Not the Big Pile

I’m sure your To Be Read pile (TBR) is tall/long/extensive, like mine. There are 387 books on my kindle, stacks of books by my bed and various chairs and tables, collections of lists in every possible place, and a separate to-read list on GoodReads. I need to get better about taking care of myself if I’m going to live long enough to make any headway. In my various book clubs, I’ve always been surprised when someone had no idea what book to suggest when it was their month…..for me, the question is which one of all the ones I’m waiting to read. Assuming our so-called president doesn’t get us nuclearly annihilated, of course.

But in addition to the full TBR pile, there’s also the Currently Reading list, which is far shorter. One good thing about GoodReads is that it keeps the list for you, if you log a book when you start reading it. Right now that list shows seven books I’m currently reading, even though a good five of those are kind of in a permanent suspension (Nox, Jitterbug Perfume, U and I, The Art of Memoir, and Glass, Irony and God. Oh, also Minds of WinterI want to finish all those, I mean to, they’re just kind of….on pause). It’s funny how that happens — I really DO want to finish all those books! For each one, something happened to pause the book and then I just never got back to it.

But there’s a hot short list bubbling around at any given moment, the “which one, which one, which one to dive into right now” list. Mine includes:

  • The Idiot, by Elif Batuman. This one’s getting so much attention, and it’s supposed to be so funny and wonderful and beautiful. She’s a staff writer for The New Yorker, and I think I’d like to read something light and funny. And beautiful.
  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. For personal reasons having to do with my upcoming life change, this was recommended to me. And to be honest, while I really love Solnit’s activism and scholarship, I find her writing hard-going. Not clenched, exactly, but certainly not light and dive-in-able.
  • The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt. I started reading this one and it’s fascinating, and on the edge of catching fire. It’s about the rediscovery of a nearly lost manuscript 600 years ago (On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius) and the way that manuscript sparked the Enlightenment, and changed the whole world. It’s well written, and interesting, and maybe it’s time for a bit of non-fiction?
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. Saunders is, of course, one of our great humans. His compassion shines through everything he does, and heaven knows the world (and I) need him desperately. I started trying to read it and this one’s kind of hard to get into; but I know and trust him as a writer, so I want to push through the resistance.

All four of those are pushing on me real hard in their own ways. Have you read any of them? Any words, if you have?

It’s Tuesday, so poetry group meets in my house tonight, looking forward to that so much. I’m going to bring a couple of poems by Sharon Olds — not this one, but this is a gorgeous Sharon Olds poem:

Rite of Passage 

As the guests arrive at our son’s party
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

Olds has long been a favorite poet of mine, and she was recently included on a list of five female poets who are doing good work in the resistance.

The world feels extremely scary right now. Every day, scarier than the day before. I gaze at this beautiful child and hold my breath.


Just an assortment of things, almost all beautiful:

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

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

two things: daffies and a poem and gotta dash….

FEED: I have a specific thing for daffodils, and especially here in the late-mid-early-mid-winter. I usually think of them hard at the very beginning of March, but at the moment I am needing them desperately so I feed myself on this photograph.

Daffodils so reliably make me happy, with their wholly improbable shape. It’s silly, maybe, but every single time I see one I just feel such wonder that they make that wonderful shape. That trumpet, with the frills. I like the full-on yellow ones more than I like the yellow and white ones, but daffies do it for me no matter what.

SEED: It’s a long day for me, up and out early for a flight back to Austin, connecting through Houston so the flight will take me longer than it ordinarily would. And then a dash home to get ready for poetry group in my house, a (mostly) monthly event that I dearly love. Every month we each bring copies of two poems (whether you write them or just select them) and this is one I’m bringing tonight. I shared it on facebook several days ago and it has stuck with me:

If You Could (Danny Bryck)

I know, I know
If you could go back you
would walk with Jesus
You would march with King
Maybe assassinate Hitler
At least hide Jews in your basement
It would all be clear to you
But people then, just like you
were baffled, had bills
to pay and children they didn’t
understand and they too
were so desperate for normalcy
they made anything normal
Even turning everything inside out
Even killing, and killing, and it’s easy
for turning the other cheek
to be looking the other way, for walking
to be talking, and they hid
in their houses
and watched it on television, when they had television,
and wrung their hands
or didn’t, and your hands
are just like theirs. Lined, permeable,
small, and you
would follow Caesar, and quote McCarthy, and Hoover, and you would want
to make Germany great again
Because you are afraid, and your
parents are sick, and your
job pays shit and where’s your
dignity? Just a little dignity and those kids sitting down in the highway,
and chaining themselves to
buildings, what’s their fucking problem? And that kid
That’s King. And this is Selma. And Berlin. And Jerusalem. And now
is when they need you to be brave.
is when we need you to go back
and forget everything you know
and give up the things you’re chained to
and make it look so easy in your
grandkids’ history books (they should still have them, kinehora)
is when it will all be clear to them.

READ: Nothing to note here — mainly because I’m out of time on this dashing day. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, though!

three things: 2/2/17

Anne Carson in her inscrutable brilliance; click the image to read an article in the NYT

FEED: Tonight I’m lucky enough to be going to hear Anne Carson, who is currently the Distinguished Poet-in-Residence in the NYU Creative Writing Program. What she does with language is almost impossible to describe; I’d like to share some of my favorite lines from my favorite of her book-length works, The Autobiography of Red, but (a) they are too strange completely out of context and you wouldn’t be able to see their proper strangeness, and (b) I’m in NYC and my book is in Austin and I only read poetry in real book form. First, Book of Isaiah:

Book of Isaiah, Part I (Anne Carson)


Isaiah awoke angry.
Lapping at Isaiah’s ears black birdsong no it was anger.
God had filled Isaiah’s ears with stingers.
Once God and Isaiah were friends.
God and Isaiah used to converse nightly, Isaiah would rush into the garden.
They conversed under the Branch, night streamed down.
From the sole of the foot to the head God would make Isaiah ring.
Isaiah had loved God and now his love was turned to pain.
Isaiah wanted a name for the pain, he called it sin.
Now Isaiah was a man who believed he was a nation.
Isaiah called the nation Judah and the sin Judah’s condition.
Inside Isaiah God saw the worldsheet burning.
Isaiah and God saw things differently, I can only tell you their actions.
Isaiah addressed the nation.
Man’s brittleness! cried Isaiah.
The nation stirred in its husk and slept again.
Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings.
Like a hard glossy painting the nation slept.
Who can invent a new fear?
Yet I have invented sin, thought Isaiah, running his hand over the knobs.
And then, because of a great attraction between them—
which Isaiah fought (for and against) for the rest of his life—
God shattered Isaiah’s indifference.
God washed Isaiah’s hair in fire.
God took the stay.
From beneath its meat wings the nation listened.
You, said Isaiah.
No answer.
I cannot hear you, Isaiah spoke again under the Branch.
Light bleached open the night camera.
God arrived.
God smashed Isaiah like glass through every socket of his nation.
Liar! said God.
Isaiah put his hands on his coat, he put his hand on his face.
Isaiah is a small man, said Isaiah, but no liar.
God paused.
And so that was their contract.
Brittle on both sides, no lying.
Isaiah’s wife came to the doorway, the doorposts had moved.
What’s that sound? said Isaiah’s wife.
The fear of the Lord, said Isaiah.
He grinned in the dark, she went back inside.

And to entice you to read Autobiography of Red, a few snips:

“Depression is one of the unknown modes of being.
There are no words for a world without a self, seen with impersonal clarity.
All language can register is the slow return
to oblivion we call health when imagination automatically recolors the landscape
and habit blurs perception and language
takes up its routine flourishes.”

“… that blurred state between awake and asleep when too many intake valves are open in the soul. Like the terrestrial crust of the earth which is proportionately 10 times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul is a miracle of mutual pressures. Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from earth’s core on the inside to meet the cold air of the world and stop as we do, just in time.”

What she does with language can be astonishing. Here’s my short GoodReads review of Autobiography of Red — short, because I couldn’t properly put words to her words. Her startling use of language definitely feeds me.

SEED: This is a broad topic I think about a lot, the way very good things can come out of very bad things. I’ve thought about it my whole life, in terms of my near-fatal childhood; I value who I am, and who I am is a direct result of what I endured, so where does that leave me with an evaluation of my childhood? To play the silly game, if I could go back and time and give myself a different childhood, would I?

grateful I got to be at the JFK protest on the day the ban was announced. So grateful. More than 10K people showed up spontaneously.

I think we’re in the same boat as a country now. I see good things emerging in this horrific political maelstrom. People are fighting, protesting, getting off their comfortable couches. More women are mobilizing for office than ever before. Etc etc etc. It isn’t that things were perfect while Obama was in office, and it isn’t that I agreed with all his decisions (I really didn’t, some more horribly than others like his bail-outs for the banks and his use of drones and his failure to close Guantanamo as he’d promised), but I was complacent. We all were complacent. And that complacency led us here, to the nightmare and also to the resistance, and the long-lasting consequences of the resistance — assuming our country and world survive, which is not at all guaranteed — will be good. Eventually. I’m thinking a lot about this as I look around. Are you?

READ: Read poetry. Last night I read a bit of Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), and he was talking about writing as a way to hone your thinking — and especially poetry. Here’s a relevant passage:

I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago–the craft of writing as the art of thinking. Poetry aims for an economy of truth–loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions–beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.

Read good poetry. I am not at all trained in poetry, but I think I have good taste somehow, because the poetry I love always turns out to be “good” poetry, so if you want to read poetry but don’t know where to start, get in touch and I’ll make some suggestions.

three things:1/19/17

FEED: This color linoleum cut print arrested my scrolling and drew me in. My friend Sherlock used to say that he doesn’t ‘get’ art, one of many longstanding jokes we shared, but I think it’s just this, at its most basic: stop at what stops you. Look deeply. Look at the work of it, if that’s what interests you. Look at the chips, the strokes, the texture, the color. What is it that stops you and causes you to look?

Elizabeth Catlett (also known as Elizabeth Catlett Mora) (American-born Mexican, 1915-2012): Sharecropper, 1952. Printed 1970. Color linoleum cut print on cream Japanese paper.

I’ve always loved block prints, wood or linoleum, and this one feels so full of tension, with all the tiny, tiny lines. The expression on the sharecropper’s face is where my gaze begins and stays; I can’t find a name for her expression, can you? What is that? And as always, I am in awe of the artist who can present me with such complexity and beauty. I also love the color palette in this piece, and gosh I just keep seeing things — the way the artist created the pulled folds in her garment where the safety pin tugs the cloth, amid the tiny lines of the cloth itself. Her white hair. The very tight focus, where she is all there is to see in this image.

We’ve been in a days-long period of solid gray skies, the flat white kind that looks like the base coat of a painting before the painting is begun, and we’ve had endless fog and rain. When I sat down to create this post, I felt like my spirits needed bright color, strong imagery, something vivid to counteract the gloom outside and to come, but it was this piece that stopped me.

SEED: My beloved poetry group met at my house Tuesday night, and I have to say: being with poets is great balm for the storm we’re already in, and the bigger storm to come. Poets are thoughtful, reflective, metaphoric-minded, word-gifted people who I would guess are mostly liberal and beyond, on to the far left. Because poets know that words don’t just capture, words don’t just reflect, they have power, power to resist and power to change. Last night was the beginning of our fifth year together; we first met in January of 2013, a fact that amazes me. We’re comfortable together, we know each other from these monthly gatherings.

I definitely have other friends who see what I see, and who see it the way I see it (such a comfort), and yet the poets’ vision is more of everything. More frightened. More complex. More broad-based. We’re all close to my age, I think, though one is substantially younger and one (I think!) older, so we have similar frames of reference for past political struggles — all of which have come at the hands of Republicans, I hasten to add.

So last night we did what we do: one of us would read a poem aloud while the rest followed along on the copies we distribute, and then we’d talk about it. A few of us brought protest poems — Audre Lorde (me), Rita Dove and William Stafford (Hadiya) — and as always, a few brought poems they’d written (Ed, Marilyn, and Nick, this time), and a few brought poems to relish. But unlike our usual meeting, we had breaks between poems to talk about the storm of politics. Our despair would grow and we’d have to take a breath and read a poem, to feel better.

I won’t be surprised if all our future meetings have the same structure; this might be the new form, and for me it will be life-sustaining. When they left last night, I felt fed and comforted, and grateful there be poets.

Before he read last Sunday, he pinned the US distress flag on the wall behind him, and there it stayed.

So I say again: it doesn’t matter if you don’t write poetry. I don’t! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the first thing about poetry. I don’t! I can’t identify feet and schemes, I don’t know types, zip. It doesn’t matter if you’re not hooked into the poetry community in your town already. The poets are active, wherever you live, and you can find a public reading and just show up. Just show up, sit on a folding chair at the back, in the corner, by the door, and be ready to split at a moment’s notice. The poets are angry, but they’re also giving hope — maybe just because they’re there. I just Googled “Austin poetry readings” and WHAM. A plenty. A gracious plenty. There is even a poetry club in tiny little Graham, TX. There are poets in your town, and I’d bet a lot of money that if you put yourself among them — even silently — you’ll come away with something wonderful. And no one will ask you to recite, no one will ask you to speak, no one will ask you to identify iambic pentameter. No one.

READ: Poetry. Read poetry. Poetry can be so funny, so skewed (and yet there’s always something really important inside it) — it certainly isn’t all dense and dark and hard to parse. Here is one that George shared last night, and it’s a perfect example of funny but with something really important to say. It’s titled “Humanity 101,” by Denise Duhamel, and it was selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry, 2016.

I was on my way to becoming a philanthropist,
or the president, or at least someone who gave a shit,
but I was a nontraditional student
with a lot of catching up to do. I enrolled in Humanity 101
(not to be confused with the Humanities,
a whole separate department). When I flunked
the final exam, my professor suggested
I take Remedial Humanity where I’d learn the basics
that I’d missed so far. I may have been a nontraditional student,
but I was a traditional person, she said, the way a professor
can say intimate things sometimes, as though
your face and soul are aglow in one of those
magnified (10x) makeup mirrors.

So I took Remedial Humanity, which sounds like an easy A,
but, believe me, it was actually quite challenging.
There were analogy questions, such as:
Paris Hilton is to a rich U.S. suburban kid
as a U.S. middle-class kid is to:
1.) a U.S. poverty-stricken kid,
2.) a U.S. kid with nothing in the fridge,
3.) a Third World kid with no fridge at all.
We were required to write essays about the cause of war—
Was it a phenomenon? Was it our lower animal selves?
Was it economics? Was it psychological/sexual/religious
(good vs. evil and all that stuff)? For homework
we had to bend down to talk to a homeless person
slouched against a building. We didn’t necessarily have to
give them money or food, but we had to say something like
How are you? or What is your favorite color? 

We took field trips to nursing homes, prisons,
day-care centers. We stood near bedsides
or sat on the floor to color with strange little people
who cried and were afraid of us at first.
I almost dropped out. I went to see the professor
during his office hours because I wanted to change my major.
He asked, “Is that because your heart is being smashed?”
He thought I should stick it out, that I could make it,
if I just escaped for an hour a day blasting music
into my earbuds or slumping in front of the TV.
I said, “But that’s just it. Now I see humanity everywhere,
even on sitcoms, even in pop songs,
even in beer commercials.” He closed his door
and showed me the scars under his shirt
where he had been stabbed. He said I had to assume
everyone had such a wound, whether I could see it or not.

He assured me that it really did get easier in time,
and that it was hard to make music when you were still
learning how to play the scales. He made me see
my potential. He convinced me of my own humanity,
that one day I might even be able to get a PhD. But first
I had to, for extra credit, write a treatise on detachment.

And to lure you in with another poem that will delight you while delivering a point, here is Dean Young’s “Crash Test Dummies of an Imperfect God:”

Because we are so stupid,
the prizes in Cracker Jacks are now paper
so they can be swallowed, ladders
spackled with warnings. No getting
within a hundred feet of Stonehenge because
everyone wants to hack off a souvenir
and the way home is clogged to one lane
so whoever wants to can stare into a pothole
until coming up with a grievance. I’d vote
the greatest accomplishment of mankind
is the pickle spear. God created paradise
to tell us Get out! which is why we probably
created God who doesn’t much like being created
by ilk like us. No wonder it’s pediatrics
every morning and toxicology by happy hour.
Is it all in the mind, the dirty, dirty mind?
Maybe God tried to turn you into a garbage can
so you could be lifted by the truck’s hydraulic
arms and banged empty. Maybe a snow cone
so you could be sticky-sweet and dropped.
Maybe a genital-faced bivalve to be dashed
with Tabasco and eaten whole or, to his glory,
produce a pearl.

I never share the original poetry written by people in our group, because it’s not mine to share, nor is it published for all to read, but how I wish I could. Last night there were five original poems, and I just listened and followed along in awe, and felt my self expanded out beyond my bones, pushed past my skin, in wonder. “Gone to wonder in the mind,” as Ed wrote in a gorgeous poem, the line cobbled from Chaucer.

three things: 1/15/17

FEED: Here’s a glorious poem that you have to see on the page.


To make layers,
As if they were a steadiness of days:

It snowed; I did errands at a desk;
A white flurry out the window thickening; my tongue
Tasted of the glue on envelopes.

On this day sunlight on red brick, bare trees,
Nothing stirring in the icy air.

On this day a blur of color moving at the gym
Where the heat from bodies
Meets the watery, cold surface of the glass.

Made love, made curry, talked on the phone
To friends, the one whose brother died
Was crying and thinking alternately,
Like someone falling down and getting up
And running and falling and getting up.

The object of this poem is not to annihila

To not annih

The object of this poem is to report a theft,
In progress, of everything
That is not these words
And their disposition on the page.

The object o f this poem is to report a theft,
In progre ss of everything that exists
That is not th ese words
And their d isposition on the page.

The object of his poe is t repor a theft
In rogres f ever hing at xists
Th is no ese w rds
And their disp sit on o the pag

To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.

“Action painting,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.

The typo would be “paining.”

(To abrade.)

Or to render time and stand outside
The horizontal rush of it, for a moment
To have the sensation of standing outside
The greenish rush of it.

Some vertical gesture then, the way that anger
Or desire can rip a life apart,

Some wound of color.

© 2007, Robert Hass
From: Time and Materials. Poems 1997-2005
Publisher: Ecco (HarperCollins Publishers), New York, 2007

SEED:  OOF, you know how you can just be doing something random, like looking through a box for the pretty cards you stored away, and then you happen across something you had completely forgotten about, and that punches you right in the heart? That happened to me. In a box in my storage room, I saw a plastic sleeve with old IDs and credit cards, no idea how long ago I tucked it away in that box — must’ve been when I moved in, November 2012. I went through them and came across this tiny snippet of now-brown newsprint:

It’s blurry because it is blurry, the print is fading. “Lori G,” I had that last name so long ago, and this small personal ad was in the newspaper for me in ~1990. Almost 30 years ago. I didn’t remember that I had it, and I didn’t even remember it had happened until I saw it.

When she was a tiny little girl, my sister hated milk. Hated it. She only wanted water (“that’s the Stone in her” everyone said). But she couldn’t say milk, she’d just say, “No muck Big Daddy, no muck.” So he called her Muck. I was Pete, she was Muck, we were a nicknaming family. (Big Daddy especially.) My sister and I cannot have a relationship longer than a week, and it pops up once every 8-10 years, and I don’t blame her or myself. When you come out of the family we did, well, there is too much I understand about that. I don’t blame her or my brother for our inability to know each other, but the deep truth is that I dearly loved her when we were little, and it’s so easy for me to touch that feeling I cry.

She knew that I had this silly little habit of reading the personal column in the weekend newspaper just in case there was an ad for me. (My dad did the same thing, and I didn’t know that until I met him again right before his death. So did his sister, didn’t know that, either.) I don’t know if my sister and I were having a relationship at the time she posted the ad,  I can’t remember too clearly. I suspect this was placed around the time of my first major clinical depression, the one that culminated in a terrifying suicide attempt, because around that time she wrote me a letter saying, “We keep going because we never know when we’re going to round a corner and there is someone holding a bouquet of flowers just for us.” So it makes sense that she would’ve done this, too, a very personal and specific reaching-out to me, her big sister, a bouquet of flowers just for me.

So much in that tiny square of delicate old newsprint. Twenty-five words.

READ: A Texas writer named Sarah Bird was supposed to receive an award from the Texas State Legislature, which delighted her — until she learned that she was not going to be allowed to speak. This led her to decline the award because she didn’t want it to appear that she supported them without question. So instead, she published the speech she would’ve given (here’s the article about it in the Texas Tribune):

Whenever I meet a woman of my age, old enough to remember those glorious carefree days back when America was great and we were pooping our panties as we trembled in fear of nuclear annihilation beneath our desks; or skipping merrily behind the truck spraying clouds of utterly safe DDT; or staring at the photo of a black girl nearly our own age who required the National Guard and more guts than you can hang on a fence to go to school; or, living in terror of becoming one of the thousands of women who died of an unsafe, illegal abortion, we shake our heads and wonder, “How the hell did we get back here?”

The short answer to how is “states’ rights.” Yes, that nightrider who’s kept the Civil War raging for more than 150 years is the very creature enabling all the OB/GYNs in the Legislature to get all up in our lady business via the gnat swarm of bullshit laws they keep trying to inflict upon us. What? No, OB/GYNs in the Lege? But they authored a booklet, “A Woman’s Right to Know,” that doctors are forced to give patients seeking an abortion that warns those women they will suffer a higher incidence of breast cancer — a fact unknown to countless medical groups, including the National Cancer Institute, which has debunked this claim. State Reps. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Mary González, D-Clint, introduced legislation to fix the inaccuracies, but it didn’t pass.

The hypocrisy is wearying. And it would be laughable if the bodies of Texas women were not at stake.

So, that’s the “how,” what about the “why?” Because it gets votes and the dipshits get to accomplish that which their entire being is centered around: Keeping their jobs. And why is using the bodies of Texas women as a sort of tenure track to job security such a sure-fire vote-getting strategy?

Let us turn to the individual selected by the antiquated, dangerously unrepresentative Electoral College to be our next president for that answer. No more perfect articulation as to why our representatives are so relentlessly eager to shove their transvaginal ultrasound wands into the bodies of as many Texas women as their bullshit laws allow can be found than that offered in this individual’s colloquy with Billy Bush, blessedly, blessedly, preserved for the ages on videotape. There, in the NBC Studios parking lot, he identified the ultimate prize that awaited the man who achieved his level of celebrity: the power to grab women by their genitalia.

Here in a nutshell is the cornerstone of every fundamentalist perversion of religion from the Taliban to the Yearning for Zion FLDS compound: Control the P____. Our next president can say it, but I won’t. This atavistic impulse is at the heart of every transparently cynical political ploy from the state’s egregious fetal remains burial proposal to mandatory parental consent for minors to defunding Planned Parenthood to the rules that forced most clinics in the Rio Grande Valley to shut down.

Her speech is remarkable, and I wish she had been able to deliver it to the people who deserve to hear it (but who would’ve slammed her mercilessly and tried to shut her down). Instead, she will join all of us marching on January 21st. I’ll be wearing my pussy hat. Every single time the shout is “MY BODY MY RIGHTS / HER BODY HER RIGHTS”I cry and the rage that fills me turns my shout hard and louder and filled with the fury of a human being who does not understand how we can still be fighting this fight.

three things: 1/11/17

1)  I think a lot about the truthiness of things, and of course I have my historical, personal reasons for it. I read this passage in Fall on Your Knees, a powerful book by Anne-Marie MacDonald, and it has stayed with me:

“It’s a sin for Lily to let Mercedes think it was Daddy who beat up Frances. But he has done it in the past. Surely truth can be borrowed across time without perishing. Shelf life, so to speak.”

“Surely truth can be borrowed across time….” That. And the shelf life of truth, that too. Freud talked about ‘screen memories,’ one that may in itself be false but that masks a deeper, true memory of great emotional significance. And in Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch said,

“The more a person recalls a memory, the more they change it. Each time they put it into language, it shifts. The more you describe a memory, the more likely it is that you are making a story that fits your life, resolves the past, creates a fiction you can live with. It’s what writers do. Once you open your mouth, you are moving away from the truth of things. According to neuroscience, the safest memories are locked in the brains of people who can’t remember. Their memories remain the closest replica of actual events. Underwater. Forever.”

And so, as I continue this extremely difficult process of writing my two memoirs, and as I myself am not always absolutely certain about the truth of my memories in certain aspects, the truth of my own experiences even when my body knows the fact of them, the question of the unreliable narrator haunts me. I’m unreliable in so very many ways — including the mere fact of having told my stories a number of times — and yet I insist on the deep truth of all my memories, of all my experiences. Did this experience happen like this in the moment I am writing about, in this specific scene? Can I borrow truth across time without losing its truth? I insist that I can. Owning, telling, remembering, writing the truth of your life is not the same as being on a witness stand accusing another person of a specific crime, for which they can be judged and punished.

Right? I think so. (And if you are strong, read Chronology of Waterhere’s my GoodReads review, it was such a powerful story. The link also includes the material I highlighted, passages I loved for one reason or another.)

And in a funny twist, this quote was in my quote widget (in the right sidebar) when I was writing:

“A common feature of many theories of trauma is the idea that the causative—the wounding—event is not remembered but relived, as it is in the flashbacks of combat veterans, experienced anew with a visceral immediacy that affords no critical distance. To remember something, you have to consign it to the past—put it behind you—but trauma remains in the present; it fills that present entirely. You are inside it. Your mouth is always filled with the taste of blood. The killers are always crashing through the brush behind you. Some researchers believe that trauma bypasses the normal mechanisms of memory and engraves itself directly on some portion of the brain, like a brand. Cattle are branded to signify that they are someone’s property, and so, too, were slaves. The brand of trauma signifies that henceforth you yourself are property, the property of that which has injured you. The psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi believed that trauma is characterized by the victim’s helpless identification with the perpetrator, and elsewhere in the literature one often comes across the word “possession.” The moment of trauma marks an event horizon after which memory ceases. Or else memory breaks down, so that the victim can reconstruct the event but not the feeling that accompanied it, or alternatively only the feeling.” —Peter Trachtenberg

2)  Here’s a poem I really love, and hope you like it, too:

REALISM (Beth Bachmann)

God said, your name is mud
and the thing about mud is you
got to throw it down
to remove the air
and sometimes cut it
and rejoin it with another part.
If stars are made of dust,
it’s not the same stuff,
God said;
you can’t make a hut out of it,
only heaven,
and when I said dust to dust,
that’s not what I meant.

3) I read a collection of short stories by a new (to me!) writer named Carl MacDougall — Someone Always Robs the Poor. He’s a very well-established Scottish writer, and the stories are set almost entirely in Scotland and most are about alcohol in some way, and frequently violence.

The stories often left me stunned, like the powerful story “Korsakoff’s Psychosis” that took me right into the experience of a late-stage alcoholic, with all the horrors of that life. It was hard to read that story, and hard to look away even though I wanted to, because the prose slipped me right into the terrible, tragic remnants of mind. The story “William John MacDonald” broke the narrative form to tell a terrible sad story (one of many stories related to drunk men) of a young man’s tragic encounter with violence and drinking. On occasion I had to read a page a few times — in part because of cultural references that weren’t familiar to me, and in part because of the style of storytelling. I was always glad to read and re-read.

On the whole, the stories were sad and tragic, although they were never told with melodrama. Instead, they were quiet and deeply emotional, and I sometimes paused when one ended, and held it for a long while before I slipped into the next. What a powerful collection of stories that will haunt me. I read and ARC, and the book won’t be published until February 23, but I heartily recommend it. It’s a quick read; I read the bulk of it on the flight from New York to Austin, about 3.5 hours.

four things: 1/4/17

1)   When you are trained to do research, you learn to “operationalize the variables.” What exactly do you mean by a term, in measurable detail? What score, what specific behaviors, what specific frequency, etc.? Maybe “depression” means “at least 6 items on this 10-item list within the last two weeks” or “a score of 70+ on the Depression Scale.” It’s the bringing-down-to-earth of lofty questions to answerable definitions, and it usually drives the interesting right out. You start off wanting to study big things, like why some people survive, and by the time the variables are operationalized, you’ve got 18-year-old college freshmen sitting in lab rooms stacking pennies against a timer, or something. Still, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I saw this and after my initial positive impulse I realized I could operationalize these variables! Here we go!

Stop doing shit I hate: a quick and simple ‘no thanks’ works! I’ve been getting better at this, especially since I learned that it’s best not to give a reason (which just invites a counter-expectation and then a trapped feeling). No, I can’t, thanks for the invitation I hope you have fun! My friend Deb says, “Apologies, that’s not going to work for me” and just keeps going. It really disrupts the excuse paradigm, and people just say OK. Since my time in Austin is so limited, I can (with flexibility) choose how many things I have time to do during an Austin time, and then only say yes to that number. It’ll mean saying no more often, but that would be good for me because I end up feeling overwhelmed by trying to squeeze everything in, leaving me little time just to myself — which is important, because the whole time I’m in NY I don’t have a moment of silence for myself.

Love my body more: Four words: daily moisturizing, morning/night. I’d like to add ‘shutting down talking smack about myself’ but (a) I’m already getting better at that and (b) I want to operationalize this, make it simple and schedule-able. Who knows, once I get used to this one and it’s habit, I might add in all kinds of operationalized ways to love my body more. And then I might end up really loving it. 🙂

Love louder: I did this great 40-day project a few years ago that included a morning email, one each morning, to a different person telling them what they meant to me. That’s a way to love louder, tell people why you love them, what they mean to you. It shocks the hell out of them when they get it. Someone turned around and wrote one back to me and it shocked the hell out of me! I sat down and made my list, first, and then the email just took me a few minutes each morning. And the best thing was that it also started my own day off so wonderfully — a two-fer. That’s one way I can love louder, and it can go right into my calendar. “Love louder, check!”

Anyway, that’s the general idea. Specifics, measurable, broken down to a checklist-type action. You might also see this kind of thing and think yeah, I want that but then you get up the next day and it’s another old day. Operationalize! Bring it down to specific actions.

2) On being a Scheduler-Deluxe. Well, shoot. So I have these Excel Spreadsheet TendenciesTM that start off with the best, most orderly intentions of Fitting More Into My Day/Life. (Also TM.) I want to see all my people, read more books, do daily activism (fight the power! down with the man! fuck trump!!), love louder, exercise, write my book every day, etc etc etc. My first impulse is to create a spreadsheet….no wait, one for each day of the week! An Excel book of seven spreadsheets, each tab a unique color! And as long as I’m doing that, set it up like a calendar, in hour-slots….no wait, half-hour….15 minute slots! And then I can just put these things in so it all gets done! (And as long as I’m doing that, I can add in food/weight/exercise/stats and then connect them to charts and graphs on a separate sheet, and I can analyze….) When I was 18, I worked for a consulting firm that required us to log our time in 6-minute slots, and we all complained bitterly — “8:06-8:12 went to the damn bathroom.” Maybe that’s the origin of my tendencies, but the bad thing is that they start with good intentions and it’s just too much, too tight, and so of course I bail pretty quickly.


I’m not going to do this. This is ridiculous. When I was in college, I was a research assistant to this beautiful woman from India, Preeti, who wrote by hand on a legal pad everything she needed to do, task-focused, crossing them off when she finished. The next day, she drew a strong line and then recopied the undone ones and added new ones. It was a lot of recopying — very inefficient, unlike a good spreadsheet! — but maybe something about handwriting a thing over and over makes you finally get sick enough of it to do the damn thing. Maybe I’ll try something like that. Given the full-on failure of my memory at this stage of my life, I have to write down what I want to do, or I won’t remember I want to do it. I aspire to bullet journaling but it feels overwhelming to learn how. I can just sketch out a week by hand in my beautiful moleskine and then simply list the week’s to-dos in a more normal way. Just be more normal, Queen, sheesh. My planning impulse (born of and reinforced by my years in college and graduate school while raising three kids) is so automatic, my mind is spinning with ways to approach this. Sunday evenings, plan my week so it’s humane and I get done the things I want to get done, on purpose. Do you have a way that works for you? I’m running out of time to just drift through my days.

3) This morning I’m going to the quiet morning at MoMA and I intend to be slow, still, quiet, fully present. Which means that, at a bare minimum, I’m going to silence my phone and leave it in my purse. It might mean that I even leave it at home, although after days of rainy, gloomy, truly miserable weather, it’s supposed to be a bit more blue-skied, and so I might wander home through Central Park afterwards, and want to take some photos. Anyway. Slow, quiet, art, meditation, silence, MoMA, a sure-fire cure for the blues, at least in those precious 15-minute segments. 🙂 When I lived here full-time, I always had a membership to MoMA and I sometimes walked there on my lunch break when I worked at Oxford University Press, always giddy that I COULD WALK THERE ON MY LUNCH BREAK. I’m so grateful to get to be in NYC on such a regular basis, grateful to Marc for making it happen in all the ways he does.

4) I love Lucille Clifton:

each morninig i pull myself
out of despair

from a night of coals and a tongue
blistered with smiling

the step past the mother bed
is a high step

the walk through the widow’s door
is a long walk

and who are those voices calling
from every mirrored thing

say it coward say it

three things: 1/3/17

1)  I started reading Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, following on the heels of The Underground Railroad, and so far it’s spectacular. Honestly, I don’t know why the black people in the United States aren’t raging and fighting white America all the time. (And we women, too.) They (we) have every right to be doing that, and every single time some white American says something about slavery being a long time ago just get over it . . . well hell, even want to punch those people in the throat. This country. We arrived and right off the bat started killing people and stealing their land, and just kept doing that (through to today). And then we stole people from another continent and brutalized them in unimaginable ways to enrich ourselves, and then enacted laws to keep them from getting anywhere (through to today). One horrible thing I learned when a friend did my ancestry is that someone in my history owned slaves in Georgia. She shrugged a little, it’s the thing you learn, and yet it’s horrifying to imagine. And so I too deserve the rage. In the second episode of The OA, a new series on Netflix, a voice-over read the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty (“The New Colossus”) and vomit came up in my throat, it’s such a lie.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The world is going mad and it’s so scary. And the United States is the engine of so much of it. How does a person work with that? (I’ll say more about Underground Airlines after I finish it….)

2) Depression status stable. Not feeling better but not feeling worse, and when you deal with depression you know that’s a good enough report. One thing I’m trying (among many things) is a daily inoculation of art, and today I’m rolling my eyeballs around in this glorious color — great thanks to my beautiful friend Anne for posting the painting on FB a couple of days ago:

Max Kurzweil (Austrian; Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession; 1867-1916): Lady in Yellow, 1899. Oil on canvas. Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria.

That color! I would really like to take my eyeballs out of my head and just roll them around in it, coat them like you do a sugar cookie, and then pop them back so that color can seep into me. It’s so glorious, especially in these very gray NYC days. Tomorrow I’m going to a special event at MoMA, 1.5 hours of silence on the 4th and 5th floor galleries, ending in a guided meditation (in front of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” I think). That ought to help too.

My dear sister-friend Peggy gave me the suggestion to make a long list (25 items on mine) of small things I could do, simple things, nourishing things, and you know, when you’re mentally flat and blank the problem is that nothing feels do-able anyway, much less thinking up a list of things. But with her help I did, and daily art is doable. If you are prone to depression, make your list when you’re not depressed, it’s much easier.

3)  Another bit of art stolen from a friend’s FB (this time from beautiful Kathy, who understands so much):

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

What a wonder art is. Thank you to everyone who puts it into the world.

here we go.

And so it begins. I have not been able to say the three words one says on the first day of the year—the ones that begin with ‘happy.’ I do not see the possibility this year, even though of course I know I will have my own personal, private moments. Inevitably, they will involve my family, my friends, my pleasures in books and movies, good food, poetry, and travel. And they will exist in the context of our horrorshow government which, well, I can’t even find words. All the ones I can think of are too ordinary.

I ended 2016 with this poem, which I think also gives me a way into 2017:

In a dark place
in a dark time

start with black.
Stop. Soak up its energy.

Remember the circle
however bent and broken.

Prize balance. Seek Pleasure.
Allow surprise. Let music

guide your every impulse.
Support those who falter.

Steer by our fixed star:
No Justice, No Peace.

Jim Haba, 2016

Excerpt from “French Window at Collioure,” 1914, by Henri Matisse. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris. (Image: Wikipedia)

I am certainly in a dark place, my own deep depression and my bone-clenching fear about the incoming government, and as my dear sister Peggy suggested in a long conversation about depression, one step is “Be OK with it.” As Haba echoed, “Start with black. Stop. Soak up its energy.” Only when we stop and give ourselves over to fully taking in this darkness can we begin to gauge its scope and scale, he said.

But then unfolds the rest, right? Prize balance — and so I need to find that, and I’ll find it on my yoga mat to start, and I’ll figure out how to balance activism and life. I’ll need to seek pleasure, which means allowing the cracks to let some light in, because right now I’m too flat to feel any of it. Anhedonia, donchaknow. That poem is a flashlight in the dark, the guiding star I needed (among the rest, including friends who reach out in all the ways thankyousomuch), and perhaps, if I’m lucky enough, it will deliver me to this beautiful place shared by my friend Jacqueline:

To dance so hard my heart will learn to float above water again. It doesn’t feel possible right now, but it’s a goal. I have a feeling this year is going to be characterized by all the extremes. I will be marching, and shouting, and protesting. I will be crying, and raging. I will not be nice. (That one will be good for me.) I will be angry. I am angry.

This year I don’t have a ‘word’ for the year. I don’t have resolutions (except one: RESIST). I don’t even really have goals beyond surviving it and fighting back. In January I’ll protest on inauguration day, and I will march next to my friends Cindy and Don Ray in the Women’s March the day after, wearing our pink hats. I’ll attend rallies and organizing meetings. And to help myself survive, I’ll see Katie and her kids, and (we hope) Marnie and Ilan, and I’ll spend time with friends. I’ll make myself good food, and listen to music and try to make my feet dance — and as my beautiful friend Judi dreamed, I’ll hugdance whenever possible.

I just choke on the words, so I won’t wish a happy…but I will wish a powerful year, a productive year, a committed year, a meaningful year, and if you aren’t in this country and having to fight, as we are, those wishes apply to whatever you’re facing or embracing.

Let’s get going.

(p.s. I love you.)


three things: 12/31/16

1)  Well, an end to this year and a face turned toward the next. God almighty. I don’t need to say all this again; it’s been present to varying degrees in my last posts, but it’s the last day of the year so I have to include it. I’m scared of the future and grateful as hell to have my arms linked with others in the resistance. We’ll lose more battles than we’ll win, but we’ll pull each other up and keep going. I have never dreaded a coming year more than I dread this one.

2) Thank you for sticking around with me, for coming to my little cobwebbed corner of the Internet. Thanks for reading, for commenting if and when (and where) you do, for accepting the little things I offer, and for accepting me, which you do by returning. If I offend, I’m grateful that you don’t bail on me but instead leave space for me to have my own view of the world. I hope I do the same for you. (Unless you voted for Trump, in which case I have no space for that.) (None.) (Whatsoever.) (But otherwise, you do you and I will be damn glad of it, whether we agree or not.)

3) Here is a wonderful year-end/new-year poem:

BRAND NEW ANCIENTS (by Kate Tempest, surely a pseudonym)

See – all that we have here is all that we’ve always had.

We have jealousy
and tenderness and curses and gifts.
But the plight of a people who have forgotten their myths
and imagine that somehow now is all that there is
is a sorry plight,
all isolation and worry –
but the life in your veins
it is godly, heroic.
You were born for greatness;
believe it. Know it.
Take it from the tears of the poets.

There’s always been heroes
and there’s always been villains
and the stakes may have changed
but really there’s no difference.
There’s always been greed and heartbreak and ambition
and bravery and love and trespass and contrition –
we’re the same beings that began, still living
in all of our fury and foulness and friction,
everyday odysseys, dreams and decisions . . .
The stories are there if you listen.

The stories are here,
the stories are you,
and your fear
and your hope
is as old
as the language of smoke,
the language of blood,
the language of
languishing love.

The Gods are all here.
Because the gods are in us.

The gods are in the betting shops
the gods are in the caff
the gods are smoking fags out the back
the gods are in the office blocks
the gods are at their desks
the gods are sick of always giving more and getting less
the gods are at the rave –
two pills deep into dancing –
the gods are in the alleyway laughing

WOW. Right? I’ll end this post with some pictures that make me just so very happy, in the hopes that they give you a smile, too. Y’all be safe, and hope to see you next year.

My sweet Katie and her beloved family
Our darling Oliver, so happy with his big Christmas gift because it has numbers on it
beautiful, glowing, angelic Lucy
This one is so great because it’s my Katie’s sense of humor. I crack up every time I see it, even out of the corner of my eye. That girl.
My beautiful Marnie, and her beloved family
I love this stage, where they turn their heads completely sideways to get a new look.
Wonderful, glorious Ilan, how I miss him.
Such a happy, photogenic little guy. And a genius, I’m pretty sure.
bamboo rafting in Yangshuo, in southern China
Lijiang, China, so special
so happy in Shaxi my lips and gums dried out from all the insane grinning
and all the happy boat rides on Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
That wondrous snow storm we had in January, can’t forget it!
or lying in a hammock next to the Nam Ou, in Nong Khiaw, Laos
enjoying the beach on Koh Mak, in Thailand

So many other pictures I’d need — holding Ilan for the first time, holding Lucy for the first time, walking slowly while Oliver collects acwons, time spent with beloved friends, waiting with Marnie for Ilan to be born, a meeting of my poetry group (why don’t I have a single picture of that!) — but these will do.

Love to us all, and solidarity, sisters. xoxoxxo

three things, 12/29/16

today’s Riffle deals

1)  One more book thing before I move on from books (for the moment). Do you get daily emails from Riffle and BookBub, notifying you of very good (i.e., super cheap) daily deals on e-books? That’s really all I’m interested in because I only get to read for fun in the middle of the night, and don’t want to turn on the light and wake myself up more than I have to. The light from my Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t wake me up so it’s my favorite middle-of-the-night thing in the world. There are also book giveaways on GoodReads, based on books you’ve tagged as “want to read,” and while I haven’t yet won one, it’s nothing to enter so I continue to do that. Do you have another source? I get the Kindle Deal of the Day email from Amazon, but can’t tailor it as precisely as I can the Riffle and BookBub subscriptions, so it’s a little less useful. There are really just a few categories of books I want to read for fun: literary fiction, translation/world literature, and memoir. Occasionally non-fiction. Always good poetry, but I have to read poetry in real books, and very rarely in the middle of the night so I don’t get notifications on that genre. Let me know if you have another source for deals on e-books!

2)  It’s not quite the last day of the year yet, but I love this poem so I’ll share it today. It’s a cold, rainy, dreary winter day here in New York, and I was to meet Jim to retrieve my son’s belongings — but he has a terrible cold and is coming a long way, and the rainy dreariness was breaking my heart harder, so he and I will see each other another time, and I will pay attention to my real gratitude to him for the gift he’s giving me.

Year’s End, by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

3)  Hasn’t this been a hard year? It has held its wonders in my personal life — Ilan and Lucy born, travel to southern China and the UP and Laos and Thailand and Taiwan, hours of poetry group meetings, meals and drinks with beloved friends, weeks spent with Marnie and so many days spent with Katie, the opportunity to help my daughters and their families even though I have less than no money, time spent laughing and walking with my sweet little Oliver, good movies, gorgeous food made and shared. Those are great things. And it seems like the world is about to end, too, with the horrors of Syria and South Sudan and Palestine and the true hideousness of the American election and the death and destruction that are about to follow from that. And so many people dying, largely just a generational thing that will be increasingly notable to me as my generation (and older) are nearing that point on the wheel. It’s easy to tap into this feeling of gloom since I am depressed, but that doesn’t mean the horrors in the world aren’t also true. I’d like to say something lovely like ‘It can only get better’ or ‘Maybe things won’t be as bad in the coming year’ but one word answers those thoughts with a big loud no: trump. I’m trying to find purpose in the way most of my friends and I will fight so hard, we will protest and boycott and make calls and march and show up and call out lies and gaslighting and it’s hard to feel the energy I will need for all that.

Plus my lost son.

How are you managing all this? Are you picking one hill to defend? Are you simply doing everything you possibly can, in a scattershot way? Are you pulling back and focusing on more immediate things, your own life and its joys and needs? Are you looking harder for the good? Maybe you’re doing all of these, either purposely or in a swinging back and forth way? I have no judgement on any of them; we’re all going to have to find our way to keep going, and the world needs everything — and especially everything good we can pour into it as this horror and destruction is about to come raining down. If you have any wisdom, or if you have arrived at a path or plan that makes sense for you, please share. I’m looking for help.

three things: 12/22/16

1)  I wish I had more time to read. That would really mean there would just have to be more hours in the day, because I already read nearly every waking hour. But one of my most readily touched sources of frustration is just not having enough time to read. The new issue of the New York Review of Books taunts me, every single article headlined on the cover one I feel urgent about reading. Anne Carson’s wondrous book project about the loss of her brother, Nox, singing to me in the late hours as I continue to struggle with my grief about my son. I know I would find understanding there. Drawing books, volumes of poetry, novels that were given to me by friends, books I’ve bought, and then all those I really want to read again. For some reason The Tin Drum has been whispering in my mind’s ear, read me again. The little girl I was still lives in me, the one who identified with Jo March, sitting in her attic window with a book and a bowl of apples, whiling away a winter day. How I would love to do that.

my coffee table — and then piles everywhere else, too, by the bed, on the nightstand, next to the chair, in the yoga room….

We who need to read are probably mysterious to those who don’t. I’ve heard what they sometimes say about us — get your nose out of that book. I prefer to actually live my life. Jerks, those who say those kinds of things. I’m not quite sure why I have such a never-quenched need to read, but I do.

2) If I think abstractly about what I think equals a “good life,” I’d say that [for me] it would require people to love, and be loved by — family (born into or made) and friends. It would require a home of some kind, whatever that might mean. Easy pleasures, like making good food. Reading (see above) wonderful books, stories, poetry, sense-making of all kinds. Music, and art. I’d say it would involve exposure to the world in whatever way that would be possible, traveling if that’s available. I’d say a good life would require history with people, so sticking it out over the long haul. I’d say a good life would require openness to the world, and a willingness to be present to whatever it presents. I have a good life. What would you add to my list?

3) A poem for the just-passed winter solstice, and for you:

The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Anselm Kiefer, Gescheiterte Hoffnung (C.D. Friedrich), 2010, Charcoal on photographic paper. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York. Text on the work is translated as follows: “Wreck of Hope.”

the pipes are calling

Starting 59! Heck yeah!
Starting 59! Heck yeah!

My birthday was really wonderful this year, and I worry about driving everyone crazy talking about it, but whatev, folks. I’d like to be this way about your birthday, too! Christmas is about something else, Thanksgiving too, but one’s birthday is a day focused just on your own life, your own trip, your own hopes and experiences (good and difficult), and I always think that is a thing to be celebrated.

So here is a short list of things I wanted to share with someone, throughout the day yesterday. I hope one or more of them catches you, too!

  • I have Scottish sympathies — those highlands, the bleak sweep, the range of stories that have that landscape as their setting, oof. I’d love to spend a year there so I could know it in all seasons, and learn it beyond the snapshot stereotype I have of it. The pipes have always sung to me, not just because I love weirdo instruments (banjo and accordion, not that think they’re weird!), but because I really want to play them. I’ll reveal a weirdo secret: I practice what it would be like to play them. Filling the bag with air, squeezing the bag with my arm, fingering the chanter, which I think would be natural to me given my years of flute playing. I’ll sometimes close my eyes and pretend I’m playing the pipes. Now you know. 🙂 Nancy sent me this “for the kick-off to [my] 59th year of triumph” and I loved it so much:

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The pure joy on the cellist’s face was enough! But then the coming-in of the pipers, that filled me with joy.

  • I’m in a number of secret Facebook groups, and each one is a haven of one kind or another. One is a temporary group for the month of November, focused on daily posts of gratitude. Yesterday a woman wrote this, and it was a huge gift to me:

I’m grateful for discernment, for thinking things through and evaluating what is best for me, what and who will add to my life instead of becoming a burden to me. I am so grateful to be aware that it is worth it to pause for a moment and ask, do I like this?, how do I really feel about this person?, are they a giver or a taker? So many times I have looked to be liked or accepted and have not paused to ask myself, what is in it for me? What and who am I taking on? Well, I am grateful that I am taking care of myself and asking those questions now.

YES to that! I’m in the process of developing that kind of discernment, of letting go of people who aren’t right for me and my life — and it isn’t that there is something wrong with them, it’s just time to let go, you know — and there is something both self-nurturing and liberating about it. The process of letting go with a breath and a smile, and understanding that as discernment, is such a gift of aging, and another woman’s words. This general idea also melds with something my poetry friend Hadiya posted yesterday:

Belong first in my own interiority. If I belong here, and if I am in rhythm with myself and connected to my deep, unique source within, then I will not be vulnerable when my outside belonging is qualified, relativized, or taken away. I will be able to stand on my own ground, the ground of my soul, where I am not a tenant, where I am at home. My interiority is the ground from which nobody [or nothing] can distance, exclude, or exile me. This is my treasure. —John O’Donohue (Adapted by Hadiya, 2012)


Doesn’t this fit beautifully with the idea of discernment, as the other woman described it? It’s about standing within, holding and knowing your own ground, and deciding from there, as a personal and ethical stance. Lots for me to think about, here.

  • My extraordinary friend Val sent me a book of poetry for my birthday, Nobody’s Jackknife. OOF, I can’t recommend it to you strongly enough. Val is always doing something like that, sending me just the right music, just the right words, just the right emotional connection, just when I most need it. You should be so lucky to have friends like I have, I’m telling you. Here’s one of the poems from this gorgeous collection by Ellen McGrath Smith:

Traum Song

Life is painful, sad, and methodical.
I must not say that.
Ever to confess
(remember when I thought I was
a lioness that night in May
and could have made six babies?)
Facts are thinner recourses.
Born: day month year
Died: day month year
Nothing new here people!!!
Just two doors or one
that swings two ways.

I’ve a pound of flounder in the fridge,
some lemon and organic butter,
a seep of parsley in the backyard snow,
two cats, a grown child & a love companion
with a weak aortic valve.
My fear is ticking too tall for the shelf
so I bend ninety minutes to the floor,
the guru streaming in through my PC
telling me the shape I’m in.

The light in me, the light in me
Christ I want it to
see the light in you—

So many of the poems center around a yoga pose, and every one is worth lingering over.

  • Today’s picture is courtesy of the Facebook “On This Day” heartbreaker. Yesterday I opened Facebook on my phone, and this was on the screen, without giving me a moment to prepare my heart:
November 7, 2011. We had met for breakfast, and he can never let me just take a picture of him. Either he pulls a face, or suddenly hangs a spoon on his nose or something. It was a heart punch to see his face, which I miss so terribly.
November 7, 2011. We had met for breakfast, and he can never let me just take a picture of him. Either he pulls a face, or suddenly hangs a spoon on his nose or something. It was a heart punch to see his face, which I miss so terribly.

Today is [finally] Election Day, and with all my heart and soul I hope our country elects Hillary Clinton. With all my heart and soul. I don’t know what will happen to us if we don’t. Vote, vote, vote, vote.

see! saw! see! saw!

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

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

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

Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mirrors at 4am

This poem was written by Charles Simic:


You must come to them sideways
In rooms webbed in shadow,
Sneak a view of their emptiness
Without them catching
A glimpse of you in return.

The secret is,
Even the empty bed is a burden to them,
A pretense.
They are more themselves keeping
The company of a blank wall,
The company of time and eternity

Which, begging your pardon,
Cast no image
As they admire themselves in the mirror,
While you stand to the side
Pulling a hanky out
To wipe your brow surreptitiously.

Charles Simic, “Mirrors at 4 a.m.” from Walking the Black Cat. Copyright © 1996

Simic — pronounced SEE-meech

If you want a real treat, click this link and you can listen to him talk about writing this poem, and then hear him read it. It’s always so surprising to me what can inspire a poem. You’ll find other of his poems here.

He has two new books out, one a collection of poetry (The Lunatic: Poems) and another that is a collection of non-fiction (The Life of Images: Selected Prose). This fantastic review by Dwight Garner in the NYTimes will make you fall for Simic, if you’re anything at all like me. The review includes this great quote by Simic: “Nature as experience — making a tomato salad, say, with young mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil — is better than any idea about Nature.” He’s very emotional and passionate about things. My kind of guy.

I was telling my friend Cindy that I learned about Simic (whose work has won numerous awards, among them the 1990 Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and, simultaneously, the Wallace Stevens Award and appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate) on a little sign in a subway car. They do that — it’s a program called “Poetry in Motion” and in place of some ads around the top perimeter of the car, the MTA provides poetry. I never studied poetry in school, so I find poets in random ways like this. But as I told her, that doesn’t matter in the least — what matters is that you find them.

Book 2 (My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love) of Knausgaard’s humongous memoir has a long section on poetry, on poetry speaking to you and when it doesn’t, why it doesn’t, and I want to think about that some more before I write about it. Poetry often speaks to me quite loudly, shouting right into the chambers of my heart. I hope you enjoyed the Simic poem!


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.

yeah, do this everyone

Wage Peace

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

Judyth Hill

the universe responds

waterLately — I don’t know exactly for how long — I’ve been submerged. Not deep, not in the black water, just underneath the surface, close enough to pop my head up and take a breath. Partly it’s what we’re all dealing with this year, a really harsh winter, one storm after another, exhausting our resources inside and out. I need some sun — you do too, I’m sure. And partly it’s because there has been a lot of hard stuff happening to me and to people I love. Nothing fatal, and even the hard stuff seems to be finding its level. My dear friend who had a huge health scare is going to be OK. And so his wife is going to be OK and I, his friend, will be OK. One family member came through a really rough patch with a great decision. Scary, yes, but the right decision and the relief that brings. Good people die for stupid and sad reasons and the world is just like that.

And so yesterday I was again home alone all day, with some work (thank you universe, for a little run of little jobs now could I get a bigger one please?), and just feeling under the water. I could see the sky, but it was cloudy. I ate some beans. I was not feeling all that great.

But then my phone rang and it was Dixie, who has been sending me these little loving emails every single morning — I see what she’s doing there — but it was Dixie on the phone. And if you’ve been around these parts for even a day, you know what kind of call it was. It was a Dixie call, and how could all that love do anything but lift my spirits? Such a sweet surprise, and such a spirit lifter.

And then I ate some more beans. Then I decided maybe I’d make one cupcake — you can do that, you know. One cupcake. No frosting. Just a tiny little bit of cake to go with a cup of tea. And I kept working. Seven o’clock. Eight o’clock. Nine o’clock. Nine thirty. And then my phone rang.

Who would call me at 9:30? The caller ID — my heart stopped, is my friend in some kind of trouble? We thought he’s out of the woods. But no, no trouble, just his wife — my beloved friend — calling to tell me something. To encourage me, to share an opportunity with me. “We’ll do it together, let’s do it together. And if it works for one of us but not the other, we will be so happy for each other. Let’s do it. You should do it,” she said. “You are so good.”


There I’d been, feeling weighed down and burdened and not so good. You know the blues’ll do that to you. You should do it. You are so good.

We both reassured ourselves that of course we won’t get in, we don’t even need to worry a tiny bit about how to pay the hefty tuition — it won’t matter, we won’t have to worry about it. But let’s do it anyway, I will if you will. You are so good. (She is so so good….) And so we decided that we will do it anyway, we will say YES to ourselves and that cracks the universe open every time we do it. Say yes. Say YES.

I remind myself of an old joke. A guy is stranded by rising flood waters, so he climbs up on the roof of his house. The waters rise. Some other guy comes along in a rowboat and tells the guy to get in, but the guy says, “No, the Lord is going to save me.” So the rowboat guy moves along and still the waters rise. Another guy comes by in a bigger boat, “No, the Lord is going to save me,” he says again. The waters are rising, he climbs up on the chimney. A helicopter comes by and drops down a ladder — “Climb up!” the rescuer shouts. “No, no, the Lord is going to save me.” The waters rise, the guy drowns. He gets to heaven and says, “God, why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter, what  else do you want me to do?”

Look at all these people swimming up to me, throwing ropes my way, calling out to me with so much love, with so much tenderness, with so much care. It never ever ceases to amaze me the way humans can be, the way we keep an eye on each other, the way we extend our love again, and again, and again. The way you might feel a little bit sinky and then what do you know, someone calls out of the blue to say she loves you. And then what do you know, someone calls out of the blue to tell you that you are good. Some days that’s just exactly what you need to hear. Thank you my darling Dixie, and my beautiful Peggy, and Traci for popping in with love, and Becci for leaving notes with love, and Marnie for sharing her life good and confusing with me, and today for the huge joy of time with Katie.

Yes universe, YES. How can I say anything but yes.

[and for you, a little prezzie. I brought this poem to my poetry group on Tuesday night, and it’s kind of dazzling. It’s by Christian Wiman, published in his collection Hard Night (2005, Copper Canyon Press). Read it aloud:

Rhymes for a Watertower

A town so flat a grave’s a hill,
A dusk the color of beer.
A row of schooldesks shadows fill,
A row of houses near.

A courthouse spreading to its lawn,
A bank clock’s lingering beat.
A gleam of storefronts not quite gone,
A courthouse on the street.

A different element, almost,
A dry creek brimming black.
A light to lure the darkness close,
A light to bring it back.

A time so still a heart’s a sound,
A moon the color of skin.
A pumpjack bowing to the ground,
Again, again, again.

lots of good stuff

Well, dear friends, I know I’ve been away for a while and here I am just sharing some links, but I want to share these with you! So much good stuff, and I hope some of it appeals to you. Since it’s coming from me, it’s about books and movies and poetry:





Winding down 2013, looking ahead to 2014 — arbitrary divisions, but they still feeling meaningful. Much love to you all……xo

Friday AGAIN

I know everyone loves a Friday — weekend, yay! — but they come whizzing by so fast and there are only 52 in a year, and then WHEE! It’s already a different month, a different season, the next year. I’m telling you, time is scary fast. My time in NYC is winding down, and I head home very early Monday. It was a blur, as the weeks generally are these days.

There are 31 tabs open in my browser right now. Thirty-one. That’s insane. My computer is so slow and don’t even ask me to open task manager and see how many instances of Chrome are filling up that little screen. It kind of freaks me out. How can my computer do anything, with all its resources going to maintaining Chrome and all my tabs. Jesus. So here, in case any are of interest to you and (hahahaha!) so that I’ll come back and find themhahahahahah oh that is so funny, here are the tabs I haven’t been able to close all week:

Have you written a manuscript but can’t really afford a professional edit? This page gives you 10 ways to fake a professional edit. Good advice all around.

Two from the LA Review of Books (consistently outstanding writing there, I highly recommend the site. Friend them on facebook for easy access):  Here’s an interview with the author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, a book I want to read. The book is kind of a political thriller and about a father-daughter relationship. Sounds good to me. And here’s an interview with Michelle Orange, who is described as the love child David Foster Wallace and Joan Didion would’ve had.

Here are two from The Millions — if you love books and don’t follow The Millions, why?? Here is a list of the Booker Prize shortlist, with links and excerpts! Wonderful! And here’s a bit about Pynchon’s new novel, which I will soon be reading. (And here’s a review from NPR books of Pynchon’s novel.)

Are you thinking about self-publishing? Here are 10 counter-intuitive tips for self-publishers, and here’s an article on self- vs traditional publishing.

From The New York Times, a review of Edwidge Danticat’s new book titled Claire of the Sea LightI keep hearing about this one and it sounds amazing. Also, a truly gorgeous essay by Pico Iyer on the value of suffering. It’s a beautiful piece, very thoughtful — no surprise. And finally, a piece in the NYTimes Magazine about Justin Timberlake, because COME ON. Justin Timberlake.

From The New Yorker, I love this piece because it’s about neuroskeptics. Seriously, just because you can show me an image where the brain flashes blue when presented with something DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE FOUND THE SOMETHING CENTER. I hate that reductionistic crap. And here’s an article about Claire Danes, who is frankly kind of amazing in Homeland. I think that most episodes. The piece asks where her volcanic performances come from and I want to know, too.  In this era of reading “books” on our phones (which I do at night), this piece asks what it means to own a book. It’s an interesting question….

And then from all around the web:

OK, so that’s that. All my tabs are closed, my browser is clean. I’m ready for the weekend — how about you? I hope to see Nick Flynn on Sunday, in Brooklyn (André Aciman, Edwidge Danticat, Thomas Drake, Nick Flynn, Rachel Kushner, Leonard Lopate, Francine Prose, Jeremiy Scahill:  Recent leaks have revealed the breathtaking reach of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs. Should writers and readers be concerned? A fast-paced mosaic of readings by leading PEN members, an NSA whistleblower, and others to provoke reflection on the dangers surveillance poses to the freedom to think and create, and to celebrate the role writers have played in defying those dangers.) But we’ll see. Sunday is a long ways away. Happy Friday, y’all. Hope it’s a good one.

advice to my younger self

One of my favorite books of poetry I bought last year was Brenda Shaughnessy’s new collection Our Andromeda (here’s a review at The Rumpus). There were so many poems I loved in the collection, but the ones I loved most were a series of four poems written to her younger selves (at ages 23, 24, 25, and 38).  Here’s the poem “To My Twenty-Three-Year-Old Self”:

The woman you think
Is the love of your life

Is only a way to get
To New York City.

I probably shouldn’t
Say that until she leaves

You. Because you will
Hate me if I say it now.

You “love” “her” so
Much. You are lavishing

A lifetime of unexpressed love
On this poor expressionless

Child. She can barely feel.
And you, you narcissist,

You can only feel yourself.
If you really loved her,

You would try to help her.
But in the end, I’m glad

You spent your energies
Writing love poems and

Trying to transform your love
Into art. It worked out

For you. FSG will buy it
Even though it’s juvenile.

You’d believe that before
You’d believe she’ll leave you.

In six weeks. Without a trace.
Saying: You don’t know who

You are. And besides you’re not
Butch enough for me.

As if you wouldn’t make yourself
Into anything for her.

Had she only said she wanted it.
Luckily for you, she didn’t.

That’s not my most favorite — the 24-year-old poem is more poignant, to my mind — but there’s something so moving about any kind of advice we give to our younger selves because it’s soaked in pain and compassion, and knowing how things turn out. I thought of this poem on Friday, after I posted this on facebook:

“A holy trinity of advice? Let me see. Very well. 1. Give everything. 2. Expect nothing. 3. Move on.” –Harold Pinter/Interview with James Grissom/1998/

A friend of mine commented by saying, “Actually my advice to my younger self would be try twice as hard and move on twice as fast if it doesn’t work.” And so I started thinking about what advice I would give to my younger self, and immediately started crying.

adviceBecause my younger self was in such intense pain and I was so so hard on myself. I was trying to stop generations of terribleness and I did it by clenching my fists, tightening my shoulders, and just grunting my way through it. I was so scared, so lost, so desperate, and I made my life so much harder than it needed to be — but then again, I guess that’s how it needed to be, for all the reasons.

Nevertheless, here’s the advice I would give my 24-year-old self, a very young, ill-prepared mother grappling with the suicide of my father and a disintegrated and fractured sense of the world, and myself:

  • You are just fine, you really really are, no matter what you think. You are wonderful and trying so hard, and that matters so much. Pay closer attention to what’s in your heart and maybe you’ll see that.
  • It’s OK if the baby cries. You will learn this lesson with Marnie — when she cries, she learns how to comfort herself very quickly and it is so much smoother, and chill, and good for her, too. It’s OK if the baby cries. And if it’s too hard, please get some help. That is good.
  • You do not have to be perfect. You aren’t, anyway, and no matter how hard you try you can’t be, anyway.
  • Also: you’re beautiful, even though you’ve got a bloopy tummy and some chunky thighs. You are beautiful, with deep eyes and a generous smile. Lift your eyes away from the bits that you don’t like and look for the bits that are beautiful — and believe people when they tell you this.
  • Don’t give yourself away so fast and so completely. Others are as lucky to have you as you are to have them.
  • When you’re tired, it’s OK — stop and rest. (See the one above about being perfect.) When you’re blue, be kind to yourself, and let others be kind too. You don’t have to be so tough every moment of your life. (You’re not, anyway, and that’s a good thing.)
  • Do not dismiss every good thing about yourself. Do not dismiss the various things you are good at — not everyone else is good at them, these are your things! Be glad for them, and embrace them, even if they’re not (or especially if they’re not) the things most other people want to do.
  • Speak up. Be brave in your words. And write. Write a lot. You have something to say.
  • No matter what he said (seriously: no matter what he said) it is not your fault that he killed himself. You really do know this, so keep remembering all those things you really do know and do not take that terrible thing on your shoulders. It’s unfair, and it always was. You didn’t do that, and in fact you have a right to be furious that he did that to you.
  • Being furious will not destroy you, or anyone else, or the world. Be furious. Figure out how to do that.

I’d have some more specific things to say to that girl that relate to specific people in her life back then, but they’re too specific and personal for this post. It hurts me a little that so many of these are things I still need to say to myself — I wonder if I knew them then, and embraced them then, if I’d be 55 and still needing to say them to myself?

If I think about myself at various ages — 25, 26, 38, 40, 45, 50 — the advice would be the same, generally speaking, with a couple of idiosyncratic things thrown in that related to that specific year. Like you can’t stand him, break up with him immediately even though he says he’ll kill himself. Yeah, I’d say that to myself that one year. But otherwise it’s the same old stuff: be gentler, you’re beautiful (even though your tummy is still bloopy and your thighs are still kind of chunky!), learn how to be mad, speak up, don’t dismiss yourself.

Maybe this is the most common kind of advice women give themselves. Yeah?

Happy Sunday, everyone. So much love to you all. xo

signs and signifiers

Having grown up in Texas, one thing that surprised me most when I moved north was that there is a discernible shift in the light when the season changes to fall. And I mean that it seems to happen on one particular day. I never paid attention to what date it was each year, but I never failed to see it. I’d walk out the door and there it was — the light was coming in lower, or it had a different quality, some of the yellow had drained out of it or something. I do not know how to describe it, but it’s not just an emotional shift. It was a physical shift, recognizable by the senses. It was always my favorite day of the year.

Being this far south, I guess, the shift surely happens but it isn’t dramatic enough to be spotted. And the temperatures don’t make such a dramatic shift, either. Today it’s going to be 103. We don’t have the kinds of trees that turn gorgeous colors in the fall; we have a lot of evergreen kinds of trees, and otherwise the leaves mostly just turn brown and fall off. As I accumulate months and years here, I’ll probably notice changes in the birds’ movements if I pay attention. My darling little father-in-law, Kiki, kept careful logs for decades of the arrival and departure of the purple martins (and the births of the babies).

Still, there are signs and signifiers if you look. When I look out my French doors, it looks like just another perfectly ordinary summer day. Hot. Dry. Parched. No breeze. Trees still clutching all their tiny leaves. But a step out onto my patio showed my eyes something deeper was happening.

tiny bits of evidence scattered all around
tiny bits of evidence scattered all around

A little mess, something to be swept away, but a very loud sign if you pay attention. The trees are releasing their leaves, deciduous vegetation is dying as a function of shifting light that I can’t detect. The world is turning, it is, time is passing and we can feel that. Summer is waning, fall is coming, and in the northern states it’ll be brisk and crisp, soon, and I remember and love that air so much. I’ll get to see it and feel it when I go to NYC.

Tuesday night poetry group met at my place, and it was as wonderful as usual. One of our members is the youngest person in the group (so far), a ~23-year-old guy I really like so much. The poetry he brings is very different from the stuff others bring. Most people bring poems they wrote, but some (like me) do not write. He doesn’t write poetry, that I know of, and he brings poets I’ve never heard of (and no one else has, either), but the poems are shocking and wonderful, and thick with beauty and ambiguity and stuff to puzzle over and lines that echo. Last night, one he brought was called “Crush,” by Ada Limon, and we chewed on it for quite a long time.  And then we had a brand new guy last night who stood up and performed a piece he’d written that was so great we all spontaneously applauded when he finished. It celebrated his love of poetry and included this stanza:

I want my poems read
I want your poems read
I want prime time poetry, I want poet tv
I want a world series of poetry
A super bowl slam, a Whitman cup
I want water cooler talk about poetry
On the tv last night….
I want a pornacopia of pornetry

It was just so delightful, and that’s just one small bit of it. And I want all those things too! I keep thinking I’m going to shut down the meetup group and just keep the small subset of people who reliably come, but then those two guys showed up and I wouldn’t have met them if the group were closed. I love the way life can surprise you sometimes — and it’s good. There are plenty of shocking traumatic surprises, but sometimes the surprises are good. Sometimes they’re a gift.

Fall formally begins in 17 days, but I’ll bet you can find little signs in your own yard. I always find it easy to feel like autumn is one of those big gifts in my life, along with skies full of clouds, little pink birds, and friendship. If you’re in a dark valley — and I know many people who are — I hope you can tune your eyes to small joys and tiny beauties and take some comfort. Or maybe you can get a little help from 105-year-old Edythe Kirchmaier who says, “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” I figure she’s been around long enough to know a thing or two.

Happy almost-fall y’all. I hope you have a wonderful Thursday.

what’s your bible?

bookWe all have to find our own bible (and here, I guess I’m talking about those of us who find it in pages). For some of us, it’s a religious book, and that’s pretty simple. We’re told there it is, the Truth, and all we have to do is read and discern. When I was young — and although it certainly wasn’t the only book I read like this — I read the Christian bible cover to cover again and again. Genesis to Revelations, repeat. It read differently each time, as I aged. At first it was just an unexamined gulping of what I was supposed to believe. Once, it was a shock that God’s people were all stupid and stubborn and resistant and low, and the shock that that was done on purpose, because it was easy, then, for all of us stupid and stubborn and resistant and low people to see that we were God’s people, too. Several times it was for the language. A few times it was for specific reasons related to my life.

But that’s not the only bible I’ve reached for. I have several, and which one I need depends on where I am. Do you have bibles too? Here are some of mine.

  • The Odyssey. Whenever I am lost, this is the book I reach for. Once I was in the hospital because I did not want to live anymore, and I was obviously in pretty awful shape. My therapist called me on the pay phone, and I stood there in my unkempt lost self and listened to her tell me to lash myself to the mast, to put wax in my ears, and to keep sailing past the Sirens. Partly this story is a testament to a wonderful therapist who knew her patient so well — who else would’ve thought to tell me that? — but partly too, it’s about the importance of this book to me. Odysseus, the wanderer, floating over the face of the earth just trying to get home. And everything slamming against him trying to do him in. And unrelated to my personal life, when I read it in college, my professor read the passage where Penelope and Odysseus go to their bedroom after their reunion, where the enormous bed is, fashioned of living trees, and as he read it to us he cried, and I fell even more in love with the book. I’ve read it so many times, including on my vacation to Turkey, where I read it in Olympos. At so many moments, I pull this book off the shelf, allow it to open wherever it will, and just read it at that spot. I always get something.
  • The Woman Warrior. The essential memoir of an outsider, this book is responsible entirely for my first set of tattoos on my spine, telling the story of my survival and resilience. Although I dearly love the entire book, it’s Chapter Two, White Tigers, that tells the essential story of The Woman Warrior. When I need to — and I always know when I need to — I reach for this book, and it’s the only book that’s right.
  • Moby DickAll thanks to Marnie for giving me this one. I’d always been afraid to read it (silly!), but she loved it so much, and so I read it. The other night I had reason to read this passage to someone as an explanation of how i was feeling:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.

Nothing else could articulate it so well but that passage. The book just kills me; whenever I read it I find myself unable to read anything else for a very long time afterwards, because nothing approaches it in any way. When I need to dive deep, this is the book I reach for. One day I’ll get a half-sleeve (or maybe a full sleeve, we’ll see) of a whale. Like this, but with a whale and not a hammerhead (which gives me the creeps!):

like this, but with a sperm whale, and on my arm
like this, but with a sperm whale, and on my arm
  • And this isn’t a book, but it’s a category, of sorts — the first of two categories. When I simply cannot read for whatever reason, it’s always Vonnegut that brings me back. Either Sirens of Titan, my father’s favorite book, or Cat’s Cradle, the source of many of my favorite references. When I was in the hospital the last time, not wanting to live, I simply could not read. I tried this book and that, familiar books and new books, books that meant something to me and books that were trivial. I just couldn’t read. Could not do it, no matter how I tried. The first time I read Moby Dick, I thought I’d never be able to read again, and that scared me. I kept trying to read books but they all seemed stupid, trivial, uninteresting. In both those cases, it was Vonnegut who led me back into my home, the land of readers. I think it was Cat’s Cradle in both cases, but I’m not sure. Partly it’s his dark and wry humanism, but it’s also his humor and his funny use of language. The center, though, is his love of the human effort that reaches me. In a similar way, Anne Lamott reaches out to me and takes my hand when I cannot read, and brings me back to where I belong.
  • And the final category, very good poetry. I have my favorite poets (Louise Gluck, Charles Simic, Jack Gilbert, Adrienne Rich, Donald Revell) and some favorite poems (Adrienne Rich’s “Shooting Script” is a particular favorite), but when I am in need of comfort and understanding or connecting to my deepest self, poetry surrounds me with whatever I need. If I need to find words for how I’m feeling, I can usually find it in poetry. If I need comfort or understanding, poetry gives it to me. I’m extraordinarily lucky in that when I need it, the perfect  poem comes. For example, when I was flying to Austin, moving away from my beloved New York City and feeling about as low as I could feel, I turned a page and found this:

The Layers (by Stanley Kunitz)

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

There could have been no better set of words at that moment. If you know me at all, you see me scattered throughout that poem. And I couldn’t have found it at a more perfect time. I gasped and had to lean back in my seat, grasping the armrests, as we descended into Austin.

There are many books I return to, and so many I’ve read multiple times, but these are the ones that serve as bibles for me. They give me the truth, they give me a way to understand my experience, they guide me. I’m curious about your bibles, if you think of things in this way.


where do I belong?
where do I belong?

Belonging is a tough subject for me, one of my quintessential variables. Definitional, even, my old feeling of not belonging. One very good thing that’s happened for me over the last several months is a settling-in to belonging to myself, to having a home within myself. And that’s so very good. I’ve been kind of clinging to that knowledge the last 24 hours.

I love New York City. I love it so much. I love Texas, by which I primarily mean Austin. Love it so much too. I’ve semi-belonged to both places. I’ve lived in a lot of places — CT, VA, AL, AR, NJ — but the only places I have ‘belonged’ have been Austin and New York City. But age and experience have put me in a funny place with both of them. When I went to Katie’s last October for the horrible agony of Gracie’s death and funeral, I realized with a shock that I could never live in Texas again. It felt too far away from my sensibility, too small (oy, don’t tell a Texan that Texas is too small!), I needed a place like New York City. And then, of course, immediately upon my return to NYC there was the ending of my marriage and all I could do was return to Austin. The place I’d just realized I could never live again. (Lesson: Never say you can never do something, for that’s the next thing you’ll be called on to do.)

So there I’ve been, in Austin, and struggling with adjusting my eyes. Struggling to get a different focus so I could simply see and relish the joys and charms of that place instead of only seeing it as not-NYC. And it has been hard, I must say. I have my home, which feels safe and beautiful and I love it, and I have Katie and Trey and their home, and so many beautiful friends, but oh how I have just longed for NYC. Last weekend in Chicago I felt drunk on the giddy pleasures of being back in a big city.

And now here I am, in my other-beloved. New York City. And it is beautiful, and it is busy, and it is everything. And I do not belong here so easily, now. People are rude, they crash into you and elbow you and don’t really give a shit. New York City: the city of the honey badger. They’re not really being rude, it’s just what it is to be here. It’s my city, but it’s not my home any more. I don’t really belong. But I don’t really belong in Texas, either. I am in the limbo zone, wanting and not wanting both places, and realizing that some theoretical in-between doesn’t exist.

pinballI’ve spent much of the day wandering around, shopping, getting stuff done, readjusting to the noise (so noisy!), trying to avoid being crashed into by everyone, feeling like a ball in a pinball machine. Reminding myself to breathe deeply, slowly, reminding myself of my center in my home, my place within myself, reminding myself that wherever I am, I am home. That I belong to myself and that’s important belonging. And, of course, I am just a few months into this transition, and so patience is required. Patience and experience, and then some more patience. That helps, has been helping me.

Tonight, off to eat at Awash, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, for some special raw kitfo, some charcoal tibs, some whole bunch of vegetables and lentils, some spongy injera, the pleasure of excellent and familiar food, a familiar walk in my old neighborhood.

And that reminds me of my favorite Adrienne Rich poem, “Shooting Script:”

Whatever it was, the image that stopped you, the one on which you
came to grief, projecting it over & over on empty walls.

Now to give up the temptations of the projector; to see instead the
web of cracks filtering across the plaster.

To read there the map of the future, the roads radiating from the
initial split, the filaments thrown out from that impasse.

To reread the instructions on your palm; to find there how the
lifeline, broken, keeps its direction.

To read the etched rays of the bullet-hole left years ago in the
glass; to know in every distortion of the light what fracture is.

To put the prism in your pocket, the thin glass lens, the map
of the inner city, the little book with gridded pages.

To pull yourself up by your own roots; to eat the last meal in
your old neighborhood.

catching my breath

Marnie and Tom, my sweet kids
Marnie and Tom, my sweet kids

It was so cold in Chicago! Sleety and snowy the day I arrived (but mercifully not flooding), and then just cold and windy the rest of my time there. But it was wonderful, and we didn’t let the cold slow us down.

Marnie and Tom just moved into a new place, so it was such fun getting to see their new home. Mothers, are you like this too — I always need to see where they live as quickly as I can, so I can know them in their homes, and have them there in my imagination for all the times I think about them. One fantastic thing about my kids that may have come from our own itinerant lives is that they really know how to make the coziest little homes. Katie and Marnie both have such homey homes, filled with such personal details, decorated so sweetly, and so comfortable and . . . well, home. I love that about them.

So Marnie and Tom and I mainly did a lot of walking and eating. The destination on Saturday was the Field Museum, and on Sunday we took a long walk through Graceland Cemetery, which was absolutely wonderful. We ate magnificent breakfasts (chocolate tower French toast with bananas OMG, and a BLT eggs benedict) and dinners (yummy Cubana sandwich at Xoco, an amazing bowl of pho, and mussels and frites). We talked for hours and hours, and it still wasn’t long enough.

Sweet Marnie at the Field Museum
Sweet Marnie at the Field Museum
Eternal Silence (Graceland Cemetery)
Eternal Silence (Graceland Cemetery) — isn’t that amazing?
Enlarge this so you can read it -- Pinkerton!
Enlarge this so you can read it — Pinkerton!
Louis Sullivan, the great architect
Louis Sullivan, the great architect
mussels, frites, and a wonderful beer!
mussels, frites, and a wonderful beer!

And now I’m back home in Austin for a few days before I head off to NYC, and then shortly after that off to Indonesia. Much to do between now and then — preparation for my trip, a lot of work, seeing friends. On the flights to and from Chicago, I read more of Bluets, and found this beautiful piece:

79. For just because one loves blue does not mean that one wants to spend one’s life in a world made of it. “Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus,” wrote Emerson. To find oneself trapped in any one bead, no matter what its hue, can be deadly.

I really love that because it’s so true — and a good thing, too, because we don’t get just one thing. We get joy, blue beads, and we get sorrow, the matte gray beads, and we get grief, black obsidian, accepting no light, and we get light happiness, pink and orange beads, and we get everything if we just live long enough. It goes up, it goes down, it goes flat, and then joy and beauty come back, even when you thought they wouldn’t. Which brings me to these lines, which I share in the hope that you love them too:

Imagine yourself a caterpillar.
There’s an awful shrug and, suddenly,
You’re beautiful for as long as you live.

—the final lines of “Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry” by Stephen Dunn

Also by Stephen Dunn,

Solving the Puzzle

I couldn’t make the pieces fit,
so I threw one away.

No expectation of success now,
none of that worry.

The remaining pieces seemed
to seek their companions.
A design appeared.

I could see the connection
between the overgrown path
and the dark castle on the hill.

Something in the middle, though,
was missing.

It would have been important once,
I wouldn’t have been able to sleep
without it.

Happy Tuesday, y’all. xo

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. . .


So coming on the heels of yesterday’s post about my current state of crippling fear, I have a poem to share. Last night was my monthly poetry group meeting, and it was once again just wonderful. This month it was mostly men — 4 men and one other woman, so a group of 6 which is a nice size. One of the guys wrote this poem, which he shared with the group and I couldn’t help but project myself into it:

The Temptation of Movement

There’s a bird that spends
ninety-five percent
of life like a statue,
still against the sky,
aware every action
causes a reaction
often beyond its control.
Like stone, it begs
to be ignored, avoids
the temptation of movement
to fool death;
watching the world jostle
for recognition it remains
content with the shape
of things, existing almost
as nothing, realizing the wisdom
in small gestures as even
day and night collide
overhead, competing
for space and leaving
sky the color of bruises.

What did I do while he was reading his poem? One guess is all you’ll need, and it’s a one-word answer: cried. I cried. In the way art can be transformational, I am hoping that my reaction to this poem helps shift me a little bit, but we’ll see. That’s a lot to ask of 82 words.

not this bird, but i like the picture!
not this bird, but i like the picture!

I wanted to find a very particular image for this post — there’s a kind of bird with big shoulders, and it sits very still and kind of pulls its head down into its shoulders in a funny way. A big-shouldered bird. Every search I did yielded lots of pictures of Big Bird or bird tattoos on shoulders. It would help if I could remember the kind of bird, but I can’t. Oh well. It’s been a birdy few days. In the late afternoon, my birdfeeder has become a scene out of West Side Story; the purple finches get into a rumble, honestly, and I can’t tell what differentiates the groups. There are males and females in both groups, but they do not like (nor tolerate) each other. It’s pretty funny. And there was bird imagery in two of the other poems that were brought last night. I’m suddenly surrounded by birds.

Happy Wednesday, y’all — midway through another week of 2013. Hope it’s a good one for you.

good thing of the day: the very real power of words. Think about all the words that move you, that transform your day in one direction or another. Song words. Love words. Connection words. Poetry words.


OH I had such a moment yesterday via facebook, and I want to put it here so I’ll have it for safekeeping, and say more about it. Marnie’s husband Tom has a sister named Andi (what does that make her, to me? If he is a son and she is his sister, then she’s my daughter[-in-law] and I am confused.). Anyway. Andi gave me a tremendous gift yesterday, and it came at such a tender, cracked-open time. Quite literally, I was sitting in my chair feeling sad and missing my husband and thinking about all of that, and here it came. It’s one of my favorite Derek Walcott poems:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

But before I go on, that poem. Of course it’s absolutely perfect for me, at this moment in my life, and Andi knew that. She said it reminded her of something I’d write, and I take that to mean the spirit of it, not the beautiful poetic words. And it is something I’d have fumbled to say, at some point. It describes a moment I’m walking toward. I keep turning around to look backwards at what I left, grateful not to turn into Lot’s wife, but filled with yearning. And then I face forward again and keep walking toward this moment where I will do just what Walcott said.

I keep wanting to comment on the poem, but when I look at the lines I start crying and my words disappear. I have at least figured out it’s the line, “You will love again the stranger who was your self” that breaks me down. I feel this spasm in my heart.

In a perfect coincidence of music in the background, when I was first reading it, my favorite old hymn was playing at the same time, Softly and Tenderly, and right after that came the gorgeous song from the Spring Awakening soundtrack, Whispering. (Links take you to a video of each song, which I recommend with all my heart. And not for nothing, Softly and Tenderly is about home, come home.)

Here’s where I wish I was a poet, I really do. Because I can’t possibly tell you the feelings I experienced in a way that will make sense. I felt washed in brilliant emotion, untangleable. Grief and sorrow and happiness and hope and love for and connection and love from. It’s almost mystical, how it’s possible to feel all those things at the very same moment. This is why it’s essentially a wordless experience, because I need all the words at once.

I do want to be home. I have longed my whole long life for a home of my own. I want to welcome myself home. My whole life, I’ve felt that yearning, which is why I love that hymn so much. It says, “ye who are weary, come home.” Every time I’d sing it at church as a child, I’d think oh yes, I am so so weary. The trite, cliched thing to say here would be “I was home all along” or “I had a home in myself all along,” but even aside from my abhorrence for cliche, it’s also just not true. As I said in my post about beauty, it took me an extraordinarily long time to grow into myself, to even know my own skin, and I’m only just learning how to be comfortable in it.

Happy Sunday, y’all.

The good thing of the day today is poetry. And someone to send you just the right one.

flyaway day!

Today I fly back to New York City for a few days. I’ve been so holed-up here in the palace, so busy getting it set up (doing all that shopping, ugh), so busy getting work done, I don’t really feel like I’ve been in Austin so the idea of “leaving Austin” makes little sense. I’m flying back for a couple of reasons: 1) to pack up all my books and few belongings (I only took my clothes when I left), and 2) to attend a party given by my friends Temma and Yvonne, so I’d have a chance to say goodbye to friends. It’s a tough time for a party, thick in the holiday season and on a Friday night to boot, an evening that was likely set aside for something else weeks or months ago, but I will be so happy to see any who can come.  (If you are in NYC and want to come, email me for details — see the about page for my email address.)

I probably won’t post while I’m there — way way too much going on, too many people to see and things to get done, and I need to do some work in any spare moments — but I’ll be back in Austin Monday night, the 17th, so I hope to be back to posting then.

In the meantime, I’ve been collecting some links and I thought I’d share them with you! That’s a good sign, right? I’m beginning to be interested in things again? Yeah? Feels good to me.

OK! With this, I close up Austin shop. Have a good few days, y’all; get some rest, eat something good, read something that moves you, talk to someone you love, and have some fun.