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.




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.






Friday, May 1, 2015

ROOTED IN LOVE


I definitely know how the vegetable and animal kingdoms must feel (and I know that theoretically I count as an animal); the confusion in the seasons is quite disconcerting. I think it is mid-summer whereas it is only early April. Helllooo!

And now, my friends, it is mid-April and getting warm. There just never seems to be enough time to write. Or I am just dumbfounded and not able. Even now, when I am taking a few minutes to get started, I know that I will have to stop to take my mom to the tax accountant very shortly. In fact, I should go wake her up from her afternoon nap.


I’ve been gardening a lot. I think the adage “A watched pot never boils.” would be more accurately “A watched seed never sprouts.” But then they do and the impatience is refocused on the plant becoming what you dreamed it might be. So, my first planting of (the evidently dreaded, at least in California) morning glory is spiraling up and I am waiting for the first buds.

A long interim sets in ...

The gardening is going well, so that's something. Mostly what seems to come up are weeds, but the nasturtiums are jammin'. No blossoms on anything I have started from seeds. 

A month or so ago, I noticed that our across-the-street neighbor was getting rid of a bunch of stuff, among that, a potting bench! There was a scroungerman or perhaps I should say urban scavenger, with his truck was going through the treasures as well. I tagged the bench and he helped me get it to our backyard as it was far too heavy for me.

Now it sits beneath my bedroom window, serving as a shaded nursery for all the plants I have been propagating. Oh, and Emmylou uses it to get in and out of the house. Unfortunately, my desk is under that same window, and hence she tracks dirt in and out (there's a split infinitive that cannot be avoided). Then she has to pick her way through the open iPad and laptop and desk lamp and speakers, which is a delicate maneuver. Emmy enjoys helping with the gardening. (The pretty godetia in this photo is not nearly so pretty now. Anyone have any maintenance recommendations?)



I, too, am an urban scavenger, although I mostly raid healthy plants in order to propagate them. There's jasmine growing all over the place, on parkways, in planters on city streets and such. I feel I am just helping out by a little pre-emptive pruning. I did find a discarded Ikea cutting block that is just perfect as a grill-side table.

I am still reeling from the devastating news about my dear friend. While I was looking for that word, devastating, I looked up "tragic" as well. They do mean similar things. Tragic is "causing or characterized by extreme distress or sorrow." Devastating is "causing severe shock, distress, or grief," and "highly destructive or damaging." Tragic seems much more monolithic, stationary. Devastating feels like a process, a river, a deluge with waves. Tragic can be locked up, put far enough away to look at. Devastating is a moment-to-moment struggle.

Way back when, when I had a birthday, there were many generous people who gave me a nice, light shower of gifts and money. (Thank you all again.) I was able to go out and buy one of the new books I was jonesing for,  Jane Hirschfield's new book of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. This is the opening paragraph.

Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision. Entering a good poem, a person feels, tastes, hears, thinks, and sees in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means? Some hunger for more is in us—more range, more depth, more feeling, more associative freedom, more beauty. More perplexity and more friction of interest. More prismatic grief, more longing, more darkness. More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others. More capacity to be astonished. Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it. And by changing selves, one by one, art changes the also the outer world that selves create and share.  

If you substituted the name of my friend for the word art, you would come close to describing my cherished ami. Ami, too, is a better word than friend, as it is rooted in love.


HOME REVISITED: MIDNIGHT

I am the shadow in the shadow of the wicker.
The wicker is in the shadow in the shadow of the vine.
I sat here when? Ago. Blinked at the flicker
Of a falling star. Said the moon: Be mine.
Said the star: Will be. And then, and now and then,
The shadow is in the shadow is the shadow of Again.

And went away. Or came. What happened? O
It is June again and moony. Song, song,
So-ong, the crickets. And blop, blop, b-lop,
The frogs. And ago, ago, ago
Says the rational man in the shadow. (This is his sop
To the passionate man in the song.) O do I belong
To that rational man? To that passionate, singing man?
Which body shall I wear to memory
When I arise from shadow?

Shall I cry Mother or write prose?
Turn Catholic or blow my nose>
If I rise and go inside,
My dead setter will have died:
“Here, Tug, here, Tug, here on the lawn,
Here in the shadow.” Tug is gone
To watch my shadow being born.

I was at the center of the shadow.
I am the shadow at the center of thought.
The house behind me is a house I know,
At every sill and step the house forgot
All but song, so-ong, and blop, b-lop.
That music is because it cannot stop.

For the center of music is another music
And the center of the center is a stir,
And what is time that visited my father
With worms and roses and religious physic
And gave his house to me to sit and gather
Shadow at the center of the music of the stir?
—And a rational man? And a passionate, singing man
And now,
                 and then,
                                    a third, an invisible man
Singing and trusting and distrusting the song
At the center of the center where the shadows throng.


— John Ciardi