June 16, 2005

I chase my memories alone down through my dreams

It's been a hell of a month, y'all. Anybody still visiting? I'm surely sorry I haven't been posting; it'll take a bit of explaining to even get across how it happened that I've just gone quiet for weeks and weeks.

It wasn't writer's block, not in the normal sense. There were things I meant to write about, that I wanted to write about. Some of those were things I ended up scrawling in my little Moleskine as I rode the train and which aren't actually fit for other people to read, though. Some of the things I sat down to write at the computer ended up being so lengthy and far-ranging and emotional that they were becoming essays more than blog entries, and I just couldn't wrestle them into a more concise format. The biggest problem over the last few weeks, though, has been that I've been overwhelmed. Before I became overwhelmed I hadn't thought of myself as being in a precarious state, but looking back it seems kind of obvious. The addition of some mom-induced anxiety overbalanced me, and I just fell over into a quivering pile of jumpy, irritable, spaced-out insecurity and neurosis.

Well, I took it up as a part-time job, actually. In between I was going to work at Facts on File, and keeping up my running, and doing freelance work, and minding the store, and little bits of everything else. The wretched anxiety was filling up more and more hours of the day, though, so I had to call a halt; a couple of weeks ago I saw a psychiatrist, and she was very helpful. Next week I start seeing the therapist she recommended. I'll get this all straighted out. (I'm not new to the world of helping professionals, so I know the drill. It's actually kind of interesting to have a problem that is so *straightforward*!)

Anyway. That's been the background of the last several weeks. What have some of the details been like? There's been cool shit, I tell you what. I ran Prospect Park for the first time! Twelve minute miles on average, but that included some walking, and it was fucking awesome. I've gone on to keep running the main loop of Prospect Park, and last week I ran the lower loop twice, for a four-mile run. *A four-mile run!* Wow!

On June 5th I ran my first road race, with NYRR. It was a 4.7K race, in honor of their 47th anniversary as a running group. I was slow as hell, as it was the first day of our major heat wave, but I finished, and I was on top of the world. I ran, out in public, with a bib number on my chest, just like a freaking athlete!

I've gotten to do some cooking recently. The supper club I belong to was my baby this month, and I had a meal to feature all the good stuff I brought back from my last trip to Louisiana. I made crawfish etouffee and a chicken and andouille gumbo, and I also served head cheese and some wonderful boudin as appetizers. I had even brought home some pickled quails eggs and some locally smoked beef jerky, and it was all awesome. My friend Mary made delicious bread pudding with bourbon sauce, and my friend Jenny made fabulous pecan praline ice cream, and we had a little taste testing of different bourbons along with our desserts. Oh, that was a fine, fine meal.

I've also been experimenting with putting up liqueurs. So far there is a jar of rhubarb and a jar of strawberry liqueur in the cupboard, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing how I like the results. I became interested last year, and then I read Teresa Nielsen Hayden's lovely blog entry on the topic, and then I saw the site she linked to, and then I've bought a book that Gunther Anderson recommended, and it's just all becoming lots of fun.

As for things that are less fun, well, there's been some of that, too. I've got a lot of work to do with the therapist I'll be seeing, that's for certain. The raw anxiety is calming with the help of the pharmaceutical interventions; I expected that, and it felt appropriate to seek out that help. Now that I'm calmer, I have the opportunity to actually think about what's really upsetting me, and damn, there's some big scary stuff there. The meat of it should get its own entry, since I'd like to address it fully and more thoughtfully, but there are a few aspects I can touch on quickly.

Teaching myself how to interact with my mom through her illness has been a really interesting challenge. I'm learning a lot about myself, and about her, and about how we are very different people, at least in how we face difficulty. I am a person who gathers as much information as possible, and asks every question she can think of, and tries to eke out some semblance of control. My mom just relinquishes control entirely. She dwells in a place of fear and ignorance (real, literal ignorance -- not stupidity, you understand -- actual *choosing to not know things*) that I would find absolutely intolerable. I find it very nearly intolerable just to know that *she* is existing in this place. However, this seems to me to be my chance to learn how to tolerate the intolerable. Her doctors are kind, smart, compassionate people. They are keeping *me* informed, and they are not going to let *her* do (or not do) anything that will harm her. Therefore, her choice to remain personally uniformed, however uncomfortable it makes me, is not harming her, and I need to learn to let go. Can I just tell you that this is easier said than done?

As I deal with my mother's illness, and as I deal with *her* dealing with her illness, I find myself missing my father more and more. I didn't expect this to happen; it never really occurred to me that it might happen until I started noticing it. I'm finding it a little hard to bear some days. Yesterday I had an epiphany; unfortunately, my epiphany has been making me feel like a bit of a bad person. Here goes: if I'd gotten to pick one parent, I'd have picked my father. I think some of my frustration with my mom is because she's not him, which, of course, is not her fault. It's also utterly irrational; he was fifteen years older than her, and had treated his body horribly over the years -- he was lucky to live to 72. So there's no way in hell she was going to die first. It's just, well, sometimes if I'd call and she wasn't home, he and I would have the best talks on the phone. We were getting closer as I was getting older, and some of the stupid, broken, painful crap from when I was younger was getting more distant. And then he had to go and die. He's not here to help with taking care of my difficult, frustrating mom (who's the woman *he chose*, not a woman I'd have chosen), and he's not here to talk to me when I want to talk to him, and dammit it all to hell, I'm 33 years old and I want my damn Daddy.

Posted by Rose at 12:20 PM | Comments (3)

April 26, 2005

It may be the whiskey talking, but the whiskey says I miss you every day

Last night I couldn't sleep; I've had a lot of trouble sleeping over the last couple of months. It's a new thing for me, as sleeping has always been one of my favorite hobbies. When all else fails, I give up and sip a little bourbon and try to get some writing done. Fiction has been right-the-fuck out lately, though I very much want to get back to my poor neglected protagonists. Instead I've been writing up anecdotal essays, based on whatever niggles at me that day.

My friend Columbine posted some stuff about flight on his journal, and I got to thinking that he didn't know that I had once wanted to learn to fly a plane, so I wrote up a little piece about that. It mentions my dad, but the act of writing it made me miss him so terribly. He died suddenly two and a half years ago, and my mourning has been haphazard; last night I found myself on the couch sobbing fiercely over all the things I'll never get to talk to him about.


I can't remember if you ever knew this about me. It seems strange that you wouldn't know something about me, but there you go. I have always wanted to learn to fly, although the ambition has dimmed with age. My fervor was greatest as a teenager, when I read books about barnstorming. I wanted to learn to fly maybe some sort of Cessna, although sometimes I thought I wanted to fly an ultralight. The age for a student pilot's license was actually lower than the driver's license age, if I remember correctly (I just tried Googling it, and that seems true, but of course I can't check for what it was in 1986).

I read Richard Bach's book Biplane, and then his other books about flying, and eventually I read his random crappy books about spirit and wonder and soulmates (which contain some truth and a lot of crap); I was probably the only teenaged girl in the world who read those after reading his books about flight.

One day in the Gonzales library I was supposed to be shelving books, and I was instead standing by the book cart pretending to be shelving books while reading a book about planes, and a man asked me if I was interested in flying planes and I started talking to him. I still remember a little bit about him. It's been nearly twenty years, but I'm pretty sure I'm right (and was right then) that he wasn't a pervert. He flew out of the little airstrip near the Kleinpeter dairy, between Bayou Manchac and Baton Rouge. He did sometimes fly Cessnas, but he really loved flying ultralights, and he explained that you trained to fly the ultralights, and that they were one-person machines, and that your first flight was a solo, and I definitely do remember the thrill that gave me, standing there in the stacks thinking about being up in the air alone looking down over the crown cover.

I knew my dad had flown in the navy, but I didn't really know that he hadn't successfully flown in the navy, that he'd washed out of flight school. (I'd later learn why, and it's an interesting story, and much to his credit.) I hadn't told him that I'd been getting interested in flying, but I know that I thought he'd be really excited to find out. He'd be proud and happy and thrilled to find out that his daughter wanted to do one of the things that he'd done.

That guy in the library told me that if I could get to the airstrip regularly, I could trade labor for flight lessons. (He'd offered lessons, and I'd explained that I surely couldn't afford flight lessons, and he'd said many teenagers who wanted to learn to fly couldn't afford to pay, and that barter was common.) I was fucking beside myself. I wasn't afraid to work hard, and that particular kind of working hard was exactly what Richard Bach talked about in his books, the kind of grease-under-fingernails and oil-fumes-up-nostrils labor that I'd been daydreaming about while treading the wall-to-wall carpets of the parish library.

It had been about four years, so I'd forgotten about the fiasco that had ensued when my choir teacher had offered to teach me piano for free. ("We don't need charity.") It didn't occur to me that my father would accuse a stranger in the library of being a child molester. (He wasn't a pervert! He was a PATRON!) And it couldn't cross my mind that my desire to fly would bring up painful memories for my father, whose own flying career had been brought short by his disinclination to fly bombing raids over Korean villages of defenseless women and children.

Daddy said I couldn't do it. Just flat out said no. It was not the kind of no that allowed for any sophistry on my part; it was a very scary kind of no. This was just before the shit really hit the fan; this was while I still thought he'd hung the moon, and while he still thought I was his good little girl. So I didn't argue. I lost the phone number, I "forgot" about the airstrip, and I stopped reading books about flying. In fact, I've never read another book about flight since. I had a driver's license then, so it's been almost nineteen years.

I've had that span of my teenagerhood on my mind a lot lately, so when you posted your links to flight stuff that was what came up unbidden. I do know I could still learn how to fly; I'm a damn good driver, so it doesn't strike me as being impossible, but it has slipped down on my list of things-to-achieve-before-eventually-dying. On the other hand, if I want to do it, I should probably do it sooner rather than later. We shall see.

Posted by Rose at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

First we take Manhattan

All-around clever guy Randy Cohen has written up a lovely idea in the NY Times Book Review: he proposes to create "a literary map of Manhattan -- not of its authors' haunts but those of their characters, a map of the literary stars' homes."

It's a kind of Wikipedia-like effort he envisions. Anyone can email him at bookmap@nytimes.com and then he'll add in the information.

It's brilliant, and I hope scads of people offer up their literary knowledge, and I hope that not just because he's my pal; I hope that because I'm eager to see the ultra-cool map he gets to commission!

Posted by Rose at 12:04 AM | Comments (1)

April 20, 2005

Damn right I'm a maniac

I've been hoping to offer up a poem I've been working on for the last couple of days, but it just isn't coming together properly. I haven't given up on it, but it's not fit for public consumption yet.

For various reasons, I've been feeling very raw and exposed and vulnerable for the last week. Both very alone in the universe and very keenly observant of what's going on around me. That's not a bad condition for a writer to be in, but it's not very conducive to my everyday happiness. However, for the last several years I've seen my goal not as happiness, but as learning how to live in the moment. Letting myself feel how I'm feeling, instead of shunting those feelings off to the side. And that means that sometimes I'm going to feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

So here are a couple of successful poems by other people about bits of things I've been feeling lately; one of them not-at-all appropriate for the season and the other one exquisitely so.

How to Like It -- Stephen Dobyns

These are the first days of fall. The wind
at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,
while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns
is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,
the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.
A man and a dog descend their front steps.
The dog says, Let's go downtown and get crazy drunk.
Let's tip over all the trash cans we can find.
This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.
But in his sense of the season, the man is struck
by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories
which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid
until it seems he can see remembered faces
caught up among the dark places in the trees.
The dog says, Let's pick up some girls and just
rip off their clothes. Let's dig holes everywhere.
Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud
crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,
he says to himself, a movie about a person
leaving on a journey. He looks down the street
to the hills outside of town and finds the cut
where the road heads north. He thinks of driving
on that road and the dusty smell of the car
heater, which hasn't been used since last winter.
The dog says, Let's go down to the diner and sniff
people's legs. Let's stuff ourselves on burgers.
In the man's mind, the road is empty and dark.
Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,
where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,
shine like small cautions against the night.
Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.
The dog says, Let's go to sleep. Let's lie down
by the fire and put our tails over our noses.
But the man wants to drive all night, crossing
one state line after another, and never stop
until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.
Then he'll pull over and rest awhile before
starting again, and at dusk he'll crest a hill
and there, filling a valley, will be the lights
of a city entirely new to him.
But the dog says, Let's just go back inside.
Let's not do anything tonight. So they
walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.
How is it possible to want so many things
and still want nothing? The man wants to sleep
and wants to hit his head again and again
against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?
But the dog says, Let's go make a sandwich.
Let's make the tallest sandwich anyone's ever seen.
And that's what they do and that's where the man's
wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator
as if into the place where the answers are kept—
the ones telling why you get up in the morning
and how it is possible to sleep at night,
answers to what comes next and how to like it.


Nothing Stays Put -- Amy Clampitt

In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985

The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?

The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's

a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.

But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above—
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're
made of, is motion.


I love both those poems. And why is it all so difficult? And all that we're made of is motion. I love that poetry is true.

Posted by Rose at 03:50 PM | Comments (2)