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: 12/27/16

1) Headaches, of which I am the chief taxonomist, the God of Knowing, the Linneaus, the Webster. My dad was a headache-haver, I am the inheritor of that misery, and my daughter Katie carries it on another generation. I have a headache nearly every single day, and know the specifics and instigator of so many. There’s the one that exists in the top of my left eyeball (and the very different one that dominates my right eyeball). The one that sits on the top center of my head. The one that presses on my right temple. The one that wraps like a belt. The one that comes from a low pressure system. The one that arises from smells in the environment. The one that comes from specific bad sleep. The different one that comes from insufficient sleep. The one that comes from perfume or cologne worn by others. The one that I get when it’s too cold. Etc. Etc. Etc. The one that’s treated with hot, wet cloths. The one that’s treated with Sumatriptan. The one that’s helped by beer and a Sudafed (only if both at once). The one that’s helped by massage. The one that’s helped by sleep. The one that is helped by nothing. And all combinations of all.

People want to help, and I inevitably hear that I should go to a doctor. But the issue is that I am a headache-haver, and that isn’t treatable. I know how to identify and treat the different ones, so what would a doctor say? You have sinus headaches, tension headaches, sleep-related headaches, you’re sensitive to volatile organic compounds, all of which I already know. It’s a terrible thing, being a headache-haver, because my day can be derailed so easily and often there is nothing to do but wait for the next day in the hope that it’ll be better. This part of the post brought to you by today’s low-heavy-shaggy-gray-sky-headache. I was in my mid-20s when I learned that not everyone has a headache every single day, and it blew me away. Lucky you, if you don’t!

I have 953 pictures of just him, and only 6 of those are from the past 13 years. I always loved this one, he is so beautiful.

2) My son is breaking my heart anew. I got a message from his ex-boyfriend about a box of Will’s stuff — did I want it, or should he throw it away? It’s filled with pictures from Will’s childhood, mementos, gifts I gave him, an album his sister assembled with pictures and letters from us all when she was trying to lead him back to our family, all just abandoned by him. I’m honestly not sure I can bear to collect them, but I know I can’t bear for them just to be tossed in the dump on Staten Island and so I will collect them. They will smell like Will. He told me that Will lost his job in the spring and he doesn’t know if/where he’s working, and that he doesn’t have the same phone number. He knows he is (at the moment) staying with a friend in Sunnyside, Queens, but nothing more specific than that. The thread is getting so weak that allows me to tug him, frayed down to a single twist. Will knows he is hurting me, and that doesn’t make my pain any less, it doesn’t allow me to just reside in anger at him. I still fill the weight of him in my arms, smell the smell of his baby head, smell the smell of his teenage years, hear the sound of his boy voice and his deep man voice. I still remember his humor, his pleasure in beating me at Scrabble, the way he called me Ma just to crack me up. The way he said I’d be Granma Pete instead of just Pete, to make me laugh. It’s holding the full complexity of it all that breaks my heart. If I could simply be furious with him, or let him go, or just feel all the love, it would be so much easier.

3) I’ve been trying to sit very still and quiet with this terrible feeling in order to understand it. I set aside the headache as its own thing, and focus instead on the heartache. Why is it so painful? What, exactly, is the feeling of it? I realized that I feel chaotic and not whole, that this feeling is one of fragmentation, and an inability to cohere. It might cohere if I had a simple story I could tell, if I had more answers (whatever they might be) than questions, if I had a simple set of feelings. Just grief, for example. My mind feels like threads exploded outwards, my body doesn’t feel whole and comfortable, and my feelings are all over the place, changing with my breath. I’m doing my best just to let this all be, to be present with it and not try to force it into one category, one thing, and to notice that I can do that. Super hard, y’all. Super, super, super hard. I keep suddenly standing up and preparing to walk somewhere, but I just take a few steps, turn around, hold my head, and sit down again. This is just part of life, it’s just part of my life, it just is, and it will not always be like this.

five things: 12-15-16

I’ve been unable to be here for such a long time, and for such a variety of reasons. Since the election, my reason has been that I am stunned into silence, and the monologue in my head is chaotic and scared and inflamed daily by the news, which I can no longer watch. But I miss writing here regularly. I miss the discipline of thinking through a thought, an observation, a wondering. I miss the discipline of sharing something with others in a way that might allow them to see what I see. I miss my little space. Since the election, one of the many difficulties I’ve been having (so many of us have been having) is figuring out how to live. And I mean that. Do we re-organize our lives to fight? Against what — it’s everything. Where do we even begin? Mercifully there are millions of us here in the resistance, and since none of us can do everything, there is a bit of comfort in the size of the resistance — I can identify my hill to defend, knowing that others will rally around the rest of the horrific landscape.

Or [and] do we draw inward, remembering that we are still alive, that there are people in our lives to love, art to create, friends to care for, food to relish, books to read, attention to pay, and in that way put something positive into the world? I keep swinging there but it feels like enjoying a nice warm cinnamon bun while the world burns around me.

And of course the answer is that we try to find the balance — remember that we are still alive, that there is love to give and receive, life to live, and find our hill to defend. Assemble it all into a workable life.

But then Aleppo. South Sudan. And all the rest, the refugees everywhere. They’ve been there for a very long time and I’ve found a way to live with them, without paying them more than a glancing thought on occasion, the thought of which wrenches my heart.

I don’t know, I’m working my way through it like we all are.

This morning I saw this post on Granta, Five Things Right Now, and I thought it was just so very lovely. The writer shares five things he’s reading, watching and thinking about right now. I thought following that model might give me a path back into writing here, so:

  1. She is married to Wallace Shawn

    I’m reading the collected stories of Deborah Eisenberg, and honestly I can’t recommend them enough. Initially I downloaded a free sample and was swept into the story in the first sentence. It’s a big book, 992 pages, 27 stories, and it took me quite a long time to figure it what it was about them that made them so special. She masters the ambiguity of life, the kind of ambiguity that we resist by imposing a story on top so we don’t have to feel uncertain — not quite understanding what a person means, not quite getting the dynamics of a group of people, not quite knowing enough of the history to be sure of what’s going on, not quite believing someone, not quite feeling certain about our own experience. And the world of each story is so complete, I finally realized that in some ways it’s like walking slowly past an apartment building in New York; the life has been going on inside that apartment before you came near, and it will continue after you pass, so you’re just catching the bit of story as you pass and you’re left to make of it what you can. THAT’S what her stories are like. You feel like you’ve glimpsed a tiny segment of a whole world.

    The downside of this, of one story of ambiguity and uncertainty after another, is that the imbalance of it all gets to be too much and for heaven’s sake I just want to read something where my understanding can settle. So I’ll read two or three short stories, then I’ll return to the other book I’m reading, then I’ll pick it up again and read a story or two. I’m really loving them (with an exception or two) and her writerly voice is wonderful:

  • “the two of them had pursued, in the stale, fruity afternoon sunlight, the protean task of being mother and daughter.”
  • “A little colorless sunlight had forced its way around the neighboring buildings and lay, exhausted, across the floor.”

2. I have to tell you about this wonderful meal I made for my poetry group Christmas party. I’m not an original cook, but I’m a very good recipe follower; I have good skills and years of training, getting dinner on the table for me and my kids every night, so I’m always grateful for a good, solid recipe I can trust. There were going to be 6 of us, and we’d be eating on our laps, so instead of the African stew I considered, I ended up making Smitten Kitchen’s butternut squash and caramelized onion galettes. The crust was made differently than any I’d ever made (with sour cream, and with an unusual combining technique), and if you aren’t careful to really cut in the butter finely enough, it pools when you bake it. I’ll come back to that.

pre-baked

So the filling is roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, fontina cheese, fresh sage, and some cayenne. It’s SO GOOD — you could just assemble the filling and serve it as a side dish and make people very, very happy. Instead of making one big galette, I made individual little ones, really pretty. And no, I hadn’t cut in the butter finely enough . . . and so it pooled, and I could hear it sizzling a little while they baked off. About halfway through the bake, I pulled the pan out of the oven and tipped it into the sink so the excess butter could drain off, and then let it bake the rest of the way until it was golden. Here’s the deal: I think that bit of melted butter really helped crisp up the bottom and edges of the galettes, because they were so crisp, so flaky, and the whole thing was so delicious I had to force myself not to eat the extras. You can make the filling ahead of time, and the crust, too. You can assemble them ahead of time. SO delicious in every way.

3. I’m thinking about the solstice coming up, and wondering why that moves me so deeply every single year. I am never unmoved by the winter solstice, nor by the variety of ways humans respond to it. So long ago we made noise, scattered light, in part because we didn’t know yet that the light would return . . . and that really touches me. We have created special holidays at this time of year to help us manage the dark, create a promise of light to come. The winter solstice concert at St John the Divine, in NY, is one of my favorite experiences and I’m so grateful that I got to go to the concert twice. (Here is a post I wrote about it, and here is another post I wrote about the winter solstice, complete with a couple of poems you might enjoy.)

4. I haven’t really been watching much lately; I’ve just had to keep the television off because I can’t yet bear any mention of T (nor can I say his name) or see his face, and it’s non-stop coverage of him, it seems. But I have made sure to watch Saturday Night Live, seeking out anything with Kate McKinnon in it. She’s so wonderful. I know you saw this, but here it is anyway. I’ve watched it so many times, and I know I’ll watch it at least that many times again.

5. I’m missing my son terribly. I go in and out of waves of pain, always; it’s just a question of whether they’re unbearable or potentially deadly. I came across this picture and every cell in my body cried.

My arms feel the slight weight of him. I smell the tender smell of his little head. I feel his arms around my neck, and his head nestled against my shoulder. And I don’t know how to do this.

xoxo

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.

Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

forgiveness, #1048

it is about being able to open your hand
it is about being able to open your hand

This is a topic I return to again and again because it holds me back, my inability to forgive, and I come at it from so many directions. I have had breathtaking moments in my life in which it felt like forgiveness was bestowed upon me from outside myself — I was washed clean of the hurt and simply forgave, and it was all over. And in fact it was all over; the instance I’m thinking about happened in 1991(-ish) and I haven’t felt even a twinge of that hurt ever since. But it kind of came from outside me and I don’t know how to make that happen again. Like everyone in the world, I have other people I need to forgive and importantly, I have things in myself I need to forgive.

So my ears are always open to discussions of forgiveness, as I’m always looking for thoughts or approaches or intentions or methods or tricks or keys or someone else’s way that worked, because the ways I have tried have only gotten me so far.

I read this once and it moved me greatly:

FORGIVENESS is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relation to it.

It may be that the part of us that was struck and hurt can never forgive, and that strangely, forgiveness never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not actually meant to forget, as if, like the foundational dynamics of the physiological immune system our psychological defenses must remember and organize against any future attacks – after all, the identity of the one who must forgive is actually founded on the very fact of having being wounded. [yes.]

Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it.

Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.

To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seem to hurt us. We re-imagine ourselves in the light of our maturity and we re-imagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.

At the end of life, the wish to be forgiven is ultimately the chief desire of almost every human being. In refusing to wait; in extending forgiveness to others now, we begin the long journey of becoming the person who will be large enough, able enough and generous enough to receive, at the very end, that absolution ourselves.
‘FORGIVENESS’
in “CONSOLATIONS:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.”
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press 2015
Now Available http://davidwhyte.stores.yahoo.net/newbook.html

That gave me something for a long time, a way to think about forgiveness, and yet I find myself still struggling with it. It isn’t as if I’m incapable of forgiveness, at all; I do forgive, and very easily if I’m asked. If I’m harmed in some way and the person acknowledges and apologizes, it’s simply gone out of my heart and memory. In fact, I’d offer an example right now if I could, but they’re all gone. And I can forgive a number of hurts from someone, slights, no problem, though that does accumulate and I begin to feel a callous. Where my own behavior and actions are concerned, I’ve learned to forgive myself a little more easily, to let those slights go, but I cling so hard to some mistakes and need and want to move through and past them.

Then I read something while we were on vacation, and I really wish I could remember the source so I could cite it for credit, and to give you the option of reading it more fully. The point of it was that in order to forgive, you have to deal with your feelings of hurt. You can’t move anywhere until you have actually dealt with your feelings of hurt. And that seemed like an important key — where forgiving others is concerned, quite clearly. I think we brick up the hurt and put the responsibility for fixing it on the one who hurt us. IF/WHEN they own up to it and ask for forgiveness, THEN I will feel better. Then it will all be over. And maybe sometimes it is, maybe sometimes it works that way, but I think feeling better, forgiveness, is a personal inside job. And I think it might center on doing that work yourself of looking at and feeling and dealing with the hurt all on your own.

But I don’t know. I wish there was a magic spell, an incantation, a potion, a trick, because hanging on to those old hurts from the past doesn’t do a damn thing but poison the one holding on. It’s so unfair, that hurt! Yes. Life is unfair, it is. But I was not doing anything! But I was innocent! Yes. Life is unfair. It is. And we ourselves are unfair to others, to ourselves, to the situation, and we ourselves require forgiveness from others, and from ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time — always, I suppose — and especially since I read that while I was in China. But then last night I woke up shouting my son’s name, from a deeply vivid dream that I was talking to him, and lay there for a couple of hours just crying and thinking about forgiveness, so here I am.

xoxoxox

Spring Awakening

March 2011, breakfast -- one of the last times I saw him, though not THE last. He won't take a straight picture, he always pulls a face at the last minute.
March 2011, breakfast — one of the last times I saw him, though not THE last, which was Aug ’12. He won’t take a straight picture, he always pulls a face at the last minute.

I miss my son Will. No news there. I don’t talk about it very much, less than before, but I think about him all the time — and in a variety of ways, of course. Sometimes it’s with hurt, sometimes with anger, or sorrow, or loneliness, or betrayal, or bewilderment, or loss. Sometimes I realize it’s been a while since I thought of him. He has no idea that Ilan is now part of our family. He’s never seen or acknowledged Oliver either, for that matter. Our family is going forward without him, as it can only do, and because it’s our only option.

During my too-brief moment in Austin last week, I had another one of those jolting epiphany-type experiences. I was taking a shower and listening to music, and a song from the Broadway play Spring Awakening came up on my playlist. [From Wikipedia: Set in late-19th-century Germany, the musical tells the story of teenagers discovering the inner and outer tumult of teenage sexuality. In the musical, alternative rock is employed as part of the folk-infused rock score.] Will loved that play and saw it on Broadway. He told me about it with great excitement, played me some of the songs, said how much he loved it and that it felt like it was personal for him. I saw it shortly after he recommended it, and wow. Just, wow.

Will probably also had a little crush on one of these guys.
Will probably also had a little crush on one of these actors in the production. I did!

In the play, all aspects of teenage sexuality are present — from incest, to exploration by straight kids, to exploration or longing by gay kids — along with a variety of consequences of the exploration. Some of the songs are explosive and high energy, and some are dark and so filled with sadness I almost cannot bear it, like “Whispering” (“See the father bent in grief / The mother dressed in mourning / Sister crumbles, and the neighbors grumble / The preacher issues warnings // History / Little miss didn’t do right / Went and ruined all the true plans / Such a shame. Such a sin”). This link provides the list of songs and each title is linked to its lyrics and a Youtube video of the song.

One song is “Momma Who Bore Me,” and my suspect memory whispers that Will especially loved it. [knife in my heart, with this opening lyric:

Mama who bore me
Mama who gave me
No way to handle things
Who made me so sad

So for all the years since he first told me about his love for this play, I have taken very personally the weight of it, as if his love for it was just about me in a bad way — oh how great and perfectly it articulated his bad experience. And this is so me, to do this. So whenever I heard any of the music, I felt it like lashes on my naked skin, bad, bad, bad me, I’m the reason he won’t be part of our family. Lash, lash, lash, LASH.

But when I was in the shower, listening to the song “Bitch of Living,” I realized: it’s not about me! Will’s love of that music is not [just, if at all] about me, by any means. Will is gay, and this aspect of his life has brought a whole bunch of struggle and difficulty and rejection by his father and that pain, and figuring-out. Exploring. My own young sexual life was excruciating and as horrible as it could be, and I forget that it’s not that for everyone; it’s otherwise a complicated time, a confusing time, a thrilling time, a new time, a wondering time, and that’s what the music is about, that’s what the story is about. I’m sure the Momma song had some resonance for him, but that’s not why he loved the play. He loved it because it got at a huge thing, at the complexity and thrill and struggle of that time of life, a time that was intimately about him. Not about me. It’s not about me.

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That’s the fabulous song “Bitch of Living,” just to
give you a taste of the musical.

Anyway. I know I frequently mention AA sayings — my husband knows a bunch of them and so they’re part of my lingo if they’re especially good — but there’s a saying in the Al-Anon world for parents who have kids who are addicts: You are not your kid’s higher power.

You are not your kid’s higher power. I am not my kids’ higher power.

I've always loved this shot of him taken when he was a young or mid-teenager.
I’ve always loved this shot of him taken when he was a young or mid-teenager.

It’s so easy to forget that they have a huge interior life that you have no idea about. That they have secrets, and thoughts, and that where you are in their various constellations is very different than where they are in yours, and probably different from where you think you are. I thought about the fact that Will is a ‘character’ in my life — more than that, since he’s my son and I gave birth to him and loved him intensely from that moment on — and that I am a ‘character’ in his. I’m not the sun, I’m a comet.

Even in my daughters’ lives, in the context of our loving relationships and easy and regular participation in each others’ lives, I’m not the sun. I used to be, when they were tiny little girls, but as they grew I moved away from that central location, as I should.

This is an insight I keep having, in different forms, about Will. It’s always a comforting insight, a kind that makes his agonizing choice less about me which relieves me of one kind of pain, anyway. Knowing me I’ll never let myself entirely off the hook, but hanging myself on a fish hook instead of a meat hook is a huge relief. Perhaps I belong on a fish hook, though I’m not even certain about that. I think I need to save this to my ‘Lessons Learned’ tab so I can refresh myself without having to wait to relearn it.

xoxoxoxox

a little wave

Hi there, everyone! Remember me? I’ve been away — on vacation in Norway of course, but also just away from regular writing. I thought I’d pop in today with some small bits to share.

  • It’s been more than a year, now, since I began the anti-flailing project and no one is more surprised than I am by its success. And I think people who know me are surprised, because it circles around issues I have launched myself at so many times over the years, each effort lasting through an initial burst of working, and then fizzling and leaving me only slightly ahead of where I had been when I started. More than a year later I am still doing one thing at a time. Still eating well (except for when I’m in NYC, where I just do the best I can). Still doing yoga every single day, and meditating at the end of the day. Still doing much more walking than ever before. Still feeling still and quiet inside. Still living so much more in the present (thanks greatly to my bubble insight), even though I think that has contributed to the great decline in my writing here. All these shifts have also led to their self-perpetuation in an interesting way, because when for any reason I skip some of them — like doing yoga when I was in Norway, or like eating a bag of peanut M&Ms with Marc while watching the midnight sun — it’s not even an effort to return to myself anymore. It was, at first; at first I would have to summon myself, think about just starting again, but now I just start again. That’s all amazing to me. And even more amazing, all the weight I lost (35 pounds, unbelievably) have stayed off. I go up and down by a couple of pounds, but wow.
  • Surprising to me, I am getting better at drawing! What I mean by that is that it’s more a pleasure in the doing of it now, because I am getting closer to being able to approximate what I see. I’m less mortified by what I draw, and more often kind of happy with it. Getting better means I’m looser and starting to play more, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it.  I never thought I would get to any of these places with drawing. So in the process, I have also learned a little more persistence about starting new things. You can never get better if you don’t practice, and no one starts off as an expert.
  • Living with the estrangement of my son is like living with a raging infection that is agonizing but not fatal. Sometimes it’s worse than others, sometimes it’s just there in the background of everything, and right now it’s kind of raging. It tenderizes me, makes me even more easily and readily touched by the world. Two nights ago I was scrolling through our old text messages to each other and came across this exchange from very early in 2013. It shows his hilarious sense of humor:

I’m sitting in a cafe trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life.

What’re you thinking about?

Aquaponics. Feed fish, fish waste feeds plants, farm caviar and harvest plants.

Well that’s a different idea than usual!

They’re farming sturgeon in Spain, I’m sure it could be done here. Anywho, pipe dream for now. Anytime I think of something to do, the process of me getting myself there looks like this:  1) Collect underpants. 2) ??? 3) Profit!

He always cracked me up, and I miss him so much it ebbs and then swells into unbearable. So I’m in that right now and having to keep drinking water all day to stay hydrated from all the crying. It’s tough.

  • I’ve been reading a lot, as always — Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh;  Knausgaard’s fourth memoir in the series; On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks;  and A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout. (Links all go to my GoodReads review of each title.) It was amazing finishing the fourth Knausgaard in northern Norway, since it was set in that almost-exact location, and I finished it with regret that book 5 is not yet translated, and book 6 will be translated and available a year after book 5. I have a greater appreciation of the vast project of his books, and my awe has settled into place. The brain surgery book was fascinating, both in terms of the brain stuff and in terms of getting into the arrogant head of a brain surgeon. I see that all four of the books are memoir, which I hadn’t actually noticed until now. I recommend Oliver Sacks’s book, and the last one by Amanda Lindhout is really only for the stouthearted, as it goes into pretty horrifying detail about her captivity in Somalia and the things that were done to her. But it also presents one of the most accurate and vivid descriptions of dissociation I’ve ever read.
  • On Facebook I just posted this great old Lyle Lovett song, This Old Porch, because my son once told me that every time he hears it he thinks of me. He’s not on Facebook but I had a silly superstitious thought that somehow it might wiggle at him a little.

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But one line in the lyric brought forth such a detailed memory and it has stayed with me. The line is about an old theater on main street, and suddenly I remembered being a young girl, maybe 10 years old, going to the movies in tiny little Graham, Texas. There was one theater in town, on the square, and it smelled old and musty. I don’t remember what movie we saw; each movie played for a month, so once you saw it you just had to wait another month for the next movie, or see the same one again. I remember sitting in the cool, dark theater with my sister and brother after my mother dropped us off, and there were just a few other kids in the theater. It was a very hot summer day, and we had Charms lollipops, those thick chunks of lurid-colored sugar that turned our tongues matching colors. Someone in the theater threw his lollipop at the screen and we were all scandalized by that vandalism, happening right before  our eyes. It was stuck to the screen throughout the movie. But I remember how my skin felt, how raw I felt, how pressed-on by the world, how unformed it was to be me. Big Daddy had just died and my one little place in the world was gone, and I felt like a speck of dust in a raging, scary universe. I remember how my muscles felt, how my stomach felt, how my mouth tasted. That was more years ago than my father lived, isn’t that amazing? Memory is the most incredible thing, whatever the memories are. How lucky a thing to have them.

Book club tonight, and a friend’s wedding on Saturday. Summer in Texas is here, 100 degrees coming this weekend. A teenager’s death by snake in the news. My daughter Katie’s birthday is coming up, an age that surprises us both — how can that be? And Oliver is walking. Life is, as always, all kinds of things at once. I kind of love that.

xo

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.

habits

water + time = changed rock
water + time = changed rock

When water runs in a rivulet over rock for a very long time, it erodes grooves into the hard stone. Dripping water can eventually produce a bowl-shaped hollow in a stone. I think about that when I encounter a very long and old habit, one that started decades ago.

When my parents divorced in 1970, I was 11. It was a bitter and nasty divorce, and my mother really wanted us to hate my father so she said horrible things about him non-stop, she kept us away from him, and she lashed at us if we ever expressed anything positive for him, to be sure we’d keep those thoughts to ourselves, if we had them. And then, of course, we started moving every couple of months and so it was easier to keep us away from him. He saw the three of us kids only once after the divorce.

But I was “his” and so my longing for him was very deep. Once Mother intercepted and opened a letter I had written him, and because I’d told him I loved him, she put me out on the curb, called him to come get me, and I sat on the hot curb for the six hours it took him to get there. That was a very short-lived period I spent with him, just a couple of months when I was 13, because he was in such terrible shape and I couldn’t stay there safely.

Since he was a shimmering-with-rage drunk with a fondness for guns, we also had to keep our eyes peeled for him because a couple of times he put us in danger. So I got in the habit of watching for him, partly out of my longing and partly out of real fear. I looked at the driver of every oncoming car. I looked at the face of every man on the sidewalk, in the mall, at the grocery store. Even after he killed himself, I kept looking. It had just become such a habit — that water had dripped on the rock for so very many years — I couldn’t stop. I still do it, actually, but in a pale version. I’m not leaning forward when I look, my heart doesn’t pound, it’s just what my eyes do. They constantly look for him.

And then my son Will disappeared into NYC when he was 18. I didn’t know where he was and I frantically looked at every single young man who might be him, for years. When I’d stand on the subway platform I scanned all the faces on my side and on the other side. I looked at the people in the subway cars as they passed. Every person sitting in restaurants, coffee shops. Every person passing on the sidewalk, looking looking looking. Is that him? Is that him over there? Wait…is that him? Is that my son? It felt so familiar to be doing that, although the feeling was now a shattered heart.

here's a picture of my son that someone tagged on Facebook a year ago. The ache I feel from his absence can be gutting.

We had a brief reunion when Will came back into our family for a year or so after Katie tracked him down and forced him to talk to her. He talked to us all and I got to see him on a semi-regular basis in NY.  [That’s Will there, in the photo to the right. He’s standing next to his partner Jim. Someone tagged him on Facebook a year ago, and I haven’t seen a picture of him since.]

Once, in that brief window of getting to see and speak to him, I was walking to the subway station on the corner and was looking for him, just because it had become my habit to look for him. My eyes passed right over him, standing in the doorway of a burger shop as I passed! He called out, “Hey Ma,” and I was so shocked.

I’d gotten into the habit of looking for him, but never in the habit of finding him.

There was always the fear that he’d disappear again, which he did two years ago in August. My daughters haven’t seen him since Gracie’s funeral. I saw him a couple of times after that and then that was all, he disappeared from our family again. And so he’s gone again, two years now, and he shut down his Facebook account so I don’t even have a hope of a random and rare photograph of him coming through my feed, tagged by someone unknown to me. I look for him everywhere, even in Austin where he hasn’t lived since 2003. I look for him incessantly when I’m in New York, and I suppose I will look for him the rest of my life.

Water can eventually destroy a rock, make it disappear, microscopic specks at a time. Years and years of running, neverending wearing against the rock affect the shape and even existence of it. I too am an eroded stone, worn down by my lifetime of looking for these two men. When I legally changed my name to Stone fifteen years ago (long before Will left), one reason I picked the name was that it was solid, anchored, unmoving. Elemental, strong. I had always wanted to be those things.

And so I stand, unmoving. I wait for him. I am worn down by looking for him and never finding him, and the habit is so deeply embedded in my cells now that I don’t think I could stop, even if I wanted to. It’s been a very hard couple of weeks since he shut down his Facebook account and closed off the last (and extremely trivial) access we had to him. I’m crying a lot, and even when I’m just sitting still there will be tears sliding out of the corners of my eyes without my recognizing that they’re coming.

Time Does Not Bring Relief (Edna St Vincent Millay)

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

sad girl inside

When I was nine years old, I tore a page out of my spiral notebook and using my blue Bic pen, drew a cartoon face with a flip haircut (which I coincidentally had at the time, it being 1967) with tears down her cheeks, and the words “Do not enter: sad girl inside.” I taped the paper on my bedroom door and stayed in my room as much as I could.

(A bit melodramatic in retrospect, but oh how I meant it. I just didn’t have any subtlety back then.)

It’s funny how that phrase comes back to my mind so easily. For the last few days, friends have been sending me notes asking if I’m OK, and while it isn’t a surprise to me that they are so sensitive to have known to ask, it does surprise me that I was putting that out there. I’ve been holed up in my house alone for the last few weeks, not even leaving the house for days on end.

sad girlBut they are right to ask. I’m in a very low period right now, feeling quite sad and bereft. I miss my son so terribly all the time, and most of the time that sorrow sits just underneath my skin but sometimes it breaks through.

I think the best one can do with long-term pain is to come to terms with its presence and its return. My heart carries these cracks and bruises and they will just be there as long as he is gone. I walk around the world with this kind of heart every day and it’s never far from me. Ordinarily I laugh easily, I love and enjoy the world and all my people, and find so much to be grateful for — even with this heart. But you know, sometimes it presses on me and I get low, and I will find my way back to the ordinary.

But thank you for your kindnesses to me, they mean so much. This morning I’m spending some time with darling Katie and Oliver, and later today my Chicago kids are heading off to Mexico for a bit of vacation. Marnie calls me every Saturday for a long conversation, so I’ll miss that with her for the next couple of weekends, what a gift she is to me. I’m always so grateful for my daughters and their families, every single day — and especially today.

the cutest boy in the world
the cutest boy in the world

 

it’s why they call it “feelings”

Yesterday I saw Richard Linklater’s stunning new movie, Boyhood. If you’ve ever believed me about anything, believe me about this: go see it. Here’s the NYTimes review of it, and it deserves every glowing word written about it, every superlative lavished on it. I think it helps that the actor in the main role of Mason is so compelling to watch, so quiet and charismatic in his watching way, and so beautiful as you watch him age over twelve years.

here he is at age 18 -- so beautiful and vulnerable and open to the world
here he is at age 18 — so beautiful and vulnerable and open to the world
upstairs at Antone's, for you Austin folk
upstairs at Antone’s, for you Austin folk

The movie caused me so much pain, it kind of tore down the scaffolding around my heart, because the actor reminded me so much of my son Will. That’s too painful to write about here and now, so I’ll just comment on a couple of things from the movie. Near the end, when Mason has just graduated from high school and is hanging out with his dad in the scene there in that picture, he asks his dad the “what’s the point of it” question. His dad kind of laughs and says he doesn’t know, no one knows, we’re all just winging it. And then he looked at Mason and said something like, “But you feel things, and that’s good. Feel them. When you get older, your skin gets thick.” I guess generally speaking that’s true? It certainly isn’t true for me. But even though the feeling I walked out of the theater with was like open heart surgery without anesthesia, even though I had to sit in the car and sob — ugly sobbing, too — even though I cried the whole drive home, and ran into my house and fell on the bed sobbing, even though I miss Will so very much, even though it feels like this ripped off all the plasters that had been holding my heart together, I am so glad I get to feel it. I’d rather not have the occasion to have this feeling obviously but feeling all the feelings is so huge and important for me, it’s an essential part of my happiness, that I can feel the feelings, and so I am glad I can be open in the face of this pain. Feelings are meant to be felt, it’s the experience of being alive.

Another scene that struck me was when Mason was getting ready to leave for college, and his mom put her face in her hands and was crying. She had been left with the two kids when they were very little, and remarried and went back to school and he was a brutal alcoholic and she left him and struggled and raised the kids and remarried and got a teaching job as a psychology professor and she loved her kids. So Mason is leaving for college and she said, “This is it? My life has been a series of milestones, kids and remarriage and school and divorce and school and kids in high school and a job and one kid gone to college and now the second kid gone to college. What milestone is left for me . . . my funeral. This is it? I thought there would be more.”

I thought there would be more.

Coincidentally, Saturday night I watched the movie about wonderful Elaine Stritch called Shoot Me (streaming on Netflix, NYTimes review here). Stritch is so vulnerable in the documentary, and shows the ravages of her aging, her ongoing battle not to drink, her memory losses, what it takes to entertain and what entertaining means to her. She talks about her husband, whom she loved dearly and who died at a relatively young age of brain cancer. She definitely rages against the dying of the light, rages at it. She seemed to feel all the feelings too. I’ll bet when she died the other day she wasn’t thinking that she thought there would be more.

I feel both of those things. I thought there would be more, and I am going to eat as much of life as I can, all the way to the very end. With spoons in both hands, my passport in my pocket, my children in my mind and heart, and with great joy in my heart, alongside all the feelings.

 

a piece of writing I like

And guess what, it’s mine. This is a piece I wrote last August, which is the last time I saw my son. It was such an amazing experience, sensory-rich and almost film-like at the end, so when I got home I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it. If you are my personal Facebook friend from back then you may have seen it, but it’s been polished. AND I switched the POV thanks to a suggestion from Traci, and I like it more this way. This is the piece I submitted to Yale (for the writer’s conference) and I guess they liked it too. With no further ado:

“I’m having dinner with Will,” she told the maître-d at the entrance to the restaurant after he found her name on the reservation list. He nodded, a professional smile on his face, and the host escorted her to the smallest table in the back corner, almost too tiny for one person to eat comfortably, but it sat two for dinner. The restaurant was special in that New York City Meatpacking District way, where the food is good but the scene is the thing. Where you don’t look too closely at the edges of the floor, in the corners, where the very old tiles butt up against the crumbling walls; you don’t crane your neck and look up at the old, ratty, discolored ceiling; you wedge a sugar packet underneath one leg of your wobbly uncomfortable chair, and under the table too. It was 7pm on a Thursday night so the restaurant was crowded and noisy, but it hadn’t yet reached its place-to-be-seen stride for the evening. That was still hours away.

She was early, eager to see her prodigal son. For ten months he had not spoken to anyone in the family, avoiding their calls, ignoring emails and texts. A year earlier, her small family had gathered in Texas for her granddaughter’s funeral. They’d clung to each other, fought with each other, squabbling over nothing, tense words delivered just to relieve the awful stress and pressure of their despair. Their habits and history held him in place alongside his sisters in the old familiar constellation. They passed those terrible hours and days with games of gin rummy, favorite childhood foods, and old movies: the routines from their lives together. Then, too soon, they all scattered and returned to their bruised lives in Austin, Chicago, New York, and slowly the weeks dragged past with no communication from him, until the weight of his silent months became too heavy for him to lift. She was nervous.

And then there he was, her beautiful curly-haired son, tall and thin and elegant in his black suit and white shirt. She spotted him in silhouette, in the far corner of the restaurant, and leaned forward to see him sooner, twisting the strap of her purse in her lap. Everything about him was as familiar as her own skin—the curve of his back into the slump of his shoulders, the way he moved his hands when he spoke to people he passed, the tilt of his head. As he came closer she saw that his suit was cheap and saggy, the shoulders broken, his shirt stained and not crisp, his eyes old. His jaw sagged more than it should on a 26-year-old boy. He’d been promoted to manager, he told her as she smiled at him, and this was his new uniform. The move from waiter to manager showed up in a substantial reduction in his income and the addition of a black jacket. She dropped her purse and stood up and they clutched each other, her embrace more frantic than his. She closed her eyes and breathed in the still-familiar smell of him, and then they sat. She had no sense of herself or of anyone else in the restaurant, only an awareness of his face and hands, which looked so much like her own.

“The maître-d thinks you’re sweet, Ma,” he told her, his arms crossed. “And pretty, too.”

“Will, honey, it’s so good to see you. You look tired, are you OK?” She leaned over the table toward him and wanted to touch his arm.

“I’m fine Ma. Don’t worry about me.” Shielded, protected, closed. Abrupt.

The host came to the table and was startled to see Will sitting there. “Ah, Will, she told me she was ‘meeting Will,’” air quotes, “and I thought ‘well good for you, I’m meeting Robert later.’” They all laughed, a little crack in the tension. “I didn’t know she meant you.” He leaned down near Will’s ear, and Will turned his head away from her to speak in a low private voice, ordering wine for their table. Such grown-up behavior, the man in charge of things.

Will turned his body slightly away because he couldn’t cross his long legs underneath the low table. Perhaps their laughter softened him, perhaps he’d seen her face fall when he answered with such a brusque note. He reached out and put his hand on hers, his long fingers draping over her wrist. “So how’re things, Ma? You’re rocking the Amelie look, I love your hair. And really,” his voice softened more, “you don’t have to worry about me. I’m sorry, Ma.” It always made her smile when he called her Ma, an old joke between them. Ma meant love in a different way than Mom, and they both knew it.

They ordered food, nibbled the bread, drank glasses of Sancerre, shared salmon and then a strawberry shortcake, and talked. Formal at first, care with sentences and impersonal topics, until finally the rime melted away from him and he relaxed. They talked about his hard life, they talked about hers. She told him how much she missed him, and their eyes filled with tears they blinked away. Although he said no one would need their table, tiny as it was, they decided to walk, neither ready to head back uptown to their disappointing and stressful lives. “Let’s hit the High Line, yeah?” he said. “I’ve got a song I want you to hear.”

They left the restaurant and wandered in the soft night to the stairs that led up to the elevated park. The late summer humidity turned the night El Greco velvet, dark and thick, distorting the lights in the windows overlooking the park. The air was heavy but the breeze off the Hudson River was cool, and they turned right to walk uptown along the planked sidewalk. They passed people sitting on benches surrounded by billowy grasses, in pairs with their arms around each other, in small laughing groups, an occasional solitary person watching people pass by. Will pulled out his phone and a pair of cheap headphones – “Here, put this in your left ear,” he said as he put the other bud in his right ear, “while I get the song on YouTube.”

She linked her left arm through his right elbow and let the rest lose its edge, become fuzzy and indistinct. Just for the moment, no worrying about her daughter’s pain and struggles, her son-in-law’s frustrated job search, her own bulging problems. Just for now, she walked with generic background worries humming a low rumble. Later.

“There it is,” he said, “I found it. Hang on Ma, here it comes. It’s Aruarian Dance.” He touched the play button and slid the phone into his pocket, and their feet found the rhythm of the song, a swanky kind of sound, jazz house music, no words, and she knew they were both feeling the same thing. They moved in sync, their steps echoing each other in the dark, their eyes straight ahead but not seeing the old buildings, the lights, the ancient signs still visible in fading paint on old brick. She barely noticed small clusters of people sitting at tables, eating ice cream, as they wound their way among them. She scarcely saw the cabs crawling up 10th Avenue, to their right. Instead, she felt the heavy air pressing softly on her face, her hair moving slightly in the breeze and giving her a shiver as it graced her neck, and her son’s presence gathering her attention in soft focus. The music pulsed in their ears and wrapped them up like cotton candy, and they floated through the night together.

* * * * *

That's Will.
That’s Will.

It’s not much, 1373 words, but I do feel like it captures something real. And that’s why I like it. Something has happened to me. It’s strange and I like it. Last week I was driving to book club — an hour and a half, took me 15 minutes to get home thank you ridiculous Austin rush hour traffic — and from nowhere a short story idea appeared in my head. The whole shape of it, the points along the way, BAM. So I picked up my phone and illegally tapped on an app while I was driving and dictated the bulk of the story points. Because even though I was “sure” I’d remember, I have enough experience with myself to know better.

So yesterday I spent the whole day cutting a client’s 45-page short story in half, very hard! You could pull a number of different stories out, when you’re cutting half away and it’s well-written, with depth and layers. I was focused and thinking hard about his story and how to pull out the best bits, but in the very back of my mind I was tapping my foot, dying to write my own.  I am dying to write my own. Needing to write seems to have kicked my sadness out the door. I hope you liked my little story, I’m very happy to share it with you. xo p.s. Here’s the song Will and I listened to. I do love it:

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