dammit Wittgenstein

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein

SO….dammit. Again this needs a very quick writing while I can hang onto it and it’s likely to be chaotic because the whole point of it is that, and dammit this is about losing story but how do I tell that in a linear story? [This post more fully articulates what I was working my way toward in yesterday’s chat.]

Breathe.

About three months after we met

When Marc and I first met, he used to say that Wittgenstein line to me when I’d be thick in the midst of storytelling, and I’d pause to ask him what he thought. He’d say that line and it used to piss me off SO MUCH. Before I met him, I gave a glancing acknowledgement to this line — loved Wittgenstein, didn’t much care for this point but just shrugged and moved on. But oh how he loved it. I used to get so frustrated, because I thought, then where does that leave you?  And in fact that’s Wittgenstein’s point. Still, I wanted to talk, I wanted to tell my stories, and tell my stories I did. Oh how I have told my stories. I’ve told them endlessly. I’ve written them endlessly on this and earlier blogs. If we know each other in real live person you’ve heard them — not endlessly, I hope, but you’ve heard them more than once. I told my stories over, and over, and over. I’m not sure why, exactly; it wasn’t that I wanted people to tell me it was wrong, all the things that happened to me, because I knew that already. And the only person whose acknowledgement mattered, my mother, would never, ever say it. My father is dead and can never say it, and never did during his life. My stepfather did extend a small apology. But it’s her acknowledgement that mattered, and that was never going to come, and the acknowledgement by therapists and people who love me wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve never been sure why I told those stories over and over, but I did. I have.

And at the same time, I’ve also thought and written a lot about our “little stories,” and about chunking, and about the complexity and difficulty of plucking out the story, and the value of shifting frames, etc etc etc etc. I understood all this intellectually. I’ve always been good at the cerebral part.

And neuroscience has shown us that with each retrieval of a memory, it shifts. The purest, most “true” memory is the one that isn’t ever recalled.

And psychological linguistic analysis has shown us that people who recover from trauma tell their stories differently each time, and those who fail to recover from it tell it in a fixed, unchanging way. Just as I have done. You’ve probably had a strange feeling of having heard me tell a story exactly the same way. The same exact sentences and emphases.

And so now. I finally, finally arrive at the point.

This three-dimensional, moving insight I’ve had about my dad — that does seem to be extending to my mother — necessarily extends outward to my stories! How can I tell any of them any more? How can I insist on the certainty of them any more? Not the certainty of whether they happened, but the certainty that that is in fact the story. And setting aside the telling of them to others, how can I even tell them to myself any more?

My mind tilts and the floor is moving, like the deck of a ship on open ocean. What can I say? I had a complicated and difficult childhood. Yeah, I can say that, and that’s that. I survived a complicated and difficult childhood. I adored my grandfather, Big Daddy. I married young and had three kids young. Mister Rogers is my hero. My father died of suicide when I was 23. I started college at 36, when my first husband and I divorced, and I finished a PhD at 45. My first granddaughter died, and I have three grandchildren who call me Pete, as Big Daddy did, and they make me so so happy. My son has estranged himself from my family for years and that’s the hardest thing I have to bear. My daughters mean everything to me. After living together for seven years in Manhattan, my husband and I lived apart for five years and now we have a home together in the mountains, where I am very happy. We have traveled together so happily and seen so much of the world, and learned that we love Vietnam and Laos and Southeast Asia. I’ve been so happy in my life. I’ve attempted suicide twice, quite seriously. I want to live to see great-grandchildren if I am lucky enough to pull that off. I’m very happy. I’m complex. I’m intelligent. I make things. I read. It’s snowing right now. It’s almost Christmas, 2017.

I don’t know what else I can say, any more. It leaves me with just this string of sentences about how I got to this very moment — a singular set, like everyone else’s, but not more than that. Simple sentences, subject-verb. No insight words, no because, or since. I can’t even elaborate on any one of those sentences, they’re tiny spots inside a moving whorl. Now I can only really look at this moment, right now. I can think about what the future might hold. To look backwards is to see the universe. To see so much is to know so little.

And it’s not simply about the ‘stories,’ the events of my life. It’s the interpretation of me within them. Even the one I told yesterday, that “I’m not good at persisting,” well how can that be true? In some ways I give up quickly but I have also persisted for 47 years to figure all this out — there is no “story” there. Or rather, there are too many things happening to say any one thing. To say “I persist” is as false as saying “I do not persist.” Must I qualify and expand everything I say, now? Must every statement be preceded by “Sometimes….”? I guess so.

Our first trip together, to Vietnam. This photo was taken in Ho Chi Minh City. We’d known each other 6 months.

And so I suppose I’ll be a big person and tell Marc he was right all along. Lucky for me he isn’t a gloater, and the best is that he is not one of those “told you so” people because I really hate “told you so” people.  I know one person who has been “told you so”-ing me about one thing for five damn years. NOT FUN, don’t do that. But Marc doesn’t do that, and he was right all along, and so maybe that will be one of my Christmas gifts to him. I wonder if he’ll think even that can’t be said. Probably, knowing him.

And so, to today. It’s Christmas Eve Eve.  <3

life can be such a wonder

One thing they often say in AA is, “Don’t give up before the miracle.” Easy to see the relevance for addicts, scooting so painfully through minutes and hours and days, but of course it’s true for everyone — and I’m so guilty of giving up too quickly. It’s one of my most problematic struggles; I hit a roadblock and throw up my hands, and some particular roadblocks are especially hard for me. I deeply admire those who persist, who keep coming back and trying again — gosh, I admire that so much. I can readily call to mind two friends whose persistence is a source of inspiration for me.

Waiting for the miracle requires patience, obviously, but I also think you have to be able to let be what is, without rushing to force it into where you want to be. I do think that’s one of the secrets of life, and of course I think you’ll only eventually get there if you keep at it. It’s not going to happen all on its own. (Although dang it, sometimes it does, and so maybe I don’t know anything after all. 🙂 )

So here’s the wonder, for me. The miracle. This thing with my dad. This thing with old deep wounds — deep, like a puncture, so they produce an ache instead of a wince. This thing with time. This thing with process. Yesterday I was doing some house cleaning, dancing and feeling so happy with the solstice, enjoying the very bright sunshine while we had it, and my playlist shuffled over to “Christmas Time is Here,” from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. The vocal version, the one that has, for 47 years, punched me so hard in the heart that I couldn’t not cry. I couldn’t not remember, and feel all those old puncture wounds so deep in my heart. I mean really, who breaks up the family on Christmas Eve MOTHER. Seriously.

I believe this was taken a couple of weeks before my mother left my father — we seem about the right ages. And HOW DECEIVING looks can be. We look like well cared-for children, happy kids. I had no idea what was coming, but my life was already sad and awful then…and I just didn’t know that it would get so, so, so much worse. I remember that dress, my mother made them for my sister and me, red velvet. We wore them with white tights and black shoes. And my brother’s shirt was blue velvet, with a blue and green collar. We were sitting on the coffee table with our legs extended out in front of us, and my brother Sam stood behind us. What we didn’t know, then. Grateful for that. I rescued this photo from a dumpster — Mother called me to say that she’d dumped everything that had me in it and there weren’t many photos, but this was recoverable.

And so I paused in my sweeping, and stood there, listening, and it was OK. I smiled. It’s OK now. I remember without the ache. Now I remember, and it’s OK. It makes me feel tender but not hurt.

OK, you might say, for God’s sake it was 47 years ago for heaven’s sake — and so you don’t understand how deep a puncture wound can be, when it’s made at just the right moment in a young girl’s heart.

One of my first Christmases — I was around 2 years old, and apparently very excited about my watch (what??), a pinwheel, a harmonica, a doll, and a pack of gum. Hell, most of that would make me happy today. I still make that face when I’m given a gift, but I no longer wear the Cromwell haircut.

Thank GOD for time and process. At my age, I hadn’t really thought I could fully heal those old wounds. I’ve been at it such a long time. So much trying, always with hope even if it was small. It’s such a wonder to be able to approach these things that have always hurt, and not feel hurt any more. Such a wonder. Such a wonder to feel real peace — not tentative peace, not partial peace, not an idea that I might one day feel peace, but real peace. The peace of letting it be, the peace of letting be what was.

I believe with all my heart Faulkner’s great line about the past: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” I believe that. But what I learned is that even if it’s not dead, even if it’s still present, it can be OK. It doesn’t have to keep hurting . . . what a wonder! What a wonder. Grief can find its place and be OK, really OK. Still there but really OK. One of the puzzle pieces, that’s all – maybe the black piece there at the edge, or even in the middle, but just a piece connected to all the others. Pain can find its place and not hurt any more, even if it’s still in the puzzle. Just, wow. What a wonder.

And now, to shift the word wonder, I wonder if I can use this learning to help me do something with my mother — I’ve never tried to deal with her because she’s been too mysterious to me, but maybe I don’t even have to. Maybe all that I said in my post on December 20 can apply to her, too. Maybe I can just let her be, too. Maybe that was a huge enough insight to allow me that gift.

I wonder. And I wonder.  WOW.

on winter

It’s a bitter, raw day here in the Big Indian Wilderness. It’s only 11 degrees, and with the biting wind it feels like -7; even from inside the house those bitter winds are biting at me. The landscape is bleak, harrowed by icy winds, and life is almost completely submerged out my windows. Even the sky is  bled of color. Even the sun, so very bright, is bled of color.

Just now I was standing at the kitchen sink, looking out all the windows that surround me, and I felt a bit of sinking within myself, a sense of steeling myself, of realizing that I have to learn how to live against this, and all at once a completely different idea came into me, full-sized and wholly alive. I won’t say my first idea was wrong, but I will say that it’s on a parallel track to a very different way.

This isn’t something to be gotten through, to bear, to resist within myself, even if I hunker down inside layers of clothes and get to my car as quickly as I can, my shoulders hunched up to my ears. Even if I sit near the fire and try to get warm because the house is so cold. Even then, the parallel track is available if I can hold onto it.

Early morning snow-light out one of my bedroom windows. The sun was just coming up, and even without my glasses on I knew from the color that it was snowing. I am learning so many things.

What the shift requires is a larger perspective, a sense of the Earth, a sense of what this season means for the year as a whole, for the cycle as a whole. What’s happening inside and underneath that bleakness. That we are approaching the solstice, the earth is turning hard as iron, water becoming stone, as it does and always has and will. So I watch in wonder as the days get so very short, as the sun never reaches the western end of my valley, and I will peer into that valley, all those days it’s too icy to go into it, and watch as the sun slowly extends its reach, day after day, a minute or two longer each day.

I will watch in wonder as the birds do what they will over this particular season. Three days ago, goldfinches arrived at the bird feeder and we hadn’t yet seen them — so either the call has gone out that food is available here, or they’ve just arrived in my valley — and now I wonder how the populations will shift as the cold weather becomes more serious.

So this isn’t a series of weeks and months to resist, an aberration, a hardship. (Well, it can still be a hardship.) This is life in this wilderness, life in the Catskill Mountains, life in the northern part of the United States, life in the northern part of the hemispheres, life on Earth. (And I’m glad I’ll be in southeast Asia in February, and in Austin in March….because a Texan might need to ease into the fullness of this knowledge.)

on civil discourse

How do we do this thing? We have been this far apart from each other twice, in our country’s history:

  • The Civil War, during which one half of us thought owning human beings was just fine, and the other half disagreed.
  • The period around the Vietnam War, the 1960s and 1970s, when our country was bald-faced lying to us and happily sacrificing thousands of our boys for a fight that wasn’t ours at ALL, and when black people and gay people and women were simply trying to be treated like actual human beings and not substandard crap to be swept aside by mainstream white man America.

Here we are again. Let me immediately confess and agree that I am as unyielding as any Republican, and I have no idea at all how we can ever move forward. I look back at our history and I see/guess that we have moved forward from those two terrible periods, but at the same time I have to wonder that we keep finding ourselves in this same bi-polarized place, so did we really move forward? Or did we just tire of the fight, and agree to shut the fuck up for a while?

I read arguments noting that we have to be able to come to the table, talk to each other, but this is always what stops me. It’s not like we’re talking about arcane issues like how exactly to approach the debt ceiling. I am unwilling to “negotiate” on such issues as these:

  • Black people and all people of color have the same human rights as white people, and the country has been set up quite exactly to ensure the privilege of the white people.
  • Women, as “human beings,” have the right to decide what happens to themselves.
  • All of us should pay our share, including the rich people and businesses.
  • Gun control needs to happen immediately, as it has in all civilized countries.
  • One critical function of the federal government is to provide a safety net for the less-strong among us. The federal government does not exist solely to fund the military and give everything else to the rich people.
  • All of us, even the impoverished, should have access to healthcare — which means affordable healthcare. We should be able to make the same decisions for our lives regardless of our wealth status, and we should not be having to organize gofundme accounts to help save our lives. That is so outrageous. At this very moment, I know two people fighting cancer who are begging for help with gofundme accounts. If that doesn’t give you pause, get the fucking hell away from me immediately.
  • Religion has no place in government and laws. We are not a theocracy.

[I HATE FUCKING REPUBLICANS SORRY I JUST HAD TO SCREAM THAT FOR A SECOND.] [AND YES, THAT MEANS YOU IF YOU ARE ONE.] [NOT SORRY.]

If we were able to meet on some crazy idea of common ground, accepting the same general principles that characterize the most basic humanity, then it would be a debate about how best to accomplish these goals. But it isn’t. I don’t want to unnecessarily play the Hitler card, but I’ll do that here. How could we sit down and say:

“OK, so you think it’s OK to eliminate a whole people systematically and I don’t, so let’s find a way forward.”

FUCK THAT. Fuck the hell out of that, and I mean that with an almost violent passion. I no longer have the time or energy to give to silent ‘friends’ who won’t take even the silliest of public stands….Facebook. If, at this point, I don’t know where you stand, I am not your friend. Being vaguely “against hate” while watching Fox News does not cut it, at all. I know who you are. You have shown me exactly who you are. I no longer have the time or energy to give to ‘friends’ who see the world so profoundly differently. To friends who were temporarily broke while putting their husbands through med school and then say they understand and talk about people “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” Perhaps it’s terrible of me. I leave a lot of space for that to be true. But this is me, and I just can’t do it anymore. So let me say all this as plainly as I can. And yes, this refers to you.

If you’re silent, you are not my friend. If I don’t know where you stand, you are not my friend. You are simply someone I ‘know.’

Friend has a different meaning to me now. If you hold a position that could get someone I love killed, I cannot be your friend. If you think women don’t have a right to self-determination, I cannot be your friend. (Believe whatever you want for yourself, I would never argue with you as long as you believe all women have that same right as you do, even if you disagree with what they choose and believe. I would never hold that your personal beliefs are wrong, as they apply to you. I would defend your right to believe them.) If you think there isn’t a systemic anti-POC stance, I cannot be your friend, because I have no sense of your intelligence. If you think your religion should determine my rights, I cannot be your friend. (If your beliefs apply only to you, I would never argue with you, and I would defend your right to your own beliefs for yourself.) If you think non-violent protestors have no right to protest, I cannot be your friend. If you think there should be no gun control laws, I cannot be your friend. If you are so silent that I have no idea what you believe, I cannot be your friend, even if occasionally you send me — privately — a note that contradicts your public claims, and claims you have made to my face. You are a threat to my life, and to the lives of those I love.

I’m drawing a line. It may make me small, it may make me no-better-than-them, but I have to live with myself. These are bleak times. It’s us against them, and my heart and soul are against them. I will defend Lucy’s humanity as a some-day woman with my very life. I will defend my grandchildren’s futures with my life. I will defend my gay son’s rights with my life. I mean that literally, and I would prefer to live to be a dusty old woman, a bag of brittle old bones, but their futures matter more to me than my own, at this point, so if you’re on the other side, you are against me. Also, I do not give even one shit if you used to protest for the good side, if you’ve since moved to the other side. Quit bragging. You are a hideous hypocrite. And yes. I mean you.

And I am against you. You are not on my side, and I will fight to my last breath to oppose you. Nothing has ever mattered more to me. I’m old[er] and wise[r] and know what matters to me, and I just do not have a second to waste.

And yes. I am furious.

Notice! Notice!

In graduate school, I studied the immune system for a couple of semesters because the work being done in our lab had been shown to have an effect on it. Writing about a traumatic experience gives your immune system a boost in all kinds of ways, lots of evidence about it even though there is no explanation for why, since we can’t randomly assign people to have a traumatic experience — so no causality in an explanation, but it’s a reliable relationship, and a significant one.

I remember my surprise at learning the “immune system” isn’t really a “system.” Not like the circulatory system — it’s more this loose amalgamation of processes and organs that kind of hang around together, but not like the heart/lung/arterial-venous collection. And I also remember my surprise when I learned that the way I’d been thinking about it had been kind of bassackwards. Like everyone else, I had the experience of getting sick after a prolonged period of stress, and my take on it had been that my immune system crashed, had failed, had let me down. But actually it had been brilliant! It had been soldiering on throughout the stress, and when finally the stress ended, and it had done its job to keep me going when I needed it most, like me it could collapse a bit. I felt kind of bad for having dissed it all those years. 🙂

Do you have the same experience I have, of hearing yourself say something and suddenly you know the absolute truth of it — and you didn’t know you knew it until you heard yourself say it? I’m sure you do. This happens all the time when I’m writing, but in recording my little daily creekside chats, I’ve surprised myself by those kinds of tiny but not-tiny truths that slip out, and I hadn’t known that I knew such a true thing. A week ago, more or less, in preparing to talk about two war documentaries I’d watched (WWII and Vietnam), I opened by saying hello to all of us, so full of life. I guess that came from a moment of gratitude that we are alive, when so many have died in the awfulness of war, but that’s not what I meant, and I knew it in the moment I said it. I meant something much more electric than that, and it was a similar kind of misunderstanding to the one I had about the immune system. I got this bassackwards, too.

At the moment, there are several people I care about a WHOLE LOT who are dealing with life-edge situations of illness and real grinding hardship. I haven’t yet been on the illness life-edge, but I’ve had so many experiences where my life might not have continued, whether because of a gun to my head, literally by my father’s or my own hand, or by the extreme difficulty of a life situation, and in those times I have felt not very much alive. I’ve felt like the life inside me was nearly gone.

But I have had it all wrong.  Bassackwards. In those dread and dire moments, my life was pounding in me. Friends who are being poisoned by chemotherapy to save their lives, friends who are grappling with the remnants of a brain scavenged by stroke, friends who are battling organs that have given up the ghost — life is screaming in them, too. Friends whose lives are in a crisis that feels impossible and overwhelming, life is screaming in them. In fact, life, the force of life, is screaming so loud it’s almost deafening. It’s a force, an electric charge, a phenomenon. It’s in us, pulsing blue, when we’re doing boring tasks like grocery shopping and putting away clean dishes. It’s in us, pulsing blue, when we are feeling despair, or loneliness, or emptiness. It’s easily recognizable in us, pulsing blue, when we are enjoying our lives, but what a mistake it is not to recognize the aliveness that’s always there. On July 29, 2013, I had a strange dream that was like a slideshow, and each slide was a very loud color. One tiny part was that the two scars on my arm from an earlier surgery were glowing with a brilliant blue LED light, and the blue light was all inside me, leaking out through my pores. For some reason I don’t know, this has always been blue, to me. What color is it for you?

Right there — in those old scars where the fixator had been screwed into my bones, blue light was shining out.

This is such a little gift some deep part of myself gave me. Ever since I said that, an unprepared sentence that emerged from my mouth, I have felt differently, thought differently, as I move around in my quiet little life. I walk to the creek, filled with electric blue life. I sit in my chair reading a manuscript, literally vibrating with blue life. I lock up the house at night to head upstairs in the silence, electric blue life shimmering all around me for any with eyes to see. Like me, for instance.

If it’s hard for you, if you’re fighting for your life, life is fighting for you too. None of us are going to win, ultimately, but it’s the only fight that matters, and we fight it every single day — some days it feels like a fight, some days it feels like a mountaintop joy, but it’s always there. Always. It’s the biggest gift, this awareness, and of course I can’t say anything with absolute certainty in this regard, as a person who has 8-year cycles of suicidality, but I hope this truth from deep inside me helps see me through. Hello you, so full of life. I see you there. I see that force of the universe animating you, vibrating you, affecting everything around you. How dearly I love you.

the Just World Hypothesis

I’m here to offer yet another plug for aging. Getting older can be so marvelous, because you start to see with clarity. (Not everyone; I’ve known some bitter, small, mean old people who became concentrated nuggets of ignorance.) But if you’re lucky — or whatever, however this works — you understand more and more. And the funniest thing is that your understanding gets simpler and simpler:

 

  • It’s all one thing.
  • You are who you are.
  • Life happens to everyone, and we all die.

I think it all boils down to that. Just because it’s so simple, however, doesn’t mean it’s simple to talk about. And just because it’s so simple, that doesn’t mean you can just tell other people, younger people, what you have learned and suddenly they have the same complexity of understanding. For me, anyway, it has taken living my years to be able finally to see this.

Simple complexity, impossible to say clearly, but I’ll try, and I’ll start with a social psych principle called the Just World Hypothesis. It’s a more elaborated idea than this thumbnail, but basically it’s a deep belief that we get what we deserve. That if we’re good, good things will come to us. Bad people get what they deserve. Etc. It unfolds into a whole ethical landscape of implications, but at the center that’s what it is. Like me, I’m sure you’ve frequently heard people wail, “Why me???” And then they provide the list of explanations for why X shouldn’t have happened to them. If it’s a health thing, the list includes their health-related behaviors. If it’s an accident, the list includes the ways they are always so careful. If it’s about their child, the list includes the ways their child was innocent and they were watchful parents.

Undoubtedly because of my childhood, the fact that I was born to a couple who wanted to destroy everyone and everything, I was disabused of the belief in the just world. And one freezing night, in an alley on the wrong side of town in Wichita Falls, I thought through it very carefully and solidified my understanding: shit just happens. Life happens to everyone. In a larger way, it’s all random.

And it’s all one thing: Life happens to everyone. Why would we ever think, even for a second, that only “good” things will happen to us? (And yet we do: Shelley Taylor’s work showed that people don’t believe things like house fires, bad car wrecks, serious illness, etc., will happen to them in their futures; that we all believe we’re above average (leading another psychologist to dub this ‘the Lake Wobegone effect,’ when the law of averages alone proves that we cannot ALL be above average.)) We must believe that because of some deep, unexamined reliance on this just world hypothesis.

And so once again I have to leave space for the possibility that I was luckier than most people to have the childhood I had. That’s not Monday morning quarterbacking, or brave, chin-quivering denial, it’s an understanding of the way it’s all one thing. My life is a whole, the experiences I’ve had all along the way are so woven into the cloth of who I am that it’s impossible to pull out a warp thread, a weft thread. It’s impossible to sit here, in my chair at Heaventree, and even begin to entertain some fantasy of what it would’ve been like to have had a loving mother, a father who didn’t try to kill me. A safe home. Security. It’s impossible to do that, the entire cloth of me disintegrates and there could be no “me” sitting here to ponder that question.

Whenever I hear someone ask, “Why me?” my only thought is, “Why not you?” Of course I never ever say that, because at that moment the person asking the question needs compassion and help, and this fact of “why not you” is completely irrelevant. There may come a time in their process when it makes sense to gently talk about it, if it helps them realize that they aren’t being punished, or whatever they are thinking, but never at that first wailing.

But really. Why not you? Why not me? Life is just happening, and often we are just in the wrong place. A knot forms in an umbilical cord. A car veers into the oncoming lane. Cells take a left turn and start dividing wildly. Myelin disappears, plaques form, bones honeycomb. Unexamined parts of ourselves commit an act of sabotage or treason and we won’t recognize it for years. And as impossible as it is to grasp in the thick of it, it’s all of a piece and the landscape of your life, and yourself, are bigger and more vast and complex, and this is one warp or weft thread in your tapestry. When I was a child, of course I had no perspective to understand this, and I mean that literally: those experiences did not have the context of life that followed them, they were my endpoints at that time, and they represented the bulk of my life. Assuming we survive the terrible thing that happens, and have the good luck of living to put it in perspective, there are good things to be drawn from it; we are changed by it, and to some degree it’s up to us how we are changed by it (emotionally and psychologically, at least) (and I mean to some degree it’s up to us).

When my life fell apart at the end of 2012, I was coincidentally reading a book about trauma survivors (one of my favorite topics) called When You’re Falling, DiveI really recommend the book to everyone, because if you are a magical unicorn and nothing bad ever happens to you, then at least you are going to know all the rest of us to whom bad things will happen because we are not magical unicorns — so you can learn a few things to be present with us. I highlighted dozens of passages in the book, but I share these two with this post, and encourage you to click that link and get the book:

“Survival doesn’t really mean anything without acceptance,” John explains. “That’s the paradoxical part. You have to take the thing that’s wrong and own it. Make it into something that has meaning for you. If you try to hide or negate it, it will just eat you up,” he says. “If you’re hoping for things to be other than they are—constantly wondering how or why something happened, or how to fix it—you’re lost. You’ll completely miss out on the graceful time you have.

“When people are in need, you must be present. When people suffer, you must let them know you’re suffering with them.” “The good side of bad acts?” I say. “I would not say that from horror comes goodness. That would be giving horror too much credit. But goodness prevails in spite of horror.

I’m not in the midst of trials in my own life, at the moment, so I acknowledge that it can feel like “easy for her to say.” But if you’ve known me long, you know that I say this even when trials do come my way, and this is part of the clarity of understanding I’ve gained as I’ve gotten older. It’s all one thing — the “good” and the “bad,” who we are, how we live, and that we are who we are with that entire context in place. We came into the world exactly who we are and we live the life we live and it’s all one thing.

It’s fascinating to me how utterly complex simplicity is, but that it can still be simple. Something to ponder on a beautiful Friday, the first day of autumn. xoxoxoxo

the treasure that is Lit Hub

Maybe you already follow LitHub on Facebook, but I’m here today to recommend that you sign up for their daily newsletter. Every single day, it’s the email I most look forward to receiving, and I’m guaranteed at least FIVE articles that I’m desperate to read (usually all of them. Most common for me is that there’s one I feel meh about, but the rest are thrilling.). I’ve had to turn completely away from the daily political material I used to receive, because it’s just going to kill me. Every day, “the worst day yet!” Every new thing, “a new low!” And yet none of that matters. Tomorrow will be an even worse day, five minutes from now will bring a new low. I can’t watch Colbert (etc) because they all seem to rely heavily on video clips of the horrorshow, and I can’t tolerate his voice or face. So I’ve turned my body to completely face literature and poetry and art, out of desperation.

Even when LitHub includes something that’s related to politics, it’s more an analysis, a thoughtful Big Picture perspective than a reactionary bit of clickbait, so I can usually read them at a slant. Here is today’s newsletter, to give you a taste of it — and more from me at the bottom.

Lit Hub Daily
September 14, 2017

TODAY: In 1851, James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans, dies.
    • From triumph to terror: how America grappled with the dawn of the nuclear age. | Literary Hub
    • 7 writers who are also great editors. | Literary Hub
    • Dealing with grief by cleaning the house: on death, loss, and Marilynne Robinson. | Literary Hub
    • “Life is heartbreak, but it is also uncharted moments ofkindness and reconciliation.” Joyce Carol Oates on Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love. | Book Marks
    • JP Donleavy, author of The Ginger Man, the “comic masterpiece…banned in Ireland for 20 years,” has died at 91. | The Irish Times
    • “Books become true, you know?” Helena Fitzgerald profiles Eileen Myles. | Rolling Stone
    • We marched day after day: A final interview with writer, artist, and activist Kate Millett. | The New Yorker
    • “I love the way he plays with our expectations of autobiography, how he frustrates our desire to find the perfect leftist, activist, Latin American writer and revolutionary who is heroic in all the right ways.” Jenny Zhang on Roberto Bolaño. | The Atlantic
    • Fake news and the rise of fascism in 1920s Europe. | Literary Hub
    • The importance of sending booksellers abroad: Bookselling Without Borders launches a Kickstarter. | Literary Hub
    • “I am not always sure if I wrote it or just tried to avoid writing it and failed.” An interview with Impossible Views of the World author Lucy Ives. | Bookforum
    • 10 contemporary short stories that “do something interesting or startling or just downright swoony.” | The Guardian
    • “The bucket was half full of papery spit globs. Soon she’d be able to take it outside and add onto her project: an enormous wasp nest big enough to house a human body.” A short story by Kristen Arnett. | Burrow

Really — some pieces I might race to read first, but every single item is interesting to me. If you go to their webpage, you’ll see the box on the right to enter your email and “get the lithub daily.” I’ve been so glad to get it every day. I feel like a dwindling plant in parched dirt, and that daily email is sunshine and rainwater, allowing me to re-find myself each day and muster a bit of life.

Since I got rid of that stupid game on my phone — and although it’s not a fair test yet, since I simultaneously got a small handful of jobs that take all my time and attention — I’ve been less scattered and wasteful. Every morning I read something good, at the moment Anne Carson and Women Who Run With the Wolves. Before I started college, I was deeply immersed in myth and deep structures, and that’s when I first read Wolves. And then I went to college and studied psychology and statistics and then I went to graduate school and studied experimental design and psychological research and even more statistics and there wasn’t space for that kind of mind AND a mind that prefers mythology and literature and deep structures, so I drifted away from it into a more linear if-then way of thinking (which, not for nothing, was never my forte…..). So it’s a pleasure to have the time and space every morning to reacquaint myself with this kind of material. Anne Carson cracks and shatters my brain, and every morning after I read her, she has gotten into my speech and I hear myself thinking weird words, not my words but hers.

So literature, rah! Poetry, YES! Art, oh yes please. And LitHub as a lovely daily invitation.

Also, I’m finally reading Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize winning short novel, The Sense of an Ending. It is so squarely in my wheelhouse — a meditation on memory (and its infallibility) and responsibility and what life has meant, and whether what happened is as important as how it is remembered and taken in. I’ll have more to say about it when I finish, but at 80% complete, I am completely enamored. It’s likely not going on my “absolute favorites” GoodReads shelf, but it’s really wonderful. More on that later.

xoxoxoxoxo