Actually, They Can Take Anything Away From Me

December 1, 2012 § 1 Comment


Charles is in Montauk today, shooting a music video, a jazz concert. Not much money in it, but he’s making a start and working with excellent musicians, people he greatly admires.

So I’m alone, which I haven’t been for a whole day in quite some time.

It’s a lovely feeling. Don’t mistake me—I wouldn’t want him to move out. Our marriage is slowly knitting together, the feeling of two-ness seeping into my bones. Passion has been and gone, but all the other things people talk about when they talk about intimacy are skittishly blossoming. I like to observe his attachment to the cats, which is far more intense than mine. He tracks their eating and sleeping, broods over their fights. He talks to them a lot, as I do. That’s a problem when I’m in the other room and say, “Honey, what do you…” He thinks I’m talking to Fitzroy, even though I never call Fitzroy “Honey.” I call him You Handsome Thing, Mountain Lion Puss, Big Pig Cat, Bad Kitty.

The whole point of being a couple is to have a human you can call Honey or Sugar. Though I do reserve Sugarlump for Mouchette. That’s just what she is.

He laughs at the bad temper that erupts when I’m frustrated or not feeling well. He warns my cats that they might love me best, but I’m the one with the monster inside, the one entertaining desires to fling the whining beasts across the room. Cats are such splendid foils. To do that with kids would be seriously fucked-up, but cats? You can assign them any role you please.

He’s very good at spending no money, eating beans and peanut butter if don’t cook a meal, but when I rebel against our budget, he doesn’t object. We go to a local joint for music and a glass of wine, or go to hear poetry.

If I fall into a slough of despond and he finds me crying he urges me to talk. What I say hurts (as he knows it will), so when I’ve said my piece, he talks. I don’t want to hear it, I want to keep talking about me—obsession can tell the same story over and over—but his story distracts and calms me. I ask questions; I climb up the cerebral tree and make analytic pronouncements; I start feeling that thank-god-I’m-smart-they-can’t-take-that-away-from-me feeling, which is a threadbare shield but a necessary one. He picks up the wadded-up tissues, makes me a cup of tea, and Fitzroy wanders back in—cats desert you when you cry—and I plunge my tender brain into a book.

We both cook dinner, or not. We argue over where to put things, and I let him rearrange the dishes, the scissors, the scotch tape, because at this point, who cares? It’s only when I’m angry to start with that I get testy, but now I can apologize and he’s not upset anyway. His Margaret baseline includes snapping and kicking. A huge change from the 80’s and 90’s, when I believed my anger at him was all his fault (and so did he) and he was cowed and hurt by it. We tried but couldn’t really talk. And then his anger came out, and it wasn’t pretty. Living apart ten years makes a considerable difference. And his loyalty shines in the darkness.

But what I started to say is, I love my periods of solitude. I feel bigger inside. I feel like there’s more time in the day. I want to do things. I’m the me nobody knows and that one has fingers in every memory and is able to love the world like a saint. (Anyone can, for a few minutes.) Solitude without loneliness is precious and versatile. It flips you from loving the world like a saint to seeing the world as your canvas, every experience your paint. Your brush strokes are effortless.

Something about Charles tamps me down. It would happen with anyone—not exactly the same thing, but some unshakable influence. I used to think Philip would give me pep and drive. But I never reached a point where I wholly trusted him, so mostly what he gave me was excitement, brief hours of contentment, fear. I have no doubt that living with him would inhibit me drastically. That’s the reality, as much as the missed smile, eyelashes, etc.

It’s much easier to think about all of this when I’m alone. It’s much easier to contemplate writing the whole experience, the long marriage and the other guy, probably in short pieces. I’m having dozens of ideas but this isn’t the place for them. This is the place where I say I’m happy it’s winter. I need to shop, walk around the park, then make a hamburger casserole with black beans and yellow peppers, and a sweet potato pie. Most of all I need to remember that if you write, a failure is never a failure. It’s all gold. (OK, not quite. It’s gold-ish. You have to hew to the love of the word–or the music–because everything else dies.)

The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Jack Gilbert

Cats’ Christmas

December 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Charles is arriving tomorrow, staying through New Year’s, and we have a number of social events and outings planned. So I won’t be deprived of festivities this season. But I’ve been alone, no work or social events, since last weekend and it’s been not exactly unpleasant— but solitude, even a gentle solitude, as it piles up has a certain devastating quality, the scent of annihilation.

It’s made me think about Christmases in my mother’s house when I was in my early 20’s. My stepchildren were still children, and adorable ones at that, sweet but not overly good; you could always count on the boys to find the BB guns, play with matches or spy on the adults’ bedrooms, and the girls to do things I still don’t know about because girls are sneakier. My mother was a vibrant and sexy Santa Claus/hostess, and for a while my sister brought home a new man every year, which made for a bit of drama. I liked it all: my sweetheart, his children, my mother’s and sister’s romances. I relished everything to do with love, including jealousy, secrets, fights and tears. I wasn’t afraid of love! What an innocent! And there was nothing worse. There was no hatred or real grief, no illness or poverty in our immediate circle, no political nightmares. Carter was President. Congress wasn’t synonymous with Remedial Evil in Hell. I believed in my glorious future. The Atlantic Ocean was right outside the door.

Outside my door now is a carpet cleaned daily but still pregnant with odors of interest to the cats. I only let them out after midnight, but they’re not good with time and clamor for adventure in the afternoon. “Non, mon cheres!’ I say. “Vous sont tres petite et peur.” In the wee hours we take a stroll together past all the locked doors, the felines walking with exaggerated care, looking around like actors in a silent movie. They stop to sniff every threshold, while I speak softly in my cat-mommy voice, about which I feel no shame, because I know that animals, like babies, respond greatly to the tone of voice adults think of as silly and sugary. They don’t even mind my French. Perhaps animals respond even more than babies. Dogs certainly do; cats are just a little less likely to show their gratitude with fresh slobber. But they do show it. If you want to know true intimacy with a cat, live in an apartment and spend most of your days and nights alone.

Is it worth it? That’s not the right question. My isolation has never been as simple as a choice, although it’s also a choice. Free will, as they say, may be a lie, but we disbelieve in it to our peril. There are compensations, though, for the lack of human hubbub. My cats never complain about my habits. When my moods disturb them they say so simply rather than uttering pieties about how I need help, or threatening to leave. They never leave. And they’re beautiful and smell like chocolate.

When I am in the Kitchen

I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend’s
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt’s sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit
the silverware of my husband’s grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother’s
teapot, my mother’s Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law’s Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin’s egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father’s hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, “sift and mix dry ingredients”
with his note that this makes “3 waffles in our
large pan” and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.

–Jean Marie Beaumont

4 A.M.

March 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Me at 9 or 10

At 4 a.m. I was thinking about my childhood bedroom. It had pink walls, white bookshelves, and a gold rug. Now I remember the gold rug—at 4 a.m., I just remembered “gold” and was thinking “gold trim?”, “golden brown furniture?” though I knew those were not right. And maybe the gold rug is wrong too, but it will do for now. The colors hold the child self that is still here, intact.

I was alone a lot in childhood, but especially alone when I woke up at night. I never knew what time it was, only that I had been asleep for hours and the house was quiet.  I would turn on the light and be Margaret, an activity. I pushed my seeing deep into the back of my brain, a darkly vivid place that was like a magic castle, with rooms neverending. I thought it should be a forest, but it was a house—I imagined that when I was older I would push further and find the forest. I investigated left and right: where thoughts came from and where they went. I painted my consciousness over and over myself, layers like the glaze on pottery.

I’ve spent my life trying to unveil myself, to lovers and friends, to the world in writing. Intimacy has always mattered more than money or success. And yet in therapy there was a moment when my therapist was saying that he didn’t think we’d make more progress until I was ready to let him in entirely. I said, “But I will never let anyone in entirely. It’s out of the question.” I felt then the presence of the child in her pink and gold room and knew she was me and I her, still, and it didn’t seem wrong.

He was shocked at the finality of my words. He said that, if such were the case, therapy wouldn’t work. I replied that I doubted anyone ever let a therapist in entirely; they just believed or pretended they did. We argued this a little, but it was a pointless argument.

The child keeps painting herself on the walls. She’s profoundly lonely yet balanced in the dark. I’ve given up trying to force the container. Once, when I was still in therapy, I battered my defenses down until my ego, that bundled nub of self, slid off its pedestal. I was a flickering spark in a maelstrom of unconnected images, my mind churning and thumping like an overstuffed washing machine. The dislocation, loss of control, the feeling of being tossed around like a dirty sock was terrifying beyond words; I had just enough me left to note that this must be what psychosis was like, or more simply: this must be psychosis.

I was lucky; I’d been investigating altered states for years and had some scraps of advice. I looked at my hands. I looked at the fingers, the thumbs, the raised greenish veins and knobby knuckles; then I looked at my arms and legs, their contours, bumps and freckles; I sank into my body’s posture and aches. Gradually the churning lessened and my ego anchored. The images retreated to their ordinary ocean, lapping my island self.

I know I didn’t try to open myself properly. I know there are ways—yearas of meditation, etc—to do it more safely. But love, therapy and memoir- writing were my big gambles. The child doesn’t want to try anymore. She thinks adulthood is a mug’s game.

(In the poem below, the indentations are where the line continues…obvious in some poems, annoying in this one with its short lines. WordPress is hard to work in, sometimes. I can’t conrol the text.)

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death,
  but these Society shall be
Compared with that profounder
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself—
  Finite Infinity.

Emily Dickinson

Jewelry Daze

November 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

Zebra Jasper , Peruvian Opal and Pink Sponge Coral Necklace

Lost in jewelry making. My sister is having a party for me at her house, and I don’t have enough stock so I am making earrings and bracelets day and night, while the cats climb on the windowsill to watch, and complain at my focus, and I barely get outside, and the rest of the world dissolves like smoke.

A river of beads an inch deep in my cardboard box riverbed (the crutches came in this box; it’s just the right size) with clasps, earring parts and crimp beads lost in the bright clutter; the tools half hidden the cats chewing on string and jewelry wire. I’m feeling alternately stressed at my self-imposed quotas and lost in the endlessness of it, making one thing after another like the junked-out deity we unspooled from those millions of years ago.

These past several days have been like the seasons when I’d spend weeks alone in Wallkill. The whole city is here around me, but I don’t see it. I hear my neighbor in the hall, catch snatches of conversation, nod to the doormen on the way out, watch the flow of people traffic on the streets: it’s all backdrop.  I talk on the phone, feed the cats. I miss the old 12th floor gang.

If it were the old days, I’d wander down to Annie’s when I got lonely. Philip would come over or take me to dinner. Now I’m solitary: my friends are all just a little too far away, emotionally, for me to feel part of anything. I keep thinking of whom to see, dinners, coffee dates, and they’re all good: but they don’t add up. That’s my fault: what I’ve unraveled.

This happened slowly, one thing after another. Charles moving out, then being so wrapped up in Philip, the perpetual drama. Hard to believe that’s coming to an end: at least the particular drama we were part of. What will happen next is unclear.

It’s strange when all of a sudden a packet of years closes off and you realize: that’s the past now. What was the present for a long time—changing, moving forward, but still somehow all the same present—is gone: there was a bridge, a bend in the road, a jump, a cut-off.

So here I am in the new time, and solitude feels okay. I’ve gotten used to it.  I have a lot of  work. I have to make necklaces, bracelets and earrings. And edit a man’s book. And then, soon, I hope, my own again.

Passion for Solitude

by Cesare Pavese

I’m eating a little supper by the bright window.
The room’s already dark, the sky’s starting to turn.
Outside my door, the quiet roads lead,
after a short walk, to open fields.
I’m eating, watching the sky—who knows
how many women are eating now. My body is calm:
labor dulls all the senses, and dulls women too.
Outside, after supper, the stars will come out to touch
the wide plain of the earth. The stars are alive,
but not worth these cherries, which I’m eating alone.
I look at the sky, know that lights already are shining
among rust-red roofs, noises of people beneath them.
A gulp of my drink, and my body can taste the life
of plants and of rivers. It feels detached from things.
A small dose of silence suffices, and everything’s still,
in its true place, just like my body is still.
All things become islands before my senses,
which accept them as a matter of course: a murmur of silence.
All things in this darkness—I can know all of them,
just as I know that blood flows in my veins.
The plain is a great flowing of water through plants,
a supper of all things. Each plant, and each stone,
lives motionlessly. I hear my food feeding my veins
with each living thing that this plain provides.
The night doesn’t matter. The square patch of sky
whispers all the loud noises to me, and a small star
struggles in emptiness, far from all foods,
from all houses, alien. It isn’t enough for itself,
it needs too many companions. Here in the dark, alone,
my body is calm, it feels it’s in charge.

Translated by Geoffrey Brock

Smiles of a Summer Night

July 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

Denniston, Big Woods Bent Trillium and Trout Lily, IMG_0190(picture has nothing to do with post, except I’d like to be here)

I went out looking for the full moon and found it in the usual place, although the sky can be harder to see in Manhattan than I would like. Tonight it was the trees in the park obscuring my vision, so I cleverly found a spot where I could see the moon clearly, magic rolling off it like the daydreams roll off my tongue (backwards).

There were lots of people, in groups and alone, sitting on the rim of the fountain and on the stone benches. The cool summer air, strangers and moonlight plus streetlights gave it the feel of both crowded stage and lively forest, or maybe a lively forest on Shakespeare’s stage.

I was remembering how when I berate myself for all the failures of my life I have to admit that it wasn’t only depression and fear that stole opportunity but books and nights and this kind of solitary joy that wants as much time as it can get, that scorns society and appointments. I’ve had more than my share of this sweetness, though never enough.

I’m back now (in case the typing didn’t give it away) and sleek little Mouchette is lying beside my desk, a new step in our careful courtship of each other. We’re taking it slowly because the orange lordling gets so jealous, chasing and biting her when I show her favor, and because she’s naturally cautious, and because I give The One so much love I get somewhat cat-bored before it’s her turn. But she’s a kitty who knows how to play alone.

As do I. I’ve been alone since Friday. It becomes narcotic after awhile. Especially with cats and the city and the Internet—sending Charles pictures from my iphone, browsing Facebook—and knowing that if I want to, I can turn on the TV and find Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin, Obama and the Russians, Iranian and Chinese dissidents…

No. I’m not doing that tonight. The cats are starting crazy time: it’s near the stroke of midnight. I like to lie in bed and feel like a benevolent witch as they thunder through the apartment, pounding over my body as if it were furniture, just as my stepchildren did many years ago (though the kids were better at not sinking a foot into my belly).

I used to always make wishes under the full moon, and sometimes they came true, as will happen if you wish 12 times a year for gifts life is profligate with in any case. Tonight I asked for joy in myself and what wildness I can find, inside and out:  to be, just a little, like Artemis, Mistress of Animals, virgin goddess of the hunt.

TempleOfArtemisTemple of Artemis, Ephesus

Innerspace, or The Death of Romance.

January 7, 2009 § 2 Comments

LonelinessI’ve been sick with a bad cold for almost two weeks, alone the last several days except for a brief lovely visit from Andree, my writer-singer friend who’s back from a year in China and having trouble with her inner ear. Doctors know nothing about the inner ear, it seems. I felt like asking if she’d inserted anything Chinese into her ear—considering their unfortunate tendency to substitute ingredients—but that sounded rather crude, so I just said something vague about “Chinese…” and she knew what I meant. But she’s been in the states two months so probably not. I’ve heard a lot of tall tales and mostly see through them but one I believed into my thirties was that earwigs were a kind of insect that, if allowed to crawl in your ear, would eat its way through to the other side. If you’ve ever seen what moths do to cashmere sweaters, and mice to manuscripts of unpublished novels, you’d understand why this seemed perfectly feasible.

Anyway, in this solitude of being ill and being home, I’m starting to freeze up like someone who’s been in bed too long, though I haven’t in fact been bedridden. I need to write and not be distracted so I’m not looking for company quite yet. But I feel the lack of it and am aware of the weight of it throughout my life, too many years of solitude all day. At first it was glorious not to go to school, to write in the mornings and walk in the afternoons, to shop and cook dinner for my husband. Once we moved to the city and he got a regular job, I often had coffee in the afternoon with friends, other writers or freelancers or stay-at-home mothers: there used to be so many of those. All of that was fine as far as it went; still, I felt understimulated and unsatisfied. But because I experienced my shyness as a deformity and was afraid of how anxiety destroyed the calm I needed to work, I avoided the distractions and novelty I craved, and so have ended up truly deformed, at least to my inner sight . What I’ve always focused on is a) the terrifying excitement of other people, the god and goddesses among us whom I wanted and hated and was blinded by, and b) the value of solitude, the power to endure and shape it. I forgot to think about c) the ordinary growth of the mind in the presence of the new; the curious bits and pieces that adhere through association; byways and second cousins and lucky chances. I don’t mean I never thought about these things or knew what they meant—put them in a novel and I’d immediately get restless, hungry for the book and the neighborhood at once—simply that I didn’t give them enough weight. It was like counting pennies. It was like counting pennies and thinking about how pretty they are, how their color makes them special, and they’ve spawned so many good words and phrases, ‘ha’penny’ ‘penny candy’, ‘penny for your thoughts’, yet still thinking: you’re wasting your time. Pennies. All of this is sex, how it dominated everything, diverting all interest in people and projects into tests of value and desirability, the old Dead Daddy story grinding away in my semi-conscious. My friend Annie talks about coming home from school in the afternoon to find her mother drunk, in her expensive negligee, lying on the couch listening to the same record over and over. (They had records then. You had to lift up the needle at beginning and end. If you weren’t careful, people yelled at you—though if you were a drunk ex-runway model alone in a Park Avenue apartment except for a maid and a kid, probably not.) She doesn’t remember what record it was, or maybe it’s that I don’t remember what she told me. I do know that I had to dance to a certain tune until the needle snapped, until the musicians died, until whatever it was happened that allowed me to put the old opera back on the shelf, where it still babbles foreign love songs in a wordy drool but I don’t have to listen.

What happened was I met someone who played the same tune, but not quite, I crawled into his brain and made my nest, and since he’s sentimental the idea of ‘nest’ arrested him. More and more I heard his music, and when it was entirely him, it wasn’t a magic opera anymore, it wasn’t the past. It was just a man and a woman or I should say, two men and two women, or three women—or however many women there are now between my husband and boyfriend, I don’t ask—what I mean is, it became a farce.

No, it’s been a farce for quite a few years now. I just took off the funny glasses, let myself cruise into ‘relationship’ territory. Stripped of Romance, lonely again, I started a blog, joined Facebook—which I know is not face-time, but still. Grownups and schedules are like giant vitamins, the kind my husband always claimed would stick in his throat and kill him.

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