“The sound of the rain needs no translation.” ~ Quoted by Alan Watts

Rain on the Fountain by stopthegears (FCC)

                   

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

Tuesday afternoon. Rainy, moderate temperatures in low 50s.

It’s been a week since my last post. I’ve been in bed since Friday afternoon with bronchitis. I’m just glad that it didn’t hit completely until after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s been full blown: the painful cough, nasty stuff in my throat and chest. I’ve been putting off going to the doctor, first because it was the weekend, and then because I started to feel better.

Rain Bokeh by andymatthewsphotography.com (FCC)

Then last night, I felt absolutely horrible again, probably because I tried to do a few things yesterday. Today, my big accomplishment was doing the dishes and putting a load of clothes in the washing machine. I’m hoping to make it through this post, mostly because I miss sitting here, but the idea of sitting here, upright was really too much to contemplate for several days.

And then, there was the added strain of Eamonn getting sick also. His did not seem to be bronchitis, more of some kind of virus that hit his stomach and left him quite ill. I will spare you the details, but at one point, I was seriously considering taking him to the ER because I was afraid that he was dehydrated, but he came through okay, and even went to work today.

So at the moment, it’s just the dogs and me and the rain outside. Let me put it into perspective for you: I was so sick that I didn’t even want my daily coffee. Just the thought of coffee made me feel nauseous. But I’m hoping that the worst has passed and that I won’t need to make that trip to the doctor. Fortunately, I’ve been able to control the cough enough so that it hasn’t caused a headache, which almost always happens when I get bronchitis: I cough madly, and end up with a migraine, which gets worse the more that I cough. The ensuing migraine this time was short-lived (I’m really liking the effects of the Botox if this is all that I have to deal with).

Funny that, being thankful for a migraine that only lasts four hours.

“The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.” ~ Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel: Reality & the Imagination

So Thanksgiving dinner was fairly successful. My mother didn’t complain too much. In fact, she was on her best behavior. The turkey was perfection, and of course, we had too much food. Something to be thankful for, I know. Although next year I need to remember to get a slightly bigger turkey so that there are more leftovers for sandwiches.

Winter Rain by dibytes (FCC)

I worked myself into a frenzy right into the middle of the afternoon, even though my back rebelled in a big way. I just get that perfectionist thing going and can’t stop myself. However, I did leave myself enough time to paint my nails and put on a bit of makeup so that I didn’t look like a total hag. But I was glad that everything went well, and there was no major family drama.

Corey had to work until 4 p.m., so everything was pretty much up to me. Brett helped with moving things, which I never could have done alone.

Of course, my mother called the next day with her questions and criticisms, but even these were kept to a minimum. Could she be mellowing?

Nah, probably not. Still, Corey and I agreed that overall, things went much better than expected, which is a sad commentary in itself—to be prepared for the motherly criticism of everything from the food to the state of the house. Oh well. What can you do? Nothing, really.

And so it goes.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

Actually, other than dinner and being sick, I don’t have much to say. I finished reading the book that I had already read; although I must admit that knowing who the villain was in advance did detract from my overall enjoyment, but I was reading mostly because I couldn’t do anything else, so it turned out okay. I wouldn’t have wanted to start a new book that required too much concentration as I was quite unable to devote too many brain cells to concentration.

The Rains, Singapore, by vishy-washy (FCC)

Yesterday because of the vehicle situation, I had to drop Corey off in one place and then take Em and Brett to ODU. I swear that I almost fell asleep on the return trip from ODU, which is not good. I was full of cold medicine and running on restless sleep, which did not make for a good combination. I opened all the windows and prayed until I got home.

I really don’t like doing that. I remember towards the end of my stay at GW, making that trip to Newport News each day was really taking a toll on me, and more than once I found myself driving while unconscious (not really), but you know what I mean—arriving somewhere without having any memory of the trip to get there. Hate, hate that.

So yesterday’s trip made me quite anxious, and I came home and collapsed into the bed and immediately fell asleep. I did not wake up again until Corey called to say that he was ready to be picked up.

He took a refresher test for his merchant mariner’s credentials. Actually, it was two tests, both of which he scored 100 percent. So proud of him. He is slowly passing each hurdle, and we are just holding our collective breaths that everything will move smoothly towards him being able to go back to sea in 2012.

“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

You know, our luck hasn’t been the best these past few years, so when something actually does go our way, we seem to move in a state of disbelief, waiting for the incipient bad news to arrive on our doorstep. It’s hard to adjust our thinking to the concept that we might actually be making headway.

Falling Rain on Leaves by elvis_payne (FCC)

I suppose a lot of it is that we don’t want to get our hopes up only to have them come crashing down about our ears again. If one doesn’t hope, then one cannot be disappointed. Right?

But I keep telling Corey that his time has come, that he deserves a change for the better. And I’m not just saying these things as a pep talk. I truly believe that he is due for some better fortune. We have both become so used to living in a state of constant uncertainty that it is hard to accept that we may be facing better days. It’s a bit like that poor abused dog, the one who is so used to a slap instead of a treat that he cowers whenever a hand comes within proximity.

But perhaps what that hand is proffering is in fact good? Dare we hope? I honestly don’t know, the old cart before the horse way of thinking. So I try to think good thoughts but temper them with a cold dose of reality.

I mean, think about the explorers of old: they looked for the horizon each time they put that glass to their eyes; they hoped that it was there, but they tried not to hope too much so that the disappointment wouldn’t quash them completely. But then one day, they caught a glimpse of something. They put the glass down, shook their head, paused. Then they looked again, and yes, it was in fact something besides the vast sea before them.

Can you imagine the kind of determination it must have taken to board a boat without any kind of computerized navigational systems, just a sextant, a compass, and a piece of parchment on which to plot courses to the unknown? To set sail with only an inkling that there was something out there? To hope against hope that the inkling would prove true?

“I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.” ~ John Green, Looking for Alaska

In a way, our family has been at sea for a while. Our provisions have been slight but sufficient. We have been voyaging, like so many others, in the hopes that we will find terra firma sooner than later.

Umbrella Leaves by mysza831 (FCC)

We are now at the point at which we believe that we have espied something. Exactly what, we are still unsure. But just the hope that it’s out there—it’s enough to keep us going. And the reality is that we have one another.

I hope that we have weathered the worst, but I cannot say for certain. In spite of this, I feel a sense of calm. I feel a sense of—dare I say the words aloud—a sense of promise of better days. Perhaps all of this is simply my body feeling better because the worse of my recent bout is behind me, but I don’t think so. I sense a change in the air, smell a fresher scent on the wind.

What it rests upon is this: In spite of all of my bitching and moaning to the contrary, I still believe. I still believe that good things are out there, that castles in the air can find weight in reality, that dreams can come true. I know that it is the romantic in me, the one who surfaces upon occasion and declares that love, peace, and good will triumph. The one who still thinks that there is indeed a balm in Gilead that will make the wounded whole.

I know that you don’t see this side often, that this aspect does not often turn its face towards the sun. But it is still there, subsumed most of the time, but not gone.

Do I still dream? Of course I do. It’s just that sometimes, I forget that there are always possibilities. That the no-win scenario is, indeed, surmountable, that it’s just a matter of perspective.

More later. Peace.

Music by the Cary Brothers, “Take Your Time”

                   

The Small Cabin

The house we built gradually
from the ground up when we were young
(three rooms, the walls
raw trees) burned down
last year          they said

I didn’t see it, and so
the house is still there in me

among branches as always     I stand
inside it looking out
at the rain moving across the lake

but when I go back
to the empty place in the forest
the house will blaze and crumple
suddenly in my mind

collapsing like a cardboard carton
thrown on a bonfire, summers
crackling, my earlier
selves outlined in flame.

Left in my head will be
the blackened earth: the truth.

Where did the house go?

Where do the words go
when we have said them?

~ Margaret Atwood

“The world breaks us all. Afterward, some are stronger at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, Farewell To Arms

Where does this road lead? (photographer unknown, Pixdaus)

                   

“I speak to you over cities
I speak to you over plains
My mouth is against your ear
The two sides of the walls face
my voice which acknowledges you.
I speak to you of eternity.” ~ Paul Éluard from “Absence”

Kusugawa Trail, Yakushima Island by caseyyee (Flckr Creative Commons)

Thursday, late afternoon. Thunder storms approaching.

I want to write, but then when I sit down at these keys, nothing happens. So much to say but seemingly unsayable, as if rooting around in my head trying to find words that I know, words that I know I know, but words that have become lost or have taken to hiding in the small creases in my brain.

Here is what I know:

The warmer temperatures are muddling my brain, making me dream of buying air conditioners with my mother and ex-father-in-law. But I become distracted in the dream, and look at plants instead—purple and pink plants in black pots. And I fill my cart with plants and Christmas place mats that are on clearance. This is better than the dream before of a killer chasing me down a yellow stairwell.

I awake sweaty and tired, feeling as if I have slept much too long, and I have, but I cannot get out of my bed. For days now, I cannot get out of the damned bed. Yesterday, I had another medical test done, then came home and went back to bed. I barely remembered the drive to and from the facility. Out-of-body driving?

My body feels spent and heavy with heat, and I long for tall glasses of umbrella drinks with rivulets of sweat running down the side of the glass. Not the alcohol, just the idea of the tall glass, the fruit, the paper umbrella—as the collection of these things would mean that I am not at home. I am somewhere else, anywhere but here.

It seems that the coming storm has taken days to get here. The air has been still, and yesterday evening thunder rumbled in the distance for hours, but nothing materialized. Then suddenly, just a few moments ago, rain began to fall, hard rain, hard enough to drive out the ants that have laid claim to the dirt mounds in the garden, the mounds that have been taken over as ant castles, forbidding the shoots of flowers and vegetables from breaking through. Now the mounds are mud puddles, and I can see green.

A tornado warning south of here. More tornadoes encroaching on this area of hurricanes. More proof that the earth is in turmoil.

“If you can read and understand this poem
send something back: a burning strand of hair
a still-warm, still-liquid drop of blood
a shell
thickened from being battered year on year
send something back.” ~ Adrienne Rich, from “Coast to Coast”

Tree Tunnel, Shirebrook, UK, by James Hill (Wikimedia Commons)

I slip through virtual pages on this screen, looking for the source of a line I cannot get out of my head. “Jesus Love You” pops up right above a line advertising Mexican food and good prices on gold.

The Interwebs have a warped sense of humor.

My body is still in recovery from the preparation needed for Wednesday’s test. A purge, if you will. I find myself craving fresh fruit: peaches and red pears. The orange juice Corey bought me is not enough. My body wants vitamins from the source. I feel as if everything has been leached from my system, not just impurities, but the good cells as well, the ones that make me who I am.

I think constantly of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. I have no idea why.

Speaking of the Fitzgeralds, I read an article that said that the mansion that may have been his inspiration for The Great Gatsby had been demolished to make way for several mcmansions on the same plot of waterfront land in Long Island. I shudder to think about the former grandeur being reduced to rubble so that some developer can erect those paeans to conspicuous consumption that I abhorred even when I was in real estate.

Progress is not always better.

I remember the dark enclosure in my grandmother’s house in the Philippines. In the kitchen. Water from the well in the backyard. Coffee tins filled with this water, and how this was the only space in the house in which to find relief from the heat. I think of my father. I do not want to think of my father, not right now. The loss is acute today.

“I sing the wind around
 And hear myself return
To nothingness, alone.
The loneliest thing I know
 Is my own mind at play.” ~ Theodore Roethke, from “His Foreboding”

The Gate To . . . UK (Wikimedia Commons)

I read other people’s words, wonder how it is they are so talented, wonder where my words have gone, wonder if there are any new poems left to write, any new stories left to tell.

I have been collecting phrases as possible book titles. I don’t know why. I think I have six or seven. This is a recent event in my life; it means that I am acknowledging that the book is there. I think. Maybe not. But why need a title? I love book titles, book jackets. Clever book designs remind me of studying for my publishing degree. I still owe the university a fee. They are holding my diploma hostage until I pay this fee. I wonder if I will ever bother to pay the ransom.

In all of the medical tests that I have had done in the past six weeks or so, this is what I have learned: I do not have sleep apnea. I have a digestive system that does not work at the top or the bottom, and is sluggish in the middle. To learn these things, my body has been assaulted with tubes in various orifices. I think I already knew all of these things about my body and probably could have saved myself the insult of the tubes and the associated costs which will soon begin to turn up in the mail.

I have stopped reading about politics again. It has become too weighty and unbearable once more, and my minds needs a break from the madness, not just in this country, but all over the world. I prefer to live in ignorance for a bit, that is until I begin to seethe in righteous indignation over some maligning phrase out of some politician’s mouth. Then I fear it will be once more into the fray for me.

The wind outside is whipping the trees about as if they are being tugged on by giants. I like that image.

“The slow overture of rain,
each drop breaking
without breaking
into
the next, describes
the unrelenting, syncopated
mind.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Mind”

Lane by Derek Harper (Wikimedia Commons)

As the moveable slab upon which I lay slides into the scanner, I look up and am surprised to see the image of cherry blossoms on branches reaching across the faux-skylight above me—a vertical trompe l’oeil, and the technician tells me to hold my breath, and I do and do and do, and wait for her to say breathe, but the word does not come, and my lungs fill to bursting, and then she says breathe, and I do, and I realize that it has been mere seconds, and I think to myself that I have absolutely no stamina left.

I’ve been trying to learn Adele’s “Someone Like You,” but her voice is so powerful and the song so complicated, that it’s just not working. As with almost everything else, my voice is not what it used to be.

But the cherry blossom branches make me think of how wonderful it would be to have a real skylight, preferably above a bathtub, so that I could soak beneath the stars and ponder words, only to forget them as I dry myself with a towel.

I remember when I was about to graduate with my bachelor’s, and I had an interview with a small local paper in Maryland. An editor at the paper for which I worked arranged the interview for me. I stayed with a nice couple who owned a large old house that they were refurbishing. In one bathroom, they had built a wooden bathtub directly beneath a skylight. I had forgotten about that until just this minute.

I turned down the job, or more accurately, withdrew my name from consideration as I was in love, could not bear to continue my long-distance relationship with my ex. I wonder where life would have taken me if I had opened myself to that possibility.

Possibilities . . .

Studying abroad, visiting Greece, seeing the Great Wall, taking hundreds and hundreds of photographs of verdant Ireland and windswept Wales. Drinking wine at a small restaurant in Basque country.

Walking on a beach in Queensland with my flannel trousers rolled. Eating a peach. T. S. Eliot wondered if he dared, as do I.

Will I ever hear the mermaids singing, each to each? And how should I presume?

More later. Peace.

Music by Lanterns on the Lake, “You Need Better”

                   

My Life by Someone Else

I have done what I could but you avoid me.
I left a bowl of milk on the desk to tempt you.
Nothing happened. I left my wallet there, full of money.
You must have hated me for that. You never came.

I sat at my typewriter naked, hoping you would wrestle me
to the floor. I played with myself just to arouse you.
Boredom drove me to sleep. I offered you my wife.
I sat her on the desk and spread her legs. I waited.

The days drag on. The exhausted light falls like a bandage
over my eyes. Is it because I am ugly? Was anyone
ever so sad? It is pointless to slash my wrists. My hands
would fall off. And then what hope would I have?

Why do you never come? Must I have you by being
somebody else? Must I write My Life by somebody else?
My Death by somebody else? Are you listening?
Somebody else has arrived. Somebody else is writing.

~ Mark Strand

“Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” ~ Rebecca Solnit

                   

I was fortunate enough to come across a posting on tumblr that featured selected passages from an exemplary essay by Rebecca Solnit. The subject? Hope.

I am  not reprinting the entire essay here; rather, I have chosen passages from each of the essay’s five sections, passages that I felt were particularly well written, but more importantly, passages that really struck a chord within me. The link to the original article is included at the end.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

From “Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage,” by Rebecca Solnit

What We Hope For

Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. People imagine the end of the world is nigh because the future is unimaginable. Who twenty years ago would have pictured a world without the USSR and with the Internet? We talk about “what we hope for” in terms of what we hope will come to pass but we could think of it another way, as why we hope. We hope on principle, we hope tactically and strategically, we hope because the future is dark, we hope because it’s a more powerful and more joyful way to live. Despair presumes it knows what will happen next.

Unending Change

A lot of activists expect that for every action there is an equal and opposite and punctual reaction, and regard the lack of one as failure. After all, activism is often a reaction: Bush decides to invade Iraq, we create a global peace movement in which 10 to 30 million people march on seven continents on the same weekend. But history is shaped by the groundswells and common dreams that single acts and moments only represent. It’s a landscape more complicated than commensurate cause and effect. Politics is a surface in which transformation comes about as much because of pervasive changes in the depths of the collective imagination as because of visible acts, though both are necessary. And though huge causes sometimes have little effect, tiny ones occasionally have huge consequences.

The world gets better. It also gets worse. The time it will take you to address this is exactly equal to your lifetime, and if you’re lucky you don’t know how long that is. The future is dark. Like night. There are probabilities and likelihoods, but there are no guarantees.

Writers understand that action is seldom direct. You write your books. You scatter your seeds. Rats might eat them, or they might just rot. In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Faith, recounts how she put together a book of teachings by the Buddhist monk U Pandita and consigned the project to the “minor-good-deed category.” Long afterward, she found out that when Burmese democracy movement’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was kept isolated under house arrest by that country’s dictators, the book and its instructions in meditation “became her main source of spiritual support during those intensely difficult years.” Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Walter Benjamin and Arthur Rimbaud, like Henry David Thoreau, achieved their greatest impact long after their deaths, long after weeds had grown over the graves of the bestsellers of their times. Gandhi’s Thoreau-influenced nonviolence was as important in the American South as it was in India, and what transpired with Martin Luther King’s sophisticated version of it has influenced civil disobedience movements around the world. Decades after their assassinations they are still with us.

Victories of the New Peace Movement

In the name of the so-called war on terror, which seems to inculcate terror at home and enact it abroad, we have been encouraged to fear our neighbors, each other, strangers, (particularly middle-eastern, Arab, and Moslem people), to spy on them, to lock ourselves up, to privatize ourselves. By living out our hope and resistance in public together with strangers of all kinds, we overcame this catechism of fear, we trusted each other; we forged a community that bridged all differences among the peace loving as we demonstrated our commitment to the people of Iraq.

The Angel of Alternate History

American history is dialectical. What is best about it is called forth by what is worst. The abolitionists and the underground railroad, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, the environmental and human rights movements were all called into being by threats and atrocities. There’s plenty of what’s worst afoot nowadays. But we need a progressive activism that is not one of reaction but of initiation, one in which people of good will everywhere set the agenda. We need to extend the passion the war brought forth into preventing the next one, and toward addressing all the forms of violence besides bombs. We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope. And for that we need to understand how change works and how to count our victories.

The world gets worse. It also gets better. And the future stays dark.

Nobody knows the consequences of their actions, and history is full of small acts that changed the world in surprising ways.

Not Left But Forward

This is earth. It will never be heaven. There will always be cruelty, always be violence, always be destruction. There is tremendous devastation now. In the time it takes you to read this, acres of rainforest will vanish, a species will go extinct, women will be raped, men shot, and far too many children will die of easily preventable causes. We cannot eliminate all devastation for all time, but we can reduce it, outlaw it, undermine its source and foundation: these are victories.

I’m hopeful, partly because we don’t know what is going to happen in that dark future and we might as well live according to our principles as long as we’re here. Hope, the opposite of fear, lets us do that.

This article first appeared on OrionOnline.org. To see Orion magazine’s illustrated version of the piece click here.