dammit Wittgenstein

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

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

Breathe.

About three months after we met

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

life can be such a wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder. And I wonder.  WOW.

a very real winding down

my creeks down below

I’ve never lived in a place like this — a wilderness, a solitude, a mountain valley, a quiet aloneness. And I’ve never had the luxury of a daily witnessing of the world closing up shop, shutting down, pulling inward, retracting. I’ve never had the joy of watching all of my visible nature shifting and changing from the abundance of summer to the quiet inwardness of autumn, heading inexorably toward the iron of winter.

It’s kind of astonishing to look back at my daily 1-second videos over the last few months, to see them mashed together into a 90-second video of time, of change, of seasonal shifting. Seeing it happen before my eyes in the video, seeing the mountain suddenly appear through the trees, seeing the leaves finally all fall away, seeing the bare branches presenting themselves, is a source of real wonder. I’m waiting to see the landscape buried in snow, and the brilliance of animal tracks, and being able to spot owls in the trees, and I hope the surprise of seeing porcupines in the trees, too.

Without a doubt, I’m in one of my right places in the world. I’m a person with a lot of “right” places in the world, because New York City is also a right place in the world for me — the noise of it, the closeness of it, the loud life of it. Hanoi is a right place in the world for me, so like NYC except in size. Paris is a right place in the world for me. And more like Heaventree, Laos is a right place in the world for me. I’m at home in noisy, crowded bustle and I’m at home in pure solitude. In both places, you can just be completely alone. I think that’s what I need.

my house up above, shot from the middle of the closeby creek with Marc’s beautiful steps placed in the creek for me
my chairside table — books and knitting needles and coffee, the stacks growing and growing until I have to sweep them clean and start anew

I wear this hat I knit every waking minute. 🙂 Isn’t it cute? It’s not my design — I just followed a pattern — but how I love it.

What’ve I been doing? I’ve been knitting a lot. Learning how to build good fires. Learning about the birds on my property — the black capped chickadees, the tufted titmice, the nuthatches, and now all joined by the dark-eyed juncos — learning about how they arrive, how they feed, how they share space, the rhythms of their days. Learning about the creeks, how they ebb and flow. Learning about the landscape of the Big Indian Wilderness that surrounds me, and how the end of my private road turns into this glorious path.

If I go to the end of the private road I’m on, and hike around a little jog, it turns into this — which is also the road I’m on, according to the map. WOW.

Almost every day, I walk down to my creek. If the weather is icy, or if there are hunters in my valley, I don’t — but on those days I feel a real loss. I love going down to my creek even before I’ve had my coffee, even before I’ve built a fire. I record a little video of greeting to my friends, I share the wonder of my surroundings, and then I go back up the hill to my home. Every single day, I pinch myself in wonder that this is my life, now.

Every single day I read poetry. Every single day, in this season, I build a roaring fire. Every single day I watch the birds and learn more about them. Every single day I watch the sun enter the valley behind my house, and every single afternoon I watch the long shadows as it leaves. As the weeks pass, I watch the moon wax and wane, appear and disappear. On cloudless nights, I watch the sky in big-eyed wonder — all those stars, cold and bright, shining into my eyes. All those stars, waking me up on cloudless nights. In the hard cold nights, I imagine I hear them ringing — not like bells, but like chords.

Over the weekend I put up my Christmas tree and thought about my poetry group friends in Austin, because for the last four years, I put up the tree specifically for them. Marc and I would come back home from SEAsia, I’d get back to Austin and quickly put up my tree and make a bunch of food for the Christmas get-together we shared. And so they were with me as I put up the tree, and I miss them very much. But aside from that communion with them, and aside from regular time with my daughter Katie and her kids, I don’t feel alone, here. I don’t feel lonely, here. I’m grateful for my years in Austin, where I learned that I love my own company, where I learned how to be alone, how to sleep alone in a silent house and understand the various sounds. Marc is here Friday nights through Monday afternoons, and my time with him satisfies my need to be in the physical presence of someone.

I’m happy, friends. I sit in my sunny, large, happy space and feel like it’s all come together in some way. All the roads I’ve walked, all the heres and theres, all the losses and gains, they’ve all brought me right here, to this chair, in this valley, in a place I never could’ve imagined. I know it’s not yet New Year’s Eve, but this song just so perfectly fit my mood today so I share it and hope you can hear it too.

I’m happy. I’m hidden away from the terrible world, here, but connected to friends and beautiful people all over the world. My life is so good. <3 <3

secular prayer

My mother went through a Christian fundamentalist religious phase — years of it, many different flavors, and during a prolonged period when she was doing the most hideous, unspeakable things, and knowingly allowing even worse things to be done inside her house. One phase was particularly weird to me; the gist of her preacher’s message was that God wants His people to be wealthy so non-believers would want to follow. Because who would look at poor, down-in-the-mouth Christians and think Gimme some of that! There was a very specific verbal construction she and her fellow church members would say: “I’m believing on the Lord for a new XYZ.” (on the Lord?) So, for example, “I’m believing on the Lord for a new Cadillac.” “I’m believing on the Lord for a new refrigerator.” “I’m believing on the Lord for a bigger house.” “I’m believing on the Lord for those designer shoes.” It was always stuff they were “believing on the Lord” for, never humility, or forgiveness, or an open heart. They seemed to understand God as the Sears & Roebuck catalogue. (And I don’t recall new Cadillacs, or refrigerators, or new houses, or designer shoes magically or unmagically appearing, except perhaps for the preacher.)

Prayer always felt deeply urgent to me as a little kid. I once lost a birthstone ring Mother had given me for Christmas and I was so completely terrified about what she would do to me when she realized I’d lost it. And as an indicator of the specific kind of gaslighting Mother did to us (among other things, she told us she knew everything we were ever thinking or doing, even when we weren’t in her presence), I believed that God knew exactly where my birthstone ring was and was laughing at me, and wouldn’t let me know where it was because I deserved what was coming to me. But how urgently I prayed, how desperately I prayed. Please God, please let me know where it is. It’s going to be so terrible, please, just please let me know where it is. I promise I’ll quit being an evil person. Just this one time, please just this once please show me where the ring is. (I was 8.) OR Please God, please let the Longhorns win so Daddy won’t hurt us. Etc.

My prayers were always of that desperate kind, when I was young, up to the winter night in a freezing alley when I was 15 and completely lost my faith and replaced it with a belief that everything in the whole universe happened in a random way, and there was no Other out there. Because if there was a God who knew what was happening to me, either (a) he could help but instead he just let it happen, in which case screw that, or (b) he knew but couldn’t do anything, in which case what use? or (c) he had no idea what was happening to me, in which case what use? I found so much more comfort in random, because random shit can just happen to everyone. And it does.

But still I pray, constantly, and it always takes this form, now: “Please let the next box hold my third music stand!” “Please let that be the last fork in the dishwater!” “Please let it be chilly tonight!” Sometimes it’s more like “Please please please please please let the next box hold my third music stand!”

I laugh at myself every single time. Oh silly, sweet little queen.

One of Anne Lamott’s thinnest books was Help, Thanks, Wow, which I read at the end of November, 2012, when I left New York and returned to Austin. The point of that book was that she has only three prayers, really (she’s very religious, but in the good way, with good politics): Help! Gosh, thank you. And wow, that’s amazing. I resonated to the book because my prayers are mostly of the form thank you, and WOW. Wow. The trees. Wow. Clouds. Wow. My grandchildren, my daughters. Thank you, my grandchildren, my daughters. Thank you, trees and clouds. Wow. Thank you. I don’t turn to prayer for help except in this silly way (please please please, let the next box hold my third music stand!), because I don’t really think the world works like that. It’s easy enough to feel gratitude and awe, and to allow that to take a spiritual form — but while I might like to think there is some Force Out There that will actually help a woman out now and then, I just don’t have that framework.

But really, pleasepleasepleaseplease let my third music stand be in the next box. Come on. I’d really appreciate it. 🙂

Happy Sunday, y’all. xoxoxo

abundance

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

sunflowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

The Mothers
Jill Bialosky

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

Big Daddy’s Gim

One of the rare nice stories my mother ever told about me was this: When I was a very little girl, we would drive from Austin to Graham to visit my grandparents, Mom and Big Daddy. (My mother and grandmother would sit at the kitchen table all night, talking and smoking and drinking endless Dr. Peppers, which is a fond memory of mine.) The drive took five hours, and apparently when we came up over a slight rise and saw the lights of tiny little Graham, Texas, I would start jumping up and down on the back seat saying, “Big Daddy’s Gim! Big Daddy’s Gim!” Which means I was so young I couldn’t even say the word Graham properly. When I was born there, Graham had 7,477 people; as of the 2010 census, it had 8,903 people so it’s holding steady.

My letter to my mother, when I was 6. I asked about my brother but not my sister. 🙂

A couple of summers I spent a week there in Graham, all by myself with Mom and Big Daddy. It was so wonderful — just me, the pleasure of being the oldest kid in the family getting to do such a thing, leaving the siblings behind. During the day, my grandmother watched soap operas all day and she and I ate watermelon. Once a week, when Big Daddy came home from his job as janitor at the hospital, we three would get in the car and go to the K&N Root Beer Stand. It was the kind of place where they prop a tray on the driver’s rolled-down window.

The mugs didn’t have the logo on them back then.

We’d get hamburgers and root beer, which came in super thick, SUPER frosty mugs. They had several sizes, from one that was so big you absolutely had to hold it with both hands, to a tiny little one for toddlers. I always wanted a bigger one than I got, because I loved their root beer so much. Big Daddy always ate his hamburger so fast, before Mom and I even got ours unwrapped; he would then start the car and leave it idling while we ate as fast as we could, because he was ready to get back home, to sit in his vinyl recliner and watch wrestling. Which he insisted was real. And he’d ask me to rub stinky green liniment on his aching feet, which I did with a great thrill, because I was getting to touch Big Daddy, who was otherwise a kind of silent guy who didn’t interact. He’d let me put fingernail polish on him, and I could dust Mom’s face powder on his bald head — he’d tolerate that silently, with an occasional grunt, but I think the attention made him happy, too. He’d finally get enough, and say, “Here, Pete. That’s enough.” But “here” was more like a harumph, like hnyah.

Sunday I’m driving to Graham. I haven’t been there since January 1987, so 30 years. I don’t know that I have ever been to Big Daddy’s grave, and I don’t think I was allowed to go to his funeral. My uncle, Big Daddy’s son, inherited the little yellow house, but it’s since been sold to someone else and the yard is quite different. So my plan is to go to his grave, then drive by his house, and then — imagine my shock to learn it’s still there, and in business! — to go get lunch at K&N Root Beer Stand.

I’ll probably cry a lot.

I remember one time Mom and Big Daddy and I were having lunch at K&N, and it was the day of the week when the Graham Leader came out, the local newspaper. The big headline was something about a local man catching a giant crappie at nearby Possum Kingdom Lake. In case you don’t know — as I didn’t, back then — the word is pronounced like crop-ee. But you know, I was a very little kid. So I asked why a man would catch a crap-ee and my grandmother threatened to wash out my mouth with soap. I was scared and confused, until I noticed a little smile around the edges of Big Daddy’s mouth. Mom was serious, but Big Daddy just thought it was funny, so I got to think it was maybe a little bit funny, too. I don’t think she washed out my mouth, but it was no idle threat with her.

There’s my Big Daddy at a picnic in Fireman’s Park, in Graham, the year before he died.

I imagine it will be a very emotional trip for me. I imagine I’ll cry a good bit, and maybe do some of that laugh-crying when I’m at K&N. I only have two pictures of Big Daddy, and this is the only one where I can make out his face. His arms and hands still feel so familiar to me — he was actually my mother’s uncle, so even though she was adopted, she was adopted by family and her arms are like his. I wish I had a picture where his face wasn’t in shadow; in the other picture, I’m standing next to him peeling a banana, but his head is down and his hat hides his face completely.

After my Big Daddy tour in Graham, I’ll drive over to Dixie’s house, a couple of hours away, and spend the night and the next day with her and Karl, so all in all I’m looking forward to Sunday and Monday with a full heart and deep anticipation.

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