potluck

Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

  • Since I won’t be here on Oliver’s third birthday because I’ll be in Bali that day, I spent a few hours with him yesterday. I had some kind of seriously awful gut thing going on so it wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, but it was so wonderful being with him. He and I went to one of the neighborhood parks, the one on the elementary school grounds where he will be going in just a couple of weeks. He played on the equipment, we blew bubbles even though it was too breezy to make chasing them much fun, he ate lunch, and he ran around. I watched him wandering around, running, talking to himself the way he does, and my heart ached so hard. Oliver has something going on — the current educational diagnosis is in the autism neighborhood — but most difficult is his pretty profound speech delay. So I watched that beautiful, darling boy running around, in his own world, and I cried pretty hard because I so want to know him. I so want to share things with him, know what he thinks without guessing, hear his wonderings and his wants and his needs and his funny. At the moment that’s not how it is to be with Oliver, but I know it will be one of these days. I don’t think he feels lonely; he seems keenly aware of how much he is loved. One fun thing to do with Oliver is to look at the phone together. We had the camera on and turned to selfie mode, and he was grinning as he held down the button for dozens of long bursts. He caught the really beautiful shot I included here. See the delight on his face?
  • My dear, dear friend Becci (hi darling Becci!) sent me a Crazy Zauberball. I have always wanted one, and somehow she chose a colorway that I always wanted, too. The other day I opened my mailbox, expecting the usual day’s allotment of junk mail, and instead there was a nicely wrapped box, fit snugly into the mailbox with my name facing outward. I had no idea what it might be, even when I saw Becci’s name and address in the top right corner. I literally ran into the house and unwrapped it (even more nicely presented inside the outer brown wrapper, with a “just because” note) and when I pulled out the ball I jumped up as if I’d been electrocuted. It was the last thing I expected, and I instantly started crying with all the joy — the joy of having a friend who would do such a thing (and just because), the joy of her thoughtfulness and knowing, the pleasure of the long-wanted yarn, and the delight of finding just the right project for it. I decided on a project that others have made with the yarn, a scarf called Baktus, because it looks amazing and it’s a simple knit—I want to make it on my upcoming trip. In the way these things work, forever more I’ll feel all the love and joy when I wear it, remembering Becci, remembering making it in Indonesia. That’s one thing I love about knitting, it holds the space for all of that.
  • I can’t properly talk about how humiliated I feel over having that hangover on Tuesday. I feel such shame about it. I’m 58, I have so many ways to manage upset, and I drank enough to have a hangover? It’s hard to talk about it but I feel like I must — maybe this is some kind of self-flagellation, maybe I shouldn’t, but shame and humiliation is exactly what I feel. I mentioned that feeling to Nancy, and she looked puzzled, which puzzled me. Shouldn’t I feel shame? I talk relatively often about AA, which I only know about because of my husband; I know that they believe self-loathing doesn’t get you anywhere, and certainly not to the same place that self-compassion will take you. I’m trying that, trying to have compassion for myself that evening, acceptance of myself and what I did. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again; I sure learned a lot, including the fact that a hangover can be a really terrible mood, which I didn’t know. I’m sorry I did that — I say that out loud, and to myself. It’s funny; I even find this beautiful, even though it’s such a dreadful feeling. But it’s beautiful to stumble along, fall down and get up, bruise yourself, heal yourself, and be helped along by others. I think that’s really beautiful.
  • We just lost Derek Walcott, a poet whose words have meant a lot to me over the years. I first encountered him in 2001, when I knew a poet who loved him. I’m sorry this is in a jpg instead of text, but I can’t find it copy-able and I don’t want to type it all out. This poem relates so beautifully to the end of my last bullet point:

  • Tonight I will sit with the women in my book club to talk about this month’s book, which I didn’t like at all I’m sad to say (The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood, review here). But I will love being with the women, who share my political world view and who are SMART, screamingly smart, and compassionate. We meet at Joyce’s house tonight — she picked the book — and she’s making us a vegetable pie and salad, and I’m bringing Topo Chico and dark chocolate, and I look forward to the communion with all my heart. For now, though, I pack for Indonesia. Happy Sunday, everyone.

two things: daffies and a poem and gotta dash….

FEED: I have a specific thing for daffodils, and especially here in the late-mid-early-mid-winter. I usually think of them hard at the very beginning of March, but at the moment I am needing them desperately so I feed myself on this photograph.

Daffodils so reliably make me happy, with their wholly improbable shape. It’s silly, maybe, but every single time I see one I just feel such wonder that they make that wonderful shape. That trumpet, with the frills. I like the full-on yellow ones more than I like the yellow and white ones, but daffies do it for me no matter what.

SEED: It’s a long day for me, up and out early for a flight back to Austin, connecting through Houston so the flight will take me longer than it ordinarily would. And then a dash home to get ready for poetry group in my house, a (mostly) monthly event that I dearly love. Every month we each bring copies of two poems (whether you write them or just select them) and this is one I’m bringing tonight. I shared it on facebook several days ago and it has stuck with me:

If You Could (Danny Bryck)

I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their fucking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
Now
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
Now
is when it will all be clear to them.

READ: Nothing to note here — mainly because I’m out of time on this dashing day. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, though!

three things: 2/2/17

Anne Carson in her inscrutable brilliance; click the image to read an article in the NYT

FEED: Tonight I’m lucky enough to be going to hear Anne Carson, who is currently the Distinguished Poet-in-Residence in the NYU Creative Writing Program. What she does with language is almost impossible to describe; I’d like to share some of my favorite lines from my favorite of her book-length works, The Autobiography of Red, but (a) they are too strange completely out of context and you wouldn’t be able to see their proper strangeness, and (b) I’m in NYC and my book is in Austin and I only read poetry in real book form. First, Book of Isaiah:

Book of Isaiah, Part I (Anne Carson)

I.

Isaiah awoke angry.
Lapping at Isaiah’s ears black birdsong no it was anger.
God had filled Isaiah’s ears with stingers.
Once God and Isaiah were friends.
God and Isaiah used to converse nightly, Isaiah would rush into the garden.
They conversed under the Branch, night streamed down.
From the sole of the foot to the head God would make Isaiah ring.
Isaiah had loved God and now his love was turned to pain.
Isaiah wanted a name for the pain, he called it sin.
Now Isaiah was a man who believed he was a nation.
Isaiah called the nation Judah and the sin Judah’s condition.
Inside Isaiah God saw the worldsheet burning.
Isaiah and God saw things differently, I can only tell you their actions.
Isaiah addressed the nation.
Man’s brittleness! cried Isaiah.
The nation stirred in its husk and slept again.
Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings.
Like a hard glossy painting the nation slept.
Who can invent a new fear?
Yet I have invented sin, thought Isaiah, running his hand over the knobs.
And then, because of a great attraction between them—
which Isaiah fought (for and against) for the rest of his life—
God shattered Isaiah’s indifference.
God washed Isaiah’s hair in fire.
God took the stay.
From beneath its meat wings the nation listened.
You, said Isaiah.
No answer.
I cannot hear you, Isaiah spoke again under the Branch.
Light bleached open the night camera.
God arrived.
God smashed Isaiah like glass through every socket of his nation.
Liar! said God.
Isaiah put his hands on his coat, he put his hand on his face.
Isaiah is a small man, said Isaiah, but no liar.
God paused.
And so that was their contract.
Brittle on both sides, no lying.
Isaiah’s wife came to the doorway, the doorposts had moved.
What’s that sound? said Isaiah’s wife.
The fear of the Lord, said Isaiah.
He grinned in the dark, she went back inside.

And to entice you to read Autobiography of Red, a few snips:

“Depression is one of the unknown modes of being.
There are no words for a world without a self, seen with impersonal clarity.
All language can register is the slow return
to oblivion we call health when imagination automatically recolors the landscape
and habit blurs perception and language
takes up its routine flourishes.”

“…..in that blurred state between awake and asleep when too many intake valves are open in the soul. Like the terrestrial crust of the earth which is proportionately 10 times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul is a miracle of mutual pressures. Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from earth’s core on the inside to meet the cold air of the world and stop as we do, just in time.”

What she does with language can be astonishing. Here’s my short GoodReads review of Autobiography of Red — short, because I couldn’t properly put words to her words. Her startling use of language definitely feeds me.

SEED: This is a broad topic I think about a lot, the way very good things can come out of very bad things. I’ve thought about it my whole life, in terms of my near-fatal childhood; I value who I am, and who I am is a direct result of what I endured, so where does that leave me with an evaluation of my childhood? To play the silly game, if I could go back and time and give myself a different childhood, would I?

grateful I got to be at the JFK protest on the day the ban was announced. So grateful. More than 10K people showed up spontaneously.

I think we’re in the same boat as a country now. I see good things emerging in this horrific political maelstrom. People are fighting, protesting, getting off their comfortable couches. More women are mobilizing for office than ever before. Etc etc etc. It isn’t that things were perfect while Obama was in office, and it isn’t that I agreed with all his decisions (I really didn’t, some more horribly than others like his bail-outs for the banks and his use of drones and his failure to close Guantanamo as he’d promised), but I was complacent. We all were complacent. And that complacency led us here, to the nightmare and also to the resistance, and the long-lasting consequences of the resistance — assuming our country and world survive, which is not at all guaranteed — will be good. Eventually. I’m thinking a lot about this as I look around. Are you?

READ: Read poetry. Last night I read a bit of Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), and he was talking about writing as a way to hone your thinking — and especially poetry. Here’s a relevant passage:

I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago–the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth–loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions–beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.

Read good poetry. I am not at all trained in poetry, but I think I have good taste somehow, because the poetry I love always turns out to be “good” poetry, so if you want to read poetry but don’t know where to start, get in touch and I’ll make some suggestions.

three things:1/19/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 1/17/17

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

At the NYPL

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

A Woman Speaks (Audre Lorde)

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

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

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

From The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

That feeds me, sisters, it does.

This is amazing, amazing Joe Brundidge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 1/15/17

FEED: Here’s a glorious poem that you have to see on the page.

TIME AND MATERIALS

1
To make layers,
As if they were a steadiness of days:

It snowed; I did errands at a desk;
A white flurry out the window thickening; my tongue
Tasted of the glue on envelopes.

On this day sunlight on red brick, bare trees,
Nothing stirring in the icy air.

On this day a blur of color moving at the gym
Where the heat from bodies
Meets the watery, cold surface of the glass.

Made love, made curry, talked on the phone
To friends, the one whose brother died
Was crying and thinking alternately,
Like someone falling down and getting up
And running and falling and getting up.

2
The object of this poem is not to annihila

To not annih

The object of this poem is to report a theft,
In progress, of everything
That is not these words
And their disposition on the page.

The object o f this poem is to report a theft,
In progre ss of everything that exists
That is not th ese words
And their d isposition on the page.

The object of his poe is t repor a theft
In rogres f ever hing at xists
Th is no ese w rds
And their disp sit on o the pag

3
To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.

“Action painting,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.

4
The typo would be “paining.”

(To abrade.)

5
Or to render time and stand outside
The horizontal rush of it, for a moment
To have the sensation of standing outside
The greenish rush of it.

6
Some vertical gesture then, the way that anger
Or desire can rip a life apart,

Some wound of color.

© 2007, Robert Hass
From: Time and Materials. Poems 1997-2005
Publisher: Ecco (HarperCollins Publishers), New York, 2007

SEED:  OOF, you know how you can just be doing something random, like looking through a box for the pretty cards you stored away, and then you happen across something you had completely forgotten about, and that punches you right in the heart? That happened to me. In a box in my storage room, I saw a plastic sleeve with old IDs and credit cards, no idea how long ago I tucked it away in that box — must’ve been when I moved in, November 2012. I went through them and came across this tiny snippet of now-brown newsprint:

It’s blurry because it is blurry, the print is fading. “Lori G,” I had that last name so long ago, and this small personal ad was in the newspaper for me in ~1990. Almost 30 years ago. I didn’t remember that I had it, and I didn’t even remember it had happened until I saw it.

When she was a tiny little girl, my sister hated milk. Hated it. She only wanted water (“that’s the Stone in her” everyone said). But she couldn’t say milk, she’d just say, “No muck Big Daddy, no muck.” So he called her Muck. I was Pete, she was Muck, we were a nicknaming family. (Big Daddy especially.) My sister and I cannot have a relationship longer than a week, and it pops up once every 8-10 years, and I don’t blame her or myself. When you come out of the family we did, well, there is too much I understand about that. I don’t blame her or my brother for our inability to know each other, but the deep truth is that I dearly loved her when we were little, and it’s so easy for me to touch that feeling I cry.

She knew that I had this silly little habit of reading the personal column in the weekend newspaper just in case there was an ad for me. (My dad did the same thing, and I didn’t know that until I met him again right before his death. So did his sister, didn’t know that, either.) I don’t know if my sister and I were having a relationship at the time she posted the ad,  I can’t remember too clearly. I suspect this was placed around the time of my first major clinical depression, the one that culminated in a terrifying suicide attempt, because around that time she wrote me a letter saying, “We keep going because we never know when we’re going to round a corner and there is someone holding a bouquet of flowers just for us.” So it makes sense that she would’ve done this, too, a very personal and specific reaching-out to me, her big sister, a bouquet of flowers just for me.

So much in that tiny square of delicate old newsprint. Twenty-five words.

READ: A Texas writer named Sarah Bird was supposed to receive an award from the Texas State Legislature, which delighted her — until she learned that she was not going to be allowed to speak. This led her to decline the award because she didn’t want it to appear that she supported them without question. So instead, she published the speech she would’ve given (here’s the article about it in the Texas Tribune):

Whenever I meet a woman of my age, old enough to remember those glorious carefree days back when America was great and we were pooping our panties as we trembled in fear of nuclear annihilation beneath our desks; or skipping merrily behind the truck spraying clouds of utterly safe DDT; or staring at the photo of a black girl nearly our own age who required the National Guard and more guts than you can hang on a fence to go to school; or, living in terror of becoming one of the thousands of women who died of an unsafe, illegal abortion, we shake our heads and wonder, “How the hell did we get back here?”

The short answer to how is “states’ rights.” Yes, that nightrider who’s kept the Civil War raging for more than 150 years is the very creature enabling all the OB/GYNs in the Legislature to get all up in our lady business via the gnat swarm of bullshit laws they keep trying to inflict upon us. What? No, OB/GYNs in the Lege? But they authored a booklet, “A Woman’s Right to Know,” that doctors are forced to give patients seeking an abortion that warns those women they will suffer a higher incidence of breast cancer — a fact unknown to countless medical groups, including the National Cancer Institute, which has debunked this claim. State Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Mary González, D-Clint, introduced legislation to fix the inaccuracies, but it didn’t pass.

The hypocrisy is wearying. And it would be laughable if the bodies of Texas women were not at stake.

So, that’s the “how,” what about the “why?” Because it gets votes and the dipshits get to accomplish that which their entire being is centered around: Keeping their jobs. And why is using the bodies of Texas women as a sort of tenure track to job security such a sure-fire vote-getting strategy?

Let us turn to the individual selected by the antiquated, dangerously unrepresentative Electoral College to be our next president for that answer. No more perfect articulation as to why our representatives are so relentlessly eager to shove their transvaginal ultrasound wands into the bodies of as many Texas women as their bullshit laws allow can be found than that offered in this individual’s colloquy with Billy Bush, blessedly, blessedly, preserved for the ages on videotape. There, in the NBC Studios parking lot, he identified the ultimate prize that awaited the man who achieved his level of celebrity: the power to grab women by their genitalia.

Here in a nutshell is the cornerstone of every fundamentalist perversion of religion from the Taliban to the Yearning for Zion FLDS compound: Control the P____. Our next president can say it, but I won’t. This atavistic impulse is at the heart of every transparently cynical political ploy from the state’s egregious fetal remains burial proposal to mandatory parental consent for minors to defunding Planned Parenthood to the rules that forced most clinics in the Rio Grande Valley to shut down.

Her speech is remarkable, and I wish she had been able to deliver it to the people who deserve to hear it (but who would’ve slammed her mercilessly and tried to shut her down). Instead, she will join all of us marching on January 21st. I’ll be wearing my pussy hat. Every single time the shout is “MY BODY MY RIGHTS / HER BODY HER RIGHTS”I cry and the rage that fills me turns my shout hard and louder and filled with the fury of a human being who does not understand how we can still be fighting this fight.

three things: 1/11/17

1)  I think a lot about the truthiness of things, and of course I have my historical, personal reasons for it. I read this passage in Fall on Your Knees, a powerful book by Anne-Marie MacDonald, and it has stayed with me:

“It’s a sin for Lily to let Mercedes think it was Daddy who beat up Frances. But he has done it in the past. Surely truth can be borrowed across time without perishing. Shelf life, so to speak.”

“Surely truth can be borrowed across time….” That. And the shelf life of truth, that too. Freud talked about ‘screen memories,’ one that may in itself be false but that masks a deeper, true memory of great emotional significance. And in Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch said,

“The more a person recalls a memory, the more they change it. Each time they put it into language, it shifts. The more you describe a memory, the more likely it is that you are making a story that fits your life, resolves the past, creates a fiction you can live with. It’s what writers do. Once you open your mouth, you are moving away from the truth of things. According to neuroscience, the safest memories are locked in the brains of people who can’t remember. Their memories remain the closest replica of actual events. Underwater. Forever.”

And so, as I continue this extremely difficult process of writing my two memoirs, and as I myself am not always absolutely certain about the truth of my memories in certain aspects, the truth of my own experiences even when my body knows the fact of them, the question of the unreliable narrator haunts me. I’m unreliable in so very many ways — including the mere fact of having told my stories a number of times — and yet I insist on the deep truth of all my memories, of all my experiences. Did this experience happen like this in the moment I am writing about, in this specific scene? Can I borrow truth across time without losing its truth? I insist that I can. Owning, telling, remembering, writing the truth of your life is not the same as being on a witness stand accusing another person of a specific crime, for which they can be judged and punished.

Right? I think so. (And if you are strong, read Chronology of Waterhere’s my GoodReads review, it was such a powerful story. The link also includes the material I highlighted, passages I loved for one reason or another.)

And in a funny twist, this quote was in my quote widget (in the right sidebar) when I was writing:

“A common feature of many theories of trauma is the idea that the causative—the wounding—event is not remembered but relived, as it is in the flashbacks of combat veterans, experienced anew with a visceral immediacy that affords no critical distance. To remember something, you have to consign it to the past—put it behind you—but trauma remains in the present; it fills that present entirely. You are inside it. Your mouth is always filled with the taste of blood. The killers are always crashing through the brush behind you. Some researchers believe that trauma bypasses the normal mechanisms of memory and engraves itself directly on some portion of the brain, like a brand. Cattle are branded to signify that they are someone’s property, and so, too, were slaves. The brand of trauma signifies that henceforth you yourself are property, the property of that which has injured you. The psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi believed that trauma is characterized by the victim’s helpless identification with the perpetrator, and elsewhere in the literature one often comes across the word “possession.” The moment of trauma marks an event horizon after which memory ceases. Or else memory breaks down, so that the victim can reconstruct the event but not the feeling that accompanied it, or alternatively only the feeling.” —Peter Trachtenberg

2)  Here’s a poem I really love, and hope you like it, too:

REALISM (Beth Bachmann)

God said, your name is mud
and the thing about mud is you
got to throw it down
repeatedly
to remove the air
and sometimes cut it
and rejoin it with another part.
If stars are made of dust,
it’s not the same stuff,
God said;
you can’t make a hut out of it,
only heaven,
and when I said dust to dust,
that’s not what I meant.

3) I read a collection of short stories by a new (to me!) writer named Carl MacDougall — Someone Always Robs the Poor. He’s a very well-established Scottish writer, and the stories are set almost entirely in Scotland and most are about alcohol in some way, and frequently violence.

The stories often left me stunned, like the powerful story “Korsakoff’s Psychosis” that took me right into the experience of a late-stage alcoholic, with all the horrors of that life. It was hard to read that story, and hard to look away even though I wanted to, because the prose slipped me right into the terrible, tragic remnants of mind. The story “William John MacDonald” broke the narrative form to tell a terrible sad story (one of many stories related to drunk men) of a young man’s tragic encounter with violence and drinking. On occasion I had to read a page a few times — in part because of cultural references that weren’t familiar to me, and in part because of the style of storytelling. I was always glad to read and re-read.

On the whole, the stories were sad and tragic, although they were never told with melodrama. Instead, they were quiet and deeply emotional, and I sometimes paused when one ended, and held it for a long while before I slipped into the next. What a powerful collection of stories that will haunt me. I read and ARC, and the book won’t be published until February 23, but I heartily recommend it. It’s a quick read; I read the bulk of it on the flight from New York to Austin, about 3.5 hours.

three things: 1/7/17

1) I’ll begin with a poem titled “A New National Anthem,” by Ada Limón:

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National
Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good
song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets
red glare” and then there are the bombs.
(Always, always, there is war and bombs.)
Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw
even the tenacious high school band off key.
But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call
to the field, something to get through before
the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas
we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge
could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps,
the truth is, every song of this country
has an unsung third stanza, something brutal
snaking underneath us as we blindly sing
the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands
hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do
like the flag, how it undulates in the wind
like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled,
brought to its knees, clung to by someone who
has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon,
when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly
you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can
love it again, until the song in your mouth feels
like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung
by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains,
the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left
unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright,
that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on,
that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving
into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit
in an endless cave, the song that says my bones
are your bones, and your bones are my bones,
and isn’t that enough?

Our country is breaking, as was inevitable, and our time is passing. I just hope we don’t do too much damage to the world before it’s all over. One thing I loved about the poem so much were the lines, “best when it’s humbled, / brought to its knees, clung to by someone who / has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon, / when it flickers”.

2)  One of my favorite paintings is by an artist named Helen Frankthaler. She was born in Manhattan in 1928, and began exhibiting her work in the 1950s. This one is titled Eve, and I must have somehow seen it the year it was painted (1995), because I think I’ve loved it that long. I remember having it as my computer wallpaper in 1996, for a full year. I find it so hard to stop looking at it. That exquisite yellow-orange, the shapes above it that certainly suggest a hanging apple. The thin, wavery line, the watery blue.

1995
Medium: Prints and multiples, color screenprint on woven paper
Edition of 108
44 x 29 7/8 inches (full margins)
Catalogue: Ann Kendall Richards, Inc. Inventory Catalogue

I only just learned that she was married to Robert Motherwell, another of my favorite artists! Wow, what a home theirs must have been.

3) Such a terrible feeling, the feeling of being out of control of yourself. Of deciding you’re going to start (or stop) doing a thing, swearing to yourself you are, and then to do it. Again. And again. And then the renewed vow. Even though I have never suffered an addiction, I do know this feeling from a more ordinary position, from getting back on a sugar/eating binge (I’ve been eating my fear and despair since before the election and it feels terrible) or getting out of the healthy habits that make me feel so good, and struggling to return to them as my norm. I remember my dad vowing at night as he was poured into bed, by me for a long time, that tomorrow would be different, tomorrow he wouldn’t drink, but then the next morning he couldn’t get out of bed without a big tumbler full of straight vodka, and the cycle would begin again. That cycle leads to such intense self-loathing, so common among addicts, and I’m grateful not to have that part of it, the self-loathing. I’m grateful to be kinder to myself, gentler to myself, to instead try to help myself in manageable ways. Today, just drink lots of good water, that’s all you need to do. And take a yin yoga class, so nourishing and manageable, and let tomorrow be whatever tomorrow will be. Just today, drink water and take a yin class.

Be kind to yourself, that’s the most important place to start — it really is. If you are kind to yourself, it’s so easy to be kind to other people. It’s so easy to have a bit of yourself to give, then, to send out into the world. Open your phone and look through your text messages — pick one and just send a kind note, a quick text, a surprise bit of kindness. Texts require no time commitment, just a few thumb strokes, and a click. Make yourself or someone else a beautiful meal. Pick or buy a flower, for you or someone else. Little things, quick things, kindnesses — and start with yourself. Just for today. xoxoxoxo

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: 1/3/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

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

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

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

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

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

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

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

three things: 12/31/16

1)  Well, an end to this year and a face turned toward the next. God almighty. I don’t need to say all this again; it’s been present to varying degrees in my last posts, but it’s the last day of the year so I have to include it. I’m scared of the future and grateful as hell to have my arms linked with others in the resistance. We’ll lose more battles than we’ll win, but we’ll pull each other up and keep going. I have never dreaded a coming year more than I dread this one.

2) Thank you for sticking around with me, for coming to my little cobwebbed corner of the Internet. Thanks for reading, for commenting if and when (and where) you do, for accepting the little things I offer, and for accepting me, which you do by returning. If I offend, I’m grateful that you don’t bail on me but instead leave space for me to have my own view of the world. I hope I do the same for you. (Unless you voted for Trump, in which case I have no space for that.) (None.) (Whatsoever.) (But otherwise, you do you and I will be damn glad of it, whether we agree or not.)

3) Here is a wonderful year-end/new-year poem:

BRAND NEW ANCIENTS (by Kate Tempest, surely a pseudonym)

See – all that we have here is all that we’ve always had.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that somehow now is all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry –
but the life in your veins
it is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it.
Take it from the tears of the poets.

There’s always been heroes
and there’s always been villains
and the stakes may have changed
but really there’s no difference.
There’s always been greed and heartbreak and ambition
and bravery and love and trespass and contrition –
we’re the same beings that began, still living
in all of our fury and foulness and friction,
everyday odysseys, dreams and decisions . . .
The stories are there if you listen.

The stories are here,
the stories are you,
and your fear
and your hope
is as old
as the language of smoke,
the language of blood,
the language of
languishing love.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

The gods are in the betting shops
the gods are in the caff
the gods are smoking fags out the back
the gods are in the office blocks
the gods are at their desks
the gods are sick of always giving more and getting less
the gods are at the rave –
two pills deep into dancing –
the gods are in the alleyway laughing

WOW. Right? I’ll end this post with some pictures that make me just so very happy, in the hopes that they give you a smile, too. Y’all be safe, and hope to see you next year.

My sweet Katie and her beloved family
Our darling Oliver, so happy with his big Christmas gift because it has numbers on it
beautiful, glowing, angelic Lucy
This one is so great because it’s my Katie’s sense of humor. I crack up every time I see it, even out of the corner of my eye. That girl.
My beautiful Marnie, and her beloved family
I love this stage, where they turn their heads completely sideways to get a new look.
Wonderful, glorious Ilan, how I miss him.
Such a happy, photogenic little guy. And a genius, I’m pretty sure.
bamboo rafting in Yangshuo, in southern China
Lijiang, China, so special
so happy in Shaxi my lips and gums dried out from all the insane grinning
and all the happy boat rides on Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
That wondrous snow storm we had in January, can’t forget it!
or lying in a hammock next to the Nam Ou, in Nong Khiaw, Laos
enjoying the beach on Koh Mak, in Thailand

So many other pictures I’d need — holding Ilan for the first time, holding Lucy for the first time, walking slowly while Oliver collects acwons, time spent with beloved friends, waiting with Marnie for Ilan to be born, a meeting of my poetry group (why don’t I have a single picture of that!) — but these will do.

Love to us all, and solidarity, sisters. xoxoxxo

three things, 12/29/16

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.

three things: 12/22/16

1)  I wish I had more time to read. That would really mean there would just have to be more hours in the day, because I already read nearly every waking hour. But one of my most readily touched sources of frustration is just not having enough time to read. The new issue of the New York Review of Books taunts me, every single article headlined on the cover one I feel urgent about reading. Anne Carson’s wondrous book project about the loss of her brother, Nox, singing to me in the late hours as I continue to struggle with my grief about my son. I know I would find understanding there. Drawing books, volumes of poetry, novels that were given to me by friends, books I’ve bought, and then all those I really want to read again. For some reason The Tin Drum has been whispering in my mind’s ear, read me again. The little girl I was still lives in me, the one who identified with Jo March, sitting in her attic window with a book and a bowl of apples, whiling away a winter day. How I would love to do that.

my coffee table — and then piles everywhere else, too, by the bed, on the nightstand, next to the chair, in the yoga room….

We who need to read are probably mysterious to those who don’t. I’ve heard what they sometimes say about us — get your nose out of that book. I prefer to actually live my life. Jerks, those who say those kinds of things. I’m not quite sure why I have such a never-quenched need to read, but I do.

2) If I think abstractly about what I think equals a “good life,” I’d say that [for me] it would require people to love, and be loved by — family (born into or made) and friends. It would require a home of some kind, whatever that might mean. Easy pleasures, like making good food. Reading (see above) wonderful books, stories, poetry, sense-making of all kinds. Music, and art. I’d say it would involve exposure to the world in whatever way that would be possible, traveling if that’s available. I’d say a good life would require history with people, so sticking it out over the long haul. I’d say a good life would require openness to the world, and a willingness to be present to whatever it presents. I have a good life. What would you add to my list?

3) A poem for the just-passed winter solstice, and for you:

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Anselm Kiefer, Gescheiterte Hoffnung (C.D. Friedrich), 2010, Charcoal on photographic paper. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York. Text on the work is translated as follows: “Wreck of Hope.”

the pipes are calling

Starting 59! Heck yeah!
Starting 59! Heck yeah!

My birthday was really wonderful this year, and I worry about driving everyone crazy talking about it, but whatev, folks. I’d like to be this way about your birthday, too! Christmas is about something else, Thanksgiving too, but one’s birthday is a day focused just on your own life, your own trip, your own hopes and experiences (good and difficult), and I always think that is a thing to be celebrated.

So here is a short list of things I wanted to share with someone, throughout the day yesterday. I hope one or more of them catches you, too!

  • I have Scottish sympathies — those highlands, the bleak sweep, the range of stories that have that landscape as their setting, oof. I’d love to spend a year there so I could know it in all seasons, and learn it beyond the snapshot stereotype I have of it. The pipes have always sung to me, not just because I love weirdo instruments (banjo and accordion, not that think they’re weird!), but because I really want to play them. I’ll reveal a weirdo secret: I practice what it would be like to play them. Filling the bag with air, squeezing the bag with my arm, fingering the chanter, which I think would be natural to me given my years of flute playing. I’ll sometimes close my eyes and pretend I’m playing the pipes. Now you know. 🙂 Nancy sent me this “for the kick-off to [my] 59th year of triumph” and I loved it so much:

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The pure joy on the cellist’s face was enough! But then the coming-in of the pipers, that filled me with joy.

  • I’m in a number of secret Facebook groups, and each one is a haven of one kind or another. One is a temporary group for the month of November, focused on daily posts of gratitude. Yesterday a woman wrote this, and it was a huge gift to me:

I’m grateful for discernment, for thinking things through and evaluating what is best for me, what and who will add to my life instead of becoming a burden to me. I am so grateful to be aware that it is worth it to pause for a moment and ask, do I like this?, how do I really feel about this person?, are they a giver or a taker? So many times I have looked to be liked or accepted and have not paused to ask myself, what is in it for me? What and who am I taking on? Well, I am grateful that I am taking care of myself and asking those questions now.

YES to that! I’m in the process of developing that kind of discernment, of letting go of people who aren’t right for me and my life — and it isn’t that there is something wrong with them, it’s just time to let go, you know — and there is something both self-nurturing and liberating about it. The process of letting go with a breath and a smile, and understanding that as discernment, is such a gift of aging, and another woman’s words. This general idea also melds with something my poetry friend Hadiya posted yesterday:

Belong first in my own interiority. If I belong here, and if I am in rhythm with myself and connected to my deep, unique source within, then I will not be vulnerable when my outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away. I will be able to stand on my own ground, the ground of my soul, where I am not a tenant, where I am at home. My interiority is the ground from which nobody [or nothing] can distance, exclude, or exile me. This is my treasure. —John O’Donohue (Adapted by Hadiya, 2012)

 

Doesn’t this fit beautifully with the idea of discernment, as the other woman described it? It’s about standing within, holding and knowing your own ground, and deciding from there, as a personal and ethical stance. Lots for me to think about, here.

  • My extraordinary friend Val sent me a book of poetry for my birthday, Nobody’s Jackknife. OOF, I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough. Val is always doing something like that, sending me just the right music, just the right words, just the right emotional connection, just when I most need it. You should be so lucky to have friends like I have, I’m telling you. Here’s one of the poems from this gorgeous collection by Ellen McGrath Smith:

Traum Song

Life is painful, sad, and methodical.
I must not say that.
Ever to confess
(remember when I thought I was
a lioness that night in May
and could have made six babies?)
Facts are thinner recourses.
Born: day month year
Died: day month year
Nothing new here people!!!
Just two doors or one
that swings two ways.

I’ve a pound of flounder in the fridge,
some lemon and organic butter,
a seep of parsley in the backyard snow,
two cats, a grown child & a love companion
with a weak aortic valve.
My fear is ticking too tall for the shelf
so I bend ninety minutes to the floor,
the guru streaming in through my PC
telling me the shape I’m in.

The light in me, the light in me
Christ I want it to
see the light in you—

So many of the poems center around a yoga pose, and every one is worth lingering over.

  • Today’s picture is courtesy of the Facebook “On This Day” heartbreaker. Yesterday I opened Facebook on my phone, and this was on the screen, without giving me a moment to prepare my heart:
November 7, 2011. We had met for breakfast, and he can never let me just take a picture of him. Either he pulls a face, or suddenly hangs a spoon on his nose or something. It was a heart punch to see his face, which I miss so terribly.
November 7, 2011. We had met for breakfast, and he can never let me just take a picture of him. Either he pulls a face, or suddenly hangs a spoon on his nose or something. It was a heart punch to see his face, which I miss so terribly.

Today is [finally] Election Day, and with all my heart and soul I hope our country elects Hillary Clinton. With all my heart and soul. I don’t know what will happen to us if we don’t. Vote, vote, vote, vote.

I just like to share!

Through the terrible stress of this everlasting nightmare of our presidential election, I have relied on a number of ways of coping — some have been good, and some have NOT been so good. And I’ve been inconsistent in using the good ones, perhaps because the benefit isn’t immediate and my stress is begging for immediate relief (even though they help me more, and without causing trouble). Yoga, walking, cooking beautiful and healthy food, meditation, those have flickered in and out of use.

My less-good ways of coping have filled me with junk. Other stresses. And even though I know this, going in — as I eat another donut, or another BLOCK O’ CHEESE — I often feel completely unable to stop myself. In New York especially, since Marc keeps a fridge just about as opposite mine as possible, and since he makes things for me like gravlax, my stress eating is less good for me than when I’m in Austin. After I inhale a pound of cheese, let’s say, I feel very crappy (to say the least, and I’m trying to say the least, here).

Another way I’ve been dealing with this stress has been a constant consuming of social media. I am on Facebook non-stop, and while I am reading and responding to posts that present the same political position I share, and that help me feel less alone, it also keeps me stirred up. But it’s become a compulsion, an impossible-to-resist response to stress.

It’s also true that when I’m here in Austin, I sit alone in my house day in and day out. I will have a little social activity here or there, but I sit in silence all day and night, and without anyone else to interact with at all. And I like that! It’s not that I don’t like that. I really do, especially in the days after I’ve been in New York and feel overwhelmed by people and noise and non-stop interruptions. The silence and solitude are wonderful! AND again and again I’ll think about something, or read something, or see something, and turn to share it with…… ah, no one. There’s no one here. No one to say, “Hey, listen to this!” to. And so that’s another reason I hop onto Facebook. Wow, look at this. Hey, you won’t believe this! Ah, read this beautiful thing. Look. Listen. Read. Wow.

I’ve missed my blog. My absence from it has been due to a lot of reasons; I’m doing other writing, long-form writing, and trying to spend my time in that manuscript, and otherwise I’ve been kind of blanked-out with stress and fear. It occurred to me that I could help myself with two of these things in one fell swoop: Instead of machine gunning Facebook, I can collect the things I want to share with someone and put them in a post here. That will have the benefit of making them easier for me to find again, too. Aside from political stuff (which I will not share here because I just really need to avoid it all completely for my own sanity), the stuff I share will fall into the ordinary categories of things I share on Facebook: book recommendations, interesting articles, poetry, images, family stuff.

And so, here goes:

  • Do you know Hélène Cixous? I hadn’t heard of her until I read a quote about her by Lidia Yuknavitch, so I looked her up and now I must MUST read her. This quote seems especially relevant in the United States as we are teetering on the brink of living under a Christian Taliban: “But I am just a woman who thinks her duty is not to forget. And this duty, which I believe I must fulfill, is: “as a woman” living now I must repeat again and again “I am a woman,” because we exist in an epoch still so ancient and ignorant and slow that there is still always the danger of gynocide.” ― Hélène Cixous, The Book of Promethea
lidia
read Lidia.
  • The quote from Lidia Yuknavitch that sent me to Hélène Cixous was from The Chronology of Water, which I highly recommend: “With Hélène Cixous you must close your eyes and open your mouth. Wider. So open your throat opens. Your esophagus. Your lungs. Wider. So open your spine unclatters. Your hips swim loose. Your womb worlds itself. Wider. Open the well of your sex. Now speak your body from your other mouth. Yell corporeal prayer. This is writing.” WOW.
  • Have you ever read May Sarton? I’ve always wanted to and somehow never have, yet, but yesterday Sherlock sent Peggy and me this BrainPickings post about May Sarton and the use of anger in creativity. That’s a thing you hear, right? “Turn your anger towards your work.” Transform that energy into creation. I need to carefully read that piece and think about it, because I hope it has something for me. I am swamped by the experience of anger, overwhelmed by it, and often paralyzed by it. So when I feel it, I become scared that I’ll explode, that I’ll express it awfully, and often I do, and it’s just tough, and especially tough for women. I once asked members of my book club to write about a time they were angry (we were tentatively trying these writing sessions), and one member became absolutely enraged at my suggestion, saying she doesn’t get angry because it’s not useful. The time didn’t seem right to point out just how angry she was. 🙂 But I am in desperate need of learning how to manage anger! It’s my oldest lesson I have yet to learn, so I’m hoping the BrainPickings post and then reading some Sarton will help. Any words you might have on either Sarton or anger will be appreciated.
  • The idea of living in Australia or New Zealand has become kind of irresistible; a thread developed on a Facebook post by a friend who originally shared this video:

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[First…I mean, RIGHT????] One friend responded to the video by asking me what it’s like to live here right now, and in the ensuing conversation, I got invitations to move to all the major cities of Australia, with explanations of their great aspects, and a bunch of bids for life in NZ, which is not just gorgeous but is also lacking in snakes. 🙂 They were just so adorable, every last one, and every time I woke up during the night, mid-Trump-panic, reading that thread made me grin so hard.

  • Today’s poem: Carpe Diem, by Jim Harrison:

Night and day
seize the day, also the night —
a handful of water to grasp.
The moon shines off the mountain
snow where grizzlies look for a place
for the winter’s sleep and birth.
I just ate the year’s last tomato
in the year’s fatal whirl.
This is mid-October, apple time.
I picked them for years.
One Mcintosh yielded sixty bushels.
It was the birth of love that year.
Sometimes we live without noticing it.
Overtrying makes it harder.
I fell down through the tree grabbing
branches to slow the fall, got the afternoon off.
We drove her aqua Ford convertible into the country
with a sack of red apples. It was a perfect
day with her sun-brown legs and we threw ourselves
into the future together seizing the day.
Fifty years later we hold each other looking
out the windows at birds, making dinner,
a life to live day after day, a life of
dogs and children and the far wide country
out by rivers, rumpled by mountains.
So far the days keep coming.
Seize the day gently as if you loved her.

Happy Saturday, y’all! It’s going to be a great one for me — birthday lunch with a friend, and the lit crawl tonight with poetry group friends. Also: It’s my BIRTHDAY EVE YO! xoxoxoxo

TODAY"S PHOTO: Marnie is in Seattle to exhibit her new book, and she sent me this picture, note the caption. :)
TODAY”S PHOTO: Marnie is in Seattle to exhibit her new book, and she sent me this picture, note the caption. 🙂

see! saw! see! saw!

seesawDid y’all call these see-saws or teeter-totters? I grew up hearing both about equally, but I think in North Texas, in the very small towns, we were more likely to call them teeter-totters. Anyway, I realize that the last few days I’ve been up! Down! Up! Down! I’m better, yes! I’m exhausted, no! I’m back to myself, yes! It’s too much, no!

And there may still be seeing and sawing to come for me, but my steps forward are getting me somewhere, despite the steps backwards.

Tuesday night my poetry group met in my house, and I was not feeling it, I was too lost in the pain and so tired from my extremely early flight back to Austin — but the group means so much to me, and I want to hold the space for it even on the rare nights I don’t feel good. About an hour and a half into the meeting, Rebecca read this poem by Anne Carson, from Plainwater:

Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking

Their faces I thought were knives.
The way they pointed them at me.
And waited.
A hunter is someone who listens.
So hard to his prey it pulls the weapon.
Out of his hand and impales.
Itself.

Hunters, prey, that topic pulled at me in a specific way, of course, but as we talked about the poem, as we tugged at it and loved it and saw it this way and that, the endless loop in my mind was broken. Poetry, art, beauty stopped my obsessions and struggle and just opened up my mind, filled in the grooves, and gave me space to breathe.

After yesterday morning spent with my beloved little Oliver, who is now a complete chatterbox, last night a genius friend of mine gave me a GENIUS task. I was telling her about my rage and fury and hate toward my hateful, psychopath mother for what she did to us, and for how she destroyed my brother, and she told me to just kind of go with it. Indulge it, fantasize. Go all out! It’s just a fantasy — how would I do it? No, really, play it out! It started dawning in me, and it bloomed and blossomed.

grendel
this particular monster, my old nemesis, my imagined Inner Other

I’ve always been so afraid of my anger, afraid it was just my father lying dormant inside, me as him maybe, and that if I gave it any slack it would all be over and I would be the rampaging monster, destroying everything in my path. I’ve written about this before, this is old news. But fantasy, it’s just fantasy! I realized I could write it out, a chapter, a whole Tarantino bloody fantasy — and then I could edit it and elaborate even more. “And this one’s for my brother!” “And this is for this, and this one’s for that!” The Jews had Inglorious Basterds, the slaves had Django, and my brother and I would have my little bloody fantasy chapter. It might unnerve you to know just how much pleasure I am taking in writing this showdown.

Of course my genius friend also had a lot of other brilliant ways to help me, ways to help me think through some of the aspects of my brother’s life that were particularly tormenting, and she listened in that way she has, and held me safe, and I have to say: I feel so much better. Just so much better.

So much better. So so much better. Nancy called my name over and over and over. Cindy listened and understood and encouraged me to run with it. Friends all over the world reach out to me, extend hands, poke me, check in. I grapple and struggle, I cry and suffer and then take a step forward. I guess this is what it looks like. Teeter. Totter. Poetry. Friendship. And murder fantasies. 🙂

 

the good life

A few days ago I watched Hector and the Search for Happiness, a movie starring Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, and with Christopher Plummer and Jean Reno and Stellan Skarsgard and Toni Collette.

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A great bunch of actors! It didn’t get the highest of ratings, and frankly I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s a journey story; Simon Pegg is a psychiatrist with a tidy, satisfactory life, and he chucks it all to travel around the world to discover what makes people happy. (yawn, I thought.) Then near the end, there’s a brain scan (oh that always irritates me, I’m a neuroskeptic), and when Pegg is holding the tremendous array of thoughts that he has learned constitute his happiness, his entire brain lights up — “the Northern Lights,” says the scientist. So I dearly love that, because I believe it’s true. Happiness comprises everything, all the feelings, even the bleak ones.

all kinds of colors in there
all kinds of colors in there

At one point the main character asks someone, “You’ve been through so much, how are you so happy?” And she (or he, can’t remember now) says, “I’m so happy because I’ve been through so much.” And at that point I jumped up out of my chair with tears in my eyes and said too loudly, “YES. Yes-yes-yes. Yes. That’s true.” Because it is. (I do this often and am glad I generally live alone. 😉 )

I’ve known a few people who grew up with just about as perfect a life as one could have in real life. One home for 18 years, thoughtful and educated parents, plenty of love, a lot of friends, success in school, off to college with no worries, college years were great, launch into life, the world on a string. Tiger by the tail. Take your pick of cliches. I’ve actually known people, real people, who had that life. Security, safety, love, peace. No traumas of any kind. No unexpected losses — maybe a grandparent here or there, but not ever unexpectedly or tragically.

It’s just those specific people I know, but boy are they unhappy adults. They’re lost. They’re empty. Their lives feel meaningless to them. (And again: maybe you know people from that life who are joyous adults with meaningful lives! I just don’t know them.) (Oh, wait, now I can think of a couple of them who got married to each other and are very very happy adults, with happy children.)

So let me not make an absolute claim here, but a general one. A simply easy life is not a happy one. A simply easy life is not a meaningful one. I am not saying that happiness comes from pain and trauma necessarily, but I believe it comes from the effort to deal with it. From the knowledge of having had it and gotten somewhere else, from the understandings you find in the process, and from what you learn about yourself and the world along the way. And I’m not saying that simple and easy times aren’t happy, because they sure can be! But they are happy in the context of the rest. I want to resist that easy thing people say, “without the dark you can’t know the light,” but something is true in it. Jung said, “The word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness,” and I guess that’s right but those sayings seem facile to me, a toss-off, even if there is something true in them. Maybe they just trouble me because of the way people say them, an unconsidered bit of bumper-sticker wisdom said without much thought.

Around this time last year I wrote about happiness — a similar idea I had then, because I believe this so deeply. Happiness is both a momentary state and a deeper, complex experience. I feel happy when I look at Oliver or Ilan; that rush of feeling that overcomes me is a mixture of love and joy, definitely. My happiness where they and my children are concerned is vast, and includes their places in our family, their connections to their sweet mamas, my daughters, and Oliver’s arrival in the wake of our loss of Gracie. So that’s complex, definitely, but my feeling when I see them or think about them is simple happiness. But my own personal happiness, the center of me, my deepest experience, contains EVERYTHING. It contains my ability to feel everything that happens to me, light and dark. (Strangely, that’s true. My ability to feel heartache makes me happy. I’m happy I can feel that terrible feeling because it’s true and human.) It contains having survived the things I have survived. It contains memories of loss and sorrow. My happiness holds all of those things at the same time, and without any one of them my happiness would definitely be less rich, less meaningful to me.

My happiness also depends on the scary will to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable to you, to random strangers who might hurt me here or elsewhere, to people in my life, to possibilities. Like everyone else, I’ve trusted people I shouldn’t have trusted and been very hurt by them, but my happiness depends on being open again anyway.

buttermilk blueberry cake
buttermilk blueberry cake

I’m so happy because I’ve been through so much. Today I’m happy because I’m taking this yummy cake — which was easy to make early this morning because I’m still jet lagged, so I’m in bed super early and up super early — over to my dear friend Cindy’s house for breakfast. Today I’m happy because I will see Katie and Trey and Oliver later today, and I haven’t seen that sweet little fella since his birthday. Today I’m happy because my health is good and I can do anything I feel like doing without having to think twice, or cater to a hurting body part. Today I’m happy because I have dear friends. Today I’m happy because my family is happy and healthy. Today I’m happy because my hair looks OK today. 🙂 Big stuff and small stuff, yo. And today I’m happy because my heart has been tenderized and I can hold very tenderly, with understanding, friends whose lives are being hit with frightening illness. Today I’m happy because of the plans I have — making a triple berry cake for friends tomorrow, going to the UP in July, seeing Ilan and Marnie and Tom in June, something secret that’s happening next Wednesday, lots of great books in my Kindle that I’m dying to read — and because I rediscovered this beautiful poem, which I love because it understands the possibility of beauty out of suffering.

RUBBING — Stephen Dunn

I once saw a painter smear black paint
on a bad blue sky,
then rub it in until that lie of hers

was gone. I’ve seen men polish cars
so hard they’ve given off light.
As a child I kept a stone in my pocket,

thumb and forefinger in collusion
with water and wind,
caressing it day and night.

i’ve begun a few things with an eraser,
waited for frictions spark.
I’ve learned that sometimes severe

can lead to truer, even true.
But few things human can stand
to be rubbed for long—I know this

and can’t stop. If beauty comes
it comes startled, hiding scars,
out of what barely can be endured.

xoxoxo Happy Sunday, y’all.

the little flame

Have you seen the beautiful tiny-film series on the NYTimes called “Take Flight” yet? It comprises ten tiny little films in slow motion, set to music by Max Richter, whose music I adore. Each one is a gift. The eloquence of Melissa McCarthy’s body gracing through the air; Michael Fassbender’s intensity and that moment he throws his shoulders back; Kristen Wiig’s extraordinary grace; Jacob Tremblay’s soul humanity on his young face; Jason Mitchell’s gaze; Rooney Mara’s beautiful pose; Mya Taylor’s joy; Benicio del Toro’s physicality; Charlize Theron’s exquisite opening and soaring pose at the end; and Lily Tomlin’s wonder.

(I’m not sure the video works here — if not, just click this link and you’ll go directly to the site.)

Though there are 10 films, they’re SO short you can watch all of them, and I so encourage you to do that. I was enjoying them — and in fact I’ve watched it three times already — but early this morning, Jacob Tremblay’s open gaze when his face was near the camera reduced me to tears. His humanity, the flicker of connection and humanity and wonder, moved me and led me to start the series over again, looking at each performance through that lens. Each one is visual poetry.

It reminded me that this flicker is in every single person, the vulnerability, the grace, the joy and sorrow, the wanting, the goodness, the needing, the longing, the openness. We all have it, and it’s easy to see in some people and very hard to see in others, but it’s there. Other experiences can push it to the back, or cause people to construct a fortress around it, but it’s that flicker of humanness and I want to remember to look for it when I interact with people. Instead of being so concerned that others are OK, I just need to relax and look into their faces and seek that flicker.

And then of course there’s the joy of watching performers who know how to use their bodies with such skill, each muscle, each stretch, each curve of a leg or curl of fingers, what a thrill.

Watch it. If you can’t watch it now, save it to watch later. I think you will be as moved as I am. The final images that linger in my mind are Jacob Tremblay’s expression at the beginning, Charlize Theron’s beautiful pose at the end, and Lily Tomlin’s wondrous face. I’ll take those with me today.

theron

xoxo

Mirrors at 4am

This poem was written by Charles Simic:

MIRRORS AT 4am

You must come to them sideways
In rooms webbed in shadow,
Sneak a view of their emptiness
Without them catching
A glimpse of you in return.

The secret is,
Even the empty bed is a burden to them,
A pretense.
They are more themselves keeping
The company of a blank wall,
The company of time and eternity

Which, begging your pardon,
Cast no image
As they admire themselves in the mirror,
While you stand to the side
Pulling a hanky out
To wipe your brow surreptitiously.

Charles Simic, “Mirrors at 4 a.m.” from Walking the Black Cat. Copyright © 1996

Simic
Simic — pronounced SEE-meech

If you want a real treat, click this link and you can listen to him talk about writing this poem, and then hear him read it. It’s always so surprising to me what can inspire a poem. You’ll find other of his poems here.

He has two new books out, one a collection of poetry (The Lunatic: Poems) and another that is a collection of non-fiction (The Life of Images: Selected Prose). This fantastic review by Dwight Garner in the NYTimes will make you fall for Simic, if you’re anything at all like me. The review includes this great quote by Simic: “Nature as experience — making a tomato salad, say, with young mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil — is better than any idea about Nature.” He’s very emotional and passionate about things. My kind of guy.

I was telling my friend Cindy that I learned about Simic (whose work has won numerous awards, among them the 1990 Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and, simultaneously, the Wallace Stevens Award and appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate) on a little sign in a subway car. They do that — it’s a program called “Poetry in Motion” and in place of some ads around the top perimeter of the car, the MTA provides poetry. I never studied poetry in school, so I find poets in random ways like this. But as I told her, that doesn’t matter in the least — what matters is that you find them.

Book 2 (My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love) of Knausgaard’s humongous memoir has a long section on poetry, on poetry speaking to you and when it doesn’t, why it doesn’t, and I want to think about that some more before I write about it. Poetry often speaks to me quite loudly, shouting right into the chambers of my heart. I hope you enjoyed the Simic poem!

take this into you and mean it

shameLast night was my poetry group meeting, and I was dashing around, running late, because I’m heading out of town this morning and had so many things to do. Dashing dashing, thought maybe I wouldn’t even bring a poem, but decided just to look for something by Wendell Berry, one of my favorite poets. And I found this one. I wish I’d found it when I was 4, and just memorized it then like a prayer, or a mantra. Never mind, I’ve found it now.

Do not be ashamed
by Wendell Berry

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

I am not so good at memorizing any more, but I’m going to try very hard to memorize this one and say it to myself over and over.

ashamed

Be safe today, give someone a smile, and give someone kindness who doesn’t seem to deserve it. xx

poetry

poetryI’ll tell you, and I am being as honest as I can be here: I do not know the first thing about poetry. I know that haiku has three lines, 5-7-5 syllables (see, I don’t even know the jargon to describe that properly, and I’m not stopping to look it up so I sound smarter than I am on this topic). I know the rhythm of a limerick. I know the phrase iambic pentameter but worry that perhaps my accent will make me read it in a way that I fail to recognize the meter. I never took a poetry class, was never introduced to poets, don’t know who the ‘good’ poets are (and correspondingly, who the embarrassing poets are). I only just know what I like, and that’s the truth. I know when I don’t like something, and I know when a poem moves something in me. In fact, I’ve read poems where I can tell you what and how it made me feel, but not exactly what it meant.

I know the names of famous poets but couldn’t tell you one thing they wrote. I’ve never memorized poems, though occasional snips may get stuck in my head, a tiny phrase here and there.

And I organize a monthly poetry group in my house where 7 to 9 people sit around my living room and read stunning poetry aloud — most often, poetry they have written, but certainly not always. One member has an astonishing breadth of knowledge and will just start reciting long poems when we’re discussing something, and a relevant poem comes to his mind. He is amazing. One member writes the most jaw-dropping poetry, I can only sit with my mouth open and experience awe. When I went to Marfa, his poetry came into my head in that landscape because it had soaked into my bones. One member writes extraordinarily precise poems and she has only just started writing poems. One member brings fantastic work by new and beloved poets and always has something so smart to say about them.

Last night we met and most of the poems were magnificent, including this great one:

Diatribe Against the Dead (by Angel Gonzales, trans. Dominique Scopa)

The dead are selfish: they make us cry and do not care,
Stay quiet in the most inconvenient places,
Refuse to walk—we have to carry them
Piggyback to the grave
As if they were children — what a burden.
Unusually rigid, their faces
Accuse us of something, or warn us;
They are the bad conscience, the bad example,
The worst things in our lives always, always.
The bad thing about the dead
Is that there is no way to kill them.
Their constant destructive labor
Is for that reason, incalculable.
Insensitive, distant, stubborn, cold,
With their insolence and silence
They do not realize what they undo.

YOWZA. We spent some time trying to figure out the last two lines, and we talked a lot about the truth of it, and the perfect use of humor for such a grave (pun intended) subject. As usual, the poem reminded one member of other poems which he recited and they were perfect fits for the points we were discussing.

And then he said this: “I realized I don’t know what it means to read.” At first we laughed, but lightly because while he is very funny and charming, he’s also very smart and it’s safest to assume he’s going to have a great point. So he talked about reading a difficult poem and he couldn’t understand it the first time he read it. Had he read it? Could he say he’d read the poem? Is reading more than having your eyes pass over the letters and realizing that you know the meanings of [most of] the words? Is understanding required to say you’ve read something — but what level of ‘understanding’ is required? Because as he reminded us, T.S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it’s understood.”

Here’s the poem he brought that made him wonder about the meaning of ‘reading.’

At Melville’s Tomb (Hart Crane)

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.  (several of us gasped aloud)

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides … High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

So the one who writes the jaw-dropping poetry knows a lot about Hart Crane and tells us about his life, his family, his death. “What is ‘monody,’?” I ask — and the man who brought the poem knew, because he had looked it up. (It means a song of lamentation for someone’s death.)

THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. These members of my poetry group, all of whom know 1,500 things to every one I happen to know, these people are my people. And they love coming, too; one member had a terribly inflamed nerve (sciatica maybe?) and could barely walk, but he limped in and said he couldn’t possibly miss it.

I say all this because if you enjoy poetry (or whatever), and wish you had a community, you can make one. You don’t have to be an expert! I started this group on Meetup because I hoped to find 6 or 7 people in Austin who just enjoyed poetry as I do, so we could meet and talk about it. I’m out of the Meetup system now, and we just have this beautiful little group of people who relish the chance every month to sit in uncomfortable chairs for two solid hours and read and talk about poetry. It was hard at first, and if I’m honest it’s still hard every month when I’m waiting for them to arrive; I always think this time I won’t pull it off, my ignorance will be too big a burden, the group won’t cohere….but it always does work, every single time. I’m so very grateful for these lovely, warm, generous people. I’m the luckiest person I know.

yeah, do this everyone

Wage Peace

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

Judyth Hill

the question of nice

I belong to an amazing group of women who cluster together in a number of sub-groups — reading, photography, movies, and one about being honest about our lives. Since I felt like the newcomer, the odd one out in a group that all seemed to already know each other, I asked how old everyone was and then one woman wrote a post introducing herself and many of us have followed suit. Each introduction and the torrent of responses could be a book. So many absolutely moving stories, of all kinds. Stories of mostly happy childhoods and adult lives. Stories of wrenching hardship growing up. Stories of betrayal, stories of families of every kind. We all try to hit the important details in a way that conveys who we are without writing whole encyclopedias — which we could certainly do because we’re all adult women. It is remarkable, and my favorite place to be right now.

niceThe issue of being nice (or, more pointedly, NOT being nice) came up in the group and that hit a lot of my buttons so I’ve been thinking about the broader topic ever since. WHOO-HOO, nice and women, such a thing to explore. Southern US women of course get trained — hard — in being nice. We are always supposed to be nice. “Be nice, dear.” “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Or as Alice Roosevelt said, clearly not a southern woman, “If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me.”) I have gathered from my eleven years living up north in the US that northern women do not receive such training. And I don’t mean that in a catty way, at all — should I wish I had the same training (or lack of training)? Do I?

Being nice can be a terrible trap. Be nice. In the south, if you’re not being nice they say you’re being ugly. “Now, don’t be ugly.” Sometimes “being ugly” happens when you are saying the truth, even if you do it in a ‘nice’ way, though that’s so hard to pull off, that in my experience it tips back toward nice and away from honest. [Thinking back now, I cannot recall a single time where a boy or man was told to “be nice.”] I have a terribly hard time not being nice all the time. Sometimes I think I’d love to just be not-nice and say whatever I want, be passive-aggressive whenever I want, not care about how other people feel, fuck them all, fuck you, say something that shuts down the conversation and not give a crap about it, say whatever I want and then respond to the fallout by blaming them. Meh, not nice. That’s me. I’m not nice, so I say that I’m not nice and that’s the extent of my responsibility. I am not nice. Can I do that? Do I even wish I could?

Maybe you're getting what you give out....
Maybe you’re getting what you give out….

I worked with a woman here in New York who was world class breathtakingly cruel — and I know from cruel — and my shock and fear kept me silent and she responded by telling people I was stupid. (When she was finally laid off, the thick, toxic atmosphere lifted immediately and people in our offices in the UK noticed the change, it was that bad.) I don’t know. I don’t really care too very much how people like her see me. But when people are cruel, or mean, or hateful, as she was, I learn that about them and then have little interest in interacting with them. Because why would I? Maya Angelou’s death has prompted a flurry of her best-known sayings being posted, and one is, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I disagree that people forget what you said — I remember the things people say very well, especially when they say things that hurt or are just mean and cutting. I remember how they made me feel with what they said. Oh yes, I remember.

I’d like not to be so worried all the time about being nice, but I do not want to simply be cutting and cold and shaming of people because “I am not nice.” The way I’d like not to be so nice would be in responding in the moment when I am unhappy about something. If someone does or says something to me that warrants a response, I’d like not to sit there and ‘be nice.’ THEN, in that moment, I’d like to speak up. Do I have to speak up in a hateful way? Well, I guess that depends. Sometimes I suppose it does. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a whole host of situations where my response could and should properly be hard, or cold, or sharp, or strong, or in their face. I’m getting better, and am certainly better at it than I’ve ever been but I have such a long way to go.

But overall, I do believe that nice and kind are valuable ways to be in this world. (Maybe, though, I am basically a kind person.) That being nice to others, kind to others, matters a lot. That recognizing that others have their own shit and are trying the best they can, that others are managing stuff I have no idea about, so as a baseline being nice to people and kind and as accepting as I can be, I think it’s a worthwhile thing, trying to be kind. I think it’s valuable to recognize when it’s my own shit that’s being stirred up and focusing on that instead of being mean because “hey, I’m not nice, tough.” It’s a value I hold. As with everything, it’s about finding the balance and nice does not equal being a doormat. As the years have passed, I think for her it was less about her not being nice and more about her being pathologically screwed up, which is a different thing.

I can easily call to mind women I know who are nice and kind but not doormats. I respect the hell out of them. We sometimes see things differently and they don’t abandon their views and neither do I, and they’ll stick with their positions without bending and they’ll stand up for themselves, I’ve seen it, but they are otherwise kind women. I admire the hell out of them and watch them as teachers.

Here’s a beautiful poem titled Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, from 1952:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend

And finally, I have to put this song here. It’s called ‘Say Something’ and it’s important to some people in my family and when it was shared with me yesterday I broke down crying. Say something / I’m giving up on you — a song about loss, but pointedly about not just one kind of loss. The video even includes the death of an old woman, so that one at least doesn’t easily fit say something / I’m giving up on you, but my God, what a beautiful and heartbreaking song, especially if it’s appropriate for you in some way already, as it is for me and people in my family. Here. As she always does, Christina does some serious over-acting, but crap I don’t care. Please, please, please. Just say something.

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yeah, there’s no box

boxIf you’ve read this blog for long you already know how much I hate that oxymoronic cliche “thinking outside the box.”JC I hate that phrase, and when people use it in my presence to indicate that they are uncliched thinkers, depending on my mood I might just come out with both arms swinging and with more than a little sneer point out the way they just proved how wrong they are. SHEESH. Getting me all riled up just thinking about it. There is no box, there is no half-filled/empty glass, cut it out. Seriously. I used to think “cliche” just meant trite, tired phrases like these.

Ali
Ali

I once mentioned a man named Ali who cracked open my mind in a profound way, and a friend wrote me and said she’d like to hear more about that. When I met Ali I was in graduate school, maybe 41 years old? Right around that age. I was/am smart, but in a super conventional way. All the received wisdom was/is perfectly received by me, without question, and I believed my goal was to absorb it and work with it. Oh, this is the deal? OK, that’s the deal, that’s how I understand it, that’s how it is to be understood. I knew people who were really different in some intellectual way I never could articulate; I tried to understand if they were smarter than me, but that didn’t seem to be the right dimension. They were differently smart, but smart really didn’t belong in the mix, it wasn’t about smart. They thought differently, they saw things differently, they understood something very different than I did. It wasn’t until I really got involved with Ali that I figured out that it’s about having an uncliched mind. And oh how I wished I had that kind of mind, once I figured it out, but I just felt stuck in my little array of boxes. This idea = this definition. That concept = that rigid framework.

Ali had a bunch of things going for him. He was (and still is) an incredible poet, first of all. Poets are sometimes unconstrained, original thinkers. Ali was (and still is) from Pakistan, and had a very different understanding of the world than I had at the time. I was apolitical, really. I considered myself a Democrat, but really just didn’t care very much, didn’t have reasons for feeling what I felt, thinking what I thought, and didn’t feel much need to interrogate any of it. But the whites of Ali’s eyes could literally turn red when he talked about the World Bank, about the IMF, about immigration policies, about poverty, about the West. He could sometimes be kind of frightening when he looked like that, all red-eyed and intense and fired up, intensely animated. I listened with ignorant bewilderment, not even knowing what the IMF was but seeing that he thought it was bad. Google was brand new, and maybe I did a Google search to see what the IMF was, but probably I didn’t. I was kind of dazzled by Ali, who was very tall and wrote incredible poetry, and who had a quicksilver mind I couldn’t understand and experiences I’d never encountered. OK, he thinks the IMF is evil, whatever……

We fought a lot because the way he saw the world made absolutely no sense to me and I was thoroughly disoriented. Gandhi was a terrible, terrible person. (What?) Country borders should not exist. (Huh?) I often felt like he was telling me that the ground was really the sky and that I’d been lied to all these years. I was so uninformed politically and that was a big gap between us, as were our cultures. He didn’t really see himself as a separate person; when he needed to think about something, a decision, it could only be made in collaboration with his very close Pakistani friends who had become his family. It took me a long time to realize that Ali didn’t have personal relationships with people, which is just the best way I can think of to describe it. I tried to talk about this with him and in bewilderment he said that his parents had never spoken personally to each other. He and I had both known terrible suffering, but of such different forms. He told me that no one in the West knows anything at all about suffering — the source of another whopper of a fight, since I believe I have indeed known a thing or two about suffering (obviously I took that one a bit too personally). But his father died when he was a kid, leaving his mother to raise seven children alone in Islamabad, and with no money. One of his poems was about seven grains of rice and his eternal hunger. He told me that morality is the privilege of a full stomach, and all these years since I think about that and no matter how hard I poke at it, not wanting it to be true, I believe it is true at a general level. Individuals can transcend of course, of course.

On 9/11/2001, I witnessed laid-back weird Austin change as quickly as the rest of the country. At the time I had a bumpersticker on my car that said “Bush Is A Punk Ass Chump” and usually people would pull up beside me, grin, and do two thumbs up. But on 9/11 and afterwards, Austinites shook their fists at me. One tried to run me off the road, and it was my bumpersticker they were so offended by. For some reason, that cataclysmic event and our country’s response to it was the iron wedge that caused my skull to crack and I suddenly understood everything Ali had been saying. Black was white after all! Up was down, right was wrong, the US hadn’t been everyone’s “good buddy neighbor.” The point of this post is not a political one at all, it’s just that it was a political event that did the trick for some reason. I witnessed people spitting on Ali. A few days after 9/11 we went to lunch at a Greek restaurant near campus and other customers screamed terrible things at him when we walked in, someone came over and spit in his face, and the manager asked us to leave.

I saw at that moment that I’d been understanding the world exactly and only as it was told to me, described to me. I’d accepted it all without question, it never occurred to me to think beyond the given components, only to try to arrange them in a neat form. That my cliched mind was nearly complete — politics, religion, nature, existence, philosophy, whether those things even are — my thoughts snaked through those little boxes as if they were Truth describing Truth, full stop. It may sound like I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m really not. I had a very good mind, I was smart, I was just not at all original. I’m still not. I’m a great copyist, though.

It does not come at all easily to me, being an original thinker. It’s effortful and I have to remember to do it, and usually I forget. All at once I’ll realize that I should poke at the precepts, question the definitions, try hard to think about what I’m thinking about and get outside it. I’m very glad I got the chance to learn that there is this other kind of mind, even if mine is not that. Even that feels like a kind of liberation — a big enough gap to hold the light and awareness when I think about it.

* * *

I loved Ali’s poetry and huge mind — I’m always a sucker for both of those things. I much prefer people who are smarter than me, and larger in their own ways, and poetry too? Please. He wrote one poem about me titled “The Poem of Ji,” and I inspired the first line in another poem (the line: The sky here is American like the blue of your eyes; / the folds of your eyelids the Hindu Kush mountain.) He published this poem when I knew him and I still love it; he’s listed in The Poetry Foundation (here) and this is one of his poems I really love, “The Emerald Mosque on the Hill.” He has since published two volumes of poetry — and not self-published — and “The Poem of Ji” is included in his first book.

Not too long ago I found him on YouTube, a recording of a reading he did at a university. He’s on the faculty of a university in Colorado, maybe it was there I don’t recall. Anyway, one of the poems he reads is “The Poem of Ji,” and it tickled me to death to hear him read it. You know how other languages have diminutive forms at the end of names to add an endearment? Like -ita in Spanish, -itchka in Russian? In Urdu it’s -ji. So I was Loriji and he was Aliji. Well, without knowing better I just started calling him Ji, so he started calling me Ji. (Can you imagine calling someone Ita? Itchka? Somehow Ji worked differently to my ear.) Still, even though he also called me Ji he thought it was the silliest damn thing, so he wrote a kind of long poem about the Land of Ji, and it starts beautifully and ends horribly. Here it is, if you want to listen; move the slider to 3 minutes to just start right at the beginning of that poem:

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I’m grateful to Ali for getting me started on cracking open my cliched brain. I’m grateful to Ali for helping me understand the big-picture political world so differently. I’m grateful to Ali for making me understand the world as a whole differently. And I’m grateful to Ali for his poetry — the ones about me, and all the rest.

love

loveSo! A week from today is St. Valentine’s Day (remember the St.? I think we’ve Hallmarked that word out of the day at this point, but that’s what we called it when I was a kid). The morning news shows are talking about flowers and what you should know before you order, the shops are full of gaudy cards and even gaudier red-cellophaned boxes of chocolate, and however you might feel about the commercial part, telling people you love them is a good idea. Somehow the ‘holiday’ seems to have shifted toward romantic relationships exclusively (unless you’re in elementary school), but that’s such a shame. If you don’t have a romantic relationship, there are still people in your life that you love, and who love you, and you can celebrate those relationships too — it’ll be good for you and good for them. Here are some ideas:

  • A little gift, something they always wanted but never got. This one requires forethought and knowledge of the person, so it’s not for everyone — but what a gift. And it needn’t be a big thing, of course. A box of charcoal pencils, a collection of watercolors for the wish-to-be artist. A childhood toy, longed for but never received. You’ll knock their socks off partly because they will feel known and seen. And that’s what it’s about.
  • Amnesty and forgiveness. Finally, just let that thing go. But don’t tell them in a “yeah, I forgive you for that shitty thing you did to me” way. Wrap it in a new beginning, a frame of understanding and accepting their humanity and loving them. (You’ll get a gift back on this one.)
  • A box of something that smells wonderful. Be creative and look outside. If there’s a childhood memory you can track down with a smell, do that! If they love the smell of leather and tobacco, do that. If they love orange blossoms, check out your florist.
  • A little still life. It’s easy to see all the nests in trees and bushes, here in our harsh winter. Pull one down, place little objects in it. A brief bit of life, held in place.
  • Do a chore for them! Mothers, if you’re lucky enough to live near your kids, I imagine your grown daughter would be shocked if you showed up to do one of her chores. OR make it easy for her and her husband to celebrate together — take the grandkids and leave a little bit of cash behind, if you can afford to do that.
  • Stick little notes in surprising places, and if you can, slip them in places they’ll discover as the day goes on. One in a coat pocket, one in the underwear drawer, one in the purse or briefcase or wallet, one in the car. Tiny little notes — Post-Its, even. Tiny little notes.
  • Your complete and undivided attention. Whoever it is, wherever they are, you can do this. See them if you can, and truly focus on them. Smile and feel the love you have for them, and just look at them. Listen to them. Keep your phone in your purse or pocket — or in the car.  Talk about real life, how things are in their life, their dreams, their day, their worry.

I woke up this morning thinking about how lucky I am in love — Marc, my children and their husbands, my adopted family members, my friends bound in love, my friends connected by like, I am rich rich rich RICH.

I leave you with a funny poem about love:

Love Explained
BY JENNIFER MICHAEL HECHT

Guy calls the doctor, says the wife’s
contractions are five minutes apart.
Doctor says, Is this her first child?
guy says, No, it’s her husband.

I promise to try to remember who
I am. Wife gets up on one elbow,

says, I wanted to get married.
It seemed a fulfillment of some

several things, a thing to be done.
Even the diamond ring was some

thing like a quest, a thing they
set you out to get and how insane

the quest is; how you have to turn
it every way before you can even

think to seek it; this metaphysical
refraining is in fact the quest. Who’d

have guessed? She sighs, I like
the predictability of two, I like

my pleasures fully expected,
when the expectation of them

grows patterned in its steady
surprise. I’ve got my sweet

and tumble pat. Here on earth,
I like to count upon a thing

like that. Thus explained
the woman in contractions

to her lover holding on
the telephone for the doctor

to recover from this strange
conversational turn. You say

you’re whom? It is a pleasure
to meet you. She rolls her

eyes, but he’d once asked her
Am I your first lover? and she’d
said, Could be. Your face looks
familiar. It’s the same type of

generative error. The grammar
of the spoken word will flip, let alone

the written, until something new is
in us, and in our conversation.

the universe responds

waterLately — I don’t know exactly for how long — I’ve been submerged. Not deep, not in the black water, just underneath the surface, close enough to pop my head up and take a breath. Partly it’s what we’re all dealing with this year, a really harsh winter, one storm after another, exhausting our resources inside and out. I need some sun — you do too, I’m sure. And partly it’s because there has been a lot of hard stuff happening to me and to people I love. Nothing fatal, and even the hard stuff seems to be finding its level. My dear friend who had a huge health scare is going to be OK. And so his wife is going to be OK and I, his friend, will be OK. One family member came through a really rough patch with a great decision. Scary, yes, but the right decision and the relief that brings. Good people die for stupid and sad reasons and the world is just like that.

And so yesterday I was again home alone all day, with some work (thank you universe, for a little run of little jobs now could I get a bigger one please?), and just feeling under the water. I could see the sky, but it was cloudy. I ate some beans. I was not feeling all that great.

But then my phone rang and it was Dixie, who has been sending me these little loving emails every single morning — I see what she’s doing there — but it was Dixie on the phone. And if you’ve been around these parts for even a day, you know what kind of call it was. It was a Dixie call, and how could all that love do anything but lift my spirits? Such a sweet surprise, and such a spirit lifter.

And then I ate some more beans. Then I decided maybe I’d make one cupcake — you can do that, you know. One cupcake. No frosting. Just a tiny little bit of cake to go with a cup of tea. And I kept working. Seven o’clock. Eight o’clock. Nine o’clock. Nine thirty. And then my phone rang.

Who would call me at 9:30? The caller ID — my heart stopped, is my friend in some kind of trouble? We thought he’s out of the woods. But no, no trouble, just his wife — my beloved friend — calling to tell me something. To encourage me, to share an opportunity with me. “We’ll do it together, let’s do it together. And if it works for one of us but not the other, we will be so happy for each other. Let’s do it. You should do it,” she said. “You are so good.”

yes

There I’d been, feeling weighed down and burdened and not so good. You know the blues’ll do that to you. You should do it. You are so good.

We both reassured ourselves that of course we won’t get in, we don’t even need to worry a tiny bit about how to pay the hefty tuition — it won’t matter, we won’t have to worry about it. But let’s do it anyway, I will if you will. You are so good. (She is so so good….) And so we decided that we will do it anyway, we will say YES to ourselves and that cracks the universe open every time we do it. Say yes. Say YES.

I remind myself of an old joke. A guy is stranded by rising flood waters, so he climbs up on the roof of his house. The waters rise. Some other guy comes along in a rowboat and tells the guy to get in, but the guy says, “No, the Lord is going to save me.” So the rowboat guy moves along and still the waters rise. Another guy comes by in a bigger boat, “No, the Lord is going to save me,” he says again. The waters are rising, he climbs up on the chimney. A helicopter comes by and drops down a ladder — “Climb up!” the rescuer shouts. “No, no, the Lord is going to save me.” The waters rise, the guy drowns. He gets to heaven and says, “God, why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what  else do you want me to do?”

Look at all these people swimming up to me, throwing ropes my way, calling out to me with so much love, with so much tenderness, with so much care. It never ever ceases to amaze me the way humans can be, the way we keep an eye on each other, the way we extend our love again, and again, and again. The way you might feel a little bit sinky and then what do you know, someone calls out of the blue to say she loves you. And then what do you know, someone calls out of the blue to tell you that you are good. Some days that’s just exactly what you need to hear. Thank you my darling Dixie, and my beautiful Peggy, and Traci for popping in with love, and Becci for leaving notes with love, and Marnie for sharing her life good and confusing with me, and today for the huge joy of time with Katie.

Yes universe, YES. How can I say anything but yes.

[and for you, a little prezzie. I brought this poem to my poetry group on Tuesday night, and it’s kind of dazzling. It’s by Christian Wiman, published in his collection Hard Night (2005, Copper Canyon Press). Read it aloud:

Rhymes for a Watertower

A town so flat a grave’s a hill,
A dusk the color of beer.
A row of schooldesks shadows fill,
A row of houses near.

A courthouse spreading to its lawn,
A bank clock’s lingering beat.
A gleam of storefronts not quite gone,
A courthouse on the street.

A different element, almost,
A dry creek brimming black.
A light to lure the darkness close,
A light to bring it back.

A time so still a heart’s a sound,
A moon the color of skin.
A pumpjack bowing to the ground,
Again, again, again.

the fragile tether

fragilityPhilip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose death knocked my feet out from under me. I have a particular compassion for heroin addiction, because I know a brilliant man who became addicted. There is a real difference between people who become addicted to cocaine and those who become addicted to heroin (though the horror of addiction is the same, of course). The longing for soothing vs the longing for adrenalin plays out in so many ways in a personality, in a pattern of need. So I acknowledge my bias of deepest empathy and sorrow for those who long for soothing — but I’m just one of so many who are touched by Hoffman’s death. He was so human, easily talking about the struggles of life, seemingly easily enacting characters with a fragile depth. Even when he played terrible people, he found their deep longing. It was his own humanity that shone through, and boy did it shine.

Yesterday Dixie left a comment that was just so beautifully phrased: “Our lives are so fragilely tethered – sometimes the most basic human need is just to be recognized in a certain way.” That captured something so exquisite and delicate I just keep thinking about it. Fragilely tethered. All around, people are dying inside for want of a word, a touch, to be seen.  I’ve known people who armor themselves in meanness because their tether is so fragile, their need so terribly unmet. In my own life, I’ve felt so very starved to be seen and known (don’t we all feel so hungry to be known?), and at times that unmet need nearly untethered me. Some of us are hungry ghosts, and there is no amount of anything that will fill those holes, but some of us just want such a small thing. To be seen as cute, maybe, instead of being the smart girl on the front row that you only call for help with homework.

Related to yesterday’s post, I love those times when life circles through and around, with the same themes circulating again and again. Yesterday I wrote about the tension between having a heart that wants control while secretly wanting to “throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name” (Donna Tartt, from The Goldfinch). Last night was my monthly poetry group meeting, and one member brought Baudelaire’s great poem:

Be Drunk

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it–it’s the
only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks
your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually
drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be
drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of
a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again,
drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave,
the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything
that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is
singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and
wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be
drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be
continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

One of my favorite members of the group said something about the pressure of that — one must always! be! drinking it up! We all laughed, and I knew just what he meant. There is a lot of pressure around the idea, and Facebook can magnify the point. How many times have images with words (or even just the words) flown through my feed exhorting me to be drunk on life! Oy. I can do that for a while and then I need a nap. 🙂

Anyway. Maybe today we can all do small kindnesses and see those around us, shine a little bit of light on the people we come in contact with. Smile at people and shock the hell out of them. You just never know how fragile someone’s little tether might be. You never know.

the difficulty of cutting slack

OTI imagine there are people in this world for  whom life is easy. And by that I don’t even mean that they have plenty of money, that their lives are not regularly rocked by meteor blasts, that they are surrounded by love. I’m not talking about those rara aves. Instead, I’m talking about people who aren’t troubled by the problem of Overthinking. Every. Damn. Thing. Yeah, that would be me, I am the COO of the world, Chief Overthinking Officer. Don’t even try to make a claim for the office, it is mine. And you know, it’s not even one of those nice corner offices, no. It’s the one tucked behind the printer, where all the toner cartridges are stored. No windows. No perspective.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about cutting slack — compassion, benefit of the doubt, and self-compassion. Of course it’s a delicate and sometimes nuanced subject because there may be what feels like a tiny silk thread dividing cutting slack and letting off the hook. And oh me, we dare not let anyone off the hook! If we do that, how will we/they ever learn!

But we do cut ourselves slack, and fail to cut others slack. We may be generous to ourselves when we know we haven’t been nice but we tell ourselves the little story: Well, but I was having a terrible day and didn’t mean to be curt, good grief why can’t you just cut me some slack! And yet when someone else is curt, do we very often stop and wonder if the person is having a terrible day? Do we very often let harsh words pass without biting back so we can ask questions — are you having a bad day? You don’t usually talk to me with that tone, are you feeling upset about something today? Do we do that for others as automatically as we do it for ourselves?

“I give everybody the same breaks I give to myself. It’s so easy to say that I did my best; that I’m a work in progress; that I’m working to forgive myself and improve myself. It’s a hell of a lot harder to do this for others, but I decided I was going to do it, and it’s saved me; it has greatly changed my life. I think that life is only tolerable if we realize that we are all in this mad drama together–to help and to support each other. And love is so much easier than we realized, especially once we no longer expect any kind of reward for sharing it. The prize is the love. Let everything go–the grudges, the regrets, the blaming, the trying to figure out what went wrong thirty years ago, two weeks ago. Move forward with love and with others you’ve decided to love and craft the better, future life.” –Elizabeth Taylor, 1991

The prize is the love. That is so brilliant and beautiful. Nearly everyone is doing their best, are works in progress. There are troublemakers, stalkers, awful people — of course. But maybe even they are doing their best, maybe even they are works in progress.

I think it’s so funny how most people (including me, the COO) readily and quickly claim that we cannot be compassionate to ourselves, though we can be compassionate to others. And it’s not like I disbelieve those claims! I struggle to be compassionate toward myself, but I guess I pick and choose. And I’ll bet you do, too. In the moments, I know of my inner struggles and I excuse the momentary expressions of it. I know I’m depressed, I know I’m flailing and worrying myself sick over what is happening within my family, I know I’m very anxious and not paying attention but LOOK AT WHAT I’M DEALING WITH I shout in my own heart as I excuse my snippiness, my silence, my self-absorption. I am doing my best, I am a work in progress!

And then — in the overthinking arena — I have made mistakes over the long course of my life that I struggle to be compassionate about. “Come down off the cross, we can use the wood,” Tom Waits sang.  What good is keeping myself nailed on those crosses? Does it undo my mistakes? Does this attitude make me less likely to make those mistakes again? No! No! My mistakes were still made, and there is no way I would ever make those mistakes again, whether I whip my back forever, or not. So I’ll cut myself all kinds of slack for ongoing in-the-moment stuff, where some mindfulness would be better and help me and the other person, and I do not cut myself any slack at all where it makes no sense to keep up the torment.

AAAARGH. Why is it so hard to be the kind of human I am? Because that’s the kind of human I am. Why couldn’t I have gotten that other kind of software, the not-overthinking-it kind.  Time for a poem.

Reluctance (Robert Frost)

Out through the fields and the woods
   And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
   And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
   And lo, it is ended.

 

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
   Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
   And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
   When others are sleeping.

 

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
   No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
   But the feet question ‘Whither?’

 

Ah, when to the heart of man
   Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
   To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
   Of a love or a season?

 

And if Robert Frost doesn’t do it for you, here’s that great Tom Waits song, “Come On Up To The House:”

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Trying to make you happy today however I can . . . and me, too.

lots of good stuff

Well, dear friends, I know I’ve been away for a while and here I am just sharing some links, but I want to share these with you! So much good stuff, and I hope some of it appeals to you. Since it’s coming from me, it’s about books and movies and poetry:

BOOKS

MOVIES & TV

POETRY

MISC

Winding down 2013, looking ahead to 2014 — arbitrary divisions, but they still feeling meaningful. Much love to you all……xo

the last of those anniversaries

There was a 17-day period last year that was the worst of my whole life, and I cannot imagine such a thing will ever happen to me again. Nearly my whole life crumbled under my feet, and very little was the same at the end of it; mercifully — an enormous mercy — I still had my precious children and I was still alive, but everything else was gone. My granddaughter. My daughter’s desperate longing to be a mother. My marriage. Where and how I lived. My dreams. Poof.

this was me then, a year ago yesterday. makes me cry to see all the sorrow in my exhausted face.
this was me then, a year ago yesterday. makes me cry to see all the sorrow in my exhausted face.

One year ago yesterday I boarded an airplane with three giant suitcases filled with clothes. I didn’t have a key to anything or any place. I flew away from New York, believing I’d never live there again. I left friends, hoping to stay in touch. I left a small number of books, planning to return to pack and ship them. And that’s it. Me plus clothing in bags. Been there before, never thought I’d be there again. (But I survived.)

One enormous loss was the belief that finally I’d never have to move again. I’d lived at the same address for six years, longer than I had ever lived at one address my whole life. Three times as long as I’d ever lived at one address, actually. My 80th move took me there, and I believed — finally, I believed — that I wouldn’t ever move again until I was dead. I fought my way to that belief, resisting allowing myself to believe it out of fear, fearing that becoming comfortable about that would make the pain unendurable if I lost it. But finally I did come to believe it. And the pain was in fact almost unendurable when I lost it. (But I survived.)

One year ago yesterday he drove me to the airport and spoke sharply to me on the way, making me cry even harder. He helped me get my three enormous bags into the airport and then turned and walked away, and I stood there in shock. (But I survived.) Here’s what I said about it last year:

Yesterday was machine gun fire, a giant rollercoaster, take your pick of metaphor. After getting an hour’s sleep, we left for the airport and wrestled my three giant suitcases to the airline check-in desk. Southwest Airlines agents are perky and seem to assume that everyone they encounter is a  happy person, going to a happy place (!) oh-so-happy! She kept apologizing for having to charge me for a third bag, and was insistently pressing on me about the trip while in my head I was screaming, I’m moving, these are all my clothes. This is my husband — we are leaving each other, I am moving, please stop. I sat alone at the gate for a very long time, stunned and blank.

Remembering all this brings the terrible pain back into my chest, the blankness back into my mind, the tears back into my eyes. Waiting for me in Austin was my beautiful and devastated daughter Katie, reeling and blank from her daughter’s funeral just a couple of weeks earlier. My solid and loving son-in-law Trey, reeling too. And they opened their arms, their home to me. They absorbed me with love, put their aching arms around me. There was so much to do — I didn’t have a fork, even. I landed at the airport around 1pm on a Saturday, and by 3pm that same day I’d rented my place and bought a couch. The next Monday Katie and I drove to San Antonio to pick up the car I’d bought.

Somehow, Katie and I bought all the things I’d need to make myself a home. Somehow she found it in herself to press me not to shortchange myself and just get junk, knowing it would eventually make me feel terrible to be surrounded by plastic, temporary things when I felt so temporary myself. Somehow she and Trey helped me make the transition two weeks after I arrived, leaving me to grieve alone in my new home, and leaving them to return to their own lives alone together to continue their grief. (And we all survived.)

A year ago yesterday I stood on scorched earth, a place I’d stood many times, a place I feared ever standing again, a place I believed I could never endure standing again. A year ago yesterday I and my life were saturated by loss and devastation. (But I survived.)

A year ago yesterday, one of those extraordinary serendipitous moments happened to me, as they frequently do. On the flight to Austin, I turned a page in the book I was reading and came upon this poem, the most perfect thing I ever could have read:

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

The poem gave me strength and courage, as did knowing that Katie and Trey were waiting for me, and boy the poem was the truest thing ever. I was not done with my changes; I will not be, until I draw my last breath. I had so much pain waiting for me, when I thought I’d already endured more than I could. I had so much heartbreak waiting, when I thought my heart was already shattered completely. I had so much growth ahead of me, when I thought the root was dead, finally, killed by too much suffering at the end of a life of too much suffering.

What I didn’t know, a year ago yesterday, was everything. I didn’t know the pain still to come (so glad for that); I didn’t know the harshness January and February would bring me (so glad for that); I didn’t know I’d find such beautiful things in myself, I didn’t know how strong I am even though I thought I did; I didn’t know my life would become better than it has ever been, filled with so many people who would just open their arms to me and take me in. I didn’t know I’d build a home for myself. I didn’t know I’d be surrounded by people. I didn’t know I’d thrive. And I certainly didn’t know I’d find my way back in New York City regularly, I certainly didn’t know I’d find some way to stay connected to my husband, I certainly didn’t know (and in fact would’ve bet everything against it) that he would change so much, so deeply, and in the ways I most needed. I assume I’ve made similar changes. I didn’t know I would in fact get to travel — didn’t know I’d go to Java and Bali, didn’t know Sri Lanka would be in my future, a year ago. I didn’t know that from my place of such tremendous want, I’d end up with such enormous surplus.

Just goes to show you. It ain’t over til it’s over, no matter how it looks in the dark. Katie, Trey, thank you for the ways you gave ME a home and a safety net, and all your love. Marnie, Tom, thank you for your optimism and support, assuring me I would be better than I dreamed. All that isn’t limited to a year ago yesterday, of course — it came before and it continues after that anniversary, but when I was at my greatest need, you held me. For such an unlucky person I am the luckiest person in the whole world.