“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

“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