layers of time

up from his morning nap one day — classic Ilan move, pointing

What a wonderful time I had in Chicago — too short, as always, but filled with all kinds of wonder and happiness. Every morning I got up with Ilan so Marnie and Tom could get a little more sleep; he usually wakes up at 5:15am and is up for two hours and then goes down for a nap, so it was my pure pleasure to take that 2-hour segment of time with him.

I went to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s 32nd birthday (Friday, March 3) and Ilan’s first birthday (Wednesday, March 8), but I arrived mid-afternoon on March 3, and left mid-morning on March 8 so the celebrations were a bit more formless and leaked into the surrounding days. On Saturday March 4, Tom and Marnie spent the day out on a birthday ramble (their birthday specialty), so I had the whole day with Ilan, all to myself. I was playing music for us, my ‘iphone playlist’ which is just a random assortment of music I love, while Ilan ate his morning snack of goldfish crackers laid out around the perimeter of the coffee table, and this song came on. Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park, remember? From 1968?

As it does for most people, I guess, music jerks me around in time. And suddenly I just saw and felt all the layers of time going on in that moment with Ilan, generations of time, generations of moments and experience. I was simultaneously 9 years old, listening to this song and for some reason feeling how much I loved my dad, living in a terrible house of violence and the impending divorce of my parents; 19 years old, listening to Donna Summer’s great disco version of the song, living secretly in the office where I worked in Austin; in my late 20s, giving my own little kids a snack of goldfish crackers and watching them be my beamish little ones; and 58 years old, watching my littlest grandson do the same thing and being my daughter’s (and my) beamish little one. All those layers, all those moments, all those very similar experiences, all felt by me in that one light-filled moment. It made me cry, and it made me so grateful to be my very age, able to hold all that life and world together.

One of the hundreds of most-wonderful things about Ilan is how much he loves the Feist song, 1234. (I think Oliver loved it so much too — what is it about this song?)

He just couldn’t believe it.

Marnie got Ilan a small handheld bluetooth speaker of his own, and when she plays this song he just holds the speaker and stares at it with an extraordinary expression. He’ll glance up at her, and at me, and at whoever is in the room, with an expression I can’t exactly name but I know it completely.

Of course he’s one, and being one you put everything in your mouth at some point, but there were times he was holding the speaker and listening to a song, and he put it in his mouth and I thought he was really wanting the music to be inside him as much as anything else. I thought about this great story that Maurice Sendak told:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

I remain filled with all the wonder of my time in Chicago, the hours I got to spend with Ilan, the hours spent with Marnie, talking, and the evenings with Marnie and Tom over dinner. And I’m always grateful for those brief moments of seeing how time and life work together, and it’s all right there inside you all the time, waiting for something to break through so you can see it.

songs and echoes

I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me
I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me

When I was a young mother, one of my favorite routines centered on my kids’ bedtimes. With three kids and just one of me, time alone with them individually felt so precious. We had regular dates, but I especially loved the tucking-in time — so much that I spent a long time with them, one-on-one. Most nights I took my guitar with me, and after we’d talked about their days and whatever else they wanted to talk about, after we read together, I’d play my guitar and sing to them. I loved it when they’d drift off to sleep while I sang (least often it happened to Katie, who was older and not falling for that). I’d sing softly and watch their little eyes get heavy, watch them resist but see their bodies relaxing, and I’d keep singing long after they seemed asleep. The only thing that helped me get up and leave the room was that the next child was waiting. It was every bit as important to me as I hoped it was to them. But you know, you do all these things with/for your kids and you don’t know, you’re just doing the best you can.

When they were teenagers the tucking-in routine changed, since they didn’t have a ‘bedtime’ exactly, and singing to them dropped away. You know how you wonder if they remember the things you did for them when they were little, and you see so often that they don’t? But it’s OK, because you did it for them, and the memories are in your heart anyway. Even today, when I remember all those hours singing to them, my eyes fill with tears and I get soaked with such deep happiness. Those were some of my best hours of mothering.

Marnie sings to Ilan — who is currently a huge, giggly fan of the ABC song — and said she keeps trying to sing one of the songs I always sang but she can’t do it because she cries. (“Song of Wyoming,” John Denver, which is one of my very favorites and lovely as a lullaby. I can’t play and sing it without crying now either, it’s so tinged with those sweet memories.) I get to hear Marnie’s soft, sweet voice singing to Ilan on the little videos she sends of his delight. Her voice is like mine was, with a soft, feathered edge.

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Katie sings to Oliver, I knew this and have listened to her sing from the very beginning. She has an extraordinary voice, strong but gentle at the same time, and she’s really good. Katie’s specialty is songs from the 60s, music she dearly loves. Oliver has become conditioned to falling asleep to Goodnight Sweetheart (well, it’s time to go / goodnight sweetheart, well, it’s time to go / I hate to leave you but I really must say, oh, goodnight sweetheart, goodnight). Gosh I love hearing her sing that song to him.

And then a couple of nights ago I was at her house, helping with Oliver so she could get some packing done for a week-long road trip they were taking, and I stayed through Oliver’s bedtime. They have the sweetest routine as a family. Katie sits in the chair, Trey lies on the floor, and Oliver plays and wrestles with Trey and climbs into Katie’s lap for some reading, and sometimes he runs in circles to make everyone laugh. And then Katie starts singing — and Oliver dashes over to his bed and crawls up to his pillow and lies down to listen. After the song ends, Katie and Trey kneel by his bed for goodnight kisses. It’s extraordinary.

But I lay on the floor, listening to my beautiful daughter’s exquisite voice singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” that great old Mamas and the Papas song, and just broke down crying. It’s a hard song to sing, an often complex melody line, and then a leap up to a higher range, and some soft scatting at the end, and Katie just flowed through it with all the love she felt, and I felt it too. Trey has a gorgeous voice too, deep and rich, and he joined in, threading harmonies alongside Katie’s melody. What a lucky little boy Oliver is. What lucky boys my grandsons are. Here’s Mama Cass singing — quite a gorgeous song, and she is wonderful — but Katie’s version is even better.

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I sang to my children, and now they sing to theirs. Mamas often do, that wasn’t something original to me obviously, but I’ll take this next-generation singing personally, as a gift I gave them that meant something to them, something they want to give their children, too. Good mamas, love echoes.

one mystery solved!

It’s not often you get to solve a decades-long mystery if your name isn’t Nancy Drew and there’s not an Old Clock or a Hidden Staircase nearby. The mystery related to music from my teenage years — The Eagles, Elton John, Linda Rondstadt, Chicago, various disco songs, Loggins & Messina, John Denver. When I hear any of that music my heart soars and I feel SO happy. So, big deal? Big news from the Department of DUH.

But the mystery is that my teenage years were pure hell. I didn’t have a home. Terrible things were happening to me. Truly terrible. So why would the music that is cellularly associated with that period make me feel happy? Weird, right? It’s not like the music was playing while my chums and I rode in her convertible to the Friday night football game to meet Ned and the boys. Not like that at all. This has puzzled me for decades, it really has.

There’s a good-sized box of old albums of mine, including one album I saved up to buy when I was 10. It was a collection of classical music, and it was advertised on television. So I saved and saved and saved and saved and got my dad to buy it for me. Mother ridiculed and belittled me for it and accused me of just wanting to be different, but I really did love the music. I still have that album. It’s 47 years old. When I was in high school, I remember storing the records in my locker during the school year, and in the summer I’d hide them wherever I worked, since I didn’t have a place to live. For a short period I had a car to live in, so I kept them in the floorboard, alongside a chess set my dad bought me in Mexico when I was little. Those were my worldly belongings, along with some clothes. Somewhere along the way I lost the chess set. I didn’t get to listen to my records through my teenage years, no stereo, but of course the songs were playing everywhere so I heard them.

not this bad, but not a whole lot better
not this bad, but not a whole lot better

I haven’t had a turntable in . . . no idea. No idea how long it’s been. My daughter Katie is our family’s repository of all things family, and she’s been storing the box for me for longer than I can imagine. She asked if I wanted my records, now that I have space of my own, and I said yes, and spent a lot of time looking through them, remembering. And then I bought a really cheap stereo with a turntable. Really, it’s just a step up from a Fisher Price record player. It has a built-in CASSETTE PLAYER and an AM radio. It seemed to come from somewhere in China. I don’t care; for me, it wasn’t about having a high-class listening experience — after all, the records are ancient and have been through a lot. For me it was just about listening to my records a couple more times.

just a few -- I have a LOT of Eagles
just a few — I have a LOT of Eagles

So I pulled out Hotel California, one of my very favorite old albums. We used to listen to music so differently, remember? We’d start at the beginning and listen to a whole side, and then the other. Songs in order, and in whole. We used to read the liner notes. So I set up my little stereo on a low table in my yoga room and spread out some albums all around me, and placed the needle at the beginning of Side A. Scratch scratch MUSIC! And then it hit me.

Even in those hard years, I was me. There was me in there, and somehow, I have no idea how, I felt joy. I felt my joy, the way I do. I was the person who gets really excited about things, notices things, feels happiness with small things. There was me in there, dreaming of someday. Dreaming of having a place to live, dreaming of finishing high school and making my way to Austin where I would finally begin life and get away from my family completely. I was in there, living in my head, dancing inside. The things were happening to me, and around me, and too much of my time was spent trying to get through to the next day, but *I* was not that. I was still 14, 15, 16, 17, loving those songs just like everyone else, even though my life wasn’t like everyone else’s. I’ve always been here as me.

this exactly -- except the paint on mine was faded and not shiny, and the car was in bad shape. this one is kept up.
this exactly — except the paint on mine was faded and not shiny, and the car was in bad shape. this one is kept up.

In October 1976, I’d made my escape plan (I had an old car at the time, a ’62 Nash Rambler, dusty pale green). Don’t laugh — I was going to drive from Wichita Falls to San Antonio, find a convent and bang on the door and ask them for sanctuary. That was really my plan. I didn’t have plans beyond that, and I had no idea where a convent might be, but San Antonio is full of Catholics so I figured I’d find one. For some unknown-to-me-now reason I decided to tell the guidance counselor at school that I was moving the next day and I told her what my stepfather did to me as an explanation for my move. Guidance counselors weren’t trained very well back then, so she called my mother. Later that day Mother had me picked up and placed in a mental hospital and then no one could ever believe me again. “You know, Lori is crazy, you can’t believe a word she says,” eye roll.

Back then the stay was 3 months, which I didn’t mind, frankly. A warm bed, a hot shower, three meals, pretty good. I have a lot of stories from that time. I spent my 17th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s there. She took me out for a day on Thanksgiving and took me to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — you can’t make this shit up! If I read that in a client’s novel I’d cross it out and say “COME ON.” But I remember what I wore, how it felt to be there. ANYWAY. So while I was in there, my stepfather took my car and sold it. On the day I was released, I remember this so so well, I walked out the front door of the hospital to nothing. I had nowhere to go. No car. Nobody. The clothes on my back, and a few in a paper sack, but no coat. (Luckily, my records were still in my locker, and thank heavens for that.) There was snow on the ground, as there is in far north Texas in January, on the plains. I was standing there trying to figure out what to do, and then a car drove past with the radio playing so loud I could hear the song: New Kid in Town. The Eagles. And I smiled. I smiled because I loved the song, I loved the Eagles, and I kind of felt like a new kid in town after three months of a bed and regular meals. I walked down the steps, down the walkway to the street, and turned right. I don’t remember where I went or where I found to sleep that night, but I remember that moment, and that song, and I remember smiling — me, it was about me, not my circumstance.

This is such an extraordinary bit of understanding for me, because it’s about so much more than the music. It’s about getting whacked in the head with the realization that I WAS THERE ALL ALONG, even then. It was always me inside, I was not my circumstance. Lori Dawn was in there, singing and dancing and dreaming. I never realized that until now, as strange as that sounds.

I always did want to be Nancy Drew, and I was always so jealous of the way mysteries always seemed to happen around her, and never around me. But I guess this one did. To me this isn’t a sad post, a sad story at all! This is a joyous one, a gift to myself. A 57 years old gift of light.

the word is just too BLAND

“Happy.” It’s like “nice.” Both are valued things, of course, but meh. What bland, too-simple words. It’s just a word, happy, so maybe the problem is really how we’ve come to think about it. Smiley faces, a particular feeling of some degree of joy or contentment or pleasure, be happy, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof because I’m happy. Happy. I’m happy, are you happy? The happiness industry, do these seven things to be happy, here are the daily habits of happy people. Gratitude makes you happy. Happy.

Yesterday I was scanning my playlists, looking for one to listen to while I cleaned my house. There’s a lot of overlap of music on some of the lists, but the one I most reliably listen to for background music is one titled “happy.” I clicked it and scanned the list deciding whether to choose shuffle or the order they’re in, and busted out laughing at the songs on the list. There are some that most people would consider happy songs, but about one-third of the list includes songs that no one would consider happy songs. And in fact they’re songs that fill my heart with melancholy, or pull up a very sad memory, and some are even associated with such a painful memory I have to sit down. That’s my happy playlist, and it reliably makes me happy, the whole thing.

weavingBecause happiness isn’t simply a shallow thing on the surface. Happiness can be complex, happiness contains some sadness, some memories of loss, some melancholy, and the ability to hold those things as part of the complex experience of a lived life. That sad song that makes me have to sit down? It really kind of breaks my heart, and I can only listen to it once or I have to get in bed and cry. But as part of the tapestry of my playlist, it’s that dark shot of weft that deepens everything. The memory of love lost, or happiness experienced with a thrill and then squandered or shifted, those were happy too, I was happy then too, and so my heart aches from the loss but I also hold the greater memories of the happiness, the joy. I’ll bet you’ve had the experience of hearing a song connected to a loss and filling up with tears, but also feeling something good, some connection, some remembrance, a mixed feeling of happy/sad. Maybe even laughing and crying at the same time. (That’s so me.)

I do have blissed-out moments, and quite often, where I experience awe and have no words, or when the moment is just so present and I am aware of my life in a particular way, or when Oliver smiles at me, or when I’m with my beloved children and we’re happy together. Or when I’m making beautiful food, or my writing is going well, or I’m dancing and laughing in the park. I have those moments that are kind of purely “happy.” But most often, my experience of happiness holds the complications of the various kinds and experiences of happiness; they feel less fleeting, and with an amalgam of contentment, pleasure, something, with the more complex experience of happiness. For as much as life really only happens in the moment, and as much as I strive to be present in it, the truth is also that I have lived a long life, filled with a staggering number of (and kinds of) experiences, and they are in me, body and soul. Some make me happy because I survived . . . but that happiness is real, even if it came out of darkness. So I sit in this present moment and feel my life resonating through me, in this present day. (Plus, as my daughter Marnie said about me in a Facebook birthday post, I do love to feel all the feelings. That makes me happy, being able to feel them all.)

I thought it was so loving and true in places that I saved it. :)
I thought it was so loving and true in places that I saved it. 🙂

Maybe this is just me. I never have a clue if my experience is weird and deeply idiosyncratic, or if you feel something of it too. If you don’t, then here’s an explanation of one way happiness can be deeply felt. And if you do, you aren’t the only one!

Happy Sunday. I hope the sun shines on your face today. xo

unlocking it

carsonIn the new season of Downton Abbey that you’ve only seen if you live in the UK or if you’re an Internet pirate like me, Mr. Carson says, “The business of life is the acquisitions of memories. In the end, that’s all there  is.” I kind of want to argue with him, but every argument I come up with ends with me thinking, well, OK, that’s about memory. Hmm. I think it does come down to this, which is what family members struggle with when their loved ones get Alzheimer’s and disappear with their shared memories.

And you know how there are triggers for your memories, things you think you don’t remember at all, until some specific thing unlocks it. My idiotic mother’s perfume used to be Jungle Gardenia, and for years after, if I entered an elevator and someone had been wearing that perfume, I went into a panic, a full-body unlocked memory of fear and trembling at her hands. Other things too, my much younger memories of how beautiful I thought she was, all those kinds of things. It was a huge complex of memories unlocked by smelling that one smell. Good things, terrible things, responses my body would make, responses my emotions held. One smell, a world of memories mercifully forgotten until I hit that trigger.

That’s a bad thing about having PTSD, of course — the omnipresent and sometimes surprising or unexpected triggers that unlock the memories that are stuck and swirling around. Of course it works for the good, too; I’m sure you’ve had the experience I’ve had, of not knowing something, not remembering it (like, at ALL), and then all at once there it is in whole complete form. And you’ll say in wonder that you hadn’t remembered it, didn’t know you still remembered that thing.

Yesterday morning I woke up singing the song ‘More Than Words,’ from the late 80s I think? I didn’t know I remembered that song at all, if you’d asked me about it I’d have said nope, never heard it. And then I woke up singing it for some reason, and listening to it opened some strange little door and I remembered all kinds of things, like the Burger King in Guntersville, Alabama has the very best hamburgers of any Burger King I’ve ever been to. By far. What?

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This song held that memory? How crazy is that? And that memory held another, which held another. And all those memories were a kind of net underneath my kids and me, and I remember being in the car with them driving around north Alabama. Taking picnics up to Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville. Driving up to Cumberland Falls State Park in Kentucky and watching a moonbow. Yes! I didn’t remember about the moonbow, wouldn’t have had that memory available at all. And that whole trip to Cumberland Falls State Park includes memories of what our room looked like, where we ate dinner, the card games we played, all those apparently insignificant moments (seriously, how many hundreds of card games did we play over their childhoods?), but I heard this song and remembered all these things. And then I remembered taking them to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Will ran along the beach hypnotizing crabs — cwabs, he said. I remember what he wore, exactly. I remember the beach toys the girls had. I remember how I felt, how lost and sad and lonely and uncertain about everything. How wonderful it was to watch my kids play.

The things I know. The grinders at Paradise Pizza in New Britain, Connecticut, are exquisite. There’s a magic forest in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Marnie loved the pine cones at Hungerford State Park in Connecticut. Katie wrote a letter to the editor in Fredericksburg saying that all children should get President’s Day as a school holiday so they could stay at home and honor the presidents. Will’s nickname was Guy for a while, pronounced the French way — like ghee. I wonder how many other pockets of whole huge worlds of memories are there, waiting for just the right little thing to unlock them and bring them all back to me.

I find this one of the tenderest things about being a human, about living a life. You’re right Mr. Carson. This is the business of life.


gettin on a jag

obsessionWhen I was a kid, I saw an ad in a magazine for sets of books and records so I saved my money until I could buy one of the 12-book sets I most wanted in hardback: four books by Hemingway, four by Faulkner, and four by Fitzgerald. (It must be four each, because that’s what I still have, though maybe I lost some over the years in my dozens of moves.) So thrilled to have these books, to own them, I sat down and read them straight through. All four by Hemingway, back to back. All four by Fitzgerald, back to back. Ditto Faulkner.

I don’t recommend this as a strategy. Even right after finishing — but definitely all these years later — I can’t remember which was which. Now which one was the Hemingway where the guy died under the bridge, in the mud, in the arms of a woman? (hmmm, um, all of them? Bad example.) Which was the one where the rich young couple wandered through the city after a night of debauchery? (um, any Fitzgerald, now that I think about it.) Which Faulkner was the one where I had to keep reading the same sentence over and over and over trying to parse its meaning — oh yeah. All of them. Those are bad examples.

This seems to be a reading strategy I pursue, but then again it’s the same strategy I pursue on a lot of fronts. Find something I love and then do it to death. When I finish reading a book I’ve loved, I want to read every single thing that author wrote. After I read The Woman Warrior (well, after I read it three times in a row and felt ready to move on a tiny bit), I read all of Maxine Hong Kingston’s books. I definitely learned her voice, and could spot a Kingston book if I found a page separated from a typewritten manuscript stuck between bricks. Hey, that’s Maxine Hong Kingston. But they’re all of a piece for me now, and that’s good and bad. But don’t you do that too — if you’re surprised and delighted by a new writer, you just want more of her or him? Finding a good writer is so hard, if you find one sure bet probably others will follow there.

For about nine months when we lived in Fredericksburg, VA (and my kids’ll back me up on this) I got really stuck on Aretha Franklin’s “Til You Come Back to Me”:

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Did you know you can wear out a CD? YOU CAN. I played that one song on repeat for nine months — never the song that came after, never the song that came before, no other song, ever. For nine months. It finally got to the point where that song wouldn’t play, it just skipped and did that digital stutter. I just couldn’t stop. It was so great! (I see this is a slightly different argument — instead of playing all of her songs I just got stuck on one.) To this day, when I hear that song my kids are little, the air on my skin is humid and hot, we’re in the rusty old Buick with the sagging headliner, Jerry is off somewhere — Alaska, Panama, Canada — and it’s just me and my little kids bouncing kisses off the moon every night. That song holds every feeling, every moment, every longing, every happiness and bit of sorrow and delivers them back to me on request, in full.

I apparently have a high tolerance for repeaters, as my sweet little Kiki used to say. Every single workday for decades, his lunch was an apple and a container of yogurt — the same exact kind of yogurt, probably. That’s how he articulated that habit, and it’s a phrase that stuck with me. I guess one might call it obsession; it’s really not at all about laziness, or an unwillingness to try new things. It’s not even about the fear of disappointment, as you might think — what if I don’t like a sandwich as much as my apple and yogurt, then I’d have a bad lunch! Nope, it isn’t that. I think it’s about soaking up all the pleasure in a thing, squeezing out every little bit, eating it up until it’s gone. And then finding the next thing.

This morning I read the “By the Book” column in the NYTimes, and Amy Tan described doing what I do — wanting to read all the books by an author if she likes one — and so here we are. A lot of words to say what she said in thirteen. So me.

Happy Sunday y’all. Hope it’s a beautiful one….xo

it’s all really beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

evidence of hands

You know Jackson Pollock’s work — the modern artist perhaps most likely to inspire people to ask “that’s art?” or to say “crap, I could do that.” I never really understood his work until Marnie once said that it presents evidence of movement. And then I started loving his pieces, then I had a way to look at them, to look deeply, to see him inside them. I just loved that.

remember these envelopes?
remember these envelopes?

All my life I’ve been a maker, and preferred doing things by hand. When I used to go to preschool (at Ma & Pinky’s, a small family-based day care center) I took my tortoiseshell-colored plastic embroidery case and spent play time sitting under a tree embroidering pillow cases. Badly, too tightly, but with pleasure. (And hey, I was 4.) I used Aunt Martha’s iron-on transfers to put the tulips and butterflies on the hems of pillowcases, then used bright embroidery floss to bring the designs to life. I can still see, so clearly, those designs. And I can still remember the other [normal] kids wondering why I did that instead of playing.

When I was a very young newlywed, my husband was a carpenter and I was spinning and weaving, sewing, whatever I could get my hands on. We had fantasies of having every single thing we ever touched or used being handmade. All our furniture, he would make. I wanted my wooden spoons to be handmade, even. I did make all our clothes except for our jeans, and I learned to cook and bake and when my son came along, I had to make everything we ate because he was severely allergic to corn syrup. I learned that it was a very expensive fantasy that everything we touched would be handmade, and we ended up — poor as we were — with plastic things, cheap things, inexpensive substitutes. But I’ve never gotten over my love of things made by hand. The evidence of a human creator moves me deeply.

And I feel that way about music. Handmade music — live music, “real” music, whatever I mean by that — is my favorite. There’s just nothing else like it. I love to see the person making that music, singing, playing those instruments. And when the instruments are humble, for some reason I like that even more. Dixie introduced me to my new favorite band — Megan Jean and the KFB — and I’m so deeply happy I am vibrating. Here, listen and watch their first video:

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Wowie. That woman can SANG, as we’d say in the South. I love her washboard, her foot on the drum, that little bell fixed to the washboard. I love her husband on that banjo. I love the immediacy of their music, the life in it.

Just sharing a bit of pleasure today, and wishing you the pleasure and evidence of hands in your life today. Happy Friday y’all.

lucky you lucky me

On Sunday I saw Tina Fey’s new movie, Admission. She’s so great — the movie was sweet, stayed away from the treacle edge, and had a beautiful soundtrack written by Stephen Trask, who wrote the Hedwig soundtrack. He’s pretty great. “Lucky,” the song that played over the closing credits, was just so gorgeous I stayed to the bitter credit end to see who sang it: a young woman from Austin named Kat Edmonson. Here, listen (lyrics here if you want them, but they’re simple to understand). The video is bittersweet for me to watch, because it’s set in New York City and I recognize every single scene. And not just “Times Square” but the specific intersection. Every single spot, I know it in my bones. Lucky me.

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luckySo very sweet, the song and her voice. Earlier Sunday morning I’d seen the tail end of an interview with Debbie Reynolds — the personification of plucky, if ever there were such a thing — and you know, she’s kind of bright and smiley and had a complicated set of relationships in her life. The interviewer was asking the standard questions, “So how terrible was it when Eddie Fisher left you in such a public way for Elizabeth Taylor,” and she just kind of kept smiling. But after a cut away to a bit of film, Singing in the Rain probably, her eyes were filled with tears she was trying hard to keep from overflowing. She said she doesn’t really cry, but she does find it hard not to feel so very grateful for her life and all her experiences, and how lucky she has always been. And thus we are in the same tribe and I never really knew it. Two very lucky broads are we.

Before the movie, I was talking with my friend Wayne who also loves poetry and words, and I told him my favorite 9-word phrase on earth is from Ulysses: “the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” Just stop, pause a minute, breathe that in. The heaventree of stars. Humid nightblue fruit. The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit. I always sigh when I remember that phrase, and for a couple of years used it as a scrolling screensaver. He’d been complaining about Joyce’s excessive linguistic obfuscation (ha, I deliberately chose those $20 words), but when I told him my 9-word phrase he just stopped and got a bit dreamy-eyed. Then he gave me his favorite poem, the one that inspired him to write poetry and get an MFA in poetry. It’s Rilke:


The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

And leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

It’s pretty obvious why my little Joycean phrase brought this poem to his mind, and it’s now one of my favorite poems too.

And isn’t that another reason to feel so very lucky, that there are poets in the world who can string together little words, dull and ordinary on their own, into something that makes you as big as the world inside?

On my way home from the movie, Katie texted me to see if I wanted to come over for Chinese food and the season finale of Walking Dead, and I just thought how extraordinarily lucky I am — I have this wonderful, wonderful daughter and her equally wonderful husband to love, and they love me, and she invites me over spontaneously and happily, and I got to end my lucky day enjoying a couple of sweet hours with her. And then I drove home to finalize the specific flight details of an upcoming vacation to INDONESIA, in May. To appropriate the Rogers & Hammerstein lyric, “somewhere in my youth [or childhood] I must have done something good” to be this very very lucky.

Happy Tuesday y’all — I hope it’s a beautiful day where you are. . .

things I have learned

  • Living alone is extraordinarily different from living with someone who is gone for a bit, leaving you alone. Even if they’re gone for a week, a month, longer than that. The whole “someone is coming back” deal makes quite a difference. It is as great as I imagined it would be, but it also is very much not.
  • When you go through a big wrenching change, get new music. Maybe just dig through your own library for the stuff you never listened to, because any of the old stuff with associations can rip your heart out. Especially to be avoided: music you listened to as an emotional teenager, music you listened to with the person who is gone, music that just has an overall sad tone, Coldplay (except Viva La Vida), and music you ever listened to during any relationship, because those spots get soft again. Music to seek: upbeat music, world music, salsa music. Disco, if you’re my age. 
  • Cooking for one isn’t bad at all. It’s the eating of the food for one that’s not so great. I started off eating at my beautiful dining table every night, but couldn’t figure out how to do that without feeling too lonely. Now I eat in my chair, or at my coffee table. But the cooking part is just fine. I don’t really know how to cook for one, so I end up with several meals from one meal cooked, but how is that bad? I’ll tell you how: it’s bad if you just keep eating that same one thing until it’s gone. What happens is this — spaghetti every night for a week; chicken noodle soup every night for a week; curry every night for a week.

  • It’s possible to have very long conversations with inanimate objects, and occasionally you find yourself doing strange old people things, like calling people by the makes of their cars. “Oh sure, Mr. Oldsmobile, pull right out in front of me, that’s OK you’re the most important person in the world.” A person needs someone to talk to or else they start talking out loud to the chest of drawers. “Oh, who put this in here? Yeah, how did this get in this drawer, I wonder? Hmmmm? Well it couldn’t have been anyone else now, could it.” This is especially true for people like me who also work at home, alone. I can have days in a row pass without any human contact, if I’m not careful.

  • If you get an invitation to do some disco dancing, TAKE IT. Always. Just make that a policy. I’ll be doing the boogaloo and the hustle (assuming I can remember how!) Saturday night the 12th, at a place called Sherlock’s. I’m just going to pretend I’m going to my friend Sherlock’s house. I no longer have the necessary “boogie down tonight” clothes or the white girl afro (sigh), but I hope enthusiasm makes up for my blue jeans and Converse sneakers.
  • A big story like Les Miserables teaches you the power of a good story, and here’s why. I first read the book when I was nine, and I fell completely in love with it. I’d already decided Victor Hugo was my favorite writer in the world, because of Notre Dame de Paris, which saved me (another story another time, my identification with Quasimodo). But Les Miserables, as a girl I was so connected to Valjean’s unfair punishment, oh how I understood that. His nobility in the face of suffering, that meant a lot to me. Then, when I was a young mother, it was Fantine’s story that moved me so much. The things she endured out of love for her daughter. Her abandonment by Cosette’s father, leaving her to her fate. I have seen every single adaptation of it for film, and I saw it on Broadway, and last night I saw the new movie. Another thing I’ve learned is that boy I can be so wrong in my snap judgments. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, nah, don’t like ’em. Lightweights. HA! HA! HA! WHAT A MAROON! Let me just eat those words right here, in public, without even salt. Those two actors were so utterly spectacular they broke my heart — the actors, not even their roles. When Jackman is singing Jean Valjean’s despair in the church, in an early scene after the priest saves him and he’s crying out to God, how can he turn away from hate . . . the tiny little movements of his cheek muscles, his forehead, the utter despair in his big eyes and fully formed in his body, oh my god. I have to go see it again, just to watch that scene. And Fantine’s degradation, when she sings about her lost dreams for her life, Hathaway was so brilliant I’ll always remember her. And Eddie Redmayne, as Marius; when he’s singing about his dead friends, he broke my heart. It was the tiniest little things they did, the whole giving-over of themselves to it, it was incredible. [Russell Crowe, on the other hand, all the world’s thumbs down for him. Geez.] This time, at age 54, the thing that moved me most in the story was when Jean Valjean — who did not want to lose his daughter — saw Marius at the barricades and shifted to tenderness for him, saw him and who he was, and wanted him to survive, was willing to sacrifice everything to help him survive. It’s the perspective of aging, the shift to seeing the next generation and feeling so soft, so protective, and realizing that your time is moving away, now. The movie was kind of long, some of the scenes dragged on, but then again: Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers, Master of the House, were such a delight every time they were on the screen. Anyway: powerful story no matter what age you are; I was a real dope about Jackman and Hathaway; and go see the movie.

  • Learning something new is a good thing to do when you’re feeling lost and alone. It requires focus, it fills time, and you get something good from the time. On New Year’s Eve, I spent some time with my new dulcimer and learned how to tune it, and learned how to play — slowly and simply, without any fancy moves — my favorite old hymn, Softly and Tenderly. That song always made me cry when I was a little girl at church. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me. See at the portal he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home…..who doesn’t want someone welcoming you home when you’re tired. I know I long for that.

Day one of the new year down! So far so good, y’all!

good thing of the day: going to the very movie you want to see and being so satisfied by it. Les Miserables was awesome, made me cry, made me think, and left me with so much feeling.

life as a road

Yesterday was such a lovely day in my life. I worked most of the day, but took time out to run over to Katie’s to pick up my guitar and drop off some stuff, and Katie and Trey and I went to lunch together. Since the place we had lunch was relatively near my house, I just took my car to the restaurant, so I could head home and get back to work.

Of course in the car I listened to music, and well, music is the killer — or the savior, it depends. And I’m still just so labile and easily affected by things. I’ve always joked about my easy crying by saying that I cry when the wind changes directions and comes out of the south. It’s kind of true. Still, I’m usually not as all over the place emotionally as I am right now. I can see that I’m getting better, stabler, more OK, but I can still be moved to tears between breaths. In the car going to the restaurant, it was a one-two punch, then a one-two-three fancy move, then a one-two-three-four, as one song after another moved me around.

My sweet little Prius is outfitted with bluetooth so it streams music from my phone, which has just one playlist of my favorite songs of all time (282 of them….actually, there are more than that in my “favorite songs of all time” category, but that’s how many are on the phone). So I’m driving along under the gray, overcast skies we have today as the cold front* moves in, and BAM! A song I listened to over and over when Marc and I were falling in love. I sang along and bore it as long as I could, then I clicked next and WHAM! Riders in the Sky, singing “Texas Plains” and I busted out laughing and started practicing yodeling.** I let that one play to the end, and the next was Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which happens to be my song. I had an enormous insight a few years ago, listening to that song, that led me to a New York City tattoo parlor to get the Chinese character for hope tattooed at the bottom of my spine, underneath all the others. So I was crying, listening to that song. Then Spice Girls (shut UP) “Say You’ll Be There” which always makes me laugh hysterically and feel so happy I can hardly bear it. See what I mean? Isn’t that exhausting?? There were a few more, and they didn’t all alternate back and forth between laughing and crying songs, but they kinda did. Anyone watching me would think I was nuts.

One of the songs that played reminded me powerfully of an earlier time in my life (all of them are strongly associated with times of my life, that’s why they’re on the list) and it made me think of the road of my life. How it was being newly married at 21, how that felt, and who I was. How it felt holding my little baby Katie, who I was and how that felt, and how I understood my life to that point. Marnie. Will. College, so much music associated with that period. Always I’m trying so hard, changing and growing, trying to be squarely in it and often failing. Graduate school, who I was then and what it felt like to be me, undergoing a number of big transformations. Moving to Rochester, then to New Jersey, then to Manhattan to live with and marry Marc. And who I was then, and how it felt to be me, and what I understood of my life. A year ago yesterday, Marc began his 6-month hellish treatment; we’d just returned from Vietnam, Malaysia, and Borneo, and the end did not feel so near.

It isn’t that in any moment I think this is it, my life; of course I’m always aware it continues on into the future (at least, I hope it does!) and I have all kinds of thoughts and hopes and worries about that projection. But in yesterday’s experience of looking back at each of those landmarks, I had a sudden gift of insight about the whole of my life, and who I’ve always been, and how it has been to be me. And in that moment of insight, I felt like I’d landed so very softly on the top of a hill. George Orwell said that at 50, every man has the face he deserves. I like the face I’ve earned at this point; it has a softness, and my eyes are soft even though they’ve watched the fire and led me through it. 

So, to my asterisks:

* the “cold front” — yeah, today the high is going to be 52, after last week in the 80s. We’re even dipping down toward freezing tomorrow night! The last freezing day here in Austin was Feb 12.

** that’s right, I’m practicing yodeling. I’ve always wanted to yodel, but never had the necessary privacy to do the practicing. One of these days I’ll be the yodeling queen of the pillbugs! Whee!

make my wish come true….

There. Your day is made. Thanks to my girl Katie for posting this on her facebook wall!

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water moving underneath the bridge

Here’s the thing to know about my oldest daughter Katie: the woman loves the music of the 1960s. Specifically, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, CSN&Y, and also some Motown. And lots more, she’s crazy about music, but she really specializes in these musicians. I have so many stories about her in this regard, but I’ll limit the post to one that happened yesterday.

She and I were at her long dining table, with papers all around and lists underway — things I need to get, errands we need to run, paperwork to tend to, those kinds of things. I’m kind of a mess, a little bit erratic (I know, me, right?), up and down. Feeling positive and hopeful, then feeling terrified and lost. Feeling ok, then feeling like what have I done with my life. We had Coldplay on in the background, and when The Scientist came on, we decided to watch the video. One thing that is happening to me right now is that the pain is a moving target. Sometimes it’s about my future, BAM! Sometimes it’s about my broken relationship, WHAM! Sometimes it’s about regret, BOP! But that Coldplay video pulled a bolo punch on me, knocking the wind out of me from a new, unexpected direction. I crumpled.

So Katie said to me, “Mom, do you know the song Wasted on the Way? It makes me think of you right now.” We pulled it up on youtube and I burst into tears and just couldn’t stop.

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Actually, before we played the video I got the lyrics:

Look around me
I can see my life before me
Running rings around the way it used to be

I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
But I wish that I had started long before I did

And there’s so much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

Oh, when you were young
Did you question all the answers
Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve

Look around you now
You must go for what you wanted
Look at all my friends who did and got what they deserved

So much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away

So much love to make up everywhere you turn
Love we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away
Let the water come and carry us away

MAN. What a song. So much water underneath the bridge, wasted time, lost love. And at the very same moment, the time wasn’t wasted because it is my life, and the love may have changed but it wasn’t lost. It wasn’t wasted.

One of the many hard things is that I am coming back to Austin; when I finished my PhD in 2003, I left for New York. And here, just shy of 10 years later, I return. Do I regret going, only to return? How can I?! Those nearly 10 years brought me so much, so many people, so much love, trips around the world, new experiences of all kinds, so much pain, so many stories. And I believe this, this is how it looks to me….but the feeling, the feeling of it can drift into regret, waste. If I were only going to be coming back after all, why did I leave in the first place?

I think I have more questions than answers right now because it’s just all been coming at me so fast, so many big giant things, no time to integrate and process, no time to make sense of one explosion before another hits, no time to stop and just be. The lyrics and mood of Dark Road, Annie Lennox, feel just right for me right now.

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Partial lyrics —

Maybe I’m still searchin
But I dont know what it means
All the fires of destruction are still
Burnin’ in my dreams
There’s no water that can wash away
This longin’ to come clean
Hey yea yea….

I can’t find the joy within my soul
It’s just sadness takin hold
I wanna come in from the cold
And make myself renewed again
It takes strength to live this way
The same old madness every day
I wanna kick these blues away
I wanna learn to live again…

I just keep thinking that this is what it is to be in my life, to be going through these things, and how I’m feeling is how it feels. I am pretty sure that one of these days some joy is going to kick in and knock my socks off. I can see it over there, in the corner, crouched with my suitcases and waiting for me. I imagine that once I move into my new place, it’ll come out and play with me.

But now, this morning, Katie and I are off to San Antonio, to pick up my new car. Another new thing, something new to make mine.

gotta be careful

As I’ve mentioned before, an old friend once said I have “a very high emotional bandwidth.”  On my birthday a couple of weeks ago, my girl Marnie described me as someone “who feels every emotion possible in a single day and thinks hard about what that means, who reads voraciously, loves her kids ferociously, and often laughs herself silly, where “silly” means “needs to change her pants.”  So yeah. My name is Lorraine, and I feel emotions deeply and easily.

Yesterday was machine gun fire, a giant rollercoaster, take your pick of metaphor. After getting an hour’s sleep, we left for the airport and wrestled my three giant suitcases to the airline check-in desk. Southwest Airlines agents are perky and seem to assume that everyone they encounter is a  happy person, going to a happy place (!) oh-so-happy! She kept apologizing for having to charge me for a third bag, and was insistently pressing on me about the trip while in my head I was screaming, I’m moving, these are all my clothes. This is my husband — we are leaving each other, I am moving, please stop. I sat alone at the gate for a very long time, stunned and blank. It was a short flight to Baltimore, we arrived 20 minutes early, and I boarded the long flight to Texas.

Stunned. Silent. Blank. I tried to read (When You’re Falling, Dive, by Mark Matousek) but was getting nowhere with it because my mind refused to cooperate, until I hit the last chapter which was focused on Stanley Kunitz and included the perfect poem I put in the previous post, surely written just for me. Then I read some more in the book of Job, which I’ve been studying. And then we started our descent into Austin. I was seated on the aisle for a quick getaway, but I glanced out the window as the airplane banked hard for a turn and saw the familiar landscape below the wings. Home.

Going down the escalator at the airport, to baggage claim, I saw my sister waiting for me. Home. She stood there with her arms opened as wide as possible, for me (and there was a sign at her place, “Welcome Home Lori!). We lugged my bags to her car and drove to a duplex she’d found for me. I was hopeful about it, but if I didn’t like it I knew of an apartment complex nearby that was my solid and beautiful Plan B — but OH how I loved the duplex! I can’t wait to show you photos. It has 2 bedrooms, a fireplace, tile floors (the tiles are espresso colored, and look like small wood planks). An all new kitchen. A beautiful enclosed patio. All that space, just for me. Just for me.  It’s a very quiet neighborhood easily accessible to the best parts of Austin, and to Katie. The landlord and I shook hands — the place is mine. I’ll take possession December 1, and stay with Katie and Trey until then. Within an hour of landing, I had a home. Feeling so much better.

My sister took me to The Frisco (which used to be called Nighthawk), a restaurant I used to love when I was in first grade. My old history, good old times, familiar. Feeling better still. We ate and talked, we had long conversations with our waitress (whether we wanted to or not), and then we stopped at a couple of stores to look for sofas. And I found a spectacular one, and bought it. Now I have a home and a couch. FEELING SO MUCH BETTER. And with a major piece of furniture, now I can start handpicking the smaller pieces to go with it, when I have time. 

Out to Katie’s house, where Trey and Katie welcomed me with the warmest, sweetest, most loving feelings I could imagine. They just held out their arms, they talked to me with honey love in their voices, and I felt so cared for. Trey carried my bags upstairs, showed me a special thing about making coffee, just really so thoughtful and kind and I felt myself relax. I am home, now, and loved dearly.

When we were driving to a Mexican restaurant for dinner late in the evening, I sat in the backseat and watched the city pass my window. I looked at the huge black sky and saw the crescent moon, the kind that’s just the heavy bottom of the moon all lit up — and it looked like something out of a movie, it was so large. The sky was so big. I am home, and I have my sister and Katie and Trey — plenty of family for anyone, but I have even more! I am not at all alone…..and I am all alone, now. 

Later, in Katie’s cozy guest room that is my room, I lay in the dark and listened to music, and here’s where I have to be careful. Because so many things are true at once, and they’re all as true as can be: I am home now, in a place I love. I am surrounded by love and family and friends. I am all alone now, no longer connected to the man I love, and have loved for so long. I am on my own, responsible for myself. Note to self: Only listen to “Losing You” by Bob Schneider when your heart is very very strong:

“And all the people that I know / They all tell me just goes to show / No matter where you are, I guess, you’re still alone. ” I hit that line in the song and had to clutch the sheets and grit my teeth to bear the pain in my heart.

What a day — I lost a home (I offered my keychain back to my husband, house keys and car keys, thinking he’d say no, you keep them since you’re coming back in December, but he just took them from me without a word). I got a home. I left my family. I went to my family. I am free and facing a new life of my shaping. I am alone without my partner. I am surrounded by love, I have lost love. I am facing opportunity and happiness, and I am facing fear and solitude.

I’ve never really lived alone, so this will be a first for me. I have to learn how to take possession of my life in a new way. I need to help myself, hold myself, reassure myself (and allow myself to be helped, held, and reassured by friends and family), I need to be careful with the sad feelings because they also are true and I don’t want to drown in them. So for a while, I won’t be listening to songs like I listened to last night, like the quiet sorrowful video. I will watch the large heavy moon hanging in the big black sky, I will count the stars, and I will close my eyes and realize that whatever I am feeling it’s just a piece of it. Whatever is happening, it’s just a piece of it.

Friends, I am going to be OK.