Tag Archives: gratitude

Soon the rain

SCARE: watching water drip from my study ceiling onto the router positioned on the floor. Drop. Drip. At first I thought the router was clicking. But, no.

The pipe that carries condensate from the attic furnace down to a well in the basement had frozen.GRATITUDE: K was NOT in Asia or Russia and knew just what to do. It appears to be fine now.

TRICK: to walk Finn and then write a chapter set in 1744 from the point of view of an enslaved mother. Meaning : to save reading the middle portion of the Fusion gPS transcript for later.

TO DO: find a company-worthy Miso Cod Chili recipe. Go for a glazed fish with bok choy on the side or a soup with soba or udon noodles, bok choy floating?

COMMENTS, please: what is your view on how and when posting to social media becomes a life force drain? Drop. Drip.

Can’t shake this interview in the literary journal, Rattle, with poet Maggie Nelson (that was the fourth book completed for #theunreadshelfproject last week).

Or put another way: how can you use social media in a manner that DOES (fairly consistently) engage the parts of your intellect (or creative process) that is most important to you?

I’m okay with it being a little hit or miss. And maybe I value your and my posts about French toast more than Nelson does.

So it’s about balance, then?

What ISN’T about balance?


Forms of distress

img_0781Ruin porn is a thing, you know. I learned the term after Season One of “True Detective” which was set in Louisiana and featured one ruined landscape after another. This post’s photos were taken at the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, SC. It’s a site dedicated to preservation rather than restoration, meaning a tour affords a gorgeous array of distressed surfaces. Evidence of life, sorrow, styles, labor, wealth, oppression, and the passage of time are made plain on every surface. I love history speaking this way. I find the peeling paint, scraped up wall paper, splintered wood, and decaying furnishings so evocative. I know it would make you swoon, too.

But here’s the thing: distress of the soul does not enamor me. It most certainly does not make me swoon. It is NOT where I want to start, thank you very much Pema Chodron.

After a morning of being told how unsympathetic I am, hearing my sister’s reports of ongoing (possibly life threatening?) diarrhea, and making multiple calls to arrange the dissembling of one hospital bed and the delivery of another (there is such a long and fraught story there), I’m on to ordering sheets and mattress covers and protectors, with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I just want that feeling to go away.

And then, there’s how the dog lunged at people this weekend! It’s discouraging, hard not to blame myself, or feel a stab of self-pity — (“Couldn’t I have gotten ONE easy dependent,” goes the whine). I’m watching Cesar Milan and adopting his interventions but worry they won’t work because I lack inner calm and confidence. (“My dog makes ME anxious not the other way around!” goes the defense). Finn’s distress might be partly physical, too — oh how he itches lately! He’s always been allergic, but that too has worsened. So far efforts to identify an allergen have failed.

Writing’s hard and sometimes (truthfully — OFTEN) I just hate it. Love it. Hate it.

There’s a new house renovation four doors up the street, meaning the summer of ’17 now rolls into its ninth or tenth week of jack hammering. On Friday I just couldn’t take it anymore and fled the house as if my pants were on fire. Writing in a coffee shop turned out to be a good thing, but still…

Then there’s the absence of compensatory external rewards, like you know, a paycheck or communicative children.

Image result for monty python it could always be worse

from “The Holy Grail”

I DO KNOW it could be worse, because it could always be worse. (Think: Monty Python’s crucified characters singing: “always look on the bright side of life!”).

For instance, I just read about a father who traveled to Texas last week with his family so his son could have brain surgery. The parents were stranded at the hotel, unable to visit their hospitalized boy on account of the flooding. The poor man said, “It’s bad enough that my son has to have brain surgery without also having to deal with a hurricane.”

So yeah. I have a lot to be grateful for. Today? The sun, the cool air, the time to write, the financial support to write, a stocked fridge, noise-cancelling headphones, tons of state-sponsored care for my sister, an upcoming trip to see Son #2, the coming of fall, friends, ice cream.

Ta-da! What’s on your gratitude or complaint list today?

Accidental beauty

Accidental Beauty

Look at the clipped grasses! The curb with its
divets. Tell me, could the ribbons of tar
shining in the midday sun be
any more gorgeous?

I’m waiting
for the light to turn, for the grey
hulk of hospital to leave the rearview —
waiting for the return of things
or the start of them, or even the

Impatience is a surly thief!

And, shopping, a deficient religion.
I should have known better.
By the time I arrive,
the capris of summer are picked over.

Meanwhile, my sister’s heart flutters
in uncertain alarm and children
dead from cholera in Yemen pile up,
200, 300.
Somehow, I’m alive and shopping for pants.

In the swanky interior, the clack of my sandals
on the polished geometry stirs
sorrow. How it is these days.
“This is it,” my shoes percuss. “This is it.”

Going one place to another, you are never
anywhere but here.

Impatience acts the rude interloper
while uncertainty takes you to your knees.

Later, but not much, I slap my notebook
on the shiny ebon surface of a grand piano
and pull a pen out of my hair. One of
two. There, in the sunlit atrium, a prop of luxury
holds my weight. To one side, the familiar
bronze statue of girl and dog and to the other,
an absence I can’t get used to even though
the beloved fountain’s been gone for years.

(All those pennies tossed and wishes made
two little tow-heads at my side —
where are they now — pennies, wishes, and
boys turned brown-haired men?)

Regret followed far enough
takes you to love.

The Tiffany’s clerk paces
behind jewel-filled cases, not sure
what to make of a woman writing in fury
in the middle of the morning, in the middle of
the atrium and where did
that notebook come from anyway?

the ribbons of tar, the cement divets
polished geometry, regret,

Oh tissue first, silver medallion next and finally,
the tasteful grey bag. The clerk chirps
“Have a good day of shopping,” even as
my ribs smolder about to combust, one hour
being thirty minutes too long.

How much time do we have? Ever?

Tick. Tick. Swipe. Delete.

How much time do we have
to be kind, to be kind,
to preserve the republic?

Fairness gone amok in every quarter
makes a girl want to cry —
even a girl who never cries.
No wonder the ordinary sound
of sandals clacking on
polished tile calls out, “Wake up!
This is it!” rattling up a
ferocious grief twinned
with gratitude.

“These are no ordinary times.” Say.
Repeat. Do nothing. The acts
held in reserve depend on gross
miscalculations of risk — as if we
have time and time and more time?

Tick. Tick. Delete. Swipe.

Regret followed far enough
leads to damnation.

Would the clerk in Tiffany’s understand
why a woman wails in the bathroom
corridor given our collective failure
or would she choose not to hear?

You lean your frantic frame against the
silent instrument, hoping to leave
behind more than the echoes of impatience
or a sweaty hand print that the cleaners
will have to buff off later.

Let me be kind. Let me speak up. Let
me pause long enough
to give thanks.

Regret expressed deeply enough always
turns into prayer.

The ribbons of tar, the polished geometry,
vanished pools and children, wishes
gathered and held in regions unknown.


Gratitude and drinking enough water 

 If I don’t make little check marks on my calendar, I don’t drink enough water. It’s that simple. (Half your body weight in ounces is what they recommend).   With that habit well in hand, can I apply the same method to much more demanding process of writing? I’ve even found a mother lode of stickers from when the boys were little. I’m going to give myself hearts, smiley faces, and stars for effort. Don’t we all need encouragement?

 And because gratitude is a habit too, one which wiser people than I have asserted can pave the road to happiness, I am (at last) keeping a gratitude journal faithfully (well for 11 days, anyway!). It is a five year journal and this is the fifth year. There are a lot of neglected weeks with blank entry after blank entry posing a kind of recrimination.

So, I’ve pulled out a couple of old calendars so I can backfill, which is to say, to be grateful in retrospect. Who says gratitude is bound by linear time, anyway? This will also offer the chance to be grateful for things that happened in the intervals.

For instance, this time last year I was dreading doing my sister’s tax return, a chore that was necessitated by successfully getting the government to discharge her student loans. The IRS treats discharged loans as income. So in effect, we got rid of one debt and created another. It would require a special approach to her return. Dread. But that’s behind me now, and I am so, so grateful.

Today I am grateful for sunshine and cold, brisk air after a rainy and grey Sunday. For a long walk with Finn and a friend this morning. I am grateful for Finn’s company as we revert back to the empty nest. I am grateful that two new books (one on S. Carolina during the proprietorship years and one on Yoruban religion) are supposed to arrive today. I am grateful for those of you out there who will actually take the time to read this entry!

gratitude and slavery

“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it would be enough.”   
Meister Eckhart.

IMG_9153That shell and that driftwood came from Sullivan’s Island, SC. On the beach, which oddly reminded me very much of Martha’s Vineyard, I could look out to the east, knowing that Africa lay beyond the horizon. I wondered how many ‘recent slave imports’ did exactly that. I wondered what mix of bewilderment, rage, defeat, and sadness they might have felt. I acknowledged how little idea they had of what lay ahead.

Sullivan’s Island is where slaves coming into the port of Charleston were quarantined for a few weeks before being taken to the auction block. During the very busy slave importation years of  the late 18th century, yellow fever, malaria, and small pox repeatedly and vengefully swept through the Lowlands.  Any slave sick enough to die within the quarantine period was allowed to do so.  It is heartrending to learn that a ten percent loss of cargo (read: African life) was deemed an acceptable margin in the slave trading business.
sullivan-islandWith the obvious aim of fattening them up for sale, the Africans were fed better during quarantine than at any time during the Middle Passage. They were groomed, oiled, and if plagued by dysentery (but not sick enough to die), plugged up temporarily with whittled corn cobs. If punished, they were paddled rather than whipped, for welts on the back signaled a wayward, unmanageable African, and would reduce his value on the block. There are reports of the sailors miming monkeys scratching their underarms to get the Africans to wash themselves. There isn’t much you can read about this island’s history without feeling sick.

There is no memorial.  Toni Morrison saw to changing that. See images of the Memorial Bench here.  [Update: just learned on a website called African American Charleston that in 1999, “On July 3, a 6-foot historical marker is placed on Sullivan’s Island near Fort Moultrie to honor those enslaved Africans who arrived in bondage via Charleston Harbor.”

Right before I went to SC, I heard a sliver of coverage about how much slaves contributed to the building of the ivy league schools in the Northeast. Maybe it was a review of the following book by Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery, & the Troubled History of America’s Universities:

Many of America’s revered colleges and universities—from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and UNC—were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the savages of North America, and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities, dependent on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained them.

[from the Amazon page selling his book].


renovated slave shack, Magnolia Plantation

So — for the beautiful quads that populate this neck of the woods, with their stone edifices, filigreed ironworks, brick walkways, and carved doors: thank you slaves. Thank you.

It sounds lame to read this back. But how much MORE lame would it be never to say ‘thank you’. I am deciding to trust Meister Eckhart on this one.

tidying up and gratitude

Sometimes expressing gratitude is a way to tidy up.  It needs doing. And the doing then clears the way for the next thing — surprisingly like the act of straightening the dining room up before a meal, although, since the giving-of-thanks has its own rewards, it is also like the meal! Here are two sources of my gratitude today.

First, as promised, more photos of the beautiful quilt by Saskia.
IMG_7571 IMG_7573I adore those red knots. I love the transparency of the piece and how the ‘back’ comes through to the ‘front’ — something Saskia has been playing with for quite some time. The moons and subtle gradations of color and beautifully placed stitches give off an air of mystery and order, both. Behind the quilt, just past our side fence, grows a majestic copper beech.
IMG_7789 IMG_7795I like how the blue trunk shape on the cloth echoes the real tree growing behind it.
IMG_7523This completely unprompted gift “Indian dyers” and their indigo pots was given to me by a well-traveled friend. It came from somewhere in the Gullah region of South Carolina (which, by the way, makes puzzle at the title ‘Indian’ — I would have assumed the figures to be slave descendants?). I absolutely love it! Thank you, Claire! I will be visiting the very region in less than a month. Cannot wait.

Jack’s gifts to me — One

atop-graveMany thanks to the kind readers
from all over the world
who took the time to stop here and offer their condolences.

I mean it. The outpouring truly has meant a lot to me, partly because it would no matter what, and partly because this has been an unusually solitary week with K. in China and the boys running in and out (mostly out).


added to “River House” quilt last week

Tending the grave? Wishing for heaven? The passing of my parents did not produce these responses. But Jack’s death has. I suppose this difference is further testament to the kind of love we feel for our pets. I haven’t wanted there to be a heaven since I was in my “pious phase” (that was second grade, during which time I fervently wanted to be a nun — mostly for the rosary beads and gilt-edged missals, I’ll admit — clearly, another story). This week, though, I was cottoning to the idea of eventually reuniting with our dog. Of being the recipient of his ‘help across’. I found myself uttering the cliche farewell, “See you on the other side, sweet Jack!”

There will be a number of posts about the gifts Jack has given me, but I’ll end here with one of the most immediate ones — lying under the catalpa tree this week, with my spine resting on the earth and my face oriented skyward, my heart softened as I watched the late summer sun move through the catalpa branches. Illuminating the undersides of its giant leaves. Glaring across the picket fence. Then disappearing. The acknowledgement that I still reside in this sensual world — this achingly beautiful world — while he does not, made me sad. But the fact that I was pausing to notice such beauty, and was marveling with fewer defenses than usual at how fleeting it all is, were things I could thank Jack for. And I did.