I’m 59. Fifty-nine years old.

No matter how old I get — or maybe it’s just true the older I get — I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people are unwilling to say their real age. (Or why they dye their hair to hide grays, for that matter, though dyeing your hair for a cool color really is loads of fun.) FOR ME, every day that I get to keep living is a wonder.

I’m 59 today: thirteen years older than my dad ever got to be; decades older than I ever imagined I’d see, since I never thought I would make it out of my teens alive; decades of life I got to live despite a couple of suicide attempts (thank God for guns that misfire and for other saviors); and today celebrating in a place I never could have imagined even if I’d tried.

Last year on my birthday, I thought we’d have our first female president a couple of days later so I was filled with excitement and hope for that. And then two days later — while I was still celebrating my birthday fortnight — the world crashed and burned around me and this past year has been its own kind of hell, that all of us around the world know, and we in this country are suffering through. It ruined my birthday joy last year, although that was certainly the least significant aspect of it that one could possibly imagine. It has been a brutal year. I’ve gained 22 pounds from stress eating, even though I’ve been essentially hiding in the mountains for the last few months and I have not watched anything on television since the election because there doesn’t seem to be any program that doesn’t include clips of him speaking.

SO, to happier perspectives. I’m 59 today. I have three glorious, glorious grandchildren, and my daughters are the light of my life. My son is still hiding from us all, and it hurts as much today as it did from the beginning, but he is alive and so there remains hope. My husband and I are enjoying our lives together, in this way we’ve fashioned that works so well for us both. I live in this glorious place — never would’ve imagined such a thing! — with my beloved creeks and bench, and mountains and forests all around, and beautiful solitude. I can also live in Manhattan whenever I wish or need, with my beloved Riverside Park just right over there, and people and buildings all around, and beautiful noise.

My mind still works, and as long as this sleep remedy works, my mind is working a little better every day, I feel the sharpness starting to be visible in the distance, at least. My body still works, and if I can just re-establish my yoga practice it will return to its strength and flexibility that it had before the election. My health is fantastic, not just in terms of the absence of illness, but in the robustness of life. I’m extremely lucky, and I thank whatever combination of genes and good fortune for it, and promise to try to help keep that going. I want to be around a very long time, until I’m just a dusty little bag of bones that hardly makes an indentation in the bed, where I hope to die peacefully in my sleep….decades from now. (I’m now only 5’8″!!!! I was 5’11” so this is startling, but I guess I’m on the path to the dusty little bag of bones. 😉 )

The state of my inner life is perhaps the best it has ever been. Getting older really does do wonders for you — at least, it has for me. It’s kind of hard to parse this, since the trauma of this Republican nightmare is an ongoing source of stress and awfulness for me, but if I pause and let that sit off to the side (as if you can do such a thing), I am more at peace with myself than I’ve been yet in my life. I’m at peace with my dad, I got to ‘thank’ my darling Big Daddy for what he gave me, I’m comfortable with my physical self, I can accept the good things I recognize about myself, and the bad things about me feel less stabby and hateful. Maybe this is an aging kind of laziness; when I become aware of my weaknesses and my flaws, I just kind of shrug — ah, well, maybe next time. And it’s hard to figure out why I’ve spent my life trying to act like I’m not an intelligent and serious person, but I have and I don’t feel the need to do that any more.

In my last year of life, we traveled to Indonesia, and we bought this house. We drove the 16′ truck from Austin to Heaventree, and I started an entirely new way of living. I visited my wonderful Marnie-family in Chicago three times (once in March, once in July en route to Heaventree with my car, and once in October), and I went back to Austin to see my marvelous Katie-family once in October. I had countless drinks and dinners with friends who keep my life filled with laughter and connection and our shared hearts. Lynn came to Heaventree, our very first visitor. I read a bunch of great books (the best being Her Body and Other Parts, by Carmen Maria Machado; Antigonick, by Anne Carson, Human Acts, by Han Kang; and House of Names, by Colm Toibin). For the very first time in our lives together, Marc and I didn’t take a fall vacation and I grieve that a little bit, but we bought the house and sank a lot of money into it so that’s the balance.

Here is my year in people-pictures, and seeing each one makes my heart swell to nine times its size. I’m not even going to try to put them in chronological order, and they don’t represent everyone I was lucky enough to see, but scanning through them shows me how very lucky I’ve been. (hover over a photo to see its caption, or you can click to see them as a slideshow if you’re interested.)

I also started doing my little daily “creekside chats” on Facebook and that has been an unexpected joy and growth experience for me. I’ve become so much easier with myself, as a result. I feel differently about my mouth, as a result, and those decades of shame seem to have crumbled and fallen away into dust. I have the deep feeling of having started my day with people I love, seeing your faces and saying good morning, and sharing my view of the world around me.

Thank you for your friendship, your comments, your presence here and in my larger life. Thank you for your well wishes, and for your care. Thank you for the various kinds of help you’ve given me over the last year, and most especially for the way you share your lives with me, however that may be. You definitely help make my life the full joy that it is.

So here’s to 59! May I gather myself together and lose the dreaded T-weight that signifies my trauma. May I continue to have good health, and may my children and grandchildren do the same. May you stay healthy and happy, and in my life. May I read good books. May I relish my solitude at Heaventree, and my noisy happiness in Manhattan. Happy birthday to me.

(And looking ahead to my next birthday, I put in my gift wish list now, so you can prepare. I turn 60 ON ELECTION DAY, the mid-term elections. I just want one thing, and for once I’ll ask everyone for a gift. Just vote blue. Just vote blue and that’s all the gift I need.) (Think about it, I’ll ask again a couple of days before the date.) <3

What is it I need?

If you are my Facebook friend, you’re probably at least aware that I’ve been doing little “creekside chat” videos every morning, whether you watch them or not. I started making the little videos for a few reasons:

See what I mean? This is the view from my kitchen window. WOW.
  • My new home is so very beautiful and most of the time I’m here alone and really just want to share it! I sit on my little bench and look around, wishing I could say to someone, “Look at that! Isn’t that amazing!”
  • My friend in NZ, Kirsten Duncan, said something to me that hit me right in the most vulnerable spot I might have — and I mean that she hit me with love, and started the process of changing something for me. My whole life I’ve been so ashamed of my mouth and teeth and she said, in passing, that she loved to watch my mouth move, and friends in Oz and NZ always say they love my accent — so that’s a twosome that wrapped love around the things I feel most vulnerable about. I first just made a tiny video sitting in the car waiting for Marc one Saturday, and their comments were so loving and encouraging that I got the idea to do more of them. They began as an exercise in courage and vulnerability and forcing myself out of that little shame prison.
  • Starting my day saying hi to the people I have in mind when I’m talking has just been the best gift. Whether they watch (happen to watch a specific day, or watch at all) isn’t even really the point. The point for me is that I’m seeing their faces when I talk to my phone, even though the literal face on the screen is my own, and so I get to speak directly to people I love, and share my place with them.
my humble little bench, where I sit by Hatchery Hollow Creek and record the chats

I generally keep the videos at five minutes or less, because it feels silly and self-indulgent to just ramble on and on and on – and since I’m just talking extemporaneously, talking for longer than that doesn’t even really feel possible! Most days I don’t have the first clue what I’ll say, when I’m approaching my bench — I know I’ll start with good morning, but then the rest is a mystery to me.

SO what has surprised me so much is how deeply those brief chats have satisfied my need to talk. I think this is why I haven’t been writing here — I already said what I had to say, and after that I’m content to be here in silence, happily alone with my thoughts. Who’d have thought? Who’d have thought that talking to myself out loud — with an assumed Other — for such a short time is really all I need?

My first husband, Jerry, was/is an almost completely silent man, and not emotionally expressive (at all) and also not very affectionate or connecting. I know I’ve told this story before but it’s so heart-breaking; I told him once that I knew he could be affectionate, I’d seen him do that with the dog. He told me that the dog didn’t demand it, and then later that he could be that way with the kids because they did demand it. It was so lonely living with him. Another time he said there was no point in trying to be that way with me because I was just a bottomless pit, and however much he might give would never be enough anyway. I still wince at the cruelty of that comment. But it turned out that my needs really aren’t that big — maybe I learned to thrive on just a little — and this talking thing is another one like that.

I have the most loving, generous, encouraging people in my life. Dear Mudd has suggested that I create a YouTube channel for the chats, and that’s on my list — in that case I could add them here. At the moment I have plenty of work, and as a starving freelancer, work takes precedence over everything else when it’s available. If you follow this blog and are on FB, but aren’t yet my FB friend, click this link and then send me a friend request! At this point, my feed is generally photography, poetry, stuff about books, stuff about my grandkids, and these little daily chats. I had to stop posting about politics (though I slip once in a while, increasingly rare though) because it was keeping me too angry. So I hope my feed is mostly about beauty, and my little daily visits with my friends.

I’m not saying I’m abandoning this blog — perhaps I’m just in a fallow period, as happens to all of us who blog. This is just a little note of explanation, and a waving to you. <3

We just ARE who we ARE

When I was younger, I thought we made ourselves into who we are, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I realize that we come into the world exactly who we are, and the world does what it will do to us — but who we are was there from the beginning. And so I peer intently into my grandchildrens’ eyes…..Oliver, there from the start, exactly who he is. Ilan, there he is, I will know him always. Lucy, our delight and laughing glory, present from the get-go. And funny little mannerisms, I notice those too — physical examples of the same inner self that’s present. (And for that matter, my own children are who they’ve always been. It’s the most remarkable thing to realize. They were always there, right from the beginning, and I didn’t quite realize this yet.)

And I have always been who I am. Of course. I could be nothing else. I didn’t choose these things, we don’t choose these things, they just are. We just are. I’ve been reading Anne Carson every morning (Plainwater, at the moment, lingering with my morning coffee), and as she is trained as a classicist, there are references to Sokrates [her spelling], and Sappho, and in other works, Autobiography of Red, Herakles and Geryon. I have to regularly read The Odyssey, and I cannot wait to read An Odyssey. If you want to talk about Dante, I have a fondness for the John Ciardi translation, since it was the first one I read when Katie was a baby, but the newer translation by the Hollanders is so remarkable it’s my favorite.

When I was eight years old (-ish), I saw a commercial on television for a set of records that I wanted SO BADLY. I wanted to claw out my thigh muscles, I wanted them so badly. So I begged my dad to order them for me, with a promise to pay him back out of my allowance — which I did, and it took me a couple of years. When they arrived in the mail I was beside myself with excitement. I ran downstairs to my bedroom and played them on my junkie little record player (not a Fisher Price, but not much more than that) and 51 years later I still remember how that music made me feel. How huge. How outside-of-language. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know anything about it except how it made me feel.

Somehow, I have NO idea how, I still have the set.

Looks pretty good for 51 years old!
the selections

When I look at the records themselves, I see that I had clear favorites: Beethoven’s Symphony in C; Swan Lake; Peer Gynt (which I would go on to introduce my children to, with a fun game); Die Fledermaus (which I would go on to play in orchestra, on my flute, such a fun little part to play). Those tracks are worn down, and I can close my eyes and remember exactly how they made me feel. I was eight, I didn’t have any understanding of them AT ALL, didn’t know what they were, didn’t know the composers (or that there were “composers”), but they made me feel something big that I couldn’t put in words, and I needed them. I needed them badly enough to endure the cost.

My mother hated me for it, and told me over and over that I was just pretending to like it. That I was just “being that way,” which was so confusing to me because I had no idea what way I was “being” except for myself . . . but it was clearly shameful, and showing off, and acting as if I was something I wasn’t. My love of books was also a shameful thing, and among other reasons she shamed me for it, one terrible thing was that I chose reading over being with her and what pathetic priorities I had. So I became as tiny as I could. I hid my books and crawled underneath my bed with them, pulling myself as far back into the corner as I could, tucking pillows along the edge so I’d have warning if she came into my room so I could hide the book before she found me. Every year I won the school award for having read the most books, and I burned with the shame of that, and was grateful that she never came to the school for those ceremonies. I waited until she left the house to listen to my records, and I felt so much shame. Why did I need such shameful things?

She did her job very well, because it’s something I still, to this day, have to resist. The tug is very small at this point, but it’s always there. When I want to share my love of the kind of books I love, for example, I flinch a little bit at her shaming of me. And then, since I’m fifty-fucking-eight years old and have done a lot of work, of course I talk about them anyway. I don’t care, or judge you, if you don’t like Sophocles and Antigone and Homer. I don’t care if you’ve never read Dante, or Melville. I don’t care if you don’t have favorite passages of poetry, if you don’t have an impulse to name your home after a little phrase from a book by James Joyce. I don’t care! YOU BE YOU!! I just have to be me, too.

I was mindful of this when my kids were little, and tried to encourage whatever they were interested in, but this is a privilege of being a grandmother: I’m that much further down the road with it and now I stare into them and HAVE to encourage them to be exactly who they are, whoever that will be. I want to help them more than anything else in this world. They will be who they are, and that’s the most important thing in this whole world to me. I need them to be exactly who they are. They need to be exactly who they are. It’s not like I’ll be fighting their moms and dads — my kids are absolutely wonderful parents, encouraging their children — and whoo boy do they have an ally in their Pete. The kids are very little right now, all under the age of four, but when they start needing to be themselves more loudly, they’re going to find me grinning at them, begging them to come out and play.

Lucky me. Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

Letters as a Meditation

If we are friends on Facebook you might be aware of my daily “Creekside Chat” videos. I’m really enjoying making them — just a few minutes of conversation about something, and a reading on Sundays — because they give me a feeling of conversation with friends. This morning I talked about something that I thought I’d mention here, because I had a lot more thought about it than I mentioned in that short video. (I do try to keep those short, three minutes or so, but sometimes they stretch to five and I don’t want to push that.)

I’ve mentioned this here before, too, so I’ll just briefly mention it and move forward. Several years ago in the context of a personal restoration project, for 40 days I wrote an email to a different person in my life, telling them what they meant to me. It turned out to be a much bigger gift to me than to the 40 people who received surprise emails, although their responses showed me what a gift it was to them, to hear what they meant to someone . . . and that’s a gift I know too, from the times it has happened to me.

But you know, there are all kinds of people in our lives. When I was talking, in my Creekside Chat, I started thinking about my dad when I talked about the importance of knowing what we mean to others. For the briefest moment I had the automatic cliched thought we have about suicides — oh, if only he’d known what he meant to us maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself. But so quickly on the heels of that thought came the truth: he was a nightmare in my life. I was pregnant with my first child and knew that I couldn’t allow him to be alone with her, ever, and that was going to be awful, handling that. He wore me out, calling me drunk in the middle of nights ready to kill himself, me dancing as fast as I could trying once again to talk him out of it. His not-at-all contained rage and fury, terrorizing all of us. He broke his wife’s arm in their last fight. He spent his entire adult life trying to die, and it often felt like he wanted to take out as many people as he could in the effort. I very barely survived him, and it took me more than 30 years after his death to recover from the 23 years he was in my life.

As we drove the five hours from Austin to Tyler, the day he killed himself, his sister and I were complaining bitterly about him because we knew he was going to ruin their mother’s birthday (and of course he did — he killed himself on her birthday, a second act of cruelty to go along with the note he left blaming me). We said we wished he’d just go ahead and do it. We meant that. I meant that.

And of course he is the most extreme example of what I’m getting at, but the fact is that I couldn’t possibly write a letter to him that would feel good to him, and be honest. It would be a kind of ‘damning with faint praise’ thing. When my stepfather was dying, in prison, I was able to write a letter to him, a very brief one, and I thanked him for sneaking a milkshake to me once when Mother forbid me to have any food because I was a fat cow. He did that at great personal risk. Since he had written me a note asking forgiveness for the years of rape, and he gave me a small gift he’d made in prison, I found it (shockingly) simple enough to forgive, and to write that letter. It felt like quite a thing, that out of the 20+ years of knowing him, I had only one very small thing to say thanks for, but it was very heartfelt, my gratitude for that milkshake. I had remembered it for decades.

In a much more ordinary way, there are people in our lives whose friendship is fraught in ways that would make it harder to write an email of gratitude — like the no-longer-friend who relished my trouble and resented my happiness. Because, you know, we all have friendships of varying depth, or varying closeness. We have friends we count on in times of trouble, friends who really see us, friends who are just light and somewhere between acquaintance and friend, friends who we just expect to listen to because they have no interest in listening to us, friends whose gifts come with such very long strings that you want to refuse them. I’m thinking about taking up my daily email project again, and thinking about this more difficult category of friend, in particular — thinking about how hard it would be to find enough of substance to say in an email. But maybe there is greatest value in writing those emails, in particular. Maybe for me, having to really dig deep and look, and think; having to search a little harder; maybe that will help me value those friendships more. (Or maybe the effort will help me let go of the relationships!) And maybe for those individuals, receiving an email that came from a deeper search — that will locate those core gifts — will be more meaningful than the easier emails that relish the loud, visible gifts. I don’t know, but I’m thinking about it.

Dixie (and her mother) calls this “giving flowers to the living,” which is the whole idea in five simple words — why I’m not a poet, I need hundreds when five do the job so beautifully. That’s a great aim for today. You don’t have to do the deep hard work of finding words for the more difficult person today. Just today, just with an easy person, maybe, tell them what they mean to you. Tell them the gift they are to your life. Tell them in writing, so they can keep it. I’m still glowing from the note I found waiting for me when I woke up, and I will glow all day long. When my memory fades, as it’s guaranteed to do because ME-NOW, I can open it and read it again.

Yep. I think I’m going to start writing those letters again. I’d love to have your email address. If you don’t have mine, there’s an envelope icon in the right sidebar (in the “Find me elsewhere!” section) you can click on to email me.

xoxoxo

an intense attack of sorrow

getting set up. Paper taped on the hardwood floors, cardboard wedged in corners and under windows, and lots of plastic still to be draped over doors and windows. UGH.

Yesterday we spent the entire day painting the downstairs, and it was not at all fun. Zero fun. Poor Marc had spent the day before painting the ceiling, after taping and covering everything; we have pine trim around the doors and windows and we didn’t want to paint it, so not only did we have to tape around it, we then needed to drape plastic over all the window frames so paint wouldn’t drip on them. UGH. Not fun. And he did all the harder work, including doing all the ceilings by himself — all I was doing was rolling paint on the walls! Not one bit of fun. Not even a tiny moment, never. I felt nauseated and I just kept wanting to stop, but of course there was nothing to do but to keep painting. (I’m spending today painting the second coat. All by myself. Boo. Also, boring.)

We had music playing in the background, one of my various playlists (one that was short on disco, since Marc, a teenager in the 1960s, hates it) — that was somehow heavily slanted toward Van Morrison. I don’t even know much of his music, beyond Brown-Eyed Girl (I mean, who doesn’t know that song, right?) and one album called Back On Top. That album was released in March 1999, and that was a very hard time for me. The album has a melancholy tone, lots of songs about sorrow and loss, and it just slipped right into my groove, then. I think (and knowing me, this is right) I listened to it over and over and over. Probably nothing but this (again, knowing me).

So there we were, painting, and there I was, feeling blech, wishing the painting were over, but nothing more than that. If I had to label the general tone of my feelings it’d be irritated or something like that, but definitely not sorrowful. As the eclipse approached its fullest here in the Catskills, and the sky darkened a bit, this Van Morrison song came on: Everything I Do Reminds Me of You (not an exciting video, but you can hear the song).

I don’t know why but I became completely overwhelmed and had to lean over and just sob. Ugly crying, face uncontrollably contorted, no sound because the sobs were just too intense.

I miss you so much, I can’t stand it
Seems like my heart, is breaking in two
My head says no but my soul demands it
Everything I do, reminds me of you

I miss you so much, in this house full of shadows
While the rain keeps pouring down, my window too
When will the pain, recede to the darkness
From whence it has come, and I’m feeling so blue

Ain’t goin’ down, no more to the well
Sometimes it feels like, I’m going to hell
Sometimes I’m knocking, on your front door
But I don’t have nothing, to sell no more

I don’t even know who I was crying for/about. At times it felt like I was crying about Jerry, my first husband, the father of my three kids; ever since he apologized to me (such a rare event in my life that someone apologizes) I’ve felt tender towards him again, and he’s in poor health, and I just cried and wished with all my heart that we could be real friends again while there is time. And at times it felt like I was crying about Marc, who has a tendency to say things like, “Honey, after I’m dead maybe you’ll think about me when you walk on the stone path.” A few days ago I found myself feeling how impossible it would feel to go on without him if/when that time comes, how embedded he is in every single thing. I also feel so many other things as well, but those things are true, too.

And at times I felt like I was just sobbing about everyone lost, about all the suffering, about all the sorrow. It was completely overwhelming. Even though the playlist was on shuffle, it played three Van Morrison songs in a row and I just bawled through all three of them. Even writing this post has made me bawl.

Because, you know, loss and life, synonymous in that terrible way.

I have no doubt it was just a convergence of accidental coincidence, the darkened sky from the eclipse and that song coming on and in a time I’ve been thinking about so many things, including Jerry and Marc, but wow it was powerful. I was completely caught off guard by it, and hid myself because I couldn’t possibly have explained it to Marc. I can’t even really explain it to myself.

I’m glad I get swamped by things like that. I get swamped by joy, I get swamped by delight, I get swamped by wistfulness (my favorite feeling), I get swamped by sorrow. Lucky, lucky, lucky me — even when it’s sorrow. I’m very grateful for my complex inner life.

The forecast today: swamped by paint and irritation. Probability: 100%. 🙂

How to Adjust: the social media version

Several years ago on an old blog I ran a little series called “Ask a ___ person.” SO, you could ask a bossy person/a creative person/a chronically ill person/etc. questions you might have. I was ahead of my time, or else simply unaware of Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) — and to be honest, there weren’t many questions asked. It was really more a chance for people to write about some aspect of their identity to let others know what it’s like to be that.

I didn’t, but totally could’ve written one called “Ask Me How to Adjust.” I am not just Queen of the Pillbugs, I am also queen of adjusting. I’ve yet to meet someone who has moved more times than I have, though I am on my metaphorical knees begging the universe for this to be the last move. Adjusting is such an invisible process to me it wouldn’t even occur to me to notice it, but I am watching another woman adjust to her move, from the Catskills back to Queens, after living here for 8(-ish) years, and it’s reminding me of the process.

One of *MANY* accounts for the Catskills — and nearly that many for the Hudson Valley, too.

One really great aspect of social media is how quickly it allows you to get a sense of a place. When I learned we were moving to the Catskills, I scoured Instagram for accounts focusing on the Catskills and the Hudson Valley, and subscribed to them if they showed me around, introduced me to new places and experiences. Through FB, I scoured the upcoming events looking for pages that would bring me news of the area, and post all kinds of events — literary, cultural, music, outdoors, learning. Since I am in such a rural setting (I don’t even live in a village; I live in a hamlet [“a small human settlement”], which is one of twelve hamlets collected into a town called Shandaken, although I have yet to find actual Shandaken…), having access to town news via FB is really helpful.

So as I subscribed to all the pages and sites affiliated with my new home, I also unsubscribed from pages and sites affiliated with my old home. I unsubscribed from sites that list events happening in Austin, and from politics (especially since my friends will keep me posted on that dread front). I kept an occasional subscription if it featured photographs of Texas, since I am a Texan no matter where I am, and find so much beauty in the geography of the place, but I started snipping those ties. Of course I kept all my friends, for friends they will be as long as we care for each other, but the others are let go. It’s too big a job to unsubscribe all at once, so as they come up, I just unsubscribe and move on.

The other woman who is adjusting continues to be heavily involved in her connection to the goings-on of this area — which, of course, is just absolutely fine, her right to adjust however she sees fit! For me, though, clinging to a place I no longer live feels good at first, because it’s familiar and my attachment allows me to still feel anchored . . . until it doesn’t. Until I realize that I’m not going to those events, they aren’t for me, and then suddenly I realize I am gone from there, and not connected anywhere. For me, adjusting means looking in front of me.

a blurry shot of a loping-along bear whose path we crossed the other night after dinner. Katie named him Roland. Works for me. 🙂

Unless you move to a very similar place — big city to big city, Chicago to NYC perhaps — there will be deeper adjustments, too. Training your eyes to see, training your longings to adjust, training your interests to expand. When I lived in Austin, it was never on my radar (or anywhere in my sphere of interest) to take a hike with an expert mushroom guy, to learn all about them, and maybe even to learn how to cultivate them. To learn how to care a lot about getting rid of a specific grass that’s about to seed, because it’s choking out wild mushrooms in the area. Now I see all kinds of opportunities to learn a bunch of new stuff, to learn the specific names of things, to get good at a new range of interests and activities. To learn a whole new history — natural and human — and to do it in a solitary way. I find it very easy to slip right into nostalgia and happiness when I think about my wonderful poetry group in Austin, those beautiful people who shared words and care in my living room for five years, but not to cling to it because it won’t be that, here. This life will be so different, and I’ve had so many very different lives that I’m curious about the experience of this one.

abundance

My life is filled with abundance. The world is abundant.

sunflowers

Right now, so many of my friends and loved ones are facing difficult times — and in the way these things go, many of them are having one after another difficult thing piled on top of them in an overflow of trouble. There are health scares for them and their loved ones, and life changes, and work trouble, and interpersonal trouble, and loss of all kinds. Having been through my own periods like that, I empathize so deeply. I’m glad I have experienced all those things myself so I can stand beside them however I can.

For me, right now, I am not in the midst of a rain of trouble. For me, right now, it’s a time of great abundance of every kind. Of great joy, of great peace. And I’m grateful for that too because it gives me resources to spare so I can be there for my loved ones a little more readily. When I was in my own huge storm a few years ago, I remember feeling the dreadful focus of all of it, the power of it, the overwhelm that kept me unable to connect to trouble others were having. My own troubles were so consuming they blocked the view. So now it’s my turn to get to have space and energy to spare, attention to give, concern and love to offer, an ear to listen, a shoulder to bear, a back to help carry. It’s a nice thing about the world that when some of us are in trouble, others of us can help.

And so I recognize the grace and wonder of my particular moment, and appreciate it all the more. And what a moment it is. Among all the rest, my oldest daughter Katie’s birthday is in just a couple of days, a celebration of the day that has melted me for 35 years, now. The anniversary of the day my life changed forever, and forever for the better. The day this wonderful woman was ushered into the world, through me. I love and admire her with all my heart.

there she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver
There she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver, taken a couple of years ago. I have hundreds of pictures of her taken since then, with Oliver and now also with Lucy, but I’ll stick with this one. She is a wonderful mother.

Katie is without a doubt one of the strongest people I know. She’s hilarious. She’s one you can count on. She loves her family more than anything. She’s solid, and tenderhearted. She knows what matters to her.

And Marnie, also in the vast field of my abundance. Marnie, whose earnest heart feels so familiar to me; Marnie with her adoration of her boy and her husband; Marnie, with her big quiet voice. For 32 years I have watched her flower.

Marnie and Ilan, taken early this year. Again, I have a bunch of other photos of her but this will stand in.

And Heaventree, my glorious Heaventree, the ground of my abundance. And poetry. And music. And beauty. And books. And friends, far-flung for now but no less mine. And my health, which at the moment includes mental health of the shiny, happy kind. And my husband, who will drive up from the city today bearing food and my big camera and his beautiful eagerness to cook for me. And my wisdom, which allows me to know that the wheel shifts and turns, it can do nothing else, and this abundance will shift too. Who knows what the fall and winter will bring, I sure don’t, but I am swimming in great abundance for now so if you need an ear, or space, or an arm, count on me.

* * *

As long as I’m thinking about my daughters, here is a wistful poem about the experience of being a mother.

The Mothers
Jill Bialosky

We loved them.
We got up early
to toast their bagels.
Wrapped them in foil.
We filled their water bottles
and canteens. We washed
and bleached their uniforms,
the mud and dirt
and blood washed clean
of brutality. We marveled
at their bodies,
thighs thick as the trunk
of a spindle pine,
shoulders broad and able,
the way their arms filled out.
The milk they drank.
At the plate we could make out
their particular stance, though each
wore the same uniform as if they were
cadets training for war.
If by chance one looked up at us
and gave us a rise with his chin,
or lifted a hand, we beamed.
We had grown used to their grunts,
mumbles, and refusal to form a full sentence.
We made their beds and rifled through their pockets
and smelled their shirts to see if they were clean.
How else would we know them?
We tried to not ask too many questions
and not to overpraise.
Sometimes they were ashamed of us;
if we laughed too loud,
if one of us talked too long to their friend,
of our faces that had grown coarser.
Can’t you put on lipstick?
We let them roll their eyes,
curse, and grumble at us
after a game if they’d missed a play
or lost. We knew to keep quiet;
the car silent the entire ride home.
What they were to us was inexplicable.
Late at night, after they were home in their beds,
we sat by the window and wondered
when they would leave us
and who they would become
when they left the cocoon of our instruction.
What kind of girl they liked.
We sat in a group and drank our coffee
and prayed that they’d get a hit.
If they fumbled a ball or struck out
we felt sour in the pit of our stomach.
We paced. We couldn’t sit still or talk.
Throughout summer we watched
the trees behind the field grow fuller
and more vibrant and each fall
slowly lose their foliage—
it was as if we wanted to hold on
to every and each leaf.