three things: 1/23/17

FEED: When I was in my first year of college, I saw this gorgeous painting on a postcard at Barnes & Noble, in Huntsville, Alabama, and the vibrancy of the colors drew me to the rack from the other side of the store.

“The Golden Fish,” Paul Klee

I didn’t know Paul Klee, then, but I learned about him and especially loved these two things he said about color:

  • “Color has got me. I no longer need to chase after it. It has got me for ever. I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour.”
  • “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”

So many of his paintings have a muted, pastel palette, so I always wondered if he said these things at the moment he got a jolt of THIS kind of color, and if his work was this vivid after those insights. There are always too many things to be interested in, too much to learn, too many depths to dive, and for now I just have to leave this bit of curiosity alone. (But if you happen to know, do tell!)

SEED: Last night was the first meeting of my new book club, here at my place. I didn’t know any of them personally before they arrived at my door; we met on Facebook, in the local Pantsuit Nation group, and then friended each other outside the group.  I had posted looking for serious readers, people who wanted to read good literary fiction and then ACTUALLY TALK ABOUT  IT, and five of those new friends immediately responded. We read The Underground Railroad, and of course they’d all read it, and were eager to talk about it.

But first. Since we met in Pantsuit Nation, they all share my politics (such a relief!) but unlike me, they are all focused and very active. My response is emotional, high-pitched, arched-eyebrowing, handwaving, shoulder-upping despair, but I stumble and can’t provide a list of facts to support my response. Not them! They were amazing. They’re every bit as terrified and emotional as I am, but they are just different women, able to marshal their reason to tell the story of what’s happening. They’re not just extremely informed, they’re active. They’re members of the local Indivisible groups and go to meetings, make phone calls, knock on doors, go to legislative training sessions to prepare to lobby, etc. It was amazing. Inspirational. And as much as I was loving it (and I was!) . . . I wanted to talk about the book. Finally I redirected the conversation from the horrors of today to the horrors of slavery (seriously. What the hell is wrong with our murderous country. Seriously).

And then that conversation was marvelous. It’s just the best thing ever to talk with smart women. One woman grew up in northern Alabama, very near where I lived for 5 years, so she has that really beautiful accent; one is from the northeast and has that style of talking, and the others just had a lot to say, too — all so smart, so insightful, so full of thoughts about what we read, questions about things they were confused by (turns out we were all confused by the same things), thoughts about how it relates to today. Basically it was a dream come true book club meeting. I’ll be smiling about it for days to come.

Marnie and Ilan arrive in Austin today, for a week-long visit, and I’m beside myself with happiness. It’s not that common that I get to be with both my daughters at the same time, and now this means I get to be with them AND with all three of my grandchildren at the same time. I could hardly sleep last night for all the excitement.



no imagination

You know how sometimes you have this vague sense of something about yourself, but all the ways you find to articulate it just miss the boat? That’s often true for me. I’ll say it one way and even I can see it’s not quite right, even though there’s something underneath that’s true. So frustrating, because it makes it hard to see how you might help yourself.

And then, if you’re very lucky, someone comes along and says it for you. If you’re very very lucky, it’s someone whose thoughts and opinions you trust, and so it’s just a snap of the fingers, YES! That’s it! My friend Nancy has done this for me a few times, and she did it again a few days ago. Let me go backwards a little bit, with a quote and a couple of specific examples:

  • In a job I had a long time ago, I worked with a consultant who did really interesting work. My first and only thought, and the question I asked, was, “Can I be your assistant?” It was a couple of decades before I realized it never occurred to me to find a way to DO that kind of work, only to assist someone who did.
  • When I was finishing my PhD and looking for a job, I often thought gosh I hope somehow I end up in New York City! Never once occurred to me to look for a job in New York City.
  • “You see it is important to understand how damaged people don’t always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It’s a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red As on our chests.” (Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water)
nothing in those thought bubbles . . . but I don't think I have had thought bubbles!
empty thought bubbles . . . and I don’t think I even *had* thought bubbles!

So Nancy’s insight, her specific articulation of this, was that I do not have an imagination for myself. It’s obvious that’s what it is, when you read those examples, and you see it in the quote by Lidia Yuknavitch, but I’d wandered around in a vague morass of Maybe it’s that I don’t have ambition. Maybe it’s that I just don’t have the right set of skills. Maybe it’s that the things I like to do aren’t the kind of things that can take me somewhere.

And so with those vague ideas, I mis-thought my way around issues of ambition. No! I just don’t have any desire to climb a vicious ladder where you step on people! I mis-thought my way around “the right set of skills,” either getting new skill sets that I didn’t really care about, or dismissing what I thought were “the right set” (see: mis-thoughts around ambition). I mis-thought issues of the things I like to do — knitting, baking, handwork, no way to make money with those, no way to find security with those.

But no imagination for myself, oh that’s such a different animal. The trick with developing an imagination for myself comes back to that quote above, and while it’s not just simply solved by seeing it there, it’s a start. I deserve, as much as anyone, to have opportunities, to embrace opportunities, to find or make them. I deserve, as much as anyone, to find some security — boy do I deserve security. I have no problem saying that, believing it, feeling it. As I work to develop an imagination for myself, I’ll just have to break the kneecaps of that thought when it silently turns itself on in my gut.

One shift that has happened for me in the last couple of years is figuring out that one approach to life situations is to take a problem-solving approach instead of an emotional reaction approach. I never, ever knew that, as strange as that sounds. It’s by no means an automatic response for me, I still too often begin and end in an emotional reaction, but it’s just an issue of remembering. When I remember, I can do it. When I remember — oh yeah! How about a way to solve this, let me think — it shifts things.

And so it’s time for me to develop an imagination for myself, an imagination for my life. Do you have any advice to share? I know it’s a big, vague question — am I asking for ideas to put into my imagination? Am I asking for problem-solving tactics to implement the ideas when I have them? Yeah. No. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what I’m asking advice for, but if something comes to you I’d sure like to hear it.

What a gift it is, clear understanding, and what a gift it is to have a friend who gives it to you. xoxox


Yesterday my friend Cyndi posted this quote by the Dalai Lama:

The very purpose of our life is happiness, which is sustained by hope. We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better. Hope means keeping going, thinking, ‘I can do this.’ It brings inner strength, self-confidence, the ability to do what you do honestly, truthfully and transparently.

I could not agree more (easy to agree with HHDL). As I said to her, hope is everything. Without hope people die. Of my three suicidal depressions, one was profoundly about having no hope. No hope of release from pain, no hope for today, no hope for tomorrow, no hope for anything at all. You see that in the eyes of profoundly depressed people, and when I see it I feel a kind of panic because that is the bottom of the hole where there is no light.

hopeThroughout my life, I believed that I was not a person who had hope. Except for that depression, my ordinary experience of it was that I was just kind of flat inside. I expected bad things to happen, I expected my efforts to be thwarted, I expected nothing. One of the two longstanding arguments I had with Sherlock in graduate school was about this subject. I’d say, “No, I don’t have hope, they killed it in me but it’s OK.” And he’d argue with me, and we’d go back and forth. One day he thought he finally trumped me with this: “But you do have hope! You are in graduate school, you hope to finish!”

“A-HA!” I gloated miserably in response. “I do not have hope. In fact, I expect every single day that something will happen and I’ll have to quit. I’m here pure and simply because of endurance. I just endure. Today I will endure. Tomorrow I will endure. I am the standing ox.” He just shook his head, as he often did in the face of my unyielding and inaccurate certainty about myself.

Years later I was driving from Manhattan to my job in northern NJ — a miserable commute, I’m telling you — and the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow came on, the version by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. I was singing along but not really paying attention when I had one of those terrible and enormous insights: Hope is what saw me through. Hope is the reason I was there to drive up Rte 17. Hope is the reason I was still alive. When I was a little girl and read books and stories about different kinds of lives than mine, I’d think Someone was able to imagine that, so maybe I can make it happen someday. I thought it was all fictional, that no one really got to have those kinds of lives without violence and danger, but maybe I could figure out how to do it, since someone was able to think of it. What is that but hope?

Unlike the other tattoos on my spine, which are black, HOPE is red. Red is an auspicious color in China.
Unlike the other tattoos on my spine, which are black, HOPE is red. Red is an auspicious color in China.

And Sherlock was right — yes, I may have been enduring, but if I was enduring in the full belief that it would be taken away from me, every single day, hope was driving that effort. A couple of weeks later I found a tattoo artist in the Village and filled the last, empty spot on my spine. I’d left a space at the bottom and for years tried to see how I’d fill it. Obvious. Hope. Hope is at the bottom of my spine, the thing on which all the rest exist. The foundation. I cannot tell this story without tears in my eyes. How could I have been so wrong?

I’d had the wrong idea about hope. I’d always imagined hope to be little yellow unicorns sliding down rainbows in a fluffy pink landscape. Kind of like the My Little Ponies that Marnie loved to collect as a young girl. There was nothing unicorn-ey and rainbowey and fluffy pink inside me. But that’s not what hope is! Hope is something else. Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in your soul.”

ravenMy image of that line is a fierce bird, dark, maybe black, with enormous talons. Ragged feathers, a large beak. A raven or crow, maybe. To me that is so clear in her line of poetry. I was surprised to hear that others imagine it as a small fluffy bird, a songbird maybe. That feels inadequate for the ferocity of hope, the power of hope, the tenacity. Or rather that feels inadequate for my hope.

good good good

Sometimes during or after a period of trials and troubles, the good stuff gallops in, and sometimes you have to squint your eyes toward the horizon to see those little puffs of dust that tell you the good stuff is coming. I’ve had some of both and I am so grateful for them.

Saturday and Sunday on the Llano River with friends Karyn and Mike, who were such gracious friends — especially when I kept crapping out on the Sunday bike ride and had to keep stopping to lie on the ground with my feet up to keep from puking and dying. They tried so hard to keep me from feeling as ashamed as I felt, but the puking and dying feeling made it hard to hear. There was a lot of good food, kayaking, meeting new people, more good food, the biking I crapped out on, and hours and hours of easy conversation with two wonderful people who made me feel entirely welcome. Click any circle to see the full-size photo (then hit the escape button to come back here). Really gorgeous.

So that was unambiguously good. And my friend with the potentially awful health trouble, such hopeful news it’s just wonderful. And loved ones’ troubles, settling into themselves so decisions can be made that are the best choice. That last one’s a puff of dust on the horizon, I think it’s coming and it’s a nice little pony.

And I didn’t have nearly as much time to write yesterday as I’d hoped, but I finished the first chapter. (!) I think it’s good, and I’m not going to look back at it but rather keep going. I didn’t want to quit, I could’ve kept writing, easily, but there are other things to do, like piecing a block of Oliver’s quilt, or at least piecing one-fourth of a block.

puffs of dust on the horizon. horses -- good guys or bad? have to wait and see, but i'm betting on the good guys.
puffs of dust on the horizon. horses — good guys or bad? have to wait and see, but i’m betting on the good guys.

And there, on the far distant horizon — what is that? Looks like the tiniest little puffs of dust, not sure what it is, could be an incredible literary opportunity for me. Work, yes, with pay, yes, and credit, yes. Details to be worked out, not about to say more about it than this, may not work may work crazily may work beautifully just don’t know. Tiny tiny puffs of dust.

Today is my Big Daddy’s birthday, borned January 20, 1909 (as it is recorded in the family Bible). He died in 1971 and I can miss him still if I slow down a little bit. It is also Kiki’s birthday, my sweet little father-in-law who walked me down the aisle when I married Jerry in 1979. Two of the men in my life who loved me so much, both saving me in different ways by loving me. Sometimes you hit the man jackpot. Happy Monday, y’all. xoxo

birth and rebirth

Finally, we are sharing our long-held secret. My oldest daughter Katie is pregnant again, and with a little boy. He will be born at the end of March, and as you can only begin to imagine, we are over the moon with joy. Here is his tiny little foot, a picture I’ve looked at so much I’m surprised the pixels themselves aren’t bleached:

see that tiny little foot? those tiny little toes? he kicks his mommy with that foot.
see that tiny little foot? those tiny little toes? he kicks his mommy with that foot.

For now we are calling him Oblio, some of us, because one name Katie and Trey are considering is Oliver — that beginning O made Marnie think of the main character from the movie The Point: Oblio, the little round-headed boy in a kingdom of pointy-headed people. The most perfectly wonderful boy in all the land. My kids loved that movie when they were growing up, and we still reference it all the time. So we call him Oblio as a placeholder name, and out of so much love and family history. His existence is the rebirth of our hopes, the rebirth of Katie’s and Trey’s roles as parents, the fulfillment of thousands and thousands of hopes and wishes and prayers and secret thoughts and murmurings. His existence is the rebirth of my forthcoming existence as Pete to someone in the world, someone I will love all my heart, and someone who will love me. His birth will be even more momentous than other births, because we will inevitably be thinking about our little lost Gracie, who many people believe will be watching over him, and his parents, and aunts and uncles, and grandparents, and extended family and friends forever more. His life will be surrounded by love and guidance and friendship and care and possibility. His heart will be held softly by all of us who will love him forever. His little feet will be held in our hands in wonder as we fight to keep from nibbling those little toes. His little face will be held in our hands as we kiss his soft little cheeks. He will be lovingly diapered and held and rocked, and then one day his little hand will be lovingly held as his mommy walks him to school. As his daddy walks him here and there. As his Pete walks with him wherever he wants to go. And we hope one day we get to watch him be the big brother to a little brother or sister. We expect he might have curly hair like his daddy. We expect he will be adorable. We know he will be adored and cherished, always, and by so very many people. And so with this, the cat is out of the bag. Secret knitting can come out into the light. Secret plans can be spoken of. Hallelujah! Once again, Katie will be a mommy, Trey will be a daddy, and I will be Pete. Hallelujah!

the revelation of tiny dreams

For the first time in a long time, I got out for my walk early this morning. One thing that makes it enjoyable (one of the few things, especially this hot and muggy time of year) is that I get to listen to podcasts. This morning I was listening to an episode of This American Life (“Show Me The Way”) which was about people in our lives who are guides for us in some way. The first story was about a guy whose lawyer was having an affair with his wife — betrayal by a guide, etc. — and so I thought the stories would be that kind of story, betrayals of some kind.

But the second story was about a boy who was a big fan of Piers Anthony. The now-grown man was telling the story, and it was heartbreakingly familiar. A divorce. His mother’s remarriage to a man who was cruel to the boy, and his mother did not intervene. He was lonely, had not a single friend. Lived in his books (Piers Anthony and Stephen King, mostly, but primarily Anthony). Quit caring about everything, failed 10th grade. Apparently Piers Anthony wrote lengthy, rambling author’s notes in his books talking about the mundane ordinary aspects of his own life. It was those author’s notes that grabbed the boy more than anything else, so he slowly came up with a plan to leave his home in Buffalo and go to Piers Anthony’s home in Florida. He went to the bank and withdrew the money he’d been saving for years from his jobs (matched by his mother, with the intention of being college money) — about $1200, if I remember correctly. He walked to the airport, took him 8 hours because he didn’t really know where it was, bought an airplane ticket and dropped a postcard in the mail to his mom so she wouldn’t worry, and flew to Florida. When he arrived, he hired a cab and realized that he was doing it, he was on his own, and he had that envelope of cash. So what would any teenage boy do for a little treat? He asked the cab driver to stop at an art supply store and he was kind of drunk on that — he could buy anything, any art supply he wanted. He didn’t know exactly where Anthony lived, but he’d done some detective work in the books and thought he was at least in the right town.

The interviewer asked him what he wanted, what he thought would happen. I’d already been crying by the paucity of the boy’s life and what dazzled him, but then came the answer:

I thought he would offer me shelter. I thought I’d live with him, I’d get up in the mornings and make breakfast for the family. We’d do chores around the house. We’d have dinner together.

homeThen I really started crying, walking on the street. Such a tiny, tiny, impossibly tiny dream. The boy hoped he would be given shelter, that’s all. He hoped to have a family he could serve and work with. That’s all. Art supplies, whatever he wanted.

I know that feeling, and you know I do if you’ve read my blog for very long. My runaway plan when I was in 10th grade was to make my way to San Antonio where I would find a convent and bang on the door begging for sanctuary. When I was 10 I ached, wishing that Cher was my mother (shhhh….) because I thought she might like me, she might be nice to me once in a while. In my imaginings, we sat and talked to each other. That was my big dream. A safe place to live, and a mother who liked me.

Last week I wrote about a series of very tiny dreams I had, each filled with color. I told Marc about them and he felt almost unbearably sad when he heard them. I’d been struck by the vivid color in them, but what struck him was the smallness of them. And how thrilled I was by them — riding a red bike, a tiny little wish. (Of course, it was in Paris, not too shabby. Still.) I take his point, and it’s easy to look at my life and realize how incredibly small my dreams have always been — which is surprising, because I’ve had this enormous, adventure-filled, accomplished life. I’ve traveled all over the world, I earned a PhD, I raised three gorgeous children, I’ve lived in New York City and worked on Madison Avenue, how dazzling is that? I never dreamed any of it, I didn’t even know how. I didn’t have any of that in my head, in my frame, none of it ever entered my mind. It all kind of happened to me and when the opportunities came up I grabbed after them, but I didn’t dream any of them. My dream was for sanctuary and a mother who liked me — and both of those things seemed like pie in the sky fantasy dreams. No way I could ever get them.

Here’s to bigger dreams, wilder dreams, because you already have shelter and love. I wish no child had to have such tiny wild fantasies. And happy Monday y’all.

goodbye stinking year

Goodbye and good riddance, that’s all I’m going to say about 2012.  

But other New Year’s Eves, I’ll say something about them. For all the years I lived in Manhattan, I never went to Times Square, what a nightmarish zoo, man. I tried not to go there any other day if I could help it, but especially on New Year’s Eve. My husband and I always stayed in and as midnight approached, walked to Riverside Drive (which was always completely empty), and at midnight, kissed each other. Then back home and to sleep. That’s actually reminiscent of all my New Year’s Eves. My first husband and I used to set the alarm for midnight, wake up and kiss each other, and get right back to sleep. Those were the baby years, so we were too exhausted chronically to waste those late-night hours doing anything but getting some sleep while the babies slept. Tonight, all alone, I’ll probably go outside at midnight, look at the moon if I can find it, and just think about my wishes for the next year, with all my heart. Like, bearing down hard, wishing.

Resolutions, you? Not me. When I was very young, I used to make rigid resolutions, a list of things I was going to start doing, and stop doing. “Lose weight” nearly always topped the list, year to year. Late in my 40s I quit making resolutions and started having vague kinds of thoughts about what I hoped to accomplish in the coming year, general kinds of things like “you know, this year I am just going to get healthy!” (Which was secret code for “lose weight.”) I knew this already — it’s pretty hard to get to 54 without having life smack you around a bit — but this last year taught me quite brutally that we can make our little plans all we want, go right ahead knock ourselves out, but when it comes right down to it? Life is not under our control . . . at least not nearly as much as we think it is.

I really hope 2013 just kind of leaves me alone. Look the other way, nothing happening here, move on please you troublemaker. My biggest hope is that nothing else will be taken away. Aside from that, though, I hope and expect that in 2013 my broken heart will heal and I’ll get my life fully underway again, decked out with new friends, decorated with time with old friends, and made meaningful by my family (who will also have a better year please, though it’d be pretty hard for Marnie to have a better year….so for her another of the same please).

But of course we don’t just sit and hope things happen to make our wishes come true, so what am I doing? So far I’ve mostly been hiding in my house, kind of hiding from the world so it can’t hurt me, but all along I’ve known that was a short-term strategy. Because the worst thing about it all is that even if we hide, shit can happen. I’m tired of just staying tucked away, so I’ve been making forays out. So far, I have eight things scheduled in January, including a “meet and greet” brunch one Sunday with a bunch of people my age. Meetup has been a great source of things like this, which is the “North Austin Social Group.” I scrolled through the list of members, and it’s largely women (of course), mostly in their late-40s through 50s, and they do all kinds of things — happy hours, brunches, day trips, movie nights, board game parties, stuff like that. It’s really hard to find the right people (which is code for very smart and like-minded) but I won’t find them if I don’t look.

One good thing about having my hand forced in the way it has been, shoving me into all this change, is that I have to push myself out of my ancient ruts. I just have to, or I will die. If I stay holed up in my house, all alone all the time, I will quit wanting to live. I know myself. But since I do want to live, the only way through is to take a deep breath and push myself out of my comfort zone, out of my “but wait, I’m way too shy for this!” mentality, out of my preference to just sit in my chair and read or knit and watch movies.

So here’s to a change in the calendar — an arbitrary thing entirely, but a change that allows me to pretend that some line has been crossed, and out with the bad old thing and in with 12 clean pages bound with hope.

And maybe some weight loss. Come on.