potluck

Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

let go of the results

 

just open your hand
just open your hand

This is a somewhat new idea to me, but not a new idea: let go of the results. Let go of the outcome. I heard it this morning, and a quick search shows that it is most often spoken of in recovery, and among Buddhists. For example, here’s a post on Tiny Buddha.

To be honest, I know I’ve bristled when I’ve heard my husband talk about it in terms of recovery, as if the addict just says, “oops, sorry,” and that’s that, they bear no responsibility for the outcome for other people. [NOTE: this is my shitmy hearing of it, not at all what he says or how he says it. My hearing is influenced, of course, by my history with a vicious alcoholic who never took any responsibility. So I own that.] [Also note: I become unbearably outraged {literally, it feels like I cannot bear the outrage} at the concept of “blackouts,” so the addict doesn’t have to remember what he did to me but I do?!! Lucky him.] [yikes, stuff to work on here, pillbug queen, self-righteous outrage much?]

But if I can step outside my shit and think about the idea itself in a bigger way, in a way related to living as fully as I can, it’s an interesting idea that connects to another thing I’ve been thinking about, which is that if you say what you think, and respect yourself enough to be willing to do that, there will be consequences. People won’t like it, necessarily. And people may not like you, then. I think I have seen this in my life in the last year, as I’ve been inching toward caring a little less about being sure everyone is always happy with me and a little more about saying what I need to say.

What is my responsibility? To whom is my responsibility? What matters, here? Within the Buddhist tradition there is the concept of “right speech:”

It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

Sometimes, though, one has to say the truth and it just must be said. I can talk myself out of ever saying the truth: Oh, it’s too soon, don’t be a jerk. Oh, I’ve waited too long and now it’s not fair to say it. I’m too angry to say it right now, it won’t come out right. I’ve kept myself from saying the truth so many times and I’m trying hard to learn how to stop stopping myself. I’m trying to learn how to let go of the outcome, here. I say what I need to say, as clearly and directly as I can say it, and what happens will happen. Quick to say, hard to do.

And letting go of the outcome, letting go of the results, also has to do with creative work. Putting something out there that never existed before doesn’t just risk judgement, it invites it. I always wonder about criticisms of a piece of art. It didn’t exist before, and now it does, and you can like it or not like it, but to say that this color or that form is wrong makes zero sense to me. The piece is. It just is. When you write, and submit a piece to some outlet, it will be accepted or rejected (and most likely rejected), so do you just hang on to it forever, changing it this way and that and this way and the other with the idea that finally it will be acceptable? You can, of course, but then you produce one thing. Or maybe you don’t even produce one thing!

Create, give it your best voice and skills, and let it go. Let go of the outcome, let go of the results, let it be, and keep stepping forward, opening that new Word document, that pad of paper, that canvas, your camera, that piano, yourself. Keep creating something new, whether that is on paper or in the air, whether it’s art or your own experience of things, whether it’s the truth you need to say in order to be yourself in the world, and let what will happen, happen. You aren’t responsible for that. I am not responsible for that.

It’s funny how often you can hear an old thing in a new way, with new ears, with a more subtle understanding, with a different understanding. I’m not finished hearing this, I’m not finished thinking about it, and I’m definitely not finished trying to learn this, because I surely am responsible for it in some ways, so I need to shave the edges of it to find the center. I have such a long way to go, and the post I wrote yesterday relates to this, as I prune my social world to include people who support me in this effort (as I hope and believe I support them) and let go those who only like me if I say what makes them feel comfortable.

It’s a beautiful day here in Austin. I have work, a gorgeous manuscript to read, and another waiting. The day won’t be too brutally hot. I have good food waiting to prepare, and two grandchildren a tiny drive away from here and another in Chicago, whose mom will shortly be adding a photo of him to our shared cloud. Friends all around, and one right next door. I’m healthy as can be, and only 57 years old, so much still to come, enough time {I hope} to learn how to do this.

see! saw! see! saw!

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

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

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

Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

help me make it through the night

Kris Kristofferson wrote some of the best old songs — songs others made famous, but those of us who know, know. Today I’m thinking about this one, made famous (at least to me) by husky-voiced Tammy Wynette:

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I have an extremely hard time asking for help when I am at my most desperate, when I am most in need. It feels too close to making someone else responsible for saving my life, and that’s not fair to do to anyone. I’m trying to learn how to think more subtly about this, how not to cast it in black and white, how to understand that just because I am in trouble and need some help, it’s not about suicide. Because it hasn’t been about suicide, and even last night when I was in deep, deep, deep need, I was not suicidal. I just needed some help to make it through.

As I cried in despair, I thought about the long list of people I know, people who love me, and knew that there was a sublist I could call on, without fail, and they would answer. They would be there. Dear friends, some who have already helped me with this before, like Anne. Some who have offered themselves to me in such heartfelt ways, I had no worries about reaching out.

But first I tried to write, my lifelong impulse. And this is what came out:

I find myself really wishing she’d just drowned us all, like a bag of kittens, and then they’d killed each other. The whole bunch, gone before the world could be hurt any more, before the little kittens could be hurt any more. Before the little kittens could grow up and hurt each other, themselves, others.

And so, obviously, I needed help to make it through. I walked down to the Hudson, through beautiful but dark Riverside Park, and texted a very dear friend, who texted me back immediately. Lots of back and forth, lots of her writing my name over and over — Lori. Lori. Lori. Lori. — and it’s weird how that helped. In The Woman Warrior, I learned that when a Chinese person is lost inside themselves, apparently you waggle their ears repeatedly and say their name over and over, to call them back. How Nancy knew to do that, I don’t know, but something about her saying my name like that, in addition to all the rest, all the understanding and care and compassion and empathy and telling me our plans, she got me through.

I think the tide has turned. I feel so much better this morning. I feel and recognize myself again, myself right now. I even felt like reading a funny poem. I feel eager to get home to Austin, back to my cozy little home, and what happens with my brother will happen but I’m not afraid anymore.

Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

I’m Lori. Grandmother to Oliver and Ilan, and a little girl to come in September. Mother to Katie and Marnie and Will. Friend of many generous and loving people. Lover of poetry and literature and beautiful words. Understander of the pain and suffering of life, and the beauty and glory of it, too.

I’m so glad to be here. Sometimes it really sucks, and sometimes it’s really glorious, and sometimes it just takes time to travel from one to the next. xoxoxoxo

the wave

Hokusai's wave
Hokusai’s wave

It’s a matter of perspective, there: Fuji is just off in the distance and so therefore foreshortened, but Hokusai played with that to show the power of the wave, the power of that force, big and strong enough to crush a mountain.

The Japanese know about tsunami; Haruki Murakami’s fabulous story The Seventh Man tells about a young boy whose friend died in a tsunami wave and he remains ever haunted and afraid. As he finishes telling his tale around a campfire, he pauses and says,

‘They tell us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; but I don’t believe that,’ he said. Then, a moment later, he added: ‘Oh, the fear is there, all right. It comes to us in many different forms, at different times, and overwhelms us. But the most frightening thing we can do at such times is to turn our backs on it, to close our eyes. For then we take the most precious thing inside us and surrender it to something else. In my case, that something was the wave.’

I linked the story title to a translation that appeared in Granta, but I prefer the translation that was performed at Symphony Space, and I heartily recommend that you listen to this magical performance, by John Shea. There’s a brief introduction to the program (which comprises two stories) and then Shea starts reading the story. If you can listen in the dark, at night, it’s all the better. Here it is, so amazing.

I’ve recently been knocked down by a tsunami, an experience so thoroughly unexpected that I don’t think I could’ve been any more surprised if my 34-years-dead father knocked on my door with his bony skeletal hand. It hadn’t been anything I’d been fearing, because I didn’t think it would ever happen.

Even more, I didn’t think the consequences of it could happen to me anymore, I didn’t fear them because I felt safe from them, past them, healed. The thing was the fiery, violent reappearance of a long-lost family member, but the consequence was being thrown right back to how I felt as a child, all the terrible, terrible feelings I had, the body states I had, the terror, the up-is-down version of reality and how confusing that is. The word-twisting, where X is said to me and then hurled in my face as something had said. (“But wait….you’re …. I didn’t say that, you did… but wait….”)

I’m coming up on 58 and felt solid, stable, reasonably sure of who I am, and I’ve been working so hard for 36 years to rout out all the poison, to drain those wells, to discover who I am, and to have enough time and distance between me and them so they couldn’t destroy me. I thought I’d done it. I felt strong. And then it was all gone, swoosh.

I’m a little bit grateful for what has happened because it put me right back there and I am a grown-up now, fully remembering how it felt to be the child I was, in all its horror. I’m taking notes, trying to bear the feelings which do not feel bearable, and weren’t bearable back then. They are now, even if they feel like they aren’t. I learned a lot about the lost family member that makes me feel even sadder. But now I know all three of them, my birth family, who they are, and nothing mysterious remains.

And so I move forward knowing that I can still be taken back, no matter how strong I feel — which is itself a kind of better strength, I guess. Feeling invincible just begs for the knocking-down, perhaps, and so knowing that I can be knocked down forces me to stand a bit loosely so my legs can absorb an unexpected hit, to stand with my hands open at my sides inside of in fists at my waist, all invincible-like, which might let me be knocked over. And importantly, knowing that I can be knocked down softens me and keeps me open. I would much rather all this hadn’t happened, no lie, but since it did, and since I survive, there are good things to take from it.

A *very* important thing I learned — well, wait, not learned but was reminded of once again — is just how good people are, just how quickly they reach out, and in so many ways. How quick they are to do anything, even if it puts them at risk. How quick they are to tell me who I am, who they see, which I really needed in this instance. I called this ‘self-knowledge by reflection of consensus’ and by that I mean that a large, global choir of people tell me who they know me to be, and so (a) because there is a large, global choir that itself means something about me, maybe, and (b) who they know, and how consistently they describe me, means something too. Maybe it means something about them; maybe it means that kind, loving, generous-hearted people surround me, and I know that’s true. And so again I remember that we need each other, I need you (and desperately), and I’m grateful for each and every one.

xoxoxoxoxox

eventually you get there

likeSo the really great thing is that I have lived this long, and many things that once seemed impossible no longer feel impossible. Things like a bit more interior calm. A release from my father’s death grip. And an understanding that it really doesn’t matter one little bit if people do not like me. It used to be incomprehensible to me when I’d hear people say that. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to be liked by everyone, but it was that I felt fear about being unliked, and even though I understood that people could dislike me without also wanting to kill me (shades of my childhood there), there was a dark enough tinge of that old fear that it always felt safest to be liked. It wasn’t from a narcissistic place — how could anyone possibly not like me?! — but rather from this place of fear.

The truth is, of course, that I also don’t like everyone! The older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I am with that, too. It’s fine, you be you however/whoever you are, and I can feel about you however I feel and we’re both good. We’re both good! You are, and I am. And maybe we just don’t like each other. It’s a relief to find that place, to be comfortable in that place. (But also, it must be said, you can be very different from me in important ways and I’ll still see you as my friend, I’ll still like you….which isn’t always true for other people I suppose.)

As best as I can tell, because people don’t usually tell you why they don’t like you, or why they have stopped liking you, people dislike me for these reasons:

  • I am emotional. I express my emotions readily, in full, and don’t decide only to express the happy ones. At least one person really dislikes me for this . . . probably more.
  • I say what I think. On this blog, I write what I think. Sometimes people really don’t like that. I have specifically lost friends for this reason.
  • My specific political positions, which include pretty strong negative feelings about almost all Republican positions and politicians; women’s rights to our own bodies; gun control; and your standard “bleeding heart liberal” positions, like helping people who need help.

The really great thing about having lived my exact life for nearly 58 years is that I can look at that list and think, Fine! Dislike me! Could I be differently emotional in order for you to like me? No, I truly couldn’t, it’s who I am. Could I shut the fuck up and just not say some of the things I’ve said? Sure, I could. I could. And I used to do that all the time, worrying about what this person or that would think if I said what I felt or believed. Could I change my political beliefs, or shut the fuck up about them? I couldn’t change them, and now is absolutely not the time to keep quiet about them.

So like me or don’t, we’re good. You do you, and I’ll do me, and we’re good. 🙂

just a lot of OMGs

In random order, O.M.G.:

  • How have I not read any Tom Robbins as a 57yo person?? Thank heavens Peggy posted a quote by him, which led me to comment on it and led two friends to tell me how great Jitterbug Perfume is, leading me to immediately download the book and start reading it and O.M.G. Here’s the quote that kicked off the whole thing for me (thank you Peggy and Anne!):

beets“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

I ended up highlighting the entire first few pages, including the epigraph and the introduction, and throughout the early pages my highlighting is more evident than the non-highlighted stuff. Just, wow. How did I miss him for so long? I think I got him confused with someone else, some writer who does a lot of pulp books, but I can’t quite think of who it might me. OH! Harold Robbins! Yeah, very different.

I’m also newly and re-smitten by Per Petterson — about as opposite a writer as Tom Robbins as you could ever imagine. Where Robbins is out there in plot and inventiveness of language, Petterson is quiet, interior, and dreamy. Here’s my review of I Curse the River of Time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my third read of that beautiful book and I know I’ll read it at least a couple more times. I’m currently reading Out Stealing Horses (the guy is great at titling his books, that’s for sure), and moving between Petterson and Robbins is a head-banging experience.

  • I am hardly going to be home in Austin for the coming weeks and months, OMG. It’s all good stuff — my grandson’s birth and the luxury of time helping my daughter and son-in-law, a trip to southern China, and NYC time on either side of those great experiences. Still, I dearly love being home in Austin, in my cozy little place, with my own way of living my life and feeding myself, with my dear friends and family and weekly time with Oliver and Katie, with book club and poetry group and happy hours and brunches and coffee breaks, with nightly walks and an easy stop at Torchy’s Tacos (click here for images, you’ll want to eat there right away). When I’m in NYC or Chicago or southern China I’ll be so happily immersed in all that’s going on, obviously, and my sweet little home will be whispering in my ear. Queenie….come home….. will be home for Oliver’s 2nd birthday, no matter what. That’ll be a big day for us all.
  • I’m so glad I was in NYC for the historic snowstorm! Just, wow. It was amazing. In less than 24 hours we got nearly 27″ of snow. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture that day, but still I think this one I took in my beloved Riverside Park is pretty fantastic:
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It's not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It’s not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
  • We have some amazing travel coming up this year. Southern China in April, so excited about that (and also a little scared), and also the UP in July — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! We’re going to Manistique Lake, a special place in Marc’s life. His family had a cabin there; actually, his grandfather bought it before Marc was even born, and he went all the time as a kid, and then at critical times during his adult life. Both blogs are set up. We’d been planning to go to Alaska in July so I could see humpback whales, but the places were already sold out so we’re diverting to Manistique and planning for Alaska next year. It’s a gorgeous Plan B, and also without any of the anxiety we have about China.
china
click the image to head to the blog
mheader
ditto — click the image

And a final BIG picture OMG. My life is pretty amazing at the moment and so I pause to acknowledge it. My little Katie family is flourishing (and Oliver is amazing) and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my little Marnie family is flourishing and about to grow and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my friends remain essential to my heart and well-being; I have work; the back-and-forth pleasures of Austin and NYC are mostly great, and the less-great stuff is a bearable price to pay; I’m in excellent health as far as I know and my eating and yoga and meditation makes me happy on a daily basis; I’m writing my own stuff and it’s good; I’m reading amazing books that enrich me; and my little year-long project has been surprisingly meaningful already. It’s so important to pause and look around during the peaceful happy periods, to see all there is, to sit with it and be grateful for it.

OMG. xoxoxox

showers

wisteria
wisteria blooming in Japan — imagine the shower of those purple blossoms

Y’all. You blow me away, again and again and again. This is not pretense designed to get you to say nice things about me, I MEAN THAT from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t say anything about me in a comment. This is about you. You are so extraordinarily kind and good to me, and I don’t know why.

  • You write me cards and letters and notes by hand, because you think I will like it. (I do!)
  • You have paid attention even to the smallest things and then sent (or given) me a gift based on that attention. Sometimes for no reason at all.
  • When I am in trouble of any kind – giant spuds or the smallest potatoes – you reach out to me with generous hearts and words, and you somehow remember to keep checking on me. Or maybe you get me a membership in the Cloud Appreciation Society. Things like that.
  • You send me little notes, images, stories, things you see online, or maybe in a newspaper you tuck into my door, because you saw them and thought of me.
  • Sometimes out of the blue you send me a note telling me something you appreciate or value about me. (!)
  • The moment I click ‘publish,’ I imagine I’ll think of several more things like this.

It isn’t that I think I’m a bad friend or anything like that, and it isn’t that I don’t realize the ways I can be a good friend, but seriously, I just don’t do these things, and y’all do. I wish I did these things, even when I’m not in the moment of being the recipient. It’s a thing I wish I did better. And then y’all do these things and I wish it even more.

You shower me with friendship, love, kindness, warmth, generosity, and care. And I feel it like a shower, a tremendous blessing. You make me feel better about the world, which often leaves me in such despair. But there are people like you in it, too, people of such quiet generosity, people who care for others in real ways, not just attitudes that one should care. I know you do these things in the world, not just for me, and knowing that you are there, knowing there are people like you moving through the world, I feel less despair.

Please please don’t say anything about me in the comments. If you feel like you want to comment, you might say something about kindnesses others have shown you, because I think we all need reminders that this exists in the world, too. My last words here are directed to you: thank you for the showering. xoxox

that friend

Of the myriad ways I’m the luckiest person in the world, one is that my friends believe in me. They (you) encourage me. I had one who didn’t, who preferred and delighted in my troubles and failures, and she’s not my friend any more. (Was she ever? If you have one like that, let her go. Just do it. Life is too short and difficult already.)

My darling Dixie
My darling Dixie

I could name each one of you and say the specific ways I feel your belief in me, list examples of things you’ve said — either in person, or in emails, or in instant messages that come out of the blue and for no apparent reason. This would be a l-o-n-g post if I did that, and I have an idea perking in the back of my mind to acknowledge your importance to me, but it has to wait until after the holidays. Perhaps the most extreme of you is my darling Dixie, who just believes in me 1000%, thinks I hung the moon and whatever I do is nearly perfect (sometimes perfect), and I swear that if I killed someone and were caught standing over them with the bloody knife in my hand, Dixie would defend me and stay by my side to the end. So she is in her own category in the whole world, because this is how she is with everyone she loves — and she means it, very individually.

writingSo many of you have quietly and insistently encouraged my writing, and I love you for it. It’s funny; my friends are encouraging and supportive and my kids have never ever been that way with me — so I appreciate you even more! You are my team. You’ve stuck with me on the ups and downs: I’m writing! I’m giving up! No, instead I’m going to do this kind of writing! Maybe not. Maybe so. I am! I can’t. Who would care. I have one thing most writers don’t have: an understanding of the realities of the publishing world. Not having that would be helpful! My clients all finish their books in the belief that their books are going to be bestsellers. Surely that helps them keep going and get it done. My friend Traci knows very well the realities of the publishing world and writes one beautiful book after another, which she publishes through her own press and practically works a second full-time job promoting her books. (And her husband’s work. And she has a school-age daughter. And she writes book after book. She is clearly in her own category.)

But I have this one friend, Nancy, who is in a different category in terms of encouragement. I don’t have any idea, maybe this is what it’s like if you have a mother who thinks you are OK, and who encourages you and believes in you with great vigor. Nancy is my friend, not a mother figure, but there’s something about the way she believes in me and encourages me that makes me think about what it would be like to have had that from the start. Just as Dixie replaced the cruel voice in my head (my mother’s) with hers (you are so darling, you precious thing), I think Nancy has replaced the mean discouragement in my heart (my mother’s) with hers (you don’t have time for that, you need to be writing. Are you writing? I believe that it’s very possible that your writing will be of significant value. I just had an idea, have you ever read your work before an audience?). She’ll just write me out of the blue and in her direct, Kansas way say these things to me — apropos of nothing, which tells me she had been thinking about it herself. When we have our regular coffee breaks, she’s likely to bring it up. My book club friends made me a VERY special gift as I was coming out of my suicidal place, a jar filled with notes from each of them telling me what I add to their lives, how they see me, etc. Nancy’s contribution was a nametag, the kind you get at a conference, and it had my name and WRITER. See what I mean? It’s insistent and said as if it were simply the truth.

So this post is much less about writing and encouragement, and much more about what it is to receive that, on whatever topic or maybe no topic at all, maybe just about who you are. I know this is a theme of mine, but it’s because I mean it, and know it so solidly: If you live long enough, everything is possible. The thing you simply could not understand (how to spend time alone, how not to care what others think of you) becomes simple and true in your heart, and in fact an important thing! The struggle you’ve found impossible to overcome, like getting rid of the cruel voice in your head, dissolves and disappears. The fear you always had goes away. The bad thing you clutched to your heart, your ‘grim belief’ as my friend Marg calls it, falls away. It’s so good that life is long, if you’re lucky and open to it.

It would be such a different world if everyone had one person who believed in them like this. If you have a friend you believe in in some regard, express it a little more often. Encourage her in the various ways you can think of. You have NO idea how transformative it might be. And if you change one person, you might change the world.

Thank you for the ways you encourage me and support me in all the ways you do. I’m keenly aware of each instance, each moment, each effort, and it all keeps me going. I hope with all my heart that if we know each other, I do some of that for you. xo

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox

a post, in two parts

PART I

The tide has turned. The worm has turned. It’s a beautiful morning. The world has turned. Morning has broken. And many other sayings like that.

Light is coming back. Light and air are coming back to me. Yesterday I actually laughed spontaneously, and I haven’t had “those” thoughts for three straight days, now. If bad language offends you, turn away (but then you probably aren’t one who reads my damn blog 🙂 ) — I think it’s fucking ending. Halle-fuckin-lujah. And thus ends the F word, in this post, anyway.

For you professional depression-havers out there, you know how it sidles up alongside you, a dark day turns into a week but you know, people have down weeks. A week slips into two, then three, and then you’re in it and don’t even remember that it ever was anything but this. I wish it announced itself in some way, that would make it all so much easier.

I told people slowly, very slowly, too slowly. One here, another there. This one. A hint of it to that one so as not to freak out that person. A secret group, and then another secret group, and then the last one, and then that last blog post and a public-ish post on open Facebook. Damn depression, the way it makes you unable to think and see! There was pretty much a linear correlation (thus ends the statistical stuff) between help I got and people I told. And a big duh right there. If I weren’t depressed I’d have caught it on the second person. So the next time this comes around, as I sadly imagine it will even as I hope it doesn’t, I hope I can remember this, and simply tell all my support people, my friends, those who love me, those I love, and accept the help they so generously give. Just do that. Tell, and as soon as you can. And as many people who love you as you can. You’ll know the ones who’ll get cold, or freak out, so don’t tell them but tell all the others, the ones who will rush toward you in even the slightest of ways.

This morning I was telling a group of friends about what this giant all-out launching of love has done for me, and a sweet little bit of writing slipped out of my fingertips so I’ll plagiarize myself: “this kind of love bombing I’ve been receiving ever since I went ‘public’ with it has been like a booster rocket, sending me above the ocean’s surface where I can take deep gulps of good air. And even if I go down again, I don’t go nearly as far.”  [pretty good imagery if I do say so myself. thank you, subconscious.]

Of course every time is different, and it’s different for every person (different each person x different each time = I can’t do the math but that’s a lot of instances), but I learned something this time that I want to try for others, and I hope to ask for, for myself. When you are way down in the hole, people who love you remind you how much they love you, and of course they do, and you know it even if you can’t feel it while you’re down there. But the nasty little sentences I was resisting were these: No one would miss you. It wouldn’t matter if you just died.

People not only showed up, they gently took me out for a drink, for dinner, they held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me what I meant to them, they told me they understood because they suffer depression, they sent me little notes, or they bought me music, or they wrote me letters, or they sent me gifts. They listened to me with great heart and compassion, and I could see it in their glowing eyes. They pinged me every single morning asking how I was, darling, and sometimes again at night. If I said it was really really bad, I got good practical advice — go outside and take a very fast walk, go do it now. And text me when you’re back.

And sometimes they wrote out what it would mean to them if I weren’t here. And there it was, the very real argument against those miserable thoughts. Liar! She would be devastated, and in these particular ways! Liar! Her world would change in these particular ways! Liar! Liar! Liar! Not only were those like silver bullets against the thoughts, they were also overwhelmingly wonderful to read — not that people would suffer, but that my presence in their life means all those things.

And so I will carry this with me out of the darkness, and not just wait until someone is depressed to tell them what they mean in my life, how important they are in the very fiber of my life, but tell them all. (I mean, not all the time, for heaven’s sake. 🙂 )  You might file this away for the next time someone you love is severely depressed. It may or may not help them, but there is no way it can hurt. And maybe it will just make them feel too guilty to leave. Whatever works, man. Whatever works.

Part II

Just the right person came into my life at just the right time. I didn’t recognize it at the beginning, because I was too far gone in grief and loss, and she went out of the country for six months. I kind of feel like I’ve been waiting all my life for her, but don’t tell her that, she’ll get embarrassed.

I’ll only be able to explain her importance when I write the dedication and acknowledgements for my memoir, but thanks to her, it’s an entirely different book now, and it’s amazing and flowing. Yesterday I wrote for five hours straight, non-stop, two chapters, 7326 words. I could have written chapter 3 and chapter 4, probably, if I didn’t have to stop and clean the kitchen and brush my teeth and go to bed. (And take my mighty-strong extra antidepressant, which is also part of the equation in addition to all that love bombing.)

And so my silence here is probably going to be prolonged, but for a very different reason. I actually have two books to finish, one the publisher is waiting for, and I’m ~75% through, and the one I’m writing now, like a river flowing out of me, and I want to spend all my non-working time on these two writing projects. My friend turned the dial so it’s oriented at a different angle, said a magic sentence, and flipped the switch. How can I ever thank her enough.

So many people have helped me, I’d need an index-length acknowledgement to include them all, and I hope you know who you are if you read this. For everyone who said a little something, sent a little smile, told me to write, gave me your attention, your love, allowed me to give those to you, I am forever in your debt.

asking

needOnce again, I learn big lessons from my kids. My kids’ dad is . . . well, not very forthcoming. I’ll put it like that. His reaction to big news—the kind that most people would go on and on about—is, “Huh! That’s great, darlin!” and then that’s that. So Marnie has learned to kind of coach him along into giving her what she wants or needs. So, for example, if she has told him good news and he says that (as he reliably does), she says something like, “Oh dad, your excitement about this means so much to me!” and so he keeps going. I think that’s absolutely genius.  He’s a kind of person who digs in his heels with other approaches, but this one simply gets him to say more. She gets what she wants, very specifically, and he gets an opportunity to give his daughter more of what she wants, without it being a harangue or a demand. (Not that you shouldn’t be able to make demands, of course….)

Ever since she told me this, I’ve been thinking about this broader issue. One area I have a lot of growth to do is asking for help/accepting help. I can do it with my kids (I can do everything with my kids) but I can’t do it anywhere else in the world. I’m good about being open about a situation in which I need help, but beyond sharing my situation I become something of an island. I can’t ask, in the first place, but the harder thing is to accept help when it’s offered. It’s sad, and something I don’t like about myself.

But thinking about Marnie’s insightful approach, and the concept of coaching people to give me what I need, I have found an approach that I think even could pull off. The next time I need help, I think I can frame it to get the kind of help I need: Friends, I need advice. Friends, I need comfort. Friends, I need distraction. Friends, I need emotional support. Friends, I need someone to go here with me. Can any of you help? Having been on the other end when friends were in need of help, I know the deep desire to help, and the sometimes difficult task of knowing what would help. But advice, I could try to offer. Comfort, I can come give that. Distraction, no problem. Emotional support, you got it. I’ll go there with you. Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you need, of course, but I suspect that even just saying that — I’m having such a hard time and I don’t know what I need, but I’m feeling terrible/scared/heartbroken and need some help. Can any of you help?

The shame of my emotional block is that I am surrounded by such wonderful people. In addition to the group in the picture, my boon companions, I have an extraordinary friend who lives right next door! Bosom friends scattered around town. Reliably on-my-side friends in New York and Connecticut. And a posse of friends down under, whose emotional support is 100% count-on-able. They helped me through Gracie’s death in a way that still makes me marvel.

some of my dear friends in Austin -- and I know they'd help me, no questions asked
some of my dear friends in Austin — and I know they’d help me, no questions asked

As I was thinking about Marnie’s approach, I thought about something that happened just over a year ago. One dear friend’s husband got a cancer diagnosis, and my friend mobilized everyone she knew to help them through it in such an incredible way. One of their friends had in-depth knowledge of some aspect of the diagnosis. One had access to medical research databases. One knew about managing insurance. And on and on. She assembled a team of topic experts! Seeing her take that kind of problem-solving approach was a great gift to me and taught me so much. (But then she is always teaching me wonderful things.)

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating — we’ll see if I actually do it when the time comes. I think I will. And anyway, like Jeff told me in our early health coaching sessions, at some point you have to get off the couch and do something different. Time for me to get off the couch.

you’ve got to show up

I hope this isn’t one of those instances where my self-awareness is blind, where you’re going to get wide eyes and think, is she kidding? She’s the opposite of this! but I’m going ahead anyway. I have never been a person who makes demands on friends. I never felt I deserved to do that, in the first place, and in the second place I felt scared to do that, scared that a friend would leave if I made a demand. (And then third, if it was a ‘demand’ that involved a friend making a sacrifice for me, I imagined they would hold it against me, which has nothing to do with my generous friends and everything to do with the lessons I learned as a child.)

But over the past few months, I have started feeling clear about a demand and I’m ready to act on it. For us to be friends, you’ve got to show up. You have to share yourself with me, because I’m definitely going to be sharing myself with you. I don’t have to be your vein-opening confidante; you don’t have to reveal shameful secrets (unless you want to); you don’t have to tell me everything the moment it happens — of course!

invisibleIf you’re on Facebook and use the gray silhouette as your profile picture and reveal absolutely nothing about yourself, ever, I won’t be friending you. A photo of a flower, or a cup of coffee, or a blue sky shares something about you for heaven’s sake!

If we are friends in real life and you are uncomfortable talking about our lives, our friendship will be limited to an acquaintanceship. I won’t pursue it further.

A perfect example of a situation I’m letting go involves a guy in one of the groups I belong to. He’s cagey and odd, but I like what he brings to the group so I’d like to get to know him, especially because it’s a small group. But at a party, when I asked him some very basic questions (what do you do, etc.) he looked strange, as if he thought I were wanting something from him — perhaps as if he thought I wanted him (he is a guy, after all, and there’s such good research showing that men even interpret a simple, ordinary smile as a come-on). After a second interaction like that, I’ve given up. I think he likes me, I don’t think it’s that, I think he’s just unwilling to share himself in any way.

Acquaintances who aren’t forthcoming with anything at all personal, who prefer to talk about impersonal things, I won’t be chasing down as friends. Fine, truly! This is how you find your people. Those who want to talk about impersonal things would not want to be friends with me, either, I have zero doubt.

The thing I love most about my friends is that we talk about our lives, we reveal ourselves, we risk a lot in being open with each other. When something good happens, they’re the first we want to tell — and partly that’s because we know we’ll be happy for each other! I had a “friend” who couldn’t tolerate it when something good happened for me. She just couldn’t tolerate it, and had to “comfort” herself by reminding herself of all the times bad things had happened to me. NOPE. My friends are happy for me. When something bad happens, they’re the ones I need on my side, they’re pulling for me, they comfort me, they help me in various ways — with information, with advice, with encouragement, with their presence. I have definitely been through prolonged periods of trouble when I felt like my friends had perhaps exhausted their wells of compassion, but luckily they took care of themselves and hung in there with me, even if they had to let other friends carry some of the load for a while. All the same has been true for me, with being a friend to others.

It may sound strange, but I feel real happiness when my friends are together because something difficult is happening for one or more of us. Happiness. There we are, showing up for each other. That makes me happy, even if the reason for it breaks my heart. But isn’t that the real nature of things, that they contain more than one note? I feel happy that my friend shows up, brings herself, shares herself, and allows me to share myself. Happy to see the loyalty and goodness of people, being there for each other, walking each other home.

And so I look around. I see friends in New York who generously share themselves with me, and welcome me to share, too. I see friends in Austin, all around — those loosely organized as ‘book club’ but who are so much more than that; those in my poetry group; those I’ve met along the way; and one who just happens to live next door to me — who do this with me, and I count myself the luckiest person I know. I’m even lucky enough to have friends scattered around the country and around the world, friends I count on. I’ve learned something about myself that keeps me from throwing myself hard into encounters with others, that helps me more gracefully find my people and let (“let,” that’s so dumb) others be who they are and manage their own needs.

And so, too, I thank you for the ways you share yourself with me, for you do that. I love the ways you share yourself with me, and never fail to feel grateful for it. xoxox

riches

Last night we celebrated the birthday of one amazing woman in our book club. We gathered at a cool Indian restaurant near downtown; the last time I ate there it was a food truck. This happens a lot in Austin.

friends
my wonderful book club (minus Karyn, who was traveling) and various husbands, friends, sons, daughters, sisters.

It was an exceptionally joyous evening, I thought; we love celebrating together, and we make a point of celebrating birthdays, but there seemed to be something a little extra special about last night’s celebration. It was also a lovely evening, early spring, soft.

While we were there last night I realized all this, but it was in looking at this picture this morning that I felt washed over with gratitude. This group of people, this welcoming, loving, warm, intelligent, loving group of people represent so much of my beautiful life in Austin. The beating heart of it is Katie and Oliver, of course, but when I think about what makes my life so large and textured and beautiful, it’s big: it’s Katie’s little family, these beautiful people, my poetry group, Nancy who I still cannot believe my great good luck to know and love and live next door to, Cindy who crosses so easily into my honest heart, other friends I care about and simply don’t get enough time to see on a regular basis. My beautiful, sweet home. This place, Austin, that is the most deeply familiar place I’ve ever lived — two of my children were born here. Bluebonnets. Deep Eddy. Great food. Live music.

I’m so healthy it’s amazing. How lucky is that?! I’m strong and look pretty good for an old gal and have enough work and get to see the world but I have my solid base here.

I look at that picture and easily remember the last time I was at that restaurant a couple of years ago. It’s where I first met two of the women in the picture, actually, but I barely remember because I was in such terrible shape that I’d forced myself out the door and couldn’t wait to hurry home and crawl back into my bed to cry. Two years ago. Then I had Katie and Trey, horrible grief over losing everything, and the house I’m renting. And now, just look. Everything is as different as it possibly could be. I’ve been sitting here trying to see if there’s anything that isn’t different, and the answer is no, not really. It’s all so different. Even our grief over Gracie has found a level that allows us to live with it.

Dang, y’all. Life can pull a 180 and even though you think it’ll always be dark, it really isn’t. Lucky, lucky me.

it’s WHEN???

Christmas is what? When? In a couple of days? I’ve had anti-Christmas years, like the one where we were so freshly grieving Gracie’s death, the dread, grim holidays of 2012, and I’ve had anti-Christmas years where it was just a huge race to the finish for everything else — the years when I was in college and graduate school and the kids had their school stuff, and we didn’t really start even thinking about it until all that ended.

But this year, I’m so completely lost in time and space I am shocked that today is December 22. Whoa. Nelly. I have my tree up, as decoration for the party last week, but I have done zero bits of Christmas shopping. Zero. I ordered a couple of things for Oliver from Amazon, and they’ve arrived at Katie’s, but that’s it. I haven’t written a single card, though I have been the enormously grateful recipient of so many, and I thank you with a bighearted smile for them. Between coming back from steamy SEAsia on December 9, and immediately catching The Worst Cold I’ve Had Since the 1980s(TM), it has completely snuck up on me. I’m sorry, people in my life, for being a pathetic Christmas partner this year.

Today I’m going to Katie’s house to help her wrap presents, and to make Christmas cookies, so maybe that will at least shift me a bit toward the spirit of it all. I know so many people who’ve had a terrible year (and/or are still right in the heartbreaking thick of it), so the concept of Christmas spirit is just too far removed from their hearts right now. That’s not it for me! My year has been a wonderful one, and we have our darling Oliver, and so it’s not about a willing heart and mind and spirit inside me, it’s just these circumstances.

And it’s going to be 72 degrees here today, which in my earlier all-Texas life made sense. But ten years in New York City have left me a little bewildered by this crazy warm weather.

Argh, I am just still out of whack. And in writing the day’s date above, I realize that for the first time in my entire life, I didn’t even realize it was my dad’s birthday on Saturday. That is shocking, and perhaps partly attributable to this same thing, but also certainly due to the way I finally got to let him go. He doesn’t haunt me anymore.

The last couple of days (boy, this is disjointed and rambling, kind of like me this morning) I’ve spent time with the women in my life — breakfast with a bunch on Saturday, and then Moroccan chickpea soup and champagne (followed by my very first martini) with another. Every day I’m so glad to be a woman, because I get to have these rich relationships. Gosh, aren’t these women beautiful?

gorgeous Jennifer was behind the camera for this one, bummer.
gorgeous Jennifer was behind the camera for this one, bummer.

And not just to be a woman — a big enough gift, that is — but to be a woman this age. Last night Cindy and I were sitting at the bar of a fancy place near my house, having our post-dinner martinis (mine with olives stuffed with blue cheesemmmmm……) and talking about life, death, make-up, stray hairs in the weird places, family, and I was completely unaware that anyone else was in the bar. No idea if they were listening in, no idea if people were sitting next to us, nothing. It was just me and Cindy talking about our lives, and I kept having light shining into me from her.

Christmas may not make any sense to me this year, and I’m not going to push on that. If it does, it will, and if it does, it will happen Christmas Eve at Katie’s, and Christmas morning as we all dazzle ourselves at Oliver, who won’t quite know what’s going on with everything but how great that he will be surrounded by so much love. His mom and dad, and his Pete, and his Grampy — the first Christmas I will spend with Grampy, my kids’ father, my first husband, since they were in school. I’m so looking forward to that too. A re-assembling of a family group.

OK, rambling out.

on being known

As you’d rightly guess after reading this blog for a little while, being known is of value to me. I don’t want to hide myself, to keep who I am a big secret. I do have secrets, of course, and there are aspects of me that aren’t exactly secret but that are saved for only some people in my life. Still, I enjoy seeing that my people know me.

I get this one A LOT.
I get this one A LOT.

It shows up in my Facebook feed, in a silly way; the number of posts about grammar, Peeps, and Brian Williams/Alan Cumming that people put on my wall is quite amazing, and they always make me smile. I think I am most known for my undying love of the Peep. 🙂

One thing my birthday fortnight showed me is that my friends know me very well. The gifts they gave me were spectacular, and while I will thrill to wear each item, use each item, read each book, etc., it was the way they showed how closely my friends have paid attention that was the biggest blessing. “That [gift] reminded me of something you’d wear.” “I saw it and thought of you.” “I noticed you wear [x] and thought you’d like it.” I felt showered in love and affection from everyone who celebrated with me, and the specifics of it all made it feel specific to me, and that was pretty damned wonderful.

My birthday fortnight started with a card from Dixie that just delighted me to no end, and ended with a bigger-than-imagined celebration with Cindy — sushi and a bad dessert followed by a restaurant change and champagne and key lime pie. In between were all the joyful celebrations, big and small, and time with my daughters and their families and all that love, and the joy of celebrating getting to be here for all these years. In between were thoughtful gifts, big and small, each one to be cherished as a reminder of the giver. (Except for the incredibly luscious dark chocolate peanut butter cups which will be cherished until they are gone and but a memory.) In between was a polka and a waltz with my beautiful Marnie smiling at me and poor Tom, flu-sick in the wings; in between was a rainy-day sushi happy hour with Katie and Trey, and Oliver sleeping like a baby while we ate.

The funny thing about my friends and family is that with each one, there is at least one very deep way we are alike, some place we touch each other and know each other. I’m not a party person, although I can be very very happy at a party with my friends — people I know and feel comfortable with. I most value the time I get one-on-one with them, where we share ourselves and try to know each other. I love getting to know you, and I thank you for wanting to know me.

xoxoxo

p.s. I have finished reading a couple of books, I’ll write about them shortly in case you are interested in them! xo

the day before

Thanks heavens for everything. That could be the sole content of my daily gratitude email response. Thank heavens for everything. Today what I mean by that, in addition to everything is:

  • Thank heavens for Sherlock, who saw a mention of the Yale Writers’ Conference and told Peggy about it.
  • Thank heavens Peggy suggested that we both apply.
  • Thank heavens for my plan, formulated at the beginning of this year, to take myself seriously as a writer.
  • Thank heavens for friends—including Katie, Traci, Peggy, Dee, Nancy, Bob—who read the options I was considering submitting as my application and gave me not only their best opinions, but also their deeply heartfelt encouragement and beautiful kind words that I pull out and polish again and again when I get scared.
  • Thank heavens for Nancy, who was working outside when I came home having just learned of my acceptance. I pulled sideways into the driveway and jumped out (thank heavens I put the car in gear!) and ran straight to her. Her sharing that moment with me is something I will remember all my days. And then Bob joined us, and something about the way he was totally unsurprised makes me laugh out loud.
  • Thank heavens for my loved ones who share my happiness and tell me again and again of their happiness for me.
  • Thank heavens for Peggy and Sherlock for their geez-its-obvious assumption that of course I would stay with them during the conference.
  • Thank heavens Peggy and I were both accepted, although we’d have been so happy for each other in any other circumstance (and consoled each other if we weren’t accepted).
  • Thank heavens Peggy attended the first session already so she knows what to expect, how it goes, and is helping me get over my nerves through her unusual overuse of exclamation points and all-cap words in her wonderful emails sent during the first session.

yaleschedAnd so today I head up their way. Session II starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday, and I imagine I will not have much time or spare mental/emotional energy to post here, although you never know! I might just post something full of WORDS and lots of exclamation points!!!!

Thank you for the way you have encouraged me too, in all the ways you do. Your off-line emails to me in response to posts, your out-of-the-blue “hey, I was just thinking of you” notes, your constant encouragement simply by reading this blog, not to mention your comments. Thank you, thank heavens for you.

If you sense the air quivering, if you feel the universe doing its thing, if something suddenly seems all vibratey and frizzy, that’s just me.  xo

Down Under

Man alive, it’s a weird weird world. My very lucky life is blessed with lots of loved ones I get to see in person, touch, laugh with, eat with, commiserate with, smile and cry with. In person. In my 55 years of living, I’ve never had so many people like that, never. Every single one of you that I can see in person — even if it’s kind of rare because of my bipolar life, even if it’s very rare because we’re so alike that our timid natures mean we don’t make something happen [but it could! it totally could!] — you are extraordinarily precious to me. Individually by name or in groups (like  ‘family,’ ‘book club,’ or ‘Austin friends’), you are often represented in my daily gratitude email.

friendsBut what’s super bizarre about living these days is that I have people I count as dear friends, and we have never met and ‘only’ have an electronic relationship. This isn’t really all that new; people used to have letter correspondences with people they never met, and those correspondences were every bit as deep and meaningful as in-person relationships, and in some cases I’d bet they were more important because that level of remove can facilitate a different kind of honesty. Marnie recommended a book I have been carrying around with me (and to Greece and back) called The Delicacy and Strength of Lace, which are the letters between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright—a poet and a writer who only met in person twice, but whose long correspondence carried them across the years and through the death of one of them. Their letters started formally but became deeper and more personal, and moved to the most profound subjects. So no one should be dismissing electronic relationships out of hand. They might be trivial, but they are not necessarily so just because the people haven’t met.

Some of you have become very dear friends to me and we have never met, but we write back and forth and I count you in my heart. It’s incredible when I think about you, about how real you are to me as friends, when I recall how I feel when you pop into my inbox, how I think of you when I see something relevant to you. How I worry when you’re sick or struggling in some way, how overjoyed I am when something great happens for you, how I trust you when I am not doing well and share that with you. One of you has even met my daughter — but not me yet! And quite surprisingly, I have a very important group of women in Australia and New Zealand. It started with one woman in NZ named Megan, whose blog I first found a few years ago and just fell in love with the things she thought about, the books she read, the worries and joys she wrote about. Perhaps through her, I can’t remember now, I found my way into a Facebook group she belongs to called Recent Reads. That group is intended for book talk—what’ve you read, did you like this, here’s how I felt about that—obviously. When Gracie died I went to that group and posted a brief note saying what had happened, and asking for recommendations of something I might be able to read that could be helpful, big enough, meaningful enough.

Hundreds of responses were posted, many offering book suggestions and more offering sorrow and comfort and support, and then one woman in the group called me on the phone from Perth to check on me. I may never find that anything less than astonishing, no matter how many times I recall it. She and I will meet in person one of these days, absolutely. Another woman, Kathy, turned out to live just outside Austin, even though the group tilts heavily towards Aussies as far as I can tell. Mary, the lovely woman who started that group, went on to start other groups and always included me.

the banner of our group page
the banner of our group page

She recently started a new private group. It’s very small, and set up so everything shared in the group is private in every regard. You won’t see anything in the little irritating feed on the right that reports on what your friends like and say to others — nope. It’s all private. And it’s all women. I may be one of the oldest, don’t know that either, but most who have kids still seem to have them at home, even if they’re getting close to college. And of the 36 members, only 5 or so (hard to be certain) are not in Australia or NZ. But something deeply magical has happened in that group and we are all in awe of it. We started off just complaining about the stuff we complain about—mostly husbands and children, occasionally bosses. About the way we have to do all the thinking for everyone . . . why doesn’t he ever do that? Why does no one replace the toilet paper? Could anyone else possibly think about dinner for a change? It’s wickedly funny because it’s private, and we all get it. And it’s wickedly hilarious because there is no such thing as too much information. Mature women bitching about skid marks and accidental peeing and blood and farting during yoga and anything that comes up. In a comment I referenced something my husband did and a woman I’ve known a long time responded that she still hasn’t forgiven him for it on my behalf—but then, neither have I or anyone else who knows about it. Solidarity. Grudge-holding on my behalf. Those things are bonds, you know?

And then one woman turned it around a bit and said why she loved her husband so much and everyone followed, and the stories were extraordinary. So many of us cried as we read the very long thread of responses. (We’d get back to bitching soon enough.) And then one woman had something absolutely terrible happen in her family and the way these women have rallied around her, extraordinary quadrupled. We all watch the group in awe, and I feel as they do, that it’s a very special place.

It’s so unexpected to me, having all these connections to women down under. There’s even a woman in my ‘real’ life in Austin from Sydney, and she is very dear to me. I never dreamed I’d care so much about so many people there, since I’ve never been there. Although I know it’s crazy because Australia is huge, and even though it’s nearby New Zealand is a whole other deal, but still somehow I feel like they all know each other and hang out together and aren’t I lucky that they let me into the club. But then I feel that way about all of my women friends. So very lucky that you let me into the club with you.

xoxox

being a knot

What a couple of days it’s been for people I love. A simple procedure for one friend unexpectedly revealed tentacles and now the world is very different for him and his wife, and for all of us who love them. An easy Sunday morning for another friend suddenly went blank and now there are tests and uncertainty. A third friend was preparing an Easter dinner to share with friends and family and the knife slipped pretty badly. The world turns on a dime.

Of course this is the downside of loving people. When you overlap with people, when your hearts mingle, your life can be cracked and even shattered when something happens to them. It’s no longer just yourself, just your family. It’s a wider world, more opportunities to have the rug pulled out. That’s the inherent risk in love and we all know it and we go along happily, we all do, expecting this little thing to go that way and be done, Sunday morning to lead seamlessly into Sunday afternoon, preparation to end with a meal shared by loved ones around the table. We all expect to see that friend at the party next week, to hear about the grand adventures of that couple we love, to relish hearing his stories and laugh, her adorable accent, again and again. Of course we will. But there is no of course.

And so again it’s time to relearn the old lesson. Cherish the invisible things, the things you don’t think twice about. Hey, my legs work! Both of them! Wow, I can see anything I want, how amazing — and hear whatever I want, too! What stunning gifts. I can go to the bathroom all by myself, what a luxury. I’m reasonably sure that the next couple months of my life are not going to be spent in the misery of a caustic treatment. Remember how great it is that your hands work. Be thankful every single time you remember something, even if you’re kind of forgetful in an ordinary way. Cherish the very real treasure of your memories — your own, and the ones you share with others. CHERISH THEM! They are treasures, never to be taken for granted. And how amazing it is that I’m bored lying here so I can just get up and go do anything I want. I can walk into the other room. I can get in my car and go wherever I want. I can cook myself a meal, I can read a book or watch a movie.

I’ve mentioned my daily gratitude email thing before. Like everyone, I have some really low days, days when everything seems all wrong, either kind of shitty or maybe SUPER shitty. When I lose track of things, when my perspective gets all wonky. On those days my little email arrives and I sit, staring at the screen, unable to think of a damn thing to be grateful for. (Most days my struggle is to just pick a few out of the ocean of things I am grateful for.) Now it’s time to re-remember this lesson, and on those low days I can easily say that I am grateful that my legs work, and not feel like I’ve just written something dumb so I don’t miss a day. I can write with deep gratitude that I am so very grateful I have eyes. All these things that are invisible to us until we lose them and we suddenly realize how precious they are.

And that’s just looking at the universe of my own working body. I have a grocery store nearby with so much food, so many kinds of food, I forget to be dazzled by it. (And I have enough money to buy food, also dazzling.) I have a television and the Internet and so I know what’s happening in places I will never see — and I know what those places look like. I’m so very extraordinarily lucky to have seen much of the world, so all those places belong to me now. Myanmar is mine, what a mind-blowing wonder is that. I know about the water cycle and can look at the clouds and see how part of the world is working. I know about chlorophyll and so I can look at trees and understand how that part of the world works. How incredible is that? I live in a place where the ground blooms with gorgeous wildflowers, as if by magic, to make us all happy for a while — fields of blue, hillsides that are coral and orange, sides of the highway shining yellow and pink. What a world, and I rarely give it a second thought.

Of course I’ll forget all this again, this insight will be like the wildflowers, blooming now while it’s raining but the sun will come out and life will keep going and this knowledge will go into hiding again, ready to bloom when people I love are at risk.

netI’ve written before about my idea of the net. As I said then, look at that image, see all the blank spaces? The net is mostly open air, mostly empty space. What holds it together, what holds you up and catches you when you fall, are the tiny, tiny, tiny little knobs, the tiniest little things, but there are lots of them and they connect. A net, a network, enough to save you if necessary. I am just one of the little knots in the net underneath my friends, nothing more, but how grateful I am to get to be one of those knots. How fine a thing it is to have the chance to help someone when you can. I think it’s probably the finest thing we do as people, submit our own selves and hearts to care for others. To be willing to suffer alongside them, to be willing and glad to not know what’s next with them, so they don’t have to not-know all alone.

For the first six months of 2012, my husband was undergoing such harrowing treatment, pure hell. There was some question of whether he would survive the treatment itself. Not everybody does. I hope never to go through that again, but I am so deeply glad that I had the privilege to do that with and for him. I say this without any kind of patting myself on the back, because I think it’s just a glory of being human, but helping him through that is without a doubt one of the finest things I have ever done in my life. In that case I was almost all the knots in the net, and the parts connecting the knots too. I hope with all my heart that my friends are going to prevail and come out on the other side with stories to tell, with brand new ways to empathize with people. I feel such enormous gratitude that I get to be a knot.

talents I do not have

Despite this lack of skill, talent, whatever, I am SO lucky in terms of love, and friends. I know there are people who have a whole lot more friends than I do, but I seriously doubt there is anyone who has as many amazing friends as I do. I’m not minimizing whatever strengths I do have as a friend, but people love me despite these failings:

noHate the phone. Hate it. I will never ever call you. Ever. Ask my oldest friends, it’s a life-long failing of mine. (But I am a gold medalist at email!) Of course emergencies don’t apply here, if you need me it doesn’t apply. Please call me day or night in that case. Unless I am in the air on a plane, I will take the call and do whatever you need, anything at all. But I am just not a phone-chatter. I always tell new friends this and they nod, and then eventually at some point there is a sad, “You never call me, I always have to call you.” I know. I feel really bad about that, and I hope it helps to know that it’s not just you.

Initiating events. It isn’t that I don’t want to do this, it’s that it just doesn’t occur to me! I’m always in the midst of doing something (I know, isn’t everyone?) and I always have a list of too many things to do/get done next, when I finish this, and it just never jumps through the noise: “I know! I’ll see if friend wants to go do thing with me!” I’m so sorry. My friends are so amazing about doing this with me and I’m always so surprised, grateful and delighted by the invitations, so very happy that they thought of me. I have no doubt they would feel the same way, and I feel so crappy that this isn’t something I’m good at. I’m so sorry, again it isn’t just you. And thank you for inviting me anyway, thank you for your generosity to me.

you give yourself to me in so many ways
you give yourself to me in so many ways

The impromptu ‘just because.’ This one also kills me, because again my friends are so amazing at doing this. My friend in Connecticut, Tammy, does this so often I can’t quite believe my fortune in having her friendship. Impromptu ‘just becauses’ from her: She  sent me a project bag she made since I knit and they’re so helpful; she sent me two books when I first moved to Austin — a local wildlife book and a day trip book; she sent me a skein of yarn I’d mentioned coveting (just once I mentioned it!) and a tiny little “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book that sits proudly on my shelf still. And then yesterday I opened my mailbox to see a big puffy envelope, and it’s from Tammy. A hand crocheted hat for Oliver, a grandmother book for me, a beautiful and heartfelt card, and the envelope addressed to Lori “Pete” H… We met as knitters through an online social network for knitters, she came to the city once and we hit the local yarn stores and had lunch, and that was our only time together in person. She is a genius at this one, in direct opposition to my failings! Other friends show up with boxes of Peeps for me, just because, or eggs from their chickens and fresh vegetables from their gardens, or little things they saw that made them think of me. Just because! I open my mailbox in NYC and there’s another puffy envelope with a book of Mister Rogers’ wisdom, because she knew how I feel about him. My sweet friend Nancy (who is also my neighbor, lucky me) hangs little things on my doorknob — once a bag of M&Ms because the day before I’d said I wish there was an M&M delivery service. A newspaper article she knew I’d like, these thoughtful little touches. And PEEPS! The impromptu boxes of Peeps just fill me with delight. You were at the store, buying your stuff, and thought of me in one way or another — because you saw the Peeps maybe, or maybe you sought them out for me — and then gave it to me. Dixie and Karl bring me things a grandmother needs because they have them and their grandkids have outgrown them — going to considerable hassle to do it, too.

I am always so blown away by this. Always. Obviously it’s the evidence of having thought about me and then going out of your way that means so very much. It isn’t that I don’t think of my friends throughout the day; it isn’t that I don’t see things that remind me of them here and there; it isn’t that I think about picking up this little thing or that and decide not to. No, it’s just that the next step doesn’t occur to me. I think about you and smile and nestle into thinking about you. I see something that reminds me of you and smile and feel so lucky to know you. I wish the next step crossed my mind, even with a whisper. Even if it were the teeniest tiniest whisper, only moving a few little stereocilia in one ear, I would jump in happiness and do it!

I also don’t have that wonderful talent that some people have of picking just the right thing. My gifts are always clunky, they miss the boat though they are well-intentioned. My friends pay attention, remember, think deeply. Yvonne once gave me a beautiful necklace that had so many levels of metaphorical meaning I still cry, remembering her extraordinary thoughtfulness. Even if I’d thought to get her a necklace, my choice wouldn’t have been so perfect. It’s just not a talent I have, as you know if you’ve ever gotten a gift from me. If you have, it’s probably tucked away in a drawer, or in the back of your closet, because you know I meant well but…..

And as I was writing this yesterday afternoon I got a text from Marc, with a photo. He does this a lot, he shows me where he is, shows me places and says he wishes I were there with him. The image yesterday was from Chinatown, a place we went to so often. He wished I were with him (me too!). He’ll take a picture of the daffodils when they start coming up in Riverside Park, “Lori’s daffies.” He’ll send me a picture of a corner and say it’s “Lori’s corner.” I walk around and think of my loved ones all the time and my wee brain just doesn’t go to the next step.

As I’ve been writing this it’s like a box opened up and I remember this, and that, and the time she did this, and the one who thought of that, and it’s such a long list I start to cry.

We all have different gifts that bond us with others, and I am not saying that I’m totally a loser as a friend, a complete failure. That’s not my point at all. I have some strengths, I just don’t have these. And just as we might be gorgeous but all we can see when we look in the mirror is our lumpy thighs, the main things I see in myself as a friend are these failings, especially in the face of your kindnesses and generosity to me. THANK YOU for the many many ways you give yourself to me — these and so many others. The letters in the mail, the beautiful emails out of the blue, the quick notes, the big smiles when we see each other, the embracing of my children (and now grandbaby!), all the listening, all the sharing yourself with me. Friends from near and far sent Oliver gifts, and cheered and celebrated and I know those came from the bottoms of their hearts.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead of you, you deserve every good thing. xo

blissless

this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much!
this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much! Bliss on a boat off Bali.

It’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darlin. But you know, it has.  I’ve had stress and anxiety weighing on my heart. The skies were often gray. I dutifully take my little Wellbutrin every single morning. I haven’t exactly felt depressed, but I haven’t felt a whole lot of big joy.

One of my favorite things about being me is my easy experience of joy. It’s not at all uncommon for me to feel bliss — in fact, I can get knocked back by bliss at least once a week, most of the time. For me, that means a heart SO full of joy that I almost cannot hold it, or hold myself; a heart SO full of joy that the edges of everything become indistinct, and I see how it’s all one thing; a heart SO full of joy that I kind of lose words, and am prone to cry at the tiniest little thing — a green leaf, a dead leaf, a breeze, a weed. That’s just a common thing for me, and I am enormously grateful that my software carries that programming. It’s such a gift.

But it’s been such a long time since I felt that. Actually, the last time I felt it was when I was in the river in Sri Lanka bathing that mama elephant. That was such an experience of bliss I completely forgot myself. But since then, I’ve made it through my days, I have been happy, wonderful things have happened, I’ve relished moments with my children, with dear friends. I’ve felt my community all around me, and me a part. I’ve loved my little home. I’ve shared good things and fearful things with all the people who love me, and been so grateful that I have them all.

But I haven’t felt joy, and I definitely haven’t felt bliss. Every morning when I take my antidepressant I think about that. I think that at least I am feeling other good things, at least the black hole is nowhere near me. At least it isn’t dark, even if the skies are dull and gray. But I miss my joy, I miss my bliss.

I’m sure this was a piece of it, but yesterday was a gorgeous and sunny day. Beautiful blue skies, 82 degrees, a little breeze, LOADS of sun. It felt so good on my skin, on my face. The heat soaked into my arms and shoulders and face. And while I was driving down to my friend Karyn’s house, I felt something starting to pulse inside me. I was anxious about whether I’d be able to do the quilting on Oliver’s quilt very well, since it’s free-form and I’m pretty rigid and uptight, and I was afraid I’d ruin the work I’d done. But still, it was sunny and I was happy and something was pulsing inside.

At Karyn’s, she set me up with her great sewing machine and wandered off to do her own thing, and I put a sample piece into the sewing machine — batting and fabric on either side, exactly as the quilt would be — and started sewing. AND IT WAS FUN. And I was doing it, free-form rambling, meandering stitches, loose and wonderful. And the pulsing started pulsing harder inside me. I picked up the quilt, 54″ square, and put it into the machine and took a big breath. As I pressed the pedal, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell started playing from the other room and I was quilting my darling grandson’s quilt and it was sunny and beautiful and Karyn’s home is so lovely and welcoming, and she was in the kitchen hand grinding spices for the wonderful lunch she was making me and the air smelled like spring and not at all like a city and I bounced all the way into bliss. My bliss, my old friend, so long gone.

It’s been a long time since I just had fun like I had doing that quilting. Rigid old me, not-at-all loose me, meandering and not planning anything and having a blast. Listening to banjo music and Karyn puttering around. It was a whole beautiful day, and when I left around 3:30 with my finished quilt and a full tummy and a bag full of vegetables from her garden and eggs from her chickens and her kiss on my cheek, I was so happy I almost couldn’t hold it all.

If you’re in a place where spring hasn’t really arrived yet, where the days are still gray and there’s a chill in the air, boy I feel you. (Well, a Texas version of it.) I hope the blue skies come for you very soon, and the hot sun touches your cheek and the air is sweet and your version of happy and bliss, whatever it is, wells up inside you.

repurposing a word

The other day I was having my wonderful weekly phone call with Marnie. That’s truly a highlight of my week every single week, and we’re good about being sure it happens. We send a note if Saturday isn’t going to work (our usual day) and coordinate another day. On rare occasions we just have to skip a week, and when I’m on vacation we don’t talk on the phone at all. I feel out of whack if we don’t talk regularly. So in this past call, I was telling her about the group of women in my daily life now, how deeply important they are, how I finally feel like I have people I not only could ask for help if I were in trouble, but I would ask for help. That is shocking to me, because I have never been able to do that, ever, but if something happened I would send out a message to them and they would help me, I know it. I love these women, so much.

well, it's usually wine we're drinking...
well, it’s usually wine we’re drinking…

And Marnie said, “I’m so glad you found your coven.” I loved that! I’d like to strip that word of its witchy origins. I’d like to use that word to mean MY WOMEN, my boon companions, the women I can’t imagine my life without, the women I’d call in the middle of the night, the women who would call me in the middle of the night, the women who will encircle any one of us in trouble. The women who will hold the net under each other. The women I need to talk to immediately to share my good news. The women I know will take my side with bad news, the women who will put pretend hexes on anyone who hurts me. Just as I would do for any of them (double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble…..that’s the only fake hex I know, but I can do a mean stink-eye and I’m the queen of the cold shoulder).

Lots of people who read my blog have lived in one place for a long time, and have friends they’ve known and loved for decades. Friends through their marriage(s), through the having baby years, through the hard years of raising kids, through various lives and careers and ups and downs. I don’t really have that, gypsy that I am, although I do keep friends from wherever I move. Judy rocked Will when he was in kindergarten every single day when he went to the clinic with a tummy ache. She knew there wasn’t anything wrong with him except he missed his daddy, who had left, and so she held him and rocked him as long as he needed. That was 1992, and she is still my dearly beloved, even though she lives in Alabama and I live here and we rarely see each other. But she was there when I divorced my kids’ dad, and when I started college, and I was there through some difficult times in her life, and so our bonds just are. They are, and always will be.

Somehow these women, my coven, moved into that stage in such a short time, and I am so so lucky. I can’t explain it. We are all women of substance, thoughtful women, deep thinkers, generous, insightful (and self-reflective), with great big hearts. Most of us are very funny. We’ve all loved so deeply, and we’ve all been terribly hurt, betrayed, shocked by life. We’ve all come to this point in our lives with strength and personal power.

My local coven — Anne, Cyndi, Deanna, Debbie, Dixie, Faith, Karyn, Lynn, Nancy, in alphabetical order — the most amazing women, and my friends. We help each other move; when a washer floods, one offers to come pick up all the wet stuff and wash and dry it and return it; we do things together for fun; we admire each other and respect each other; we have differences, political and spiritual, and we can talk about them and love each other; there is no gap if a bit of time passes and we don’t see each other for one reason or another; there is no competition among us; we will tell each other the truth; we learn a lot from each other; we offer what we have in times of big or small trouble. Tears fill our eyes when something wonderful happens for one of us. Tears fill our eyes when trouble comes to one of us. We have each other’s backs. We encourage each other. We celebrate each other, and not just because we’re always happy for any reason to be together for a good time (though we are). We are all competent, strong women, and that’s a force.

since I'm in Austin, I guess it'd need to be a cowboy hat.
since I’m in Texas, I guess it’d need to be a cowboy hat.

This may be old hat to you, but it isn’t to me. This is a brand new hat. It isn’t that I’ve never had friends . . . I have! Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve had friends. But this is a group of friends and we all know each other and although we don’t all hang out together — there are subgroups — this is my gang. My coven. I’m so glad to be a woman, because I don’t think men typically do this, they don’t get to have this. (I suspect Dixie’s husband Karl is an exception, but then again, he is exceptional.)

I know without a doubt what I’ll say in my gratitude email when it arrives later this afternoon. I am grateful for Katie and Oliver being so healthy; I am grateful for Marnie who makes such an effort to be a regular part of my life, still; and I am so thoroughly and deeply grateful for my coven. My gang. My deeply wonderful and dear friends, who enrich my life and who touch my heart, and allow me to touch theirs.

As I’m writing this, I think about all my other friends — hugely important friends, those of you here and there, many also in Austin, and in far-flung places, friends who add to my life and enrich it, friends I love with all my heart, friends I consider to be my sister, friends who make me laugh and laugh and cry with me, friends who would comfort me in trouble and who celebrate with me when good things happen, and allow me to do the same. I love you all. You also have held the net, and cried with me, and I count you with deep gratitude. And you may feel lucky, but I have to say that I am the luckier one.

an itinerant marriage

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

My life is complicated. Blah blah blah, so is yours, so is everyone’s. The way mine is complicated relates most pointedly to my marriage, which has been thrown up in the air. I moved to Texas in November 2012 because my husband and I were planning to divorce, and my heart was so thoroughly broken. I didn’t want to find someone else, I didn’t want to date for fun, I was just starting a new version of my life without a partner and that was that, and that was always going to be that. In the first few months we tried a couple of different things that didn’t work, we tried letting each other go, and the letting-go didn’t work, either. And so we arrive at my complicated life: I visit him 11 days/month, but I live in Texas the rest of the month.  My real life is in Texas, my residence is there, my bills are there, my tax burden is there, my heart is there. More or less. When Oliver is born in a few weeks I’ll stay Texas-side for a prolonged period, but after we get back from Greece I’ll stay in New York until the Yale gig starts.

I miss him terribly when we are apart, though I have such a rich and wonderful life in Texas and I love it with all my heart. I love my life in Austin. I love my friends, I love my poetry group, and my book club. I love all of that. I love being so close to family, especially since Katie will be having her baby soon. I’m glad to be near her and Trey, I’m glad to be here for Oliver’s birth, and I’m glad I’ll be close to him while he grows up. I wish that could be true for all my children, because my family matters the most to me. I wish I could also live right down the road from Marnie and Tom, and I wish Will would be part of our lives. But I am near Katie and Trey, and I feel so grateful for that.

When my husband and I are together, because we have missed each other so terribly, and because our time is precious, we really just focus on each other and want to spend the time we have together, while we have it. We make plans, we do things, we decide not to do them after all, we change plans, we do nothing, we sleep in, we relish the pleasure of touching feet at night, of sleeping spine-to-spine, or spine to tummy, the pleasure of knowing we’re there, the pleasure of talking in the night if we wake up, the pleasure of being there if the other has a nightmare. Those little pleasures are not ours to take for granted anymore, because we do not live together.**

And so my time with people gets compartmentalized, though it kind of suits my temperament anyway. I’ve always preferred to spend time with people one-on-one, or one-on-two (three is a max, for me). I’ve never been a big-gang person, a big party person (ok, like not at ALL), and for the most part when I’m with you, you have my undivided attention. I want to soak you up too. I want that vivid space between us to vibrate, I want to be real with you there and have you be real with me there, too.

For my real-life friends, here and there, I miss you when I am not seeing you and when I am seeing you I am SO so happy to be seeing you. I’m sorry for my away time wherever I am, and I hope you can accept this aspect of me and my life because it’s just kind of fundamental, even as it is exaggerated now because of my itinerant marriage.

**and to continue the complicatedness, and to be perfectly human about it, I also really relish getting back to my own little place where I live alone, and to being alone in it again so that when I go in the bathroom whaddya know, the seat is down because I left it that way. And it may be lonely at times but it is also all mine and the way I want it and I like it that way too. Why is life so hard.  🙂 When my life fell completely apart in November 2012, if you’d told me I would LOVE living alone so very much I’d have argued with you as hard as I could.

A quick rundown on some recs for you:

BOOKS

  • I read Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, which is a memoir of the devastating loss of her entire family — parents, husband, two young sons — in the tsunami that hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec 26, 2004. It’s a killing memoir, crushing, shattering, and if you have ever experienced the kind of grief that you aren’t sure you’ll survive, you’ll appreciate it very much (here it is on Amazon).
  • I’m thrilled to start reading Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories (!!!) titled Bark the moment it publishes on Tuesday.  (order/pre-order it here!) Between her and George Saunders (and Alice Munro) I could read short stories the rest of my life. If you’ve never read any Lorrie Moore, start anywhere but I completely loved Birds of America and read it over and over again, always with surprise.

MOVIES

  • Watch All is Lost as soon as you can. It’s the Robert Redford movie — by which I mean he is the only actor in the movie, and just about the only sound is the boat and the various storms he encounters. There is so little dialogue as to be inconsequential, although what there is is great. We watched it on Valentine’s Day and I am still kind of haunted by it. It’s about the existential experience of being entirely alone in the face of the universe and facing death, but it’s SO much better than Gravity. So much better. (Although the cinematography in Gravity was good, I absolutely give them that.) As the NYTimes review says, “An opera thunders in the silence.” My husband doesn’t like slow movies, doesn’t like character studies, and this movie completely captivated his attention from beginning to end.

Watch something big and good. Read something big and good. Think about something big and good. Talk to someone about something big and good. Involve yourself in a big and good meal, all the way. I always love it when that is possible.

xo