“panebreaking heartmadness: | nightmare begins responsibility.” ~ Michael S. Harper, from “Nightmare Begins Responsibility”

Charles Bukowski

“But there are forces that don’t let you turn back and undo things, because to do so would be to deny what is already in motion, to unwrite and erase passages, to shorten the arc of a story you don’t own.” ~ Salvador Plascencia

Sometimes, I wish that I could go back, back to the time before responsibility, before emotional debt, before conscious thought. I will not say before pain because I know that sorrow has been in my life for as long as I have breathed. I will not say before sadness because I was a morose child, content to play alone with my dolls or to spend hour upon hour within my books. I was both content and lonely, if such a thing can be. But still I would like to go back, if only to avoid all of the times in which I have had to be the responsible one, the one to make the hard decisions, the life-changing decisions, and yet, it has always been so. Parent to my mother, I have been the one to assume the mantle of responsible adult, regardless of how much I wished it were not so. Old before my years, I have never felt young and carefree. Truly. Still, I would like to go back because there had to be a point in time in which I did not understand responsibility, in which I did not act in the best interests of all involved, in which I was purely selfish, and as such, I was perhaps content.

But the truth is that I do not know if that time ever existed. I do not know if I have ever eschewed responsibility. Oh yes. There was that brief period in my 30’s during which I attempted to run away from home, keeping my emergency backpack in the trunk of my car for those nights on which I simply could not face home, or hearth, or family. But in the end, I always came home. After spending the night in the safety my gay non-lover’s bed, I would return home, return to responsibility, having been freed if only for half a day. And yes, those days passed, too, and of course, there was the ensuing guilt for the times in which I had run away or wanted to run away or thought of running away. So the truth is that I have never really run away.

But I would go back if I can; just do not ask me to pinpoint a moment in time, because honestly, I cannot. In my mind, I know that there had to be a year, a month, a day during which I had no cares, had no obligations, no one’s needs to satisfy, no one’s heart to hold tenderly, no one’s sensibilities to tend. But truthfully, I do not know when it was. But I would go back if I could because going back would mean that yet again I would not be making the decision. You know the one. The decision that the time has come, that the suffering must end, that to do anything else is morally reprehensible, even though to do so is heartbreaking and soul-crushing, and to do so, to make this decision, to be the one to make this decision also means that I am the one to bear the burden of guilt for having made this decision.

Time and time again, those around me have had the ignorant placebo of never having to face such a task, whether it was my ex-husband, or my now-husband, or my mother, or my children. Those on the other side, the clinicians in white coats with sad eyes, they have turned to me. Every single time they have turned to me, and I have made the decision, and I just have to say that I would give anything, would give my corpuscles, my fiber, my sinew, whatever I have to not be the one who is responsible, and even more not to be picked out of the crowd as the responsible one. What is it about my face, my demeanor that tells them, “she will do it”?

Yet I know that I would not allow anyone else to bear this burden because my personal history reveals that I can survive it, as I have again, and again, and again, and again, with the child, the father, the crippled dog, old dog, the old dog that was not mine, the boy dog, and now the other boy dog. Time has been cruel to me, placing me in this position, even with my old friend, when I had to be the one to say, “she cannot live alone like this any more,” but perhaps cruel is the incorrect word. Time has sought me out like the beam from a lighthouse, hoping that I can offer a direction when the stars seem snuffed out, and it’s hard to see anything clearly. But I acknowledge this: I have survived and will survive because I have no other choice. I know, too, that I possess the cold detachment necessary to separate heart from head, if only for the few seconds that are necessary to acknowledge that the time has come for no more, no more extreme measures, no more needles, no more tubes, no more medicines, no more machines. The whoosh-click must be made silent, else we can never move into the next moment, the moment that is after.

So let me pause here: When my time comes, I want to be the one to make the decision. I would not have any other voice in the mix. Mine alone. Because if I can’t go back, and I know that I cannot, then at least I will go forward, and in so doing, I know that means that until my last breath I will be the one who shoulders the responsibility, the one who has the discussion in the hall with the sad-eyed clinician, the one who will then find a solitary corner in which to keen until my breath comes in short gasps, and my only wish at the moment would be to go back.

Music by Rascal Flatts, “Why?”


from Those times . . .

At six
I lived in a graveyard full of dolls,
avoiding myself,
my body, the suspect
in its grotesque house.
I was locked in my room all day behind a gate,
a prison cell.
I was the exile
who sat all day in a knot.


I think of the dolls,
so well made,
so perfectly put together
as I pressed them against me,
kissing their little imaginary mouths.
I remember their smooth skin,
those newly delivered,
the pink skin and the serious China-blue eyes.
They came from a mysterious country
without the pang of birth,
born quietly and well.
When I wanted to visit,
the closet is where I rehearsed my life,
all day among shoes,
away from the glare of the bulb in the ceiling,
away from the bed and the heavy table
and the same terrible rose repeating on the walls.

I did not question it.
I hid in the closet as one hides in a tree.
I grew into it like a root
and yet I planned such plans of flight,
believing I would take my body into the sky,
dragging it behind me like a large bed.
And although I was unskilled
I was sure to get there or at least
to move up like an elevator.
With such dreams,
storing their energy like a bull,
I planned my growth and my womanhood
as one choreographs a dance.

I knew that if I waited among shoes
I was sure to outgrow them,
the heavy oxfords, the thick execution reds,
shoes that lay together like partners,
the sneakers thick with Griffin eyewash
and then the dresses swinging above me,
always above me, empty and sensible
with sashes and puffs,
with collars and two-inch hems
and evil fortunes in their belts.

I sat all day
stuffing my heart into a shoe box,
avoiding the precious window
as if it were an ugly eye
through which birds coughed,
chained to the heaving trees;
avoiding the wallpaper of the room
where tongues bloomed over and over,
bursting from lips like sea flowers —
and in this way I waited out the day
until my mother,
the large one,
came to force me to undress.
I lay there silently,
hoarding my small dignity.
I did not ask about the gate or the closet.
I did not question the bedtime ritual
where, on the cold bathroom tiles,
I was spread out daily
and examined for flaws.

I did not know
that my bones,
those solids, those pieces of sculpture
would not splinter.

I did not know the woman I would be
nor that blood would bloom in me
each month like an exotic flower,
nor that children,
two monuments,
would break from between my legs
two cramped girls breathing carelessly,
each asleep in her tiny beauty.
I did not know that my life, in the end,
would run over my mother’s like a truck
and all that would remain
from the year I was six
was a small hole in my heart, a deaf spot,
so that I might hear
the unsaid more clearly.

“There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Heading Towards Darkness by russell.tomlin (flickr)


“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.” ~ Mary Oliver, “Mysteries, Yes

Saturday early evening. Another beautiful blue day, low 70’s.

Abstract Realism: Trees Below Water as Though Inked Washed Drawing by russell.tomlin (flickr)

Seem to be having a reprieve from the five-day-long migraine. I don’t want to say yet that it’s over because that will surely bring at least three more days of pain.

Last night I watched three different exorcism movies. Don’t ask me why I do this to myself, especially when Corey is working the night shift. Perhaps I hope that if I watch enough scary movies, then the current mire of my existence will seem to pale in comparison. Anyway, after this horror marathon, I found myself at 3 a.m. wide awake.

One of the movies that I watched was Exorcist III: Legion. The movie is quite dated in the clothes and the acting as George C. Scott overacts every scene in which he appears. That being said, there is one memorable scene that takes place in a heavenly train station. There is a pseudo big band a la Tommy Dorsey, and weird appearances by Fabio of the long hair and basketball player Patrick Ewing. Okay, so it’s a cheezy, make that very cheezy movie, but it has Ed Flanders and a young Brad Dourif, as well as an appearance by Samuel L. Jackson.

The book Legion is so much better than the movie, but the movie is still entertaining in its own overblown way, not remotely scary, though.

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”~ Anaïs Nin

Water Lily Pads on the Oregon Coast by russell.tomlin (flickr)

So it’s fairly quiet here, well quieter now that Eamonn has left the building. He came home from work and took the house quite by storm. He’s just such a ham, always singing at the top of his lungs, running commentaries about everything—a younger version of his father. I used to hate it, really hate it, when his dad sang in the morning. How do people do that, wake up immediately and begin their days with exuberant singing and talking?

Not me, that’s for sure. I wake up very slowly, allowing consciousness to creep in rather than embracing it wholly and immediately.

Anyway, not sure if I’ll be able to finish this post today as I fully expect Internet service to be interrupted at almost any second. Pesky thing called a bill. Besides, I really should be doing some cleaning around the house, but just not feeling up to it. While the headache has subsided, thel knot at the base of my neck is pulsating as I type.

Nevertheless, the floors need to be swept and mopped, and laundry is piling up. More of that housewifery stuff . . .

I’d much rather sit her and write in between visiting tumblr and playing a few games of Spider Solitaire. Doing all three at once is pretty much my standard approach to getting a post written. I find that if I don’t try to write everything at once, I stay a bit more focused, that is unless I’m having a real creative spurt, which I am obviously not doing today.

“Here. You are at the beginning of something. At the exact
beginning.” ~ Jorie Graham, from “Dawn Day One (Dec 21 ‘03)”

Water Color Edges by russell.tomlin (flickr)

Well, almost two hours have passed since I put down my first words. The sky is a dark grey, and the temperature has barely dropped. Laundry is going. I’ve eaten some Twizzlers and had a caffeine-free Pepsi. I still need to do the floors, but don’t know if I’ll be getting to that today or tomorrow. I would hate to think that I measure my days by how many chores I accomplish.

But really, how do I measure my days? By what I’ve read? By any new poets I’ve come across? By what images I’ve seen? By which television shows I’ve watched? By how many times I’ve stopped to throw the tennis ball for Tillie? By how many muscle relaxers I’ve had to take just to make the pain tolerable? By whether or not I’ve peeled off my nail polish by evening? By the quality of the sky? By the songs that I’ve heard?

I suppose this train of thought is just a continuation of yesterday’s pondering. But how do we measure our days really? What makes one day better or worse than another? What makes a day intolerable as opposed to being so-so?

If I were working, my measurement would be different, would definitely encompass what I had accomplished, which tasks I had completed, whether or not I had made the requisite telephone calls and answered the pending correspondence. If I were still in school, I would measure my days according to my schedule of assignments, whether or not they had been completed, or whether or not I had procrastinated until the last minute.

And what happens when we procrastinate? We put off doing something, but are the minutes we use to postpone just wasted time?

I know that there is a school of thought that all of the minutes of all of the hours should be spent in thoughtful contemplation and achievement. There is also the school of thought that we should spend a portion of our time in silence so as to allow ourselves to commune with . . . nature? God? The self?

“I don’t know what they are called, the spaces between seconds—but I think of you always in those intervals.” ~ Salvador Plascencia

Shore Acres Botanical Garden (10 August 2011), by russell.tomlin (flickr)

I do believe in meditation, in its healing effects, in its ability to quell the troubled waters of the soul. But that I believe in it does not mean that I am able to do it.

I know that I have achieved a state of meditation—a state in which I was able to clear my mind of all of the swirling thoughts—maybe four or five times in my life. By that I mean that I was truly able to set aside the external and just be.

One time that I distinctly remember was when Corey and I were in the Mediterranean, and we were on a large catamaran being sailed to a bay that was rich with rays. On the way to the spot, I sad on the tarp in lotus position with my eyes closed and just allowed myself to truly be in the moment. I was able to drown out sounds of conversations, the music that was playing. All that I heard was the water and the wind. All that I felt was the sun and the spray.

Being able to achieve that state before communing with the rays made the entire experience so much richer. I don’t know if I’m doing an adequate job of explaining the state that I was able to achieve, and perhaps you might not understand if you have never achieved such a state yourself. I only know that it was a perfect day.

“L’automne est pour moi le signe le plus sûr des recommencements. Depuis l’enfance on appelle cela la rentrée. Quelque chose décline, et quelque chose commence. Je me présente toujours devant l’automne : neuf, prêt, dispos. Quelque chose va se passer, va m’arriver. Je vais apprendre, je vais changer.” (Autumn is for me the surest sign of new beginnings. Since childhood it is called re-entry. Something is declining, and something begins. I always before this fall: new, ready, willing. Something will happen, will happen to me. I will learn, I’ll change.) ~ Pierre Péju

Dream Deepens in Autumn Gloaming, by russell.tomlin (flickr)

I think that during such times, time becomes suspended, not literally, of course. I mean that in clearing the mind, all of the troubles of the day, no matter how serious or how trivial, are set aside temporarily.

I envy those individuals who so easily achieve this state of meditation, who are able to do so regularly, even daily.  I think that if I could do so, I might not feel as if I am wasting so much of my time here, or worse, just biding time.

To live here, in the moment, to feel acutely, to appreciate what life has to offer—these are things that belong to the contented, not to the tumultuous souls. Contentment is that placid body of water, smooth like glass. Whereas for me, there are almost always waves crashing down all around me. There is almost always that sense of being propelled along the water by the wind without a sense of control.

Instead of the one sonorous bell, there is the clanging of many bells being rung at once, each one fighting to be heard. Instead of the graceful arc of a flock in synchronized flight, there is the rush, the onslaught of all of the birds taking to the air at once, the beating of many wings battling for space.

“In the midst of all your memories there is one
Faded away beyond recovering;
Neither the yellow moon nor the white sun
Will ever see you drinking from that spring.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, from “Limits

Shore Acres Botanical Garden2 (10 August 2011), by russell.tomlin (flickr)

Pay me no heed. I believe that my mind is on some track that I have yet to identify, that to get there, I must first make many missteps, dropping my foot into potholes filled with cold rain.

There is a sense of anticipation and apprehension—simultaneously, as if I am ready for this change but am afraid of it. And who even knows if it is change that awaits me.

I only know that I feel as if I am at the beginning of a long journey, one that I am not certain that I am ready to take. Perhaps my heightened sense of my surroundings is a harbinger of some sort. Or perhaps I am just reading entirely too much into nothing at all. It just feels so much like those moments immediately before the storm when the air hangs so still that even the buzzing of a fly seems too loud. When the moisture on the front of the storm first touches your face, and you have an inkling of what is to come but cannot be certain of just how wet you will get. When the leaves of the trees turn around, showing their backs to the sky. When the stickiness of the air thickens just before the first drop falls.

This is what I feel. This is what awaits me. Undefinable, unrelenting, formless and frayed.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sophie Milman, “La Vie en Rose”


After Us

One day someone will fold our blankets
and send them to the cleaners
to scrub the last grain of salt from them,
will open our letters and sort them out by date
instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture
like chessmen at the start of a new game,
will open the old shoe box
where we hoard pajama-buttons,
not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs
from the weight of hotel room keys
and the receptionist’s suspicion
as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us
like the moon after some wandering child.

~ Nikola Madzirov (Trans. Peggy and Graham W. Reid, Magdalena Horvat and Adam Reed)

(All images in this post taken from Russell Tomlin’s Flickr photostream)