18 February 2016

"Of restlessness and vague desire"

The title of this post, from Edgar Lee Masters' poem "George Gray," is the phrase that keeps cycling through my brain. I can't describe the ominous feelings that keep haunting me. I don't know why I have been so on edge, why I often feel like crying in the middle of the day or get so angry over something small that smoke might as well be streaming from my ears. I keep trying to explain, and yet all I settle upon is a line from a poem, a supposed epitaph in the town of Spoon River to commemorate a life not really lived: "restlessness and vague desire-- it is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid."

Restlessness and vague desire-- what does that mean? I know what it looks like, but what does it mean for me, for the day-to-day? Sometimes I catch myself twisting my face into contortions, grimaces, and I don't realize how awful I was feeling until that moment, until a co-worker catches my eye and worriedly asks if I am "okay." And when I respond with "No" and am regarded with a quizzical glance, I don't know how to complete the thought and provide a reason. I am a fragment, or a misplaced modifier-- something grammatically incorrect and incoherent.

I was reading an article today, "40 Words for Emotions You've Felt But Couldn't Explain," and while I still don't have a non-vague vocabulary to capture the scatterplot of twitches in my brain and heart, there were at least a few words and definitions that resonated.


Avenoir (n)-- the desire that memory could flow backward. We take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards: you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way… 


Monachopsis (n)-- the subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, as maladapted to your surroundings as a seal on a beach—lumbering, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other misfits, unable to recognize the ambient roar of your intended habitat, in which you’d be fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly at home.


Fitzcarraldo (n)-- an image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brain—maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversation—which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car that’s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.

Or even:

Rigor Samsa (n)--. a kind of psychological exoskeleton that can protect you from pain and contain your anxieties, but always ends up cracking under pressure or hollowed out by time—and will keep growing back again and again, until you develop a more sophisticated emotional structure, held up by a strong and flexible spine, built less like a fortress than a cluster of treehouses.

I really need to invent a word that combines all of these, that provides a method or framework to articulate the nervous buzz that I cannot explain to other people. The last two, in particular, could offer some explanations if combined. I think that I have cultivated an exoskeleton of sorts that instead of fortresses or treehouses is formed more out of something like clouds or veils of mist, something insubstantial because it doesn't exist. A "wild and impractical vision," maybe "smuggled inside a book [or a song or a face]," that I have latched onto as a way to cope, and in the process I've partially convinced myself that it is actually real. I doubt any of this makes sense, and I think that I need an entirely separate post to try to work through the castles my brain has built to keep me safe(r). I speak vaguely because I feel vaguely. 

Have you ever invented a fantasy and convinced yourself that it was true because that was what you needed? Like you go to bed with the dream of a reassuring presence and partially expect him to materialize in the night, like a benevolent cat-burglar? My mind has invented stories and people, a particular presence that is, with the face of a beautiful man, in the last week because I feel like I need that narrative in order to exist peacefully; I need someone who is good and kind and earnest and grounded, who reminds me of the me I've lost, and because he cannot be real right now I will invent a lie and convince myself that it is true. I will delude myself because I need that delusion in order to avoid snapping and spiraling. I will settle these delusions onto a particular person and his image, one who is real enough but not in my life, and I will think of him as the almost-graspable solution to all of my foibles and fears. He will be the target, the locus, the solution that exists but does not exist at the same time. And he will hold me and kiss my clasped hands and speak to me in the angel-voice of a man who only lives to let me grasp hold of healing and living and being known. He will regard me with kind eyes and implicit understanding. And then he will disappear into the ether because he's not actually here and he therefore cannot offer me redemption, and then I will feel lonely and insufficient and dream him into being again to form a nest with his arms and let me rest, supported from below. And so the cycle continues: bereft, deluded, aware, bereft, deluded, aware.

None of this makes sense. I am aware of that as well. And as I try to put it into words, the shame over substituting a fantasy for reality-- seventh-grade girl style-- is all-encompassing. And yet I continue to ask: Why is this seemingly what I need right now? Why is it, if I close my eyes tightly enough, I can feel a strong sinewy hand grasping mine and holding me steady, down to earth, as our pulses throb in syncopation? 

16 February 2016


I'm having a minor crisis because I got my carpet cleaned today.

I needed that gap here, that white space, to send myself the message about how ridiculous that sounds. But as I touch my toes to the still-wet carpet, I cannot help but think that this was what I expected all along. I knew that I would get my carpet cleaned. And I knew that I would feel empty and lost because of it.

Here is the thing about grief that seems obvious but that people don't tell you: It lurks in corners, beneath couches, and under rugs. It wafts upwards like skeins of smoke, from candles that have sat unlit for months. It involves one step forward, then three steps back, then another four steps back because you feel guilty about the initial step forward. And also, because grief is so personal, being around other people often makes you feel preemptively misunderstood, even before you have tried. It isn't rational, and because of that, it is hard to share. It is easier to hibernate, memorize the knots in the floorboards and scratches on the door, the afterimages that linger under chairs and tables, and yes, the spots on the carpet that were so omnipresent that I could play connect-the-dots with them.

These were not happy stains. These were not like a ring of red wine from a party. These stains were marks of illness, fear, pain, and loneliness. These stains told the story of our year of sickness, stains that became so much a part of our fabric that it was difficult to see where they ended and the rest of the carpet began. It was difficult to tell whether a mark was, in fact, a shadow or a more ominous penumbra: vomited bile, for instance. These stains represented so much suffering, from me and from little Pip; so why am I paralyzed now that they're gone?

This new, clean, ever-damp carpet seems to suggest that a clean slate is possible, and I resent that. I don't want to wipe Pip away, like he never existed. He saved me in so many ways. Literally, we saved each other, escaping from rubble and fire that resulted in a carpet far more stained than this one. We survived that. I don't want to have to face a world where nobody else can see the ghosts that still haunt me, the memories that rise out of this room despite its pristine ivory covering the floor. That mismatch between what is observable and all of the memories I harbor is excruciating.

In an effort to force myself to be social, I just got together with a friend of a friend of a friend and her girlfriends, and while they were lovely and a nice distraction, I still felt like they had a cleanliness that I lack. They were young and innocent, while I felt prematurely old. They walked in wearing their yoga pants and ponytails, faces scrubbed clean and earnest, and I, in my black dress that could probably use a washing, felt this great divide between us that went beyond age or experience, although that was a factor as well. (I probably have about seven years on these girls, at least.) And I was reminded why right now I don't want to connect with anyone who didn't know Pip. I don't want to have to explain why the clean carpet is ill-fitting, or what was lost when my carpet was scrubbed within an inch of its life. I want even less to have to explain the strange identification I felt with the carpet that looked like a relic from a crime scene. Yet so it goes, and so it is.

The ground is still wet, and because of that, I have furniture and knick-knacks piled Jenga-style in the other rooms of my tiny apartment. I have a tower of record albums in my bedroom and a booby-trap of floor lamps in my kitchen. Who knows how long it will be until something falls, something cracks, or I get caught in the tangle. Who knows?

22 January 2016

Comfort in poetry

A little Pablo Neruda has me sighing, "This. This. This." His poem "You Will Remember" raises so many questions: Who is the "you?" Under what circumstances must that person remember? Are these instructions in memory, or reassurances? Some people might see this as being a poem about the afterlife; others might think that it is a very literal recollection of a beautiful, meaningful place. To me, though, it is all about the power of memory after a loss. "[N]othing is waiting" there because the individual, or at least the individual's body, is gone; however, in that place of emptiness, in the images that resurrect themselves from love and longing, we do find "everything waiting there." We find a way to hold on. We find our footholds, and we return to each other.

You Will Remember

You will remember that leaping stream
where sweet aromas rose and trembled,
and sometimes a bird, wearing water
and slowness, its winter feathers.

You will remember those gifts from the earth:
indelible scents, gold clay,
weeds in the thicket and crazy roots,
magical thorns like swords.

You'll remember the bouquet you picked,
shadows and silent water,
bouquet like a foam-covered stone.

That time was like never, and like always.
So we go there, where nothing is waiting;
we find everything waiting there.

21 January 2016

"so I lie (eye to eye)"

There's something about this blog that seems to lead me to make hollow promises. I've promised to return twice now, and I've lied twice now. I wish that I could be more of a truth-teller, but that concept eludes me, and yet here I am with arms outstretched.
Again, the reasons for my absence, my falsehoods, are the same. The time and effort it takes to string words together, like beads on a necklace, when my words are more like worry-stones. The need to preserve anonymity. The rising-phoenix quality of sadness when I rehash it in words. And most of all, the guilt of airing the tornado of thoughts inside my head when some people would doubt that I have sorrows at all, OR insist that I live by compare and contrast and realize how good I have it, OR believe that I'm perpetuating my own struggle by not forcing myself to "snap out of it." Or all of the above. Some part of me believes that my thoughts are not worth airing because they will be accompanied by judgment.
The reason why I return to this blog sounds so stupid when I write it: My dog died.
And yet.
My dog died, and it's as if a piece of me is missing. It's like I've lost my best self, because the best part of me was the part that cared for and loved him. It's like I've lost the joy-filter on my life, for he was the one who so often taught me how to slow down and see the world's beauties: a warm breeze, a blade of grass, dappled light through a window shade. It's like I've lost the purest love I've ever known.
This more figurative emptiness comes along with a literal emptiness. My puppy-boy took up so much space in my home-- a home that has never entirely felt like home except for him-- that it now seems like my entire apartment has become negative space, an absence that only serves to emphasize what used to be there. I look at my carved wooden desk chair, and instead of ornate wood and the woven rug below it, I see the silhouette of my boy on the rug, below the chair, with him the only light spot and the rest cast into dark. A photo negative. Time has become relative. Last Sunday is now "zero hour," and I measure days as distance on a flattened timeline that started in the vet's office after our goodbyes. I lost my best friend, and I am heartbroken. I am worried that I will forget. I am both comforted and disturbed by the ghosts that linger in this place, this not-quite-home, the expectations of being greeted at the door and the head on my knee and the sudden alertness when the television sounded its chime upon turning off, when he realized bedtime treats were imminent and scampered to the bedroom door. It's a response-less stimulus, now, and I am left waiting for something that won't happen. Those responses are the spirits that waft through the air, their absence becoming as tangible as the dog toys and pill bottles that I had a neighbor place in a cabinet while I was at the vet.
I know my dog was not a person, although I frequently referred to him as my favorite person in the world. I know that this grief is bound to be seen as excessive.
And yet.
Yesterday I had to admit to myself that I am not okay, I am far from okay, and that, in what may be the most incomprehensible thing of all, a large part of me doesn't want to be okay right now. Being okay (note: I hate that word, and yet look at me overusing it now) feels like a betrayal of my puppy boy (my little man, my baby boy, my mister, my Pip) and the role that he played in my life. I don't want to admit that life can and will move on, not yet that is, because a life without him doesn't feel like a life at all. I don't want to see the silver lining right now-- I only want to see the clouds that followed a sunlight so glorious that everyone marveled in its wake.
My dog died, and he was only five years old. My dog died, and I am not okay. Maybe saying it is part of the process. Maybe I need to let the cracks stand in relief right now so that one day, not soon but eventually, the light will have a way to get in.
"You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and-- somehow-- the wine."
~Billy Collins, "Litany"~

15 December 2014

I lied, but now I tell the truth

Before, I swore-- more than a year ago-- that I had returned. I don't know what kept me from actually returning. It certainly wasn't that I was blissfully happy and off living a new, adventure-filled life; I can't actually remember what I was doing in May of 2013. I know that I was preparing to get a dog, thinking that he would somehow solve all of my problems. And I did get a dog, and he's wonderful and the love of my life, but he certainly didn't solve all of my problems. My problems remained, and added to that I was now responsible for someone else.
I don't mean to make it sound like my life was-- or is-- horrible. It is not. It is FAR from horrible, much closer to lovely. But I know that last year was a very tough one, and I have a feeling that while the year before that cannot compare, it was also quite taxing, and while writing should be a way of coping with all of that, sometimes I feel that writing it all down actually lifts the lid off the box. Does that make sense? It's like putting pen to paper-- or finger to key, as the case may be-- takes things that were previously resting prettily, folded up in tissue paper and hidden in a secret corner, and makes them float out into the world, where they cannot be contained. More importantly, it makes them float up into my own consciousness, and suddenly I have to deal with them. I have to admit that they're present, and that can make them seem so much worse.
An obsessive brain like mine often cannot let these things go. My brain dwells-- that's what it does. It also spins. I have to listen to podcasts at night, filtering in other people's words so that mine become diluted or filtered out entirely. So, to return back to my original thought, acknowledging those words by putting them down in writing makes it all the more difficult to tune them out. I also find it difficult to engage in the weighing of words that must happen when I blog if I wish to maintain my anonymity, that "goodnight dear void" quality of writing that would be sacrificed if these ruminations could be tied back to my real life beyond the page. I spend too much time in my daily life measuring words, scraping truths off the top like one does with excess flour; having to do so here would be excruciating. But, then, so would not writing. So has been not writing.
So I return here with an unclear purpose: How to balance honesty with delusion? Anonymity with confession? Freedom with caution? I don't know. But I'm certainly going to try. Goodnight, dear void.

14 May 2013

Years later...

I'm back.  I'm not quite sure what to make of this return yet, but I just need a place to write.  To cultivate inspiration.  To force myself to resurrect bits and pieces of who I used to be (while remaining true to my new, stronger self).  I was happy when I wrote, and I'd like to be that way again.

Shall we?

“For a moment, I felt as if the universe had turned upside down and we were falling softly into an enormous black bowl of stars, and I knew, beyond any doubt, that everything was going to be alright.” 
~Tana French~

03 November 2010

just call me angel of the morning

Brooch. Brooch. Brooch.
One word, one syllable. So much more.
Yes, it's a little sparkle. But. It's also a throwback to another era...
It's class, joy, a ruby-lipped pout, a sepia still, pinned to a cardigan sweater.
It's beauty in a moment, and I'm thankful for that.

26 October 2010

in the wee small hours of the morning

I'm thinking about Sleepless in Seattle, and peeling an apple in one long, curly strip. Like magic.
You know my problem? I want to be in love in a movie. Houseboats and radios, tiramisu and teddy bears...bring it on. Let's catch that last elevator, shall we?

21 October 2010

how do I get you alone

I love this. I love its whimsy, its soothing tones...but most of all, its message.

06 October 2010

Thank you India, thank you frailty...

Honestly, the last few days have not been easy. I've alternated between poles of feeling fine and comforted, and then utterly depressed and despondent. I've gone between thinking myself beautiful and admiring my independence, to bemoaning my failings and looking at his profile...with a relationship status and wall postings that he's still (still!) neglected to tell me about. Thank you, social networking newsfeed, for messing with my mind.
But no matter. I've forced myself to start completing daily gratitude lists so that I don't forget that even though some big aspects of my life have strayed from the desired path, there are still plenty of daily joys. I am lucky, even though I may not acknowledge it sometimes.
I'm reading Our Town with the ninth-graders right now, and I can't help but see its applicability to my current circumstances. On the surface, my life may seem mundane, but it still has unique jewels that shine through; I have attempted to relive the past, but like Emily Webb, I've come to learn that there is beauty in the present: "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it-- every, every minute?"
I have to believe that things will get better, a faith in the future which may negate my attempts to live in the present. This mixtape illustrates those hopes, so I call it "Better."

1. "Better Things" by The Kinks
2. "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" from Sweet Charity
3. "Today Will Be Better, I Swear" by Stars
4. "Good Times Gonna Come" by Aqualung
5. "This Is Where It Gets Good" by Eels
6. "Better" by Regina Spektor
7. "Feeling Good" by My Brightest Diamond
8. "It's Gettin Better (Man!)" by Oasis
9. "The Good Stuff" by Schuyler Fisk
10. "I'm Gonna Make It Better" by She & Him
11. "Pretty Good Year" by Tori Amos
12. "Closer to Fine" by Indigo Girls
13. "Daydream Believer" by the Monkees
14. "Nobody Does It Better" by Radiohead
15. "Be Good to Yourself" by Journey
16. "Beautiful World" by Coldplay
17. "Good Heart" by the Mynabirds
18. "Better Days" by Goo Goo Dolls
19. "For Good" from Wicked
20. "At My Most Beautiful" by R.E.M.
21. "On Top of the World" by the Carpenters
22. "They Can't Take That Away From Me" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
23. "Don't Dream It's Over" by Crowded House
24. "Up on the Roof" by James Taylor and Carole King
25. "Darlin Do Not Fear" by Brett Dennen
26. "Don't Look Back" by O.M.D.
27. "Learnalilgivinanlovin" by Jens Lekman
28. "What Me Worry" by St. Vincent

What songs would be on your "Better" mix? Please share! I need as much magical music as I can get.

"you always said I was a dreamer
but now I know who's dreaming deep"

04 October 2010

We have no past, we won't reach back, keep with me forward all through the night...

My friend Louise hit it right on the nose today: I live in the past instead of in the present.
On one level, this is good for my career: after all, a literature teacher has to not only understand but appreciate the past, not only understand context but live in it by loving it. However...
I remember too well. I hold onto memories like they're sign-posts, like life-preservers. I stay still instead of moving with the current. Every story that I tell, every reference point, is to college, or England, or New York, (or ex-bf). I haven't formed any new stories in the last three years. Well, I'm not exactly sure how to go about it...but it's time to take care of myself in more than one realm. My entire life cannot be my career. And honestly, I think I've used exbf as an excuse to avoid moving forward, and now that he's moved forward-- for real this time-- it brings my pathetic reliance on him into too-harsh light. My anger's not at him for being happy: it's at myself for not doing enough to make me happy.
How do you let the sign-posts and life-preservers go, though, when you've gotten used to being stuck? I can't even picture myself doing something crazy, like dating, or like re-structuring my life so that a boy who got it wrong a lot of the time is not the locus of my romantic orbit. I really have fallen into a rut: my life resembles Our Town not just in its simple joys but in its supreme absence of risk and its reliance on routine. How do I start? How do I get back some of what I was in the past without dwelling in it, but while propelling myself forward to the future? I just don't want to be Blanche DuBois, fictionalizing and falsifying, dwelling in a beautiful dream of yesteryear at the expense of joy, sanity, and the foreseeable future...

"And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on a carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game."
~joni mitchell~

"Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!"
~the great gatsby~

"I was blinded from the constant looking back: Lot's wife. I only ever saw the gathering clouds."
~the poisonwood bible~

26 September 2010

like the cactus tree...being free...

I bring it back again-- the metaphor of the cactus tree, full and hollow, according to lovely Joni's words. I hope that you've had the chance to listen to the song, but in a nutshell, it's about a girl who avoids commitment in favor of self-actualization and freedom. I always come back to it: the idea of the beauties and treasures relationships can bring, but the paralysis they sometimes cause; the competing tensions of security and wanderlust. A heart that's full and hollow, indeed.
This image has borne down especially heavily upon me this weekend. Without revealing too much about myself, I'll say that this weekend marked the nupitals of one ex-best-friend from college, a toxic friend who caused me much insecurity in the past and is the major reason that I've resisted having an all-consuming "best friend" ever since. In college, I was the one who dreamed smaller and pictured myself settling down sooner rather than later; she dreamed of Ph.D.s and shining seas, a successful career and exotic locale. Then I introduced her to her now-husband. Then we had a falling-out when I realized the crushing nature of her friendship and her sabotage of several of my romantic relationships. Then I went abroad and grew and thrived, moved to Manhattan, then to DC, then back to the midwest, all the while dreaming about new lands to conquer and new adventures to be had. I loved and lost and finally loved myself more. My need for adventure outshone my desire for marriage, while she moved to the suburbs, abandoned professorship, taught the lower grades (when she'd always rebuked my desire to teach high school), got engaged and now married...to the man she would not have met were it not for me. Odd, huh?
Three things have preoccupied me in the last few days and have led to several soul-sucking nightmares. First of all, if I consider my wanderlust and dedication to my career a choice, than why do I consider her marriage a "good thing" that happened to a "bad person"? What does that say about me that despite everything I've achieved, I still consider my life to be incomplete because a ring "gives a woman's life value"? Second, assuming I've reconciled the "good thing" question, why do good things happen to bad people? Whatever happened to karma, and when will I get my due? The last few years may have been exciting, but they have never been easy or stable. Third, is a desire for adventure and travel and self-reliance incompatible with security and marriage? I keep having these nightmares that I get married but I know intuitively that it is wrong: either I can't fathom "forever," or I know I've chosen the wrong person, or I feel like I'm being untrue to myself by allying myself with somebody else. Still, despite these anxieties, I still find myself peering at other women's engagement rings and wondering if others judge me to be deficient in some way because I don't have a man. My best friends are all either married or in a serious relationship that will lead to marriage, and I often don't fit in with their discussions or gatherings. It's a tough battle to face, especially alone. And then I wonder whether my life is really that free...most of the time, my head seems absorbed with other people's concerns and more and more demands pressed upon my energy.
I wish these thoughts weren't on my mind. I wish that my ex-best-friend had gotten her karmic dose and fooled fewer people (even though I then feel terrible for wishing someone ill). I wish I found someone who would allow me my freedom. I wish that I were less drained of energy and could therefore force myself to see the beauty in my life. I wish that sleep soothed me instead of plaguing me. I just wish for answers and for a semblance of resolve that I have made the right choices and that good things are in my future.

"You don't want to love-- your eternal and abnormal craving is to be loved. You aren't positive, you're negative. You absorb, absorb, as if you must fill yourself up with love, because you've got a shortage somewhere."
~d.h. lawrence~

"Let yourself fall in love, if you haven't done so already. You are wasting your life."
~d.h. lawrence~

"I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regret."
~d.h. lawrence~