Archive for category photography
Last night I woke in the teeth of the storm, shaking in a strange bed in a strange place. This time, it wasn’t a dream.
I woke to thunder so loud I could feel it course through me, over and over, the way a bass beat at a rock concert vibrates in your spine. Thunder so intense it rattled the old wooden double-hung window of the century-old shotgun house on Maurepas where I slept on Mother’s day eve, my youngest nearby, both of us startling awake and sliding into dreams again and again, as the storm rolled overhead.
The drifting and waking reminded me of the way I slept between contractions during labor, slept and woke, slept and woke, a nether world of sleep and memory.
Sliding between storm and sleep, the picnic of the evening before replayed. On blankets spread on the banks of Bayou St. John we shared crusty bread, sharp cheese, black bean hummus, sweet strawberries and veggie stir-fry with gingery tofu. Wine and laughter. My dear ones and their dear ones, all of us sprawling together as the cloudy daylight slid into darkness, the bayou reflecting the lights of the big houses on the far shore.
There were seven of us, six twenty-somethings and one fifty-something: me, mother to two of the group, mother-aged for all. I felt a bit like Mnemosyne, mother of the muses, listening to the younger ones discussing their dreams and how they are bringing them to life. I marveled at their gifts, admiring their drive and determination without any maternal pride, because it’s become clear to me that I have very little to do with how even my own adult children turned out, apart from nurturing them and then getting out of the way as much as I could while they explored their gifts.
Mnemosyne—mother of the muses and keeper of memory.
Sitting in a circle with these beautiful young ones, I imagined how Mnemosyne’s heart must have swelled with joy, seeing the brilliance of the offspring she helped bring into being, one for every wild night she spent with Zeus, collisions of passions like storms in the night, wild creation birthing wildly creative beings.
Back to the storm of last night. This was not a normal Midwestern sort of storm, where the gods battle high in the heavens. This storm blew in at sea level, and I was inside this storm as if at sea, the little shotgun house a boat in the waves, the rain sounding like cresting waves crashing on the tin roof, hail pounding, windows rattling.
And in the morning, writing this—all magically calm again. Birds singing (where do they go, I wonder, in that kind of storm?)
On the shotgun porch as I write, it hits me how scared I’ve felt lately about the state of the world, about the global storms blowing the world off-course. This Mother’s day morning, I am hopeful again. The muses are at work, with their creative vision, their bravery and resilience.
It makes me want to forget the idea I sometimes have of being too old to join in. Because we can’t shirk it all off on the younger generation. That was what happened to my own generation, after all. All hope was thrust onto us to save the environment. Hippies turned to stock brokers as the impossibility of one generation creating change alone drained all energy. And here we are, sliding backwards. But from the bottom, maybe we can surface to a new world? If we all wake and work?
Even the old birds are singing hopeful songs this morning.
Even the worst storms eventually clear to a morning like this one, with sunshine and possibility.
Note: there is a wonderful section of New Orleans where all the streets are named for the muses. Read about it here: http://kreweofmuses.org/the-muses/mythology/
plump smell, like baby skin, blooming
so beautiful so smooth
(everyone says so)
and I think of daisies and lilies and youth,
smooth and slippery
the sweet smooth skin holding memories in,
pressed like petals between book covers
dried papery flat, crackly as a map of a lost world:
how to find our way back when
we are all falling apart,
cell by cell,
moment by moment
going, going, gone—
still springtime’s tap pours out, keeps pouring
children smooth-skinned happy laughing cranky cries rise
on the wind near the playground
little feet wiggle in strollers pushed by vacant fathers, mothers
eyes lost in thoughts, worries
little griefs trip us, cracks in the sidewalk
all we can feel sometimes is the hard fall, smooth
stripped away scraped bloody
while above the sidewalk, a canopy of tulip trees
unfurls hundreds—no thousands—of trembles
tiny flags alive in the breeze
when falling apart,
Prompt: Hold a flower. Examine the petals, smell it. Breathe in.
Now: close your eyes, and think of a time from memory or imagination, when there were flowers. Go: write for 11 minutes.
I took my car to the dealership this afternoon. I brought my work along, dreading having to tune out the flash and blare of the ginormous big-screen TV in the “customer lounge.”
Ironically, the last time I was at the dealer, trying to ignore the television, it was Inauguration day. Me, a woman who hasn’t lived in a house with a TV for years now, who would have sooner walked barefoot across a bed of broken glass than watch a man she had zero respect or faith in rise to power — yes, I accidentally ended up seeing the live streaming coverage of Trump being sworn in. It was inescapable in the “lounge.” I gave up trying to work, because they had it cranked up. The office staff was watching, a few mechanics wandered in and out, catching a peek.
I listened to the others, the customers and car salesmen, many of whom probably voted for Trump, making comments about how pretty Melania looked in that ice-blue, how nice it would be to have her in the White House (seriously, someone said that, that she would look so pretty at those state dinners). Oh, how handsome and cute fidgety young Barron was. Switch to a close up of Trump, hand on Bible.
“Look how serious he looks,” marveled a white lady about my age. She sounded relieved, and mildly surprised. Her tone said what I think everyone there hoped: that the campaign was over, and now he would behave like an adult. The pussy-grabbing tapes could safely be shoved into the crypt of collective memory, along with all the things he’d said on the campaign trail. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” hollering for the crowd to “knock the crap out of them! I’ll pay the legal bills!” — well, all politicians say crazy things in the heat of a battle. Don’t they? It’s like a man killing his wife in a fit of jealousy. Sort of, well, excusable, right? I mean, don’t we excuse that? It’s all just locker room talk, to be tuned out, glossed over.
“Wow. It’s gotta be a hard day for them,” said a round-faced woman, as the camera panned to a close up of the Obamas. She sounded like she was commenting on a reality show where a couple’s just been voted off the island. She sounded both sad and gleeful at once. Like, I mean, this is exciting! We wanted change! And look — the camera pans back to Melania’s sculpted cheekbones. “You know she was a model, right? She still looks so amazing. How old is she?”
An older black couple stood up right then, and moved as far away as they could get from the “U” of couches set up in front of the giant screen. The overall vibe in the lounge that day felt more tense than celebratory, even though, as I said, I’m willing to bet many of those present had voted for him, and most of them made comments along the lines of, “I bet he’ll get really smart people in to run things. You know, he’s an excellent business man.”
It was a surreal experience.
I do think most people, liberals like me included, hoped he’d delegate responsibly and treat the job seriously. That he’d want to do right, in the end. End his association with openly racist “platform of the alt-right Breitbart” Steve Bannon. Stop the twitter rants. I mean, he’d be President! He’d have to be a responsible, sober adult. But that was 207 days ago.
Today at the dealership, the big screen was dark and silent, and I really didn’t think about why until I came home and watched a recording of Trump’s press conference online.
That’s why it was off! No one wanted to see that. No one wanted to hear that. No one can sit through that and make polite conversation about his tie.
But we have to watch him, don’t we? We have to listen. We have to speak.
Because he’s not sober — he’s dangerous to our society. Dangerous to people I love, and people you love, too. Dangerous to civility and liberty.
I wonder what the history books will say someday? I wonder who will write them? I wish I could write more coherently about what is happening right now, in real-time, but it all feels too much.
So instead, I took a walk. I took this picture. A bright sunset fading into darkness. A lone streetlamp shining. We have to watch, but not fade into darkness.
All of us who care about our country and everyone in it, we have to watch, and not fade.
Somehow, we have to be the light.
Sunday Morning: a sketch
pillows play on the daybed
housecat swishes her tail
radio paints music chocolate-dark delicious as my espresso
the Swedish horse with the broken leg assesses my mental state
the coffee cup outlines the circle of its base onto the table
my sandals inscribe lines on my feet, a loose sundress erases my figure
my journal sketches my thoughts, lines, lines, line
I fade from the scene
I am just inscribed lines
the gel pen observes the work like a skinny foreman,
rigid, impatient at the pace
dear old patient threadbare linen napkin blots up the drips of minty water
life is messy, observes the old Swedish horse
my gel pen climbs down into
the deep hole with me
helps me dig
while Yo-Yo’s cello deckles the morning sunshine
Notes: this is from a Natalie Goldberg prompt in her wonderful book, Writing Down the Bones;
1. write 10 nouns as a list. (I wrote ten things I could see/hear in the room)
2. write ten active verbs (she suggests thinking of verb relating to an occupation; I used “artist” as the verb-source)—sketches, inscribes, erases, observes, blots, outlines, paints, plays, swishes, deckles…
3. combine the nouns with the verbs and see what emerges
Have fun, see what happens. Why not?
Happy rebirth-day to me
I don’t know the actual date of my rebirth-day. It was a Monday, the day after Easter, 2012. I suppose I could easily google it, but I prefer to let the day float in time, tied forever to the anchor of Easter. I wanders through time the way the ancients believed a woman’s womb wandered in her body.
My rebirth day began like any regular day, only slowed down. It was so hard to summon the will to get up. I’m pretty certain my husband called goodbye from the hallway, heading in to work early. I made coffee for me, hot black tea for my daughter before she scooted off to high school. I sliced an apple, sprinkled it with cinnamon, ate listlessly.
I had a full day of deadlines ahead, but I was tired as I climbed the stairs to my attic office. When I walked, my leg throbbed. I couldn’t focus, and there was a tickle in my throat. Damned perimenopause. After working through lunchtime, I decided I should go to the doctor.
“I had a terrible charlie horse on Easter morning,” I told the receptionist. “It really hurts a lot. I need to get into see someone today, please.”
“Is it swollen? Red? Purple? Streaking?”
I looked again, but it wasn’t. It looked exactly like it had the evening before, when I’d rolled my yoga pant-leg up and asked my daughter if it LOOKED swollen. Cause I could see in the mirror: it did not. Like me, on the outside my calf looked normal. The hurts were inside.
“Dr. S has a slot Thursday at 3:30,” the receptionist offered. “Or call at 8 am tomorrow and we might be able to work you in same day.”
I felt defeated and suddenly tearful. Working from home, my bedroom was just across the hall from my office. I did something I never did. I laid down in bed, while the sun was shining bright in the sky.
I sank under the covers, felt so peaceful, amazingly peaceful. I began to drift off—and then, wham! I woke with a start, as if someone had shaken me. An insistent inner voice demanded that I go, now, to a doctor. Any doctor. By this time, my daughter was back from high school. I limped downstairs and asked her to please drive me to the urgent care. I was so exhausted I couldn’t have managed to get there. I felt numb.
In yogic philosophy, samskaras are pathways worn into your thought processes by repetition, like the ruts worn into a pasture by cows plodding to the barn at feeding time. Over and over, that trip to the barn. Conditioning. Samskaras can be positive, but most of us struggle with our negative ones. The ruts of repeated beliefs and behaviors are worn so deep. Change seems impossible. My samskaras—my willingness to turn away from my own pain, to ignore it, disown it, to discount my physical sensations and emotions—a path of not trusting my own body and mind—almost did me in.
At the urgent care, I got really lucky. They were slow, and I was seen quickly. The nurse who did the patient interview was thorough. After the question about family history of heart disease, when I said my father died from a heart attack in his mid-fifties, he made a note on his clipboard and excused himself from the room. Seconds later, he returned. “We’re not going to charge you, you need to get right to an ER. We think you are having a heart attack.”
“But I don’t have chest pain?”
“Tell the ER we suspect heart attack,” he repeated. “Have your daughter drive you straight there, so we don’t have to wait for an ambulance.”
It was, in fact, not a heart attack. My charlie horse was not due to potassium deficiency or even perimenopause, at least, not directly. It was due to deep vein thrombosis, thanks to the low-dose “safe” birth-control pills that were supposed to make me feel better. And the DVT had been throwing off clots, caught by my waiting lungs, slowly filling them. “Multiple pulmonary embolisms in all lobes,” the cardiologist said. “Usually, this is diagnosed on the autopsy table. Any one of those clots could’ve caused instant death. You’re very lucky to be alive.”
And so a new samskara was born on my rebirth-day. “Very lucky to be alive.”
I know now, I was always lucky to be alive. I just had been focused on the wrong things, avoiding confrontation, denying what was true, ignoring pain, smothering joy, trying to cover up pain instead of facing it. I’d had it wrong for so long. But that day, I began anew. “Very lucky to be alive.”
Old samskaras are persistent, though. My self-defeating ones haven’t gone away.
Turmoil falls like rain, slipping and sliding me into old familiar grooves. I pick myself up faster now, though. I let the rain wash over me. I even laugh at it sometimes, laugh at myself for slipping. I remember a summer day when I was with a dear friend, someone from this new lifetime. We were walking once, and got caught out in a deluge. I reflexively began to cover my head, futilely, looking for a place to run. Recoiling, I was trying to change the reality of the rain that was falling, reverting to old habits. He, on the other hand, laughed up at the sky, let the rain wash across his smile.
I felt a surge: I was lucky to be alive, in the rain, with my friend.
“Very lucky to be alive.”
We grow old, if we are lucky. Life hurts sometimes. Pain comes, uncertainty comes, loss comes. Sometimes it feels unbearable.
- This dewdrop world —
- Is a dewdrop world,
- And yet, and yet . . .
The Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa wrote that, after two of his children died when they were very small. He somehow found, even after such losses, beauty, and the will to go on. He too must have known he was lucky to be alive.
Life is hard, change is hard. I once thought perimenopause and my changing body and crumbling marriage were the end of me. That I was powerless, defeated. It seems almost comical now, looking back. Yes, my marriage ended, the imagined future I had hoped for ended with it. And yet—
“I’m lucky to be alive,” I think, with each pink bursting dawn, each deep breath, each morning’s first sip of hot coffee, each warm hug, each aching goodbye, each day and hour I get to live and write and walk and feel, the good feelings and the hard ones, too. Maybe someday I’ll wear away my old faithful, fearful samskaras with gratitude. Maybe someday my fears will dance hand in hand in the rain, smiling, laughing, transformed.
I’m still figuring out what comes next, and I accept I always will be figuring it out. Always falling down and getting up.
Always –“very lucky to be alive.”
Dear Tich Naht Hahn
Dear Tic Nat Hhan
Dear Thich Nhat Hanh,
I mislaid your address and even the foreign mystery of the spelling of your name in the explosion. The girls’ school papers and award certificates, sheet music, lithographs, photo albums, love letters from my father to my mother, jars full of buttons and odd screws, art supplies and tax records and all those BOOKS everywhere.
Some of the books were yours. They were plucked, charred but readable, from the ruins, and this thank you to you is long overdue.
How calming you were to me during this topsy-turvy time.
Ironically, it was another of your books, “Anger,” that boiled me over like a pot left too long on the stove, unattended. Or maybe I was a pressure-cooker, with a broken shut off valve? Either way.
The resulting fire burnt down my imagined future.
For several months afterward, I babbled and cried. Later, after reading “How to Love” and “How to Walk,” I slowly relearned essential life skills from the ground up, and you, Thich Nhat Hanh, were my patient invisible Occupational Therapist.
Now there are many mornings when my feet kiss the earth as I walk. How I wish you’d climb the forty steps to my little hermitage right now. We could meditate together, with Cordelia, my plump silver tabby.
It is far from Plum Village, but from my roof I can watch sunsets through the golden leaves of the survivor elm. You might wish to climb out there with me? Or maybe just sit beside the window, as the sun sinks in the west?
When you come, I will brew a cheerful cup of tea, and sing you a song about letting go of fear of the unknown, and you will join in on the second chorus, because it is a song I learned from you, dear teacher, who I have never met but from whom I learned to live again, step by step.
Warm up! Write eleven three-line poems about things you see right where you are, right now.
Eleven Miniature Poems, March 25, 2017
The cutting in the windowsill vase
is shooting out roots
but it cannot grow there forever
2 | Fur
Cordelia is striped, like a tyger burning bright
descendant of some fierce African wildcat
trapped now in domesticity
3 | iPhone
Black glass gleams like your eyes did
if I touch the screen it will light up with worlds and words and wayz
I think of the mirages on hot highways in summer
4 | Coffee
Bittering now, sitting alone on the ledge
waiting to be held again in my hands
longing to be swallowed in my mouth
5 | Highlighter
Neon-yellow, it seeks and finds what
should be remembered, the important bits
is the rest really forgettable? Unimportant?
6 | Quilt
Grape jelly purple, my round babies once
sighed and slept beneath you
Sometimes I see you breathe
7 | Berry
Stray, lost, dried-up scarlet berry
remnant of Christmas past
(it’s almost April)
8 | Postcard
Dear Mama, it begins
I’m feeling excited, it continues
I see it tremble in the window breeze
9 | Clothespin
Tiny clothespin, tiny strung line
I have hung memories on you
they shine on me every day
10 | Sketch
She’s playing the sonata forever
her left foot pedals, her fingers fly
I can still hear the music
11 | Lintbrush
Lurking like an aunt before the funeral
descending to pick away any flaws
I feel judged
I’m going to say it straight out. Somebody’s going to die tomorrow.
Actually, I’m sure, lots of somebodies will die, but there’s one in particular
that I’m thinking of tonight.
Nothing lasts forever.
Joy comes, and goes.
Seasons come, and go.
Grief comes and goes, too.
Whole countries, entire species,
blazing stars in the sky—
come and go.
Tomorrow the elm tree outside
my west-facing windows will be taken down.
Chain saws will whir and bite.
It will be fast, the end.
Tonight I’m saying goodbye.
I get it.
It’s become dangerous, the elm.
Too big for its place. It has to go.
It could hurt someone.
(Hurt is part of life)
Joy comes, and goes.
I will miss her outstretched limbs
reflecting in my morning coffee in summer,
I will miss her golden leaves in the fall.
She healed me, that tree.
I spent hours looking up at her.
I owe her a lot, I think.
I wish I could tell her:
She gave me the gift of learning to just be.
To laugh and cry and and let go of what was and be myself alone.
(Though I suppose I wasn’t ever really alone; she was there?)
I’ll carry her gift with me, planted like a seed
rooting in my heart.
I’m getting more comfortable with impermanence.
Better at letting go.
Better at grief.
It’s just a tree, after all,
a little piece of heaven,
patiently teaching me how to breathe in life.
“under loss and under hard words,
under your heart,
it doesn’t matter. They can live forever.”
I think there are some feelings that are like thistles, that’s why Erdrich’s poem and the thistles along the sidewalk speak to me like an old friend as I ponder how some losses, some griefs, some pointy bits of the past never do entirely smooth over or disappear.
They simply die back for a while, and you think they are gone. Then you’re innocently snapping a photo, minding your own business, and they come back—sharp as ever.
But they are beautiful, thistles are. They endure for a reason.
You can read her whole gorgeous poem here:
Last year evaporated.
filled to the brim and
poured over the edges
leaving December behind.
The beauty and the un-beautiful
time escapes like steam from a kettle
screaming with possibilities
I want to find more magic.
I am digging.