Friday, May 29, 2015

IS THE PROBLEM ROUND OR ELLIPTICAL?


Stuart circa 1971. Photo by C. Dierdorff
It has been a week and two days since Stuart died. Although I am not crying or dysfunctional, I think about him and his death quite frequently throughout the day. When I am gardening or listening to music, I think about his love for both and our conversations about those two topics. I see the many photographs of him that have been posted on Facebook and have a terrible time understanding that I will no longer see him, no matter low long I wait.

So many song lyrics come to me, many of them beneath my acknowledgment on a usual day:

"I always thought that I'd see you again" (Fire and Rain)

"Nothin's gonna bring him back" (He's Gone)

A day or two later.

It is funny or noteworthy or something that so many tasks of the day, end with my thinking "And Stuart is gone." Particularly when I am doing something he liked to do like garden or when I hear a version of a Dylan song, for instance, Jimi Hendrix' version of Like A Rolling Stone and think, "Stuart had such an unusual arrangement of that song and I will never hear it again." 

The sadness is still very present, but I am not crying real tears all the time. I think about LiLi many times a day and wonder how she is, how she is dealing with her grief. She posted a lot of pictures on FB that captured their life at their beautiful Woodstock abode, where Stuart had a great studio. I was there only once, during a big snowfall. The food and the company were delectable. 

I wish I had more of the Stuart support group nearby. At this point, I am wrangling with why this death hit me so hard, harder even than Carl's death. Carl rather committed a slow suicide, unable to help himself. Stuart absolutely wanted to live. I rarely saw him in a less than vibrant state. And, this,too, is challenging: I see the lively photographs of him and wonder how it could be. He was thin and thoughtful the last two times I saw him, but otherwise not diminished.

No doubt neither this grief nor these musings are over.



In the meantime, the garden is coming along. The effects of water rationing on my burgeoning garden are still unknown as the restrictions vary water district to water district. I take all my showers at the gym after swimming, so I figure I can get away with some there. I have even eschewed my beloved twice weekly baths. Besides the new Meyer lemon and tangelo trees, I have MANY tomato plants (San Marzano, cherry, and some very good volunteers from last year), chinese hyacinth beans, snowpeas (even though it is late for them), Fordhook lima bean bushes, cauliflower, lemon cucumber, Tuscan kale, and four kinds of bell peppers as well as a bunch of different herbs. Those, hopefully, are drought resistant and will just grow and grow, the rosemary and lavender in particular. 




THE PROBLEM

You are trying to solve a problem.
You're almost certainly halfway done,
maybe more.

You take some salt, some alum,
and put it into the problem.
Its color goes from yellow to royal blue.

You tie a knot of royal blue into the proble,
as into a Peruvian quipu of colored string.

You enter the problem's bodegas,
its flea markets, souks.
Amid the alleys of sponges and sweets,
of jewelry, spices, and hair combs,
you ponder which stall, which pumpkin or perfume, is yours.

You go inside the problem's piano.
You choose three keys.
One surely must open the door of the problem,
if only you knew only this:
is the quandary edible or medical,
a problem of reason or grief?

It is looking back at you now
with the quizzical eyes of a young, bright dog.

Her whole body pitched for the fetch,
the dog wants to please.
If only she could ascertain which direction,

what object, which scent of riddle,
and if the problem is round or elliptical in its orbit,
and if is measured in foot-pounds, memory, or meat.

— Jane Hirshfield, The Beauty, Knopf, 2015









Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A CHERISHING SO DEEP


Jane Hirschfield gave a reading and a talk at the big library in DTLA (Downtown LA, remember?). I’ve been waiting to see her on this promotional tour. I thought my mother would like what Jane had to say, so I dragged her along. Although it was kind of an ordeal to actually get there, find the place, and a bunch of other little annoyances like the fact that wheelchair accessible doesn’t really address the needs of people who are mobile but challenged.

My mother was thoroughly charmed by Jane and greatly enjoyed the evening after all. (She had tried to get me to abort the mission when we had gone to the wrong venue.)

With apologies and kudos to Christofer Dierdorf.

My friend Stuart died yesterday. I felt as if a sliver, an entire section of my being disappeared, was sliced from me upon that news. Although I may be melodramatic here, but the reality that I would never again converse with him, drink red wine with him, dance with him, talk to him about music, hear his unique Dylan and Beatles interpretations, enjoy his artistic process … I simultaneously wanted to throw up and get under the bed in the fetal position.

Listening to a poet and a deep thinker seemed to be a good way to honor him and to grieve for him.

This morning, I picked up Jane’s new book of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. I randomly flipped it open to this:

Achilles in the cloak of his tent, Odysseus wrapped in his guise of beggar, are persons removed from their identities and signature powers. Achilles, though, emerges from his angry retreat essentially the same proud man while Odysseus learns from the fabric of hiddenness a new power, learns that fabrication itself is a power. Over the course of his much troubled wanderings, he grows increasingly skillful at knowing what stories to speak aloud, what facts to keep hidden, shielded by silence. The man of craft—learning to suppress his old reliance on courage and boldness, learning to govern with increasing humility his tongue and its words—is the one who escapes the tragic hero’s fate, to know again family and kingdom.

The lesson runs deep in both literature and psyche: survival depends on an intimate, attuned comfort with similitude and the art of disguise.


This reminded me of Stuart in so many ways. Although I have yet to fully plumb Stuart’s Odyssey as outlined here several things were resonant: a man of craft, fabrication being a power itself, skilled at knowing what stories to speak aloud, and comfort with … the art of disguise. Not sure who took this picture of LiLi and Stuart dressed up as one another at the Eleanor Powers Halloween party many years ago.





WHAT THE LIVING DO
Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the every day we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass, say, the window of the corner video store and I am gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I am speechless:
I am living. I remember you.




Saturday, May 16, 2015

MONARCHS, MOM, AND CINCO DE MAYO


When we last left our heroine, she was deep in a vale of tears and sorrow. That immediate downpour veil has lifted but the sadness continues. No news about the dear friend in dire straits, but no news is not necessarily good news. Last night, she dreamt of dancing with the friend in question who was dressed in a wheat-colored, debonairly wrinkled linen suit, a spry and mischievous smile on the beloved’s face. As is often the case.

Rain rain rain here in the industrial hinterlands of South East Los Angeles. I had to go out to the car with an umbrella to get my mother yesterday, as it was coming down with what passes for a vengeance here. The rain scuttled my gardening plans with our horticulturalist who was going to dig and prepare my vegetable beds. I have to get the lima beans, Malabar spinach, snap peas, Chinese leeks, lemongrass, cherry tomatoes, San Marzano tomatoes, and the lettuces in before I head to Oakland for three-plus weeks. Also, the succulents that have been rooting need to get into the ground. My mom can water the plants as need be, but they need to get started under my more vigilant eye.

May 12 is the birthday of at least four close friends and also the day that my brother Carl left in a definitive way. My father died on May 13 which was also the birthday of my mother’s beau, my probable stepfather, who died the year before Carl, on Easter Sunday 2008. Lots going on in May.


But on this May 12, my mother and I got to witness something very cool. A friend of hers from her philosophical worship personship gave us some Monarch butterfly larvae. I had watched one become a chrysalis before my very eyes that was amazing. Matter transforming. On that day, my mother, Ariel, Emmylou, and I were taking our afternoon survey of the yard when I checked on the chrysalis only to see a butterfly being born. We stood watching for half an hour as the beauty emerged. There was something life affirming about seeing that on what is usually a sad day for us.














Emmylou had to jump on the gardening bench to see what was more interesting than her cuteness. 




Unfortunately, this critter only lived for a day; it seemed to be unable to fly. I have more milkweed seeds germinating and I have seen other Monarch larvae near the milkweed in the garden. I will you keep you all posted.

One of the most magical experiences of my life was walking in the Monarch grove at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz when I was in school there. Being surrounded by those glittering, fluttering, (and fucking) creatures was astonishing, exhilarating, and spiritual. I've been a fan ever since and now I have an opportunity to promote a place for them, I am all over it.



For Mother's Day, I took my Mom out for breakfast at a restaurant Carl loved in Long Beach (The Coffee Cup). We had a blast. We wanted to order everything on the menu. My mother ate everything in sight. She repeatedly remarked on the home fries, as if anyplace Carl liked would have anything but stellar potatoes.  It was lovely to see her enjoy herself with so little restraint. Afterwards, we took a tour past all the places she had lived in Long Beach as a child. Termino. Ximeno. Great street names. ("Finished" and "Simon" respectively.) We drove downtown which looked nothing like the place she remembered going to the beach. And we drove past the corner of Pine and Ocean where she first ate pizza. Now that is a sacred spot.

In other news, we finally got signed up for the YMCA in Whittier after much hemming and haawing. Mom has yet to get to a water aerobics class, but I have been swimming three times this week. It has been about 11 years since I was able to swim for exercise. The first swim was near heaven. I am not in any shape to swim many laps, but it was great to be back in the water (my skin is not so enthused). Today, however, kicked my ass and I have been sore and tired all afternoon. I must be doing it right. Now I have to figure out how I can swim while I am in Oakland for three weeks. 










I realize this is quite long-winded and will require a time commitment to read all the way through this. I want to share this before I forgot about it.

On Cinco de Mayo, Los Lobos were playing in DTLA (downtown LA) with the Alvin Brothers opening for them. This had been on my radar for many weeks, but I had not purchased a ticket nor had I been able to corral any of my cronies into joining me. On the day of the event, I was still ambivalent about going. But then sanity kicked in and I realized I should not miss this if at all possible, whether or no I had to go by myself. Once the music starts, I kind of don't care who is there anyway as all my focus is on the music.

So with the doors opening at 7:00, I jumped off the couch at 6:00 and decided I had to go. I got dressed and hit the road. Amazingly for Los Angeles, traffic was very light. Siri and I had our usual misunderstandings and misguidings, but I did get to see how DTLA has changed. I drove past Olvera Street several times as well as one of my father's favorite restaurants, Philippe's. I finally found a bank, and then the venue, swearing and questioning my decision all the while. I pulled into a parking lot. Under a single bright light, buying a ticket was a familiar form. I drove up, jumped out of the car, and asked, "Would that be Dave Alvin?" "It would be," drawled the figure. I shook his hand and we parlayed a quip or two when I mentioned I had just driven up from Santa Fe Springs (the town next to where he grew up). 

I admit I was pretty stoked then. I parked properly and walked to the (very cool) venue. As I was waiting in line to buy a ticket, a young woman walked up with a sheaf of print outs. She had a bunch of tickets she couldn't use so she was handing them out. Free. At that point, I knew I had made the right choice.

I went inside, immediately bought a shot of Herradura Gold, and found a place to sit at the back of the dancefloor where I would be able to stand on a chair and see. It wasn't too long before I was sharing drinks and dancing with some young homeboys who were there to see their favorites, Los Lobos. The Alvin Brothers (and the Guilty Men and Women) were nothing short of incendiary and there is nothing quite so fun as dancing to La Bamba with Los Lobos on Cinco de Mayo. Can you tell I had a swell time? The universe delivered some succor to a suffering sinner.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DOUBT, DEBT




Last evening, I saw the pink sunset reflected on the white breast of a bird on a wire.

David Bowie has been singing Golden Years in my head since I got up about 45 minutes ago. That’s likely because I have been contemplating life and death.

Is there a crucible that crushes things? What would that device be called? The stresses and omnipresent sadness of the illness of my friend, the usual financial buffeting and fancydancing, the (semi-arid) desert heat, and then my mom, these things do not make for a light heart and a positive outlook.

For those of us who did not have children, it may be that our aging parents give us a chance to experience a version of it. My mother is like a bird or a baby as food is very often on her mind. Whereas I almost never eat regular meals being primarily of the grazing kind, my mother is concerned about it repeatedly during the course of the day. And sometimes she wants me to take responsibility for feeding her, or rather, making sure she eats. Like a famished teenager, she nearly wails “but there’s no food in the house.” And like a parent, I list off the things available.


It’s also difficult, for both us, to accept aspects of her age-related limitations. Really, I think it is harder for me. Although things have calmed down considerably, last night, while I was preparing dinner (grilled balsamic chicken breasts with rosemary and garlic, roasted potatoes, sun-dried tomato-almond pesto linguine, green salad with pea shoots and home grown tomatoes), she confessed that she was depressed. And one thing she is depressed about is our relationship. She said she was too depressed to want to talk about it. That one is straight out of my playbook.




Now that was several days ago. 

Yesterday, I thought I was slipping into another depression, and maybe I am. I decided to skip the sleeping medication last night to see if I could just sleep without it. I woke up many times. I don't feel rested this morning at 6:45. There was a lot of tossing and turning and worrying, but the dementors are at bay, although they made a surprise sortie yesterday afternoon. 

Every time I check my email, I wonder if there will be more dispiriting news about my friend. 

It has been a good year for reading; I have read some amazing books. Just before I heard the news about my friend, I finished a whopper (although short), highly recommended (Roberto Bolaño is also fan), by Andrés Neuman, an Argentinian/Spanish writer , Talking to Ourselves (Hablar Solos for any of you who are accomplished enough to read Spanish). This central theme of the book is death, but it is about so many other things : love, sex, literature, road trips. Here's a little section (the husband leaves an audio recording for son, his wife listens):

Confronted by death, our emotions tense up, stretch, almost snap. They veer from paralyzing pain to hyperactive euphoria. The other's death throes are more or less fleeting. Not these conflicting emotions. As though the survivors' inner arc had collapsed, leaving them capable of either extreme. Of the greatest empathy and the greatest cruelty. Animal loyalties and wartime treason.

In his recording, I can't stop thinking about this, Mario said debts of love also exist, and that we are fooling ourselves if we deny it. He said these debts can't be repaid, but they can be silenced. And that I, if I understood correctly, did I? had hushed up his debts, so he was going to hush up mine.

I lock myself in the bathroom to listen to this passage, I hear his voice again, his voice talking to himself, and I can't believe this voice has no person, a first person without anybody there, that my son is being spoken to by his father and yet Lito doesn't have a father, that my husband talks about me and yet in the bedroom there is no one but me.

What did Mario know? This doubt weighs on me.

Doubt, debt.