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.

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:1/19/17

FEED: This color linoleum cut print arrested my scrolling and drew me in. My friend Sherlock used to say that he doesn’t ‘get’ art, one of many longstanding jokes we shared, but I think it’s just this, at its most basic: stop at what stops you. Look deeply. Look at the work of it, if that’s what interests you. Look at the chips, the strokes, the texture, the color. What is it that stops you and causes you to look?

Elizabeth Catlett (also known as Elizabeth Catlett Mora) (American-born Mexican, 1915-2012): Sharecropper, 1952. Printed 1970. Color linoleum cut print on cream Japanese paper.

I’ve always loved block prints, wood or linoleum, and this one feels so full of tension, with all the tiny, tiny lines. The expression on the sharecropper’s face is where my gaze begins and stays; I can’t find a name for her expression, can you? What is that? And as always, I am in awe of the artist who can present me with such complexity and beauty. I also love the color palette in this piece, and gosh I just keep seeing things — the way the artist created the pulled folds in her garment where the safety pin tugs the cloth, amid the tiny lines of the cloth itself. Her white hair. The very tight focus, where she is all there is to see in this image.

We’ve been in a days-long period of solid gray skies, the flat white kind that looks like the base coat of a painting before the painting is begun, and we’ve had endless fog and rain. When I sat down to create this post, I felt like my spirits needed bright color, strong imagery, something vivid to counteract the gloom outside and to come, but it was this piece that stopped me.

SEED: My beloved poetry group met at my house Tuesday night, and I have to say: being with poets is great balm for the storm we’re already in, and the bigger storm to come. Poets are thoughtful, reflective, metaphoric-minded, word-gifted people who I would guess are mostly liberal and beyond, on to the far left. Because poets know that words don’t just capture, words don’t just reflect, they have power, power to resist and power to change. Last night was the beginning of our fifth year together; we first met in January of 2013, a fact that amazes me. We’re comfortable together, we know each other from these monthly gatherings.

I definitely have other friends who see what I see, and who see it the way I see it (such a comfort), and yet the poets’ vision is more of everything. More frightened. More complex. More broad-based. We’re all close to my age, I think, though one is substantially younger and one (I think!) older, so we have similar frames of reference for past political struggles — all of which have come at the hands of Republicans, I hasten to add.

So last night we did what we do: one of us would read a poem aloud while the rest followed along on the copies we distribute, and then we’d talk about it. A few of us brought protest poems — Audre Lorde (me), Rita Dove and William Stafford (Hadiya) — and as always, a few brought poems they’d written (Ed, Marilyn, and Nick, this time), and a few brought poems to relish. But unlike our usual meeting, we had breaks between poems to talk about the storm of politics. Our despair would grow and we’d have to take a breath and read a poem, to feel better.

I won’t be surprised if all our future meetings have the same structure; this might be the new form, and for me it will be life-sustaining. When they left last night, I felt fed and comforted, and grateful there be poets.

Before he read last Sunday, he pinned the US distress flag on the wall behind him, and there it stayed.

So I say again: it doesn’t matter if you don’t write poetry. I don’t! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the first thing about poetry. I don’t! I can’t identify feet and schemes, I don’t know types, zip. It doesn’t matter if you’re not hooked into the poetry community in your town already. The poets are active, wherever you live, and you can find a public reading and just show up. Just show up, sit on a folding chair at the back, in the corner, by the door, and be ready to split at a moment’s notice. The poets are angry, but they’re also giving hope — maybe just because they’re there. I just Googled “Austin poetry readings” and WHAM. A plenty. A gracious plenty. There is even a poetry club in tiny little Graham, TX. There are poets in your town, and I’d bet a lot of money that if you put yourself among them — even silently — you’ll come away with something wonderful. And no one will ask you to recite, no one will ask you to speak, no one will ask you to identify iambic pentameter. No one.

READ: Poetry. Read poetry. Poetry can be so funny, so skewed (and yet there’s always something really important inside it) — it certainly isn’t all dense and dark and hard to parse. Here is one that George shared last night, and it’s a perfect example of funny but with something really important to say. It’s titled “Humanity 101,” by Denise Duhamel, and it was selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry, 2016.

I was on my way to becoming a philanthropist,
or the president, or at least someone who gave a shit,
but I was a nontraditional student
with a lot of catching up to do. I enrolled in Humanity 101
(not to be confused with the Humanities,
a whole separate department). When I flunked
the final exam, my professor suggested
I take Remedial Humanity where I’d learn the basics
that I’d missed so far. I may have been a nontraditional student,
but I was a traditional person, she said, the way a professor
can say intimate things sometimes, as though
your face and soul are aglow in one of those
magnified (10x) makeup mirrors.

So I took Remedial Humanity, which sounds like an easy A,
but, believe me, it was actually quite challenging.
There were analogy questions, such as:
Paris Hilton is to a rich U.S. suburban kid
as a U.S. middle-class kid is to:
1.) a U.S. poverty-stricken kid,
2.) a U.S. kid with nothing in the fridge,
or
3.) a Third World kid with no fridge at all.
We were required to write essays about the cause of war—
Was it a phenomenon? Was it our lower animal selves?
Was it economics? Was it psychological/sexual/religious
(good vs. evil and all that stuff)? For homework
we had to bend down to talk to a homeless person
slouched against a building. We didn’t necessarily have to
give them money or food, but we had to say something like
How are you? or What is your favorite color? 

We took field trips to nursing homes, prisons,
day-care centers. We stood near bedsides
or sat on the floor to color with strange little people
who cried and were afraid of us at first.
I almost dropped out. I went to see the professor
during his office hours because I wanted to change my major.
He asked, “Is that because your heart is being smashed?”
He thought I should stick it out, that I could make it,
if I just escaped for an hour a day blasting music
into my earbuds or slumping in front of the TV.
I said, “But that’s just it. Now I see humanity everywhere,
even on sitcoms, even in pop songs,
even in beer commercials.” He closed his door
and showed me the scars under his shirt
where he had been stabbed. He said I had to assume
everyone had such a wound, whether I could see it or not.

He assured me that it really did get easier in time,
and that it was hard to make music when you were still
learning how to play the scales. He made me see
my potential. He convinced me of my own humanity,
that one day I might even be able to get a PhD. But first
I had to, for extra credit, write a treatise on detachment.

And to lure you in with another poem that will delight you while delivering a point, here is Dean Young’s “Crash Test Dummies of an Imperfect God:”

Because we are so stupid,
the prizes in Cracker Jacks are now paper
so they can be swallowed, ladders
spackled with warnings. No getting
within a hundred feet of Stonehenge because
everyone wants to hack off a souvenir
and the way home is clogged to one lane
so whoever wants to can stare into a pothole
until coming up with a grievance. I’d vote
the greatest accomplishment of mankind
is the pickle spear. God created paradise
to tell us Get out! which is why we probably
created God who doesn’t much like being created
by ilk like us. No wonder it’s pediatrics
every morning and toxicology by happy hour.
Is it all in the mind, the dirty, dirty mind?
Maybe God tried to turn you into a garbage can
so you could be lifted by the truck’s hydraulic
arms and banged empty. Maybe a snow cone
so you could be sticky-sweet and dropped.
Maybe a genital-faced bivalve to be dashed
with Tabasco and eaten whole or, to his glory,
produce a pearl.

I never share the original poetry written by people in our group, because it’s not mine to share, nor is it published for all to read, but how I wish I could. Last night there were five original poems, and I just listened and followed along in awe, and felt my self expanded out beyond my bones, pushed past my skin, in wonder. “Gone to wonder in the mind,” as Ed wrote in a gorgeous poem, the line cobbled from Chaucer.

three things: 1/17/17

FEED: My Sunday was incredible — I attended the National Poets Against Trump protest and the National Writers Resist protest here in Austin, and wished with all my heart I could’ve been at the ones in New York City. The writers’ protest there was held on the steps of the New York Public Library, and how I would’ve loved to be there.

At the NYPL

I also attended a training session for nonviolent protest, organized by the women organizing the Austin Women’s March (they’re expecting more than 22,000 people!), so all that comes together to lead me to share this powerful poem.

A Woman Speaks (Audre Lorde)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.

From The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

That feeds me, sisters, it does.

This is amazing, amazing Joe Brundidge.

SEED: Even though mine is such a heavily literary life, I’m not hooked into the quite large literary community here in Austin, though I want to be — especially after attending the writers protest and seeing a good portion of it. I sat there at BookPeople thinking These are my people. All of them, these are MY people. I thought it at the poets protest too; we who need words, who value words, who understand the power of words to fight, and who turn to them in times of trouble. He was at the poets protest too, but I must have been distracted because I didn’t really GET Joe until he spoke at the writers protest. He read two pieces, the first of which I remembered from the poets protest a few hours earlier. But then he read the second one, and he is such an amazing speaker it just felt like he suddenly started talking to us, and with urgency. It was about the critical importance of doing your work, of not waiting, and of how important it is, and he spoke right to the things you say that stop yourself, and he was right there ready to step into the muck and lift you out, rinse it off of you because he needs you, he needs your voice. I just sat there crying and feeling LOVED, and held. When he finished speaking, the next speaker was Sarah Bird — actually the person I was most eager to hear — but I couldn’t pay attention because I was afraid Joe would leave, so I just kept my eye on him.

As soon as Sarah quit speaking, while the next speaker was being introduced I jumped up (I was on the front row) and dashed over to Joe, who didn’t know me from Adam. I asked, “Can I hug you?” And with his giant smile, this tremendous bear of a man reached out his arms and hugged me so tight, so solid and still, and for so long. I moved slightly, to end the hug, just because I didn’t want him to feel stuck, and he didn’t let go. So I just relaxed, and I’ll bet we hugged for two solid minutes, maybe three. I thanked him and told him how much I needed to hear what he said, and my eyes filled with tears. Then I got shy and embarrassed and ducked back to my seat, but for the rest of the night I was held by him, and his words, and I felt better than I have in a very long time.

Joe is a host on Writing on the Air (here are his interviews), and he’s the director of the Austin International Poetry Festival. Here’s Joe in action, at Austin’s wonderful, wonderful independent book store Malvern Books, host of the poets protest and so many other wonderful events. He’s not as intense and passionate in this video as he was at the protest, but you get a feel for who he is.

That’s one thing I love about life. You can just be sitting there, expecting so little, and encounter someone who blows you over, envelopes you with love and acceptance and wonder, and you come away healed. I love that.

READ: I will just share some good thoughts and reading if you’re in the same general mindset I’m in this week, as we prepare for ….. ugh. Well, you know. Think about, remember, do these things:

  • “My existence requires no one’s permission.” (Joe Brundidge, beautiful Joe)
  • Someone at the poets protest said, “Aesthetically and philosophically, any poetry is against Trump.” No Republican president has ever had a poet at inauguration. Shocked? Nah.
  • “Don’t just sit there simulating a free person.” ~Austin poet Greg Liotta
  • When he takes the oath of office on Friday, January 19, you take the oath too. Take the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution (against him and his swamp monsters).
    https://www.wall-of-us.org/taketheoath/
  • Here’s a list of 27 books every woman should read if they’re going to the women’s march or NOT. I’ve only read five, how can that be…..gotta get busy.
  • A pivot: Harvard’s photography courses are online, and free. If you complete all the modules, you get a certificate. The software they use is old (~2009, I think), but the basics of photography haven’t changed.

three things: 1/5/17

1)  I once knew a very bitter old woman named Ann-Marie who said NO, no matter what you asked. Back when her kids were almost teenagers (she was in her late 70s when I met her), she had gotten tired of doing for everyone, of always being the one who sacrificed, and so she decided that whatever they asked her, she would say no. “Will you take me there?” NO. “Can you bring—” “NO.” There was almost nothing they could ask her that would get a yes answer. She stuck with it too, to a truly remarkable degree. Even in her dying years, she would still say no to almost any request. It was stunning, and sobering, and her bitterness is the main thing I remember about her. My kids were pre-teens when I met her, and she became a cautionary tale for me, about the poison of years-long, intense self-sacrifice. As with all things, it’s a balance and we all have to find our own way, but I know I’ve too-easily felt like I gave away the farm, like I just said yes, sure, I will, OK, whatever you want way too often. And the underneath of that (the “the dark, tarry smear” of it, to steal a bit of a quote that Peggy shared yesterday, by Amy Bloom) is resentment. And resentment is definitely a poison. I tell my daughters all the time not to constantly set themselves aside. To get themselves a new shirt when they need one, instead of wearing a ratty old one but buying another toy for their babies. To go out for some time to themselves.

So at the guided meditation at MoMA yesterday, when the meditation teacher asked us to think of a characteristic we might want to focus on in the coming year, I heard in a very quiet but clear voice that I want two things: (a) quiet, and (b) selfishness. And by that I mean that I want to privilege myself in the coming year, I want to pause before every commitment and allow my own needs and desires to be my first consideration. I’m a pleaser and a sacrificer so it’ll be hard and that probably means I don’t have to worry too much about becoming the bad kind of selfish; privileging myself will just help me course-correct and bring me a little closer to some illusory middleground. It’s hard even to say this! I don’t want to be like Anne-Marie, obviously, but this is something that will be helpful to me, I hope. YES. I say yes to this.

I would ask if this is something you struggle with, but since everyone who reads this (as far as I know) is a woman, I imagine the answer is yes. And to the degree it’s less true for you, I also imagine that’s because you pointedly worked on it. Yes?

2)  Tonight I’m meeting my friend Craig for dinner at an Indian food restaurant, but before then I’m going to the main New York Public Library because the Rose Reading Room reopened in October after an extended period of renovation. I’ll take my moleskine and my beautiful pen and sit at a long table with a low light, underneath the magnificent ceiling, and write for a while. That will be a slug of beauty in my day, for sure. My friend Anne mentioned seeking out a beautiful thing to photograph every day, and January in NYC makes it pretty tough but I am sure I’ll find a corner, a bit of architectural detail, a book jacket, something to relish.

Ceiling detail
Isn’t it so lovely? And it’s even more lovely when there are people reading and working there.

3) So, my new theory. Going to MoMA for the Quiet Morning event was as juvenating (not rejuvenating because I was so low in the trough there was no juvenation to re-ignite) as I’d hoped and maybe even more. This depression, this new kind, isn’t about my deep psyche, and so I imagine that’s exactly why art is working. My depression is about the world, the bitter cold wind of it, the tyrant-coming of it, the fear and dread. Because every day brings new terribleness, it’s hard to find space to catch my breath and get my head above the depressed water. But art is still in the world, and artists. Poetry, and poets. Music, and composers and performers. Dance, and dancers. Beautiful novels, and novelists. That’s all still there, too. And so are blue skies (just not where I am, FOR REAL) and all my favorite clouds, and Bali, and Vietnam and Laos, and all the places I’ve loved. To help with this depression, those are the medicine, soaking them in, being reminded. Unusually, my people aren’t the direct medicine this time, because the dread world is going to steamroll all of them and so they remind me even more of my fear and dread — oh no, not them too, please. Please.

I’ve already bought my ticket for the next Quiet Morning at MoMA, February 1, and in between I am planning to keep inoculating myself with art. I think I’ll pick an artist for each week, and a poet for each week, and sort of assign myself to soak them up in a more focused way.  OR I could choose a color for a week, here and there — brilliant golden-yellow, find art that features that color, maybe, or crimson, or blues (OH MY the blues, I saw some extraordinary blues at MoMA yesterday).

I cried like a BABY. I stared at all his brush strokes and thought about his own suffering, and his ecstasy, and how I could feel his and my own. This was the third time I’ve seen it in person and it’s never less than the same electric experience.

And that reminds me of a thing Sherlock used to do, back in the pre-digital camera days. I did this with him one Saturday our first year of graduate school I think, and it was fabulous. Before we set out with our cameras loaded with a roll of film (36 pictures, if I recall), we each chose a theme. Circles, maybe. Red. Words. Something abstract like that. Then we just drove. We drove through the countryside, we stopped in very small towns, and we took photographs of whatever fit our theme. When we’d taken all our pictures, we dropped off the film to be developed and printed, and we went out for lunch while we waited. It was so much fun, I remember it still (and that was probably 1999, which is….what? No, really? Eighteen years ago??).

Republicans don’t appear to think so, but we need art. We need beauty. We need the abstract. We need the Big. xoxox

three things: 1/3/17

1)  I started reading Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, following on the heels of The Underground Railroad, and so far it’s spectacular. Honestly, I don’t know why the black people in the United States aren’t raging and fighting white America all the time. (And we women, too.) They (we) have every right to be doing that, and every single time some white American says something about slavery being a long time ago just get over it . . . well hell, even want to punch those people in the throat. This country. We arrived and right off the bat started killing people and stealing their land, and just kept doing that (through to today). And then we stole people from another continent and brutalized them in unimaginable ways to enrich ourselves, and then enacted laws to keep them from getting anywhere (through to today). One horrible thing I learned when a friend did my ancestry is that someone in my history owned slaves in Georgia. She shrugged a little, it’s the thing you learn, and yet it’s horrifying to imagine. And so I too deserve the rage. In the second episode of The OA, a new series on Netflix, a voice-over read the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty (“The New Colossus”) and vomit came up in my throat, it’s such a lie.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The world is going mad and it’s so scary. And the United States is the engine of so much of it. How does a person work with that? (I’ll say more about Underground Airlines after I finish it….)

2) Depression status stable. Not feeling better but not feeling worse, and when you deal with depression you know that’s a good enough report. One thing I’m trying (among many things) is a daily inoculation of art, and today I’m rolling my eyeballs around in this glorious color — great thanks to my beautiful friend Anne for posting the painting on FB a couple of days ago:

Max Kurzweil (Austrian; Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession; 1867-1916): Lady in Yellow, 1899. Oil on canvas. Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria.

That color! I would really like to take my eyeballs out of my head and just roll them around in it, coat them like you do a sugar cookie, and then pop them back so that color can seep into me. It’s so glorious, especially in these very gray NYC days. Tomorrow I’m going to a special event at MoMA, 1.5 hours of silence on the 4th and 5th floor galleries, ending in a guided meditation (in front of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” I think). That ought to help too.

My dear sister-friend Peggy gave me the suggestion to make a long list (25 items on mine) of small things I could do, simple things, nourishing things, and you know, when you’re mentally flat and blank the problem is that nothing feels do-able anyway, much less thinking up a list of things. But with her help I did, and daily art is doable. If you are prone to depression, make your list when you’re not depressed, it’s much easier.

3)  Another bit of art stolen from a friend’s FB (this time from beautiful Kathy, who understands so much):

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

What a wonder art is. Thank you to everyone who puts it into the world.

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: 12/23/16

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

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

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

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. 🙂

 

help me make it through the night

Kris Kristofferson wrote some of the best old songs — songs others made famous, but those of us who know, know. Today I’m thinking about this one, made famous (at least to me) by husky-voiced Tammy Wynette:

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I have an extremely hard time asking for help when I am at my most desperate, when I am most in need. It feels too close to making someone else responsible for saving my life, and that’s not fair to do to anyone. I’m trying to learn how to think more subtly about this, how not to cast it in black and white, how to understand that just because I am in trouble and need some help, it’s not about suicide. Because it hasn’t been about suicide, and even last night when I was in deep, deep, deep need, I was not suicidal. I just needed some help to make it through.

As I cried in despair, I thought about the long list of people I know, people who love me, and knew that there was a sublist I could call on, without fail, and they would answer. They would be there. Dear friends, some who have already helped me with this before, like Anne. Some who have offered themselves to me in such heartfelt ways, I had no worries about reaching out.

But first I tried to write, my lifelong impulse. And this is what came out:

I find myself really wishing she’d just drowned us all, like a bag of kittens, and then they’d killed each other. The whole bunch, gone before the world could be hurt any more, before the little kittens could be hurt any more. Before the little kittens could grow up and hurt each other, themselves, others.

And so, obviously, I needed help to make it through. I walked down to the Hudson, through beautiful but dark Riverside Park, and texted a very dear friend, who texted me back immediately. Lots of back and forth, lots of her writing my name over and over — Lori. Lori. Lori. Lori. — and it’s weird how that helped. In The Woman Warrior, I learned that when a Chinese person is lost inside themselves, apparently you waggle their ears repeatedly and say their name over and over, to call them back. How Nancy knew to do that, I don’t know, but something about her saying my name like that, in addition to all the rest, all the understanding and care and compassion and empathy and telling me our plans, she got me through.

I think the tide has turned. I feel so much better this morning. I feel and recognize myself again, myself right now. I even felt like reading a funny poem. I feel eager to get home to Austin, back to my cozy little home, and what happens with my brother will happen but I’m not afraid anymore.

Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

I’m Lori. Grandmother to Oliver and Ilan, and a little girl to come in September. Mother to Katie and Marnie and Will. Friend of many generous and loving people. Lover of poetry and literature and beautiful words. Understander of the pain and suffering of life, and the beauty and glory of it, too.

I’m so glad to be here. Sometimes it really sucks, and sometimes it’s really glorious, and sometimes it just takes time to travel from one to the next. xoxoxoxo

eventually you get there

likeSo the really great thing is that I have lived this long, and many things that once seemed impossible no longer feel impossible. Things like a bit more interior calm. A release from my father’s death grip. And an understanding that it really doesn’t matter one little bit if people do not like me. It used to be incomprehensible to me when I’d hear people say that. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to be liked by everyone, but it was that I felt fear about being unliked, and even though I understood that people could dislike me without also wanting to kill me (shades of my childhood there), there was a dark enough tinge of that old fear that it always felt safest to be liked. It wasn’t from a narcissistic place — how could anyone possibly not like me?! — but rather from this place of fear.

The truth is, of course, that I also don’t like everyone! The older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I am with that, too. It’s fine, you be you however/whoever you are, and I can feel about you however I feel and we’re both good. We’re both good! You are, and I am. And maybe we just don’t like each other. It’s a relief to find that place, to be comfortable in that place. (But also, it must be said, you can be very different from me in important ways and I’ll still see you as my friend, I’ll still like you….which isn’t always true for other people I suppose.)

As best as I can tell, because people don’t usually tell you why they don’t like you, or why they have stopped liking you, people dislike me for these reasons:

  • I am emotional. I express my emotions readily, in full, and don’t decide only to express the happy ones. At least one person really dislikes me for this . . . probably more.
  • I say what I think. On this blog, I write what I think. Sometimes people really don’t like that. I have specifically lost friends for this reason.
  • My specific political positions, which include pretty strong negative feelings about almost all Republican positions and politicians; women’s rights to our own bodies; gun control; and your standard “bleeding heart liberal” positions, like helping people who need help.

The really great thing about having lived my exact life for nearly 58 years is that I can look at that list and think, Fine! Dislike me! Could I be differently emotional in order for you to like me? No, I truly couldn’t, it’s who I am. Could I shut the fuck up and just not say some of the things I’ve said? Sure, I could. I could. And I used to do that all the time, worrying about what this person or that would think if I said what I felt or believed. Could I change my political beliefs, or shut the fuck up about them? I couldn’t change them, and now is absolutely not the time to keep quiet about them.

So like me or don’t, we’re good. You do you, and I’ll do me, and we’re good. 🙂

the goodness

diamondsIn Sierra Leone, when the British first came in and started the diamond mines, the people in the area didn’t know much about diamonds, and they certainly didn’t yet know their worth. After a rainfall, the ground would glitter as small diamonds were brought to the surface; the people thought it was bits of stars fallen to the ground. But the NDMC quickly instructed people to draw circles around those sparkles on the ground and not to touch them, and then they would retrieve them. Rob them. Soon the people were punished if they took one….off their own ground.

But that’s a powerful image, the ground glittering with small diamonds. I edited a memoir of a man who grew up in a tiny impoverished village in Sierra Leone, and he described that with such beauty and pathos, the image stays with me and likely will for a long time.

It came to mind earlier this year when from all over the world, people who know me reached out to help me when I was in the midst of an intense and prolonged period of insomnia — I didn’t sleep at all for four days, remember? No one could do anything about it, including me, but people sent small bits of help, glittering bits of help, light-catching bits of help.

  • Since I’d recently written about needing my spirits lifted because of the political discourse, a beautiful friend in Connecticut (who has been really quite generous and amazing and caring as long as I’ve known her) started love bombing me on Facebook, with one funny thing after another, chosen because she knows me and what I like, and sent one after another beautiful thing, another and another good thing in the world, spirit-restoring in so many ways. Love bombing is incredible.
  • I received middle of the night texts from a couple of friends, so caring and personal. It surprised me that people would reach out to me like that. Surprising that he would be so gentle and caring. Surprising that she would tell me just the right thing. Not surprising about them, but surprising to me that I was valuable enough to them to reach out in those ways.
  • In the midst of that period of terrible insomnia it was free donut day at Krispy Kreme. I mentioned it on Facebook and said if anyone’s going out, and would be in my neighborhood… It was a joke, just funny I thought, since I have a reputation around donuts. And then a friend texted me — hey, we’re bringing you some really good coffee cake. I know it’s not donuts, but it’s good, you’ll enjoy it. Seriously? I couldn’t believe it, and felt so cared for.

Diamonds all around me. And some of the things shared by the first friend I mentioned also restored me from my political despair; yes, people are still good, people still care about others including those who can’t do anything for them.

this was Marnie, when we lived in New Britain -- easy to understand why Marjorie fell for her!
this was Marnie, when we lived in New Britain — easy to understand why Marjorie fell for her!

But I’ve always found this to be true, haven’t you? Goodness all around, people willing to reach their hands out when you reach out yours. People ready to help you however they can. I remember when we moved to New Britain, CT, when Will was 3 months old, Marnie was 2, and Katie was 5, and we had nothing. And less than no money, it was a terrible time. My kids didn’t have winter clothes, and we couldn’t afford to buy them. But I met one woman, Marjorie, who was the crossing guard at Katie’s elementary school. She fell hard in love with little Marnie, and she became a friend. As the weather started to get colder, Marjorie started bringing clothes. Her friends, her church, she’d mentioned us and people gave. My kids had all the winter clothes they needed, and we felt surrounded by care — and not just that, care from people we never met, people who’d never met US.

Little diamonds glittering all around, as far as the eye can see. And you people never let me forget it, you diamonds, you, with your texts and messages and notes and little touches and constant care.

xoxoxox

no imagination

You know how sometimes you have this vague sense of something about yourself, but all the ways you find to articulate it just miss the boat? That’s often true for me. I’ll say it one way and even I can see it’s not quite right, even though there’s something underneath that’s true. So frustrating, because it makes it hard to see how you might help yourself.

And then, if you’re very lucky, someone comes along and says it for you. If you’re very very lucky, it’s someone whose thoughts and opinions you trust, and so it’s just a snap of the fingers, YES! That’s it! My friend Nancy has done this for me a few times, and she did it again a few days ago. Let me go backwards a little bit, with a quote and a couple of specific examples:

  • In a job I had a long time ago, I worked with a consultant who did really interesting work. My first and only thought, and the question I asked, was, “Can I be your assistant?” It was a couple of decades before I realized it never occurred to me to find a way to DO that kind of work, only to assist someone who did.
  • When I was finishing my PhD and looking for a job, I often thought gosh I hope somehow I end up in New York City! Never once occurred to me to look for a job in New York City.
  • “You see it is important to understand how damaged people don’t always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It’s a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red As on our chests.” (Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water)
nothing in those thought bubbles . . . but I don't think I have had thought bubbles!
empty thought bubbles . . . and I don’t think I even *had* thought bubbles!

So Nancy’s insight, her specific articulation of this, was that I do not have an imagination for myself. It’s obvious that’s what it is, when you read those examples, and you see it in the quote by Lidia Yuknavitch, but I’d wandered around in a vague morass of Maybe it’s that I don’t have ambition. Maybe it’s that I just don’t have the right set of skills. Maybe it’s that the things I like to do aren’t the kind of things that can take me somewhere.

And so with those vague ideas, I mis-thought my way around issues of ambition. No! I just don’t have any desire to climb a vicious ladder where you step on people! I mis-thought my way around “the right set of skills,” either getting new skill sets that I didn’t really care about, or dismissing what I thought were “the right set” (see: mis-thoughts around ambition). I mis-thought issues of the things I like to do — knitting, baking, handwork, no way to make money with those, no way to find security with those.

But no imagination for myself, oh that’s such a different animal. The trick with developing an imagination for myself comes back to that quote above, and while it’s not just simply solved by seeing it there, it’s a start. I deserve, as much as anyone, to have opportunities, to embrace opportunities, to find or make them. I deserve, as much as anyone, to find some security — boy do I deserve security. I have no problem saying that, believing it, feeling it. As I work to develop an imagination for myself, I’ll just have to break the kneecaps of that thought when it silently turns itself on in my gut.

One shift that has happened for me in the last couple of years is figuring out that one approach to life situations is to take a problem-solving approach instead of an emotional reaction approach. I never, ever knew that, as strange as that sounds. It’s by no means an automatic response for me, I still too often begin and end in an emotional reaction, but it’s just an issue of remembering. When I remember, I can do it. When I remember — oh yeah! How about a way to solve this, let me think — it shifts things.

And so it’s time for me to develop an imagination for myself, an imagination for my life. Do you have any advice to share? I know it’s a big, vague question — am I asking for ideas to put into my imagination? Am I asking for problem-solving tactics to implement the ideas when I have them? Yeah. No. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what I’m asking advice for, but if something comes to you I’d sure like to hear it.

What a gift it is, clear understanding, and what a gift it is to have a friend who gives it to you. xoxox

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

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.
china
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mheader
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.

showers

wisteria
wisteria blooming in Japan — imagine the shower of those purple blossoms

Y’all. You blow me away, again and again and again. This is not pretense designed to get you to say nice things about me, I MEAN THAT from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t say anything about me in a comment. This is about you. You are so extraordinarily kind and good to me, and I don’t know why.

  • You write me cards and letters and notes by hand, because you think I will like it. (I do!)
  • You have paid attention even to the smallest things and then sent (or given) me a gift based on that attention. Sometimes for no reason at all.
  • When I am in trouble of any kind – giant spuds or the smallest potatoes – you reach out to me with generous hearts and words, and you somehow remember to keep checking on me. Or maybe you get me a membership in the Cloud Appreciation Society. Things like that.
  • You send me little notes, images, stories, things you see online, or maybe in a newspaper you tuck into my door, because you saw them and thought of me.
  • Sometimes out of the blue you send me a note telling me something you appreciate or value about me. (!)
  • The moment I click ‘publish,’ I imagine I’ll think of several more things like this.

It isn’t that I think I’m a bad friend or anything like that, and it isn’t that I don’t realize the ways I can be a good friend, but seriously, I just don’t do these things, and y’all do. I wish I did these things, even when I’m not in the moment of being the recipient. It’s a thing I wish I did better. And then y’all do these things and I wish it even more.

You shower me with friendship, love, kindness, warmth, generosity, and care. And I feel it like a shower, a tremendous blessing. You make me feel better about the world, which often leaves me in such despair. But there are people like you in it, too, people of such quiet generosity, people who care for others in real ways, not just attitudes that one should care. I know you do these things in the world, not just for me, and knowing that you are there, knowing there are people like you moving through the world, I feel less despair.

Please please don’t say anything about me in the comments. If you feel like you want to comment, you might say something about kindnesses others have shown you, because I think we all need reminders that this exists in the world, too. My last words here are directed to you: thank you for the showering. xoxox

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

that friend

Of the myriad ways I’m the luckiest person in the world, one is that my friends believe in me. They (you) encourage me. I had one who didn’t, who preferred and delighted in my troubles and failures, and she’s not my friend any more. (Was she ever? If you have one like that, let her go. Just do it. Life is too short and difficult already.)

My darling Dixie
My darling Dixie

I could name each one of you and say the specific ways I feel your belief in me, list examples of things you’ve said — either in person, or in emails, or in instant messages that come out of the blue and for no apparent reason. This would be a l-o-n-g post if I did that, and I have an idea perking in the back of my mind to acknowledge your importance to me, but it has to wait until after the holidays. Perhaps the most extreme of you is my darling Dixie, who just believes in me 1000%, thinks I hung the moon and whatever I do is nearly perfect (sometimes perfect), and I swear that if I killed someone and were caught standing over them with the bloody knife in my hand, Dixie would defend me and stay by my side to the end. So she is in her own category in the whole world, because this is how she is with everyone she loves — and she means it, very individually.

writingSo many of you have quietly and insistently encouraged my writing, and I love you for it. It’s funny; my friends are encouraging and supportive and my kids have never ever been that way with me — so I appreciate you even more! You are my team. You’ve stuck with me on the ups and downs: I’m writing! I’m giving up! No, instead I’m going to do this kind of writing! Maybe not. Maybe so. I am! I can’t. Who would care. I have one thing most writers don’t have: an understanding of the realities of the publishing world. Not having that would be helpful! My clients all finish their books in the belief that their books are going to be bestsellers. Surely that helps them keep going and get it done. My friend Traci knows very well the realities of the publishing world and writes one beautiful book after another, which she publishes through her own press and practically works a second full-time job promoting her books. (And her husband’s work. And she has a school-age daughter. And she writes book after book. She is clearly in her own category.)

But I have this one friend, Nancy, who is in a different category in terms of encouragement. I don’t have any idea, maybe this is what it’s like if you have a mother who thinks you are OK, and who encourages you and believes in you with great vigor. Nancy is my friend, not a mother figure, but there’s something about the way she believes in me and encourages me that makes me think about what it would be like to have had that from the start. Just as Dixie replaced the cruel voice in my head (my mother’s) with hers (you are so darling, you precious thing), I think Nancy has replaced the mean discouragement in my heart (my mother’s) with hers (you don’t have time for that, you need to be writing. Are you writing? I believe that it’s very possible that your writing will be of significant value. I just had an idea, have you ever read your work before an audience?). She’ll just write me out of the blue and in her direct, Kansas way say these things to me — apropos of nothing, which tells me she had been thinking about it herself. When we have our regular coffee breaks, she’s likely to bring it up. My book club friends made me a VERY special gift as I was coming out of my suicidal place, a jar filled with notes from each of them telling me what I add to their lives, how they see me, etc. Nancy’s contribution was a nametag, the kind you get at a conference, and it had my name and WRITER. See what I mean? It’s insistent and said as if it were simply the truth.

So this post is much less about writing and encouragement, and much more about what it is to receive that, on whatever topic or maybe no topic at all, maybe just about who you are. I know this is a theme of mine, but it’s because I mean it, and know it so solidly: If you live long enough, everything is possible. The thing you simply could not understand (how to spend time alone, how not to care what others think of you) becomes simple and true in your heart, and in fact an important thing! The struggle you’ve found impossible to overcome, like getting rid of the cruel voice in your head, dissolves and disappears. The fear you always had goes away. The bad thing you clutched to your heart, your ‘grim belief’ as my friend Marg calls it, falls away. It’s so good that life is long, if you’re lucky and open to it.

It would be such a different world if everyone had one person who believed in them like this. If you have a friend you believe in in some regard, express it a little more often. Encourage her in the various ways you can think of. You have NO idea how transformative it might be. And if you change one person, you might change the world.

Thank you for the ways you encourage me and support me in all the ways you do. I’m keenly aware of each instance, each moment, each effort, and it all keeps me going. I hope with all my heart that if we know each other, I do some of that for you. xo

I would be annoying you to death right now…

…because every few seconds I sigh deeply and loudly and say, “Oh my God I feel so much better,” or “Hallelujah, I feel so much better!” or other such statements. Every. Few. Seconds. For a couple of hours now.


I slept last night. I slept last night. I SLEPT LAST NIGHT. And it was a good thing, too, because I started really going downhill yesterday afternoon. I could only cry and tremble. Sitting in my chair just felt too much, like I couldn’t do it. So I’d get over to my couch and stretch out and close my eyes—surely now I can nap—but there was just no way. It’s hard to explain what it is like. But it was pretty clear that I was deteriorating. I had already planned to take a Klonopin, but the way things went yesterday there was no doubt.

I got in bed at 8:45, fully Klonopined, and don’t remember anything. I woke up at 2:45 (six straight hours) and was happy enough with that, but I was able to go back to sleep (happy enough with that!) and slept two more hours. Eight hours. Eight hours of blessed sweet sleep.

And so my gratitude is overflowing this morning. Thank you, Genentech, makers of Klonopin. I’m not sure what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t gotten some sleep. Hallucinations are common when you’ve gone as long as I went without even a minute of sleep, and that would have been very bad.

My situation is likely ongoing; the withdrawal process from the medication probably wasn’t completed by my night of sleep, but what do I know! Maybe it was. But even if I find myself entirely sleepless tonight, I’m starting from a new place, a better place.

Thanks to all of you who have been so loving and kindhearted to me during these last few days. I keep learning over and over and over how much the tiniest of connections can help. None of them can end the problem, but they sure help me keep going for a bit and that’s extraordinary. It also reinforces the thing I know: we are all connected, and collectively you are a net under me, just as I connect through others to be a net under you. We have to help each other. As Ram Dass says so gorgeously,

We’re all just walking each other home.

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox

a post, in two parts

PART I

The tide has turned. The worm has turned. It’s a beautiful morning. The world has turned. Morning has broken. And many other sayings like that.

Light is coming back. Light and air are coming back to me. Yesterday I actually laughed spontaneously, and I haven’t had “those” thoughts for three straight days, now. If bad language offends you, turn away (but then you probably aren’t one who reads my damn blog 🙂 ) — I think it’s fucking ending. Halle-fuckin-lujah. And thus ends the F word, in this post, anyway.

For you professional depression-havers out there, you know how it sidles up alongside you, a dark day turns into a week but you know, people have down weeks. A week slips into two, then three, and then you’re in it and don’t even remember that it ever was anything but this. I wish it announced itself in some way, that would make it all so much easier.

I told people slowly, very slowly, too slowly. One here, another there. This one. A hint of it to that one so as not to freak out that person. A secret group, and then another secret group, and then the last one, and then that last blog post and a public-ish post on open Facebook. Damn depression, the way it makes you unable to think and see! There was pretty much a linear correlation (thus ends the statistical stuff) between help I got and people I told. And a big duh right there. If I weren’t depressed I’d have caught it on the second person. So the next time this comes around, as I sadly imagine it will even as I hope it doesn’t, I hope I can remember this, and simply tell all my support people, my friends, those who love me, those I love, and accept the help they so generously give. Just do that. Tell, and as soon as you can. And as many people who love you as you can. You’ll know the ones who’ll get cold, or freak out, so don’t tell them but tell all the others, the ones who will rush toward you in even the slightest of ways.

This morning I was telling a group of friends about what this giant all-out launching of love has done for me, and a sweet little bit of writing slipped out of my fingertips so I’ll plagiarize myself: “this kind of love bombing I’ve been receiving ever since I went ‘public’ with it has been like a booster rocket, sending me above the ocean’s surface where I can take deep gulps of good air. And even if I go down again, I don’t go nearly as far.”  [pretty good imagery if I do say so myself. thank you, subconscious.]

Of course every time is different, and it’s different for every person (different each person x different each time = I can’t do the math but that’s a lot of instances), but I learned something this time that I want to try for others, and I hope to ask for, for myself. When you are way down in the hole, people who love you remind you how much they love you, and of course they do, and you know it even if you can’t feel it while you’re down there. But the nasty little sentences I was resisting were these: No one would miss you. It wouldn’t matter if you just died.

People not only showed up, they gently took me out for a drink, for dinner, they held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me what I meant to them, they told me they understood because they suffer depression, they sent me little notes, or they bought me music, or they wrote me letters, or they sent me gifts. They listened to me with great heart and compassion, and I could see it in their glowing eyes. They pinged me every single morning asking how I was, darling, and sometimes again at night. If I said it was really really bad, I got good practical advice — go outside and take a very fast walk, go do it now. And text me when you’re back.

And sometimes they wrote out what it would mean to them if I weren’t here. And there it was, the very real argument against those miserable thoughts. Liar! She would be devastated, and in these particular ways! Liar! Her world would change in these particular ways! Liar! Liar! Liar! Not only were those like silver bullets against the thoughts, they were also overwhelmingly wonderful to read — not that people would suffer, but that my presence in their life means all those things.

And so I will carry this with me out of the darkness, and not just wait until someone is depressed to tell them what they mean in my life, how important they are in the very fiber of my life, but tell them all. (I mean, not all the time, for heaven’s sake. 🙂 )  You might file this away for the next time someone you love is severely depressed. It may or may not help them, but there is no way it can hurt. And maybe it will just make them feel too guilty to leave. Whatever works, man. Whatever works.

Part II

Just the right person came into my life at just the right time. I didn’t recognize it at the beginning, because I was too far gone in grief and loss, and she went out of the country for six months. I kind of feel like I’ve been waiting all my life for her, but don’t tell her that, she’ll get embarrassed.

I’ll only be able to explain her importance when I write the dedication and acknowledgements for my memoir, but thanks to her, it’s an entirely different book now, and it’s amazing and flowing. Yesterday I wrote for five hours straight, non-stop, two chapters, 7326 words. I could have written chapter 3 and chapter 4, probably, if I didn’t have to stop and clean the kitchen and brush my teeth and go to bed. (And take my mighty-strong extra antidepressant, which is also part of the equation in addition to all that love bombing.)

And so my silence here is probably going to be prolonged, but for a very different reason. I actually have two books to finish, one the publisher is waiting for, and I’m ~75% through, and the one I’m writing now, like a river flowing out of me, and I want to spend all my non-working time on these two writing projects. My friend turned the dial so it’s oriented at a different angle, said a magic sentence, and flipped the switch. How can I ever thank her enough.

So many people have helped me, I’d need an index-length acknowledgement to include them all, and I hope you know who you are if you read this. For everyone who said a little something, sent a little smile, told me to write, gave me your attention, your love, allowed me to give those to you, I am forever in your debt.

everything matters

A few years ago I read a book called Everything Matters!, partly because of the title and partly because of reviews. I can’t even remember what it was about now; I mainly just remember that I liked it well enough, I didn’t feel like my time had been wasted, but it wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. I was just going through the kindle app on my phone and saw that book and it just punched me — the title, that is.

clockBecause it all matters. The boredom, the small joys and miseries, the big joys and miseries, the people — every single one — the errands and bullshit, the uncertainties and plans, the tedium. It all matters. Every single bit of it. Every stitch made, every cucumber sliced. Every subway ride. Every walk through the parking lot, every bit of insomnia and sleep. Recently on the subway, some college kid was telling his friend about “a theory [his] dad just made up, but said it changed the way he looked at his life,” which was apparently that 95% of our lives are spent on bullshit, trivial stuff, sleep, but that 5%, you have to recognize it when it comes because it matters. Who knows what the kid’s dad really said; college kids don’t typically listen closely enough to their parents to be reliable re-tellers, but I have to disagree. And even taking this at face value, if your position is that 95% of your life doesn’t matter at all, you’re cheating yourself.

This reminds me of the old thing parents used to say, back when I knew the things parents always said, which was “it’s about quality time, not quantity time.” I always thought they said that to justify their own absences. In fact, amazing things happen when you’re just there, showing up. When my kids were little, the times I tried to set up a specific thing, thinking it was going to be the special thing, the time that mattered, it rarely worked that way. Instead it was just putting in time with them, just sitting around, just playing cards, just talking while we made cookies, that were the ground for the important moments. The times they relaxed and felt comfortable enough to reveal themselves, because it wasn’t imperative that we be having Quality! Time!

It’s easy to know when the good stuff happens that it matters. Time with Oliver and Katie, like I’m going to have later this morning, that MATTERS. My weekly conversation with Marnie, that MATTERS. Time spent with others I love, Marc and my family of dear, dear friends, all that matters. Seeing the world, spending my time that way? Matters. All that’s pretty obvious.

Less obvious is the tedium — all of which matters! Cleaning the house, working (if you don’t love your work, if it isn’t your passion), standing in line, sitting in traffic, buying groceries — all that matters. Cleaning the house, tedious; or, cleaning the house, tending to your home to make it comfortable, and welcoming to yourself and others. Working? Well, my work is sometimes reading crap manuscripts that make me want to poke my eyes out. OR it’s that someone has trusted me with their dream, the dream they’ve spent months or years on, and they took a deep breath and trusted me to read it for them and try to help them make it better. Standing in line, sitting in traffic, gifts of time off the clock for me! I get to read, guilt-free, when I’m standing in line. I get to listen to podcasts, something I never get to do, when I’m sitting in traffic. Buying groceries, a sensory, luxurious GIFT. All you have to do to transform that moment is see what is available to you, really see it. How many people would be dazzled out of their minds by all that beautiful, fresh food displayed in front of them? How many would give anything to have access to the kind of food you take for granted. Since I love all the fruits and vegetables, it’s easy enough to transform a tedious trip by just stopping my hurry and looking. Look around at the whole department, all that color, the beautiful large piles of each kind of food. And all there for me. And then I get to turn it into something luscious to eat, and maybe to share with friends.

And less obvious still, the heartbreaking or terrifying trouble matters. It’s easy to say funny things like, “Plot twist!” when they aren’t actually happening. When they are actually happening, it can be really hard to see them as anything but what they are presenting. Death, loss, tragedy. Fear. Anxiety and uncertainty. World-changing [your world] and sometimes world-changing [the whole world]. Oh how these matter! You’re not going to be the same afterwards, and it’s up to you how that goes. Are you going to use that to deepen yourself in some way? Or are you going to be crumbled by it? Either way, it sure matters.

People in your life, every single one matters. The ones you love, that’s pretty obvious. The ones that annoy you, the ones that you just don’t like, the ones you’re forced to be with whether you like it or not (toxic co-workers come to mind, my agony at OUP in NYC), they sure matter. Each one of the less-ideal people teaches you something, even if the lesson is how to manage yourself so you don’t have a stroke. One of the toxic women I worked with had a lot of lessons to teach me, if only I’d been ready to learn. By treating me with such cruelty and contempt, and by seeing me as an idiot because I was happy and smiling, she gave me daily chances to learn how to hold my own (I didn’t take those chances, I crumbled). She gave me a chance to look at myself: I’m being seen as an idiot because I am happy and smiling, perhaps this is a NY thing (it kind of is), so should I modulate myself in some way to succeed here, or is it a chance to deepen my understanding of myself in some way? And then when that hideous monster of a woman was suing me, I tried so hard every day to practice the lovingkindness meditation on her. I really did. Some days I tried for my sake, believing that if she just weren’t such a miserable monster she might not be that way in the world; and some days I tried to do it for her sake, because she is such a miserable monster and that’s awful. I was never able to do it very well. My best efforts came when I was holding a selfish perspective, but the moment I’d stop the meditation I went right back to freaking out about her, and hating her with a burning passion. That sure didn’t help me.

This day of your life — absolutely whatever you are doing today — matters. It’s YOUR WHOLE LIFE today. It’s the life you get to spend today. You don’t get to spend yesterday, you already did that. You don’t get to spend tomorrow, not yet and maybe not ever. Whatever you are doing today, IT MATTERS. Every single bit of it. Walking to your car, driving. Eating junk. Doing boring work. Doing good work! Whatever. It can be clear that it matters if you bring your attention to it, recognize it for what it is. In fact, once in a while when I do that my breath is taken away. It matters so, so much. This minute matters so, so much. My fingers on the keyboard in this minute, my cup of hot coffee nearby, music in the background. This minute of my life, it is so precious I can hardly bear it.

And then I’ll drive north to see Oliver and Katie, to spend some time at a splash pad with them in the late summer sun. I have work I need to do, but Oliver won’t be this little boy forever, and sunny summer days won’t always be here, and this precious opportunity presents itself and I want to say yes.

Yes. Say yes today. xoxoxoxo

Let’s moai together

Maybe I’m the last person to find out about this, but do you know about moais, as part of the Blue Zone Project? Generally speaking, a moai is a group of people who commit to each other, who count on each other for a common purpose. In Okinawa, one of the five places in the world where people live an extraordinarily long time, people have 5-person moais that they commit to for life.

“Okinawans create moais—groups of five friends that commit to each other for life. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. By contrast, social networks of long-lived people favorably shape their health behaviors.”

handsThis feels like a very big thing to me, and something I’m interested in pursuing. I have a bunch of very good friends and we all support each other, pull for each other, encourage each other, but this feels like something different. This is focused and pointedly committed. I love the idea of commitment for life; that’s automatically a different frame. It’s like a friend-marriage. Through thick and thin, through difficult times, the commitment means you stick it out.

There are Blue Zone moais in a range of places; you can even join a walking moai in Ft Worth on Meetup, for heaven’s sake. That seems less like a moai and more like a Meetup, but what do I know. Because the Blue Zone concept is all about health (of all kinds, physical, emotional, spiritual), the point of these moais takes that form.

I don’t quite know what I’m thinking of here, but I’d sure like to explore it. Would you? I doubt we’d have to all live in the same place, although having at least a person or two in the same place seems critical. We could have a private place online — a secret Facebook group — that could be our virtual shared space. My thoughts are that we would rely on each other for support, encouragement, tough talk if it comes to that, and time together. I am especially interested in the commitment aspect, and would like to commit for life. Not just hope that it works out that way, but commit. I imagine our personal friendships would deepen dramatically, but that isn’t the pointed mission for itself. I don’t think there’s anything magical about the number five, but I do suspect that it can’t be a huge, huge group and work the same way.

If you are interested in talking about this with me, even if you aren’t at all sure you want to do it, please email me! pillbugqueen [at] gmail [dot] com will get me. At this point we’re just talking and figuring things out.

contradictions

Time to snip the tiniest little bit from Leaves of Grass (go here to read it in full if you don’t own a copy, but I recommend you have your own copy — with you, always):

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Even though I love this poem, and this bit of it specifically, and even though I believe it as one of the truest things I know, I still struggle to remember it, because my multitudes frequently contradict each other and pull at me and my sense of identity: I’m this. I’m that. No wait, I’m this.

blue moonThe evening of the blue moon, I had an extraordinary experience and I’m not sure how to talk about it. I’m not even sure of the meaning yet, so I’m not ready to talk about that aspect either. But essentially it was a deeply spiritual experience, and it required me to be open to the world in a specific way that has sadly become uncomfortable to me since I entered my PhD program back in 2000. It was led by a friend of mine who has strong Native American Alaska Athabascan heritage, and it drew, I believe, on many of the rituals and songs of her culture. Her incredible use of her drum and rattles, and burning sage, and whooshing wind from a feather fan, and her amazingly strong voice singing and calling — all while our eyes were covered as we sat outside in the dark — was disorienting and deeply personal and moving.

As I drove home later, thinking about everything that had happened within me, I was trying to reconcile being a logical, rational person trained in the scientific method, and a spiritual person open to the larger world that goes far beyond that. I found myself thinking, “Oh, I’ll be that flowing spiritual person.” [silly] The funny thing is that I have no problem appreciating the flowing-together of science and spirituality. Richard Feynman said,

I have a friend who’s an artist…He’ll hold up a flower and say…”I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty…I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more…I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty… The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color…the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds.

I believe that! With all my heart! It’s my own very regular experience, even. I’m not sure why my default automatic response is to insist on either-or categories, when a moment’s reflection reminds me that there are so few absolutes I believe in that I can’t even think of one at the moment.

It’s funny how my mind moves out to the superficial when I encounter a conflict like this — kind of ‘presentation of self’ stuff. I’m pretty smart and thoughtful and love talking about big things, love extremely intelligent people, and feel most comfortable there. So when I came face to face with my openness to a more spiritual world, my superficial thoughts were about how to dress. Loose, flowy, specific jewelry and hair vs more tailored. Isn’t that silly? I think it’s just a top-level entry to bringing myself to thinking about how these different ways of approaching the world can live together in a deeper way. My kind of clothes with specific jewelry and hair. Rational and intelligent and scientifically minded and open and understanding Big Things that you come to through ritual and guides.

One clear thing that happened in that experience kind of cracked my heart, and I can talk about it. So very clearly I saw that I’m a tightly closed person, tense, scared. It surprised me (and it surprised me how true it is) because this is an area in which I have grown  so much. When I started therapy in New York back in 2005, my primary goal was to stop being a terrified person in the world. So when you are at, say, 0% of something, 50% looks amazingso dazzling you can hardly believe it. But it’s only 50%, it’s not time to stop. I have a lot of opening to do. I have a lot of guards to let down.

Perhaps my friends and loved ones would argue with me, no, you’re not closed, you’re open. But maybe they wouldn’t (except for Dixie of course, who loves me with soul-filled eyes and heart). Maybe they’re aware of my tightly guarded borders. Luckily I have people in my life who model the very parts of myself I’m struggling to become and remain open to. We’re all our own unique combination of bits, and contradictions, and so none of my models have the same amalgam of things I do, but that’s more than fine.

Thanks, beautiful blue moon, and thank you, my friend, and there’s nothing to wait for anymore. Time to do it.

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asking

needOnce again, I learn big lessons from my kids. My kids’ dad is . . . well, not very forthcoming. I’ll put it like that. His reaction to big news—the kind that most people would go on and on about—is, “Huh! That’s great, darlin!” and then that’s that. So Marnie has learned to kind of coach him along into giving her what she wants or needs. So, for example, if she has told him good news and he says that (as he reliably does), she says something like, “Oh dad, your excitement about this means so much to me!” and so he keeps going. I think that’s absolutely genius.  He’s a kind of person who digs in his heels with other approaches, but this one simply gets him to say more. She gets what she wants, very specifically, and he gets an opportunity to give his daughter more of what she wants, without it being a harangue or a demand. (Not that you shouldn’t be able to make demands, of course….)

Ever since she told me this, I’ve been thinking about this broader issue. One area I have a lot of growth to do is asking for help/accepting help. I can do it with my kids (I can do everything with my kids) but I can’t do it anywhere else in the world. I’m good about being open about a situation in which I need help, but beyond sharing my situation I become something of an island. I can’t ask, in the first place, but the harder thing is to accept help when it’s offered. It’s sad, and something I don’t like about myself.

But thinking about Marnie’s insightful approach, and the concept of coaching people to give me what I need, I have found an approach that I think even could pull off. The next time I need help, I think I can frame it to get the kind of help I need: Friends, I need advice. Friends, I need comfort. Friends, I need distraction. Friends, I need emotional support. Friends, I need someone to go here with me. Can any of you help? Having been on the other end when friends were in need of help, I know the deep desire to help, and the sometimes difficult task of knowing what would help. But advice, I could try to offer. Comfort, I can come give that. Distraction, no problem. Emotional support, you got it. I’ll go there with you. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you need, of course, but I suspect that even just saying that — I’m having such a hard time and I don’t know what I need, but I’m feeling terrible/scared/heartbroken and need some help. Can any of you help?

The shame of my emotional block is that I am surrounded by such wonderful people. In addition to the group in the picture, my boon companions, I have an extraordinary friend who lives right next door! Bosom friends scattered around town. Reliably on-my-side friends in New York and Connecticut. And a posse of friends down under, whose emotional support is 100% count-on-able. They helped me through Gracie’s death in a way that still makes me marvel.

some of my dear friends in Austin -- and I know they'd help me, no questions asked
some of my dear friends in Austin — and I know they’d help me, no questions asked

As I was thinking about Marnie’s approach, I thought about something that happened just over a year ago. One dear friend’s husband got a cancer diagnosis, and my friend mobilized everyone she knew to help them through it in such an incredible way. One of their friends had in-depth knowledge of some aspect of the diagnosis. One had access to medical research databases. One knew about managing insurance. And on and on. She assembled a team of topic experts! Seeing her take that kind of problem-solving approach was a great gift to me and taught me so much. (But then she is always teaching me wonderful things.)

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating — we’ll see if I actually do it when the time comes. I think I will. And anyway, like Jeff told me in our early health coaching sessions, at some point you have to get off the couch and do something different. Time for me to get off the couch.

you’ve got to show up

I hope this isn’t one of those instances where my self-awareness is blind, where you’re going to get wide eyes and think, is she kidding? She’s the opposite of this! but I’m going ahead anyway. I have never been a person who makes demands on friends. I never felt I deserved to do that, in the first place, and in the second place I felt scared to do that, scared that a friend would leave if I made a demand. (And then third, if it was a ‘demand’ that involved a friend making a sacrifice for me, I imagined they would hold it against me, which has nothing to do with my generous friends and everything to do with the lessons I learned as a child.)

But over the past few months, I have started feeling clear about a demand and I’m ready to act on it. For us to be friends, you’ve got to show up. You have to share yourself with me, because I’m definitely going to be sharing myself with you. I don’t have to be your vein-opening confidante; you don’t have to reveal shameful secrets (unless you want to); you don’t have to tell me everything the moment it happens — of course!

invisibleIf you’re on Facebook and use the gray silhouette as your profile picture and reveal absolutely nothing about yourself, ever, I won’t be friending you. A photo of a flower, or a cup of coffee, or a blue sky shares something about you for heaven’s sake!

If we are friends in real life and you are uncomfortable talking about our lives, our friendship will be limited to an acquaintanceship. I won’t pursue it further.

A perfect example of a situation I’m letting go involves a guy in one of the groups I belong to. He’s cagey and odd, but I like what he brings to the group so I’d like to get to know him, especially because it’s a small group. But at a party, when I asked him some very basic questions (what do you do, etc.) he looked strange, as if he thought I were wanting something from him — perhaps as if he thought I wanted him (he is a guy, after all, and there’s such good research showing that men even interpret a simple, ordinary smile as a come-on). After a second interaction like that, I’ve given up. I think he likes me, I don’t think it’s that, I think he’s just unwilling to share himself in any way.

Acquaintances who aren’t forthcoming with anything at all personal, who prefer to talk about impersonal things, I won’t be chasing down as friends. Fine, truly! This is how you find your people. Those who want to talk about impersonal things would not want to be friends with me, either, I have zero doubt.

The thing I love most about my friends is that we talk about our lives, we reveal ourselves, we risk a lot in being open with each other. When something good happens, they’re the first we want to tell — and partly that’s because we know we’ll be happy for each other! I had a “friend” who couldn’t tolerate it when something good happened for me. She just couldn’t tolerate it, and had to “comfort” herself by reminding herself of all the times bad things had happened to me. NOPE. My friends are happy for me. When something bad happens, they’re the ones I need on my side, they’re pulling for me, they comfort me, they help me in various ways — with information, with advice, with encouragement, with their presence. I have definitely been through prolonged periods of trouble when I felt like my friends had perhaps exhausted their wells of compassion, but luckily they took care of themselves and hung in there with me, even if they had to let other friends carry some of the load for a while. All the same has been true for me, with being a friend to others.

It may sound strange, but I feel real happiness when my friends are together because something difficult is happening for one or more of us. Happiness. There we are, showing up for each other. That makes me happy, even if the reason for it breaks my heart. But isn’t that the real nature of things, that they contain more than one note? I feel happy that my friend shows up, brings herself, shares herself, and allows me to share myself. Happy to see the loyalty and goodness of people, being there for each other, walking each other home.

And so I look around. I see friends in New York who generously share themselves with me, and welcome me to share, too. I see friends in Austin, all around — those loosely organized as ‘book club’ but who are so much more than that; those in my poetry group; those I’ve met along the way; and one who just happens to live next door to me — who do this with me, and I count myself the luckiest person I know. I’m even lucky enough to have friends scattered around the country and around the world, friends I count on. I’ve learned something about myself that keeps me from throwing myself hard into encounters with others, that helps me more gracefully find my people and let (“let,” that’s so dumb) others be who they are and manage their own needs.

And so, too, I thank you for the ways you share yourself with me, for you do that. I love the ways you share yourself with me, and never fail to feel grateful for it. xoxox