“For to stay is to be nowhere at all.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from Duino Elegies: The First Elegy

Rainer Maria Rilke (Wikimedia Commons)

Two for Tuesday: Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Tuesday afternoon, partly cloudy, 48 degrees.

Not two poems today, but prose by the prolific German-language poets. Rilke was born in Prague in what was at that time called the Austro-Hungarian empire. His earlier work  evokes a sense of romanticism, but after two life-changing trips to Russia, Rilke’s work evolved into what would become his predominant approach to writing: [these trips provided hims with] “poetic material and inspiration essential to his developing philosophy of existential materialism and art as religion” (Poetry Foundation).

Throughout his life, Rilke interacted with key artists of the period, including Tolstoy, Pasternak, and Rodin, for whom Rilke worked as secretary (1905-06).  Although best known for his German language work, Rilke’s ouevre included 400 poems written in  French. Additionally, he was a prodigious letter writer, especially to the significant women in his life, and many of his letters reflect the poet’s continual search for meaning through art and his desire to determine poet’s overarching role in society.

In 1912, Rilke began writing Duino Elegies, so called because Rilke began the collection while visiting Duino Castle on the Italian Adriatic coast. The collection, considered to be his magnum opus, took him ten years to write. Rilke, who suffered from health problems his entire life, including stifling depression, died of leukemia in 1926.

Go here or here for more information on the poet and his work. The selections below are from Rilke’s only novel, which was considered to be semi-autobiographical, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910).


From “Fears”

All the lost fears are here again.

The fear that a small woolen thread sticking out of the hem of my blanket may be hard, hard and sharp as a steel needle; the fear that this little button on my night-shirt may be bigger than my head, bigger and heavier; the fear that the breadcrumpbwhich just dropped off my bed may turn into glass, and shatter when it hits the floor, and the sickening worry that when it does, everything will be broken, for ever; the fear that the ragged edge of a letter which was torn open may be something forbidden, which no one out to see, something indescribably precious, for which no place in the room is safe enough; the fear that if I fell asleep I might swallow the piece of coal lying in front of the stove; the fear that some number may begin to grow in my brain until there is no more room for it inside me; the fear that I may be lying on granite, on gray granite; the fear that I may start screaming, and people will come running to y door ad finally force it open, the fear that I might betray myself and tell everything I drea, and the fear that I might not be able to say anything because everything is unsayable,—and the other fears . . . the fears.

From “For the Sake of a Single Poem”

. . . Ah poems amount to so little when you write then too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else—); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,—and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no  longer to be distinguished from ourselves—only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.


Music by The National, “Heavenfaced”

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“It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering with.” ~ Stephen Fry, from Moab Is My Washpot

) wv-fall-foliage-mountain-sunrise
Fall Foliage: Mountain Sunrise, West Virginia (Wikimedia Common)

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.” ~ Helen MacDonald, from H is for Hawk

Thursday evening. Partly cloudy, a bit unseasonably warm, and very windy, 67 degrees.

Hello. Very, very long time, no write. I hadn’t realized exactly just how long it had been until I looked at the date of my last real post, you know, one with more than someone else’s words — three and a half years almost. If you’ve stayed with me, I thank you. If you’ve dropped by a time or two, I do so appreciate it. If you’ve despaired of me ever writing another original word, well, that makes several of us.

Mount_Sterling,_North_Carolina_Fall_Foliage
Fall Foliage: Mount Sterling, NC, by Jrmichae (Wikimedia Commons)

So . . . onward, as it were.

Greetings from the mountains of Virginia. The last time we visited, I was still living on the east coast of Virginia. This past summer, after many aborted starts and stops, we (my husband and 2 dogs and 1 cat (relatively new addition)) brought the final truckload to our acres of tree covered land in a small town in southwest Virginia.

Life changes even as we do . . .

I needed my mistakes
in their own order
to get me here ~ W.S. Merwin, from “Wild Oats”

To the matter at hand: Where have I been, and perhaps more importantly, why?

The first is much easier: I have been nowhere. I have been sitting. I have been stewing. I have been composing in my head and putting nothing down permanently. I have been contemplating, and I have been questioning. Between there have been many tears, recriminations, regrets, harsh words, and unbelievable support. And the end result is a whole lot of nothing and a whole lot of . . . well, I’m not exactly sure.

San_Bernardino_Mountains,_Big_Bear,_CA_(5808766463)
San Bernadino Mountains, Big Bear, CA, by inkknife_2000 (Wikimedia Commons)

But as far as my writing, my composing, my creating? Nothing. Not. a. thing.

I never intended to be away this long. It was a dry spell, one that I thought I would conquer as I had before, be away for a few weeks, and then I would return. But weeks turned into months, which morphed into a year, and then another year, until I was embarrassed by the delay. Mortified by the failed declarations of return. And ultimately, I feared that I really had nothing to say nothingtosay nothingtosayyyyyyyyy . . .

So there was the writer’s block, the epic writer’s block, and then there was the election (far too many words for this), and then there was the depression, and then there was . . . well . . . I’ll have to think about that part a bit more.

“Alas, the vices of man, as horrifying as they are presumed to be, contain proof (if only in their infinite expansiveness!) of his bent for the infinite.” ~ Charles Baudelaire, from Artificial Paradises

Fall Foliage in Laurel Mountains
Fall Foliage in Laurel Mountains by Ron Shawley (Wikimedia Commons)

I imagine that I will delve into things much more as I go here. After all, I’m still getting my feet wet here. I need to update my site, get rid of all of the broken links, create a new header, find a new theme, decide if I want to pay to get rid of the WordPress ads . . . Also, I have to say that the whole idea of social media (which I suppose is the category into which blogs still fall) stymies me. I mean, it’s so divisive, so full of venom and vicissitude. The discourse is more often than not, well, coarse. I just don’t understand.

From what I’ve observed in visiting other sites and places, people are not very kind on social media. In fact, this modern form of connecting and communicating seems inhabited by many people who like nothing better than to incite and accuse. It’s not for those who bruise easily, and quite honestly, I don’t know if I currently fall into that category.

“The virtue of angels is that they cannot deteriorate; their flaw is that they cannot improve. Man’s flaw is that he can deteriorate, and his virtue is that he can improve.” ~ The Talmud

I’ve had to look back at previous posts just to try to remember how I used to do things, which doesn’t mean that that’s how I’m going to continue to do things. I still hope to incorporate other’s quotes, selections of images that are free of copyright or for which I have obtained permission, music maybe, but I also hope to do more of my own photography, show some of what I’m looking at these days.

So much to do, so much time in which to do it. That’s a bit different, isn’t it?

Fall-foliage-changing-mountains_-_Virginia_-_ForestWander
Fall Foliage: Virginia Mountains, by Forest Wander (Wikimedia Commons)

I must admit to conflicting feelings: trepidation and excitement. Trepidation — do I really want to do this again? What will it mean? How will it go? Will people still find my words interesting? Is it too late to come back?

Excitement — This feels quite natural. I think that I actually have things to say again. I want this platform, this freedom, this exhilaration that comes from the risk of putting myself out there.

Ultimately, only you can tell me, and I don’t even know if you’re still out there. Let me know, won’t you?

More later. Promise. Peace.

Music by Lady Gaga, “I’ll Never Love Again” (love, love, love this song)

 

“This has become my picture of my future self: wandering the house in the darkness, in my white nightdress, howling for what I can’t quite remember I’ve lost.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “The Bad News”

Zinaïda Serebriakova Poultry Yard 1910
“Poultry Yard” (1910)
by Zinaïda Serebriakova

“I want to be lifted up
By some great white bird unknown […]
And soar for a thousand miles and be carefully hidden
Modest and golden as one last corn grain,
Stored with the secrets of the wheat” ~ James Wright, from “The Minneapolis Poem”

Thursday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cold, 39 degrees.

Edvard Munch Winter in Kragerø 1916 oil on canvas
“Winter in Kragerø” (1916, oil on canvas)
by Edvard Munch

Another bad night. I forgot to apply a new pain patch before bed, and as a result, the ache in my legs awoke me every few hours, which only fueled the dogs to keep pestering me to go out, even when I knew that they really didn’t need to.

I had a very weird dream in which Corey’s sister was balancing our checkbook, and we lived in a different big house that had a sunken tub, and all I wanted to do was escape and soak in the tub, but people kept asking me to do things, and then someone wanted to know why I was having the drapes in my mother’s house altered, and how it only cost $40, and I just didn’t have answers.

And last night as I was watching something, can’t remember what, I realized that my head hurt, and I wonder when I passed over from being acutely aware of my headaches to the point at which their omnipresence has become status quo, so much so that I don’t quite feel them? How does that happen? I mean, I know that the body adjusts its threshold for pain, but this? To actually have to tell myself, “hey, your head really hurts . . . perhaps you should take some medicine for that”?

It just blows my mind.

“There is something maddeningly attractive about the untranslatable, about a word that goes silent in transit.” ~ Anne Carson, from “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent”

At some point during one of my awake periods, I had a fragment of a poem appear, and I rolled over thinking that surely I would remember it, but then I realized that I would never remember it, so I jotted it down in pencil on the first thing I could find, which was the wrapper for my pain patch, and now I have to find it. I have another fragment somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t remember if I stuck it in the middle of one of my countless drafts here, or if I actually opened Word and put it there.

Boris Anisfield Stony Point, New York 1925 oil on canvas
“Stony Point, New York” (1925, oil on canvas)
by Boris Anisfield

So obviously, forcing myself to write down what I told myself I would remember was a good thing . . .

I had Olivia on Monday and Tuesday of this week, which is always a treat, but since Corey left Monday afternoon, I did not sleep much at all that night. That’s how it always is on the first night after he leaves again. I have to try to remember (that word, again) not to schedule anything for the day after he leaves because I am physically and emotionally useless.

After all of this time of him shipping out, you would think that I would be used to it, but not so much. I mean, I have adjusted much better to the period when he is gone and being her by myself with just the dogs, and only once in a while does it cause me to fall into a tailspin, but the actual physical separation as represented so starkly in our half empty bed? That gets to me every single time.

“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff—and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov, from “Pale Fire”

Yesterday I took care of some Christmas returns and exchanges. Brett and Em went with me, so it made it a bit easier. We actually got a tremendous amount done, and we were all done in afterwards.

Vincent van Gogh The Old Station at Eindhoven 1885
“The Old Station at Eindhoven” (1885, oil on canvas)
by Vincent van Gogh

I had bought myself some dinner at Costco, but only ended up eating a slice of bread. Before you think me too spartan, I have to confess that every time I get up in the middle of the night into the morning, I eat something, whether it’s a piece of chocolate or an Oreo. It’s an abominable habit, one that I would really like to break. The only time I haven’t done this in recent memory was when I had bronchitis, and everything tasted foul.

Anyway, another leftover from the bronchitis is my unabating hankering for Typhoo tea with lemon and honey. I go through phases with my tea, and most of the time I take it like workman’s tea—strong with cream and sweetener, but the honey/lemon combination helps so much with chest congestion. That, or it’s completely in my mind, which has been known to happen.

“My heart always timidly hides itself behind my mind. I set out to bring down stars from the sky, then, for fear of ridicule, I stop and pick little flowers of eloquence.” ~ Edmond Rostand, from Cyrano de Bergerac

Let’s see . . . what else is going on in my fun-filled adventurous life?

I’m gradually getting the house back in order after Christmas. Right before Corey left he finally set up the single bed for Olivia, and we began to sift through the boxes and piles that have accumulated in that corner bedroom. There is just so much. It’s never a good idea to let one room in your house become a junk room because it just gets away from you too easily. I can vouch for that.

“Winter Sketch” (1912, oil on paperboard)
by J. E. H. McDonald

He was also able to set up but not finesse the house backup system I bought us for Christmas. This thing has 4 terabytes of memory. Remember when 2G was a big deal? Hell, I remember being happy with megabytes. My how far we’ve come in such a short time.

I have at least two tubs worth of books that I need to sort through and pack, and my reason for not doing so before is silly: I want to record them on Goodreads. It’s not the number of books that I’ve read, but the fact that Goodreads gives me a free repository of the titles in my personal library. Years ago, before PCs, I had a handwritten list of my books, in particular, my poetry books, and it came in very handy after the one place I worked caught on fire. So there’s that.

But there is also a mess of strange cords, loose tools, two bags of shredding to be done . . .

“But in those days what did I know of the pleasures of loss,
Of the edge of the abyss coming close with its hisses
And storms, a great watery animal breaking itself on the rocks,

Sending up stars of salt, loud clouds of spume.” ~ Mark Strand, from “Dark Harbor”

Well, the end of January is creeping up on me, and I have to admit that I am terribly afraid. My mom has been on my mind so much lately, and she haunts my dreams almost every night. And as much as I wish it would snow, I think that having a snowstorm at the end of January would just about do me in because one of my acutest memories of last year was walking to the hospital in the snow.

Pekka Halonen Lumisia Mannyntaimia Snowy Pine Seedlings 1899
“Lumisia Mannytaimia (Snowy Pine Seedlings)” (1899, tempera on canvas)
by Pekka Halonen

Anyway, I’m trying to keep my mind occupied, but who knows . . .

I still haven’t done anything with the now dead poinsettias that I had bought for the cemeteries, and they serve as a constant reminder of what a failure I am at honoring my mother and father. I know. You probably think that I’m exaggerating, trying to get sympathy. But truly, no.

I have never hidden my long-standing love/hate relationship with guilt, but this is something more. I well and truly feel as if I have dishonored and failed my parents by not going to the cemetery at Christmas, by not even visiting Caitlin at Christmas. And yes, I had bronchitis, but still, the feeling looms large, and it pierces my heart, and I just don’t know what else to say, so perhaps I should stop now.

More winter pictures. More later. Peace.

Music by David Beats Goliath, “Maisie & Neville

                   

Death and the Moon

(for Catherine Marcangeli)

The moon is nearer than where death took you
at the end of the old year. Cold as cash
in the sky’s dark pocket, its hard old face
is gold as a mask tonight. I break the ice
over the fish in my frozen pond, look up
as the ghosts of my wordless breath reach
for the stars. If I stood on the tip of my toes
and stretched, I could touch the edge of the moon.

I stooped at the lip of your open grave
to gather a fistful of earth, hard rain,
tough confetti, and tossed it down. It stuttered
like morse on the wood over your eyes, your tongue,
your soundless ears. Then as I slept my living sleep
the ground gulped you, swallowed you whole,
and though I was there when you died,
in the red cave of your widow’s unbearable cry.

and measured the space between last words
and silence, I cannot say where you are. Unreachable
by prayer, even if poems are prayers. Unseeable
in the air, even if souls are stars. I turn
to the house, its windows tender with light, the moon,
surely, only as far again as the roof. The goldfish
are tongues in the water’s mouth. The black night
is huge, mute, and you are further forever than that.

~ Carol Ann Duffy

“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.

“The mind is constantly trying to figure out what page it’s on in the story of itself.” ~ Ikko Narasaki

Egon Schiele Trees Mirrored in a Pond 1907
“Trees Mirrored in a Pond” (1907, oil on cardboard)
by Egon Schiele

                   

“You will either step forward into growth or back into safety.” ~ Abraham Maslow

Saturday afternoon. Sunny and too warm, 84 degrees.

So I just spent the better part of the morning getting this blog caught up. I know. I know. It’s been a week since my last post. Such a week.

Hermann Max Pechstein Autumn Sea 1933
“Autumn Sea” (1933, oil on canvas)
by Hermann Max Pechstein

First, let me start off by saying it’s too damned hot for October. We already owe Virginia Power our souls because of running the AC, so I’d really like a break from that whole routine. You know? But no. Hot and humid equal need for AC, otherwise, I sweat and get too hot, and my head begins to hurt more. Plus, my esse is already acclimated for fall.

Speaking of heads, the migraine still hasn’t left completely. My pain management doctor thinks it’s so bad because it’s time for Botox again. Who knows. All I know is that light hurts and the pain is constant, although with the levels abating.

Also speaking of heads, it should be illegal to go to a pain management center wearing a smelly perfume. I walked into the waiting room and was immediately assaulted by a powerful fragrance. I haven’t been laid low by a perfume so badly since Giorgio was popular. Before the doctor got to my room, I was hanging my head over the sink splashing cold water on my face, trying not to throw up. It’s been that kind of week.

“I might enjoy being an albatross, being able to glide for days and daydream for hundreds of miles along the thermals. And then being able to hang like an affliction round some people’s necks.” ~ Seamus Heaney, from the Art of Poetry No. 75

Two hours between the last sentence and this one. I have a feeling that this post may take me well into the night. I want to write, but concentrating is hard. I’m in the midst of another bout of insomnia—difference this time is that I can fall asleep but not stay asleep. Yesterday I was fully awake at 7 a.m., and by 7:30 I was organizing the hall closet. Insomnia + OCD makes for a very bad situation.

Boats at Night 1947 by Patrick Heron 1920-1999
“Boats at Night” (1947, oil on wood)
by Patrick Heron

Today I am trying to force myself to sit here and finish something, but I keep getting distracted. Our neighbor across the street who helps when Corey is away came over to help me figure out why my water pressure was down to nothing. Yesterday the city was out in the street between our two houses working on the pipes. His water is fine, but mine is down to a trickle. Of course, I cannot get the city back out here until Monday.

I heard them out there working, but was in the midst of a meltdown and didn’t bother to go outside and investigate, so by the time I really noticed that the water was almost non-existent, the crew had already left. Friday afternoon, after all.

So I was sure I would be able to get to sleep early last night because I haven’t pulled an 18-hour day in years, but no . . . it was not to be.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Sonnets of Orpheus, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Marcy

Last night I had the strangest dream: I opened the door, and Corey was there. He had gotten home and surprised me. But it wasn’t Corey; I mean, it was, but physically, it was my Catholic boyfriend Johny. Corey/Johny had come home, but he had brought his entire platoon with him.

Cecilia Beaux Half-Tide, Annisquam River 1905
“Half-Tide, Annisquam River” (1905, oil on canvas)
by Cecilia Beaux

There was a reception, and at the bar there were all of these orange alcoholic shots in test tubes stuck in crushed ice. Surreal image, but it matches the field of sliced carrots that appeared later in the dream (don’t ask).

Several of the women from the platoon were surprised that I was there as they were unaware that Corey was married. But after the platoon in its entirety departed, I found a stash of medicine that belonged to one of the women, and I was worried that she had left without her medicine. Then one of Corey’s friends from the unit offered to take the medicine to her, but I didn’t trust him to do it. Michelle Rodriguez (the actor) made an appearance in her usual role of tough female.

It was all just too, too, bizarre.

Your only problem, perhaps, is that you scream without letting yourself cry.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Elmer Nelson Bischoff Boats
“Boats” (1967, oil on canvas)
by Elmer Nelson Bischoff

I’m feeling very in-between: in-between times, in-between moods, in-between states of physical being. There is a restlessness about me that is permeating everything I touch. I begin to do something only to find myself absorbed in some minutiae in less than half an hour. This state is directly tied to my inability to read. I realized that two whole months have passed without my immersing myself in a single book. A very unusual state of affairs, to say the least.

It isn’t quite ennui, as I am too frenetic for that. I am reminded vividly of a time during my tenure at ODU (not as in academic tenure, oh no) when I had morning classes to teach, but I found myself at 3 a.m. sitting in the middle of the dining room floor sorting and categorizing coupons. It was a completely inane thing to be doing, yet I could not stop myself.

That is how I find myself now.

I saw my psychiatrist this past week, as well, and we talked about adding a mood stabilizer to my anti-depressant, but I really don’t want to do that. I take far too many medications now, and to add yet another one, to risk more side effects, just seems like a bad route. For now, she prescribed trazodone for me to take at night to help with the sleep. Of course, I have yet to go pick it up from the pharmacy . . .

“If we are to make reality endurable, we must all nourish a fantasy or two.” ~ Marcel Proust from In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 2

Have you noticed how I tend to include water imagery whenever I am feeling restless, leading me to post an image by Dali, one of the few of his that I actually like? A definite correlation, she said, apropos of nothing . . .

Salvador Dali Moonlight over the Bay at Cadaques c1920
“Moonlight over the Bay at Cadaques” (c1920)
by Salvador Dali

Since Corey left this time I have cleaned out and reorganized the front part of the garage in the area of the washer and dryer. I have done some more cleaning in the backyard. I have completely reorganized the hall closet, and I’m about to tackle my closet to do my seasonal switch in sweaters and shoes. I had to force myself not to start on the closet before I sat down to write.

It’s easier mentally to throw myself into a completely mindless project than it is to concentrate on placing one word after another. Speaking of which, I have been referred to a hand surgeon because my ability to use my left hand has diminished so much that writing with a pen is an exercise in pain if I hold the pen for more than a few minutes. Of course, as with most things, I have to go through a bunch of forms and releases before this new specialist will take me on. It almost makes me not want to bother.

Which, of course, leads to the whole health insurance thing. It’s open season for me; I contemplated for about 10 seconds adding Brett to my health insurance (as he still doesn’t have any; ask his father, beh) until I read the chart and saw that it would cost approximately $700 a month to add him. But no, this country does not need affordable health care. But that, my friends, is a topic for another time.

More later. Peace.

Music by Camera Obscura, “Your Picture”

                   

Photograph

I wish I was a photograph
tucked into the corners of your wallet
I wish I was a photograph
you carried like a future in your pocket
I wish I was that face you show to strangers
when they ask you where you come from
I wish I was that someone that you come from
every time you get there
and when you get there
I wish I was that someone who got phone calls
and postcards saying
wish you were here

I wish you were here
autumn is the hardest season
the leaves are all falling
and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground
and the trees are naked and lonely
I keep trying to tell them
new leaves will come around in the spring
but you can’t tell trees those things
they’re like me they just stand there
and don’t listen

I wish you were here
I’ve been missing you like crazy
I’ve been hazy eyed
staring at the bottom of my glass again
thinking of that time when it was so full
it was like we were tapping the moon for moonshine
or sticking straws into the center of the sun
and sipping like icarus would forever kiss
the bullets from our guns

I never meant to fire you know
I know you never meant to fire lover
I know we never meant to hurt each other
now the sky clicks from black to blue
and dusk looks like a bruise
I’ve been wrapping one night stands
around my body like wedding bands
but none of them fit in the morning
they just slip off my fingers and slip out the door
and all that lingers is the scent of you
I once swore if I threw that scent into a wishing well
all the wishes in the world would come true
do you remember

do you remember the night I told you
I’ve never seen anything more perfect than
than snow falling in the glow of a street light
electricity bowing to nature
mind bowing to heartbeat
this is gonna hurt bowing to I love you
I still love you like moons love the planets they circle around
like children love recess bells
I still hear the sound of you
and think of playgrounds
where outcasts who stutter
beneath braces and bruises and acne
are finally learning that their rich handsome bullies
are never gonna grow up to be happy
I think of happy when I think of you

so wherever you are I hope you’re happy
I really do
I hope the stars are kissing your cheeks tonight
I hope you finally found a way to quit smoking
I hope your lungs are open and breathing your life
I hope there’s a kite in your hand
that’s flying all the way up to orion
and you still got a thousand yards of string to let out
I hope you’re smiling
like god is pulling at the corners of your mouth
cause I might be naked and lonely
shaking branches for bones
but I’m still time zones away
from who I was the day before we met
you were the first mile
where my heart broke a sweat
and I wish you were here
I wish you’d never left
but mostly I wish you well
I wish you my very very best

~ Andrea Gibson

“You want to cry aloud for your mistakes. But to tell the truth the world doesn’t need any more of that sound.” ~ Mary Oliver

Male Lesser_goldfinch WC matt knoth
Male Lesser Goldfinch
matt knoth (Wikimedia Commons)

                   

Mary Oliver references Rilke. Good stuff:

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

~ Mary Oliver

                    

Music by Birdy, “The A Team”