three things: mirrors, growing, and zen

FEED: When my little family and I lived in New Britain, CT almost 30 years ago, in what was clearly the ghetto part of that otherwise-rich place, I got a chance to get away for a bit. We had three tiny kids at the time, all under the age of 5, and we were planning to move to Virginia. My then-husband had already been there scouting places to rent, and he suggested that I go, that he would stay with our kids.

even after driving over that bridge hundreds of times, the view of Manhattan never fails to take my breath away

This was such a glorious thing—just me, after such terrible hardship, a solo road trip (and I adore road trips). And not only that, I would drive through New York City for the first time in my life. I left around 4am, I think, and as I came down through the scary (to me then, and in the dark) Bronx and went over the beautiful George Washington Bridge, with all of Manhattan spreading out to my left, this song came on the radio.

It was popular at the time and I really loved it, and I think it probably came on the radio a dozen times on the 6.5-hour drive, or at least it felt that way. So even now, when I hear the song I just get filled with the same soaring sense of freedom, and the lyrics poke at me too. If you wanna make the world a better place, you’ve got to look at yourself and make a change. Lots to think about there. But at the moment I am just being fed by the beat and urgency of the song, and by the memories it holds for me.

SEED: Over the last couple of very easy years of my life, I’ve often written about feeling the complacency of it, and about wanting to use that easy time to challenge myself, to get out of my comfort zone, maybe to learn something new.

Well. Then the presidential campaign came along and all that ease went away, and now the fact that he’s in office and trying to destroy everything — no more complacency here, or anywhere else. As it all started unfolding, I often felt so many levels of terrible, including some inner levels, some frustration and personal hopelessness: I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to do anything about any of this! I’m not an organizer! I don’t know anything about lobbying, I don’t know how to do any of this! I don’t know how the details of the government work! How can I / what do I / where do I / I can’t!

At one of the marches a speaker said something about this, that it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to do, learn how to do it. It’s all learnable. Dig in, investigate, read, ask, poke around, assume roles, make things happen! I had to keep reminding myself of that because it’s not my instinct at all. Hell, after I had already made a sophisticated quilt by hand I thought I didn’t know how to quilt so I took a beginner’s quilting class. THAT IS SO ME.

It has been very frustrating, having all those feelings going on at the same time the frustration and fears about what was happening in the government were so overwhelming. It was just too much, too many sources of fear and upset, and yet there was nothing to do but keep flailing in the muck.

Yesterday I realized that I’ve learned a lot. I have really gotten somewhere with how to do these things. It’s less confusing, it’s less impossible-feeling. I have yet to organize a march, and still wouldn’t even know how to begin, but I do now know that I could figure it out. My understanding of things has become more sophisticated. I’ve paid attention somehow, in the midst of all the overwhelm.

And so this terribleness was also an opportunity, as terribleness usually is. And I guess the other thing about terribleness opportunities is that no matter how many times you go through that process, the terribleness feels so terrible that you can’t remember the opportunity part. That’s true for me, anyway. I’m by no means anywhere with it except to say that I’ve noticed the opportunity of it now. There is a very real ALIVENESS to being confused, to doing something new, to having to figure out a new language and new modes and slowly seeing that you have changed as a result.

READ: My friend George gave me a daily Zen calendar for Christmas — the only Christmas gift I received, actually — and as I pulled off all the days’ pages that passed while I was in NYC, two caught my attention:

“Nothing is more real than nothing.” ~Samuel Beckett

“Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere.” ~Bill Murray

That Beckett is so Beckett, right? It’s the kind of thing you can say to yourself and then pause to see what it means and then just get kind of lost. Is nothing real? Is there a realness to nothing? AAARGH! And I don’t know if the second quote is by that Bill Murray, but doesn’t it just give you a sense of calm?

I’m off to babysit wee Lucy this morning, so my day is off to a great start, and I hope you have something wonderful in your day too. xoxox

three things: 2/3/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday everyone. We’re still here.

Lester Tricky

When I was a little girl, I had a younger cousin who liked to stick bobby pins in the electrical outlets, and when sparks came out she’d laugh in absolute delight and say, “Lester Tricky! Lester Tricky!” Some adult would come running and tell her that electricity was dangerous and she shouldn’t do that, but you could see in her eyes that she would never listen.

I’ll come back to Lester Tricky in a minute, but first some context. My life is extraordinary right now. Just utterly extraordinary. Yesterday was Katie’s birthday and I got to spend some hours with them, and some time all alone with little Oliver, who isn’t feeling very well right now. Molars, I think. When I went home afterwards, I made a yummy dinner, and then feeling too extraordinary to sit still, I went to a pie shop with my new book of poetry and relished that warm chocolate salted caramel slice. I came home, still feeling too extraordinary (but also too full of pie), so I laced on my sneakers and headed out for a steamy walk — the only kind you can take in Texas this time of year.

Marnie had introduced me to a wonderful podcast called Song Exploder (I strongly recommend it to you!); song writers focus on one of their compositions and talk about the creation of it in fascinating detail. I selected a band I’d never heard of (Sylvan Esso) talking about their song “Coffee.” (Here’s a link to the specific episode, recommended!) The episode grabbed me from the beginning, and so I was hooked and lost in the conversation.

one of Austin's nicknames is City of the Violet Crown
one of Austin’s nicknames is City of the Violet Crown

It was that violet kind of twilight, and the cicadas were buzzing in the air non-stop. I walked past one family of deer, and then another, and then two little fawns that seemed to be on their own. The twilight deepened a little more, and the cicadas grew louder. As the conversation drew to a close on the podcast, the episode ended with the entire song played. And as I listened, I felt the top of my scalp, like electricity was dancing in my hair. It moved down my cheeks, down my neck — still alive in my hair — and down my arms. I saw goose bumps come up on my arms, and it kept moving down my body, down my legs — goose bumps there too — and into my feet. I looked up and there was a brilliant half moon right overhead. I looked to my left and there was a large male deer standing there looking at me.

ElectricityIt was extraordinary. It felt like everything else around me was on pause, there was no traffic on the busy street nearby, the cicadas seemed to stop, the breeze went on pause. I blinked slowly, swallowed, looked up at the moon, down at my arms, and closed my eyes. I just stood there in that moment, lit up with electricity. I remembered Lisa, and Lester Tricky. I felt the whole of my life, everything behind me and everything stretching out in front of me, my family continuing on into the future, me as an ancestor of all these people who streamed into the world through me. I don’t know how long I stood there on the sidewalk with my eyes closed. I think when the song ended, the spell was broken. I opened my eyes, the breeze seemed to pick up again. I heard the traffic nearby. I took a deep breath and looked up at the moon in the darkening sky.

I can’t guarantee that the song will have the same effect on you (but I do recommend that you start by listening to the podcast about it, linked above; it’s only 13 minutes long). Just in case, here is the official video of it. I love the female singer’s voice, and the eerie moodiness of the song, and now forever it’s stained purple for me.

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I love being me. I don’t think I’d be anyone else for any amount of money.

a little wave

Hi there, everyone! Remember me? I’ve been away — on vacation in Norway of course, but also just away from regular writing. I thought I’d pop in today with some small bits to share.

  • It’s been more than a year, now, since I began the anti-flailing project and no one is more surprised than I am by its success. And I think people who know me are surprised, because it circles around issues I have launched myself at so many times over the years, each effort lasting through an initial burst of working, and then fizzling and leaving me only slightly ahead of where I had been when I started. More than a year later I am still doing one thing at a time. Still eating well (except for when I’m in NYC, where I just do the best I can). Still doing yoga every single day, and meditating at the end of the day. Still doing much more walking than ever before. Still feeling still and quiet inside. Still living so much more in the present (thanks greatly to my bubble insight), even though I think that has contributed to the great decline in my writing here. All these shifts have also led to their self-perpetuation in an interesting way, because when for any reason I skip some of them — like doing yoga when I was in Norway, or like eating a bag of peanut M&Ms with Marc while watching the midnight sun — it’s not even an effort to return to myself anymore. It was, at first; at first I would have to summon myself, think about just starting again, but now I just start again. That’s all amazing to me. And even more amazing, all the weight I lost (35 pounds, unbelievably) have stayed off. I go up and down by a couple of pounds, but wow.
  • Surprising to me, I am getting better at drawing! What I mean by that is that it’s more a pleasure in the doing of it now, because I am getting closer to being able to approximate what I see. I’m less mortified by what I draw, and more often kind of happy with it. Getting better means I’m looser and starting to play more, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it.  I never thought I would get to any of these places with drawing. So in the process, I have also learned a little more persistence about starting new things. You can never get better if you don’t practice, and no one starts off as an expert.
  • Living with the estrangement of my son is like living with a raging infection that is agonizing but not fatal. Sometimes it’s worse than others, sometimes it’s just there in the background of everything, and right now it’s kind of raging. It tenderizes me, makes me even more easily and readily touched by the world. Two nights ago I was scrolling through our old text messages to each other and came across this exchange from very early in 2013. It shows his hilarious sense of humor:

I’m sitting in a cafe trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life.

What’re you thinking about?

Aquaponics. Feed fish, fish waste feeds plants, farm caviar and harvest plants.

Well that’s a different idea than usual!

They’re farming sturgeon in Spain, I’m sure it could be done here. Anywho, pipe dream for now. Anytime I think of something to do, the process of me getting myself there looks like this:  1) Collect underpants. 2) ??? 3) Profit!

He always cracked me up, and I miss him so much it ebbs and then swells into unbearable. So I’m in that right now and having to keep drinking water all day to stay hydrated from all the crying. It’s tough.

  • I’ve been reading a lot, as always — Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh;  Knausgaard’s fourth memoir in the series; On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks;  and A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout. (Links all go to my GoodReads review of each title.) It was amazing finishing the fourth Knausgaard in northern Norway, since it was set in that almost-exact location, and I finished it with regret that book 5 is not yet translated, and book 6 will be translated and available a year after book 5. I have a greater appreciation of the vast project of his books, and my awe has settled into place. The brain surgery book was fascinating, both in terms of the brain stuff and in terms of getting into the arrogant head of a brain surgeon. I see that all four of the books are memoir, which I hadn’t actually noticed until now. I recommend Oliver Sacks’s book, and the last one by Amanda Lindhout is really only for the stouthearted, as it goes into pretty horrifying detail about her captivity in Somalia and the things that were done to her. But it also presents one of the most accurate and vivid descriptions of dissociation I’ve ever read.
  • On Facebook I just posted this great old Lyle Lovett song, This Old Porch, because my son once told me that every time he hears it he thinks of me. He’s not on Facebook but I had a silly superstitious thought that somehow it might wiggle at him a little.

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But one line in the lyric brought forth such a detailed memory and it has stayed with me. The line is about an old theater on main street, and suddenly I remembered being a young girl, maybe 10 years old, going to the movies in tiny little Graham, Texas. There was one theater in town, on the square, and it smelled old and musty. I don’t remember what movie we saw; each movie played for a month, so once you saw it you just had to wait another month for the next movie, or see the same one again. I remember sitting in the cool, dark theater with my sister and brother after my mother dropped us off, and there were just a few other kids in the theater. It was a very hot summer day, and we had Charms lollipops, those thick chunks of lurid-colored sugar that turned our tongues matching colors. Someone in the theater threw his lollipop at the screen and we were all scandalized by that vandalism, happening right before  our eyes. It was stuck to the screen throughout the movie. But I remember how my skin felt, how raw I felt, how pressed-on by the world, how unformed it was to be me. Big Daddy had just died and my one little place in the world was gone, and I felt like a speck of dust in a raging, scary universe. I remember how my muscles felt, how my stomach felt, how my mouth tasted. That was more years ago than my father lived, isn’t that amazing? Memory is the most incredible thing, whatever the memories are. How lucky a thing to have them.

Book club tonight, and a friend’s wedding on Saturday. Summer in Texas is here, 100 degrees coming this weekend. A teenager’s death by snake in the news. My daughter Katie’s birthday is coming up, an age that surprises us both — how can that be? And Oliver is walking. Life is, as always, all kinds of things at once. I kind of love that.

xo

I don’t envy the unripe

oh how I loved this Annie
oh how I loved this Annie

Oh, you younger people, you unripe. You bursting with pink and flower and raw energy. You fresh and unlined. Our culture envies you, we exalt you. I like you well enough, I do, but I do not envy you.

Last night I watched Annie Lennox perform a live concert on PBS. For the bulk of the concert she was performing old standards — like, from the 1920s. Or songs like Georgia On My Mind. Hmph. OK. None of it felt all that interesting, and in fact I couldn’t wait for her to stop singing Georgia. But then she sat down at the piano and sang two of her own songs from early in her career. I love those songs, from the Medusa and Diva albums. I loved her in The Eurythmics too — and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” will always make me think of tiny Katie, who absolutely went crazy when she heard that song. But it’s the Annie of the Medusa and Diva albums that lives in my heart.

The second song she performed last night was “Why.” This song is the title track of my divorce from my kids’ dad, Jerry. This song was nearly unbearable to listen to back then and the pain all comes back every time I hear it — from the first note to the last brilliant aching chorus:

This is the book I never read
These are the words I never said
This is the path I’ll never tread
These are the dreams I’ll dream instead
This is the joy that’s seldom spread
These are the tears…
The tears we shed
This is the fear
This is the dread
These are the contents of my head
And these are the years that we have spent
And this is what they represent
And this is how I feel
Do you know how I feel ?
’cause i don’t think you know how I feel
I don’t think you know what I feel
I don’t think you know what I feel
You don’t know what I feel

even more beautiful Annie
even more beautiful Annie

She sat at the piano last night singing a much quieter and somehow even more moving version of the song, and I thought about us as women. I wondered who she was when she wrote the song, what of her life informed that song. Who it was who didn’t know how she felt. And I thought about the thousands of times she’d performed that song in the intervening years — so many times she surely became kind of autopilot about the song, the origin blunted. But then I thought about that woman sitting at the piano, and the woman sitting in the chair watching. Two women with a long and deep collection of experiences that relate to this song, and as we experience this song now, so much older, so much more wisdom, such a deeply different experience of what this song means….well, I felt grateful beyond words to be ripe. The song still makes me cry, and I guess it always will. When I listened to it in the early 90s, I truly was not sure I’d be able to survive that pain, it was too central and excruciating.

Now, 2015, I have survived — that and so much more. So many things, so much emotion that felt too much, too hard, too sad, too big. Now I still do want to be known, I do want my feelings to be known and understood, and I know and understand myself, my feelings, and I know my emotional strength and courage. And I know that I’m good, just me, and I’m not broken. Neither is Annie. This isn’t the performance from last night, but it is beautiful Annie singing this song live:

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Grateful, I am so so so grateful, incredibly grateful, always grateful, happy happy happy to be exactly where I am. Happy Saturday, y’all. xoxo

all by myse-e-elf….

Hey, remember that great old Eric Carmen song, All By Myself? Oh I had such a huge crush on him — and here he is on American Bandstand, remember how great that show was? (And Midnight Special, and Soul Train?) And I had that album of his:

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Gosh, I remember watching that episode and just melting, leaning toward the tiny television, daydreaming that he was my boyfriend. (I do that now with Idris Elba.) Of course he was only lip synching, obviously, but I didn’t care. Oh I thought he was so beautiful. (I guess I’ve always had a thing for small-framed Jewish men of Russian extraction. Who knew.)(But Idris Elba….)

This isn’t just a walk down that old memory lane. I was telling my husband about going out to Pinthouse Pizza for dinner, and getting a pizza and a craft beer. He said, “All by yourself? Wasn’t that uncomfortable?” You know, that never once occurred to me, that it would or should be uncomfortable! That hasn’t always been the case; when I first moved back to Austin I took myself out to Central Market for dinner so I could listen to the live music, and of course I was all alone in a particularly terrible way and it was the holiday season, but even then it turned out OK.

It doesn’t occur to me to look around to see if I’m the only person there alone. It doesn’t occur to me to think about the fact that I’m there alone. It doesn’t occur to me to wonder if anyone notices I’m there alone. I actually like being there alone. I enjoy going to movies alone. I love going to coffee shops alone. I enjoy doing anything alone.

this is definitely not me!
this is definitely not me!

I am with myself, and somehow that doesn’t feel all alone. I don’t feel a loss, an absence, I don’t feel less than anyone — I am with myself. And honestly? I enjoy myself. I read. I look around and watch the groups of people. It’s so much fun to watch people. I eavesdrop, as I did the last time I went out for pizza. These two men in military camo sat down next to me. They were so awkward with each other, trying this topic, then that. They clearly worked together, but this might have been the first time they were alone together in this kind of setting. They tried talking about work, then they got a little bit of jazz going when they talked about their kids, but that fizzled pretty quickly too. They made some over-exaggerated comments about the pizza, but they both kind of seemed embarrassed by it. It made me glad once again to be a woman. And not in the military.

Anyway, if you have a fear of doing things like this alone, take it from me: It can be really great. I love eating out with friends and family, and going to the movies with people, or coffee shops — it isn’t that I don’t love that — it’s just that all by myself is equally good.

“All alone” music is so sad! There’s the Eric Carmen song, and then there’s the fabulous old Gilbert O’Sullivan song — remember? Geez, throw myself off the top of a nearby tower? Alone can be liberating, and all of everything. But not only one thing. (When you’re first all alone it’s excruciating. It really is. And then eventually there is space for something else to be born. Like maybe you turn out to be a person who enjoys eating pizza alone and watching the crowd.)

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How do you feel if/when you are out by yourself in places where people go with others? Do you feel self-conscious about it? It’s so strange to me that I don’t. I never would’ve guessed that about me.

EDIT: My beautiful friend Faith reminded me of this lovely, poetic short film about how to be alone:

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xoxox

 

sun without sun

Well, it’s so funny how this happens, but I’ve seen it happen again and again. By the time I acknowledge to others that I’m in a very low and blue period, it is somehow near its end. I suspect that I just struggle with it, sit with it, work with it, and then people start noticing and sending me sweet notes, and by then all that I’ve done to work with it has gotten me through it.

And so: I am through it, and feeling much, much better. Thank you for all the ways you have reached out to me, both before and since I wrote yesterday’s post. It’s good, I suppose, that I have so much experience with this particular pain to know that it will pass along and I’ll feel better.

Really I just wanted to mark this side of the tunnel, a quick post, but while I’m here I’ll say a couple of other things:

  • Marnie and Tom have gone to Mexico for vacation. She turns 30 on Tuesday, and this trip both gets them out of Chicago in winter and gives them a memorable experience for that celebration. I’m thrilled for their travels and also just a little worried about them being in Mexico. When they got to the hotel last night, Marnie sent her family a quick email letting us know that she was there, and this was the opening sentence: “I almost titled this email “kidnapped and murdered” but decided better. 🙂 ” That is so Marnie, and so funny, and sent me off to sleep with a big smile. Oh that girl.
  • And p.s., not for nothing, how is this happening? Katie will be 33? Marnie is turning 30? Time is just zooming past, man.
  • When I was growing up, I was always told that I look (and am) exactly like my father. My most recent Facebook picture made me think they were right, but instead of making me feel bad, it actually made me feel pretty good, like I am continuous with a past. Since he killed himself when he was 44 (anniversary coming up, March 5 1982), I don’t have any pictures of my dad at my age, and the last one I have of him was right before he died and he looked absolutely terrible. I have this picture of him taken right before he met my mother, which means I was born not too long afterwards:

me and frank

I really like that. Our eyes aren’t alike, I think, and his were brown anyway. It’s nice to feel a bit of continuity in the world coming from behind me.

  • I just finished work on a memoir of a man who rode a Harley Davidson over every paved mile in Vietnam. I evaluated it twice, and then copy edited it, so I have learned so much about all the little hamlets, every village and town and city that I haven’t yet had a chance to see. It was great, given my love for Vietnam of course. And then I discovered a novel titled She Weeps Each Time You’re Born (review on The Millions here, and piece on NPR about it here). It’s set during the Vietnam War — which of course they call the American War — and it’s magnificent, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The synchronicity of reading the two together makes it even better for me, since I know where each location is and how they look now, from the Harley manuscript, but I am reading about the devastation of those places in the war in the novel. It’s poetic and dreamy — it’s not always clear who is alive and who is a ghost — and heartbreaking. I’m only 30% finished but at this point I can give an unequivocal recommendation. Add it to your list, it’s magnificent.
  • I’ll close with this wonderful little video Katie shot of our sweet Oliver. It’s dark, sorry about that, but it’s so sweet. He was playing peek-a-boo all by himself with his little quilt. He laughs and giggles and choke-laughs (one of his favorite laughs). I watch it on a loop.

Happy Sunday, everyone! March 1, spring arrives this month and hallelujah for that. The bluebonnets will arrive, sun will surely return, and the world keeps turning. xoxo

scattered

A scattered post, like my scattered mind:

  • What I wouldn’t give for too much free time to the point where I felt a little bored. What I wouldn’t give for that. Although I don’t know that I have ever felt bored. There’s always so much to do, so much fun stuff I want to do and there’s never enough time for it all even when I do have free time. Which is almost never. It seems. I am tired.
  • I hate moving the clocks ahead. It really sucks.
  • me and Meg
    me and Meg

    What’re you reading these days? Anything so good you’re grabbing people and telling them they just have to read it? I’m enjoying The Interestings (review here, on Amazon here) by Meg Wolitzer. I know her sister Nancy, and met her at the Texas Book Festival last year. It’s a great book, I’m enjoying it so much. The characters are so real, I find myself wondering what they’re up to during the day and then I remember they’re characters in a book. The book explores jealousy of friends, whether being the special one makes you happy (and how long you keep pursuing that), and becoming happy with what you have instead of trying to get what you think will make you happy. Mainly I’m enjoying it because the characters are so realistic and fleshed-out and not constantly ironic, which annoys me. There is an earnestness about them that is realistic and similar to so many of the people I know.

  • I’m thinking about growing my hair out long again.
  • The Yale Writer’s Conference has a Facebook page that we were asked to join. So I see the other attendees, who they present themselves to be on their personal Facebook pages, and read their posts on the Conference wall. I have not made a single post, and I’m sure there are others have not either, but some have. And those who have are posting links to this thing they wrote that was published here, that thing they wrote that was published there, oh and here’s my latest. I have not had a minute to do any writing in more than a week, and the longer I go without doing any writing, the more wobbly I feel about it all. The more I feel like a faker, like the one attendee who should not be there.  This week I need to do some writing. Note to myself.
  • Are you going to see Wes Anderson’s new movie The Grand Budapest I broke up with him after Moonrise Kingdom and swore we were done forever. His movies are so airless, so big on aesthetic and short on anything-new-at-all. Another fatherless boy, another collection of incredibly strange people, another movie that’s interesting to look at but always the same in some way.  But I don’t know, maybe I’ll give him one more chance:

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  • Today is Katie’s baby shower. Yesterday I got to hold my hand over Oliver’s little hiccuping body a couple of times. It’s so thrilling to feel him through her tummy — and boy is he getting big — and boy is Oliver’s mommy getting tired. I remember those weeks, impossible to sleep comfortably, tiring to carry that big tummy, various aches and pains. I feel such tenderness toward my daughter, it’s a whole new phase of life we’re all about to enter. Me as Pete, Katie as mommy with a baby in her arms, Trey as daddy, Marnie as aunt, Tom as uncle. A new person in this world.

Well y’all, enjoy your Sunday whatever you’re doing. It’s rainy here again today, a good day to curl up on the couch and spend the day reading if you have that chance. Pick up The Interestings if you’re looking for a new book!

souvenirs

All the snow has turned to water,
Christmas days have come and gone.
Broken toys and faded colors are all that’s left to linger on.
I hate graveyards and old pawn shops,
For they always bring me tears.
I can’t forgive the way they robbed me of my childhood souvenirs.

Memories, they can’t be boughten.
They can’t be won at carnivals for free.
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs,
And I don’t know how they slipped away from me.

memoriesBroken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see.
That’s why last night and this morning
Always look the same to me.
And I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears.
I can’t forget the way they robbed me,
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs.

Memories they can’t be boughten,
They can’t be won at carnivals for free.
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs
And I don’t know how they slipped away from me.

* * *

Steve Goodman wrote that song but John Prine made it as well known as it ever was. It’s such a wrenching song, a sad melody. I listened to it during the time I was getting divorced from my kids’ dad and even today, twenty years later, it guts me.

The older I get, we get I suppose, the sweeter memories become. When my kids were in late elementary school, my memories of their younger lives were sweet enough but I was exhausted and so in the thick of it that they just sat there in a box as if I could always pick them up and thumb through them. One by one I put the souvenirs in that box—real souvenirs like their little report cards, school photos, Christmas ornaments, letters to me—and the more ephemeral souvenirs like the way Will smelled when he came in on a summer night; the way Katie focused so hard when she did her homework; the way Marnie knew she was adored by the mothers on the cul-de-sac. I tucked those away, “just” memories, but when I pull them out now they have become the sweetest things, almost too sweet to bear.

Partly this extraordinary sweetness is due to seeing who they’ve become, feeling the long distance from their sweet little lives and still seeing that in them when they laugh, or frown, or move in a certain way. My little babies, still there in these beautiful adults moving around in the world. And by extension, I am in there too. The young mother I was, feeling skinned, raw, all my nerves hanging exposed like live wires. The young mother I was, so far in love with those children I could not bear it, I couldn’t smell them enough, kiss them enough, squeeze them, make things with them, cuddle them. The young mother is long gone, the babies and young kids are long gone, but they’re not, really. I find it so extraordinarily sweet that I almost cannot contain the feelings.

Even the painful memories have sweetened in some way. That excruciating time when I wasn’t sure I could survive without my kids’ dad — as he was the root I grew around, and so wrenching him out of me would surely leave a hollow so huge that I would collapse — and the pain in my chest so hard I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see. I remember the pain, but I feel tender toward it now, tender toward us all as I think back.

This getting older business has a lot going for it. I highly recommend it to everyone. Get older. Grow and soften. Hold your souvenirs lightly, with both hands. Do not let them go.

xo

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a piece of writing I like

And guess what, it’s mine. This is a piece I wrote last August, which is the last time I saw my son. It was such an amazing experience, sensory-rich and almost film-like at the end, so when I got home I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it. If you are my personal Facebook friend from back then you may have seen it, but it’s been polished. AND I switched the POV thanks to a suggestion from Traci, and I like it more this way. This is the piece I submitted to Yale (for the writer’s conference) and I guess they liked it too. With no further ado:

“I’m having dinner with Will,” she told the maître-d at the entrance to the restaurant after he found her name on the reservation list. He nodded, a professional smile on his face, and the host escorted her to the smallest table in the back corner, almost too tiny for one person to eat comfortably, but it sat two for dinner. The restaurant was special in that New York City Meatpacking District way, where the food is good but the scene is the thing. Where you don’t look too closely at the edges of the floor, in the corners, where the very old tiles butt up against the crumbling walls; you don’t crane your neck and look up at the old, ratty, discolored ceiling; you wedge a sugar packet underneath one leg of your wobbly uncomfortable chair, and under the table too. It was 7pm on a Thursday night so the restaurant was crowded and noisy, but it hadn’t yet reached its place-to-be-seen stride for the evening. That was still hours away.

She was early, eager to see her prodigal son. For ten months he had not spoken to anyone in the family, avoiding their calls, ignoring emails and texts. A year earlier, her small family had gathered in Texas for her granddaughter’s funeral. They’d clung to each other, fought with each other, squabbling over nothing, tense words delivered just to relieve the awful stress and pressure of their despair. Their habits and history held him in place alongside his sisters in the old familiar constellation. They passed those terrible hours and days with games of gin rummy, favorite childhood foods, and old movies: the routines from their lives together. Then, too soon, they all scattered and returned to their bruised lives in Austin, Chicago, New York, and slowly the weeks dragged past with no communication from him, until the weight of his silent months became too heavy for him to lift. She was nervous.

And then there he was, her beautiful curly-haired son, tall and thin and elegant in his black suit and white shirt. She spotted him in silhouette, in the far corner of the restaurant, and leaned forward to see him sooner, twisting the strap of her purse in her lap. Everything about him was as familiar as her own skin—the curve of his back into the slump of his shoulders, the way he moved his hands when he spoke to people he passed, the tilt of his head. As he came closer she saw that his suit was cheap and saggy, the shoulders broken, his shirt stained and not crisp, his eyes old. His jaw sagged more than it should on a 26-year-old boy. He’d been promoted to manager, he told her as she smiled at him, and this was his new uniform. The move from waiter to manager showed up in a substantial reduction in his income and the addition of a black jacket. She dropped her purse and stood up and they clutched each other, her embrace more frantic than his. She closed her eyes and breathed in the still-familiar smell of him, and then they sat. She had no sense of herself or of anyone else in the restaurant, only an awareness of his face and hands, which looked so much like her own.

“The maître-d thinks you’re sweet, Ma,” he told her, his arms crossed. “And pretty, too.”

“Will, honey, it’s so good to see you. You look tired, are you OK?” She leaned over the table toward him and wanted to touch his arm.

“I’m fine Ma. Don’t worry about me.” Shielded, protected, closed. Abrupt.

The host came to the table and was startled to see Will sitting there. “Ah, Will, she told me she was ‘meeting Will,’” air quotes, “and I thought ‘well good for you, I’m meeting Robert later.’” They all laughed, a little crack in the tension. “I didn’t know she meant you.” He leaned down near Will’s ear, and Will turned his head away from her to speak in a low private voice, ordering wine for their table. Such grown-up behavior, the man in charge of things.

Will turned his body slightly away because he couldn’t cross his long legs underneath the low table. Perhaps their laughter softened him, perhaps he’d seen her face fall when he answered with such a brusque note. He reached out and put his hand on hers, his long fingers draping over her wrist. “So how’re things, Ma? You’re rocking the Amelie look, I love your hair. And really,” his voice softened more, “you don’t have to worry about me. I’m sorry, Ma.” It always made her smile when he called her Ma, an old joke between them. Ma meant love in a different way than Mom, and they both knew it.

They ordered food, nibbled the bread, drank glasses of Sancerre, shared salmon and then a strawberry shortcake, and talked. Formal at first, care with sentences and impersonal topics, until finally the rime melted away from him and he relaxed. They talked about his hard life, they talked about hers. She told him how much she missed him, and their eyes filled with tears they blinked away. Although he said no one would need their table, tiny as it was, they decided to walk, neither ready to head back uptown to their disappointing and stressful lives. “Let’s hit the High Line, yeah?” he said. “I’ve got a song I want you to hear.”

They left the restaurant and wandered in the soft night to the stairs that led up to the elevated park. The late summer humidity turned the night El Greco velvet, dark and thick, distorting the lights in the windows overlooking the park. The air was heavy but the breeze off the Hudson River was cool, and they turned right to walk uptown along the planked sidewalk. They passed people sitting on benches surrounded by billowy grasses, in pairs with their arms around each other, in small laughing groups, an occasional solitary person watching people pass by. Will pulled out his phone and a pair of cheap headphones – “Here, put this in your left ear,” he said as he put the other bud in his right ear, “while I get the song on YouTube.”

She linked her left arm through his right elbow and let the rest lose its edge, become fuzzy and indistinct. Just for the moment, no worrying about her daughter’s pain and struggles, her son-in-law’s frustrated job search, her own bulging problems. Just for now, she walked with generic background worries humming a low rumble. Later.

“There it is,” he said, “I found it. Hang on Ma, here it comes. It’s Aruarian Dance.” He touched the play button and slid the phone into his pocket, and their feet found the rhythm of the song, a swanky kind of sound, jazz house music, no words, and she knew they were both feeling the same thing. They moved in sync, their steps echoing each other in the dark, their eyes straight ahead but not seeing the old buildings, the lights, the ancient signs still visible in fading paint on old brick. She barely noticed small clusters of people sitting at tables, eating ice cream, as they wound their way among them. She scarcely saw the cabs crawling up 10th Avenue, to their right. Instead, she felt the heavy air pressing softly on her face, her hair moving slightly in the breeze and giving her a shiver as it graced her neck, and her son’s presence gathering her attention in soft focus. The music pulsed in their ears and wrapped them up like cotton candy, and they floated through the night together.

* * * * *

That's Will.
That’s Will.

It’s not much, 1373 words, but I do feel like it captures something real. And that’s why I like it. Something has happened to me. It’s strange and I like it. Last week I was driving to book club — an hour and a half, took me 15 minutes to get home thank you ridiculous Austin rush hour traffic — and from nowhere a short story idea appeared in my head. The whole shape of it, the points along the way, BAM. So I picked up my phone and illegally tapped on an app while I was driving and dictated the bulk of the story points. Because even though I was “sure” I’d remember, I have enough experience with myself to know better.

So yesterday I spent the whole day cutting a client’s 45-page short story in half, very hard! You could pull a number of different stories out, when you’re cutting half away and it’s well-written, with depth and layers. I was focused and thinking hard about his story and how to pull out the best bits, but in the very back of my mind I was tapping my foot, dying to write my own.  I am dying to write my own. Needing to write seems to have kicked my sadness out the door. I hope you liked my little story, I’m very happy to share it with you. xo p.s. Here’s the song Will and I listened to. I do love it:

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encounter

I am not vain, as you would agree if you observed me without my knowledge. Since I work at home, all alone, I often don’t get dressed. And since my work involves sitting in a chair, I sometimes wear the exact same thing for a couple of days running. OK, fine. But I go to the grocery store like that too, and in my fleece-lined moccasins. And often without remembering to brush my hair. And almost never with make-up. So I’m really not vain, that’s not what this is about.

absolutely unretouched, straight out of the camera. When did that happen to the skin around my eyes? And my throat, so unfamiliar.
absolutely unretouched, straight out of the camera. When did that happen to the skin around my eyes? And my throat, so unfamiliar.

Increasingly, when I look at photos of myself I’m shocked by the changes to my face and throat. Increasingly, it takes a dozen or more photos before I see one I can bear to show the light of day, and even that one will surprise me. Really? That’s how I am looking? When I see the skin on my arms it reminds me of my grandmother’s, kind of crepe.

It’s like having a very precious treasure, priceless even, in a cardboard box. And you carry the box around, you move it a bunch of times, ship it in the mail, accidentally bump it, perhaps even drop it a time or two. Over time, the box is going to show all of that — the corners will be rounded, it’ll be scuffed and dusty, it might be dented in one spot, it’ll just look as old as it is. But the very precious treasure inside is still exactly the same. It’s been protected by the box all those years, so it is pristine, still.

Yeah. That’s what it’s like. Inside me is every young woman I’ve ever been, and my mind’s eye seems to take some kind of average of them. It isn’t that I’m expecting to see myself at 23, or 30, or 40 when I look in the mirror or see a photograph. My encounters with my face have at least shifted that average up to the last dozen years, maybe. But the image I do hold doesn’t look like the face I now encounter.

And it’s not about feeling terrible about what I see (well, maybe a little bit but not more). It’s more the shock of it, that my box looks like that, because I am the treasure inside. That is the being you interact with, sit across the table from, laugh with, walk with. And if you love me, it is the treasure inside that you are seeing, I know that. I see yours too. But if you are a stranger and see me passing by, you see an aging woman (who is clearly not vain or she’d have put on real shoes and brushed her hair).

So the thing about it is it shows me — every single time I look in the mirror or see a photo — that my time is passing. I cherish and value the ways I’ve grown inside because of my time passing, but my time is passing and I need to do SO many things.  Of course I’m not ready to call it a day, far from it (I hope!), but my body, my container, it is getting old.

I do not want to be like my Aunt Charlotte. She died at home, in bed, clutching the sheets and yelling I’m not ready, I’m not ready, I’m not ready, no, no. That’s excruciating, and the worst natural death I’m aware of. I do not want to be like that, so I guess this will be one of my big projects over the next few decades, reconciling myself and accepting that the box doesn’t match the treasure.

This post was stimulated by a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Trip. I watched it last night, a comfort movie, and there’s a scene where Steve Coogan looks in the mirror at his actual face, stretches it back a little, drops his hands and just looks. And the look on his face is exquisite in its perfection. I know exactly how you feel, Steve. Watch The Trip — it’s available streaming on Netflix, and it’s charming and wistful and sad and funny, quotable lines, and extremely moving. Here’s the trailer:

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Happy Sunday, I hope you enjoy your day and make something meaningful out of it. xox

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.

wheels

Sometimes it’s so frustrating not being able to draw. Of course I could probably learn to draw a little bit; Marnie insists I could, that I just need to learn how to see what I see, and practice. I’m sure she’s right but I’m so embarrassed by even my private efforts that I freeze and give up. But sometimes you have something in your head and you see it so clearly but it only exists in your head. That’s true for two things that kind of torment me:

  • An extremely thin bone china teacup and saucer with big yellow roses handpainted on the cup. I know just what it looks like and can’t find it anywhere. Cynthia Ozick described it in Heir to the Glimmering World and I’ve never been able to stop thinking about it since. If only I could have that teacup. Just one, I would be so happy. I want to hold it up so the light comes through it. If I could draw the shape of it — because I know the shape of the cup, and the handle — I could show it to people. Instead, all I can do is look for it endlessly, in stores and online, and nothing is ever right. I want to draw it for you right now.
  • A very particular image of a giant wheel in the universe. This image really does haunt me in such a deep way. I wish I could draw it and get it out of my head.

galaxyI think about (what I think of as) the great wheel all the time, and talk about it. It’s no mystery where the image came from, and I’m only the hundred-million-and-a-halfth person to understand the world and time like this. So yeah, things whirl in wheel-like shapes in the universe. But I’m such a literal-minded sort (sometimes embarrassingly so) that for me, it’s more like a universe-sized wagon wheel in the sky. Maybe that’s specifically from my childhood in rural north Texas where couches with half-wagon-wheels on each end were common.

I grew up seeing these everywhere
I grew up seeing these everywhere but without the horse details on the cushions. Which were always vinyl. And hot and sweaty. And there was always a crocheted afghan, red and purple and orange variegated polyester yarn. ALSO hot.

Anyway. The big wheel. I often feel my place on the wheel, especially when I am around my grown children. I see and feel them moving around the wheel, taking the places I’ve been — newly married and happy, struggling with money and work and making it all work, becoming the masters of their homes, and soon, raising children. The last time I felt it so powerfully, I was at Katie’s house watching her make dinner for us all. Her ease in the kitchen, her ability to somewhat effortlessly make us a wonderful meal, her attention to her home and her husband, her happiness at being pregnant, you know what? I could actually hear the wheel turn.  A little creaky, a little rusty maybe, but I swear I could hear it in my mind’s ear. Katie is ascending on the wheel, and I am necessarily moving around on the other side. This doesn’t make me sad, or feel bad at all — it feels like the course of things on the wheel.

I assume when I watch little Oliver run around and grow up, and become a big brother and a cousin, and when my health or life become a little frail and my kids help me in a different way, I’ll feel it even more powerfully. I hope this never feels sad to me, though I want to live several more decades and I may not get to, since I’m 55.

In addition to loving the wheel, I also love time-lapse video [of the wheel]:

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Anyway. A new week, the last one of January. So far January can bite me. Oh wait. It already did. 🙂

loving kindness

One of the words I’m trying to work with this year is kindness. Like everyone, I find kindness easy to manifest toward people I love. That’s a no-brainer. I have a more difficult time extending kindness to myself, but it’s not as hard as it used to be so that’s good. But the whole point of kindness is to extend it into the world. Period.

candles not required
candles not required

There is a kind of meditation called the loving kindness meditation. You can read about it here, if you don’t know about it.  Basically, after getting into a relaxed position, you begin by extending kindness toward yourself. May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at ease. There are variations on the phrases, but they’re basically of that form. After that, you visualize a person about whom you feel kind and loving. PIECE OF CAKE! My big problem would just be picking one of you. Then you meditate while visualizing the person. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be at ease. Next, the standard advice is to think of a person about whom you feel neutral (more on this in a sec, because I have something to say). Then you do the same meditation. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be at ease. Then you visualize a person who is difficult in your life. Do the same thing. Then you do the same meditation out to the world, or to all sentient beings in the world. Lots of variations, but that is the general idea.

There is a growing body of scientific research on the effects of doing this particular meditation. It surprises people who do it — such a small thing, so many benefits. I want to do this. I want to do this regularly. I want to extend kindness to the difficult people, to the world. But two points:

Neutral people. Seriously? Who are neutral people? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t feel neutrally about anyone! I don’t even know what that means. If you do survey research and ask people to answer a question on some kind of scale (and I’m grossly oversimplifying here), if you use an odd-numbered rating scale they’ll often pick the middle, or neutral point. The truth is, probably, that we just feel meh about an awful lot of stuff. I’m not really all that invested in my paper towels, for instance. But if you give people a rating scale with an even number of choices, thus forcing them to come down on one side of the range, even though they’ll be pissed off and want to say that they really wanted something in the middle but you forced them, the forced choice they make is information! I’d like to pick a middle point about my paper towels, but if you just force me, I’ll probably pick the one on the positive side of the middle. And so even though I resent you for it, I guess I do feel a little bit more positive than negative about them. But not much! I insist!

I tried hard to think of someone I feel neutral about, but I couldn’t. Maybe I’ve internalized an even-numbered scale or something, but my feelings about people I know fall on one side or the other of that scale. Maybe I like you a tiny bit, or I dislike you a tiny bit,  or maybe I like you a lot, or dislike you a lotor maybe I totally love you or totally hate you. But neutral? I don’t get that. Even the person checking me out at the grocery store falls in one direction or the other. Even if I put in a silhouette headshot and think “person I just haven’t met yet” I still feel on the side toward positive! I like you a little bit at the outset and go from there, up or down. Maybe I’ll just have to skip that part of the loving kindness meditation.

Difficult people. So here we get to the nut of it. There are two very difficult people in my life right now. Aside from the people I grew up with, these are the only real difficult people I know. How hard is it to extend thoughts of loving kindness to them? I’ll tell you: It is super super hard. OK, I’ll do it, but I have my fingers crossed and I don’t mean it. Do I get credit for just saying the words?

And yet, and I honestly do mean this, I get it. I really do. If I can be open enough to extend loving kindness to both of those people — may they be well, may they be happy, may they be at ease — I am opening my own heart and pulling out the thorn. And perhaps if they were well, and happy, and at ease, they would be different in the world too. (I don’t think it counts if you’re doing it to try to get people to be nicer to you. 🙂 )  Do I sincerely, from my deepest heart, wish that they would be well? That they would be happy? That they would be at ease? You know, I think I do. Just sitting in my chair, out of the blue, I don’t. But when I am in that meditation place and relaxed and wishing that I may be well, that my loved ones are well, that allegedly neutral people are well, that those two are well, and that the world is well, I can mean every last bit of it from the bottom of my heart.

That is some mysterious stuff, man. If you want to try it, here’s a very good video that will do one with you. I recommend it.

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cracked open

I think we all kind of go along in the world in a glossy way — by which I mean we feel discrete, bounded, ‘sure’ of what we’re going to do later in the day, in the coming weekend, this spring, over the holidays. Next year. If someone stops us and presses hard, we’ll acknowledge what life can really be like. Yeah, yeah, I know, the best way to make God laugh is to make plans hahahahahaha….. (or whatever the saying is), but we know we don’t really believe it. Not today, anyway. Not today, because today we have appointments all afternoon and somewhere we have to be tonight, and we are healthy and young. Hahahahaha!

But when the tenderizing stuff happens, we know better. We remember that we really did already know better. After the pounding my heart took yesterday — really so little in my own self, much more for the people I love — I felt all cracked open. Actually, the cracking started the night before while watching an episode of Top Chef, of all things. Bear with me. Top Chef is the only “reality” show I watch, and I’m always so fascinated by the extraordinary creativity of the chefs when they’re pushed for time and ingredients. Wow, I could never do that. I never would’ve thought of that. One of the common reality show tropes, I gather, is to have a contestant call home while the camera watches and listens in.

Last night one of the contestants called and when he was talking to his daughter, his voice caught in his throat and he was trying so hard not to cry, and he told her how much he missed her. I thought about the fact that parents are often telling their kids (young, middle, or adult) that they miss them, but kids don’t (as) often say it back to their parents. That’s because for so many of us, having our children permanently cracks us open and makes us vulnerable — and especially vulnerable to them — in a way they don’t and probably can’t understand. And they don’t need to, perhaps they shouldn’t. I saw Bette Midler on The Tonight Show (in the Johnny Carson years) right after she’d given birth to her daughter. She told him that she could no longer watch the evening news because she was just too open now, the world felt too dangerous because her little daughter was in the world and it’s frightening. I understood her very well, because my own girls were very little — Will wasn’t born yet — and I felt the same way. You obviously don’t have to have children to get cracked open, and having children doesn’t necessarily crack you open, but it often does, I think.

So I went to sleep feeling that tender open vulnerability that the chef contestant reminded me about, and I woke up and did my beautiful morning ritual and felt open-hearted for a second day, still deeply worried about money, and then 1-2-3-4, bad bad bad bad things for people I love. Not the very worst in any case, but pain and suffering and uncertainty and unfairness, and me with not one damn thing to do that will help. Of course I want to be a magical all-powerful Queen of the Universe and just fix it all, but I am a mere and lowly queen of the pillbugs and the most I can do is pick up the little creatures off the burning street and place them in the grass. I can’t even ensure that they don’t get squished or starve. My powers are so puny.

I suspect that I’m feeling easily moved and open to the world because of the changes I’m trying to make — quieting the noise, starting my day the way I am, eliminating chatter — and I’m glad if those changes are having this effect. I’m glad. So here are a couple of things I saw yesterday that I want to share with you, because I found them very moving.

The “What I Be” project, by photographer Steve Rosenfield. Rosenfield recently asked people to complete the following statement: “I am not my ___ ” He wanted people to fill in the blank with their deepest and darkest insecurities, body image, substance abuse, mental illness, race, sexuality, etc. You can see the images on the project website here. Here’s one that really moved me to tears, because I might’ve chosen to say it too.

his insecurity: adoption
his insecurity: adoption

I could’ve easily filled in the blank with several things I saw in the images. The holocaust survivor who wrote “Hitler” on her extended middle finger also broke my heart. So much vulnerability in all of us, and we walk around trying not to let it show because it’s so soft and scared. I do love that about us, the way we put on our brave faces. Of course there are days our brave faces put us on because of course they’re not just a mask, they are who we are too! We are all the wonderful things, yes, and these too.

And then this one reminded me of the invisible-to-me ongoing lives of others. I love Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. That is some mighty fine music they make, and she is larger than life, a real in-her-bones musician. I didn’t know she has been fighting cancer until I read this piece on her in the NYTimes magazine. She has a new album, though she isn’t quite finished with her treatment for bile duct cancer, which of course caused her to lose her hair. Here she is in the video for the heartbreakingly appropriate song, “Stranger to My Happiness” —


Here’s what she said about shooting the video:

It took like eight hours to do that video. And right in the middle of it, I was standing there and was like, “Hey guys, I can’t do this no more.” I was just exhausted. I was done. It took a lot. They had to take the cord out at the top of my dress where they did the chemo. And my hands and my face and my nails, certain parts turned darker. My feet were colored, like, black. It was like I had tar in my hands and like I was walking barefoot for the last 25 years. So I was really concerned about that. But then I said, “Let me go do this. Because if I don’t do this video and get this stuff done, things aren’t gonna move.”

Asked about her decision not to wear a wig, she said:

I’m not a hair person. My hair on my head is my hair and I’ll connect some braids onto it. But now to go out there without it, it’s a new Sharon. Plus, I want my fans to go through what I’m going through. If they see this maybe they’ll understand. And maybe my story will get across to someone else with cancer. Maybe they’ll say, “Keep moving!” But basically it was to inspire myself. But you know, whenever you do something for yourself, you’re doing something for someone else too.

The bravery and courage we all show in the face of life is so so powerful. Only trouble of some kind calls us to be brave, and dammit I wish we didn’t have the trouble but we do. From the moment I gave birth to Katie in 1982, I’ve never been able to be casual about the world, because she was in it. And then Marnie. And then Will. Since their births, my life has become SO vulnerable because I can be brought to my knees, brought to the deepest despair, by anything that happens to those people. And then, dang it, they went and married people I love the same way. And my friends, dang it, you crack me open too, what can I do in the face of your hard times? Nothing, often, and I hate that.

Then yesterday morning a very dear friend who loves genealogy laughed when she said, “I see dead people.” It was so funny, such a great frame for spending time exploring your ancestors. We both laughed as we parted. I stopped at the market on my way home, still chuckling over her comment, and the store was full of elderly people on scooters and in wheelchairs. I’d seen the van out front but hadn’t put it together — shopping day for these people. I glanced at them as I grabbed the few things I needed, I picked a check-out line that didn’t have wheelchaired people in it, and as I was racing out the door, I passed a beautiful old woman sitting in her chair by the door, waiting to be pushed to the van. I glanced at her and she looked at me and smiled, and suddenly I realized I had not been seeing people. Suddenly I realized that another task is to see the living people, and we don’t, really. We dash along — or maybe just I do — not seeing people. But there she was, dressed and with pretty earrings, taken to the market in a van full of old people in wheelchairs. I paused for a second and stepped backward to smile at her and say hello. I nearly missed that opportunity.

Be kind to people today. Be kind to yourself today. See the people you pass, see them. I get to see a very dear friend today; she’s coming to my place for a walk, bringing me soup we can share, and I am grateful for her. Another friend came to see me last night because she knew what kind of day it had been for me. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to you all for holding me in your hearts the way you do. I want you to know that.

stairway to heaven

I had such a beautiful time in Dallas with Dixie and Karl — surely angels who walk on this earth, the both of them. We simply sat together and talked, all the hours we were together (and we ate, of course, and Karl drove us around to look at Christmas lights in the fancy part of Dallas, where Dixie and I oohed and ahed at the uncurtained fancy rooms). We decided that all the wrong people have the money, that we would all be so very very darling at being generous, and we loved on each other a whole lot. The big room in my heart that exists for them — and the big room they hold for me — got a lot of comfort and love. They’re gorgeous rooms, and I am so grateful to have them to love.

When I got home, coughing and sneezing and feeling generally crappy, as a cold will make you feel, I dashed through my Facebook feed very very quickly just to be sure I didn’t miss anything critical, and saw this version of Stairway to Heaven, performed by Heart, for the Kennedy Center Honors. It’s a fantastic version:

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That song has such a specific place in my life, and when I hear the opening notes I am taken back to 1976, and these memories:

  • As a homeless kid, once in a while I’d sneak into the Seymour Highway Electric Company, which was the disco in Wichita Falls. I had one dress, a kind of gauzy purple flowery thing, long-ish and flowy, perfect for dancing. I didn’t drink, had no money, just wanted to get outside of myself and dance. So I’d change into my dress in the bathroom of the disco and get out on the floor and dance dance dance, all alone, sweating and spinning and jumping up and down and twirling and completely forgetting myself. Inevitably that song would be played, and it kind of ground the dancing to a halt until the song kicked into the faster speed, but I didn’t care. I’d tip my head up, close my eyes, and twirl and spin and completely abandon myself. It was such glorious peace, in the midst of such a terrible time of my life.
  • In November, 1976, my mother had me placed in the psych ward of the hospital in order to completely discredit me, after I told the school counselor a little bit of what was happening with my family (“you can’t believe Lori, you know, she’s crazy”). It was horrible, but at the same time I had a real bed and a roof, I was warm (Wichita Falls freezes in the winter, it’s awful), and I had three meals a day. The hospital administrator and I hit it off (he was a DJ at a disco at night — DJ Vern), and he’d come to my room and sit and talk for long periods several times a week. For some reason he explained the existential meaning of the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven. When I got out, he invited me to his house for dinner, with him and his wife, and after dinner we drove out to the lake, lay on the hood of his car leaning against the windshield, listening to Stairway to Heaven and looking at the stars.

Ah, these memories are so completely and thoroughly exquisite. Memories from our younger years are like that, often, packed with intense emotion and feelings in our bodies, thick and layered. These two memories are definitely like that, dense and sweet and aching and tinged with all the terror and loss and sorrow I lived with in those years.

Although this sounds like the most obvious thing ever, I realized, listening to that Heart version of the song, that those exquisite thick memories are just mine, they exist nowhere else in the world except inside me. When I’m gone, they are gone too. And I can’t make you have them, or know them, or feel them. They’re extraordinary, they are precious, they’re jewel boxes, and I have thousands of those inside me. My whole life, contained and secret and so very very precious, memories I can swim around in when I want, when they come to me.

I may read this post later and laugh so hard at the way cold medicine made me feel this as a deep insight. 🙂

And today is the anniversary of the day I married Jerry, my first husband and the father of my beautiful kids. We married on December 16, 1979, so today would’ve been our 34th wedding anniversary. This picture was taken about a week later, with all Jerry’s immediate family, brothers and sister, their spouses, and the kids they had at the time:

that's me on the far right, in the long red dress. Jerry is in the white shirt, right next to me. Kiki is next to him, in the camel jacket, and his mom Ruth is in the green blouse to the left. I really loved that family, and they loved me.
that’s me on the far right, in the long red dress. Jerry is in the white shirt, right next to me. Kiki is next to him, in the camel jacket, and Jerry’s mom Ruth is in the green dress to the left. I really loved that family, and they loved me.

I remember the moment of having that picture taken too, of course. I remember little Shawn, the small boy on the front row at the far left, how I was his first girlfriend. I remember baby Danny, in Lisa’s arms at the far left on the same row I’m in, and how that baby peed right in my face when I was bathing him, and nothing like that had happened to me before (though it happened again years later with my own boy). Cherish your memories, polish them, revisit them, tell them, share them. They’re extraordinarily precious.

Have a good week y’all. Book club party at my house tonight, yay!

Run Lori Run

These days it’s so very hard to have a direct experience of something without it being mediated through movies or television. I’ll bet even if you’ve never in your life had to pull a gun on someone (or maybe if you’ve never even held a gun), you’d know just how to do it. You’d know to set your legs apart in a stable stance, hold the gun in front of you with your left hand cradling the right as it clutches the gun. You’d know what face to make, how to hold your shoulders. We’ve all just seen that scene too many times. Although it goes in a different direction, there’s a passage in Gone Girl that addresses this:

I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script. It’s a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.

Yesterday was one of those days, from before it even got started, and it left me thinking about this. I’d set my alarm for 6am, lots to do before I headed out for my haircut at 8am. I woke up around 4am with a splitting headache and went back to sleep hoping it would be gone when I woke up. Alarm went off at 6, still had the headache, turned off the alarm and closed my eyes….and fell back to sleep. Thank heavens my phone registered an incoming email and made a sound at 6:30 or I’d have slept right through the appointment. But now I’m late, and I have a headache. Dashing dashing dashing, feeling urgent, got TWO (!) phone calls before 7am, running later now, late late late, ran out to the car, running running running, pull out of the driveway, get on the road and hit the terrible traffic, driving driving driving weaving weaving weaving, dashing, running late late late.

So here’s where it all comes together. (And here’s where there was a very cool coincidence, too.) I started thinking about the 1998 movie Run Lola Run, which was one of my favorite movies that year, thinking about Lola running running running, and then the theme song came on in the car. I knew the song was on my thousand-song playlist, but I hadn’t heard it in a long time . . . and there it was. I was running, I was thinking of Lola running, and there was the music for it.

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(I love it when something like that happens — a little surprise present from the universe or something, a bit of beautiful synchronicity that doesn’t mean anything except delight.)

I couldn’t just be running late and dashing around, I had to be running Lola late dashing around. It made me laugh and instantly transformed things. And anyway, what would be the giant huge disaster if I were a little late to the hair salon? The world wouldn’t end, she wouldn’t hate my guts or scream at me, I would just be late. I’m never late, ever, so it would be an acceptable exception. I’m always needing to cut myself a little slack.

And you too — cut yourself some slack today. People get stressed out , with everything there is to do during the holiday season, so if that’s happening to you just cut yourself some slack. Take a breath. It’ll get done, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. There. Our problems are solved.

xoL

scattershot

Oh, how many days I’ve been dreamy-eyed at the prospect of being home. I do love to travel and I do love being in New York, anddo love love love my little home. I love the rhythm of my occasionally solitary life. I love getting to do what I want to do whenever (and however) I want to do it. It’s kind of hilarious to me just how much I love being the boss of my own life, since a year ago I had no familiarity with this. I remember feeling kind of paralyzed: what do I want? How should I know? Well, I have learned and it makes me happy.

love love my fireplace
love love my fireplace

Last night I was utterly exhausted by the time I got home, and when Katie and I were briefly chatting I thought I might just crawl into my wonderful bed when she left, imagining I’d be fast asleep before the covers even settled around me. I was hungry but didn’t have any food in the house, after being away just over a month, and had tentatively planned to run out to the market last night but bailed on that idea. Maybe some steel cut oatmeal, which sounded good because I was so cold. My house was freezing — the air and heat had been turned off the whole time I was gone, and the thermostat said it was 52 degrees in the house.

So I lit the fire and put on the oatmeal, decided to unpack everything, and then I ended up doing all my laundry and completely and totally unpacking and putting everything away. By the time I went to sleep last night it was as if I hadn’t been away on a trip at all. I love that too.

Now, a whole lot of craziness, things to do and things to figure out and get done enumerated here for my own benefit:

  • Breakfast with beautiful Karyn this morning, can’t wait to see her smiling face
  • FIND MY CAR REGISTRATION STICKER! I received it (it expired in November) and I have the receipt, but cannot find the sticker anywhere. I have a vague recollection of putting it somewhere I’d spot it but I have no idea where it is. Danger, Will Robinson.
  • A bit of grocery shopping on the way home from breakfast, just a bit, so I don’t have to live on oatmeal
  • Do all the Christmas decoration, set up the tree, in prep for poetry group party tomorrow night
  • Dinner with Jeff tonight at Beets, yay!
  • Tomorrow, haircut and color in the morning, shopping for the Christmas party, food and wine, and then  the party
  • Friday, work work work all day and then birthday party thrown by Cyndi, cannot wait to see her!
  • Weekend in Dallas with sweet  Dixie
  • Book club party Monday, lunch and Armadillo Christmas Bazaar with Dee on Tuesday, happy hour with Cyndi and gals on Wednesday, nothing scheduled Thursday and Friday (work! work! work!), and then Marnie and Tom arrive on Saturday.

I have a bunch of stuff to write about, notes I’ve been making while I was away, stuff I’ve been thinking about and comments on all the books I read while I was gone. I need to block and finish a darling baby blanket I knit for little Oblio — it looks like a giant green leaf, so so cute, and Katie and I need to shop for fabric for the quilt I’ll make for him. I’ve so missed writing here and can’t wait to get back into the rhythm.

love this sweater so much
love this sweater so much

Brrr! The great thing about this super cold weather is that I get to wear one of my handknit sweaters. This is one of my favorites, so comfortable and with a nice drape. I used to knit all the time, and I have a stack of handknit sweaters I thought I wouldn’t get to wear back in Texas. Plenty of days to wear them in wintry New York, but turns out there are enough days to wear them here too.

Always always more things to do than time to do them. Always always more things to explore, more things to learn, more things to make, more books to read, more connecting with friends, more (and never enough!!!) time with my precious kids, and always always too little time for it all. I wish there was a magic Santa who could do something about that for me. 🙂

Happy to be back; missed you a lot, but thanks for following me in Sri Lanka!

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the motherless we

Last night I saw Neko Case perform at Austin City Limits. I first fell in love with her when I heard I Wish I Was the Moon, which I played over and over when Marc and I were falling in love, so it also has those emotional connections for me. It’s a gorgeous song even without all that.

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Something about her music has always resonated for me — her style, her powerful but so sweet voice, her lyrics.  In promoting her new album (“The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”), she did an interview in which she talked about a deep depression she just came through after the loss of both her parents and other people in her family. In the course of the interview she said that she was very close to her grandmother but she didn’t like her parents. Something about the way she said that, the absolute finality of it, struck me. She said she’d been an orphan her whole life and that’s when I knew why I recognized her. I wrote a short story once that included a sentence that said, essentially, my parents gave me up but kept me with them. My own long, roundabout way of saying that I was an orphan (although I think actually being an orphan might’ve been much better).

There are so many ways to be an orphan, and it’s a mistake to compare suffering, it can’t be done. But if your mother dies and you are an orphan, it’s simply different from if your mother hates you from birth. Having your mother hate you from birth is different from having your mother give you up for adoption; in some way, there is love there—a mother who gives up her child is probably hoping someone can give her child what she is unable to give for whatever reason. It still probably feels like an abandonment to the child, and that’s surely awful. But there are plenty of kids born to mothers who simply hate them. I was. 

There’s something about those of us whose mothers hated us from birth, and always hated us thereafter. There’s a certain wariness to us, a certain kind of unfillable hole. But it’s so big, the hole is almost more than what’s left around it. As poet Matt Rasmussen said in his beautiful poem After Suicide, “a hole is nothing but what remains around it. While I was watching Neko Case perform, another motherless woman, I was thinking about what it means to be hated from birth, when the one who gives birth to you hates your very existence, when you are a curse, a ruination of her life. You have ruined the life of the one who gave you life, so what does that mean for you? There are so many ways to feel worthless, but being hated by your mother is so very deep and old it’s just invisible. You don’t feel worthless, you are worthless. For some of us, it’s not theoretical, it’s not a conjecture, it’s not a temporary state or a phase you pass through during adolescence. For some of us, it just is.

Of all the various family members I’ve adopted over the course of my adult life, I have never found a mother. My first mother-in-law Ruth was very good to me — very good — and she loved me and I loved her. But whether it was something in her or something in me, she never felt like my own mother. I am forever grateful for how good she was to me, and for the love she gave me, but she wasn’t my mother.

I have no idea what a mother’s love feels like. No idea. I try to imagine the inverse with my kids; I know how terribly much I love them, how my own life is a kind of tent over all of them, encompassing them, giving my life all its meaning. I hope they feel how very much they’re loved, and I believe they do, but I can’t figure out how it feels to have that. I’ve had adopted fathers and felt like they were fathers to me, but it doesn’t cross-filter into letting me know what a mother’s love feels like. It’s so funny how absolute it is; I can do things to give me the vaguest sense of what it might feel like to be in space, for god’s sake. I can get into deep tanks, I could go to Space Camp in Huntsville and do some kind of simulation thing to really help me know what it might feel like to be in space. Outer space, since I’m an old-timer. But I do not know what it feels like to be loved by a mother.

Luckily, though, I have my children. Some motherless children do not have their own children, and I can’t imagine what that feels like. The space reference makes sense to me here, because there is surely nothing holding that woman down, nothing anchoring her. I don’t have a tether holding me from my back to behind me, but I do have one holding me from my front outwards, to my children. Those connections give me my real life.

So many of the songs in the concert last night had lyrics that got at the motherlessness. There were lines about mother and poison, about needing but there being no mother’s hands. She didn’t perform this song last night, and I’ve posted it here before, but this song could only have been written by a motherless person.

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Lyrics here. It’s a part of that song — no one will believe you, you won’t believe it, but it really happened.  Of all the difficulties I suffered through, being a motherless child is the pain that lingers after all these years, the gaping hole around which I exist. If you have a mother, even a difficult one, I don’t think you can begin to comprehend, just as I can’t comprehend what it’s like to have one.

Ah, such a sad subject, one that is always with me.  Even when I am happy, I can touch that hole so very easily. I’ve talked in my blog before about my tribes (with two follow-up tribe posts), and most of those are tribes I claim with pride or identity. But the tribe of the motherless is a heavy-hearted tribe, a sad and empty tribe, and we cannot provide each other comfort or understanding, because being motherless is a singular experience. We’ve taken too much into ourselves, we’ve turned inward too much. It’s too personal.

I hope you have/had a mother, and I hope you felt her love. If you didn’t, like me, I hope you have children. But if you didn’t have a mother and you don’t have children, I hope you can transform that sorrow into art like Neko Case does, so brilliantly. Here’s a link to her new album on Amazon, $11.75, and here it is on iTunes, $10.99. There’s not a bum song on the whole album. Click this link to hear the rocking rocking song I’m a Man, on YouTube. As I write this a couple of hours after the concert, I think the song is still making my blood vibrate.

xo

gravity

The best thing about going to the movies in Austin is the Alamo Drafthouse. (My New York friends, there’s a Drafthouse in Yonkers, but they’re going to be opening one on the UWS, watch for it!) Basically, it’s a great theater where you can order dinner, snacks, ice cream, beer, wine, all kinds of stuff, at your seat in the theater. The location nearest my house actually has decent food; they make the hamburger buns and pizza dough by hand in the theater. Huge lists of beers (one location has a brewpub on site), nice wine list. It’s an event. They also organize themes, like a whole day marathon of The Lord of the Rings movies with theme meals provided throughout, that go with the movie. They play sing-a-long movies; Marc and Anna and I went to an ABBA sing-a-long a few years ago and the audience was standing up, singing along and dancing. It was really such fun.

Before they show the previews, they show all kinds of old clips that go with the movie. So, for instance, before Gravity they played old clips of space movies, astronaut movies, some super hilarious ones. Then they showed all kinds of little clips of people falling — oh, that crazy gravity! It’s really fun. And my favorite thing is that they are serious about people turning off their phones and not talking. Take my word on that.

GRAVITYLast night I saw Gravity. I was eager to see it — visually it looked amazing, and I loved the music in the trailer because it’s one of my favorite pieces (Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, the link goes to YouTube. If you don’t know Pärt’s music, consider this a beautiful introduction.).

So I was eager. Visually stunning, beautiful music, and the concept. Or rather, the bit of the concept I inferred from the clip — what would it be like to be adrift and alone in space? The absolute aloneness of that, the vastness, and just you? My mind can’t really present me with anything, I go blank and silent. But I love to be put in that story and encounter the possibilities.

I’m no huge fan of Sandra Bullock (a travesty for an Austinite! We talk about going to “Sandra’s restaurant;” she and her sister own a couple of popular places here in town, and she lives here). I’ve never found her to be a subtle actress, she’s fine just not my favorite. And Clooney, I knew he’d be Clooney. And he was, down to every twinkle and rapscallion tale.

Visually it was stunning. The first half hour or so I sat there with tears streaming down my face. That scale, it’s just the most beautiful thing there is. I looked at our beautiful planet and thought about how utterly tiny my little troubles are. I’m somewhere invisibly down there, twisting and turning, flailing and feeling terrified, and it’s nothing. It’s just nothing.  The entire span of my life is just nothing. The world is unbearably beautiful and it goes on and on and it follows its orbit on and on and it’s just a nothing too, in our little galaxy which is a nothing in our universe.  And visually it made me feel just a tiny little whiff of what it would be like to be lost up there. I couldn’t breathe easily, I felt terror and a bit of horror. The first part is a single shot, unbelievable, the cinematography is breathtaking. I can’t say enough about the first part of the movie. It sets up the question.

There was a scene in the movie that made me cry for the story part of it — a scene where Bullock’s character believes she is facing her death and speaks of her fear, knowing that she will die that day. And who will mourn her, and who will pray for her? Will anyone? (That’s not a spoiler, by the way….it’s just a scene along the way.) It was a very honest scene, and it got to the nub of it as I expected from the movie. I cried throughout the scene, not because I wonder if anyone will mourn me, I believe people love me and would mourn me, but because I know someone who is so isolated and this is his agony. He thinks no one will even come to his funeral when he dies. It’s heart wrenching. But also it made me cry because it focused all the preciousness of life on that moment, the fear of facing that last moment and knowing it’s the last moment. Oooooof the air leaves me.

It was an OK movie; the part that set up the question was amazing, but the part that answered the question was not so great, in my opinion. It won’t be a classic like 2001, it will probably do well enough, I won’t want to see it again ever, it was flawed enough to miss the very best mark, but it was OK. It was worth it for the first half hour alone. See it in 3D, and on the biggest screen you can. It’s showing here at an IMAX theater in 3D and I’ll bet that’s pretty cool, but I wanted to go to Alamo.

I’d kind of cooled off about the movie on the way home, and as I sat to write this post. But then Marc called and I was telling him about it and got entirely swept up again by the images and the question, by the power of that opening. It’s amazing. Do see it.

And here, in case you didn’t click that link to Spiegel im Spiegel, I’ll give you the video to make it easy. It’s really a gorgeous piece of music. Happy Saturday, my darling friends. xo

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“How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

Remember those? Did you have to write them in elementary school? I think kids may still do this, but I’m not sure since it’s been a long time since I had elementary school aged kids in my life. How did I spend my summer? Is yours a blur too? Ironically, I had no vacation in summer; I went to Indonesia (Bali! Bali!) in spring, and I’m going to Sri Lanka at the end of fall, but summer was local. Kinda.

In June I spent a lot of time with friends — dinners and lunches and drinks. I saw an old friend from high school, Sheri, and was blown away by her, by learning how much we’d had in common back then and neither of us knew. Was this the month I had the surprise trip to Beverly Hills for a week and saw other old friends from high school? I think it was! I had the privilege to stay at Katie’s house for a week to dog-sit while she and Trey had a real vacation, the first since their honeymoon. (Wish I could do that again for them.)(Really wish I could.)(I would, in a heartbeat.) 

one of her dozens of gorgeous photos
one of her dozens of gorgeous photos

In July Marc visited and I got my tattoo and had many many lunches and happy hours and dinners with darling friends, and went to the Iron & Wine concert at the Paramount and cut off my hair and colored it red-orange. July was a colorful month.

August took me back to NYC, where something really horrible happened, but I was glad I was there when it happened. I have a lawyer. I also had lots of lunches and dinners and drinks with beautiful friends, spent a summer night in a pool under the stars drinking red wine with friends, saw my beloved son twice, and welcomed Breaking Bad back, with a lot of squeals and WHATs?! And the end of August brought my loves, Sherlock and Peggy, to Austin to visit me. I miss them every day.

Summer ‘officially’ ends with Labor Day, so we’re peeking into fall, which is going to be crazy busy for me. In September, in addition to spending time in New York I have something on the calendar every single day. Not one day without something scheduled, all good. Of course something terrible (see August) could happen this month, I need to be prepared for it, but as a dear friend reminded me on Thursday, so much of what I thought unthinkable when I was younger is now thinkable. And . . . plot twist!

Katie used to keep a public blog and every late December, she’d do a year in review post that I always loved. She included stuff that was happening in the world, too, which was extra fun because I’d already forgotten that stuff, but it was just fantastic reading her year in that summary. You get such a different view like that — the high points, the things you’ll probably remember — than you get making it through the days. It’s like seeing NYC from a bridge, or the air, as opposed to walking the streets. Both are pretty good, but the distant view is simply beautiful. Even if there are bad things in the summary. Do you do this at the end of the year? I like doing it, even in this season review. It makes me see my life with some perspective, which is always good.

Saturday, gotta love a good Saturday, right? I’m off to the park.

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Queen of the Pillbugs is enough for me

it doesn't even matter where this is. it could be anywhere.
it doesn’t even matter where this is. it could be anywhere.

I am so very glad I am not queen of the world, leader of anything, decider of anything more important than what I will put in my green smoothie this morning. Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, one whose politics are very different than mine, and we agreed that we’re so glad we’re not in charge of making world decisions right now. It’s a terrible time; nothing good going on in Syria, and no good decision to be made. Whether the US does or doesn’t do something, there will be so much more terrible pain and suffering of innocents. And if we do something, whether we do this thing or that, there will be so much more terrible pain and suffering of innocents. Talk about paralysis — my own little recent paralysis is laughable in the face of trying to figure out how to fix our world.

On the way home from lunch, my random shuffle playlist brought me this song and I literally gasped, all alone in my car, when it hit the lyric, “Nations droppin’ bombs / Chemical gasses fillin’ lungs of little ones / With ongoin’ sufferin’ as the youth die young.” That song was popular in 2003, exactly 10 years ago. And still.

I was driving home feeling so so sad about all the suffering that is of course going to continue. My family and I have been harrowed by our own suffering for the past year — a bunch of innocents, we — and so maybe it’s very easy for me to touch suffering right now. I was thinking that I’m glad I’m not in charge of the world, but that left me feeling so very helpless (which I am). There is not one thing I can do for the people being destroyed around the world, and it’s so much more widespread than Syria, of course.

What can I do? What can you do? There are little nothings I can do, “call my representative,” and you and I both know how nothing that is. It’s what there is to do, but it’s also nothing, and I don’t think that’s cynical. What can I do? I can be as good a person as I can be, in the world. I can love others and help wherever I can. I can stop before adding trouble to the world. I can keep others’ secrets, I can not pass along unkind comments, I can be as generous as I can be, I can let go of small slights, I can try to have better assumptions, I can try hard to see others in their own contexts and try to understand them, I can try to encourage others because we’re all dealing with something, and I can be as real as I can bear to be. That’s it. That won’t save one child starving here in our country, or being gassed in Syria, or being shot in the head in Pakistan, it’s embarrassingly small and invisible. My “influence” (hahahaha what a hilarious idea) extends to about 15 people, max, maybe 20. I sit in my house almost all the time, all alone, and the only moving and shaking I do is my jiggly bits as I walk from room to room.

It feels terrible, and insufficient, because it is. But I have no answers. Today I think I’ll just try to do my best, even though I feel like crawling under the covers. How do you help yourself when this kind of impotent despair about the larger world overcomes you?

rant about words, using words

Are you like me — do you walk around having infuriated arguments with people in your mind? It’ll be like I’m coming in on a fight in the middle of it! I’ll notice that I suddenly think something like, “But how can you say that?!” And then what follows is my long, long argument. I have so many like that up on deck at all times. Some have been going on since my childhood, one since 1998, some for the last couple of years, or months. Are you like that too? I sure hope so….maybe it’s just a normal thing people do. Yes?

One that happens pretty regularly got started in my head again yesterday afternoon. Someone I dearly, dearly love is suffering, so I paused for a minute to write her a note and felt the paucity of a little note, of words. Blech, so what, it’s just words, what good are those in the face of suffering. That kicked off my internal arguing rant, because I’ve had close relationships with a couple of people who retreated into a claim that words are meaningless, that language is a farce, that it misses the boat, that blah blah frickin blah. Well, maybe so, but it’s kind of what we’ve got to work with. (Channeling one of my favorite lines from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, there.) Sure, words can miss the boat in so many ways:

  • Sometimes there aren’t the right ones to match the feeling, or the power of the feeling.
  • They can lead to misunderstanding, if the two parties have different assumptions.
  • They’re open to misinterpretation and sensitive to tone and expression.
  • You can think you said exactly what you meant but you didn’t, but you don’t know that so you keep going even though the conversation has now shifted without your awareness.
  • They can cut deeply and wound a heart, and taking back the terrible words isn’t easy. It’s hard to forget what you’ve seen or heard.

So it’s not like I don’t know this, but it’s so stupid to throw the baby out with the bath water. Words can also express our feelings so beautifully, at times, they can provide comfort, they can simply be beautiful for their own sake. My favorite phrase from any source in the world is this, from Ulysses (James Joyce): “the heaventree of stars hung from humid nightblue fruit”. Joyce had to make up words there — one of the glories of language — and I can never be outside under the stars without having that phrase shape my experience of the sky. Never. I’ve taken great comfort from the words of people who wanted to help me. I’ve felt special, and loved, and appreciated, from the words of people who wanted me to feel or know those things.

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It’s only words, and words are all I have….

We can get only so far with eye-to-eye silent communication, with body language, with facial expression. We can certainly learn a lot more, beyond the words, if we watch someone say them to us, but we need those words. I need those words. They’re paltry, sure, when I’m wanting to tell you how much I love you, how much you mean to me, how precious you are to the world, how much I hate your suffering and wish I could spare you. But those words are all I have, once I’ve done whatever thing there is to do. And YOUR words have meant so very much to me, either in the comments you leave or the things you’ve said to me off-line, or on facebook, all the various times I was in need.

Thus concludes today’s not-so-silent rant. 🙂 Happy Wednesday, y’all.

oh the insanity

My computer is going so slowly because one program is using up all the resources: Chrome. Why is Chrome using up all the resources? Because I have 30 tabs open. Insane. And they’ve been open all week, too, the bulk of them. Every day I add one, maybe two, and here I am. Thirty tabs. You know where this is going: link love! They seem heavily slanted toward long form pieces I really want to read:

 

*shiver*

  • And finally, the other great video thing that came out this week. Stephen Colbert making the best of being stood up by Daft Punk. I love every second of it, but that first scene on the dance floor with Bryan Cranston may be my favorite moment of them all. That Colbert is a good dancer!

Wow. That’s a lot of great stuff. Your Saturday is taken care of now! Have a good one y’all. We here in Texas will be h.o.t.  Guaranteed.

evidence of hands

You know Jackson Pollock’s work — the modern artist perhaps most likely to inspire people to ask “that’s art?” or to say “crap, I could do that.” I never really understood his work until Marnie once said that it presents evidence of movement. And then I started loving his pieces, then I had a way to look at them, to look deeply, to see him inside them. I just loved that.

remember these envelopes?
remember these envelopes?

All my life I’ve been a maker, and preferred doing things by hand. When I used to go to preschool (at Ma & Pinky’s, a small family-based day care center) I took my tortoiseshell-colored plastic embroidery case and spent play time sitting under a tree embroidering pillow cases. Badly, too tightly, but with pleasure. (And hey, I was 4.) I used Aunt Martha’s iron-on transfers to put the tulips and butterflies on the hems of pillowcases, then used bright embroidery floss to bring the designs to life. I can still see, so clearly, those designs. And I can still remember the other [normal] kids wondering why I did that instead of playing.

When I was a very young newlywed, my husband was a carpenter and I was spinning and weaving, sewing, whatever I could get my hands on. We had fantasies of having every single thing we ever touched or used being handmade. All our furniture, he would make. I wanted my wooden spoons to be handmade, even. I did make all our clothes except for our jeans, and I learned to cook and bake and when my son came along, I had to make everything we ate because he was severely allergic to corn syrup. I learned that it was a very expensive fantasy that everything we touched would be handmade, and we ended up — poor as we were — with plastic things, cheap things, inexpensive substitutes. But I’ve never gotten over my love of things made by hand. The evidence of a human creator moves me deeply.

And I feel that way about music. Handmade music — live music, “real” music, whatever I mean by that — is my favorite. There’s just nothing else like it. I love to see the person making that music, singing, playing those instruments. And when the instruments are humble, for some reason I like that even more. Dixie introduced me to my new favorite band — Megan Jean and the KFB — and I’m so deeply happy I am vibrating. Here, listen and watch their first video:

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Wowie. That woman can SANG, as we’d say in the South. I love her washboard, her foot on the drum, that little bell fixed to the washboard. I love her husband on that banjo. I love the immediacy of their music, the life in it.

Just sharing a bit of pleasure today, and wishing you the pleasure and evidence of hands in your life today. Happy Friday y’all.

up close and personal

I know, right? How much more personal could I be, than I already am?! I’m pretty open and share so much of myself and my life, because I am the boss of me and I get to decide those things. That hasn’t always been true, so I relish my freedom. This little post is a mash-up of several things, reflecting my fragmented head these days. A video, a bit of handwriting, a poem, and some links. Something for everyone. I’ll start with a little howdy-do:

 

Actually, what got this started today was that I got a handwritten letter and was so thrilled to see my friend’s handwriting, which I’d never seen. I’ve received typed letters from her, and lots of email, but this was the first time I ever saw her handwriting and I felt like it fit her so well, and also showed me something else about her.

photo

I don’t know if they even teach cursive any more. I learned the Palmer method, and I remember our teacher walking up and down the rows of desks, positioning our hands as they held the pencils. We were supposed to keep our hand curled so an orange could roll into our curved palm as we wrote, and the pencil was supposed to point over our left shoulders. We were supposed to move our whole arm, not just our fingers. I remember we practiced making loops, connected spiral-type rounds, and sharp up-and-down lines, before being taught the specific way to create the letters. I remember that the capital I and capital J had to begin just below the line. I remember wondering why the capital Q looked like a 2. I remember feeling like a secret rebel as I practiced different ways of writing the capital L, since my name begins with an L. I remember the beautiful special lined paper, with the pale red and pale blue lines, some dotted, showing us exactly where those upper and lower loops were supposed to hit. The rag-like texture of the paper, the Red Chief tablet, the yellow pencils. I remember all that like it was yesterday. Do you?

Here’s a poem I rediscovered this morning, and it makes me so happy. Read it out loud:

The Order of Things (Bob Hicok)

Then I stopped hearing from you. Then I thought
I was Beethoven’s cochlear implant. Then I listened
to deafness. Then I tacked a whisper
to the bulletin board. Then I liked dandelions
best in their afro stage. Then a breeze
held their soft beauty for ransom. Then no one
throws a Molotov cocktail better
than a buddhist monk. Then the abstractions
built a tree fort. Then I stopped hearing from you.
Then I stared at my life with the back of my head.
Then an earthquake somewhere every day.
Then I felt as foolish as a flip-flop
alone on a beach. Then as a beach
alone with a sea. Then as a sea
repeating itself to the moon. Then I stopped hearing
from the moon. Then I waved. Then I threw myself
into the work of throwing myself
as far as I can. Then I picked myself up
and wondered how many of us
get around this way. Then I carried
the infinity. Then I buried the phone.
Then the ground rang. Then I answered the ground.
Then the dial tone of dirt. Then I sat on a boulder
not hearing from you. Then I did jumping jacks
not hearing from you. Then I felt-up silence. Then silence
and I went all the way.

And finally, some links, just to complete the random potpourri of this crazy post:

Happy [excessively hot and humid] Tuesday, y’all. The year is more than halfway over, that’s so bizarre.

you as art

handsThis is going to be ironic, since what I do for a living is to read people’s novels and provide critique. While I always try to highlight what they do well, they’re also paying me to tell them where things go wrong, what they can improve. So there’s the ironic background, and I am aware of it.

But art just IS. You can like it or dislike it, but it can’t be “wrong.” Paintings, sculpture, music, theater, writing, any kind of thing someone creates cannot be wrong. Not wrong. You the consumer of it may not like it, you may even hate it, but it IS. It is as it was created, and it’s right and good. You don’t have to like it, someone else might, maybe no one else likes it. But that’s a different question, a separate issue. I’ve thought about this for so long, decades. Some person faced a blank page, a piano, a block of wood or marble, a canvas, a wheel, themselves, and brought something into being, out of nothing but their own mind or wherever creation comes from. And it is. I gather the creators are rarely perfectly satisfied by the creation as it compares to their imagining of it, but they are the ones who get to talk about that, not the viewers, listeners, consumers. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

And ditto you. And me. We are. am. You may not like me, you may disagree with aspects of who I am, you might do it differently — it, everything — but I am, and to the degree that there’s a gap between who I am and who I want or need to be, I am the one who thinks about and addresses that.  I am making my unknown know. If you know me very well, as someone in my family or as an old friend, you may have something to say that perhaps I’m unaware of (such as the fact that apparently I like to dress like a sailor, something I didn’t really realize until my precious daughter Katie pointed it out as we laughed), and you may have something to say to me about a way I hurt or disappoint you. And in that case, I want to listen to you. But otherwise, who are you to tell me anything about who I am? And who would I be if I felt obligated to change in response?

Lately I’ve been thinking so much about why we don’t let each other be. I’ve thought about it on the personal level and on the larger social level. My husband and I had an increasingly hard time letting each other be, although we started off being able to do that. But our clutches got tighter and tighter on each other, and we strangled each other. Our society here in the US is increasingly polarized so it’s largely an us vs them mentality, and whatever side you’re on, “them” are just idiots. Why don’t we let gay people marry each other? Why do we care what our neighbor does in her own house and yard? Why? I’m not being naive, and I understand that there are (and there needs to be) social rules and mores, and laws arise that allegedly reflect the wish of the most of us (ha, that’s rich). So it’s a complex issue, figuring out the sweet spot between living together in society while leaving each other alone.

When you’re thinking about something, you see it everywhere, and I’ve seen examples of this over and over again. Three beautiful examples came through my facebook feed this week so you may have already seen them, but if you haven’t, here’s a chance to be deeply moved.

The New Zealand parliament just voted to legalize gay marriage, and when the vote was announced, someone in the audience started singing an aboriginal love song, and everyone joined in. It made me cry.

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So beautiful. Why can’t we do this? Why can’t we just let people marry the person they love? Why can’t we say that marriage is between people who love each other?

If you haven’t watched this one, please please do. A forensic artist and a number of women engage in an experiment. With their backs to each other, the women describe their appearance and he sketches them. Then a stranger describes the same women’s appearance and he sketches that too. The contrasting images are placed side by side and the women look at both. All I could think about was how I would describe myself, and how even I am [finally] aware that he’d draw a face that bears little resemblance to my actual face. Watch, it’s astonishing and you’ll have to start thinking about this for yourself.

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And finally, this one is 22 minutes long but I promise you it’s worth the time you’ll spend watching it. (It’s subtitled in a different language, but it’s all in English.) It’s ostensibly about gardening but it’s really not, it’s really about being who you are, being allowed to be who you are, while at the same time questioning the “allowed” part. Why should you have to be allowed to be who you are?! And the last little story in the video is worth the price of 22 minutes all on its own. Thanks, Michele, for sharing this one. I watched it on my phone before I got out of  bed, utterly mesmerized.

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You are just wonderful, and so am I. And we don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful, and wonderful doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we want to grow. We just have to see ourselves, and be willing to be who we are.

blue

morpho butterflyI absolutely love vast blue skies, turquoise blue water, cobalt blue glass, sky blue eyes, electric blue light. But I’d never have said my favorite color is blue — although blue is apparently the most common favorite color around the world; 42% of Americans are fans of blue, as are 47% of Germans and 44% of Brazilians. Overall, 40% of people worldwide pick blue as their favorite color. The second most favorite color is purple, which was chosen by only 14% worldwide. So it’s blue by a landslide, apparently.

But what is it about blue, anyway? This is a fascinating article in the New York Times about blue, and it enchants me. But gazing at blue is even more enchanting, and I wish I knew why. Did you ever see The Point, a beautiful animated movie from 1971, music by Harry Nilsson? Of course the music is lush and gorgeous, with Nilsson’s unique harmonies and melodies, and the animation is nothing less than delightful. But some of the blues are mesmerizing, like the ones you see in this clip for the song Life Line:

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bluetsThe reason I’ve become so fascinated by blue is because of another woman’s deeper fascination with it. I’ve been reading Maggie Nelson’s gorgeous little book, Bluets. Here is a great review of the book by Thomas Larson, in TriQuarterly, and I hope it encourages you to read the book if my elementary flailing doesn’t convince you. Bluets is a poetic exploration of Nelson’s experiences with the color blue, in 240 short, loosely-linked fragments — sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes a short paragraph. She uses quotations brilliantly, and her writing makes me grind my teeth together. Here are a couple of tiny examples to give you the flavor of it. The bolded lines are the ones I underlined, so the emphasis is mine:

6. The half-circle of blinding turquoise ocean is this love’s primal scene. That this blue exists makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it. To have seen such beautiful things. To find oneself placed in their midst. Choiceless. I returned there yesterday and stood again upon the mountain.

7. But what kind of love is it, really? Don’t fool yourself and call it sublimity. Admit that you have stood in front of a little pile of powdered ultramarine pigment in a glass cup at a museum and felt a stinging desire. But to do what? Liberate it? Purchase it? Ingest it? …. You might want to reach out and disturb the pile of pigment, for example, first staining your fingers with it, then staining the world. You might want to dilute it and swim in it, you might want to rouge your nipples with it, you might want to paint a virgin’s robe with it. But still you wouldn’t be accessing the blue of it. Not exactly.

Aaaarh. That makes me crave and need and I cannot even say what it is I’m craving or needing, but nothing satisfies it. Actually, there are two levels of the craving and needing: one level, the obvious one, is this experience of blue, whatever that means. And the other level is someone to be there with me, someone to think about this, someone to get the need to think about this, someone who thinks about it and brings me to it, someone to reach out and touch my arm and say, “I know! And look here, at this passage….” I’m shy about going to something serious when I’m talking to new friends, afraid they’ll get quiet and start looking at their watches and suddenly remember they need to go to the grocery store. (Ah! I’d love to have a cup of tea with this blogger, who just published a post about blue too….)

Re-entry.
 

Really, all I want to do is read this book, and then start over at the beginning and read it again. Today I’m going north of Austin to eat barbecue with my gang, and then I’m going to a movie with my friend Janet, something with subtitles probably, and all that will be so great, but when no one is looking I’ll be peeking into my purse to hoover up a fragment or two.

I hope you have a beautiful blue Saturday. xx

lucky you lucky me

On Sunday I saw Tina Fey’s new movie, Admission. She’s so great — the movie was sweet, stayed away from the treacle edge, and had a beautiful soundtrack written by Stephen Trask, who wrote the Hedwig soundtrack. He’s pretty great. “Lucky,” the song that played over the closing credits, was just so gorgeous I stayed to the bitter credit end to see who sang it: a young woman from Austin named Kat Edmonson. Here, listen (lyrics here if you want them, but they’re simple to understand). The video is bittersweet for me to watch, because it’s set in New York City and I recognize every single scene. And not just “Times Square” but the specific intersection. Every single spot, I know it in my bones. Lucky me.

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luckySo very sweet, the song and her voice. Earlier Sunday morning I’d seen the tail end of an interview with Debbie Reynolds — the personification of plucky, if ever there were such a thing — and you know, she’s kind of bright and smiley and had a complicated set of relationships in her life. The interviewer was asking the standard questions, “So how terrible was it when Eddie Fisher left you in such a public way for Elizabeth Taylor,” and she just kind of kept smiling. But after a cut away to a bit of film, Singing in the Rain probably, her eyes were filled with tears she was trying hard to keep from overflowing. She said she doesn’t really cry, but she does find it hard not to feel so very grateful for her life and all her experiences, and how lucky she has always been. And thus we are in the same tribe and I never really knew it. Two very lucky broads are we.

Before the movie, I was talking with my friend Wayne who also loves poetry and words, and I told him my favorite 9-word phrase on earth is from Ulysses: “the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” Just stop, pause a minute, breathe that in. The heaventree of stars. Humid nightblue fruit. The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit. I always sigh when I remember that phrase, and for a couple of years used it as a scrolling screensaver. He’d been complaining about Joyce’s excessive linguistic obfuscation (ha, I deliberately chose those $20 words), but when I told him my 9-word phrase he just stopped and got a bit dreamy-eyed. Then he gave me his favorite poem, the one that inspired him to write poetry and get an MFA in poetry. It’s Rilke:

Evening

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

And leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

It’s pretty obvious why my little Joycean phrase brought this poem to his mind, and it’s now one of my favorite poems too.

And isn’t that another reason to feel so very lucky, that there are poets in the world who can string together little words, dull and ordinary on their own, into something that makes you as big as the world inside?

On my way home from the movie, Katie texted me to see if I wanted to come over for Chinese food and the season finale of Walking Dead, and I just thought how extraordinarily lucky I am — I have this wonderful, wonderful daughter and her equally wonderful husband to love, and they love me, and she invites me over spontaneously and happily, and I got to end my lucky day enjoying a couple of sweet hours with her. And then I drove home to finalize the specific flight details of an upcoming vacation to INDONESIA, in May. To appropriate the Rogers & Hammerstein lyric, “somewhere in my youth [or childhood] I must have done something good” to be this very very lucky.

Happy Tuesday y’all — I hope it’s a beautiful day where you are. . .

this/that/the other thing

greaderTHIS: If you use Google Reader, as I do, bad news: Google is shutting it down. I KNOW. What am I going to do now? I found out I can export everything and there are ways to import my hundreds of feeds into a new reader, but I’ve been using Google Reader forever and now I have to change. Pout. If you subscribe to this blog via Google Reader, you might want to just get an email subscription, over there in the sidebar.

imgresTHAT: It’s Friday so I have a few links to share, things I want to look at more closely when I have a minute because they look so so good:

  • Here are 20 obsolete words that should make a comeback. My quick favorites: malagrugrous, or maybe scriptitation. You’ll have to click through to see what they mean.
  • Although I’ve had to learn how to be entirely alone, I’ve never had a problem being alone with myself. I know some people who do, who find it so terrifying to be alone with themselves that they schedule something every night, all weekend. I agree with Tarkovsky here when he said “…they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to be spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.”
  • Do you use Evernote? I do, it’s really handy. But apparently there is SO much more that can be done with it. Read this for details, Queenie.
  • I thought Justin Timberlake did a fantastic job with SNL last week, and laughed real hard at most of it. But this skit had me laughing so hard. Vanessa Bayer (the woman on the left) is really good, in very small ways, slight shifts of her eyes, so wonderful. Here, see what I mean if you didn’t already see it:

 

imgresTHE OTHER THING: I’m finding the sweet spot of doing/not-doing and it’s very nice. The things I have coming up are all things I’m looking forward to. Pizza tonight with sweet Katie and Trey; a hike in the greenbelt on Saturday; brunch with a dear friend Sunday morning followed by a St Pat’s Day party with my gang that afternoon. Later this month, my desert trip. Next month, a trip to NYC. The following month, May, a trip to Chicago. In between, time to myself, time to work and write and play. Time to practice yodeling, and the dulcimer. Time to think, time to walk. Life is really good and I am happy.

Have a wonderful Friday, y’all. xo