words

Yesterday I was listening to an episode of Fresh Air, an interview with Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and associate editor at Merriam-Webster. The interview was about how the decisions are made to include words in the dictionary, and how best to accommodate words like the N word, which have complicated usage. Context changes the meaning so profoundly, and determines whether it’s a hate word or an affiliative one. (I would’ve thought that would be an easy issue to accommodate — multiple definitions — but that’s not right, apparently. They manage some of this kind of complexity with usage notes.)

Anyway. Stamper said that she gets letters from people about the N word especially, demanding that it not be included in the dictionary. Similarly, when they expanded the definition of marriage to include same sex marriage, oh the letters they received. And parents write all the time, apparently, to demand that words like “fuck” be removed because they don’t want their kids to say those words. To know about them.

AS IF PEOPLE LEARN WORDS AND LANGUAGE BY READING THE DICTIONARY. I’d bet that 99.9% of the time they already know of a word when they reach for the dictionary, so they’re looking for the meaning and usage, or the pronunciation. Obviously there are people like me, who read the dictionary for fun, but I think we are such a tiny minority we shouldn’t count on this issue of word inclusion. The complainers didn’t seem to be upset by a concern that the inclusion of the word means something, that it is now legitimately part of our language. They simply didn’t want their kids to learn about it.  That’s just so strange, to me.

Part of the conversation was about “English,” and she said we all speak a dialect. Standard English is used for writing, it’s what we’re taught in school, but we really don’t speak it. And we don’t even always use it in writing. She said she never EVER corrects people when they’re talking — jerkery of the highest order, she said and I agree — but even in writing she doesn’t correct them. Of course there’s a time and place for proper language usage, but language is fluid. Gosh I could not agree more. People think it’s funny to be a “grammar Nazi” and seem to take a kind of pride in it, a way they get to feel superior; they also assume that since I work as a freelance editor I must be a grammar Nazi too. (My response: I will if you pay me to do it but otherwise nope. I also care much less about what a rule says and much more about clarity of expression.)

And this was fascinating: so many of the “rules” we go by (never split an infinitive! Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!) are holdovers from other languages. The split infinitive rule stems from Latin . . . where it is simply impossible to split an infinitive because it’s one word. So a long time ago people thought Latin was the fancy language and English needed to be fancier….hence more like Latin…..hence no splitting of infinitives.

It’s a fascinating conversation, and I recommend the podcast episode! This is one domain in which the Internet has improved the landscape; not only can lexicographers more fluidly change the dictionary — no need to wait 10 years for the print update — but they can also track usage more easily with the massive databases that are available. I wonder how one becomes a lexicographer (I’m always looking for a career, what I will be when I grow up); I just found this fascinating article in the NYTimes, worth a quick read. Apparently lexicographers are born, less than made.

this would’ve been me, but I had blue cat-eye glasses. With rhinestones.

It made me think of the search for the new Dalai Lama when the old one dies: monks go out into the world looking for the new incarnation — maybe a search for lexicographers would involve knocking on doors and pulling little girls who are hiding under the covers reading the dictionary. They would’ve found me, for sure.

And then I came across this quote I’d saved:

“DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY Not leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children” —Markus Zusak

and I think about all the ideas, feelings, experiences we have that we don’t have words for, that can’t be found in the dictionary. That’s why we all seem to love those lists of words in other languages that we don’t have in ours, like schadenfreude, and saudade.

Many of my friends love words and language as much as I do — there are so many of us! I don’t despair over some decrepitude in English; it changes, because that’s what language does. Anyway. This one’s for the word nerds among us. xoxoxox

longings

One thing I have never understood is the desire to have a mansion. Even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t want one. Partly this is because I have a poor person’s mentality — one of my first thoughts is Who’d want to have to keep it clean all the time? Lori: rich people have maids. And it’s not just because too often mansions reflect a poor person’s idea about what ‘rich’ looks like (see Trump’s vulgar all-gold manifestation, pure obscene vulgarity); it’s just that my longing is for a bungalow. I just want to have my own little place, my own little home.

I just love this style so much

Since I first heard about them when I was a late teen, I’ve wanted my own little Craftsman-style bungalow. Hell, even the word bungalow makes me fill up with longing. Cottage. I saw a little home in Huntsville, Alabama that has stayed in my imagination, not even a Craftsman style home but definitely a cottage, surrounded by a beautiful little garden, and I’ve lived there in my imagination ever since.

Look at the interior of this Craftsman home:

AARGH that is such perfection for me. I don’t have much of an imagination, and without a mind’s eye it’s not as if I daydream the specifics of that life but I have it elaborated as story.

This is in conflict with my other dream of having a little yellow house; Craftsman homes are brick or stone, and yellow trim is odd — and my yellow house is full-on yellow, not just yellow-trimmed. Big Daddy’s house was yellow, back when I was a child, and I know that’s the source of my longing. It was just a plain little stick house, not one thing fancy about it in any way, so that daydream of mine isn’t really elaborated beyond little yellow house. But I could be very happy in that kind of small home, too.

And then there’s another fantasy house, also small, also in the bungalow/cabin/cottage realm. The first time I went to Woodstock, NY, in 2005, I spotted a little cabin sitting on a rock outcropping over a creek. It was bigger than a creek or stream, smaller than a river — rocky, so the water burbled and splashed past the cabin. I took a picture of it but can’t find it to include here. It had shake siding, and a peaked roof, a beautiful front porch you could sit on and watch the water flow past, over morning coffee or evening wine. It was surrounded by trees; I first saw it in the fall, so it was surrounded by those flames of foliage. In my fantasy story of it then, it had a living room with a woodburning stove, and a small kitchen. Walls lined with bookshelves. One very cozy bedroom, and another room with walls of windows and a giant loom, and a spinning wheel — a version of a life I once had.

I also love mid-century modern homes, and extremely modern glass homes, and can imagine a life in them too but it’s the bungalow, the cottage, the cabin in the woods that always sustains my heart and my imagination. I’m a big city girl — a real city girl, New York, Chicago, Paris — and feel so alive there. Some days the city beats me, and some days I get tired of how hard it can be to do any damn thing, but I never want to leave the city. I could live in a big city until the day I die and remain very happy.

In some ways I have distinctly different people inside me: the NYC happiest one, and the cabin lost so far back in the woods one, and both are real and true. Since one of my two personal mottos is “Well, oh well!” I can fully inhabit where I am and be truly glad. SO: Well, oh well! I live in a big city and not a wood-surrounded cabin, oh well! I’m happy! But that doesn’t mean the other couldn’t be fully true in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat.

I assume everyone is like this, right? What’s your fantasy home(s)? 

(I was looking on the internet for a little cabin like the one I saw in Woodstock so long ago, to replace the photo of mine that I can’t find, and saw these gems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in these?)

Oh gosh, this is a version of me heaven.
And this is a very different version of me heaven!

Well, I deserved that

I think I had a stupid hangover. If that’s what was wrong with me yesterday, I deserved every moment of the misery. If that’s what it was, it was the second hangover of my life, so I’m really not sure because of my inexperience. The first (and only, until now) hangover I had was on January 1, 1980, after a NYE celebration at a wine bar (which was a thing back in the late 70s, chickie babies, along with fern bars). We had flights of wine, small tastes, and I just didn’t realize what was happening. That felt like what I imagined a hangover would feel like: the motes of dust in the air slamming into my head were excruciating, and the voices, oh the loud, loud voices, agony. It was so punishing, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever put themselves in a position to have to go through that, and ever since, I’ve held myself back from getting anywhere near that experience. I’m a cautious drinker anyway, after growing up with my vicious alcoholic dad, but man, that hangover was bad enough to straighten me right up even without a family history.

Monday evening I had three beers, and then also a lot of really bad food. Too many salted peanuts. A pint of ice cream. A three-pack of coconut Peeps with dark chocolate. A container of guacamole and most of a bag of salty tortilla chips. I was clearly in a hard place, and just cramming as much of everything into my mouth as I could possibly get.

Around 5am I started waking up with a funny, bad headache, and my stomach hurt so bad. What an idiot, eating all that fat! I cursed myself. And thus began the, um, “intestinal distress,” let’s call it. For the next three hours, more or less, really bad business. My head hurt, but it hurt worse when I lay down so I kept moving around, when I wasn’t stuck in the bathroom. I ate something so I could take Excedrin, and drank a lot of water, and cursed myself for having been so stupid.

But the worst part — even worse than the bathroom, because the headache was manageable — was the mood. I really think the mood all day and night was part of the hangover! Has that happened to you? I felt cloaked in a too-heavy and too-tight lead skin. Suppressed as much as depressed, but also all the bad things at once. Mad, bitter, prickly, distressed, irritated, down, flat, anxious, all of it at once. No single bad feeling arose as the most pressing, which was kind of confusing, because I couldn’t say what I was feeling. Everything bad, that’s all I could say.

Poetry group met at my house last night, and that’s usually one of my favorite nights of the month. We have a new member, and he’s an extremely good poet. He wrote a poem about an acid trip he had in the 1960s and I could immediately see that it was a masterful poem, but it prompted a lively conversation about all those acid trips members took in the 1960s/1970s. And OH were they lively when they talked about them! They went on and on (at least it felt that way to me), comparing notes, talking about the wild hallucinations, etc., and I wanted to scream and choke them and run out of the room. That’s not my favorite kind of conversation, anyway, because it always feels to me like it’s making light and fun of something that’s actually horrible. I know what it is to live at the hands of an addict, and I know someone very well who was addicted to heroin and his stories are so very terrible — oh sure, it’s all fun UNTIL IT ISN’T and then you’re stuck, and so are all those in your life. My mood made it so hard for me to sit there and listen, and I was trying hard to manage my facial expression so it didn’t betray my real feelings, but I don’t know how well I did it. I’ve never felt so terrible during poetry group, and my hangover mood was largely responsible. Otherwise, I’d have let the conversation go on a little and then I’d have redirected us back to the poetry.

I had no idea that a hangover could be that mental and emotional state, but I do think that’s what yesterday was all about. All morning, when I was walking around managing the headache and running to the bathroom, I kept saying out loud, “Idiot, you brought this on yourself! Jesus, what were you thinking.” Fully deserved, Lori, even if I also have some compassion for the feelings I was having that brought me to that eating and drinking frenzy the night before. And then the rest of the day, as the physical consequences disappeared, I kept saying out loud, “Oh, I feel so bad. I just feel so so bad. And I brought this on myself.”

The only good thing about that experience is that it seems to have slapped me in the psychological face a little bit, a bit of Moonstruck Cher talking to Nicolas Cage: SNAP OUT OF IT!

The sun is shining. I have a bit of work. I started my day the way I wanted to start it, and for my dinner tonight I’m making this gorgeous spinach salad. Doesn’t that look yummy? Ever since I got back to Austin, I have not been cooking for myself, for some reason, and that’s something I love to do, even if it doesn’t reliably work at the moment. In NYC I don’t get the kind of food I love to make, so when I’m here I’m always eager to make it and eat ALL the vegetables. That salad is part of a wonderful “snap out of it!” reboot. I only have a few more days here before I return to NYC and then we go to Indonesia, so I’d better get busy if I want to eat all the vegetables. 🙂 I’m so glad I learned, on my yoga mat, that all of life is like tree pose — wiggling, wobbling, falling out of it on occasion and getting back into it, and seeking the stable point.

And no more beer. Not for a very long time.

to be honest

To be honest, I have drunk too much beer.

To be honest, for too many days now I have drunk too much beer.

To be honest, I am lost, floundering, devastated, frightened.

To be honest, my life is a mess (but it is not just a mess). To be honest, the world is a mess (it feels like it is just a mess).

Where will I live? How will I live? I make too little money and I can’t keep going in the life I have. I am lucky — I have people, I have options, I have choices, but I have no power because I have no money. Tom and Marnie invite me to Chicago. Katie would like it if I could stay in Austin. Back to NYC is perhaps an option. I am become Blanche duBois.

I’m reading a book called Utopia for Realists and can recommend it, so far. While our country is veered so far off the rails, and we are left to think about how to manage the reboot, books like this are helpful food for thought. What we had wasn’t working, clearly, or else an insane person wouldn’t have captured as many votes as he did. While I do not live in abject poverty, I’m on the margins of things in a way that leaves me scared a lot of the time.

Between the frightening government, and my own very precarious situation and impending change in living arrangements — but with no idea what that might be — I am having a hard time keeping my head in the moment. Such a hard time. (A small mercy: I am not depressed, nor am I having even fleeting thoughts of the permanent check-out. It hasn’t crossed my mind, but it did just cross my mind to offer the reassurance.)

Maybe one solution is to take a little sabbatical from the outer world and just be quiet with myself. Just take care of myself, a bit of home spa, a bit of home yoga retreat, a bit of home poetry and literature, a bit of home food (careful food, good food, nourishing food), a bit of hydration and rejuvenation. Not worry, for just a few days, about all the starving people in the world, all those fleeing war, all the meanness of governments. Just for a few days.

If you happen to notice that I’m not present on FB or IG, and I am quiet for a week(-ish) here, that’s why. See you on the other side of my sabbatical. xoxoxox

 

seeking the mechanism

Since November 9, 2016, all my creative efforts have failed. All my cooking has flopped. My baking, just awful — even things I’ve been making for decades and can make in my sleep. Knitting? Fail, fail, fail, frog frog frog. My writing has been clenched and just kind of awful, though I have had a couple of things that worked, inspired by deep veins of emotion about my family, in one way or another.

Why is this? Why has the election of this monster (and the assumption of complete power by the evilest group of politicians that have ever skulked in the halls of power in our country’s history) had this particular effect on me? I wonder about it all the time, because cooking and baking and knitting and writing are such common activities for me, things I do for comfort, for pleasure, for myself and others, and for a creative outlet. But even uncreative things are failing too, like housecleaning. I bang into things, drop things, break things, knock them over. Putting the dust mop away, I realize there’s a wide swath of dust on the tile in the small hallway, how could I even have missed that, anyway? Like, how would it even be possible, given the width of the Swiffer and the narrowness of the hallway?

I’m less interested in suggestions to fix the problem (except for complete overthrow of our government and restoration to sanity), because I feel like I know the things to try, and have been trying them: I slow down, take a deep breath, create a setting that’s conducive to my enjoyment of the task, be present, note each step, take my time, etc., and still it’s all failing. So, OK. I don’t assume this is some kind of brain damage that’s happened inside me, I assume it will pass somehow. But I am interested in the mechanism, in finding some kind of explanation for it.

I’m sure it will notch right into a larger question that’s also confusing me: why am I this devastated? My own very specific life is not affected, if by “my own life” I draw the circle tightly around my personal physical boundary and don’t include “my care for vulnerable people.” Setting aside my real and surely justifiable fears that the Monster-in-Chief will get the world killed in a nuclear holocaust, this too shall pass, and we’ll get him and all his cronies out of office and if we have learned nothing else, we’ve learned that rules and norms don’t matter one bit and that one person can just sit in the chair and on day 1 sign a bunch of papers to completely change everything. So, OK. We’ll set it right, and in the interim it’s just going to be hard going. Why am I this completely devastated, four months and three days later? And of course it’s not just me, we’re all still shellshocked, pulled inward, trying to figure out how to take the next step. We’re mobilizing, fighting, having small victories and planning big ones. That feels good, it allows for the idea of the possibility of perhaps a spark of hope. (Note the distance to hope.)

But why? There are parts I get; I learned that there are enough people in this country to have fallen for his monstrousness and cast their votes for him, and that shocked me. They walk among us too. I knew they were here, I guess I just didn’t realize how many there were. So is it simply that? I don’t live in the country I thought I did? They aren’t just the fringe lunatics? That’s destabilizing I guess. But it doesn’t feel like the answer.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been running sweeps all around the country, snapping up hardworking people, splitting up families — kids come home from school and their parents are just gone. That’s devastating to know about, it goes against everything human and humane and that I care about. Just typing those two sentences made my breath get stuck, brought hot tears into my eyes, and gave me a kind of panic. But that response feels like a symptom not the cause, and it’s the cause of the enormity of my despair that I’m struggling to understand.

Then I look around the world and see this virus of hate spreading from one formerly tolerant country to another. There was a terrible-wonderful passage in a book I recently read, Ill Will by Dan Chaon. One character in the book, Russell, is an agent of destruction, and the scenes that describe the abuse he had suffered as a child were almost impossible for me to read, even though they were presented in a peripheral vision kind of way, hinting and just letting the taint seep into you through your eyes. When he’s in prison later in life, a counselor says to him: “When you’ve been abused in the way you were, you have a virus. And the virus will demand that you pass it on to someone else. You don’t even have that much of a choice.” Russell thinks, The idea that I passed on a virus, and the virus would turn around and it was my own doom? That was so fucking funny. That was so sad and so funny. [Do read Ill Will, it’s powerful. Here is my GoodReads review.] But YES, a virus. It feels exactly like the world is being infected with a murderous, deadly virus, and I hope it’s not fatal. Maybe that’s why I feel sick.

You don’t have the answer either, I don’t think anyone does. Mark Halperin (senior political analyst for MSNBC and Bloomberg Television and contributor and former co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics) said the election has “convulsed the country” more than any event since World War II, including the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. I agree with him. I guess we’ll all grapple with this until we get it figured out, and that is likely to take a long time because every single day the administration hurls more horrors at us. Every. Single. Day. It’s so disorienting.

I want my pleasures back. I want to knit beautiful things again and not have to just rip everything out.

I want to bake sumptuous cinnamon rolls for people. I want to make really delicious vegetarian food for my dinners again. I want to make.

Even though I’m not asking for answers, I am wondering: is this happening to you too? Is it still happening to you?

layers of time

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

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

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

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

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

He just couldn’t believe it.

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

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

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

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

the Proust questionnaire

If you want to answer any of these questions, I’d love to hear your answer!

this isn’t the little boat, but I’m writing notes on the larger boat as we float down the Mekong. I love this memory so much. And how funny — sitting in a white wicker chair on a traditional Vietnamese boat.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It’s so strange to say this because it doesn’t fit my sense of myself at all, but perfect happiness for me is being in a small boat on some river, preferably in southeast Asia, but anywhere. I don’t fish, I don’t row or anything, and I’m not at all an outdoors person, but I love little more than being in a small boat. One of my most glorious memories happened at night in the Mekong Delta; we’d gotten out of our larger boat, into a row boat, to go into a small tributary to “see how ordinary people live in the delta.” Standing behind me in the boat was a beautiful Vietnamese boy wearing Diesel jeans and singing a French song as he used a pole to navigate our small boat through the tight waterways. There were homes scattered along the riverbanks, and the smell of small charcoal fires, food cooking, and the firelight, and the sounds of people talking and laughing in the dark, and the stars were overhead and the air was fresh, and I still hear that song, the word fantastique, his beautiful voice. I recall that memory so often.

What is your greatest fear?
Something terrible happening to one of my kids or grandkids. No mother is easy with that, but I have a particular fear of their self-harm that I believe I would not be able to survive.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I shut myself off at the first wounding, and don’t/won’t/can’t give you another chance. I really hate that, so much. I fight myself over it.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Meanness, and gaslighting. So you can imagine how this administration is killing me.

My dear, loving, beautiful Dixie — sister in my deepest heart.

Which living person do you most admire?
Easy. Dixie. If I could be half as loving as she is, I’d feel like I had it made. If Dixie loves you, you are LOVED unconditionally. But if you hurt someone Dixie loves, well, let’s just say you should not hurt someone Dixie loves. Dixie loves me, and that makes me very blessed. Her voice became the voice in my head and that changed so much for me.

What is your greatest extravagance?
OYSTERS! Even at happy hour, they’re $1/each, and I could easily eat 100 of them I think, though I’ve never been able to afford to test that limit. Also, the frequent world travel that Marc takes me on — he manages the whole thing, plans the trips, pays all the expenses, and I am so grateful for it all.

What is your current state of mind?
At the moment I’m kind of scattered because of politics and because I’m SUPER stressed out about not making enough money. Super super stressed out. Constantly wondering how and where I will live.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Honesty, because everyone lies. I value honesty, but I am always kind of amused at the way people get so self-righteous when they’re lied to, since without a doubt they lie, too. I lie. You lie. Everyone lies. Honesty means something different to me than being truthful in every sentence.

On what occasion do you lie?
The nice thing to say is that I lie to save your feelings. But the truth is that I lie to get out of social engagements, because I’m such an awkward introvert and even though engagements seem like a wonderful idea when I first say yes, as the time approaches my awkward terror swamps me and I lie to get out of them. I don’t like that about myself, but it’s the truth. The truth of when I lie. 🙂

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My teeth. I’d give anything to be able to afford to fix my teeth. This even trumps my clumpy thighs, my saggy tummy, and my droopy neck. If I could fix my teeth I would be so happy.

Which living person do you most despise?
Our so-called president and all the Republicans in the government. Mitch McConnell has a special place in hell as far as I’m concerned, but they all belong there. I really, really, really hate them.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Beautiful (and kind) hands. Is that a quality? I really love beautiful, gentle hands and a man’s hands are the very first thing I look at, to decide whether to look at anything else about him.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Being real. I hate gloss and superficiality so much, and I just expect more of women. I want to know the truth of women’s lives.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Really? Wonderful! Wow. Amazing! Whoa.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My kids and my grandkids.

When and where were you happiest?
My kids are the loves of my life, but raising them was not my happiest period. I guess I was happiest….at random moments! Walking in the sun (or big snow) in Riverside Park. Finding myself in a place on the earth I never thought I’d be able to see — Hanoi, for example. Being hooded in my PhD ceremony, and hearing my kids shout for me from the audience. Picking up a Do-Rite donut in Chicago. Seeing one of my kids after an absence, that moment when I first see her face.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Oh without a doubt I’d love to be able to draw in a free and evocative way.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
More self-confidence! An imagination for myself! I often think about what someone else could do with the raw stuff of my life, and all that stops me is self-confidence and imagination. Super frustrating. It seems like I could gain self-confidence, but the imagination for myself seems impossible to get, no matter how much I try. It’s such a black hole. And I’m grateful to Nancy for articulating that for me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My kids. They are good people in this world, and whatever role I played in that is definitely my greatest achievement.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A rich person. Because, as Dorothy Parker said, I would be darling at it. I would not be like the Republicans — everyone I know would have all their needs met and many of their wants, and I would be gracious and generous, and travel, and read, and make things. And give, give, give.

Where would you most like to live?
In rank order: Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Paris, Vancouver. (Of course I assume I would have the money and language needed to live in these places.)

What is your most treasured possession?
Big Daddy’s hard hat, and the various letters my kids wrote me when they were young.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
In my personal life, it’s the ongoing absence of my son. I often think I can’t actually survive it.

What is your favorite occupation?
“My” favorite occupation? I’ve been so many things over my life, I guess the one I like best was acquisitions editor. I really loved talking to people about books I wanted them to write, or hearing them tell me about books they wanted to write. I didn’t at all like the pressures of the job, but the essence of it was always so great. I mean, really: I was paid to talk to people about books. That part was wonderful.

What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m not sure if this is a “characteristic,” but I think my giant gummy smile is probably the thing I’m most known for. And my love of donuts and Peeps.

What do you most value in your friends?
Their willingness to share the reality of their lives with me. To share mine. To be real with me, and not to default to small talk and cliche. To tell me what they really think about things. I just can’t stand small talk. We sure don’t have to be doom and gloom, but if all I get is the gloss, the “sunny side only!”, we won’t get past that barricade into real friends.

Who are your favorite writers?
How much time have you got??? Vonnegut. Rushdie. Knausgaard. Berlin. Ferrante. Yuknavitch. Yanigahara. Hosseini. Gornick. Carson. Munro. Moore. Offill. Flynn. Melville. Homer. Grass. Murakami. Dostoevski. Dante. So many poets.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Jean Valjean, I suppose. I identify with all kinds of characters, narrators, memoirists, but Jean Valjean was my very first hero and I think about him so often.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
No idea. All I can think of is Quasimodo — detested for his being, his nature, his birth. He wasn’t historical, but he was my earliest Other.

Who are your heroes in real life?
John Lewis and Fred Rogers. And aspects of Hillary Clinton — the way she just keeps going, the way she was able to keep standing on that stage with the monster, the way she gave her life to fighting for others, even if that wasn’t the whole story. For John Lewis and Hillary Clinton, it’s their persistence that makes them my heroes. With Mister Rogers, it’s his essential kindness and loving heart that makes him my oldest hero. I will always love him, and credit him with helping me learn how to become a human being.

What are your favorite names?
Pete is far and away my favorite name, followed by Mama, which Marnie calls me. And I feel tender toward “Dawn Ann,” which my dad called me for some reason. He gave me my middle name, Dawn, and my mother gave me Lori — and why he called me Dawn Ann I don’t know. But I feel soft when I think about him calling me that. Still, Pete is my absolute favorite, followed by Mama.

What is it that you most dislike?
Cruelty and abuse of power, especially over the powerless (and most especially over children). I just cannot bear that. Even a little bit.

What is your greatest regret?
One specific mistake I made with my first husband. I’ve done a lot of things I wish I hadn’t done, mistakes made, choices made, miscalculations, all those things as we all have, but that mistake is one I will regret until the day I die, even as I understand the context for it.

How would you like to die?
In my sleep, as a dusty, old, otherwise-healthy woman! Wouldn’t you?

What is your motto?
Fall down seven times, get up eight.

the quotidian grist

the icon for the app

I’m participating in a scientific experiment about happiness — you can, too, by downloading the app for your phone (click that link). A set number of times throughout the day you get a little ping and respond to a number of questions — where are you, what are you doing, are you alone, are you productive, have you exercised in the last 24 hours, have you spent money, etc — quick and simple. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because I want to provide context (I’m very unhappy because of politics!), but at the same time given my own research in graduate school, I know that context isn’t as important to a great many questions as we think it is. Track Your Happiness was created as part of Matt Killingsworth’s doctoral research at Harvard University, and the project was approved by the Harvard University Committee for the Use of Human Subjects.

Of course, and especially when I’m in Austin, my days are extremely small, quiet, and routine. I’m mostly at home, with brief forays to see my daughter and grandkids, or to an occasional lunch or happy hour with a friend, or to a book club meeting. A daily walk. A daily yoga class. Meal preparation. Make the bed, pull back the bed. Clean the kitchen. Get the mail. Work, if I have work. It’s a very tiny little life in Austin, quiet and inward, and for the most part I love it. But it’s also true that participating in this study has made me even more keenly aware of this because it asks me specifically to move this slide before I say anything else:

I’m glad it’s not a 5- or 7-point scale, but when I’m walking through the house, or knitting, or drinking a cup of coffee, or making a shopping list, HOW DO I FEEL at that moment? Ordinarily, before this nightmarish election, my base state was happy; since the election my base state has not been happy at all, it has ranged from full-on despair to fear to panic, and the app doesn’t let me indicate that at all. Still, when I make that rating I try to think about what I’m doing in that moment and how it makes me feel. It has had the effect of focusing me in the present a little more, which has been good. Because while my background state might be panic, when I’m holding Lucy (and getting puked on, because those are synonymous), I’m very happy. When I watching Oliver be Oliver, I’m very happy. When I’m taking my walk, or doing yoga, I’m content and I feel good.

That’s it, that’s really what makes happiness. Making a really good cup of coffee. Knitting a pair of fuchsia socks out of the softest wool, and seeing the fabric appear before your eyes. Reading a really good book. Talking to someone you love. Being called on when someone is in need, and being able to be there — oh, that’s just the best joy, note to self to remember that when I am in need. Spending a day that comprised dozens of those unremarkable moments. The remarkable times speak for themselves, carry their own emphasis, and don’t need any help being noticed. When I’m in New York City and going to MoMA, or marching in a protest, or walking in Riverside Park, or any of the zillions of remarkable things there are to do, I note them and appreciate them and they’re the tell-worthy experiences of my life: “Guess what I did today! It was such fun!”

Even in this awful time, when we are witnessing the destruction of our country by a political party that is willing to burn everything down, knitting with soft fuschia wool is beautiful. Getting puked on by your roly-poly, happy, red-headed granddaughter is beautiful. Running errands on a sunny day and getting shit done, beautiful. Waking up in your own wonderful bed, running your feet over the soft, cool sheets, listening to the mockingbird in the backyard tree, stretching and getting up to make a pot of strong, rich coffee, that’s a whole lot of happiness right there.

Happy Saturday y’all. If you’re interested, download the app! “Track Your Happiness” for iPhone and Android, both. xoxoxo

 

three things: beautiful Bali, moving on, and cussin’

FEED: I’m telling you, it’s really winter here in New York. There isn’t any snow, but it’s very cold and the skies are either gray and dirty, or so brilliant that the cold sun is blinding. I find myself looking so forward to going to beautiful tropical Bali, and I think so often about the beauty of the place.

This is the veranda off our room, overlooking rice fields. We stayed here last time (Alam Jiwa is the hotel, and our room is Jelatik), and we’re staying here again while we’re in Ubud. We have breakfast at that table every morning, and afternoon tea and cake.
This is the entrance to the Sacred Monkey Forest
This gorgeous detail has stayed in my mind, associated with the beauty of Bali

We’re spending the least amount of time on Bali, in Ubud, and the most on Lombok, but I don’t have memories of Lombok to carry me through the cold winter so these are the images that are feeding me now.

SEED: For me, the silt has settled to the bottom and I’m starting to feel space for other things in my mind besides the nightmare of our current administration, so I look forward to writing other things in this section of my daily post. If you’re in the US (or just feeling traumatized in an ongoing way even though you live in another country), I’ll tell you the final part of my path in case it’s helpful to you.

Being active is the best thing, it’s the very best way to allow other life to reemerge. It’s easy in New York because honestly, there are one or two protests or rallies or marches every single day (at a minimum). But even back in Austin, there are work days, organization meetings, events at the capitol, planning sessions — and then there are daily phone calls. No one is more phone-phobic than I am, but you get kind of inoculated to it once you learn the structure. They certainly aren’t social calls, and they follow a formula so you just learn the formula, say what you’re calling to say, and you’re done. Those are actions that count. For me, actually doing stuff has been the most helpful.

And then minimizing my responding to my Facebook feed has also helped. As I’ve been focusing on helping the silt settle, I’ve been able to pay close attention to what happens within me when I look at my feed, and as soon as I feel the tizzy rising up, I just close it. I am in the process of figuring out my posting strategy — maybe every day one action item, one bit of background that would be helpful to read, and one thing that either provides a laugh or a bit of encouragement. If I’m involved in something that might really be encouraging to others, like participating in a giant march or rally, and I think it can strengthen my friends’ hearts to see how many people there are on our side, I’ll share a lot of pictures. But otherwise, I’m trying to limit the sharing from friends’ feeds. And when I’m tempted, I ask myself if my point is just to arouse a “SEE????!!” response (and if so, I don’t share) or if it’s instead intended to ask a question or orient us. “This is happening, what is our action option?”

I don’t know, those things have really been helpful to me. They’ve kind of re-oriented me away from reacting emotionally and toward agency and action.

And now that I’ve kind of figured this out, I’m ready to move on to thinking about other things. I am glad, and I imagine you are, too. 🙂

READ: Here, I’ll start your week off with a whole new crop of alternative cuss words. Field-tested and mother approved! I actually say a bunch of these all the time, in addition to my inordinate love of the one that starts with F.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

xoxo

three things: the American West, dancing in the living room, and Mexican literature

FEED: Since the new government seems intent on destroying the physical world, I need to remember this:

View of Valley from Mountain, “Canyon de Chelly” National Monument, Arizona (Ansel Adams)

I have camped in that canyon and gotten horribly, blistery sunburned riding mountain bikes over a Fourth of July holiday weekend, but the place was gorgeous. There was a new moon, so the vast, black night skies were filled with the Milky Way and I will never forget lying there watching it wheel through the enormous sky. The world can be so so beautiful, and it’s definitely worth fighting for.

SEED: Yesterday was a cold, brilliant day. Even though he has a terrible cold, Marc thought it was important enough to add another body to the crowd that he joined me at the LGBT Rally at the Stonewall Monument in the West Village. After the rally, I made a big pot of Moroccan chickpea soup, and while I was tending to it, this song came up on my playlist (“Only Love,” by k.d. lang — give it a play while you’re here, it’s such a beautiful song):

Although I’m not a very good dancer at all, I love to dance and do it at home when I’m alone. My first husband used to dance with me in the living room and I’ve missed that because Marc will not dance. Not ever, not anywhere. But there’s something so sweet about just dancing with your husband in the midst of your home. I understand Marc; like me, he is a very socially anxious person and in fact he’s much more socially anxious than I am. This is a place we can connect with each other. But the day had been so lovely, and the soup smelled so good, and so I grabbed him and dragged him up, put one earbud in his ear and one in mine and put my arms around him and told him we were going to dance. “All you have to do is just hang on to me and sway to the music a little.” He felt anxious, I could feel it in him, but I closed my eyes and held on tight and felt the music and cried.

Maybe, slowly, with patience, I can help him grow a little. That’s what it’s really about, spending a life with someone.

READ: In this time of nationalism and closing of borders (and not just in this now-insane country, of course) it’s time to read translations. I love reading translations, and some of my favorite books are translated, but how is it that I’ve never read a Mexican writer? Lithub posted a list of 15 books by Mexican writers and nope, haven’t read a one. Have you read any of them? Or another one that’s not on the list? I’d love to get a recommendation if you have one.

Foreign films, watch those too. My friend Jeff is on a Pedro Almodovar spree (I need to get on that spree too and rewatch them all….). So, while we’re at it, do you have a favorite Mexican director? Actor?

I’ll say one thing about this time of fear and insanity. I feel very much alive. I feel very connected to other people. I hate the cause, but love this specific effect. Happy Sunday, y’all. <3

three things: 2/4/17

FEED: Franz Kline is usually thought of as a black and white painter (and in fact, one of my favorite of his paintings is black and white, I’ll show you after I show you this one), but he did some magnificent paintings with brilliant color. This one just dazzles my brain cells and makes me so happy.

I can’t find the title of this painting anywhere

See how important the grays are to the success of that painting? The brown slashes, the spits of charcoal? And the potency of those primary colors, the pureness of that red, that yellow, colors unresolvable to anything but themselves. Prime colors, I guess.

And here is the black and white one I love so much — it hangs at MoMA, and I took a selfie with it last Wednesday. I’m honestly not sure why I love it so much, but that doesn’t matter. Whenever I see it, my pulse quickens.

“Painting Number 2,” 1954, Franz Kline

SEED: SO! Anchoring the idea of ‘slow’ in my mind has been very helpful. I had just become so tizzified, so terrified, so frantic in my mind, and while I was extremely active during that period and not simply frantic, it was hard going. It was draining, exhausting, and I worried that like so many of my friends, I would get sick because of it. Because it’s true: so many of us are getting sick. Not just susceptible to colds, etc., and not just drifting into despair, but full-on sick. Unable to get out of bed, or to stay out of bed for long. I worried that would happen to me, too, given the intensity of my frantic tizzy.

What we’re doing is having an effect. Learning that has helped, too. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of a tyrant and his administration who are willing to overturn all the rules to do whatever they want, and who are fed by a man whose stated mission is to destroy the country, but what we are doing, we in the resistance, is having an effect. That helps.

June 28, 1969

I’m making three phone calls a day. I’m monitoring the actions of Congress and following exactly what our elected representatives are doing, how they’re caving or resisting, and keeping notes because we are going to have to elect new representatives, that has become clear. I’m reshaping my social world to include more women who are fighting alongside me, and letting go those whose votes have brought this world into being. I’m noting and scheduling into my calendar every possible march and protest, and attending them. Today, for instance, is the LGBT rally at Stonewall, which is the birthplace of the gay rights movement in this country. Read the history here. I can’t wait to stand alongside everyone at that rally. Those experiences energize me and keep me able to fight and persist.

I’m going on Facebook only in the morning, for no more than half an hour, and my posts are now more pointed. Less hysterical. And I try to include at least one thing to give us a smile, we in the resistance who need a smile so desperately. Fight on, sisters, we will prevail. Slow news, slow thoughtfulness, slow reshaping of your world to help you fight.

Required reading for every American

READBetween the World and Me is as good as the reviews and press have claimed, and it’s very hard to read. Not in the sentences — the sentences and prose are quite good, evocative, clear, powerful, hard. But it’s very hard to read because of the truth of it, and the resulting overwhelm. I have participated in Black Lives Matter marches and rallies, and I’ve stood there knowing that I don’t and can’t know what it is to be black, but ready to try to know, and to fight. I’ve fought with people who tell the lie that “all lives matter,” always with bewilderment. WHEN black lives matter, THEN all lives will matter. And right now black lives don’t matter. The thing that is so difficult about Between the World and Me is that he does such a good job of showing the complete pervasiveness of racism. The murderous cops aren’t even the problem; it’s the society that invests them with the right, the history that endows them with the purpose. It’s like dropping some ink into a vessel of water, and when it’s completely dispersed, trying to pull out the ink. You can’t. The water is permanently changed. Our very ground is built on the racist murder of black bodies, our wealth, our heritage, our worldviews, and I’m left having no idea how we change this. I’m about 60% of the way through the book so I hope Coates offers some ideas, although it’s also up to me to find ideas.

One point Coates makes so poignantly is that slavery is not a thing, it is personal. It’s a specific woman who had a specific life, and who had hopes and thoughts. It’s a specific man, a specific child, a specific family, all with names and bodies. (Eric Reidy makes a similar point about refugees in this must-read piece.) It’s easy to paint with a flat brush and talk about the “institution” of slavery, but that erases all the lives of those enslaved people. In this country, we enslaved black people for 250 years. They have not yet been free for that many years.

At the giant march and rally last Sunday that started at Battery Park, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, I stood among tens of thousands of people of all hues of skin color, most of whom were holding signs about the anti-Muslim ban. And I stood next to a black woman. I wondered if she felt betrayed, because where are the crowds of this size rallying against the ongoing murder of black people for the crime of being black, for driving, for walking, for holding their hands up in the air when demanded? Yes, some white people march and rally, but in small groups, and only after the most egregious of murders. But innocent murder is innocent murder is innocent murder, and we just aren’t responding the same way for black lives — because we shrug. And we too-quickly think well, the police force has problemsThe problem is with police training, etc etc etc. Maybe we allow ourselves to think that because at some level we know how vast the problem is and in the face of that overwhelm, it’s easier just to point at the symptom.

As I’m reading, I find myself thinking Yes, this is terrible and we have to do something but right now the whole place is going up in flames and so for right now we just need to….. X….Y…..Z. And that’s not completely untrue, but at the same time it’s a part of the complexity of our country, a country filled with enough nasty voters to bring the new administration into power, and so it’s another piece we need to understand. Read Between the World and MeYou will be uncomfortable, and we all should be.

I agree with Bannon about one thing: this country does need to be destroyed started over. We do need to do that. Of course I differ with him completely on the methods and what the reboot would look like, but what we have become—and it’s a direct arrow from where and how we began—is deadly and terrible.

BONUS: Check out this link, a crowd-sourced collection of relevant books, movies, TV, podcasts, and other things (including some under the category of “escapism”) that will help us all at this particular cultural and political moment. I found lots of good stuff, and I imagine you will, too.

three things: 2/3/17

FEED: There I was, going miserably through the ongoing onslaught of onerous updates on FB, when this quite literally popped into my field of view. And how wonderful it made me feel.

Emil Nolde (German, Expressionism, 1867–1956): Sea with Violet Clouds and Three Yellow Sailboats, 1946. Watercolor on paper

Isn’t that just extraordinary? Everything about it, I just love. And it’s watercolor, which is hard to understand when you look at the reflection of the yellow — doesn’t that look like oil paint applied with a brush, a thick squidge of it at the top or bottom of each reflected sail? Gosh. I love that painting and am so grateful to have seen it. Even though the purples and blues are restful, that vivid YELLOW makes my eyes hop all over the image, and I keep loving it more and more.

SEED: My focus is drawing in, drawing down, getting close, and I hope this is what will work for me. I was reading an article about how not to get burned out, given the nonstop terrorism of our government, and it mentioned ‘slow news,’ like ‘slow food.’ I don’t think that’s a new idea, slow news, but it sure felt good to read those words, and the sentence that contained them. The thing about news feeds, however you access them, is that they don’t stop. They’re like a never-ending video game in that way—there’s always another level, another scroll, another page refresh. So they hook you, especially when the consequences are at such a high level as ours are. And when you’re hooked, there comes a frantic feeling of needing to get off the hook.

So I looked into a subscription to the real newspaper (for me, always the New York Times) but it’s way expensive, too expensive for my non-existent budget, and then there’s the issue of where it would be delivered; I’m never in one place more than 18 days, and it’s rare to be in place that many days. When I’m in NYC I can walk to the corner newstand and pick up an issue ($2.50/day, $5/Sundays). The writer of the article talked about the feeling of closure when he turned the last page. Done. He’d read the news.

I don’t know how it’ll work out, but I do need to get my news differently. Accessing the online NYTimes is only a bookmark away from my FB newsfeed, so that seems dicey. I’m working on it.

But in the meantime, I’m focusing on other ‘slow X‘ stuff. Slow handwork, knitting socks. Slow food again, as soon as I’m back in Austin. I think I’ll start baking bread again, slow bread. Slow walking. Slow breathing. Slow coffee. Quiet. It feels very loud in my head at the moment and I think the antidote is slow and quiet and deep.

READ: We are going to Indonesia at the end of March — to Bali, which is Hindu, and Lombok (and Rote Island) which are Muslim. In Ubud, there is a well-attended annual writer’s conference, and there are plenty of books set in Bali besides Eat, Pray, Love (which I have no interest in reading). If you’ve read any other good books set in or about Bali, I’d love to hear about it. I’m curious about Love and Death in Bali, which is about the mass suicides of the Balinese royalty when the Dutch invaded, but meh, doesn’t look so very great. Or Indonesia? A book? Before we went to Indonesia a few years ago, we re-watched The Year of Living Dangerously so maybe we’ll rewatch it. Anyway — if you have any Indonesian recommendations I’d love to hear them. (And the first time we were in Indonesia is when I got the red polka dots for the first time! I was sitting on the edge of a planter in the Jakarta airport and felt them start stinging and burning. Maybe this trip will close the circle and end them….not that I’m counting on it.)

Here’s a Balinese diversion. We saw a dance performance the last time we were in Bali, exceptionally beautiful and disturbing and confusing and wonderful.

Happy Friday everyone. We’re still here.

three things: 2/1/17

FEED: This morning I am again attending the Quiet Morning program at the Museum of Modern Art — and so grateful for it. I plan to be standing in front of this painting again, for as long as I can.

Last month 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 will be the fourth time I’ve seen it in person and it’s never less than the same electric experience.

After the event ends, I think I’ll go to the Rose Reading Room at the NYPL again to read and work for a while, so this should be quite a nice day after all and despite it all.

SEED: I’m continually shocked by how fast time is passing, but how is it already February 1?! I think that, among other terrible consequences, my obsession with fighting the terrible politics of my country is making the time fly. And it’s funny: in some ways I am 100% in each moment, which usually makes time slow down. The ways I’m not in each moment relate to my fears of the consequences for the future of each of these things we fight, of course, and it’s those future consequences that stoke the fire. But reading, reading, reading, refreshing the feed, what’s new, what’s now, what’s happening, is both keeping me hooked and making the day pass by in a flash and I have nothing real, no experience of myself, to show for it.

How is it already February 1?

I’m continuing to struggle with finding a place for all this, with how to effectively take care of myself and fight in the resistance. Does the resistance require my every moment? Of course it doesn’t. It requires my body in crowds, my voice in chant, my words in action, and it requires me to know what’s going on — which I can do in focused bursts, right? I’m thinking about setting aside 30 minutes or so each morning and 30 minutes or so each evening to focus on it. In the evenings I think I’ll catch up on what the monsters did that day and plan for the next morning’s time: topics to write or call my legislators about, new candidates to research, areas that need support, and to note times and dates of protests to participate in. Then the next morning, my 30 minutes will be a brief scan of the news and a focused attack on my tasks for that day, drawn from the evening’s work.

Of course that makes a lot of sense, and is reasonable, and will keep me fighting every single day, but this overwhelm is outside reason. Fear is outside reason. And every single day he makes us more afraid. So it’ll take discipline and it’ll be hard to limit myself, but I do want to live, too. I’m going to try this — if you’ve found an approach that works for you please let me know. Whatever approach you’ve found to manage overwhelm and fear, to stay informed without becoming swamped, to stay committed and participating (however small), I would appreciate hearing about your strategy.

READ: Usually, when I’m wanting something kind of quick to read, I look at my saved links on Facebook. I subscribe to so many longform writing sites, and to so many book and essay sites, and when good posts fly through my feed I save them to read later. I’m sleeping relatively well and so not making much headway in my book, so I thought I’d find a few good reading recommendations among my saved links but when I went to check, look at what I found:

I kept scrolling down, and down, and down the list and they’re all like this. I was wanting to share something else, something richer, something fascinating (to me at least!), something that could meaningfully distract from this, but all I have is this. If that isn’t an indication that I need to take deep breaths and remember also to live, I wouldn’t know what is.

So instead I’ll ask: reading anything good these days? Here’s what I’m currently actively reading:

There’s a list of a few others that are stalled (Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Beatlebone by Kevin Barry, Nox by Anne Carson) but I’m working intently on those two. And my to-read list of 129 books is always up and ready to go of course. In my previous book club, we took turns choosing books and for everyone else, when it was their turn to pick a book they had no idea and asked for ideas, a situation that boggled me. What? You don’t have a ready and waiting LIST? I also have a “Books to Read” Pinterest board with 168 pins, most of which comprise lists of books (like “25 great books by refugees in America,” from the NYTimes).

Still, I’m always curious: reading anything good?

three things: 1/16/17

FEED: When I went to the Quiet Morning event at MoMA last week, I stood in front of this painting with an overflowing heart:

Henri Matisse
Dance (I)
Paris, Boulevard des Invalides, early 1909

For a few years in the 1990s, I felt like this painting kept me going, kept me able to imagine that life could be worth living, that life might again have happiness and joy, that one day I might actually want to dance. They were hard years, uprooting years, dream-wrenching years, and I had a print of this painting on my bedroom wall so I could see it when I felt the most despair. Looking at it today, I remember my shattered heart and how that felt, and I remember the agony I felt in the times I felt this painting made a promise that couldn’t be delivered in my life — and then the fragile times I thought perhaps it could, after all. And now, the simple happiness I can feel in the wake of those years, to have survived them and to have danced. Whether you need hope, or know joy, this painting is a gift.

Here’s the gallery note for this painting: “In March 1909, Matisse received a commission from the Russian merchant Sergei Shchukin for two large decorative panels, Dance and Music (now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). This painting was made quickly as a compositional study for Dance, which was intended to hang on the landing of a staircase, approached from the lower right. This may be why the lower figure leans into the painting, increasing the sense of movement, and why the figure at left is so large, slowing it. Drawing visible beneath the paint shows that Matisse started with two smaller figures where the large figure is now.”

SEED: I want to talk about little-b bravery because I have been thinking about courage/bravery my whole life. (And in fact, one of the characters tattooed on my back is ‘courage,’ and I wrote a memoir chapter about it, which required me to think very carefully about the idea, the experience.) And then, whaddya know, Emily McDowell went and created a whole line of pins for people who exhibit bravery in their daily lives. I have bought four of them, one for me, one for my daughter, and two for women friends, because I agree with her: so many of us do brave things that will never receive the kind of attention that big noisy brave acts receive, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t brave acts. And that’s why I want to set “little-b bravery” as my focus here. The big-b Bravery is inspirational, aspirational, admirational, worthy of the kind of honor it receives — like John Lewis and his life-long fight for the civil rights and honor and dignity of black people in this country. It was a Brave act, walking over the Selma Bridge and in fact he was beaten and kicked quite terribly by Alabama State Troopers, who fractured his skull. He thought he was going to die, and he just kept going. There is no doubt that was a Brave act, and it’s also true that he continues to do Brave and brave acts every day, in his quiet, dogged persistence. I’ll probably never do anything in my life that approaches his degree of courage.

But I am brave. I have been brave in my life, and in fact most days it takes courage to keep going. My friend Nancy told me that the focus of my memoirs must be “what it is to live with it,” because I survived all the nightmares of my childhood, and in a way that was the easier part. (In a way.) Then, it was so often literally a matter of life and death, and that has a way of focusing things. But living with it all, living with the fallout, living with the consequences, living with the loneliness of it, the despair of it, well, that takes a lot of courage, and there are absolutely days that I don’t have enough courage. I do not keep a gun in my house for all the reasons, but the most pointed one is that I am afraid I will use it on myself. On Christmas Day, I was so overcome that if I’d had a gun, I would’ve walked into my back yard, sat on the rocks and just pulled the trigger. One minute, start to finish. My courage was too low that day, the despair too great. I’m so glad I didn’t have a gun.

But more days than anyone can imagine, I lie in bed when I first wake up and summon courage. I summon the courage to get up anyway. To live my life that day anyway. To find some kind of happiness, some bit of joy anyway. To be willing to be open to joy even though there are ways that continues to be hard. I do it — I seek happiness, I allow happiness, I welcome joy, but it’s a brave choice, most days. This isn’t even about depression, which I know too well; it’s about what it is to live with it. To have survived. To be the survivor.

And so the pin I bought myself says “I saved my own life.” That’s brave, and I might even argue that it’s Brave. (Probably not.) One of these days, when I have earned it, I’ll buy myself the one that says “Found My Voice.” My daughter survived unimaginable grief, and that’s brave. It’s so much easier to give up the game, fold up the cloth, disappear from life in all the ways we can do that — drinking too much, abandoning ourselves to whatever is our drug of choice (carbs, for me), withdrawing from the world, dissolving into hate and anger, abandoning people, as my son has done with his family who desperately love and miss him. So much easier. It’s brave to risk, to risk again, to risk loss, to risk hurt. To risk involvement. To risk connection. If that has never required bravery on your part, then you have had a lucky life, and I don’t begrudge it! You have your own ways of being brave, because I believe we all do — and so does Emily McDowell, as she acknowledges the dozens and dozens of ways we show up to life. The ways we show up anyway. The things we had to fight for and maybe still have to fight for every day. The things we survived. The things we live with, and live anyway. Like me, you are brave in your own ways, I’d bet my bottom dollar.

READ: I like to read about the process of writing, and in case you are a writer, you might like these links:

In a pretty low place right now. Pretty low.

four things: 1/4/17

1)   When you are trained to do research, you learn to “operationalize the variables.” What exactly do you mean by a term, in measurable detail? What score, what specific behaviors, what specific frequency, etc.? Maybe “depression” means “at least 6 items on this 10-item list within the last two weeks” or “a score of 70+ on the Depression Scale.” It’s the bringing-down-to-earth of lofty questions to answerable definitions, and it usually drives the interesting right out. You start off wanting to study big things, like why some people survive, and by the time the variables are operationalized, you’ve got 18-year-old college freshmen sitting in lab rooms stacking pennies against a timer, or something. Still, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I saw this and after my initial positive impulse I realized I could operationalize these variables! Here we go!

Stop doing shit I hate: a quick and simple ‘no thanks’ works! I’ve been getting better at this, especially since I learned that it’s best not to give a reason (which just invites a counter-expectation and then a trapped feeling). No, I can’t, thanks for the invitation I hope you have fun! My friend Deb says, “Apologies, that’s not going to work for me” and just keeps going. It really disrupts the excuse paradigm, and people just say OK. Since my time in Austin is so limited, I can (with flexibility) choose how many things I have time to do during an Austin time, and then only say yes to that number. It’ll mean saying no more often, but that would be good for me because I end up feeling overwhelmed by trying to squeeze everything in, leaving me little time just to myself — which is important, because the whole time I’m in NY I don’t have a moment of silence for myself.

Love my body more: Four words: daily moisturizing, morning/night. I’d like to add ‘shutting down talking smack about myself’ but (a) I’m already getting better at that and (b) I want to operationalize this, make it simple and schedule-able. Who knows, once I get used to this one and it’s habit, I might add in all kinds of operationalized ways to love my body more. And then I might end up really loving it. 🙂

Love louder: I did this great 40-day project a few years ago that included a morning email, one each morning, to a different person telling them what they meant to me. That’s a way to love louder, tell people why you love them, what they mean to you. It shocks the hell out of them when they get it. Someone turned around and wrote one back to me and it shocked the hell out of me! I sat down and made my list, first, and then the email just took me a few minutes each morning. And the best thing was that it also started my own day off so wonderfully — a two-fer. That’s one way I can love louder, and it can go right into my calendar. “Love louder, check!”

Anyway, that’s the general idea. Specifics, measurable, broken down to a checklist-type action. You might also see this kind of thing and think yeah, I want that but then you get up the next day and it’s another old day. Operationalize! Bring it down to specific actions.

2) On being a Scheduler-Deluxe. Well, shoot. So I have these Excel Spreadsheet TendenciesTM that start off with the best, most orderly intentions of Fitting More Into My Day/Life. (Also TM.) I want to see all my people, read more books, do daily activism (fight the power! down with the man! fuck trump!!), love louder, exercise, write my book every day, etc etc etc. My first impulse is to create a spreadsheet….no wait, one for each day of the week! An Excel book of seven spreadsheets, each tab a unique color! And as long as I’m doing that, set it up like a calendar, in hour-slots….no wait, half-hour….15 minute slots! And then I can just put these things in so it all gets done! (And as long as I’m doing that, I can add in food/weight/exercise/stats and then connect them to charts and graphs on a separate sheet, and I can analyze….) When I was 18, I worked for a consulting firm that required us to log our time in 6-minute slots, and we all complained bitterly — “8:06-8:12 went to the damn bathroom.” Maybe that’s the origin of my tendencies, but the bad thing is that they start with good intentions and it’s just too much, too tight, and so of course I bail pretty quickly.

THIS. I DO THIS.

I’m not going to do this. This is ridiculous. When I was in college, I was a research assistant to this beautiful woman from India, Preeti, who wrote by hand on a legal pad everything she needed to do, task-focused, crossing them off when she finished. The next day, she drew a strong line and then recopied the undone ones and added new ones. It was a lot of recopying — very inefficient, unlike a good spreadsheet! — but maybe something about handwriting a thing over and over makes you finally get sick enough of it to do the damn thing. Maybe I’ll try something like that. Given the full-on failure of my memory at this stage of my life, I have to write down what I want to do, or I won’t remember I want to do it. I aspire to bullet journaling but it feels overwhelming to learn how. I can just sketch out a week by hand in my beautiful moleskine and then simply list the week’s to-dos in a more normal way. Just be more normal, Queen, sheesh. My planning impulse (born of and reinforced by my years in college and graduate school while raising three kids) is so automatic, my mind is spinning with ways to approach this. Sunday evenings, plan my week so it’s humane and I get done the things I want to get done, on purpose. Do you have a way that works for you? I’m running out of time to just drift through my days.

3) This morning I’m going to the quiet morning at MoMA and I intend to be slow, still, quiet, fully present. Which means that, at a bare minimum, I’m going to silence my phone and leave it in my purse. It might mean that I even leave it at home, although after days of rainy, gloomy, truly miserable weather, it’s supposed to be a bit more blue-skied, and so I might wander home through Central Park afterwards, and want to take some photos. Anyway. Slow, quiet, art, meditation, silence, MoMA, a sure-fire cure for the blues, at least in those precious 15-minute segments. 🙂 When I lived here full-time, I always had a membership to MoMA and I sometimes walked there on my lunch break when I worked at Oxford University Press, always giddy that I COULD WALK THERE ON MY LUNCH BREAK. I’m so grateful to get to be in NYC on such a regular basis, grateful to Marc for making it happen in all the ways he does.

4) I love Lucille Clifton:

each morninig i pull myself
out of despair

from a night of coals and a tongue
blistered with smiling

the step past the mother bed
is a high step

the walk through the widow’s door
is a long walk

and who are those voices calling
from every mirrored thing

say it coward say it

three things: 1/2/17

1)  I’m thinking a lot about saving vs leaving behind, and in the way things work, it’s showing up in media I’m consuming. I’m near the very end of The Underground Railroad, and Marc and I are rewatching The Wire (season 4 right now), and in both story lines is the question of how to move a people forward. Some Africans were so severely damaged by enslavement, and some corner boys were so left behind and damaged by their own type of enslavement, and what do you do for them, and for the rest? In The Wire, the corner boys were pulled out of the regular classroom so the other kids might have a chance, and an effort was made to socialize the corner boys to “regular” life — how to order at a restaurant without cursing and starting a fight, etc. I’ve got squarely liberal values, and a deeply empathetic heart, and it’s hard to think about shrugging off some people as too far gone, and yet maybe that’s not a helpful position. Maybe that dooms everyone. I know that not every single American kid needs (or wants) to go to college, but we pretend that everyone does and so we no longer have technical training tracks . . . which leaves so many kids kind of aimless.

on the park bench at the end of my block, as if it’s there for me.

And thinking at a bigger scale, I think about getting rid of Hitler vs saving whatever Jews one could save during WWII. Just because no person could get rid of Hitler on her own didn’t mean there wasn’t a world of value in saving the lives of any Jewish person she could possibly save. The Torah says, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

I’m obviously grappling with my place in the battle to come, and thinking about the importance of doing exactly what I can within my sphere of life. What do you think? I’m asking everyone I encounter — do we save everyone or agree to leave some behind? Obviously I’m just a tiny small person with a tiny small sphere, so the question doesn’t determine my actions but I’m struggling with my own answer to it so I’m curious about yours if you’re willing to talk about it.

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

2) Part of my mission as a 58-year-old woman in this world is to be exactly who I am. I do not color my hair because I’m 58 and 58yos have gray hair — even women. And 58yos have soft, loose skin in places it used to be taut, like along the jaw, and on the throat. I’m kind of militant about it, actually, and while I slather moisturizer on my skin and try hard to take care of myself, I plan and intend to be my age, whatever that means. That doesn’t mean it isn’t shocking to see time all over me, and it doesn’t mean I don’t resist finding a filter that might just smooth out that throat sagging a little bit, but then I remember: I spent my life as a woman talking shit about my appearance. “I’m so fat, I hate my thighs, my stomach is disgusting,” and I regret every movement of breath that was needed to put those sentences into the world, and every molecule of ATP I wasted having the thoughts. I don’t know any women my age who aren’t coloring their hair, and one of my secret missions is to be in the world so they see someone like me in case they want to stop — and if they don’t more power to them! (But if they do…..)

3) I finished The Underground Railroad last night and started reading A Man Called Ove, which is as opposite as possible from The Underground Railroad! It’s hilarious, and about a bitter curmudgeonly white dude. It caught my interest originally because of the name Ove, which of course led me back to Karl Ove Knausgaard. I can be so shallow like that — nothing more than a character’s name or a nice font on the cover will grab me. But oh it’s funny. In the opening scene, Ove is in a store for “people who drive Japanese cars and need to buy white cables.” I gather it’s not going to just be funny, but the observations that allow the reader to see Ove are certainly funny, and it’s a nice change of pace after the heaviness and shame of The Underground Railroad. I’ll let you know how it is when I finish it.

It’s January. 2017. March, march, march.

three things, 12/29/16

today’s Riffle deals

1)  One more book thing before I move on from books (for the moment). Do you get daily emails from Riffle and BookBub, notifying you of very good (i.e., super cheap) daily deals on e-books? That’s really all I’m interested in because I only get to read for fun in the middle of the night, and don’t want to turn on the light and wake myself up more than I have to. The light from my Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t wake me up so it’s my favorite middle-of-the-night thing in the world. There are also book giveaways on GoodReads, based on books you’ve tagged as “want to read,” and while I haven’t yet won one, it’s nothing to enter so I continue to do that. Do you have another source? I get the Kindle Deal of the Day email from Amazon, but can’t tailor it as precisely as I can the Riffle and BookBub subscriptions, so it’s a little less useful. There are really just a few categories of books I want to read for fun: literary fiction, translation/world literature, and memoir. Occasionally non-fiction. Always good poetry, but I have to read poetry in real books, and very rarely in the middle of the night so I don’t get notifications on that genre. Let me know if you have another source for deals on e-books!

2)  It’s not quite the last day of the year yet, but I love this poem so I’ll share it today. It’s a cold, rainy, dreary winter day here in New York, and I was to meet Jim to retrieve my son’s belongings — but he has a terrible cold and is coming a long way, and the rainy dreariness was breaking my heart harder, so he and I will see each other another time, and I will pay attention to my real gratitude to him for the gift he’s giving me.

Year’s End, by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

3)  Hasn’t this been a hard year? It has held its wonders in my personal life — Ilan and Lucy born, travel to southern China and the UP and Laos and Thailand and Taiwan, hours of poetry group meetings, meals and drinks with beloved friends, weeks spent with Marnie and so many days spent with Katie, the opportunity to help my daughters and their families even though I have less than no money, time spent laughing and walking with my sweet little Oliver, good movies, gorgeous food made and shared. Those are great things. And it seems like the world is about to end, too, with the horrors of Syria and South Sudan and Palestine and the true hideousness of the American election and the death and destruction that are about to follow from that. And so many people dying, largely just a generational thing that will be increasingly notable to me as my generation (and older) are nearing that point on the wheel. It’s easy to tap into this feeling of gloom since I am depressed, but that doesn’t mean the horrors in the world aren’t also true. I’d like to say something lovely like ‘It can only get better’ or ‘Maybe things won’t be as bad in the coming year’ but one word answers those thoughts with a big loud no: trump. I’m trying to find purpose in the way most of my friends and I will fight so hard, we will protest and boycott and make calls and march and show up and call out lies and gaslighting and it’s hard to feel the energy I will need for all that.

Plus my lost son.

How are you managing all this? Are you picking one hill to defend? Are you simply doing everything you possibly can, in a scattershot way? Are you pulling back and focusing on more immediate things, your own life and its joys and needs? Are you looking harder for the good? Maybe you’re doing all of these, either purposely or in a swinging back and forth way? I have no judgement on any of them; we’re all going to have to find our way to keep going, and the world needs everything — and especially everything good we can pour into it as this horror and destruction is about to come raining down. If you have any wisdom, or if you have arrived at a path or plan that makes sense for you, please share. I’m looking for help.

two things: 12/24/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 12/23/16

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

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

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

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

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

four things: 12/20/16

I look a lot like my dad. He was 16 in this picture, I think.

1)  Today is my dad’s birthday; he died March 5, 1982, when he was 43, and today he would’ve been 78. I can’t imagine him that age, but then I can no longer really imagine him. No one was ever glad he was born, and it’s kind of complicated to be grateful that he was born, but I am. I’m sorry his life was so sad and hard, and I’m sorry he made mine so sad and hard, but I’m so glad to be here, and I couldn’t be, without him. So on my dad’s birthday, I wish a happy birthday. I wish a happier birthday than he ever had. My dad loved books and old movies and his dog Rhoda, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and he liked to make scrambled eggs. He gave me my middle name, Dawn. He had a self-aware corny sense of humor and could make himself laugh very easily, when he was in the mood. He saw himself as a Tragic Figure, and it would be hard to argue with him about that, even though a good part of the responsibility for that belongs to him. But how do you disentangle responsibility in the mess of a real life? He never found a place for his fury, and he followed the tradition of his paternal line through vicious, violent alcoholism — and he was born into that legacy in every way. My poor dad. I don’t miss him, but I do sometimes wish I could just have an hour with him, with un-drunk him, to ask him some questions.

2)  2016 has SUCKED and I am struggling. Ilan and Lucy were born, the very best gifts to our little family and that’s unequivocally Good (as has been my own personal year), but otherwise this year in the world has just been terrible. Like so many of us in this country — the majority, let’s remember — I am so depressed by the incoming president it has bled all the joy from me, from the season, from anticipation of the future. As Michelle Obama said in an interview last night, this is what it feels like not to have hope. I feel flattened, and honestly even the thoughts that try to arise about the holidays fall flat before they can materialize. Everyone I know who shares my politics (which means everyone I know except for two people) is in the same devastated boat. I keep trying to summon some kind of lift for the holidays, and that’s always hard anyway since we are in SEAsia over Thanksgiving and the holiday season takes me by surprise when we’re back, but this year I just can’t find even a tiny spark. The future looks so bleak, and honestly it’s very frightening. We have a mentally ill tyrannical child at the helm, and he has stocked the government with people whose sole missions are to line their own pockets and burn everything down. No wonder it’s hard to find any holiday spirit.

how I want this book…

3)  But in the small moments, in the interpersonal connections, life is still there, right? I can get lost in Charles D’Ambrosio’s lush prose, in his essays in Loitering. I can see new books that give me a flutter, like Anne Carson’s new collection, Float. On Thursday I will make brunch for my beautiful, dear friend Cindy — shakshuka with crusty bread, a great green salad, and a lovely little fresh fruit cake. And oh the pleasures of choosing what I’ll cook, the pleasures of preparation, I can rest in those moments now, and a bit of happy cracks through the dark, at least for a moment. Maybe that’s how we will all get through the next years, stepping from one crack to another to help us keep going through the long fight. We will have to lift each other when we get too low, and fight together, and share information, and put our efforts together, and perhaps the most important of all those efforts will be helping lift each other. This is going to be a long-haul battle with few wins, and despair is going to be the easiest response but we can’t just give up. We can’t.

4)  I still can’t find the person who gave me a gift subscription to the New York Review of Books. It started arriving just around my birthday, so I assume it was a birthday gift, but the NYRB never sent any kind of gift notification — the issues just started arriving, and definitely in my name. I asked on Facebook if anyone had given me the gift and no one said they did, and then I asked a couple of friends who aren’t on Facebook, people who would do that kind of thing, and they didn’t. Whoever gave it to me knows me very well, because it’s my favorite publication — even more than the New Yorker, which I also love. I guess I’m mentioning it just in case someone who reads this is the gift-giver, to let him or her know that I’d love to say thank you if only I knew who to thank!

A fractured set of fragments today — it’s that kind of day/week/month. I’m trying hard.

five things: 12-15-16

I’ve been unable to be here for such a long time, and for such a variety of reasons. Since the election, my reason has been that I am stunned into silence, and the monologue in my head is chaotic and scared and inflamed daily by the news, which I can no longer watch. But I miss writing here regularly. I miss the discipline of thinking through a thought, an observation, a wondering. I miss the discipline of sharing something with others in a way that might allow them to see what I see. I miss my little space. Since the election, one of the many difficulties I’ve been having (so many of us have been having) is figuring out how to live. And I mean that. Do we re-organize our lives to fight? Against what — it’s everything. Where do we even begin? Mercifully there are millions of us here in the resistance, and since none of us can do everything, there is a bit of comfort in the size of the resistance — I can identify my hill to defend, knowing that others will rally around the rest of the horrific landscape.

Or [and] do we draw inward, remembering that we are still alive, that there are people in our lives to love, art to create, friends to care for, food to relish, books to read, attention to pay, and in that way put something positive into the world? I keep swinging there but it feels like enjoying a nice warm cinnamon bun while the world burns around me.

And of course the answer is that we try to find the balance — remember that we are still alive, that there is love to give and receive, life to live, and find our hill to defend. Assemble it all into a workable life.

But then Aleppo. South Sudan. And all the rest, the refugees everywhere. They’ve been there for a very long time and I’ve found a way to live with them, without paying them more than a glancing thought on occasion, the thought of which wrenches my heart.

I don’t know, I’m working my way through it like we all are.

This morning I saw this post on Granta, Five Things Right Now, and I thought it was just so very lovely. The writer shares five things he’s reading, watching and thinking about right now. I thought following that model might give me a path back into writing here, so:

  1. She is married to Wallace Shawn

    I’m reading the collected stories of Deborah Eisenberg, and honestly I can’t recommend them enough. Initially I downloaded a free sample and was swept into the story in the first sentence. It’s a big book, 992 pages, 27 stories, and it took me quite a long time to figure it what it was about them that made them so special. She masters the ambiguity of life, the kind of ambiguity that we resist by imposing a story on top so we don’t have to feel uncertain — not quite understanding what a person means, not quite getting the dynamics of a group of people, not quite knowing enough of the history to be sure of what’s going on, not quite believing someone, not quite feeling certain about our own experience. And the world of each story is so complete, I finally realized that in some ways it’s like walking slowly past an apartment building in New York; the life has been going on inside that apartment before you came near, and it will continue after you pass, so you’re just catching the bit of story as you pass and you’re left to make of it what you can. THAT’S what her stories are like. You feel like you’ve glimpsed a tiny segment of a whole world.

    The downside of this, of one story of ambiguity and uncertainty after another, is that the imbalance of it all gets to be too much and for heaven’s sake I just want to read something where my understanding can settle. So I’ll read two or three short stories, then I’ll return to the other book I’m reading, then I’ll pick it up again and read a story or two. I’m really loving them (with an exception or two) and her writerly voice is wonderful:

  • “the two of them had pursued, in the stale, fruity afternoon sunlight, the protean task of being mother and daughter.”
  • “A little colorless sunlight had forced its way around the neighboring buildings and lay, exhausted, across the floor.”

2. I have to tell you about this wonderful meal I made for my poetry group Christmas party. I’m not an original cook, but I’m a very good recipe follower; I have good skills and years of training, getting dinner on the table for me and my kids every night, so I’m always grateful for a good, solid recipe I can trust. There were going to be 6 of us, and we’d be eating on our laps, so instead of the African stew I considered, I ended up making Smitten Kitchen’s butternut squash and caramelized onion galettes. The crust was made differently than any I’d ever made (with sour cream, and with an unusual combining technique), and if you aren’t careful to really cut in the butter finely enough, it pools when you bake it. I’ll come back to that.

pre-baked

So the filling is roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, fontina cheese, fresh sage, and some cayenne. It’s SO GOOD — you could just assemble the filling and serve it as a side dish and make people very, very happy. Instead of making one big galette, I made individual little ones, really pretty. And no, I hadn’t cut in the butter finely enough . . . and so it pooled, and I could hear it sizzling a little while they baked off. About halfway through the bake, I pulled the pan out of the oven and tipped it into the sink so the excess butter could drain off, and then let it bake the rest of the way until it was golden. Here’s the deal: I think that bit of melted butter really helped crisp up the bottom and edges of the galettes, because they were so crisp, so flaky, and the whole thing was so delicious I had to force myself not to eat the extras. You can make the filling ahead of time, and the crust, too. You can assemble them ahead of time. SO delicious in every way.

3. I’m thinking about the solstice coming up, and wondering why that moves me so deeply every single year. I am never unmoved by the winter solstice, nor by the variety of ways humans respond to it. So long ago we made noise, scattered light, in part because we didn’t know yet that the light would return . . . and that really touches me. We have created special holidays at this time of year to help us manage the dark, create a promise of light to come. The winter solstice concert at St John the Divine, in NY, is one of my favorite experiences and I’m so grateful that I got to go to the concert twice. (Here is a post I wrote about it, and here is another post I wrote about the winter solstice, complete with a couple of poems you might enjoy.)

4. I haven’t really been watching much lately; I’ve just had to keep the television off because I can’t yet bear any mention of T (nor can I say his name) or see his face, and it’s non-stop coverage of him, it seems. But I have made sure to watch Saturday Night Live, seeking out anything with Kate McKinnon in it. She’s so wonderful. I know you saw this, but here it is anyway. I’ve watched it so many times, and I know I’ll watch it at least that many times again.

5. I’m missing my son terribly. I go in and out of waves of pain, always; it’s just a question of whether they’re unbearable or potentially deadly. I came across this picture and every cell in my body cried.

My arms feel the slight weight of him. I smell the tender smell of his little head. I feel his arms around my neck, and his head nestled against my shoulder. And I don’t know how to do this.

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

the nature of it all

pushmepullyouRemember the Pushmi-Pullyu? It came to my mind this morning when I was reflecting on something I have been thinking about the last few days, which means it also comes up in conversation (with Nancy, yesterday) and in the way I think about various things I see. When the same kind of thought arises from such a wide and varying range of things, I notice.

  • My friend Cindy posted something on Facebook, a reminder to lower your shoulders, relax your jaw, breathe in and out — and this is a reminder I make to myself dozens of times each and every day. Dozens, literally. Every single day, without fail. Why don’t my bodily habits ever get it?
  • I keep finding myself drawn into an eddy of big worry about one thing or another . . . my lack of work, different details and concerns in my kids’ lives . . . and have to stop myself. Again and again and again.
  • Beautifully arranged sketchbooks like this fly past in my Instagram feed and I want to stop everything and just draw . . . but I remember that I don’t have this specific kind of talent, even as I have learned how to draw.

drawing

What pulls these things together? It’s an underlying pull toward finality, toward stasis, toward a sense that the fact that I have to revisit the same thing over and over means I haven’t “got it” yet. (And I’m not missing the humor in my frustration over not “getting it” that I don’t “get it.”)

This IS getting it. You learn things as many times as you need to learn them, and I think an essential part of human experience is this pushing-pulling experience. It’s like the lesson I learn every time I practice tree pose: Balance is not a static state. OH what an incredible lesson. When I’m in tree pose, my standing foot and my body are negotiating tiny shifts to stay in balance. This does not mean I’m doing it wrong, this is the nature of balance.

And so I resist my still-there impulse toward little concrete boxes:

  • “What’s wrong with me that I still raise my shoulders and clench my jaw all the time? STOP IT!”
    • My shoulders rise and my jaw clenches and I notice and make a shift.
  • Must fix these problems so I quit worrying about them! Or else just quit worrying!
    • It’s OK. Breathe, and open my hands. Do what’s possible.
  • I’ll never be a ‘real’ artist so don’t waste any time on it!
    • I don’t have to be. If I make myself happy that’s enough.

Perhaps this isn’t human nature so much as it’s just my nature, a built-in tendency toward, and expectation of, finality and certainty. It does seem central to my nature, to my temperament, or maybe it isn’t but struggling against it doesn’t help. Opening my hands, accepting, letting it be, and not running off into stories about it does help. It’s OK, Lori. Breathe, lower your shoulders, relax your jaw. Draw, if you want to draw; knit, if you want to knit; bake, if that’s what you want to do. Seek solutions to the worries that keep returning, and remember that a problem-solving stance usually helps. Welcome those little muscle shifts in foot and body, they are the thing itself.

And remember this, too: it’s not all lost. It’s never all lost, as long as your heart beats. Over the last few months I’ve once again lost the thread of my happiest way of living my life. Through the stress of the end of Katie’s pregnancy and Lucy’s arrival, through the terror of the political cycle we’re in, and through my ongoing efforts to find a way to hold onto consistency in my TX-NY life, I’ve lost my daily commitment to yoga, to meditation, to my kind of eating (especially that), to daily walking, to openness. It’s not just that my body is heavier, that my clothes are too tight, though those things are true; it’s that I’ve lost my connection to being present in the moment. So? I’ve fallen out of tree pose. OK.

Today I recommit myself to my mindfulness practice. To silence around me, to doing one thing at a time, to my beautiful food, to my nightly walk, to my yoga practice. Shoulders down, honey. Turn up the corners of your mouth, sweetheart. Open those hands, with the long, beautiful fingers. And take a deep, deep breath.

 

let go of the results

 

just open your hand
just open your hand

This is a somewhat new idea to me, but not a new idea: let go of the results. Let go of the outcome. I heard it this morning, and a quick search shows that it is most often spoken of in recovery, and among Buddhists. For example, here’s a post on Tiny Buddha.

To be honest, I know I’ve bristled when I’ve heard my husband talk about it in terms of recovery, as if the addict just says, “oops, sorry,” and that’s that, they bear no responsibility for the outcome for other people. [NOTE: this is my shitmy hearing of it, not at all what he says or how he says it. My hearing is influenced, of course, by my history with a vicious alcoholic who never took any responsibility. So I own that.] [Also note: I become unbearably outraged {literally, it feels like I cannot bear the outrage} at the concept of “blackouts,” so the addict doesn’t have to remember what he did to me but I do?!! Lucky him.] [yikes, stuff to work on here, pillbug queen, self-righteous outrage much?]

But if I can step outside my shit and think about the idea itself in a bigger way, in a way related to living as fully as I can, it’s an interesting idea that connects to another thing I’ve been thinking about, which is that if you say what you think, and respect yourself enough to be willing to do that, there will be consequences. People won’t like it, necessarily. And people may not like you, then. I think I have seen this in my life in the last year, as I’ve been inching toward caring a little less about being sure everyone is always happy with me and a little more about saying what I need to say.

What is my responsibility? To whom is my responsibility? What matters, here? Within the Buddhist tradition there is the concept of “right speech:”

It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

Sometimes, though, one has to say the truth and it just must be said. I can talk myself out of ever saying the truth: Oh, it’s too soon, don’t be a jerk. Oh, I’ve waited too long and now it’s not fair to say it. I’m too angry to say it right now, it won’t come out right. I’ve kept myself from saying the truth so many times and I’m trying hard to learn how to stop stopping myself. I’m trying to learn how to let go of the outcome, here. I say what I need to say, as clearly and directly as I can say it, and what happens will happen. Quick to say, hard to do.

And letting go of the outcome, letting go of the results, also has to do with creative work. Putting something out there that never existed before doesn’t just risk judgement, it invites it. I always wonder about criticisms of a piece of art. It didn’t exist before, and now it does, and you can like it or not like it, but to say that this color or that form is wrong makes zero sense to me. The piece is. It just is. When you write, and submit a piece to some outlet, it will be accepted or rejected (and most likely rejected), so do you just hang on to it forever, changing it this way and that and this way and the other with the idea that finally it will be acceptable? You can, of course, but then you produce one thing. Or maybe you don’t even produce one thing!

Create, give it your best voice and skills, and let it go. Let go of the outcome, let go of the results, let it be, and keep stepping forward, opening that new Word document, that pad of paper, that canvas, your camera, that piano, yourself. Keep creating something new, whether that is on paper or in the air, whether it’s art or your own experience of things, whether it’s the truth you need to say in order to be yourself in the world, and let what will happen, happen. You aren’t responsible for that. I am not responsible for that.

It’s funny how often you can hear an old thing in a new way, with new ears, with a more subtle understanding, with a different understanding. I’m not finished hearing this, I’m not finished thinking about it, and I’m definitely not finished trying to learn this, because I surely am responsible for it in some ways, so I need to shave the edges of it to find the center. I have such a long way to go, and the post I wrote yesterday relates to this, as I prune my social world to include people who support me in this effort (as I hope and believe I support them) and let go those who only like me if I say what makes them feel comfortable.

It’s a beautiful day here in Austin. I have work, a gorgeous manuscript to read, and another waiting. The day won’t be too brutally hot. I have good food waiting to prepare, and two grandchildren a tiny drive away from here and another in Chicago, whose mom will shortly be adding a photo of him to our shared cloud. Friends all around, and one right next door. I’m healthy as can be, and only 57 years old, so much still to come, enough time {I hope} to learn how to do this.

getting clear about this

bathroomI’ve had it up to HERE with all this transgender-people-in-the-bathroom business. My home state of Texas is joining 10 other states in suing the federal government over the recent move to require a change to bathroom use policies. It’s humiliating, once again, to have my state behave in this hateful way. It’s unsurprising, but it’s infuriating and embarrassing. As a bit of context, unnecessary for anyone who’s been around here for long, I am very afraid of men. Too much rape in my life, too much assault. I hold myself closely when I’m around them. I’m not flirtatious, I don’t feel safe enough to be light in that way. I feel vigilant at all times. I know who I’m dealing with. It isn’t that I suspect each man I meet to be a rapist, but it’s never far from my mind.

But I’m not at all afraid of a transgendered woman being in the bathroom with me, whether she has had surgery or not — which, by the way, is not a ‘requirement.’ I’m not at all afraid of a transgendered woman who has a penis being in the bathroom with me, all alone with me. Alone with my daughters. With my granddaughters, if I had any. They just do not scare me, transgendered men or women. They are people who need to use the bathroom, women who need to use the bathroom. And they’re scared, most likely! Will they be yelled at? Will they be victimized in some way? THEY JUST NEED TO PEE.

But I am definitely afraid of an asshole straight man who would use this situation to assault women . . . but then again, I’m scared of him anyway. A man who would do this, if you think about it, would assault women whether he has to put on a dress or not — and how many rapists would go to the trouble of putting on women’s clothing to get access to women in a bathroom? This is about straight men raping women. It has nothing to do with transgender, or else we’d be just as worried about women identified as men showing up in the men’s room. And we are not. Right? So let’s be clear, this is not about transgendered people using the bathroom that fits their gender identity. This is about keeping rapists (straight men) out of women’s restrooms.

I am worried about transgendered women being forced into the men’s room, because I worry they will be assaulted and/or raped. And viciously, because there are straight men who get off on that, maybe because their little egos are so fragile, or maybe because the idea that they have feminine qualities threatens and scares them, or maybe they’re just vicious, violent assholes in search of anyone they can take it out on.

So no matter what, it comes back to straight men assaulting women. That’s what it is, and that’s how we ought to be talking about it. Leave transgender out of the discussion, it’s not about that. So who are we going to punish, then? Not straight men, apparently. Instead, we punish trans women, which is just more of the same — welcome to our world, trans women, the world where being a woman is a fearful, dread thing in so many ways. Welcome to our world, where our rights to our own bodies are denied, and where instead these truly hideous lies are used to cloak it, like “women’s health.” Legislators aren’t concerned even a little bit about women’s health. Get real.

This reminds me in so many ways of the cultures that require women to wear burkas. Because the men are afraid they will be tempted to do something wrong, they require the women to be hidden away. They may disguise that as “women’s modesty as required by our book,” but the central issue is their own temptation and fear that they’ll respond to it. Why don’t we instead expect men to deal with their own shit? Why do we instead do these things to women, limit them, punish them?

There's my friend Nicky, in her kitchen, where I shared a Swiss Roll cake she made for me.
There’s my friend Nicky, in her kitchen, where I shared a Swiss Roll cake she made for me.

I know two transgendered people pretty well, a man and a woman. They are in my life. And when I was in graduate school, my lab worked with a woman transitioning to a man, so that’s a third person. My friend Nicky wrote a beautiful memoir about her transition (Tea and Transition), and it’s funny and dry (she’s British) and moving and honest about who she is and was and has been and will be, and about the sometimes confusing, sometimes thrilling, sometimes painful process of her own transition. If you’re interested in this, I can’t recommend her memoir enough. I’m not basing my opinion of this bathroom situation on an N of 1, as they say — my opinion is not extrapolated out because I know one trans woman, but it is a thoughtful thinking-through of what’s really going on. And it turns out it’s the same old bullshit, really, this time landing on a group of people who really just need to pee.

I just hate that and I’m angry about it.

I’m satisficed

satisficerThat’s not a typo in the post title — it refers to my stance as a satisficer. According to psych research, one is a satisficer or a maximizer. When you’re trying to make a decision, what is important to you? Being sure you get the VERY BEST option, or being happy enough with what you pick?

Here’s a real-life example of this. My husband and I eat dinner at a neighborhood diner in NYC on the nights he finishes working around 10PM. If you’ve ever been to a NY diner, you know that their menus can be huge. Here’s how we approach deciding what to eat:

ME: I start with the section I’m most likely interested in — let’s say salads. I read the first option on the list, then the second. Which of the two do I want? Then I take that option and compare it to the next one on the list, which of those do I want? With a series of pairwise comparisons, I end up with the one I’m most interested in from that section. (And actually, if I pick the same one two or three times in a row, I figure that one must be the one I’m wanting so I don’t even read the whole list.) I’m satisfied! It’ll be good, I’m done. And if I don’t know what I want, I do this same exercise with the sections first. Sandwiches vs salads — ok, a salad. Salads vs the daily special — ok, still a salad. Salads vs burgers — ok, still a salad. Then the pairwise comparisons within that section, and I’m done. I’ll be happy with my salad, because it’s just dinnerIt’s just a salad. It doesn’t have to be the most amazing meal I’ve ever experienced. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be the most amazing salad I’ve ever had!

MY HUSBANDHe begins at the top of the menu and reads every single item on the menu, beginning to end. He pauses, mulls each option (I wonder if the onions are grilled….do you think the tomatoes are good yet? Bad tomatoes would ruin the burger), goes back to an earlier option, keeps reading, keeps interrogating me and the waiter, and this is a slow process because he’s also extremely dyslexic, and when he gets to the end of the menu, several big laminated pages later, he needs to re-read the beginning page since he doesn’t really remember what those options were. Finally he’ll pick something, and as soon as he places his order he realizes that he really should’ve ordered the other thing, what he ordered won’t be as good as that would’ve been.

What matters to him is that he get the very best meal he can possibly have at the diner. I always feel sad for him, because he rarely enjoys his as much as I enjoy mine. And how could he? It carries a heavy burden! It has to be the best! Mine just has to be good enough to be an enjoyable meal. There’s a lot of evidence that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers, and of course the distinction brings a lot of stuff with it, like temperament and personality (maximizers are more likely to be neurotic, for instance, and which came first, being neurotic? Maybe!). If you’re curious about yourself, here’s a little quiz:

satisficer

My score is 75 (the possible range is 13 to 91), so I’m not completely without standards. 🙂 Like everyone else, I care about the things I care about! It’s just a question of how big an umbrella that is, right? Do I care about my meals? Yeah, sure, I like tasty, healthy food. Do I care about what I’m wearing? Sure, I guess I care enough. Do I care about my family and friends? OH HELL YES. Do I care about my ethical concerns? ALL THE WAY. Do I care about my car? Sure, to the extent that it’s safe and cost-effective. Do I care about how well my home is decorated? Enough. I still haven’t done anything at all with the dining room, and I’ve lived here almost four years.

Like temperament, I think this is kind of a “just who you are” deal. If you tried to force me to be a maximizer at that diner, I just don’t think I could do it. I might fake it if you held a gun to my head, but I’d be faking it because really, it just needs to be a good enough salad. I’d pretend to read all the choices, but I’d be thinking about something else. If you forced my husband to be a satisficer, he’d get kind of paralyzed and pick something because of that gun to his head, but he’d hate what he ordered and would be torn up the rest of the night thinking about the perfect meal he didn’t get.

And thus ends today’s psychology lesson, offered after a lengthy telephone conversation with my maximizer husband going over possible hotel options in Laos, with me saying, “Sure honey, I like that one! Well yeah, that one sounds great! I don’t know, I like that one too!” I probably drive him crazy. 🙂

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

Helen

cotardIn November 2008 I put myself in the hospital in New York, Weill Cornell/ Payne Whitney, because I was very, very sick. It went beyond wanting to die — I quite literally thought I was already dead. It’s a kind of psychosis that can accompany severe clinical depression, and though it’s not at all common, it’s known. It’s called the Cotard Delusion, and one day I’ll write about it. I’ve had it twice in my life.

But while I was in the hospital, I wrote a LOT. A lot. Luckily I dumped it all in a private blog and I just came across it. This story is chilling, as you’ll see at the end.

* * *

My first morning at breakfast, a very tall blind woman was escorted into the dining room for breakfast. Her blue eyes were strange: one was milky, and the other had a very sharp circle cut out of the blue iris, just outside the pupil. She didn’t wear dark glasses. She had a very strong accent, which I initially thought was German, a very deep and rich voice, and she was beautiful. Her messy hair was piled up on the back of her head into what must have been a twist of some kind, several days before. It was gray, but with reddish-colored ends, so she used to color it. Her skin was translucent, and her features were fine and beautiful. Her lips were full. Though she had a stick, as she called it, she didn’t use it as blind people do, tapping in front of themselves left and right. She just held it upright like a scepter, and held the arm of anyone who escorted her.

She sat at the breakfast table and announced, “Derek. I vant vaffles. And hot cho-co-lat.” None of the staff responded, though it seemed they were preparing her food. Of course she was blind and couldn’t see that, so a minute later she’d repeat, “Derek. Can I please have some vaffles and hot cho-co-lat.” No response, request repeated a minute later, exactly the same. Finally the staff became irritated with her and snapped at her – “Helen, you have to wait and be patient.”

So she’d pick up her vaffle with her fingers and eat it, no butter or syrup: a bite of vaffle then a drink of her hot chocolate. A bite of waffle, a drink of hot chocolate. When she finished, staff would escort her back to her room and she wouldn’t be seen until the next meal. Lunch was always baked eggplant. Dinner was always baked eggplant. And breakfast was always vaffles and hot cho-co-lat. It wasn’t that they only served those things to her – it’s that those were the foods she always asked for. Demanded. The rest of us had to eat whatever was being served, but Helen ate only these things. If she was not eating, she was left in her room.

One evening she appeared in the doorway of her room and said, “Would someone help me make a call?” None of the patients moved, and few people even looked up. The staff didn’t respond in any way at all. So finally, I stood up and went to her, offering to help. We walked over to the phone, I dialed the number and waited while she completed her call, then escorted her back to her room.

I don’t remember how it began, but it became our evening habit that I would walk her around the unit until she tired. She asked my name, and though I said Lori she called me Lora. With her accent, the r sounded like a d. She would come to her door and bellow, “Lora! Lora!” The unit was very small, so our walk was just a square – a short hallway, a small sitting area in the back, overlooking the East River and the FDR, then back up the opposite short hallway, and then across the front sitting area. While we walked, we talked. The insane girl would race past us, up and down with manic speed, and as we rounded the corner the tiny, fat Jewish man who had a 24-hour guard would blow his shofar.

I learned that Helen was from Russia, and she believed that was why the staff hated her. I asked her where in Russia and she snapped at me, she didn’t want to talk about that because she’s an American. I apologized, and said that I’m from Texas, and then she started talking about her childhood in Russia. Her mother was an actress in Russia, I remember that. She was curious about me, and asked me why I was there, which led to long conversations. She scolded me for wanting to be dead. She asked me how I came to NY. She never smiled, but she was very friendly and warm. She said she was there because she’d just become blind, a year before, due to cataracts and glaucoma and something else, and all surgical options were exhausted. She said she was stagnant, warehoused. I couldn’t disagree with her, which broke my heart.

The last couple of nights she opened up more to me, and wanted to lie on the couch in the back sitting area with her head in my lap. She didn’t want me to stroke her head – she said it made her feel like a pet. But she seemed to want to be touched, and to have real contact. So I sat at the end of the couch and allowed her to put her head in my lap, and I lay my hand on her shoulder. The last night, she lay on her side with her head in my lap, curled up in a loose ball, and she pulled my hand into her chest and held it there the whole time.

She asked me what I look like, so I tried to describe myself. Then I also told her the story of my tattoos, and this absolutely gorgeous smile spread across her face. She said, “Lora, you are so silly. This is a silly thing you have done, vy did you do this silly thing.” She teased me, and it was wonderful, a light and touching moment.

She said the staff was going to transfer her to the state hospital and she said, with her deep-voiced Russian drama, “Lora, I vill perish. Lora, I vill perish.” I looked into her eyes and had no response. What could I say?

blindFinally I asked her the obvious question: “Helen, why are you here, on the psych ward, instead of in a hospital for blind people where you could learn how to navigate the world?” She said it was her punishment, because when she lived in France she made her living telling fortunes and reading cards. She was very religious, and believed that this part of her life was as it should be, given by God, as punishment. Then she said, almost in passing, “They said I poured bleach into my eyes, can you imagine such a thing?”

anger

My beloved teacher in all things human had a great song, “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?”

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At the time I found him, and first heard this song, I hadn’t yet begun to see just how mad I really was about what had happened to me. If you’d asked me if I were mad I’d be bewildered — “No, I’m not mad! Maybe I’m frustrated a little bit!” — but it would be clear to everyone else that I was very very mad. Even Helen Keller would’ve immediately signed, “What’s wrong with her? She’s obviously pissed off!”

As much as I love that little song, and I think about it a lot, I never felt like it gave me a good answer. And so I’ve spent much of my adult life asking people — women especially — what they do when they feel mad. And I haven’t yet heard an answer that felt like a solution for me, which most likely means I’m looking for something that doesn’t exist, a handy little set of if-then tools, problem solved.

angerI mean, the first, most obvious thing would be: you’re angry, so feel angry! Except I think that’s not at ALL obvious! That’s several steps down the fix-it road for me, because when I begin to feel angry it’s immediately converted into either “I’m so frustrated” or “I’m so depressed.” (Which isn’t to say this is always true of course, but it’s definitely true when my anger feels threatening to me about a close relationship.) (I have zero problems feeling, recognizing, and saying clearly that I’m furious in traffic, for instance.) So often in my life, my anger has been converted so quickly into depression that I wonder the proportion; have 80% of my depressions really just been about anger? I suspect so.

But let’s say I magically get to the point of knowing and being able to say that I’m angry. Then what? The Mister Rogers song says you can punch a pillow. Others say to write about it. I think anger fades almost seamlessly into issues around forgiveness, in many cases at least, so the anger might go away but the thing itself remains, either as a one-time thing (either to be let go of or forgiven) or as an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed.

When you are completely inexperienced at something and begin to try doing it, you are not very elegant. You go too far, or maybe it feels too far but really you haven’t gone far enough. And expressing anger is tricky because just as people are inexperienced expressing it, people are often not very good at receiving it so they lash out, attack you, redirect, gaslight you, or take the opportunity to bring up all the reasons THEY are mad at YOU. So there you are, inelegantly and a bit like a scared rabbit trying to express your anger, and the results can be disastrous.

In the Shambhala tradition of Buddhism, the only one I’m familiar with, the whole purpose of meditation is to help you learn to sit with emotions, to be present with them. Not to run away into a story, not to shut down, not to find a way to ignore them or act as if they don’t matter. And so that’s a start. I can first learn how to be clear about what I’m feeling when it’s anger, and to acknowledge to myself that I’m mad. Furious, maybe. Pissed off. That’s the name for the feeling. So I guess that’s one good answer: what do you do with the mad that you feel? You feel it. You sit there with it, and observe it and don’t run off into your various shady stories. I’m mad. It’s not killing me and it’s not leading me to kill anyone. It’s a feeling, and I can feel it. There. I see what happens to me when I’m mad. My shoulders squinch up to my ears. I frown and grind my jaw. I darken. My stomach hurts. I launch into all these “always” and “never” story lines in my head. Maybe what happens, then, is the intensity of that emotion gets experienced and bled of its power, and then you’re left with whatever made you mad. And then I’m right back where I started. Then what?

I’m still very confused and in the dark about anger, and I want to know: What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite? [lyrics here] What do you do? I guess the question has a couple of critical parts:

  1. What do you do with that feeling? Do you express it in some way? Do you suppress it, argue it away, hide yourself away, lash out? Maybe you have a characteristic-to-you approach, or maybe it’s always different, but I’d sure love to know what you do.
  2. And then what do you do about the thing that made you mad? Do you say something in the moment? Do you come back later and say something about it? Do you always do that, or does it have to be an exceptional circumstance? [me, I never do any of that. I don’t say something then or ever, and the circumstance can be big or small, I won’t talk about what made me angry with the person who made me angry.]

Partly I really do want to know what you do, because I’m curious about women’s experiences of anger. And partly I want to normalize how hard it is to deal with this kind of emotion — because we all feel it! Whether you’re a person who lives in the world easily angered, finding lots of opportunities to be enraged all the time, or whether you’re the opposite, anger happens. So many women are essentially told they can’t be angry and that really infuriates me. 🙂 But it does.

we have to pack a lot in a day

gfIt’s very far from perfect, and I only enjoy about 1/3 of it, but the Netflix series Grace and Frankie is one of my favorite shows. With those qualifiers — very far from perfect, only enjoy about 1/3 of it — how can it possibly be a favorite, then? That’s pretty nonsensical.

But it is about women in my general age group, and they are not a joke. When the story line cuts to their ex-husbands, I could not possibly care less. It’s so easy to find stories about men, just try not to! When the story line cuts to their grown children, I could not possibly care less (ditto) except as it relates to the various ways they treat their mothers. I want to see these women and how they figure out and live their lives. Grace and Frankie, the title characters, not their gay husbands or their spoiled (or indulged) kids. Grace. Frankie. (Especially Frankie. Lily Tomlin is wonderful.)

dragonHave you noticed how rare it is to find mainstream entertainment that is not about raping and murdering women? Pay attention, you’ll see. Sometimes there’ll be a female detective, but before it’s all over she too will be raped. Just wait. You’ll see. I read an interview with Lidia Yuknavitch and in the midst of it, she commented on how exquisite and rare it was when Daenerys hopped on the back of her dragon and flew away, saving HERSELF. She left, gaping below, the men who were there to save her and she fucking saved herself.

And then older women, rare rare rare. Rarer than dragons. One reason I loved Lucia Berlin’s short story collection A Manual for Cleaning Women was that the main characters were all women, who were either saving themselves or fucking up their own damn lives. But very real, in every way, and often older.

And so along comes Grace and Frankie, 100% imperfect in every way, but when the story focuses on them, alone or together, I feel overwhelmed. There are women like me, look. (Well, not really, obviously, but they’re in my general age group.) Look! Look! Older women! When you’re younger, you hear about the way women become invisible as they age and even then it’s discussed in the context of men — as in, men no longer even notice you. For many that’s a relief, but even still it’s about men and that just pisses me off.

But the broader invisibility does matter to me, cultural invisibility. I want stories of real older women. Unfortunately, what seems to be interesting is what happens to older women when men no longer want them — oh no! Will they crumble? Will they find a way to survive anyway? I’ve loved watching Grace and Frankie figure out that it’s each other they need. That it’s themselves they need, and each other, and that’s rich and sometimes moving. They’ve got stuff going on — Frankie says, once, “We’re old, we have to pack a lot in a day.” At the end of season two,  they discover a business venture to do together that is specifically for older women (a line of vibrators that deals with arthritic hands, etc) and the response of people, a kind of disgust and abhorrence at the mere idea, just kills me. There was an actual bedroom scene with Grace and a man (Sam Elliott, luscious as always), and it wasn’t played for gags. It wasn’t about embarrassments of aging. It wasn’t about being dry. It wasn’t about anything except what it was about — an intense connection and fulfillment of long-held longing between two characters, one of whom was an older woman. And they showed her old-looking hands on his back, gasp! [It wasn’t odd at all to see an older man, of course…..though it was odd that he wasn’t with a 20-something woman.]

Almost all of my friends are women (Craig and Sherlock are the only exceptions), and most are roughly my age. I know for a fact that their lives are interesting, and rich, and not just about men or the tick-tock-tick-tock of life ending. But where are our stories? Where are the stories of grown-ass women whose lives aren’t just about their children, or their husbands? I am grappling with my own life as it exists beyond those aspects, with who I am beyond those aspects. I’d sure love to see and read stories of others like me. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

xoxo