The Snow Man

February 2, 2009 at 10:08 pm (Uncategorized)

I think about Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man” all winter, every winter. Now that it’s Candlemas I can really see the light waxing, and we are truly in the home stretch for the end of winter. Today I watched “Groundhog Day,” as I do every February 2, because it’s one of my favorite movies ever. I love that by the end of the film Phil changes his mind about winter and decides he can’t imagine any fate more wonderful than a long and lustrous winter. 

I wish I could at least be phlegmatic about winter. I suppose I’m getting better about it in that I no longer take the weather personally. I’m not entirely convinced that winter must exist just to piss me off. Who knows? Maybe I’ll come to enjoy it, eventually.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter 
To regard the frost and the boughs 
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time 
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, 
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind, 
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land 
Full of the same wind 
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow, 
And, nothing himself, beholds 
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

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I Just Want to Celebrate

January 21, 2009 at 2:57 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was a little girl, my parents would leave me in charge of my two younger sisters. “If they do something bad, you’re the one that’s going to be in trouble.” they said.

Years later, it’s hard to ditch the habit of feeling responsible for the “little ones,” who are both in their thirties. Being a big sister has had a profound influence on every aspect of my life, both personal and professional. I’ve brought the exact brand of tough love and loyalty to the copy editors I’ve mentored on the job, and I’m glad Rod has two sisters. Having sisters has been a positive experience, on the whole.

Last night I found out that the youngest, who is for all intents and purposes my baby, is depressed to the point of suicide. She and I have had many talks about this issue. Our mother has suffered with bouts of clinical depression throughout our lives. So have I. So have all the women in our family.

Last year seemed to be almost entirely subsumed in my own swamping depression, and the climbing out of it. I told my sister last week when I spoke to her that I have little sympathy for people who are depressed and won’t trouble to help themselves, and that is because when I get depressed I use all the resources available to me to lift it. 

I know that I’m atypical in this. Most people get so down that they can’t summon the energy to reach out for help.

If I can, I’d like to write about what helps me stay out of the mire. People don’t like reading memoirs about depression unless they are written by famous people. And anyway, what can I say to my sister, or to anyone, that hasn’t been said a million times?

Read Pema Chodron’s _When Things Fall Apart._ Get physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual exercise. Don’t isolate. Listen to music. Participate in ritual that processes whatever grief you can’t let go of. Grief will sicken and kill you unless it is respected and dealt with.

All very easy to say, but not at all simple advice to follow. Look in the mirror. What do you see? We are all predators. Animals that have their eyes placed in the way humans do evolved that way to efficiently catch prey. That predator/prey relationship is in you, in that hideous little voice that tells you you’re shit and don’t deserve to live. You can dial it down, but it never entirely goes away. And we all have it.

So why do some people follow that mocking voice into the abyss, while others are able to ignore it most of the time? For many people, happiness is a muscle that must be strengthened. I know it’s so for me. I have to practice every day saying yes to myself in little ways, and listening to the instincts that are trying to point me into the life that will sustain me, rather than the life I think I ought to have.

I used to be very ambitious for a glittering career. After the last bout of depression, my priorities entirely shifted. Now I just want to be really alive.

What I’ve discovered is that I’m much more animal than I thought. I’ve been so Athena oriented toward arts and culture and civilization that I’ve forgotten the Artemis side of my nature, the one who doesn’t need to be bathed or clothed, fed sumptuously, plied with books. This is the self who is happiest grubbing around making stuff. Meals. Crochet projects. Poems. A solitary animal, elated to be unobserved and free.

I’ve told my sister all this, ad nauseum. It’s so sad that I can’t lead by example. I don’t know what else to do for her.

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I like narrative poetry. Yeah, I said it!

January 11, 2009 at 3:07 am (Uncategorized)

One of the embarrassing things about freelancing is how out of step I am with the rest of society, especially sartorially. I have a tendency to think that I’m dressed up just because I’m, you know, *dressed*, and not in my robe. I went to a poetry reading today in a floral thermal shirt and a pair of cords and chucks, the uniform of the teenaged stoner, and sat next to row after row of sumptuously attired New Yorkers in furry boots, wool tights, and spiffy dresses, feeling like a chubby lumberjack.

I learned a new word today: ekphrastic. An ekphrastic poem is a poem that is based on or inspired by a painting.

The reading celebrated the inaugural book in my friends’ new poetry press. These are poets I love dearly, and whose work I find consistently engaging and challenging…but I didn’t get most of the poems in this book, which were all inspired by paintings. They seemed like the poetic equivalent of performance art, which puts a frame around a certain randomness of experience and, boxing it in that way, calls it art. Which to me seems cheating and not particularly artful, because the “art” in that case depends entirely on others’ observation. Which is physics–when an object behaves differently under observation than it normally would if it were unobserved.

The reading was interesting mostly in the way that it clarified my ideas about narrative poetry. The poets were most decidedly not writing narrative poems. In fact, only one poet addressed the challenge of how to tell a story while jettisoning traditional narrative elements. 

One poet went so far as to say that what she was doing was creating an “evocative language.” She said the goal of her poems was to “evoke something without attaching meaning to it.”

Okay, I might have a plodding Capricorn mind, devoid of the suppleness that allows much negative capability, but if you are conscious and possessed of five (in my case, six) senses, isn’t *all* experience evocative? And isn’t your response governed by something intrinsic and internal to you, rather than based on externals? So where is the necessity to order and create specific language or imagery to evoke something? 

You see a pigeon on the street and it evokes a response. That is not poetry. That is an image and an event existing by itself in space time.

I am addicted to stories of all kinds. I use stories as medicine, spellcraft, entertainment, palliatives, catalysts. Most of the gospels are parables, people! And that’s not accidental. We learn through stories. I require stories because they show relationships, because they depend on cause and effect, because they show risk and consequence, because they illuminate identity over time–the time element in particular highlights the ineffable qualities of identity, or else shows transcendence. The narrative is a chemical interaction.

Now, it needn’t be beginning, middle, end, and done. Fractured narratives work just as well as traditional ones. Even a lyric poem, in which the event is an intense emotional moment, or a persona poem, in which the event of the poem is the donning of a mask, inhabiting the cavern of the self–these all have some elements of narrative.

The paintings I like best either have story embedded in them or are so purely visual that I’m not sure they can be translated via the word. For example, I love those modern art canvases you see in doctors’ offices, in which the painting is a white canvas with a big red dot on it. That’s eye candy.

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Sweeney Update

January 9, 2009 at 4:59 pm (Uncategorized)

 

 

Sweeney Sporting the Sweater Kenwyn Knitted for Him

Sweeney Sporting the Sweater Kenwyn Knitted for Him

It’s bittersweet watching Sweeney grow big and strong enough that he can now easily vault himself onto the couch while holding a squeaky toy in his mouth. I understand why people keep having children–or getting new puppies. There’s something seductive in someone needing you so much that the sun rises and sets in your face.

 

Since he’s been here, we’ve taught him not to chew on pant legs, my robe, the rug, the couch, and the handles of the kitchen cabinets. Still working on zippers, shoelaces, and tasty molding with stalactites of paint just jutting out and waiting for a nibble.

 It’s fascinating watching someone grow up and experience everything for the first time. How he can pay rapt attention to an empty yogurt container skittering on the tiled kitchen floor, gauging how it moves, smells, tastes.

 

He hasn’t finished his vaccinations yet, so he’s still in solitary for at least the next two weeks. He can’t take walks outside, and he can’t play with other dogs. Which means that by three in the afternoon he’s like a friggin’ lunatic with boredom, no matter how many romps we have and no matter how many games I invent. I think I may not be as smart as my dog, because his zest for play has outstripped my ability to reinvent the same environment and the same toys. I understand why people buy twenty toys. We have twelve, and he’s dead bored of all of them. We hide them and bring them back into circulation every few days, so they’ll seem new. Yesterday I amused him with a cotton drawstring bag.

 That said, he’s a capable little fellow and invents his own challenges. He’s improved on a simple game of fetch by playing hide-and-seek with the toys; he stuffs them under the couch and then goes crazy trying to get them out again. I think it’s amazing that he’s just shy of three months old and has already learned the ‘sit’ command. We’re still working on coming to us when we call him, though. He obeys that one when he wants to.

 

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Puppy New Year

January 6, 2009 at 6:14 pm (Uncategorized)

Sweeney, Jay, and Rudolph

I’ve never seen anyone so excited by a squeaky, plush reindeer. And I’m  not talking about the human in this pic. 

 

Sweeney and Sweater

Sweeney and Sweater

Here’s the dog sporting the sweater Kenwyn knitted for him.

I’m so excited that our friends visit us in Brooklyn. Rod and I were nervous that, when we moved, no one would come out to Kensington. That’s turning out to be an ungrounded fear, for which I’m deeply grateful.

People keep asking me whether I’ve made any New Year’s resolutions. I don’t remember when I stopped doing that; maybe a few years ago. I’m so goal-oriented anyway that the turn of the year is just another blip on the screen of neverending achievements–unless I decide that the sort of reckoning that other people only do a few times a year will happen every day. Which it does.

I’d like to inhabit my life, cultivate happiness, cherish my loved ones, celebrate beauty, challenge myself, remain in balance. Banish despair once and for all.

One of the most positive parts about having a puppy in the house is how he’s encouraging me to let go of the beauty myth. A puppy doesn’t care what you look like. He cares about who you are.

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Yay!

December 30, 2008 at 1:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Yesterday’s post reminded me of one of my favorite moments in _Morgan’s Passing_, a novel by Anne Tyler. The protagonist, Morgan, is on vacation, and suddenly gets overcome with “one of those damp little moments of gloom that come and go. they mean nothing.”

I forgot to mention, in all my neurotic ravings, the unparalleled sensual joy of napping with a soft, wriggly, lovely puppy. I’ve only ever owned cats before, so I’ve never before experienced the concentrated love beams that come from a dog’s eyes when he’s looking at you adoringly while curled up in your lap and licking your fingers.

Add to that the beautiful unit we make when all three of us are snuggling on the couch at night, in our new apartment, and I have perfect contentment. I love writing and editing from home, and I’ll bend all my efforts to getting such work.

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Ugh

December 29, 2008 at 6:39 pm (Uncategorized)

The combination of raising a puppy and my childhood being exhumed on facebook is starting to FREAK ME OUT. Especially since the holidays and my birthday just passed. I’m really really sad this morning, but I don’t know why. I just know thinking about my childhood makes me cry.

I’ve blocked out most of my childhood. I can’t believe how many good memories people have from grade school. Watching the puppy grow up is so terrific, I wish I could remember being young, when everything was brand new, and wondrous. Seeing a forest for the first time, or smelling the ocean.

It should be perfectly obvious to anyone reading the chronicles of my raising Sweeney that I am absolutely too neurotic to raise human children. Let’s just hope I don’t emotionally scar the dog.

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Thank the Gods It’s Over

December 28, 2008 at 7:48 pm (Uncategorized)

Christmas Day at my sister-in-law’s house was VERY STRESSFUL. I’m so glad it’s over. 

The drive to Morrisville wasn’t too bad, but the drive home was harder because traffic. The hard part was being in a new house with twenty people and trying to keep on the dog’s feeding/potty/sleep schedule. I think he was a little champ, considering. He continues to be sweet tempered, for the most part, except for teething which makes him chew everything.

Nevertheless, I richly enjoyed my birthday the next day, during which I got to sit on the couch and read William Gibson’s _Count Zero_ and then play with the puppy, capping off the evening by ordering in Thai and snuggling with husband and pup.

Rod got me a pair of fuzzy tarantula slippers; they are the best things ever. The dog thinks they’re an amusement park ride.

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Sweeney Slept Through the Night!

December 24, 2008 at 2:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Last night Sweeney slept (or else quietly amused himself) through the night and didn’t wake us up at 4:00 in the morning. Only his fourth night in our apartment and already he’s settling in! I wonder if this is an anomaly, or the start of a new trend?

I’ve decided to wean myself off the dog-parenting manuals because they’re making me crazy. Must develop my instincts instead.

When we went to the library yesterday, an elderly woman began cooing at him in his little Sherpa bag. She engaged me in conversation about her beloved dog, who’d passed on twenty years ago already–the memory enough to bring the tears to her eyes.

“You learn a lot about yourself when you have a dog,” she said.

“I know,” I said, “that’s why I wanted one.”

Sweeney almost bit Rod’s nipples off today, though, tugging at the nipple rings.

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Not the Dog Whisperer but the Dog Mutterer

December 23, 2008 at 10:49 pm (Uncategorized)

I can’t imagine ever having children. For a long time I hesitated about getting a dog, because I’m such an overachiever and a perfectionist that I’m afraid I’m going to mess up some poor puppy’s life. I’m sick to my stomach with fear that I’m doing this all wrong.

Here are some of my puppy concerns:

What if he won’t ever stop gnawing on my clothing, which ultimately means he’s the boss of me?

What if I’ve scarred him for life by taking him for a 20-minute walk in 30-degree weather without putting a doggie sweater on him?

What if we’re doing the ear medicine wrong and the ear mites and yeast infection never go away?

Is it bad that he chews the newspaper on the bottom of his pen? Bites the outside of his crate?

Should I give him a new toy every day, as one puppy book suggested, or should I do as the Dog Whisperer advises and keep the toys to a minimum?

Am I stunting his growth by limiting his toys? What if his neurons don’t fire because he’s permanently bored and then he’ll be permanently dim?

Will I spoil him by giving him more toys? Keeping him out of the pen more?

I’m keeping loosely to the house-training schedule advised by the Monks of New Skete in the Art of Raising a Puppy book, which advocates letting him out of the pen for limited bouts of play and exercise, but keeping him penned for at least two hours at a time.

The woman at the pet store told me the Dog Whisperer and the Monks of New Skete are sadists and that I should listen to Ian Dunbar’s dog advice.

Too many cooks in the kitchen of my head.

And what does my instinct say? That everything’s fine. That he’s at that age where he’s learning dominance and submission games, and he’s testing his limits, and it’s normal.

The last time I played with him this afternoon, he sniffed my butt like I was another dog. I think he thinks I’m his littermate and Rod is the alpha dog. Figures. Everyone likes Rod better.

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