Tag Archives: inspiration

Swimming in Joy: Fresh Water, Fresh Perspective

I feel like I’ve come out of a long, dark tunnel. I’m not referring only to the many days in electronic darkness, but that of my last three decades.

I will swim in still* (fresh) water after my laundry is done — for the second time in 30 years. My last still water swim prior to a dip in a pool two weeks ago was in my parents’ pool in Pearland, Texas. They moved out in the mid 90s but my pool rights were revoked in ‘91 (by emotional pressure vs verbal demand).

I began to swim again in 2016 but only in the gulf and with a full-body swimsuit. Never alone. Usually, in fact, I swam while surf fishing with the man I was married to at the time. We rarely went into the surf just to swim.

I don’t swim in much less now, capris and long sleeves because — old. Regardless of one man’s overly kind opinion, this old frame is just not bikini-worthy.

This lake is clear and cool but not cold and unlike the Kentucky lake of last week, not stagnant and covered in cottonwood snow. I’m anxious to submerge myself in it and feel that joy again. At the pool I dipped in, littles were everywhere. Maybe a lake isn’t much healthier, but I know what toddlers do in pools.

Laundry Interlude

I stepped onto wet, broken slate and other stones that serve as the “beach” at this park. The rocks, largely “chips” of stone, really, aren’t sharp but nor are they sand smooth. There’s something comforting about that; perhaps it’s the knowledge that crabs and stingrays won’t be burrowed into those hard slivers and chunks of stone.

As a recent boat wake subsided, I waded out carefully until I was thigh deep. I checked my sunglasses** to make sure the strap was snug, and dove under.

I came up damn near sobbing with joy.

The “pool” at sunset.

The water was cool but not cold, like April coastal beach temps, and soft as silk. It slipped around me without seaweed or sand or other slithery bits. I began a breast stroke out to the buoy that demarcated the swimming area for swimmers and boaters alike. I found the gentle slope just at my height, turned and did a clumsy, half-remembered back-stroke (college swim class) to one side of the buoy, turned and did side strokes, first right (awful) then left (much better). Finally I simply flipped on my back and floated a while; looking up into deep blue summer sky with scattered cumulus clouds and a soft breeze chilling my exposed parts.

After years of not being able to float like my mom, I’ve found in recent years that I can. I always assumed it was because of the salt water at the coast. Nah. I’m just fluffy. Higher body fat percentage makes for good floating. HA!

I repeated the above twice, floating in between to catch my breath. Then decided I should get back to Sam.

In my childhood, Momma could never get me out of the pool. I had sunburns that made me sick and miserable but wanted to be back in the water the next day. As soon as I got back to Blanche, I was wishing I’d stayed in the water.

To be honest, it wasn’t just the obligation of Sam that brought me home. The lingering discomfort with “showing” my body in public, even though almost no skin was visible, just my generous curves, was the greater drive that pulled me out of the water. A young couple camping at the top of the hill, certainly not the least bit interested in an old woman doing laps, kept getting in my head without so much as being within earshot.

Obviously, I have yet another “wound” to sort out and have known that since I left. I am female and have curves. It isn’t up to me to police what men (or anyone for that matter) see or find offensive. It is only up to me to be comfortable in my skin. I have changed my style of dress somewhat since leaving him, but I still don’t show cleavage or wear pants or dresses that fall above my knees. I have twice worn a bikini top with my capris (no long-sleeved rash guard) and felt extremely uncomfortable, but that was more because I am fluffy than because I was showing cleavage.

Still, while I am definitely too old for a bikini, I would love to move from being two steps shy of a burqini. My health allows for that now and my sanity demands it. The very fact that I am even considering this, says I have progressed significantly out of that dark tunnel mentioned above.

*the lake has waves, of course, but compared to a gulf or ocean shoreline, it is “still.”

**I need sun/swim goggles.

To Sea: Feet & Hope in the Surf

Most places I go these days are places I have never been, but are, nonetheless, familiar in their character. However, this latest stop feels monumental to me.

I wasn’t really aware of where I was at first. I was just driving to the next town and the next space in which to park Blanche & Betty.

I decided to check the weather report when I arrived and in so doing realized I am minutes from the eastern coast of the United States. I suppose, in my head, I had placed this region along the Gulf Coast. In my perception, the idea of crossing four states and going “only” 1050 miles vs the 900 miles I drove from Houston to New Mexico, had taken so long and been so piecemeal and cautious that I’d lost track of where I was going. I was so busy connecting dots, I lost sight of the big picture.

What an odd sensation to wake up (mentally) and realize you have gone from one coast (albeit the middle coast) to another coast rather haphazardly and unwittingly.

“Haphazardly,” because during the winter months, I had the luxury of driving and just stumbling on a place to stay without putting much thought into it (that has evaporated with spring break and the summer months ahead).

“Unwittingly,” because my mind has been so preoccupied with grief and depression and love that I neglected to be fully aware of my surroundings much of the time. In the last park I was largely in an emotional fog that was punctured only occasionally by calls from family and a friend.

This coastal RV resort is crowded, snugly packed, heavily canopied with trees, too close to a significant road (although that has grown quieter as night wears on), and full of other dogs to keep Sammy in a constant state of crazy.

Still, I feel like I’ve come to life for a moment, hopefully several moments. I want to work. I want to breathe and accomplish things. Two days ago, I didn’t care if I didn’t wake up at all much less metaphorically.

Nothing has changed. I’ve had no grand revelations. I don’t feel any different about my skill set, my desire for companionship (or lack thereof), nor my relationships as they stand. Dog is still a huge pain in the backside when he sees other dogs. I still have repairs to make to Blanche that can’t be made immediately. I still have allergies kicking my ass. My heart is still tangled.

But I feel—

What’s the word?

Hopeful?

Perhaps it’s the bustle around me. People doing things and living and not just on the road to doing or sitting out at a campfire (perfectly fine things to do, mind you). This is a park full of short and long-timers and the long-timers make it feel like home with potted plants and dog pens. There’s a strange comfort in that.

It could be just the Atlantic Ocean whispering to me from a few miles away. Perhaps the very thought that I can drive just a little while and put feet in salt water again, different salt water, and say, “I am here. I made it. I didn’t crumble between there and here, though it got damn close. Yay, me!”

Pier on a Georgia Beach

Going where? The Stagnation of Predictability

21 March, 2022

Two years ago today, I was moving into a new house and putting many of my belongings into an off-island storage space. Two years ago today, I stomped rage into every step I took up and down the stairs of my former home and my new home. Two years ago, for the first time in months, I breathed in a truly deep and relaxing breath after I shut the door behind me that night and sat in bed letting the silence and isolation flood the room completely.

I spent a lot of nights in that little house on Thunder Road, feeling that same level of peace. I spent a lot of nights there staring at the ceiling and worrying.

I’ve said it here; I get anxious being in one place too long these days.

I leave this place tomorrow and move east. I had intended to be in the new spot about a month. I erred and didn’t get my reservations soon enough and can’t be there for more than a few days. I’ll go north for a while instead and that may upset some plans for others. I’m not happy with myself for the error.

I wonder, however, if I didn’t sabotage myself subconsciously. I wonder if I didn’t know my dawdling would put me in this situation to a degree (though perhaps not this badly). The original plan to stay a month was weighing on me the more I thought about it. It felt as stifling as that house I had shared with my ex-husband. I could see myself stuck. When you say you’re going to rent a space for a month, you pay for a month. You stay. A month in one spot makes me just a little nuts. I’m finding two weeks in most of these places to be pushing my limits. I’ve been in this current park since March 10th (eleven days) and I’m getting antsy and uncomfortable. I don’t know how to fully convey the feeling. It is a bit like being at a party to which you weren’t invited; it’s pleasant but you know you don’t belong. That feeling has nothing to do with the people around me; I’ve experienced this same sensation in a nearly deserted park.

A lake in central Georgia

I was speaking to a friend about relationships and loneliness and he said, “You’ll find someone whenever you stay put for a while.” (paraphrasing because—beer) I didn’t argue. I didn’t agree. The discussion moved on to other things.

However—

I wanted to say, “Well, that is exactly why I don’t want to stay put.”

I wanted to say, “My heart is tangled up right now. I don’t need to incorporate more threads.”

I wanted to say, “I want to come home.”

I am growing homesick, but I know it is not because I actually miss my house or the beach or the birds or the people I barely knew.

I am growing homesick because home was predictable.

Home was always going to be the ex down the street and occasional run-ins with his family. It was always going to be worthwhile but low-paying work that didn’t demand much of me mentally but often much of me physically and sometimes emotionally. It was always going to be that one guy who floated in and out of my life like a Portuguese Man-of-War. It was always going to be pretending to be nice to the ex when the grands came to visit even though every interaction was distressful for both of us. It was always going to be me giving time to the rescues (that I adored) and getting nothing in return except more wear and tear on my truck and loss of funds.

It was always going to be.

It was always going to be really good seafood and beautiful sunrises and gorgeous storms and mesmerizing foghorns and pelicans in huge squadrons flying up and down the beach ahead of a front.

Predictable is safe. Predictable is calming. Predictable makes other decisions easier. Predictable was all I’d known for twenty-nine years.

Predictable allows (even encourages) you to give up on your careers (yes, both) and then regret it the rest of your life because you have lost your skills. Predictable makes you bend to another’s will instead of standing up for yourself and saying, “I deserve the respect of personal autonomy!” Predictable leaves you in a marriage at least eight years longer than you should have stayed. Predictable keeps you in family dynamics that hurt.

Perhaps I am scared of lighting in any one spot for all of these reasons. Perhaps I fear that I will once again have my autonomy subsumed by the comfort of predictability. Even my friend floats in and out on his own whims such that I can’t assign much predictability to him and that feels oddly safe to me.

When I was married, I knew I’d be married until my death. I knew I’d die at a fairly ripe age and probably some time after my spouse. I knew I’d die in or about the home we shared. I knew all this because that is what the predictable day-to-day existence made me believe. Nothing ever changes when the person you are with and the person you have become both conspire to keep things predictable indefinitely.

I feel, every day, the unpredictability of my life now. I awaken not knowing if I will find the strength to go on, if I will find work that allows me to stay with Sam who is getting more and more dependent on me, if I will just have to run out of my savings and be done, if I will choose to shorten my stay in my current spot or lose the money and just pick up and go boondocking, if I will have a car wreck on the highway, if Blanche will have a blowout, if I will get COVID-19 and become too sick to travel and have to talk my hosts into some kind of act of kindness, if a tornado will blow through and upend all of us, or if I will simply have a stroke or myocardial infarct and die quietly inside Blanche to be found when my campsite is supposed to be taken by someone else. None of this is known.

I could be bothered by that and, in my former marriage, no doubt I would have been. I was taught to be bothered by such.

But predictable literally almost killed me in October of 2019. If unpredictable kills me by virtue of accident or ill health, then at least it did so while I was doing something with my life rather than sitting in a house waiting to die. I cannot imagine ever going back to predictable. I cannot imagine, ever again, being someone’s belonging that waits to be put in storage.

Daily Existential Angst Diary (I’ll let y’all do the acronym)

**TRIGGER WARNING** UNALIVE ATTEMPT DISCUSSED IN BRIEF.

In October 2019, I attempted, feebly, to unalive* myself by trying to swim into a rip current. That day, in essence, initiated the path of separation and divorce. Someone said at the time: “You can’t save him (my husband) or the marriage. You can only save yourself.”

Since then, in trying to sort out who I am vs who I was vs who I want to be, I have felt some fear that I simply don’t care if I save myself. Whence comes this resignation?

A friend told me (and I have heard this sentiment many times in my life and from various sources) that he is nothing without God. In the moment, that made me sad. I considered what an extraordinary person he is and the potential he still carries in his many years ahead and thought, how can you limit your understanding and value of yourself to what your religion tells you that you are?

However, upon removing the fogged lens of a strained conversation and now seeing it through the clarity of distance and time, I found that his “nothing” was little different than mine.

I am nothing without purpose.

I am nothing without family.

I am nothing without my art.

On any given day, I may believe I have none of or am achingly distant from all of those things that I believe make me something.

Is there a qualitative difference, then, between my nothing and his?

I might be able to convince myself that there are no arbitrary rules (defined by a select entity or a group of self-appointed “lawmakers” over the course of decades or centuries and put forward in a text) that I am required to follow to get back to something.

I can find purpose, art, and perhaps even family without someone’s approval of my actions (or rather, without letting myself fear disapproval and condemnation).

I can probably convince myself that my nothing is self-imposed, therefore can be self-resolved: not easily, mind you, but easier, perhaps than meeting someone else’s (God’s, the Church’s, a spouse’s) expectations for ideal behavior.

On the other hand, when I was a Christian, I was trained to believe that as long as I had accepted God’s grace, perhaps also as long as I “washed up” properly after being less-than-perfect and got on my metaphorical knees and begged His forgiveness, the slate was wiped clean and I was good to go again.

But I, with no god and with my own will and heart being the arbiters of my behavior and my nothing vs something, am the only one who can/should judge me.

And I am one judgmental beyotch.

I would love to just throw my hands up and say, “Oh, ok! I believe again. Help me, Lord.” and have that belief back and the comfort it was supposed to bring in those desperate moments.

It rarely brought me comfort. There were days I got caught up in beautiful church music, powerful hymns, and fellowship. There were days I felt less ill at ease and felt I could carry on. But, more often than not, I felt unheard by this supposed deity that I’d been told would be there for me. When I made that feeble attempt to unalive myself, I felt utterly alone.

There is no point in me thrashing about here with the existence or lack thereof of a God/god. No point in discussing why I failed at unaliving myself as “evidence” for a god. Whatever rationale one can provide for why it should reinforce my faith, I can give a rationale for why it furthered the deconstruction of it.

So, here I am in my nothing, struggling often without purpose, and some days, without art. Most days, I still feel utterly alone. I judge my heart, my behavior, and my lack of progress perhaps harder than any church or spouse/partner can judge. It makes me vulnerable to falling in with people who only want to take from me. It makes me especially vulnerable to my own selfishness.

It makes me potentially vulnerable to rip currents.

What keeps me out of rip currents now? Not hope. Certainly not faith.

Obligation.

And here, I realize another similarity to my friend and his “nothing without God” — being good enough. My obligation is to those I love and those for whom I work. It should, in part, be to myself and my art. However, a major symptom of depression (of artistic pursuit?) is imposter syndrome: the belief that we are never good enough to be devoted to our art and thereby our own needs rather than that of others. This is little different from “man is never good enough (original sin) without God.”

I’m sure this isn’t a new thought, just new to me.

There will be no rip current adventures for me again. I sometimes think if I just stay angry over the loss of the love and marriage, that alone will keep me out of threatening waters. I don’t believe I can maintain resentment that long. So, I must find a way to believe I am something by my own authority.

I must be obligated and devoted to my own needs for a while. Not dismissive of that of others, but not taking on their needs to the point of, once again, vanishing into their kowtowing version of me.

To that end, I write as often as I can now:

1) Poems (and short stories) that stir every part of me and heal me and maybe will stir and heal others in the future.

2) Letters to friends who tell me it is a delight to get them and who send equally delightful response letters.

3) And finally, pieces like this blog post which seem dark and sad, but in the end, lift me out of the currents that might carry me into frightening depths.

I write and this reminds me that I have a small gift with these words. I do, perhaps, have a purpose.

*I use this term to reduce anxiety for others and myself as well as hopefully to soften the tone of this entry.

Capturing Eruptions: Examining Catharsis Again

My poetry was recently described by a friend as “[capturing] the moment feelings erupt.”

That striking (and much appreciated) description must have become imbedded in some bit of my cerebral cortex or drowned in neurotransmitter soup, for as I’ve continued to throw those feelings onto my phone and create still more poetry, I’ve also become acutely aware of the process again.

Her statement made me question why both the intensity of the writing and the recollection of its inspiration don’t leave me in tears in these moments of creation.

Writing drafts has never done so. Going as far back as childhood when I wrote about the deaths of pets and fears of nuclear war, there was no sobbing, raging, or even quiet despair as I composed.

The reason, I determined in the last few days, is two-fold:

One, the words themselves are the grief, the anger, the healing, not just symbols or metaphors for these emotions. As I place these expressions on the screen, I am literally doing just that. I am not just representing those feelings, but allowing my thumbs to transfer “here is my anger/hurt/pleasure” to a screen. It is the electronic equivalent of hitting the person I’m angry with, hugging the person I ache for, reveling in the presence of beauty. It is just as real and tangible to me as those physical actions.

Two, when I am creating something, a poem or a blog entry (which can often be as emotive as a poem), I am focused on the process. It is somewhat akin to how we say we get our best ideas in the shower, while driving, or taking walks. The focus on the screen, on the words, on finding the precise word that best expresses something, is meditative. It is the honing of a fine blade or the counting of cross-stitches. The mind is working a task, but the form is not yet whole.

Surely, some writers experience this process a la Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give: blubbering and raging while they scribble or type. There is no one-size-fits-all for creators and no right or wrong way. I am simply observing that for me, the outward physical expression only comes when I survey the entire work. I have assembled the puzzle and in seeing the complete image, can step back and realize, oh yes, this is what that experience did to me.

Once the entire work lies before me, my feelings can erupt, and often do, in response to those words, just as they did at some point during the actual events.

Care to share your emotional response with regard to your process?

Writing in a Mobile Age: A Dinosaur Learns a New Trick

I am fifty-seven. I grew up in a time of pencils, ballpoints, fountain pens, and typewriters.

I have, in the past, used (preferred) pencil or pen on legal pads to compose stories or poems. I felt that push and pull of the writing instrument on the page to be inspiring and rewarding.

In recent years, I would hear about young people composing entire chapters of novels on their phones and think they were absolutely insane. How can you track, mentally and mechanically, your ideas on a tiny screen? How can you be connected to your words and their taste, smell, texture, when you are clicking on glass that has almost no tactile feedback at all?

Then, in 2019, I had a crisis in my twenty-nine year marriage and couldn’t sit still. Couldn’t watch tv. Couldn’t read a book. Couldn’t write a letter. Yet, the emotions of the crisis were vast and overwhelming. How do I deal with them?

I picked up my phone one day while out on the deck overlooking the beach and allowed my thumbs to skip over the glass.

In moments, I had the first poem I had written in years. The next day, another. Then a blog entry. Then another. Then more poems.

So many words I had contained for months (in some cases years) were spilling out of me. I was feeling, if not full relief, at least not so bundled up in pain.

I was surprised at just how much I connected with the words. How quickly they fell onto the screen and how cleanly they fell. At times, they felt (and still feel) much like they had in my youth, as if I was not the one writing them at all but some greater force had taken over (and I am not the spiritual sort).

I still write with my pens and pencils. I edit with my favorite fountain pens and bright, cheerful inks. However, the best flow comes on the little 3”x 6.25” computer in my hand.

This blog entry began its life just so. All my blog posts now begin and are fleshed out on my phone, move to my laptop, are sometimes printed for review/editing, then are posted.

Somehow, it connects. Somehow, I still sense these words as I did when writing with pen and paper. I still feel as linked to the words, ideas, and emotions as I ever did through a nib on fiber. I am a bit humbled by this realization. I am fifty-seven and I have been forced to recognize that art is not lost or bastardized in or by technology despite the protests of many of my generation (I am on the Boomer cusp). At the same time, I hope this also shows that we are not all floundering dinosaurs, insisting that “the old way is best.” Nor is the new way superior. It’s the typewriter vs. computer argument of old which was once the pen vs. typewriter argument. And that was once the quill vs. fountain pen argument.

Ultimately, the way that works best is the way that works for the individual in the moment. When my heart was calmer I could sit in a quiet room with those seemingly gentler implements and “compose.” Now, in this moment of my life, my heart is panicky and wild and my thumbs need to spatter my creations across the glass instead.

Chaos & Growth: An Auspicious Anniversary

In short order it will be the anniversary of “leaving.” I left my former home (and by extension, my second husband) in mid-March of 2020.

What should have been a rush out into a new life with new possibilities, was, instead, a rush from one form of isolation and loneliness into another.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whining post.

It was a bit of a shock, I’ll admit. Leaving a person who wanted me to be as housebound and uncommunicative and as much of an introvert as he, only to have a virus force me into being very selective socially — introverted and uncommunicative. Ha!

It was still an improvement, and in some ways, that continued isolation was a positive thing. In many ways it was awful, but I want to steer away from that. Many of us have experienced the awful of 2020 and early 2021.

The good stuff:

I spent a lot of time on the phone with my brother who is also, necessarily and unfortunately, isolated and grieving. Our different griefs, shared in long conversations, allowed me to see my circumstances through his lens and not just through my self-involved pain. This has been an empathy-building experience, not just with him but with others, as well. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in that regard, but learning to balance my needs with that of others is a process, not so much a goal.

Another advantage of the solitude: I didn’t immediately go nuts dating. (not that I didn’t immediately go nuts looking.)

Here’s my history: I went straight from High School to my first marriage within a year and dated only my first husband in that time. We had two dates before he proposed. Yes, I was young and stupid. Why do you ask? 🙄

After our divorce, I immediately fell in love with my second husband who I had known at work for well over a year.

Fast Forward to 2020: the year of living slightly less stupidly, if only because that’s what universal chaos made me do. I couldn’t date after this divorce—because COVID! I have a little job and I meet a lot of lovely people, but they are brief and transient exchanges about the work, the village, beach life, etc.

I did not meet anyone with which to fall in love. I did not date and decide to give away my autonomy again out of loneliness. I worked, I wrote, I flirted, and I felt the sting of rejection here and there. Though it did require meeting/dating some in recent weeks, I learned rationally and viscerally, I really don’t NEED men. I do enjoy a man’s company and perspective (among other things), but needing anyone right now is a disquieting idea for me, especially needing a dedicated companion. This is my take on companionship and not a reflection on how I think others should behave. See here for key points.

All of this points to a single, fundamentally positive notion about 2020 and early 2021 from my selfish view. While it had its hellish days, days I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up, I grew.

I had to go through a bit of the “boy crazies,” because I never had that chance as a young adult. I had to experience being completely without another human being in my home for months on end, because I have never had to do that. I had to relearn to be open and friendly like I was thirty years ago, because it is a normal and healthy part of life that I require. I had to relearn how to interact with others without the fog of self-hatred. (Still working on that one)

I have to heal these things, and more, for me to move on and start the real work of determining where I want to be this coming year and the years after that, if Universal Chaos allows.

I have ideas but lack a plan. I’m winging it and winging it is scary. But, when I left that house (and by extension, the order and planning the man within it brought to everything), I knew I was walking out into something unpredictable at best.

And that was the beauty shifting subtly under the pain of leaving and isolation: escaping suffocating order and expectations to greet chaos and growth with joy.

It’s Not Too Much to Ask: Revisiting and Requesting Respect

(Dec 18, 2018). I reach into myself—my past, my present, my imagined future—and find emptiness.

From the time I was small, I have sought [men’s] approval and rarely received it. I am so very tired of failing them and feeling the need to meet their expectations as if they were god(s). That includes God—I hear he demands fealty, supplication, bowing and scraping—like my [ex]husbands, boyfriends, and other male friends who knew better than I about damn near everything. Men who felt the need to “protect” me when I was in no such need.

(March 2021) I am still tired, but may be gaining strength.

It’s clear to me from the above entry, discovered when I unearthed a journal a couple of days ago, that in December of 2018, I felt my marriage and my connection to my faith were falling apart in a substantial way.

It’s also clear that I stopped myself from thinking any further on the topic should it take me down a more painful path. The only entry after that is a blog composition about Big Dog.

I have met and clung to a couple of perfectly pleasant men since my divorce. They placed their value to me in how they could help and comfort po’ little ol’ me. I don’t deny they have helped me in various ways. However, they placed my value to them in the predictable arena; I am a walking, breathing, please-don’t-talk-too-much sex toy. I offer nothing in terms of intellect, care, or actual companionship. They demonstrate this by treating my time as their commodity, not my precious resource. One of them gets sullen and distant if he asks a question (apparently rhetorical) and I answer with knowledge I earned in college or on the job.

I’m too old for this game and I’m not going to pretend I have no brain or heart. I did that enough in my marriages: 1) was told I was using “big words” to talk down to my exes when in fact I was talking to them as equals because I presumed they had the same pliant and ready mind I had, open to learning and growth, 2) was expected to take on the lion’s share of care for my child while my first husband partied all night and picked up women.

I’m not brilliant, but I am not scared of someone else’s intelligence. When I meet intelligent and confident men (and I have recently, thank goodness), I revel in it. They are never intimidated by me and only challenge me politely.

I used to be angry that my parents pushed me to be precise with my language and open to all knowledge. My most punishing memory of my father is of him throwing up his hands during my 2nd grade math homework and barking, “Oh, come on, Karen! You’re smarter than that!” (I recall, with great regret, saying this to my daughter when she was small—ugh! Legacies.) That meant, to eight-year-old me that, of course, I wasn’t smart at all. When I married men that reflected this in their actions, and often their words, I lost all faith in myself.

I realize now, having spent the last year in divorce recovery, that my dad was expressing his frustration with his inability to teach me. It was his failing, not mine. I also realize my ex-husbands were reflecting their failings and fears of their own weaknesses, as well. Easier to make me feel small by telling me I had no common sense or no motivation or was forgetful (and reinforce small human errors until these statements became true(r) in many respects) than to face that they were afraid of their own intellectual or emotional shortfalls.

I can’t say the men I’ve known recently don’t think they have valid reasons for being disrespectful of my mind or my time. You would have to ask them.

I can say I have valid reasons for wanting to be respected. I’ve received two degrees, both of which required long hours and significant mental and emotional commitment. I’ve lived through two marriages, both of which required significant mental and emotional commitment, and both of which drained me of a great deal of my self esteem. I raised a child, held jobs at which I performed well, and helped my 2nd ex-husband build products for and run a home business for twenty-two years. I may be struggling right now to find my place in the universe again, but I am trying. That said, even if all of the above were not true, I am human, have feelings, and responsibilities and, on those counts alone, I deserve respect. I deserved that respect when I was married. I deserve it now.

Distressed table. Distressed books. Fossil shells.

The Thing: Compartments, Poetry, and Brain Soup

My ex always said he could compartmentalize his thoughts. This allowed him to set aside external stresses and go about his day. It allowed him to simply close his eyes and sleep at night within seconds. Another man recently expressed this to me, as well, in reference to his own daily stresses and trauma.

I used to think it was just a way to excuse not showing concern for others or not consider my feelings in conflicts, but probably it is a real thing. Some people can just shut off parts of their life or mind and focus on the less emotional tasks at hand.

I can’t. I have a mind that is the opposite of compartmented. If something gets in there—if something worries me, hurts me, or even brings me great joy—it saturates everything I think and do. I will think about that concern, hurt, or joy throughout my day, whether it be personal, political, or spiritual. As I wash dishes, fold laundry, walk the dog, work, attempt to sleep: every task is bathed in a soup of “but what about this thing that is pressing on or filling my spirit?”

I don’t know if this is the bane of the writer or if this is what makes writers, painters, etc., turn to their craft in the first place. I only know that, try as I might, I can’t set aside these thoughts. They turn into words. For some writers they turn into voices or characters. Lately, they have spilled onto the page or screen as poems in a vain (both meanings) effort to rid the mush that is my brain of these racing, raging, craving thoughts.

Poetry thus has become a highly selfish exercise for me. I might spend days honing a single poem of a few lines, not because I care what others think, but because it must express exactly what I am trying to communicate. I don’t care if you understand what I have written. I care that what I have written completely expresses the bath of hot confusion in which my brain is swimming.

If I write:
“This love is—lacuna”

I didn’t write “this love is an empty space” because I don’t mean it is an empty space.

I meant, “this love is an empty space, a hole in my bones, holes in my every tissue.” Lacuna.

Bone structure. Bone tissue close-up. Osteoporosis.

If someone has to look up “lacuna,” I don’t care.

If they don’t want to look it up, I don’t care.

I am not writing my poetry to please others. I am not writing my poetry to make the world a safer place for readers of poetry. If I’m lucky enough to reach anyone, that’s lovely. But that’s not my goal.

I am writing my poetry because I have no lacunae in my brain. I have no spaces or compartments to stash how I feel about someone or something. I can’t simply lock those things away and go on with my day. The closest I come to that is when I’ve had a couple of beers and, even then, it’s all I can do not to crawl inside myself and think of the thing that is in there, whatever that thing may be.

I sometimes envy the two men mentioned above and anyone else who puts the events of their lives in neat, little boxes while they function seemingly normally.

But, sometimes I wonder what will happen if all their neat boxes suddenly break open.

Art & Grief: Finding the Perfection in the Imperfect

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What is that odd-looking, white object in the picture? What does it have to do with grief or art? What have grief and art to do with each other and why am I writing (struggling to write) this at this moment?

That object is a biscornu which, if I recall correctly, is French for “quirky.” These objects at this size are mostly used as pin cushions and the one in my photo is indeed a pincushion made using traditional Norwegian Hardanger embroidery techniques (as opposed to modern techniques).

As to what it has to do with art and grief:

A few months ago, I struggled with my writing process and wrote about it here. You can see in some truly helpful comments that it was suggested that I exercise my creative mind through other art forms. I thought this an excellent idea although I am the furthest thing from creative in any other way other than writing. I can’t draw a straight line, I failed miserably at the various doodle crafts, and I have long since given away my sculpting supplies because I would have to invest in learning how to do it rather than winging it. I do, however, love to do Hardanger embroidery. I thought I could perhaps design my own.

I can’t. So, I gave up.

2018 waned and my writing continued to stutter like a lawn mower in overgrown St. Augustine. The holidays arrived along with the U.S. government furlough including much time for my husband and I to spend together. I decided to try “new to me” traditional Hardanger as a creative endeavor and to make a Christmas gift for someone, the above biscornu.

Through all of this, the Big Blind Dog was lumbering through his days and nights, taking his medications dutifully, eating heartily, begging for scraps always, peeing the Niagara (diuretics), and growing that snore-and-sniffle inducing lump on his cheek without complaint. He and I sat on our couch together, tv on and spewing the horrors of Investigation Discovery or tv off and only the Gulf waves in our heads. Occasionally my husband left his cave, poured a soda, gave the old gray snoot a pat and a biscuit, gave me a kiss, and wandered back into his hideaway.

I stitched.

I stitched and the dog snored and life was sweet and warm. I finished the biscornu and in all those stitches and waves and snoring came words for the page and these pleasant, if bittersweet, blog entries here and here. Writing was a thing again.

Then I looked at the biscornu and really saw it. I’d failed. While it was pretty, it was wrong. Something I’d planned from the beginning that could not be undone was a major flaw within it. Others couldn’t really see the flaw but I knew it was there. It ate at me.

Finally, rather than wrap it with other Christmas gifts, I decided I would keep it. Better to make a better gift for that person later—something not so obviously flawed, even if only to my eyes. I left it on my desk with a mix of sadness and disgust.

We packed up and went to see family out of town and had a perfectly nice visit.

And on the morning we were to return home, we awoke in our usual hotel room and our beautiful, sweet, old Big Dog with his one great flaw, his useless eyes, had left us.

Somewhere in his dreams, he decided he’d had enough of being lifted and guided and medicated and diapered. Somewhere in his sleep he’d decided those last pets from family, the last sniffs of our granddog, the last bites of Woody’s barbeque beef, and his favorite dog biscuits were a good note to end on.

So it goes.

Twelve and a half of his thirteen years.

And a five-hour drive of tears and emptiness and silence.

And furtive momentary pats to the still form in the back seat as if he would miraculously come back to us.

When we arrived home that evening and I walked into our office, there was the biscornu, that silly, imperfect thing, and I realized why the Universe had me keep it. Nothing at all to do with its imperfection—an imperfection I no longer see—and everything to do with the fact that it is a symbol of those long luxurious days next to him, his paws pressed against me. Of those last few days when he’d taken to lying with his head on my leg as he had when he was younger, as if he was trying to tell me goodbye. I wondered then, but had chosen not to be certain.

I am grateful for that time.

I am grateful for that quirky object I kept that had a major flaw, like the flaw of the Big Dog’s blindness. Flaws that are visible but meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Now, the biscornu is perfect in that it reminds me of him. He was perfect in his love.

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Our Beautiful Yao Ming. Big Dog. Boo Boo. Young and happy.