In the Bleak Midwinter

February 14, 2015 § 2 Comments


“What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”
–In the Bleak Midwinter, Christina Rossetti

On the days I don’t write, I’ll blog. That’s the discipline, which I have not been following, but the scalding boredom of illness and my tap-dancing dreams makes me think I have to try harder. It’s Valentine’s Day. I remember February 14th four decades ago: I was a lonely college freshman, recently broken up with my first college boyfriend, living in a rental apartment with my friend Ellen.

Charles, my landlord, was downstairs, with his daughters, six and two, sleeping in the living room (their old bedrooms were now mine and Ellen’s rooms). His divorcing wife lived elsewhere with the boys. Charles had a crush on me: my kilt, combat boots, big Mexican sweater with the cigarette burn on the sleeve, round glasses. I had barely noticed him. I paid more attention to the six-year-old who visited nearly every day and kept me company with her nonstop chatter. But he came back from visiting (breaking up with) a girlfriend in New York and he looked different. He’d cut his straggly hair. He had a certain swagger. I became aware that he was possible—and not all THAT old. He was thirty. I was seventeen.

I seduced him. Even now, I stick to that story. I may not have known I what I was doing in the larger sense—certainly not that I was setting out on a lifetime cruise, that the children would grow up and have children and I’d still know them, that love as the answer to a problem or a question or a dream would be abandoned in rage, while love as what accepts and endures would calmly sail on—

No, I knew none of that, but I knew what I was doing. I’d slept and fooled around with a number of boys: in the wet Vermont woods, on the beach in Mykonos, at a funeral in Long Island, in a threesome with my cousin. I’d read everything from Gone with the Wind to Justine. I knew men were simple creatures in bed, though infinitely mysterious and frightening out of it. I liked making them tremble. Pleasure was my weapon and I wielded it with confidence.

Love is something else. I’ve only ever loved two men, discounting countless infatuations. The early excitement fades. The feeling that you are discovering the meaning of life—I refer to the kind of meaning that lifts you above the unending confusion of the everyday—disappears. You pay the price for not knowing how to handle conflict, which nobody does. You pay the price for secrets and lies. You regret.

I’ve been a dumbass for love and, yes, I regret it. There may be a book or ten in it, but I don’t care about that so much anymore. I learned the makeup of my humanity and have been humbled but not yet made wise. Grudge is my constant companion.

That was the one that got away. My therapist refers this event as my great piece of luck. I can’t really argue. Sanity has its grays, but more madness is not the answer.

And the other? He brings me soup, cleans the kitty litter, entertains me when I am sick at 3 am, and will not, does not know how to, ease my loneliness with make believe. You see that? Lies/make believe. One is nasty; one is nice. They are the same creature. I chased after that creature until it bit my head off.

I don’t really understand anything. Maybe you noticed that already. I would like to say something simple about love; for example, that’s its wonderful, sustaining, infinite, the pulse of the world. But others have said that. I need to find the courage to try again to say whatever it is I really know.

I dreamed last night that my novel (one that doesn’t actually exist, making fun of hostile men) was rejected by a British publisher, causing me to have a tantrum— but it was a snarky, lively book and, leafing through it, I found I was happy to have it home. Then I was buying china with a French country tulip pattern, a gift for Dick Cheney. I was a little embarrassed to be his friend. The salesmen at the china counter insisted that Cheney’s views on torture were his own business and no reason for anyone to criticize him. He loves art, they said. Music and art; he’s a big fan. He can’t make it himself but is passionate about those who do.

I was confused again. Dreams aren’t always clearer. Father issues ribboned through the air. Happy Valentine’s Day.



She goes out to hang the windchime

in her nightie and her work boots.

It’s six-thirty in the morning

and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest

tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,

windchime in her left hand,

hammer in her right, the nail

gripped tight between her teeth

but nothing happens next because

she’s trying to figure out

how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,

coffee in her hand, asleep,

when she heard it—the wind blowing

through the sound the windchime

wasn’t making

because it wasn’t there.

No one, including me, especially anymore believes

till death do us part,

but I can see what I would miss in leaving—

the way her ankles go into the work boots

as she stands upon the ice chest;

the problem scrunched into her forehead;

the little kissable mouth

with the nail in it.

In My Dreams

February 13, 2015 § 2 Comments


I’ve been sick now for almost seven weeks, two nasty viruses separated by a ruptured appendix necessitating surgery and several days in the hospital. Now depression comes, drawing from all the things that generally make me unhappy (difficulties with writing, sex, money, age) but especially this weakness, this inability to do anything to counter the narrative of disability.

Except for my dreams. They have been my safety net: complex, marvelous, not all good but rich and variegated as a shelf of world’s greatest fiction, the well-thumbed paperbacks of Bellow, Marquez, Dickens. I don’t mean I have had dreams like books by those authors—the first to come to mind—not at all really. My dreams have been decidedly realist, American and female, yet blessedly not me, even when known villains from my life make an appearance. The romances, the adventures, the conversations: none of it has the drag of my neuroses and preconceptions, my obsessive and boring attempt to tell the same story over again because I can never find the place where it bursts into magic, purifies with fire, and announces my transfiguration.

In my dreams, the magic is there, fully functioning and insouciant. It creates and sustains without effort; it has the hard brightness of a young genius giving a cocktail party in her Oxford rooms (cleaned by elderly, nameless people). She is someone from whom the veins of madness have been painstakingly removed, leaving more room for air and light.

I have been happy in my dreams and aware of it. I have opened doors in my chest for the books to come out, and they emerged arm in arm like English speaking animals, Noah’s ark elites. I have attended a Cathedral fair that was like a donor’s opening at the Metropolitan Museum, if the Metropolitan was also a consortium of linked living castles in France.

My dreams are my refuge from a same-same dirty and too-small apartment, the foul sweetness of take out food, clients’ questions about when the work will be done—the work that is not my work, that will pay bills I didn’t budget for this year, leaving the debt intact—from the stinky kitty litter, buckets of used Kleenex, rust-stained bathtub, Facebook chatter (my new book! My kid! The republicans! More snow! Three dead…) and husband’s relentless guitar practice—my dreams have a thousand pages, no copy writing errors, I can flirt and sing, and all the characters make sense.

Come inside, they whisper. There’s plenty of room. Be like Fitzroy and Mouchette—sleep eighteen hours. The real world is a heartbreak machine.

 So I write this, doing my best to dream awake.

Where Am I?

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