“I allowed myself to suffer how jarringly destructive the present feels and how fragile the past. The present is over quickly, you might say, and it is, but man it goes like a wrecking ball.” ~ Ann Brashares, from My Name is Memory

Ivan Aivazovsky, “The Ninth Wave” (1850, oil on canvas)
Aivazovsky is considered the most influential seascape painter in 19th Russian art

“I thought, possibly, that what I really needed was to go where nobody knew me and start over again, with none of my previous decisions, conversations, or expectations coming with me.” ~ Maggie Stiefvater, from Forever

Friday afternoon. Rainy again, 44 degrees.

It’s funny, but when I think about Norfolk, I still get a pang. I don’t miss the house, the nosy judgmental neighbors, or even the neighborhood. But I miss the things that happened there: the two Jack Russells who used to escape regularly, and the nice neighbors who would holler at us to let us know where they had gone; walking across the field in the afternoons to pick up the boys from the local elementary school; even mowing the yard on the lawn tractor that my dad bought me once upon a time. Those things are part of that life, that place.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Sea View by Moonlight” (1878, oil on canvas)

My kids were raised in that small ranch house with one bathroom. Their friends all lived within a few miles. And now that house is gone. Who knows who will buy it and make all of the repairs that we never got around to making. It’s hard to take care of a house that you hate, which is how it came to be for us the last few years that we were still there. It was as if the house knew that there existed an antipathy and went out of its way to break down piece by piece.

We redid the bathroom a few years ago, from the studs up. We had plans to redo the kitchen and the hardwood floors, but that never happened, and in the end, we left it as a mess, things all over the backyard, a pool that had fish in it, a shed that had old tools in it, an attic that probably still had kids toys in it. It was like shedding a carapace and leaving it where it lay.

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” ~ Azar Nafisi, from Reading Lolita in Tehran

It’s hard not to think of the things that neighbors must have thought about the way that we left things, but at the same time, there is no way that they could possibly understand the stress and pressure that we were under when we left. If they snooped, which I’m certain that some of them did, they would have seen the hole in the ceiling, the broken back door, the tools that lay in the yard, and their worst impressions would have been confirmed.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Yalta” (1899)

Listen, not all of our neighbors were assholes. The guy across the street helped Corey and me countless times, especially when Corey was at sea. He gave me a jump when my battery was dead, repaired things, helped when the yard was overgrown and my back wouldn’t let me mow. He was a great guy, and because he was always hurting for money, we always tried to pay him whenever he did anything. But he was a minority in that neighborhood. There used to be a really nice woman who lived on the other side across the street, but she died; her kids were always friendly, though. Still, I know that we didn’t make as much of an effort as we could have, but there was a history there that made it hard.

And the fact is that I really shouldn’t care any more about what any of them think or thought, but a part of me still does. I still feel as if that house is mine, even though it isn’t. I lived there for so long, and there are so many good memories from there, probably more good than bad. But there are painful memories from there, and it was definitely time to move away, and now here we are, living in a completely different kind of place, with a different pace of life, and different kinds of neighbors.

“I don’t know. You know the mind, how it comes on the scene again
and makes tiny histories of things. And the imagination
how it wants everything back one more time, how it detests
all progress but its own . . . ” ~ Richard Hugo, from “Letter to Matthews from Barton Street Flats”

We had told ourselves that when we finally moved, that we were going to make a true effort to get to know our neighbors, and we have. Of course, it’s different here. Neighbors are curious as to who bought the ridge. They show up and ask questions, introduce themselves, offer to help. And of course, Dallas knows every last person, so there’s that as well.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Sea View” (1841)

When we were moving in, Corey was driving the box truck and I was driving the rental Ryder truck, which I was very proud of handling the entire seven-hour trip, but then I came down the driveway crooked and ended up driving the front part of the truck off the drive and getting it stuck. We were so worried about how much it would cost us to get someone to come out and unstick it. But instead, two of our neighbors spent hours helping Corey to get it free. I was simultaneously amazed and grateful. We didn’t even know these people, yet there they were, working their butts off for two people who they didn’t know from Adam’s off ox.

And since that day, Dallas has graded the driveway, made it straight and wider, so that coming down isn’t a problem. That’s what I mean about things being different here. No one asks you for anything, yet of course, there is the expectation that you will repay them in kind somehow when the need arises, and so we will. It was never like that in Norfolk. Perhaps the city was too big, the neighborhood too set in its ways. Who knows?

I seem to be asking that question quite a lot lately . . .

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.” ~ Stephen Chobsky, from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

So the Chobsky quote above is probably the most fitting one that I could choose today. I am both happy and sad, but the difference is that I’m fairly certain as to why. I mean, aside from the fact that I’m still missing one of my antidepressants, and I still haven’t found a good neurologist, and I still don’t have a phone that works—other than those things . . .

Ivan Aivazovsky,”Sunset at Sea” (1853, oil on canvas)

But in honesty, those are relatively minor things—other than the pain, which, like it or not, I’m used to—what makes me sad is that in spite of the beauty and life that surrounds me, there is no water, and there are no children, grown or otherwise.The water? That’s just a part of me. I’m an Aquarius, and even though I’m not a strong swimmer, I have always loved water, in all forms. That, and I lived so very near the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean for most of my life that it’s odd not to smell the saltwater, or to see the violence of the waves during a storm.

And yet, to put that down here makes me feel so very ungrateful. I used to say that my ideal place to live would be on a mountaintop overlooking the ocean; the reality is that such a place would cost a fortune. But here, I have the mountaintop, the horses, the deer, the dogs. And god how I love it all. I truly do. I cannot imagine going back to where we were. So why can I not be satisfied?

“I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.” ~ Daniel Keyes, from Flowers for Algernon

Will I ever be satisfied? I really don’t know. I do know that I can be happy—happy for me. It may sound as if I’m trying to convince myself, but that’s really not the case. I have a lot to be happy about, a lot to be grateful for in this new life. The caveat, for me, is not said lightly. It’s too complicated, and yet maddeningly simple: I am just too aware of my chemical makeup the way that my brain and heart work. I can be absolutely ecstatic about how my life is going, and yet there will always be this still small voice within that doubts, doubts my worthiness to be happy.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Sunset a Lone Sailboat” (1853, oil on canvas)

How to explain to someone who has never met this voice? I don’t know if that is even possible. However, that state of being satisfied is not tied to my ability to be happy. Satisfaction, for me, is something entirely different, dependent upon reconciliation with my sons—in other words, I don’t believe that I can ever be completely satisfied until I am able to know that they are an active part of my life again, and since I don’t have any way of making that happen at this point, I just have to live with things as they are for now.

Look, that’s life. You know it, dear reader, and so do I. The basket will never be completely full of unbroken eggs. The day will never be without a cloud somewhere on the horizon. Yet there is always a horn-a-plenty if we but recognize it. What I’m trying to say is that life is complicated. I’m complicated. Every human is a mixture of good and bad, happy and sad; I’m no different, but I am trying very hard to be this person here, the one who is present in her life as it is. I may not be entirely succeeding, but at least I am aware, and for me, that is more than you can ever know.

More later. Peace.

Music by Adele, “Hello”

 

 


She Loved Mozart

There’s a sadness to it, of course, my becoming more
and more isolated from the world. I remember, years ago,
when I was living at the motel, there was this woman who
used to come and go, sometimes staying for months at a time.
Every so often I’d go over to her room, sit around, and talk with her.
The room would smell from clove cigarettes and dirty wash.
Over the lampshades pieces of clothing were draped, to bring
the light down to the most remarkable dimness. This light
never failed to charm and attract me, as a moth would be
attracted to a bright light (although, I suppose moths are
drawn to dim light also). Anyway, I find myself steadily
becoming increasingly like this woman, and it’s not always
the most comfortable realization. Although, I cannot say
that I am living with dirty wash. No, this I cannot admit to.
If anything, I’m fanatical about washing clothes. My
clothing has worn thin, not from my wearing it but from
the continuous washings. But, my god, like this woman
I’m letting the house go dark. She died at the motel, from cancer.
Some nights I’d see her crossing the parking lot, meager flesh
on her bones, and she’d knock on my door and she’d ask me
to play Mozart on my stereo set. She loved Mozart.
In her youth she had been a very promising violist, but
injury and shock from a fire had made her a ghost
of her old talent, her old self. I used to feed her also,
the miniscule amount she was capable of eating.
She loved sharing a thin sandwich as much as
she loved Mozart. I told her it takes
a lot of solitude to write a poem.
She told me it takes a lot of solitude
to die.

~ Marge Piercy

“ . . . She had wild eyes, slightly insane. She also carried an overload of compassion that was real enough and which obviously cost her something.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from Women

Leon Spilliaert, “Tree Trunks” (1929 watercolor and gouache on prepared board)

“As if keening on your knees
were somehow obscene
As if there were a control
so marvelous
you could teach it
to eat pain.” ~ Maggie Nelson, from Jane: A Murder

Wednesday, late afternoon. Cloudy and 52 degrees.

I’ve been sitting at this keyboard for hours, trying to figure out what to say, or if I had anything to say because I feel guilty that I haven’t posted in a few days. There’s that operational word: guilt. But the truth is that I don’t think that I really have anything to say. I answered a long email from my daughter this morning, and then I put together a small package of things for her so that Corey could take it to the post office for me; in that, I also included a handwritten note.

I seem to have run out of words.

Only this: two days ago, I was on a cleaning binge, and I thought to myself, I can put up a tree. I can do this. That was two days ago. I realize now that I was only deluding myself. Unless Corey helps me to decorate it, and he really doesn’t get much out of decorating the tree, then I cannot do it. Look. I’m forcing myself to wash my face and get dressed. I just don’t think there’s enough energy for more than that. Just as there just isn’t enough energy for here. Maybe tomorrow.

Peace.


Music by The Dixie Chicks (I always think of this song when I think of my daughter)

 


Postscript: I will share a poem from a poet who I haven’t posted in too long: Lisel Mueller. I cannot believe that I haven’t posted one of her poems for over five years. For a good description of her background and thoughts, go here.

Why We Tell Stories
……….For Linda Foster

I
Because we used to have leaves
and on damp days
our muscles feel a tug,
painful now, from when roots
pulled us into the ground

and because our children believe
they can fly, an instinct retained
from when the bones in our arms
were shaped like zithers and broke
neatly under their feathers

and because before we had lungs
we knew how far it was to the bottom
as we floated open-eyed
like painted scarves through the scenery
of dreams, and because we awakened

and learned to speak

2
We sat by the fire in our caves,
and because we were poor, we made up a tale
about a treasure mountain
that would open only for us

and because we were always defeated,
we invented impossible riddles
only we could solve,
monsters only we could kill,
women who could love no one else
and because we had survived
sisters and brothers, daughters and sons,
we discovered bones that rose
from the dark earth and sang
as white birds in the trees

3
Because the story of our life
becomes our life

Because each of us tells
the same story
but tells it differently

and none of us tells it
the same way twice

Because grandmothers looking like spiders
want to enchant the children
and grandfathers need to convince us
what happened happened because of them

and though we listen only
haphazardly, with one ear,
we will begin our story
with the word and

~ Lisel Mueller

 

“Like the canyon, I am shaped by what I miss.” ~ Joanna Hoffman, from “Grand Canyon”

Wiesbaden Twinkling Star Christmas Market, Germany (FCC)

“You could rattle the stars . . . You could do anything, if only you dared. And deep down, you know it, too. That’s what scares you most.” ~ Sarah J. Maas, from Throne of Glass

Sunday afternoon. Cloudy and 44 degrees.

Another cloudy day on the ridge. This morning, both Sassy and Napoleon were outside the pasture and the top of the driveway. I wonder where they thought they were going . . .

Toronto Christmas Market (FCC)

I’ve been doing some clean up on my blog, looking at drafts that I’ve put together with quotes and poems, and I noticed in my stats that I’ve published 1,859 posts. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Yes, some of those are just Friday leftovers and such, but for the most part, it’s all my writing crammed in between quotes and images, with the average word count being around 1800 words. If you deduct about 150 for the quotes and about 250 for the average length of poems, that still means that I’ve rambled on for about 1400 words.

I hadn’t realized that I was so verbose; actually, that’s just not true. I know that I’m verbose. All. The. Time. I remember when I had been into this blog for about half a year that I posted an explanation that my posts are actually blongs, or long blogs. It appears that not much has changed on that front—I’d be surprised if it had.

“Alive, it all returns to the mind,
Unattainable now time has passed;
Like a sharp sure dagger
Its memory pierces my breast.” ~ Luis Cernuda, from “Native Land”

I’m trying to post every day, but obviously I’m not quite there yet. Part of me feels guilty sitting here for hours at this keyboard while there is still so much to do. I suppose that I’m resigned that there will be no Christmas decorations this year. It doesn’t happen if I don’t do it, and I truly don’t think that I can, at least not this year. I’ve never not had at least a tree. I remember one time in England that my mom put up one of those small silver trees on a table; they probably don’t make those any more.  I still have wonderful memories of Christmas in London: Everything in the city was decorated and lit.

Christmas Lights Oxford Street, London (FCC)

When I was a teenager, I kind of assumed the responsibility for buying a tree and decorating it, back when we still used live trees, until we found out that the tree was directly affecting my mom’s lungs, my lungs, and Brett’s lungs. Of all of us, Brett had the worst asthma; he would get so sick. It was artificial trees after that. But I’ve always tried to have a real wreath on the door so that there would at least be the smell of Christmas when you came to the door. This year, no wreath either. Le sigh.

It was always my responsibility, or rather, I always took on the responsibility for decorating the tree, the house, everything. In my old house, once upon a time I used to also do the outside lights, climbing the branches and wrapping the lights around each one, that is until the trees became too tall. I have always loved climbing trees, that is, until I couldn’t. Once Brett was older, he actually helped with the outside lights. I wonder if he misses that as much as I do.

Probably not.

“Listen: you are not yourself, you are crowds of others, you are as leaky a vessel as was ever made, you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else, as people who died long ago, as people who never lived, as strangers you never met. Rebecca Solnit, from The Faraway Nearby 

Corey’s brother is supposed to be here tomorrow evening to go to an auction for some property near here. There’s a house (bigger than this one), garage and some outbuildings on the block; it all used to belong to Dallas’s sister. There’s also a stream that runs next to the property. Steve has been here a few times, and out of all of Corey’s family, he’s the one that seems to like it here the most. I was the one who had actually suggested to Corey that he tell Steve about the property. Ironically, it’s situated on the other side of the ridge from here, but that’s not how you get there unless you’re hiking.

Chester Shooting Star, UK (FCC)

I imagine that his brother is looking at it for an investment for now, but it would be nice if his family had access to it for visits. It’s less remote than here, so his father would feel more comfortable, I think. When we were first talking about buying this, we thought about maybe getting a trailer for visitors since there are only two bedrooms and one bath in this house; it’s perfect for the two of us, but a bit small for more than a few visitors.

I have no idea if Steve will actually bid on the property, but he’s coming to take a look at it and then plans to leave the next day. I’m trying not to stress over his visit, but that’s impossible for me. I always feel such a weight whenever anyone, I mean anyone visits. Even for a few hours. I suppose it comes from years and years of keeping an immaculate house, first at my mom’s and then later in my first house. And now that I don’t clean like that any more because of my back, I always feel as if I don’t want anyone to see my house.

Yes, I know. It’s weird.

“We re-enact
the rituals, and our faces, like smoky icons
in a certain light, seem to learn nothing
but understand all.” ~ Tim Dlugos, from “Pretty Convincing”

Last night I had one of those dreams that stick with you: First, Corey and I were at Nags Head with the dogs, and I walked to the water’s edge to sea how cold it was. The dogs were standing in the surf, and Corey was a few feet out getting ready to throw the ball for Tillie. Then suddenly I was in the backyard of my mother’s house. There was a split tree running the entire length of the back fence, and there was a huge pile of sticks that I thought would have been good for kindling. I told myself to remember to tell Corey.

Christmas in Kansas City (FCC)

Then I was inside in my mother’s bedroom with Corey, and I knew that my mom was dead. We were still going through stuff in her closets. Then I heard my father coming down the hall with three of the Yorkies we had when I was younger. He was getting ready to go to his apartment and couldn’t take the dogs with him. (My dad never had an apartment.) But I saw him so clearly and talked to him, heard his voice, and part of me knew that he couldn’t be there if my mother wasn’t also there.

Then there was one more part in which I was in a candy store in Nags Head, and I was looking for a Chik-o-Stik, something I haven’t eaten since I was a kid. There was a man there who was slightly mentally challenged, and he was helping me to find the candy. But he was also upset with me because I had sold my mother’s house and now he had nowhere to live, and I was so upset that I wanted to cry. But I really wonder how that candy stick made its way into my consciousness . . .

I woke up wanting to write. That’s been happening with more frequency.

“Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” ~ Rebecca Solnit, from A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Now that I’m back here and back on tumblr, I’m finding all kinds of new poems that I haven’t read, and it’s stirring something in me. I read one yesterday that actually took my breath away because it was so freaking beautiful, and I thought to myself that it was something that I wished I had written.

The main entrance for Copenhagen’s Tivoli (FCC)

I have to admit that I haven’t had that particular feeling in several years. I haven’t felt inspired, and I haven’t felt that I could actually create—sit down and write a real poem. I just don’t know how to describe this particular feeling well enough to relate it to you, dear reader.

It’s like for years there has been this dam in my brain, a thick wall keeping the words from forming and exiting. But not just the words—the actual feeling in my soul that there were particular words within me that I needed to put down on the page, that I needed to place and rearrange and take out and insert until there was something there that meant something, at least to me.

So now, maybe, perhaps, the dam is breaking? I really hope so because I have missed that ritual of creation, creating something beyond here but a companion to here, if that makes any sense. I have missed words, the magic of them, running them through my brain, rolling them on my tongue to see how they sound together. And when it works, it’s like music in my brain and in my soul.

Enough for now. More later. Peace.


Music by Lady Gaga, “Joanne” (forgive me if this is a repeat, but I really love this song)

 

 


Words

He lets me listen, when he moves me,
Words are not like other words
He takes me, from under my arms
He plants me, in a distant cloud
And the black rain in my eyes
Falls in torrents, torrents
He carries me with him, he carries me
To an evening of perfumed balconies

And I am like a child in his hands
Like a feather carried by the wind
He carries for me seven moons in his hands
and a bundle of songs
He gives me sun, he gives me summer
and flocks of swallows
He tells me that I am his treasure
And that I am equal to thousands of stars
And that I am treasure, and that I am
more beautiful than he has seen of paintings
He tells me things that make me dizzy
that make me forget the dance and the steps

Words…which overturn my history
which make me a woman…in seconds
He builds castles of fantasies
which I live in…for seconds…
And I return…I return to my table
Nothing with me…
Nothing with me…except words

~ Nizar Qabbani, found on Poem Hunter

 

 

“What will you build? Only you know that. What is shame worth? You’ll find out once you start digging in.” ~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

Jupiter Swirling Pearl Storm image from NASA’s Juno Spacecraft
“When you’re curious about your shame instead of afraid of it . . . you can run your hands along your own self-defeating edges until you get a splinter, and you can pull the splinter out and stare at it and consider it.” ~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

Wednesday late afternoon. Cloudy and still cold, 29 degrees.

Today’s post is a bit different—it’s a direct reaction. I stumbled upon an article in “The Cut,” which is part of New York Magazine. It was a letter to the “Dear Polly” advice column, which is written by Heather Havrilesky (all headers are from this), and the title of the letter was “I’m broke and mostly friendless, and I’ve wasted my whole life.”

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) image of our sun

I cannot begin to tell you how much that title brought me up short—it’s too close to two of my favorite sayings: “I’m fat, ugly, and my mother dresses me funny” (thanks for that, Kathleen), and “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.” I actually sat and just stared at the title for a long time before I even began to read the actual article, and what the writer had to say could have been written by me, only a younger me.

In essence, the woman, 35, feels as if she is floundering because she chose to move around a lot; she rationalizes her moves and choices as being, “adventurous, exploratory,” and now she feels that she has nothing to show for it: no lasting relationship, a job that she doesn’t enjoy, and few friends. Additionally, she is now saddled with a lot of debt and few prospects for advancement in her career. Ultimately, the woman says that she now “feels like a ghost.” As a result, she finds that she is drinking too much, and ultimately feels old and past her prime. The woman, who once considered herself creative, now says, “I’m jealous [of artistic people] and don’t understand how I landed this far away from myself.” She signs herself “Haunted.”

Honestly, I could have written that letter with a few adjustments, and I could have written it at several different points in my life, including when I was 35, which was a lifetime ago.

“When you carry around a suspicion that there’s something sort of embarrassing or pathetic about you, you find ways to project that shame onto completely innocuous things . . . to tell yourself that everyone is laughing at you behind your back somewhere . . .”

Obviously, there are some differences. I have had children, while she has not. I have had one previous marriage and am now in my second marriage with a man I’ve been with approaching two decades. In spite of these major differences, I understand this woman much more than I like. I remember having a crisis of faith in myself when I was at the museum. I just felt as if I didn’t know who I was any more.

NASA’s Voyager 1 image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

I hadn’t done the work on my doctorate or my MFA while I was teaching at ODU, and that was part of my plan. I hadn’t really done anything with my writing, other than entering a few contests and sending off a few poems. I felt as if I was suffocating in my own failure.

Let me pause here. Yes, I am well aware that I had a lot to be grateful for at that time: a family, a home, a job, etc. But you cannot know nor understand the kind of suffocation that I felt unless you have been mired in it yourself. My children have always been the great joy in my life, but I have never seen myself as a wife/mother. That was never my chosen identity. My then spouse knew that going in, but once we had children, I found myself relegated to many of the traditional parental roles; for example, I always took the kids to the doctor, never him, yet when we married and discussed everything, we had agreed on 50/50.

So what happened?

“Shame creates imaginary worlds inside your head. This haunted house you’re creating is forged from your shame. No one else can see it . . . You find ways to say, ‘You don’t want any part of this mess. I’m mediocre, aging rapidly, and poor . . .leave me behind.’ You want to be left behind, though. That way, no one bears witness to what you’ve become.”

What happened was time. Time has a funny way of changing everything, including all of your plans. We never planned to lose a daughter. We never planned to have a third child. We never planned to grow apart.

NASA’s Voyager 2 Image of Neptune

It just became easier to move into roles with which we had become comfortable . . . until it wasn’t.

I didn’t plan to have a major identity crisis. It wasn’t a midlife crisis. It was a true identity crisis, as in I didn’t have the least idea of who in the hell I was. Like Haunted, I just couldn’t figure out who I was, and as a result, I began to push people away. I subconsciously believed that I didn’t deserve to have people who loved and respected me. I wasn’t worthy of any kind of admiration or praise. I felt like a terrible human being.

And I wish that I could say that it was the only time in my life that I felt that way, but it wasn’t.

“My shame is the fuel that keeps me writing . . . What if you just decided that you’re an artist, today, right now? You’re sensitive and erratic, maybe. You’re maudlin and also expansive. What would it look like to own that identity, as a means of making art . . .”

Havrilesky’s advice to Haunted is to let go of her shame, which is all well and good, but oh so very hard to do. Granted, Havrilesky does a mighty job of relating to Haunted, talking about how her own shame shaped her and how she tried to write her way out of it. And maybe Havrilesky’s words genuinely helped haunted. At least, I hope so.

NASA Image of the Gullies of the Matara Crater on Mars

But I know those words wouldn’t have helped me. I read so many books after Caitlin died, trying to find an answer, trying to find a way to assuage my guilt. Nothing helped. The books just made me mad. It’s hard to take advice from words in a book or on a page or a screen, regardless of how much you really want to.

Then later, after I had my sons, I actually felt right for a while, felt as if I truly could move on, let go of the guilt, enjoy life just as it was. And I tried, oh god how I tried. I worked, and I wrote once in a while when I felt moved—which is a terrible approach to writing, just ask any professional writer—and I tried to live on love and hope, and I wish that I could tell you that it succeeded, and it did, until it didn’t.

“You might feel proud of your small creations and you might start to see how every single thing you’ve done, every place you’ve been, every town you’ve lived in and left, every friend you’ve gotten to know and then forgotten, they all add up to a giant pile of treasure.”

I chose to use Havrilesky’s response to Haunted for my headers because it’s a beautiful piece of writing; it’s sincere and compelling. And I know in my heart that she probably did help some individuals who read it. In fact, I would urge you to read both the letter and the response if you have time.

Cascading Post-coronal Loops in the Sun’s Atmosphere

But ultimately, if you carry shame or guilt or any such debilitating feeling around for too many years, it melts beneath your skin and becomes permanent, and all of the homilies and all of the wonderfully written books, or articles, or passages, or quotes—all of those will not penetrate nearly as completely. That is not to say that they cannot be temporary balms because they certainly can.

Whenever I’ve had a particularly thoughtful comment on this blog over the years, it has touched me and delighted me and just maybe made my day better than before. So yes, words can and do help. But my point is that Haunted, who in many ways is a younger me, can only help herself once she is ready, and she may never be ready. But, and this is a big but, Haunted obviously has hit a point at which she is ready for change, otherwise she never would have written the letter, and that’s a very important point, so here’s hoping Haunted has better days.

I do want to close with this wonderful passage from Havrilesky’s response. Do try to read the original:

She is blindfolded, sitting on a mountain of glittering gems. She is beautiful, but she feels ugly. She has a rich imagination and a colorful past, but she feels poor. She thinks she deserves to be berated because she has nothing. She has everything she needs.

~ Heather Havrilesky, from “I’m Broke and Mostly Friendless, and I’ve Wasted My Whole Life”

More later. Peace.

*All of today’s images were found on NASA’s official image gallery, which you can find here. (I felt like I needed images of swirling storms.)

Music by Cloves, “Don’t Forget About Me”


Lost
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

~ David Wagoner

“Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx.” ~ Claudia Rankine, from Citizen: An American Lyric

French apartment of a Mrs. DeFlorian, found unchanged for 70 years.*

“The wind of longing blows to your right, from the orange groves, and to your left, from the sea salt. A fog, approaching the chambers of your heart from the north, makes it difficult for memory to distinguish what is private from what is public ” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Saturday afternoon, cloudy and cold, 34 degrees, winter storm warning.

I spent the entire day yesterday alone, just the animals and me. It’s the first full day into evening that I’ve been entirely alone. I didn’t mind it. It made me think of how originally the plan was that Corey would go to sea for a few months, and I would be here alone with the animals. I was fully prepared to embrace that, although I’m not sure if Corey believed that.

Marthe DeFlorian painting by Giovanni Boldini found in apartment

Before moving here permanently, I wrestled with the idea of loneliness versus being alone, and truthfully being alone does not make me feel lonely. I know, though, that if I had been in a better place with both of my sons before I left, that it might be different, that the loneliness might be more present. I mean, the person I miss the most is Alexis. I miss seeing her and talking to her, however briefly our encounters might have been. I miss my sons constantly, but it’s not so immediate as the lack of my daughter, if that makes sense. The way in which I miss them is an internal ache that is always there, but I have become accustomed to it.

I never thought that I would be saying something like that.

But as far as being lonely? No, not so much. I miss fast access to any kind of food and easy access to my physicians. I miss the idea of living in Norfolk and being able to see my parents’ house anytime I needed to, or being able to ride over to where my other mother used to live just to see the house for a few minutes. I miss those ideas of things.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Hollow Men”

I have always known that I don’t need a lot of people around me. My friends have been few but fast. And as an only child, you become comfortable with the idea of yourself. You have to. No matter how much I told my parents that I wanted siblings when I was a child, I always kind of knew that I’d never have any.

Being an only can be very lonely, but it can also make you able to withstand things that people with siblings might not be able to withstand alone—like death. I never had siblings to lean on during tough times. It was just me, the dogs, and to some extent, my parents. Whenever we lost a dog when I was a child, I grieved alone. I would go into myself and just deal. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I learned to build walls and had a harder time taking them down. Who knows . . .

Look. I know that for a lot of people siblings are a burden. Not everyone loves, let alone gets along with their siblings. Brothers and/or sisters can be an incredible pain, especially if there is a big age difference, and brothers/sisters who grew up very close can grow apart as years pass. That’s what I saw happen to my sons, who were the best of friends when they were young but who became one another’s nemeses as they got older. That bothered me, but you cannot control your children’s emotions. A hard reality.

Still, I always wanted a sister.

You fear for the present stifled by the hegemony of the past and fear for the past from the absurdity of the present. You do not know where to stand at this crossroads.” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Perhaps if I had a sister, this alone thing would be different. I’ll never know now. The person most like a sister to me for so many years is now in a different city, living a different life, and liking me not at all, for a variety of reasons, some of which I will never even know or understand.

But getting back to the idea of loneliness—I do not claim to be immune from the emotion. There have been times when I have been so lonely that I just wanted to find a dark closet and hide. I remember being very lonely in my first marriage. In fact, I remember one day standing at the bedroom window and watching my then spouse drive away, going to work, and just holding my hand to the windowpane and weeping. I don’t remember the why, only the what. It’s not a good memory.

And when our marriage fell apart, I would spend many weekends alone while the kids visited with their father, and the house seemed too big to hold me. In fact, I went to my boss at the time and told him to schedule me for every Saturday because I didn’t have a life. The arrangement worked well for both of us. If I was working, I didn’t have to think about the state of my life, so I worked a lot.

“Rising from the past, my shadow
Is running in silence to meet me.” ~ Anna Akhmatova, from “The souls of those I love are on high stars” (trans. A. S. Kline)

My job, my career was always important to me, always an extension of my self, but never my total identity once my children were born. But before that, I relished the self-importance of my career, the power, the seeming limitless ways in which I could grow and prosper. The thing is that it was only years later that I realized that while I considered myself a groundbreaking female in a mostly man’s world, my ability to grow and prosper was always hampered by the positions I held simply because I was a woman. Funny, that.

I once had to make the case for being paid more than certain males because I had more education and experience, and they were just out of college. That shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I did win that argument, by the way, but that’s the kind of thing I faced regularly. I know that things have gotten better for women in the workplace, but that’s not to say that sexism does not still exist. We all know that it does . . .

Ah, but that was then, as they say.

Now? Now, I have no job, no career, no profession, unless I own up to the fact that writing is a profession, well, maybe for other people. It’s just that I’ve never made money with my writing, never even tried, even though I’ve had probably hundreds of ideas for books. So I refrain from calling myself a writer because it’s not like I’ve ever done anything with it.

Are you what you were, or what you are now? You fear you will forget tomorrow while mired in the question: In which time do I live?” ~ Mahmoud Darwish, from In the Presence of Absence (Trans. by Sinan Antoon)

Which brings me to the Darwish quotes, which are from one longer passage that I broke up for the purposes of this post. It’s this last part really: “Are you what you were, or what you are now?”

That’s the real question, isn’t it? Who am I? Who do I want to be? Is that the same person I wanted to be before or different? In which time do I live?

I live in all of them, really. My past is so intricately woven into my present that it’s impossible to separate them. But my present self is so very different from my past self that sometimes I have a hard time reconciling the two. I care little for money, or fame, or things, or what anyone else has. In fact, more and more, I am genuinely put off by the excesses of life today.

Will I always want to buy and to own books? Of course. But do I need a big house with a separate library just for my books? No. Maybe my answer would be different if I still owned the hundreds and hundreds of books that I once had, but I lost those when we lost the storage unit, so there’s that. Losing a collection like that, over 1,000 books, changes you, definitely.

But possessions? Thousand dollar purses or shoes? What good would they do me? My house is old. My furniture is old. My clothes, for the most part, are old. And you know what? I like old things. It’s another thing that my mother never understood, my love for things with history. If you showed me a brand new chair that was the perfect color of red, and placed an old Queen Anne covered in faded red brocade beside it, there’s no questions to which I would be drawn. History over new. Worn over pristine.

So ultimately, standing at the crossroads between past and present, more than likely I just wouldn’t move, I think, which is why I find myself always wondering in which time I really live.

More later. Peace.

*All images are taken from the former apartment of Mrs. DeFlorian, a Parisian woman who fled before the German occupation of WWII. The apartment was found to be exactly as she left it when it was opened in 2010. For an article on this beautiful artifact, go here.

Music by Julia Brennan, “Inner Demons”


A Person Protests to Fate

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.

~ Jane Hirshfield, as found on poets.org

Monday Maquillage

Coiffure (Oshidori-mage) by Uemura Shoen,1916
“Coiffur (Oshidori-mage),” by Uemura Shoen, (1916, Wikiart)
“A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from “The Death of the Moth and Other Essays”

Monday afternoon. Sunny and cooler, 46 degrees.

“After the Bath,” by Ito Shinsui (1929, WIkiart)

Today’s post debuts my new category: Monday Maquillage, which will focus on my most recent forays into all things beauty related, like makeup, skincare products, tools, etc. As I had mentioned, I’ve spent roughly the last three years obsessed with all things makeup related, rather than spending time on here writing simply because it was an easier distraction. And if you find it ironic that a self-professed hermit bothers with makeup, you wouldn’t be wrong. I mean, do I wear it for the dogs? No. My spouse? No. Who then, you might wonder . . .

Well, me. I buy makeup and skincare items for me—because I like to, because I enjoy it, and do I really need a reason to have an obsession with makeup brushes and Korean skincare? Not really.

Anyway, I thought that since I’ve been doing so much research in these areas, that I would share some of my finds with you on a semi regular basis, depending on the weather, my whims, and your responses (if there are any). So without further adieu . . .

“Our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.” ~ David Richo, from The Power of Coincidence

One of my best finds over the last few years is rosehip oil. I know, sounds weird, right? But hear me out. Prior to discovering facial oils, I eschewed anything oil related because my skin has always been oily. To combat that, I used a lot of alcohol based things like toners and cleansers, and I tended to go for anything oil-free, but in spite of this, I always felt like I had an oil slick on my forehead by noon. When I was still working full time, I used to retouch my makeup at lunchtime because most of it had melted by then.

Molivera Rosehip OilThen I read a post by someone that literally changed my entire approach to oil. In this post (sorry, author long forgotten), the woman said that the more we try to combat facial oil with the kinds of products that I had been using for a very long time, the more oil our skin will produce because we’ve stripped all of the natural oils from our skin. To compensate, our skin produces more oil. Makes sense, right?

So if you use oil as a moisturizer or as a cleanser, your skin becomes more balanced. I can testify to this because I no longer have an oil slick on my forehead by noon. The oil that I’ve been using is by Molivera Organics, and it can be found on Amazon, for around $12 for 4 ounces, such a good buy.

“What is my worth, if I cannot be attractive? What is my worth, if I cannot attract attention?  . . . The language of feminism was meant to answer those question by reminding women, and men who live outside the self-prescribed boxes of gender, that your worth is inherent, it arrived when you were born, it stays with you long after you die.” ~ Chinwe Ohanele, from “Afromentality-Shame”
“In the Bath,” by Torii Kotondo (1929, Wikiart)

In a related vein, another product that has become a staple in my skincare regimen is a toner, specifically Thayers Alcohol-Free Toner, in Rose Petal with Aloe Vera; a 12 ounce bottle on Amazon costs around $7.60. I say around when quoting Amazon prices because prices go up and down, and I pay less for some things that I have on my subscription with them.

This toner contains witch hazel, to which some people may be sensitive, but I find that it does wonderful things for my skin. I use this immediately after washing my face in the morning and before using my essence.

The essence is part of my Korean skincare routine, which I’ll save for a later post as it’s pretty involved. But let me just say that my skin looks better now than it did when I was 20 or even 30. Yes, I know that part of that is because of my good genes, but another large part of it is that I now know more about my skin than I did in my youth. Trust me, you are never too old to incorporate a good skincare regimen into your days and nights.

“There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe, from “Ligeia”

Let me just pause here to say that I never thought that I’d be writing about makeup and skincare on this blog, never thought that I’d have a post category called “Monday Maquillage” (French word for makeup). In fact, once I stopped working and went out on disability, I went several years without wearing any makeup at all, and my skincare routine consisted of using facial wipes and washing my face in the shower with a pretty strong exfoliator.

“Before the Mirror,” by Ito Shinsuie (1916, Wikiart)

So what changed? Well, I changed, not fundamentally in my beliefs or my politics, but in my approach to myself. I decided to spend a little more time on self-care, like primping. That, and I discovered subscription boxes, both the bane and boon of my everyday existence.

Man, I really wish that I had thought of selling people monthly subscriptions to makeup, skincare, food, snacks, cigars, wines, socks, whatever . . . It’s such a simple idea that has blossomed into a major business, in part as a response to the public’s desire to do more shopping online as opposed to brick and mortar stores.

Anyway, I began simply, as most people do, with a single, $10 monthly subscription to Ipsy, one of the more popular monthly subs, but then, as with most things in which I find an interest, things spread from there. My love affair with subs is also a post for another time. I just wanted to mention how I got on this whole beauty kick in the first place. In fact, I once tried to convince Corey that if he opened an online store selling nothing but Korean skincare and makeup that he’d rake it in. He didn’t listen to me, and now that market has exploded. Oh well . . .

So that’s about all for today, just two mentions of two very affordable products, and as with most things about which I opine, there will be more later.

Peace.


Music by Sara Bareilles, “She Used to be Mine”


Roses Only

You do not seem to realise that beauty is a liability rather than
   an asset—that in view of the fact that spirit creates form we are justified in supposing
     that you must have brains. For you, a symbol of the unit, stiff and sharp,
   conscious of surpassing by dint of native superiority and liking for everything
self-dependent, anything an

ambitious civilisation might produce: for you, unaided to attempt through sheer
   reserve, to confute presumptions resulting from observation, is idle. You cannot make us
     think you a delightful happen-so. But rose, if you are brilliant, it
   is not because your petals are the without-which-nothing of pre-eminence. You would look, minus
thorns—like a what-is-this, a mere

peculiarity. They are not proof against a worm, the elements, or mildew
   but what about the predatory hand? What is brilliance without co-ordination? Guarding the
infinitesimal pieces of your mind, compelling audience to
   the remark that it is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently,
your thorns are the best part of you.

~ Marianne Moore

“At last, she makes her choice. She turns around, drops her head, and walks toward a horizon she cannot see. After that, she does not look back anymore. She knows that if she does, she will weaken.” ~ Khaled Hosseini, from And the Mountains Echoed

Fog over the ridge, by C. Fickel

“You cannot fight against the truth
of what has happened.
You cannot expect metaphor
to comfort you ~ Nate Pritts, from “Decoherence”

Sunday afternoon with an amazing effulgent sun and unseasonably warm temperatures, 65 degrees.

I’m not entirely certain as to what I want to say today, but I know that the words are just below the surface. The fact is that I probably should go for a walk up to the ridge and beneath the trees, especially as the weather is beautiful even though the wind is wicked, and more than likely, I will interrupt this post to do just that, or perhaps not. I haven’t decided yet.

As far as the eye can see: a view from the right side of the ridge, by L. Liwag*

Last night was another rough one, sleep wouldn’t come even though I was so tired, and then I awakened several times during the night, only to spend about three hours trying to will myself back to sleep. If you’ve never suffered from insomnia, you cannot possibly understand, but if you, too, have been susceptible to these spells, you have my complete sympathy. Once morning comes, more often than not, you feel groggy and half formed, at best.

One of the main reasons that I’m having such a hard time sleeping is that I’m out of a lot of my regular medications. Since moving here, I’ve had a real beast of a time trying to find a pain management practice that will take me, and I have yet to find a practicing psychiatrist who is accepting new patients. It took three months just to find a primary care physician because no one wants to touch you if you have been in pain management because the assumption is that you are a drug addict. I’m not joking about this.

“Meanwhile, within the tiny moments of this hell
I was fighting a small fight of my own which was not leading
anywhere—but like a man with a bent spoon trying to dig through a
cement wall I knew that a small fight was better than quitting: it
kept
the heart alive.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “If you let them kill you, they will”

Apparently, this area is rife with people who are addicted to opiates and amphetamines, which means that those of us who just want meds in order to live a normal life are pretty much out of luck. Without my maintenance pain meds, I spend hours trying to calm my legs, as one offshoot of my chronic pain is RLS (restless leg syndrome), and like insomnia, it’s almost impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced it. Essentially, though, your legs tingle and ache, and you feel the need to keep moving them to try to find a comfortable position, something that doesn’t exist.

To Infinity and Beyond: Under such an effulgent sky, by L. Liwag

The medicine most prescribed for RLS, ropinirole, is one that I cannot take because it can cause tardive dyskinesia, which is involuntary body movements. Oh, the irony. Several years ago, I took relpax, and for a while, it was doing good things for me, that is until my doctor noticed that I was moving even while sitting, so she promptly pulled it from my regimen. Later, my pain doctor prescribed ropinirole for my RLS, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized the connection when I started making those weird movements without realizing it. So the medicine that is supposed to stop the discomfort of RLS movement can cause dyskinesia, or involuntary movement: it’s yet another instance of damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

Unfortunately, the RLS is the least of my medical issues. I’ve been without my maintenance meds for more than two months now, and the result is that I am back to having three or four migraines a week. It’s so disheartening because I had finally gotten my migraines under control after years of trying to find the med that would work best for me, and I tried a dozen or more, including Botox—no lie. So until I can find a neurologist or pain medicine doctor, I’m basically ingesting ibuprofen and supplements in an attempt to stem the tide. The success is limited, at best.

“Lonely for weeping, starved for a sound of mourning
I bowed my head, and heard the sea far off
Washing its hands” ~ James Wright, from “The Slackening of the Tide”

Anyway, enough of my medical trials and tribulations . . .

I was telling you how we actually came to be here, on this glorious piece of land with so very many possibilities, so let’s go back to 2017 again. As I had mentioned, 2017 was one helluva year for us, all of us, near and far. But in the midst of this, Corey took his mind off things by looking for land. We had decided that once we could get back to a somewhat stable place, that we were going to move.

From here to eternity: a view of our land from the left side of the ridge, by L. Liwag

I had wanted to leave Norfolk for years, but never felt that I could or should because of my mother; I’m an only child, you see, and while that may seem like a wonderful thing to be, it actually isn’t, especially if you have an elderly parent with medical issues of her own. I’m not complaining about it; god knows my mother took care of me through my asthma, migraines, and a host of other things. But once I had begun to recover from her death in 2014, we decided to look for the land that we had always talked about.

The first piece of land that we looked at was absolutely gorgeous, but it came with a hefty price tag, one that we could not possibly afford. Then, during the summer of 2017, on a whim, Corey and I decided to look at another piece of land that he had found. It was about seven hours from Norfolk, but we ended up driving around for about nine hours because we got so lost. Once we finally found it, though, we both fell in love. It was over 100 acres, and there was a small house on the property that was built in the late 1800s. Fortunately, it had been updated over time. Even better, the price was amazingly affordable.

So began our saga of trying to leave Norfolk, and the house that I had lived in for a very long time. I simply cannot go into all of the details that made this transition so hard, but it will suffice to say that it took us almost a year from the time that we first saw it to the time at which we finally arrived. It was a very, very, long, hard year.

“It takes courage . . . to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives. ~ Marianne Williamson, from “A Return to Love”

Honestly, there were days in which I believed that the dream that we had so fervently sought would never happen. And during the wait, we suffered—emotionally, physically, spiritually. It seemed that the entire world was against us.

Three at the trough, by C. Fickel

You know, at times like that it’s hard not to wonder if some kind of karmic disharmony isn’t being visited upon you. You begin to think that you must have done something absolutely horrible at some point to be faced with the almost insurmountable. There was even a point during all of this that a piece of the ceiling in the Norfolk house suddenly crashed to the floor, and all that we could do was look at one another and shake our heads because it just felt like it was yet one more thing beyond our control. Mind you, a piece of your ceiling falling is a pretty major event, but we had been through so much that by the time it happened, it was just one more thing in a very long list of one more things. It’s weird to think of that event in that way now

But we clung to one other and to the possibility of actually realizing a dream that had seemed so out of reach for so long, and very long story abbreviated, now, here we are. And there is no other place in the world that I would rather be.

“In this life, this is how
one must wait, past despair,
the heart a fossil, the minutes molten, the feet turned to stone. ~ Li-Young Lee, from “Here I Am”

Well, that all came out much faster than I had thought. I suppose the words were much closer to the surface than I had thought. That’s good when that happens, although at times I feel that I’m just throwing words at the screen and hoping that something sticks and makes sense, kind of like spaghetti noodles that aren’t overcooked.

So much beauty everywhere I look, by L. Liwag

In returning to this forum, I realize that I’m more than likely opening some wounds that really haven’t healed, but this is how I heal best. Fingers on keys, letting them fly without restraint (my very dear friend Rebecca once likened my typing to machine gun fire). I realize that I’m fortunate to have this ability—to write, not to type rapidly—because I am well aware that many people out there who are wounded or trying to heal have nothing more than their own thoughts, and that can often feel all-consuming. But I have always written my way out, have done this since I was a child—truly. I wrote my first poem when I was six. I started my first journal when I was twelve. Words have always been the balm to my soul.

I hope that by rekindling my love affair with this blog, that perhaps my words might touch someone out there in the ether and let them see that they are not alone in feeling lost or depressed or overwhelmed. I do not proclaim to have answers for anyone, myself least of all, but sometimes just reading someone else’s words can be a salve, much like hearing the perfect song can help us heal. We take what we can get, right? We are all only human after all.

Just a note: Today’s poem is a direct result of watching “Little Drummer Girl” on AMC, which was incredible. I really love it when shows incorporate beautiful poetry into the story lines, and Darwish is one of my favorites. I’ve featured his works here before.

More later. Peace.

*By the way, I did pause in this post to go for a long walk up to the top of the ridge with the dogs, which is where I took some of the images in today’s post.

Music by Katelyn Tarver, “You Don’t Know”

 

Now, as you awaken

Now, as you awaken, remember the swan’s
last dance. Did you dance with young angels
while you were dreaming? Did the butterfly
light you up when it burned with the eternal
light of the rose? Did the phoenix appear clearly
before you and call you by your name?
Did you see the morning dawn from the fingers
of the one you love? Did you touch
the dream with your hand or did you
leave it to dream alone, aware suddenly
of your own absence? Dreamers don’t abandon
their dreams, they flare and continue
the life they have in the dream…tell me
how you lived your dream in a certain place
and I’ll tell you who you are. And now,
as you awaken, remember if you have wronged
your dream. And if you have, then remember
the last dance of the swan.

~ Mahmoud Darwish