Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Good things and bad things

  • I’m not sure how it happened, but I’ve fallen behind. I missed Week 1 of Finding Water; I missed Sunday Scribblings. I’m barely online. It’s not a good thing. I have been doing my pages and I even went on a mini artists date last week—a long stroller walk with Madam, a half hour browsing in a bookstore, and Mexican lunch out. I don’t exactly know if it filled my well, but it was wonderful to be out with her. See haiku below (inspired by that day, so maybe it DID refill my well).
  • I’m strangely consumed by some thing that is sapping my strength. Not illness, exactly, just…I can’t sleep at night. My mind races and I toss and turn (well, carefully, so as not to wake the lightly sleeping Madam).
  • One VERY good thing is that I am finally, FINALLY working on my novel again. Not just taking notes, not just ceremoniously circling my laptop, but actually daring to throw words on the screen. It’s taught me something, which I’m sharing here so I don’t forget it:
  • Even when the writing is BAD, it makes everything else feel better—like the weak limbed satisfaction of a good swim. It makes long days of laundry, dishes, diapers, tantrums, overworked TEG, not sleeping…it makes it ALL better.
  • I’m trying very very hard not attach anything else to the writing but the writing. I’m trying very very hard to silence that carping voice in my head, the Woman I Should Be—the one who is not only writing, but also embarking on a spiritual quest, spending time with a thriving community of artists and writers, wearing black velvet and elaborate hairdos, and traveling to India for chai and inspiration. She sees me working on ONE of the things on the list, writing, and immediately begins to punish me for not allowing her to breathe in the real world, for not allowing her to exist outside of my head.
  • I know I need to make friends with her, but for now, I’m just writing. Everything else can wait.
  • You should see us at parties.
  • Have I mentioned that my novel involves a great deal of Greek mythology? Which gives me an excuse to research and re-read them, always fun. Here is a poetry snippet that came to me while I was deeply dreaming about Persephone and Demeter.

Red seed of earth
Touches tongue, flares
An ember
Hot then dark
Burning with the inevitable
Between mother and her.

All is not as it was.
The dread clings to the daughter’s hair like smoke
Her face, the same, and not.
Demeter watches
Grief falls on her face in tired lines
Old words impotent
Fall to the floor like eggs
Persephone wants to crawl back into her mother’s eyes,
To speak again with the Mother’s mouth

But the blood red seed has taken root
In the maiden mouth
And sows the Unsayable on her tongue

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Foiled by sunshine

I have a post I want to write…something about Lent, and loss, and the confusion that comes with missing my Catholic faith, and not finding something that fills me in the same way. But for some reason, I am resistant and the words are not coming. I don’t know if its because my thoughts on the subject haven’t coalesced yet, or because the weather here is wonderful after such a long frozen couple of months and I am flying away from gloom, or just because with TEG on a business trip, I don’t have the state of mind to develop a “deep” post.

So, another day.

In the meantime, here is a haiku that came to mind while on a walk with Madam today.

Curious Madam

Stares downward
Our shadow selves stretched shimmer


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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Crush(ed) (a fiction)

“I just don’t think I am very important to you. I mean...don't get me wrong, the strong silent type thing worked for a while, but now it just seems like a…front.” She claimed. “I need so much more than to be just a crush.”

She may have said more after that, in fact, I am sure she did. If someone could dig out the black box of my mind, the part of me that faithfully records and transcribes every utterance that passes beyond my eardrums…I am sure that there will be many words there. But my memory, sweet memory, has blotted them out.

I don’t know if she was wrong. Perhaps she was absolutely right. We had only started seeing each other, and were still involved in that elaborate dance called “getting to know each other.” But I had cheated. Oh, not in any way you would think. But it was a deception, nonetheless.

You’ve probably seen the office building where I work. Or if you haven’t, I am sure you think you have. Think big, plate glass, iconic New York City architecture. Think of a plaza immediately in front of the dwarfing glass doors, with a gurgling fountain, perhaps to soothe the tired workers into thinking that they’ve left it all behind, whatever their personal IT is, and gone into the woods, or Rome, for contemplation during their short coffee breaks and lunch hours.

Anyway, that’s where I saw her first. Sitting a bit apart from the crowd (or perhaps not—I know that’s how I experienced her always, but it may not be the literal truth). Mechanically putting a spoon of yoghurt in her mouth with each turn of the page of the rather fat novel she was reading.

Ah, Madame Bovery…that chronicle of Emma’s death and disappointment (for it almost seems like one came before the other, no)?

Everything else about her was secondary at that moment. Not that I was immune to the eternal charms of long legs tucked discreetly under a chiffon skirt, and auburn hair pulled back into an absentminded bun. That she was beautiful; there is no, no doubt.

But it was her choice of reading material that lured my eyes to her—that cast the spotlight of difference on her even when surrounded by a teeming mass of that particular brand of humanity, the New Yorker at rest.

I could have approached her then and there—I had time left on my lunch hour, and I am not a shy man. But something about her warned me that to speak with her now would break some sort of spell that had already been cast around her. Something told me that we had already entered into an agreement, she and I, and the only thing left for me to do was wait and not bumble into it. I have been accused, sadly, of being a bumbler. A romantic fool.

The rest of the day went past me in a bit of a romantic haze of expectation—spreadsheets and memos and meetings were tinged with a golden aura of Purpose, even perhaps Meaning. Perhaps these would be the spreadsheets and memos and meetings I would remember as The Day I Met the Woman of My Dreams. The Woman who would see past the accounting drone (for I harbor no illusions…after a series of bohemian wanderings, I have settled down firmly, if not contentedly, on the side of the drones) and see me, the man who read and loved Madame Bovery!

I don’t remember anything more about that blessed day, because it seemed that I had left some essential part of myself in that sun kissed spot, staring at those tucked up legs, that auburn hair. I lived only for the office now. The other hours were merely marking time. I suppose I made dinner, for one, settled down with the New Yorker before falling asleep. But I cannot be certain, so I do not include that in my memory of that day.

The next two, three days, I rushed forth as soon as I was released into my lunch hours, my coffee breaks. But she was not there. I’m sure I looked a bit like a lost soul as I circled the fountain, once, twice, many times. Perhaps I had misplaced her? Perhaps she was merely a trick of the light, of the fountain droplets, of my recent rereading of Madame Bovery?

I was, in a word, crushed. Her abrupt departure seemed to leave the world a woefully sadder place.

Had I friends in my place of work, perhaps I could have made discreet inquiries in her building. But I was merely a drone, as aforementioned, and a newly hired one at that. So I opened my eyes, and saw nothing that I was actually looking for. Just…more work, my fervent enthusiasm of the other day being misunderstood as a newly stirred passion for accounting.

But, finally, my patience was rewarded. There she was, again, sitting, yoghurt in one delicate hand, novel in the other. Don Quixote this time. Oh, she was a romantic, my new beloved! I burned with the desire to speak with her, and this time I did not deny myself.

It took all of my not-inconsiderable strength to keep myself from declaring something ridiculous to her at the moment when her amber eyes looked up into my brown for the first time. I wanted to declare myself her knight, her champion!

I believe what I said was, “Uh, hi. I liked that book.” I was mortified, terrified she would take me for one of those football loving Neanderthals who wear their sports affiliations on their ties. But she only smiled, my gracious Lady, and said, “It’s so romantic. I love it so far.”

Now, why would she have mentioned romance if she had found me thus disagreeable? I was emboldened, and suggested that perhaps, we could partake of some coffee that very evening. Only I said, “You want to get some coffee, maybe, tonight? We could talk about the book.”

She shook her head and smiled. Was that a hint of regret? “No, I have class tonight. Thanks anyway, though!”

And with a jaunty wave, she sauntered back into her building, as regal as any Muse, as beautiful as Beauty herself.

I was lost.

Let me not belabor the point. I did finally succeed in getting her to go out with me. And it was a magical time, a time when the air felt heavy and strange with possibility. Her hair tickled my throat, my chest, my back, as we lay in my bed, staring out at the lowering clouds visible from my bedroom skylight.

“I hate this weather.” She had sighed on that day. “When the sky goes that shade of green, it’s almost like it’s ready to smother me, to crush the life out of me, or something.” She gave a breathless laugh.

She rolled over and looked at me expectantly. Now, I should interject here that, sadly, the verbal performance I gave her the day that we met didn’t end up improving all that much. I’m not sure why…perhaps because she responded to that man, a man I had never managed to be before. My words had always come forth in a rush, like a wall preventing a woman from seeing me, from wanting me. Perhaps because whenever I was near her, my mind whirled and crashed and collided with my heart and I couldn’t articulate that all to her. Perhaps simply because I was scared.

So I distracted her, even as I myself was distracted by her languid posture in my bed, by the arresting combination of presence and absence. I kissed her and she kissed me and no more was said.

If I could have lived in the rounded fullness of that golden afternoon forever, I would have done so. But…by degrees, something changed in her. Some test had been presented and failed, some disappointment sharpened her voice when she spoke to me.

A moment came and went, and came and went again. I kept my true self chained in the attic of my mind, starved for food and expression, consoled only by the presence of her.

Finally, she came out with it. “You don’t seem to take me seriously, at all! You don’t tell me anything important. How do you feel about things? About anything at all? Please…tell me anything that shows me that you’ve been listening to me during this thing we have.”

I hated to see her brought low that way—she was the Queen of my heart! Why wouldn’t my rebel tongue speak? How close I was to true happiness…she would know me, love all of me. She wouldn’t walk away like the others.

I opened my mouth and…it’s not important what was said. Suffice to say it was merest banality. I sounded like every stupid guy in the world.

And then she spoke and it was as though I’d swallowed Madame Bovery and Don Quixote whole and they were strangling me from the inside. A tsunami of words, held back by more words, and yet…nothing was right.Too late. I was too late.

So she turned and was gone after that night, and every night thereafter.

And I’m left here repeating all of these words, so many words, millions of words, knowing that when it mattered, I could say nothing at all.
For more crushes, go here.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Eight years ago today, Punkish Middle Sister gave birth to her third child, a long-awaited daughter.

I wish it had been just like that—the beginning of one story and the beginning of a life—being able to watch the baby, who I’ll call Princess Girl, grow and change and unfurl like velvet.

But it wasn’t.

No, my niece was born with several complications. Doctors shook their heads and looked grave, prepared us all for the worst. And for years, the worst is exactly what we seemed to get. We watched in impotent fear as she went in for tests, for open heart surgery as a baby. We watched as she failed to grow, failed to thrive. That’s what they ultimately diagnosed her with..."failure to thrive." They’ve never been able to ascertain what happened or didn’t happen during my sister’s pregnancy and labor that caused that.

It’s odd that I’ve never written about her here, considering that her birth and life are one of the cornerstones of my life. I suppose I’ve been afraid that I didn’t have the words to do her justice--I don't want to minimize what Punkish Middle Sister has suffered, nor do I want to ignore how much joy she's brought us. I wish I had the right words, the perfect words, the ones that will show her to you in all of her beauty and brattiness and joy. But I don’t, but it’s her birthday, and she’s on my mind, so here is my imperfect tribute.

Being forced to watch someone you love suffer, without a voice, without relief, changes you, twists you up. It can make you shut down, cold. Or it can help you open up, throbbing in tune with the pain of a thousand hearts.

For us, it’s done all of that.

Her open heart surgery was a risky, experimental move. She was tube fed and weak. Her heart was too large for her body, working too hard. Bruised. My sister called me at work when the date was decided, sobbing, afraid that this operation would kill Princess Girl. Afraid that NOT operating would do the same. Afraid that she would be unable to care for her two sons--at that time,they were about 5 and 2. I quit my job to help her. It was the best thing I ever did. We were all unsure about whether Princess Girl would survive her operation, and I knew, with that certainty born of extreme emotion, that I wanted to spend time with her while I could…whatever time she had left. I wanted to burrow deeper into the nexus of my sister’s life. I wanted to do what I could.

She survived that operation, and several others. But that mysterious illness has never released her from its grip. She is an infant in an eight year old’s body. She doesn’t speak. Doesn’t walk. Doesn’t seem to really understand. And perhaps she never will.

But I don’t want to concentrate on what she cannot do, because it is what she DOES that amazes us all. She lives, on and on, in defiance of what the doctors predicted for her. She laughs. She seems to know us.

She loves. Puppies and kittens and Boohbah and her parents and especially her older brothers. And I like to think she loves me, and TEG as well.

It’s fitting that she was born on Valentine’s Day—she’s forced us to look at the very nature of love, at how it can simply pour out of you, unbidden, just because someone exists.

I can’t help but lapse into clichés—she is a miracle. Not because she is perfect, or because she has made us so. But because loving her has expanded our family, brought us closer to a peace we never realized we needed. Perhaps it was the peace of faith--there was nothing we could do EXCEPT love her. No heroic accomplishments would impress her. There was no deal, no price we could meet to make her better. We had to accept her as she was.

I won't gloss over it. It's been difficult, frightening, discouraging. It's difficult to keep from mourning for what she could have been, might have been. And yet...we are wholly, humbly blessed to have her in our lives.

Hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, and that you are surrounded by the mysterious miracle of love.
P.S. I have been tagged, but I can't seem to think of six weird things about me lately. I suppose I am thoroughly boring. Hopefully I'll come up with something soon. :)


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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How do you solve a problem like Mardougrrl?

The hills are alive...with the sounds of low self-esteem...
For many years, I’ve avidly consumed self-help and self-improvement literature. Go ahead…name a book. Chances are, I’ve already read it, or it’s on my list of books to read.

Something about the books speaks to an essential optimism, to a belief that if I just get everything right, if I get everything just so, then I’ll be able to sally forth and join the human race, finally free of those nasty aspects of my personality. Truth be told, I’ve always been a little overly-proud of myself for being so concerned with all of my problems. It was proof that I was determined to live up to my full potential, and not live in unconscious mediocrity. Sure, I could read novels, go to movies, etc, but that wouldn’t really HELP me, would it? And so lately, it’s almost felt like a job, this slog through one self-help book after another. I tell myself that I am trying to make sure I “fix myself” before Madam is old enough to see me as a bad role model.

And yet…I am still a procrastinator. Still fearful. Still full of flaws and problems that never seem to go away.

Thus, I keep postponing my dreams, rationalizing that once I get rid of the fear, or the confusion, or the low self-esteem, I’ll be better equipped to DESERVE my dreams.

Well, I’m 33. How much longer am I going to wait? It occurs to me that these flaws are a part of me, but that focusing on them so intently has made me over-identify with them. I mean, am I a full person, or just an endless series of problems to be solved?

I know what it’s about, of course. It’s fascinating to see how many different ways fear can rule my life. In this case, it’s a fear that, without the books, I’ll relax into my flawed state, sink into a sort of catatonia, and stop pushing myself to go after my dreams. That I’ll sit in front of the television, concerned with nothing except the latest round of “American Idol” (and I don’t even LIKE American Idol!).

It’s a fear of giving up who I am.

But…while the books make me feel as though I am earnestly working towards my dreams, making lists and flowcharts, in reality, I can’t seem to translate any of the lessons into just LIVING—into attempting to find my creative tribe, into writing my books, into finding a way to incorporate beauty into my life. No, the books just seem to lead me to more books.

The thing is…I have learned a lot from these authors. They’ve inspired me, and, if nothing else, made me more aware of the many ways my treacherous monkey-mind can operate. But now it’s time to acknowledge what I have already learned and actually use the information, no matter how ineffective and wrong I still feel.

I am afraid to sully my dreams by attempting to reach them in my current imperfect, deeply flawed state. And I am afraid to make mistakes, to do it wrong, somehow, and put them out of my reach forever.

I am afraid.

But this relentless focus on my faults, on my lack, has drained me. The world is too fascinating, full of new books on Transcendentalists and India, and poetry, and art, and music, and Project Runway…it beckons me right out of my head. And that’s a welcome place to me, all of a sudden. I’m tired of trying to improve myself. My navel is just NOT that fascinating (except to Madam, but that's a whole different thing).

I am probably going to stay afraid. And a procrastinator. And probably continue to have low self-esteem.

But I’ve decided to accept all of that, and jump into the world with both feet anyway. After all, imperfect people are writing books, making movies, painting pictures, moving to Spain, learning ice dancing, dyeing their hair pink, and marrying their muse every day.

I think I’d like to join their number.


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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: So long to all that (Goodbye)

We all know them—those people who shed lives, careers, friends, loves, with a grace that recalls snakes dancing out of their skins. People who leave others with a bit of wistfulness, a bit of longing, but mostly a sense of being blessed to have been a part of this experience, even if its over now.

I am not one of these people.

It’s always been hard for me, saying goodbye, even to temp jobs I've hated. Perhaps because I always feel like I’m being left behind, so why speed up the inevitable? Friends I have loved, careers I was sure would fulfill me, cities where I thought I might live forever…until everything changes. Again. So I cling to them all, in my mind, shoving the memories into my overstuffed mental closet—trying to hold on to the smell of my first boyfriend’s hair after a rainstorm, the tingling in my belly as I walked out of a job interview in my wobbly high heels, the dizzying breathlessness as I stared out of the curved airplane window, watching California grow smaller and distorted.

It’s not that I can’t stand the idea of change. But I hate the idea that I need to LOSE anything in order for that change to take effect in my life. Yes, I could give away that long vintage dress that will probably never fit me again, but then will I also have to lose the girl who wore it, perusing used book tables in the Village, wearing daisies in her hair? If I lose her, what takes her place?

So I cling. I grasp. And yet, I continue to have to say goodbye. Goodbye to old selves, to lost freedom, stories that ended, to opportunities that have moseyed their way down the road and away from me. And none of my fearful clinging keeps those things at my side.

I wonder if some of my writing and life problems are the result of not being able to say goodbye to that ideal of the perfect novel that only lives in my head, to that ideal of the life full of elements which seemed wonderful at age 21 but now feel…wrong?

Not that my inability to say goodbye has brought me nothing but pain. I choose to stay committed to TEG everyday, even when it feels like we’re only moving through vapors of who we once were. I chose to stay alive during those dreadful days in college, when so much of me wanted simply to die. I choose to show up to the page, again, and again, in spite of feeling unworthy and devoid of thought or inspiration. I refuse to say goodbye to my oldest, deepest dream of being a writer, even when it feels that the dream has said adios to me.

But it strikes me that this fear of goodbye (bad-byes) betrays a fundamental distrust in the Universe, a belief that I had better hold on TIGHT, because I don’t deserve what I’ve got now, so who knows if I’ll be able to find something close to it in the future.

And I have proof that belief is not true. I have a gift that grows to fill the world. I have Madam.

I watch her now as her gait grows steady and sure, as her hands move purposefully towards what she wants. She is saying goodbye to her babyhood without a second glance, despite my longing to hold her back there for just a moment. Watching her with my love for her a physical thing, a pressure in my gut that shifts like the weight of love immobile. Every day, I am forced to learn and relearn how to say goodbye to her and hello to her crowing joyful newness.

Can I learn that about my life as well?
For more hellos about goodbyes, go here.


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