Performing a Life

I read a great article about Aziz Ansari and his recent abandoning of all things social media. The main reason I read the article is that I am thinking about something similar, about stepping off of that platform, that host of platforms, because I’ve begun to think about how we perform our lives instead of living our lives.

Well, instead of saying we, let me say I. And instead of just throwing out the phrase “performing my life” let me speak with a little more complexity about it, because I do think with complexity about this, all the time. I’m always bewildered by people who apparently think that the lives they see on social media represent real life — that other people always have it together, always have Pinterest-ready food, and magazine-worthy interiors, and happy-memory-prepped experiences. Really? And yet people do seem to think that, despite how mysterious that is to me. And I try hard to be as honest in my representation as I can be, without (a) being gross, (b) betraying the lives and privacy of others, and (c) committing unnecessary self-flagellation. Still, even with those cautions in mind all the time, I recognize the way later presentation has infiltrated my in-the-moment experience of things. When we were hiking around Belleayre Mountain last weekend, scouting a place to watch the Perseid shower in a few days, as I looked at the flowers I wasn’t really seeing the flowers. I was seeing whether they would make a good picture. To share.

These plants become more than yellow flowers and white fluff, they become evidence of the summer coming to an end.

And the complexity is this: by taking photographs, I have become a keener observer. I see more things than I did before I started taking pictures. By writing so often, I observe more closely. I take in material through a storytelling lens — that hike isn’t just walking over rocks and crossing creeks, it’s an adventure, the shape of which will be determined by how it ends, which will become a part of the story’s beginning lines in some way. By observing as a storyteller, the experience gets a kind of form it might not otherwise have. I love the way taking pictures and writing has made me a better observer, a better watcher, a better listener.

But it’s that add-on that makes a difference — not just “would that make a good picture” but “would that make a good picture to share.” And that shift takes me to performing a life in some different way. I do love to share things I see, and especially since I am alone so much at Heaventree, having a place to say, “Look! Look at this, isn’t it beautiful?” is a nice counter to my solitude, while still allowing me the solitude. And frankly, it’s a different experience now that I am in an entirely new place, in an entirely rural, lonely place, and without real people [yet] to spend time with. Withdrawing from social media in my Austin life would’ve been very different than doing it now, where it might be filling an important need in my transition away from such a social life.

Needing to withdraw from the political discourse has also shifted my experience of social platforms, moving me a little more towards Instagram than Facebook. I notice a shift in my state when I have to read more than a couple posts about the Republican nightmare we are trapped in, but by the time I feel that and close FB or IG, I already feel terrible. It’s too late by the time I feel that first punch. So I’ve pulled away from the same kind of participation in Facebook that I used to have, already. This month I’m participating in Susannah Conway’s August Break 2017 Instagram project, which is dedicated to paying close visual attention to the world via a daily prompt — yesterday it was “my eyes” — and that’s fun but not deeply meaningful to me.

And so I am thinking hard about how to do this so I still get the parts I need, which are (a) local news and events, and (b) the maintenance of connection with friends all over the world. I don’t know how I’ll do that; perhaps with a FB list of local news pages and the people I really count as friends, and a quick once-a-day jump on and jump off? Or maybe I simply need to pull the bandage off with a quick, hard rip. Another possibility is to take a hiatus, maybe start with one week and then take a month. Whatever I do, I will continue to write here, I know that. That presents a lopsided dilemma: I share myself with you, but don’t have the same opportunity to learn how you are doing, and that’s very important to me too. I always invite a conversation on my posts, and welcome whatever you have to say, to share, but it’s not your platform and you don’t know the other readers, the way I do.

Hmmm. Seeking.

Gentle on My Mind

I remember him like this.

Why am I sobbing? Like, hard, ugly sobbing? Like, can’t catch my breath sobbing? Like, my heart is resting on the pulse of the fragility of what it is to be a human on this earth, our very short moments of doing whatever it is we came to do, to be, to shout, to cry, to struggle, to sing, to wail? It’s not like I was a huge Glen Campbell fan, although I did love some of his music a very long time ago. I watch the old video of him and John Hartford on the Smothers Brothers so very long ago, and I peer at his young, innocent face, and I know the way his story turned out — alcoholism, and marriages, and children, and then the scouring horror of Alzheimer’s — and I see that young face filled with the happiness of making his music and my heart just breaks for us all and I don’t honestly even know why.

If you haven’t watched the documentary about Glen Campbell’s long, hard fight with Alzheimer’s, on Netflix (I’ll Be Me), I recommend it. If you have loved someone who fought that demon, it might be too familiar to you, but it was a moving documentary; Marc and I both cried while we watched it. I think I was more of a Glen Campbell fan than Marc was (and it’s not like I knew much of his music), but we both cried while we watched it, and when I texted him to let him know that Glen Campbell died today, he was very upset, too. (You might also enjoy another documentary on Netflix called The Wrecking Crew, about studio musicians in the 1960s — Campbell was part of that group too, and it’s an astonishing movie.)

For some superficial reason, both young Glen Campbell and Gentle On My Mind remind me of another song I love so much, Jon Voigt in Midnight Cowboy — that great opening song by Harry Nilsson, Everybody’s Talking At Me.

Campbell and Voigt both had the same kind of open, earnest face when they were young men, and the two songs share some kind of forward-moving beat, and general sensibility. Everybody’s Talking always makes me think of my dad, and as I cry so uncontrollably for Glen Campbell’s death, I wonder if in some way I’m crying for my dad. Who knows . . . but I do know that I can’t stop crying.

We are just brief thoughts on this earth. We appear and flash like fireflies, and it all seems so important, so big, so true, and we fight so hard and we get sick and addicted and we fail and we try and we lose and we love and are loved and we make and we create and then it’s gone. And it matters so very much, and it doesn’t matter at all, and still an older woman sits alone in her empty living room in the mountains crying so hard because a complete stranger has died, and he touched her life.

Here’s a YouTube mix of his songs, if you want to just stroll through his more popular songs. I hope he finally rests in peace, and I hope his family finds the peace they need after that horrible fight. Thanks for everything, Mr. Campbell. <3

How to Adjust: the social media version

Several years ago on an old blog I ran a little series called “Ask a ___ person.” SO, you could ask a bossy person/a creative person/a chronically ill person/etc. questions you might have. I was ahead of my time, or else simply unaware of Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) — and to be honest, there weren’t many questions asked. It was really more a chance for people to write about some aspect of their identity to let others know what it’s like to be that.

I didn’t, but totally could’ve written one called “Ask Me How to Adjust.” I am not just Queen of the Pillbugs, I am also queen of adjusting. I’ve yet to meet someone who has moved more times than I have, though I am on my metaphorical knees begging the universe for this to be the last move. Adjusting is such an invisible process to me it wouldn’t even occur to me to notice it, but I am watching another woman adjust to her move, from the Catskills back to Queens, after living here for 8(-ish) years, and it’s reminding me of the process.

One of *MANY* accounts for the Catskills — and nearly that many for the Hudson Valley, too.

One really great aspect of social media is how quickly it allows you to get a sense of a place. When I learned we were moving to the Catskills, I scoured Instagram for accounts focusing on the Catskills and the Hudson Valley, and subscribed to them if they showed me around, introduced me to new places and experiences. Through FB, I scoured the upcoming events looking for pages that would bring me news of the area, and post all kinds of events — literary, cultural, music, outdoors, learning. Since I am in such a rural setting (I don’t even live in a village; I live in a hamlet [“a small human settlement”], which is one of twelve hamlets collected into a town called Shandaken, although I have yet to find actual Shandaken…), having access to town news via FB is really helpful.

So as I subscribed to all the pages and sites affiliated with my new home, I also unsubscribed from pages and sites affiliated with my old home. I unsubscribed from sites that list events happening in Austin, and from politics (especially since my friends will keep me posted on that dread front). I kept an occasional subscription if it featured photographs of Texas, since I am a Texan no matter where I am, and find so much beauty in the geography of the place, but I started snipping those ties. Of course I kept all my friends, for friends they will be as long as we care for each other, but the others are let go. It’s too big a job to unsubscribe all at once, so as they come up, I just unsubscribe and move on.

The other woman who is adjusting continues to be heavily involved in her connection to the goings-on of this area — which, of course, is just absolutely fine, her right to adjust however she sees fit! For me, though, clinging to a place I no longer live feels good at first, because it’s familiar and my attachment allows me to still feel anchored . . . until it doesn’t. Until I realize that I’m not going to those events, they aren’t for me, and then suddenly I realize I am gone from there, and not connected anywhere. For me, adjusting means looking in front of me.

a blurry shot of a loping-along bear whose path we crossed the other night after dinner. Katie named him Roland. Works for me. 🙂

Unless you move to a very similar place — big city to big city, Chicago to NYC perhaps — there will be deeper adjustments, too. Training your eyes to see, training your longings to adjust, training your interests to expand. When I lived in Austin, it was never on my radar (or anywhere in my sphere of interest) to take a hike with an expert mushroom guy, to learn all about them, and maybe even to learn how to cultivate them. To learn how to care a lot about getting rid of a specific grass that’s about to seed, because it’s choking out wild mushrooms in the area. Now I see all kinds of opportunities to learn a bunch of new stuff, to learn the specific names of things, to get good at a new range of interests and activities. To learn a whole new history — natural and human — and to do it in a solitary way. I find it very easy to slip right into nostalgia and happiness when I think about my wonderful poetry group in Austin, those beautiful people who shared words and care in my living room for five years, but not to cling to it because it won’t be that, here. This life will be so different, and I’ve had so many very different lives that I’m curious about the experience of this one.

slumpy

When we were in Indonesia I read ten books, and ever since then I haven’t been able to read. Oh, sure, I re-read Jesus’ Son in the wake of Denis Johnson’s death and was just as gut-punched by it as I was the first time I read it two years ago. If you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend it. It’s a collection of short stories all about a main character called Fuckhead. He’s an addict, and by the end of the collection he is trying to be clean. You get so involved, you want to shout at him, No! Don’t do that, why would you do that! or What are you thinking! Don’t go there! or you feel disgust, or sorrow, or pity, but throughout you are treated to this bighearted compassionate writer with all his humanity woven into every sentence.

I keep TRYING.

But other than that, I haven’t found anything that makes me desperate to keep reading. I’ve been trying to read Arundhati Roy’s new book The Ministry of Utmost Happiness for a couple of weeks now, and I was thrilled to begin it. How I loved her first book, The God of Small Thingswhich deserved the Booker it won in 1997. After that she got busy with activism and didn’t write fiction until this new book, so I was eager to read it, expecting and hoping for another dreamy read. And it is . . . meh. I just keep trying. It doesn’t stop me, but it also doesn’t pull me in. Maybe it’s me. Have you read it yet? So many people adored The God of Small Things, so I wonder if other people are loving this one and it’s just not the right time for me. If you have any reading recommendations, this is what I’m looking for: a book with big themes, with literary layers, that makes me feel a whole lot of big things. I don’t even care what — maybe it hurts my heart, maybe it devastates me, maybe it leaves me wistful and hopeful, maybe it reminds me how glorious life and/or people can be. My nightstand stack of books is still packed, and there are a couple in that stack that I’m looking forward to, but alas, still packed.

***

I love every single thing about her look. All of it.

Thanks to Facebook’s ‘on this day’ feature, I was reminded of LP, a singer that Marnie introduced me to. If I could look like someone else, I would look like her. She’s Italian, from Long Island (Laura Pergolizzi, LP), and this article about her in Newsweek includes a newer video than the one I’m going to put in below this paragraph — just WOW. (And that’s not a T-shirt with a ship under her leather jacket, that’s a fucking TATTOO on her chest.) Here’s the video Marnie first shared with me:

She is definitely my ukulele hero, man. And beautiful however she expresses herself.

You wouldn’t expect that voice, would you? This great Buzzfeed article notes that she was shy about her powerful voice when she was young so she always sang over lawn mowers or vacuum cleaners.

I’ve never been a real girly girl. Never ever liked ruffles or lace, or flouncy bits. If I had money to spare for things like style, I’d style myself like her for sure. But a big part of her look is that fabulous hair, and mine is…well….not that. 🙂

***

Overcast and dusk-ey every “sunlit” hour of the day. And wet.

My mission today is to drive to nearby Margaretville (Margaritaville as Marc unoriginally insists on calling it) to shed some cash and become a New Yorker. NY license plates and registration and car inspection. My NY driver’s license once again, wonder if they’ll just use the photo from my last one. I wouldn’t mind even a little bit if it weren’t raining. That would be delightful, and an exception to the last few days.

Also: #fucktrump.

no one is luckier than me

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

love the life I’ve been given to live. I love where I came from, the hard dirt and big skies and pump jacks and men on horses and nothing more than what was needed. I love that I survived unimaginable horrors and lived long enough to look at them with new eyes. I love the love I’ve been given, and the love I was lucky enough to give. I love that I had my three beautiful children, and I love the way I struggled so hard to raise them with only lint in my pockets and screams in my mind. I love the long road I’ve been on that has taken me almost everywhere in Texas, and to Connecticut, and Virginia, and Alabama, and Arkansas, and several places in the state of New York, and New Jersey, and soon to the Catskills. I love the places I have been lucky enough to see in this world, and the surprise of finding homes in so many places — Hanoi, the Mekong Delta, Laos, Bali, Paris, Scotland, Greece. I love the little girl I was, and admire no person on earth more than her.

I love that books mean so much to me, and that I have been lucky enough to love so many. And poetry, I’m so grateful it belongs to me too. I love that words are my gift. And I love that I was born with talented hands, hands that weave cloth and spin yarn, that knit beautiful garments, that hand stitch beautiful quilts, that made my children’s clothes, that make bread and delicious food, and a spirit that tells me I can make anything at all.

I love that it’s been hard sometimes because I learned I was harder, even if that meant I was curled up and hiding. I love the accidents that meant I survived even myself. I love horny toads and pillbugs, and dinosaurs and trilobytes and clouds. I love most of the people I’ve met along the way, and if friendships had their season I loved them during that season. I love the ones that persist and that I still carry along with me wherever I go.

I love that I’ve been given the gift of noticing, the gift of easy happiness. I love the smell of rain on dirt, and snow cone juice dripping down my arm. I love biscuits and gravy, pintos and cornbread. I love yellow squash and onions, and fried okra.

I love my Katie’s quiet smile and deep wisdom, and her delight in her children, and her dry sense of humor that’s so much like her dad’s. I love my Marnie’s fierce intelligence and laugh that’s like bubbles, and her adoration of her son. I love Will’s smile and laugh and intelligence and humor, and hope that one day I will be lucky enough to share it with him again. I love Oliver, with his sweet thick lisp and his ‘Hi Pete,’ and his big smile. I love Lucy, with her loud voice and soft coloring and the way she bursts with joy and spreads it all around her. I love Ilan, with his curiosity and gorgeous smile and cuddly love. I love my sons-in-law and can’t believe how good my daughters were at picking husbands and fathers for their children; they did not learn that from me.

I love that there are people all over the world who pause and send me notes when they see something about a donut, or a pussy hat, or something they know I love. I LOVE THAT. I love that there are people all over the world who watch over me, somehow, who send me notes at the right moment, somehow, and who send me books like this, from the Paris Flea Market, because Catherine knows what Quasimodo and Notre Dame have meant to my life. She saw it, thought of me, and SENT IT. All of this says everything about you, not me.

I’m even lucky to have been tenderized SO HARD by the events of my life, and by my life-long struggles with worthlessness and depression because I’ve had to wrestle that in the dark. I still retreat to that cavern sometimes, and sometimes unexpectedly quickly, but I have survived.

Super, super, super lucky me.

disorientated

It’s so cute the way Brits add that extra syllable to the word ‘disoriented.’ I want to be disorientated too! If I have to feel the way I’m feeling, let me make even the word itself be different. BOY am I disorientated.

All night long I keep waking up not knowing where I am — such a literal experience of my metaphorical state. And not only don’t I know where I am, I’m just so confused in time. After I figure out that I’m in my own bed in Austin, certainly a familiar place, and certainly a place that feels like my home, then I have to make sense of the next day. When is it? Is tomorrow going to be Tuesday? Or Saturday? And what do I have to do, am I meeting someone, when, where? Is it a day I can just hunker down and pack? What’s going on? When is it?

And last night I fell asleep to a playlist on Amazon Music of rain sounds. I either sleep with my kindle in my hand or my phone in my hand every night, and last night it was my phone. Every time I’d wake up, I’d start the playlist again and eventually fall back to sleep. Once I woke up and heard thunder and rain sounds and I was so confused; my playlist wasn’t going, what’s happening? It took me several minutes to realize that it was really raining and thundering, in real life.

It’s obvious why I feel all this, no need to explore. I’m moving after 4.5 years. I’m back and forthing and my days have no rhyme or reason. And I remain deeply disoriented by the election and what has happened since. I still can’t get my feet on the ground. Most of us on this side of the fence are feeling this. Our hair is falling out. We’ve put on weight. We have sudden bouts of rage, or sobbing, or confusion. We are disorientated — not just by him and his government, but by his supporters who remain happy with him despite all this chaos. So that’s underneath my real confusion, but I wish I weren’t so psychically fragile, or tenuous. I’m not happy with either of those words, I don’t think they’re exactly what I mean, but I wish I weren’t so whatever. I wish I were more emotionally solid, psychically immovable, psychologically stable. I wish I weren’t so easily pushed around by things.

I wish I weren’t so rattled by this move, because I am very happy about it in 95% of the possible ways. I know how to do this, it will be my 82nd move (a conservative number, to be honest), no one knows how to do this better than I do! Why am I disorientated. Get boxes (check!), put things in them, arrange for utilities to be disconnected (check!), arrange for movers (truck and transport, check! helpers, still TBD), change mail (check!), say goodbye to people (ongoing, Lori Farewell Tour[TM] underway, and sleeping at Katie’s the last three nights for baby kissing, check!). I know how to do this! I want this move! I daydream about my new home in the Catskills and easily see myself there! Why am I rattled?

Flux has never been my favorite state, I’m much happier in a solid state, and God knows I’ve lived in a kind of flux for 4.5 years…so maybe it’s not simply the flux I’m in the midst of at this specific moment but rather the accumulation of all these years of it. That feels a little better. Maybe now that I’m facing the end of this period (which includes its own necessary period of hyper flux), maybe it’s just catching up with me.

And what a waste of time, hating that I’m like this. I’m like this. I’m 58, and I’ve always been like this, and I can smile sagely and wax on about the probable good side of being so psychically fragile, but it’s the downside I’m in the midst of and can’t seem to get on top of and it sucks. It sucks. I’m not breathing well. My shoulders remain at my ears. My teeth hurt from all the jaw clenching and teeth clacking. My hands ache from being clenched. My throat ought to hurt from having my heart up in it all the time. I can’t sleep worth a damn. I don’t know what day it is. (All this has been true since early November, post-election, although it was true and coated in fear during the campaign, too.) (But it’s all ramped up and so in my face right now and it sucks, I tell you. It sucks.) (And I’m so happy to be leaving this hateful state, and to be going to a state run by Democrats, and to the most beautiful Catskills, and to my own home, my name on the deed, my own property, my own private paradise……so COME ON, LORI.)

There’s an article I’ve been meaning to read on Medium about how to cope in this horrible time in the US — it’s bookmarked and flagged and I want to read it closely but I keep forgetting. The first point, I think, is that we have to accept that it IS. We set aside judgments about it and find a way simply to say IT IS. It is. No more “I can’t believe this!” or “Did you hear, I can’t believe, can you believe?” That state feels terrible. Yes. Believe. Accept. It is. It is. And of course the challenge for doing that is it feels like it requires a fuller kind of acceptance — acceptance of his message, his tactics, his actions, etc. But no: a simple acceptance that it is. It exists. He exists and has been elected. That is.

I suspect that’s my task. I’ve been trying all the various coping techniques I know (or not trying them, feeling unable even to look at my yoga mat, or lace on my walking shoes). Trying to lower my shoulders when I notice them, etc. Or trying to rail against myself: don’t be this way! You know how to do this, snap out of it! What’s wrong with you! Get it together! Why are you like this? Why are you being like this! COME ON.

Accept. Accept that my psyche is a fragile one. It is. Accept that I’m going to be feeling disorientated by this move. I am. Accept that the country is being held by looters and traitors. It is. Accept that his followers continue to think he’s great. They do. Accept that, like Popeye, I am what I am and that’s all that I am ’cause I am what I am.

Time to grow. I hate that. As my dearest former therapist always said, nobody likes the FGOs. (fucking growth opportunities) But I’m tired as hell of scootching along the floor with my shoulders up by my ears and my teeth clacking and insisting that I know how to do this so what’s wrong with me. Accept, dear Queen. Accept.

longings

One thing I have never understood is the desire to have a mansion. Even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t want one. Partly this is because I have a poor person’s mentality — one of my first thoughts is Who’d want to have to keep it clean all the time? Lori: rich people have maids. And it’s not just because too often mansions reflect a poor person’s idea about what ‘rich’ looks like (see Trump’s vulgar all-gold manifestation, pure obscene vulgarity); it’s just that my longing is for a bungalow. I just want to have my own little place, my own little home.

I just love this style so much

Since I first heard about them when I was a late teen, I’ve wanted my own little Craftsman-style bungalow. Hell, even the word bungalow makes me fill up with longing. Cottage. I saw a little home in Huntsville, Alabama that has stayed in my imagination, not even a Craftsman style home but definitely a cottage, surrounded by a beautiful little garden, and I’ve lived there in my imagination ever since.

Look at the interior of this Craftsman home:

AARGH that is such perfection for me. I don’t have much of an imagination, and without a mind’s eye it’s not as if I daydream the specifics of that life but I have it elaborated as story.

This is in conflict with my other dream of having a little yellow house; Craftsman homes are brick or stone, and yellow trim is odd — and my yellow house is full-on yellow, not just yellow-trimmed. Big Daddy’s house was yellow, back when I was a child, and I know that’s the source of my longing. It was just a plain little stick house, not one thing fancy about it in any way, so that daydream of mine isn’t really elaborated beyond little yellow house. But I could be very happy in that kind of small home, too.

And then there’s another fantasy house, also small, also in the bungalow/cabin/cottage realm. The first time I went to Woodstock, NY, in 2005, I spotted a little cabin sitting on a rock outcropping over a creek. It was bigger than a creek or stream, smaller than a river — rocky, so the water burbled and splashed past the cabin. I took a picture of it but can’t find it to include here. It had shake siding, and a peaked roof, a beautiful front porch you could sit on and watch the water flow past, over morning coffee or evening wine. It was surrounded by trees; I first saw it in the fall, so it was surrounded by those flames of foliage. In my fantasy story of it then, it had a living room with a woodburning stove, and a small kitchen. Walls lined with bookshelves. One very cozy bedroom, and another room with walls of windows and a giant loom, and a spinning wheel — a version of a life I once had.

I also love mid-century modern homes, and extremely modern glass homes, and can imagine a life in them too but it’s the bungalow, the cottage, the cabin in the woods that always sustains my heart and my imagination. I’m a big city girl — a real city girl, New York, Chicago, Paris — and feel so alive there. Some days the city beats me, and some days I get tired of how hard it can be to do any damn thing, but I never want to leave the city. I could live in a big city until the day I die and remain very happy.

In some ways I have distinctly different people inside me: the NYC happiest one, and the cabin lost so far back in the woods one, and both are real and true. Since one of my two personal mottos is “Well, oh well!” I can fully inhabit where I am and be truly glad. SO: Well, oh well! I live in a big city and not a wood-surrounded cabin, oh well! I’m happy! But that doesn’t mean the other couldn’t be fully true in a heartbeat. In a heartbeat.

I assume everyone is like this, right? What’s your fantasy home(s)? 

(I was looking on the internet for a little cabin like the one I saw in Woodstock so long ago, to replace the photo of mine that I can’t find, and saw these gems. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in these?)

Oh gosh, this is a version of me heaven.
And this is a very different version of me heaven!