The Time of Big Days

Ordinarily, days are ordinary. You make the coffee and make the bed. Do your work. Interact here and there. Make meals. Relax however you do. Turn in for the night. If you’re a small-pleasures-seeking person, you seek them, you notice the moments, the clouds drifting, the shadow on the wall, the ladybug, the sound of the beans grinding and the smell of the coffee. You go through the day in a kind of emotional neutral, interrupted by small spikes of pleasure or frustration, and you’ve learned ways to manage the onslaught of daily trauma by the Republicans. (If you’re me, you’re doing that mostly by shutting out all forms of media that will put it in your face. Ostrich mode.)

My days aren’t ordinary now, and I keep thinking of how unordinary they were when I moved here. How for a month we’d gone through all the terribleness — the shock of the phone call from Katie, Gracie died, we didn’t know why; the horror of Katie’s labor and delivery; the disbelief of their homecoming without her; the numbing arrangement of a funeral; the funeral itself, and a few days later her cremation; everyone drifting home; me leaving and not knowing how I could do that; and then back in New York and the shock of divorce, and moving back to Austin within a month of Gracie’s death, and starting all over, and and and and and. Big giant days, unbearable emotions, each day a tsunami of such intense emotion it was exhausting. As someone told me during those days, you just get tired of feeling so much.

This couldn’t be more different — it isn’t tragic, it isn’t permanent loss, it isn’t unexpected upending of anything, but boy are the days big, and filled with intense emotion. Last night I thought about how one of these days, when I’m settled into my Big Indian palace, I’d return to the more boring days, the kind where small pleasures are sought against a background of ordinary. But first, I have to touch all my places, sit across tables from people I have loved so dearly.

A farewell dinner with Lynn — at the same restaurant where we first met, so special to me that she thought of that. She is one of my DEEP sisters in the world, I have a few, and we will always know and love each other.
This picture was published in the Austin Chronicle, perfect with the capitol in the background. This protest was the most powerful protest I’ve ever participated in, and I’m still being affected by it. There is something potent about dressing in that costume, something very LOUD and yet also it’s self-negating. Protest is not about self, anyway, but dressing alike (and in THAT recognizable costume, especially) makes it even less about yourself . . . which contributes to the confusion I feel about how deeply personal it was, nevertheless. That’s me on the front, right.
Texas Republicans would put us in handmaid garb if they could get away with it. It’s unbelievable what they are doing. Thank God for these women, and all the others who will keep fighting.
We stood silently, pointing at each legislative chamber. Our silence was so powerful, and then we went to the rotunda and shouted SHAME SHAME SHAME for 10 minutes. I still shiver, remembering it.

My first protest as a Texas resident was in support of women’s right to choose; Wendy Davis had just completed her famous filibuster, and I gathered with thousands of women wearing orange, around the capitol. I am so proud that my first and last protest here was for the rights of women to self-determination. That fills me with pride and it means a lot to me that Marnie is proud of me. But oof a big day, because the handmaid protest was in the morning and then my poetry group gathered for what turned out to be a party — and I’m so gullible, and was SO not expecting it, that I believed them when they said the food was in the clubhouse for some other event. My place is in such disarray, and I sold my dining table and chairs, so George kindly hosted us in the clubhouse of his condo complex, a very beautiful setting filled with people who have enriched my life beyond belief. I just can’t even really talk about it yet.

Here we all are — starting from me, bottom center, and going clockwise: George, David, Marilyn, Rebecca, Hadiya, and Nick. These people. <3
Rebecca took some pictures and she just caught the spirit of our time together. Here are David, George, and Marilyn, reading along while someone reads a poem aloud. We really love poetry, and this kind of engrossed experience was our norm.
And here are Nick, me, and Hadiya, engrossed in the poem. Seriously. How much they have given me.

I’m glad Rebecca is in the group selfie since she’s not in the other shots. I wasn’t sure I could say goodbye to everyone, so I just kept trying over and over. A rambly, teary farewell to the group, a hug and goodbye to each person individually, and a clinging by my heart to the wonder of what happened with us, over the last 4.5 years.

Last night was the last meeting I’ll join of a new book club I’d recently formed a few months ago, women who share my politics and who I met in Pantsuit Nation. They will continue on, but it was my last night to sit among them and talk about the book (we actually did that! We talked about the books we read!), to rail about politics, to share information and support in this political insanity, and then to talk about other books we’re reading. It was such a great group, I loved every meeting and I will miss them so much. Today I am having afternoon tea with George, who has been such a good friend to me over the years. I’m sure I will find it hard to get in my car afterwards and drive away. We will always be friends, all these people, it’s not that. But it is farewell to a moment, to an experience, to a specific kind of connection that we had and oh how much it meant to me.

Then tomorrow I get to babysit Lucy while Katie accompanies Oliver on a school field trip, how precious that will be, and Saturday I have a late lunch with Deb, another deep sister. I will be so thrilled to leave this hateful state with its cruel politics, but oh the people. As I say on the About the Queen page, I am rootless, geographically, but I’m very rooted, people-wise. I will never lose these people, and they will stay in my heart with the same strength they have today — but oh it’s hard to have these ‘lasts.’ It isn’t that I mind the hardness; I’ll take it any day, because it’s evidence of the bond. Many still to come, some I can hardly bear to think about, but I’ll cross them as they come.

<3 <3 <3

poetry

poetryI’ll tell you, and I am being as honest as I can be here: I do not know the first thing about poetry. I know that haiku has three lines, 5-7-5 syllables (see, I don’t even know the jargon to describe that properly, and I’m not stopping to look it up so I sound smarter than I am on this topic). I know the rhythm of a limerick. I know the phrase iambic pentameter but worry that perhaps my accent will make me read it in a way that I fail to recognize the meter. I never took a poetry class, was never introduced to poets, don’t know who the ‘good’ poets are (and correspondingly, who the embarrassing poets are). I only just know what I like, and that’s the truth. I know when I don’t like something, and I know when a poem moves something in me. In fact, I’ve read poems where I can tell you what and how it made me feel, but not exactly what it meant.

I know the names of famous poets but couldn’t tell you one thing they wrote. I’ve never memorized poems, though occasional snips may get stuck in my head, a tiny phrase here and there.

And I organize a monthly poetry group in my house where 7 to 9 people sit around my living room and read stunning poetry aloud — most often, poetry they have written, but certainly not always. One member has an astonishing breadth of knowledge and will just start reciting long poems when we’re discussing something, and a relevant poem comes to his mind. He is amazing. One member writes the most jaw-dropping poetry, I can only sit with my mouth open and experience awe. When I went to Marfa, his poetry came into my head in that landscape because it had soaked into my bones. One member writes extraordinarily precise poems and she has only just started writing poems. One member brings fantastic work by new and beloved poets and always has something so smart to say about them.

Last night we met and most of the poems were magnificent, including this great one:

Diatribe Against the Dead (by Angel Gonzales, trans. Dominique Scopa)

The dead are selfish: they make us cry and do not care,
Stay quiet in the most inconvenient places,
Refuse to walk—we have to carry them
Piggyback to the grave
As if they were children — what a burden.
Unusually rigid, their faces
Accuse us of something, or warn us;
They are the bad conscience, the bad example,
The worst things in our lives always, always.
The bad thing about the dead
Is that there is no way to kill them.
Their constant destructive labor
Is for that reason, incalculable.
Insensitive, distant, stubborn, cold,
With their insolence and silence
They do not realize what they undo.

YOWZA. We spent some time trying to figure out the last two lines, and we talked a lot about the truth of it, and the perfect use of humor for such a grave (pun intended) subject. As usual, the poem reminded one member of other poems which he recited and they were perfect fits for the points we were discussing.

And then he said this: “I realized I don’t know what it means to read.” At first we laughed, but lightly because while he is very funny and charming, he’s also very smart and it’s safest to assume he’s going to have a great point. So he talked about reading a difficult poem and he couldn’t understand it the first time he read it. Had he read it? Could he say he’d read the poem? Is reading more than having your eyes pass over the letters and realizing that you know the meanings of [most of] the words? Is understanding required to say you’ve read something — but what level of ‘understanding’ is required? Because as he reminded us, T.S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it’s understood.”

Here’s the poem he brought that made him wonder about the meaning of ‘reading.’

At Melville’s Tomb (Hart Crane)

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.

And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.

Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.  (several of us gasped aloud)

Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides … High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.

So the one who writes the jaw-dropping poetry knows a lot about Hart Crane and tells us about his life, his family, his death. “What is ‘monody,’?” I ask — and the man who brought the poem knew, because he had looked it up. (It means a song of lamentation for someone’s death.)

THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. These members of my poetry group, all of whom know 1,500 things to every one I happen to know, these people are my people. And they love coming, too; one member had a terribly inflamed nerve (sciatica maybe?) and could barely walk, but he limped in and said he couldn’t possibly miss it.

I say all this because if you enjoy poetry (or whatever), and wish you had a community, you can make one. You don’t have to be an expert! I started this group on Meetup because I hoped to find 6 or 7 people in Austin who just enjoyed poetry as I do, so we could meet and talk about it. I’m out of the Meetup system now, and we just have this beautiful little group of people who relish the chance every month to sit in uncomfortable chairs for two solid hours and read and talk about poetry. It was hard at first, and if I’m honest it’s still hard every month when I’m waiting for them to arrive; I always think this time I won’t pull it off, my ignorance will be too big a burden, the group won’t cohere….but it always does work, every single time. I’m so very grateful for these lovely, warm, generous people. I’m the luckiest person I know.

here’s what it takes

First, a disclaimer. I am so very easily discouraged. I have stick-to-it-iveness until the going gets tough, and then I get going. Away. Well, that’s obviously not always true, but I do have much smaller areas where I’ll stick with it compared to a great number of areas where I’ll cut and run at the first sign of trouble. It’s less about types of activities than it is about how a particular failure makes me feel. I’ll bet the same is true of you. If you hand me a necklace that’s tangled up in horrible knots, buddy I will sit there patiently working with it until it’s ready to wear. It’s the same with tangled thread — I’m as patient as Job. But if I start out kind of frustrated, feeling like a loser in some way, my threshold changes dramatically, and the first rattle out of the box I just give up.

I’m also bad about feeling forgotten or rejected by people. My too-quick assumption is that I don’t matter, or something better came along, and I’ll leave. (Psychologists call this “rejection sensitivity” — we are nothing if not obvious.) There, it’s less about being patient and much more about assuming the worst.

So when you find yourself in a whole new place, having to start over in every possible way, that old dog ain’t gonna hunt, as we say here. You cannot be impatient and give up right away, you just can’t. You’ll end up sitting at home all by yourself and then you’ll stop dressing, and you’ll be eating your dinner out of cans in front of the TV, night after night after night. This is so hard, sticking with it. It calls on strengths I do not have, at a time my resources are perilously thin already. I went to a book club — and nope. That was not the book club for me, for any number of reasons. I want to just throw up my hands and hide, and assume I’ll never have another book club. [but I must get out and keep trying.]  I went to a strength training class yesterday at the Y and it was terrible, in every way. The trainer wasn’t a trainer (she was a yoga teacher, with pages printed out that she was consulting to learn how to show us the routine she seemed to be learning, too!), the other women were just chattering about how many calories they’d burned so they could eat their Pop-Tarts on the way home. Nope, that class wasn’t for me. I want to just put away my workout clothes and assume I’ll never find a good class, and put on my yoga pants and pour another glass of wine. [but I must get out and keep trying.]

Last night was my poetry group, and I felt both thrilled and terrified about it, in equal measure. My group in New York City was just so wonderful, founded and run by Temma, who is herself a beautiful poet and who knows the mechanics of poetry so she had so much to contribute. Me, what do I know, not much except for what I like. I can’t always say why I like it (not in formal terms, definitely), though I can say what moves me, what I’m responding to. So would I, could I get a group going, when I don’t know much about poetry? And would it, could it be anywhere near as good? I’m so ashamed to say that some of NYC’s snooty parochialism rubbed off on me (boy I hate to know that) because I’d think I’ll never find people in Austin who like good poetry, not in AustinWhat a maroon I was. We’re in the midst of a two-day drenching rain storm, inches of accumulation, and it seemed to keep people away, but two beautiful people came, and I could not be happier! A young woman from London who is here for a year and due to go back home in April but she may not (I hope she doesn’t I hope she doesn’t I hope she doesn’t…..), such a delight and so thoughtful about poetry — she brought “her” poem, an Edna St Vincent Millay called My Heart Being Hungry, which now and always will be Laura’s poem, to me. Anyone who responds to poetry like she does is clearly in my tribe. And a man who writes the most amazing poems, echoes of Yeats and Eliot and Auden and Cormac McCarthy, all together, in the most powerful and visceral work I’ve read in so long. I’m a huge fan of his work; he’s got at least 50 pieces he’s pulling together in a manuscript and I cannot wait to say I knew him when. I can’t believe my luck, that he came to the meeting. Both of them. I’ve been grinning like an idiot ever since they left. Wow. Poetry group was as right as the other things were wrong. Righter, even.

Patience is just such a hard-won attribute, and if you are an impatient person, as I tend to be, you only build it by having to tolerate the feeling of impatience pushing against you, hard hard hard hard hard. You have to be patient with yourself while you develop patience — I’m looking around for whoever set up this crazy system, because that makes no sense!! Bad design.

One of these days, my life will be full of all the things I’m trying to find now, and the finding of them will be a distant memory, if I even remember this at all. One of these days, I’ll have a great book club and friends of all kinds, and people who are smart in all different kinds of ways, to complement me and to stretch me as I hope I do with them. I hope poetry group was the start of great things.

good thing of the day: poetry! Honestly, is there anything better than a poem that catches you by the throat and shows you who you are?  Here’s the poetry I’ve collected or mentioned so far in this new blog. If you think you don’t get poetry, you just haven’t read the right pieces yet. And the co-good thing of the day: other people who love poetry.