Thursday, February 24, 2011

in different lights


Finally the weather has turned cold and we are promised snow . . . maybe.  But no one has been complaining at this stretch of unusual sunshine.

I never valued sunshine all that much, growing up in its relentless brightness, insistent clarity, bossy cheer.   No scope for the imagination.  Gray days - when they came, which was rarely - were full of heavy clouds and a kind of plummy moistness in every breath.  Gray days tingled with repressed lightning and promised -- by withholding and obscuring behind fog and bluster -- so many mysterious (read: superior) possibilities.

It's only now, at the rainy northwestern edge of my life, that I can welcome sunny days.  I still love gray days, charged as they are with portent and urgency.  But I have sense in me now to feel glad for the dumb goodness of sunshine when it comes.


Did you hear what Z was saying? Middlest asks me, Z being a friend of hers who's been over lately, regularly, as he makes his way through.

- No, sorry.  What was he saying?

- He was telling me how sweet you and Dad were together.

- We are very sweet of course.

- He said you were watching that thing about families and both got teary-eyed and then you leaned over and kissed Dad on the top of his head.

- I suppose we did do that.

- He says he's always wanted that.  The way you are together.  He loves watching you.  He's always been afraid he'll never have that.

- You'll have to reassure him that if we can have it, probably almost anybody can. 


If we made a talking action-figure of Fritz, it would
  1. be permanently crouched in bike-position
  2. come with non-removable helmet
  3. say, "The hills are your friends!  The hills are your friends!"
So many times has Fritz said this that we've all found ourselves building our lives around the saying.

Calculus, said Eldest when it threatened to do her in, it's difficult, but it's being hard?
That isn't a reason to quit. 
It's just a hill.  And I know what to do with hills.



I made Fritz laugh during prayers the other day.  This is my gift, making him laugh when he's decided to be sadly serious.  We were praying together, just the two of us.  When I gave thanks for our "supple marriage," he let out a startled snort-cough.

And afterwards, gleamed at me over the top of his glasses, grinning still reluctantly, Supple?

- Yes.  Don't you think so?  Isn't it amazing when you think of all we put it through and still it's strong. Supple, not brittle.  Aren't we lucky?

Later: talking with our biking friends, a couple married a dozen or so years longer, also juggling mostly grown children and diminished parents.  When I tell how Fritz laughed at supple, the husband lets out a shout of laughter, Sounds like a tough old piece of leather gnawed down into subjection!  While she laughs, risingly. They turn to each other and begin to nod. 

He says, Isn't that the truth?

She says, I'm sure it's been me.

He says, My fair share. 

They laugh, looking into each other's faces, touching each other's shoulder, ear, tip of the hair, sleeve.  Very tenderly. 


This post is done though I'm not through.
I don't intend to ever finish up . . . 

(more tulips here)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Things I Will Stop Doing Sometime Soon

#1.  I will stop disrespecting myself.

Yeah.  And I guess that's enough of a list for now.

Maybe we could even break it down into tinier steps ~
  1. I - as in me, remember me? loyal sidekick all these years of mortality? That friendly girl in the mirror with the sturdy-looking hands?  Bridge-person. Honeybee-person.  Pearly snail-soul so steadily treading the rain-gemmed grass, fine-tuned antennae reading the air.  Bright little boat bobbing along.  Remember me, my soul? 
  2. will - which means "can" which means "may" which means "you have permission" which means "why not"?
  3. stop - as in leave off, cease from persisting, let go of the kite string, no longer hold the line, no longer hold the lie, shrug off, surge past . . . maybe there are even more verbs waiting out there once we get past these?
  4. disrespecting - This is the tricky part.  We don't mean stop caring, but do stop carrying burdens, can't you?  Stop crouching. Stop cutting down to size.  (Whose size are you aiming for anyway?)  Stop apologizing to the world at large for who you are and what your life is - haven't you over and over done what you did with the best you had in you at the time?  Or nearly so.  And when you haven't - well, you haven't.  But you  know where to turn to turn back to the path, how to learn how to mend what's worth mending, how to carry forward what will carry you through.  That's good enough to be going on with.  And while we're at it, do stop apologizing to your younger self - she didn't know what life was bringing, she likes you anyway,  she's still here holding your hand.  Start talking to that wise old woman you're going to be.  Let go and turn away from the things you do that offend your soul - latch on to the graces and blisses that make you feel alive - which is what repentance is meant to mean.  Live in this body:  respect its needs for the hill-work, for early sleep and early rise, feed yourself as you would a cherished recuperating guest.  Grant this mind access to the work it needs.  We mean something like that. We think. It's anyway a place to start.   
  5. myself - Or just move the period over one word, eh?  Just stop disrespecting. Loose myself to run in the meadow and enjoy the promises with all the other children.
So what's so hard about that?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

tongues of love, the lettered heart, and other bad translations

Yesterday, Valentine's Day, Fritz brought me white tulips - unos tulipanes blancos.  They are even prettier pronounced in Spanish.  New sounds to mean the same old thing, tongue and teeth shaping themselves around the unfamiliar words until throat and mouth themselves become the flower - la flor.

This flower-giving is uncharacteristic of Fritz, though not out of character.  Especially as no words were offered, just flowers, with a silence which is a corrective, I believe, to the too many words said lately. 

(When I am an expert in eldercare, I will write a chapter with a useful chart of all the words that ought not to be said.  Especially by those who should be taking care.  I will know what they are, because I will have said them all.)  

Without opening his lips, Fritz handed me white tulips.  And I was touched, moved even, though our hands barely brushed.  It was, if you like, I like to think, a kind of speaking in tongues.  A purer kind of language. 

Or at least, less open to bad translations.

A mother, driving the car, says to her daughter :

- I'm sorry.  I'm interrupting you, 
but I just can't stop feeling this anger at everything.

- So scream.

And so she did.  The mother did. 
Suddenly.  And for several seconds.
A sound frightening, bereft, and furious.

Studying Spanish, I find something is happening to my inner brain.  It's like I'm closing in on some deeper definition to words I thought I already knew.  As if another word for the same things allows a triangulation of the meaning. 

She hadn't known she could make that sound.
Though still she kept a steady hand on the steering wheel.

Then cried into her free hand,
little huffing, breathless, exhausted sobs.

The daughter said nothing,
made short soft pats on the mother's back.

- Thank you for making it safe for me to do that.

- Glad to be there.

- I don't feel so angry anymore.

- That's good.

- Am I going crazy?

- Not at all.

- If anyone had been driving past they would have thought so.

- They would have thought you were singing.
Very energetically singing.

Which sets them off, mother and daughter,
into whoops of gulping laughter.

There are tears in their eyes.
The daughter so wise, the mother so confused.

But isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Or as if translating from one language to a second to a third helps to plot out the actual dimensions of the truth.  Truth being what our words can only ever approach as approximations.  Like playing that addictive Minesweeper.  Where you click-click-click on empty squares around the hidden target - which is a bomb that will blow you up and out of the game.   Each safe click turns the empty square over, reveals a number: how many bombs border that safe square.  Eight is the maximum number of potential bombs bordering any one square, because a square has only that many sides and corners.  It's simple.  Lucky clicks will sweep out whole areas that are safe and free of bombs.  And bordering those open areas:  more safe squares that helpfully give you the number of bombs nearby - so that you can avoid them - after you flag them as dangerous.

A man and a woman stand at the head of the stairs:

- So let's get rid of the dog then.

-Oh, yes. Why don't we, that's a great solution.

And the next day, standing in the same spot,
locked in the same unspeakable question:

- I've called the animal shelter and for fifty dollars
they're prepared to look at taking the dog.

- What? That's not what I need.
You're not listening to me.
You haven't been listening to me.

The man makes his way down the stairs, and in the background
their son begins to drip silent tears
squeezing out of his tightly folded face:

The son says:
-No, it's okay. If you have to take her away,it's okay.
If it's too hard to take care of everything.

Why is it so hard to take care of everything?

For example, take la escoba.  In Spanish it means broom.  Since learning it, the word will not sit still in my mind.  What? what? I keep asking it - there's a word it reminds me of, what is it?  Rushes, reeds, scouring - escoriating - that's not a word - what?  Excoriate, excoriating - as in "The candidates have publicly excoriated each other throughout the campaign" - is that it?

Probably that's what I was thinking of.

Though excoriate is from the Latin ex (off) + corium (skin, hide) - in other words, "to flay," "to strip the skin from."  And escoba is from the Latin scopa (which means, unsurprisingly, "broom") and enters English only as the scientific term scopa from the Latin scopae (plural, 'twigs, branches/sprigs tied together, i.e. broom') and refers to
  • a small brush-like tuft of hairs on some insects, especially that on which pollen collects on the leg of a bee

Not so much scouring out, after all, as gathering up and carrying in to nourish the hive. 

I'm chagrined to recognize a familiar pattern in my characteristically dire mistranslation.


A mother and a daughter are walking out of the local WartMall:

-You know how Aunt M says people always  smile and talk to you
more than she's ever seen.

- I guess.

-Well, that's why.  How you asked the check-out clerk if she had a dog
and what she did to keep them calm after being spayed.
Because your dog had you at your wits' end.
How you really wanted advice from her.

- Hmmph.

- You talk to everyone like they're real people.
I think most checkers have people treat them like they're servants.
But you really care what they have to say.

- I don't know.  I just don't think.
I open my mouth no matter where I am.
Or who I'm talking to.   I have no appropriate filters.

- You don't see differences.
You take the world with an open heart.
I think it's good to be so open-hearted.

- But better probably to be more close-mouthed.

Silence is golden.  Discretion is the better part of valor.  How would you translate that into, say, Spanish? A buen ententedor pocas palabras bastan.  One word to the wise is sufficient? 

Do you know what that dog means to him
right now?

- You said it was too much for you.

- I said I was overwhelmed.

- You agreed it was a good idea.

- ! I was being ironic.

Or take the Spanish phrase la carta amatoria.  I know this means "love letter" but how can it be just that?  Isn't Magna Carta booming in the background?  I want la carta amatoria to mean Love's Charter, declaring the open ways and rights of love, spelled out in sections and articles.  With room for amendments.

I want la carta amatoria to be an Anatomy of Love, a doctor's chart with every vein and muscle fibre of the heart labeled in unquestionable Latin.

- You had too much to do.
I found you a solution.

- Look, we could just as well say,
Let's put your mother in a nursing home
as, Let's dump the dog off at the pound.

Translating, see? 
into terms he'd understand?

Isn't carta a word for map? I want la carta amatoria to mean a kind of Map of Love - the kind sailors make once they're safe returned, with all the hazards they've escaped inked in carefully:  the squally reefs where they weathered storms, where their ship's helm was splashed but never swamped. The places where monsters be and kraken writhe -- thoroughly charted.  Tight corners they managed nonetheless to sail past, the rocks where they did not founder after all -- everything noted.  And all the peaceful harbors clearly marked.

Something so clear, it doesn't need translation. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

guest post: Temple Grandin

posted by YoungSon

    To be a hero I think you need some special qualities.  First,  I think you should have a want to do the thing you're doing.  Second, I think you should not be bothered by your looks overly much. Third, to be a hero you should be able to work hard.  Last of all, you shouldn't give up if people think your invention is useless and never going to work.

     My hero, or at least one of them, is Temple Grandin.  She had autism but was a born genius.  The great thing she did was rebuild the whole structure of slaughterhouses making it much more comforting for the animals.  She paid attention to what cows naturally did.  She loved cows and said that we were responsible for being as gentle as possible to them if we were going to raise them.  If we didn't raise cattle then they would just be rare species kept in zoos. 

     Many people had faith in her project from the very beginning, but others didn't.  People made fun of her and taunted her.  She kept on working hard though enduring all the insults and found great success.  About when she was finished, people started changing their attitude and saw that her plan worked and they could make a profit.  They started supporting her and when she finished, most slaughterhouses changed their models and redid their whole factory.

     I think Temple Grandin has encouraged me to work harder at the things I like to do. She taught me not to give up as easily as I might have otherwise.  I think that helps me to think about my future and get the best life possible.  Temple Grandin's mentor was her science teacher.  He helped her think about ideas in a different way that led to a more constructive pattern of thinking which helped her to figure out what to do in life.  Her teacher helped her until he died.  She is my hero because she overcame the challenges of autism and helped our world.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the unexamined life

Because it was a happy month, last month was, in its privacy and busy-ness.  All those quiet early mornings, all those unreported meals, thoughts that came and went like breezes, every step up and down the hill, things done and said that didn't even get a photo, much less a mention, things that were allowed to flow away and be forgotten.

And maybe what makes me unhappy now is that I've grasped after that flow, paraded its disconnected elements, moments yanked  out of their place in the midst of movement into a static and uncomfortable prominence. Maybe it is exactly the killing freeze-frame of reflection, interiority, consciousness that makes me unhappy.  Maybe by writing I stand too much in my own sunshine, blocking my own view.

If I'm to continue writing here, in some way that feeds the soul, is the secret to erase myself?  Step aside.  Or just ride and cut the commentary?  I love, for example, the almost daily posts of Spirit Cloth, a textile artist - mostly visual, glancingly philosophical, focused on her work - with the merest self-referential asides.  I love how what she sees shapes what she makes.  What she sees is so blessedly outside herself.

I think it is my coiled upon coils of self-reference that I'm wanting to shed.  The me in all this.

It has become almost a commonplace, this comment I keep getting -

. . . what you write is so sad.  I never realized before you were so sad?
. . . couldn't help but keep reading, it just sucked me in . . . writing is almost haunting, and so full of emotion. Whoa.
. . . it is quite emotional.  
 . . . the emotions your writing unlocks in me. I've lived a lot of my life being so guarded and little by little I've been able to let go and just feel...although sometimes that's not so convenient - this ability to feel.

. . . Dude, lighten up.
Until I ask myself,  Emotional?  What are they on about? Is this sad?  Am I unduly sad? Doesn't everyone ride this same sea? Isn't it what we all know but don't talk about?  What better to talk about than this unspoken depth that connects us? 

But exhausting on the reader, yes?

Overconscious interiority, over-wrought emotionality ~ is that what I find irksome myself in these posts?  The way my own sad-nosed shadow keeps overshadowing whatever I look at.  The way working on these posts compels me to turn every rock over to see what squirmy thing is hiding on the underside.  And how that squirming makes me feel.

But more irksome still is writing emptily, more lightly and brightly than humanly warranted.  And even more irksome than that is writing and writing and never getting anywhere new.    Never getting beyond myself.

This is after all a vehicle, this Imaginary Bicycle, meant for going somewhere.  But where?

And how?

Or is this just February and too many months of not long enough hours of sunshine? Sunshine?  Haven't seen that since the chinook.  I should say, not long enough hours of that skywide gray luminence we call Day here in this corner of the woods. 

Enough perhaps to make anyone a little too interiorized.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

and that was january . . .

(with footnotes*)
(and endnote**)

{click on pic to embiggen}
*footnotes(or just skip to the end for **endnote)
  1. Blissy sunshine on bedside books (Rumi, Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, and A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell, each miraculous in their own way).  Because I am the birthday girl: a whole morning reading in bed, not these, but Pym's An Unsuitable Attachment and Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, both miracles of literary clarity and human confusion.
  2. While daughters bend over books and keyboards readying themselves for re-entry into what is now their real life, I contemplate the comforting shapes of containment.  As if I could.  As if I would really want to.  By contrast, the image that stays with me the next day is Eldest, striding into the airport, hair swinging, scarf flung back, laughing over her shoulder at the young man, my friend's son, who happens to be travelling with her.  Watching her I am suddenly joyous.  And the rest of the day, buoyantly and curiously light and free myself.  As if a world were opening up for me somewhere, beyond my expectations.  I am in fact immeasurably happy - filled up and overflowing.  Happy in a way I haven't been for a long time.  Maybe it is the prospect of a whole month ahead of the Unexamined Life? 
  3. Tonight we open the last pomegranate of the season - no more until next autumn - Persephone's fruit.  Gma W used to send these to me when I was a little girl.  She grew them, my mother's mother.  It made Demeter's story resonate strangely with me when I read it - knowing pomegranates only as a private fruit no one else ever ate in my 1970's suburb -  the well-taped cardboard box that showed up around the end of October.
  4. I do not actually bike (this picture from last week) but I consciously mourn the biking, shivering all day at the unheatable HELP pantry, missing the fine inner fire that warms me for hours afterward when I do put rubber to the road.
  5. Among other things, seeking recipes for galette des rois - Kings' Cake - for tomorrow's last possible day of Christmas  - the traditional 12th Night - and the final excuse for leaving up tree and lights to shine as long as possible into these long northern winter nights.  I settle on sliced pears and frangipane in a rough puff pastry crust.
  6. Twelfth Night: Whoever gets the fava bean in their piece of cake is king for the evening - YoungSon was sure it would be him.
  7. Reading The Strangest Man: the hidden life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo - at last I can make some kind of rudimentary sense of string-theory and begin to wonder why I am reading lately so many stories of sons and mothers.  Not wonder why - notice that
  8. A long wet walk today - hills for six and a half miles - pain only at the very end.  Dog loves the long hilly miles.  I am beyond glad to be more and more back on my feet again.
  9. Before family prayers - Fritz will leave the next  morning for a half-week away in Arizona for work and already the children begin to miss him.
  10. The Chinook - that weirdly wonderful sudden warmth that comes for a week or two most Januaries. I shovel gravel, mud, and wood chips all day - re-imagining order out of this void and formless while sweating behind the wheel-barrow.  YoungSon comes home on his bright yellow school bus and helps rake gravel smooth.  We see small improvements.  We take a breather, he plays with Dog, I watch them in the sunshine.
  11. Spanish, the study thereof, for beginners.
  12. I have come full circle - Perils with Pigeons Redux- but like most sequels nothing happens except the expected. Dove released, on schedule, and I'm $20 to the good for an hour's standing in the rain at a stranger's graveside.  Maybe the curse that set off this bout of blogging in the first place is finally wearing off?
  13. After months (a year? really?) of workmen in the innermost chambers of my house, my domestic powers are returned to me.  I would have shuddered to have foreseen how much that matters to me: Ham, Mashed Potatoes with Garden Confetti, Baked Pears.
  14. Police procession for slain chief of police Ralph Painter of Rainier - we stand and watch the cars pass  for 45 minutes before making our way to Portland's Union Station to meet a friend who had ridden in on the train.
  15. Winter Ball.  The girls cook dinner here, floating candles and flowers in small glass bowls, everything and everyone looks, behaves beautifully.
  16. Our good old Cat takes a turn for the worse.  I hear him outside, a pained and horrible mwror, but when I open the door he is lying on his side at the threshold and responds not at all even when we pick him up and carry him to his bed.  We bury him a day later up on the hill, by the wild cherry.
  17. To celebrate MLK Day: we Take a Buddy to the Beach.  Rain on the way, and we peer anxiously through wet windows, but sunshine (dampish but determined) triumphs at the coast.  We see a hang-glider dismount with the setting sun.  We climb on the wreck of the Peter Iredale.  Son walks Dog. Daughter walks Giraffe (kite) as well as Friend.  I walk with Camera.  We  eat a picnic in the car - pita, hummus,  tangerines, peapods.  We talk loudly, laughing with the neo-wannabee-hippies in the VW bus parked next to us.  We are all happy.
  18. Running for the Hills: growing up on my mother's sheep farm in Wales by Horatio Clare.  Another son and his mother, but this mother is not the central spider of Strangest Man but more like the immoderate and tardy mother in Lee's autobiographical Cider with Rosie. (And so I want to identify with her more?)  Such a gift to a mother to be seen like this - unsentimentally and yet still with utter fondness.
  19. And at midweek, at the midmost of the month, I step out one morning and realize I am at the other side of the fairy tale's East of the Sun,West of the Moon - that nursery geography for Dreamland.  With day and night at either shoulder - moon setting on one side, sun rising on the other side - east of the setting moon, west of the rising sun - going into Day, not Night.  So the fairytale is finally set on its head, completed, worked through?  Maybe I've finally mastered all the impossible tasks, washed the blood from the shirt, maybe I've worked my way  through the troll-queen's castle, have faced her and her machinations down, have cried and sung loud enough to be heard, maybe I've finally saved the prince from his encasing ice and now we can go home? Maybe it's a day newer than ever before.
  20. And so I decide, now that my life is beginning again, to tackle the things that keep me from doing what I want to do, the things I can do something about - such as the weight gain since taking on the caretaking. 
  21. Domestic disorder. But this is just the messy part of making progress - in particular, paint remover for the front door.
  22. Also - Training the dog - who is the son's dog in the morning and the evening, but mine in the meantime - the hope is she'll be a nice foot-warmer for the Writer as well as deer-discourager - slash - daily personal trainer with an insatiable enthusiasm for hard hill walks - slash - egregiously ADD pre-schooler frighteningly fixated on unattended wool gloves.  We practice heeling - at least one of us does.
  23. I will fix my entire life in fact!  I revisit the schedules and schemes from that time of my life when I ran the house instead of it running me - readjust, reassign responsibilities so that I'm not trying to lift this piano alone. Minimal though unavoidable groaning from the crew. 
  24. In celebration of their return to regular, scheduled chores, I reprise my role as Breakfast Queen - blueberry pancakes and no one sleeps in this morning.  Even oatmeal is not despised when there are apples and raisins and plenty of cinnamon.  The minutiae of the mundane  - but  it is almost frightening to realize how a week of good breakfasts changes all of us.  Maybe the secret to happiness really is this small? - solid breakfasts day after day, exercise in the fresh air, a regular eight hours of sleep.
  25. Endorphins!! Ooo! I feel so good! Just like I knew I would!  Yes, she went swimming.  Yes, she knows she needs this in her life. 
  26. Early morning gravel and the start of the restoration of a provisional Eden.
  27. Vegetable dreams - Japanese Black Trifele tomatoes, Rubine brussels sprouts, Veronica castellated broccoli, purple carrots, yard-long red beans, Nero di Toscana kale, Alvaro Charentias melons, winter squash - Sweet Meat, Red Kuri, Marina di Chioggia   - and lettuce . . . Dazzle, Montecito, Devil's Tongue, De Morges Braun, Flashy Trout's Back, Drunken Woman Frizzy Headed, Merveille des Quatres Saisons . . .
  28. The utter peace of a day well-spent. Rise wth sunrise. Mid has no school.  Together we clean here, cook and clean at Gma's, make copies and grade at Young's classroom, then take Young early from school for basketball practice, teach Mid to drive stick-shift - whiplash!! laughter! - then all of us to Portland for library, look for a Spanish New Testament, and Trader Joe's has unsulphured dried apricots to restock our supply! Singing in the car. Home again, evening, watching Young's choice, swashbuckler Prince of Persia, with a picnic of bread, cheese, steamed broccoli on a blanket on the floor. Private study and early to bed.
  29. Eight miles with the dog - she does well - tongue flapping from her toothy grin as she looks up for approval when she puts herself back in her place at my heel. And then Son's basketball games where he does well - his secret smile while his dad recounts his victories. Joy in their own motion afterwards.
  30. This picture should have been a white crane  - my favorite local tutelary being  of the air - beating its wings against a background of faded grasses. I saw one, in passing, while in a hurry -  and then further down the road the whole flock, feeding amid the blond winter reeds, there were so many they looked at first like snow lying on the marsh - and meant to return and wander the paths there on foot later in the afternoon on my way home.  But when I passed again it was dark. I am struck how the camera, while it reveals, also limits not only what we see , but what we will remember.  Like writing too.
  31. Success!  Dog comes every time I call her throughout the morning - when I let her in, she returns over and over to her Place when reminded,finally settling and sleeping by the side of my desk, then walks the home hill with slack leash all the way down and most of the way up.   
This is, of course, a whole month's worth of the kind of status update/ personal trivia that is and is not my daily life.

And yes, these short photographed moments are no doubt the ideal form (when posted each day, not dumped like this en masse) for this particular media - a daily log of small events. Isn't that what a blog is "supposed" to be (if we were at all interested in doing what we were supposed to)?  It can be an appealing form.  My Eldest, for example, publishes a picture a day with minimal blurbage.  The window on her world while away at college is priceless to me.   I was curious to see what it would look like if I shaped my site this way.

I don't dislike this kind of day-to-day exclamation ~ when others do it. But it makes me feel despairing when I come to post like this myself - day after day of ephemera.   It was a happy month - with little reflection, much action, almost no writing.  But looking at it now, as a whole, in this form, it feels like a mask, this calendar of photogenic moments - an oppressive display of the costume that already threatens to muffle and suffocate the living body beneath.

No living soul, no wider world to move out into.  This is not what I want to be doing.

Monday, February 7, 2011

the recurrent CONFESSION:

I am a Brevity-addict. 

Because I lack it (brevity lowercase) so drastically and because it (Brevity uppercase) so often makes me laugh.  And think.  At the same time.  Without the whole milk/nose thing going on.

Because during January, this last month of breathing rather than blogging, of neither writing (as planned) nor actually much Writing (contra-plan), a month of deeper, more personal revising than I had originally charted out, I couldn't refrain from reading Brevity.  In particular its series of brief (of course) pieces on blogging vs. something . . . more  . . . worthwhile?

This from January 17th, "The Made-Up Self,"  will stand for all the rest.  And I will make an end.


I lied. And besides, I myself am not under any contract to practice brevity and so ~ this also from January 28th, from a description of sessions of the AWP conference going on this week in the wrong Washington (D.C. not PNW).

Of course, there is commentary to each of these posts - bloggers who protest they for one (they each say this) are interested in interiority, in real insight and reflection, they themselves are conscious of consciousness, they at least are doing more than just reciting the cake recipe of their daily doing, they are offering uniquely intimate glimpses, valuable reflective views worth the attention of others in the thinking public.

Oh, but aren't we?  All?

my own CONFESSION: This Brevity series tugs at my own dissatisfactions with what I'm doing here.  I am wearied (again, always) of the form my blog has taken, does take, always threatens to be taking.  My private focus (a word that means "hearth" - that most homey heart of the home) that keeps refusing to escape its own smallness.

What began as a way to say something unmuddied by the grasping fingers of time and change, a private writing room where those who would could read, a kind of oratory in the woods, a chamber like Dickinson's where the soul selects her own society, begins to seem to me a lobby. With glossy magazines laid out.  Plants that look plastic.  The always open invitation to indulge in what - when I write it - becomes the written equivalent of Muzak.

Caught by the pleasure of hearing responses from faraway friends and friendly strangers, I want that response more and more, that eye contact, that small applause.

But that wanting distracts, distorts. Everything I write becomes a self-justification, a bid for sympathy.  Time is limited: what I need more is a chambered space  - contained, restrained in the way the private journal cannot be - for what is being called variously consciousness - insight - reflection - but which is something more.  Which one hopes is something more than those tired, and let's admit it, overused and empty words.

Something.  Less solipsistic, more wide. More intimate, less confessional.  A way out by way of going in. A way of moving into the clearing.  A way of singing in the woods.

All of these terms are unsatisfactory.

I realize I have said all this many times before.  Have revised myself.  Or meant to.  Have been always dissatisfied with what is written here.  I realize freshly that I will be dissatisfied, without a doubt, until the day I get it right, the day I no longer need to write?

(Here?  Anywhere?)

You don't have to keep reading if the prospect of recurrent dissatisfaction dismays you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

because of the sweet spot

almost, almost . . .

Here it is, the optimal moment of my day
- el punto dulce -
the hinge my day moves on, the hour that sets the rhythm for whatever I can do within the white space that lies between sunup / sundown.

 It is the present corruption of this powerful hour, the seige on this effective capitol of my long day's realm that is part of el porqué when I ask myself, ¿Por qué el rencor?

Porque el punto dulce.
. . . far, far too late

If I'm not writing by the sweet spot of the day, then forget it as pointless.  No punto sin el punto dulce.  If I waste that sweet spot on errands, meetings, scrubbing, attending to whatnot, then Sayonara to scribbling anything worth the candle.  I might as well just go to bed, the writing day over before it begins.

This is of course superstition.

When first starting out, young and freshly determined, hearing some writers explain how they could only write with No.2 pencils sharply sharpened, or only facing south, or only with whatever however it had worked the first time it worked, I decided I could not afford such superstitions.

And yet my superstitions have crept in anyway. For example, I believe it jinxes the writing to talk about it.  It puts me off the writing even to have someone ask, "So are you writing today?"  And if someone elderly and understandably bored asks me and asks me about my writing, I can't write at all. If they say, "So what are you writing about? Of course you know what you're writing about.  Come on, tell me.  You can tell me.  I just want to know,"  I am better off shoveling gravel or cleaning closets. 

My closets are mostly all cleaned now.

And I can't afford this superstition any longer.

And as for the sweet spot - I love it that Edith Wharton began every day writing in bed for a few hours - no doubt while trim housemaids in starched cap and apron poked the fire, opened the draperies and brought tea in delicate Messein.  You can almost catch the rustle of their silent assiduous bustle in the words with which Wharton finally found a way to populate her page.

But each of us must write out of what and who and where we are.  So, my punto dulce has been colonized by blundering monolingual settlers who look to a motherland I cannot recognize, nor give allegiance to. 

Happily I am a nomadic people. 

Up tents and away.

The day is long.  We make for ourselves all des puntos dulces we require.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

el rencor se sienta sobre el corazon como un sopa pesado

Reuters: David Gray
 "You are my lifesaver," says my friend when we sit down to practice Spanish together.

Shaking off reversals, she had meant to start a new life this January.  And then her father died. Her mother, increasingly blind and confused, cannot live alone. 

My friend is lean and energetic, adept at finding the best in her possible worlds - the downsized townhouse so much easier to clean than that big house, for example.  And taking care of her mother?   "But it's a blessing, my cute little mother, she took such good care of me.  It's a privilege to take care of her now." 

I love listening to my friend's sparkling flow of optimism.  I love basking in that affectionate energy.

She clasps my arm, praising a small virtue she thinks I need reminding of. 

"This is what I needed, too," I tell her, smiling into her eyes, patting the back of her hand. I have needed not only her bright presence, not just the encouragement of working together to gather language skills (both of us looking still hopefully toward a next possible world). 

But the Spanish itself I needed.  And not just so I can make up satisfying (not necessarily grammatical) proverbs featuring the always useful sopa.  Which is, for you monolinguals, the name of the animal up above and, as in this case, it is a sopa very pesado sitting with all its weight upon the top of my poor corazon.  Which is what rencor feels like to me.

¡Síall this is good vocabulary practice, no?

But also I'm finding the sun-drenched mental climate necessary for moving my mouth into Spanish shapes a good remedy to the cloistered soliloquies I otherwise keep muttering, drippingly, in clipped quasi-Victorian-British stanzas.

In place of "Gr-r-r there go . . . " I can roll my tongue around  el gorro de baño (which means, innocently, "shower cap").  When faced with this moment's particular "What's the Latin name for 'parsley'?" and all other daily games of 20 questions, that tend to drive me around the bend, I can innerly chant my conjugations ~
 hablo, hablas, habla,
hablamos, habláis, hablan
before answering - remembering we all talk - hablamos.  All the time.  It's harmless.  It's what we humans do.  Hablamos, habla, hablo.

So that more and more behind-beyond the "wise talk of the kind of weather, sort of season, time of year," I'm sending my soul south to all those countries sunny the year round, full of orange trees and bright blue skies and the warmly generous spirit of mi casa es su casa which mi corazón so sorely needs.

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