dammit Wittgenstein

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

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

Breathe.

About three months after we met

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life can be such a wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder. And I wonder.  WOW.

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.

Shame and Mocking

For some of us, it can be so hard to be a human being. (I actually think it’s hard for all of us to be a human being, even those with shiny hard coverings who insist that It’s All Good! all the time…..) But I can say that for me, specifically, it can be so hard to be a human being. There’s the ‘human’ part, where my baser desires are always pressing against my civilized self, urging me to lash out and be as cruel to Republicans as they are to the world (why, Lori, that serves nothing, be kind), for example, but there’s also the ‘being’ part, that life-long experience of accepting and understanding who you are, why you’re here, what your gifts are, how you’re meant to put them into the world. Both are hard for me.

I think we all really know who we are, once we reach a certain age. I believe I do. I believe I know who I really am (although I’ve been so great at deluding myself over the course of my life, so perhaps I’m the least trustworthy person to ask!). And there are so many armaments in place to keep that true self hidden. Are you like this? Maybe we all are, and it’s just a question of degree, a question of our strength in being ourselves anyway.

One layer of my armament is shame and mocking myself. I did grow up at the knee of the master, on that front, but I’m soon 59. This is on me, now, and it has been for a long time. I’m grateful that a few years ago I got the actually brilliant idea to replace the voice in my head — previously held by my cruel mother — with Dixie’s voice, a voice that loves me unconditionally and thinks I am the great thing (and happy birthday, beloved Dixie, how I love you). So I lean very heavily on that voice now, and I draw on my own courage, to wade into my life here at Heaventree and let myself be myself, to wit:

# I want to take art classes. Maybe (ooh, I could start some serious mean mocking here) especially art classes that relate to myth and deep meaning. (Mocking: classes for older women wearing handpainted scarves, their glasses hanging on clunky glass-beaded necklaces….why do I do this?)

# I want to explore, with a completely open mind and heart, the big, deep stuff I turned away from. Jung, archetypes, myth, power, wisdom. (Mocking: what a stereotype you’ll be, old woman!)

# I want to sit around fires, in the dark, and watch sparks fly up to the stars, and not language that experience.

# I want to let myself loose, finally, and write poetry and not give a shit if it’s awful at first.

# I want to hurl paint around and find my very own deep vocabulary.

# I want to create a stone labyrinth on my property based on the shape that has hypnotized me as long as I can remember, and let that be a sacred place for me (Mocking: SACRED what an idiot, what a stereotype).

SO much of my mocking and shame relates to being a stereotype, and that’s always been a thing I’ve done. I almost didn’t go to college when I was 36 because I didn’t want to be that stereotype: divorced, single mother goes to college! (Luckily — and I didn’t even yet have Dixie’s voice to guide me — I snapped out of that stupidity and went ahead on, as my country people would say.) When I moved to Austin in the wake of Gracie’s death and assuming Marc and I would divorce, I feared being that stereotype: plucky older woman wraps flamboyant scarves around her neck and has a new life! (I realized that the danger built into that stereotype was that the plucky older woman comes home one night and can’t do it anymore….)

Maybe it’s just a deep sense of pride that makes me not want to be a stereotype — I’m better than that, I’m original!! — and I feel embarrassed to write that out loud. (And on the other hand, who in the world thinks, Oh boy, please let me be a stereotype!)

So I’m going to start trying this. I’m hopeful. I’m excited. I’m scared. I want to encourage myself. I want to believe Dixie. I want to live up to the me that Dixie believes she sees. I want to be generous to myself, open to myself, and ready to flower. Several of my friends have told me that they believe there is something big here for me, and I believe that, too. So come on, let’s do this thing.

underwater

Such a fraught word, ‘underwater,’ especially at this moment in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and Hurricane Irma headed for Florida and the southeast coast, and Jorge up on deck after that, and the 1,200 people killed in floods in South Asia, and the 100,000 displaced in Nigerian floods. (Though ‘underwater’ probably sounds pretty great to people in the western US watching their worlds burn up in flame, as they choke on the thick smoke that turns day to night. What a world.)

And when we’re ‘underwater’ we’re in trouble, usually with financial burdens that feel insurmountable. Underwater is rarely a good place to be, or at least in the way the word is used outside of swimming. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe the way my failing memory feels, and that’s what finally hit me. I feel like I’m underwater.

This image is associated with Lidia Yuknavitch’s wrenching memoir The Chronology of Water, and it came from the promotional materials for the book. (SO, JUST TO BE CLEAR, that’s not me. Obviously!)

(Oh, and did you know that photographs of women underwater are called Ophelia shots? Kind of disturbing, as is the fact that there is a GENRE of photographs of women underwater.) There are millions of pictures to choose from, but this one captured my feeling — the way her hair drifts around her head, disconnected and amorphous and shifting and losing form. My thoughts feel like that. It isn’t a feeling of drowning, of desperation, or even anxiety, in a strange way. It’s just a feeling of being untethered. Of watching this, of seeing it all kind of float around me but I can’t do anything about it. I feel it like I’m floating, a kind of silent, weightless peering around me. What was I going to do? What was I going to do? What was I going to do? Do you know what I was going to do, did I tell you? Was I going somewhere? Oh, I wanted to say something. Do you have any idea what I was talking about? Where was I going? What was I just thinking about?

And the fluency issue I mentioned a couple of posts ago — mid-sentence, several times a sentence, the word has floated away. I watch myself and see my vaguer eyes hoping the word appears, rather than my keen eyes searching for it. My pauses are more blank spaces than intermittent moments to locate just the right word.

Luckily it’s never a “where am I” or “who are you” issue, or any of the more dementia-like problems. It’s just more like my thought processing is happening in a completely opened-to-the-air space and it just drifts out and floats there somewhere, but I don’t know where or how to get it back to me.

I don’t know what day of the week it is (only a slight deepening of my norm, which is in large part, I suspect, due to the formlessness and lack of scheduling to my days, since I don’t work in an office and I don’t see anyone on a regularly scheduled basis and the days are all mostly the same — so my fear is that I’ll be in an accident and the EMT will ask me what day it is and I wouldn’t know that on my best day! Not a sign of trauma, dude!). I generally know what month it is, at least by the middle of the month. I can read and sustain a deeply complex narrative, and I can write and sustain a through line without any trouble. I just can’t connect thought with its consequence — if the thought is, “Go get cheese,” the second I stand up I don’t know what I was going to do. If the thought is, when Marc finishes talking I’m going to tell him about X, in the next second I don’t remember what X I had been thinking about. I can still find metaphors very easily, and see deep structures and connections.

And it’s not tip-of-the-tongue, it’s not that, it’s more this floating around me and away from me sensation. Truly it isn’t a bad feeling, except in specific, like if I really do want cheese and I’ve now stood up 7 times and then forgotten, and my standing-up muscles are getting aggravated at me. Come ON! Get it together! Or else quit standing up. Sheesh.

For some reason I am not flailing against it and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I feel instead like an observer, as if I’m watching and thinking, huh, that’s very interesting. Water, yes, that’s what this is like. I wonder if I were flailing more, fighting more, if I’d keep my thoughts more readily? I’m evaluating a manuscript on resilience, and one chapter is about cognitive process (and a section of that touches on aging) so it discusses the literature on mental exercise as a way to forestall decline. If I felt more flailing about this, more panic, maybe I’d jump on those exercises. Maybe I should do that anyway. But I’d rather knit and make beautiful food. Read and write. Take walks along my creeks. Take photographs of the world. Interact with my daughters throughout the day about their lives raising little ones, enjoying that regular touch and awareness of the fine details of that stage of life. Getting to be their mother they can share this with, which is really the longest-term dream I’ve ever had.

I was telling Marc over the weekend that I’m not rushing around anymore, as I used to do. Partly it’s that my life doesn’t work that way — what would I rush around to do?! And partly it’s just that I give fewer shits than I used to. Eh, whatever. Eh, it’ll get done, and if it doesn’t get done eh, so what. Tomorrow. Eh. Whatev. Think I’ll make some tea. And sit. And read. And write. So that slowdown feels of a piece with this cognitive thing, at least in terms of my response to it. Eh. Whatever. Maybe I’ll end up remembering that I wanted a piece of cheese, maybe I won’t. If I don’t remember what I was going to say to you, so what.

In some way this is the zen ideal: I am just in the moment, and it’s a loose and watery moment, a kind of vague-eyed moment, nothing sharp and fast about it, and here I am. Thoughts connect us to the next moment, and that connection is floating and sometimes floating away, so I’m left quietly in this moment.

As much as anything, I’m writing this as a way to fully articulate this experience — for myself, and as a record. Who knows how it might change, where it might be going, what this moment might’ve meant, but I’m changing. My precious, brilliant, speedy, blue-lit mind is going at 33rpm. It’s OK. Just kind of floatey. I don’t feel despair or even sadness; instead, I feel an awareness of myself changing, and I’m watching with curiosity and trying to accept with open hands.

I’ve mentioned my Australian friend Fiona Dobrijevich before, a beautiful artist, photographer, and daily swimmer (and photographer). Her Instagram feed is a daily wonder, and sometimes I open her to a new tab so I can just pop back throughout the day to gaze at an image she shared. She has a viewbook online — look at everything, but especially look through the Body of Water collection. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling this kind of watery change to my sense of self, but it knocks me out. Here’s an image she shared a couple of days ago, and I gazed at it for hours, all together. It feels so psychologically and personally familiar.

Anything I might say after that photograph could only be irrelevant or redundant. And so ciao. xoxoxo

Arguments in My Head

I’m like a dog with a bone. Like a coral snake at a heel. I carry on these arguments (in my mind) for YEARS, fluently and passionately, and constantly collecting new data in support of my side. To wit:

    •  In my first year of graduate school, 1998, a clinical grad student named Anna said that she believed one can only really understand life as it’s happening, in the present moment. What???? I thought she was joking; she was extremely intelligent (undergrad at Harvard, first PhD at Berkeley, in some natural science I don’t remember anymore, and then second PhD in clinical psychology) so I was intimidated by her, but she loved the television show Roseanne and said it was a great example of a strong woman and that confused me. So I didn’t know what to make of Anna, but I thought that was the craziest thing ever. If ever there is a moment one can’t understand as it’s happening (in isolation) it’s the present! If I’m sitting at a cafe enjoying a glass of wine and my book and in the next instance a bomb explodes, that moment in the cafe is forever transformed. And who I am as I sit in that cafe is so wholly connected to the moments that led up to it, including the concerns in my heart, the painful or joyous memories, etc. I just realized she said that 19 years ago, which explains why I’ve finally [mostly] stopped arguing with her. I just decided she was wrong. 🙂
    • At some later point in graduate school (1998-2003), my friend Sherlock started arguing with me about whether I am an introvert. [Yes. The answer is yes.] He insisted I wasn’t. Again, he was wrong. (But I still get a little bit thrashing when I think about the argument, even though I know he is wrong. You are, Sherlock.)
  • A newer one that I’m still in the “collecting data” for stage involves the role of “bad”(/unpleasant/negative/difficult) emotions in life. In Austin, a group of friends and I were doing these writing exercises in lieu of having a book club, and the second month we tried it I asked if we would be willing to do some spontaneous writing for a prompt I’d bring. I wanted us to write about a time we were angry; I think anger is a difficult emotion for people in general, and for women specifically, and I’ve been thinking hard about it since my early 20s. I thought it might be a rich topic and could give us a lot to talk about, and I’m always wanting to know how other people handle it, since I haven’t figured that out yet. WELL. One woman in the group became enraged at me (wait for the irony….), demanding quite angrily to know “what good does that do, it doesn’t serve me so I don’t get angry.”

[Insert wide-eyed dramatic eye roll from me….I recognized this in the moment but didn’t think it wise to point out to her just how very angry she was as she vehemently insisted she doesn’t get angry.]

She aggressively attacked (well, I’d want a little lighter word than that, even though she was attacking) people who read what they wrote, asking what good it was to dwell on it. (Um…..they weren’t dwelling, they were responding to a prompt! Jesus!) Her attack on me was more personal, in response to what I wrote about. After that meeting she ghosted me. She has never spoken to me since, and she actually blocked me on all social media (and she unfriended my daughter)! SO bizarre.

So in part I carry on the argument in my mind with her because it was like hitting a brick wall, an unexpected brick wall that just flew up in front of me and then disappeared. I’m not at all interested in what her problem was, for the problem was clearly with her, but I would like to have the conversation because I think feeling all the feelings is crucial. That’s my personal understanding of things, and of course there is a LOT of data on it, and thoughtful people have been writing on this topic for centuries.

In her essay titled “Optimism,” Helen Keller describes the superficiality and contingency of the type of happiness that people ordinarily seek, what she called “false optimism.”

She knew a thing or two about difficult emotions

Most people measure happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they would be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep.

And yet Keller saw herself as happy and optimistic, writing: “If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing.” Keller saw adversity as a prerequisite for real optimism. And granted, she could not simply deny or run away from or pretend that her adversities were not there, as this attacking woman professed to do, but I don’t think that mattered to Keller’s philosophy.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, also knows the truth of this. (And not for nothing, this woman is some kind of Buddhist-lite, believing that the reason one meditates is so these kinds of feelings don’t happen. HUH?) Anyway, Hanh said,

A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him. I know what evil is. … I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism then does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and everyone, and make that Best a part of my life.

Hanh knows a thing or two about difficult emotions, and he’s not who he is because he pretends they don’t exist.

However, he also understands that hiding from fear is not the answer.
“If you try to run away, instead of confronting or embracing your ill-being, you will not look deeply into its nature and will never have the chance to see a way out. That is why you should hold your suffering tenderly and closely, looking directly into it, to discover its true nature and find a way out.”

It’s very hard to do with anger, but my point goes well beyond anger, and encompasses fear, sorrow, devastation, boredom, impatience, irritation, heartbreak, rage, all those feelings that people lazily capture under the umbrella of “bad” or “negative.” It’s so completely wrongheaded, as far as I’m concerned, that I can’t even grasp it well enough to make a sensible counterargument. They aren’t pleasant to feel, that’s for SURE. They aren’t feelings anyone would want to linger in any longer than necessary, but oh how important they are. I’ve learned more from being present with my fear, my sorrow, my anger, my heartache, than I’ve learned from being present with my bliss, which I also easily access.

I hope I don’t keep arguing with her for as long as I’ve argued with Anna and Sherlock, though I might because this is as nonsensical a thing as I’ve ever heard, and there was no opportunity to have a normal conversation about it. (Ring that irony bell, sisters!) I guess in all three of these instances, my desire to have the argument is born of wanting these people to see how wrong they are, because in these cases I believe they are. Except for the introversion thing with Sherlock, the other two arguments are big topics, life-soaked topics that I think about all the time, topics that I have wrestled with, in the mud and blood, and I don’t feel confused about them. There aren’t many things I could say that about; I’m pretty uncertain about most things, but not these.

(Oh, and I still argue in my mind with my first husband Jerry, who insisted that his feet smelled like lilacs. [THEY DID NOT.] He has a very dry, dry sense of humor, my favorite thing about him, and for years and years I asked him, “You’re joking, right?” and he would hold a straight face and simply insist on the lilacs thing. It makes me laugh.)