life can be such a wonder

One thing they often say in AA is, “Don’t give up before the miracle.” Easy to see the relevance for addicts, scooting so painfully through minutes and hours and days, but of course it’s true for everyone — and I’m so guilty of giving up too quickly. It’s one of my most problematic struggles; I hit a roadblock and throw up my hands, and some particular roadblocks are especially hard for me. I deeply admire those who persist, who keep coming back and trying again — gosh, I admire that so much. I can readily call to mind two friends whose persistence is a source of inspiration for me.

Waiting for the miracle requires patience, obviously, but I also think you have to be able to let be what is, without rushing to force it into where you want to be. I do think that’s one of the secrets of life, and of course I think you’ll only eventually get there if you keep at it. It’s not going to happen all on its own. (Although dang it, sometimes it does, and so maybe I don’t know anything after all. 🙂 )

So here’s the wonder, for me. The miracle. This thing with my dad. This thing with old deep wounds — deep, like a puncture, so they produce an ache instead of a wince. This thing with time. This thing with process. Yesterday I was doing some house cleaning, dancing and feeling so happy with the solstice, enjoying the very bright sunshine while we had it, and my playlist shuffled over to “Christmas Time is Here,” from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. The vocal version, the one that has, for 47 years, punched me so hard in the heart that I couldn’t not cry. I couldn’t not remember, and feel all those old puncture wounds so deep in my heart. I mean really, who breaks up the family on Christmas Eve MOTHER. Seriously.

I believe this was taken a couple of weeks before my mother left my father — we seem about the right ages. And HOW DECEIVING looks can be. We look like well cared-for children, happy kids. I had no idea what was coming, but my life was already sad and awful then…and I just didn’t know that it would get so, so, so much worse. I remember that dress, my mother made them for my sister and me, red velvet. We wore them with white tights and black shoes. And my brother’s shirt was blue velvet, with a blue and green collar. We were sitting on the coffee table with our legs extended out in front of us, and my brother Sam stood behind us. What we didn’t know, then. Grateful for that. I rescued this photo from a dumpster — Mother called me to say that she’d dumped everything that had me in it and there weren’t many photos, but this was recoverable.

And so I paused in my sweeping, and stood there, listening, and it was OK. I smiled. It’s OK now. I remember without the ache. Now I remember, and it’s OK. It makes me feel tender but not hurt.

OK, you might say, for God’s sake it was 47 years ago for heaven’s sake — and so you don’t understand how deep a puncture wound can be, when it’s made at just the right moment in a young girl’s heart.

One of my first Christmases — I was around 2 years old, and apparently very excited about my watch (what??), a pinwheel, a harmonica, a doll, and a pack of gum. Hell, most of that would make me happy today. I still make that face when I’m given a gift, but I no longer wear the Cromwell haircut.

Thank GOD for time and process. At my age, I hadn’t really thought I could fully heal those old wounds. I’ve been at it such a long time. So much trying, always with hope even if it was small. It’s such a wonder to be able to approach these things that have always hurt, and not feel hurt any more. Such a wonder. Such a wonder to feel real peace — not tentative peace, not partial peace, not an idea that I might one day feel peace, but real peace. The peace of letting it be, the peace of letting be what was.

I believe with all my heart Faulkner’s great line about the past: “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” I believe that. But what I learned is that even if it’s not dead, even if it’s still present, it can be OK. It doesn’t have to keep hurting . . . what a wonder! What a wonder. Grief can find its place and be OK, really OK. Still there but really OK. One of the puzzle pieces, that’s all – maybe the black piece there at the edge, or even in the middle, but just a piece connected to all the others. Pain can find its place and not hurt any more, even if it’s still in the puzzle. Just, wow. What a wonder.

And now, to shift the word wonder, I wonder if I can use this learning to help me do something with my mother — I’ve never tried to deal with her because she’s been too mysterious to me, but maybe I don’t even have to. Maybe all that I said in my post on December 20 can apply to her, too. Maybe I can just let her be, too. Maybe that was a huge enough insight to allow me that gift.

I wonder. And I wonder.  WOW.

layers of time

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

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

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

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

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

He just couldn’t believe it.

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

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

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

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


fritterSO much to do, and way too little time, right? That’s been my mantra my whole life. I know people who have zero interests and if I had to have their problem or mine, I’d definitely take mine every single time — but that doesn’t make my problem any easier to hold.

My work doesn’t earn me that much money, so I basically have to work all the time, which makes my spare time even less, such a shame for a person with boundless interests and passions outside work. Still, I work for myself and so how I arrange my time is no one’s business but my own — which is a huge treat, I know! I spent my entire working life in offices, where how I arranged my time was everyone’s business but my own, so I am grateful every day for this.

In thinking about being sure I do as many things I want to do as possible, I have the obsessive’s tendency toward ridiculous scheduling — and since I love little more than an Excel spreadsheet, I can be super ridiculous about it! “Piddling and wasting time, 8:40-8:50.” Really, I can so do that. “Shower, 8:50-8:54.” “Blow dry hair, 9:30-9:35”

But what I’ve been thinking about lately is taking a bigger-picture view of it all. If I think about my week, how would it look? I’d want to do yoga 4 times at a minimum. I’d want to walk every day. I’d want to work on a secret project for…oh, I don’t know….4 hours/week, making this up. I’d want to work on a different secret project for some period of time. I’d eat out once. I’d see Oliver and Katie once, at least, but definitely once a week.

And then when I think about all the other things I love to do but struggle to find time for — playing any of my musical instruments, making a quilt, starting bicycling, etc. — how do I ever find time for them, since it’s so hard just to squeeze in time for the things in the paragraph above? (Stupid work, taking all my time. Grrrr.) I have to give up on the idea of mastery and reorient myself toward doing them for my own pleasure, first of all, so then I consider my month calendar. Maybe twice a month I spend an hour having fun playing my guitar or banjo or ukulele or dulcimer. Maybe twice a month I spend a couple of hours on a weekend morning working on a quilt. Oh, I can replace daily walking with bicycling, that’s an easy one.

I don’t know, I’m thinking this through out loud and just trying to figure out how to make it work. If I take my week’s calendar, with it’s givens already blocked out — due dates for a manuscript, already existing appointments — and then decide which days I will do yoga without worrying about it more specifically; which days I can squeeze in time for this, time for that, I wonder if it’ll be easier to find time for the things I love? Perhaps working on the day’s schedule, with an urgent whisper yoga today! Walking today! How about banjo today too . . . and that secret project, squeeze that in today somewhere…., perhaps that just keeps me stressed out and piddling in a bad way, instead of giving myself the gift of doing what I want. If I sit with my calendar every Saturday morning and place things in the week like this, I wonder if it would feel different — like giving myself a gift or something. Thinking about it each day, as I’ve been doing, it feels more like a burden, like work, like “Oh god, I still need to get in my walk and …..”.

If you struggle with this kind of thing, have you found some way of managing your time, some way of being sure you do the things you love to do? It’s hard! I don’t think anyone has a magic wand, and I’m also sure that we all have to find our own idiosyncratic ways, but still, perhaps the way you do it will have some little idea that I could accommodate to my way. I’d sure love to hear your approach.

Me, though, I’m back to work. This manuscript won’t read itself. xoxoxo

a beauty break

Finally yesterday it dawned on me: I am depressed. It’s an existential/meaning depression this go-round, and I’m working my way through some of it in private writing until I get enough of a handle on it to write about it here. Right now it’s too formless and strange. But essentially it’s “what will I do with the rest of my life now.” THAT old story.

I had an image floating around my mind, one that my son Will loved ten years ago, and I couldn’t remember the artist. It’s amazing what you can get with a Google search. I tried “sepia photograph man tree fire” and didn’t find it, then added the word Robert to the mix — I had a vague memory that was his name — et voila. Robert and Shana Parke Harrison. This is the Google image search so you can get a quick glance at what’s out there. These were the images I had in my mind, and tonally they fit my mindset.

Looking through the images made me think of Andy Goldsworthy, who you probably know. I find his work extraordinary, because he’s working with time. Here’s the trailer for one film about his work called Rivers and Tides:

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And here are some photographs of pieces he has placed in the world — the temporary pieces. There’s also a permanent piece at the Storm King Art Center just north of New York. (This link goes to the Google image search for his work.)

So much beauty there, and ephemeral. And of course it’s that ephemeral nature that makes it beautiful.

Tomorrow I fly home, hallelujah, so more from me on Thursday. xo

an itinerant marriage

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

My life is complicated. Blah blah blah, so is yours, so is everyone’s. The way mine is complicated relates most pointedly to my marriage, which has been thrown up in the air. I moved to Texas in November 2012 because my husband and I were planning to divorce, and my heart was so thoroughly broken. I didn’t want to find someone else, I didn’t want to date for fun, I was just starting a new version of my life without a partner and that was that, and that was always going to be that. In the first few months we tried a couple of different things that didn’t work, we tried letting each other go, and the letting-go didn’t work, either. And so we arrive at my complicated life: I visit him 11 days/month, but I live in Texas the rest of the month.  My real life is in Texas, my residence is there, my bills are there, my tax burden is there, my heart is there. More or less. When Oliver is born in a few weeks I’ll stay Texas-side for a prolonged period, but after we get back from Greece I’ll stay in New York until the Yale gig starts.

I miss him terribly when we are apart, though I have such a rich and wonderful life in Texas and I love it with all my heart. I love my life in Austin. I love my friends, I love my poetry group, and my book club. I love all of that. I love being so close to family, especially since Katie will be having her baby soon. I’m glad to be near her and Trey, I’m glad to be here for Oliver’s birth, and I’m glad I’ll be close to him while he grows up. I wish that could be true for all my children, because my family matters the most to me. I wish I could also live right down the road from Marnie and Tom, and I wish Will would be part of our lives. But I am near Katie and Trey, and I feel so grateful for that.

When my husband and I are together, because we have missed each other so terribly, and because our time is precious, we really just focus on each other and want to spend the time we have together, while we have it. We make plans, we do things, we decide not to do them after all, we change plans, we do nothing, we sleep in, we relish the pleasure of touching feet at night, of sleeping spine-to-spine, or spine to tummy, the pleasure of knowing we’re there, the pleasure of talking in the night if we wake up, the pleasure of being there if the other has a nightmare. Those little pleasures are not ours to take for granted anymore, because we do not live together.**

And so my time with people gets compartmentalized, though it kind of suits my temperament anyway. I’ve always preferred to spend time with people one-on-one, or one-on-two (three is a max, for me). I’ve never been a big-gang person, a big party person (ok, like not at ALL), and for the most part when I’m with you, you have my undivided attention. I want to soak you up too. I want that vivid space between us to vibrate, I want to be real with you there and have you be real with me there, too.

For my real-life friends, here and there, I miss you when I am not seeing you and when I am seeing you I am SO so happy to be seeing you. I’m sorry for my away time wherever I am, and I hope you can accept this aspect of me and my life because it’s just kind of fundamental, even as it is exaggerated now because of my itinerant marriage.

**and to continue the complicatedness, and to be perfectly human about it, I also really relish getting back to my own little place where I live alone, and to being alone in it again so that when I go in the bathroom whaddya know, the seat is down because I left it that way. And it may be lonely at times but it is also all mine and the way I want it and I like it that way too. Why is life so hard.  🙂 When my life fell completely apart in November 2012, if you’d told me I would LOVE living alone so very much I’d have argued with you as hard as I could.

A quick rundown on some recs for you:


  • I read Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala, which is a memoir of the devastating loss of her entire family — parents, husband, two young sons — in the tsunami that hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka on Dec 26, 2004. It’s a killing memoir, crushing, shattering, and if you have ever experienced the kind of grief that you aren’t sure you’ll survive, you’ll appreciate it very much (here it is on Amazon).
  • I’m thrilled to start reading Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories (!!!) titled Bark the moment it publishes on Tuesday.  (order/pre-order it here!) Between her and George Saunders (and Alice Munro) I could read short stories the rest of my life. If you’ve never read any Lorrie Moore, start anywhere but I completely loved Birds of America and read it over and over again, always with surprise.


  • Watch All is Lost as soon as you can. It’s the Robert Redford movie — by which I mean he is the only actor in the movie, and just about the only sound is the boat and the various storms he encounters. There is so little dialogue as to be inconsequential, although what there is is great. We watched it on Valentine’s Day and I am still kind of haunted by it. It’s about the existential experience of being entirely alone in the face of the universe and facing death, but it’s SO much better than Gravity. So much better. (Although the cinematography in Gravity was good, I absolutely give them that.) As the NYTimes review says, “An opera thunders in the silence.” My husband doesn’t like slow movies, doesn’t like character studies, and this movie completely captivated his attention from beginning to end.

Watch something big and good. Read something big and good. Think about something big and good. Talk to someone about something big and good. Involve yourself in a big and good meal, all the way. I always love it when that is possible.