Archive for the 'Grace' Category
Had several sleepless nights this week; not really sure why for the most part. I have adopted a “move at least an hour every day” policy so I’ve been exercising more, and my legs get a little twitchy, but even when I take extra calcium and they aren’t twitchy I’m still kind of awake half the night.
Lying there listening to the whir of the ceiling fan and the really loud “tuck-tick, tuck-tick” of this new clock/picture frame Husband procured from somewhere and some nights the wind dances through the leaves of the trees over my house in such a way I’m not sure it’s not raining. There’s also this really resonant hoot owl in our woods and sometimes Dexter the Dumb Dog decides that he needs to bark at the grill or back to the owl or at whatever random shadows move outside the kitchen window; Second Son is also a night owl and home for the summer, (except for this week when he has been touring the midwest/east coast with his band, which is kind of cool for him and worrying for me while they drive from city to city through the wee hours of the night) so we hear him downstairs, or moving around in the kitchen.
Anyway, lots of time lying there in the dark, listening, listening, thinking, listening.
I start to write poems sometimes while I’m lying there, but I’m either too lazy or too sleepy to actually write them down, so then I lie there trying to devise mental tricks that will allow me to remember them when I wake up the next morning, but then of course I don’t. Some pretty good stuff, if I remember that much, which I probably don’t.
Stuff about the difference between being in love and loving and which is better and why sometimes you think one is better but then later you realize it’s actually the other.
Stuff about wishing you were better than you are — a better parent, a better pianist, a better person — and then realizing that you are actually usually pretty much doing the best you can (at the time) and that your parents probably were too and that all the stuff that you’ve been spending a lot of time being pissed off at them about you should probably just let go because it’s not doing you any good and it’s certainly not doing them any good and you sure hope that someday your kids will cut you a break and do the same for you.
Stuff about your professional disappointments and who stabbed you in the back and might even be stabbing you in the back still and whether your pursuit of inner peace and Happiness (rather than “happiness”) means they get away with it or just that you get to stop carrying that particular load of garbage around for at least a little while.
Stuff about friendships that didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped, and friendships you’re grateful for; stuff about whether it’s worse to have been overlooked when one friend threw another mutual friend a party and you weren’t invited, or whether you were considered for the invitation list and then expunged; wondering why it matters and then wondering if maybe that can be just another one of those bits of garbage not to be carried around any more.
Stuff about whether it’s “fair” that I get to live in a cozy and humble but comfortable and beautiful home and cook whatever I want for dinner and sip gin fizzes at a cute little desk in the corner lit by a funky lamp bought for me for my birthday by my (now-deceased) mother in Nashville, Tennessee while we were celebrating her birthday, while elsewhere in the world women are raped on buses and child brides are married to men in their 30s in India and the people of Syria kill each other and those guys keep standing on exit ramps with their “Homeless. Please Help. God Bless.” signs and what does “fair” mean anyway and why does that matter so much to me and everybody else?
(Sheesh. Is it any wonder I can’t sleep?)
But the funny thing is, it’s not like I’m lying there all twisted up with anxiety and unhappiness.
It’s just all there, floating around me, while I get to feel lucky and grateful and regretful and sad all at the same time.
So not a poem really. A rant? Maybe.
Maybe I should have just stuck with what I put on my “Not a Guru” blog yesterday.
I’m scared, but I’m grounded.
I’m sane, but I’m overwhelmed.
I’m lost, but I’m hopeful.
I’m sad, but I’m laughin’,
I’m brave but I’m chickenshit,
I’m wrong and I’m sorry baby.
But what it all comes down to,
is that noone’s got it figured out just yet,
but I got one hand in my pocket, and
the other is givin’ a high five.
When a farmer is shipping out his crop simultaneously with the harvest, coordinating and timing the trucks is a tricky business. If the farmer estimates low and the harvest is going well, the farmer may have to end the day earlier than necessary, dragging out the harvest and risking adverse conditions later. If the farmer estimates high and the weather turns bad, or a tractor breaks down, or any of the dozens of calamities that can occur without a moments notice, the driver(s) has to sit there until the farmer can load the load for him or her to haul away. The driver doesn’t get paid for sitting there.
Farmers know this, my dad knew this, and was therefore always as careful as he could be about how many trucks he would request, would work through rainstorms and high winds and into the wee hours if necessary to get them on their way as soon as possible, and would loan the driver a pickup to drive into town for a meal, or even to be able to go home for the night if they were unable to fill the truck that night.
There was a young driver many years ago who often came and went with loads of potatoes for my dad. During this stretch of time, he was divorced from his wife and she and their three young sons moved a ways away, creating even more hardship for the young driver in his efforts to spend time with his sons. My dad was at one of his favorite restaurants one day at lunch (kind of a greasy spoon diner out in the middle of nowhere), and the young man and his three sons came in. They exchanged light conversation across adjacent tables, and when my dad finished his meal he said good-bye and left.
When the young man and his sons finished eating, and he went to pay his bill, he found that dad had already paid it, and left three candy bars on the counter for the boys.*
I can imagine this whole exchange. My dad, all gruff exterior, with a twinkle in his eye; probably teasing the boys a little or stealing their ketchup bottle. And paying the person at the counter with a point and a grunt, and leaving so as not to be thanked.
This is just like my dad. A lot of good, not a lot of fuss. I imagine there are dozens more stories like this. I miss him terribly.
*My oldest brother just ran into this “young driver,” who had heard about my dad’s passing and shared this story with him; this happened many years ago.
So stop it.
(g: Watch it!)
Some times it’s harder than others.
She gets it. (Ann Carson, I mean. Not the other version of me.)
Sometimes I do. Sometimes I forget.
I guess we all do.
I used to love you
With a kind of frantic breathlessness
Every hair follicle screaming
My hands would tremble when
I saw you on Fridays
I would lie
on my office floor in the
Dark feet on my chair
Talking to you on the phone for
My day ruined if I didn’t hear your voice
In my ear At least four times
Now the soles of my
I love you with the patient resilience
Of the seasons I
Love you even when I know I’m
Or splitting my infinitives
Or when the world we imagined
Is not the world in which we find
It seems to be, really that I’ve always
Loved you. Al
Jennifer Lawrence, for wit and grace under pressure; also known as “maintaining poise and humor while answering stupid questions from the press.”
I mean, really — these are the best questions they can come up with? Seems like they don’t even need to be asked.
Anyway. I think she’s terrific. She was fantastic in Winter’s Bone, she’s young and beautiful and confident and not a wisp.
My only regret is I managed not to see this until today.
These two amazing people create beautiful works of art from the tons (I’m not exaggerating) of plastic they harvest from a small stretch of beach. They are completely aware of the irony.
I will take this opportunity to reiterate a point I’ve made a few times before: don’t use plastic that you are going to throw away unless you can’t possibly help it.
As they point out — the opposite of beauty isn’t ugly, it’s indifference.
I’m surprised now and again by young authors (Jonathan Safran Foer) or playwrights (Annie Baker) who seem to be wise beyond their years. I wrote about this when I wrote about Safran Foer’s story “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.”
Today, I read an article in the February 25 issue of the New Yorker about Ms. Baker. (And just now noticed, as I was pasting in the link, that the article is titled “Just Saying.” Weird.)
She is talking about a dramatic transformation from her sternly moralistic self at the age of 23, when she realized “. . .that she, too, would make mistakes and hurt people,” and this “annihilated her.” The article continues: “It’s this crisis in her understanding the helped impel her to make the emotional teachers in her play–the beacons of moral honor–people who are themselves failing in full-fledged adulthood. ‘The story of their lives might not immediately appear to be exemplary or what the younger character would want,’ she explains. ‘But there’s a kind of transcendence and nobility they embody through having not lived the lives they wanted to.’”
How does she know this already?
I am, and have always been, someone who strives to find/feel “happiness” every day. To live in the moment — to the point where I, a 48-year old woman, (with a nose piercing, but only 2 sets of holes in her ears), have seriously contemplated getting this tattoo’d on my inner forearm to remind me to live in the moment:
(This does, actually mean “live in the moment,” not “one order of Peking duck, hot and sour soup on the side.” I know this because I’ve checked.) (Still trying to get up my nerve. Any suggestions? warnings? Anybody out there want to drive me to the tattoo parlor and hold my hand and hang around for the next 30 years and remind me of what a good idea it was when my skin gets all dry and wrinkly like paper and the tattoo ends up looking exactly like it it is actually an order for Peking duck, hot and sour soup on the side? I didn’t think so.)
Anyway. . .
As you all know, I am also dealing with the death of both of my parents, my father a few weeks ago, and my mom last August. As you might imagine, my relationship with them was probably much like yours is with your parents — I didn’t talk to them often enough, my mom was often “disappointed” in me being, well, too much like me, (I’m not making this up), etc., etc., but I loved them and they loved me and they were my parents, and now they’re gone. Despite knowing that my dad died exactly how he would have wanted to — peacefully, apparently in his sleep, perfectly healthy as-far-as-he-knew one moment, and gone the next — I am still so incredibly sad to have lost him. (And it doesn’t do much to reassure me that the same won’t happen to me? Husband? Heaven help us whoever next.)
I’ve also struggled with having to let go of some of my professional dreams, and am still struggling with trying to find time to do the work I need to do to pay my bills, be there for Only Daughter when she needs me to be, and pursue the other things in life that have always tempted or interested me — namely, I want to read more, knit more, would love to take a painting class, and a photography class, would like to try to write an actual book someday, etc. etc.
Yesterday in my yoga class, a class with one of my favorite yoga teachers, and one which offered exactly what I needed (hip openers!) after having missed yoga for two weeks, the teacher did the opening meditation on happiness. She started with the American Indian/Cherokee story a chief tells his granddaughters, about the two wolves which live and battle each other inside each of us. One of the wolves is anger, fear, resentment, frustration, disappointment; the other joy, happiness, contentment. One of the granddaughters asks which wolf wins the battle, and the answer is “The wolf you feed.”
I started thinking about how much of my energy is spent feeding my resentment towards the people who have wronged me, how I should stop feeding that wolf, but how their petty insecurities have interfered with my ability to really live up to my personal or professional potential, and how letting that anger go is like letting them get away with it, and how unfair that is, and how much energy do they ever spend thinking about me and so on, and so on, and so on.
By the time I left, I was all nicely warmed up and limbered up and felt like I had really had a good yoga practice, physically, and was an absolute mess emotionally; nearly in tears before Savasana, barely able to roll up my matt and depart at the end.
I came home, and Only Daughter was here, as it was still her schools’ mid-winter break. I decided that, rather than do our usual, which is her at the computer watching ridiculous ridiculousness on youtube (Dance Moms! Ugh!) and reading her books and me practicing and at my computer answering emails, etc., we would go see a special exhibit at the local museum. So I shower, and we grab a quick lunch, and off we go.
First I park near what used to be one of our area museums, but it’s now part of a local arts college. Of course, I don’t discover this until I’ve fed every single piece of loose change I own into the meter, trying to eke out 90 minutes. We then drive to the correct museum (which has the name of it clearly above the door, a name which does not resemble in any way the name of the museum on all of the billboards touting the new exhibit), and can’t find a parking space. After driving around the block twice we find that someone has departed, so I do an illegal U-turn, grab the spot, manage to find two more nickels in the bottom of my purse, (I’ll get change when we get the tickets), and in we go. . .but the line is 150 people long, and I have piano students in two hours.
The rest of the day is much like this. I won’t bore you with the details, but it did include driving a long way out of the way to go to an arts supply store, doing extensive research in books introducing painting with watercolors, selecting paints, and brushes, and paper, and getting overwhelmed and intimidated and putting it all back.
After a kind of restless but adequate night’s sleep I wake up with the decision (!) that this will be a better day; I will make it so if it’s the last thing I do, gol’darn’it. I will start this day by writing the name of every person who has “wronged” me on a piece of paper and burning it in a foil tray, and that will release me from their hold on me. I do this. And there aren’t really that many people. And I laugh and think, “that’s it? It seemed like so many.” I start to wrack my brain to see if I can think of anyone else, decide I’m utterly ridiculous, and that’s that.
Of course, it’s not really that simple.
I picture this ideal, where there is this part way down deep in the center of me that is strong and confident and good, like a little tiny diamond carat from which the rest of me radiates; and some days I know it’s there and some days I think it’s there and some days I hope it’s there and some days I just can’t seem to find it, or believe that it ever existed.
But I have everything I need, and my husband and children are healthy and smart and strong, and my problems, in comparison to the problems of the world, are pretty small. I know all of these things. So I make these vows to myself, to be more present, to be more joyful, to be more that tiny little diamond carat and less the dark swirling shadows that engulf it. . .and then my students come and they don’t have their assignment book, or their Etudes book, or they were skiing for the whole weekend and didn’t practice until yesterday; or I will be a better and more patient mom and then I catch Only Daughter eating her fourth snack since school, at the computer, and three of her Tuesday chores not done; or. . .
But today, I wrote an eleven-page paper about a Bach piece that I love and that I will submit for publication. And I got a last-minute gig playing for two gala occasions in area cities this weekend. And I bought myself these boots:
(Alas, I have to wait 30-60 days for them. Not sure why, but I think it’s important not to ask too many questions in cases like this. Of course, my credit card has already been charged.)
(And yes, I know retail therapy isn’t the answer to everything, and that it is not possible to actually buy happiness. But I’m thinking that it might sometimes help. I mean, did you see the boots? They’re red. And embroidered. And the toes curl up in that insouciant manner, almost like a smile. Did I mention they’re red?)
Trying to decide the best way to spend my energy; whether I should: continue in the work I’m in, try to write a story or a novel or put together a book of poetry or take a painting class, yoga more often or train for 5K or both, keep blogging or stop blogging, etc. etc.
But here are a few funny moments/discoveries to share.
Little boxed rose plant sits on Husband’s placemat with a little hand-torn heart and a lovey-note written in pink pen. He is bustling around the kitchen making coffee and pouring cereal and chattering away about what a lame holiday Valentine’s Day is, how pathetic those people are who think they can make up for a year of benign neglect and/or indifference, how cynical the Hallmark company is for creating such a holiday to play on people’s guilt, etc. etc. I sit at my place, eating my eggs, watching him, smiling.
He comes over to the table with his breakfast, and says, “Oh! What’s this, then? How sweet.”
We were discussing the ridiculousness of how we can’t seem to agree in this country that nobody actually needs to be able to go and buy an assault rifle. Husband remembers this little gem from Eddie Izzard. (Don’t ask me about the clothes and the makeup while he makes no attempt to change the clearly-I’m-actually-a-man timbre of his voice. I have no idea.)
And I don’t really make it a habit to include advertisements for pickup trucks in my blog, but this was played during the Superbowl, as my family was sitting around writing the eulogy for my Dad. And it sums up my dad, and what kind of a man he was, quite nicely. I can’t watch it without crying.
A little story first, which basically sums up his, and my, parenting style.
I was probably 10 or 11 years old, and went out with some siblings to hoe one of the potato fields. I, in my infinite wisdom, (and given my propensity not to wear shoes unless I absolutely had to, which persists to this day), went out to hoe barefoot. Of course, I hoed my big toe pretty badly, and limped back with the toe all bloody and crusted with dirt, blubbering and looking for sympathy. Dad takes a look at me, looks down at my bleeding foot and says, “Hoeing barefoot, huh? That’s not very smart.”
Nope. Not very. And you were exactly right, and exactly right to say so. Miss you.
[Walking to our car from a hockey game.]
Me: Brrrrrrshivershivershiverbrrrrrrrrshivershivershiverbrrrrrrrr. . .
Husband: What are you doing?
Me: I’m cold. It’s got to be in the single digits. It feels like my head’s going to explode.
Husband: What are you talking about? It’s 14˚ at the coldest; a nice, balmy, Canadian winter day
Me: Yeah, all true, except for that it’s definitely colder than 14˚, it’s anything but balmy, and we’re not in Canada.
Husband: We’ll see what the car shows for the temperature.
Me: Yeah, except it’s in a heated garage, so no pointing at it in the first 5 seconds and gloating.
[Arrive at car. Get into car. Start car. Handy little temperature indicator says it's 43˚ out. Husband points and gloats. I ignore him.]
[Drive a few miles. Temperature drops. 38˚ 32˚ 27˚ 18˚ 14˚. Husband points. I give him the universal sign for "Just wait a minute."
Temperature stops at 10˚. I point. Husband mutters: Your car’s wrong.]
Me: Okay, maybe not 8˚, but I was still closer than you were.
Husband: Yeah, one degree closer.
Me: I said it was 8˚, you said it was 14˚, how is 10 one degree closer? Is this how you do math in Canadia? (He loves it when I call it Canadia.)
Husband: It’s about how you figure out, not whether the answer is right or not.
Only Daughter [in back seat][did I mention Only Daughter was with us?] It’s dropped to 9!
Husband: Okay, now you’re one and a half degrees closer.
[Temperature drops to 7˚]
Me: Okay, NOW who’s closer?
Husband: I’m on a horse.
(It seems weird that we were at a hockey game last night, but Only Daughter’s youth choir was singing the national anthem, and we were still in town until this morning, and I think Dad would want us to keep on living, and laughing. Not sure how he would have felt about the gaps in Husband’s logic — even Only Daughter wanted to know what Husband being on a horse had to do with anything, especially since, clearly, he was not.)
Found out yesterday that my dad had died on Wednesday. When my brother found him it looked like he was sleeping on his couch.
I guess I am thankful for things — he didn’t seem to have suffered, he was his goofy, grumpy, sweet, funny self right up until the very end. But no warning, completely unexpected. I’m alternating between coping, reeling, and stunned.
Last I saw him was right after Christmas. He had left my sister’s on the day of the family celebration when he had “had enough,” as was his wont, without saying goodbye to anyone except to those in the direct vicinity (I was not one of them), and I thought later, “oh, I didn’t get to say good-bye to Dad.” But it was okay, because there’s always next time.
Until there isn’t.
Every year on the 4th of July holiday there is a big camp out at my dad’s. Everybody who wants to, friends and family alike (I believe that strangers and passers-by would also be welcome, which precludes me from divulging the address), brings their tent or their camper or whatever !!! and camps out at Dad’s. He lived on a river, so there would be tubing, and “corn hole” (google it), and a fair bit of drinking (daiquiri made with the lawn-mower-engine-powered blender anyone?) and cigar smoking and fishing and lots of inventive cooking over campfires, and tall tales spun around the fire long into the night (don’t ask me how I know this). Last summer I had a student at Interlochen Arts Camp performing on the Prairie Home Companion show being broadcast live on the only night I had free, so I sat on stage with my student, and watched Garrison Keillor in action, and didn’t make it to my dad’s that night. Mom and dad were both there.
And now they’re gone.
He was, as my brother put on facebook, the salt of the earth.
Practical, hardworking, with zero tolerance for bullshit in either direction and a sweet kindness toward everyone he loved. He didn’t always agree with you, and he wasn’t afraid to tell you when he didn’t, but you never felt like he loved you any less for it.
This is a rare gift. I wish I had it.
There’s a picture hanging in his extra bedroom that we had made for him many many years ago, with one of his favorite sayings: “It’s a tough life, and it’s gonna get tougher” on it, signed “The toughies” with 8 little potatoes in a piled up little row and each of our names in a potato (we grew up on a potato farm, and yes, we’re all pretty darn tough.) If anyone would have made any kind of suggestion regarding boosting one of his “toughies” self esteem he would have sputtered and scoffed and suggested he/she earned it. Spot on, dad.
He loved a good Polish joke, even more so when we pointed out that he was 50% Polish. Husband had a few he had saved up. Guess he’ll have to just tell them to me, again. (Sigh.)
When we stayed with him he would growl at our dog, “C’mere!” because he loved dogs, and wanted Dexter to come up on his chair with him, and Dexter would growl and prance around and try to decide if he dared or not. Gruff, grouchy, and the sweetest man in the world.
I know this has to happen. But I wasn’t ready for this. Not yet. I haven’t even figured out how I feel about my mom dying yet.
I’m 48 years old. I talk to my dad four times a year. Why does it feel like I’ve been left out in the cold, completely unprotected?
I’m trying to figure out why I’m writing this, if anybody cares to read it, if it isn’t just self-pitying emotional drivel, whether there’s any kind of universal message to it that would make anyone but me care.
I just know it’s like there was a roof over you and now there isn’t, but even that doesn’t make sense. It’s not like I was going to call him tomorrow and ask him for money. Although, I guess if I would have had to, I know that I could have.
And I keep thinking I’m okay, and then I’m not.
I guess that’s okay, too.
Although I can hear him telling me to stop blubbering. Not like it’s doing me any good or anything.
Love you, Dad. Hope you know, knew, how much.
I know this, and I’ve done it, but why is it so hard sometimes to remember that it was the right/good thing to do?
I’m remembering it today. And yesterday. Maybe I can hold on to it, then.
Oldest Son tells me that calling your mom on Mother’s Day to tell her thank you and that you love her is pathetic. That you should thank your mom and tell her you love her just because.
I agree, but I still like it when he calls me on Mother’s Day.
Giving thanks on Thanksgiving is also kind of pathetic — every day should be greeted with thankfulness. As I used to tell my dad when he would complain about getting old: it beats the alternative.
So in yoga we thank our feet for carrying us through our days, and we thank our hamstrings (Hello, hamstrings!) and our aching backs and our hands for what they carry, and our hearts, for what they carry too.
And when we clean our floors we try to remember to thank the floors and the walls and the roof for keeping us from having to live in the dirt, in the rain.
And when we burn the pumpkin soup (just a little), we try to be thankful for all of the delicious ingredients in that pumpkin soup, and that we have good Calphalon pans so we know they’ll get clean again.
And when our children tease and spar and take 45 minutes to do the dishes we are thankful for their health and spirit, and that they are doing the dishes.
On the day after Thanksgiving 7 years ago I drove with my family to my brother’s for an extended family meal, not having yet told our children that their father and I were going to be divorcing.
Six years ago I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my children and my almost-ex-husband in some kind of weird (pathetic?) attempt to manufacture for my children some weird version of family, which felt to me more like a completely phony and unsatisfying version of “family”; and a few hours after they left I was curled up on the bed in a fetal position, mourning all of the mistakes I had made and how, despite my best efforts, I did not have the relationship I wanted with my children, much less with myself.
So now what am I thankful for?
Well, that the dark days are over.
That we’ve crossed over to the other side.
That everyone’s fine.
That my back hurts, again, but seems to be getting better, and in a little more than a week we’ll have a new hot tub on our back deck (thanks, mom), and that will hopefully help my back problems, and Husband’s knee problems, besides being a wonderful addition to a life that’s being fully and gratefully lived.
For a life that’s being fully and gratefully lived.
For the physical, mental, intellectual, and emotional health of my friends and family.
For jobs that support us, working for and with people who respect our contributions, for food and shelter and kindness.
For a marriage with a man who is thoughtful, and sensitive, and supportive, and who likes, and loves, me as I do him.
He’s going to be embarrassed that I wrote this. But he is the thing I am most grateful for. And, for whatever weird (pathetic?) reason, I want you all to know.
I have it all.
I am the luckiest person I know.
What he said.
(I do wish we could skip the “God Bless America” part, since the implication always seems to be “and f@#$ everyone else.” Like praying that your football team will win, because they deserve it so much better than that other team over there in different-colored shirts.)
And then there’s this.
In a related story, Only Daughter was being harassed a bit yesterday in school by fellow students whose parents voted differently than I did. She pointed out that they were only parroting what their parents said, and didn’t know enough about anything to have any ideas of their own. (I asked her later what SHE thought, and she said she didn’t really think anything yet, although, from what she could tell our guy was more sympathetic than the other guy. I was very proud.) (This is the girl who worries for hours, and feels guilty eating her dinner, if she even SEES a homeless person or someone begging on the exit ramps.)
Her teacher caught wind of some of these arguments, and started to have a nice talk about how American democracy works and how likely it is that in any given election just <50% of people will be unhappy and just >50% of people will be happy. I was thinking, as O.D. reported this, that this was such a wonderful opportunity to talk about differences of opinion and our responsibility to respect them, about reasonable discourse and discussion, about what a privilege it was to vote for our leaders and to be able to talk freely about that vote before and after. Rather, she went right from her first, reasonable point, to this: We are so lucky to live in the best country on the planet.
Yeah, that should help.
Heard Salman Rushdie on NPR’s “The Story” for the few minutes I was in the car tonight. (Yes, I renewed my membership. Yes I asked for the Thank You gift. Yes, I donated $10 more than I planned to alleviate my guilt. Yes, I was raised Catholic. Any more questions?)
Anyway, he was talking about how he really felt a sense of accomplishment in keeping his ability to write books in a way that would not reveal the circumstances in which he was living. To paraphrase*:
I didn’t want to think about the fact that I was living in a small, afraid little world, in which case I would write these small afraid little books; and I didn’t want to think about being bitter or angry because then that would come through and those books would be miserable too. I really pride myself on the fact that someone who didn’t know the circumstances of my life from 1989 to 1998 could pick up any of the books on a shelf that were written by me in that time frame and still would not know that I was living under a fatwa.
What an inspiring example of the triumph of the human spirit and of mind over matter.
You can listen here. I’d listen and actually quote, but it’s past my bedtime.
*I am paraphrasing. I can’t find a transcript. I apologize if I don’t have it exactly right.
Caught a glimpse of this out my back window as the sun rose this morning, so rushed out in bare feet and pj’s (it was a crisp 32˚) to snap a picture.
Reminds me of life — darkness and light, sometimes at the same time. Always trying to keep my eye on the light.
In a not-really-related story, decided to impose my own fairness on the debate tonight by, when the speaker’s time was up but they continued to talk, going “Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah. . ” as loud as I could. It really helped.
Have a happy day!
Drove home this afternoon through a gentle “rain” of golden leaves. The whole world seemed to gleam with them.
Wanted to stop and stand in the middle of the street. It was a busy street, and I had 25# of carrots to buy (don’t ask), and, well, it was a busy street, so I didn’t.
This made me kind of sad, how living sometimes gets in the way of enjoying those moments. I have a friend who is a pretty fantastic photographer who takes his (really really nice and not all that small) camera with him everywhere, and is often posting photos he took of the fog catching in the branches of the tree across from his house or the snow drifting across his back field and I always think “Wow, these are beautiful” and “Doesn’t he have to get to work on time?”
It did remind me of a poem I wrote for my BFF J____ once a really long time ago. It’s a bit juvenile, I think, and I remember I was experimenting with a kind of chanting rhythm, and the first part is kind of confusing regarding “who” I’m actually talking to “when,” so I’ll just put in the last bit:
. . .I want to stand arms lifted
in fall’s golden shimmering shower
face and eyes and hands and breath in
fiery splendid autumn air. . .
Maybe I’ll drive down there tomorrow, when the streets are less busy, and stand in the middle of the road with my nice-but-not-that-fancy camera and my broken foot in my delightful little “boot,” and take some pictures.
Husband and I were on our way to a lakefront cottage for a week*. We had rented it the year before, and peopled it with family and friends until we were literally bursting at the seams. We took turns cooking, and drank margaritas and copious amounts of wine, and had a fabulous time. But this year it was just the two of us, a conscious decision that we would alternate this week on a yearly basis, one year with as many people as we could squeeze in, the other just the two of us.
Saturday, our first day, was also the first day of a three-day gig for me at a nearby music camp, accompanying for an international brass competition. Husband loitered in the parking lot while I rehearsed, and then we headed the rest of the way at around 5 p.m. We stopped and shopped on the way, filling our cart with food we would both enjoy, and that we would enjoy even more because it wouldn’t be accompanied by the groans of picky children complaining about our choices: arugula, lots of seafood, sharp cheeses, local berries and corn and tomatoes; lots of good wine, loaves of sourdough. We tucked the grocery bags around and between the duffels and pillows and bedding and board games in the back of my Prius.
The first few days of the trip were quite cool and cloudy, but the sky would always clear faithfully right at sunset, so I ended up taking dozens of pictures as the view changed dramatically (well, it seemed so at the time) every few seconds. On the second night, Sunday, the clouds and water seemed to be competing to see which could display the most and most varied shades of purple, and one bird in particular seemed to be posing for his portrait by zipping back and forth in front of my camera and across the gleaming path laid down by the sun across the water.
On Monday morning, very early, the taptaptap of the coming rain woke us, and Husband dashed out to the deck, naked, to rescue chair cushions and towels. Monday night we made a fire in the hanging fireplace, using wood we had bought for $3/bin from a stand alongside the road. While we were loading the wood into the back of the car the neighbor’s mutt had dashed across the road to greet us, sniffing at our ankles and then the car door. I thought he might get in the car and go off with us, but his owner called him back, and he trotted across the road, no one seemingly concerned about the possibility of any oncoming traffic (there wasn’t any). We then drove to the nearest town, buying food at an excellent Mexican restaurant and beer at the Mexican grocery to bring “home” to eat. At the grocery the owner’s two children played in the store window, their black eyes shining as the younger one peeked out from the cardboard cutout he was hiding behind.
Tuesday was to be our first full day at the beach, as the brass competition had kept me traveling back and forth the previous three days. Monday night Husband had asked me about my “ambitions” for Tuesday, so I had listed them: sleep until I woke up, drink lots of coffee with breakfast, read on the beach, take a nap, swim if it were warm enough, a long walk on the beach before dinner, a good meal and a good bottle of wine with dinner, and then losing at Scrabble by the fireplace after sunset (I only win Scrabble in Pisa). I had managed the first two things, and had just settled down in my beach chair with “Ulysses” (I’m trying, but am mostly just puzzled), when Husband appeared at the bottom of the stairs with my phone in his hand and a concerned look on his face. One of my sisters had called the landline at the cottage, and told him to have me check my voicemail.
It was my oldest sister telling me that mom had taken a sudden and dramatic turn for the worse, was in what the medical professionals called a stage of terminal restlessness, and was about to be sedated. The goal was for her to sleep, and, once sedated, it was doubtful that she would ever wake up. If we wanted even the possibility of one more conversation, or at least her awareness of our presence, we needed to come. Now.
The most recent development had been five days earlier, when, out of frustration with continuing digestive problems, mom had informed this same sister that she wasn’t going to eat anymore. We all figured that, once she had taken a day or two off from eating, her digestive system would “calm down” and she would resume eating at least jello and broth and the other few things that hadn’t been aggravating her stomach.
But all of these problems were actually a result of the fact that she had been diagnosed with a glioblastoma over five years ago, a couple of years after having one mastectomy, and a couple of years before having another. (These two cancers, the brain tumor and the breast cancers, were completely unrelated.) In hindsight, the digestive problems were probably a sign of her system shutting down.
She had outlived the prognosis for people with glioblastomas by around four years. She had long exceeded the protocol for chemo, and had discontinued it more than year earlier, merely because it wasn’t known what being on that type of chemo for that long would ultimately do to/for her. When the brain cancer began to show progression again she resumed the regimen that had been previously effective, but was immediately so tired and felt so generally unwell that she decided it wasn’t worth it and discontinued it shortly thereafter.
(It would seem that, with all of this history, this call wouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was. As one of my sisters put it at one point, we had been sprinting a marathon since May, with no view of where or idea of when we would reach the finish line.)
We decided to drive up, about 100 miles from where we were, so we filled up a water bottle and threw a couple of peaches and a can of almonds into a bag, and headed out. It seemed that our drive was destined to be thwarted by “life is a journey” drivers, and people turning left against a lot of traffic. What we calculated would take an hour and forty minutes or so took well over two, and mom was deeply asleep by the time we arrived.
I sat by her side in her hospice room for over three hours as friends came and went, giving quick hugs and kisses on a cheek or forehead, and ducking quickly out blinking away tears and patting us sympathetically on our shoulders. When we would tell mom that someone had arrived she would move one foot, which we took to mean that she heard and understood, although nobody could tell us for sure. When I was alone with her I sat, wishing I was one of those people who just knew what to say, convinced that she could hear us and would want us to talk to her and around her, but not knowing what to say. When I did speak, I would look at her feet. Neither moved.
When we left that night we drove to a nearby newly-opened, highly-acclaimed restaurant, and Husband and I ate a delicious meal — baked sunflower served on a tomato puree and topped with goat cheese and puff pastry, broccoli raab with lemon, caramelized scallops on creamy polenta with eggplant and tomato chutney, grouper on parmesan risotto so creamy and cheesy I’ve sworn off “healthful” risotto for the rest of my life as a waste if not a betrayal to the spirit of risotto itself. We accompanied the meal with a Sonoma Valley Chardonnay and finished with dark chocolate cake over a raspberry reduction. I felt this topped off the surreality of the day, and we toasted my mom and her life while I savored every bite and felt pathologically guilty for doing so (the story of my life; I’m nothing if not conflicted).
The expectation was that, once sedated, my mom would probably continue in this sleeping state for anywhere from a couple of days to a week or more. Our plan was to drive back to our cottage, spend Wednesday there, and return to her hospice room on Thursday.
I sat on the steps leading down to the water that night and listened to the endless ssssswwsssshh of the water against the shore. The moon was markedly absent, so the stars shone in stark relief against the night sky, and a plane at one point flew directly across the Big Dipper.
Wednesday was a beautiful day. We felt like we were stealing it. We slept in, puttered around, walked a good ways along the beach, picked up a plastic bag full of dead balloons and ribbon and plastic water bottles and other detritus on the way back; then I sat in “my” chair and watched the water. I checked my phone every ten minutes. We cooked a delicious meal, and had just settled in to a game of Scrabble when my sister called. Mom’s breathing had changed markedly a couple of hours before, and became slower and slower, until they — two of my sisters and my youngest brother — realized that it had stopped.
Mom had died.
We actually had gone through many weeks in May quite sure it was just around the corner as she recovered from a brain bleed after she fell in her apartment. It had been discovered early in May that she actually had two large blood clots: one in her leg from ankle to thigh, which had caused severe swelling and pain, and one in the airway between her lungs. We had rallied, and set up a schedule to have someone staying with her until she became more steady on her feet as she started a regimen of blood thinners and breathed oxygen from a portable tank. Blood clots, or what is technically referred to as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVTs), are common side effects of some cancers, as apparently the presence of certain cancers in the body alter the chemistry of the blood and make it more likely to clot. She was moved into hospice after the brain bleed and resulting paralysis on her left side left her unable to get up by herself and required the use of a catheter. Early in August she had regained strength and mobility, was able to walk with a walker, was deemed a hospice “failure,” and moved to an assisted living facility. This move was short-lived, and her return to hospice had just been completed on Monday.
And on Wednesday she died.
We drove back up on Thursday and stocked coolers for visitors and went through dozens of her photo albums to assemble a collage of pictures of her and her friends and family and travels. Back to the cottage Thursday night, up for the visitation and funeral on Saturday and Sunday. The services were evangelical, and disappointing to me as they seemed to focus on the pastor’s vision of what awaited her after her death, (a vision I don’t necessarily share, and certainly without all of his certainty,) rather than a celebration of her life and family. Maybe it’s just me, and my state of mind at the time, and my fate as the sixth of eight children, and my pervasive sense for most of my life that the afterlife mattered more to my mom than I did. I know there were conversations I had wanted to have with her, but chose not to, realizing that they would only try to serve what I needed, probably fail, and probably make things worse between us than they already were. I’m sure this is not only my story, but that of many. I also know there were conversations she had with my sisters about these very things, but she never had them with me.
I know she did her best; we all do. Knowing this, I am still sad that I will always feel that her best left me feeling that something was lacking. I worry that my children will feel the same.
At the burial we released balloons into a gorgeous blue sky, and I remembered all of the balloons we had picked up along the beach.
We drove back to our cottage the day after the funeral, Only Daughter in tow. The owner of the cottage had graciously offered to extend our stay for a few days, as our week had ended up so fragmented and difficult. We drove more than a thousand miles that week, and hadn’t spent more than 36 hours in any one place. We were very grateful.
We spent Monday afternoon, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning at the beach. It was warmer, and lovely, and surreal. Only Daughter practiced her balance beam routine on the deck’s benches; the water warmed enough for us to swim; the sunsets were beautiful.
On Wednesday morning, our last day there, we took one more long walk on the beach. A short way into the walk we encountered a gull, apparently sleeping, but as we neared he turned his head weakly towards us, and then tried to drag himself sideways away from us with a wing. He was clearly severely injured, and we know enough about seagulls to know not to try to get close to help. We walked our “usual” long path, and watched for him upon our return. He was still there, caught in the edges of the tide, waiting to die.
*This all happened in mid-August. I have just found time, and the frame of mind, to write it now.
. . .But Time, the domain of Deeds,
calls for a complex Grammar
with many Moods and Tenses,
and prime the Imperative.
We are free to choose our paths
but choose We must, no matter
where they lead, and the tales We
tell of the Past must be true. . .
“When I look at nature — the way a sea gull spreads its wings wide as it hovers just above a meal, the way the tide rushes in, bringing shell sparkles and lost treasures, the way the sun rises every morning even when it is cloudy, the way a tree stands proud even when it is wounded, its roots deeper than the trials it endures — I see truth, a truth where there is no need for anxiety because things are as they should be. People should stand strong and say what they really feel, not what they think others want to hear. They should flow with their emotions, like the tide, whether they be happy or sad. They should rise bright with possibility into every day and hover gently near what they want instead of aggressively taking [it].”
“Surviving the Pain at the Roots,” NYTimes, Sunday, September 16, 2012
It seems like a man can just about bear anything. He can even bear what he never done. He can even bear the thinking how some things is just more than he can bear. He can even bear it that if he could just give down and cry, he wouldn’t do it. He can even bear it to not look back, even when he knows that looking back or not looking back won’t do him any good.
If it doesn’t make you smile there’s something wrong with you.
Stole Found this at http://adpitch.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/coca-cola-cctv/#comment-800
Thanks for sharing!
But how does it work?
“. . .Every spirit passing through the world fingers the tangible and mars the mutable, and finally has come to look and not to buy. So shoes are worn and hassocks are sat upon and finally everything is left where it was and the spirit passes on, just as the wind in the orchard picks up the leaves from the ground as if there were no other pleasure in the world but brown leaves, as if it would deck, clothe, flesh itself in flourishes of dusty brown apple leaves, and then drops them all in a heap at the side of the house and goes on. . .”
Whether I like this (the original, I believe):
or the cover by Jayme Dee:
I do know that I have a new favorite song. For this week, anyway, during which I will listen to it way too many times and by July wish I hadn’t. Like eating too much cake, that’s what I (always) do.
(Husband says it just proves that I’m a sap. I say it’s the same thing.)
I cry every single time I see this.
Every. Single. Time.
. . .We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these. . .
(Jane Kenyon, “The Blue Bowl”)
I got up this morning and sat on the couch in my pajamas while Only Daughter got herself ready for school. She sat for a while underneath my legs underneath the alpaca blanket, chattering about this and that as she is wont to do. When she went out for the bus I went back to bed and slept until almost 11.
I can’t seem to do anything, at least not anything that matters.
After a brunch of poached eggs and bacon with the fattiest portion sliced off and sourdough toast I glued the broken-off border mosaic tiles back on to the table I made for my mom many Mother’s Days ago. Two of the border tiles, and most of the edging ones, are missing. I’ll have to figure out something else to do there. I had this feeling as I was doing it that I was reassembling more than a table; something right out of a Coppola movie. Forgiveness, absence, loss, misunderstandings, shortcomings, misapprehensions — all filled in with a squirt of glue and a purple glass tile.
As if, right?
He always just seems to get it, exactly.
Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for
or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I
have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me
as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let
me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I
began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already
part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you
from what we cannot hold the stars are made
Don’t take your eyes off of it, you might miss a year.
It’s really stunning.
Reminds me of that line in the Safran Foer story: “He suddenly spoke, suddenly reasoned. One day I couldn’t help him with his math. He got married.”
And the thing is, it almost feels that fast while living it.
I think I got it all wrong.
Instead, the young man in the garden, with his hands in his pockets, listening to the wheel that is not there, is us, trying to discern what the poem means. And it is exactly that enigmatic nature that is poetry.
. . .He does not move
His feet nor so much as raise his head
For fear he should disturb the sound he hears
Like a pain without a cry, where he listens. . .
You can hear it, see it, just there. No, not there, there. And trying to explain it is the act which destroys it.
For some reason this reminds me of a beautiful, powerful moment in the haunting movie Tsotsi. Tsotsi, (the name he has given himself means, literally, “thug,”) has invaded a young woman’s home and is forcing her to nurse the infant he has inadvertently stolen and then decided to keep. He notices some mobiles the woman has made. One is made of bits of scrap metal. When Tsotsi asks her why it’s all rusty she replies, simply, “I was sad.” Another is of broken, colored glass. He pokes his head into its dangling strands and asks, “This one, you were happy? How much?” She says “Fifty dollars.” “Fifty? For broken glass?” “No, silly, for light, and color, on you. Can’t you see?”
Only Daughter: Someday if I’m rich I’m going to give most of my money away because I would feel really badly about having so much when some people have so little.
Me: (thinking many things, including “does that mean you’ll pay me back for the thousands of dollars I’ll have spent on gymnastics classes and college?“) Wow. That’s really generous of you. Some people would say that that makes you a “Socialist,” and the Republicans won’t like you for it.
Only Daughter: What’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?
Me: (thinking that I should be really careful to give a balanced answer, and not only because this might be a conversation I want to blog about later, but because I want her to think for herself not just spout whatever dogma she hears from me) Well, Democrats think that the world is a better place if we all take care of each other, so we should all have as many of the same chances as we can, and even though we should all work hard and do our best, sometimes we need a little extra help; Republicans believe that we should all “pull ourselves up by our own boot straps,” and that even when things are tough things will work out better if we are each responsible for ourselves.
Only Daughter: So how many Republicans are there? Like 5?
The left wing bowed graciously,
after the plane caught its pocket of air
and nonchalantly dropped the LaGuardia runway into its wake
(an hour and a half behind schedule,
not that anyone’s counting,)
and New York City gleamed as if gilded in gold,
the Avenues wearing their red and white stripes
of cars going this way,
and that way;
Central Park all darkness,
the pedicabs and ice skaters long gone home.
The stewardess fills up my water glass
for the fourth time, then sneaks me a bottle of merlot
minutes after turbulence shakes us all like
dice in a Yahtzee cup.
I am 38 minutes away from you,
that “you the singer sings to,*”
according to The Flight Deck,
and despite that promise I make to myself
time and time again,
You know–that promise
not to wish my life away;
It cannot pass quickly enough.
There. It’s 36 minutes now.
Not that anyone’s counting.
Heard in the bathroom this morning, from Only Daughter with the newly formed Beatles obsession:
“Eh, Jude. . .”
I love the particular quiet
of a deeply snowy day
and that the swirl you met
at the top of the driveway
kept you home today
so that when I awoke you
were just returning to bed
and we lounged there until
almost 10, you snoring
while I read my book
(you know, the one I like
but wish I could have edited)
and Hannah came to the
door occasionally to see
if we were going to ever
We made apple cinnamon crepes
and bacon and drank cups and
cups of cappuccino
and then went back to bed
knees to knees, forehead to forehead
and slept some more
until I snuck out in my thick socks
and drove to get the oil changed
in my car.
I only slid a little at the bottom
of the driveway, and then navigated
down slushed roads as trees dropped
snowballs on me in their passive-agressive
way and the dog in the Kia waved
its tail at me as I passed.
I sit, now, in the “quiet” room,
waiting for new oil and something
called a PCV valve
and ponder the important questions:
whether I can take another nap when I get home,
what I should do with the next twenty
years of my professional life,
what to make for dinner.
This is way cool. No pun intended. Okay it was, just a little.
A beautiful post written by a friend and fellow musician who is recovering from a stroke.
I posted a link to redamancylit.wordpress.com which quoted part of this article on my facebook page. A friend pointed me to the entire article. I feel the need to quote it below — and wonder, if I had read it 20 years ago if I would have recognized its truth, and done much of it differently. Probably not, because I probably thought I was doing it that way at the time. I’m probably still not.
One of life’s persistent challenges, I guess.
Nevertheless. . .
Anna Quindlen on Motherhood
All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.
Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.
Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations –what they taught me was that they couldn’t really teach me very much at all.
Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. (emphasis mine) One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at 3, his brother at 2. When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.
I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton’s wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.
Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language – mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her
geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald’s drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?
But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.
Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.
That’s what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.
The poem/observations is/are from a couple weeks ago. The pictures from today.
Hannah strides in front of me in her cupcake fleece pajama pants
and purple parka;
the puppy bounces springily through the snow
as indifferent clouds drift,
and a single tear glitters frozen
on my cheek,
not felt but seen,
There were long stretches of this book that were somewhat frustrating for me –where I felt that Thomas Wolfe was just so in love with the sound of his own voice (and his prodigious writing talent) that he forgot he was telling a story; but his writing talent is, in fact, prodigious, but the characters are three-dimensional, real, and the story a compelling one, generally well told.
At the end Eugene, the gradually-revealed hero of the story, has survived the torments of his upbringing — his drunken, self-pitying father, his pinched, grasping mother, the tragic death of his disgruntled yet beloved brother, Ben — and is off to Harvard. On his last night in “his” town he encounters the ghost of his brother amongst all of the shadows of their various former selves, and the enervated masonry angels of his father’s livelihood.
And in his vision he saw the fabulous lost cities, buried in the drifted silt of the earth — Thebes, the seven-gated, and all the temples of the Daulian and Phocian lands, and all Oenotria to the Tyrrhene gulf. Sunk in the burial-urn of earth he saw the vanished cultures: the strange sourceless glory of the Incas, the fragments of lost epics upon a broken shard of Gnossic pottery, the buried tombs of the Memphian kings, and imperial dust, wound all about with gold and rotting linen, dead with their thousand bestial gods, their mute unawakened ushabtii, in their finished eternities. (See? But persist. . .)
He saw the billion living of the earth, the thousand billion dead; seas were withered, deserts flooded, mountains drowned; and gods and demons came out of the South, and ruled above the little rocket-flare of centuries, and sank–came to their Northern Lights of death, the muttering death-flared dusk of the completed gods.
But, amid the fumbling march of races to extinction, the giant rhythms of the earth remained. The seasons passed in their majestic processionals, and germinal Spring returned forever on the land–new crops, new men, new harvests, and new gods.
And then the voyages, the search for the happy land. In his moment of terrible vision he saw, in the tortuous ways of a thousand alien places, his foiled quest of himself. And his haunted face was possessed of that obscure and passionate hunger that had woven its shuttle across the seas, that had hung its weft among the Dutch in Pennsylvania, that had darkened his father’s eyes to impalpable desire for wrought stone and the head of an angel. Hill-haunted whose vision of the earth was mountain-walled, he saw the golden cities sicken his eye, the opulent dark splendors turn to dingy gray. His brain was sick with the million books, his eyes with the million pictures, his body sickened on a hundred princely wines.
And rising from his vision, he cried: “I am not there among the cities. I have sought down a million streets, until the goat-cry died within my throat, and I have found no city where I was, no door where I had entered, no place where I had stood.”
. . .
“Fool,” said Ben, “what do you want to find?”
“Myself, and an end to hunger, and the happy land,” he answered. “For I believe in harbors at the end. O Ben, brother, and ghost, and stranger, you who could never speak, give me an answer now!”
Then, as he thought, Ben said: “There is no happy land. There is no end to hunger.”
. . .
He stood naked and alone in darkness, far from the lost world of the streets and faces; he stood upon the ramparts of his soul, before the lost land of himself; heard inland murmurs of lost seas, the far interior music of the horns. The last voyage, the longest, the best.
“O sudden and impalpable faun, lost in the thickets of myself, I will hunt you down until you cease to haunt my eyes with hunger. I heard your foot-falls in the desert, I saw your shadow in old buried cities, I heard your laughter running down a million streets, but I did not find you there And no leaf hangs for me in the forest; I shall lift no stone upon the hills; I shall find no door in any city. But in the city of myself, upon the continent of my soul, I shall find the forgotten language, the lost world, a door where I may enter, and music strange as any ever sounded; I shall haunt you, ghost, along the labyrinthine ways until—–until? O Ben, my ghost, my answer?”
But in the city of myself
upon the continent of my soul
I shall find the forgotten language,
the lost world,
a door where I may enter,
and music strange as any ever sounded.
Yes. Just that.
Was watching the video clips from my “life, in dance” post, and clicked on a couple of the follow-ups.
You must watch this:
Absolutely stunning. Especially the second one.
First, make Husband an eggnog.
Shake 1 egg, 2 T. sugar, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg and 4 or 5 ice cubes together in a jar. Add 2 c. milk. Shake again. Put 5 ice cubes in a tall glass. Add a shot of brandy. Fill with egg mixture.
Now make yourself a Manhattan.
Put 5 ice cubes in a glass. Shake Angostora bitters over the ice. Add a generous shot of Crown Royal and a 1/2 shot of sweet vermouth. Add 2 maraschino cherries and pour in a bit of the cherry juice. Sip slowly. This is serious stuff.
Put 1 c. of faro in a saucepan, add 3 c. water. Bring the water to a boil, and then turn down as low as you can so it doesn’t boil all over and make a mess on your stove. Cover and simmer (carefully! carefully!) for 15 minutes. Drain the extra water off, cover, and let sit until you’re ready to eat.
Meanwhile, mix 2 T. of black sesame seeds and 2 T. of white sesame seeds in a flat dish. Coat 3 or 4 tuna steaks with sesame seeds. If Husband realizes that there aren’t enough sesame seeds in dish, quickly add more.
Peel and finely chop (slice it one way, then slice it the other way, then chop it against the “grains” you’ve just created) a 2″ piece of ginger that you dug out of the back of the freezer.
Cut 1/2-1 lb of broccolini into 2″ pieces.
Open the package of edamame so it’s ready to roll.
Mix 2 T. canola oil, 2 T. rice vinegar (unseasoned!), 1 T. soy sauce in a bowl or 1 c. liquid measuring cup.
Find out when the 1st period of the hockey game is ending so you can time the rest of the dinner preparations accordingly.
When the 1st period of the hockey game is about to be over, put a wok on the 2nd-largest burner, because Husband will need the largest burner for the tuna steaks.
Add 2 T. dark sesame oil to the hot wok. When the oil is almost smoking, add the chopped ginger.
Throw in the broccolini and edamame and ask Husband to start the tuna steaks.
(He should brown them in hot canola oil in a non-stick skillet, 1 minute on each side.)
Keep stirring the vegetables until they start to brown, Pour in the oil/rice vinegar/soy sauce mixture. When it starts to bubble, add 1/2 c. cashews. Stir for 30 seconds or so until everything’s hot, then turn off the heat.
When the tuna steaks are done (no more than one minute per side!), put them on a board and cut them into strips.
Make a bed of arugula in one corner of a large dinner plate. Top with the vegetables, then the strips of tuna. Serve the faro on the side. Spoon out some of the sauce from the pan and drizzle over the tuna.
Serve with a good sparkling white, dry “champagne” of your choice.
Watch the rest of the hockey game.
Toast 2012, and each other, and your children, and your life.
It’s all good.
Besides its beauty is its transience, which becomes part of its beauty; the fact that he knows when he begins that it will be gone shortly after he finishes; the many who stand to watch, and shout out warnings, “The tide’s coming in!” Even the water itself contributes.
And his obvious joy.
I turn 47 tomorrow.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m none too excited about this. None of my previous birthdays have really bothered me — no problem turning 30, or 40, or even 45 for that matter, and I find myself in a happier place personally than I’ve been for any of those landmarks, so what’supwiththat?
As I’ve also mentioned before, 47 seems a lot closer to 50 than 46 did, so I don’t think that’s helping.
Why does this matter?
We’re all getting older, and it certainly beats the alternative, but are we all, no matter how sensible or philosophical, susceptible to the clichés of marking our progress professionally, personally, at the decade increments? What’s the difference really between turning 47 and turning 50? Maybe I should just continue as I have been, and get all the angst out of the way now — if I really don’t like turning 47, and admit that freely to myself, will that make it that much easier when I actually turn 50? Is that even it?
I know I imagined myself at 47 in a different place professionally than I find myself now, but that was true for 46, and 45, and 40, so so what?
I’m discouraged sometimes by life: my children sometimes seem to lack the characteristics of discipline, nobility, responsibility, thoughtfulness, which I had hoped to instill in them, (but they’re relatively young yet, so maybe it’s not hopeless); the professional world seems to be filled with people riddled by insecurity or pettiness or hubris; politics grind on as usual while many seem unable or unwilling to see the big picture and actual societal progress continues to be thwarted by selfish self-interest, religious narrow-mindedness, and/or apathy; students don’t really seem to care, even a fraction, as much as I do, or as much as I think they should. But do any of these things have anything to do with how I feel about how old I am?
It does seem to me that every single day is too short. So many things to do — delicious meals to cook and great wines to savor and books to read and projects to knit and friends to talk to and puppies to train and random crap to rant about on my blog and poems to write and movies to watch on the couch with my wonderful husband — and there never seems to be enough time to do them all. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way: a full life is a life well-lived; but I want to pay attention to all of it while at the same time wishing I had time to take a nap.
And so it flies by.
Happy Birthday to me.
Oh, and checking facebook repeatedly to see if anything’s “going on” and reading some of my favorite bloggers.
In a discussion on Roger Ebert’s blog regarding Twitter, a commenter quoted Montaigne:
I would like to suggest that our minds are swamped by too much studying of too much matter just as plants are swamped by too much water or lamps by too much oil; that our minds, held fast and encumbered by so many diverse preoccupations, may well lose the means of struggling free, remaining bowed and bent under the load; except that it is quite otherwise: the more our souls are filled, the more they expand; examples drawn from far-off times show, on the contrary, that great soldiers and statesmen were also great scholars.
I’ve thought, on occasion, of taking one day a week off of everything electronic — email, facebook, blogs (mine and the ones I read), etc.
I think I’ll try it tomorrow.
See you Sunday!
Husband says that the last thing people want to read the day after Thanksgiving is recipes, and I’m sure these would have been a lot more useful to people a week ago, but the problem is I make things up as I go along, so I never have them until after the fact. Maybe they will be of some use for Christmas. I did have two things turn out better than expected, and a result of a combination of two or three recipes, so here you are.
Sorry I don’t have pictures. Too many things to do all at the same time to stop and take snapshots. I must be the Worst. Blogger. Ever.
Yam and Pumpkin Soufflé
Cut 2 lbs of yams into 2-3″ pieces (don’t bother peeling) and cover with water in a medium-sized saucepot. Cover, bring to boil, and then simmer until they are are quite soft.
Remove the yams from the pan and let cool on a plate, then peel and mash in a large bowl. Add 2 c. of pumpkin — either baked or boiled pie pumpkin or canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling; just pumpkin), 1/2 c. coconut milk (Silk brand or its equivalent, the kind made to drink, not the really high fat stuff in cans), 1/4 c. brandy (or more, I always think it needs more), 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. galangal (or ginger, but I like the galangal better because it’s a little milder), 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/2 c. brown sugar. Stir until well mixed. In a separate bowl, beat two eggs until light and frothy. Stir into pumpkin mixture. Put the pumpkin mixture into a deep pie pan or soufflé dish.
Melt 1 T. of butter in a medium-sized skillet. Add 1/3-1/2 c. slivered almonds, and stir, cooking until the almonds just start to brown. Add 2 T. of brown sugar, and keep stirring until the sugar starts to get thickly syrupy (mine didn’t really caramelize, and the almonds were starting to look like they might burn, so I took it off the heat). Spread the sugared almonds over the top of the soufflé.
Bake at 350˚ for an hour, uncovered.
Really light, mildly sweet, even the “children” liked them.
Apple Pie with
Drunk Brandied Raisins
The day before:
Put 1/3 c. of golden raisins into a small dish or canning jar. Pour brandy over just to top of raisins. Let sit overnight, shaking to mix and redistribute the raisins whenever you think of it.
Cut 1/2 tsp. of salt into 2 1/2 c. of unbleached flour. Add 3/4 c. really cold butter, cut into tablespoons, and mix with the flat paddle of the mixer until fine crumbs. Sprinkle in 9 T. of ice-cold water, letting the mixer run. When the crumbs start to stick together into clumps, stop the mixer. Assemble the pie dough into a ball, wrap tightly in saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (I usually refrigerate for ~ 30 minutes, but this was by far the flakiest, most delicious pie crust I’ve ever made, and I think it was because I was trying to do stuff ahead, so made the dough and left it in the fridge over night. It was really a lot of work to roll out, my triceps still feel it, but it was definitely worth it.)
The day of:
Mix 1/2 c. brown sugar, 3 T. unbleached flour, 2 heaping tsp. of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg and 1/2 tsp. of salt. Peel, core, and slice (1/4″ thick) 7 Granny Smith apples. Add the apples to the sugar mixture and stir until they are completely coated. Pour in the raisins AND the brandy, stir again.
Roll half of the pie dough out on a floured cloth. Fit into deep-dish 10″ pie plate. Add apple mixture to the pie dish, arranging carefully so the slices are really packed in together. Dot with 1-2 T. of butter cut into little pats. Top with the other crust, brush the crust with milk and sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake in a 425˚ oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375˚ and bake for another 30-40. Fantastic. (You will taste the brandy, so don’t do it this way thinking the brandy flavor will disappear. Unless you’re like me, and think the dish always needs more brandy.)(Twitter post, @Sheriji1: Husband and I, in a nutshell, on Thanksgiving: Him: I like to stay ahead of the dishes. Me: I think this dish needs more brandy.)
Dinner was fantastic. We made a 21.3 lb. turkey for 5 people because First Son and Step Daughter couldn’t make it back. We missed them, quite a bit, and not just because they are the oldest and therefore the best at making enjoyable conversation around the table and really good at doing dishes. I didn’t make a complete pig of myself, but did eat enough to make a vow that I wouldn’t eat today (Husband claims this is cliché, a vow made by all and sundry aprés Thanksgiving dinner). I did end up thoroughly enjoying a piece of the drunk apple pie for breakfast (I feel no ill effects, but thanks for asking).
Really looking forward to the leftovers. I especially love “my” stuffing, but I can’t take credit for it, because I got the recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook. The Best Stuffing Ever.
It’s a beautiful day outside. Took Dexter for his first walk. After the first 5 minutes of basically being dragged by the leash while he reluctantly kind of paddled his little paws he walked like a champ. No “potty” for the whole walk, though, which seemed a little weird. Husband says he was holding it in so he can go where he thinks he’s supposed to: on the kitchen floor.
Now, what? Read (Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel) or knit? Tough decisions.
One more recipe — really good with turkey leftovers.
Make 3 c. of white sauce — let me know if you need a recipe for this, but I think it’s pretty basic.
Add 1/2 tsp. of nutmeg (or more, if you like it really nutmeggy)
Toast 1/2 c. of slivered almonds.
In a large deep-dish pie pan or 10″ casserole dish, layer:
1/4 of white sauce
a “level” of fresh spinach
a “level” of leftover turkey white meat
1/4 of white sauce
1/4 of white sauce
1/4 of white sauce
top the toasted almonds and a generous layer of grated parmesan cheese
Bake, 350˚, until the sauce is bubbly and the top is golden.
Serve over fresh (Reames? is that the brand?) pasta.