potluck

Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

  • Since I won’t be here on Oliver’s third birthday because I’ll be in Bali that day, I spent a few hours with him yesterday. I had some kind of seriously awful gut thing going on so it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, but it was so wonderful being with him. He and I went to one of the neighborhood parks, the one on the elementary school grounds where he will be going in just a couple of weeks. He played on the equipment, we blew bubbles even though it was too breezy to make chasing them much fun, he ate lunch, and he ran around. I watched him wandering around, running, talking to himself the way he does, and my heart ached so hard. Oliver has something going on — the current educational diagnosis is in the autism neighborhood — but most difficult is his pretty profound speech delay. So I watched that beautiful, darling boy running around, in his own world, and I cried pretty hard because I so want to know him. I so want to share things with him, know what he thinks without guessing, hear his wonderings and his wants and his needs and his funny. At the moment that’s not how it is to be with Oliver, but I know it will be one of these days. I don’t think he feels lonely; he seems keenly aware of how much he is loved. One fun thing to do with Oliver is to look at the phone together. We had the camera on and turned to selfie mode, and he was grinning as he held down the button for dozens of long bursts. He caught the really beautiful shot I included here. See the delight on his face?
  • My dear, dear friend Becci (hi darling Becci!) sent me a Crazy Zauberball. I have always wanted one, and somehow she chose a colorway that I always wanted, too. The other day I opened my mailbox, expecting the usual day’s allotment of junk mail, and instead there was a nicely wrapped box, fit snugly into the mailbox with my name facing outward. I had no idea what it might be, even when I saw Becci’s name and address in the top right corner. I literally ran into the house and unwrapped it (even more nicely presented inside the outer brown wrapper, with a “just because” note) and when I pulled out the ball I jumped up as if I’d been electrocuted. It was the last thing I expected, and I instantly started crying with all the joy — the joy of having a friend who would do such a thing (and just because), the joy of her thoughtfulness and knowing, the pleasure of the long-wanted yarn, and the delight of finding just the right project for it. I decided on a project that others have made with the yarn, a scarf called Baktus, because it looks amazing and it’s a simple knit—I want to make it on my upcoming trip. In the way these things work, forever more I’ll feel all the love and joy when I wear it, remembering Becci, remembering making it in Indonesia. That’s one thing I love about knitting, it holds the space for all of that.
  • I can’t properly talk about how humiliated I feel over having that hangover on Tuesday. I feel such shame about it. I’m 58, I have so many ways to manage upset, and I drank enough to have a hangover? It’s hard to talk about it but I feel like I must — maybe this is some kind of self-flagellation, maybe I shouldn’t, but shame and humiliation is exactly what I feel. I mentioned that feeling to Nancy, and she looked puzzled, which puzzled me. Shouldn’t I feel shame? I talk relatively often about AA, which I only know about because of my husband; I know that they believe self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere, and certainly not to the same place that self-compassion will take you. I’m trying that, trying to have compassion for myself that evening, acceptance of myself and what I did. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again; I sure learned a lot, including the fact that a hangover can be a really terrible mood, which I didn’t know. I’m sorry I did that — I say that out loud, and to myself. It’s funny; I even find this beautiful, even though it’s such a dreadful feeling. But it’s beautiful to stumble along, fall down and get up, bruise yourself, heal yourself, and be helped along by others. I think that’s really beautiful.
  • We just lost Derek Walcott, a poet whose words have meant a lot to me over the years. I first encountered him in 2001, when I knew a poet who loved him. I’m sorry this is in a jpg instead of text, but I can’t find it copy-able and I don’t want to type it all out. This poem relates so beautifully to the end of my last bullet point:

  • Tonight I will sit with the women in my book club to talk about this month’s book, which I didn’t like at all I’m sad to say (The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood, review here). But I will love being with the women, who share my political world view and who are SMART, screamingly smart, and compassionate. We meet at Joyce’s house tonight — she picked the book — and she’s making us a vegetable pie and salad, and I’m bringing Topo Chico and dark chocolate, and I look forward to the communion with all my heart. For now, though, I pack for Indonesia. Happy Sunday, everyone.

layers of time

up from his morning nap one day — classic Ilan move, pointing

What a wonderful time I had in Chicago — too short, as always, but filled with all kinds of wonder and happiness. Every morning I got up with Ilan so Marnie and Tom could get a little more sleep; he usually wakes up at 5:15am and is up for two hours and then goes down for a nap, so it was my pure pleasure to take that 2-hour segment of time with him.

I went to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s 32nd birthday (Friday, March 3) and Ilan’s first birthday (Wednesday, March 8), but I arrived mid-afternoon on March 3, and left mid-morning on March 8 so the celebrations were a bit more formless and leaked into the surrounding days. On Saturday March 4, Tom and Marnie spent the day out on a birthday ramble (their birthday specialty), so I had the whole day with Ilan, all to myself. I was playing music for us, my ‘iphone playlist’ which is just a random assortment of music I love, while Ilan ate his morning snack of goldfish crackers laid out around the perimeter of the coffee table, and this song came on. Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park, remember? From 1968?

As it does for most people, I guess, music jerks me around in time. And suddenly I just saw and felt all the layers of time going on in that moment with Ilan, generations of time, generations of moments and experience. I was simultaneously 9 years old, listening to this song and for some reason feeling how much I loved my dad, living in a terrible house of violence and the impending divorce of my parents; 19 years old, listening to Donna Summer’s great disco version of the song, living secretly in the office where I worked in Austin; in my late 20s, giving my own little kids a snack of goldfish crackers and watching them be my beamish little ones; and 58 years old, watching my littlest grandson do the same thing and being my daughter’s (and my) beamish little one. All those layers, all those moments, all those very similar experiences, all felt by me in that one light-filled moment. It made me cry, and it made me so grateful to be my very age, able to hold all that life and world together.

One of the hundreds of most-wonderful things about Ilan is how much he loves the Feist song, 1234. (I think Oliver loved it so much too — what is it about this song?)

He just couldn’t believe it.

Marnie got Ilan a small handheld bluetooth speaker of his own, and when she plays this song he just holds the speaker and stares at it with an extraordinary expression. He’ll glance up at her, and at me, and at whoever is in the room, with an expression I can’t exactly name but I know it completely.

Of course he’s one, and being one you put everything in your mouth at some point, but there were times he was holding the speaker and listening to a song, and he put it in his mouth and I thought he was really wanting the music to be inside him as much as anything else. I thought about this great story that Maurice Sendak told:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

I remain filled with all the wonder of my time in Chicago, the hours I got to spend with Ilan, the hours spent with Marnie, talking, and the evenings with Marnie and Tom over dinner. And I’m always grateful for those brief moments of seeing how time and life work together, and it’s all right there inside you all the time, waiting for something to break through so you can see it.

bouncing kisses

Somehow I’ve set my phone to back up every picture I take to my laptop. I only realized this when my hard drive was so full the computer quit working, and I started poking around to solve the mystery. And there they were, thousands of pictures and videos, saved to a folder buried in the file structure. In addition to all the images, I found a somewhat random collection of other files — pdfs and text files and Word documents, all saved and long forgotten. Most of the file names were descriptive enough, but one was just titled “ms.doc” so I opened it, thinking it was a client’s project I’d accidentally saved in the wrong place. And what I read felt as detached from me as if I hadn’t ever seen it before, but the stories were clearly mine. I have no recollection of writing them, page after page after page, but they are definitely mine. Weird. Maybe that’s the hazard of being a compulsive writer-of-stories, and a person who is now very good at forgetting things.

Anyway, this one was written in a way that brought me right back to that experience, to those lonely and exhausted years, those summer nights, those sorrowful feelings, so I thought I’d give it some air and let it breathe a little. Here you go, a story from the very early 1990s:

“Let’s go bounce our kisses off the moon.” This is what I told them every night, after their baths, that long summer in Virginia. The nights were so hot and steamy my glasses fogged up when we stepped out the front door, and my shirt clung to my skin within seconds. They were little, then, and always clean-scrubbed and shiny in their fresh pajamas and nightgowns. There was something fantastical to them about going outside in their nightclothes; they always looked at each other with sneaky little grins, as if they were getting away with something. It had been his idea, before he left, this whole bouncing kisses off the moon thing, as if they could throw theirs and he’d catch them, in the other hemisphere.

“Mommy, does Daddy feel our kisses the way you do? How does he get them?” they’d ask, in a hundred different ways. Katie was the oldest and knew this was just a game, but she went along for the sake of her little sister and brother, the same way she gave me a sideways smile when they’d talk about how clever the Easter bunny was to think of hiding their baskets underneath their beds – the last place they’d have looked. She knew what we were up to with this story, but the way she threw her kisses, the way she looked so hard at the moon as they flew away, I knew she was hoping that somehow they’d get there, somehow he’d feel her yearning for him and know that this one, this special kiss, was just hers, for him. Marnie and Will always gave a little jump when they kissed their hands and threw their kisses into the air. Marnie was just the right age, really, believing in the magic. She’d turn to me with light all over her face, letting the kiss go on its way as she gave one to me, too. Will was usually unsatisfied with just one toss and jump, so he’d push the kiss on its way with both hands a few times, each push getting its own jump. “Daddy is gone,” he’d say, and then he would run into the house, upstairs to his bedroom to play. “Yes, Daddy is gone,” I’d say softly to myself. “Daddy is gone.”

Saturday mornings the kids gathered downstairs, watching cartoons before breakfast. At the top of the stairs, I’d ask, “What shall it be this Saturday morning,” doing my best imitation of the silly-pompous way he used to ask that question, “waffles, or pannnnncaaaakes,” dragging out the last word as he did. “Pancakes! Pancakes!” they’d say, jumping up from the floor. The girls jumped once and ran to me, but Will just kept jumping around in circles, singing, “pannnnncakes, pannnnnnncakes, pannnnncakes!” and waving his hands like little wings. Of course pancakes didn’t mean pancakes, it meant their dad’s pancakes, shaped like Mickey Mouse, or like a silly unicorn, or sprinkled with candy if we had it, or cupcake decorations. Nothing as boring as a plain round pancake with butter and syrup, there’s nothing fun about that, Daddy always said.

“Daddy makes better pancakes than you do,” Will said again this Saturday. “Yours are too round and the legs are too short.” Katie glanced at my face and scooted her chair a little closer to mine, and asked if she could have another pancake, please. “I wonder what Daddy’s doing this morning,” Marnie said. “I wonder if he got our kisses last night? I want to draw monsters with him, I want him to come home now.” Her eyebrows pulled together and a little pout started forming around her mouth. Touching my hand, Katie turned to Marnie and said, “It’s OK, Marn, I can draw with you this morning!” I looked away, out the glass door into our large backyard, littered with leaves and fallen branches from the recent storm. I sat still, unable to move my gaze, as the girls ran upstairs to get the jar of markers and the big blank book Marnie and her dad filled with funny monsters, and palm trees, and dogs that waved their paws. I heard them turning the pages, turning clumps of pages, trying to find an empty space that hadn’t already been filled on Saturday mornings, before he left.

“Mommy? Are you crying, mommy?” Will asked. I coughed a little into my fist and turned my shining eyes to him. “It’s OK, Daddy will come back!” he said. Will put his arms up, the signal he wanted to be lifted out of his booster seat, so I got up and lifted him out of the chair and watched him run upstairs, to draw with his big sisters.

Daddy said he would come back. He said.

* * *

In the funny way the world works, sometimes, this story continued to echo into the world. Marnie incorporated some of it into a personal experience she had, and put it in a truly beautiful book she wrote and illustrated called Particle/Wavewhich you can buy for only $8.

It reminds me of the way our experiences have such long echoes and ripples, how a moment can transform and connect past and future. And it makes me cry.

three things: 1/22/17

FEED: I’ll be feeding for a week off the energy from the Women’s March. The organizers in Austin were expecting 22,000 people but there were between 50,000 and 60,000. I marched with my dear friend Deb and my wonderful daughter Katie, who was able to come after all thanks to her husband’s work schedule. We were near the front of the [alleged] starting point, but there were so many people already on Congress Avenue, in front of the capitol, that it was almost an hour before we started moving.

That’s the Texas state capitol (it’s a replica of the US capitol, but in pink granite). Deb and Katie and I were at the bottom of that paired row of trees on the front lawn, waiting to march down…..
Congress Avenue, the broad street that is the center of downtown, going from the capitol, over the river, into south Austin. It was extraordinary, no kidding.

People like to say that Austin is a big city, but it isn’t, really. Chicago, LA, NY, Boston, those are big cities. Austin is a large town with a WHOLE LOT of people in it. So this was amazing. People came in buses from all around the state, they drove in this morning, just to march here, in front of our regressive state government. It was peaceful. Beautiful. I wanted to hug every single person I saw.

Katie and I, waiting for the march to get started, about an hour before it was to begin. Marnie marched in Chicago, and Marc marched in NYC. Our family represented!

SEED: I’ll tell you this: trolls have zero sense of irony. Yesterday a nasty little troll who lives near Roswell, Georgia left an anonymous comment on my blog that said this:

why don’t you and your radical friends move to Russia!!!!! (subject line: “sick of your bs”)

HAHAHAHAHA! Gosh. Where even to begin. I think it’s a safe bet that this troll is a Trumpeter. Right? That she (for I have figured out who she is) voted for Putin’s puppet. What is it about people like this that always makes them tell us to move to Russia, anyway? Also: trolls love exclamation points. !!!!!

And these extra “patriotic” trolls have their little feelings hurt so badly when an American exercises her First Amendment rights. Choose-your-own-patriotism, I guess.

Also, if you are “sick of [my] bs” I have a simple little fix for you: don’t read it! No one is forcing you. Please, feel free to never read my blog again, I’m serious! Do me and yourself a favor, please. Because I’m not going to be silent so you can be comfortable (and especially not on my own damn blog! Sheesh!).

This is something I really do not understand. I know a couple of people who voted for Trump, and I never bring up politics with them. Never. (Similarly, I never comment on (or read) their political FB posts, ever, but they will slap a comment on mine, what??) Because there is no point, the abyss is too deep. I never bring up politics, and if a conversation by others starts drifting in that direction, I do my best to shift it into a safer zone. But they inevitably bring up politics with me, and you can tell that I have opinions, dammit. (And not only that, I’m super angry about this, which they also know from previous times they’ve brought up politics. What is that about?) So if they do, I don’t hold back. I say exactly what I think, and I’m not delicate about it. They brought up the conversation, and they know my position. I get very upset and shaky inside, because one friend especially I care about so much, I love her dearly, and I don’t want to unleash my anger at her, but I am angry. So it’s completely unpleasant for me, I don’t like it, I don’t wish to talk about it, but THEY BRING IT UP. Again and again. One has said things to me like, “Don’t you agree, liberals don’t think for themselves?” WITH FOX NEWS BLARING IN THE BACKGROUND.

Oh, I’m angry. I’m so angry. It’s not pleasant to have these intense feelings, and I am trying to figure out why my fury is this huge. I really hate unfairness, especially when people who have power wield it over those who don’t — that’s something that always makes me see red. So maybe it’s that, I don’t know, but I’d like to get a handle on it so I don’t stroke out, because I have a lot of political work to do.

Trolls? If you don’t like what I write here, on my own tiny little corner of the Internet, just leave me alone. Please.

READ: So I finished reading A Man Called Ove, which took me so long because I’ve been on a great run of sleeping. Here’s my GoodReads review, in case you’re interested in reading the book:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was deciding whether to read this book, I noticed that the most common word in all the Amazon and GoodReads reviews was “charming.” And honestly, I couldn’t write a review without that word either! It’s not just that the man called Ove was curmudgeonly charming, it’s that the approach of the book was charming, too. From the funny chapter titles to the way the story is fed out, to the glorious characters, to Ove’s endless stumbling blocks to joining Sonja, every last bit was charming. The general plot was a bit predictable — exuberant new neighbor saves sad old curmudgeon who finds no use for life until she explodes into his life — but honestly? That didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I spotted the plot arc the moment they met. I didn’t care that the various subplots were predictable. In large part that’s because of the good storytelling, the lovely writing, and the moments of big truth, and in the remaining part it’s because I really cared about Ove, a lot. Really good book, I enjoyed reading it a lot, and always regretted that my time to read is too brief. [View all my reviews]

Now I’m reading another Scandinavian book (Ove was Swedish, this one’s Norwegian) one called Land of Hidden Fires, which I am reading for NetGalley. More on that later. New book club in the house tonight, to discuss Underground Railroad oh heck yeah.

three things: 1/21/17

FEED: Today, as I am lacing up shoes and heading out the door for the Women’s March, I am feeling so much inspiration from our dearly beloved former Governor and salty, nasty woman Ann Richards, who is also the mother of Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood and nasty woman in her own right:

I am not proud of the 26% of registered-to-vote Americans who elected this monster into office, but I am so proud of the millions and millions of us who are resisting. I’m proud of every action we take, every word we offer, no matter the outcome. Ann, I hope you are proud of us. I am.

I am proud to say that the incoming president is facing unprecedented resistance. Very proud to say that. And I am especially proud of these six protesters who stood on their chairs near the front of the inauguration crowd and started shouting the preamble to the Constitution: We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Like little bratty kids in elementary school, people sitting behind them pulled their chairs out from under them so they’d fall down, but not before the protesters made their mark. Police took them away, and if they were arrested I’d cobble together my spare money and send it for their bail. So proud.

SEED: Today is the march, so honestly that’s all I’m thinking about. I’m marching quite pointedly for this little Texan, my 4-month-old granddaughter Lucy, because I want a future for her beyond her womb, I want her to have full human rights and not be a designated breeder whether she likes it or not. I march for all my grandchildren’s futures. For the futures of everyone under threat by the current administration. But most pointedly, I march for our little firecracker girl, Lucy:

Isn’t she just the cutest little thing? The moment she opens her eyes, she grins and giggles and blows raspberries (like, non-stop) and she SHOUTS incessantly. I glanced over at Oliver on Thursday and he had his hands over his ears. She’s adorable, such tremendous energy and life, and I want her to have the rights to determine what happens to her own life.

READ: For all of us Americans, it’s time to closely study our Constitution. Read it. It’s not that long. You can find copies everywhere, but my link will take you to an easy to read version, unlike this:

The famous Stone engraving

RESIST, my friends. Day ONE.

three things: 1/15/17

FEED: Here’s a glorious poem that you have to see on the page.

TIME AND MATERIALS

1
To make layers,
As if they were a steadiness of days:

It snowed; I did errands at a desk;
A white flurry out the window thickening; my tongue
Tasted of the glue on envelopes.

On this day sunlight on red brick, bare trees,
Nothing stirring in the icy air.

On this day a blur of color moving at the gym
Where the heat from bodies
Meets the watery, cold surface of the glass.

Made love, made curry, talked on the phone
To friends, the one whose brother died
Was crying and thinking alternately,
Like someone falling down and getting up
And running and falling and getting up.

2
The object of this poem is not to annihila

To not annih

The object of this poem is to report a theft,
In progress, of everything
That is not these words
And their disposition on the page.

The object o f this poem is to report a theft,
In progre ss of everything that exists
That is not th ese words
And their d isposition on the page.

The object of his poe is t repor a theft
In rogres f ever hing at xists
Th is no ese w rds
And their disp sit on o the pag

3
To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.

“Action painting,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.

4
The typo would be “paining.”

(To abrade.)

5
Or to render time and stand outside
The horizontal rush of it, for a moment
To have the sensation of standing outside
The greenish rush of it.

6
Some vertical gesture then, the way that anger
Or desire can rip a life apart,

Some wound of color.

© 2007, Robert Hass
From: Time and Materials. Poems 1997-2005
Publisher: Ecco (HarperCollins Publishers), New York, 2007

SEED:  OOF, you know how you can just be doing something random, like looking through a box for the pretty cards you stored away, and then you happen across something you had completely forgotten about, and that punches you right in the heart? That happened to me. In a box in my storage room, I saw a plastic sleeve with old IDs and credit cards, no idea how long ago I tucked it away in that box — must’ve been when I moved in, November 2012. I went through them and came across this tiny snippet of now-brown newsprint:

It’s blurry because it is blurry, the print is fading. “Lori G,” I had that last name so long ago, and this small personal ad was in the newspaper for me in ~1990. Almost 30 years ago. I didn’t remember that I had it, and I didn’t even remember it had happened until I saw it.

When she was a tiny little girl, my sister hated milk. Hated it. She only wanted water (“that’s the Stone in her” everyone said). But she couldn’t say milk, she’d just say, “No muck Big Daddy, no muck.” So he called her Muck. I was Pete, she was Muck, we were a nicknaming family. (Big Daddy especially.) My sister and I cannot have a relationship longer than a week, and it pops up once every 8-10 years, and I don’t blame her or myself. When you come out of the family we did, well, there is too much I understand about that. I don’t blame her or my brother for our inability to know each other, but the deep truth is that I dearly loved her when we were little, and it’s so easy for me to touch that feeling I cry.

She knew that I had this silly little habit of reading the personal column in the weekend newspaper just in case there was an ad for me. (My dad did the same thing, and I didn’t know that until I met him again right before his death. So did his sister, didn’t know that, either.) I don’t know if my sister and I were having a relationship at the time she posted the ad,  I can’t remember too clearly. I suspect this was placed around the time of my first major clinical depression, the one that culminated in a terrifying suicide attempt, because around that time she wrote me a letter saying, “We keep going because we never know when we’re going to round a corner and there is someone holding a bouquet of flowers just for us.” So it makes sense that she would’ve done this, too, a very personal and specific reaching-out to me, her big sister, a bouquet of flowers just for me.

So much in that tiny square of delicate old newsprint. Twenty-five words.

READ: A Texas writer named Sarah Bird was supposed to receive an award from the Texas State Legislature, which delighted her — until she learned that she was not going to be allowed to speak. This led her to decline the award because she didn’t want it to appear that she supported them without question. So instead, she published the speech she would’ve given (here’s the article about it in the Texas Tribune):

Whenever I meet a woman of my age, old enough to remember those glorious carefree days back when America was great and we were pooping our panties as we trembled in fear of nuclear annihilation beneath our desks; or skipping merrily behind the truck spraying clouds of utterly safe DDT; or staring at the photo of a black girl nearly our own age who required the National Guard and more guts than you can hang on a fence to go to school; or, living in terror of becoming one of the thousands of women who died of an unsafe, illegal abortion, we shake our heads and wonder, “How the hell did we get back here?”

The short answer to how is “states’ rights.” Yes, that nightrider who’s kept the Civil War raging for more than 150 years is the very creature enabling all the OB/GYNs in the Legislature to get all up in our lady business via the gnat swarm of bullshit laws they keep trying to inflict upon us. What? No, OB/GYNs in the Lege? But they authored a booklet, “A Woman’s Right to Know,” that doctors are forced to give patients seeking an abortion that warns those women they will suffer a higher incidence of breast cancer — a fact unknown to countless medical groups, including the National Cancer Institute, which has debunked this claim. State Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Mary González, D-Clint, introduced legislation to fix the inaccuracies, but it didn’t pass.

The hypocrisy is wearying. And it would be laughable if the bodies of Texas women were not at stake.

So, that’s the “how,” what about the “why?” Because it gets votes and the dipshits get to accomplish that which their entire being is centered around: Keeping their jobs. And why is using the bodies of Texas women as a sort of tenure track to job security such a sure-fire vote-getting strategy?

Let us turn to the individual selected by the antiquated, dangerously unrepresentative Electoral College to be our next president for that answer. No more perfect articulation as to why our representatives are so relentlessly eager to shove their transvaginal ultrasound wands into the bodies of as many Texas women as their bullshit laws allow can be found than that offered in this individual’s colloquy with Billy Bush, blessedly, blessedly, preserved for the ages on videotape. There, in the NBC Studios parking lot, he identified the ultimate prize that awaited the man who achieved his level of celebrity: the power to grab women by their genitalia.

Here in a nutshell is the cornerstone of every fundamentalist perversion of religion from the Taliban to the Yearning for Zion FLDS compound: Control the P____. Our next president can say it, but I won’t. This atavistic impulse is at the heart of every transparently cynical political ploy from the state’s egregious fetal remains burial proposal to mandatory parental consent for minors to defunding Planned Parenthood to the rules that forced most clinics in the Rio Grande Valley to shut down.

Her speech is remarkable, and I wish she had been able to deliver it to the people who deserve to hear it (but who would’ve slammed her mercilessly and tried to shut her down). Instead, she will join all of us marching on January 21st. I’ll be wearing my pussy hat. Every single time the shout is “MY BODY MY RIGHTS / HER BODY HER RIGHTS”I cry and the rage that fills me turns my shout hard and louder and filled with the fury of a human being who does not understand how we can still be fighting this fight.

two things: 1/12/17

1) The Wake Up Project is an Australian-centered mission to promote kindness and mindfulness. Five years ago I followed them but somehow I lost track — maybe in one of my occasional email subscription purges, which I regret. Click the link above for more information; I’ve signed up again. One of my dear, dear friends shared the most recent email from the founder, and I thought it was so great I wanted to share it here, and say why/more . . . but first, the email:

With all that’s happening in the world, I see 2017 as a profound call to personal leadership. More accurately, I’d call it an invitation to spiritual warriorship – to train and nourish our heart’s tremendous potential for kindness towards ourselves, each other and the earth.

To me, this means stepping up and honouring the ordinary magic of our daily lives. Learning how to protect our minds, listening for guidance and living from our hearts.

May I offer three areas to focus on this year:

Feed Your Mind Beautiful Things: Never has this been so important. Feed it truth. Feed it inspiration. AKA uplifting literature, wisdom, poetry, comedy, music, podcasts and good journalism. Surround yourself with people who nourish your mind and open you to new possibilities.

Adopt a Practice of Intentional Stillness: Set aside 5-15 minutes a day to relax and rest in the unchangeable part of you. The method doesn’t matter – sit, journal, pray, swim, stretch. It’s all about calming your mind, befriending yourself and listening to what life wants from you.

Once a Week, Pause and Ask Yourself “Who Can I Be Kind To Right Now?”: Really listen. It could be a friend, lover, family member, stranger – or it could be the same person each time. It doesn’t need to be big – e.g. send a text, make a phone call, leave a note. Or it could be big and risky. Step by step, kindness becomes your #1 spiritual practice. Set a weekly alert in your calendar to keep this practice alive.

Always remember….

“There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

So there it is. This is your year to Wake Up the best in you. To befriend yourself through unapologetic gentleness. To discover a profound rest in your human imperfections. To awaken the revolutionary (and essential) qualities of kindness, courage and creativity. This is spiritual warriorship.

OK! The reason this struck me the way it did is that like most of us, I’ve been just so scared of the incoming government, and a big part of that fear is that we’d all just get worn down and quit fighting. That the media will cave (as they have already done to a large extent), that the fighters will be loud at first but gradually they’ll (we’ll) subside because of exhaustion or because they’re systematically shut down, and that those of us with truly little power will find our powerlessness too hard to accept so we’ll start saying things like, “well, I’m just going to be kind/ paint/ write/ knit” and without diminishing those things AT ALL, they are too easily, I fear, a transition to acceptance of the situation. I’ve been scared of that, and I’ll just claim it for myself: I’ve been scared that will do that.

Te-Ata, Chickasaw

But this letter orients that effort in such a powerful way: spiritual WARRIORSHIP. My mother is descended from a Chickasaw woman named Ela-Teecha, so I am going to imagine myself a spiritual Chickasaw warrior. I found this beautiful photo of a Chickasaw woman named Te-Ata (Bearer of the Morning) and since I don’t have a photo of Ela-Teecha, I will instead hold her in my mind as my spiritual warrior image. (Wasn’t she so beautiful?) The Chickasaw belong to the Five Civilized Tribes, and were relocated, along with the Cherokee, on the Trail of Tears.

And so I will follow the guidance of the Wake Up Project and do the things I’d planned to do, but as spiritual warriorship. Somehow that feels different to me — and I will march and protest and write emails and make calls, too. And that is enough for one powerless person.

2) Speaking of Ela-Teecha, here’s what I know about her:

A friend did a quick exploration for me through Ancestry.com and uncovered so much information — often thrilling, sometimes painful (slave owners in Georgia) — and in the documents, she found this. I read it again and again, and adore “married into the great Choctaw family of Leflores.” The description of Ela-Teecha sounds exactly like my mother, exactly: straight black hair, very high cheek bones, and small black eyes … — medium size and slender build. That description can of course look a lot of different ways, and she undoubtedly looked nothing like my mother, but my mother fit the description too and that’s a bit eerie.

Ela-Teecha, my ancestorOH!! I found her! After she married Smith Paul she went by the Anglicized name Ellen. She lived from 1797 to 1871, and if I joined Ancestry, I could also see her grave, and probably find out exactly where she is buried. Wow. For a rootless person like me, that feels utterly amazing. I was able to snag her tree without joining:

I love that one of her sons was named Tecumseh, and another Mississippi. I’m unsure which of her children led to me, but I think that must be knowable. My father’s paternal line is a series of abrupt, violent stops, but that’s not my whole story. I know my father’s mother descended from a line of Alabama Coushatta, so on both sides I am descended from native people and their toughness and resilience live through me.

This is not really of interest to anyone but me, but I’m glad to stash this here for later finding.

Find your own model, if that will help, or maybe you don’t need one, maybe you are ready and able to fight your own way, just out of your own core. #resistance

two things: 1/9/17

1)  Well it’s been cold and gross here in New York, with just enough snow to make a mess but not enough to be pretty and fun. So we spent all day yesterday finishing up the plans and the blog for our trip to Indonesia at the end of March. Indonesia comprises 17,508-18,306 islands (8,844 have been named, and 922 of those are permanently inhabited). The largest cluster is on Java, with ~130 million inhabitants (60% of the country’s population) on an island the size of New York State. The last time we went to Indonesia in May, 2013, we went to Java — Jakarta briefly, Yogyakarta, and Solo — and Bali. We were so-so about Java but absolutely adored Bali. With so very many islands, like Greece they’re organized in groupings. We’re focusing on the Lesser Sunda islands of Bali, Lombok, Timor (overnight), and Rote. Lombok has an active volcano, Mount Rinjani, which last erupted three times in May, 2010.

the blog head — click the image to go to the blog

Unlike our last trip to Laos and Thailand, we’re going almost entirely to places that are new to us, with one exception. In Bali, we’re returning to Ubud to stay again at Alam Jiwa (the name means ‘soul of nature’), largely, I think, because I want to return there. You can see pictures of the place in the post from that blog if you are curious; there’s something about Bali that is extraordinary and lush and creatively gorgeous. Everything they make is an offering of some kind, everything created is made with a specific kind of beauty. Unlike the rest of Indonesia Bali is Hindu, not Muslim, and you can feel that difference, and see it. I can’t wait to get back to Alam Jiwa, just can’t wait.

And the place we’re staying on Lombok that’s near the volcano, I can’t wait for that, either. Just look at this gorgeous view from the hotel:

Rinjani Lodge

It helps a lot having this to look forward to, with the political stuff that’s coming right up. And I hasten to remind myself that other things are coming right up, too, beyond all the marches and protests I’ll participate in: friends’ birthdays, poetry group and book club meetings (to talk about books!), Marnie’s and Ilan’s visit to Austin, a return to NYC, a visit to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s and Ilan’s birthday (his first, wow), and then we’re off to Indonesia. The only bad thing about the trip is that I’ll miss celebrating Oliver’s third birthday with his family, and I hate that because I’ve been part of the others. But I’ll celebrate him wherever I am, for sure.

2) If you’re a big reader you probably already know about this, but in case you don’t: Netgalley! Create an account (free) as a reader, choose the publishers you’re most interested in (I chose the ones that tend to publish my favorite books, obviously), and then get free copies of forthcoming books, delivered right to your e-reader. You are asked to write a review of the books you read, wherever you might do that — GoodReads, Amazon, your own blog — but there is no obligation to write a positive review. You may see this mentioned if you read others’ reviews on GoodReads; a reviewer will mention that s/he got an ARC (advance reading copy), so that’s what this means. The book may not be in its final, fully copy edited form, so there may be typos, but (a) free books, (b) before anyone else gets to read them! I already write reviews of everything I read so of course I signed up.

Right now I’m reading Someone Always Robs the Poor, by Carl MacDougall (a new collection of brilliant stories from the multi-award winning elder statesman of Scottish literature, exploring themes of poverty, migration, alienation, accountability and alcoholism, with an impressive depth and emotional range) and Land of Hidden Fires, by Kirk Kjeldsen, set in Occupied Norway in 1943. They always ask for feedback about the cover, too. It’s a win-win situation if you’re broke, like me, and you love to read. There isn’t the same time constraint as with a library book, either.

A bonus:

Ilan is TEN months old now, how shocking is that?! He’s so beautiful I can barely drag my eyes away, and he’s really getting into mischief now, and is cruising around.
Oliver is getting so big! He’s super tall and very thin, and he wakes up SO HAPPY
Aww….Lucy is four months old, and just the sweetest little baby. She can never take her eyes off her mama, and she has this little honking laugh, like a goose. Apple of Pete’s eye, she is.

three things: 12/31/16

1)  Well, an end to this year and a face turned toward the next. God almighty. I don’t need to say all this again; it’s been present to varying degrees in my last posts, but it’s the last day of the year so I have to include it. I’m scared of the future and grateful as hell to have my arms linked with others in the resistance. We’ll lose more battles than we’ll win, but we’ll pull each other up and keep going. I have never dreaded a coming year more than I dread this one.

2) Thank you for sticking around with me, for coming to my little cobwebbed corner of the Internet. Thanks for reading, for commenting if and when (and where) you do, for accepting the little things I offer, and for accepting me, which you do by returning. If I offend, I’m grateful that you don’t bail on me but instead leave space for me to have my own view of the world. I hope I do the same for you. (Unless you voted for Trump, in which case I have no space for that.) (None.) (Whatsoever.) (But otherwise, you do you and I will be damn glad of it, whether we agree or not.)

3) Here is a wonderful year-end/new-year poem:

BRAND NEW ANCIENTS (by Kate Tempest, surely a pseudonym)

See – all that we have here is all that we’ve always had.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that somehow now is all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry –
but the life in your veins
it is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it.
Take it from the tears of the poets.

There’s always been heroes
and there’s always been villains
and the stakes may have changed
but really there’s no difference.
There’s always been greed and heartbreak and ambition
and bravery and love and trespass and contrition –
we’re the same beings that began, still living
in all of our fury and foulness and friction,
everyday odysseys, dreams and decisions . . .
The stories are there if you listen.

The stories are here,
the stories are you,
and your fear
and your hope
is as old
as the language of smoke,
the language of blood,
the language of
languishing love.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

The gods are in the betting shops
the gods are in the caff
the gods are smoking fags out the back
the gods are in the office blocks
the gods are at their desks
the gods are sick of always giving more and getting less
the gods are at the rave –
two pills deep into dancing –
the gods are in the alleyway laughing

WOW. Right? I’ll end this post with some pictures that make me just so very happy, in the hopes that they give you a smile, too. Y’all be safe, and hope to see you next year.

My sweet Katie and her beloved family
Our darling Oliver, so happy with his big Christmas gift because it has numbers on it
beautiful, glowing, angelic Lucy
This one is so great because it’s my Katie’s sense of humor. I crack up every time I see it, even out of the corner of my eye. That girl.
My beautiful Marnie, and her beloved family
I love this stage, where they turn their heads completely sideways to get a new look.
Wonderful, glorious Ilan, how I miss him.
Such a happy, photogenic little guy. And a genius, I’m pretty sure.
bamboo rafting in Yangshuo, in southern China
Lijiang, China, so special
so happy in Shaxi my lips and gums dried out from all the insane grinning
and all the happy boat rides on Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
That wondrous snow storm we had in January, can’t forget it!
or lying in a hammock next to the Nam Ou, in Nong Khiaw, Laos
enjoying the beach on Koh Mak, in Thailand

So many other pictures I’d need — holding Ilan for the first time, holding Lucy for the first time, walking slowly while Oliver collects acwons, time spent with beloved friends, waiting with Marnie for Ilan to be born, a meeting of my poetry group (why don’t I have a single picture of that!) — but these will do.

Love to us all, and solidarity, sisters. xoxoxxo

three things: 12/30/16

1)  No talking around it, or talking in the general direction, it’s time to be blunt: I am very depressed. I know from depression, as people in the northeast would say — like my taxonomy of headaches, I have one for depression and it’s enlarged by generations behind me and now beyond me. My people are the kings of depression. I have so many versions, including one version that visits me every eight years like clockwork and ends in a suicide effort/attempt (I’ve had three of those, the last pinning the cycle in 8 years for me). I have another version that makes me sick and lays me so low I struggle to breathe. I have another version that makes me so enraged I hate the fucking sun for shining. I have a version that completely blanks out my mind, bleaches away the words and thoughts. I have the light ones, the little dips and low periods that descend and then lift, like everyone else. When I am very depressed, except for the blank version I always have an ‘explanation’ for it, my list of ‘reasons.’ They are always more or less true, more or less connected to the reality of things, even if they are slanted and deepened. Except for the dips, I have to take them seriously, for my history is as serious as death. The depression I feel now feels very true and connected perfectly to the reality of things, even as I can also see that it’s not the whole reality. The incoming president and his gang of thieves, along with my contempt for all those who voted for him, have nearly paralyzed me with fear and dread. The world I want — one where we respect each other, one where we are thoughtful and value intelligence, one where we lift an umbrella over those in need, one where we engage thoughtfully with the world — has been kicked to the curb with jackboots. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not a simple “nyah nyah I wanted my girl to win,” it’s the truth of this change that’s coming and it terrifies me. All the things I value, my values, are being shit on. They’re not just being erased, or set to the side . . . they are being shit on. And I am depressed. I really am. So many of us are. Had the Republican voters elected Jeb Bush or any other “normal” Republican, I’d have dreaded the policies of hate and cronyism, the pulling-away of concern for any but the super-rich, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s absolute dread I feel, and I am so depressed. Color seems faded. Hope seems too quiet and tiny, a mustard seed hidden in a dusty corner behind the drapes.

I see my grandchildren there. (And then I fear the world they’re getting.) I my see my beloved children (and ditto, plus my dread for them as parents). I see my friends, the overwhelming majority of whom are with me, fighting with me, we’re helping each other (and thank God for all of you, all of you). I see travel in my future, I see happy time with friends, I see babysitting of Oliver and Lucy, I see celebrating birthdays together, I see all that. And all that matters, it does. It’s not disappeared by the depression, it’s there, it just feels muted by the heaviness of the world that’s coming. And so this is another kind of depression to add to my taxonomy: the extremely realistic kind that’s due entirely to the world. I do not feel suicidal or in any kind of danger beyond the kind my government is about to cause, it’s not that kind of depression. Goddamn. Help me Jesus. Help us all.

“Gooseneck barnacles,” photograph by @fifi_dob

2) It is such a weird, weird world. You know how much I depend on every single person I know? Instagram keeps me going: I depend on seeing Fiona’s underwater photography every single day, depend on it. Mary’s shots of the beaches around Sydney. Judi’s gorgeous sunrises and sunsets when she is in Lorne, and the various amazing birds she sees. Friends who travel? I live for your pictures — Mary’s in South Africa right now, Leanne is showing her sons a glorious white Christmas in Europe, Alison is usually off to somewhere I want to see. Megan always has some kind of lush delight for the eye and spirit, whether it’s her extraordinary shots of flowers or the art she makes. Who knew how important an app could be, how invaluable to my daily life could be people I have not yet met. I depend on you, every day. You have a very real spot in the hours of my day, in my anticipation, in my making-it-through. (And it must be said that it’s not just your photos, it’s the real, and very personal kindnesses you show me regularly, the way you are so open with me, the way you share in my life, too.)

I depend on a close watch on politics by my friends Cindy, and Don Ray, and Tina, and Matt, and Margie, and Debra, and Anne, and all of you who are new militants like me. And of course I depend on your communications with me, as we share and worry over the onslaught we’re facing. You help me feel less alone, you help me remember that there are millions of us in this battle.

I depend on people in my real life that I can see in person, regularly (even if not regularly enough), I can’t even name you all because I’m afraid I’ll leave one of you off. I depend on those coffee breaks, those glasses of wine or beer, those dinners or breakfasts, those walks, those hand-clutching conversations. And I depend on the online private communications just as much, whether you are a friend I can see in person, or a friend in another country — the emails, the FB PMs, the texts, the way I can be feeling low and hear a ping and a friend’s note reminds me that I am not sitting alone in the dark. I depend on you more than you could ever imagine. Ever. You give me so much more than I ever give you. (And while I was writing this, *ping* came a note of big love from Dixie, while I was writing a response to one from Alethea. See?)

I depend on my oldest friends, my years-long friends, and friends I’ve just made (a wonder, that, making new friends at 58, especially when they are like long-lost sisters) whether I see you regularly, or not. I really depend on you, and I mean that in a blood-and-bones-and-breath way. I depend on you, I depend on knowing you’re there.

It’s too easy, I think, for us to feel some degree of isolation, and surely we all have those moments—even if they’re brief—of feeling unimportant, or unseen. Unappreciated. Undervalued. So let me tell you: if you were gone, a hole would be blown in my world. You probably wouldn’t think that, but you’d be wrong. My beautiful, beautiful friend Laura in Perth shared this image of a net with me, and let me remind us all that we are connected like a net, we’re each a knot, a nodule, a small thing with arms out to others nearby, and together we are mighty.

3) Even if it’s not your easy style, call a friend sweetheart, or darling. Anne does this and I literally explode in delight, a small fireworks of feeling loved, of feeling special every single time she says it. Give that to someone today.

three things: 12/27/16

1) Headaches, of which I am the chief taxonomist, the God of Knowing, the Linneaus, the Webster. My dad was a headache-haver, I am the inheritor of that misery, and my daughter Katie carries it on another generation. I have a headache nearly every single day, and know the specifics and instigator of so many. There’s the one that exists in the top of my left eyeball (and the very different one that dominates my right eyeball). The one that sits on the top center of my head. The one that presses on my right temple. The one that wraps like a belt. The one that comes from a low pressure system. The one that arises from smells in the environment. The one that comes from specific bad sleep. The different one that comes from insufficient sleep. The one that comes from perfume or cologne worn by others. The one that I get when it’s too cold. Etc. Etc. Etc. The one that’s treated with hot, wet cloths. The one that’s treated with Sumatriptan. The one that’s helped by beer and a Sudafed (only if both at once). The one that’s helped by massage. The one that’s helped by sleep. The one that is helped by nothing. And all combinations of all.

People want to help, and I inevitably hear that I should go to a doctor. But the issue is that I am a headache-haver, and that isn’t treatable. I know how to identify and treat the different ones, so what would a doctor say? You have sinus headaches, tension headaches, sleep-related headaches, you’re sensitive to volatile organic compounds, all of which I already know. It’s a terrible thing, being a headache-haver, because my day can be derailed so easily and often there is nothing to do but wait for the next day in the hope that it’ll be better. This part of the post brought to you by today’s low-heavy-shaggy-gray-sky-headache. I was in my mid-20s when I learned that not everyone has a headache every single day, and it blew me away. Lucky you, if you don’t!

I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 6 of those are from the past 13 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.

2) My son is breaking my heart anew. I got a message from his ex-boyfriend about a box of Will’s stuff — did I want it, or should he throw it away? It’s filled with pictures from Will’s childhood, mementos, gifts I gave him, an album his sister assembled with pictures and letters from us all when she was trying to lead him back to our family, all just abandoned by him. I’m honestly not sure I can bear to collect them, but I know I can’t bear for them just to be tossed in the dump on Staten Island and so I will collect them. They will smell like Will. He told me that Will lost his job in the spring and he doesn’t know if/where he’s working, and that he doesn’t have the same phone number. He knows he is (at the moment) staying with a friend in Sunnyside, Queens, but nothing more specific than that. The thread is getting so weak that allows me to tug him, frayed down to a single twist. Will knows he is hurting me, and that doesn’t make my pain any less, it doesn’t allow me to just reside in anger at him. I still fill the weight of him in my arms, smell the smell of his baby head, smell the smell of his teenage years, hear the sound of his boy voice and his deep man voice. I still remember his humor, his pleasure in beating me at Scrabble, the way he called me Ma just to crack me up. The way he said I’d be Granma Pete instead of just Pete, to make me laugh. It’s holding the full complexity of it all that breaks my heart. If I could simply be furious with him, or let him go, or just feel all the love, it would be so much easier.

3) I’ve been trying to sit very still and quiet with this terrible feeling in order to understand it. I set aside the headache as its own thing, and focus instead on the heartache. Why is it so painful? What, exactly, is the feeling of it? I realized that I feel chaotic and not whole, that this feeling is one of fragmentation, and an inability to cohere. It might cohere if I had a simple story I could tell, if I had more answers (whatever they might be) than questions, if I had a simple set of feelings. Just grief, for example. My mind feels like threads exploded outwards, my body doesn’t feel whole and comfortable, and my feelings are all over the place, changing with my breath. I’m doing my best just to let this all be, to be present with it and not try to force it into one category, one thing, and to notice that I can do that. Super hard, y’all. Super, super, super hard. I keep suddenly standing up and preparing to walk somewhere, but I just take a few steps, turn around, hold my head, and sit down again. This is just part of life, it’s just part of my life, it just is, and it will not always be like this.

two things: 12/24/16

1)  It’s a dicey thing going to the movies with someone because you don’t know what kind of movie-goer they are. (And I absolutely love going to movies all by myself, it’s one of my favorite things.) Here’s the kind of movie-goer I am. I’ll chit-chat (using an indoor voice) until the trailers begin, and then I will not be talking to you at all. I might look at you, big-eye you or laugh with you, I might grab your hand, I might communicate in a bunch of ways with you, but they will not include words. Period. Some people like to talk through the trailers (shut up!!), but then they’ll stop talking when the movie starts. And some people talk the whole damn time, and loudly. It’s also a regional difference; at least in the three experiences I’ve had seeing a movie in the broader New Orleans area, they like to talk a lot throughout the movie. It’s the norm, I gather. When I saw La La Land the other day, a group of three women sitting right behind me were talking loudly and guffawing (no, really, they were guffawing), and I was a little nervous; they kept up the chatter during the trailers and I became more nervous, and once the movie started they kept talking so much I finally got up and moved. Not happy. One great thing about the Alamo Drafthouse, my favorite movie theater, is that they take this SERIOUSLY. Before the movie starts, they always show some kind of short video about it, and if someone talks or uses their phone (even to text) during the movie, all you have to do is put up a note and they come take care of it. Since people order food throughout the movie using the same system, the talker doesn’t even know who flagged them. This is one of my favorite videos EVER. The inimitable Ann Richards:

I love that so much. And they really do kick people out, no lie. I went to see a movie with one friend who was the talky variety, so I won’t go with her again, but when Deb and I went to see Moonlight last month, I learned with great joy that she is like me, a silent movie watcher who will also reach out and grab my hand at the right moments.

2)  It’s Christmas Eve, and so I wish you a very merry celebration if that’s in your cards — whatever you might celebrate. It’s the first night of Hanukkah, and Christmas Eve, so if those are your thing I hope it’s beautiful. If you’re sad, or feeling the loss of someone, or big anxieties, or if you’re on the outs and don’t have a place, bless your heart and I mean that in the true way, not the Texas way. It won’t always be this way. The world turns, bad years give way to better ones. I’ve had my share of really bad ones, sad ones, all-alonely ones as my kids used to say, bitter ones, agonizing ones, happy ones, melancholy ones, exhausted ones, super excited ones, deeply joyous ones. Live long enough, I guess you get to try them all.

I’m going to be with Katie and Trey and Lucy and Oliver, spending the day making cookies and baking, and then eating a nice dinner — I’m bringing those roasted butternut squash/caramelized onion galettes and a pecan cream cake YUM — and after the kids go down, maybe we’ll watch a movie or something. I will desperately miss being with Marnie and Tom and Ilan, especially since this is Ilan’s first Christmas, and I will desperately miss my son. Maybe the holidays are always everything at once.

adorable Oliver and Lucy — look at his cute expression!
my adorable little Ilan boy.
So long ago — Christmas 1990. Will was 3, Marnie was 5, and Katie was 8. Aww, my babies.

Peace (while we can still hope for peace, before the new ….ugh, I just can’t) and light to us all. We need it more than ever this year.

three things: 12/23/16

1)  I’m just going to launch right in: I have more self-conversations (out loud and just in thought) about poop every day than you might ever dream. PLEASE tell me you’re this way, please. It’s a strangely big part of my life; women with my kind of history of sexual trauma are significantly more likely to have IBS and to get cancers of organs in the pelvis compared to women without this history, a fact that always punches me right in the intestines. Like having to go through all that in the first place wasn’t bad enough? And yet of course it also makes sense in a body-mind way. My siblings and I had severe problems pooping as children; I always said that mother scared the shit into us. So it’s always been a complicated thing for me, I just couldn’t do it. Two or three times a month only, that kind of thing (no exaggeration). It got a lot better for me when I changed to a vegetarian diet and started having a green smoothie every morning 2.5 years ago, but it still shocks me when I go nearly every day. Shocks me. I almost always comment on it out loud, a kind of cheering myself on, the kind of praise you give little ones when they’re toilet training. “Good job! Look at you!” And I always wonder why there is no weight loss after a particularly big one. 🙂 Come on. I don’t mess with a thing that works; my morning smoothie has been exactly the same for 2.5 years now: a banana, almond milk, two giant handfuls of fresh spinach, and a bunch of frozen unsweetened peaches. Oh my is that good. I never ever tire of it. And then I go poop.

2)  La La Land. Gosh, I loved it so much. I just loved it. Of course I am always hoping people around me break into song and dance, so that’s an important thing — if you don’t, and if you don’t love the old musicals, you might not like it. But I really did, and every single time they started dancing I started smile-crying. Every time Emma Stone’s wide, large eyes were gazing at Ryan Gosling, every time either of them were excitedly talking about their dreams and plans, my hand rested over my heart or on my throat and my eyes filled with tears. It’s about dreams, and love, and the intersection of those, and thank God there are young people in the world dreaming their dreams. Thank God for that. I hope the change in US politics won’t squash them in its meanness.

When I was driving home afterwards, feeling all cracked open and tender, I happened to listen to the podcast Song Exploder and the composer of the main song was talking about the process of creating and performing the song. It was the most beautiful coda to seeing the movie. Here you go:

3)  It’s so very hard to feel any holiday spirit, mainly because of the incoming “president” and all that unfolds in his hideous wake every single day already. It’s like getting hit by a nuclear hammer of fear and loathing and dread throughout the day. I didn’t set up my Christmas tree this year since I’m leaving on Christmas Day for NYC. But I have been having such beautiful one-on-one time with friends, brunch with Cindy yesterday, lunch with Nancy today, coffee with Deb the other day, time just to spend with people I love. And I’m making all kinds of good stuff to give those people: lemon cakes for Nancy, today, and a pecan cream cake and those yummy roasted butternut squash and caramelized onion galettes to take to Katie’s house tomorrow for our Christmas Eve dinner. I love making food for people, and while I’m cooking and baking I’m trying to leave space for my heart to open up to a holiday feeling, but it’s just so flat and squashed by the hideousness of our politics, it’s hard. I’m trying. I’m trying. I’m an inconsistent cook, even though my trying is always the same; sometimes I’m really very good, and other times it just doesn’t work the way it should, but I know that people love and appreciate the effort so I don’t worry too much. When anyone cooks for me, I am dazzled by it.

Happy eve of Christmas Eve everyone. <3 <3 <3

three things: 12/19/16

a gorgeous scene from the movie Moonlight, one that made me cry

1)  For someone who really loves movies, I don’t get to see too many. My taste in movies is extremely different from Marc’s (I like foreign/subtitled, subtle, slow doesn’t bother me, etc., and since he is profoundly dyslexic he can’t do subtitled, and he likes a movie that “holds his attention” which means not slow or subtle), so in NYC I never go see movies. When I’m in Austin, I’ll occasionally see a movie, but I’m so busy trying to fit in time with my people that my rare spare time is spent with friends and family. Still, I did see Moonlight and absolutely loved it, and I’ll see La La Land one way or another, ditto Hell or High Water and Manchester By the Sea.  Here are some lists — have you seen any of these?

  • NYTimes — and Moonlight is on all the reviewers’ lists, here.
  • Esquire — but hmm, they ranked The Lobster first, and boy did I hate that movie.
  • AV Club — good ones on this list
  • Washington Post — again, Moonlight makes it to #1. It’s SO GOOD, y’all.

2)  I love my bed — do you love yours? My bed in Austin is the best bed I’ve ever had. I chose every detail of it, concerned only with what I wanted, for the first time in my life (and I had enough money that I didn’t have to make-do with the cheapest thing I could possibly find, as I’d had to do my whole life). The mattress is exactly what I want. The bedding, soft white sheets, the pillows exactly the soft/firm I wanted. A beautiful piece of furniture with a big headboard and a low footboard. And since I sleep all alone in Austin, I can sleep exactly as I wish, too. In New York, Marc sleeps tucked right up against my back so I only really sleep on my right side and don’t have much option to move around. In Austin, though, I have pillows on both sides, so I can roll around and always have a pillow for between my knees, and cozy covers, and always always my kindle in bed with me. I read all night long, every single time I wake up.

my kindle is in an orange cover so I can spot it easily

Beds are so personal, so intimate, such a quiet space where so much happens even when we sleep alone, as I do. We cry there, feel lonely there, we think there, we dream there, we make plans, we rest, we are sick, we read and watch television and movies, we luxuriate there. I adore my bed, it’s my favorite place in my house and the place I can’t wait to get back to, every time I return to Austin. I make my bed every single morning after I finish my coffee, just because I want the pleasure of pulling back the covers at night, to rearranging my bed for the night.

In New York, our bed doesn’t have a sheet, just a comforter, and I don’t like that at all—it’s Marc’s preference. When he sleeps in Austin with me, he pulls the top sheet out from the bottom so it’s not tucked in, and moves it all over towards me — such an important detail to him, and to me, the presence of a top sheet. In Austin I always wear my nightgown (which is really just a long t-shirt) because I feel most comfortable that way, but in New York he sleeps naked and wants me to, too, so I do. It’s not my favorite. People have such definite opinions about how they sleep, which is fascinating if you think about it.

3)  Being a mother to my grown daughters, who are mothers themselves, is very important to me. Since I didn’t have a mother, and often longed to have one especially after I had my kids, I want to give that to my kids. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know this, I write about it a lot. But the girls don’t seem to have the same thoughts or feelings about it and I struggle with this. I’d hoped they would ask me for advice, ask me questions, be glad that I was there for them, and it doesn’t really go like that. They ask everyone but me. They trust everyone else’s thoughts, even strangers in Facebook groups. They acknowledge help from everyone else but me, in private and in public. It’s hard, it hurts, it makes me sad. Sometimes I think maybe I just need to pull back and not knock myself out, since it doesn’t matter to them — and in fact this is my deal, not theirs!

I’ve heard other grandmothers say the same thing, so I know it’s not just me. Maybe this is something about this generation of young mothers, maybe with all the resources they have available to them, online groups and all the information they could ever want at their fingertips, maybe they just don’t need the kind of help we used to need. Or maybe I did a good job and raised daughters who are self-sufficient and know how to take care of things, who know how to manage themselves and their lives. And anyway, what is it I’m wanting? Thanks? (well, yes….sometimes) Acknowledgement? (well, yes….sometimes) This is a painful thing for me and I’m trying to find my way through it. It’s bigger than this, it’s also about disentangling my identity and self as Lori from my identity as mother, and maybe few of us ever really get that done to our satisfaction.

five things: 12-16-16

    1. just married, and just barely 21

      Thirty-seven years ago today I got married to my first husband. My truest belief that day was that I’d be celebrating this anniversary with him, with whatever family we might create, and that I would be with him until we died. My intention was true and real, and my love for him was true and real and permeated into my marrow, and he was absolutely the right person for who I was then — broken, fragile, scared, in need of safety and care — and still we were just so very wrong for each other in just the right places. We hadn’t been married even a month when I lay awake one night thinking, with a kind of horror, about how much smarter I was than him. And the horror was from being willing to say that about myself, and about having that matter to me. It horrified me, I didn’t want to notice, I didn’t want to care. And honestly, I wouldn’t have, but the dynamics of our relationship (him benevolent father, me fragile child) resulted in his complete inflexibility, he was always right. I feel very sad about it all, sad that we were both edged into the places we were, and I think it definitely changed him. He has always been the kind of person who wanted to save people anyway, but he became too grounded in the paternalistic role. But I never would’ve even gone to college had we stayed married, and I never would’ve found myself. Today I’m thinking about all of that, but I have less than no desire to speak to him; he became a right-wing Tea Party bunker-desiring nut job, not to put too fine a point on it.

    2. I started re-reading Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio’s extraordinary collection of essays. (Here is my GoodReads review.) It circles around twin themes of the difficulty of life (including suicide) and the truth of ambiguity, uncertainty, and the unresolvability of anything approaching “truth” without those elements. I’d never read D’Ambrosio when I heard about the collection, and his is a startling mind. The collection was on sale yesterday, $1.99 Kindle, so I shared that on Facebook and decided to re-read it and it’s as wonderful as I remember. A couple of quotes:

      “The canker of self-consciousness has been long in me, so like a lot of writers I not only do a thing, I see myself doing it too—it’s almost like not being alone. That morning our hero skipped in his skivvies down to the shore of the sea . . . it was dark . . . the fog . . . Storytelling!”

      His childhood was as difficult and violent as mine, and his brother committed suicide (a theme he pokes at throughout the collection); I think this quote alone will tell you why the collection is so powerful to me:

      “If I could intervene and change my own particular history would I alter past events in such a way that I’d bring Danny back to life? Would I return the single rimfire bullet to its quiet chamber in the gun and let the night of November 26, 19__, pass away in sleep and dreams or drink or television or whatever the anonymous bulk of history holds for most people? Would I uncurl the fingers from the grip, would I take away the pain, would I unwrite the note and slip the blank sheet back in the ream and return the ream to pulp and etc., would I exchange my own monstrous father for some kindly sap out of the sitcom tradition, would I do any of this, would I? And where would I be? Would I be there, in the room? Would my role be heroic? And where exactly would I begin digging into the past, making corrections, amending it? How far back do I have to go to undo the whole dark kit and kaboodle? I mean, from where I sit now I can imagine a vast sordid history finally reaching its penultimate unraveled state in the Garden, under the shade of the tree of knowledge, raising the question of whether or not I’d halt the innocent hand, leaving the apple alone, unbitten.

    3. Tonight I’m having dinner with my friend Lynn and her boyfriend because he’s going to backpack around SEAsia for a couple of months and he wants to hear my stories. It’s funny; SEAsia is my very favorite place, and I can’t get back there often enough, but I don’t know that I have stories, and I’m a little anxious about it. I can tell excitedly about the places I’ve been, tell my impressions of the places, but I’m not sure what I will convey except for my enthusiasm for the places. And then I give myself a little shake and remember: Lori. You don’t have to plan out the “successful” conversation in your head ahead of time. You’re seeing friends. You’re eating Indian food. You’re talking about a place you love. Relax. Are you this way?
    4. I want to see Manchester-by-the-Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan. I read a wonderful article about Lonergan that made me want to see it, but then I read a review that bemoaned yet another movie about an emotionally stunted man. Here’s the NYT review, and here’s the trailer, and I want to see it anyway.

5. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where there is little as pleasurable as making a very nice meal for someone I love. Preparing the meal for my poetry group made me SO HAPPY (and it helped that the food all came out the way I wanted it to come out!). It took me a long time to get to this point; while I often enjoyed making meals that my kids enjoyed, and especially making treats for them, the tyranny of dinner-every-night-no-matter-how-I-felt took the joy out of it. I’m making a meal for someone I dearly love next week and the anticipation of that, even the anticipation of planning the menu, is delicious all by itself. Yet another toast to the pleasure of keeping on living.

Happy Friday, everyone. xoxo

the pipes are calling

Starting 59! Heck yeah!
Starting 59! Heck yeah!

My birthday was really wonderful this year, and I worry about driving everyone crazy talking about it, but whatev, folks. I’d like to be this way about your birthday, too! Christmas is about something else, Thanksgiving too, but one’s birthday is a day focused just on your own life, your own trip, your own hopes and experiences (good and difficult), and I always think that is a thing to be celebrated.

So here is a short list of things I wanted to share with someone, throughout the day yesterday. I hope one or more of them catches you, too!

  • I have Scottish sympathies — those highlands, the bleak sweep, the range of stories that have that landscape as their setting, oof. I’d love to spend a year there so I could know it in all seasons, and learn it beyond the snapshot stereotype I have of it. The pipes have always sung to me, not just because I love weirdo instruments (banjo and accordion, not that think they’re weird!), but because I really want to play them. I’ll reveal a weirdo secret: I practice what it would be like to play them. Filling the bag with air, squeezing the bag with my arm, fingering the chanter, which I think would be natural to me given my years of flute playing. I’ll sometimes close my eyes and pretend I’m playing the pipes. Now you know. 🙂 Nancy sent me this “for the kick-off to [my] 59th year of triumph” and I loved it so much:

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The pure joy on the cellist’s face was enough! But then the coming-in of the pipers, that filled me with joy.

  • I’m in a number of secret Facebook groups, and each one is a haven of one kind or another. One is a temporary group for the month of November, focused on daily posts of gratitude. Yesterday a woman wrote this, and it was a huge gift to me:

I’m grateful for discernment, for thinking things through and evaluating what is best for me, what and who will add to my life instead of becoming a burden to me. I am so grateful to be aware that it is worth it to pause for a moment and ask, do I like this?, how do I really feel about this person?, are they a giver or a taker? So many times I have looked to be liked or accepted and have not paused to ask myself, what is in it for me? What and who am I taking on? Well, I am grateful that I am taking care of myself and asking those questions now.

YES to that! I’m in the process of developing that kind of discernment, of letting go of people who aren’t right for me and my life — and it isn’t that there is something wrong with them, it’s just time to let go, you know — and there is something both self-nurturing and liberating about it. The process of letting go with a breath and a smile, and understanding that as discernment, is such a gift of aging, and another woman’s words. This general idea also melds with something my poetry friend Hadiya posted yesterday:

Belong first in my own interiority. If I belong here, and if I am in rhythm with myself and connected to my deep, unique source within, then I will not be vulnerable when my outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away. I will be able to stand on my own ground, the ground of my soul, where I am not a tenant, where I am at home. My interiority is the ground from which nobody [or nothing] can distance, exclude, or exile me. This is my treasure. —John O’Donohue (Adapted by Hadiya, 2012)

 

Doesn’t this fit beautifully with the idea of discernment, as the other woman described it? It’s about standing within, holding and knowing your own ground, and deciding from there, as a personal and ethical stance. Lots for me to think about, here.

  • My extraordinary friend Val sent me a book of poetry for my birthday, Nobody’s Jackknife. OOF, I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough. Val is always doing something like that, sending me just the right music, just the right words, just the right emotional connection, just when I most need it. You should be so lucky to have friends like I have, I’m telling you. Here’s one of the poems from this gorgeous collection by Ellen McGrath Smith:

Traum Song

Life is painful, sad, and methodical.
I must not say that.
Ever to confess
(remember when I thought I was
a lioness that night in May
and could have made six babies?)
Facts are thinner recourses.
Born: day month year
Died: day month year
Nothing new here people!!!
Just two doors or one
that swings two ways.

I’ve a pound of flounder in the fridge,
some lemon and organic butter,
a seep of parsley in the backyard snow,
two cats, a grown child & a love companion
with a weak aortic valve.
My fear is ticking too tall for the shelf
so I bend ninety minutes to the floor,
the guru streaming in through my PC
telling me the shape I’m in.

The light in me, the light in me
Christ I want it to
see the light in you—

So many of the poems center around a yoga pose, and every one is worth lingering over.

  • Today’s picture is courtesy of the Facebook “On This Day” heartbreaker. Yesterday I opened Facebook on my phone, and this was on the screen, without giving me a moment to prepare my heart:
November 7, 2011. We had met for breakfast, and he can never let me just take a picture of him. Either he pulls a face, or suddenly hangs a spoon on his nose or something. It was a heart punch to see his face, which I miss so terribly.
November 7, 2011. We had met for breakfast, and he can never let me just take a picture of him. Either he pulls a face, or suddenly hangs a spoon on his nose or something. It was a heart punch to see his face, which I miss so terribly.

Today is [finally] Election Day, and with all my heart and soul I hope our country elects Hillary Clinton. With all my heart and soul. I don’t know what will happen to us if we don’t. Vote, vote, vote, vote.

Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

exotica

While I am mute and trying to recover from the atomic bomb that hit me, I thought I’d pull a post or two from my previous blog, Thrums. This one was from this day, 2012:

When I was younger, I was always envious of nearly everyone else — it seemed like other people had interesting heritage (not me), interesting cultures (not me), or interesting places of origin (not me). I felt like the antithesis of exotic: a plain old white girl from Texas, mutt heritage, store brand white bread and store brand bologna. With Miracle Whip. I remember lying in the front yard watching planes fly overhead and just wishing, with all my heart, to be on any one of them, going wherever they were going; wherever they were going would be better than where I was.

But every place is exotic to someone from another place; it’s just hard to see one’s own exotic context, because kind of by definition exotic means otherness. When you’re the default – a plain old white girl – very little feels otherly. Some time in my last decade, I realized that I may not be Moroccan (pick your exotic other of exotic choice), but I do actually have an interesting heritage that’s exotic to other people. Meet Molly.

molly lisle ribble, my great-great grandmother

Her name was Molly, but of course she was just known as Mrs. Sam Ribble. This photo accompanied her obituary, and you notice how she seems to be wearing a nightgown? I’ll get to that.

Molly was one of Young County’s oldest pioneer citizens, according to her obituary in the Graham Leader. She was the daughter of a pioneer family, born June 9, 1866 in Nebraska. She married Sam Ribble when she was 16, in a small church in Gooseneck, just outside Graham. They rented land for several years before Sam bought 160 acres of school land, and acquired 160 more that he traded for a wagon and horse and a six-shooter. They built a log cabin on the land — the lumber came by wagon train. When she died, she was survived by 4 daughters, 4 sons, 23 grandchildren, 39 great grandchildren, and 13 great great grandchildren.

So here’s the funny thing about the nightgown. Sam always wanted to have a baby in the house (as you see, they had 8 kids — actually, she had 11 but 3 died). I don’t think Molly was as keen on always having a baby in the house, but I also don’t think she had much say-so. The last baby, Etheline, had down’s syndrome (that’s how I’m referring to it; the family always just called her a mongoloid). So Molly delivered Etheline, handed her to Sam, and said “there you go, now you’ll always have a baby in the house. I’m tired and I’m going to bed.”

Molly stayed in bed for 50 years. She was just fine, perfect health (she lived to be 94, after all), I think she was just making a point and boy she stuck with it. She’d sit up if a visitor would take her picture — “a polaroid,” as she’d say — but otherwise she couldn’t be bothered. If any little thing happened to fluster her, she’d pat her chest over her heart, in a kind of circle, and say “get me an aspereen I’m having a heart attack.” She never did have a heart attack, of course, and she finally just died in her sleep of being 94 years old.

My great-aunt on my maternal grandfather’s side shot her husband as he was crawling through the kitchen window to kill her. My other great-aunt’s husband went to the store for smokes and never came home. I have a relative named Homer who was a hermit who lived in a hollow near the river outside of town (one of Molly’s sons); he’d be spotted now and then, skulking around the edges of town.

The Last Picture Show, Midnight Cowboy, those versions of old Texas are my old Texas. Unlike my kids, I spent a lot of time in very rural parts of the state. In the summers, when I’d stay with Mom and Big Daddy in Graham, they’d send me out to Bunger for a few days, to stay with Mom’s sister Mazie and her husband Ben. Bunger was just outside Graham, and comprised ~20 people, all kin. I’d ride out on horses with Ben early in the mornings to collect the livestock; we’d turn the calves in to their mamas before we’d milk them — by hand — and then we’d carry the pail of milk into the house. Mazie would strain it, and that’d be our milk. Once Mazie and I were in the kitchen and we heard a shotgun go off in the living room; Mazie hollered at Ben, asking him what happened, and he said a copperhead was in the living room and he just killed it. I always felt so bad for Uncle Ben because he had to ride out and check on these rusty old things that went up and down, old-looking machines. When I grew up I realized I didn’t have to feel so bad for him — they were pump jacks. Old Uncle Ben had oil. Now and then Uncle Ben would teach me how to shoot a rifle. I was 6.

That’s all pretty exotic. 🙂

see! saw! see! saw!

seesawDid y’all call these see-saws or teeter-totters? I grew up hearing both about equally, but I think in North Texas, in the very small towns, we were more likely to call them teeter-totters. Anyway, I realize that the last few days I’ve been up! Down! Up! Down! I’m better, yes! I’m exhausted, no! I’m back to myself, yes! It’s too much, no!

And there may still be seeing and sawing to come for me, but my steps forward are getting me somewhere, despite the steps backwards.

Tuesday night my poetry group met in my house, and I was not feeling it, I was too lost in the pain and so tired from my extremely early flight back to Austin — but the group means so much to me, and I want to hold the space for it even on the rare nights I don’t feel good. About an hour and a half into the meeting, Rebecca read this poem by Anne Carson, from Plainwater:

Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking

Their faces I thought were knives.
The way they pointed them at me.
And waited.
A hunter is someone who listens.
So hard to his prey it pulls the weapon.
Out of his hand and impales.
Itself.

Hunters, prey, that topic pulled at me in a specific way, of course, but as we talked about the poem, as we tugged at it and loved it and saw it this way and that, the endless loop in my mind was broken. Poetry, art, beauty stopped my obsessions and struggle and just opened up my mind, filled in the grooves, and gave me space to breathe.

After yesterday morning spent with my beloved little Oliver, who is now a complete chatterbox, last night a genius friend of mine gave me a GENIUS task. I was telling her about my rage and fury and hate toward my hateful, psychopath mother for what she did to us, and for how she destroyed my brother, and she told me to just kind of go with it. Indulge it, fantasize. Go all out! It’s just a fantasy — how would I do it? No, really, play it out! It started dawning in me, and it bloomed and blossomed.

grendel
this particular monster, my old nemesis, my imagined Inner Other

I’ve always been so afraid of my anger, afraid it was just my father lying dormant inside, me as him maybe, and that if I gave it any slack it would all be over and I would be the rampaging monster, destroying everything in my path. I’ve written about this before, this is old news. But fantasy, it’s just fantasy! I realized I could write it out, a chapter, a whole Tarantino bloody fantasy — and then I could edit it and elaborate even more. “And this one’s for my brother!” “And this is for this, and this one’s for that!” The Jews had Inglorious Basterds, the slaves had Django, and my brother and I would have my little bloody fantasy chapter. It might unnerve you to know just how much pleasure I am taking in writing this showdown.

Of course my genius friend also had a lot of other brilliant ways to help me, ways to help me think through some of the aspects of my brother’s life that were particularly tormenting, and she listened in that way she has, and held me safe, and I have to say: I feel so much better. Just so much better.

So much better. So so much better. Nancy called my name over and over and over. Cindy listened and understood and encouraged me to run with it. Friends all over the world reach out to me, extend hands, poke me, check in. I grapple and struggle, I cry and suffer and then take a step forward. I guess this is what it looks like. Teeter. Totter. Poetry. Friendship. And murder fantasies. 🙂

 

the wave

Hokusai's wave
Hokusai’s wave

It’s a matter of perspective, there: Fuji is just off in the distance and so therefore foreshortened, but Hokusai played with that to show the power of the wave, the power of that force, big and strong enough to crush a mountain.

The Japanese know about tsunami; Haruki Murakami’s fabulous story The Seventh Man tells about a young boy whose friend died in a tsunami wave and he remains ever haunted and afraid. As he finishes telling his tale around a campfire, he pauses and says,

‘They tell us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; but I don’t believe that,’ he said. Then, a moment later, he added: ‘Oh, the fear is there, all right. It comes to us in many different forms, at different times, and overwhelms us. But the most frightening thing we can do at such times is to turn our backs on it, to close our eyes. For then we take the most precious thing inside us and surrender it to something else. In my case, that something was the wave.’

I linked the story title to a translation that appeared in Granta, but I prefer the translation that was performed at Symphony Space, and I heartily recommend that you listen to this magical performance, by John Shea. There’s a brief introduction to the program (which comprises two stories) and then Shea starts reading the story. If you can listen in the dark, at night, it’s all the better. Here it is, so amazing.

I’ve recently been knocked down by a tsunami, an experience so thoroughly unexpected that I don’t think I could’ve been any more surprised if my 34-years-dead father knocked on my door with his bony skeletal hand. It hadn’t been anything I’d been fearing, because I didn’t think it would ever happen.

Even more, I didn’t think the consequences of it could happen to me anymore, I didn’t fear them because I felt safe from them, past them, healed. The thing was the fiery, violent reappearance of a long-lost family member, but the consequence was being thrown right back to how I felt as a child, all the terrible, terrible feelings I had, the body states I had, the terror, the up-is-down version of reality and how confusing that is. The word-twisting, where X is said to me and then hurled in my face as something had said. (“But wait….you’re …. I didn’t say that, you did… but wait….”)

I’m coming up on 58 and felt solid, stable, reasonably sure of who I am, and I’ve been working so hard for 36 years to rout out all the poison, to drain those wells, to discover who I am, and to have enough time and distance between me and them so they couldn’t destroy me. I thought I’d done it. I felt strong. And then it was all gone, swoosh.

I’m a little bit grateful for what has happened because it put me right back there and I am a grown-up now, fully remembering how it felt to be the child I was, in all its horror. I’m taking notes, trying to bear the feelings which do not feel bearable, and weren’t bearable back then. They are now, even if they feel like they aren’t. I learned a lot about the lost family member that makes me feel even sadder. But now I know all three of them, my birth family, who they are, and nothing mysterious remains.

And so I move forward knowing that I can still be taken back, no matter how strong I feel — which is itself a kind of better strength, I guess. Feeling invincible just begs for the knocking-down, perhaps, and so knowing that I can be knocked down forces me to stand a bit loosely so my legs can absorb an unexpected hit, to stand with my hands open at my sides inside of in fists at my waist, all invincible-like, which might let me be knocked over. And importantly, knowing that I can be knocked down softens me and keeps me open. I would much rather all this hadn’t happened, no lie, but since it did, and since I survive, there are good things to take from it.

A *very* important thing I learned — well, wait, not learned but was reminded of once again — is just how good people are, just how quickly they reach out, and in so many ways. How quick they are to do anything, even if it puts them at risk. How quick they are to tell me who I am, who they see, which I really needed in this instance. I called this ‘self-knowledge by reflection of consensus’ and by that I mean that a large, global choir of people tell me who they know me to be, and so (a) because there is a large, global choir that itself means something about me, maybe, and (b) who they know, and how consistently they describe me, means something too. Maybe it means something about them; maybe it means that kind, loving, generous-hearted people surround me, and I know that’s true. And so again I remember that we need each other, I need you (and desperately), and I’m grateful for each and every one.

xoxoxoxoxox

songs and echoes

I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me
I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me

When I was a young mother, one of my favorite routines centered on my kids’ bedtimes. With three kids and just one of me, time alone with them individually felt so precious. We had regular dates, but I especially loved the tucking-in time — so much that I spent a long time with them, one-on-one. Most nights I took my guitar with me, and after we’d talked about their days and whatever else they wanted to talk about, after we read together, I’d play my guitar and sing to them. I loved it when they’d drift off to sleep while I sang (least often it happened to Katie, who was older and not falling for that). I’d sing softly and watch their little eyes get heavy, watch them resist but see their bodies relaxing, and I’d keep singing long after they seemed asleep. The only thing that helped me get up and leave the room was that the next child was waiting. It was every bit as important to me as I hoped it was to them. But you know, you do all these things with/for your kids and you don’t know, you’re just doing the best you can.

When they were teenagers the tucking-in routine changed, since they didn’t have a ‘bedtime’ exactly, and singing to them dropped away. You know how you wonder if they remember the things you did for them when they were little, and you see so often that they don’t? But it’s OK, because you did it for them, and the memories are in your heart anyway. Even today, when I remember all those hours singing to them, my eyes fill with tears and I get soaked with such deep happiness. Those were some of my best hours of mothering.

Marnie sings to Ilan — who is currently a huge, giggly fan of the ABC song — and said she keeps trying to sing one of the songs I always sang but she can’t do it because she cries. (“Song of Wyoming,” John Denver, which is one of my very favorites and lovely as a lullaby. I can’t play and sing it without crying now either, it’s so tinged with those sweet memories.) I get to hear Marnie’s soft, sweet voice singing to Ilan on the little videos she sends of his delight. Her voice is like mine was, with a soft, feathered edge.

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Katie sings to Oliver, I knew this and have listened to her sing from the very beginning. She has an extraordinary voice, strong but gentle at the same time, and she’s really good. Katie’s specialty is songs from the 60s, music she dearly loves. Oliver has become conditioned to falling asleep to Goodnight Sweetheart (well, it’s time to go / goodnight sweetheart, well, it’s time to go / I hate to leave you but I really must say, oh, goodnight sweetheart, goodnight). Gosh I love hearing her sing that song to him.

And then a couple of nights ago I was at her house, helping with Oliver so she could get some packing done for a week-long road trip they were taking, and I stayed through Oliver’s bedtime. They have the sweetest routine as a family. Katie sits in the chair, Trey lies on the floor, and Oliver plays and wrestles with Trey and climbs into Katie’s lap for some reading, and sometimes he runs in circles to make everyone laugh. And then Katie starts singing — and Oliver dashes over to his bed and crawls up to his pillow and lies down to listen. After the song ends, Katie and Trey kneel by his bed for goodnight kisses. It’s extraordinary.

But I lay on the floor, listening to my beautiful daughter’s exquisite voice singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” that great old Mamas and the Papas song, and just broke down crying. It’s a hard song to sing, an often complex melody line, and then a leap up to a higher range, and some soft scatting at the end, and Katie just flowed through it with all the love she felt, and I felt it too. Trey has a gorgeous voice too, deep and rich, and he joined in, threading harmonies alongside Katie’s melody. What a lucky little boy Oliver is. What lucky boys my grandsons are. Here’s Mama Cass singing — quite a gorgeous song, and she is wonderful — but Katie’s version is even better.

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I sang to my children, and now they sing to theirs. Mamas often do, that wasn’t something original to me obviously, but I’ll take this next-generation singing personally, as a gift I gave them that meant something to them, something they want to give their children, too. Good mamas, love echoes.

the bright side

Some of the recent events of my life have made me think of this specific lyric:

Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true

But then, since it’s such a catchy tune, the rest of the song shows up:

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I mean, the whole song is on the money. Life IS a piece of shit. Absolute shit happens to good people, to loved ones, and you can’t do a damn thing about it except show up. Unfair things happen and yet no one ever said any of this is fair. Tragedy befalls people, they lose everything, a simple step off a curb turns into the end of it all, a quick trip to the grocery store is the last trip ever made, he suddenly leaves her with no warning, or she suddenly leaves him. A little cough, or an ache in the side, turns out to be the big bad thing and you never saw it coming. A little kid is born into a family that will brutalize and then kill her. Another little kid is born in a refugee camp. Another little kid is trying to stay alive in some other dread setting . . . and the handful of people who own everything don’t give a shit — and in fact, blame those people if you can parse their bullshit language.

But the other part of the song is on the money too! There is a bright side. We show up for each other, again and again and again. We show up even though (maybe especially though) there isn’t anything we can do. There isn’t anything we can say. If you think about it, isn’t that what makes it remarkable? That despite our misery over being unable to fix things for people we love, we show up anyway. I just find that so overwhelming at times, I cry in wonder.

Something surprising and bad happens, and people call. People write and say, “I have this access, how can I help?” Or “I’ve had this experience, let me share what I learned.” Or “I know someone, let me hook you up with her.” Or a complete stranger writes, “Our mutual friend told me, let me help because the same thing happened to me.” Or “Let me have all the books on this topic shipped to you, what’s your address?” Or “I love you.”

I think THAT is the bright side. Sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it gets even darker, and then sometimes you only thought it was dark but it gets darker still. The bright side is that people are all around you, and some may have been in this dark place already, and most haven’t but they’ll go inside with you, so you don’t have to be there all by yourself.

darknessIs anything really different? Isn’t the Big Bad Thing still there? It is.

Is anything really different? YES. You aren’t there alone.

 

Thank you to everyone who reads this for keeping me company. Sometimes you stand in the light with me, and sometimes you show up when it’s dark. Even if all you do is read my words, you are showing up with me. One thing I never quite get is that people comment on my honesty, my willingness to be vulnerable — and the reason I don’t get it is that I’m not doing anything that’s at all hard, or that requires courage, or that is in any way noteworthy to me because it’s just how I am, in the same way that I’m tall and have brown hair and blue eyes and a great big smile. So take this honesty as truth . . . ok, maybe just my truth but I don’t think so: Just showing up for someone is everything. Don’t be afraid to do that because “you don’t know what to say.” Sometimes there simply isn’t anything to say, and if there were don’t you think they’d have said it already? Show up anyway. Sometimes there isn’t anything to do, and sometimes what there is to do feels so insignificant that you feel embarrassed to offer. Show up anyway. Offer the insignificant help anyway. Show up for family, for friends, for acquaintances, for strangers. Show up willing not to have answers, not to fix things, but simply to be there.

Today is my son’s 29th birthday, and another time when he won’t respond to my birthday wishes. Last Sunday was another Mother’s Day I didn’t hear from him. Today marks another year of his absence from the life of our family. I grieve without the finality of grief — grateful for the fact that nothing is final! What there is to say has already been said to me (and by me, for that matter). I’m so sad, it’s hard to bear it but I will. The troubles that are befalling my friends and my loved ones are hard to accept, and my inability to make it all OK is hard to bear but I will. It’s what there is to do.

xoxoxoxoxo

Spring Awakening

March 2011, breakfast -- one of the last times I saw him, though not THE last. He won't take a straight picture, he always pulls a face at the last minute.
March 2011, breakfast — one of the last times I saw him, though not THE last, which was Aug ’12. He won’t take a straight picture, he always pulls a face at the last minute.

I miss my son Will. No news there. I don’t talk about it very much, less than before, but I think about him all the time — and in a variety of ways, of course. Sometimes it’s with hurt, sometimes with anger, or sorrow, or loneliness, or betrayal, or bewilderment, or loss. Sometimes I realize it’s been a while since I thought of him. He has no idea that Ilan is now part of our family. He’s never seen or acknowledged Oliver either, for that matter. Our family is going forward without him, as it can only do, and because it’s our only option.

During my too-brief moment in Austin last week, I had another one of those jolting epiphany-type experiences. I was taking a shower and listening to music, and a song from the Broadway play Spring Awakening came up on my playlist. [From Wikipedia: Set in late-19th-century Germany, the musical tells the story of teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of teenage sexuality. In the musical, alternative rock is employed as part of the folk-infused rock score.] Will loved that play and saw it on Broadway. He told me about it with great excitement, played me some of the songs, said how much he loved it and that it felt like it was personal for him. I saw it shortly after he recommended it, and wow. Just, wow.

Will probably also had a little crush on one of these guys.
Will probably also had a little crush on one of these actors in the production. I did!

In the play, all aspects of teenage sexuality are present — from incest, to exploration by straight kids, to exploration or longing by gay kids — along with a variety of consequences of the exploration. Some of the songs are explosive and high energy, and some are dark and so filled with sadness I almost cannot bear it, like “Whispering” (“See the father bent in grief / The mother dressed in mourning / Sister crumbles, and the neighbors grumble / The preacher issues warnings // History / Little miss didn’t do right / Went and ruined all the true plans / Such a shame. Such a sin”). This link provides the list of songs and each title is linked to its lyrics and a Youtube video of the song.

One song is “Momma Who Bore Me,” and my suspect memory whispers that Will especially loved it. [knife in my heart, with this opening lyric:

Mama who bore me
Mama who gave me
No way to handle things
Who made me so sad

So for all the years since he first told me about his love for this play, I have taken very personally the weight of it, as if his love for it was just about me in a bad way — oh how great and perfectly it articulated his bad experience. And this is so me, to do this. So whenever I heard any of the music, I felt it like lashes on my naked skin, bad, bad, bad me, I’m the reason he won’t be part of our family. Lash, lash, lash, LASH.

But when I was in the shower, listening to the song “Bitch of Living,” I realized: it’s not about me! Will’s love of that music is not [just, if at all] about me, by any means. Will is gay, and this aspect of his life has brought a whole bunch of struggle and difficulty and rejection by his father and that pain, and figuring-out. Exploring. My own young sexual life was excruciating and as horrible as it could be, and I forget that it’s not that for everyone; it’s otherwise a complicated time, a confusing time, a thrilling time, a new time, a wondering time, and that’s what the music is about, that’s what the story is about. I’m sure the Momma song had some resonance for him, but that’s not why he loved the play. He loved it because it got at a huge thing, at the complexity and thrill and struggle of that time of life, a time that was intimately about him. Not about me. It’s not about me.

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That’s the fabulous song “Bitch of Living,” just to
give you a taste of the musical.

Anyway. I know I frequently mention AA sayings — my husband knows a bunch of them and so they’re part of my lingo if they’re especially good — but there’s a saying in the Al-Anon world for parents who have kids who are addicts: You are not your kid’s higher power.

You are not your kid’s higher power. I am not my kids’ higher power.

I've always loved this shot of him taken when he was a young or mid-teenager.
I’ve always loved this shot of him taken when he was a young or mid-teenager.

It’s so easy to forget that they have a huge interior life that you have no idea about. That they have secrets, and thoughts, and that where you are in their various constellations is very different than where they are in yours, and probably different from where you think you are. I thought about the fact that Will is a ‘character’ in my life — more than that, since he’s my son and I gave birth to him and loved him intensely from that moment on — and that I am a ‘character’ in his. I’m not the sun, I’m a comet.

Even in my daughters’ lives, in the context of our loving relationships and easy and regular participation in each others’ lives, I’m not the sun. I used to be, when they were tiny little girls, but as they grew I moved away from that central location, as I should.

This is an insight I keep having, in different forms, about Will. It’s always a comforting insight, a kind that makes his agonizing choice less about me which relieves me of one kind of pain, anyway. Knowing me I’ll never let myself entirely off the hook, but hanging myself on a fish hook instead of a meat hook is a huge relief. Perhaps I belong on a fish hook, though I’m not even certain about that. I think I need to save this to my ‘Lessons Learned’ tab so I can refresh myself without having to wait to relearn it.

xoxoxoxox

No way to catch up so…..

Gosh, I don’t even quite know where I am. I slept in my own bed last night for the first time in five weeks. I made coffee in my own kitchen, with my own gear, this morning. I took a shower this morning. I had to try to remember how to do all those things here. I have only one very very busy week here that includes time babysitting my darling Oliver, helping prepare for his 2nd birthday party, and then attending the party and spending the whole day with my little Katie family . . . and then to New York for three days before we go on to China for 15 days. WHERE AM I TODAY?

I was in Chicago for four weeks, and we imagined that the bulk of that time would be helping after the baby was born but it didn’t work that way. Two weeks of waiting with Marnie and Tom, long days talking and watching old Top Chefs and Marnie and I lying in bed together to stay warm, talking and killing time and snoozing. Even though that’s not how I’d have most preferred to arrange the time, since it meant Tom and I both left the same day (he had two weeks of leave accumulated), it will always be so special that I got to spend that time with her, waiting for her son to be born. I’ll never forget it.

The easiest thing is just to do a photo post. If you’re my Facebook friend you’ve seen some of these, and you know the gist, but here goes:

ready to leave the house
just before we left for the hospital the day Ilan was born, Wed March 8
love
We knew it would give us a great story, so instead of taking a cab or Uber to the hospital, we walked to the train station and then transferred to the bus. Sweet kids.
on the way to the hospital
HILARIOUS Marnie. Tom and I and the guy standing behind Marnie are a little more circumspect. 🙂 NOT ONE person on the train offered Marnie their seat. Not one.
chicago march 8
This was the view from their hospital room — Lake Michigan, a beautiful sunny day. I posted a picture on FB and Instagram but no one knew the significance except us. 🙂
outside the hospital
I dashed out for lunch
hospital hall
and spent a whole lot of time pacing this hall outside Marnie’s room.
me during marnie's pushing SO HARD
The very long hours of her agony were hard on the mama, I’m telling you. Very hard. Harder on her of course, but mamas, you know.
Ilan birth stats
et voila! I heard his very first cries and started sobbing.

I’d spent some hours in the waiting room — a large, nice enough room filled with grandparents-to-be. The hospital was top-notch, part of the Northwestern system, and the other grandparents were professional people with lots of education (it just came up among them). I sat in a corner, writing on my laptop and listening. One set of grandparents had been waiting 25 hours by the time I arrived, so they’d heard stories through the night. Grandparents reappeared in the room to announce that they’d seen their grandchild and everyone cheered. The room was filled with quiet conversations AND THEN a woman burst into the room complaining loudly:

“Oh sure, he lives right here in town and he’s retired already but I get here first? That’s typical. That’s why I divorced him 40 years ago.”

Our eyes got wide and we were all drawn into conversation with her. How she only had to push a couple of times with all 6 of her kids, her labor took just a couple of hours each time so this grandkid would probably be born fast too, but he probably wouldn’t make it, typical him.

The conversation came around to grandparent names, and most were typical: Grandma, Nonna, Nonny, Gramma Carol, Pete (me!), and then it was her turn: Grandma The Diedelhoff. Grandma The Diedelhoff. We all burst out laughing. It fit her so much. Her ex-husband finally showed up, reeking of Old Spice to the point that I had to leave the room before it gave me a migraine. I’d have divorced him for that Old Spice alone.

ilan into the world
And there he is, my first picture of darling little Ilan. I think this is THE first picture taken of him, so he’s about an hour old. He looks FABULOUS for being an hour old, don’t you think?
03-IMG_2455
those tiny little wrinkled feet in his daddy’s hands.
my first time with Ilan
my first moments “alone” with Ilan. Everyone else was just on the other side of the room, but he and I had some eye contact time. When I walked into the room the first time, Marnie introduced us to each other by name — that was the moment I learned his name — so he already knew I was Pete, but I leaned down and told him firmly that I’m his Pete, and that I will always be on his side, and that we will have lots of adventures together. He seemed to take it seriously.

To get them home a couple of days later, I rented a car and brought the car seat to the hospital, and it was harrowing driving them home — I remember feeling that same way when I was driving my own babies home. New human being in the car! Be careful everyone, be careful! Drive safely!

The next two weeks were pretty routine. I took a couple of middle-of-the-night shifts but the kids mostly wanted to do them themselves, so for the most part I’d take Ilan at 7 and they would get 2 or 3 more hours of sleep. Those hours were extraordinary; Ilan was always in such a good mood then, quiet and watching, and for the most part I just held him. I held Ilan, tried to help the kids when I knew a helpful way to do something with a crying baby (amazing how it comes back, bodily, even if I couldn’t have said it if asked), and cooked. I cooked and cooked and cooked, and baked. We had yeasted waffles and cinnamon rolls twice and lots of big dinners (and their friend Paul fed us four times, big feasts each time). I was there for Paul’s birthday so I made him a fabulous birthday cake.

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sometimes Ilan just slept during our early morning time together
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He LOVED this spot — a changing pad on the coffee table in the living room with a view out the big windows. He would just lie there so quietly and still, staring at the sky.
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WHAT? What just happened in my diaper?!
This is my FAVORITE picture. He's in my arms so I had a hard time catching the shot, but that pose, that half-open eye, that little knit hat (courtesy of Becci!), so adorable.
This is my FAVORITE picture. He’s in my arms so I had a hard time catching the shot, but that pose, that half-open eye, that little knit hat (courtesy of Becci!), so adorable.
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lots of cooking. This was a farro risotto with roasted butternut squash and kale. Yum.
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breakfast with a newborn in the house, a la Pete.
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cinnamon and orange rolls ready for their final rise while the kids took Ilan to a routine pediatrician visit, after a VERY rough night.
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Paul’s birthday cake — Pecan Cream Cake, from Saveur Magazine. Google it, this is a fabulous fabulous recipe.
A slice -- it's light and moist and filled with finely chopped pecans and unsweetened flaked coconut and it stayed moist until the last piece was shared three days later. If you and I are ever together in person and we're all bringing something to a potluck, this is what I'll be bringing. Always.
A slice — it’s light and moist and filled with finely chopped pecans and unsweetened flaked coconut and it stayed moist until the last piece was shared three days later. If you and I are ever together in person and we’re all bringing something to a potluck, this is what I’ll be bringing. Always.

I hated leaving, since Marnie was still recovering and in pain (and they live in a two-story home), but my time had run out. My last night, Marnie and Ilan slept in my room with me so I could help one last time and Tom could get an uninterrupted night of sleep before his first day back at work. It was so damn sweet I can hardly write about it without crying. Marnie would nurse Ilan and then I’d take him. He and I went to the nursery and I rocked him, and for a very long time I lay in bed with him snuggled next to me, watching him sleep. My arm was wrapped around him and I could hear his little quick breathing, and smell his little head, and I could feel my daughter on the other side of the bed, hear her exhausted snoring, and it was just one more experience that I’ll never ever forget.

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This photo covers my life in such a funny way. These are keys to my homes — and they aren’t fancy vacation homes, but they are my homes. L to R: keys to my home in Austin. Keys to my home in NYC, with my metrocard. Keys to Katie’s home in Austin. Keys to Marnie’s home in Chicago, with my metrocard. I have yoga mats in Austin, New York, and Chicago.

When I got home yesterday, I got to see my dear friend Nancy for a couple of hours — lucky, since she’s gone now for a few days to see old friends in Kansas — and then I met Katie, Trey and darling Oliver for dinner at Chuy’s, a place that has a very very special place in my heart. Oliver looked huge! After holding tiny little newborn Ilan, and putting those tiny newborn diapers on him, Oliver looked like a teenager. 🙂 They got to the restaurant before me, and when I walked in and he saw me, he wiggled and grinned so big it melted my heart. I can’t believe he’s about to turn two, how fast that time has gone.

I didn’t get any reading done, to speak of, but I did finish the Ursula K. LeGuin book I was reading for my year-long project so I hope to write that post very soon. I missed the idea of writing on my blog, but it was such a blur of waiting and quiet and crying and cooking, the idea of it was about all I could muster. I gained ten pounds while I was gone and I didn’t regularly do yoga, and the only walking I did was back and forth to the grocery store, so I’m thrilled to return to my routine while I can, before we head off to China.

For now, I just have to remember which set of keys I need. xoxoxoxoxo

a little tenderness

As we continue to wait for Marnie and Tom’s boy to arrive, I’ve been feeling cracked open with tenderness for her, and for Tom too. My primary focus is on my daughter, if only because of my own experiences of labor and knowing that she will be going through her own version of it and I can’t ease any of it for her.

Every time something generational happens — a birth into our family, obviously, but also celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries — I feel myself in the wheel of time. I experience where I am in that river, on that wheel, in that chain, whatever metaphor makes sense to you. For me, it’s always a wheel for some reason.

Lately, in witnessing the changes happening to my body, such as my hair getting grayer, the underlying muscles softening on my chin and jaw, and the subtler changes that show aging, like changes to teeth, skin, and fingernails, I’ve been seeing my grandmother in me. I’ve always favored her, my father’s mother; I’ve looked like her in the face, my hands are hers exactly, I was always told my legs are like hers. I don’t have pictures of her (but I remember her face and hands SO clearly), except for this one and unfortunately her face is turned away:

L to R: my dad, his mother holding me, and his stepfather
L to R: my dad, his mother holding me, and his stepfather

I love this picture so much because my dad looks uncharacteristically happy, and I feel like I see the person he might have been if his life had been otherwise. It’s no accident his mother was turned with her back to him, but rather a perfect representation of how she treated him, always. I called her Mamo (for non-US southerners, that’s pronounced Mah-maw), but her name was Delma Faye.  And that’s Papo there on the far right — even though he was my dad’s stepfather, I only knew him as my grandfather because he married my grandmother the very same day my parents got married, unbeknownst to either couple. I loved Papo so much; I really lucked out in the grandfather department. He adored me, and always brought me doughnuts, which he called “goldfish” for some unknown and never-asked reason. (Perhaps the origin of my childish passion for doughnuts. 🙂 )

Anyway. I can easily remember Mamo’s hands making biscuits, which were her specialty. Our fingers are long and thin, and our fingernail beds are very short, out on the tips of our fingers. My dad’s hands were the same, he had her hands too, but as I age, and my fingernails get thinner and develop ridges, they look SO much like hers it’s often shocking when I see them. I’ll be making something and my eyes fall on them and I literally feel a shock of both recognition and disbelief.

Her cheekbones, for sure. Her mouth, her teeth, her jawline, her chin. And all mine, too.
Her high cheekbones, for sure. Her mouth, her teeth, her jawline, her chin. And all mine, too.

And as my face softens with age, I look so much more like her, especially in the mouth and jaw, and it frequently takes me back. I’m turning into her, physically, and it really does take me by surprise even though it shouldn’t, since I’ve always favored her.

But maybe it’s striking me harder because my role as a grandmother is becoming fuller, and a bigger part of my life. Soon another little boy will call me Pete, the name that links me back to my own grandfather Big Daddy, and I’m looking more and more like my grandmother. And so I feel the wheel turning, and I feel deep tenderness for myself. I hope when my grandsons remember my face and hands, they remember them with tenderness too.

grandmother (again)-in-waiting

I’ll never know what it’s like to wait for a daughter-in-law to have a baby, but I just can’t imagine it’s the same experience as waiting for your daughter, no matter how close you might be. How can it? (What do I know. Maybe it can be.)

But I do know what it’s like — three times, now — waiting for your daughter to have her baby. Marnie’s due date is coming right up, two weeks from now, and I’ll get to their home one week before the due date assuming she doesn’t go into labor before then. She is all I can think about, all day long. When I wake up through the night, my thoughts are only with her. It’s going to be hard to be in NYC this coming week.

I remember all these feelings when Katie was pregnant, and I feel them again:

It’s such a close, close, close feeling of connection, a deep tenderness, an understanding of what is about to happen to her and she doesn’t know, because you can’t really know the first time. Her entire everything is about to change and she will never be the same again.

It’s a feeling of anxiety, as I think about the extreme pain of my own three labors and I don’t want her to suffer.

It’s a feeling of worry, as I think about all the ways it might go. As long as he’s born healthy, how he got here doesn’t matter at all, but I do hope surgery isn’t required — though if it is, I’ll be there with her for a few weeks so I can help. She lives in a two-story house and I’m in good shape for stair running.

It’s a feeling tinged with fear, as I remember that there’s no guarantee it will go perfectly and that we’ll all leave the hospital with him. The odds are enormous that we will, but they aren’t perfect odds. I think about our Gracie, and my devastated Katie and Trey. (And then I think about our adorable, happy, smiling Oliver and I smile like the sun.)

It’s a feeling of mind-blanking excitement as I wait with them to see his little face! What will he look like? Will he look like Tom? Tom’s family’s genes are pretty strong and the majority of the grandkids look like their family. Our little Oliver looks like his dad, and Marnie’s baby might look like his dad. One of these days I hope a grandkid gets the roll of the genetic lottery dice and looks a little similar to Pete in some small way. 🙂 But I can’t wait to see this one’s sweet face, to look into it and know that he’s in there already, he is who he is, who he will be, and we’ll watch him bloom and blossom.

It’s a feeling of heart-fluttering anticipation about walking into the room when I can and seeing my dear daughter holding her baby. I wonder what her face will look like? I have a pretty clear image of what Tom’s face will look like — some version of his face when they got married. All he wants is a home and family with Marnie; he has her, and they have a beautiful home, and now their first child. I imagine he’ll be in bliss. Marnie will have gone through that labor, so her expression will have more complexity, I imagine, but I don’t know! I just can’t wait to see her face.

It’s a feeling of big anx-worry-BLE!!! as I think about the hours I’ll wait in the waiting room with no idea what’s happening to my girl. As long as I’m nearby, just a question of feet or yards, it’ll be a tiny bit bearable. A tiny bit. I don’t know how mothers who can’t be nearby bear it.

Here I was, pregnant with her. This is the only picture I have of that period. I was 26.
Here I was, pregnant with her. This is the only picture I have of that period. I was 26.

And of course I remember my experience of her birth. Relatively speaking, it was quick and simple, especially compared to Katie’s birth, which was long and required six hours of pitocin — with zero drugs, not even the ones that “take the edge off.” But with Marnie, I think my labor started around 5am, and we waited until 8:30 to call my friend who was going to come stay with Katie. We were in the labor suite by 9:30 and she was born at 12:30. I didn’t have to be induced, I had no drugs, and the way I remember it is that the doctor broke my waters and Marnie washed out of me. She was clean as a whistle and her eyes were immediately open. There was a small-ish window a little bit higher on the wall, and the sun was shining on us. March 3, a sunny, beautiful Sunday in Austin. At one point during transition, probably, the pain became so bad that I had an out-of-body experience; I was up in the corner of the room, looking down on myself, and I thought, oh, look at her, she’s suffering so much. But that’s quick, 7.5 hours total, only 3 hours in the birthing suite, and then a simple birth. No stitches, no trouble, and home six hours later.

And so I think of my little girl, Marnie Elizabeth. If you hover over each image you’ll see the caption. In her life, we’ve called her Velvet, Peach, Scrappy, Emmie, Beppie, Bop, and Marn. Soon a little boy will call her mama.

Pete waits.

just a lot of OMGs

In random order, O.M.G.:

  • How have I not read any Tom Robbins as a 57yo person?? Thank heavens Peggy posted a quote by him, which led me to comment on it and led two friends to tell me how great Jitterbug Perfume is, leading me to immediately download the book and start reading it and O.M.G. Here’s the quote that kicked off the whole thing for me (thank you Peggy and Anne!):

beets“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

I ended up highlighting the entire first few pages, including the epigraph and the introduction, and throughout the early pages my highlighting is more evident than the non-highlighted stuff. Just, wow. How did I miss him for so long? I think I got him confused with someone else, some writer who does a lot of pulp books, but I can’t quite think of who it might me. OH! Harold Robbins! Yeah, very different.

I’m also newly and re-smitten by Per Petterson — about as opposite a writer as Tom Robbins as you could ever imagine. Where Robbins is out there in plot and inventiveness of language, Petterson is quiet, interior, and dreamy. Here’s my review of I Curse the River of Time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my third read of that beautiful book and I know I’ll read it at least a couple more times. I’m currently reading Out Stealing Horses (the guy is great at titling his books, that’s for sure), and moving between Petterson and Robbins is a head-banging experience.

  • I am hardly going to be home in Austin for the coming weeks and months, OMG. It’s all good stuff — my grandson’s birth and the luxury of time helping my daughter and son-in-law, a trip to southern China, and NYC time on either side of those great experiences. Still, I dearly love being home in Austin, in my cozy little place, with my own way of living my life and feeding myself, with my dear friends and family and weekly time with Oliver and Katie, with book club and poetry group and happy hours and brunches and coffee breaks, with nightly walks and an easy stop at Torchy’s Tacos (click here for images, you’ll want to eat there right away). When I’m in NYC or Chicago or southern China I’ll be so happily immersed in all that’s going on, obviously, and my sweet little home will be whispering in my ear. Queenie….come home….. will be home for Oliver’s 2nd birthday, no matter what. That’ll be a big day for us all.
  • I’m so glad I was in NYC for the historic snowstorm! Just, wow. It was amazing. In less than 24 hours we got nearly 27″ of snow. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture that day, but still I think this one I took in my beloved Riverside Park is pretty fantastic:
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It's not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It’s not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
  • We have some amazing travel coming up this year. Southern China in April, so excited about that (and also a little scared), and also the UP in July — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! We’re going to Manistique Lake, a special place in Marc’s life. His family had a cabin there; actually, his grandfather bought it before Marc was even born, and he went all the time as a kid, and then at critical times during his adult life. Both blogs are set up. We’d been planning to go to Alaska in July so I could see humpback whales, but the places were already sold out so we’re diverting to Manistique and planning for Alaska next year. It’s a gorgeous Plan B, and also without any of the anxiety we have about China.
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click the image to head to the blog
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ditto — click the image

And a final BIG picture OMG. My life is pretty amazing at the moment and so I pause to acknowledge it. My little Katie family is flourishing (and Oliver is amazing) and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my little Marnie family is flourishing and about to grow and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my friends remain essential to my heart and well-being; I have work; the back-and-forth pleasures of Austin and NYC are mostly great, and the less-great stuff is a bearable price to pay; I’m in excellent health as far as I know and my eating and yoga and meditation makes me happy on a daily basis; I’m writing my own stuff and it’s good; I’m reading amazing books that enrich me; and my little year-long project has been surprisingly meaningful already. It’s so important to pause and look around during the peaceful happy periods, to see all there is, to sit with it and be grateful for it.

OMG. xoxoxox

1: Cultivate Honorable Relationships

This is topic #1 in my year-long project, drawn from this post on Brain Pickings. The 16 items on that list are described as ‘resolutions,’ but I’m not taking them in that way. I mean, I kind of am incidentally, in that these are all concepts that I believe are worth reaching for, and as a result of reading and thinking for this project, my efforts will be clearer. Maybe not much closer to an ideal, maybe a little closer, but never perfect, seeing as how I’m fully human.

rich_liesThe funny thing (to me) about this topic is that Maria Popova, the woman behind the site, focused her attention exclusively on a single essay by Adrienne Rich, published in a collection called On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. This is a collection of prose, not poetry, and it’s almost entirely addressing issues of feminism, the place of lesbians in that concern and in the larger world, political aspects of the feminist movement. The Brain Pickings page presented this quote by Rich, which is easily found everywhere:

An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

The post didn’t indicate which specific essay contained these words, so I started off trying to guess by reading chapter titles, and finally found the right one after reading ~70% of the book. To save you the time, in case you also want to read the essay, it’s titled “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (1975) [apparently available here in pdf!]. As the title suggests, the entire essay centers around lying, and Rich is harsh, as far as I’m concerned, beginning so many sentences with “The liar …” does this, feels that, does the other. Her definition of liar is stark — the moment you say anything that isn’t the bald truth, and no matter the reason, you are a liar. She means to be addressing the ways women have developed slippery ways, often passive ways, to explain things out of fear of partners, institutions, culture, but it’s hard to hold that in mind when you are yourself apparently a liar. Because who isn’t, by her definition? Even if you are lying to literally save your life, she says you are a liar. It’s a very good essay; I argued with it in places and then she’d win me over, and then she’d say something provocative and I’d bristle and then I’d see she was right.

She ends on a much softer note about lying and the honorable relationship, and I can totally get behind this:

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us. The possibility of life between us.

I began to feel confused about the very concept of an “honorable” relationship, even as I generally think yeah, that’s a good thing. But it’s surely more than speaking only the bald truth — or at least most of the time wanting to do that, apparently. I understand her need, in 1975, to be speaking in such hard terms, and she wasn’t actually addressing all human close relationships. She was focused entirely and exclusively on relationships between women; but why doesn’t that apply to all relationships? An honorable relationship is an honorable relationship. There is surely a hierarchy (coming back to what I even mean by honorable in a minute); we just can’t have the same goals for our monthly relationship with the barista at Starbucks as we have with our partner, children, parents.

And so I return to my curiosity about the sole focus on this one 40-year-old essay that was written to be presented at a writer’s workshop in Oneonta, New York (and was later published in a pamphlet). It isn’t the responsibility of Maria Popova/Brain Pickings to present exhaustive thoughts on topics like this, of course, but it does make me curious. So I started thinking: more broadly, what is an honorable relationship? What does it mean to be honorable? Before I turned to dictionaries and other books, I just thought. Honorable means you keep your word. You don’t betray people, and you don’t tell others the things they have told you in confidence. You are honest, yes, but maybe it’s the search for honesty together, and support for each person individually, that makes one honorable. Whatever your relationship is with a person, you are reliable in that way. But how is this different from just being a good person? Is honorable synonymous with good?

The definitions were of no help: “bringing or worthy of honor,” more or less, but the synonyms were helpful: honest, moral, ethical, principled, righteous, right-minded; decent, respectable, estimable, virtuous, good, upstanding, upright, worthy, noble, fair, just, truthful, trustworthy, law-abiding, reliable, reputable, creditable, dependable. And what do you know, the first listed synonym is honest. Maybe this ‘resolution’ should instead be “Cultivate honest relationships.”

Maybe Rich was right and my own definition reveals my difficulty with being fully honest. I found very little that talks about honorable relationships; I found a couple of websites that dealt with being an honorable person, and one focused immediately and heavily on honesty. Everything else I found was pointedly Christian, and I don’t have anything against it but I’m curious about this idea outside of dogma.

I can believe that an honorable relationship is one in which both people are honest with each other, but that is a difficult topic, “honest,” and not just because it’s hard for me. What does it mean to be honest? Bald unvarnished truth 24/7? Essentially, what I found focuses on being honest about who you are, about not pretending to be one thing while being another, about trying your best (and the relationship being strong enough to facilitate) to tell your own truth and not fear the outcome beyond experiencing a difficult interaction (-ish). I mean, you ought to be able to say how it is for you without fear of being physically or emotionally hurt, without being attacked for it or mocked or betrayed, and without being punished. How it is for you might be pretty awful for the other person, so there may be hard times afterwards, hard conversations, maybe even hard consequences, but they occur within a safe space. But is that an honorable relationship? That feels like such a narrow definition.

To cultivate an honorable relationship with very close friends, I expect these things of myself (red star indicates a place I have a lot of work to do):

  • doing what I say I’ll do
  • not betraying the person in any way, large or small
  • apologizing (meaningfully) when I am wrong or have made a mistake
  • not deceiving the other person (except maybe about a surprise party for them?), but especially about who I am and how I am feeling where they and important people and issues are concerned.*

That red asterisk, my hardest thing. Isn’t that funny? Because I seem to be extremely honest, willing to share things about myself that others keep hidden. But that’s not the source of my dishonesty. I find it very easy to be who I really am, usually. And yet there are exceptions, and they’re not good.

  • When I am afraid. Well, that doesn’t seem so bad, right? People are not honest if they’re afraid, it might be a bad idea! One big problem for me is that I am overly vigilant about fear. And once I feel afraid, I can’t be honest any more. Since I too-easily feel afraid, there you go. Problem.
  • This is a close corollary but has its own orbit: When I feel that a person isn’t trustworthy. I over-trust, and too quickly, and then when something happens it’s all over, that’s it. So if a person uses something I’ve said against me, well, no more trust! If someone is passive-aggressive toward me consistently, no more trust. And so I won’t reveal important things any more. If you really hurt me and fail to take responsibility — and especially if you then gaslight me about it? That’s it. Not only will be trust be gone, but our relationship will diminish pretty substantially.

Even though my darling friends don’t do those things, or do them so rarely that it’s incidental and immediately overlookable (because we are all real people), I know two people (probably three) with whom I believe I can be completely honest. Say whatever is true, reveal anything about myself, have conflict with them, and it’s always going to be OK. It’s that honorable relationship described by Rich, although I would never have characterized that as an “honorable” relationship. I might call it a true relationship, a fully honest relationship, a home, a safe space, and those relationships are more precious to me than I can say, especially since (aside from my kids) I’ve never had them until I moved here to Austin. [Coincidentally, these few relationships are with people I don’t have to wear my bra with. 😉 ] [Also coincidentally (not), this possibility really comes from the other people rather than from me, so I am grateful to them.]

Rich was right about this: we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us. And that’s not a slam against anyone at all! Our connections with each other live within and between the two of us in relationship, and that space can’t exist with others because it is of us. So the connection I feel with a person can’t be the same connection you feel, even though the person is the same to us both.

I don’t think I’m any nearer to understanding how to define or explain an “honorable relationship,” although replacing honorable with honest clarifies it. Maybe we all have to define this ourselves, and decide whether this specific construction is central to us. To me, the word honorable still focuses most heavily on keeping my word, holding secrets, and not betraying in any way, but after studying this, and thinking hard about Rich’s definition, I’ll loop honesty into the concept a little more pointedly. I want to be more readily honest with people in my close circle, I do, it isn’t that I want to be deceptive. My big challenge with this part of the equation is speaking up when something is wrong for me and it involves you in some way, or I fear you may have an aggressive reaction. YIKES. Not good not good danger Will Robinson. But the point of the topic, the ‘resolution’ is to CULTIVATE honorable relationships, and however I define that term, cultivating it is a process. I can undertake that process, try as hard as I can to be honestly and more fully myself with people I consider friends, feed relationships that have this potential and release my clasp on those that don’t. If I engage this process for a year, I will learn — to some degree — how to be more honest with people I love.

[that is so scary]

And now, off to #2: Resist absentminded busyness which centers on Kierkegaardian philosophies but does seem extraordinarily relevant to today’s non-stop FOMO online world.

2016, whoa.

my darling family
my darling family

Well, happy new year, y’all! I used to do a year end/beginning post looking back at the year, and thinking ahead to the future. But then I started doing the looking back on my birthday (here’s that post for 2015), and the whole looking ahead thing came to make me laugh so hard because how the hell do I know what the year will bring! As soon as I make a prediction, I’m in fantasy land. That said, here are the things I think will happen this year:

  • My new grandson will be born at the tail end of February. Will he be a Leap Day baby? Will he arrive on his mama’s birthday (March 3), which I have superstitious reason to think he will? We will all be so glad to see that little face, that shayna punim.
  • Shortly after that, my darling Oliver will turn two. Two years as the apple of Pete’s eye, and as the love of his mommy and daddy’s lives.
  • In April we’re going to Southern China — the Guangxi province, and the Yunnan province, and a couple of days in Hong Kong at the end. The blog is set up but only barely. I just hope I don’t accidentally eat rat, that’s my big hope there.
  • We were going to Alaska around July 4, but all the places we can find are already booked. So maybe somewhere in Canada? Northern Michigan? No idea.
  • In late Nov/early Dec we’ll return to SEAsia, but no specific ideas just yet. Bali, maybe, which would make my heart sing.

Otherwise, I hope friends who faced difficult challenges with their health last year get clean bills this year. Friends who faced loss, I hope your hearts find ease. Friends who are dealing with fear around something, work perhaps, I hope you find resolution. Friends with money woes, cash all around! (Me too, please!)

I hope I read a lot of wonderful books. I hope I see sustaining movies and TV. I know I’ll spend as much time as possible with dear friends, either in coffee breaks or happy hours or over meals, or over poetry. I hope to see friends I didn’t get to see last year — Peggy and Tammy in CT, for sure, and anyone else I can! I know I will spend time with my family, and I know it’ll feel like not nearly enough, however much it is. I will continue my back-and-forthing between Austin and New York City. I have the same hope I’ve had the last two years: more of the same as last year, please.

One thing that has changed, the older I get, is a letting-go of making resolutions. For a couple of years I tried that deal where you adopt a word for your year, but I don’t seem to have what it takes to deal with that. I love the two resolutions my friend Kathy made (her blog is great, here’s her post from which I stole these two):

  • Less fear, more authenticity.
  • Say both Yes AND No more, but to different things than usual.

Man. Those are great, right? More authenticity, right on. I pretty consciously work at being authentic, which doesn’t mean I always succeed but it does mean that I value it, and work toward it. Less fear, boy I’d love that. For me, fear is less focused on specific things and more a general undercurrent, like anxiety. I would love to lose that too-easy fear. Swapping my overuse of yes and no seems like a brilliant idea. Otherwise, in addition to those two great ideas/formulations, I look forward to getting back to my daily yoga practice (highly irregular ever since our vacation to Vietnam and Thailand), my morning smoothies (ditto) and wonderful healthy dinners (ditto), my daily walking (ditto, though much more often while Marc has been here).

Whatever happens for me, and for you, I look forward to making my way through another year of my beautiful little life, and I am glad you come along with me. <3

on being a mother

My mother, age 17, right before she ran away with my father and got pregnant with me.
My mother, age 17, right before she ran away with my father and got pregnant with me. From her I learned what not to do.

Being a mother is the hardest, hardest thing I have ever done. From the moment I learned I was pregnant with Katie, I’ve had no idea how to be a mother, none at all, just plenty of understanding of what not to do. And so, for better and for worse, it’s been intense. I was controlling; in fairness to me and who I was, I was just trying to keep everyone safe and alive, that was my intent, but nevertheless, I clutched tightly and was controlling as a mother while I was raising my kids.

One consequence of that intensity is that “mother” was (and still is) almost entirely my inner identity. My mission in my life was to be not-my-mother and not-my-father. I thought about it constantly. Even when I was doing other things, pursuing my PhD, studying and working my ass off 7 days a week, probably 99% of my identity was “mother.” If I had to pick only one thing that my life has been about, that’s it. Being a mother. Being a good mother (didn’t know what that looked like, so it was an impossibly vague goal). Being sure my kids at least didn’t have to deal with the things I did. When I started out, my goal was that they would come out of their childhoods with absolutely nothing bad as a consequence of me, which of course is an impossible goal, seeing as how I’m painfully human. I gave them plenty of things to grapple with as a consequence of my raising them. Plenty. Just not what I had, and that’s a lot. I am proud of that.

I have enfolded her, and psychologically and emotionally I've never let go.
I enfolded her, and psychologically and emotionally I’ve never let go.

And now they’re grown, and with families of their own. Kids of their own. Husbands, homes, lives. I haven’t struggled too much with how to be a mother of grown kids out on their own, but once the grandchildren started arriving I was thrown back to the beginning, to feeling no ground under my feet, no idea how to do this, and that has surprised me. I returned to my fantasy, being determined to be the mother for my daughters that I wished I’d had. When Katie was an infant and it was so hard, my father had just committed suicide and Katie suffered terribly with colic and I was 23 and completely lost, so many times I wished I had a mother who would help me in some way. Practical help, maybe, coming over and holding the baby so I could shower, so I could sleep; bringing food when I was stretched so thin, things like that. A mother I could share my struggles with, I could ask questions of, just a mother. Throughout, I just never had that at all, and that longing is still so potent that my chest is aching and tears are running down my cheeks as I write this. I wish I’d had a mother, it hurts, and that hurt feels like a tiny little child hurt, still, and I am 57.

As my daughters started having babies, being ‘mother’ started roaring in me — and again, I have no idea what it looks like, being the mother I longed for when I had babies. I only know the longing. This situation has consumed me and made me feel anchored in place, unable to do anything. Not that we would ever actually do this, but when Marc and I play with the fantasy of moving to Hanoi, for instance, I say (or he will remark) that I can’t. I need to be near and available to my kids at all times, as the grandmother of their kids, as the mother I always wanted. I work so hard on keeping my hands open, not intruding, not giving advice unless they ask (they never do), not controlling, not making the mistakes I made when they were little.

But it occurred to me that I’m trying to be the mother I wanted, and I don’t know if they want what I did. Maybe they aren’t in as much need as I was. They certainly have better partners than I did. Maybe it’s not a longing the way it was for me, because although imperfect, they grew up with a mother who loved them. Maybe they just want me to be a grandmother who plays with and loves their children. I think that’s it, I think that’s all they want from me. And perhaps that is a success, I just don’t know.

I have been struggling with this mother identity at this stage of my life. Of course it’s not about not being their mother anymore, but I think I need to be a little more free, a little more focused on myself and my own life, which is still my one precious life. When I meet women with grandchildren who move to the other side of the world for months, or who seem to be easier about the whole thing, making fantastic choices for their own lives, something in me blanches and I do not want that feeling. I want to be like them. They love their children and grandchildren, but their hands are wide open and their eyes are turned to their own roads.

motherThe tattoo that’s right in the middle of the whole column on my back is mother. I love that symbol because you can see why it represents mother — baby inside, a pair of breasts, space enclosing children, I’ve read a lot of explanations. This is the one tattoo I chose instinctively, I knew it had to be in the list, but I couldn’t say why. “Mother because I am one,” I’d say almost with a wave of my hand. But it’s actually much more complicated than that. “Mother” really is the big middle of my life: the utter incomprehensibility of mine and the effect she has had on my life; the emptiness of not having one; and being one.

Maybe others of you who are mothers just sail through this and it’s not been a problem, you just know how to be a grandmother and still be you with your eyes looking at your own road. Maybe it’s just me. But if you’ve navigated this strait, I’d sure appreciate hearing how you got through.