“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” ~ William Styron, from Conversations with William Styron

Literary circles of influence

“Only the very weak-minded refuse to be influenced by literature and poetry.” ~ Cassandra Clare, from Clockwork Angel

Thirty Day Book Challenge

For this meme, I’m only going to talk about fiction, no poetry or drama. So here goes . . .

Day 01: Best book you read last year

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, which I began reading as an ARC; however, I dropped the ARC in the pool, so I had to grab a new copy as soon as the book hit the market. Actually, that was probably a couple of years ago. Last year’s favorite was predictably The Fault in our Stars, which was luminous.

Day 02: A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. For a while, I read this series once a year. I haven’t done so in the last four or five years, but I plan to bring back this annual pilgrimage to Middle Earth. Coming in at a close second are all of the Harry Potter books, and books 1-6 of the Dune Series.

Day 03: Your favorite series

You would think that it would be #2 above, but it’s not. My favorite series is actually the Harry Potter series. I was a little late in coming to the series as I mistakenly believed that they were children’s books, but once I had read the first, I devoured books one through three and then had to wait for the next one.

Day 04: Favorite book of your favorite series

This one would is hard as I really love books 3 and 5. The Prisoner of Azkaban introduced Sirius Black, one of my favorite characters. The Order of the Pheonix killed Sirius Black. I believe that these two books represent Harry’s headlong rush into maturity as he was buoyed along by circumstances not of his choosing.

Day 05 : A book that makes you happy

Another hard category for me because I rarely read anything with a happy ending, but after giving it some thought, I would have to say Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss. Timeless, the inherent silliness of the wordplay in this book inspires a smile. I once used this particular book in a literature class to illustrate dramatic effect: rising action, falling action, dilemma/conflict, denouement, etc.

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Day 06: A book that makes you sad

Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. The three women in this book all face life-changing decisions, but the way in which Cunningham weaves together the three different streams of consciousness is remarkable. A close second would be Tuesdays with Morrie, but it’s not fiction.

Day 07: Most underrated book

Josephine Humphreys Rich in Love. I loved everything about this book, and it left me thinking for days.

Day 08: Most overrated book

Ulysses, by James Joyce. Oh, I know, I’m supposed to love this book because of the whole English literature thing, and at one point I really did love it, but as time has passed, I have realized that only English majors and professors could really love this book.

Second is Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I just can’t get past the whole cockroach thing. I know that it’s a metaphor about life and alienation and comformity, but still, a bug.

Day 09: A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Before I read The Hour I First Believed, I hadn’t touched anything by Wally Lamb. I kept hearing about the book, but didn’t buy it, probably because of the title; it just sounded too uplifting. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth, and equally surprised by just how much this book touched me.

Day 10: Favorite classic book

I am actually very partial to Charles Dickens, especially David Copperfield more than Great Expectations; I still haven’t been able to make myself like Moby Dick. And of course, pretty much anything by Fitzgerald or Woolf is on my top list.

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet

Day 11: A book you hated

Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. That’s a few hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

Day 12: A book you used to love but don’t anymore

This would be almost anything by Patricia Cornwell written after book five in her Kay Scarpetta series. Initially, I loved Scarpetta, a tough, intelligent woman, but as the series continued, Cornwell became so formulaic that Scarpetta turned into a whiny shell of her former self.

Day 13: Your favorite writer

This one is impossible. I have a favorite writer for each genre, for example, P. D. James for mystery; J. R. R. Tolkien for fantasy; Frank Herbert for science fiction; Anne Rule for true crime; F. Scott Fitzgerald & Virginia Woolf for classics; J. K. Rowling for young adult; Thomas Harris for thrillers; Ian Rankin for detective stories. Actually, I could probably come up with more, but I think that I’ve completely missed this one.

Day 14: Favorite book of your favorite writer

I love The Great Gatsby. I still believe that it’s wasted on juniors in high school. You need some adult experience and perspective to appreciate all of the nuances of this book.

Day 15: Favorite male character

At the moment, I am completely enamored of Tyrion Lannister (Song of Fire and Ice series). I love everything about him, his wit, his wisdom, his perspective on life and family. Everything.

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” ~ Carl Sagan

Day 16: Favorite female character

This is so hard, so very very hard, but if I must narrow it to one, I think it would have to be Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander from The Millenium Trilogy. Lisbeth is incredibly smart but terribly flawed. She is seemingly unafraid and simultaneously uncomfortable and ill at ease.

Day 17: Favorite quote from your favorite book

“There are betrayals in war that are childlike compared with our human betrayals during peace. The new lovers enter the habits of the other. Things are smashed, revealed in a new light. This is done with nervous or tender sentences, although the heart is an organ of fire,” from Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

Day 18: A book that disappointed you

This may sound strange, but I was disappointed in Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak. I saw the original movie when I was just a girl, but I fell in love with the characters, the story, and especially, the scenery. So years later when I read the book, I just couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed that I didn’t come away with the same feelings that the movie inspired in me.

Day 19: Favorite book turned into a movie

Sorry, but this has to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I know that I’ve already mentioned this, but truly, Peter Jackson’s interpretation was brilliant. But a close runner-up would be A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess. The eye scene still haunts me. And third would be The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. Honorable mention: Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.

Day 20: Favorite romance book

Oh this would have to be Wuthering Heights. I don’t read romance in the vein of Harlequin romance, but as far as a love story, this one wins. Heathcliffe.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Day 21: Favorite book from your childhood

Another tie, this time between A Secret Garden and Island of the Blue Dolphins. Both books featured adventurous female protagonists, and I read and reread each of them many times between the ages of 8 and 14.

Day 22: Favorite book you own

You might as well ask me who my favorite child is, or who my favorite dog is because this one is completely impossible to answer.

Day 23: A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

I feel that I should read something by David Foster Wallace, like Infinite Jest, yet I can’t help but feel that he’s highly overrated, which is purely a gut feeling and probably unfair. And I’m also shocked to say this, but I haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Day 24: A book that you wish more people would’ve read

Carson McCullers’ Heart is a Lonely Hunter. I know that it shows up as required reading in some college courses, but still, the characterizations alone make this simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking.

Day 25: A character who you can relate to the most

I’m basing this on a book that I just read, Chez Moi, by Agnes Desarthe. The protagonist in this book is a woman who is in the middle of trying to figure out her life. She has made mistakes, has suffered losses, but throughout, she survives, and eventually thrives.

“My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music, and silence.” ~ Edith Sitwell

Day 26: A book that changed your opinion about something

Sho-Gun by James Clavell. I first read this book while I was an undergraduate. It wasn’t the length that made me wary, but the things that I had heard. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted a historical novel. I was so wrong. This book was a sweeping epic of feudal Japan, and I’m heartbroken that I cannot find my original two-volume hardbound set.

Day 27: The most surprising plot twist or ending

I hated what happened at the end of Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. McMurphy is erased as a human being; however, the redemption comes through Chief Bromden, who finally releases himself. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Griffin & Sabine trilogy, by Nick Bantock; everything about these books is surprising.

Day 28: Favorite title

Their Eyes were Watching God. I love everything about this book.

Day 29: A book everyone hated but you liked

I’m actually going to switch this around to a book everyone liked but I hated: Gone with the Wind . . . boring . . . Second would be Catcher in the Rye . . . seriously?

Day 30: Your favorite book of all time

Heart of Darkness Catch22 The Shining The Handmaid’s Tale Kafka on the Shore The World According to Garp Lolita Member of the Wedding The Alchemist Silence of the Lambs The Bone Collector The Naming of the Dead A Game of Thrones The Hunger Games The Golden Notebook A Wrinkle in Time Gorky Park Ethan Frome Remorseful Day The Weight of Water The Godfather Red Dragon The Blind Assassin Snow Falling on Cedars…………………………………..

Music by Jackie Greene, “I Don’t Live in a Dream”


 

Sections in the bookstore

– Books You Haven’t Read
– Books You Needn’t Read
– Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
– Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
– Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
– Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
– Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
– Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
– Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
– Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
– Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
– Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
– Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
– Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
– Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
– Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
– Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
– Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
– Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them

~ Italo Calvino, from If on a winter’s night a traveler

 

 

“Writers ever since writing began have had problems, and the main problem narrows down to just one word—life.” ~ William Styron, from “The Art of Fiction No. 5”

From one of the first interviews in The Paris Review (1954), the young William Styron (click on link for full interview):

INTERVIEWER (Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton)

What value has the creative writing course for young writers?

STYRON

It gives them a start, I suppose. But it can be an awful waste of time. Look at those people who go back year after year to summer writers’ conferences, you get so you can pick them out a mile away. A writing course can only give you a start, and help a little. It can’t teach writing. The professor should weed out the good from the bad, cull them like a farmer, and not encourage the ones who haven’t got something. At one school I know in New York, which has a lot of writing courses, there are a couple of teachers who moon in the most disgusting way over the poorest, most talentless writers, giving false hope where there shouldn’t be any hope at all. Regularly they put out dreary little anthologies, the quality of which would chill your blood. It’s a ruinous business, a waste of paper and time, and such teachers should be abolished.

INTERVIEWER

The average teacher can’t teach anything about technique or style?

STYRON

Well, he can teach you something in matters of technique. You know—don’t tell a story from two points of view and that sort of thing. But I don’t think even the most conscientious and astute teachers can teach anything about style. Style comes only after long, hard practice and writing.

INTERVIEWER

Do you enjoy writing?

STYRON

I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.

INTERVIEWER

How many pages do you turn out each day?

STYRON

When I’m writing steadily—that is, when I’m involved in a project that I’m really interested in, one of those rare pieces that has a foreseeable end—I average two-and-a-half or three pages a day, longhand on yellow sheets. I  spend about five hours at it, of which very little is spent actually writing. I try to get a feeling of what’s going on in the story before I put it down on paper, but actually most of this breaking-in period is one long, fantastic daydream, in which I think about anything but the work at hand. I can’t turn out slews of stuff each day. I wish I could. I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph—each sentence, even—as I go along.

INTERVIEWER

And what time of the day do you find best for working?

STYRON

The afternoon. I like to stay up late at night and get drunk and sleep late. I wish I could break the habit but I can’t. The afternoon is the only time I have left and I try to use it to the best advantage, with a hangover.

INTERVIEWER

Do you use a notebook?

STYRON

No, I don’t feel the need for it. I’ve tried, but it does no good, since I’ve never used what I’ve written down. I think the use of a notebook depends upon the individual.

INTERVIEWER

Do you find you need seclusion?

STYRON

I find it’s difficult to write in complete isolation. I think it would be hard for me on a South Sea island or in the Maine woods. I like company and entertainment, people around. The actual process of writing, though, demands complete, noiseless privacy, without even music; a baby howling two blocks away will drive me nuts.

INTERVIEWER

Does your emotional state have any bearing on your work?

STYRON

I guess like everybody I’m emotionally fouled up most of the time, but I find I do better when I’m relatively placid. It’s hard to say, though. If writers had to wait until their precious psyches were completely serene there wouldn’t be much writing done. Actually—though I don’t take advantage of the fact as much as I should—I find that I’m simply the happiest, the placidest, when I’m writing, and so I suppose that that, for me, is the final answer. When I’m writing I find it’s the only time that I feel completely self-possessed, even when the writing itself is not going too well. It’s fine therapy for people who are perpetually scared of nameless threats as I am most of the time—for jittery people. Besides, I’ve discovered that when I’m not writing I’m prone to developing certain nervous tics, and hypochondria. Writing alleviates those quite a bit. I think I resist change more than most people. I dislike traveling, like to stay settled. When I first came to Paris all I could think about was going home, home to the old James River. One of these days I expect to inherit a peanut farm. Go back home and farm them old peanuts and be real old Southern whisky gentry.

“You will be identified as thin-skinned and moody; in reaction you will identify yourself as civilized and sensitive. You will barricade yourself in that preposterous condition known as self-respect.” ~ Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions

"Purple Heather," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (ND, watercolor on paper)*

                   

“We construct a narrative for ourselves, and that’s the thread that we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.” ~  Paul Auster

Thursday afternoon. Cloudy and warm, possible evening thunder showers.

Alexis and I had talked about going with my mother to Babies r Us today  just to look around, but mom isn’t feeling great, and my back is killing me today, so we’ll be putting that off for now. I wasn’t going to purchase anything, not yet. I’m waiting to see what she doesn’t get from other people, and then we’ll try to fill in the gaps. We were going with my mother since mom has a tendency not to shop from gift lists, and since Lex registered at both Target and Babies r Us, it would be kind of nice if mom would shop from the registry.

"Tropical Sunset," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1960, watercolor on paper)

Anyway, I took Brett to school, and Corey went to work this afternoon. He was originally supposed to work this morning, but that shift was called off; then they asked him to work this afternoon because someone called in, which is good as he only had two shifts for this week.

He’s really beating himself up over the whole MMD thing, and is convinced that everyone is really disappointed with him and secretly upset with him. It’s called a mistake, and they happen, and yes, they seem to happen overabundantly to us, but what are you going to do? Of course, I have no room to talk about carrying around guilt all the time, but it’s so hard to see in Corey, especially since no one really feels the way that he thinks they do. I mean, it’s just as much my fault as it is his that he left the house without his credentials packed. We both knew that he needed them, both knew that they were essential, but neither of us remembered, in spite of checking, rechecking, and checking again.

I think that we were so concerned about the weight of the suitcase, not going over the 50-pound limit, that we got distracted by that. It doesn’t matter, though. He’s still beating himself up. Just for good measure, I’m back to thinking that if I could just go back to work, it would end this damned cycle that we’re in. I don’t know what to think, to be honest.

“The madness of depression is . . . a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.” ~ William Styron in Darkness Visible

I know that I’ve mentioned it before, but I read Styron’s Darkness Visible years ago while sitting in the coffee shop at Barnes & Noble. It’s not a very long book, but it’s an incredible read, especially for those of us who suffer from clinical depression. The way in which Styron describes all of the things that I’ve felt at times is spot on, perfect. I highly recommend this short memoir for any of you who are clinically depressed.

"Light through the Trees," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (ca 1960, watercolor on paper)

Anyway, this quote from the book showed up on my Tumblr dash, which brought to mind the book and the way that I was feeling when I first read it. My spirals downward used to be so extreme; I would fall far very quickly, and then sometimes I stayed there for days and days, until the days seeped into weeks, and then months. I don’t do that now, at least, not the way that I used to, and I have pharmaceuticals to thank for that. I know that some people are reluctant to take medicine for their depression, thinking that they can will themselves out of it, or snap out of it with a healthier diet.

And if they can do that, then good for them. I have no problems with alternatives to traditional medicine. I only know that it was a long road for me to find just the right medicine, that I tried at least five or six other kinds before finding one that did not leave me feeling like a zombie, or did not have terrible physical side effects. I just know that I never ever want to feel that way again.

Obviously, I still wrestle with my mood swings, and I know that this is something that will be with me until the day I die. And yes, I still have those moments in which the despair threatens to consume me, but for the most part, I stumble along in life, and sometimes I even remember to notice the beauty around me, and when I do that, it’s a small, silent victory. Some of you may not be able to understand that, and some of you will.

“Solitude has soft, silky hands, but with strong fingers it grasps the heart and makes it ache with sorrow.” ~ Kahlil Gibran, Broken Wings

So on the way home from dropping off Brett at school I took a route that I don’t usually take. I went down a road that goes right past the street on which I lived for a brief time as an undergrad, in the old white house that had been turned into four apartments. I loved that apartment as it was on a dead-end street that abutted the water. Unfortunately, I lived there during a time in which my depression was still not being treated, and living there alone turned out not to be so good for me.

"The Waterfall," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1950, watercolor on paper)

I do have some good memories, though. I remember opening all of the windows and letting the breeze come through, smelling the slightly brackish water outside. The family who owned the house lived on a houseboat, which I always thought was so cool. In fact, it was what first gave me the idea of living on a boat myself.

My unit had a tiny back porch and a door that lead to a back stairway that I never used. If I remember, it was a bit unsafe. I hung a curtain of wooden beads across the door, and one night, I remember dreaming about this constant knocking sound, and then I awakened to find that it was storming outside, and the old windows, which were not airtight, were letting in a draft that was causing the beads to bang loudly against the door. I stumbled to the door and ripped the beads from the door. It’s a wonder that my neighbors didn’t complain, but I never heard anything.

So that memory flitted through my mind as I was driving home, down a street lined with Bradford Pear trees, all of which are heavy with blooms. I had the sunroof open and all of the windows of the Rodeo open, and the air smelled of spring.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” ~ Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

I only stayed in that apartment for six months. My rent was $125, and that included heat and water. I had roommates for a few months, but that didn’t work out. I moved from there to move in with a woman with whom I worked at the newspaper—it was not a good move on my part, but hindsight . . . We moved into a new townhouse in Virginia Beach, which was owned by the man she was dating; it was within a community that was full of Navy pilots, right out of the academy. I had so many pilot friends and spent a lot of time at the officer’s club on base. Two pilots lived four units down from us, and I became very good friends with one of them. He actually rescued me one night after my roommate and I had a huge fight, and I walked out into the night with nothing but my dog and my keys.

"Tropical Sunrise," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1960, watercolor on paper)

I actually still remember his name. Over the years, I wonder what happened to all of them, him especially. For a long time, I would see a Tomcat flying overhead and wonder if the person in the cockpit was someone I knew. Those were heady days, but the roommate turned into a nightmare too impossible to deal with, and I ended up moving back home with my parents. But I left my mark on the townhouse, unintentionally: I spilled dark red nail polish on the off-white carpet in my bedroom. Oops . . .

It was my sophomore year in college, and I cut off all my hair and gained about 20 pounds. I was juggling two boyfriends, both of whom worked at the newspaper, one of whom was dumber than a box of rocks. Why? The things that we remember . . .

“Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” ~ Léon Bloy

Not really sure what has me journeying into the past, unless it was all triggered by driving past that street. Then again, it may have been triggered by the remembrance of the anxiety attacks. Who knows.

"Reflections," by Boris Lovet-Lorski (1940, watercolor on paper)

What I do know is that I do revisit the past probably more frequently than most people, and I find that a bit odd, as so much of my past is rooted in pain and sorrow. Even the good memories are bittersweet. The past is not necessarily a good place for me, yet I go there again and again. In search of what, exactly? Answers? Questions? Both?

Has this been triggered by my daughter’s pregnancy, the fact that she is due to deliver right around the same time that she was born, the same time that Brett was born? Remembering my own pregnancies, July in northern Virginia with no air conditioning in my car. Pregnant with Brett in July during a heat wave with temperatures above 100° for seven days in a row.

Here’s something I may have never told you, probably from embarrassment: My ex and I had two cars while we were in northern Virginia, my old Sunbird, which was a three-speed manual with no air conditioning (the first car that I bought with my own money), and we also had a Mazda 626 LX, fully decked out. I drove the Sunbird even though I was pregnant, hot, and uncomfortable, even though it was so low to the ground that getting in and out was well-nigh impossible. Do you know why I drove that damned car? Because my ex said that he should have the air conditioning because he had a longer commute . . . and I went along with that.

I would arrive at work wet from sweating in the car and on the way from the parking lot, which was about half a mile from my building. I went along with that. What the hell was wrong with me?

So Alexis is having her baby in July, but at least she has a new Accord that is cool and comfortable. Her little apartment only has a small window unit, and she’s already complaining about being hot even though it’s still mild outside.

So am I maudlin because of her? Because of Corey? Because of a drive down a street? Everything? Nothing?

Enough. Laundry and dishes await. Be still my heart.

More later. Peace.

*Images by Boris Lovet-Lorski  (1894–1973), Lithuanian sculptor, lithographer, and painter

Music by Peter Bradley Adams (yes, another, love this guy), “From the Sky”

                   

I Would Like to Describe

I would like to describe the simplest emotion
joy or sadness
but not as others do
reaching for shafts of rain or sun

I would like to describe a light
which is being born in me
but I know it does not resemble
any star
for it is not so bright
not so pure
and is uncertain

I would like to describe courage
without dragging behind me a dusty lion
and also anxiety
without shaking a glass full of water

to put it another way
I would give all metaphors
in return for one word
drawn out of my breast like a rib
for one word
contained within the boundaries
of my skin

but apparently this is not possible

and just to say—I love
I run around like mad
picking up handfuls of birds
and my tenderness
which after all is not made of water
asks the water for a face
and anger
different from fire
borrows from it
a loquacious tongue

so is blurred
so is blurred
in me
what white-haired gentlemen
separated once and for all
and said
this is the subject
and this is the object

we fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets

our feet abandon us
and taste the earth
with their tiny roots
which next morning
we tear out painfully

~ Zbigniew Herbert

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” ~ René Descartes

These pavement cracks are the places where poets pack their warrior words ~ Lemn Sissay, Tib Street, Manchester UK*

                    

“All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. It is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Monday late afternoon. Mild temperatures, 50’s.

I slept. A lot. How unusual. Not complaining.

These pavement cracks are the places where sleeping shadows of moving bridges stole ~ Lemn Sissay

I think that I fell asleep around 1 a.m. I got up at 12 to take Brett to school, and then came home and slept for a few more hours. Obviously, my body needed sleep. I did the usual awakening around 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to let the dogs out, but I had no problems in getting back to sleep as soon as my body hit the mattress. I know: this is not remotely exciting in the way of readable copy, but you have to understand that deep sleep is so unusual for me that I feel a great need to shout it from the rooftops.

Consider the shouting over.

So anyway, Corey had to work third shift last night, and so far today, he has not received any telephone calls from the shipping line. He’s walking back and forth in the house and doing a lot of heavy sighing. This is not a big house, so his path is pretty limited, which I suppose sort of defeats the purpose of intent pacing. I’m not making fun (well, actually, I am, just a bit), but he is so restless that even Tillie, who usually follows him wherever he goes, has taken up position on the couch and just raises her head as he passes by to see if perhaps he’s going someplace that she needs to follow. Then she puts her head down and goes back to napping.

Dogs. Incredibly discerning creatures.

“Some people turn sad awfully young. No special reason, it seems, but  they appear almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster,  cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than  anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Actual quote from my mother: “You’ve gotten really grouchy now that you’re old.”

How does one respond to something like that? Gee, thanks mom. You say the sweetest, most uplifting things.

Where the dying dust of dreams slides where the slits silt turns to food ~ Lemn Sissay

As I’ve said, I know that I’m particularly impatient with my mother, and trust me when I say that it comes from years and years and years of the same conversation, rehashed, reshaped, repeated ad nauseum. That’s not fair. I know. But I just cannot help it. Well before my mother entered her 70’s she repeated herself constantly, and I got impatient with the repetition. My father used to say, “Yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh.” Five of them in a row, and I swear the first time that came out of my mouth, I was horrified yet still oddly satisfied.

So when my mother comes out with things like this, inevitably I turn to Corey and say something along the lines of “and you wonder why I have no self-esteem.”

Look, I’ll admit that I’ve never been a heaping pile of optimism, nor has anyone ever accused me of walking around with a stupid smile on my face for no reason. That’s just not who I am. Does that mean that I’m not happy? No. It does mean that I am more often than not in contemplation over this or that, and in that sense, I married the perfect person to complement my personality. Corey is not one of those mindlessly happy individuals either. But we make each other laugh, and we take pleasure in the same things. Mostly.

People who smile easily—there’s something to be said for that. Being cheerful—that’s a good thing. I’ve always envied people like that, but I know myself too well, and I’m not one of those people. Like the lyrics in that Chorus Line song: “Mother always said I was different, different with a special kind of personal flair.” Whatever.

“You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as they come to you. You can either set brick as a laborer or as an artist. You can make the work a chore, or you can have a good time. You can do it the way you used to clear the dinner dishes when you were thirteen, or you can do it as a Japanese person would perform a tea ceremony, with a level of concentration and care in which you can lose yourself, and so in which you can find yourself.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

So where was I before my mother interrupted? Who knows.

Where rain rushes down grit rock faces where the heartless heat crouches beneath the cold ~ Lemn Sissay

I do believe that some people are born happy and that other people are born sad. And sometimes that changes, and those who were born sad manage to morph into fundamentally happy people, people who can engage in witty repartee, who can smile without any effort; and then those who were born happy have some event in their lives that causes a shift, and they no longer smile, and their wounds, whatever they are, consume every waking moment.

And then there are the others, and this is the category into which I believe I fall: We feel things intensely, and when we are happy, we are happy beyond measure so that even the smallest thing can conjure a smile, but when we are sad, the pain of that sadness overshadows all of our features, leaving our faces pensive and closed. It’s a matter of knowing how to be happy, of having had experiences that were completely blissful, yet at the same time, having experienced tremendous pain and always being cogent of the fact that such pain can come back.

Glass half full or half empty—in the truest sense—or glass simply there as a container.

“I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly. Why muck and conceal one’s true longings and loves, when by speaking of them one might find someone to understand them, and by acting on them one might discover oneself?” ~  Everett Ruess

I know that I’ve said this in another post, probably more than once, but one of my keenest memories of my mother giving me advice when I was a teenager was that I needed to read happy things and think happy thoughts. I remember the exact moment acutely: I was in the store with her, and as usual, I was in the book section, and I had picked out the book The Holocaust. I think that I might have been about 14. She made me put the book back on the shelf because it was depressing.

And perhaps the pavement cracks are the pattern of concrete butterflies ~ Lemn Sissay

Of course I went back another time and bought the book anyway.

Look. I’m not saying that my approach to life is the best approach. Far from it. I’m merely being brutally honest. I know myself, know my limitations just as surely as I know my capabilities. And it’s a situation of what if: What if my mother had been more attuned to my needs? What if my mother had been better able to offer the kind of advice that would have actually been helpful? What if my mother had nurtured my talents instead of trying to rein them in?

I must sound awful, as if I hate my mother, and that’s so far from the truth. I love my mother, but I also am a realist. I know that my mother is a product of her environment, a child of the Depression, the daughter who lost her mother at a very early age and had to look elsewhere to fill that gaping hole. All of these factors shaped my mother, and the advice that she gave me made complete sense to her even if it didn’t to me. I know that my mom had her own dreams and that many of them did not come true, and that breaks my heart.

“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s  neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that  came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.” ~ William Styron

Happiness is a strange thing, and if we are being truthful, probably rarer than most would admit.

Like us they hold the people of a modern earth this world between the windswept flags ~ Lemn Sissay

When were you last happy? What was the exact moment of your bliss?

I know that as a child, I was happy. I was happy and creative and friendly. I got along as well with adults as I did with children. I think, no, I know that my personality changed drastically when I hit puberty. It wasn’t the rebellion. It was the sadness, the deep abiding sadness that I simply could not explain and that I did not understand. Of course I realize now that with puberty and the great hormone surge came my depression.

I have another vivid memory from my early teens: sitting on the corner of the street under the street sign, just sitting and crying. People passed me in cars, some slowed, concern obvious on their faces, and I turned away. I just wanted to be left alone in my sadness. I could not have told you why I was so sad that day. I really had no idea; I only knew that my heart felt so heavy with a sadness that I could not name that feeling anything else would have been relief. Oh god, the angst. I probably went home and wrote one of my maudlin poems.

The teen years: more bad poetry produced by the misunderstood than can ever be read.

I did not tell my mother. And truthfully, I still cannot tell her.

Oh. The answer to that question I posed? I’ll get back to you.

More later. Peace.

*Images are of  verses from Lemn Sissay’s poem “Flags,” which was commissioned by The Northern  Quarter and laid into Tib Street in Manchester, England.

Music by The Wellspring, “The Ballad of El Goodo”

                   

The Crunch

too much too little

too fat
too thin
or nobody.

laughter or
tears

haters
lovers

strangers with faces like
the backs of
thumb tacks

armies running through
streets of blood
waving winebottles
bayoneting and fucking
virgins.

an old guy in a cheap room
with a photograph of M. Monroe.

there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to

watering a plant.

people are not good to each other.
people are not good to each other.
people are not good to each other.

I suppose they never will be.
I don’t ask them to be.

but sometimes I think about
it.

the beads will swing
the clouds will cloud
and the killer will behead the child
like taking a bite out of an ice cream cone.

too much
too little

too fat
too thin
or nobody

more haters than lovers.

people are not good to each other.
perhaps if they were
our deaths would not be so sad.

meanwhile I look at young girls
stems
flowers of chance.

there must be a way.

surely there must be a way that we have not yet
though of.

who put this brain inside of me?

it cries
it demands
it says that there is a chance.

it will not say
“no.”

~ Charles Bukowski

“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads.” ~ William Styron

Old Underwood Typewriter

  

“For if he like a madman lived; At least he like a wise one died.” ~ Cervantes
Old Royal Typewriter

I’ve been thinking about William Styron, can’t say exactly why. Styron is best known for writing The Confessions of Nat Turner, Lie Down in Darkness, and Sophie’s Choice, but he also wrote a beautiful memoir called Darkness Visible, which is probably my favorite work by Styron.

Darkness Visible (published first in Vanity Fair in 1989) relates the author’s battle with depression and his eventual recovery. The title is taken from John Milton’s description of hell in Paradise Lost:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.

I remember picking up Styron’s memoir in Barnes & Noble one Saturday afternoon, and sitting in the cafe and reading the entire thing while drinking a latte. It was one of those winter afternoons spent doing what I love to do most: combing the shelves of a bookstore and finding a treasure. I finished reading it, bought it, brought it home, and read it again.

I suppose Styron’s account of his own illness touched a place in me that was easily relatable. It was only a few years after Caitlin’s death, and I still wore my depression like a raw wound. The book is packed up in one of the storage bins—of course—or I would reread it this afternoon.

“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.” ~ Enrique Jardiel Poncela

I finished two more books last week, but I haven’t felt like writing the reviews yet. I really liked one of them, and I was enjoying the second one until it began to seem that the author had two separate storylines that didn’t quite converge. It felt forced. I don’t like that.

Still blastedly hot here. Our air conditioners are going full tilt, which is making the electric meter turn and turn, just adding up all of those megawatts, or whatever it is they use to measure usage. As is the way with most things in this house, the air conditioner that works the best, that cranks out the coldest air consistently, is the one in Eamonn’s bedroom. The one in our bedroom is limping on its last leg, and having to run it continuously is taxing the poor beast.

Late in the day yesterday, Corey and I got in the pool to try to cool ourselves; the pool water was as warm as bath water, not the cool, refreshing respite that my body expected. The dogs didn’t mind, though.  Tillie and Shakes will play pool ball in any kind of weather. If only people could find joy in the simplest things in the same way that dogs are able to appreciate the most that which is the smallest.

“Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean.  Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.” ~ Theodore Dreiser, 1900
Old Typewriter for Sale in Thrift Store

I had wanted to get a post written today as I’m not at all certain how much longer we will have Internet service. We are also likely to be losing phone service soon. Such is life.

Perhaps you wonder how or why I can put all of the minutiae in these posts for anyone to see, how I can share what might be considered embarrassing without any concern. I have thought about this very thing myself: Do I do myself a disservice by holding nothing back in this forum? I don’t think so. I mean, if I cannot be completely honest here, in this self-made outlet for myself, then where on earth can I be honest?

Yes, the fact that we are still juggling bills, losing services, living on the edge, so to speak, is nothing of which to be proud. But for us, it is a fact of life, or rather, the fact of our lives in this moment. Years from now when I think back on this time, these unending days of wanting a sense of normalcy, these trying times that task our patience and ask so much of us—later, when I come back to these entries and read about the circumstances of our life, I will be able to remember things as they were and not idealize them or romanticize them into being something they weren’t.

Part of my reason for wanting accurate accounts is that I realize that my memory is faulty, as it is for most humans. How many of us remember exactly how bad or good something was without adding or detracting from the truth? I’m not saying that I want to relive these days, but rather that I want to be able to remember the things I fretted about, the things that worried me, the ways in which we sought distraction from reality.

“Writers are not just people who sit down and write.  They hazard themselves.  Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake.” ~ E.L. Doctorow
Pittsfield Historical Society: Old Typewriter on Display

Maybe I’m kidding myself. It certainly would not be the first time that I have deluded myself into believing something that was not exactly true. I mean, I fancy myself a writer when that may not be the case. Will I let that stop me from doing this? Doubtful.

All I know is that putting these words on these pages is the best way I know of keeping my sanity. For many years, I kept things inside until they exploded. That’s no way to live. It’s bad for the soul, and it’s hell on a relationship. Sitting here in my corner, pausing before the keys, allows me to sift and assimilate, pronounce and validate. Perhaps five years from now I’ll read this entry and think to myself, “what a load of crap.” But at least I tried.

The three of us, Corey, Brett, and I move through these days in the ways that best suit us as individuals. Admittedly, many people probably see the loss of the Internet as not a big deal, and when it comes down to a choice between groceries and Internet service, well, food wins. But the Internet is not a luxury for any of us. Each of us uses this connection to the outside world in our own way: I read—news about the oil spill, what’s going on in politics, other blogs, stories about current events, whatever—and then I write. Brett communicates with his friend in Greece, and he comments on forums that he finds interesting. Corey is always looking for something new to learn, whether it’s a particular movement in history, or the healing properties of a plant, or a recipe for homemade mayonnaise.

Regardless, we are, in a very real sense, a family that is dependent upon today’s technology as a form of sustenance. I do not see this as a bad thing. Rather, I see this as survival.

More later whenever. Peace.

Music by Sugarland, “Just Might Make Me Believe.” One of the songs of my life.

“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

georgia-okeeffe-petunia-1925

Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

georgia-okeeffe-white-rose-w-lakspur-no-2
"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

georgia-okeeffe-from-the-lake-i
"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

georgia-okeeffe-black-hollyhock-blue-larkspur-1930
"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

georgia-okeeffe-calla-lily-turned-away-1923
"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe White Sweet Peas 1926
"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

Georgia OKeeffe Jack in the Pulpit No IV
"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Georgia OKeeffe Black Place No 3
"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.

The Poems, the poets, the writers

When I was teaching at Old Dominion University, I had the good fortune to meet many different poets and writers over the years. Each year, ODU was host to the annual Literary Festival; in addition, the English Department hosted an annual visiting writing series, which has now evolved into a visiting writer in residence. There were writers and poets such as William Styron, Gerald Stern, Maxine Hong Kingston, Galway Kinnell, W. P. Kinsella, Carolyn Forche, Maxine Kumin, Tim O’Brien, Bruce Weigl, Toi Derricotte, Christopher Buckley, and many, many more.

The Literary Festival was always a predictably busy week in the department, and I could count on at least two things happening: I would get my fall cold, and I would spend lots of money on books by new authors whose readings I had attended. Christopher Buckley was not a Festival reader; he was a visiting writer who my friend and office mate Mari had invited to read, which made me exceedingly lucky. I had direct access to this wonderful writer. The two of us, Mari and I, took him to dinner before his reading, and then I had the privilege of introducing him before his reading. Introducing a poet is no small thing. You must be familiar with his background and his work if your are going to do him justice, so I did not do an off-the-cuff introduction. I prepared and made notes because I did not want to slight him and because I truly loved his poems. After his reading, I ended up buying every title that he had brought with him so that I could get all of them signed. In them, he urged me to keep writing. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not.

I have many reasons/excuses as to why I have not kept up on my writing. Some legitimate, most not. And now with Google, I can put in names of others who were in workshops with me, or who came after me, and see just how far they have come. Buckley has won a Guggenheim and deservedly so. He has written six or seven more books since I met him. I have sent nothing out to be published. Fear of failure? Fear of success?

I really don’t know. I just know that if I don’t get off my ass soon, I’ll have died without ever having reached any of my goals as far as my writing goes, and that’s only because I won’t have tried. I’ve published, but not the things I intended to publish. The purpose of this blog is to exercise my mind, to flex myself creatively. And I believe that it is working, because I’m starting to come back to the memories that matter in my creative cortex, if you will. The literary festivals, the talks with writers, Christopher Buckley, lines that I wished that I had written, working on one line over and over, creating something like “My Father’s Hands” and knowing that it was good. Knowing that feeling again.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember–poems, essays, journal entries, long diatribes about things that make me crazy, musings about life. Words are to me what drugs are to an addict. I roll them around my tongue, taste them, hear them. I cannot live without them. I test phrases in my head constantly. Opening lines pop into my consciousness at all hours of the day and night. I wonder if this happens to other people, and then I realize that of course it does, but other people do things with it. And that’s what separates me from the ones who succeed. They actually do something past this step. They take the next step, and I am paralyzed on this one step. It’s as if I am still on my childhood porch, waiting for permission to leave, to go exploring in the neighborhood. But I know, deep in my soul, permission was granted years ago.

That first step is a killer, or it’s salvation.