art and a reboot

OH MY have I been in trouble with myself. Ever since the nightmarish election, I’ve been in trouble. I keep trying to stand up, find myself, breathe, reorient my mindset. I’ll make headway — return to the mat, the street, the vegetable market — and for a moment I am back. But I’m back in that moment, still surrounded by chaos. And it’s a specific kind of chaos that’s my own worst nightmare. The incessant (even when it’s nonsensical) lying and gaslighting, and a country of people who are just fine with it. (Mercifully almost all of my own people see what I see, but not all do.) And that’s not even considering the hideous political stuff he’s doing, the destruction, the looting.

And so I’ll rally and pull it off for a few days: oh yes, yoga, how delicious. A daily walk, hard again at first but after a week getting a little easier. My wonderful food, lots of cool water, clear mind. And I won’t put pressure on myself about it (great! Now I’m completely back! That’s all behind me!) but the constant falling off and then struggling to right myself has been especially awful. I’ve tried being gentle with myself, tweaking expectations, setting low bars, surrounding myself with people who support me, and that’s all gotten me through but I haven’t sustained a reboot.

At this point I’ve gained 22 pounds, from my lowest weight. I’m not quite back where I started a few summers ago (and having sustained my comfortable self for a couple of years, this is hard to take), but I’m in the neighborhood. I was talking to a friend yesterday who asked if I wanted to let HIM have this effect on me — and of course I don’t, of course, but that doesn’t make this stop. It’s actually a thing, the “Trump Effect” — like the ‘freshman 15’ people are eating their misery.

This past week I’ve had a social date every single day, a meal or a drink, and all week I’ve been anticipating today as my next reboot. I’m taking a class this afternoon (watercolor, “bold blooms” — flowers and blossoms, just the perfect medicine) and stopping at the grocery store on my way home to buy fresh, beautiful, healthy food. After dinner I’m either taking a walk or taking a restorative yoga class. It’s not a clear, sunny day here, but I’m filling my day with beauty and color in the hopes that it helps.

Intro to Watercolors: Bold Blooms Workshop
Sriracha Rainbow Noodle Salad!

Fingers crossed, y’all. Is there any worse feeling than just being out of control, unable to stop yourself from doing what you don’t really want to be doing? Unable to start yourself in the direction you really want to go?

How are you?

three things: 1/18/17

FEED: Long, long ago, my son introduced me to the eerily beautiful photography of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. All their work is fabulous, worth gazing at and letting it settle in you, but it’s the images my son loved that stay with me the most. Here’s one I always associate with him:

“Burn Season”

Check them out — not just in the link above, when I first mention them, but I also linked the image to the specific collection for this one, all of which make me think of Will. So for me, it’s a melancholy kind of soul-feeding, looking at these images, but there is also a resonance with the world right now, and resonance is also valuable. Looking at their larger body of work, though, is lifting in the way art lifts.

SEED: My New York therapist, Elizabeth, always told me that dreams are really just showing you how you are thinking about something, how you are processing it. Dreams use a range of personal imagery, maybe, relate to personal themes, other experiences, etc. Last night I had a nightmare that couldn’t be more obviously related to how I’m thinking about the forthcoming nightmare in our country. I was in our NYC apartment, and Marc and I were packing to flee — and it was urgent, we had to go immediately, something absolutely terrible was about to happen (not specified within the dream but I think I knew what it was). As he always does when we have suitcases, he was leaving to go get the car and pull it up to the curb, but he came back immediately and said, “There isn’t time, we have to run now!” And so we fled, in terror, with a sense that we couldn’t outrun what we were fleeing. If that isn’t the most obvious nightmare you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what would be.

I think constantly about why this feels as destructive and scary as it does, why it feels so all-encompassing. After all, I’m a straight, white, well-educated, middle-aged woman beyond reproducing years. All the hate that he spews, and that his administration is ready to enact into law, won’t affect me personally, at least not in the loudest, most hateful ways. Of course living in a society permeated with that kind of hate will affect me. Living in a country determined to build a wall, remove families, block immigrants, remove access to health care for all but the wealthy, with the greediest sharks directly from Wall Street in charge of Wall Street, and people who want to destroy schools in charge of education, and people who have no idea what they’re doing in charge of the rest will affect me, even if it’s largely indirectly. And a big part of the tremendous upset is that I live among millions of people who voted for him, who weren’t bothered by his mocking the disabled reporter, his gleeful boasting of assaulting women, his harassment of ordinary people, his egging-on violence, etc etc etc. Not bothered by voting for the candidate endorsed by the KKK. Just not bothered by that. My fellow Americans.

The nightmare of his impact on global politics is likely to affect me, and I just hope we all survive. Except for our Civil War, we’ve never had war on the ground here, thanks in large part to the simple fact of geography. The terrifying thing is that with him, absolutely anything [bad] is possible, and the unimaginable — like him being elected in the first place — will be our actuality. Hence my dream, hence my constant despair which arises from the need to be ready for any nightmare.

Resist. We will resist. I will resist. We are stronger together, and as long as he doesn’t destroy the world (whether through war or his idiotic ignorance related to climate change) we can start over when he’s gone.

READ: One reason Obama always felt like my president — and this is a huge (yuge) distinction with the incoming not-my-president — is that his solace and ground is in books. He is a writer, and he has all the talents and skills of a novelist: a keen ear, an eye for the right details, an ability to observe, and an understanding that fiction has the capacity to tell the deep, sustained truths of human life. I can’t even process how deeply I’ll miss him, yet. My beautiful friend Deb directed me to this article in the NYTimes with/by Michiko Kakutani, their chief book reviewer, titled, “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books.” I may have enjoyed the transcript of their conversation even more, because there is a lot more of his voice. If you like books and/or our beloved president, you’ll enjoy the articles too.

xoxoxo

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

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.)

 

Knausgard and Mad Men and fictional lives

When I was a very young teenager — maybe not yet a teenager, I can’t remember — I read Romeo and Juliet. Or maybe I saw the movie. Or maybe it was The Great Gatsby I read, or watched in the theater. I can’t remember now, but what I do remember is that I sobbed and sobbed for hours. Oh I cried so much, and felt it so deeply, and couldn’t stop crying. My response pissed off my mother, who told me that if I was going to act like that I would not be allowed to read books or watch movies any more. It’s just a book. It’s just a movie.

bettyI thought of that while I was watching the series finale of Mad Men the other night because I was crying — ugly crying, the face all scrunched up and hot, the tears wet all over the face and dripping off the jawline, the fight to contain it in quiet. When Don and Betty had their final phone conversation and she called him honey and he called her Birdie, I fell apart. When Joan put the phone to her chest in disbelief that dude (whatever his name was) was leaving because she took the call, my heart ached. When Peggy talked herself into understanding that she loved good old hairy Stan, I was doing that crazy laugh-crying that kind of sounds like maybe you’re a wee bit crazy. Was I really devastated that the character Betty was saying goodbye to the character Don? A little of course, but what made me do that ugly crying was remembering my own moments of tenderness that spoke to a long, ancient history with someone I was no longer involved with, but had deeply loved and had been married to.

I just finished Book 3, Boyhood, of Knausgaard‘s deeply wonderful series called My Struggle. Obviously I have never been a boy, but I was a girl growing up around boys in class. I raised a boy. Like Knausgaard, I had a vicious, violent, alcoholic father who terrorized me and left me fragile and terrified in the world. Like Knausgaard I was a smart kid who was not particularly elegant interpersonally, and who was usually on the outside of things. His book left me with such a deep sense of knowing what it was to be a boy — and oh, the tyranny of puberty!! All those girls all around, torment! — and I cried throughout because I felt such knowing, even the bits I couldn’t possibly know for myself. His book isn’t exactly fiction but it isn’t exactly memoir either, except in the most important way. Freud talked about something called “screen memories.” A screen memory probably isn’t exactly true as it is constructed, but it stands in for a host of similar memories. So there may not have been that specific time at the Fina station in the green sweater when the bike broke and the friends all laughed, but there were many times that carried the important elements of that experience, and they all get collapsed into the summary screen memory. In a way, the screen memory is truer than the composites — the psychological significance is maintained — and I think that’s how Knausgaard’s stories are so very true.

And my friend Jeff pointed out that, like Linklater’s stunning movie (also) titled Boyhood, this book of Knausgaard’s properly elevates the small moments that actually give life its meaning and texture, the small moments that provide the polish or the grit that move us and shape us. The movie Boyhood was also fiction but not, and it also devastated me and made me cry so hard, for so many reasons. It’s these small human moments that connect us, whether they’re fiction, fictionalized, or fact (whatever that is) — because I haven’t sat on a bed dying of lung cancer telling my ex-husband to stay away, but I have had a very tender moment that spoke to a long history that was very big in my life, even though it’s over now. You probably haven’t had the lung cancer thing either, and actually that’s not important except to move the plot along. It’s the human, interpersonal spot that you connect with.

That is what I seek in story — a presentation of the human connecting spot so I can feel the exquisite experience of being alive as a person in the world. So I laugh-cry as Peggy talks herself into understanding herself . . . oh yes Peggy, I’ve done that too! How can people be so confused about themselves! Aren’t we silly sometimes. Aren’t we lost sometimes. Don’t we worry and want to help each other sometimes. Aren’t we jerks sometimes. Don’t we reach some bottom where we face ourselves and don’t like what we see. And what do we do then? Do we lie to ourselves, to others? Do we wallow? Do we give up, or get up?

It’s a tender thing, being a soft person in this sometimes hard world. We have all kinds of tricks to keep ourselves from being demolished by it, and that’s not wrong it’s just what it is to be people. We don’t have protective armor over our soft skin, we don’t have fangs and claws, we don’t have shells to pull ourselves into when we’re in danger. We have big fancy brains that monitor and warn and create stories, and we have watchful little hearts and spirits, we watch out for others and they watch out for us, and we have hopes and worries and we are connected to people so we have our hearts and nervous systems walking around in a whole bunch of places outside ourselves, and it’s all such a tender endeavor.

I am so grateful for writers and creators who give me opportunities to go to these places, to reawaken these various moments of my own, to remember my own experiences, to understand others’ experiences, and to remember that we all touch the same spots. I’m grateful for all the hours of pleasure I got from Mad Men, from Knausgaard, from movies, from books, from music, from art, from you.



My project here on this blog appears to be changing, perhaps even disappearing. For the last year, the changes I’ve been making have left me with increasingly little to say. I start lots of posts but find them irrelevant, or too trivial, or something I’ve said too many times already and find nothing new to say, so I trash them all. But it’s such an old habit of mine, writing on a blog, something I’ve done consistently since 2004-ish, so almost 11 years. For a long time it was a knitting blog, when I was a voracious knitter. For a period it was a food blog, when my husband and I were really involved in taking photographs of his cooking, which I loved. Of course I keep my travel blogs — primarily for myself, an electronic scrapbook of sorts — and I’ll continue to do that no matter what I do here.

Periodically I think well, I’ll start knitting again, or I’ll get back to making things and sharing them, or I’ll get more serious about writing about books and movies, or I’ll focus on food and health, or any of a number of topics. Or maybe I’ll post about this stage of my life, about aging….or maybe I will just live my life. The problem (to call it a problem) is that I’ve really been just very busy being and doing, and find little time or interest to write about those things afterwards.

So I don’t know what will happen. I am not taking the dramatic step of closing the site down and releasing the URL and shutting down my hosting service. But I am fallow, as you may have noticed, and am just going to let this be until something presses itself on me instead of trying to force myself into something. If you get the post because you Facebook friended the page, you’ll get a post whenever I post. Similarly if you are an email subscriber, or subscribe in a reader, you’ll see a post whenever I post and that will be that. If you just check my site now and then you may give up — and in that case I want to take this chance to thank you for following along on my various little excursions.

I’m pretty sure I will continue, I just don’t know what it will look like. But I hope you come along with me in some way.

xoxoxoL

 

actors and roles

Just a quickie this morning, because I have to say this to someone or my brain will explode. Since I live alone, that someone is you. 🙂

  • sandmOn the news this morning I heard a report that people are shocked and upset because William Shatner didn’t go to Leonard Nimoy’s funeral — “Captain Kirk and Spock were always together, they seemed so close. How could he miss it?”
  • “I can’t believe Bill Cosby would do those things — not Huxtable!”

Sigh. Really? People truly confuse an actor’s performance in a role with who that person is in real life? Grownups do this? Plato must be rolling over in his grave, or wishing he weren’t dead so he could come out and smack everyone who says these things.

The problem with art, as he saw it, was that people confused it with the real thing. This is one point of his cave allegory — those are shadows on the wall, people! I think about this whenever I see a Photoshopped image of a far-too-perfect woman. He was right, of course.

OK, my spleen is vented. The next time you hear someone say one of these nutty things, ask them to take off their hat and then slap them in the face, as Hobson did to Arthur in the movie Arthur.  Happy Monday, even if it’s miserable, horrible, “will someone please turn on the sun” weather where you are, as it is here. xo

a beauty break

Finally yesterday it dawned on me: I am depressed. It’s an existential/meaning depression this go-round, and I’m working my way through some of it in private writing until I get enough of a handle on it to write about it here. Right now it’s too formless and strange. But essentially it’s “what will I do with the rest of my life now.” THAT old story.

I had an image floating around my mind, one that my son Will loved ten years ago, and I couldn’t remember the artist. It’s amazing what you can get with a Google search. I tried “sepia photograph man tree fire” and didn’t find it, then added the word Robert to the mix — I had a vague memory that was his name — et voila. Robert and Shana Parke Harrison. This is the Google image search so you can get a quick glance at what’s out there. These were the images I had in my mind, and tonally they fit my mindset.

Looking through the images made me think of Andy Goldsworthy, who you probably know. I find his work extraordinary, because he’s working with time. Here’s the trailer for one film about his work called Rivers and Tides:

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And here are some photographs of pieces he has placed in the world — the temporary pieces. There’s also a permanent piece at the Storm King Art Center just north of New York. (This link goes to the Google image search for his work.)

So much beauty there, and ephemeral. And of course it’s that ephemeral nature that makes it beautiful.

Tomorrow I fly home, hallelujah, so more from me on Thursday. xo

memoir blah blah blah

memoirIt is the age of memoir and has been for quite a while. Some people are contemptuous of memoir (that always shocks me), even calling it an “absurdly bloated genre.” To blindly dismiss an entire genre is idiotic, as if they are all one thing. As an editor, I read a lot of memoirs and like any other genre, there is tremendous variability. I have a few favorite memoirs, many written by poets (Nick Flynn of course, and the one I am currently editing which I pray gets published). My other favorite memoir is a genre-buster — The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, by Maxine Hong Kingston. That book provided a metaphor for my life that I hadn’t had before, and helped me see myself in such a different way. As you know if you’ve been around these parts for long, it is the most important and transformative book in my life.

The best memoirs go beyond the specific details of the writer’s life to illuminate what it means to be a human being, living a life. (In my opinion.) When I read my favorite memoirs, I somehow understand my own life differently, or better, as in the case of Nick Flynn’s books. Or maybe I look at myself quite differently, understand the circumstances of my life in a new way. And to varying degrees, memoir can serve as a self-help book of the broadest kind: ah, this person went through by doing y, so maybe I can get through it too. They can inspire.

It’s the age of dramatic troubles memoirs too. Memoirs used to chronicle lives of adventure and privilege, and some still do . . . but these days it seems that so many memoirs focus on horrible childhoods, dire circumstances, horrific tragedy. Those can be self-indulgent but the best of them show readers the power and possibility of resilience, of transformation, of persistence. Stories of resilience can inspire readers to be stronger, braver in the face of their own troubles. I know that’s how those kinds of stories affect me. And of course those stories are not limited to the genre of memoir; excellent journalism and other kinds of non-fiction can do the same thing, as this piece in The Atlantic about the resilience of people and the society in Rwanda, 20 years after the horrific slaughter that lasted for 100 days and left 1 million dead. To read anything that shows the brilliance and courage and strength of real people can only be inspirational, in the best way. Not in a “do these 10 things and you will be happy” way, but in a deeply moving way. My god, human beings can be so courageous and creative.

My friend and former dissertation advisor Jamie recently told me that I am the poster child for resilience, and on this one I agree with him. I am resilient. If and when I complete my memoir, my goal is for it to be one of these tales of resilience, of survival, and of a variety of kinds of triumph anyway. Despite. But I need these booster shots of stories of others’ resilience. Every time I read a very good memoir that is a tale of resilience, I learn new ways of being strong in the face of life, I get a reminder of the strength of people, I find awe and respect in the everyday humanity of people. Sometimes I think, well, what else is there to do but survive and persist? and yet I know that not everyone does. I know that some people destroy themselves and/or others, some people are too damaged to recover, some people do not have the inner resources they need to keep going in a whole way. Would reading stories of resilience help these people? Some, maybe, and maybe those people are the ones with stores of resilience they’re just unaware of. I don’t know. It’s certainly not a cure-all, of course.

I am not so naive that I think just the right memoir could help everyone get through;  as I’ve said a number of times since I’ve been thinking about this, temperament just is and while you can push it around and affect the edges, you are who you are. Like the current conception of the influence of DNA, it sets the boundary conditions, and environment can move it around within those boundaries. But probably not outside them. If you are a person who sees primarily the dark, the trouble, you probably can’t transform yourself into a lighthearted optimist (and you probably don’t want to!). You can learn skills and ways of thinking and you can probably shift things around the easier topics, but we are who we are. I believe that. And I believe that we are who we are, right from the beginning. I look at little Oliver and wonder who he is in there. What his temperament is, because it’s already there. He seems to be laidback and chill, but he’s 2.5 weeks old so we haven’t truly seen him yet.

So when my memoir is completed, and assuming it is the kind of memoir I hope it will be instead of a self-indulgent “feel sorry for me” kind of piece, will the art and transformation of experience help someone, anyone? God I hope so. I hope it helps someone feel less alone, I hope it helps readers keep going through their own circumstances because they know others did, I hope it helps people understand themselves and their lives in some way. You hear people say this kind of thing, but when I think about it I get so choked up: Truly, if reading my memoir helped ONE PERSON in any way, I would feel like all the events of my life had a new kind of meaning. And even writing that sentence, I can’t see through the tears in my eyes.  xo

it’s all really beautiful

Beauty moves your soul, that’s kind of the definition, as far as I’m concerned. That means it lives outside valence; in other words, beauty can be sad or happy; gain or loss; coming in or going out. It can all be beautiful, every last thing, and you really have to open your heart to know that. The opposite of beauty closes your heart and makes you less. What would that be, the opposite of beauty? Ugliness? Death? Loss? Emptiness? My best publication is about the ridiculousness of making emotions into polar pairs. Anyway, beauty opens your heart and makes you bigger. I don’t know much, but I think I know this.

Music is beauty. Making music is beauty. Listening to people make music is beauty. Watching people make theater, make art, that’s beauty too. The act of creation is beauty, even if it’s amateur creation. Knowing yourself is beauty. Being fully who you are is beauty. BEING IS BEAUTY. That moment where you are fully alive in the moment, threads of yourself shimmering, that is beauty. I love those moments.

Not too long ago I bought a ukulele. It’s made of solid zebrawood, and it is so beautiful:

silly me, but not silly ukulele
silly me, but not silly ukulele

A very important song in my life is Somewhere Over The Rainbow, a song that smacked me between the eyes with a deeper understand of what the word hope means. I really bought the ukulele so I could play that song for myself. We should make music for ourselves. We should make art for ourselves. We should create beauty, just for ourselves. If other people enjoy it too, that’s a bonus. But we really must create beauty for ourselves.

Since I was in high school, I’ve played the guitar. I played it when I lived in a car, I played it to soothe myself, and I played it to get food. I played it for my sister, to make her happy and help her sleep; I played it for my children, to help them feel loved and drift off to sleep. And I play it for myself, to make myself happy. Am I very good? Good enough.

I wish you comfort and ease with good enough because it is good enough to lift you, good enough to give you beauty. Your painting doesn’t have to be perfect, your poem can be a good start, your stories can move you, that’s enough. Here’s what Anne Lamott says about how to write:

If people want to know the secret of writing and art, I would say, ‘Write badly. That’s what we all do. Just do it. No one cares if you write or paint or dance, so YOU’d better. Never give up. read more poetry. Then find someone who will edit your work for you, like a friend or associate who needs someone to edit his or her work; or a teacher; or someone you pay, if you can. Without this, you are doomed. No one can help you if you don’t have a tough and respectful reader. Not even Jesus can help you. But you are still loved and chosen. Here, have some cherries.

Happy Sunday, y’all. Make something today, anything.

out of control

So here’s what happens. I see something interesting, open it in a new tab and think, I’ll read it later. Then before I know it, there are dozens of tabs open and I feel overwhelmed. How can I possibly stop and read them all — but I want to! So I put them here, thinking I’ll come back to the “Links” category and read them all one of these days. R-i-g-h-t. 🙂 But maybe one will be interesting to you, so there’s a second reason to collect them here:

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Happy Friday y’all. I hope you are happy and well. I’m trying to be both.

the good thing

Yeah, so here’s the very good thing about having a lot of interests: you don’t have to sit alone in your house all the time. Here is my schedule for the next few days:  tonight I’m going to hear a fiddle-driven folk rock quintet (the Lost & Nameless Orchestra) that describes itself as a unique mix of Appalachian Mountain music, Celtic fiddle tunes, and singer-songwriter folk. They say they’ll make me want to get up and do a jig — and I just might! Tomorrow morning at 8:30 I’m going to a nearby coffeehouse to join a writing group for a couple of hours. Next Thursday morning I have a Skype writing session with an old friend in NJ, and then book club that evening, and then the next Saturday (the 5th) I’m going to an art opening at 6pm. Sunday the 6th I’m joining a photoshoot on Congress Avenue, meeting at the Capitol — a bunch of photographers getting together for the afternoon to take pictures. I’ll have something to say about all these as I do them, I’m sure.

My interests make it easy to be the new kid in town:

Reading — well, this one’s pretty easy, though it can probably handle some refinement. Austin is a reader’s town, and the independent bookstores have long lists of reading groups. BookPeople has a whole list (and regularly brings in authors), and so does BookWoman — just the stores I know off the top of my head without even investigating. I’m attending two book club meetings at BookWoman in January, and at least one at BookPeople.  Will the attendees be my people? I don’t know, obviously, and it may turn out that the groups feel too different from my dear book club in NYC, so I’ll have to keep looking. I haven’t even started looking through Meetup yet, or through old friends who still live here.

Poetry — I started a Meetup group and in very short order got 27 people who love great poetry. Our first meeting will be at my place on January 8, but I can only handle about 6 at a time, so the group has already splintered off into multiple meetings. 

Knitting — There are knitting group meetings every single day of the week, so I’m going to look at my schedule and see which one(s) fit my routine and join. 

All it takes is a couple of good connections to get the ball rolling, so if these already-organized groups turn out not to be my particular cup of tea, maybe I’ll meet a person or two who’ll connect me to their webs. I’ve joined another Meetup group of photographers, and a group of women my age who seem to do fun things together, so we’ll see how I fit in those groups.

For some strange reason, the men I’ve known in my life had no interests, isn’t that weird? Not a one of them liked to read, they didn’t care about movies, they didn’t do things (what was I thinking, now that I think about it!), they had no hobbies or activities they liked to pursue. I can’t even understand how one lives in the world without being interested in something, anything. I have more interests than time to pursue them, which can be frustrating now and then but I’d rather have my problem than theirs. The best part is that some are solitary, some require solitude, but others are social. Lucky lucky me.

I’ll be taking my camera with me tonight and if other people are dancing a jig to the music, I’ll snap some pictures. It’s going to be kind of chilly (it’s on an outdoor patio) so I may be dancing a jig just to stay warm. 🙂 I hope you have as fun a Saturday planned as I do. It’s the last one of 2012, and I’m happy to be escorting this year out the door.

Here — I’ll leave you with a taste of the Lost & Nameless Orchestra, in case I don’t take a little video later tonight: