“Nobody wanted your dance, Nobody wanted your strange glitter – your floundering Drowning life and your effort to save yourself, Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil” ~ Ted Hughes, from “God Help the Wolf after Whom the Dogs Do Not Bark”
Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy and quite warm, 90 degrees.
Yesterday was the birthday of notable British poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930-October 28, 1998).
I know that I said I would continue the NRA post today, but I just can’t. I need a break. I worked on that frigging post for over eight hours, and my body hasn’t recovered. When I get into intense writing mode, I don’t pay attention to my posture, and I tend to sit with all of my muscles tensed. Of course, the result is that I pay for it afterwards. Today my shoulders are a bundle of knots, as is my lower back, which negates any relief I may have gotten from the trigger point injections.
I’m still awaiting a prior authorization on my Robaxin (muscle relaxer), which is what I take during the day, every day. I really need that. Well, that, or a masseuse. Don’t have either at the moment.
Corey and I both got a lot done yesterday: I wrote a thoroughly researched article, and he finished the fence on the back pasture for the goats. Hoorah, hoorah.
Anyway, back to Ted Hughes, who some of you may know as the husband of the poet Sylvia Plath; their marriage and her suicide negatively colored his reputation as a writer until his death, but he was incredibly talented in his own right. Unfortunately for Hughes, the woman for whom he left Plath, Assia Wevill, killed herself and their 4-year-old daughter Shura after Plath’s death. Hughes spent the remainder of his life writing and farming with his second wife, Carol Orchard.
If you want to know more about Hughes and Plath, the 2008 book The Letters of Ted Hughes is a great read, as is his 1998 book Birthday Letters. I own the latter but not the former; it’s on my wish list. I enjoy reading the correspondence of writers as the majority of them lay themselves bare in notes and letters. It always strikes me as being much more immediate than a biography.
You can find a good biography here on the Poetry Foundation site. The Paris Review interviewed Hughes for its “Art of Poetry Series” (No. 71) in 1995. You can find the article here. In the following quote Hughes discusses how location affected his writing, something I am always pondering myself:
Ever since I began to write with a purpose I’ve been looking for the ideal place. I think most writers go through it.
. . . When I came back to England, I think the best place I found in that first year or two was a tiny cubicle at the top of the stairs that was no bigger than a table really. But it was a wonderful place to write. I mean, I can see now, by what I wrote there, that it was a good place.
I chose “A Woman Unconscious,” the poem below, because once again, its content seems so timely, especially in light of the recent nuclear missile explosion in Russia
More later. Peace.
A Woman Unconscious
Russia and America circle each other;
Threats nudge an act that were without doubt
A melting of the mould in the mother,
Stones melting about the root.The quick of the earth burned out:
The toil of all our ages a loss
With leaf and insect. Yet flitting thought
(Not to be thought ridiculous)Shies from the world-cancelling black
Of its playing shadow: it has learned
That there’s no trusting (trusting to luck)
Dates when the world’s due to be burned;
That the future’s no calamitous change
But a malingering of now,
Histories, towns, faces that no
Malice or accident much derange.
And though bomb be matched against bomb,
Though all mankind wince out and nothing endure —
Earth gone in an instant flare —
Did a lesser death come
Onto the white hospital bed
Where one, numb beyond her last of sense,
Closed her eyes on the world’s evidence
And into pillows sunk her head.
“There is an emptiness. I am so vulnerable suddenly.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice
It’s been almost two years since my life was upended into total chaos. Two years since my idea of normalcy faded into a new normal that is anything but. Two years since I felt like my life and those within it might be moving back into some semblance of everyday existence.
I was so very wrong.
Any approach to normalcy that we may have been nearing exploded into shards of glass in one afternoon, and there was no chance of normalcy after that. Not one second passes when I don’t ask myself what if . . . what if I had done this or hadn’t done that . . . what if I had never, or if only I had . . .
“What if” is a phrase that will kill you, you know. My ability to blame myself for everything is a long-standing state of being, as long-standing as my love affair with guilt. I honestly don’t know where it all started, if I was just a child and felt such profound guilt that my parents’ marriage wasn’t the storybook kind, that somehow it was my fault. Kids take on a lot more guilt than adults give them credit for. But it started long ago, and it has never abated, this consuming sense that I am the one who could have prevented this or that tragedy, that I am the one who should have seen the signs before this or that happened.
It’s pretty frigging arrogant, right? This sense of omnipotence and omniscience with which I feel I should be imbued. Only children are great at seeming arrogance. It hides their insecurities well.
“I have had my chances. I have tried and tried. I have stitched life into me like a rare organ, And walked carefully, precariously, like something rare. I have tried not to think too hard. I have tried to be natural.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice
If left alone with my thoughts for too long, I inevitably begin a deep dive. It matters not how well I know exactly where I will land nor how badly I will fall. That never even factors into it. The truth is that I really have very little control over these dives.
My mother never understood this, nor did my first husband. They were both of the school of think happy thoughts to fix whatever ails you. He saw my depressions as self-absorbed; she saw them as completely perplexing. What did I have to be depressed about? What, indeed. I lived in a nice house in a nice suburb. I had friends, family, seeming popularity in school. I could go on and on, but it doesn’t really matter.
Ask a person suffering from debilitating depression why, and the chances are very good that they cannot answer you; just as if you begin to list for them all of the things for which they should be grateful and happy, you will only push them farther down. Trust me. We know what we should be grateful for, but we can negate your list and add 50 more things before you take a breath.
“What is it I miss? Shall I ever find it, whatever it is?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Third Voice
The irony of the moment is that I am not within the full throes of a debilitating depression; rather, it’s just more of a commonplace, ordinary depression. You know, a run of the mill kind of thing in which no one specific thing is wrong. Nothing has really happened. It’s just there. On the fringes, as it were.
So how do I know that the deeper fall is incipient? How do I know that night will be followed by day, and so on? Years of experience, my dear. Years. For instance, there was that song that came up in my YouTube playlist, the one that made me teary-eyed, and then there was that thing that reminded me of that time, and the smell that hearkened back to that day.
I cannot explain it to you. It’s like trying to catch rain in a colander. You can’t, and we’ll both end up wet. (The glibness is affected, and it hurts my heart, yet I provide it for you, don’t you see?) Shall I call you listener, or reader, or friend? No? Should you call me wanderer, sojourner or wayward one? Perhaps.
“The voices of loneliness, the voices of sorrow Lap at my back ineluctably.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice
It’s strange, you see, in that the way I feel about my life at the moment hearkens back so clearly to exactly how I felt after I lost Caitlin. Then, I had no control over anything, no power to make anything better or right or good. Now, it is the same, but not. This time, the losses are not from death, but they feel as if they are. They feel just as permanent, and sometimes I feel as if I have been rent, from stem to stern, as it were, and there is no clear path to healing.
I could pause here and say, “oh, don’t listen to me. I’ll be fine in the morning.” And there is a distinct possibility that it may be so. And there is also a possibility that it may not be so. It all depends on how far my mind races with these thoughts before I am able to call a halt, if I am able to call a halt, that is. I keep thinking that I could have fixed all of this, that I could have done something to make everyone and everything okay in the end.
Isn’t that what mothers are for? To offer a salve for the hurts? To be the one that brings everyone back together after a rift? If not for that, then what? That’s a real question, dear reader. I don’t know what my role as mother means, any more. I realize that there are all kinds of mothers out there, and plenty of them are perfectly happy not to have constant contact with their offspring. Everyone moves along on their individual life trails, rarely crossing or interacting. Weird.
What you have to understand is that I was raised in a household with a decidedly Filipino approach to family, in spite of my North Carolinian mother. In a Filipino household, generations live together, and there are often cousins, too, first, second, no matter. The terms uncle and aunt do not necessitate blood kin. They are honorifics. The point is that children are rarely very far away from their parents in these kinds of households. It’s completely alien to me, and it’s also another source of pain: to realize that if either of my parents were still alive that this state of affairs would absolutely kill them.
Perfect. Now I’ve added the parental guilt (mine for them, not theirs for me) to this particular dive.
“I am calm. I am calm. It is the calm before something awful: The yellow minute before the wind walks, when the leaves Turn up their hands, their pallors. It is so quiet here.” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” First Voice
I deliberately left the last parts of this post unfinished last night, thinking that if I came back to it later, that I would no longer feel the need to finish, that I would be calmer, more fixed. I am neither, and the constant thrum of a migraine sits somewhere just behind my eyes; this does not engender any sense of well being, only adds to the unease . . . dis-ease? Disease?
Hmm . . . never approached that word in that way before. Curious.
Today is grayer and colder than yesterday when I began, and even though I slept for most of the night with only 3 awakenings (few, for me), I still began the day unsettled, which is how I began this post. Dear reader, whoever you are, wherever you are, I apologize for this self-indulgence. Better are the days in which I skate just along the surface of everything, as it is on those days that I can actually breathe most freely, feel less in order to feel better.
Forgive me for that last bit—it made complete sense in my head. I suppose that my point is that on the days in which I am able to block many of my thoughts, on those days I can find a calming peace in the simplicity of my life now, here, on this land, surrounded by trees, wildlife, and no sounds of traffic or people or cities. But I must admit that when I do finally allow my thoughts to brook my consciousness at some point, I always feel just a tad guilty for trying to shut everything out.
Yes, I know, that makes little to no sense. Alas, alack, as it were.
“Again, this is a death. Is it the air, The particles of destruction I suck up? Am I a pulse That wanes and wanes, facing the cold angel? Is this my lover then? This death, this death?” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Three Women,” Second Voice
In my attempts to respect the privacy of others, I find that I am frequently talking in a coded language that only I can understand, which tends to defeat the purpose of sharing, does it not? It’s like collecting shells on a beach after a storm: There is always so much detritus at hand, but finding unbroken shells always requires a careful search and much sifting out of the unnecessary.
Nevertheless, share I will. I will toss these scattered thoughts out into the ether in the hopes that in so doing, I might be able to purchase a little peace for myself, or if not peace, exactly, at least a few hours in which the widening gyre that Yeats so often spoke of does not continue to spin. Of course, he was alluding to the constant movement of history towards chaos. I speak only of my personal history and my attempts to stop its spinning towards entropy.
Enough. There will be more later. Peace.
*All images are pen and ink drawings by Sylvia Plath, who was originally an art major before switching to English. In 2011, a collection of 44 drawings by the poet went on display at the Mayor Gallery in London. According to an article in The Independent, “the sketches were given to Plath’s daughter, the artist Frieda Hughes, by her poet father and Plath’s former husband Ted Hughes before he died . . .The drawings date from 1955, the year Plath graduated from Smith College, Massachusetts and won a Fulbright scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, in England, where she was to meet and marry Hughes. In 2017, the National Portrait Gallery of The Smithsonian Institute hosted a retrospective of Plath’s art and memorabilia.
No poem today as I think that I covered that aspect well enough with all of the Plath quotes.
“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.” ~ Vincent van Gogh
Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy, hot and very humid.
The house is quiet. The dogs are all hiding in cool spots, so it’s just Brett and me. Corey had a medical transport today, which means a road trip to Dulles Airport and back, long day, but good hours for him.
Some welcome news for a change: After my, shall we say, less-than-friendly letter to the president of the Ford dealership, we have resolution at last. The dealer is going to honor the buy-back and try to recoup the money from Ford Motor Company, which will pull us out of the dispute. I mailed the letter on Monday and received a call from a vice president on Tuesday. We’re set to turn in the rental and pick up the check this coming Tuesday, so after seven months, resolution in two days.
Isn’t it amazing what carefully chosen words can do? My friend Mari once suggested that I go into business writing letters of complaint for people.
Another avenue unexplored . . .
No rental means we go back to one vehicle temporarily, but with the check from the dealer, we can finally get Corey’s truck fixed (transmission, transfer case, etc.). I know that he’ll be glad to have his truck working again; the only drawback is what it will cost to fill the truck with gas versus what we’ve been paying to fill these little economy-class cars from the rental company. Big difference there.
“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” ~ Frederick Douglass
Well, I had my lumbar puncture on Thursday, which brought on an instantaneous migraine and laid me low all day Friday and partially yesterday. Hence, no post. I did try to write last night, but my wrists and hands were still tingling. Don’t ask me why . . .
The procedure itself is uncomfortable, mostly because of the position in which I had to place my body. The only thing that I felt at the puncture site was some pressure. So glad that LPs have come a long way from the frightful spinal taps of the past. I cannot imagine having the puncture done without numbing medicine first. However, because the doctor had to go through scar tissue from my operation, it took a few tries before she was in, which produced a bonus sensation: a shooting pain from my back all the way down my right leg.
Nothing is ever easy or straightforward when it comes to my body and doctors.
It would be nice if she actually gets some kind of results from the tests, if only because it will help to explain some of the constant headaches. They are such a part of my life now that I only notice when I don’t have a headache.
“There is a place where time stands still . . . illuminated by only the most feeble red light, for light is diminished to almost nothing at the center of time, its vibrations slowed to echoes in vast canyons, its intensity reduced to the faint glow of fireflies.” ~ Alan Lightman
I’ve been thinking about people again, in the general sense. Remember I had mentioned people who are cheerful, who smile easily and how I am not one of those kinds of people? Well, what about those individuals in whom you can sense a burning, an internal fire?
These are the people who will not be bound by the shackles of an ordinary life. I’m not talking about the Donald Trumps of the world; those are the people who climb upon the backs of others to get what they want (no idea what made me think of Trump, who I truly despise). I’m talking about people like Beethoven, van Gogh, Emily Dickinson—the ones in whom the passion inside was so great that they just had to find a way to release it.
Beethoven composed, created great beauty that he could not hear. When his hearing began to fail, he did not stop composing; rather, he composed more fervently. The music that he heard inside was such a primal force that the composer put his ear to the floor to feel the vibrations. I don’t know that I believe that Beethoven was writing for the world. Instead, I think that he was writing to set himself free. Unless he made the notes real, they would haunt him.
Vincent van Gogh was mad and brilliant, and that combination brought forth yellow stars that are instantly recognizable throughout the world. The artist had so much to say, even if no one around him wanted to hear the words. Imagine what it must have felt like for van Gogh, alone with only his mind, never quite knowing what was real, and then transferring those emotions into vivid swirls in hues brilliant to behold. Imagine the force that drove van Gogh to paint himself over and over—his attempt to make himself real? Solid?
The reclusive Emily Dickinson alone, fragile, writing page after page of verse that the world would know nothing of until after her death. Dickinson dared to stray from the conventions of her time—no titles, extensive use of dashes, odd capitalization, short lines with internal rhyme— and wrote instead what her heart spoke to her. I wonder if she had any inkling of how much her writing would change the landscape of poetry.
“Never let go of that fiery sadness called desire.” ~ Patti Smith
I suppose what I am pondering is how each of these creative individuals possessed a spark that urged them onward, regardless of circumstances. Each burned within, consumed with passion and desire. Each garnered more attention after death than during life. Did each die thinking him or herself a failure?
How we judge ourselves is very telling indeed.
Burning desire. Creative passion. clichés? Perhaps, but that fire does exist, and it does not exist in everyone. This I know for certain. But is this internal fire a partner to madness, the madness that comes from wanting something so much that everything else is left by the wayside? What else but mad desire would have driven Michelangelo to lie on his back for four years to paint the Sistine Chapel?
To be clear, I know the difference between mad desire and psychotic desire: The first gives the world Michelangelo’s frescoes; the second gives the world Hitler’s death camps. Creative madness eats at the soul of the individual who harbors it; it does not harbor a desire to destroy those who look on. That is not to say that the person who gives rise to such passion does not take prisoners along the way. Just consider the siblings and spouses left behind to pick up the pieces. Ted Hughes was still trying to come to terms with Sylvia Plath in his last published work, in spite of his own poetic genius.
Perhaps what I am really contemplating is whether or not that spark still resides somewhere in my soul. Do I still possess the same passion for words that I once felt, or worse, did I never really feel it? No, I should not dissemble: I have felt it all my life—the it that separates those of us who are different, not of the mainstream. And I know the price that we pay, know how many will subsume the desire in order to fit in, to be like everyone else.
It’s like walking a tightrope backwards: a constant balancing act without any clear idea of where it’s all going. It’s as if we are constantly moving into the sunset, blinded by the fire in the sky, but unwilling to give up the quest beyond the horizon because to attain it, the elusive it, would mean peace at last, at least, that’s what we convince ourselves. As Henry James once said, “We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
Music by Right the Stars, “You Know the Way to Go”
Snowy, Snowy Night by Miranda Wildman (mirandawildmanart.com)
“It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.” ~ Frederick Douglass
Sunday afternoon. Cold and cloudy.
It snowed last night for several hours. Snow in early December—not normal for this area. Of course all of the snow was gone this morning, but it was pretty while it lasted.
I’ve been on a cleaning binge for the past two days. It takes so much longer to do what I used to do in one Saturday afternoon. I have to clean a little and then take a break, so I usually visit my tumblr during breaks to see what has been posted most recently on the dashboard. I find that I really enjoy tumblr; I read somewhere that tumblr is the in-depth equivalent of Facebook, which makes sense to me. I mean, FB is nice for finding out how your friends in other places are doing, but the same can be accomplished with a phone call or e-mail.
Very often on tumblr, a predominant theme will show up on the dash quite by accident (e.g., book burning, war, silence). One individual starts with a few posts, and then other like-minded individuals join the thread. It’s a different kind of social networking. The most important thing is not the statement on how you are feeling, but the posts that reflect how you are feeling, or what you are doing, or what you are thinking.
For someone like me who loves quotes, photography, and art, it’s a treasure chest, and with each visit I find something new. The only problem is that as tumblr become more popular, the site’s servers are having a hard time keeping up with the traffic.
“True alchemy lies in this formula: ‘Your memory and your senses are but the nourishment of your creative impulse.’” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations
So aside from Eamonn’s room, the house is clean. My intent is to decorate sometime this week so that I’m not doing everything at the last minute again this year. I have the wreath on the front door, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.
I did spend some time on YouTube yesterday creating my country/folk playlist. A few nights ago I watched CMT’s songs of the decade special, which reminded me of how much I actually like country music, something I would not have said a decade ago. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of traditional country, with the twang and such; I’m more of a crossover fan, heartache, love, and betrayal Keith Urban, Rascall Flatts, and Sugarland style.
I remember watching a CMT special on the best 100 country love songs several years ago. Corey was out on the boat, and by the time the show was over I was a blubbery mess. I called Corey, and when I told him what I had watched, he understood perfectly why I was crying. Country music has a way of doing that to me.
I amassed a playlist of 86 songs in just a few hours. Who knew I knew that many country and folk songs . . .
“The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.” ~ Ken Kesey
Corey is at work. He got off at 11 p.m. last night and had to go back in at 7 this morning; he works until 8 tonight. Getting hours is great, but I have to say that the scheduling lacks forethought. I know that scheduling people is hard; I had to schedule 50 people at a time, and it’s a great big headache. But this sergeant doesn’t even allow Corey to get a good night’s sleep before asking him to work 13 hours.
I know that he’s really tired of port security, and I don’t envy him having to stand watch on a ship for 8 hours in the freezing cold. As he said, at least when he’s on a tugboat, he’s never outside for eight hours at a time.
Here’s hoping that with 2011 we get to start the year on a new path. It seems that I’ve said that so many times in the past few years. I just don’t really know what to think any more, and I certainly don’t know what I should hope for
“The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation—a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.” ~ Franz Kafka
I am very behind in my reading and reviewing. I have received a few advanced reader’s copies that I need to read and review before the end of the year. And since I hope to get some books for Christmas, I really need to finish at least two of the books that I am currently reading. One is by Elizabeth George, and the other is by P. D. James—two of my very favorite authors.
I’ve been reading about the Stieg Larsson trilogy, and I think that that’s the next series that I want to tackle. We got a Costco flyer in the mail, and the entire set in hardback is available online, so maybe if I get a little cash sometime soon, I might be able to order it.
I also want to read Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. I’ve read a lot of Sylvia Plath, but not much of Ted Hughes. I think that I, like many people, blame Hughes for Plath’s death, which is not really fair. The reality is that Plath would have committed suicide at one point or another in her life, and if she had been found in time on the day she stuck her head in the oven, then she most likely would have tried again. Certainly no one can say for sure.
“There comes a time in every life when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn to know the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.” ~ Sarah Dessen, Just Listen
Tortured souls who make up their minds to commit suicide most often do so eventually unless they have some kind of major change or epiphany.
Life is hard, harder for some than others. Some people move through their days as if covered in teflon, nothing penetrating or touching. But if nothing bad can touch them, then neither can anything good get through the protective armor. Other people walk through life with their hearts, souls, and psyches on the outside—the walking wounded who never seem to heal.
And then there is the space between through which most of us move. We suffer storms and sometimes find ourselves blinded by relentless deluges. And then we take a few more steps and move into the clear, sometimes even stumbling into brilliance.
I have no way of foretelling what the coming days and months have waiting in store for me and those I love. I know what we need and what I wish, but life’s patterns are only discernible in retrospect. I only know that asking why some things work and others go terribly wrong is akin to spitting into the wind.
Reasons get tangled like briars, and sometimes thoughts are so black that no light can illuminate the darkness surrounding them. But sometimes just waiting for the bitter wind to stop howling is enough to get through the night.
The heart, as Ondaatje describes it, it an organ of fire, moving through joy and sorrow alike in search of what it needs to survive. It’s all that we can do.
More later. Peace.
One of the saddest songs ever, “Whiskey Lullabye,” by Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss
Waking at 3 a.m.
Even in the cave of the night when you
wake and are free and lonely,
neglected by others, discarded, loved only
by what doesn’t matter—even in that
big room no one can see,
you push with your eyes till forever
comes in its twisted figure eight
and lies down in your head.
You think water in the river;
you think slower than the tide in
the grain of the wood; you become
a secret storehouse that saves the country,
so open and foolish and empty.
You look over all that the darkness
ripples across. More than has ever
been found comforts you. You open your
eyes in a vault that unlocks as fast
and as far as your thought can run.
A great snug wall goes around everything,
has always been there, will always
remain. It is a good world to be
lost in. It comforts you. It is
all right. And you sleep.