A Reminder: You’re a Human Thing

:: HUMAN :: Hello, Human! Hello. You are flesh and sinew and blood and bone! You are morning glory cells and serotonin and all that is ephemeral and all that is tangible in sweat and love. You are everything in life and beyond death and back around. Oh, Human! You do what you can. And sometimes you do what you shouldn’t- the “can’t”- because you want so much to do well in this world that runs on perverse clocks to the beat of consumption and the detriment of those who just want to make things. Dear Human, take comfort in your own story, in your history, in your flesh and blood now that the spirit veil is thinning. Live in your mortal body with the energy of your immortal soul leading you on with each deep, warm, salt water, earth-fed breath. Do what you can, for whom you can, and be kind to them and to you, you with that fire in your belly and courage in the weight you carry through this beautiful, scary world.

* Here’s a song 🦋

Carry on 🦋

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Entry, after a long while: In the empty

Not another sad poem

I don’t want to write another

Lost-in-the-night-of-my-soul,

Moonlight to guide me,

But the heavy’s getting old, 

Down by the river, 

Numbing my feet in the water 

Waiting for “you’ll get used to it” to come

That, or hiding

In the sun of my memory

Kind of poem.

But it’s all I can seem to do,

Scrape this ugly out of what’s been used,

And I’m carrying the spillage from the 

Past on my shoulders

In a bucket with sneaky holes burrowed through by hope,

Ever lighter, ever lighter

Turning on a smile to get through, 

and so are you.

I see the pools of light when I dare look

in your eyes,

And I sense the urge to run away 

At the slightest insight.

So, run from the words in another sad poem,

If that’s what you can manage to do.

And I’ll walk the parallel path,

Putting down words not happy,

But true.

And I’ll call it a release 

of less-than-worthy constitutions,

A bottom to the loneliness bred 

in our broken institutions,

And maybe when the running’s done

And my words are all tapped out

a blessed emptiness will fall all around.

In the empty, our paths will cross

Our breath will slow

Our shoulders all free

And palms open, exposed

To the elements, skin prickling,

and to the moonlight that led us on here

Wrapped up in my mind,

I see exactly what’s possible Under those conditions.

Nothing’s left to say then,

Nothing’s left to run from then,

And in the empty there’s just the you of you

And the me of me,

Detached from expectation and

Hopelessly free.

Entry 1.14.17: Returning


I’ve been returning to myself, lately. I recognized some time ago that I had gone very far away from who I once knew myself to be, and the lethargy, illness, and stress of being lost inside caused me to rattle the cage until I was out. I wouldn’t say “free”, because freedom is a state of mind, but close- close enough to call freedom an aim. I gave myself space to wander. 

I recognize the cause of the cage as wanting to make everyone around me better. Sometimes that meant doing what they said I should do, which was often nothing like what I felt like doing inside. Good ideas can still be wrong when your heart doesn’t recognize the factors that make them “good”. 

Other times helping the people in my life meant internalizing their discomfort of my ability to leave -to explore- and so I would stay, and stay, and stay. 

In staying, I lost my way. It’s no one’s fault, and it happens, and not infrequently. It’s actually pretty common. 

In my case, my insides turned on me. My compass cracked. The things I loved and once followed through my days like a wild thing tracks a scent lay in wait for me to pick up where I left them behind. They had nowhere else to go. When I returned, it was to those inclinations and that wildness. I am currently making amends. 

I’m still searching for the colors that used to bring me nameless, aimless, frustrating excitement. I’m waiting to be thrilled by the way the light hits leaves, and bricks, and the faces of strangers along Second Avenue under that violently bright spring sun as I sip taro bubble tea and wait for something more lovely than all that to happen in its midst- under the masterful light, playing with shadows. But really I know nothing is the same. 

Now I know that there is nothing lovelier than knowing to stop and watch the light hit leaves, brick, and faces, and wait, believing even more wonderful things could come out of shadows. 

New Year Reflection: A tidy list for messy circumstances

I like a quiet new year’s eve. Looking in is always preferable to going out. I’ll write in my journal, make lists like this one, read cards, and send out messages of good will to dear ones when I hear the horns and singing ring out at midnight.

Sometimes, I’ll bundle up and take a walk, soaking in the vibes of the shift from one year to the next. Every year has an atmosphere of its own, and I like to recognize it. This year, it’s solemn and low with an edge of quiet defiance – we’re living through an Orwellian transition to the “new”, some kind of new that feels like an old struggle to anyone with a sense of historic patterns. But enough of that. We have all year to grapple with the challenges ahead. I think we may be so busy in our struggle to move forward that we may not have time to honor whatever we might’ve learned in this year that’s just about gone. I’d like to talk about what I came to understand this year. Maybe we can relate. That would be a solid way to end, to begin again.

Here are some things that circumstances drove home for me these past few months. It’s a jumble, but so is life:

  1. (A) When it’s wrong, leave.
  2. (B) Forget being right when it’s wrong and forget being graceful when you go. Take the task of leaving what hurts you as practice. Grace comes with getting better at recognizing what isn’t right for you.
  3. (C) Don’t stick around egotists, vengeful people, or people who refuse to grow. FFS.
  4. Don’t apologize from a place of insecurity, but from a willingness to correct the problem. This is a note inspired by Patti Smith’s performance at the Nobel Awards Ceremony in 2016. You can do something beautiful right after you make a mistake. You are not your mistakes. You are what you make with what you have.
  5. It’s important to surround ourselves with people we admire. Some of us are magnets for others who need help we know we can give. We call it empathy, but we extend none of that goodness to ourselves and these relationships can go out of balance very quickly, leaving us exhausted. We’re often too tired to recognize help when it crosses our own paths, because we are so drained from being the designated helper. The best way to change this is to actively make friends who live up to their own expectations and encourage you to do the same. This will put all long-term relationships in a healthier perspective.
  6.  In the very recent words of a super wise friend: “You do not exist to make other people comfortable all the time.” It’s very sweet to dance around the world with love in your heart and fairy dust in your palms, but honor your feelings! Say what needs to be said. Harking back to my second point from above, it’s ok to be clumsy about it, but it’s got to be done. Honor your comfort zone…
  7. … And just because you push it doesn’t mean others get to. That can get abusive. You don’t have to sacrifice pieces of your sense of self to stay interesting for people who like to test others more than they like to know them.
  8. Art! Art comes from the practice of making things. It does not come from getting good ideas every other week or being recognized favorably by some critic. Artists have this very wonderful and scary calling, which is to use their abilities to structure their lives. You get ideas from doing things, not from being talented. You make a living by doing the work that comes from your own recognition of that talent, not from other people’s opinions. Be deterred by nothing from making things. Not even (especially) yourself.
  9. We really don’t need to explain ourselves to everyone we meet. It’s ok to be learned. It’s ok for people to be curious. It’s ok to remain a mystery (though that’s tricky to even define in this era of social media…).
  10. Don’t. Feed. Trolls. UNLESS you need practice keeping your cool under ridiculous circumstances or voicing your ideas in public and the person is, in some opposites-day-everyday universe helping you find the right words. It’s ok to use trolls, but don’t you dare take them seriously!
  11. Using time well is a matter of personal reflection. Reflect, then do what you think is right for you. And do it. And reflect more. And do more. And don’t stop the cycle, not ever.

Entry 12.20.16 – The trickster effect and a new year

The past meets me at my doorstep, in the mirror, in a crowd of faces, 

in the playlist on shuffle- yesterday sings to me. I’ve searched for new sounds, but

I’m not immune to the siren call I knew so well-

this disturbs me, ever slightly.

This interruption means the trickster Mercury is at the back of my heels. He announces his turning back with second-guesses printed on our eyelids,

disturbing sleep, splashing around then vanishing into our still waters. 

I respond by making every merciless slight a step in my clumsy dance for life. 

Real life- I know what it looks like, now.

The waves of emotions from back then  wash over a tougher skin and 

a more peaceful heart than before. 

Yes, I have a long memory for feelings, but I forgive. 

This is where the rosehips burst forth around my soul’s shoreline in autumn- the space for their roots is carved out by forgiveness. 

The past reaches my rocky coast, and I let it smooth the jagged edges. 

Maybe others will swim there someday

 A little boy with thick, dark hair, 

His father, and my body, full of love. 

And so I let it show me where I’m rough, soften me into today.

It is not easy, simple, or righteous, but it is life, 

and I want life, 

so on I go with the awkward choreography between this moment 

and the next 

and the last, 

on I shake and tumble in the dark, wandering and

in the light, exposed, together with my trickster,

but so deeply committed to being alive while I’m here. 

Rosamond, 1956

On the day of the church potluck, Rosamond woke up before the sun. To say she woke up is slightly misleading, as she barely slept at all. Her back ached and her feet hurt. A dull pain that had started and continued as she grew heavier in the middle pulsed from heel to the bunions at the base of each of her big toes. She was pregnant, again- her third.

 In spite of her lack of sleep, the time before the rest of the family woke up was her’s. She allowed her mind to drift in and out of imagining and reasoning without disturbance or critique. She particularly liked to imagine herself as a girl running along the beach in Maine, eluding the grasp of any one of three boys who might’ve proposed to her, if only she had let them, then. It was almost as if she still had options if she remembered how much they adored her, those suitors from the coast. Dreaming was even more important to Rosamond than sleeping, most nights. Unlike rest, her imagination fortified her against feeling out of control. Proud and composed, Rosamond would never let on once the light of day shone how fearful she was or what desires she carried in her, heavier than the baby growing in her belly. Many years later, she would tell her granddaughter about how she was raised a Yankee, and Yanks don’t complain.

It was cold and damp outside, but not frosty, and that was something to be grateful for. Roz put on her housecoat and stuck her tired feet in the pink slippers next to the bed. For a moment, the soft cotton pads under her feet felt like luxury. Her husband, Robert, snored soundly across the bed. She reflexively resented his restfulness, but had a habit of changing the subject in her own mind before thoughts had a chance to creep into longing. In a breath she replaced the negative feeling with the to do list she had set for the day ahead. She was in charge of the pies, as usual, and needed to brown the precious, prize-winning crusts first thing. 

Off to the kitchen with a cat and dog in tow, Roz put the coffee on, and, quietly as she could, set her mug upright on the clean, white counter. With a deep breath and slight hesitation, she opened the door a crack and brought in the milk, first skimming the cream off the top and into a dish, then pouring a little in the cracked China bowl by the base of the sink for Mama Kitty. The little Shelty dog, Sasha, watched with a forlorn expression as Mama licked delightedly at her milk, and Roz watched them both, amused. She scooped a little ground meat into a bowl for Sasha, who devoured it in moments. Roz, herself, couldn’t imagine eating a thing with the ceaseless nausea. The feeling reminded her of her own mother, Ruth, who would often lose her appetite. While Ruth, herself, had brought 6 children into the world, her upset stomach was caused by bouts of neuroses, which plagued her till the end of her days. Roz was the one who talked her into eating in those periods of depression. She cooked and cleaned, which was no small task with three older brothers, and nothing was ever clean enough. 

Feeling her stomach turn for weeks on end, Roz couldn’t help but feel a nagging thread tied between her and her mother, a historic bond. Her little daughter, Ruth’s namesake, was not yet cut out for the task of helping her where she felt she was faltering, but one day she would have a companion in little Ruthie, and she would tell her she was doing just fine. She awaited this comfort as she weathered nor’easters: with jokes, composure, and honey in place of any bitter threat to the former. She waited on chances that weren’t quite her’s, anyhow.

With this baby, the weight surprised her. She wanted to go to the coast, to the water, to forget the weight. Roz was, in these quiet, most lucid moments, reminded that she was an island right down to the fact that, in her state, she could float especially well. At the table, warm cup in hand, all she could think of was that when the custard pie was ready she could easily inhale a slice. The sweet, cool cream was sure to settle her stomach, but there was still much to be done.

Roz heard whispering from the back room as she was pinching perfect ridges around the edge of the third crust. Robert’s voice broke the quiet. His left slipper was missing.

“Roz, where is my slipper? If that damn dog got it again, I swear…”

Roz carried on putting the baking dishes in the oven. The kitchen was warming up. She poured Bob a cup of coffee, adding three spoonfuls of sugar and a dash of the fresh milk. She placed it at his place at the round table and popped 4 slices of thick-cut bread in the toaster. The hard-boiled eggs were already peeled in a bowl and salted. She had 3 place settings ready at the table.

Ruth, 10, and David, 7, clambered into the kitchen with a loud “Good morning, Mother!” They sat across from each other, each sticking a fork into the bowl for the egg that looked the “nicest”. Worried Bob would complain of fork marks in all the eggs, Roz reasoned with the little ones: “Would Roy Rogers and Dale Evans stab their eggs? Manners, children of mine!” She always said you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. They each took the egg their fork was stuck in, and that was that.

Bob entered as the toaster popped. He walked towards Roz, looked at the oven, and sniffed, “The pies are in the oven already?” to which she replied “Leave the pies to me. Not to worry, Reverend…” and kissed his cheek, careful not to bump him with her belly.

“Is there a cherry pie, Mama?” David asked. “Of course! How could I forget your favorite?” David giggled and blew her a kiss. Roz caught the kiss and put it in her pocket. Turning in one swift motion, like a dancer,  she put the toast on a plate. Bob sat down and took a sip of his coffee, satisfied in a usual way. The kids sat up a little straighter as Roz put toast on their plates, thanking her. Roz gave them each one slice and Bob two. He waited for the butter, sipping and staring off out the window over the sink. The timer for the pie crusts began buzzing just as Roz started to sit down. Opening the oven door with a grin, she proudly assessed that the crusts were all perfect and set them aside on the cooling racks.

“Dear, will those be ready before the service is over?” Bob asked. Roz smiled and said, in a reassuring tone, “They shouldn’t be more than an hour, now.”

Bob continued, “You know how they love your pies, darling. They’ve got to be on the table before the crowds filter out.” His tone was complimentary, and if Roz wasn’t ill, she might’ve felt valued. She turned and said, “Robert, dear, would you please cut me a slice of the custard pie before it’s gone? It’ll help settle my stomach.” 

Bob looked up, concerned, “Well, you’ll be there, won’t you?” 

“I’m feeling very out of sorts… I thought I would stay home and 

Bob finished his toast, kissed his children and wife each on their foreheads, and carried his coffee into the study, as he usually did with a little time to spare before heading over to the church. He could be found reading any one of a number of thick, leather-bound books on theology, history, or ancient languages, but was best left alone to it. Meanwhile, Ruth and David finished up their eggs and were excused to go get ready for the service. David called Sascha to come along with them, and so Roz was alone with Mama Kitty as she gathered up the dishes. She would wash them after the pies were in the oven, she decided. 

Regardless of what task came first or last, Roz went about fulfilling her duty. In this very moment, it just so happened to be fulfilling a duty related to pie fillings. The cherry came out of a can, and to the Comstock cherries she added three careful drops of almond extract, dabbing the single stray drop on her wrist and inhaling deeply. She peeled, cored, and chopped a half-dozen bright green granny smith’s, doused them with cinnamon sugar, and overfilled the crust with the mix. To each of the two she added a lattice top that checkered over the fruit fillings and placed them in the oven. Next, she whisked together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar, carefully sprinkling in the salt once the rest was combined. From a pot, she slowly added the scalded cream into the fragrant eggs, stirring as she poured. Once the custard mix was in the crust, it joined the others in the oven. Roz set the timer for 15 minutes and went to check on the children.

Ruth was dressed and ready in the livingroom, but David was not feeling well and refused to come out of the restroom. His father was growing impatient, standing outside the door and all but raising his voice, “If you don’t come out of there in 10 seconds, I will open this door myself!” Roz knocked and entered to find David sitting on the side of the bathtub, still in his pajamas.

Sitting beside him, finally off her feet, she stroked his hair and asked, “David dear, why aren’t you ready, yet?”

“Mother, I do not want to go to church, today.” He said this so matter-of-factly she barely felt she could argue the point, but she knew her husband would be embarrassed to have half of the family missing for his sermon, so she continued, “Are you feeling unwell?”

David looked up at her then back down at his feet, “It’s just that I feel better after the service. Must I go? Can’t I stay with you? I could help you bake the pies.” Roz felt a smile grow on her face, “You know…yes, you may stay, just for today, and help me with the pies. Now, wash your hands and go get dressed. Your father needs to wash up.” Bob was at the door. “Well?” he said, more impatient than curious. “David isn’t feeling well this morning and will be at the church potluck later. He just needs a little extra rest. Ruthie is all ready, so you can walk over together.” She nodded and squeezed his arm gently. “Oh, all right. If he can’t come, there’s no use forcing him.” David took his mother’s hand and they walked to the kitchen; the bathroom door closed loudly behind them. 

David sat at the table in his usual spot facing the window. “Would you like some milk?” Roz asked with a grin. He nodded. From where he sat, he  watched Mama Cat track the crows on the fence outside with her sharp green eyes. Roz set the timer for 30 minutes, removing the custard to cool on the rack, after which she poured a glass of milk for her entranced son, placing it before him quietly, so as not to disturb his entertainment. Knowing she needed a break or she would surely collapse, she used her last few steps to pour warm coffee into her cup, and, with utter composure, slid into her chair. She slowly sipped the black coffee. 

“We’re off. See you later, dear.”

Bob and Ruth walked hand-in-hand down the porch  steps and across the street to the side entrance of the church. They got along just fine, back then.

David finished his milk.
 

 

Rosamond, 1978 (Excerpt)


My grandmother, Rosamond, moved to Manhattan in the late 70s, some time after her divorce was finalized. She was in her early 50s and practiced at independence since she’d been primarily on her own throughout her marriage. It was time to secure a future, so she did just that. 

She worked as a receptionist at a company in midtown. Actually, she worked a half dozen fine administrative positions, one after the other, all equally well…they just didn’t hold her interest. Paired with her charming and matter-of-fact demeanor, a couple months here, a couple years there looked less like short-temperedness and more like experience, and she was always hired on that fair presumption. 

She had applied to live in the affordable housing that was being built along Columbus Avenue on the Upper Westside, which, as she put it, was “really just lower Harlem at that time”. In late October, 1978, she settled into a large studio on the 7th floor- at the top of the trees, peaking over the neighboring 5 floor walk-ups. Southern exposure meant she could plant her flowers. She liked putting roots down, if only symbolically. Being free, Roz liked mobility, so stability came to mean a potted plant / winters in Florida with Joe / never running out of coffee.

Around the time she was cozying-up what would be her home for another 30 years, everyone at home in Haverhill thought she was mad to be moving into the city at that time. It was dirty and dangerous- no place for a woman of any age to live on her own. They offered her a house on the property they’d called home for a century, but Roz refused what she considered “a handout”. No. Even years later, as was characteristic of her prideful nature, she laughed off what she perceived as pity (though it was likely more about love). And anyway, her children lived downtown, so she was not alone in every sense of the word. At least she hoped she wasn’t.

It was her life, now more than ever. She could do whatever she wanted with it, however long it lasted. As the obstetrician up north noted the day they decided to sign off on her hysterectomy, “You’ve had 4 healthy babies. You’ve paid your dues to society. You shouldn’t have to suffer more pain, should you? No.” And after the surgery she said she’d never felt so free. 

Roz kept the kitchen stocked with peanut butter, margarine, white sandwich bread, eggs, Folgers, and gin. She wasn’t home to eat except on weekends. There was no one to cook for, which made shopping simple. It made most things simple. She alternately relaxed and reflected in the quiet spaces between nobody being there and wondering if there might ever be anybody home, again, but she never dwelled on either thought for too long. She’d learned how to manage longing over the years, and this was not so bad. This was nothing, which was much better than too much of something, in her opinion. 

When the frost of her first New York winter melted away, she planted red and pink geraniums on the balcony, triumphant. She put down fake green grass carpeting. She padded out in the morning with her black coffee and sat in the early morning sun with her flowers, and everything was quite alright. She would be quite alright, she estimated.