(no title) draft

She felt she had no plans, no thoughts; yet at some level, her mind and her body had taken action and catapulted her into this pool of stillness . . . She felt as if she were suspended between two worlds, belonging to neither.  —from Astrid & Veronika, by Linda Olsson


I do love how, in my life, the right book comes around at just the very right time (the one mentioned above was given to me by a dear friend). And the books, they are hardly ever big and important, as some might consider such categories. If I were to list a few . .  .

The Education of Little Tree, Forrest Carter

My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok

Assault on Eden: A Memoir, Virginia Stem Owens

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh

Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keefe, Laurie Lisle

Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset (trans. Tiina Nunnally)

I can’t and wouldn’t say that most of these books make my own favorite-of-all-time list (except maybe Little Tree—o wait, and Kristin Lavransdatter), but each has been vital to me as my person was shifting, recognizing, searching. Those times when life felt/feels too big or too hard or too lonely. When it seems as though I’m moving around, doing what needs to be done, but I’m doing it in a world filled with kinetic sand, up to my shoulders. I can still look around, but there’s a drag to every motion. A way of being in which every action is so very intentional.

Bet you can’t guess I’m in the midst of one of those times now.

I typically respond to my entry into this strange land in an intensely physical way. Let’s say I start weeding my flock of gardenias, azaleas, camellias, and roses. In 100 degree Alabama heat. For a week. Which I follow by multiple trips to Lowes for pine straw (let’s say twenty bales worth), which I spend the Labor Day weekend spreading. In short, I exhaust myself to the point of not being able to move, which is to say,

She sat
     still being
and not being afraid
     but afraid            some
of the same
     vast girl talking to
the gardenias.

Thankfully, errands and wilting azaleas and afterschool pick-up (as well as an infected toe) draw me back from the edge. I’ve only fallen in a few times over the course of a life. The important thing is not being so afraid that I deny the darkness is part of who I am.

“Fr. Sophrony, how can I be saved?” Fr. Sophrony offered him a cup of tea and after awhile replied, “Stay on the brink of despair, and when you cannot go on, step back and have a cup of tea.” (Mount Athos, the Sacred Bridge: The Spirituality of the Holy Mountain, Dimitri E. Conomos and Graham Speake)

Or step out into the hot Alabama sun and move the watering hose.

She was thinking about the book, about the continuous process of reshaping and reassembling all her ideas and plans. It was as if the book she had begun in another world, in another life, had been written by someone else. The words no longer had a connection with the person she had become. Here, there were no distractions other than those she carried within, and everything lay exposed. It was time to find new words.  —Linda Olsson, Astrid & Veronika



A few weeks ago on our way to “summer camp” (i.e. ESY summer school), Jonah was lamenting the lack of “talkings” in the book he had just written.

I find his books in various places throughout the house. Most consist of four to five pieces of computer paper stapled into a spine, cover and title finished, always with the attribution: “By Jonah. Illustrations by Jonah”. Sometimes a few pages of story have been written out in his scrawling—but improving—phonetically masterful spelling. I’ve collected more than half a dozen “Christmas Carol”s; most all other stories involve some kind of battle (the most recent spelling of which was “bido”—no clue). My favorite (cover) to date is an Up rendering with smiley-face-stamped-stick-men riding a balloon-hitched house to the sky.

Anyway, “talkings” are those comic strip type balloons filled with words. Of course! Talkings!

And so, to honor the goal I shared with my personal health coach Cora (our insurance company somehow roped me into a thirty minute phone conversation that led to enrolling me in a new preventative mental health program—all because I’ve been prescribed Celexa and may exhibit some symptoms of depression), I thought I’d share some interesting snippets from my morning New York Times readings.

O yes. My goal. It’s pretty half-ass, since I was mostly just trying to get off the phone: “Set aside time for myself for restoration.” Something like that. I’m sure I used about twenty words trying to describe what I meant, because I know the word restoration did not, just then, come to mind.

LAST night I dreamed about mercury — huge, shining globules of quicksilver rising and falling. Mercury is element number 80, and my dream is a reminder that on Tuesday, I will be 80 myself.  — Oliver Sack in Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)

My birthday is next week, and I love weird connections like this. Last night, my reoccurring dream of skipping half a semester of math and history classes revisited me. In an effort to remedy the situation without receiving a failing grade, I visited the math professor, who didn’t say a word about the work I had missed but just invited me to become her lunch buddy.

By the way, I read somewhere that the people who are most intellectually creative in later life are experimentalists rather than conceptualists. Some people start with a clear conception of what they want to do and then execute their plan. They tend to be most intellectually creative young. Others don’t start with clear conceptions, they just go through trial and error. They peak late. — David Brooks and Gail Collins in How to Be Old

Very, very encouraging. And finally:

Nothing seems more American than this forced choice between cynicism and naïve belief. Or rather, as Herman Melville put it in his 1857 novel “The Confidence Man,” it seems the choice is between being a fool (having to believe what one says) or being a knave (saying things one does not believe). For Melville, who was writing on the cusp of modern capitalism, the search for authenticity is a white whale.  — Simon Critchley in The Gospel According to ‘Me’

And with that, I’ll leave you with two examples of authenticity unfeigned, uncalculated and pretty damn near pure.

fli book[The Fly Book: Fiction]

cement mixer[Cement mixer design by John and G]

And then he was three

With age comes awareness. Okay, not always, but in the case of Gabriel Keats this maxim continues to prove true. It was tough, waiting until after Jonah came home from school to eat his cake (flourless chocolate o-my-gosh-delicious like the best Ding Dong minus the cream filling cupcakes you’ve ever tasted). Not to mention open his presents. We were on high alert and still didn’t see him swipe a couple of the chocolatey treats, even trying to light his own candles and singing himself Happy Birthday in the process. So yes, this year, G understood what “birthday” means.

flourless delightblockhead bogle

I was more, um, circumspect. No. I was flat out cranky. Won’t get into that now (or probably ever), but the last few days have been of the keeping-your-head-above-water sort. But in a good way, even a helpful way. Which is just to say (geesh, I use that phrase a lot—why don’t I just come out and say it already?), while I’ve been cranky, I haven’t gotten away from myself. Make sense? Embody the cranky, I say.

Quick side note. When Jonah knows I’m cranky, magical things happen. In part this is because he can’t stand to see me sad or in a bad mood. The slightest turn in my voice and the I love you moms start rolling. We get each other, J and I. We can inhabit the same emotional space: manically sad, prone to meltdown and tantrum. Depleted of nutrients or sleep, the ride is swift and debilitating. Sometimes, Jonah is the only one who can pull me out. “Would you like to talk mom? Would that make you feel better?” He’s said that. My autistic son has asked me that question; and when I responded, “No Jonah, I’m just too sad and mad to talk right now,” he said, “It’s okay. Wanna hear about my dreams last night?” Excuse me Simon Baron-Cohen, but you can stick your theories about autism and empathy where the sun don’t shine.

Enough about that. Gabriel is three. And so pleased was he with his wheelbarrow and his new red rubber boots (which nicely match his new red Blockheads). He flipped over his very own small (also rubber) knife. He was over the moon over his new trash truck. It’s the bomb. Three hatches that open. A front loading dumper, a back loading dumper and a dump the whole bed back option. It even has a handle you can (manually) crank to simulate an engine sound.

John: “That’s one bitchin’ trash truck!”
Gabriel: “It sure is!”

my own knifebitchin' trash truck

Thinking about the birth of the boys and the blessed fact they’re still alive and fairly well-adjusted is a good way to spend any day. I don’t want to make a habit of posting my poetry online, but I wrote this in the spring, and it seems appropriate to the day (which was actually Tuesday). An ode of sorts—to books and boys.

Happy Birthday G. Thanks for keeping me afloat J. Mama loves you.


Ode on Books and Boys

She turned
the page and thought
she heard above
the baby wake—the creak,
the rumble of sturdy baby-
weight shifting
the slats and bolted wood.

She stopped
the way a mother stops
who senses trouble: a child
troubled from sleep
by dreams or sickness, a woman
troubled to dread
the small hour be disturbed.

But silence prevailed, prevailed
until she turned the page
and hearing felt the tree that pulped
the paper of the book. Its creak
in a quiet wood, sun streams
throwing their straight arrows through
thatching limbs, hitting

their marks on the darkened floor.
The mulch came alive, sent
up a spark of shoot. The motes of
unseen traces moved the way
the boy moves: an atomic
beauty of disorder not so
much bouncing as rebounding from

every met resistance. She turned
again, and again rubbing
the paper between her fingers, feeling
the shifting trees, seeing
the boys among them scrambling
to the top. A script of muscle,
nerve and bone.