full disclosure

My last posts have focused on the biggest part of my life — the way it’s so happy right now, the way I am so happy right now, and the fact that my life has been peaceful for almost a year and I am eating it right up — and that’s all true.

And just like every other person in the world, my life is complex, filled with sometimes-contradictory experiences and feelings. As I have said before, my own happiness is characterized by a range of different feelings and memories and tendencies, including the ability to hold sadness.  Marnie once said that I feel all the emotions every day and think hard about what they mean, and I think she’s right. (But not all every day, because that would be exhausting.)

dancing with Will at Katie's wedding, a moment I didn't want intruded upon
dancing with Will at Katie’s wedding, a moment I didn’t want intruded upon

Even in the midst of my happiness, sometimes I wake up already crying and missing my son, and I just cry throughout the day. Sometimes it goes on like that for a few days. I’ll be cleaning the kitchen and tears are just seeping out of my eyes. My heart aches, my chest literally hurts. Sunday was one of those days, and when I was driving up to Katie’s house to stay with Oliver while the kids celebrated their anniversary, I found myself wondering how much longer I can bear this pain . . . and feeling like I surely can’t bear it for much longer. I very sadly have a couple of dear friends who are grappling with their kids’ absence from their lives. We talk about this a lot, because it’s a big comfort to share this pain with someone who understands. All my friends are compassionate and kind and loving when I talk about it, but these two friends get it because we’re all members of a club we never dreamed we’d join. A club no one would ever want to be in. (But how wonderful to have that darling little Oliver to spend time with — balm for an aching heart, to be sure.)

So I didn’t write about that when it was happening; I kept it close to myself and wrote about my happiness, which is also true. “Secret” #2 is that I’m drawing, and feeling a story pulling at me that I am nowhere near skilled enough to illustrate. I won’t be showing you any of it because it’s just for me.

And “secret” #3 is that I have a big and wonderful thing in the background (it’s about me, it’s not secret news of a daughter’s pregnancy or anything like that), and I won’t be sharing that until the time is right.

whose heart wouldn't be nurtured by Oliver?
whose heart wouldn’t be nurtured by Oliver?

Three little things to keep to myself, kind of, and this marks another shift in my life. I’ve never really understood privacy where my own self is concerned. I definitely understand others’ privacy, and find it easy to hold others’ secrets — or even just their ordinary stuff, because it’s theirs and not mine. I always wanted to say whatever was true for me, after a childhood of lies. It was almost a philosophical mission of mine, a militant mission, to get to be the one who says who I am and what I’m thinking and doing. Of course, I do write about my son and his absence and how much I miss him, so that’s not private in the same way as the other two things; I just ride those waves of sorrow when they come and don’t write about them every time. That’s not about hiding them and presenting a false story (“Look how happy I am!”), but rather a tender holding of something so personal, a desire to take care of myself as best I can, and it happens in the context of my greater happiness. So within my deeply happy day taking care of my sweet little grandson, and being available to my darling daughter so she had the ability to go out alone with her husband, within that I was also crying and nursing my slashed heart. (That picture of Oliver cracks me up; he’d just gotten up from a nap (nap hair!) and was watching that Disney movie Cars. The hair, the focus, the little hand on his hip….. )

As I told Marnie yesterday, shame is a big enough reason to keep my drawings private — I’m grinning, and wish I could put that word in a smaller sized font — but not too long ago I would’ve shown them and made great fun of myself: look at how badly I draw! I’m glad I don’t want to do that now.

And the big and wonderful thing in the background, oh I look forward to telling you about that one. I know you will be happy for me. I could tell, there’s nothing stopping me, no requirement that I keep it quiet, but I am relishing holding onto it and waiting until it’s ready to tell.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and again, and again — for 56 more years, I hope — getting older is so magnificent. If you’re already magnificent at 30, that’s incredible and I’m so happy for you and can only close my eyes and try to imagine how amazing you’ll be in your 50s. Earlier this week my incredible friend Nancy and I were talking about aging, and I said, “There are two kinds of people — one kind who thinks there are two kinds of people……[joke]…..–one kind who becomes more and more certain the older they get, and another who becomes less and less certain.” I think that’s true, and I think becoming less certain about things allows new things to happen, new thoughts to emerge, and new ways of being to come forth. It’s not just about aching joints and failing memory; it’s about letting go of things that don’t fit any more. Maybe they never really did, and you just get old enough to finally notice.

Right on.

ecstasy, then laundry

laundryThe post title is a straight-on reference to the title of a book by Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  I was thinking about this yesterday when I woke up, actually, and then as my challenging day unfolded it came front and center. I’ll start at the beginning.

I’ve been staying up too late the last several nights for a variety of reasons, and then sleeping a bit late each morning. It’s not my best rhythm, and when it’s combined with the incessantly gloomy skies we’ve had, it’s not my best head, either. So I woke up late and as I lay in bed doing my morning ritual, reflecting on what I wanted from the day ahead, I felt so flat, so uninspired. Even less than that. So I was thinking about this as a natural part of life: the exciting newness of a change is gone now, and the days are still the same kind of days. Of course. That’s one great thing about change at the beginning — at least the kind of change you seek out on purpose — it revitalizes you and disrupts the ordinariness. For a while, until it also becomes ordinary.

And while I am so very far from enlightenment, I do sit at the foothills of the trail that leads to the path that eventually takes you to the highway that ends up, eventually, at that bodhi tree. At least I have some new skills to help me deal with things. That’s enough.

So I finished my morning ritual, went into the kitchen to make my coffee — another very pleasurable ritual, that — and then turned on my computer, only to find that I had been pretty seriously hacked by someone in Germany. My browser was changed to google.de, and I had been locked out of all my email accounts. While I was in the midst of dealing with all that, which brought its own traumatic memories of our being hacked so horribly in NYC, a friend called with a personal crisis that was just close enough to one I’d had in my life that it rattled my bones. Like a 10 on the Richter scale level of rattling. When I hung up the phone with her, my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t stop pacing in circles. Marc called and I talked to him and broke down crying, remembering my own situation from 2005.

When we hung up, I knew what I needed to do. I changed into my yoga clothes and hit the mat for a vinyasa flow class. I needed to find my way back to the present, back to now, and back to my own body and breath. At the beginning of class my mind wouldn’t stay with me, despite the fact that the class moved quickly and demanded a lot of me, required me to think carefully about positioning my body and breathing. By the end of the hour, as we moved into savasana, I still wasn’t there all the way. I lay there and my old experience was in me so deeply that tears ran down both sides of my face, just missing my ears, in a steady stream. I tried to relax into the earth and just be, and my mind was not still. Then the teacher told a story I’d never heard, about the origin of the pose:

shivashaktiWhen Shiva first saw Shakti, he was so completely struck by her beauty that he fell backwards and lost all desire for anything but that moment. She walked towards him and danced on his stomach, and he had no awareness beyond the moment.

I can’t find that story online anywhere, but it’s so lovely, and it helped me in my roiling moment. I felt Shakti dancing on my own stomach, I felt the ground under my shoulders, and head, and bottom, legs, feet, hands. I felt my breath raising and lowering my chest, and my face and jaw relaxed. It was better.

But it wasn’t behind me all the way, and my shower didn’t move it, breathing didn’t relax it, just feeling the feelings didn’t relieve me into the present moment, a pizza and craft beer at my favorite place in Austin didn’t wash it away. I came home, did the laundry, opened my computer, worked, and lived another day of my life.

022515And that’s what it is. Life is sometimes like that. Inner experiences can whammy you, sucker punch you, just when you least expect them. Spiritual efforts like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, (pizza and beer…..consumed mindfully!) don’t magically wipe everything away. They aren’t magic wands, they don’t eliminate difficulty. But they do help, and they do give me a way to approach difficulty so that I might get something from it instead of just being tormented by it — a seed of wisdom, a connection to the suffering of others, a deeper awareness of my own experience, a more peaceful body. An ability to hold it and know I can hold it, and still engage the world with openness and kindness.

And that’s pretty good.

a healthy mess

It’s been a tough week for a lot of people I know, including me. I was going along more than fine, happy in my quotidian way (like you do), working too much yes, but quietly very happy. Solid. And then the suicide and the attendant crush of news and reports and incredibly horrible things said by some idiots, and stupid things said by people who perhaps just didn’t understand what suicidal depression really is, truly sorrowful and brief memorials by people who knew and loved/admired him, and of course the loss itself. Because Robin Williams was such a huge personality, the news reports seemed to try to equal him. I think it was hard for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, and you already know that and how it was a little hard for me. But you know, I was OK. Sad, thoughtful, sorrowful for his pain and for the kind of pain that brings so very many people to that point, but OK.

tommyThe next night I went to see a performance of The Who’s Tommy, that glam rock opera from the mid-70s. I did not know the storyline at all, just knew some of the songs. Pinball Wizard, See Me Feel Me. My beautiful friends who invited me to see it with them were excited; Karyn is an artist and had seen the costumes behind the scenes and was dazzled by them, by the artistry and color and design of the sets. All I knew was that Tommy was a deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure played a mean pinball—not sure I even knew that it had a storyline, much less what it was. I took myself to a beautiful dinner before we met, bought some books of poetry, and met my friends. We sat in the beautiful bar above the theater and talked in the early evening setting sun, caught up with each other, laughed. The music in the theater before the curtain went up was Elton John. Elton John, the soundtrack of my young life. I was happy and looking forward to it.

donttellBut I’ll tell you why little Tommy was deaf, dumb and blind. He had witnessed something terrible and his parents told him not to tell. Don’t tell what you know, you mustn’t tell the truth. And what he’d seen was so terrible. That started cracking me; telling children that they didn’t see what they saw, or that they have to keep something terrible a secret, those are mindfucks of a royal degree. I have my own experience with that and started crying. People should NOT do that to children. But a few scenes later, Tommy is molested by his uncle. And a few scenes after that, an aggressively sexual woman wants to take him with her, and she’ll return him as “not a man but no longer a child.” Before the molestation scene I took off my glasses, put my head down with my hair over my face, and tried not to make sounds as I cried. The tears were flying out of my eyes faster than I could wipe them away. I felt like vomiting, and was really afraid that I would. My stomach felt full of boiling acid, splashing up into my mouth.

You know, you watch television and movies where this kind of thing happens all the time. I’d bet that a substantial proportion of our entertainment consists of women being abused, raped or killed, and/or children being abused in any variety of ways. There’s a kind of distance with those media, and of course I get up and leave the room, or turn my head, hold my breath, it’s ok. It doesn’t tear me up, I’m used to that being a staple of our culture’s entertainment. But something about that actual boy there, a few yards from me, an actual child, kind of reminding me of my son at that age, and he sat there on the stage rocking rocking rocking rocking back and forth, as I have done many times in my young childhood, numb and dumb, and I could not take it. I had to leave at intermission, and it was all I could do to wait that long.

I was humiliated, though Karyn and Mike were as tender with me about it as you could hope, their arms around me and loving concern on their faces. But was embarrassed to be such a mess. All the others in the theater were laughing and dancing and applauding, and I was sobbing and doing all I could to hold myself together. Trying not to vomit. I got to my car and sobbed and sobbed for a good 10 minutes. Called my husband and just said it all to him, sobbing and sobbing. Finally exhausted it enough to drive home. It wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about my experiences. That’s not why I was so entirely devastated, though I did identify with him. But this happens to children. This happens to children all the time. All the time. Everywhere. And I just lost my ability to tolerate knowing that. Even though it was theater, OBVIOUSLY, it was a real boy on the stage, rocking rocking rocking. I just could not tolerate the knowledge that it was happening to children somewhere while I sat there in my car. Children sold. Children used. Not women or men, but no longer children. Soul murdered.

All night I had the same nightmare, over and over and over, I was in a house with a young boy and a terrifying man was there trying to kill us. He said he had set a bomb and I grabbed the boy and ran out the door, flying down the stairs, and I’d left other children in that house with him. Every time I woke up crying out, “Help me, help me!” And when I went back to sleep, I went right back into that terrible dream, never saving anyone.

I woke up and felt like I had a hangover. Could not really work all day. Had a wonderful visit with beautiful Nancy, my darling neighbor, and spent our time together crying and monopolizing the conversation. Karyn and Mike came to see me, they had been so worried about me after I left the theater. After that time with those three people I adore, I felt like the well was somewhat exhausted, but I still felt numb and drained. Happy hour with a new but familiar-feeling friend, lots of connection and joy, and I drove home with a smile.

When I was driving to meet my darling friend for a drink, I was thinking, “What a mess I am.” I’d thought that when I was so upset while monopolizing the conversation with Nancy. “What a mess I am.” I am, and I am not. I’m tenderhearted, I’m open, I’m connected perhaps too easily to suffering, there are too many terrible things I can understand for personal reasons. After my 55 years of being here, like most people I’m intimately familiar with all kinds of terrible ways of this often-hard world. But usually I don’t get so knocked back, so wrenched open, so unable to stop crying. What a mess. I did feel like a mess, unable to get myself under enough control to stay in the theater, and unable to enjoy a back-and-forth with Nancy, instead seeking her care for my own pain. But I don’t really think I’m a mess. Not really.

As my friend and I were saying over drinks, it’s an “and” world. And so I am a mess AND I am very very strong. Perhaps you might call this rationalization (and perhaps it is), but being able to be open to and bear the pain of one’s own and others’ suffering is strong. It requires strength, at least. I am not crumbled, fractured, broken, unable to go on. It was a painful few days, a reminder of the suffering that so many people live with, and that kind of broke my heart. I have one of those magic hearts, apparently, that breaks pretty easily and reassembles itself pretty well.

the oldest swimming pool in Texas, Deep Eddy. I've been swimming there for FIFTY YEARS oh my god.
the oldest swimming pool in Texas, Deep Eddy. I’ve been swimming there for FIFTY YEARS oh my god.

Swimming this morning, and working the rest of the day. That’ll help too. Sunshine on my startlingly white legs, bravura in my bathing suit out in the bright light, cool water all over my body and on my face, drying in the sun, and maybe even eating an ice cream sandwich, if they still sell them there. It’s Friday y’all. It’s been a hard week. Be very very good to each other. xoxo

the last of those anniversaries

There was a 17-day period last year that was the worst of my whole life, and I cannot imagine such a thing will ever happen to me again. Nearly my whole life crumbled under my feet, and very little was the same at the end of it; mercifully — an enormous mercy — I still had my precious children and I was still alive, but everything else was gone. My granddaughter. My daughter’s desperate longing to be a mother. My marriage. Where and how I lived. My dreams. Poof.

this was me then, a year ago yesterday. makes me cry to see all the sorrow in my exhausted face.
this was me then, a year ago yesterday. makes me cry to see all the sorrow in my exhausted face.

One year ago yesterday I boarded an airplane with three giant suitcases filled with clothes. I didn’t have a key to anything or any place. I flew away from New York, believing I’d never live there again. I left friends, hoping to stay in touch. I left a small number of books, planning to return to pack and ship them. And that’s it. Me plus clothing in bags. Been there before, never thought I’d be there again. (But I survived.)

One enormous loss was the belief that finally I’d never have to move again. I’d lived at the same address for six years, longer than I had ever lived at one address my whole life. Three times as long as I’d ever lived at one address, actually. My 80th move took me there, and I believed — finally, I believed — that I wouldn’t ever move again until I was dead. I fought my way to that belief, resisting allowing myself to believe it out of fear, fearing that becoming comfortable about that would make the pain unendurable if I lost it. But finally I did come to believe it. And the pain was in fact almost unendurable when I lost it. (But I survived.)

One year ago yesterday he drove me to the airport and spoke sharply to me on the way, making me cry even harder. He helped me get my three enormous bags into the airport and then turned and walked away, and I stood there in shock. (But I survived.) Here’s what I said about it last year:

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

Remembering all this brings the terrible pain back into my chest, the blankness back into my mind, the tears back into my eyes. Waiting for me in Austin was my beautiful and devastated daughter Katie, reeling and blank from her daughter’s funeral just a couple of weeks earlier. My solid and loving son-in-law Trey, reeling too. And they opened their arms, their home to me. They absorbed me with love, put their aching arms around me. There was so much to do — I didn’t have a fork, even. I landed at the airport around 1pm on a Saturday, and by 3pm that same day I’d rented my place and bought a couch. The next Monday Katie and I drove to San Antonio to pick up the car I’d bought.

Somehow, Katie and I bought all the things I’d need to make myself a home. Somehow she found it in herself to press me not to shortchange myself and just get junk, knowing it would eventually make me feel terrible to be surrounded by plastic, temporary things when I felt so temporary myself. Somehow she and Trey helped me make the transition two weeks after I arrived, leaving me to grieve alone in my new home, and leaving them to return to their own lives alone together to continue their grief. (And we all survived.)

A year ago yesterday I stood on scorched earth, a place I’d stood many times, a place I feared ever standing again, a place I believed I could never endure standing again. A year ago yesterday I and my life were saturated by loss and devastation. (But I survived.)

A year ago yesterday, one of those extraordinary serendipitous moments happened to me, as they frequently do. On the flight to Austin, I turned a page in the book I was reading and came upon this poem, the most perfect thing I ever could have read:

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.

The poem gave me strength and courage, as did knowing that Katie and Trey were waiting for me, and boy the poem was the truest thing ever. I was not done with my changes; I will not be, until I draw my last breath. I had so much pain waiting for me, when I thought I’d already endured more than I could. I had so much heartbreak waiting, when I thought my heart was already shattered completely. I had so much growth ahead of me, when I thought the root was dead, finally, killed by too much suffering at the end of a life of too much suffering.

What I didn’t know, a year ago yesterday, was everything. I didn’t know the pain still to come (so glad for that); I didn’t know the harshness January and February would bring me (so glad for that); I didn’t know I’d find such beautiful things in myself, I didn’t know how strong I am even though I thought I did; I didn’t know my life would become better than it has ever been, filled with so many people who would just open their arms to me and take me in. I didn’t know I’d build a home for myself. I didn’t know I’d be surrounded by people. I didn’t know I’d thrive. And I certainly didn’t know I’d find my way back in New York City regularly, I certainly didn’t know I’d find some way to stay connected to my husband, I certainly didn’t know (and in fact would’ve bet everything against it) that he would change so much, so deeply, and in the ways I most needed. I assume I’ve made similar changes. I didn’t know I would in fact get to travel — didn’t know I’d go to Java and Bali, didn’t know Sri Lanka would be in my future, a year ago. I didn’t know that from my place of such tremendous want, I’d end up with such enormous surplus.

Just goes to show you. It ain’t over til it’s over, no matter how it looks in the dark. Katie, Trey, thank you for the ways you gave ME a home and a safety net, and all your love. Marnie, Tom, thank you for your optimism and support, assuring me I would be better than I dreamed. All that isn’t limited to a year ago yesterday, of course — it came before and it continues after that anniversary, but when I was at my greatest need, you held me. For such an unlucky person I am the luckiest person in the whole world.

Grace Louise

A year ago today, Katie delivered little Gracie, her full-term stillborn daughter. It was just a knot in the umbilical cord, and I haven’t yet been able to figure out if that makes it even worse. Some days it feels like it does. There was nothing wrong with Katie or Grace, she would’ve been perfect, fine, alive.

It’s been a hard year. My own grief is probably 80% for my dear, dear daughter and her terrible loss and suffering, but there is a very potent ache and suffering for the loss of our little Gracie. Her quilt and Christmas stocking remain unfinished, and I think that’s such a good metaphor for this lost member of our family. Perfect and beautiful, but unfinished.

Gracie shows up most often in my dreams. In fact, a couple of nights ago I had a dream that was very clearly about Gracie, and I woke up in such terrible grief I was crying. But today we are all remembering October 21 of last year, the biggest tragedy my little family has experienced, by far. My divorce from my kids’ father was wrenching and devastating, but we all lived. It pales in comparison to this.

I don’t have anything new or insightful to say about our family’s loss; I’ve grieved and grieved over this past year, and witnessed Katie’s and Trey’s ongoing grief and efforts to find their way forward. The sharpness of the grief has lessened for me, into something like a dull ache that can still stop me, but I don’t experience that every day. It comes in waves. Three weeks ago I was putting groceries in my car at the supermarket and got hit by such a powerful wave of grief and anguish, I had to stop and get in the car and burst out crying, clutching the steering wheel to steady me. It lasted for five minutes, and then I continued putting away the groceries. It’s like that. Grief is an animal that has its own life and it takes up residence. It hibernates sometimes, but it’s still and always there, waiting for you.

And so today I can only acknowledge this one-year anniversary, and honor the memory of our little Grace Louise. We all loved her so much. I didn’t write a post on this day last year, obviously, but I wrote a lot in the 10 days afterwards. This post, written the night before I left to return to New York — never dreaming of the devastation that awaited me — is the most ‘popular’ post I’ve ever written. It has been shared widely, it received a lot of comments and caused so many people to write me private emails, and it’s received the most hits of anything I’ve ever written. It’s titled ‘notes from the mother in the middle of the night‘ and I think it really captures the moment in a way that is true and honest. I cannot read it without crying.

Poetry is such a comfort, and in the days around our loss I posted a good bit of poetry. Sometimes the comfort is nothing more than a clear articulation of the formless feeling that haunts you, but that is a comfort. I just found this one, and it speaks to the effect of time, how easy it is to forget, and how awful it can be.

GRIEF, by Stephen Dobyns

Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.

Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.

I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.

Today I am also flying back to Austin so it’s a difficult day in so many ways. Tomorrow will be better. I know it will. xo

the motherless we

Last night I saw Neko Case perform at Austin City Limits. I first fell in love with her when I heard I Wish I Was the Moon, which I played over and over when Marc and I were falling in love, so it also has those emotional connections for me. It’s a gorgeous song even without all that.

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Something about her music has always resonated for me — her style, her powerful but so sweet voice, her lyrics.  In promoting her new album (“The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”), she did an interview in which she talked about a deep depression she just came through after the loss of both her parents and other people in her family. In the course of the interview she said that she was very close to her grandmother but she didn’t like her parents. Something about the way she said that, the absolute finality of it, struck me. She said she’d been an orphan her whole life and that’s when I knew why I recognized her. I wrote a short story once that included a sentence that said, essentially, my parents gave me up but kept me with them. My own long, roundabout way of saying that I was an orphan (although I think actually being an orphan might’ve been much better).

There are so many ways to be an orphan, and it’s a mistake to compare suffering, it can’t be done. But if your mother dies and you are an orphan, it’s simply different from if your mother hates you from birth. Having your mother hate you from birth is different from having your mother give you up for adoption; in some way, there is love there—a mother who gives up her child is probably hoping someone can give her child what she is unable to give for whatever reason. It still probably feels like an abandonment to the child, and that’s surely awful. But there are plenty of kids born to mothers who simply hate them. I was. 

There’s something about those of us whose mothers hated us from birth, and always hated us thereafter. There’s a certain wariness to us, a certain kind of unfillable hole. But it’s so big, the hole is almost more than what’s left around it. As poet Matt Rasmussen said in his beautiful poem After Suicide, “a hole is nothing but what remains around it. While I was watching Neko Case perform, another motherless woman, I was thinking about what it means to be hated from birth, when the one who gives birth to you hates your very existence, when you are a curse, a ruination of her life. You have ruined the life of the one who gave you life, so what does that mean for you? There are so many ways to feel worthless, but being hated by your mother is so very deep and old it’s just invisible. You don’t feel worthless, you are worthless. For some of us, it’s not theoretical, it’s not a conjecture, it’s not a temporary state or a phase you pass through during adolescence. For some of us, it just is.

Of all the various family members I’ve adopted over the course of my adult life, I have never found a mother. My first mother-in-law Ruth was very good to me — very good — and she loved me and I loved her. But whether it was something in her or something in me, she never felt like my own mother. I am forever grateful for how good she was to me, and for the love she gave me, but she wasn’t my mother.

I have no idea what a mother’s love feels like. No idea. I try to imagine the inverse with my kids; I know how terribly much I love them, how my own life is a kind of tent over all of them, encompassing them, giving my life all its meaning. I hope they feel how very much they’re loved, and I believe they do, but I can’t figure out how it feels to have that. I’ve had adopted fathers and felt like they were fathers to me, but it doesn’t cross-filter into letting me know what a mother’s love feels like. It’s so funny how absolute it is; I can do things to give me the vaguest sense of what it might feel like to be in space, for god’s sake. I can get into deep tanks, I could go to Space Camp in Huntsville and do some kind of simulation thing to really help me know what it might feel like to be in space. Outer space, since I’m an old-timer. But I do not know what it feels like to be loved by a mother.

Luckily, though, I have my children. Some motherless children do not have their own children, and I can’t imagine what that feels like. The space reference makes sense to me here, because there is surely nothing holding that woman down, nothing anchoring her. I don’t have a tether holding me from my back to behind me, but I do have one holding me from my front outwards, to my children. Those connections give me my real life.

So many of the songs in the concert last night had lyrics that got at the motherlessness. There were lines about mother and poison, about needing but there being no mother’s hands. She didn’t perform this song last night, and I’ve posted it here before, but this song could only have been written by a motherless person.

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Lyrics here. It’s a part of that song — no one will believe you, you won’t believe it, but it really happened.  Of all the difficulties I suffered through, being a motherless child is the pain that lingers after all these years, the gaping hole around which I exist. If you have a mother, even a difficult one, I don’t think you can begin to comprehend, just as I can’t comprehend what it’s like to have one.

Ah, such a sad subject, one that is always with me.  Even when I am happy, I can touch that hole so very easily. I’ve talked in my blog before about my tribes (with two follow-up tribe posts), and most of those are tribes I claim with pride or identity. But the tribe of the motherless is a heavy-hearted tribe, a sad and empty tribe, and we cannot provide each other comfort or understanding, because being motherless is a singular experience. We’ve taken too much into ourselves, we’ve turned inward too much. It’s too personal.

I hope you have/had a mother, and I hope you felt her love. If you didn’t, like me, I hope you have children. But if you didn’t have a mother and you don’t have children, I hope you can transform that sorrow into art like Neko Case does, so brilliantly. Here’s a link to her new album on Amazon, $11.75, and here it is on iTunes, $10.99. There’s not a bum song on the whole album. Click this link to hear the rocking rocking song I’m a Man, on YouTube. As I write this a couple of hours after the concert, I think the song is still making my blood vibrate.


sitting with yourself

Recently I came across one of those lists — this one was “50 things life is really about” — and while some items were kind of strange, some felt familiar to me, deep in my gut. One was “find your own bible,” and that idea stimulated yesterday’s post about my bibles. A lot of us bookish folk find our bibles during the upheaval years of our adolescence, and if we’re lucky enough to find just the right book, it stays with us our whole lives, growing with us.

one of those dreadful nights, hard to sit with myself
one of those dreadful nights, hard to sit with myself

Another item on the list was the ability to sit with yourself. This is hard to do, for me, anyway. Some people run away very quickly into the arms of terrible distractors — drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, destructive behaviors of all kinds. Some of us eat. And oh the variety of things that make it hard to sit with ourselves! I can sit through anger and boredom, but loss drives me to the refrigerator. Inadequacy drives me to pace . . . and eventually I’m likely to find the refrigerator, though not as reliably as feelings of loss. I’ve never eaten my way to morbid obesity (or even anything approaching it), but I have definitely relied on eating when I find it hard to sit with myself. And then the spiral of shame that comes as a consequence. Oh, so hard.

I just had to end a relationship that drifted into a place I was nowhere near able to be. It was painful, because the ending hurt someone a lot, someone I valued, someone I really cared about, someone who added so much to my life. I do not like to hurt people — most of us don’t — and I’m too soft for my own good.  It was the right thing to do, but I felt so shitty anyway. He had tears in his eyes, his sorrow was obvious. I have historically not been good at doing this. As the hours passed after I told him, my stomach hurt. I wanted to pace, I wanted to eat, I wanted to distract myself any way I could. But I didn’t. I just kind of sat with it. (Actually, I just kind of lay with it. I didn’t get out of bed yesterday, I just stayed here and worked.)

Meditation helps with this, forcing you to just sit and let the feelings come, and eventually they pass through and away. It’s really funny how hard it is to tolerate those feelings, even though they’re just feelings. And they have little burrs stuck to them, nasty little thoughts. “I led him on, I wasn’t clear enough.” Yes, I tried to be, always. I wasn’t perfect, but perfection isn’t the lone standard. “I am cruel and always hurt people.” No, I try hard not to hurt people, I try very very hard. “Now what will happen to him?” He will be OK, I am not the end-all and be-all in his life. And he participated too, he heard me say the things I said, all along. I was not a perpetrator.

And I guess this is really the point. Sitting with yourself involves talking back, and knowing which side of that inner dialogue is true. If you’re like me, one side feels true but it really isn’t, it’s old voices describing a me who never was. I still feel bad, I still wish this person could  be in my life because he added so much to it, I still wish there hadn’t been a need for this line in the sand, I still wish there weren’t any pain, but that’s just not the case. My stepfather used to snarl, “Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up fastest.” “If wishes were horses beggars would ride.”  I also wish I had a million dollars and a flat stomach, but that’s equally impossible. 🙂

Since I’m working with Jeff, my health coach, I’ve been paying close attention to the kinds of uncomfortable feelings that make me run away from myself to the refrigerator. Mostly, they’re feelings of loss. I feel loss and just want to fill it up with ice cream. Apparently. So that’s information, and I can learn how to sit with feelings of loss and not hurt myself in response.

Sitting with yourself instead of running away from yourself is a big challenge of life, and mastering it helps you be more stable, easier able to roll with what happens — because shit will happen. Loss happens, anger happens, betrayal happens, frustration happens, misunderstanding happens, unfairness happens. And sometimes they happen to you, and on occasion you are the one doing it — even if you don’t mean to. In other words: like me, you may be a delicate flower but you are not a unique flower. You are, of course, but we all participate in humanity.

I wonder — I think loss is hard for us all, anger is probably hard for us all (harder, maybe, for women). What’s particularly hard for you? Have you figured it out? What do you when that thing hits, how do you sit with it, how do you stay with yourself? I’m always looking for clues.

Happy Monday y’all. We’re approaching mid-August, can you believe it?!

deep waters

deepwaterI seem to be in a little run of mainly writing on Fridays, for some strange reason. (Maybe it’s my subconscious prodding me to resume my Friday posts about my tattoos. Hmmm.) But one of these days—and I can’t wait for it—I’ll be back to having lots of things to say every day because I’m thinking about lots of things and need to work through them by writing about them. Right now, though, I’m just floating in some deep water.

And I’m sleeping like that too, still and deep. One night I got an idea to tuck one pillow against my back and maybe it’s a coincidence, but I’ve slept amazingly well ever since. My husband always slept tucked against my back with his leg draped over mine, and somehow that made me feel safe, like I wasn’t going to drift away. So feeling the slight pressure of that pillow against my back must make me feel safe or something. I drift off to sleep within ~half an hour of getting in bed and sleep straight through until 9am, usually. A couple of nights ago I had twin nightmares in the middle of the night and it was hard to calm down enough to go to sleep, but excepting that, it’s a long, deep, quenching sleep, the kind that just feels so good, you know? My consciousness drifts near the surface at moments and I just have an underawareness of how wonderful the sheets feel, I stretch my legs and it feels so good, I take a deep breath and dive down again. I’m having funny little dreams (except for those nightmares), which tells me I am actually sleeping. I spontaneously wake up just before 9am and I feel wonderful. Last night, I apparently did not move at all; the covers were flat around me as they were when I went to sleep. I could’ve just slid out of the bed and the bed would’ve been made. Well, the unfortunate effect of that is that the muscles in my shoulders and lower neck didn’t get to move and they’re hurting. I need a deep tissue massage.

Deep is appearing so much in my mind and life right now, but it always has. Once, when I was 12, I sat in the car with my mother and stepfather and he looked at me and said, “Still waters run deep,” prompting my mother to do her mean little attacky thing because she wasn’t getting all the attention. I ignored her and thought about what that saying meant about me, and whether it was right. I’ve heard it said of me various times since then, and the first thing I think is Still waters? I’m a thrasher! Within the last couple of years I’ve become significantly less thrashy (thank you dear Sherlock for giving me that word a few years ago, saying there was a certain thrashing quality about me, so true). My daughters noted it, and Sherlock told me spontaneously that there’s so much less thrashing now. Aging, hard work, deep thought, hard times, all work together in my life. And hard times carve deep valleys; my dear son-in-law Trey mentioned this old poem about a week ago, quoting the bolded line below when we were talking about our dear little Gracie:

On Joy and Sorrow
Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Yeah. What he said. Deep-carved sorrows leave space to be filled. I don’t think it’s necessarily and always the case that those empty spaces become filled with the capacity for joy, they can also become filled with bitterness and jealousy and contempt. I’ve seen that. But I’ve been carved so deep for so long, beginning as a tiny child, and I’m grateful that what filled me has mostly been the capacity for joy. That’s one reason I love my daughter Marnie’s recent comic published by Saveur Magazine, about her trip to Marrakesh. The magazine sent her there and to Madrid, asking that she create comic travelogues about each place and the Marrakesh comic just went live. It’s a thing we have in common, an easy sense of wonder and gratitude, and it’s present so beautifully in her comic, in a moving but then funny way.

It’s drizzly and gray here today, a good day for hunkering down and working and whaddya know, I have work. I hope it’s a good Friday and weekend for you, whatever it’s like where you are. Lots of love.



You know how this kind of thing goes, the way it grows with its own momentum. I’m certain it’s happened to you — here’s how it happened to me yesterday.

I didn’t sleep well the night before, for starters. I kept waking up and feeling unsettled, anxious, kind of scared, cold, lonely, alone. Finally, I woke up at 5:00 for good, and at 5:30 I got out of bed. The house was very cold, so I shuffled into the dark living room and got the fire going in the fireplace. That was the only light in the living room, but the Christmas lights on the patio were tossing in a soft light, too. I made my coffee in the dimmest light possible and brought it in front of the fire, where I sat, shivering, waiting for the warmth of the fireplace to seep into my bones. I felt so alone in the otherwise-lovely space. As the morning lit up the sky, I thumbed through the newest issues of The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, flagging articles to read later, stopping to read the poetry and look at the cartoons. Yeah, maybe I was going to be OK today after all.

I worked for several hours then decided I’d better run to the market before it got too crowded. I was mostly OK, holding that line of being OK even though it felt kind of fragile. But OK. There are two big grocery stores near me, and the nearest one is slightly more expensive, and fancy (Randall’s, it’s called). Well, this Randall’s is either so fancy they incorporate mood lighting into the shopping experience, or their lights were half burned out. Either way, it was kind of moody and nice. I hate the glare of supermarket lighting. So the moody lighting felt kind of OK, I was still hanging onto that line, and then the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas started playing. Like the mood lighting, it was a quiet version of the song, a tender version, nothing jangly and upbeat about it at all. And all of a sudden I felt the huge cracks in my broken heart and had to run out of the store and sit in my car and cry for a bit before I could go in and finish shopping. I returned to the store hoping for something more annoying, like Jingle Bells.

So what happens then? You know how this plays out: Now I’m weepy. I’m so sad. I want to help myself, I want to shift my mood, feel a little better, but any music that might help me do that is just too wrong, too far away from how I’m feeling. So I find a song that doesn’t feel so jarring, and it’s also moody and quiet, and sustains my sad feeling. (By the way, if you’re ever looking for that kind of music, I can’t recommend Max Richter’s 24 Postcards in Full Colour strongly enough.) And now my sad feeling is even deeper, so I’m farther away from happy music.

Sure, you can sit there in your smug happiness and tell me I was wallowing. 🙂 But I beat you to that explanation, I got there first. I knew it. But if you can’t wallow in the depth of the Christmas season when your marriage is ending and you’re starting all over[again] and your granddaughter died, when can you wallow, I ask you.

I could really eat a pink snoball right about now. Emotional eating, my strong suit. Never the white ones, oh no — only the lurid pink ones. Because if you’re going to eat crap, you might as well go all the way.

Here’s a short piece from the Max Richter album I mentioned — see how moody? Doesn’t it just beg for a snoball? Or maybe a big pile of chocolate?

empty streets

Yesterday was a difficult day. It started so well, with a visit from dear sweet family members, Dixie and Karl, whom I haven’t seen in decades. That was just wonderful, the time we spent with them. I cherished every second of it, and I’ll feel the warmth of the memories for so very long. AND I won’t have to go so long without seeing them, ever again.

But after that, the day turned so sour and painful. The details aren’t important to report here, they have to do with a couple of people in my life, but the feeling came together so powerfully when I left the movie theater last night.

I sat in the car for several minutes before I left, gathering myself. I’m definitely having periods of feeling positive and hopeful, and I can see all the good around me, and in my future. But I’m always weighed down so heavily by grief, and loss, and by still feeling so confused by everything that has happened, for none of it makes deep sense to me. It pulls for WHY questions, and even when there are answers (“it was a knot in the umbiilical cord”) they just don’t feel like good enough answers. But why? Why? Why, when we love each other, and write each other daily and call each other honey and sign off with I love you, why? Why not? So when I am feeling the good things, or expressing them, I’m pushing against the heavy weight of all this. It’s not generally an easy expression of hope and happiness yet, it comes with the resistance against all this deep sorrow.

I pulled out onto the highway to drive home to Katie’s, and there wasn’t one car in sight. Her place is only about 6 minutes away, but I never once encountered another car or person. I drove on the highway, I pulled into her subdivision, I passed all the houses all lit up and many had Christmas lights decorating the trees already, and didn’t see a single person. And I felt so utterly alone and lonely. ‘Lonely’ is not a feeling I have, except on the rarest of occasions; I remember feeling lonely in January of 2000, but I’m so surrounded by people and family and loved ones, lonely just isn’t a common feeling I have at all.

It was an Edward Hopper kind of emptiness, a Giorgio de Chirico kind of loneliness, and it felt just awful. Of course I was driving to Katie’s house, where she and Trey waited for me to have pie with them, and their dogs fill the space with happiness, and there is love all around. It wasn’t that I had a moment of thinking I was all alone in the world….it was just a feeling of such empty loneliness that I had to pull over and cry. When I tried to go to sleep, I felt pinned to the bed by the weight of it.

So this is just what it is to be going through this part of my life, and it’s only a piece of the whole thing. Only a piece. There are other pieces too, red ones and funny-shaped ones and edgey pieces and brilliant yellow. This was the little black piece in the lower left corner, but it’s such an important piece in the whole scheme.

water moving underneath the bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Partial lyrics —

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

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

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

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