three things: 1/17/17

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

At the NYPL

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

A Woman Speaks (Audre Lorde)

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

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

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

From The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

That feeds me, sisters, it does.

This is amazing, amazing Joe Brundidge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 1/16/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a pretty low place right now. Pretty low.

checking out

It’s time to save my own life. I’ve been here before and I’ll probably be here again, so it’s familiar terrain, but with a difference. I’m not actually depressed, although I cry a lot and had a quite terrifying experience on Christmas Day that you’ll read in tomorrow’s post. But the events in my country, combined with my son’s daily choice to be gone from our family, are truly overwhelming me.

Since I’m not depressed, intensifying treatment for depression — including hospitalization — isn’t the fix. I am of course continuing taking my medication, as I always will, but instead the fix for this extraordinary despair must be:

Checking out of Facebook. I will still participate in the secret groups I belong to, all of which nourish me. I will check the Events tab daily so I can be informed about the various protests and marches that I will participate in. I’ll still feed this blog to my Facebook blog page. But I won’t be looking at my feed, at all. Of course this means I’ll miss the personal things my friends post, but that’s a price I’ll have to pay and at the moment, it’s a necessary price. All but two of my friends share my political views, and my feed is also filled with real news sources, so there is just too much dosing of the poison for me to keep living, and I say that and hear that it sounds hyperbolic, but at this moment it isn’t.

Other social media I will keep are Instagram, which nourishes me, and Facebook Messenger, so friends can easily communicate with me. If you want my cell to text me, and you don’t have it, email me and I’ll give it to you. I don’t want to avoid my friends, or make personal communication impossible (or even difficult).

Upping the medicine. One-on-one time with friends who nourish me. More walks. More yoga. More reading. More music that lifts me. More art. More time in thought. More time creating things. A focus on creating a world for myself. A temporary suspension of working on my book, because the themes and experiences of my childhood and the person of the incoming president overlap too much. Fighting the fight, holding my hero John Lewis in my mind as the model of long-term, persistent fighting for what’s right.

I am not giving up the fight for what’s right, friends, even during this moment. Today I’m going to the local meetings of the National Poets’ Protest, a training session for non-violent action, and then the National Writers’ Protest. All I’m doing at this moment is stepping outside the flames so I can stay alive. I won’t be responding to your Facebook posts for a perhaps long time, but I am still with you.

three things: 1/15/17

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

TIME AND MATERIALS

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

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

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

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

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

2
The object of this poem is not to annihila

To not annih

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

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

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

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

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

4
The typo would be “paining.”

(To abrade.)

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

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

Some wound of color.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 1/14/17

My dear friend Craig has a website called Travel With Craig. He travels a lot and has a particular affinity for Italy; when he first went to Rome, he felt like he’d finally come home. He provides great information about the various places he visits around the world, check out his site! He travels very differently than I do, but I dearly love following his travels, and it’s always one of our most exciting topics of conversation: Where are you going next? One of the fabulous things he came up with for his website is the organization for his posts: Sights, Nights, and Bites. I’ve been thinking about my post from a couple of days ago, about the Wake Up Project and spiritual warriorship, and it all came together for me. Starting today, I’m going to follow Craig’s model and organize my posts in this way:

  • FEED  (“feed your mind beautiful things” — art, poetry, photography, something that will lift and elevate me, and I hope you too)
  • SEED (thoughts about whatever is consuming me, whether personal or world)
  • READ (whatever I’m reading, whether it’s a book or an article about something big or small)

So here goes:

FEED: It’s pouring rain as I write this and the skies are almost invisible, the rain is so thick, so I found myself longing for sunshine.

“The Sunflower,” Gustav Klimt, 1906-1907.

SEED: I am really struggling with my failing memory, and it’s so upsetting that I was even looking up nursing homes that work specifically with people who have lost their memories. There’s one in my Austin neighborhood (prompting Marc to say, “Well that’s good, you can keep all your old friends!”). Yesterday, by the time I got to the end of a thought I couldn’t remember what I’d been thinking, so I can no longer wait until the end of a thought, as I’d been able to do. I have to act the moment I start thinking about something. It’s so upsetting that it even got into a nightmare I had last night, where I was reading but couldn’t make any sense of the words. I could see they were written in English, but I couldn’t tell what it said.

I can remember older things. I can think, and process information. I can do all the things I’ve ever been able to do, I just can’t hold onto thoughts as they happen, things like, “Oh, gotta go brush my teeth.” It’s very much a failure of on-the-fly processing, and it’s terrifying. Doing memory exercises and working puzzles (word and numbers) hasn’t helped me at all, and in fact this seems to be getting worse. Marc said when he was in his mid-50s it happened to him, and it felt like a plummet — and then it stabilized, so the issue is not to fall into despair and catastrophize. I’m still waiting for things to stabilize and I hope it happens soon, because the despair and catastrophizing are sometimes threatening to swamp me.

click the image to go to the Amazon page

READ: I’m reading A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, and I don’t think it’s a very ‘literary’ book as much as it is a ‘human-story’ book, as if those are separate categories. Ove is a cranky old man, bitter, judgmental of everyone and the world. And heartbroken by the recent death of his wife. Some of the most beautiful passages in the book describe his memory of her laughter:

“She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space.”

“He had never heard anything quite as amazing as that voice. She talked as if she was continuously on the verge of breaking into giggles. And when she giggled she sounded the way Ove imagined champagne bubbles would have sounded if they were capable of laughter.”

But it’s not a saccharine story at all; the passages that show you how Ove views the world are hilarious:

“The husband just nods back at her with an indescribably harmonious smile. The very sort of smile that makes decent folk want to slap Buddhist monks in the face, Ove thinks to himself.”

“Ove glares out of the window. The poser is jogging. Not that Ove is provoked by jogging. Not at all. Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were out there curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do. It’s a forty-year-old man’s way of telling the world that he can’t do anything right. Is it really necessary to dress up as a fourteen-year-old Romanian gymnast in order to be able to do it? Or the Olympic tobogganing team? Just because one shuffles aimlessly around the block for three quarters of an hour? And the poser has a girlfriend. The Blond Weed, Ove calls her.”

The most commonly used word to describe this book, as I scan Goodreads and Amazon reviews, is “charming,” and I’d agree. It’s charming. Predictable in plot (exuberant family moves next door and save him from himself), but it’s a very enjoyable read so far. So if you’re looking for something like that, I recommend it! Of all the books I’m reading at the moment, it’s the lightest and easiest to read, and a variety of pleasures as I turn the pages.

Happy Saturday — I hope there is a corner of peace for you somewhere. xoxo

one thing: 1/13/17

Those were his own shoes, the jellies.

Don’t you just love Jeff Bridges? He played The Dude, of course, who was mighty close to his actual self (those were his own clothes that he wore in The Big Lebowski), but he’s always interesting in his movies, and he’s often the best part. I just listened to an interview with him on Fresh Air, and hadn’t realized how often he plays a Texan. His stand-in, who has worked with him on 70 films now, is a Texan and he said it has rubbed off on him, how to be a Texan. I have to agree.

So. Have you seen his latest movie Hell or High Water, which is set in Texas? I’m bringing this up for a reason I’ll come back to. Here’s the trailer:

I’d been wanting to see the movie since it first came out, and only saw it yesterday and of course the setting was extremely familiar . . . AND THEN in a scene Bridges asks someone to check with ’em over in Young County. I was born in Young County. This was an extraordinary experience, because I never see my place represented anywhere — at least not Young County. (Nearby Archer City was famously the setting of The Last Picture Show, which Bridges was in too.) It’s the kind of place where you indicate where you live by naming the county.

The action in Hell or High Water centers around a couple of brothers who rob the branches of a local bank, and in one scene the Texas Ranger (Bridges) talks to a bunch of old guys sitting in a diner, across the street from a branch that had just been robbed. The gist of it was that they weren’t too upset about the bank being robbed, because they all felt the bank had robbed them, or family, or folks they knew. The small towns, the people in them, had suffered terribly; the oil fields had shut down, no one was drilling, and there was no other work. They felt left behind, screwed by the bank and all it represented. It’s very easy to understand how people in places like Young County feel left behind; it isn’t that I don’t get that, I do. I just can’t figure out how they see an orange narcissist who literally sits in gold rooms, on gold chairs, in a penthouse in Manhattan, as their savior. Can’t go there.

Graham is in north Texas, near the Oklahoma border. Flat and dusty, tumbleweeds, cattle, pumpjacks

But the familiarity of the landscape, and the homes and trailers, and the people and their laconic ways of talkin, their easy droppin of their Gs, gosh it was so familiar. And so it led me to take a look at Graham, the little town where I was born, where Mom & Big Daddy lived, and where I spent summers when I was 5 and 6. (Thank you, Google Maps.)

When I was a kid, going to Boaz Department Store was such a huge thing — and I thought it was the biggest store I’d ever seen. IT HAD AN UPSTAIRS. That’s all of it, it doesn’t extend farther to the right. It looks exactly the same to this day, it’s just that I have changed. That sign above the BOAZ sign for Red Wing Shoes was definitely there when I was a little girl.
“Sassy Lady” carries ladies’ clothes. I’d bet they’re not at all sassy. Jeaneologie is a “men and womens premium denim boutique” that’s coming soon.

It’s a classic small Texas town, the county seat, with a courthouse in the middle of the square downtown (“America’s Largest Downtown Square”!). When I was born in 1958, there were 7,740 people in it. As of the 2010 census, it had 8,903 people. I was shocked to see that they’ve restored the town’s lone movie theater, built in 1919. When I was little, kids used to throw their Charms lollipops at the screen (not me of course….too terrified of my mother!).

There has never really been much to do in Graham, although it’s relatively close to a big lake (Possum Kingdom Lake), but kids mostly hang around and get into small-town trouble. My mother once told me that she and her brother and their friends broke into the courthouse one weekend night and one of them went to the bathroom in the corner of the lobby. #2. Scandalous.

201 Colorado, Big Daddy’s house. When I was a kid, the house was yellow and it had a garage instead of a carport. And giant cedar or junipers around the mailbox. An alley runs behind the houses, and there used to be a giant cottonwood tree in the back yard. I really did think Big Daddy’s house was kind of like a mansion — and clearly that’s not because of the size of it. It must’ve been because someone there loved me.
Big Daddy’s oilfield hardhat, inside and out. Must be from the 1940s.

In that way art can show you the truth of something more clearly than a plain representational photograph, I share the trailer for The Last Picture Show. It was shot in Archer City and it looks so familiar my teeth ache and my body is drawn into the shot because I’m from that place. There’s a scene where Timothy Bottoms’ hard hat gets knocked off, when Jeff Bridges hits him with the bottle, and that’s an oilfield hat for roughnecks. I have Big Daddy’s. One line from the movie is that nothing much changes there, and I would bet my bottom dollar it still looks the same (especially since Larry McMurtry sold off everything from his great big old bookstore — 300,000 books). That store was the only thing keeping the town alive.

Real people live in those places, and I know the way their homes smell. I know what their living rooms look like, their kitchens, their scrubby yards. I know what they eat, and what they say when they visit. They’re my people, fair and square, and they are so loud in me, they’re one reason I always feel like a stranger in Manhattan, shocked and surprised that I also belong there.

If you’re interested in the Fresh Air interview with drawly old Jeff Bridges, it was a great show:

 

two things: 1/12/17

1) The Wake Up Project is an Australian-centered mission to promote kindness and mindfulness. Five years ago I followed them but somehow I lost track — maybe in one of my occasional email subscription purges, which I regret. Click the link above for more information; I’ve signed up again. One of my dear, dear friends shared the most recent email from the founder, and I thought it was so great I wanted to share it here, and say why/more . . . but first, the email:

With all that’s happening in the world, I see 2017 as a profound call to personal leadership. More accurately, I’d call it an invitation to spiritual warriorship – to train and nourish our heart’s tremendous potential for kindness towards ourselves, each other and the earth.

To me, this means stepping up and honouring the ordinary magic of our daily lives. Learning how to protect our minds, listening for guidance and living from our hearts.

May I offer three areas to focus on this year:

Feed Your Mind Beautiful Things: Never has this been so important. Feed it truth. Feed it inspiration. AKA uplifting literature, wisdom, poetry, comedy, music, podcasts and good journalism. Surround yourself with people who nourish your mind and open you to new possibilities.

Adopt a Practice of Intentional Stillness: Set aside 5-15 minutes a day to relax and rest in the unchangeable part of you. The method doesn’t matter – sit, journal, pray, swim, stretch. It’s all about calming your mind, befriending yourself and listening to what life wants from you.

Once a Week, Pause and Ask Yourself “Who Can I Be Kind To Right Now?”: Really listen. It could be a friend, lover, family member, stranger – or it could be the same person each time. It doesn’t need to be big – e.g. send a text, make a phone call, leave a note. Or it could be big and risky. Step by step, kindness becomes your #1 spiritual practice. Set a weekly alert in your calendar to keep this practice alive.

Always remember….

“There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.” ~ Sir David Attenborough

So there it is. This is your year to Wake Up the best in you. To befriend yourself through unapologetic gentleness. To discover a profound rest in your human imperfections. To awaken the revolutionary (and essential) qualities of kindness, courage and creativity. This is spiritual warriorship.

OK! The reason this struck me the way it did is that like most of us, I’ve been just so scared of the incoming government, and a big part of that fear is that we’d all just get worn down and quit fighting. That the media will cave (as they have already done to a large extent), that the fighters will be loud at first but gradually they’ll (we’ll) subside because of exhaustion or because they’re systematically shut down, and that those of us with truly little power will find our powerlessness too hard to accept so we’ll start saying things like, “well, I’m just going to be kind/ paint/ write/ knit” and without diminishing those things AT ALL, they are too easily, I fear, a transition to acceptance of the situation. I’ve been scared of that, and I’ll just claim it for myself: I’ve been scared that will do that.

Te-Ata, Chickasaw

But this letter orients that effort in such a powerful way: spiritual WARRIORSHIP. My mother is descended from a Chickasaw woman named Ela-Teecha, so I am going to imagine myself a spiritual Chickasaw warrior. I found this beautiful photo of a Chickasaw woman named Te-Ata (Bearer of the Morning) and since I don’t have a photo of Ela-Teecha, I will instead hold her in my mind as my spiritual warrior image. (Wasn’t she so beautiful?) The Chickasaw belong to the Five Civilized Tribes, and were relocated, along with the Cherokee, on the Trail of Tears.

And so I will follow the guidance of the Wake Up Project and do the things I’d planned to do, but as spiritual warriorship. Somehow that feels different to me — and I will march and protest and write emails and make calls, too. And that is enough for one powerless person.

2) Speaking of Ela-Teecha, here’s what I know about her:

A friend did a quick exploration for me through Ancestry.com and uncovered so much information — often thrilling, sometimes painful (slave owners in Georgia) — and in the documents, she found this. I read it again and again, and adore “married into the great Choctaw family of Leflores.” The description of Ela-Teecha sounds exactly like my mother, exactly: straight black hair, very high cheek bones, and small black eyes … — medium size and slender build. That description can of course look a lot of different ways, and she undoubtedly looked nothing like my mother, but my mother fit the description too and that’s a bit eerie.

Ela-Teecha, my ancestorOH!! I found her! After she married Smith Paul she went by the Anglicized name Ellen. She lived from 1797 to 1871, and if I joined Ancestry, I could also see her grave, and probably find out exactly where she is buried. Wow. For a rootless person like me, that feels utterly amazing. I was able to snag her tree without joining:

I love that one of her sons was named Tecumseh, and another Mississippi. I’m unsure which of her children led to me, but I think that must be knowable. My father’s paternal line is a series of abrupt, violent stops, but that’s not my whole story. I know my father’s mother descended from a line of Alabama Coushatta, so on both sides I am descended from native people and their toughness and resilience live through me.

This is not really of interest to anyone but me, but I’m glad to stash this here for later finding.

Find your own model, if that will help, or maybe you don’t need one, maybe you are ready and able to fight your own way, just out of your own core. #resistance

three things: 1/11/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REALISM (Beth Bachmann)

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

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

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

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

three things: 1/10/17

1)  Are you a completionist? I’d never heard the word until Karen Russell (author of Swamplandia) said it when she was introducing her reading of a Mavis Gallant story in a podcast I listened to yesterday. She described herself as not-quite-a-completionist of Gallant’s writings, and I got to wondering:

Is there a writer whose entire set of works you’ve read? All of them? Not just the big-name ones, but all of them?

I started thinking about some of my favorite writers, and I don’t think so:

my very favorite memoir

Nick Flynn — sure, his big three memoirs (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (x4), The Reenactment  (x2), Ticking is the Bomb), and one or two collections of his poetry, but not all his poetry. Dang.

Cormac McCarthy — Child of God, Suttree, Blood Meridian (x6), All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, No Country for Old Men (x3), and The Road, but not The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, or Cities of the Plain. (Nor any of his screenplays, short fiction, or plays.)

Salman Rushdie — Grimus, Midnight’s Children (x4), Shame, Satanic Verses (x3), The Moor’s Last Sigh, Fury, East West, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Imaginary Homelands but not The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Luka and the Fire of Life, Joseph Anton, or The Jaguar Smile.

Victor Hugo — only Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris. 🙁

Dante — ding ding ding! Yep! I read The Divine Comedy, which was his only published work. And in several translations — my favorites being the John Ciardi translation, my sentimental favorite because I read it first, when I was a brand new mother, and the edition translated by the Hollanders, which is just extraordinary in every way.

William Faulker — The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom, These 13 (which includes “A Rose for Emily”), but not The Hamlet, The Town, or The Mansion.

Ernest Hemingway — The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Moveable Feast, but none of the rest.

F. Scott Fitzgerald — all his novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and The Damned, The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, The Last Tycoon, but none of his novellas or short stories.

this is the edition I have; my copy first belonged to my dad

Kurt Vonnegut — Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan (x???10?), Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle (x7 or 8?), God Bless you Mr Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, Slapstick, Jailbird, Deadeye Dick, Galapagos, Bluebeard, Hocus Pocus, Timequake, Welcome to the Monkey House, Happy Birthday Wanda June, God Bless You Dr Kevorkian, Wampeters Foma and Granfaloons, Bagombo Snuffbox, and Palm Sunday. I missed a few novels and a bit of his non-fiction.

I guess one approach is to pick writers who don’t write very many books (like Dante). I get on these jags where I fall in love with a writer and just want to read it all, so I dig in. I did that with McCarthy for sure, and Vonnegut, and Rushdie, and Nick Flynn. As I’ve mentioned before, here, I bought these sets of hardback books when I was a teenager, four books by Hemingway, four by Faulkner, and four by Fitzgerald, and read them all at once, which I don’t recommend — especially for writers like those, who have such a specific and distinctive style. It then becomes hard to remember which one was which. (My favorite joke: Now which Hemingway was it where the guy dies in the mud, under the bridge? Oh yeah — all of them! 😉 )

I’m working on Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante, completing all their published works to date. And then sometimes I kind of outgrow a writer, I guess; I’ve read so many of their books and I come to feel like I understand them and their projects, and maybe they get a little tired, too, and a new book of theirs comes out and I just don’t have the interest. That happened to me with Salman Rushdie.

Some people love mystery writers and read all their works; Sue Grafton is a good example, with her alphabetical series. I guess I started early, reading all the Nancy Drews, all the Hardy Boys, all the Cherry Ames Student Nurse books, all the Trixie Beldens, and all the Boxcar Children books. It was not the worst habit I formed in my childhood. 🙂 So, you? I suppose you might do this with film-makers too, or musicians! Or actors. Or other artists. Hmmm. Any completionists in this crowd?

2) Do you know about this project? What’s Underneath:

You can click the image to go to the site, and I also provided it in the link, above. It’s a collection of stories (each accompanied by a video) by women (almost entirely, but not completely, and in some cases a story is about non-binary gender) and race, age, weight and size, illness, hair, work, motherhood, gender, identity, sexuality, all the things of real life and how they don’t immediately fit the Barbie image of “American woman,” but how the storytellers have found their way through, because of, despite, in celebration of their differences from Barbie ideals.

Diane Goldie

The one I most want to share is by London artist Diane Goldie, whose piece is called “Maybe I’m not ‘fuckable’…That’s fine, I’m not for you to fuck.” She is “a larger, menopausal, 51-year-old woman. I am not invisible.” When she was 13, she was raped by a 36-year-old pedophile. “After he raped me, I lost ownership of my body,” Diane says. “It became the vehicle in which I pleased other people.” I get that. Her video is no longer available on the What’s Underneath site, unfortunately, but I can share this, a video of Diane in conversation with Sue Kreitzman about wearable art. As you can guess by her picture, she isn’t trying to be invisible.

Me, I have a huge craving for a pair of cherry red tartan plaid pants and a close-fitting cherry red blazer.

3) I love this quote, which I saw in the caption of a beautiful photograph by author Maggie Mackellar, who lives on a farm on the east coast of Tasmania:

“…beauty & grace are performed whether or not we see or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Annie Dillard

In addition to her gorgeous photography (I linked to her Instagram account above), she’s just the most beautiful, eloquent writer (two books published so far, she’s working on her next one). She published a three-part series last fall about her father’s death; this link will take you to the first piece, which will then lead you to the other two. Anyway, Maggie knows very well about suffering, and perhaps this is what helped her recognize the power of the Annie Dillard quote about beauty and grace.

It’s there, beauty & grace, even if you have to look very very hard. Even if the day feels heavy and ugly, even if you look out your window and see gray and brown and filth, even if you’re just sitting in the same old place you always sit, beauty & grace are happening somewhere — maybe you don’t see it right now but it is. When I’m having a hard time seeing it in my surroundings, for some reason I always think about the glacier valley we walked through in Norway — Lyngsdalen — and that no matter what’s happening, those mountains are just standing there over that valley. In the months-long dark, they stand there, and maybe the Northern Lights dance through the valley, or maybe not, but they stand there, solid and present no matter what. Whether anyone is looking, whether war is raging somewhere, whether I am lonely or bleak, those beautiful mountains are standing over that valley.

I walked there. I drank handfuls of cold glacier water out of that river running through the valley. It’s doing its thing RIGHT NOW.

The least we can do is try to see the beauty & grace where and when we find it. That seems like the least we can do. See it, notice it, take it in.

Flying day for me, back to Austin — xoxox

two things: 1/9/17

1)  Well it’s been cold and gross here in New York, with just enough snow to make a mess but not enough to be pretty and fun. So we spent all day yesterday finishing up the plans and the blog for our trip to Indonesia at the end of March. Indonesia comprises 17,508-18,306 islands (8,844 have been named, and 922 of those are permanently inhabited). The largest cluster is on Java, with ~130 million inhabitants (60% of the country’s population) on an island the size of New York State. The last time we went to Indonesia in May, 2013, we went to Java — Jakarta briefly, Yogyakarta, and Solo — and Bali. We were so-so about Java but absolutely adored Bali. With so very many islands, like Greece they’re organized in groupings. We’re focusing on the Lesser Sunda islands of Bali, Lombok, Timor (overnight), and Rote. Lombok has an active volcano, Mount Rinjani, which last erupted three times in May, 2010.

the blog head — click the image to go to the blog

Unlike our last trip to Laos and Thailand, we’re going almost entirely to places that are new to us, with one exception. In Bali, we’re returning to Ubud to stay again at Alam Jiwa (the name means ‘soul of nature’), largely, I think, because I want to return there. You can see pictures of the place in the post from that blog if you are curious; there’s something about Bali that is extraordinary and lush and creatively gorgeous. Everything they make is an offering of some kind, everything created is made with a specific kind of beauty. Unlike the rest of Indonesia Bali is Hindu, not Muslim, and you can feel that difference, and see it. I can’t wait to get back to Alam Jiwa, just can’t wait.

And the place we’re staying on Lombok that’s near the volcano, I can’t wait for that, either. Just look at this gorgeous view from the hotel:

Rinjani Lodge

It helps a lot having this to look forward to, with the political stuff that’s coming right up. And I hasten to remind myself that other things are coming right up, too, beyond all the marches and protests I’ll participate in: friends’ birthdays, poetry group and book club meetings (to talk about books!), Marnie’s and Ilan’s visit to Austin, a return to NYC, a visit to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s and Ilan’s birthday (his first, wow), and then we’re off to Indonesia. The only bad thing about the trip is that I’ll miss celebrating Oliver’s third birthday with his family, and I hate that because I’ve been part of the others. But I’ll celebrate him wherever I am, for sure.

2) If you’re a big reader you probably already know about this, but in case you don’t: Netgalley! Create an account (free) as a reader, choose the publishers you’re most interested in (I chose the ones that tend to publish my favorite books, obviously), and then get free copies of forthcoming books, delivered right to your e-reader. You are asked to write a review of the books you read, wherever you might do that — GoodReads, Amazon, your own blog — but there is no obligation to write a positive review. You may see this mentioned if you read others’ reviews on GoodReads; a reviewer will mention that s/he got an ARC (advance reading copy), so that’s what this means. The book may not be in its final, fully copy edited form, so there may be typos, but (a) free books, (b) before anyone else gets to read them! I already write reviews of everything I read so of course I signed up.

Right now I’m reading Someone Always Robs the Poor, by Carl MacDougall (a new collection of brilliant stories from the multi-award winning elder statesman of Scottish literature, exploring themes of poverty, migration, alienation, accountability and alcoholism, with an impressive depth and emotional range) and Land of Hidden Fires, by Kirk Kjeldsen, set in Occupied Norway in 1943. They always ask for feedback about the cover, too. It’s a win-win situation if you’re broke, like me, and you love to read. There isn’t the same time constraint as with a library book, either.

A bonus:

Ilan is TEN months old now, how shocking is that?! He’s so beautiful I can barely drag my eyes away, and he’s really getting into mischief now, and is cruising around.
Oliver is getting so big! He’s super tall and very thin, and he wakes up SO HAPPY
Aww….Lucy is four months old, and just the sweetest little baby. She can never take her eyes off her mama, and she has this little honking laugh, like a goose. Apple of Pete’s eye, she is.

three things: 1/7/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 1/6/17

1)  Today I’ll lead with a piece of art I love, and I’ll bet you could make a good guess about where the artist, Jane Parker, is from:

roughly 24 by 30 inches, gouache and ink and color on heavy paper

This piece just makes my mind vibrate, and I feel the vibrations come down into my whole body. I really love it — and the colors, that turquoise and the orange, so alive together. She is Australian, which felt immediately knowable to me when I saw her work. The tiny dots, right? I absolutely do know that not all Australian art has the tiny dots, the aboriginal dots, but if dots, then aboriginal / Australian, more or less, for a pretty solid first guess. One of my favorite Australians is a woman named Fiona Edmonds Dobrijevich; I mentioned her underwater photography a few posts ago (follow her on Instagram, where she’s @fifi_dob), and she’s also a beautiful painter. I love her still lives and whatever else she paints, but at the moment I’m enamored of her underwater paintings. Fiona swims in the ocean every single day (around Sydney I believe) and she doesn’t count it a good day unless she has swum with sharks. She is very different from me in this way. 🙂

2) I’ve been thinking about this thing and I don’t think I can articulate it exactly right just yet, but it’s this: Each person holds a whole, complete universe inside them, a whole, fully peopled, memoried world, and when they’re gone it’s all gone too. Me, you, all of us. Whole worlds. It’s not like we’re just individuals walking around, we’re whole worlds. A world full of worlds. It’s led me to see things so differently, this thought; I look out my New York window at people on the sidewalk, and I see universes passing by, universes colliding and crossing paths.

I move my hands to music in the way the song leader at my childhood church led the songs. No one knows that’s what I’m doing, so while Marc is making our dinner and we’re listening to Sia sing “Breathe Me,” and my hand starts moving, it seems like a random weirdo thing but it’s the Loving Highway Church of Christ, Tommy Thompson leading the music, the smell of the songbooks, my mother’s stale coffee breath but her strong voice carrying the harmony line always, the lush sound of the minor harmonies all around me, surrounding me. The girl with the port wine birthmark staining 3/4 of her face in three-dimensional strangeness. My dad in his suit, miserable because he didn’t get to have a drink yet. That’s all there with me as I move my hands in 2017, in New York, and no one knows it. I carry them, bring them into the world with me. When I die, no one will remember my father as a living person. The Loving Highway Church of Christ is gone now, and eventually there will be no one alive who remembers going to that old building, who remembers Tommy Thompson leading the singing.

A song from Elton John’s Greatest Hits album, mid-1970s, is in the air — Rocket Man, let’s say — and I’m sitting on the splintered wooden steps of the mobile home in Wichita Falls, handstitching those red sequins on that gray T-shirt, a big glittery heart, and that whole world reemerges in its full memory and sensory detail, a real world, a world I know, feeling states and body states, each connected outward to people and places, Hirschi High School, summer band camp, all blooming while the song plays. That world lies inside me, dormant usually, but ready to bloom when any of those songs plays. I can’t even share it with you properly, no matter how fully I describe it, but in me it’s vivid and as alive as I am, and when I die all of that will disappear. I can’t quite get this articulated the way I want to express it, but this is what I have right now and I can’t stop thinking about it.

3) I vaguely remembered a poem and looked through my computer, and after a few online stumbles I came across a fabulous site called Language is a Virus. If you are a writer or lover of language from any direction, check it out and bookmark it, as I did. Among other things, it provides a daily writing prompt, and yesterday’s was “Write about the strangest thing you own.”

Well, since I had to buy every single thing anew when I moved in October 2012, I don’t really have any strange things, but immediately I thought of one of the two things I have that belonged to my dad (the other being a little wooden boat he created as a kid). I don’t know what the thing is called, so I image-googled ‘clicker counter’ and there it was. This one looks almost exactly like mine, except this one is on a little stand and mine has a metal loop because it was handheld. He’d put his left index finger through the loop and hold it in his hand and use it when he was looking through a set of plans to count architectural elements: how many fuse boxes, how many studs, etc. I don’t know the details for sure, but I think he was a draftsman. I know he worked for an architectural firm called Page Southerland Page, which used to be a small office in Austin on West Avenue (whenever I’m driving on W 6th and I pass by the old location, it blooms back into existence). I can see him sitting at his drafting table, using a carmine pencil to touch the elements as he counted them all, clicking clicking clicking the count. I have absolutely no idea how I ended up with his clicker, couldn’t even make up a story about that, and it’s amazing that somehow I still have it 35 years (and countless moves) after his death, but I do. It’s rusty and beaten-up, dented, but obviously a counting device so it can only seem so strange, but it’s strange enough. I guess this is another thing that relates to my previous wondering — the whole world we each carry. When I die, and someone is going through my things, this will likely be picked up, turned over, frowned-over a bit, and then tossed in the throwaway pile. What’s that? Who knows, pitch. And there will go a piece of the world. There will go not just the knowledge of what it was, but carmine pencils, and the old location of that firm on West Avenue, and Bob Tieman and the other architects who were so good to my dad even when he was too drunk to work, and the summer parties the firm threw in Northwest Park, and my mother dressed in 1960s style with her fall and capri pants, and on and on and on….

Somewhere I have a picture of one of those PSP summer parties, but I couldn’t find it — instead I found this, a houseboat party on Lake Travis, probably a PSP party. That’s my mother in the front, wearing the big sunglasses (I remember her sewing her outfit), and my dad holding the Jolly Roger up so it could be seen. I think I also remember my mother sewing that flag. I imagine the others in the photo are architects from PSP. All of this comes to life when I see the clicker. They look happy there, 1966 I think, and back then I believe my dad could still be happy when he was drunk, which he certainly was in this picture. I think my mother still believed that my dad could take her somewhere.

[even though I frequently wrote “when I die” in this post, I am not feeling death-gloomy at all! My time at MoMA really did lift my spirits, as is this daily focus on art, what medicine.] [xoxoxoxox]

three things: 1/5/17

1)  I once knew a very bitter old woman named Ann-Marie who said NO, no matter what you asked. Back when her kids were almost teenagers (she was in her late 70s when I met her), she had gotten tired of doing for everyone, of always being the one who sacrificed, and so she decided that whatever they asked her, she would say no. “Will you take me there?” NO. “Can you bring—” “NO.” There was almost nothing they could ask her that would get a yes answer. She stuck with it too, to a truly remarkable degree. Even in her dying years, she would still say no to almost any request. It was stunning, and sobering, and her bitterness is the main thing I remember about her. My kids were pre-teens when I met her, and she became a cautionary tale for me, about the poison of years-long, intense self-sacrifice. As with all things, it’s a balance and we all have to find our own way, but I know I’ve too-easily felt like I gave away the farm, like I just said yes, sure, I will, OK, whatever you want way too often. And the underneath of that (the “the dark, tarry smear” of it, to steal a bit of a quote that Peggy shared yesterday, by Amy Bloom) is resentment. And resentment is definitely a poison. I tell my daughters all the time not to constantly set themselves aside. To get themselves a new shirt when they need one, instead of wearing a ratty old one but buying another toy for their babies. To go out for some time to themselves.

So at the guided meditation at MoMA yesterday, when the meditation teacher asked us to think of a characteristic we might want to focus on in the coming year, I heard in a very quiet but clear voice that I want two things: (a) quiet, and (b) selfishness. And by that I mean that I want to privilege myself in the coming year, I want to pause before every commitment and allow my own needs and desires to be my first consideration. I’m a pleaser and a sacrificer so it’ll be hard and that probably means I don’t have to worry too much about becoming the bad kind of selfish; privileging myself will just help me course-correct and bring me a little closer to some illusory middleground. It’s hard even to say this! I don’t want to be like Anne-Marie, obviously, but this is something that will be helpful to me, I hope. YES. I say yes to this.

I would ask if this is something you struggle with, but since everyone who reads this (as far as I know) is a woman, I imagine the answer is yes. And to the degree it’s less true for you, I also imagine that’s because you pointedly worked on it. Yes?

2)  Tonight I’m meeting my friend Craig for dinner at an Indian food restaurant, but before then I’m going to the main New York Public Library because the Rose Reading Room reopened in October after an extended period of renovation. I’ll take my moleskine and my beautiful pen and sit at a long table with a low light, underneath the magnificent ceiling, and write for a while. That will be a slug of beauty in my day, for sure. My friend Anne mentioned seeking out a beautiful thing to photograph every day, and January in NYC makes it pretty tough but I am sure I’ll find a corner, a bit of architectural detail, a book jacket, something to relish.

Ceiling detail
Isn’t it so lovely? And it’s even more lovely when there are people reading and working there.

3) So, my new theory. Going to MoMA for the Quiet Morning event was as juvenating (not rejuvenating because I was so low in the trough there was no juvenation to re-ignite) as I’d hoped and maybe even more. This depression, this new kind, isn’t about my deep psyche, and so I imagine that’s exactly why art is working. My depression is about the world, the bitter cold wind of it, the tyrant-coming of it, the fear and dread. Because every day brings new terribleness, it’s hard to find space to catch my breath and get my head above the depressed water. But art is still in the world, and artists. Poetry, and poets. Music, and composers and performers. Dance, and dancers. Beautiful novels, and novelists. That’s all still there, too. And so are blue skies (just not where I am, FOR REAL) and all my favorite clouds, and Bali, and Vietnam and Laos, and all the places I’ve loved. To help with this depression, those are the medicine, soaking them in, being reminded. Unusually, my people aren’t the direct medicine this time, because the dread world is going to steamroll all of them and so they remind me even more of my fear and dread — oh no, not them too, please. Please.

I’ve already bought my ticket for the next Quiet Morning at MoMA, February 1, and in between I am planning to keep inoculating myself with art. I think I’ll pick an artist for each week, and a poet for each week, and sort of assign myself to soak them up in a more focused way.  OR I could choose a color for a week, here and there — brilliant golden-yellow, find art that features that color, maybe, or crimson, or blues (OH MY the blues, I saw some extraordinary blues at MoMA yesterday).

I cried like a BABY. I stared at all his brush strokes and thought about his own suffering, and his ecstasy, and how I could feel his and my own. This was the third time I’ve seen it in person and it’s never less than the same electric experience.

And that reminds me of a thing Sherlock used to do, back in the pre-digital camera days. I did this with him one Saturday our first year of graduate school I think, and it was fabulous. Before we set out with our cameras loaded with a roll of film (36 pictures, if I recall), we each chose a theme. Circles, maybe. Red. Words. Something abstract like that. Then we just drove. We drove through the countryside, we stopped in very small towns, and we took photographs of whatever fit our theme. When we’d taken all our pictures, we dropped off the film to be developed and printed, and we went out for lunch while we waited. It was so much fun, I remember it still (and that was probably 1999, which is….what? No, really? Eighteen years ago??).

Republicans don’t appear to think so, but we need art. We need beauty. We need the abstract. We need the Big. xoxox

four things: 1/4/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS. I DO THIS.

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

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

4) I love Lucille Clifton:

each morninig i pull myself
out of despair

from a night of coals and a tongue
blistered with smiling

the step past the mother bed
is a high step

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

and who are those voices calling
from every mirrored thing

say it coward say it

three things: 1/3/17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

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

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

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

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

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

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

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

three things: 1/2/17

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

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

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

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

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

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

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

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

here we go.

And so it begins. I have not been able to say the three words one says on the first day of the year—the ones that begin with ‘happy.’ I do not see the possibility this year, even though of course I know I will have my own personal, private moments. Inevitably, they will involve my family, my friends, my pleasures in books and movies, good food, poetry, and travel. And they will exist in the context of our horrorshow government which, well, I can’t even find words. All the ones I can think of are too ordinary.

I ended 2016 with this poem, which I think also gives me a way into 2017:

In a dark place
in a dark time

start with black.
Stop. Soak up its energy.

Remember the circle
however bent and broken.

Prize balance. Seek Pleasure.
Allow surprise. Let music

guide your every impulse.
Support those who falter.

Steer by our fixed star:
No Justice, No Peace.

Jim Haba, 2016

Excerpt from “French Window at Collioure,” 1914, by Henri Matisse. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris. (Image: Wikipedia)

I am certainly in a dark place, my own deep depression and my bone-clenching fear about the incoming government, and as my dear sister Peggy suggested in a long conversation about depression, one step is “Be OK with it.” As Haba echoed, “Start with black. Stop. Soak up its energy.” Only when we stop and give ourselves over to fully taking in this darkness can we begin to gauge its scope and scale, he said.

But then unfolds the rest, right? Prize balance — and so I need to find that, and I’ll find it on my yoga mat to start, and I’ll figure out how to balance activism and life. I’ll need to seek pleasure, which means allowing the cracks to let some light in, because right now I’m too flat to feel any of it. Anhedonia, donchaknow. That poem is a flashlight in the dark, the guiding star I needed (among the rest, including friends who reach out in all the ways thankyousomuch), and perhaps, if I’m lucky enough, it will deliver me to this beautiful place shared by my friend Jacqueline:

To dance so hard my heart will learn to float above water again. It doesn’t feel possible right now, but it’s a goal. I have a feeling this year is going to be characterized by all the extremes. I will be marching, and shouting, and protesting. I will be crying, and raging. I will not be nice. (That one will be good for me.) I will be angry. I am angry.

This year I don’t have a ‘word’ for the year. I don’t have resolutions (except one: RESIST). I don’t even really have goals beyond surviving it and fighting back. In January I’ll protest on inauguration day, and I will march next to my friends Cindy and Don Ray in the Women’s March the day after, wearing our pink hats. I’ll attend rallies and organizing meetings. And to help myself survive, I’ll see Katie and her kids, and (we hope) Marnie and Ilan, and I’ll spend time with friends. I’ll make myself good food, and listen to music and try to make my feet dance — and as my beautiful friend Judi dreamed, I’ll hugdance whenever possible.

I just choke on the words, so I won’t wish a happy…but I will wish a powerful year, a productive year, a committed year, a meaningful year, and if you aren’t in this country and having to fight, as we are, those wishes apply to whatever you’re facing or embracing.

Let’s get going.

(p.s. I love you.)

 

three things: 12/31/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to us all, and solidarity, sisters. xoxoxxo

three things: 12/30/16

1)  No talking around it, or talking in the general direction, it’s time to be blunt: I am very depressed. I know from depression, as people in the northeast would say — like my taxonomy of headaches, I have one for depression and it’s enlarged by generations behind me and now beyond me. My people are the kings of depression. I have so many versions, including one version that visits me every eight years like clockwork and ends in a suicide effort/attempt (I’ve had three of those, the last pinning the cycle in 8 years for me). I have another version that makes me sick and lays me so low I struggle to breathe. I have another version that makes me so enraged I hate the fucking sun for shining. I have a version that completely blanks out my mind, bleaches away the words and thoughts. I have the light ones, the little dips and low periods that descend and then lift, like everyone else. When I am very depressed, except for the blank version I always have an ‘explanation’ for it, my list of ‘reasons.’ They are always more or less true, more or less connected to the reality of things, even if they are slanted and deepened. Except for the dips, I have to take them seriously, for my history is as serious as death. The depression I feel now feels very true and connected perfectly to the reality of things, even as I can also see that it’s not the whole reality. The incoming president and his gang of thieves, along with my contempt for all those who voted for him, have nearly paralyzed me with fear and dread. The world I want — one where we respect each other, one where we are thoughtful and value intelligence, one where we lift an umbrella over those in need, one where we engage thoughtfully with the world — has been kicked to the curb with jackboots. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not a simple “nyah nyah I wanted my girl to win,” it’s the truth of this change that’s coming and it terrifies me. All the things I value, my values, are being shit on. They’re not just being erased, or set to the side . . . they are being shit on. And I am depressed. I really am. So many of us are. Had the Republican voters elected Jeb Bush or any other “normal” Republican, I’d have dreaded the policies of hate and cronyism, the pulling-away of concern for any but the super-rich, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s absolute dread I feel, and I am so depressed. Color seems faded. Hope seems too quiet and tiny, a mustard seed hidden in a dusty corner behind the drapes.

I see my grandchildren there. (And then I fear the world they’re getting.) I my see my beloved children (and ditto, plus my dread for them as parents). I see my friends, the overwhelming majority of whom are with me, fighting with me, we’re helping each other (and thank God for all of you, all of you). I see travel in my future, I see happy time with friends, I see babysitting of Oliver and Lucy, I see celebrating birthdays together, I see all that. And all that matters, it does. It’s not disappeared by the depression, it’s there, it just feels muted by the heaviness of the world that’s coming. And so this is another kind of depression to add to my taxonomy: the extremely realistic kind that’s due entirely to the world. I do not feel suicidal or in any kind of danger beyond the kind my government is about to cause, it’s not that kind of depression. Goddamn. Help me Jesus. Help us all.

“Gooseneck barnacles,” photograph by @fifi_dob

2) It is such a weird, weird world. You know how much I depend on every single person I know? Instagram keeps me going: I depend on seeing Fiona’s underwater photography every single day, depend on it. Mary’s shots of the beaches around Sydney. Judi’s gorgeous sunrises and sunsets when she is in Lorne, and the various amazing birds she sees. Friends who travel? I live for your pictures — Mary’s in South Africa right now, Leanne is showing her sons a glorious white Christmas in Europe, Alison is usually off to somewhere I want to see. Megan always has some kind of lush delight for the eye and spirit, whether it’s her extraordinary shots of flowers or the art she makes. Who knew how important an app could be, how invaluable to my daily life could be people I have not yet met. I depend on you, every day. You have a very real spot in the hours of my day, in my anticipation, in my making-it-through. (And it must be said that it’s not just your photos, it’s the real, and very personal kindnesses you show me regularly, the way you are so open with me, the way you share in my life, too.)

I depend on a close watch on politics by my friends Cindy, and Don Ray, and Tina, and Matt, and Margie, and Debra, and Anne, and all of you who are new militants like me. And of course I depend on your communications with me, as we share and worry over the onslaught we’re facing. You help me feel less alone, you help me remember that there are millions of us in this battle.

I depend on people in my real life that I can see in person, regularly (even if not regularly enough), I can’t even name you all because I’m afraid I’ll leave one of you off. I depend on those coffee breaks, those glasses of wine or beer, those dinners or breakfasts, those walks, those hand-clutching conversations. And I depend on the online private communications just as much, whether you are a friend I can see in person, or a friend in another country — the emails, the FB PMs, the texts, the way I can be feeling low and hear a ping and a friend’s note reminds me that I am not sitting alone in the dark. I depend on you more than you could ever imagine. Ever. You give me so much more than I ever give you. (And while I was writing this, *ping* came a note of big love from Dixie, while I was writing a response to one from Alethea. See?)

I depend on my oldest friends, my years-long friends, and friends I’ve just made (a wonder, that, making new friends at 58, especially when they are like long-lost sisters) whether I see you regularly, or not. I really depend on you, and I mean that in a blood-and-bones-and-breath way. I depend on you, I depend on knowing you’re there.

It’s too easy, I think, for us to feel some degree of isolation, and surely we all have those moments—even if they’re brief—of feeling unimportant, or unseen. Unappreciated. Undervalued. So let me tell you: if you were gone, a hole would be blown in my world. You probably wouldn’t think that, but you’d be wrong. My beautiful, beautiful friend Laura in Perth shared this image of a net with me, and let me remind us all that we are connected like a net, we’re each a knot, a nodule, a small thing with arms out to others nearby, and together we are mighty.

3) Even if it’s not your easy style, call a friend sweetheart, or darling. Anne does this and I literally explode in delight, a small fireworks of feeling loved, of feeling special every single time she says it. Give that to someone today.

three things, 12/29/16

today’s Riffle deals

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

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

Year’s End, by Richard Wilbur

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus my lost son.

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

three [book] things: 12/28/16

Before I get to the three things, my hideous headache is gone (and hallelujah for that because I felt like blowing my head off to get relief) and I’m just so numb to the pain with my son that it’s not hurting at the moment. The comments you left on yesterday’s post were so comforting, whether because you know the pain and can commiserate, or whether you simply love and support me. Thank you for that, so very much.

click the picture to go to the Amazon page

1) Book thing #1: I have a brand new book club (and we call ourselves “We Really Mean It” because we absolutely will be talking about the book dammit) and our first book is The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. It’s everything the reviewers and prizes have said it is, although it’s not a perfect book (but that’s OK by me). Sometimes the research is worn too heavily, but I don’t mind. I know so little. One thing I learned is that North Carolina (during the time the URR was so active) abolished black people. They didn’t abolish slavery, they used Irish immigrants instead, although they did pay miniscule wages so they were slaves in a different way. But they abolished black people from the state. It didn’t matter if they were free black people, they were abolished — lynched if spotted, and left hanging in the trees to rot. It’s easy to see that very thing, the underneath of that, still alive in North Carolina as they enact one hideously regressive law after another. (And I live in Texas, the King of Regressive Laws, so I can point fingers.) The white people were so scared because there were more Africans than whites, and they knew how terribly they’d treated them, so they were afraid of retribution . . . as well they should’ve been. South Carolina instituted a sterilization policy on the Africans in their state, destroying the future in a different way. It’s obviously intended that I see parallels in today’s America, because I see them all so easily. Between reading this book and watching the gutting documentary 13th on Netflix, it’s hard to see how I or any other white person in America can do anything but fight to make things as right as possible, at this late date. According to a recent dissertation I found, 80-90% of all black people in the United States are directly descended from slaves. EIGHTY to NINETY PERCENT. That shit has long, long ripples and don’t you think for a moment that severe trauma doesn’t last for generations. Read The Underground Railroad and watch 13th on Netflix. (I realize that we who give a shit about social justice — i.e., not people who voted for Trump — have our hands full, and there is only so much time and energy, and where do we start. Just getting knowledge is a good place to begin.) And if your heart can bear it, here’s a little piece on a gift made by a slave mother for her daughter who was sold and taken away. Fifty-six little words of love handstitched on a cotton sack.

click the image to go to the amazon page

2) Like me, like Karl Ove Knausgaard, or other Norwegian writers? (I happen to adore Per Petterson and recommend everything he has written.) This page lists other Norwegian writers not named Knausgaard that you might like (though Petterson is not, and should be, on the list!). I can vouch for Hamsun’s Hunger, personally. It was first published in 1890 and it’s amazing. Like other places, writers from Norway have a specific sensibility, the elements of that place soak into the language and you can feel it, whatever you’re reading. (But if you haven’t yet read Knausgaard’s epic series, My Struggle, I recommend it heartily. Here’s Book 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. We’re still waiting on Book 6 to be translated.)

click the image to go to the amazon page

3) Here is a list of 26 books to get you started, January through March of 2017. I want to read all but one — less than zero interest in reading anything by twit Ivanka Trump. Yeah, no. The list is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and I found several I definitely want to read. Paul Auster, George Saunders, Sam Shepard, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and not on this list, but on my own, is Frantumaglia, by Elena Ferrante. She wrote the Neapolitan series (Books 1, 2, 3, and 4, which I read at the same time I read all the Knausgaard books, a miraculous experience of synchronicity), but she uses a pseudonym. Her real identity was a great mystery, and most readers were happy for it to remain that way, although it was a hot topic of conversation. My favorite guess about her identity was that she must be female, because no male writer could have that degree of success without pinning his name and face to it. Well, a male journalist uncovered her identity, even though no one wanted to out her — there was a kind of respect for her wish for privacy — and he got a LOT of well-deserved backlash. This book, Frantumaglia, is at least in part about her experience as a woman writer.

I’m just so relieved not to have that headache today, I keep exclaiming over and over, “Gosh! It’s wonderful!” Gosh. It’s really wonderful.

three things: 12/27/16

1) Headaches, of which I am the chief taxonomist, the God of Knowing, the Linneaus, the Webster. My dad was a headache-haver, I am the inheritor of that misery, and my daughter Katie carries it on another generation. I have a headache nearly every single day, and know the specifics and instigator of so many. There’s the one that exists in the top of my left eyeball (and the very different one that dominates my right eyeball). The one that sits on the top center of my head. The one that presses on my right temple. The one that wraps like a belt. The one that comes from a low pressure system. The one that arises from smells in the environment. The one that comes from specific bad sleep. The different one that comes from insufficient sleep. The one that comes from perfume or cologne worn by others. The one that I get when it’s too cold. Etc. Etc. Etc. The one that’s treated with hot, wet cloths. The one that’s treated with Sumatriptan. The one that’s helped by beer and a Sudafed (only if both at once). The one that’s helped by massage. The one that’s helped by sleep. The one that is helped by nothing. And all combinations of all.

People want to help, and I inevitably hear that I should go to a doctor. But the issue is that I am a headache-haver, and that isn’t treatable. I know how to identify and treat the different ones, so what would a doctor say? You have sinus headaches, tension headaches, sleep-related headaches, you’re sensitive to volatile organic compounds, all of which I already know. It’s a terrible thing, being a headache-haver, because my day can be derailed so easily and often there is nothing to do but wait for the next day in the hope that it’ll be better. This part of the post brought to you by today’s low-heavy-shaggy-gray-sky-headache. I was in my mid-20s when I learned that not everyone has a headache every single day, and it blew me away. Lucky you, if you don’t!

I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 6 of those are from the past 13 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.

2) My son is breaking my heart anew. I got a message from his ex-boyfriend about a box of Will’s stuff — did I want it, or should he throw it away? It’s filled with pictures from Will’s childhood, mementos, gifts I gave him, an album his sister assembled with pictures and letters from us all when she was trying to lead him back to our family, all just abandoned by him. I’m honestly not sure I can bear to collect them, but I know I can’t bear for them just to be tossed in the dump on Staten Island and so I will collect them. They will smell like Will. He told me that Will lost his job in the spring and he doesn’t know if/where he’s working, and that he doesn’t have the same phone number. He knows he is (at the moment) staying with a friend in Sunnyside, Queens, but nothing more specific than that. The thread is getting so weak that allows me to tug him, frayed down to a single twist. Will knows he is hurting me, and that doesn’t make my pain any less, it doesn’t allow me to just reside in anger at him. I still fill the weight of him in my arms, smell the smell of his baby head, smell the smell of his teenage years, hear the sound of his boy voice and his deep man voice. I still remember his humor, his pleasure in beating me at Scrabble, the way he called me Ma just to crack me up. The way he said I’d be Granma Pete instead of just Pete, to make me laugh. It’s holding the full complexity of it all that breaks my heart. If I could simply be furious with him, or let him go, or just feel all the love, it would be so much easier.

3) I’ve been trying to sit very still and quiet with this terrible feeling in order to understand it. I set aside the headache as its own thing, and focus instead on the heartache. Why is it so painful? What, exactly, is the feeling of it? I realized that I feel chaotic and not whole, that this feeling is one of fragmentation, and an inability to cohere. It might cohere if I had a simple story I could tell, if I had more answers (whatever they might be) than questions, if I had a simple set of feelings. Just grief, for example. My mind feels like threads exploded outwards, my body doesn’t feel whole and comfortable, and my feelings are all over the place, changing with my breath. I’m doing my best just to let this all be, to be present with it and not try to force it into one category, one thing, and to notice that I can do that. Super hard, y’all. Super, super, super hard. I keep suddenly standing up and preparing to walk somewhere, but I just take a few steps, turn around, hold my head, and sit down again. This is just part of life, it’s just part of my life, it just is, and it will not always be like this.

two things: 12/24/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 12/23/16

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

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

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

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

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

three things: 12/22/16

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

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

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

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

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

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper

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

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

four things: 12/20/16

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

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

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

how I want this book…

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

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

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

three things: 12/19/16

a gorgeous scene from the movie Moonlight, one that made me cry

1)  For someone who really loves movies, I don’t get to see too many. My taste in movies is extremely different from Marc’s (I like foreign/subtitled, subtle, slow doesn’t bother me, etc., and since he is profoundly dyslexic he can’t do subtitled, and he likes a movie that “holds his attention” which means not slow or subtle), so in NYC I never go see movies. When I’m in Austin, I’ll occasionally see a movie, but I’m so busy trying to fit in time with my people that my rare spare time is spent with friends and family. Still, I did see Moonlight and absolutely loved it, and I’ll see La La Land one way or another, ditto Hell or High Water and Manchester By the Sea.  Here are some lists — have you seen any of these?

  • NYTimes — and Moonlight is on all the reviewers’ lists, here.
  • Esquire — but hmm, they ranked The Lobster first, and boy did I hate that movie.
  • AV Club — good ones on this list
  • Washington Post — again, Moonlight makes it to #1. It’s SO GOOD, y’all.

2)  I love my bed — do you love yours? My bed in Austin is the best bed I’ve ever had. I chose every detail of it, concerned only with what I wanted, for the first time in my life (and I had enough money that I didn’t have to make-do with the cheapest thing I could possibly find, as I’d had to do my whole life). The mattress is exactly what I want. The bedding, soft white sheets, the pillows exactly the soft/firm I wanted. A beautiful piece of furniture with a big headboard and a low footboard. And since I sleep all alone in Austin, I can sleep exactly as I wish, too. In New York, Marc sleeps tucked right up against my back so I only really sleep on my right side and don’t have much option to move around. In Austin, though, I have pillows on both sides, so I can roll around and always have a pillow for between my knees, and cozy covers, and always always my kindle in bed with me. I read all night long, every single time I wake up.

my kindle is in an orange cover so I can spot it easily

Beds are so personal, so intimate, such a quiet space where so much happens even when we sleep alone, as I do. We cry there, feel lonely there, we think there, we dream there, we make plans, we rest, we are sick, we read and watch television and movies, we luxuriate there. I adore my bed, it’s my favorite place in my house and the place I can’t wait to get back to, every time I return to Austin. I make my bed every single morning after I finish my coffee, just because I want the pleasure of pulling back the covers at night, to rearranging my bed for the night.

In New York, our bed doesn’t have a sheet, just a comforter, and I don’t like that at all—it’s Marc’s preference. When he sleeps in Austin with me, he pulls the top sheet out from the bottom so it’s not tucked in, and moves it all over towards me — such an important detail to him, and to me, the presence of a top sheet. In Austin I always wear my nightgown (which is really just a long t-shirt) because I feel most comfortable that way, but in New York he sleeps naked and wants me to, too, so I do. It’s not my favorite. People have such definite opinions about how they sleep, which is fascinating if you think about it.

3)  Being a mother to my grown daughters, who are mothers themselves, is very important to me. Since I didn’t have a mother, and often longed to have one especially after I had my kids, I want to give that to my kids. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know this, I write about it a lot. But the girls don’t seem to have the same thoughts or feelings about it and I struggle with this. I’d hoped they would ask me for advice, ask me questions, be glad that I was there for them, and it doesn’t really go like that. They ask everyone but me. They trust everyone else’s thoughts, even strangers in Facebook groups. They acknowledge help from everyone else but me, in private and in public. It’s hard, it hurts, it makes me sad. Sometimes I think maybe I just need to pull back and not knock myself out, since it doesn’t matter to them — and in fact this is my deal, not theirs!

I’ve heard other grandmothers say the same thing, so I know it’s not just me. Maybe this is something about this generation of young mothers, maybe with all the resources they have available to them, online groups and all the information they could ever want at their fingertips, maybe they just don’t need the kind of help we used to need. Or maybe I did a good job and raised daughters who are self-sufficient and know how to take care of things, who know how to manage themselves and their lives. And anyway, what is it I’m wanting? Thanks? (well, yes….sometimes) Acknowledgement? (well, yes….sometimes) This is a painful thing for me and I’m trying to find my way through it. It’s bigger than this, it’s also about disentangling my identity and self as Lori from my identity as mother, and maybe few of us ever really get that done to our satisfaction.

three things: 12-17-16

1)  I had the strangest experience last night — maybe it was the Indian food I had for dinner with my friend Lynn and her boyfriend David. I had a very unsettling dream that took place in LA, and while I remember it clearly, I cannot tell what it was about. I can’t narrate it, but in my memory I know everything that happened. I know what the setting looked like, I know what the rooms were like, I know what the view was like. I’m a little less clear about exactly what was happening, though I know what the feelings were, and I know the various people (strangers to me) who were there. But I can’t tell the dream, at all. I can’t even tell anything about it, like “we were at a party” (it wasn’t that….). And throughout the dream, I’d come up to slight consciousness and find myself in odd places in the bed. Once I was sideways at the very bottom of the bed. Once I was curled up in the top left corner. Once I was spreadeagled on a diagonal. And throughout all that, the odd, unsettling dream kept unfurling. That I cannot narrate today. Have you ever had this experience?

2)  Last night I was driving in heavy traffic, listening to Dwight Yoakum on Fresh Air. I used to really enjoy his music, back in the 1990s, so it was a lovely distraction. At one point in the interview he talked about growing up in the Church of Christ — as did I — and he talked about the music, which was always sung without instruments. Old country hymns, mountain hymns, he said, coming from Scot and Welsh miners. Terry Gross asked if he’d sing his favorite hymn, and I sat forward a little, because I always love those old hymns. I imagined he would sing one I didn’t know, but in fact he sang one of my favorites. And as he sang, I just cried and cried and cried. Here it is, he sang it at Buck Owens’ funeral:

When I was a little girl, we went to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. (Hard to process, given the things that were happening to us in our home.) But oh how I loved that music, the very specific harmonies, the melodies, the aching, longing words. All the way to my friend’s house last night I sang that song and cried, and wondered why. I’m not religious. I don’t feel like God walks with me and talks with me. I don’t feel like I am his own. But I do connect to that deep, aching longing for such a thing. I do. And I’m sure it’s wrapped up in my child’s longing for a father who didn’t hurt me, too, and a little girl’s desperate wish to be loved. But oh, that music. The interview is quite wonderful; he’s a very thoughtful person, and I enjoyed it so much. Here, if you want to take a listen:

When we were little girls, my sister and I played two games: secretary, and church. She always got to be the secretary and I always had to be the boss (and “got to” and “had to” are important there — the secretary was the desired job). But the way we played church makes me laugh, now. We would sit facing each other on hard metal chairs, and we’d have a saltine and a tiny glass of grape juice. One of us would pinch a small corner off the saltine, place it in our mouth while looking as miserable as possible, and then pass it to the other. If we didn’t look as miserable as we possibly could, we weren’t playing church, we were just eating a cracker. That pretty much sums up my experience of the Church of Christ. The sermons were about how worthless we were, and how there was no redemption for us, and the songs were dirge-like (but with beautiful harmonies). There were no cushions on the wooden pews, no stained glass, no decorations, because those were not in the Bible and “thou shalt not add to nor take away from the Word of the Lord.” (But we did have air conditioning, which I’m pretty sure was not in the Word of the Lord.) Just as Yoakum said, those years spent in the Church of Christ had an indelible effect on who I am, though I don’t go to church, as he doesn’t.

3)  What’s the best book you read this year? I read so many good ones, and found two new writers I adore (Vivian Gornick and Lidia Yuknavitch, and I note with interest that now I’m reading primarily women writers, which wasn’t true a few years ago, when I realized I never read women writers and asked for recommendations). But if I were forced for some reason to pick only one favorite, I would pick The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. Here is my Goodreads review, and here are a couple of lines I loved from the book, to give you a feeling for the prose:

“Look, sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands…they delve down into the earth. Endlessly, endlessly…yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide…”

“Only Yeong-hye, docile and naive, had been unable to deflect their father’s temper or put up any form of resistance. Instead, she had merely absorbed all her suffering inside her, deep into the marrow of her bones. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, In-hye could see that the role that she had adopted back then of the hard-working, self-sacrificing eldest daughter had been a sign not of maturity but of cowardice. It had been a survival tactic.”

“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.”

The first time I read it, when I finished reading I just turned back to the beginning and read it again, start to finish. About a week later I read it again, and then I read it again a few weeks later, with two friends. It won the Booker Prize, and it’s on the NYTimes’ Notable Books of 2016 list. I’m re-reading Loitering right now and finishing the collection of Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories, but when I finish one of those I just might have to read The Vegetarian again. Did you read a book you loved this much in 2016?

five things: 12-16-16

    1. just married, and just barely 21

      Thirty-seven years ago today I got married to my first husband. My truest belief that day was that I’d be celebrating this anniversary with him, with whatever family we might create, and that I would be with him until we died. My intention was true and real, and my love for him was true and real and permeated into my marrow, and he was absolutely the right person for who I was then — broken, fragile, scared, in need of safety and care — and still we were just so very wrong for each other in just the right places. We hadn’t been married even a month when I lay awake one night thinking, with a kind of horror, about how much smarter I was than him. And the horror was from being willing to say that about myself, and about having that matter to me. It horrified me, I didn’t want to notice, I didn’t want to care. And honestly, I wouldn’t have, but the dynamics of our relationship (him benevolent father, me fragile child) resulted in his complete inflexibility, he was always right. I feel very sad about it all, sad that we were both edged into the places we were, and I think it definitely changed him. He has always been the kind of person who wanted to save people anyway, but he became too grounded in the paternalistic role. But I never would’ve even gone to college had we stayed married, and I never would’ve found myself. Today I’m thinking about all of that, but I have less than no desire to speak to him; he became a right-wing Tea Party bunker-desiring nut job, not to put too fine a point on it.

    2. I started re-reading Loitering, Charles D’Ambrosio’s extraordinary collection of essays. (Here is my GoodReads review.) It circles around twin themes of the difficulty of life (including suicide) and the truth of ambiguity, uncertainty, and the unresolvability of anything approaching “truth” without those elements. I’d never read D’Ambrosio when I heard about the collection, and his is a startling mind. The collection was on sale yesterday, $1.99 Kindle, so I shared that on Facebook and decided to re-read it and it’s as wonderful as I remember. A couple of quotes:

      “The canker of self-consciousness has been long in me, so like a lot of writers I not only do a thing, I see myself doing it too—it’s almost like not being alone. That morning our hero skipped in his skivvies down to the shore of the sea . . . it was dark . . . the fog . . . Storytelling!”

      His childhood was as difficult and violent as mine, and his brother committed suicide (a theme he pokes at throughout the collection); I think this quote alone will tell you why the collection is so powerful to me:

      “If I could intervene and change my own particular history would I alter past events in such a way that I’d bring Danny back to life? Would I return the single rimfire bullet to its quiet chamber in the gun and let the night of November 26, 19__, pass away in sleep and dreams or drink or television or whatever the anonymous bulk of history holds for most people? Would I uncurl the fingers from the grip, would I take away the pain, would I unwrite the note and slip the blank sheet back in the ream and return the ream to pulp and etc., would I exchange my own monstrous father for some kindly sap out of the sitcom tradition, would I do any of this, would I? And where would I be? Would I be there, in the room? Would my role be heroic? And where exactly would I begin digging into the past, making corrections, amending it? How far back do I have to go to undo the whole dark kit and kaboodle? I mean, from where I sit now I can imagine a vast sordid history finally reaching its penultimate unraveled state in the Garden, under the shade of the tree of knowledge, raising the question of whether or not I’d halt the innocent hand, leaving the apple alone, unbitten.

    3. Tonight I’m having dinner with my friend Lynn and her boyfriend because he’s going to backpack around SEAsia for a couple of months and he wants to hear my stories. It’s funny; SEAsia is my very favorite place, and I can’t get back there often enough, but I don’t know that I have stories, and I’m a little anxious about it. I can tell excitedly about the places I’ve been, tell my impressions of the places, but I’m not sure what I will convey except for my enthusiasm for the places. And then I give myself a little shake and remember: Lori. You don’t have to plan out the “successful” conversation in your head ahead of time. You’re seeing friends. You’re eating Indian food. You’re talking about a place you love. Relax. Are you this way?
    4. I want to see Manchester-by-the-Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan. I read a wonderful article about Lonergan that made me want to see it, but then I read a review that bemoaned yet another movie about an emotionally stunted man. Here’s the NYT review, and here’s the trailer, and I want to see it anyway.

5. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where there is little as pleasurable as making a very nice meal for someone I love. Preparing the meal for my poetry group made me SO HAPPY (and it helped that the food all came out the way I wanted it to come out!). It took me a long time to get to this point; while I often enjoyed making meals that my kids enjoyed, and especially making treats for them, the tyranny of dinner-every-night-no-matter-how-I-felt took the joy out of it. I’m making a meal for someone I dearly love next week and the anticipation of that, even the anticipation of planning the menu, is delicious all by itself. Yet another toast to the pleasure of keeping on living.

Happy Friday, everyone. xoxo

five things: 12-15-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. She is married to Wallace Shawn

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

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

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

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

pre-baked

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

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

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

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

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

xoxo