“Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” ~ Stephen Fry, from Moab Is My Washpot

John Piper Covehithe Church 1983 oil on canvas
“Covehithe Church” (1983, oil on canvas)
by John Piper

                   

“All morning I was at my notes, ferreting through my life records, wondering where to begin, how to make a start.” ~ Henry Miller, in a letter to Anaïs Nin

Monday, early afternoon. Partly cloudy, 80 degrees.

Well, I made it through another Father’s Day. The hardest part of this particular holiday is seeing all of the cards on display. I don’t know why, but that always gets me. I had made a few revisions to “My Father’s Hands,” so I decided to post it again.

(c) Mrs Clarissa Lewis (daughter); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“A Ruined House, Hampton Gay, Oxfordshire” (1941, oil and Indian ink on canvas)
by John Piper

This year Corey wasn’t here as he’s in Ohio visiting his family for Father’s Day. It was a surprise for his dad, which is nice. Of course, his trip wasn’t without the usual hitches; this time, he missed his connecting flight in Atlanta and had to spend the night at the airport and pay $50 to change his ticket. It’s a good thing we hadn’t paid all of the bills yet so there was money on the card. He’s also getting to meet his newest nephew, Ian. I’m so jealous, as you know how I am about babies.

Speaking of which, I want/need to have Olivia over this week, but I’m not feeling up to doing this on my own, so I guess I’ll wait until the weekend when Corey is home.

“Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams . . . I liked the deep, sad summer nights.” ~ Haruki Murakami, from Dance Dance Dance

Life around the house has calmed a bit since Jake was taken back to the shelter. I made the mistake of going on the site to see if he’s featured, and it made me feel guilty all over again. He was such a wonderfully loving dog; I can only hope that someone full of love adopts him and gives him the home he deserves.

John Piper Seaford Head, 1933, mixed media
“Seaford Head” (1933, mixed media)
by John Piper

But I must admit that I’ve been able to focus better on training Bailey (yes, she officially has a name now!), and she’s catching on very quickly. Far fewer accidents and more going to the door when it’s time. The real plus is that she and Tillie seem to get along very well. They have play fights and tug-of-war, and it’s great to see Tillie back to her old self again, not hiding from Jake under the bed, only coming out when she absolutely had to. She’s asserted her place as queen of the household pack, and Bailey is learning the routine from her.

But I just keep picturing Jake sitting there in his cage at the shelter wondering what happened. Oh well . . . We did the right thing, so why does it feel so wrong? That’s usually how it is, though.

“The whisper of leaves, water running down gutters, green depths flecked with dahlias or zinnias; I deviate, glancing this way, or that way, I shall fall like snow and be wasted.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from The Waves

I must sound like a fruit loop sometimes, the way I go on about dogs, but dogs have been a major part of my life since I was a child. I can’t imagine living without at least one in my life.

(c) Mrs Clarissa Lewis (daughter); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“Welsh Landscape” (1950, oil on canvas)
by John Piper

In other news . . . I’ve actually been able to float in the pool a few times. It hasn’t been deadly hot and humid, and yesterday it was just the dogs and me and the sky. Very quiet.

I put Bailey in the pool, but she’s not quite pool-adept yet. Her big paws just pound the water. Tillie looks on with a bit of disdain; she hardly causes a ripple when she swims. Too funny.

I need to do some basics around here—laundry, paper work, some official replies—but I cannot for the life of me find even a spark of energy. Things haven’t gotten completely out of hand yet, but the mail is starting to make a small pile, and I have two baskets of clothes that I need to put away. The one good thing about Eamonn moving out is that the laundry has been cut in half. He routinely changes clothes at least twice a day.

Small favors.

“In my journal I write—I belong in this place of words. This is my home. This dark, bone black inner cave where I am making a world for myself.” ~ Bell Hooks, from Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood

Well, it’s the middle of the year, and I have yet to do anything about taking the GREs so that I can apply to GW’s doctoral program. This song and dance is not new for me. I have gone back and forth for so many years over whether I should pursue a doctorate. The truth is that having a PhD would probably do nothing for me professionally as there is a plethora of post-docs looking for work.

John Piper Park Place, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire 1941 oil on canvas on panel
“Park Place, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire” (1941, oil on canvas on panel)
by John Piper

Is it enough to go through all of this simply because I have always felt that I should do this? When I say always, I am not exaggerating—I have always, since I was an undergraduate, seen myself as holding a doctorate, teaching at some college somewhere.

I certainly don’t need the degree to pursue my writing. Lots and lots of successful writers out there who don’t hold degrees. For the writing I just need to write, and we all know that I haven’t done so well on pursuing that front either.

So what gives? Why oh why do I believe that I need this thing so much . . . I have no more answers than the last time I pondered this situation. Maybe I’ll just spend the rest of my years having this inner debate ad infinitum.

“An inheritance of wonder and nothing more.” ~ William Least Heat-Moon, from Blue Highways

I’ve spent the last few nights in my past again. Mari has made several dream appearances, as have the people I used to work with at Dillard’s. I have no idea if it means anything or not, but it leaves me feeling limp in the morning, as if I’ve traversed hundreds of miles in my sleep.

John Piper Seaton Delaval 1941 oil on canvas laid on wood
“Seaton Delaval” (1941, oil on canvas laid on wood)
by John Piper

Last night I dreamed that I had a phone altercation with a bill collector who was looking for Corey. That was very, very strange, but the strangest part is that I have a feeling it actually happened. I’ve been known to carry on entire conversations in my sleep. I can only hope that it was indeed a dream and not an actual occurrence.

I just remembered that part of my dream last night involved me floating about five feet off the ground on what can best be described as kind of a magic carpet, only it wasn’t a carpet, it was white and silky. I’ve had this dream many times before, and I’ve had the sensation of being able to float from place to place. These floating dreams are usually very enjoyable, for obvious reasons, but last night’s included a pit bull jumping up and grabbing me while I was floating. He was grey. No idea where that came from.

“Few people realise the immensity of vacancy in which the dust of the material universe swims.” – H. G. Wells, from The War of the Worlds

(c) Mrs Clarissa Lewis (daughter); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
“Coventry Cathedral 15 November (1940, oil on plywood)
by John Piper

Corey will be home Wednesday evening. I couldn’t tell you why this particular trip hit hard, especially as it’s only for a few days. I guess it’s just an accumulation of things. I hope that I’m feeling better by then as I am so tired of feeling tired, so tired of feeling less than myself.

It’s hard to describe sometimes, this enervating lethargy. It’s not just feeling tired, but more of feeling like a rag that’s been wrung tightly and left to dry—shapeless, limp, used up. I’m not sure if I’m in the tail end of this particular depressive episode, if it is bodily aguish as a result, or if the body is causing the mind, or if it’s all unrelated.

When I finish this, I just may crawl back into bed. Even floating in the pool feels like too much work. I suppose the cobwebs will just have to wait another day.

More later. Peace.

All images by English artist John Piper (1903-1992)

Music by Gretchen Peters, “Five Minutes”

                   

Celestial Music

I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks
to god,
she thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth, she’s unusually competent.
Brave, too, able to face unpleasantness.

We found a caterpillar dying in the dirt, greedy ants crawling
over it.
I’m always moved by weakness, by disaster, always eager to
oppose vitality.
But timid, also, quick to shut my eyes.
Whereas my friend was able to watch, to let events play out
according to nature. For my sake, she intervened,
brushing a few ants off the torn thing, and set it down across
the road.

My friend says I shut my eyes to god, that nothing else
explains
my aversion to reality. She says I’m like the child who buries
her head in the pillow
so as not to see, the child who tells herself
that light causes sadness—
My friend is like the mother. Patient, urging me
to wake up an adult like herself, a courageous person—

In my dreams, my friend reproaches me. We’re walking
on the same road, except it’s winter now;
she’s telling me that when you love the world you hear celestial
music:
look up, she says. When I look up, nothing.
Only clouds, snow, a white business in the trees
like brides leaping to a great height—
Then I’m afraid for her; I see her
caught in a net deliberately cast over the earth—

In reality, we sit by the side of the road, watching the sun set;
from time to time, the silence pierced by a birdcall.
It’s this moment we’re both trying to explain, the fact
that we’re at ease with death, with solitude.
My friend draws a circle in the dirt; inside, the caterpillar
doesn’t move.
She’s always trying to make something whole, something
beautiful, an image
capable of life apart from her.
We’re very quiet. It’s peaceful sitting here, not speaking, the
composition
fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering—
it’s this stillness that we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.

~ Louise Gluck

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“Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart and his friends can only read the title.” ~ Virginia Woolf

“Tree Shadows in the Park Wall, Roundhay, Leeds” by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1872)

                   

“Life goes on grinding up 
glass, wearing out clothes 
making fragments 
breaking down 
forms 
and what lasts through time 
is like an island on a ship in the sea, 
perishable 
surrounded by dangerous fragility 
by merciless waters and threats.” ~ Pablo Neruda, from “Ode to Broken Things” 

"October Gold," by John Atkinson Grimshaw (ca 1880s, oil on canvas)

Saturday afternoon in my mother’s living room.

Another entire week has passed between posts, and the only thing that I wanted to do this week was to write. In the small interludes between television and other things, I have had no signal, so I sit here and play Spider Solitaire for a few minutes, hoping that the small icon in the bottom right of my screen will change from a big red X to a globe.

So this is the latest: My mother is much better; she is bitching at everyone about everything, so I know that she is feeling close to normal. She is even thinking about going to bingo. Therefore, I will begin gathering my possessions and making the physical and mental move two miles to my own home where my exceedingly patient spouse, son, and not-so-patient dogs are awaiting me.

The time is right for everyone. My back is pretty much fried from sleeping on couches and attempting to lift things that I should not lift. Each time a knot makes its way into the small of my back, I cannot help but flash on the face of the judge who ruled that I’m just fine, that I could go back to a job similar to one I previously held. Need I say my hankering to accost him verbally simmers close to the surface frequently these days . . .

“Meaning is not in things
but in between them.” ~ Norman O. Brown

"November Moonlight," by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Instead of measuring my days in coffee spoons, I find myself measuring the day by what my mother has on the tv: If it’s “The Price is Right,” it must be 11 a.m. I know that I have been here too long as I find myself shouting out answers to game show questions on the television, and immediately afterward I think, “who is this person?”

Today, though, I am taking advantage of this small break in predictability, hoping against hope that I can at least finish the written part of this post before my mother wakes from her nap and/or before I lose the signal I am pirating.

Truthfully, the past four or five days I have really felt the totality of what the past two months have brought. Not only is my back killing me all of the time, but I spent three days on the precipice of a tearful meltdown. The only thing standing between me and incipient darkness was the realization that I did not have the time or the luxury to wallow. That is not to say that I was pleasant, though, as I know that I was as prickly as a wasp.

I must say that this Oreo generation crap is more tiresome than people might think but for reasons that are not obvious: If I cough, my mother immediately says that I am getting a cold. I get out of the shower, and she relentlessly harps that I must dry my hair immediately lest I die of consumption (okay, a bit of an exaggeration, there). I made the mistake of grabbing my head in pain when a migraine seized me suddenly while I was in the living room, so now she is looking for migraine remedies on television medical shows.

I have not lived in my parents’ house for many, many years, so this return to parent/child communication in which I am the latter and not the former is quite grating. But I bite my tongue as much as possible. Speaking of which, the stress has found yet another route in my body: my mouth. I have ulcers in my mouth, and this current bout of thrush does no seem willing to abate anytime soon. Both conditions make food taste odd. No big loss there.

“So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Sound of the Sea”

"Whitby Harbour at Moonlight," by John Atkinson Grimshaw (oil on canvas)

I can identify at least one source of my continuing melancholy: Everywhere I look, I see things that remind me of the past, of my father, of my childhood, of days that were good and days that were bitter. I mean, it’s different from visiting your parents and coming across something from the past, and recalling a memory here or there.

Having all of my past infused into every waking hour has definitely culminated in oversaturation. For example, I have taken to hiding in the den, which is more removed from the living room and the television than my old bedroom. The den was actually not added to my parents’ house until the year that I married my ex, so that means eons ago. But the den has always been one of my favorite places in this house, and it was the room in which my father would take his long afternoon naps after his back prevented him from lying on the floor in the warm rays of the afternoon sun that seeps into my parents’ living room (a habit that I used to emulate).

Anyway, in the den is one of those tables that is made from an actual tree, knots and all. This table was brought over from the Philippines many years ago. On this table is a keep-all box that is also made from a tree; the outer edges are varnished bark. I was sitting in the den one evening, and these two objects caught my eye. I ran my hands over the gnarls of the table, and a shiver went down my spine. It’s that tactile influence on memory.

“Life is like Sanskrit read to a pony.” ~ Lou Reed

"In the Golden Olden Time," John Atkinson Grimshaw (oil on canvas)

This house is so full of memory—memory of anger and raised voices, discontent and disquietude. Most of the happiness that resides within these walls comes from the years in which my children were young and spent so much time here with my mom and dad while I was working full-time. Only with their grandchildren did my parents reach a kind of stasis in the long battle that was their uneasy marriage. 

The memories from my own childhood in this house are a confused jumble of both joy and sadness. It probably would not surprise you at all to know that I was a solitary child, not just an only child but a solitary one—a child quite content to spend long periods of time alone. I did have close friends with whom I would spend hours and hours on a Saturday just doing the things that kids do, but I also had many hours alone, and I don’t remember being particularly bothered by that, save for the few times in which I longed for a sibling.

But I remember months on end during which my father was at sea, and it was just my mother and myself. I remember going to the movies with her, before the days of multiplexes, and occasionally we would travel to North Carolina to visit one of her sisters and my cousins. Mostly, though, I remember being alone, reading.

Do not misunderstand, I was neither abused nor neglected, but I sought my own escapes from the constant thread of tension that existed in any situation involving prolonged interaction between my parents. Having spent nearly two months here as an adult, far removed from those days, I still sense that tension. Perhaps I bring it with me as it is permanently interwoven into memory. I really don’t know. I only know that I have reached the point at which I sense its omnipresence, and I long for freedom, much in the same way that I did as a young woman.

Thomas Wolfe was, of course, correct: You cannot go home again.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sarah McLachlan, “My Skin”

                   

Ode To Broken Things

Things get broken 
at home 
like they were pushed 
by an invisible, deliberate smasher. 
It’s not my hands 
or yours 
It wasn’t the girls 
with their hard fingernails 
or the motion of the planet. 
It wasn’t anything or anybody 
It wasn’t the wind 
It wasn’t the orange-colored noontime 
Or night over the earth 
It wasn’t even the nose or the elbow 
Or the hips getting bigger 
or the ankle 
or the air. 
The plate broke, the lamp fell 
All the flower pots tumbled over 
one by one. That pot 
which overflowed with scarlet 
in the middle of October, 
it got tired from all the violets 
and another empty one 
rolled round and round and round 
all through winter 
until it was only the powder 
of a flowerpot, 
a broken memory, shining dust. 

And that clock 
whose sound 
was 
the voice of our lives, 
the secret 
thread of our weeks, 
which released 
one by one, so many hours 
for honey and silence 
for so many births and jobs, 
that clock also 
fell 
and its delicate blue guts 
vibrated 
among the broken glass 
its wide heart 
unsprung. 

Life goes on grinding up 
glass, wearing out clothes 
making fragments 
breaking down 
forms 
and what lasts through time 
is like an island on a ship in the sea, 
perishable 
surrounded by dangerous fragility 
by merciless waters and threats. 

Let’s put all our treasures together 
— the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold —
into a sack and carry them 
to the sea 
and let our possessions sink 
into one alarming breaker 
that sounds like a river. 
May whatever breaks 
be reconstructed by the sea 
with the long labor of its tides. 
So many useless things 
which nobody broke 
but which got broken anyway

~ Pablo Neruda

“The turning point in the process of growing up is when you discover the core of strength within you that survives all hurt.” ~ Max Lerner

Near Trail of Blue Ice Portage Valley AK by JJ

Near Trail of Blue Ice, Portage, Alaska by Janson Jones

 

“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Cicero 

42-16057799I’ve been reading like a mad woman for the past few days: The Alchemist(Paul Coelho), The Hours (Michael Cunningham), an older one by Jonathan Kellerman, The Butcher’s Theater, and a very early one from James Lee Burke, Black Cherry Blues. (I plan to write some reviews soon, here’s hoping.)

Why so much reading? The alternative is to sit down at this computer and produce something. Each night, I approach my desk as if it were an anathema to me: my body feels alien in the curves of my chair; my screen looms in front of me—tasking me like the white whale. I fear that to sit in my chair for any amount of time might somehow completely drain my body of the little energy I have left. So I walk back to the bed, pick up a book off the stack, or turn on the television.

I have regressed to my amoebic state: I am being whipped about in my single-cell form, a body in motion not of its own volition. I have to tell you that this is a very odd position in which to find myself: being propelled along by forces beyond my control and not having the least idea as to how to escape this eddying current without smashing myself against the rocks.

“The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man perfected without trials” ~ Chinese Proverb

I suppose an update is in order. The current state of affairs is that the job that Corey had hoped would still be open with Vane Brothers is, of Merchant Mariner Documentcourse, no longer available because it took so long to get his Coast Guard certifications. He is making telephone calls, sending out e-mails, doing everything he can, but our hopes that with the arrival of the certified documents from the Coast Guard would come a job seem to be all for naught.

He is so beside himself with feelings of self-doubt that it just wounds me to my core. Having gone through a period of unemployment myself, I know all too well how it affects the psyche, chips away at your sense of self-worth, tears at the very fabric of your soul.

Corey is a wonderful, caring person. He does not deserve this continued assault on his self-esteem. And I am powerless to do anything about it. In fact, it seems that the more that I try, the harder it is for him. I don’t mean in the sense of negating his feelings, but rather, by trying to be there for him, it seems to heighten the issues.

It’s as if my presence serves as a constant reminder of all of the things that are going wrong. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just how it is. His failure at finding a job in his field in this economy is moot. What stands out is the failure itself, regardless of the fact that it is not his. I fear that my words of encouragement sound hollow to him. At times, I let them die on my tongue like sand baked in the sun.

“In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying.” ~ Bertrand Russell 

abandoned steel factoryI am reminded of the many closings of mill towns across America, the ways in which once thriving communities were left as mere shells of their former days of productivity. With one decision somewhere in a boardroom in another city far, far away, entire towns were dealt death blows, the only reminder of their once prosperous slice of the American pie remaining in abandoned rusting factories, blights on the landscape.

As could be predicted, in many of those communities with nothing left, alcoholism and drug addiction statistics rose. Of those citizens who decided to stay, the rate of unemployment skyrocketed as did the incidences of spousal abuse.

We are a careless society. We throw away entire communities and never look back. And then when the need for assistance increases, we have obtuse politicians making comments about hunger being a great motivator. It sickens and frightens me simultaneously: Everything can disappear in a moment.

“The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.” ~ Ellen Goodman

And so we are now left with accepting help from Corey’s parents to fix the disaster of the dead Trooper. The engine cannot be rebuilt. It would cost more to do so than the Trooper is currently worth. So Izzie is off to an Ohio junkyard. I try not to think about it.

Ohio JunkyardSo Corey’s mom and dad are stepping in with a vehicle. It is a life-saver and an anchor. While their intentions are incredibly generous—to help us out of this fix, Corey is finding it very hard to reconcile himself to the idea of accepting support in this way at this point in his life. It makes him feel as if he is a child again, dependent upon his parents to fix things.

After previous years of doing well with our combined incomes, being brought back to square one is akin to starting all over again.

I understand Corey’s frustrations. I felt exactly the same way when my father stepped in and bought the big ugly Buick after my Oldsmobile was totaled. Here I was, a grown woman with children, a job, obligations. But I was in a bind, and my father knew it. He did what came second nature to him. He stepped in and bought a car for me.

I never asked. I never would have been able to ask. It wasn’t a matter of pride, more a matter of feeling overwhelming failure at being at a point in my life in which I should have had the resources to take care of my problems myself without my father stepping in to save me once again.

“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.  One is roots.  The other is wings.” ~ Hodding Carter, Jr. 

I have often thought about the parent-child cycle: Exactly when does it stop? Does it ever stop? Do we ever stop being our parents’ children? Do we ever stop looking to them, needing them?

Doubtful. We grow up looking to our parents for love, support, help. If we are lucky—and indeed, not everyone is—We get those things from our parents, and so much more. We get our lessons about caring for those who have less than we do. We see our parents doing the right things day after day, and we want to emulate that. We watch carefully, silently, during those times in which we are caught off guard at the echoes of sadness in their voices, and we feel completely unprepared the first time we see our parents cry.

weeping angel with filterWe vow that we will never be the cause of their pain, and then thoughtlessly, we become the very source of their anguish. We promise to do better, and our promises are filled with that toss-of-the-hat carelessness that we do not recognize until years later.

And then later, if and when we become parents ourselves, we realize exactly how fraught with sorrow and pain the prospect of raising a child can be. We vow to do better than our parents, to listen more, to be more available, to be more patient. But things never really work out that way.

At times, we become careless with our love for our children, and they know it, and they store this little nugget away and vow never to be that way with their own children when they have them.

But if we are very lucky, we also remember to cherish those sweet, sweet moments that come around only once in a while: taking an afternoon nap in the hammock in the spring sun with Alexis, barely moving so as not to disturb her slumber; singing “Unchained Melody” to Eamonn in the middle of the night when he could not sleep because of his stomachaches, sitting in the Bentwood rocker, the two of us completely immersed in each other; sitting in the backyard with Brett, in companionable silence, reading books and enjoying the quiet days of spring.

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” ~ Kenji Miyazawa

Portage Valley Blue Ice by Janson Jones
Portage Valley Blue Ice by Janson Jones

Corey and I are finding our way back as best we can. It’s a tricky path, filled with branches just waiting to trip us when we least expect it. He worries that when I look at him I see a man who has failed, that I am filled with anger and impatience. I worry that when he looks at me he sees a woman who is past her prime, who no longer has anything to contribute.

Of course, we are both wrong. When I look at Corey, I see the man who has brought great joy to my life, who has gone through hell and back and still stands by my side. I hope that when he looks at me he recognizes the force of the love that I carry in my heart for him, that it is inviolable, immense, and without judgment.

We are finding our way back slowly, but this much I know: Whatever is left out there for us to conquer, to overcome, we will do it just as we have done everything else: together.

I am not some starry-eyed hopeless romantic that believes that love conquers all. I am a hopeful romantic who understands that love is but one part, and that if the loving is to be successful, it must be based on mutual respect, trust, and an unrelenting belief in the person who is your partner in this life. We are just beginning this arduous task of working our way back slowly, but this much I know: Whatever is left out there for us to conquer, to overcome, we will do it just as we have done everything else: together.

More later. Peace.