“She was looking at the window. The words sounded as if they were floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves. She did not know what they meant, but, like music, the words seemed to be spoken by her own voice, outside herself, saying quite easily and naturally what had been in her mind while she said different things.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from To The Lighthouse
Saturday evening. Partly cloudy and cold, 41 degrees.
I have spent most of the day on the computer, dabbling, as it were, and in between, another poem, another few lines. I am more grateful for this wellspring than I let on, too afraid of the day on which no words come, too afraid that that day will be the beginning of many more days, the beginning of years before more poems come again, if they come at all.
So I pretend on here that it’s really no big deal that I am again writing poems, downplay their appearance as mere happenstance. But you, dear reader, see through it all. Don’t you?
All the Silences I’ve Been Inclined To
“Story inclines to moment. Moment inclines to silence.” ~ Source unknown
Within the steady beat of the metronome
lies the fiction of appearances:
real time is never so evenly spaced.
It moves slowly, like a rush hour freeway,
or skips entire days in a leap,
leaving Tuesday afternoon
only to move headlong into Friday night
Four-four time is a falsehood,
a myth about common time
based on countable seconds,
but I have yet to come upon
a single late afternoon
without struggling for air
somewhere around 2 pm.
And though I might contemplate
the silences of the minutes
between midnight and dawn,
I don’t think I’ll ever really understand
how so much nothingness
can claim us abruptly
like New Year’s eve fireworks
ablaze too soon.
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” ~ Iris Murdoch
The Bradford pears and Tulip trees are in full bloom, and I am reminded of the year I made mother’s day cards from photos I had taken of the trees in bloom—I was very pleased with how they had turned out, but my mother looked at hers and said, “What’s this?” Lex later told me that Mom had complained that I was too cheap to buy a card; Lex tried to explain to her that I had shot the photograph, worked with it on Photoshop, and had the print made. I had thought the gesture special. Oh well.
Anyway, I have to admit that when I was clearing out the thousands of cards in my mother’s drawers, I came across almost every card I had given her in the past decade and sometimes beyond, and the flimsy free homemade card I had made her was there.
Here. Have some flowers of spring:
“Les Roses” (1925-26, oil on canvas) by Claude Monet
“L’amandier en fleurs” (1947) by Pierre Bonnard
“Petunias” (1925, oil on hardboard panel) by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Apple Tree Blooming” aka “The Eternal Spring” (1908) by Maurice Denis
“Poppies and Violet Asters” (nd, watercolor) by Emil Nolde
“Two Austrian Copper Roses III” (1957, oil on canvas laid down on board) by Georgia O’Keeffe
“Sunflowers” (1958-59, oil on board) by Peter Coker
“Flowers by the Sea” (1965, oil on composition board) by Fairfield Porter
“Yellow Irises” (1901, oil on canvas) by Pablo Picasso
“Black Will-o-the-Wisp” (date unknown, ink and wash) by Takato Yamamoto
“The Poppy FIelds” (c1963) by Anne Redpath
“Marsh Marigolds” (1906) by Wladyslaw Slewinski
“Flowers on a Chair” (1958, oil on canvas) by Adrian Ryan
“The Orchard” (nd, oil on canvas) by Robert William Vonnoh
“Bloomy Apple Garden” (1936) by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky
“Hyacinth” (1941, oil on board) by Chen Baoyi
“Paris Bouquet of Wild Flowers” (1923) by Pierre Bonnard
“Pink and Yellow Tree” (nd, oil on canvas) by Albert Henry Krehbiel
“Glass with Wild Flowers” (1890, oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh
“Still Life with Pansies and Gladiolas” (nd, oil on canvas) by Arthur B. Carles
“Les Dahlias” (1921, oil on canvas) by Tsuguhara Foujita
“Wannsee Garden” (1923, oil on canvas) by Max Liebermann
“Poppies and Grasses” (1914, oil on canvas) by Pierre Bonnard
“Magnolien” (1945, oil on canvas) by Cuno Amiet
“Flower Garden, Pansies” (1908, oil on canvas) by Emil Nolde
“Poppy Field” by Michael Creese (nd)
“Orchard with Blossoming Trees” (1888, oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh
“Meadow” (1913, oil on canvas) by Mikko Oinonen
“Pink Roses” (1890, oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh
“Spring Breeze” (1946, oil on canvas) by Otto Torsten Andersson
Music by Mussorgsky, “Pictures at an Exhibition” (Promenade), performed by The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” ~ Virginia Woolf
Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and cold, 44 degrees.
Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, technology allows us to connect with people all over the world at any given our of any given day. We can share what is going on in a country at war with itself in real time. Consider the Arab Spring. We cam share a sunrise on the other side of the world via real-time posts of photographs on networks like tumblr or Facebook or Twitter.
Yet for all of its benefits, technology also serves to isolate us. I am speaking, of course, from personal experience.
It is so much easier for me to correspond with people in the various circle of my life via text or e-mail or comments sections than it is to get in the car, drive, and visit someone in person. For isolationists such as myself, this is not a boon. By making it so easy to maintain virtual relationships it has also become so easy to abandon real-life relationships.
What I am contending is not anything new or groundbreaking, but it does help to answer some questions that I’ve been pondering, namely, how is it easy for me to stay in the house for weeks at a time? That, and have I become boring?
Technology answers the first, and probably the second.
“I am infinitely strange to myself.” ~ John Fowles, from The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Perhaps I should have prefaced the former by saying that today is a bad day. I am now officially out of my antidepressant; my health insurance is in limbo awaiting reinstatement after we catch up on premiums; Corey is becoming more sullen with each passing day that he is not working or hearing from prospective employers. Granted, he is still officially employed, but he so wants to move to a position that does not take him away for 90 days at a time, so this time his hiatus is quite different from the last time.
Nevertheless, he worries, as do I, and both of us fretting makes for tension. Between my health insurance, the mortgage, and the utilities, our income is being eaten before it materializes. Neither of us wanted to be back in this position. It is far too stress-inducing. The term “financial cliff” is more than a metaphor for the nation’s current solvency, and that is unfortunate. At least we don’t have to have a super majority vote to rectify our personal cliff, which, I suppose, is somewhat of a comfort.
So yes, today is prickly. I’ve had Patty Griffin’s playlist running for the past couple hours, prompted in part by Izaak Mak’s posting of the song on NCIS last night (see below). I love her voice, but granted, her songs are not exactly happy feet music. Of course, I don’t really like happy feet music, do I?
“The unknown is an abstraction; the known, a desert; but what is half-known, half-seen, is the perfect breeding ground for desire and hallucination.” ~ Juan José Saer, from The Witness
I had my military dream last night; the difference was that I was not in the military, but I had been chosen to teach a class to a group of soldiers, all female. The strangeness began when we boarded a bus that then became a boat of sorts. It took us down this waterway that was a graveyard for vessels of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. I was wondering how the bus was maneuvering through all of this without hitting anything when I suddenly saw a pile of skulls out the bus window. The skulls were bleached white from the sun.
As the bus continued through the water I saw more piles of skulls, some small and some so massive that they were cascading. I wondered how the military could allow its soldiers to come to their final resting place in wreckage, and it bothered me tremendously.
I realized that I had never seen a real human skull up close, only in film, and the starkness of the piles tore at me, but I could not show weakness in front of these female soldiers. I asked for a cup of strong coffee and tried to shake it off.
I awoke with a massive headache.
“To find is the thing.” ~ Pablo Picasso
So back to my opening statement.
My world has extended far beyond the borders of this house or this yard or this neighborhood. Beyond this city or this region or this country, and that is something I have always sought—to be a child of the universe, per se.
Each day I peruse pictures of nebulae, coastlines, ruins, architecture, pictures taken with satellites and phones. I see things that I wouldn’t have had easy access to even 20 years ago. I find this miraculous really. I mean, I know what’s going on in Namibia, Queensland, and Reykjavik. And if I am honest, I must admit that by expanding my horizons in this way I have also expanded my empathic circle.
By that I mean, I care so much more. Let me back up for a moment. When I was young, a child only, I saw pictures of the war on the news and in newspapers. I saw suffering as it was presented to me through the filter of editors, publishers and producers. My first glimpse of a crystal blue sea was in a book.
Now, I access such information without anyone on the other side deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to put this image or that story out there for consumption. This is both good and bad. It is good as it allows us—all of us who care to—allows us to see what’s happening, but without the filter of an editor or a producer, we very often encounter those things that are extremely disturbing.
Without an authority figure out there to decide what is best for us, we can literally see everything. Is it too much?
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.” ~ Lord Byron, from poem of same name (correction; previously attributed to Jon Krakauer)
I don’t think that this is the kind of discovery that Thoreau had in mind, and part of me yearns for simpler times, but isn’t that always the way that it is?
Regardless of how misguided you think Christopher McCandless was when he went into the wilds of Alaska, there is still something admirable about his vision quest when looked at simply: He wanted to be able to find his own truth without outside influences telling him what he should do or how he should think.
I know that in many, many ways, that is the same thing that I have always wanted. Yet here I sit, allowing so very many outside influences into my life, pouring into my brain images of this or that or the other. I seek this deliberately, and in so doing, I contradict myself.
My friend on Titirangi Storyteller posted a beautiful image of a lighthouse on a craggy island. I was immediately drawn to this image much like the image in the section above, immediately understood what she meant about wanting to live there. But to live there would be, essentially, to live without all of the accoutrement of today’s technology. I am certain there is no wi-fi on that island, no cable, no BBC America, no tumblr, no Internet.
It’s starkness appeals to me, but could I do it? Could I abandon these tethers for that kind of freedom? And if I did something like this, would it actually be freedom?
Music by Patty Griffin, “Not Alone” (from last night’s episode of NCIS)
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev
“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché
I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.
I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.
“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda
In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.
But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:
Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.
Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf
These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.
“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke
To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.
Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.
I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.
“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe
I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.
So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.
But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.
Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.
“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman
Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.
Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.
Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled DarknessVisible, a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.
“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso
Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.
It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.
On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:
“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”
“Well, everybody hurts, sometimes” ~ From “Everybody Hurts” by REM
“Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him.” ~ Dr. Henker
I’ve been wiped out for over 24 hours now with a killer migraine. I had to stop taking my migraine prevention medicine cold turkey (instead of the usual method of backing down gradually) because I had developed a rash on my upper body that had blisters. I know—too much information, but I just wanted to explain my absence. I actually spent most of today lying on the bed in the fetal position with cold packs on my head. Even walking into the brighter living room and kitchen caused me pain. Just have to say how much this sucks in case you couldn’t tell how not happy I am.
Mother’s Day is in two days, and I’m also feeling sorry for myself about this. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with eldest son. This time it’s my daughter. She’s been getting progressively aloof in the last four months. Corey and I have been trying to figure out what’s going on. But when I ask her about it, she says that nothing is wrong. This is kind of her normal reaction when confronted: denial.
“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde
I should say that Alexis has always gone through these phases. I remember when she was in school, she and her best friend would suddenly not be speaking, and when I would ask what was wrong, Alexis would say “nothing.” I mean, she and her best friend would be like sisters one day, and then a complete rift would arise the next day. I always found that odd, but I knew that it was none of my business.
I’m not even sure that she realizes that she does this, but she did the same thing at the beginning of last year. She just began to withdraw from our lives, and when I asked about it, she assured me that nothing was wrong. And just as suddenly as she withdrew, she was back, and everything was fine.
This time, her displeasure seems to be aimed at Corey, but we aren’t sure why. Their relationship has been close ever since Corey and I got married, and when her boyfriend got a new job that causes him to be out of town sometimes, it has always been Corey who she calls when she needs something: clogged toilet . . . mouse in a trap . . . broken coffee table . . . whatever. Corey would drop everything to help her, even if he was in the middle of something here.
Now, she doesn’t call him at all. He has tried to find out what is wrong, as have I, but the only response we get is that nothing is wrong. She’s busy. I’ve had the same thing happen to me, so I can empathize with what Corey is feeling: frustrated from the lack of information and the ways in which his attempts at reconciliation have been ignored.
“Young girl…violins…center of her own attention” ~ “Daughter,” by Pearl Jam
As far as friendships are concerned, Alexis is actually a lot like her father and eldest brother in believing in the idea that the whole world revolves around them. Don’t get me wrong. Alexis is a wonderful, generous friend. Always there to help her friends when they need it, and most of the time, always there for her family. Her father was like that; if one of his friends called and asked him to help chop down a tree, he was there. In the meantime, things around the house that needed repairing were never attended to.
Friendships for all three of them are very important. I, too, believe that friends are important, that if a friend needs me, I should be there. However, the big difference is that I put family first. This inability to put family first was a big bone of contention between my ex and myself. It was also what caused Alexis to leave home after she graduated. She was absolutely clueless or perhaps indifferent as to how her actions were adversely affecting her family. We finally had to draw a line, and she chose to leave.
“If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.” ~ Bette Davis
I remember so many sleepless nights during that period, worrying about whether or not she was alive and safe. I wanted to call the police but didn’t. Instead, I would sometimes drive through the neighborhood to see if her car was parked by one of her friends’ houses. In that way, I knew where she was and could take some small comfort in the knowledge that she had found some place to stay.
Oddly enough, our reconciliation occurred on a Mother’s Day when I came home to find a card from her and a long letter apologizing for her behavior. I called her immediately and asked her to come home, and she did. From that point, things were very good, until she began to go into these phases of isolation again.
“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage.” ~ Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986
When you are a parent, it’s so hard to know if you are making the right choices, if you have made the right choices, if you could have done something differently that might have resulted in a better outcome. I have learned that parenting is one of those on-the-job training situations. You can never be fully prepared, no matter how many books and articles you read.
There is no other job in the world that can make you feel so completely insufficient and that can cause so much self-doubt. It is a job filled with regret over words spoken in anger and frustration and actions taken in an attempt to reign in unruly offspring. Parenting can make you feel completely unqualified, whether you are raising sons or daughters or both.
“To understand your parents’ love you must raise children yourself.” ~ Chinese Proverb
And then there is the “mother curse” that comes back to haunt you: “I hope you grow up and have children exactly like you.” And you do. Your children may not be exactly like you, but they test you in the same ways that you tested your own parents. They push the boundaries and break your heart just as you did the same to your own mother and father. In this way, history doesrepeat itself.
A friend of mine, in responding to my recent post on Eamonn, had this wonderful analogy: “Raising a teenager is like nailing Jello to the wall.” Oh how true. Except that I would change the word teenager to children, because no mater how young or old they are, your children still retain that ability to make you feel as if you are somehow wanting, unfit, and unreasonable, even when you are certain that you are not.
“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.” ~ David Bly
In my heart, I have no doubts that Alexis loves me and loves her family. I also know that the very aspects of her personality that grate on me so much are those aspects that are similar to my own disposition: her moodiness, her mercurial swings, her absolute fierceness in her devotion to her friends. So I do keep these things in mind.
Another thing that I know is that I still have the ability to hurt my own mother and she me, even when we don’t intend to do so, which only shows that regardless of age, the relationships between mothers and daughters are fraught with landmines.
The risk diminishes with age and maturity as both parties reach a point at which they understand each other more than they don’t understand each other. But the need to step carefully never completely goes away.
So in the end, I will wait out this current estrangement, try to be patient, knowing that this pulling away is a necessary part of her growing up. And I will try to remind myself not to be hurt, even when I am . . . in spite of the fact that my daughter, who lives in the same city as I, mailed my mother’s day card.