteen years. The boys were toddlers. I was still plugging away at my marriage to Paul. The dogs were two black labs. The house was in most respects, the same, and I owned my favorite car, the black Oldsmobile Calais. My father was still alive. I knew people, lots of interesting, engaging people, and Mari was still a part of my life.

Might I just say that it is a bitter pill to have shoved down one’s throat—the realization that time has continued, inexorably, whilst I have not.

“But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.” ~ Lawrence Binyon, Last two stanzas of “For the Fallen”
Arthur Rackham, "Midsummer Night's Dream: Fair Helena"

Which brings me to the now, the present, the time after the past, and the question. Yes. There is most definitely a question: What in the hell have I done with my life? I am having a crisis of faith of the personal kind. I wonder what it is I have accomplished in all of these years of trying. I wonder if I have really done anything at all. I mean, what am I playing at here? I write. I opine. I open my veins and bleed onto this page, or rather, this virtual page. But to what end?

In looking at all of the unknown names in the English Department, I realized that my dreams of getting my Ph.D. in English are just that—dreams only. I have been left behind, or I have stayed behind while the canon has continued to develop at an amazing pace, largely in part because of the Internet. What these people are teaching and researching goes so far beyond what I know. So I don’t know if I could catch up to them, but perhaps more importantly, I don’t know if I should.

These people have three and four books, pages and pages of publications. They have evolved as the material has evolved, as the very institution of teaching has evolved: distance education, virtual classrooms. I don’t know if I can do that.

And so I sit here and wonder if I’ve ever really been good at anything, anything that matters, that is. When I die, how will I be remembered? As the woman who didn’t leave the house for years? As a woman whose self-image was so skewed that her mantra was “I’m fat and ugly and my mother dresses me funny”? As someone with an acerbic wit? Or as just a woman who was here and then who wasn’t . . .

“Heedless or willfully ignorant of this
procession of changes, we dream of prosperity
all through life and, without understanding
the nature of transience, hope for longevity.” ~ Hōnen
Arthur Rackham, "The Ring" illustrations (#1)

And these thoughts paralyze me, cause me to look about me as if in an unfamiliar place, a place in which the things themselves are different, the atmosphere different, the lighting slightly shifted, and the only thing that is the same is me. I think of the days when I walked around in power suits and leather pumps, so self-important, so engrossed in my own little world, my circle of power. A person to be watched, emulated, respected. Was it all in my mind?

Days from my past pass before this windowpane of memory, and I am hard-pressed to find anything significant. Has it all been an act? Was I so good at deception that I deceived myself more than anyone?

I’m not talking about the consistency of my belly button lint. These are real, hard questions, ones that I need to find the answers to lest I go mad with the thinking. This morning, as I was rolling from side to side, watching night move into morning, I suddenly wondered if one could go mad from thinking too much. And I think that yes, one probably could go mad from too many thoughts, from being unable to stop the flow of thoughts as they engulf everything, unabated, uncensored.

“This world
a fading mountain echo
void and unreal.” ~ Ryokan
 

Kay Nielsen, “Such a Terrible Dream”

   

Yet another thing came to me during my wakefulness, the song from Jesus Christ Superstar, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Don’t really know why that song at that moment, except for the very telling lines here and there: “In these past few days/When I’ve seen myself/I seem like someone else” . . . or “I never thought I’d come to this/What’s it all about?”

Is that clichéd, that I’m thinking in old songs? Probably.

See this is what happens when I don’t write for three days, but I have all of these things running through my head, non-stop, full-speed. Without the ability to exorcise the moment of disillusion, it leeches energy from everything around it and grows until it takes on corporeal form—something very real that needs to be confronted, to be battled, to be handled and then filed away in the completed drawer, a drawer that does not, in fact, exist.

It’s like those old science fiction movies in which the hero meets the dark self, and the two fight with one another in some dark alley with a rain-soaked pavement, drops of water falling from the fire escape above their heads, the sound of empty cans and cats a backdrop to the violence taking place. And the hero always wins, well, most of the time, but not without losing something of himself along the way.

Yes. That’s exactly how it is. I think.

I am reminded of James Wright’s poem, “Lying In A Hammock At William Duffy’s Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota,” which ends with this line: “I have wasted my life.”

Peace.

“illabye” by Tipper

“When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, this is certainly not like we thought it was.” ~ Jalal al-Din Rumi

Happy Birthday Lincoln . . . I Think

 

“The trouble lies in your not believing in yourselves enough. Because you don’t believe in yourselves you are knocked here and there by all the conditions in which you find yourselves.” ~ Lin-chi Yi-sen

So another trip to the financial aid offices at Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University for Eamonn and Brett respectively.

Can I just share with you how much fun this was—again? This time, we packed up all of our tax information, Corey’s unemployment documentation, and anything else that we thought they might need. Completely prepared, right? Not.

At TCC, we needed Eamonn’s signature on a form as well as a copy of his tax return for 2009. At ODU, we met with a financial aid counselor who obviously had no idea what we were requesting. I explained that we had already been there once and that we were told to bring in documents A, B, C, and D. Blank stare. I explained our financial situation. Blank stare. I suggested that she might want to make copies of A, B, C, and D. Blank stare as she walked away. Finally, she says, “I’ll pass this along to one of the counselors because I don’t do this.”

No. Really? I had no idea.

I must say, though, that trying to make our way through the bureaucracy would be made easier if dumbass people didn’t think that Corey was my son and not my husband. Like we look so much like one another. Yes, there is an age difference, but I do not look like his mother. Talk about depressing. And here I was thinking that I was looking pretty good.

That’s what I get.

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” ~ Frederick Douglass 

So we get home, and I have this sudden burst of energy, which makes me want to clean the bedroom. Bad idea. Really bad idea. What usually happens when I have these bursts is that I overdo it, so of course, I overdid it, and I didn’t even finish cleaning the room.

While I was tackling the bedroom, a cop drove by the illegally parked cars in front of our house and put a citation on Corey’s truck for having expired tags and an invalid inspection sticker. Perfect. Only it gets better: We have 48 hours to fix the situation.

The truck is dead, has been dead. To fix it requires money, a bunch of money, money that we do not have. And it’s a big ‘ol Dodge Ram truck, so we cannot exactly hide it in our back yard. Options? Rent a storage space for it until we get enough money to fix it . . . Put it in the backyard with a camouflage tarp over it . . . Go to DMV to update the tags and park the truck in the driveway in the hopes that that will satisfy the appetite of the citation giver.

I should have known that any attempts that I made to restore order in part of the house would cause an equal and opposite reaction in another aspect of the house, i.e., clean bedroom, bad truck.

The end result is that the bedroom is half clean, and the truck is halfway to truck jail. The boys’ financial aid is half done, and life is half-baked.

Short and sweet (bitter?). That’s all for now.

More later. Peace.

Music by Diana Krall, “Cry Me a River”

In keeping with today’s bitchy mood, all images are from http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com/.

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” ~ Allen Ginsberg

“Open Door on a Garden,” Konstantin Somov (oil on canvas) 

  

“My trouble is insomnia. If I had always slept properly, I’d never have written a line.” ~ Louis-Ferdinand Céline
"Door Open onto the Garden," Pierre Bonnard (oil on canvas)

 I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Cal lately—chills, aches, and lethargy—so I have not written a word in a week. A very long time for me, especially when the Internet is actually on. 

Everytime that I start to think that maybe I could actually go back to work, my body gives me a wake-up call, as in, “Have you lost your mind?” This past week, temperatures around here reached record highs. Meanwhile, I was walking around with goose bumps on my arms. A couple of nights ago, I woke myself when my body was shaking, which made the bed jerk. It’s all quite disconcerting. 

And then, of course, there is the insomnia, which makes just getting through the day a chore. One night it was nigh on 6 a.m. before sleep came. Last night, I was so grateful to be sleepy by 3 a.m. What a strange life I lead. 

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” ~ Cecil Beaton
"30 Regent Terrace," Francis Campbell Cadell (1934)

Corey had to work today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but it doesn’t really matter as we had no plans for mother’s day. Eamonn came by with flowers and a card. He can be such a sweetie when he wants to be. Alexis is supposed to come by later, so just a quiet day at home. 

Corey and I were married on mother’s day nine years ago. We didn’t really want to get married on a Sunday, but it was the only day that we could get the Women’s Club in Norfolk, which is an old Victorian home in the Ghent section of Norfolk. We were contemplating the Botanical Garden, but decided on the house so that we wouldn’t have to worry about the weather. I walked down the winding staircase in five-inch heels, and miraculously, I didn’t trip. 

But I digress . . . 

For the most part though, I have only had one request over the years when it concerns mother’s day: Please do not give me any appliances, as in a toaster or something of that sort. Just feels too domestic and traditional for my tastes. 

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place . . . I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~ Elliott Erwitt
"Rooms by the Sea," Edward Hopper (1950)

This past week was a busy one for Brett. He is taking is IB exams in all of his classes. The better he does on these exams, the better the chance he has of getting college credits for the courses, which will be wonderful. He submitted his art portfolio to the IB board, but that takes a couple of months for review before he hears anything. It was a combination of sketches and photographs. I was duly impressed with the quality of his work. He has two more exams this week, and then he is pretty much finished except for a few odds and ends, so he will have a nice break before graduation. 

For his final project in art, Brett is going to paint something on one of the doors in the art room. He hasn’t told me what he plans to paint, but I can’t wait to see it. 

Tomorrow, Corey and I need to go back to the financial aid departments at ODU and TCC to complete the paper work for both boys to get tuition adjustments, which (we hope) will increase their Pell Grants. At least there is one good thing about being poor. 

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” ~ René Magritte
"The Balcony Room," Adolph von Menzel (1845)

We watched a movie a few nights ago called “Haunting in Connecticut,” which is supposedly based on a true story. I hadn’t heard anything about the movie, but we were in the mood for something scary. Turns out, it’s pretty dark—dead bodies with words carved into them, some kind of ectoplasm and séances, lots of hallucinations. Of course, watching something like that before trying to go to sleep is probably not the best idea. 

Then last night, I was watching this program about women who kill. I think that I’ve seen it before. Anyway, three of the stories really got to me. Two of them involved young girls who got pregnant, hid their pregnancies from their families, then threw their babies in the trash. 

Anytime I read about something like this happening, it really upsets me in so many ways: That these girls felt that they could not go to their parents with the truth says a lot about the kind of pressure families put on their daughters. Like the article I just read that stated that most parents do not believe that their children are having sex; they believe that other people’s children are having sex, but not theirs. How utterly naive.  The kind of naiveté that causes people to be against birth control in favor of abstinence. 

Facts: Forty-six percent of all teens in the U.S. between 15 and 19 have had sex. A sexually active teen who does not use contraceptives has a 90 percent chance of becoming pregnant within a year. Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned; they account for about one-fifth of all unintended pregnancies annually. This is reality, folks. 

Sure abstinence is the goal. It’s just not the reality.  So these girls get pregnant but do not tell their families out of fear, out of shame, because they want to see the disappointment in their parents’ eyes, whatever the reason. The tragic part is that they choose to throw their babies away like trash in part because they have spent the last nine months convincing themselves that it isn’t real. 

“There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it senseless.” ~ William Somerset Maugham
"The Four Rooms," Vilhelm Hammershoi (1914, oil on canvas)

However, the story that still gets to me, that still rips my heart right from my chest is that of Susan Smith, the woman who drowned her two young sons, Michael and Alex. When the car was found, the two boys were still strapped into their car seats in the back seat of the car. Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like for those boys when the water began to come into the car, as they yelled for their mother, the woman who had to hear their screams. Imagine the fear and helplessness that had to overtake them as the minutes passed and the water kept rising. 

There is evil in this world. Of that, I have no doubts at all. Susan Smith killed her sons because she wanted to be free of them so that she could date the man who broke off their relationship, the man who said that he was not ready for children. So this mother, this monster decided that the best thing to do would be to kill her children and to blame it on an imaginary black man. 

In 1995, Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During her trial, she tried to use as a defense that her step-father had molested her and that she suffered from a lifetime of depression. Someone else’s fault. Of course. 

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” ~ Oscar Wilde
 Found on Wikimedia Commons (lost the title, sorry) 

Perhaps this was not the best issue to discuss on mother’s day. Or perhaps we need to be reminded that not all mothers are good and kind and loving. That some mothers care more about themselves than they do their children. That some mothers should never have had children. That some mothers, completely contrary to societal expectations, are filled with hate and resentment for the very children they bore. 

Fortunately, most mothers do not fall into the former category. Most mothers love their children with a fierce, protective love that no one can touch. 

I do not believe in perfection, but I do believe that some things and some people come very close to this ideal.  Motherhood, in its truest sense, is that continual strive to achieve perfection—saying the right words said at the right time, listening instead of lecturing, comforting with an embrace that bespeaks more than any words, accepting even when faced with a reality that is contrary to expectations. Motherhood is complex, tasking, and never easy. It is not for the weak hearted or the selfish. It is the only job in the world that expects you to know everything on day one. It is the only career that breeds anxiety and insecurity in continuous doses. 

When the door closes, and the child is on the other side, off to unknown places, it is the mother who remains behind and whispers to no one in particular, “It will be all right.” 

More later. Peace

Music by Jon McLaughlin, “We All Need Saving” 

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t understand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” ~ Sophia Loren

JS Sargent Repose_Nonchaloire

John Singer Sargent’s “Repose” (Nonchaloir), oil on canvas, 1911: This is how I felt yesterday 

“Sadness is always the legacy of the past; regrets are pains of the memory.” ~ Author Unknown

“Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ” ~ The Wonder Years

Well, yesterday was an eventful day, so to speak. We found out that one of the avenues of employment that Corey was pursuing is unavailable. Big disappointment there. I really thought that that part of the plan was going to work. Perhaps that’s why I shouldn’t be optimistic: It always ends up smacking me in the head.

Speaking of being smacked in the head, have to say that so far, the massive doses of magnesium are not helping with the usual morning headache. Each morning when I awaken, I have a headache, not a migraine, just a tightness. I don’t know if I am grinding my teeth, but I don’t think so. Corey would have told me by now if I am grinding. So each morning I get up and take 800 mg of ibuprofen and two Sudafed. This usually helps somewhat as I think that part of the reason is my fall allergies kicking in and causing sinus pressure. Oh well.

Another interesting not good thing that happened yesterday is that I had a minor breakdown. Let me explain.

hampelmann
Hand-painted Bear Hampelmann from Germany

I was looking for something for Alexis that I had been keeping for her. I had thought that it was in the small lockbox in which we keep our passports, birth certificates, etc., but it wasn’t there. Then I thought that I might have put it with her stuff from when she was a baby. I pulled down everything in the top left of my closet as that is where I store the things from the kids’ earlier days.

For example, I have a huge Raggedy Ann that Alexis’s Aunt Ann made Alexis for Christmas one year. The handwork on this doll is amazing. I kind of feel sorry for all of the grandkids, nieces and nephews who came along after Alexis. Everyone was tired of making handmade presents by then. I mean, for the first five years of her life, Alexis was it in the family, so she received handmade Christmas ornaments, dolls, cross-stitched pictures, you name it.

Anyway, Raggedy Ann and a much smaller Raggedy Andy are stored in that part of the closet, waiting for the day if/when Alexis has her own children. I also have a bag of puppets from Germany. They are called hampelmann, which are hand-painted puppets of sorts. Alexis had about seven in all, and they used to hang over her changing table. I would use them to entertain her, and then later, her siblings.

(Aside: Today when I got home from picking Brett up from school, the Pluto hampelmann had been eviscerated, torn limb from limb. I’m pretty sure that Tillie did it as she was the only dog that was hiding from me.)

“Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” ~ Willa Cather

Sock Doll
Example of a handmade sock doll

Back to the closet. I have kept just a few pieces of clothes from each child, favorite shirts, etc., and I have a bag for each one. There is also a plastic cubed storage container in which I have put several things that belonged to Caitlin. Well, in pulling everything down from the closet, this container also came down.

I made the mistake of opening the container and opening the box that was on top inside of the container. This box holds several things from that hospital, including a sock doll that slept with Caitlin the entire time she was in the hospital.

Let me back up. I’m not a craftsperson. Never have been. But while I was teaching at ODU during that semester in which Caitlin was in the hospital, several of my students brought in things for her. My most cherished gift is a sock doll that one of my student’s mothers made especially for Caitlin. These sock dolls have been around for centuries. They have been called hush-a-bye dolls because mothers used to give them to their babies to keep them quiet in church.

Anyway, I took the doll in my hands, and that was pretty much as far as I got for the next hour. Corey walked in, took a look at the things spread on the bed, and immediately knew what had happened.

“Love lost is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food our tousle their hair . . .But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn’t.” ~ Mitch Albon

I came across an article about two weeks ago on a syndrome that some psychiatrists and mental health care researchers are trying to have approved for insertion into the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association). The disorder is called prolonged grief disorder, or something like that. PGD is a disorder in which the individual simply cannot get over the loss of a loved one within the “normal” time periods.

PGD is different from depressive disorder, and currently grief is not included in the DSM. In one article, researchers contend “that PGD meets DSM criteria for inclusion as a distinct mental disorder on the grounds that it is a clinically significant form of psychological distress associated with substantial disability.”

Apparently, PGD occurs when grief following lingers and become a serious health problem.

I wish someone would have asked me. I could have told them that years ago. I know that my grief is not normal. I have known that forever. It manifests itself unexpectedly, sometimes mildly, sometimes to the point at which I am completely paralyzed. Granted, I do not have these hour-long crying jags everyday or even every month. But I can count on having at least one Caitlin/Dad related episode in a year.

I really don’t need a psychoanalyst to tell me that my bereavement periods are longer than most people. I do not need confirmation that the pain should not be as acute as it still it. And I will freely admit that even I am astounded by just how severely I am affected when it happens.

I also know that a lot of the reason that my grief has hung around for so long is directly attributable to my feelings of guilt over both of their deaths. I had to make the decision on whether or not it was time for Caitlin, and I don’t know that I will ever be able to view that as not being questionable: Was it time? Should I have waited? With my dad, the guilt arises over the fact that I wasn’t with him when he died, even though I had promised him that I would be there.

“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.” ~ Cicero

Logically, you don’t have to tell me that I should have let go a long time ago, or point out my inability to let go. I know all of this. But holding that small, soft doll I could swear that it still smelled of her essence. I know that that is not possible, but grief and despair do funny things to a psyche.

I did look a little more in the storage case: I found the blue smocked dress that I have talked about, which was a real surprise as I have believed for many years that that particular dress is with Kathleen, along with the other dresses that I sent her. I also found the dress that Caitlin was wearing when she had her one and only portrait taken.

Black Patent Leather Mary Janes
Black Patent Leather Mary Janes

Eventually, I was able to put everything away, and Corey put the box back in the top left of the closet. The rest of the things that I pulled down are still in a pile in front of the closet. My accidental encounter with the past left me depleted, bereft, numb.

Too much at once. I’ll get to the rest soon. I think that I am saving it until I can actually enjoy the contents of these bags and boxes. After all, they are filled with items that recall good memories—like Alexis’s tiny Virginia Tech t-shirt. That made me smile.

So I’ll go through the rest, probably tomorrow, refold, repack, and replace on the shelf. I’ll take the time to bring to mind some of the good memories that are associated with these things: Brett’s baby blankets, the various humpelmann, Eamonn’s little cap from the National Zoo, Alexis’s Mary Janes. I find myself smiling inwardly even now as I type about these things. And that’s a good thing.

At times, I can balance with unbearable with the wonderful, the heart-wrenching with the endearing, which only proves that I am human after all. And even if it’s a lie, I will try to believe that it will be all right.

 

More later. Peace.

 

Lives of quiet desperation . . .

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem

 

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” ~ John Keating, DPS

I just finished watching Dead Poets’ Society. Or should I say, watching again for 10th, 11th, who knows how many times? Corey could hear me sniffling from the dining room. It’s always this way when I watch this movie, so I space out the time between viewings.

I understand that many people do not understand the attraction of this movie. Many felt that Robin Williams’ appearance was too over the top. For a poetry teacher, he quoted too much Whitman, someone once said to me. Some of you hate this movie because you have been made to watch it. But for me, each viewing brings back some of the best memories of my life.

Mr KeatingNo, not boarding school. Never did that. Never went to a same-sex school. Never had a teacher like Mr. John Keating, either. How I wish that I had. But time for complete truths here: Being in a college classroom, teaching English—poetry, plays, novels, short stories—doing that was the most rewarding job I have ever had. And I miss it just about every day of my life.

I loved to watch minds engage, regardless of the student’s age or background. It gave me great pleasure to watch students look at material that they had seen before or had never seen, and suddenly realize that they really got it. They understood it, and they understood not because I made them think what I thought, but because I allowed them to decipher for themselves. Too many teachers and professors still approach English as if it were written in stone. Classics only include old, dead white men. A poem’s meaning is not up to interpretation. Do not consider the time in which something was written as being related to the work itself.

I used Dead Poets’ in almost all of my applicable literature classes. I would use it in companion with pieces such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, as well as poems by Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Bruce Weigl, Nikki Giovanni, Ntzoke Shange, Langston Hughes and countless others. A myriad of voices writing about similar themes, life experiences, points of view. A mingling of past and present.

We would discuss how the period in which the character was placed affected diction, outlooks, actions. We would discuss how the setting of a piece had a direct effect on a character’s actions. Is the setting claustrophobic? Is the setting controversial? Is the setting in opposition to the characters’ conflicts. We would discuss the roles of men and women in literature: the powerless, almost silent mother figure in the movie, the powerless female protagonist in A Doll’s House.

And then, quite often on the final exam, I would take a quote from the movie and have the students use a selection of the works read to explore a theme based upon the quote.

I’d like to think that I never taught the same class in the same way. I never used notecards in my literature classes, only the text, and my students learned that if they did not participate in the discussion, then I would move on to something else, because I was not there to tell them what to think about a poem, or what the author intended with her point of view choice or at what point the denouement of the story occurred. But it was important to me was that they try, they think, they offer their opinions, and they learned to embrace literature in an entirely new way.

“The powerful play goes on, and  you may contribute a verse.” ~ John Keating, DPS 

Old Book SpinesAm I patting myself on the back? No. Am I laying claim to this method of teaching? Of course not. I’m merely sharing with you why this particular movie holds such meaning for me. And why, sitting here now, I find myself feeling the same thing that I always feel after the movie ends: I belong in a classroom.

I cannot tell you how much I miss teaching. College, that is. I learned the hard way that I was not meant to teach middle school. I’m not entirely certain that I would be any better suited for high school, unless it was a progressive high school.

I suppose that I am still holding onto the dream that someday I might be able to get another post at a small college. Who knows? Who knows if I would even like it anymore . . . I think, though, that if I am to be honest with myself (which I try to be), then I would have to admit that there are few things that I would want more.

My friend Mari, with whom I shared an office for most of my time at ODU, is currently teaching part time at a community college in Massachusetts. Being an adjunct at any college or university is a thankless position that pays close to nothing, but Mari does it because she loves to teach, definitely not because she is making any money from it.

I wouldn’t mind a part-time position somewhere, except that adjuncts usually get stuck with composition classes. Unless you are known, it’s damned hard to get literature or writing classes as an adjunct.

But as usual, I digress . . .

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry.” ~ John Keating, DPS

The Movie: Twenty years later, and I think that Dead Poets’ Society still holds up well. After all, the movie’s accurate depiction of the 1950’s in setting and costume is never going to be outdated. Where we are  as a society today does not reflect the roles of men and women during that era, something that the movie captures with its secondary female characters: They are all stock characters with very little to do, simply functioning as a stereotypes—the powerless wife/mother, the blonde girlfriend every boy desires, the ditzy girls who are pick-ups.

Father and SonThe timeless aspects of the movie still hold true, as well. For example, the relationship between fathers and sons can still be fraught with an inability to communicate true feelings. The youthful male bonding and search for identity is eternal.

Another aspect of the movie that I have always loved is the cinematography. The golden hues of autumn, sunsets on the water, misty moonlight forays into the forest, and one of my favorite scenes, Knox riding his bicycle through a flock of geese.

Oh, and one more thing. The pool of poetic quotes from which Keating draws is limited, but remember, the era of confessional poetry was just coming into its own. Women had yet to gain prominence in the genre, and I just cannot see the Harlem Renaissance as being a mainstay in the curriculum for an all-white, male preparatory school in New England.

Say what you will, but this movie still speaks to me. And the last scene absolutely kills me.

What will my verse be?

 

More later. Peace.