What is it I need?

If you are my Facebook friend, you’re probably at least aware that I’ve been doing little “creekside chat” videos every morning, whether you watch them or not. I started making the little videos for a few reasons:

See what I mean? This is the view from my kitchen window. WOW.
  • My new home is so very beautiful and most of the time I’m here alone and really just want to share it! I sit on my little bench and look around, wishing I could say to someone, “Look at that! Isn’t that amazing!”
  • My friend in NZ, Kirsten Duncan, said something to me that hit me right in the most vulnerable spot I might have — and I mean that she hit me with love, and started the process of changing something for me. My whole life I’ve been so ashamed of my mouth and teeth and she said, in passing, that she loved to watch my mouth move, and friends in Oz and NZ always say they love my accent — so that’s a twosome that wrapped love around the things I feel most vulnerable about. I first just made a tiny video sitting in the car waiting for Marc one Saturday, and their comments were so loving and encouraging that I got the idea to do more of them. They began as an exercise in courage and vulnerability and forcing myself out of that little shame prison.
  • Starting my day saying hi to the people I have in mind when I’m talking has just been the best gift. Whether they watch (happen to watch a specific day, or watch at all) isn’t even really the point. The point for me is that I’m seeing their faces when I talk to my phone, even though the literal face on the screen is my own, and so I get to speak directly to people I love, and share my place with them.
my humble little bench, where I sit by Hatchery Hollow Creek and record the chats

I generally keep the videos at five minutes or less, because it feels silly and self-indulgent to just ramble on and on and on – and since I’m just talking extemporaneously, talking for longer than that doesn’t even really feel possible! Most days I don’t have the first clue what I’ll say, when I’m approaching my bench — I know I’ll start with good morning, but then the rest is a mystery to me.

SO what has surprised me so much is how deeply those brief chats have satisfied my need to talk. I think this is why I haven’t been writing here — I already said what I had to say, and after that I’m content to be here in silence, happily alone with my thoughts. Who’d have thought? Who’d have thought that talking to myself out loud — with an assumed Other — for such a short time is really all I need?

My first husband, Jerry, was/is an almost completely silent man, and not emotionally expressive (at all) and also not very affectionate or connecting. I know I’ve told this story before but it’s so heart-breaking; I told him once that I knew he could be affectionate, I’d seen him do that with the dog. He told me that the dog didn’t demand it, and then later that he could be that way with the kids because they did demand it. It was so lonely living with him. Another time he said there was no point in trying to be that way with me because I was just a bottomless pit, and however much he might give would never be enough anyway. I still wince at the cruelty of that comment. But it turned out that my needs really aren’t that big — maybe I learned to thrive on just a little — and this talking thing is another one like that.

I have the most loving, generous, encouraging people in my life. Dear Mudd has suggested that I create a YouTube channel for the chats, and that’s on my list — in that case I could add them here. At the moment I have plenty of work, and as a starving freelancer, work takes precedence over everything else when it’s available. If you follow this blog and are on FB, but aren’t yet my FB friend, click this link and then send me a friend request! At this point, my feed is generally photography, poetry, stuff about books, stuff about my grandkids, and these little daily chats. I had to stop posting about politics (though I slip once in a while, increasingly rare though) because it was keeping me too angry. So I hope my feed is mostly about beauty, and my little daily visits with my friends.

I’m not saying I’m abandoning this blog — perhaps I’m just in a fallow period, as happens to all of us who blog. This is just a little note of explanation, and a waving to you. <3

in hiding

endure

SO. From my childhood, I developed a sense of myself as a standing ox. (Side note: did you know that ‘ox’ isn’t a different kind of animal than a cow? It’s just a domesticated bovine that has been trained to carry weight, more or less. I always thought it was an entirely different animal.) My idea of ‘standing ox’ is very specific, and I have no idea where it came from, but to me, being a standing ox means being able to stand while being whipped and just keep standing. Maybe even while being whipped with barbed wire — but to keep standing. To keep your head down and stand, to endure, to take whatever abuse is lashed on you. I envisioned myself as a standing ox from childhood on. One of my spine tattoos is the kanji character for ‘endure’ and when a Chinese woman read my spine to me, she read that one as “you able to keep doing hard thing even though it nearly impossible.” I remember her reading of that character most specifically. That’s when I broke down crying, because her explanation of the character fit my own understanding of it so clearly.

So that’s something I can do, and do well. And nota bene: that’s not necessarily a strength. It doesn’t necessarily carry value. It’s stupid to keep standing while someone is trying to torture you or kill you. There is wisdom in knowing when to say ‘no more,’ when to leave, and I don’t regularly have that kind of wisdom. I am too firmly standing ox for my own good — but it is my approach to difficulty, and something I can do without even thinking about it very much.

An ability I do not have, but others do, is to resist insanity. To laugh in the face of gaslighting. To hear the lies and be unswayed by them, unmoved, to have my own psyche be unmarred. Nope, I do not have that ability. Even if I don’t feel swayed, or wonder if the gaslighting and lies are right, it makes me feel like my sanity can’t endure. I feel instantly panicked, it’s hard to breathe, my eyes fill with burning tears, my shoulders rush to my ears, and I struggle to put words together in a sentence. I literally pant.

So you can imagine how awful our country is for me, with the insane Republicans and their alt-right/Fox News-lies spouting craziness, their fake version of “reality” that doesn’t connect at all — this is my specific flavor of the misery, most of us have our own and this is mine. It’s debilitating and I have not been able to develop any ease with it, even after nine months of the administration. I was nearly shredded by the campaign season but I just kept thinking, as most of us did, that there would be no way. No way. Yes way, it happened and every day it’s insane.

Gradually I’ve withdrawn from the world. At first I thought I could fight alongside everyone, and when there are very specific experiences to join, like the Texas Handmaids, or anti-T rallies, or the Women’s March, I can do that. I can link arms with all those others who see what I see, who see what the whole damn world sees, and I can resist. But I can’t participate in the dailyness of it, and one thing I’ve realized here in my Heaventree haven is that perhaps what’s best for me, now, is to more fully withdraw. I’ve unsubscribed from the podcasts I listened to so regularly (Pod Save America and Pod Save the World, and the NYTimes Daily Briefing, etc.), but kept the storytelling ones. If Fresh Air is about politics, I just delete the episode. I don’t look at the Washington Post or the New York Times any more, unless it’s from a specific link to an article about something non-political. If you need to cope with all this by sharing it on Facebook and engaging in dialogue there, I support you — we all need to deal with it however we can in order to get through — but I just can’t do that any more. It’s too painful, too debilitating, too destructive to me personally. It’s not tapping my strength, it’s assaulting my most terrifying weakness.

So I am pulling an ostrich, and I feel a good bit of shame about it. Lucky me, with my immense privilege. I’m white and I own a home in the mountains. My daily life is not under any threat, nor is the daily life of anyone in my immediate family. I live in a progressive state that has mostly good politics. I sure don’t feel wealthy, and worry non-stop about not having work, not earning money, but relatively speaking I am. Lucky, lucky me being able to hide my head in the beauty, here. Lucky me, being able to act as if the government doesn’t exist. Lucky me, hiding in paradise and worrying about ticks.

I’m grateful to all of you who fight and keep all the insanity in front of our eyes, who work to keep all this from being normalized. So grateful. I thank you for carrying the load where I can’t. But if you ever need a standing ox, you know where to find me. I’ll be here at Heaventree, or in NYC, making or consuming beauty in one way or another. Marnie and I are going to collaborate on a quilt (she the designer, me the implementer….drawing on both our strengths!). I am writing. I will bake bread, and make good food. I will be doing yoga and walking and taking photographs. Time to get some knitting done for the winter, which is surely coming. And I mean that in a Game of Thrones way too, because my friends, winter is here.

the monster just needs orange hair, right?

Mindfulness project day 3 underway….day 2 was beautiful. <3 [and new post up on Heaventree]

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

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.

Grace and Frankie

Fonda and Tomlin
Fonda and Tomlin

Have you seen this show, Grace and Frankie? It’s available on Netflix, and I watched the first season. It’s made by the same woman responsible for Friends, Marta Kauffman. The male leads are played by Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen, and they have four adult children among them. I was hopeful for it,  and maybe it will improve in the next season but the only thing I found of value in Season 1 was the deep pleasure in watching Lily Tomlin. She brought something wonderful to the role and could make the most inane dialogue interesting . . . because she is so interesting to watch. And I just love her style in the show. I want all her outfits and jewelry and her fantastic hair.

Much of the press, however, seems to focus on how great Jane Fonda looks (“for her age,” which is 77). And she does, of course; she’s got great, straight posture, she’s stylish, elegant, thin, and beautifully-groomed and dressed. But her appearance and style are not my cup of tea — I’m more in Lily Tomlin’s camp, even though I am not nearly as stylish as she is (though I’d love to be). But there is something that feels sad to me about Jane Fonda and her fearful focus on how she looks at her age. I read an interview with her in which she talked about having been a person who was valued specifically for her appearance, which left her worried about maintaining it lest she lose her value. She acknowledged having had plastic surgery on her face, which “bought her a decade,” and said she regrets it.

And that just pissed me off — for her, for us. This isn’t some new thought of course, it’s just that dadgummit, even at 77 it still holds sway. I feel for her, and for us.

And it isn’t that I think Jane Fonda is not intelligent, but it’s Lily’s intelligence and talent that shines out of her. Maybe that’s because she has never been regarded specifically for her appearance so she didn’t find her value there. I think she is attractive and enjoyable to watch, and I even find her prettier than I find Jane Fonda . . . but perhaps that’s because I see her intelligence coming through. For all I know, Fonda is outrageously intelligent, but she has traded on her appearance and sexuality and so that is her currency.

I’m glad I was not the prettiest girl, even though of course I desperately wished to be. It felt impossibly far away from me so I never even tried to get close. I don’t think I’m ugly, by any means, but my gifts were slanted more heavily to the interior than the exterior — and again, I’m not saying I’m ugly. I’m tall, and have a long neck and high cheekbones, physical aspects that are valued in our culture. I wish I’d found my way to cherish and revel in the variety of gifts I was given at a much earlier age, but hey. Whatev. You do what you can where you are, and then you learn and do better.

It also feels silly to me that this is some kind of imposed dichotomy — pretty or smart. We do the same thing to men to a much lesser degree, at least in the way we organize our assumptions. And then when age comes into the picture, it becomes even more infuriating. Maggie Gyllenhaal lost a role because at 37 she was considered too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Sigh.

I’m glad I am exactly who I am, exactly at this moment. I’m glad I’m who I have been, all along the way, even though I do also wish I’d found my own value much sooner.

Enjoy your Saturday — rainy, no doubt, if you’re in my other home (yay rain!!!), and sunny if you’re in my east coast home. xo

“broken”

crackFirst, guru Leonard:

Ring the bells that can still ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

It’s absolutely fascinating the way there can be a convergence of things. Two mornings ago that lyric came into my head, just that little fragment, just before I woke up all the way. Ever since, of course, the whole song (Anthem) has been running through my head non-stop. Late yesterday I went to my gorgeous friend Traci’s apartment to hang out with her for a while, after having lunch with her the day before. She’s one of those deep-souled people who nourish, and she’s a friend who shares honesty with me. We talk about things we often can’t talk about with other people. Over lunch she was talking about a person she knew that she thought I would probably like, and the friend has had a difficult life in some of the same ways that Traci and I have experienced.

In the course of that conversation we both used the shorthand phrase “broken” — as in, “she is broken too.” Without even thinking about it I said that the people I love most and connect to most easily are broken. Broken broken broken. We both knew what we meant, and it really was just a single word meant to encompass a whole lot of things that might start with broken but end with going beyond the breaks.

And then when I got home last night I saw this piece on Thought Catalog, “Your Brokenness Makes You Beautiful.” I couldn’t click that thing fast enough, you know? My kind of topic! But as soon as I started reading it, it galled me. It wasn’t trying to celebrate being broken, but something about the whole idea rubbed me the wrong way.

kintsugiDo you know the Japanese concept of kintsugi? When a vessel, like a tea cup, breaks or cracks, they will fill the cracks with a precious material like gold, so the cracks are seen, they’re part of the beauty of the thing that now is so much more, now it is more beautiful, it has more character, it’s strong.

Of course you don’t have to think much at all to see the relevance. Broken becomes beauty, the breaks aren’t meant to be hidden, but it’s not exactly the case that they are celebrated, either, even though something precious binds them. They are part of, central to, evident, but merely a part of the original piece, which is whole. It isn’t broken. An essential part of the beauty of the thing itself still exists as it always did, and yet it is more beautiful as a result. I love that and it touches me.

And so yes, a whole lot of life has happened to me. A whole lot of life happens to a whole lot of us — most of us, perhaps. Traci and I were talking about how we connect so much more easily to people who’ve grappled with stuff than those who have had an easy ride. Good for them! And we mean that! But there’s a kind of trust and ease with others who have had to face the dark, maybe face themselves in the dark, or face the kinds of things that etch, that break, that stain. And so I am etched, I was several times broken, I was stained.

I know broken people. And you see them regularly, especially in a big city like New York. The truly broken, the deeply homeless people who are thrown so far out of the realm of ordinary life, they sit broken on the sidewalk, they live in a shadow and may never find their way back. Some people don’t.

But I am not broken. That bowl is not broken. The crack is just where the light gets in, and the light is so damn beautiful. Without the light it’s just dark, right?

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Cracked Open II, or: Ghosts

uchiLast night I met a bunch of beautiful women, some of my dear friends, for what turned out to be a raucous dinner, sushi and sake and wine. There is a very well-known but pretty expensive sushi restaurant here, beyond the bounds of my budget for sure, but they offer a happy hour. All kinds of sushi half-price, sake and wine half-price, etc. On the way there, battling the atrocity that is Austin traffic, I was listening to music and thinking about whatever the song made me think of. So many of the songs come with bodily states, where I feel in the cells of my muscles the way I felt at the time. The first song cracked me open and then there I was, crying all the way down the highway.

American Pie, memories of dancing like lunatics with my kids in the living room of our home in Huntsville, Alabama – the twist, the monkey, the swim, the pony, dances we could all manage. Such a sweet, sweet memory, nearly unbearable. I can see their sweaty little faces, I can hear us laughing, see us falling down on the floor. It was even fun at the time, it’s not just something precious in retrospect, but in retrospect it’s everything there is.

And then I remember living with them, the feeling of being with young kids. Carving a pencil eraser into a little foot shape and dipping it in powder with a bit of sparkle, then stamping the wood floors outside Marnie’s bedroom, and up to her bed, for the magic of the Tooth Fairy. A few more stamps on the window sill, a little tooth pillow with money tucked under her pillow. The extraordinary privilege of getting to make a child’s life magic, for just a little while. Walking the kids to the bus stop in Virginia, watching the girls get on the bus and then pushing the stroller with Will back home.

Goodnight, The Beatles — oh, spasm of love that song produced in my heart, remembering the years when they were very young and I’d spend so long tucking each child in bed. I’d bring my guitar with me and after we talked about the day, I’d play and sing Goodnight softly, and each one would drift off to sleep. Katie was the oldest so she was always last because she could stay up later. She always tried so hard to stay awake but even she eventually drifted off. I remember kissing their little foreheads, breathing them into me.

The Look of Love, Dusty Springfield — the new dress I wore on the first day of second grade, that song playing throughout the house that morning. Making my lunch and putting a little box of gingersnaps in the sack. Excited and scared to meet my new teacher. Seven years old, I remember how it felt to be that little girl. I remember it so well, my little hopes and dreams.

ghostsAnd then I drive through the big intersection where my dad shoved me out of the truck and turned around to run over me. And I pass the street where we lived when he put a loaded pistol to my head and cocked it, and I remember. Ghosts. Then I drive past a place that has changed, it’s not what it was but I still see it there, I still see the ghost of that apartment building where I lived with him for a scary month. No one else can see that building there, but it’s there for me. I pass another street, the one with the sad little apartment my dad lived in right after he and my mother divorced. That apartment building is gone too, but I still see it there. Ghosts. I don’t really go to the part of town where the sushi restaurant is because I have so very much history all around it, but it wasn’t at all painful. It was all just a bunch of ghosts.

I was crying the whole way, crying through the music, crying seeing all the ghosts, but crying because I am so incredibly grateful for every tiny little bit of my life, every bit of it. The good the bad the boring the scared the lost the hopeless the hopeful the brilliant the dark. It’s all so precious, even though I have regrets about this and that, about not being able to be a lighthearted mother. I was trying so hard. It’s all been so precious, every single bit of it. The ghosts are precious too because I survived and this place has so many layers that only I am aware of. When my life ends I will be so grateful for it all. It has been so magnificent.

* * *

On the way home I was sitting in traffic and saw a concrete pillar with a really beautiful image someone painted on it. Then I looked at the words around the image and they said “Fair sailing, tall boy.” In another spot it said, “Don’t drink and drive, you might kill somebody’s kid.” In another spot was a span of years I quickly calculated: 18 years. Tall boy was 18 years old, and someone who loved him terribly had the grace and incredible strength to wish their tall boy fair sailing. I almost couldn’t bear it. I almost can’t bear it even typing these words.

* * *

We all age differently; I have what I call my “Concentration Theory” of aging, which is that we simply become a concentrated version of ourselves as we age.  Cranky people become intensely more cranky. Gentle people become gentler. Sensitive people become more sensitive. I think about Maurice Sendak’s last interview with Terri Gross on Fresh Air. Here are the extraordinary last five minutes of that talk:

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And here are some of the best snippets:

  • “Somehow I’m finding out as I’m aging – I am in love with the world.”
  • “I don’t know if I will do another book or not. It doesn’t matter. I am a happy old man.
  • “I have nothing but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop loving them. They leave me and I love them more.”
  • “There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
  • “It is a blessing to get old. It is a blessing to find the time to do the things, to read the books, to listen to the music. You know, I don’t think I’m rationalizing. I really don’t. This is all inevitable and I have no control over it.”
  • “I wish you all good things. Live your life, live your life, live your life.”

And I say the very same things. I have nothing but praise for my life. There are so many beautiful things in the world. It is a blessing to get old. Life your life, live your life, live your life.