“It’s all right if we’re troubled by the night. It’s all right if we can’t recall our own name. It’s all right if this rough music keeps on playing.” ~ Robert Bly, from “The Sympathies of the Long Married”
Saturday late afternoon, cloudy and cold.
So, I’ve been mulling over some things lately, things like mud. I know that mud is not a sexy thing to ponder, but there’s so much of it here that it is ever-present on my mind. Dallas claims that the driveway used to be covered with gravel, and maybe so a few decades ago, but there is little evidence of that now. Our driveway is quite literally a mud pit. There is probably enough mud to host a mud wrestling event . . . I kid you not.
So as a result, the floors throughout the house are covered in mud, a fine coating of dirt with scattered clots throughout. Why not clean it, you might ask? Why indeed. It’s kind of like spitting into the wind: you get no results, or rather, you get temporary results and little satisfaction.
Mud, dirt—currently the bane of my existence. It’s depressing really. Why? Because it’s currently a problem that cannot be solved. Gravel is expensive. Other possibilities like shale or crushed shells are expensive. And the constant or seemingly constant rain makes any cheaper possibilities ineffective.
So mud, mud everywhere, and no relief in sight . . .
I think I’m losing the narrative of my life.
I do not care to talk to you although ..Your speech evokes a thousand sympathies, ..And all my being’s silent harmonies
Wake trembling into music. When you go
It is as if some sudden, dreadful blow ..Had severed all the strings with savage ease. ..No, do not talk; but let us rather seize
This intimate gift of silence which we know. ..Others may guess your thoughts from what you say,
As storms are guessed from clouds where darkness broods. ..To me the very essence of the day
Reveals its inner purpose and its moods; ..As poplars feel the rain and then straightway
Reverse their leaves and shimmer through the woods.
“Closed Eyes” (c1894, oil on panel) by Odilon Redon
“The Death of Ophelia” (1905, oil on canvas) by Odilon Redon
“Lady Macbeth” (c1898, pastel on paper) by Odilon Redon
“Beatrice” (1885, pastel on paper) by Odilon Redon
“Closed Eyes” (c1895, pastel on paper) by Odilon Redon
“Closed Eyes” (1899, oil on paper) by Odilon Redon
“Sita” (1893, pastel over charcoals on paper) by Odilon Redon
“Mystery” (nd, oil on canvas) by Odilon Redon
“Woman in Profile under a Gothic Arch” (nd) by Odilon Redon
“Mystical Conversation” (c1896, oil on canvas) by Odilon Redon
“The Golden Cell” (1892, Oil and metallic gold paint on paper prepared with white grind) by Odilon Redon
“Reflection” (c1900-05, pastel on paper) by Odilon Redon
“No matter how careful you are, there’s going to be the sense you missed something, the collapsed feeling under your skin that you didn’t experience it all. There’s that fallen heart feeling that you rushed right through the moments where you should’ve been paying attention.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, fromInvisible Monsters
It’s supposed to be “Two for Tuesday,” but I’m pushing Tuesday to Wednesday because I was up until almost 6 a.m., thinking about words, words that I wanted to say, but I kept myself away from the keyboard because I knew that once I began, it might be days before I stopped. Days, hours, it matters not.
This is what kept me awake: My mother was the one who realized that something was wrong with Caitlin. Not me. She did. She took one look at her and said, “What’s wrong with her eyes?” She said they were bulging. I didn’t really see it, didn’t want to see it, shrugged it off as my mother being overprotective of her granddaughters in the same way that she was overprotective of me.
She was right.
That phone call I received at my very first faculty meeting? That one? It was because my mother had put Caitlin in the car and had taken her to the pediatrician’s office and made them look at her eyes. You see, after the ER doctor had said that she had a virus, I had taken Caitlin to the pediatrician and said that my mother thought her eyes looked funny. The one doctor, the one I never really liked, poo pooed the comment.
My mother was right. I was wrong. The ER resident was wrong. The pediatrician was wrong. It took my mother taking Caitlin to see the other pediatrician in the practice, the gentle one who listened to every word you said—it took that for someone to finally pay attention and send Caitlin to the Children’s Hospital, the hospital that found the brain tumor.
My mother was right.
“How children think of death is how the shadows
gather between trees: a hiding place
for everything the grown-ups cannot name.” ~ John Burnside, from “The Hunt in the Forest”
Look, you’re probably wondering why I’m going over this yet again, but all I can say in way of explanation is one word: fall. Autumn is my best and worst of times. I love every natural aspect of the season, yet the way in which my emotional well-being goes into free fall more often than not leaves me tortured. Nietzsche said it best when he said that autumn was “more the season of the soul than the season of nature.”
Example: Yesterday, after getting my fasting labs done in the early morning, and then having my six-month checkup with my PCP, all I could think about were curly fries. Weird, I know. So I had to maneuver the hell that is a major thoroughfare that it still under construction to get to the nearest Arby’s. My timing was lousy as the nearby grade school was getting out at the same time. Parents in their cars lined both sides of the streets. No one would let me turn into the narrow street. The resultant snafu left me in tears.
Yes, tears, as in crying in the car, which, if you’ve ever been in the car with me, is completely uncharaceristic. Crying over curly fries, crying over curly fries that I couldn’t eat once I had ordered them. Then yesterday evening as I was trying to force myself to post something, I came across the story about a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS, and again, I cried.
Bed. Yes, bed would make it better. But bed, not so much. No sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother and Caitlin’s eyes, which leads me to this moment.
“. . . how come sorrow is as heavy, lumpen and impenetrably black as an anvil?” ~ Agnès Desarthe, from Chez Moi
November will rear its ugly head in just a few days, and with it I have to confront once again the losses of my daughter, my father, my friend, and yes, even my dog. Isn’t it time to let go, past time, you ask?
Beh. Of course it is. But that’s for normal people, people who do not obsess and obsess and obsess over perceived failings. Example: I did not clean the portal lines that had been inserted into Caitlin’s chest the day that I had taken her in for a follow-up MRI. Why do I remember this? Who knows, but I remember vividly doing a haphazard job of inserting the flushing material in the waiting room at CHKD before they took her into the MRI suite because I wanted to make sure that I had done this one thing for my daughter that I was tasked to do on a daily basis.
Did that failure to use a one-inch square of alcohol on a gauze pad lead to infection? Who knows? Possibly? Probably? Probably not?
The point is that I REMEMBER. I cannot forget. Just as I cannot forget that I did not go back to the hospital that night before my father died even though I had promised his unconscious body that I would come back and spend the night at the hospital. Exhaustion and relief at being away from the white noise of the ICU gave me a false sense of relief, and so I went to bed, and he died in the middle of the night alone.
“How long it takes me to climb into grief! Fifty years old, and still held in the dark, in the unfinished, the hopeful, what longs for solution.” ~ Robert Bly, from “A Ramage for the Star Man, Mourning”
Enough, you say. Stop this madness, you say. No, not nearly . . .
When I left my mother’s room that Thursday afternoon, I secretly congratulated myself on making such a speedy getaway, leaving my mother to talk the ear off the social worker. I had work to do. I needed to get her house ready for her to come home. There was snow to be removed. And so I had a brief visit, long enough for her to bitch at me, and then I left, and then she died the next morning, sometime, they are guessing around 9, alone.
And did I mention that that best friend I lovingly wrote about years ago in my Vale et Memini series, the one who had a brain tumor and survived? Her? Did I mention that she died and I didn’t find out until a few years later, that I never even went to the funeral because I didn’t know that there was a funeral, and the other night it suddenly came to me that hell, I was her eldest daughter’s godmother, a sacred honor that I had completely washed from my memory.
And that other anamchara friend, the one who I always thought I’d be bonded to in perpetuity? I haven’t corresponded with her in years, other than an obligatory Christmas card. Yes, I am a careless friend, the kind of person who withdraws so completely that the only interactions I still have with friends occur in the midst of troubled sleep.
And then there is the nagging curse I imposed upon myself when Corey and I first got together: I had been so certain that he wouldn’t have to be burdened with me for years and years because I never wanted him to see me get old, and so I had this feeling, this sense, that I would die when I was 56. And you hear of people who have feelings that they will die young, in their teens, who do, and people who have a feeling that they will not live to be old, and they do not, and so what have I done to myself.
“Endlessness runs in you like leaves on the tree of night.” ~ Anne Carson, from “TV Men: The Sleeper”
Listen, if you recently subscribed to this blog because you found it amusing and slightly entertaining, or if you enjoyed the art or the poetry or the music, if that was your reason? Well I’m sorry. Because this post is really what this blog is about. This endless cacophony of doubt, and blame, and grief, and sorrow, and pain.
That other person, the one who offers up stuff from Takei’s tumblr or other such sites? She’s a phony. She is neither glib nor witty. She masks all of the pain behind little ditties about animals and absurd abuses of the English language because to do otherwise would be peering far too keenly in Nietzsche’s abyss, and we all know what happens when you do that.
The only good thing about this post is that I did not get out of bed at 4 a.m. to begin it. Had I done so, I am completely certain that the maudlin factor would have been even worse, if you can imagine that.
I always, always know when the words are going to come fast and furious, when there is no stemming of the onslaught. It has always been this way, since I was but a child, hiding in my room, trying not to let my mother see that yet another book had reduced me to tears and heartache because her solution, of course, was to think happy thoughts, and for a soul such as mine, one might as well say something along the line of “you could be happy if you just tried.”
Oh, but if you only knew the truth of my esse, my life force, that tortured, tormented, and torrid do not begin to encompass the four corners of my heart.
More later. Peace.
All images by French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916). I am intrigued by how many of the subjects in his paintings have closed eyes or eyes narrowly opened, to which I can relate: going through life with eyes closed, surrounded by beauty . . .
Music by Will Hoge, “When I Get My Wings”
Consider the Space Between Stars
Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.
Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks
and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space
between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.
“It is my heart that’s late, it is my song that’s flown.” ~ Stanley Kunitz, from “Touch Me”
I promise that I have not abandoned this blog. We’re in the crunch time with the bathroom renovation. It’s coming along well, but as it’s just the two of us, and I have to work, shall we say, not speedily, it’s taking an inordinate amount of time. The good thing is that not being here is really making me ache to get back to writing.
Thanks for sticking with me. Soon . . .
It must be that my early friendship with defeat Has given me affection for the month of August. The potato fields belong to early night.
So many times as a boy I sat in the dirt Among dry cornstalks that gave assurances Every hour that Francis has his ear to the night.
Columbus’s letters tell us that we will receive The gifts that mariners all receive at the end— Memories of gold and a grave in the sand.
The shadow of a friend’s hand gives us Promises similar to those we received from The light under the door as our mother came near.
Each of us is a Jacob weeping for Joseph. We are the sparrow that flies through the warrior’s Hall and back out into the falling snow.
I don’t know why these images should please me So much; an angel said: “In the last moment before night Brahms will show you how loyal the notes are.”
~ Robert Bly
Music by Johannes Brahms, Waltz in A Flat Major, Opus 39, #15, performed by pianist Pablo Cintron
“Life is a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play… I tell you, that it is on things like these that our lives depend.” ~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Wednesday, early evening. Drizzly and cool, mid 40’s.
Well yesterday was kind of a strange post. I was feeling very scattered and restless, and it came through in my writing. I realized this morning that I haven’t been taking my Cymbalta regularly in the past week or so as I’ve been stretching out the capsules to make them last until payday. This is not the healthiest way to use antidepressants, but sometimes, you just have to make do, but as a result, my moods have been marked by manic periods of energy (all of the cleaning), followed by spells of inertia.
Today when I drove Brett to school, traffic was just plain stupid. It’s as if the people on the road turned off their brains when they turned on their wipers. And then I was stopped at a crosswalk on campus, and as it was during change of classes, large groups of students were making their way across the road. To my amazement, some douche-bag in a Mercedes behind me blew the horn for me to move. Was I supposed to run over the kids in the road?
Brett and I had the same reaction: we both flipped him off. Brett was grouchy because he closed his hand in the door (ouch), and I was over the whole stupid driver while raining fiasco.
Consequently, the headache is omnipresent, not quite morphing into migraine territory, but painful enough that I just realized that I’m squinting at the screen.
“You have to let things Be as they are. Who knows which of us Deserves the world more?” ~ Robert Bly, from “What Things Want”
I had to drive Eamonn’s car today as Corey had the Rodeo at work, and the truck is still . . . not working . . . The neighbor bought (supposedly) the brake lines to replace the rusted lines, but has yet to make his way all the way across the street to install them. Never again. Neighbor sure, but mechanic, no, no, no.
Anyway, Eamonn is bent because I used his gas, and he needed to go to a meeting. As I have no money, I told him that Corey would give him cash for gas when he got home, but I forgot that Corey was working until 4 and not 3, so lots of stomping and huffing about by eldest son. Oh well, it’s not like he hasn’t driven our vehicles down below the big red E.
So in more of my latest cleaning binge in which I am trying to declutter one thing at a time, I took everything down from the top shelf in the glass cabinet to see what could be thrown out or donated, and I found a martini glass (??? only one ???), a set of four tall, thin shot glasses whose origins I am unsure of (probably a leftover from the Dillard’s Homestore days), a chipped souvenir glass from the Spirit of Norfolk, which I am quite sure belongs to Alexis, and two goblets from our wedding reception (I made the table centerpieces in oversized goblets).
Another thing to check of my to-do list. My life is so full . . .
“That is why the better part of our memory exists outside ourselves, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source can make us weep again.” ~ Marcel Proust
So these are things that I’ve been pondering:
While Eamonn’s car is a junker, it still reminds me of how easy it is to drive a little car and zip in and out of lanes, which I miss; however, getting out of the car reminds me of why I will never again own a low-to-the-ground vehicle. Awkward and uncomfortable.
I have nothing in my wallet, absolutely nothing—no bills, no coins, nothing. Sad, really.
People in the south tend to add extra syllables to words, which I rarely notice, but this manner of speaking can become quite humorous in curse words, as in when damn becomes diy-um (pronounced as written).
I remember my father, with his Filipino accent, always said shee-et, kind of a blend of southern and Tagalog, I guess.
A favorite line from a song: “Your best friend in life is not your mirror.” Apropros of nothing . . .
I dreamed that Corey, Alexis and I were in some store buying Christmas decorations, and the store stocked candle tops (just the top part of the candle and nothing else), and really cheap ornaments.
I also had a dream in which a friend’s father had died, and a group of us were (for some strange reason) taking a shortcut through the dead man’s backyard. The oddest part is that this house has been in many of my dreams, but in this dream, a fence now stood where no fence had been before, and I declared that I was not climbing a chain link fence in heels.
I have rerun dreams in which the action may be different, but the settings have been in other dreams. One particular recurring dream involves me coming into a lot of old furniture and antiques, sometimes a piano, but not always. Sometimes the antiques have been given to me by a museum board member, and sometimes not.
My dream life is much more interesting than my real life.
“ . . . and you look at the things in the room, offscreen, unwebbed, the tissued grain of the deskwood alive in light, the thick lived tenor of things, the argument of things to be seen and eaten, the apple core going sepia in the lunch tray, and the dense measures of experience in a random glance, the monk’s candle reflected in the slope of the phone, hours marked in Roman numerals, and the glaze of the wax, and the curl of the braided wick, and the chipped rim of the mug that holds your yellow pencils, skewed all crazy, and the plied lives of the simplest surface, the slabbed butter melting on the crumbled bun, and the yellow of the yellow of the pencils . . .” ~ Don DeLillo, from Underworld
This DeLillo quote is actually quite apt for my state of mind. When I’m writing, I often find myself looking around at various objects in the different light of the waning day. Sometimes my eyes are drawn to the grain of the wood; other times, a smell catches my attention. Everything becomes significant, even the most insignificant of things. It’s a matter of heightened senses.
I much prefer ambling through life with heightened senses as opposed to an innocuous sense of numbness—the light outside my window, the sound of raindrops falling from the eaves, the occasional bird call, the unwelcome sound of someone’s engine—these things reside in my subconscious all of the time, but occasionally, they surge to the forefront, demand my attention.
I suppose what I’m getting at is that while I may protest that I am moving through life without any purpose, moving as if on auto-pilot, the truth is that this it not true, and I must remind myself of this. While my goals may not be the ones I had at another stage of my life, that does not mean that these goals are not important, that my dreams and desires do not bear witness to my life’s purpose.
What I care about, all of the many, many things that I care about, while they may be insignificant to some, these things keep me grounded, help me to move through my days with my own sense of grace.
With that in mind, I thought that I’d spell out just a few of the items still on my bucket list, if you will. These are the things that I want to do and see and have before I die:
To see Ireland and Wales
To witness the Northern lights
To ride in a hot air balloon (even though I’ve given up on the idea of skydiving, the balloon still remains)
To have a writing hut that is all my own
To own an old IBM Selectric, preferably red or black
To go to the Louvre and the Musée D’Orsay
To ride the Orient Express (yes, this one is pricey, but one day I will do this, even if I’m 82)
To have a claw-footed bathtub in which I will take many, many hot baths, submerged in lavender water up to my chin and surrounded by candles, while Beethoven plays in the background
To have a view of the sea and a pair of Adirondack chairs in which to recline
To finish a 5k, even if I have to walk it
To have a really good camera that I can use to shoot pictures of the night sky
To publish a book, a real book, not one that I’ve written under contract for an institution
To see every episode of Dr. Who
To read Proust in the original French
To visit Australia and see the Great Barrier Reef
To go to Weta Studios in New Zealand and meet Peter Jackson
To own a sailboat (Corey and I once spoke of owning a charter service in the Caribbean, which I think that I would still like to do)
To make a difference in just one life.
More later. Peace.
Music by Foy Vance, “Be the Song”
You Can’t Have It All
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.