“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

“October is a symphony of permanence and change.” ~ Bonaro W. Overstreet

Toward the Storm (Pixdaus)

 

                    

“There are many windows through
which we can look out into the
world, searching for meaning . . . ” ~ Jane Goodall

Field Storm 1 (Pixdaus)

To my credit, the header for this post was applicable when I first began writing it; that it is now almost an entire week later does not negate the sentiment behind the header, so I opted to keep it.

The previous post, abandoned in midstream and never quite returned to in any creative fashion probably is the best example of what life has been like: starts and stops, wrong turns, lost threads, and unfinished thoughts. It is almost 11 p.m. on Wednesday evening. That I last had the opportunity to write was almost seven days ago simply blows my mind.

How did it get to be November? Where was I? How can Thanksgiving be in a few weeks? How did Gretchen win “Project Runway”? Oops, that last one just sort of slipped in when I wasn’t paying attention.

If you could see this draft, you would definitely question my grip on reality. I have about ten different quotes on this page relating to three, possibly four themes. Rather than try to sort through and pare beforehand, I have decided to just write and see what fits. Very revealing actually in that I have no idea what my life will be like from one moment to the next, so how could I possibly know which quote will fit and which quote will be irrelevant?

You see my predicament . . .

“For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart.There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length. And there I travel—looking, looking, breathlessly.” ~ Carlos Castaneda

Before the Storm by Joel Le Montagner (Pixdaus)

I’m still camping out at my mother’s house. Her broken tibia is mending quite well (according to the orthopaedic surgeon who saw her this morning), but her stomach ailments remain mysterious and unresponsive (according to the urgent care physician we saw after the visit to the orthopaedist). Four and a half hours later, my mother felt slightly better as she had accomplished one major goal in getting her rather large and bulky immobilizing brace changed to something smaller and more comfortable.

I, however, felt that eating glass might actually be a comforting alternative to the morning’s events. I suppose it had been building for a while, but today was my breaking point. I knew that if I did not get away, get away from my mother, get away from this house, get away from the various medications and ailments and problems and prognoses that Corey might have to have me fitted for a full-body immobilizing brace.

I texted my daughter to ask her to please spot me today by coming over and staying with my mother as I was nearing a breaking point. Her reply text only reinforced that aspect of my life that is in and of itself a large part of the problem: she would be over in a “bit” as she still had to eat lunch, wash the dishes, takes a shower . . . essentially, in her sweet time, my request be damned. That she finally deigned to make an appearance at 5:30 did not amuse me in the least.

Nevertheless, after returning from the doctors’ visits I settled my mother in with lunch, several doses of pepto tablets measured out to chew each hour in an aggressive move by the urgent care physician to calm her stomach, a cup of tea, a glass of 7-up, her reading glasses, and the television remote control. Then I left. Ostensibly to pick up Brett at school, but the destination could have been the grocery store. Anywhere was better than here, and I did not want to have my meltdown in front of my mother only to have her retreat into her poor, pitiful me persona, which would, in turn, reduce me to a large puddle of guilt.

“So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea” ~ Elizabeth Bishop, “Insomnia”

Field Storm 2 (Pixdaus)

Moving along . . . I spent some time this afternoon with Brett and my three dogs; I believe that I can attest that all involved—human and canine—benefitted from the quality time. Brett and I talked about nothing of any great importance as we took turns rubbing bellies and ears and heaping attention on dogs that quite obviously never receive a kind word, a small treat, or any love at all . . .

So here I am, sitting here with my music playing quietly in a house that is finally, thankfully, quiet. If  you were to ask me what my aversion to noise is, I might be hard-pressed to answer you, especially as I can engage in as much inane chatter as the next person. But having moved from my parents’ home a long time ago, having left a home that subsists on a backdrop of television during every waking moment, I have become much accustomed to having my silence when I want it and if I need it, that and the fact that I no longer possess the ability to tune out that which I do not want to hear, such as how much the showcase is on “The Price is Right” or the screech of the wheel as it turns on “Wheel of Fortune.”

When my mother first fell, I never dreamt that I would still be here full-time six weeks later. Truthfully, though, I don’t really know what I thought or believed at the time, but as the small collection of necessities that I had initially spread about my old bedroom began to grow into might-need items, I realized that life had shifted at some point and had caught me unawares and was taking me along for the ride.

Perhaps that is what troubles me the most about this entire situation: the fact that nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, is controllable. What works on day is completely useless 24 hours later. Signs of improvement can morph into a life-threatening circumstance in less than half a day. And not since the days of Caitlin’s hospitalization has my life been this out of control.

And I find that I cannot even turn to one of my most inviting avenues for comfort: I cannot get on the computer, find answers to my questions, dig for facts. Knowledge is not a mouse click away, and that barrier only adds to my feelings of frustration. I use my knowledge as a shield. Give me facts and I can fight the fears. Medicine X has what side effects? I’ll look that up. No wait. No connection. Can’t leave mom alone to go use a computer at my house. Too many ifs in play. Perhaps I’ll twiddle my thumbs a bit more.

And as each day passes, I am mindful of the calendar, fitfully attuned to the days passing into the beginning of November, nearing the anniversary of Caitlin’s death, the anniversary of my father’s death. Each year from September through November, I hold the incipient crash at bay, never knowing if it will be a bad year or a good year, never able to predict how my psyche will assimilate the events of the days, whether I will feel the emotional pain keenly or merely sense subconsciously the loss.

“And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.” ~ Ezra Pound, Poems of Lustra 

Field Storm 3 by Dmitry Shirkov (Pixdaus)

So what is the theme of this post? Is it time, that it passes too quickly and leaves us confused in its wake? Is it silence, like the air in a field right before a storm, so sweet and still, a moment suspended? Is it my endless search for meaning and answers in a time in which, perhaps, no true answers exist? Or is it simply this:

That in the end, we are all so much dross, not nearly as valuable as we hope, that we are buffeted about like miniscule, insignificant creatures caught in life’s maelstrom, and if, if we are to move beyond, if we are to achieve each our own significance, then we must remain constantly attuned to our personal mainspring lest we become too taughtly wound.

The trick, my friends, is to know exactly how much torsion our psyches can tolerate—that ideal balance between energy and inertia—so that life, the days, the hours, the minutes—unwind as we would hope. For the alternative, to be sprung all at once, leaves nothing for the next time fate decides to hurl us headlong into chaos.

Remember, the temporal slingshot only works in the cinema, and life can slip by like a field mouse.

Music by Matthew Ryan, “The World Is . . . ”

High School Should Be Abolished

The Boardwalk Trail in Trail of Cedars Glacier Natl Park by Janson Jones
Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, Montana by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana

“The Long and Winding Road . . . ” ~ Paul McCartney, The Beatles

“Will Never Disappear. . .”

pathwayI picked up my son Brett from school today. When he got in the truck, I could tell that it had been another bad day for him. My heart aches so much for him as he is certain that the rest of his life is going to be as bad as it is right now.

Even though most of his teachers and his counselor have been extremely understanding and have agreed to work with him, he is still suffering the pains of the anxiety and depression, and I have little doubt that almost all of it is caused by school.

When he asked me if his life is always going to be so bad, I just wanted to cradle him in my arms and hold him and never let go. That’s the mom in me talking, but it is also the person in me talking who has been and continues to be terribly unsure of herself, even after all of these years. I know how it feels to believe that life just sucks and that it is never going to get better. I know how it feels to believe that you are worthless. I know how it feels to bear the burden of putting on a good face just to make it through the day.

And because I know these things, it makes me wish that he could just skip these years and arrive at a better point in his life.

“I’ve Seen That Road Before . . .”

stone stepsI mean, I actually didn’t have a horrible time in high school. I did pretty much whatever I wanted, managed to still get good grades, cheered, and belonged to every club I could join. But the truth is that it was all a big act: my attempts to fit in, to belong. And I always wore this façade, one that reflected someone who knew what she wanted and wouldn’t let anyone stand in her way.

I have to tell you that maintaining that kind of façade really takes its toll. I would move through school at this frenetic pace for weeks and weeks at a time. I would go to all-night study sessions, take my advanced courses, work part time four or five times a week. The pace I set for myself was insane now that I look back on it. But then the inevitable crash would come, and I would get sick and be out of school.

At the time I suspected that I was manic/depressive, as it was called then, but only from the little bit of research that I had done on the subject. Of course, information was not a mouse click away at the time, and research meant pulling books and articles from shelves and reading them on the library’s time. I just knew that I had these extreme highs that would shift on a dime.

My mother, of course, would say things like “snap out of it,” and “you’re just making yourself sad.” Or the best one: “You have your period.” To be fair, though, even though I cast my mother as uncaring, it was not that so much as uninformed. My mother came from a very small town in North Carolina and had no formal education. What she knew about depression was only what she might see in movies. And in her generation, mental illness was a big stigma: People did not talk about such things as it would end up on their permanent record.

Permanent record. You won’t believe how many times I used to hear that. I asked my mom one time where this permanent record was kept. She told me not to be a smartass.

But I digress . . .

“The Wild and Windy Night . . .”

Dark-stormy-cloudsMy main point is that high school is an unendurable test of strength, will, character, and emotion. Think back to your high school days: Did you love them? Do you look back on them fondly? Bigger question: Would you go back?

No. Absolutely not. No way. Never. Fry some chicken and call me for dinner but N-O.

I was telling Brett that there are some people who never leave high school because it was the best time of their lives. We all know those people, and we usually feel sorry for them.

But in retrospect, there are only a handful of people from my high school days that I still care about. One of them is dead; he died much too young of cancer. One I was married to (no, we were not high school sweethearts, ugh). One is his best friend and was my best friend. One reads my blog regularly and has come in and out of my life for years and has always been in my life because we have known each other much longer than high school. And one is a gay man who lives with his partner up north.

There are other people who I remember fondly, There are moments that I remember fondly. There are incredible adventures that I will never forget. But that was then. I’ve moved on, matured, grown, aged, changed and changed again.

“That the Rain Washed Away . . .”

silver-birch-forestWhat I was trying to tell Brett was that all of those popular people in high school, the ones who everyone knew and envied, or wanted to be like or hated just a little because they were too popular or too handsome or too privileged—those people are not who they were in high school.

For example, one of the really sad stories from my high school concerns the football star, the quarterback. He was actually a quiet, troubled soul, but few people knew that. Everyone just knew that he could throw a ball. A few years after high school, he killed himself. I won’t even try to surmise why he might have done such a thing. No one can ever know another person’s demons.

Or take some of the beautiful people in high school, the pretty blondes, the handsome jocks: Some of them are on their third marriages. Some are with spouses who they thought would treat them like queens only to find out that their husband is a monster who beats them behind the privacy of their closed door.

Some never made it to 20. They died from drug overdoses, suicide, homicide, illnesses. The ones other people looked down on, the brains, are working for GE, fortune 500 companies as engineers, NASA.

“Why Leave Me Standing Here? Let Me Know the Way . . . “

Standing AloneWe can never know where life will take us. Most of us would never have guessed that we would be in the places we find ourselves today. Some of us have done much better than we ever hoped. Some of us have done much worse. Fate is fickle, and life is hard.

When we are in high school, everything seems possible at some point. Then nothing seems possible the next day. We go from highs to lows in the blink of an eye. Maybe it’s because of a rejection letter from the college we really wanted. Maybe it’s because we lost a parent or a sibling or a best friend. Maybe it’s because our family’s circumstances changed, and what we once had was taken away. Maybe it’s because we have no support system at home. Maybe it’s because we have no home. Who knows?

All of the petty grievances we had with people in high school seem so small once we move on and have to deal with real world issues: paying the mortgage, working with a boss who is sexist, finding out our spouse is cheating, losing a job because of circumstances beyond our control.

How can breaking up with your one true love at 16 prepare you for such things? It can help you to understand loss, but without a broader context, that loss will seem overwhelming at the time.

How can failing English or Trigonometry not make you feel like a failure? It can’t at the moment, but in a broader context, it can help you to learn how to overcome failure, and as long as no one rubs your nose in that failure, you may be able to deal with it in a way that does not tear at your sense of self.

“Many Times I’ve Been Alone and Many Times I’ve Cried”

Wild and Windy NightI’m not trying to diminish all of the emotions, feelings and flailing that a young person in high school endures. It is precisely because of the constant bombardment of things that so many young people take their own lives. As I wrote about in a previous post, being bullied when you are 13 and unable to sort through all of the emotions can cause a young person to snap. And how sad and utterly wasted.

If only there were some way to go inside the heads of these young men and women and let them know that in one year or two or three, their lives will be different. They won’t have to endure humiliation, verbal abuse, or whatever obstacles they face now because they will have the power to get away from that source of pain. If only they can hang on long enough.

I’m not naive. I know that not everyone escapes. I know that for some, the abuse continues. I know that because of economic circumstances, some will never be able to touch even the periphery of their dreams. And some will continue patterns begun in high school that prevent them from ever really maturing emotionally.

Many an alcoholic and drug addict are born in high school. Those bullies grow up to be spouse and child abusers. Some of those who endured constant ridicule grow into people who survive by belittling others because that is all that they know. Others who had to lie and live in secret grow into adults who always keep their true selves hidden. And some who were never able to overcome their childhood fears grow into individuals who continue to be victimized their entire lives.

But there is always hope, and with luck, maybe the sorrows that they endure during this emotional, hormonal, confusing time will help them to become stronger people, or at least give them insight into how they don’t want to raise their own children, the things they should never say or do to their own children because they have the emotional and physical scars to remind them of how much words can hurt.

“. . . You Will Never Know the Many Ways I’ve Tried”

Solitary Walk on BeachIf high school was the apex of your life, and you still look on it fondly, then good for you. Cherish your memories. But for most of the rest of us, it’s a period that we are glad is in the past. We might go to a reunion to see a few familiar faces and say hello, and probably, we want to gloat a little inwardly at the beauties who have gained weight and the arrogant young men who are now balding and pot-bellied.

Sometimes, revenge is sweet when it is never served at all, when we just let life take care of things. When we just allow fate to dip into the well and present its own version of just rewards.

I wish with all of my heart that the high school years could somehow be avoided, jumped over, or abolished altogether. But that is not reality. As much as I might want to cosset my son and keep him from pain, I know that I have to step back and allow him to finish this particular journey in his life. I can be there to support him, but I cannot bear this burden for him, nor would I want to if I could.

“Don’t Leave Me Waiting Here/Lead Me to Your Door”

sunrise through treesThere is an old Spanish proverb that says “The journey is more important than the inn.”  Only when we are a little older and a little wiser and a few years removed from the hardest legs of our journey—only then do we begin to understand that life truly is a winding road, filled with twists and turns and hillocks and vales.

Until then, we must endure all of the more arduous legs of our individual journeys and bide our time for the smoother paths. And if we can be patient, sometimes along the way the light will shine through the trees to help us along our paths.

Let me leave you with this beautiful memory of Paul, George and Ringo together live with John in video. More later. Peace.

 

 

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