“It was a scene which seemed the heart of this land. The lowing sun and the one star waking, white wings on a black water, and the smell of rain, and the long lane fading where a voice comes in the falling night.” ~ Jamie O’Neill, from At Swim, Two Boys

The dark horse, Liscannor, Ireland J0sh FCC
The Dark Horse, Liscannor, Ireland by J0sh (FCC)

” . . . they would tell me nothing, except that they had been commanded to travel over Ireland continually, and upon foot and at night, that they might live close to the stones and the trees and at the hours when the immortals are awake.” ~ W.B. Yeats, from The Adoration of the Magi

Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and humid, 81 degrees.

I just read the most remarkable essay in Parabola, “The Search for One Thing,” by Betsy Cornwell.

Please understand: This is more than one of my casual reblogs. Cornwell’s words hit so close to home, almost too close. Everything she says, I have felt. All of her words have been my words at one time or another, but not in such a beautiful, linear fashion. This essay explains Ireland for me—the green that I have long dreamed of—all of it, it’s all here.

Sea thrift and the sea by slkovjr fcc
Sea Thrift and the Sea by slkovjr (FCC)

The Aran Islands have been in my dreams since I first saw them in some forgotten movie eons ago. The cliffs, the green, the sheep, the sky—everything that I have ever wanted in one place.

I don’t have Cornwell’s past with her father, yet I can understand her need to break away, to search on her own. For so many years I wanted to break away, but the curse of the only child is that your life is never your own, at least not until your parents are gone, not unless you want to bear the label of being selfish, and it was a label I couldn’t bear.

I don’t think that anyone has ever completely understood my dream of Ireland. Corey tries; he knows that it’s someplace I have always wanted to go, but it’s more than just wanting to visit. I want to spend time there, days, weeks, months. I want to walk and bike and, well, mostly I want to think about my life.

It’s not escape I seek. It’s clarity. The kind of clarity I will never have here, not here in this house in this city in this state in this country. Don’t ask me why I know that to be true, but I do.

This is the biggest truth I know: I need to go to Ireland, and soon, otherwise, I fear it may be too late.


 

The Search for One Thing
by Betsy Cornwell

“Give it one week of hard frost,” my new husband says, “and all the green will be gone.” He has slowed the car to let two adolescent does cross the road, and we watch them vanish neatly into the ditch on the other side. In the 4:30 November gloom, the perfect white of their rumps is nearly all we can see.

Irish Cliffs minniemouseaunt FCC
Irish Cliffs by minniemouseaunt (FCC)

As they pass through the high brambles of the ditch, Richie admires their fleetness, their nimble feet. I say the deer must risk the danger of the road only because it’s winter and they are hungry, but he says they wouldn’t be wanting yet; that’s when he warns me about the week of frost, and the green.

But here, even in winter, Ireland is so green that to walk through the countryside is almost to think you are underwater. And here a ditch is not a hole, not an absence, but its opposite. An Irish ditch is a raised thicket, a dense living tangle of blackberry and ivy and gorse. Twining through the ditch are innumerable tiny tunnels—through them mice and spiders wind. No snakes here, of course—remember St. Patrick—but the tunnels mimic their absence, their silent, assured sinuousness.

When I first came to this country, I remember thinking that even if I jumped from one of its many cliffs I wouldn’t fall, but float, until the cool wet wind of this place carried me back, softly, onto the grass that is so green it is like water, like every kind of life pulled together into one.

I came here to renew—something, although I didn’t yet know what. And to escape, well, everything.

Two years ago, at the end of my MFA program, I was broken down and burned out, spent twigs for a spent fire. I did everything quickly, heart in my mouth, because I felt sure that if I took any extra time I would collapse into ash. I was teaching three times the prescribed student limit, tutoring, writing, finishing my thesis and my classes, and editing my first novel for next year’s publication—all jobs that filled me with whiplash joy and panic and soul-crushing insecurity. A person I loved had shown me such grinding ambivalence that I’d had to let him go, and I spent far too much time imagining our never-to-be future together. There was a cushion-laden corner of the floor in my cheap apartment that was alternately a nook for grading papers and a nest to curl up in and cry until I fell asleep. I ate whatever I thought would make me feel better, mostly
cheese and Vernor’s ginger ale. My heart was broken and my belly ached.

I had a particular dream that kept me working: I wanted to go to Ireland. I’d come in second for a Fulbright arts grant to write about selkies in Dublin, and the near miss had left me determined to get there on my own. But when the summer came and I looked at my finances, I realized that even with my book advance I would have to choose between Ireland and more earthly concerns like healthcare and rent.

That day, my father called and said he wanted to know my schedule for next year because he was taking the family to Africa. We would go on safari and sleep in tents together.

But I have spent much of my life figuring out how to avoid being in the same place as my father, especially at night. And for the first time, that day, I told him so. One advantage of being so very tired, on the threshold of adulthood, is that your childhood nightmares start getting tired too, and it is harder for them to frighten you.

“I can’t go,” I said in a voice that shook but was still my own voice, coming out of my own body. “I can’t sleep in the same room with you.”

Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland by Jackie L Chan FCC
Gap of Dunloe, County Kerry, Ireland by Jackie L Chann (FCC)

The other end of the line was silent. After a few seconds he said, “All right. That doesn’t make me happy, but I understand.”

We hung up soon afterward, and one weight was strangely gone from the fears I carried.

A few days later he called again and offered to buy me a ticket to Ireland instead, since I wasn’t going to Africa. It felt like hush money—if I was brave enough to tell him I remembered, whom else might I tell? I said I would have to think about it. I felt sure I would say no, but that dream was a hard one for me to give up.

I went into town to have coffee with Trish, a woman twice my age who feels like someone I grew up with, a friend whom I often call my spiritual guide. The Catholic school we attended, with its Planned Parenthood protests, homophobia, and rape apologism, tempted me to throw up my hands at even a nebulous, agnostic God—but it was Trish’s faith that kept me searching for my own. She combines her devout and somewhat radical Catholicism with dashes of Buddhism and a sharp flair for the intersectionally feminist, and I’ve always loved her for it. I liked to say that she was “Tapped In To Something,” because it was the only way I could find of explaining her radiant wisdom and kindness, the light that shines through her. (When she’s not giving spiritual counsel to frightened young women, Trish is a professor of sociology and a brilliant poet.)

As soon as she sat down I started crying—big, gasping sobs from a shy woman who can rarely even manage to raise her voice in anger. I don’t know if I’d ever shown that much emotion in public before.

Trish stroked my arm. I wept into my giant bowl of latte.

When I quieted, she laughed and said “Honey, I wouldn’t go through my twenties again for anything.”

Galway by Shadowgate fcc
Galway by Shadowgate (FCC)

Suddenly, I felt much better. I wiped my eyes, and she asked me what was wrong.

Trish is third generation Irish-American; three of her grandparents were born on the island where I now live. And it was she, in the end, who brought me here. I told her what my father had offered, how it felt like a bargain I didn’t want to make, and that I never wanted to owe him anything ever again.

She looked at me steadily. “You never will,” she said. “He could give you money until the end of the world and you’d owe him nothing.” He’d taken more, she said, than he could ever give back; and though some well-trained part of me thought I was being a Bad Daughter, I admitted she was right.

“But . . .” said the Bad Daughter, on the verge of tears again. I found I couldn’t finish my sentence, and I took a deep, shaky breath. “God, I’m so tired. I’m sorry about this.” I waved at my eyes.

Trish shook her head. “Go to Ireland,” she said. “You’ll rest there, you’ll write your book. It’s where the world keeps its magic. And don’t go to Dublin. In fact . . .” She pulled out her tablet and did a quick image search. “You need to go here.”

Galway, Panoramic from Claddagh and River Corrib WC
Galway, Panoramic from Claddagh and River Corrib (Wikimedia Commons)

She showed me a Google page thick with pictures of green cliffs, dark waves, and small stone-bound fields. A girl’s feet dangled over the edge of one cliff, her legs mid-swing and
relaxed.

“The Aran Islands?” I laughed. “It’s mostly sweaters there, right?”

“The Aran Islands,” she said. “See? You’re happier already. Go there,” she thought for a moment, “for at least a month. It will heal your soul.”

My soul leapt out for healing, and I knew that I would go.

Three months later, I am sitting in the warmest corner of Tigh Joe Watty’s, one of only two pubs on the whole island. I am smiling, and every part of me feels light. Tall, redheaded Uinseon McCarron dances a beautiful Australian girl named Sjonelle across the dark wood floor, and the rest of us at the table watch and admire them, their easy grace and easier smiles. Dave, the handsome, acerbic owner of the hostel where we all work, comes back to the table with pints of cider. I haven’t written anything in weeks.

I did not understand, when I first came to Ireland, why I wasn’t writing. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel overworked, and suddenly I couldn’t work at all. I’d been manically, neurotically productive for years, trying to scratch my way into prep school, college, graduate school, New York agencies and publishing houses. And now here I was, not a student for the first time since I was three years old and my parents enrolled me in university preschool. I had my master’s, and my book wasn’t coming out for almost a year. I could support myself until then, meagerly, on my advance and hostel work-exchange.

Inishmann Teach Synge by Arcimboldo WC
Inishmann Teach Synge by Arcimboldo (Wikimedia Commons)

All my life I had wanted “to write full time,” but here I had all the time in the world, and I wasn’t writing at all. I would wake up early every morning determined to work, and I would hover over the Cinderella retelling on my computer, making small changes that meant nothing. I always ended those sessions at least a little disgusted with myself.

My afternoons, though, I set myself free, wandering through the cobblestoned Latin quarter of Galway City to the rushing gray mouth of the Corrib. I would walk the promenade from Galway to Salthill and back, looking out at the quiet bay, cold wind slipping over my face and silvering my hair and skin with salt, breathing air clean as miracles.

I’ve spent most of my life inside my head. In childhood my body was the site of fear and confusion at the hands of an adult protector; I became expert at curling up inside myself, where my senses would know and remember nothing. The desires and doubts of adolescence only made me retreat further. My body hardly ever did what I wanted it to; I have never even been good at sports.

As I grew older, this disconnect led me to think that my body had no needs of its own, and certainly not much value. It carried my mind and my heart around, and that was all. When I felt worn out at the end of school, I thought it was only my soul that hurt. I didn’t notice the knots in my back.

I struggled over my writing in Ireland, and as Trish had instructed me, I worked to heal my broken heart. It was my lungs and my legs, though, that first grew stronger, walking along the promenade, making beds and mopping floors at the hostel.

Galway gpoo FCC
Galway by gpoo (FCC)

Salt and clean air, and enough work to make you need them.

Healing was in my body, was stitching into my very cells, before I could even see it working, before I could see new words on the page. When I came here I thought I was failing, but something was already starting to grow.

In college, I studied literature and fairy tales. Some—”The Selkie Bride,” “Cinderella,” “Red Riding Hood,” “Tam Lin”—I’d read in different translations and retellings since I was a child. I have always loved, more than anything, stories. Stories helped me escape those parts of my childhood that I could talk about only years later. I told myself stories, too, even as I progressed into adulthood. I thought I knew what I wanted, whom I would love, how my life would lead. I was a good student, a follower of rules. Whenever I searched for something, I believed I knew what I would find, and when, and how.

I write fairy tales for a living now, and like many feminist writers I try to give my heroines the agency that they sometimes lack in older versions of the tales. The aims of women of my generation and the one before—and many, many brave and hard-fighting women before us—are all for choice and action. By action I mean achievement, agency, doing. I believe in these ideals; they keep the world moving forward, and help to give it some chance of (maybe, someday) being just.

But lately I have been thinking that these older princesses and witches and peasant girls have a kind of wisdom to offer us that has lately been lost: the wisdom of passivity, of stillness.

Those seemingly un-feminist stillnesses are nearly always there, in the most enduring of the old fairy stories. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood curled up in the wolf: what are they thinking, unthinking, as they lie there un-doing? Are they glad, un-chosen as it is, for the rest?

Whether they are or not, the stillness is part of the narrative, and therefore is itself part of the moving forward, the doing of the story. Even when they are still, their stories go on. And I have found, in the time that I have spent in this place, that stillness has a strength and power of its own. I believe now that I needed not to write for that time. There are many fields here that lie fallow.

Road through the Burren EoinGardiner FCC
Road through the Burren by EoinGardiner (FCC)

Soon after I met my husband on Inis Mor (the largest of the Aran Islands—oh, Trish, how right you were) he told me something that has twined itself through my heart ever since. In Irish, he said “faigheann iarraidh, iarraidh eile.” In English: the search for one thing leads to another.

I came to Ireland to write a book. I could not write, but if the soul is a place of quiet and stillness and peace inside oneself, I found mine, and the island and I healed it where it had been starved and broken. I met my partner, and I found my home. And nine months later, in the spring, living in East Galway with Richie, I began to write again.

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“And a softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.” ~ W. B. Yeats, from “The Wanderings of Oisin”

John Edward Bale, watercolor November-1874
“November” (1874, watercolor, found in an unpublished manuscript by Surgeon Major A. F. Elliot)
by John Edward Bale

                   

“…the desire for love, the one
that costs everything, that shocks you
when someone else casts a shadow on the map
of the earth for the first time larger than your own.” ~ Deborah Brown, from “Reprise

Got shots all over my head and back today. Feel like a very sore pin cushion. Sorry, no real words.

However, ran across some bits and bobs that struck me as particularly beautiful.

For example, this passage:

“I hear you putting on your night dress. But it doesn’t stop there by any means. Again there are a hundred little actions. I know you are hurrying; clearly it is all necessary. I understand: we watch the mute gestures of animals, amazed that they, who are supposed to have no soul, line up their actions from dawn to dusk. It is exactly the same. You have no awareness of the countless moves you make, above all those that seem necessary to you, and remain quite unimportant. But they loom widely into your life. I, as I wait, feel it by chance.Love is also apparent in feeling, marveling, enthusiastic, tender hearing and observing.” ~ Robert Musil, on his wife Minerva, as quoted in 1913 by Florian Illies.

and then this short poem:

For You

For you I undress down to the sheaths of my nerves.
I remove my jewelry and set it on the nightstand,
I unhook my ribs, spread my lungs flat on a chair.
I dissolve like a remedy in water, in wine.
I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air.
I do it for love. For love, I disappear.

~ Kim Addonizio

More later. Peace.

Music by Scarlett O’Connor and Gunnar Scott, “Fade into You”

“She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer, from Everything Is Illuminated

Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy Silence has Settled 1890 drohende Stille oil on canvas
“Silence has Settled or Drohende Stille” (1890, oil on canvas)
by Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy

                      

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ~ William Shakespeare, from Macbeth

Alexis’s friend Jennifer died today. Jennifer, who had so many reprieves, who lived to share another Christmas and another Christmas with her young son, and even, almost a third Christmas.

When I first wrote about Jennifer it was in September of 2010, and everyone was so certain that she would die before the end of the year. I include myself in that everyone. But Jennifer fooled each of us. She left the hospital, went home, and lived. She lived through two more (three?) of her son Reilly’s birthdays; she lived long enough to come to Alexis’s baby showers and to take a bus to the hospital when Alexis was in labor.

She lived, and then, she didn’t.

As if I needed yet another reason to hate November.

“Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” ~ William Faulkner, from The Wild Palms

You see, I feel nothing but guilt about Jennifer. I was not a good friend to her, and even when Corey mentioned that I might want to call her because she was sick again, I chose not to. I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t put aside my own feelings of dread at facing another young person’s death, couldn’t find a way around my own discomfort to call this sweet, sweet girl. God, she could talk your ear off, and the drugs made her ramble even more. I am not patient with such things, witness my attitude with my own mother.

And the whole time Alexis was pregnant, Jennifer would find things for her that she might be able to use. Jennifer was a world-class thrifter. But that’s how she was, truly, thinking about other people. Looking out for others even when she already bore so much more than she deserved.

I thought about Jennifer a lot since that September in 2010. I was beyond happy when she was around to spend Christmas with Reilly that year and then the next, and then that thing happened that always happens: complacency. Just as with my brother-in-law Patrick: you get so used to the person being in a certain state of health that that state becomes normal. So when Patrick got sick again, it just didn’t occur to me that he would die. Neither did it occur to me that Jennifer might actually die this time, even though within my heart I knew that it was a strong probability.

“How could I have been so ignorant? she thinks. So stupid, so unseeing, so given over to carelessness. But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next—if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions—you’d be doomed.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from The Blind Assassin

Funnily enough, today I was watching Sesame Street with Olivia, and I had a flash of memory: When Lex was younger and one or more of her friends had spent the night, I used to go in and jump on the bed and use Elmo’s voice and yell at them to get up. Weird, I know, but true. I thought of that today, before I got the news. And then a few hours later a got a text that Jennifer had died.

And so I wept. I wept hot tears of hate. Hatred at myself. Hatred at fate. Hatred at cancer. Hatred at whatever it is that decides to inflict such pain upon a sweet, talkative young girl who never had all of the comforts that Alexis had, who came from a broken family filled with dysfunctions—how that girl moved beyond that and became a wonderful mother to her son, the kind of mother she never had.

I wept at myself for failing to do the right thing, and then, I realized that my tears were also selfish tears, appropriating Jennifer’s life and death to add to my own litany of loss, and I am repulsed by myself. How can I cry for Jennifer and turn it into tears for my own losses? Who does this? I am sickened, and so I weep more, weep until I cannot breathe and am on the verge of hyperventilating because the overwhelming sensation that I feel is guilt: guilt over not calling Jennifer, guilt over not keeping in touch with Patrick, guilt over not being more patient with my mother, guilt over not going back to the hospital in time to be with my father so that he did not die alone, and always, always, always, guilt over Caitlin.

“Youth offers the promise of happiness, but life offers the realities of grief.”Nicholas Sparks, from The Rescue

I won’t scream and say that it’s unfair, that it’s unfair because she was young. Death holds sway over who it will. Youth’s seeming immortality has no pardon from its sway, is impotent in its presence.

When is enough enough?

I know that I am merely screaming into the wind here, that nothing can change anything, yet I am so filled with self-loathing right now that it just makes me cry even harder.

We are careless. Humans are careless. We make assumptions. We delude ourselves. It is easier this way. We do not want cold truths. We do not want blunt realities. Allow us to coast along with our false certainties, to be comforted by our denial. Yes, that is better, is it not?

My dog Shakes used to get very worried when I had crying jags. He would come in and try to get in my lap and Alfie would bark shrilly as if that could stem my tears. It was harder to cry when that was going on. I suddenly remembered that in the middle of my keening, and then I cried even harder.

Granted, it has already been a very shaky November so far as it was apparent that I was well on my way to a major fall. But now? I don’t even know how to think. I’m just letting my fingers form the words for me as I do not want to think about anything too much. I do not want to see Jennifer’s face in my mind, especially as I cannot recall Caitlin’s face. I know. That makes no sense, but it feels like yet another betrayal.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~ C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed

Jennifer was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s lover, and someone’s mother. Jennifer used to put baby oil in her hair when she was a teenager because it was curly and she wanted to make it lay flat. I’m certain that Jennifer is the first person Alexis got drunk with, and for a while I would not let Alexis spend the night at Jennifer’s apartment. Turns out my daughter was probably the instigator all along, but I blamed Jennifer and Amanda. Not my Alexis.

But we do what we can as parents. We try to make the right decisions. Try to guide our sons and daughters into having the right relationships, and even when they don’t, we make excuses for them because after all, they are our sons and daughters.

After today a young son lost his mother. Reilly will not have his mommy to spend Christmas with him, to celebrate his birthday with him, to see him go on his first date, to watch him graduate. His drug addict father hasn’t been in the picture in years. He will have his uncle who helped Jennifer with Reilly after she got out of the hospital. But no matter how much the people in his life who love him may try, they will never ever be able to fill that void. No one can replace your mother, especially when you are young.

” . . . you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back.” ~ Mitch Albom, from For One More Day

I haven’t talked much about suicide on this blog for many reasons. I will only say this: that knowing what it would do to my children kept me from making foolish mistakes. Jennifer had no choice in this. And try as she did, the fates were against her. Her death will affect Reilly in so very many ways, ways in which people could never predict.

Caitlin never had a choice, nor did she have a chance, but that never kept us from hoping until hope was taken away.

Hope. That four letter word that is probably more powerful than love or hate. Hope allows us to fool ourselves in ways that love and hate never do. Hope keeps us coming back. Hope carries us to places we might not dare to travel. And then when hope is lost, that my friends, that is the worst loss of all.

Goodbye, Jennifer. I hope you were loved much as you deserved.

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
~ W.B. Yeats, from “The Stolen Child”

A song I used to play over and over on my piano: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

“From the stars we come, to the stars we go. Life is but a journey into the unknown.” ~ Walter Moers, The City of Dreaming Books

"Nattens Helgedom (Night Sanctuary)," (oil on canvas)by Otto Hesselbom
“Nattens Helgedom (Night Sanctuary),” (nd, oil on canvas)
by Otto Hesselbom

                   

“The part of this being that is rock,
the part of this body that is a star,
lately I feel them yearning to go back
and be what they are.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin, from “In the Borderlands

Thursday afternoon. Partly cloudy and mild, 50 degrees.

Yesterday was a crappy day, really, really crappy, and as a result, I was foul, really, really foul. Nine days into the new year, and I’m already having bad days. Sheesh.

Henri-Edmond Cross Landscape with Stars 1905-8
“Landscape with Stars,” (1905-8)
by Henri-Edmond Cross

In spite of its crappiness, I did get things done. I made those telephone calls regarding health claims that haven’t been paid. Both of the people with whom I spoke were very nice and helpful. It wasn’t them. It was just the doing of it that got to me. Does that make sense?

After years and years of always being the one to make the telephone calls, pay the bills, take care of the details with my ex, I have given up some of those responsibilities to Corey—quite willingly. I am not good at doing the finances. I freely admit that to anyone and everyone. And taking care of the details tends to make me very stressed. I don’t know why exactly. It just does. Perhaps because as the telephone is ringing, I am preparing to deal with the customer service representative from hell, so my blood pressure climbs with each successive ring, and then when someone nice answers and offers to help, I’m thrown for a loop.

Also, I think that since Corey has been taking care of so much to do with the details of life, I have allowed my patience in such things to erode. Anyway, yesterday is over. I made a few more short calls today, and my to-do-list is shorter. So enough.

“The winds that awakened the stars
Are blowing through my blood.” ~ W. B. Yeats, from “Maid Quiet”

I think another reason that I was so foul yesterday was because I forgot to take my meds the day before. Not intentionally, just didn’t remember as I was so caught up in getting things done. That happens to me—I become so focused in the midst of my OCD-fueled binges that I don’t pay attention to other things, completely leave them by the wayside.

Nicholas Roerich Royal Monastery 1932 tempera
“Royal Monastery” (1932, tempera on paper)
by Nicholas Roerich

I know. I need to find balance. Easy to say. Hard to do. Balance is always just beyond my reach. Perhaps that’s why I’m always so taken with those images of balancing rocks; they represent something for which I yearn.

Anyway, enough on that. Another thing that I did yesterday—and this is surprising—is that I went through old posts looking for poems that I might submit to a journal that is accepting work. I have to submit three poems at a time. In going through the old posts, though, I found that I have written things that I actually like, even two to three years later, which makes me think more and more that I really need to go through these posts and cull the best (or what I consider to be the best), try to put together some kind of non-fiction manuscript with what I have.

This is where I need your help. If I’ve written a post of which you are particularly fond, or that you think could be readable with some work, I’d love to know about it. You can just put the title in the comments, or if you don’t remember the title but remember what the post was about, a general description would be fine. Of course, if you said something like, “You know, the one about grief,” that might be a bit hard . . .

“And silent answers crept across the stars.” ~ Hart Crane, from “At Melville’s Tomb”

But what do you think? Am I on the right track? A couple of you have suggested something along these lines to me before, but I waffled as I never quite know if I like what I’ve written enough to put it out there (there as in beyond this forum), but I have to admit that I found more than a couple of posts of which I’m not ashamed.

Neil Welliver Night Scene 1981-2
“Night Scene” (1981-2)
by Neil Welliver

Oh, who knows. Certainly not me. But I’m willing to give it a go.

So other than that, I think that I’ve managed to move beyond yesterday’s total crappiness. I’ve gotten out of my pajamas and even put on some cologne and dark circle concealer, as if I might actually be ready to greet the world. Speaking of which, and I am almost embarrassed to admit this, I realized the other day that I have not left the house in weeks. No really, weeks. This is not a good sign. This is a sign that I am regressing.

I think that I need to make it a point to go to Lex’s apartment at least one day a week to help out with Olivia instead of waiting for them to come here. But without Brett being enrolled in school this semester, I’m sort of without a reason to leave the house unless I make one. Truthfully, I don’t want to go back to the days in which I stayed inside for weeks on end. It’s just not healthy.

I have big plans to take Tillie for walks. Perhaps I should work on that.

“It is inner luxury, of golden figures
that breathe like mountains do
and whose skin is made dusky by stars.” ~ Joanne Kyger, from “September”

Obviously, I’m still fixated on the skies, first the Northern Lights, and now stars. The moon and the stars, my life-long love affair. Did you know that the Tunisians have a proverb that goes something like “If the full moon loves you, why worry about the stars?”—but why not both?

Mikalojus Ciurlionis Sparks III 1906 tempera on paper
“Sparks III” (1906, tempera on paper)
by Mikalojus Ciurlionis

I have to tell you that it’s damned hard for me to write a post featuring lots of words about stars and not to use any art by Van Gogh, as I don’t think that anyone before or since has painted such beautiful skies, but I made an effort and came up with some other artists’ paintings.

Speaking of Van Gogh, did you know that there are new claims that the artist did not commit suicide but instead was shot by teenagers? I know that I’m behind on this, but I find it fascinating. Apparently a book was published last year in which authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith claim that Van Gogh was fatally wounded by a friend’s teenage brother. The book is called Van Gogh: The Life, and I would love to read it.

Van Gogh has always fascinated me. He created such incredible beauty out of such immense pain. It’s as if he couldn’t create fast enough to release all of the demons inside.

When I was walking around the museums in NYC years ago, I was finally able to see some of Van Gogh’s works of art at the Met and at the MOMA. My god, they took my breath away. I would love to visit more museums housing the artist’s work.

“She was one of those stars, a bright dot in blackness, without home, without a companion, in eternal cold and silence.” ~ Maxine Hong Kingston, from The Woman Warrior

I spoke too soon. I just lost the last fifth of this post when I went to save. Crap. Crap. Crap.

Moving right along . . .

Wassily Kandinsky Moonlight Night 1907 linocut
“Moonlight Night” (1907, linocut)
by Wassily Kandinsky

I once met Maxine Hong Kingston when she was participating in the ODU Literary Festival years ago. She is such a tiny woman, and her presence was almost dwarfed on the big stage until she began to read. Later, at an after-reading cocktail party, I mustered the courage to talk to her and tell her how much I loved her work.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

I suppose I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today after going through posts past and thinking about those wonderful afternoons at the museums. One day, I’m going to visit the Louvre and Musée D’Orsay, spend hours upon hours, days upon days, just meandering through the galleries, and I’ll take Corey because I know that he will appreciate the beauty just as much as I would.

One day. Until then, I suppose I’ll just hang out here in my yoga pants, thinking about things to come, things that have been, places to see, and places I have gone. Kind of reminds me of The Beatles’ song, “My Life.”

More later. Peace.

 Music by Aesthesys, “I Am Free, That Is Why I’m Lost”

                   

Every Time

Do you have stars
in your mouth?

she asks
and I laugh,
she’s never tasted
winter like I have,
midnights that linger
for days. Yes,
I tell her. Come see.

Will there be breath?
For a while, I whisper
and blow on her hands,
but you will sing
and the aurora lights
will walk across the ice.

She lets me
put my hands on her.
Will I die? her hair
like snow.
Yes.  I tell her.
Every time.

~ Jude Goodwin

“And a softness came from the starlight and filled me full to the bone.” ~ W.B. Yeats

Frost Flower on Gateby crestedcrazy (FCC)
Frost Flower on Gate
by crestedcrazy (FCC)

                   

“Our memory fragments don’t have any coherence until they’re imagined in words. Time is a property of language, of syntax, and tense.” ~ Siri Hustvedt, from The Sorrows of an American

Thursday afternoon. Sunny and chilly, 49 degrees.

Frost Flower by Lotus Carroll FCC
Frost Flower
by Lotus Carroll (FCC)

Well, I hope that everyone who celebrates it had a very Merry Christmas. Two days past, now we are in the time of reconciliation: the frenetic preparation back to the days of normalcy, whatever those may have been; the momentary love of everything back to the cynicism of everyday life; the intimate closeness of family back to the separation of time and space.

Okay, so perhaps not as glum as all that, but you know what I mean. The days leading up to the big day are filled with hurrying to and fro, trying to remember all of the little details, the anticipation and anxiety over whether or not everything will come together at the last hour. Or at least that’s how it is in my house. No matter how prepared I think I am in the days before, I always find myself doing last minute errands for the fresh lemon or the candy canes or the tissue paper or whatever.

Frost Flower close up by Marklnspex FCC
Frost Flower Close-up
by Marklnspex (FCC)

I have to say, though, that this year’s celebration was very nice. My mother didn’t insult anyone overtly or accidentally, which tends to make things run much smoother. Dinner came off without a hitch, except for the overcooked broccoli, which would have been fine had we eaten on time (I know better, I really do). And everyone seemed to genuinely like his or her presents.

Of course there was the added bonus of Olivia’s first Christmas, which just changed everything in ways hard to pinpoint.

“It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in windowpanes like the beat of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world is revealed and yet soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” ~ Virginia Woolf

Frost Flower 9 Frostweed by cotinis FCC
Frost Flower on Frostweed
by cotinis (FCC)

As I had mentioned, Lex, Mike, and Olivia had gone to see Mike’s family for the holidays, and I didn’t expect them back until the day after. Turns out they came home early and surprised me on Christmas night, which was truly a wonderful surprise. I hadn’t realized how down I had actually been at the prospect of not having Lex or the baby with us, so when they came through the door, it was the perfect addition to what had already been a good day.

Apparently, I was the only one who did not know that they had come back early. The boys had seen them earlier in the day at that side of the family’s celebration, and they kept the secret, just as last year they kept the secret about Lex being pregnant. My sons really know how to keep a secret, which I find surprising for some reason. But Corey also knew—accidentally—apparently when he finished wrapping at 4 in the morning, he went to Walgreen’s for some stocking stuffers and ran into Alexis in the card aisle. At four in the morning?! My family is certainly strange, but hey, already knew that.

So Olivia arrived in her shiny Christmas dress that Mike had bought for her, and she had a great time grabbing at tissue paper and laughing. Yes, she laughs now. Fun stuff.

“I am not what I am, I am what I do with my hands.” ~ Louise Bourgeois

Frost Flower 6
Frost Flower

Yesterday I spent the day packing up the silver and Christmas dishes and vintage Santa Claus Coke glasses that my mom has kept all these years. I had already done most of the cleanup Christmas night, so it wasn’t too much work. And then I did a whole lot of nothing, which I suppose is what I needed. I had thought about posting, but wasn’t really in the mood, so I didn’t.

Frost FLower 7 Ribbons by Slomoz FCC
Frost Flower Ribbons
by Slomoz FCC

Today I need to work on making Olivia’s Christmas stocking, something I had planned to do yesterday to have ready by the time they came back, but of course, now my schedule is all topsy turvy, so I’ll try to get started today.

Alfie is doing much better, and may be with us a while longer, which is nice. Corey had taken him to the vet this past weekend, which cost an amount that I shall not say as it is painful to think about, but they gave him antibiotics, and anti-nausea medicine, and he’s eating again, and back to growling at people when they disturb his naps, so he’s actually almost normal (for him). I’m so glad that I did not have to deal with losing another pet friend over the holidays as I don’t know how I would have handled that.

Tillie was apparently good this past year as Santa brought her several new stuffed babies to play with and terrorize. It was funny because anytime anyone opened any kind of stuffed animal, Tillie thought that it was for her. She’s been very busy, snooping in bags and such, and she found the spare toy that I hadn’t planned to give her until she had destroyed one of the others. I swear she is just like a small child.

The only sad part was not having Shakes on Christmas morning to sit between us as we opened presents. I missed that.

“All art is exorcism.” ~ Otto Dix

Frost Flower 3 cal tech
Frost Flower (caltech website)

Corey finally read my two novel beginning drafts, and I got some feedback from him. We both agree that my second story is better than my original plot, and I have promised myself that I will work on it in the coming months.

I did not receive any books or gift certificates for books this year, which is very unusual for me. Equally unusual is that I did not purchase any books for anyone except Olivia. I guess it was just that kind of year. I’ll just keep my list until my birthday or until I win the lottery . . . so I guess until my birthday.

Frost Flower 4 by Billy Joe Fudge, Columbia Magazine
Frost Flower
by Billy Joe Fudge, Columbia Magazine

Now that Christmas is over, we all need to get back to everyday life, which means that Corey needs to send out his job applications, and Brett needs to get his passport, and Eamonn needs to sign up for maritime school, and I? I need to try to get back into some kind of regular writing routine.

I’m still on the lookout for an IBM Selectric II, so if anyone knows of any place that is getting rid of one, like a church or school, keep me in mind. Ideally, it should be red, but hey, I think that I could use just about any color as long as it isn’t that weird turquoise blue that IBM used for some of them. I always thought that was a dreadful color for a typewriter. If you’ve ever used an old Selectric, you know exactly what I mean about how the keys feel beneath your fingers as you are flying across them. Well, I used to fly across them. I learned to type on one, and I did all of my timing tests on one. The last time I was timed (for a job interview) was soooo long ago, but I typed 127 words a minute with one mistake. Cool, huh?

“You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” ~ Junot Díaz

Frost Flower5 Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association
Frost Flower
Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association

Anyway, so 2013 is but a few days away. The Mayans were wrong, and the “Dr. Who” Christmas special has aired and left Whovians with lots and lots of questions. We still need to see Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and the remake of Les Miserables. Things to do in the coming weeks.

I have to admit that 2013 seems like a weird year to me. Don’t ask me why because I don’t really have a specific reason. I just don’t like the sound of it. I mean, 2012 didn’t flop about on the tongue in the way that 2013 does. I know. I dwell on the strangest things.

Frost Flower 2
Frost Flower

Last night, I had one of those dreams in which so many of my realities converge: I was at a large family wedding, but it was also a family reunion, and it was an odd mix of Filipinos and Americans, all of whom were acting as if it was strange to be in a room together, which I just couldn’t understand, and the dinner was salmon or steak, and I asked for salmon and was given just a hunk of salmon, nothing else, no potatoes, veggies, nothing, and then I ate someone else’s cheese, and some friends of mine from high school were there, and I was also in Ohio, but it was Pennsylvania, and I knew that across the highway was my grandmother’s house, but the plow was stuck in the mud, and it was snowing, so I took the wrong turn on the interstate, the same wrong turn that I frequently take in my dreams, and I’m going the wrong way, and I’m late for work.

I awoke with a headache.

More later. Peace.

Today’s post features images of frost flowers, a phenomenon of which I was totally unaware until coming across some pictures on my dashboard. Here is an explanation from the Texas Parks and Recreation site:

Frost flowers develop when air temperatures are freezing but the ground still is warm enough for the plant’s root system to be active. Plant juices flow from these roots up into the stem, where the cold air freezes them. As the moisture in the plant freezes, the ice crystals push out through the stem. They may emerge from a small slit to form thin ribbonlike strands or they may split open a whole section of the stem and push out in a thin, curling sheet. Sometimes several ribbons of ice push out to create a flowerlike petal effect. As long as the juices flow, air temperatures remain low, and the plant is shaded from the sun, these ice crystals continue to form.

Music by Counting Crows, “A Long December”

                   

Prayer

Over a dock railing, I watch the minnows, thousands, swirl
themselves, each a minuscule muscle, but also, without the
way to create current, making of their unison (turning, re-
infolding,
entering and exiting their own unison in unison) making of themselves a
visual current, one that cannot freight or sway by
minutest fractions the water’s downdrafts and upswirls, the
dockside cycles of finally-arriving boat-wakes, there where
they hit deeper resistance, water that seems to burst into
itself (it has those layers) a real current though mostly
invisible sending into the visible (minnows) arrowing
motion that forces change–
this is freedom. This is the force of faith. Nobody gets
what they want. Never again are you the same. The longing
is to be pure. What you get is to be changed. More and more by
each glistening minute, through which infinity threads itself,
also oblivion, of course, the aftershocks of something
at sea. Here, hands full of sand, letting it sift through
in the wind, I look in and say take this, this is
what I have saved, take this, hurry. And if I listen
now? Listen, I was not saying anything. It was only
something I did. I could not choose words. I am free to go.
I cannot of course come back. Not to this. Never.
It is a ghost posed on my lips. Here: never.

~ Jorie Graham

“Are you interested in catastrophes?” ~ Paul Leppin, Blaugast: A Novel of Decline

Waterfall in Suriname Rain Forest
by Robert Caputo (National Geographic Travel)

                   

“This enormous, murky river with its deep current, this is the familiar river, but familiar from where.” ~ Péter Nádas, from Parallel Stories (trans. Imre Goldstein)

Photos of Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, Paramaribo
Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, Paramaribo
Oldest Wooden Church in South America
(source: tripadvisor)

Thursday afternoon. Cloudy, warmer, and very humid.

I got up early to get my fasting lab work done (finally) before Alexis’s ultrasound appointment. Of course there was a backup at the lab, so I left so that I wouldn’t be late for the appointment only to arrive before Alexis and to find out that her appointment was 15 minutes later than she told me. I had forgotten that she does that—writes down her appointments as being 15 minutes before the scheduled time so that she won’t be late.

So anyway . . . went back to the lab after her appointment only to have the lab technician tell me that I needed to register because I wasn’t in the system. Luckily, Alexis noticed that the lab tech had called me by the wrong name. I was still in the system because it hadn’t been that long.

When I got home, Tillie wouldn’t leave me alone until I took her outside to play, which distracted me and made me lose my train of thought, so when I got back to the computer, I looked up songs from the “Revenge” soundtrack, but I’m back now.

My back is killing me, by the way. I could chalk it up to just about anything: the barometric pressure, the rain, the heat . . . whatever.

“So I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.” ~ Pablo Neruda, from “100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor”

Corey texted me this afternoon. He’s in Suriname (I was unaware that the country was spelled with an e on the end, but it is, which is odd as certain things from the country do not have an e on the end, like the Surinam Toad, or Surinam Airways).

Paramaribo Open Market by permanently scatterbrained (FCC)

Anyway, he’s just 1 degree above the equator, and it’s hot.  From there they will go to the Ascension Islands, which are in the South Atlantic, between the Horn of South America and Africa. Then from there they go back to Suriname for fuel, and then he’s not sure, maybe back to the U.S. or possibly Columbia, SA, wherever the ship is going into the yard, so about another 31 days or so.

He had shore leave for a few hours, and he wandered around Paramaribo (a former Dutch Colonial town), which is the capital and the largest city in the small country. He said that there were lots of open air markets. I read that shrimp are supposed to be wonderful there. Most of the population lives in the north, and there is a rainforest in the south that covers up to 80 percent of the country.

“There are ways of naming the wound.

There are ways of entering the dream.
The way a painter enters a studio:

To spill.” ~ Tracy K. Smith, from “History”

Friday afternoon. Sunny and humid.

Fort Zeelandia, Paramaribo, Suriname by madmack66 (FCC)

I just couldn’t finish yesterday. For some reason, I was quite weepy, and a song came on my playlist, and I got that feeling, and then I couldn’t write any more. Just as well, probably. Who knows what I would have said.

Very bad night. I dreamt that Tillie ran through plate-glass and was blinded in one eye, and Corey renamed her Joe, and I didn’t understand why, and I walked out of the house and didn’t lock the front door, so I turned around and went back inside, but it was a different house, and before I could lock the door, a man pushed his way inside, and he tried to grab me but I pushed him, so he pushed me back, and I thought to myself, “this is very weird.”

Corey called last night, and we tried to keep the conversation short so that we do not owe our carrier a second mortgage. He sounded tired as he had just come off watch and had to be back on at 4 in the morning. He’s still liking this job very much and is getting along well with his co-workers. That’s a really good thing, especially when you’re confined with people 24/7.

“Wherever I am
I am what is missing.” ~ Mark Strand, from “Keeping Things Whole”

I do want to take a moment to apologize to my followers whose own blogs appear on my blogroll. I have not been a regular visitor of late, but not by choice. This computer in Eamonn’s room is truly on its last leg, and I am very limited in what I can do. Sometimes as I’m writing, the letters appear on the screen one at a time very slowly, much like a typewriter. I had planned to put my CPU in for repairs this paycheck, but then we had that huge hiccup with T-mobile, and well, more of the same.

Suriname Rainforest Village (Wikimedia Commons)

Once I get my computer up and running, I can get back into my regular mode of visiting people and commenting, something that I truly enjoy doing. It seems that I’m always apologizing for something not being the way that it should . . .

Did I mention that eldest son truly believes that I’m lazy? He (who is very, very much like his father) has never accepted that I am on disability. Whenever we’ve had money issues, he’s said things like, “Well why don’t you just go back to work?” And he’s serious. Not matter how many times Corey or I have tried to break down the realities for him, he still thinks that I’m not working because I’m lazy. This is a very bitter pill to swallow, I have to tell you. It always makes me question myself.

His father could never accept any kind of illness or physical impairment, always believing that the individual affected was just faking. Funny, the things that are ingrained in the DNA.

“And so when all the time had leaked,
Without external sound
Each bound the Other’s Crucifix—” ~ Emily Dickinson, from “[13]

So, well, I’m still weepy. I’m taking my medication, but I did miss one day when I ran out, but that’s been days ago. Truth is I would hate to see how bad I’d really be without the meds. And as always, I am reminded of my mother’s mantra: think happy thoughts . . .

Paramaribo, Suriname by permanently scatterbrained (FCC)

At times such as these I really feel for the people who suffered from some kind of mental illness in generations past, how they had to try to hide it, how if it came to light, they were forever marked as being crazy. The Scarlet A, except it would be a Scarlet C (for crazy?). I mean, there was a time when any political candidate who had ever sought mental health counseling would immediately be out of contention for a race, and even now, few in the public arena are willing to admit that they may have had to seek help.

It’s as if mental health is still in that category of the unspoken verboten: sex scandals, counseling, depression, homosexuality. It’s okay if you ran a company or two into the ground, if you caused thousands of people to lose their retirement, but say that you once had to get help for depression? Nope. Not so much.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), in any given 12-month period, 26.2 percent of the adult U.S. population will suffer from some kind of mental disorder, and contrary to popular belief, women do not suffer more than men. That’s one-quarter of our population.

Chew on that for a moment, and think happy thoughts while you do it.

“I see my life go drifting like a river
From change to change; I have been many things —” ~ W. B. Yeats, from “Fergus and the Druid”

I have a vivid memory of being 14 and sitting on the floor of my bedroom just weeping buckets. The family down the road had moved to Tennessee, and the daughters were two of my best friends since we had moved back to the area. I spent all of my time with them. Their moving left me hollow. My mother told me that nothing was really wrong, that I just had my period.

Colonial Houses, Unesco World Heritage, Paramaribo Center
(oursurprisingworld.com)

Right. But you know, I have to say that it’s not really her fault. She’s a product of her generation, one in which such things were not acknowledged, that to admit that someone in the family was frail (euphemism) was cause for shame. Still, at 14 all I knew was that it felt as if my insides were being torn apart.

Another time when I was really in a bad state a neighbor said that I had “growing pains,” that seemingly innocuous phrase that so many adults use to categorize youthful angst. I remember being so pissed. I just wanted to scream at her that she didn’t know what she was talking about, but I didn’t. I remembered my manners and kept my mouth shut.

Those growing pains produced some of the most angst-filled, emotional bad poetry probably ever written, but at least I sought a way to unburden myself. I don’t know how I got off on this tangent, and now that I’m here, I don’t really want to pursue it any more.

“The red balloon outside rose up
to an unsuspected sky, its chains
strained by the certainty that the nearer the inferno
the greater the paradise,
the nearer the prison cell
the greater the freedom.
Cantabit vacuus coran latrone viator.” ~ Miroslav Holub, from “Interferon” (trans. Dana Habova and David Young)

The penniless traveler will sing in the presence of the highwayman . . .

Paramaribo Photos
Houses Along the River, Paramaribo
(source: Trip Advisor)

In spite of my current state of mind, I can still be amazed by the serendipitous nature of life, how I can come across the perfect quote, a new poet, a new poem—something that says exactly what I’m feeling—when I’m not even looking. I had never heard of Holub, never read this poem, but this section of the poem (quote above) is apt for today. I especially like the Latin phrase at the end of the section.

A penniless traveler has nothing to lose, some would say, and on the surface, that is true. But we all have something to lose, even if it’s hidden deep within, so deep that we have forgotten about it. We all have something to lose, even if it is ourselves.

More later. Peace.

Music by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors (from the very last episode of “House” ever and the song that keeps making me weepy), “Live Forever”

                   

Poems in Braille

1
all your hands are verbs,
now you touch worlds and feel their names—
thru the thing to the name
not the other way thru (in winter
I am Midas, I name gold)

the chair and table and book
extend from your fingers;
all your movements
command these things back to their
places; a fight against familiarity
makes me resume my distance

2
they knew what it meant,
those egyptian scribes who drew
eyes right into their hieroglyphs,
you read them dispassionate until
the eye stumbles upon itself
blinking back from the papyrus

outside, the articulate wind
annotates this; I read carefully
lest I go blind in both eyes, reading with
that other eye the final hieroglyph

3
the shortest distance between 2 points
on a revolving circumference
is a curved line; O let me follow you,
Wencelas

4
with legs and arms I make alphabets
like in those children’s books
where people bend into letters and signs,
yet I do not read the long cabbala of my bones
truthfully; I need only to move to alter the design

5
I name all things in my room
and they rehearse their names,
gather in groups, form tesseracts,
discussing their names among themselves

I will not say the cast is less than the print
I will not say the curve is longer than the line,
I should read all things like braille in this season
with my fingers I should read them
lest I go blind in both eyes reading with
that other eye the final hieroglyph

~ Gwendolyn MacEwen, from  A Breakfeast for Barbarians

“Some nights stay up till dawn, as the moon sometimes does for the sun. Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way of a well, then lifted out into the light.” ~ Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

Irish Cob Horse (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

“Time is constantly passing. If you really consider this fact, you will be simultaneously amazed and terrified . . . As soon as it arises, it is gone. You cannot find any duration. Arising and passing away are simultaneous. That is why there is no seeing nor hearing. That is why we are both sentient beings and insentient beings.” ~ Norman Fischer

Wednesday afternoon. Cloudy and low 50’s.

Four days since my last post, more if you count real posts with words. Have kind of hit a wall again when it comes to posting. Hoping that after the holidays I can get back into the swing. Who knows. Actually, I had really wanted to post yesterday, but the computer was non-cooperative. I had to shut down completely twice, and after all of that, I just thought, bugger it, and stopped trying.

Chilly Christmas on Colton Hills, Wolverhampton, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

The tree is up, as are the stockings, but the house is still half-way done. I need to clear off the dining room table and decorate in that room, and of course, everything needs a good dusting. The living room is still full of boxes from the tree decorations. I would put them back in the garage myself, but you know how that goes. Corey has been called into work last minute the past few days, so he hasn’t had much time around here. Of course, there are my two sons . . .

Hoping to finish shopping this weekend—stocking stuff, underwear, socks, the not-s0-glam presents. I still haven’t done my Christmas cards (we’ve only received two cards so far this year; how sad). I’m thinking that if I get the dining room done today, perhaps I can do the cards tonight, but the past few days have been limited to one project.

The nasty cough is mostly gone, but the wheezing remains, as does the lethargy. I’m just bloody thankful that I did not get the usual accompanying bad migraine from the cough, which always used to happen when I got my annual bronchitis bout. I am fast becoming a true believer in migraine botox. Of course I say that now, but I’ll have to pay out of pocket for the next dose as it will come in 2012 with new my new copayment. Oh well . . .

“You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

When I selected these quotes, I think that I had something else in mind, but I can’t quite be certain. But I have found over the years that it’s hard to go astray with Rilke and Rumi, two of my favorites, obviously.

Attaka in Winter Pasture (Wikimedia Commons)

A blogger friend of mine mentioned a site to me (I Write Like) on which you can paste a sample of your writing, and a program will do a quick analysis and spit out the name of a famous writer whose style is similar to yours (or vice versa). I’ve put in several different samples, and this is what I’ve gotten: I write like E. L. Doctorow, Anne Rice (?), H. P. Lovecraft (haven’t read anything by), David Foster Wallace (well, that’s not bad, I suppose), and one other person that I can’t remember.

What does this tell me? Not a lot, other than I don’t write like Fitzgerald or Woolf, which would have been too much to ask for, I suppose.

It’s interesting though in that I’m certain the program looks at things like sentence length, word choices, phrasing, etc., and from the various results that I’ve gotten it tells me that I don’t write like the same person on any given day. What does that say about me? That’s I’m just as fragmented as I’ve always believed myself to be? That my style depends upon my mood? That I don’t have a style, per se?

Quite honestly, I think that what it says most of all is that—as I’ve long suspected—the interwebs have a brain and wicked sense of humor.

“Man is a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.” ~ Paracelsus, Swiss Alchemist, Philosopher

Last night I dreamt of my uncle, the one who wasn’t really my uncle but was one of my dad’s lifelong best friends, so in the Filipino way, I called him uncle and have always thought of his family as relatives. He died two years after my father died. That I still dream of him says a lot about what a presence he was in my life. I dreamed that he was a jewelry maker and that he had designed these incredible necklaces with beautiful stones. I picked out one that had lovely aquamarine stones.

German Winter: Horses in Snow (Wikimedi Commons)

Then my dreams carried me back into the classroom, and I was teaching math (me? please) to grade school children during summer school. I was with some of the people I had taught with at the middle school, and they did not try to hide their displeasure at my appearance. No one was prepared with any kind of lesson plans, and I was serving the kids cake. Make of that what you will.

Why must I dream of people I would much rather never see again, let alone give a thought to? Why cannot my dreams be more populated with the faces of those I love and have loved? Why does my mind go to such strange places sometimes: math and cake? And why, oh why, whenever I dream about working in some way, do I always have this sudden realization that I cannot be working and that I will have to repay the government thousands of dollars?

I know. There are no answers for such futile questions.

“Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind’s
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer.” ~ Wendell Berry, Stanza VI, “Sabbaths 2001”

A woman with whom I worked once asked me why I used the word dreamt instead of dreamed. I think that it’s probably just an offshoot of my literary training. Shakespeare. You know. But dreamt just comes naturally to me, and seems a bit more poetic somehow.

Non sequitur. Or maybe not.

Horse at Moulzie, Upper Glen Cova, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

I mean, I have been thinking about why I use the words that I use. I have been very, very fortunate throughout my life to have worked with and encountered people with a real command of the English language, not just in college and graduate school, but at the newspaper and even at the government contracting firm for whom I worked years ago. There I worked with two men who were both very erudite and articulate. Then there was the museum director for whom I worked.

Dipping my toes into so many different pools has shaped me in so many ways, has afforded me continuous growth. I miss that as I do not believe that we should never stop growing. I miss the garrulous banter of the newsroom that nurtured me when I was an undergraduate. I miss the deep, rich voice of the man who walked into my office, hand outstretched, and said, “I’m from corporate. I’m here to help,” with just the faintest trace of irony beneath his words.

Sitting here, I do not have the same opportunities to hear the rich pageantry that is still churning somewhere out there without me. I mean, I know that in general, our society is in a period of decline culturally and socially, but I know that there are still people out there who love the word, love the sound of words, love the essence of words, and I’m not speaking of politicians, who use and abuse words.

They exist still, perhaps not those same individuals, but those individuals who just by their very essence enrich those around them with their everyday verse, the verse of Walt Whitman’s common man.

“The time has come to turn your heart into a temple of fire. Your essence is gold hidden in dust. To reveal its splendor, you need to burn in the fire of Love.” ~ Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

I supposed the point at which I have arrived is the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” of which W. B. Yeats spoke in “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”—searching for a theme in vain, “What can I enumerate but old themes?”

Winter in Westphalia, Germany (Wikimedia Commons)

You know the rag and bone man. He lives still today, with his shopping cart with the wobbly wheel, his trash bags filled with aluminum cans and other things that the world has deemed as refuse. He (and she) walks along, collects, and most of us have no concept of what might be of value to him.

The traditional rag and bone man, who amassed household refuse and resold it to make a living, the rags and bones of life, what we castoff in search of . . . something. I think that as writers we are all rag and bone men at some point: gathering, sifting, getting rid of what we can, keeping some, always looking for more. And more often than not, we are looking for a theme, a theme that eludes us.

Whether that’s words, or even the perfect turn of the phrase, we wander, perhaps not down streets and alleyways with our rag bags or our carts, but we wander, and we pick up, and sometimes out of what we collect, we are able to make something worth more than the parts alone.

But only sometimes.

More later. Peace.

Music by Diana Krall, “White Christmas’

                   

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott