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BEING THE ADVENTURES OF A SEMI-NOMADIC POLYMATH ARTIST, MUSICIAN & WRITER
WANDERING THESE UNITED STATES IN AN ONGOING QUEST FOR PERFECT MOMENTS

 

Essays, poems, and collected ruminations are being collated and compiled in a parallel journal at Dragoncave. I never know what I'm going to write about next, so if you desire to keep up with what I'm writing and thinking about, you really need to read both journals. Some overlap may occur without prior warning; sorry about that.

Remember that everything happens in the present moment, right here, right now, and that nothing lingers.

This is only a record of changes.

 




740. 31 December 2007, Beloit, WI

I got a call from the Alzheimer’s home that Mom had fallen again, rolling out of her bed this time. I went over as soon as I got the message, and she looked terrible; her face was bruised, her lips dry and cut. She was uncomfortable and unhappy, and fighting everything. I was able to soothe her briefly, but then she pushed me away too. This was all in the public room. She’d been sitting in a chair there, so they could watch her.

I’m pretty upset myself. This has just been a great fucking holiday season, between Dad not being here, my own illness, the problems with the house, and now Mom maybe dying from new problems. Even if she recovers from this bout of illness, she’ll be changed. The difference is shocking.

It’s just one more thing I can’t deal with.

And I’m in pain today, and not feeling well. Like my own recovery’s been set back, and dealt a blow, by all this. Just a miserable day and night.

Happy Fucking New Year.






739. 30 December 2007, Beloit, WI

My dreams last night were full of art and architecture; beautiful gnarled trees surrounding a group of vacation bungalows; tree branches leaning out over the road, half-concealing the buildings; knocking on one of the bungalow doors to ask if we could see the building inside, and being invited in; just don’t touch the food; the kitchen room overlooking the road, behind it the living room space, with brick walls and fireplace, decorative brick work; under a covered walkway, a bedroom as a separate building behind the living area.

Yesterday Mom came home from the hospital, back to Harbor House. After I spoke to the doctor about it, I was upset, because there’s only so much they can do for Mom; the diabetes is not under control, and may not be, depending on what she’ll accept for treatment.



The day is white on white on white. There are black lines like graphic-pen drawings within the total whiteness of the land and sky, which are the same exact shade of white. The trees are like drawings on a sheet of white paper, no depth, no difference of tone.

Very briefly, as I was driving home in the late afternoon, the clouds thinned to the west, and took on a gold hue—the first color in the sky in several days—and the sun’s disk briefly shone through. Now I am back in this amazing snowglobe neighborhood, covered in white, white on white on white. Simply one of the most astounding winter vistas I’ve ever seen here.

The storm gave us at least 8 inches locally, with 7 inches the official amount in the area. We had more than the other end of town, though.

And now at sunset the snow is gently falling again. I have been living inside Robert Frost’s poem: Whose woods these are I think I know. . . Almost all the photos I’ve taken in the past three days, during and after the big storm, could have been illustrations for that poem.






738. Song Without Words, 28 December 2007, WI

Optional soundtrack: Winter Stillness    
     Arthur Durkee, Chapman Stick































737. 28 December 2007, Beloit, WI

Continuous hard snow all day today, wet and heavy, up to 6 or 8 inches here by day’s end. I went out into it all day long, to do errands, mail some packages, and do the grocery shopping. I also took the cameras and did a lot of photography and some video. I think I got some beautiful shots today, maybe the best winter photos I’ve ever gotten here. It was thick and heavy with falling snow till after sunset, and every time I stopped to shoot, I was pleased with the result. Now I’m pretty tired out, and need to spend the rest of the night doing nothing physical; maybe some writing and light organizing. I want to get the living spaces as uncluttered as possible. I have a big fire going in the fireplace, and I’ll make some kind of dinner later. Right now, I’m downloading and looking at all the photos, and so far I’m very pleased with the day’s photographing.

When I went out into the back yard for more photo and video shoots, after I got home not long before sunset, the trees and bushes were so heavily laden with wet snow that they looked like they might break and fall. An occasional light breeze came through, knocking huge bolts of snow off the branches. At one moment, I though I saw a flash of blue light, like what happens when a power transformer blows, but the power is still on in my neighborhood, so maybe it was nothing. I shot video of the river and the trees, snow falling in the foreground and middleground of every shot. Constant motion, constant beauty.






736. 26 December 2007, Beloit, WI

Everybody’s been trying to tell me to take care of myself, and I really want to do that, and it feels like events are conspiring to prevent me, to sabotage my every attempt.

Today I got a phone call and my mom is in the hospital emergency room after falling in her room at the Alzheimer’s home; they found a serious urinary tract infection and I guess she’s also now diabetic (they are connected), and will be in the hospital on antibiotics for at least a day, maybe more. She now has the mind of a scared two year old, and was screaming as though they were going to kill her when they tried to take x-rays, or do a shot, or draw blood, or clean her up. It was all pretty horrific to listen to, and I’m so wiped out tonight, after spending all afternoon and evening with her in the ER, that I can’t go in tomorrow. I really do have to take care of myself, and if I can monitor by phone, rather than have to go in, so much the better. They’ll call me if they really need to, if it’s urgent. But even if I feel some residual guilt, I really do have to care for myself now, first and foremost.



Later:

how do you reconcile holiday grace
with every attempt to take care of oneself
being thwarted by events—
coming home from spending all day
the day after Christmas
in hospital with one’s mother
who is non compos mentis
suddenly physically ill and maybe dying—
crashing out on the sofa for hours
because you’re sick yourself
and freshly exhausted by events
instead being able to rest and recuperate

I am not able to pray anymore
I accept that the power of prayer coming from other people
may work whether or not I believe in it
and right now, I don’t believe in it






735. 25 December 2007, Beloit, WI

after an afternoon
of food and laughter
at the neighbors’
I stand in the driveway
and watch the clouds at sunset
turn pink beyond the trees

I made the gravy for the turkey dinner
and two key lime pies, my specialties
among others

very welcomed, and keeping me laughing and talking
now I watch the sunset in silence
feeling contentedly empty and full both at once

soon I’ll get up and make a fire
in a minute
the light fades to blue
clouds white on pale blue-white



Later:

And one two-hour nap in front of the fireplace later, waking up to the logs breaking and bursting into higher flames, casting dramatic shadows everywhere, I’m ready for a cup of tea and the continuation of my quest to do nothing more today. I’ll get right on that. Maybe a DVD, but that’s not doing anything, really, that’s just sitting back and enjoying the music.








734. 24 December 2007, Beloit, WI

It’s a quiet night here. I am playing music of the season, my favorites over the past many years. Which means English choral music, and things like Loreena McKennitt’s a winter garden.

I’m thinking about death, and loss, and absences tonight. I have a roaring fire going in the fireplace. Earlier today I went out to do some last grocery shopping, and ended up also doing some light gift shopping; things that are small but funny, that will tickle the fancy of their recipients.



The full moon is rising through the trees. Yes: a Christmas full moon. The neighbor’s trees are all brightly lit and shining. I had no energy to do a tree this year, or to decorate much at all. But tonight I have lit a dozen or more candles, in celebration and remembrance. I have put an array of candles out on the porch, like luminaria, to light the way for the good spirits when they come visiting with gifts. I am enjoying the subdued light in and outside the house.

I am feeling monastic. How would a monk celebrate Christmas, anyway: with chant, with song, with contemplative prayer in his cell, meditating on the nativity that leads to the torture and death on the cross, how it’s all intertwined and resonates all ways across time.

I want to think about gratitudes, and similar things. I intend to turn off all the lights, at some point, and just sit in the firelit dark, and think. Maybe a cup of hot cocoa with a little scotch in it, to warm the soul.





Later:

I just went out and took photos of the rising full moon in the trees over the house, and the Christmas tree lit up in the neighbor’s house, with the moon showing through the trees over it. Mars is also in the sky, near the moon. Then I went down to the river and shot the moon’s light in the water, reflecting silver everywhere. I shot some video of that, too. In time exposures, the water’s movement smoothes out and becomes glasslike, crystalline, like fresh snow on a flat field.

It was cold out, but I put on my heavy wool coat, and stayed mostly warm. I am undecided about going out tonight, to a Christmas midnight church service. I think I probably will not. I am finding listening to music in the candlelit house to be soothing, even if I am also feeling waves of emotion come over me at times.





Later:

I went to the church service after all. I needed to be with people. I came late, having forgotten that services start earlier than they used to. But I got there during the sermon, and took communion, and talked to people afterwards. Surprised to see me, thought I’d be in Amsterdam, so I fill the in with the news. Many sympathetic thoughts.

I keep bursting into minor tears tonight. Not trying to stop it, just letting it flow. Crying during the candlelight singing of Silent Night, at the end of the service. I’ve been crying all day long, at times. I talked to Dad in the car on the drive home, telling him how much I really miss him. I can still feel his presence at times. The other day, I was doing something that would have made him laugh, and I could feel him laughing at me, nearby. And I said out loud, not without affection, yeah, yeah, old man; I hear you.

I am listening to quiet music again, and baking key lime pies for tomorrow. I am at the end of my energy for the day; I’m ready for bed, or at least to sit and do nothing. I’ve been pushing myself hard all day long, to get many errands done; making pies is the last of the day’s tasks, and I got almost all of the To Do list done. Only one or two items will have to wait till after Xmas. Tomorrow I plan to do as little as possible. I am doing laundry tonight, though, because I need to wash all my clothes. I can put that out to dry, though, and be done with it till the morrow.

It’s clouded over, after that spectacular moonrise. The town feels subdued. I don’t mind being alone with my thoughts, my silences, my prayers; yet I am lonely, too. So, I’m glad I went to the church service after all; it was the right thing to do, and I felt less lonely. Now, though, I’m so tired I could weep from just being tired. I pushed too hard today, I know; on the plus side, though, I got more done than I expected, and I think my energy level was a little better than it’s been for many weeks. Reminder to self: don’t overdo it, and collapse. Tempting, but just don’t.

December has been a month of storms: snow, sleet, fog, freezing fog, high winds, snow flurries, heavy snow, ice, snow on top of ice, freezing rain, all of it. Like a full winter condensed into a month. It’s been dramatic, and beautiful, as well as deadly. The power went out for one morning, after the freezing rain, which knocked out power all over the Midwest, in some areas much worse than here.






733. 23 December 2007, Beloit, WI

Yesterday it was cloudy and rainy, wet and bone-invading cold, and in the upper 40s. Today it’s bright and sunny, in the lower teens, and the wind is blowing hard and fast. Snow flurries are everywhere, blowing like talcum dust across the road.

I nearly froze in the harsh wind in the bright Chicago morning, waiting for the El train to come to the station, to take me back out to the airport, where I could catch the bus back home. I had time to kill before the next bus, and had a small meal, then sat for awhile. I don’t know why people keep coming up to me, a total stranger, to talk to me, but they do; it happened several times. When I got on the bus, everyone was tense and hurried, wanting to get home, fresh off the planes from parts of the country where it’s warm and sunny. The wind was so hard that it rocked the bus several times, sitting there loading up.

The drive was pretty intense, the wind making us skate all over the road all the time. I’m glad I wasn’t driving today. I managed to nap a bit. When we pulled in to South Beloit, I almost ran, my hands freezing for the third time today, to the car, threw my bags in, and ran home to turn up the house heat and build a fire. Later, I made a meal, and then I baked sugar cookies. I need to bake a couple of pies, too, to give to people as Xmas gifts.

I have designed and printed out my Xmas cards for the year, although I don’t know if I’ll get them in the mail tomorrow, or in the days after Xmas. They feature a photo of the river behind the house that I took a couple of weeks ago, the banks covered with silver snow reflecting in the cold, black water. I have other gifts to mail off, and I may not get those done till after Xmas, too. I just can’t do everything, every day. It takes time to get it all together, and I feel so unfocused most of the time. I’ve never been this unfocused in my adult life, and it’s hard to be patient with it, although I’m doing my best to just do one thing at a time.

Here's the version of this year's Xmas card that I have emailed out to some other friends:








732. 23 December 2007, Chicago, WI

It was good party last night. I made it through, although I checked out once or twice because I was tired and overstimulated.

This morning, having slept on the studio floor last night in a warm bundle of quilts and pillows, I just recorded some short winter solstice piano improvs. I’ll edit them and post them later. It gives me something creative to do.

The creative somethings to do are what I am going to continually rely on, now, to keep me going.






731. 22 December 2007, Chicago, IL

A quiet moment before the flurry. I took the bus and train down here today, so I could attend the annual Xmas party at the studio; since I’m not going to Holland after all, it’s good to be hanging out with friends, colleagues, and other artists. This is a good idea, and not having to drive either way means it’s easy to do, and doesn’t kill me with exhaustion.

The past several days have been very foggy. Winter fogs are always strange: the white land and the white sky disappear into each other. This morning, it’s warmer, but so foggy that visibility was near zero. It’s not as foggy here in Chicago, but overcast. I believe it will snow tonight and tomorrow, both here and back home.

I’m going to bus back up sometime tomorrow. Tonight should be fun, these studio parties usually are lots of fun. Later in the week, I might come down to Chicago again, to see other friends who will be in town for a few days; we’ll see how my energy level is, from day to day.

I went to the doctor again yesterday, and it was encouraging, overall. There are always potentially scary things to talk about, but he thinks that for now I’m doing well and beginning to go into remission. The low energy level is the last thing to go away, though; which I already knew. There’s no specific diet for this IBD chronic illness, but it’s a good idea to avoid things that are known to irritate me. Certain foods, yes; one is tempted to say, certain people, as well.

Before I got out of my warm blankets this morning, I lay for awhile, thinking about everything. I realized that this might not, after all, be the initial onset of this illness. There was that mysterious debilitating illness that suddenly came over me back in May 1994, when I was at Short Mountain in Tennessee. It seemed to come on after a sweat lodge, and what was usually the work of minutes to be able to climb back up the hill from the sweatlodge area to camp became a torturous, exhausting endurance trial. Loading up camp a few days later was also incredibly hard, and even walking around the trails on the land was exhausting. I remember that I felt like it was taking me three times as long to get anything done, because I had to stop and rest so often.

I remember going to see the doctor after I got back to Wisconsin, thinking that it must be something like Lyme’s disease, or a toxic insect bite, or something else, and they did extensive bloodwork, but found nothing. Looking back, I had these same symptoms that I am having now, but I never knew about IBD/UC back then. It’s also possible that there have been a few flare-ups in between; I remember some episodes of prior bleeding, now, but they all went away on their own, and not having any more medical insurance back then than I do now, I breathed a sigh of relief and got back to life. So, in fact, this may be the first diagnosis of this illness, but it may not in fact be the initial episode; in fact, I’m pretty sure at the moment that it’s not.

I am feeling better today, and a little more calm, too. It’s the not-knowing that can be so stressful. The limbo of anxiety in the face of an unknown dire fate. (How the samurai could be calm in the face of imminent death is something I comprehend; but this nebulous uncertain existential angst, which is far more prevalent in Kafka than in Japanese literature: that is much harder to cope with.) And the basement hasn’t flooded in several days. I looked out the window at 9am yesterday morning, and the City of Beloit Public Works trucks were gathered around the sewer out on the street, poking around to see if they couldn’t fix the problem. Wait and see is all I can do.

It’s been a reminder, though, that hope as a state of assumed being remains toxic for me. Hope only sets me up for angst, disappointment, and stress. It is better, for me, to live a day to day, present moment life that doesn’t think much about the future, or have hope for things to be other than exactly as they are. Because is a kind of expectation, often a toxic one because it can be rosy without remembering the shadows. It’s better for me to not dwell on how things could be, as opposed to how they are. Hopeless acceptance is a far better balance-point for me, in general, and now in specific to my new state of being, this new life, this recovery, this changed state of being. So mote it be.






730. 18 December 2007, Beloit WI

No time for the holidays this year. I’ve been too busy with my own survival, losing my mind to fears about my own survival, with all that there has been to do. I’ve not decorated for the holidays, or only minimally, and had no strength or interest in a Christmas tree. In clearing out more of the basement, this past week, since S. has been here to help with that, I’ve made three full-car runs to Goodwill, carting off mostly Christmas stuff that just isn’t interesting or any good, for me, but which someone else might enjoy. Recycling for the holidays.

I’m not very interested in the usual celebrations. Something quiet appeals to me, especially now that I cannot travel for awhile. Suddenly I have a lot of free time to fill, and I’m filling it with art-making, as much as I can.



We’ve been sitting at the table the past two nights, making art, having fun, learning new things. Coloring books are great because they allow you to explore and learn techniques without having to deal with subject matter.

Meanwhile, the basement looks better, even though it keeps flooding, and no one seems able to fix the problem. Do I have to keep enduring this? and for how long till it gets fixed for real?








729. 14 December 2007, Beloit WI

a shaman’s critique of pure poetry

they don’t shapeshift enough. becoming something other. than themselves.
they don’t take the world’s shapes, become the world. beasts. radiance. allness.
they spend too much time in their heads. they invent instead of report.
they try to make the world conform to the shapes of their words, rather than words to world.
they play with their toys, their tools, their ways of spinning their voices.
they don’t spend enough time voiceless, obscure, half-buried in else. just seeing.

instead. invite. steadfast becoming. something other than.
arches filled with sand skin abraded half-buried skin red and raw eyes closed open arch
fill waterwave enter slosh through vessel channel avenue drown bury in sand scrape raw rocks tan

other. besides.

chest sunk in sandstone breathing with calcified seas anemones tendrils awhirl skipjack leap
lungs of giant trilobites before disappear ear to the slate stone chimes

going to step outside skin take on form of skin outside stone take on stone skin form take on
to green algae rockgripping coat close shales to slab of ancient seafloor spreading veined serpentine
black peridotite alchemically greened by intrusive seawater slip into the rock cracks
spread hands arms naked self sex breath into rock transformed green life white arterial intrusion

and back to self. and breath out. and back to worldself. and breath. back to self.
spirit self beside into other. interweaving of stone skin bone brain shale sex oceanwet blood.
ocean water the alchemical same electrolyte balance as blood. we circulate remnant oceans. within.

sentinels.

begin with losing the self. carry nothing extra. no thoughtbaggages. no wrinkles. in time.
less to loss self lose to losing self lost left unlost unfettered left behind no wake
astrolabe of the sea. pine overlooking wet cliff. bathed bright. heron's eye. raven dreamstone.

come back to center and extent.

returned self opening eyes. blaze of sun wind wave breeze glare off sea.
opening eyes caked with dried. salt sea taste of blood sweat seawater.

and only then to make a poem.






728. 12 December 2007, Beloit WI

I am struggling hard today to not dwell on the darkness.

Okay, so I’m going to be confined at home for awhile, as I recover my strength. I talked to the nurse today, and she said I am not anemic, according to the blood test. But she also said that, when we do start to get this UC managed, my energy and strength will be the last thing to return. It truly takes it out of you.

So I am not going to go Amsterdam for the holidays. I’m probably not going to be able to go much of anywhere. I can use the rest, truly. (If only the damn basement would stop flooding so bloody often.)

So, what can I do with this time? I can’t do much physical work, but I can do other things. I can make this house more like my house, instead of my parents; I’ve already started changing the art on the walls, and I’ve largely rearranged the kitchen to the way I like it, rather than the illogical way it’s been set up, just out of habit.

I found a set of paints and brushes in the basement. There are probably some canvas boards around too. I am going to teach myself to draw and paint. I can hopefully continue to edit films, to make new art, to work on photos, to write.

the train has faith the track will be laid
the moon has faith the ocean will rise to meet it
the tree had faith that one or two seeds will escape the birds
the stars have faith in collision, eventual collapse, new birth

I’m looking for mine

Hard to take anything seriously in terms of poetry: so much whining and talking around things, instead of becoming things. A shaman’s critique of most poets is that they don’t shapeshift enough. They spend too much time in their heads. They don’t take the world’s shapes, become the world. They invent instead of report. They try to make the world conform to the shapes of their words, instead of the other way around. They play with their toys, their tools, their ways of spinning their voices. They don’t spend enough time voiceless, obscure, half-buried in something else. Just seeing.






727. 12 December 2007, Beloit WI

I’ve hit bottom now.

It all hit me later. All the anger I’ve been avoiding for weeks. All the tension, stress, frustration, and rage. I found myself screaming at the walls, at the sky. And, leaving the bathroom, I hit the light switch so hard, not even aware of what I was doing, that I punched it into the wall and broke it. I didn’t even realize my hand was bleeding till later.

So, that’s it. I’ve hit that wall, literally as well as figuratively. I can do no more. I feel completely

This morning of course, now that I don’t have the video camera, it’s stunningly beautiful outside. Everything’s covered with ice, the river has water on it, and everything’s simply gorgeous. I knew this would happen.

And the power in the neighborhood was out for a couple of hours this morning. And I fell in the parking lot at the bank before our meeting there, and hurt my hand. It just keeps coming, and stacking up, and getting harder.

I can’t go on like this. I spent time this morning working at trying to not take it personally, which is a struggle. A lot of people are having really inexplicably bad times right now; maybe it’s just in the air, the world trying to fly apart, and barely being held together. Even a brief scan of the political stage right now is enough to bring out one’s deepest cynicism and despair.






726. 11 December 2007, Beloit WI

Yesterday was a day of white fog over the snow-covered fields: white on white, fading to white, to nothing. Today, all morning we’ve been having freezing rain. The rain has come down hard, making the driveway and roads into a sloppy mess, ice droplets dripping continuously off the ends of the icicles outside the window, coating all the tree branches with layers of crystalline ice. It’s pretty, but it’s dangerous.

And the basement is flooded again. Only, this time, the flooding has spread, and the carpet in my library/studio is wet. The bases of the bookshelves are wet, and so are some of my books. So, now I’m looking at the daunting task of having to lift and move several hundred pounds of books and shelves (the question of where to put them is another matter entirely), and I’m just weeping in frustration, because I’m not physically up to it. I can barely exert myself for an hour before I get weak and dizzy. Maybe it’s anemia from bleeding every day for the past six weeks; or maybe it’s just general exhaustion from being sick. I’m supposed to go in to the hospital again this afternoon, to get another blood test to find out if I am anemic, or if it’s something else. But now I have to wait for the plumber to get here first.

I’m really frustrated because I’m trying to follow the advice to take care of myself, and then the basement floods again. This has been going on since I first got sick, back in the very beginning of November, and it keeps not letting up. How am I ever supposed to rest and recover, when this stuff keeps happening? I just want to burst into tears, although I’m too tired to do even that right now, because I just can’t handle it. It’s an impossible Catch 22: I can’t spend my energy productively creatively because the fucking house is falling apart, keeping me from being ABLE to rest and recover. I’m feeling sabotaged. I’m getting tired, right now, because I’m getting stressed out just thinking about it. I need to not have to think about it, even.






725. 9 December 2007, Beloit WI

Today is going to be a day of rest, I hope. I might go out and shoot some photos in the snow.

Yesterday I felt better, most of the day. I went to Madison to sing the Chorus concert, and it actually went very well. A friend in the Chorus brought a stool for me to sit down on, and I sat for most of the concert, only standing for part of it. That saved me enough energy to get through it all. I also met and talked to some old friends from Madison that I hadn’t seen in maybe ten years; chatting was great.

I had to drive home through a blizzard again, and the roads were bad, but I made it. It wasn’t a problem, it was just tiring. I’m still tired this morning, from those exertions.



The revision process in writing is sometimes taking what feedback one is given, sorting through it to see what makes sense and what doesn’t, and incorporating the suggestions that improve the piece while discarding those that either don’t help, or completely miss the point.

What I think a poem is about isn’t necessarily all that it’s about; I certainly prefer to leave room for layered, textured meanings, including those I hadn’t originally seen myself. But I also draw a line around misreadings, which seem to come out of left field and have nothing to do with the poem itself. Were we even reading the same poem in the same universe? Sometimes you have to wonder. When someone makes a comment that comes from nowhere, and apparently doesn’t have anything to do with the poem, I still think about what they’ve said. I don’t dismiss it out of hand. Humility is one mark of provisional maturity. Assuming one knows everything there is to know is expert mind rather than beginner’s mind.

Yet, I will almost never accept critiques that would change the poem, or its meaning, or narrative, so much that it would betray the original poem-moment. That would be writing a new poem on the same topic, rather than revising the existing one. Sometimes that’s what you want to do. Revising a failed haiku is rarely fruitful; far better to start over from the same moment. At the same time, if a critique suggests that poem means anti-X rather than X, and is based on rewriting the poem to become anti-X rather than X, it’s a critique that does no service to the poem. There are times that can serve a poem—no guideline is ever without contradiction or example that breaks the rules. But more often it says a lot more about the critic than it does the poem; such radical inversions are often a reflection of hidden agendas, or simple contrariness.

We all do this; the truth lies in whether or not we admit to it. I can take on the archetype of Trickster, should I wish, and do a reversal to make a point; yet a Trickster’s reversals are affirming, not nihilistic. A hatchet job on a poem, if it’s a nihilistic attack, is usually easy to spot, and the best response is to ignore it in silence.

During revision, it’s wise to remember that it’s your poem, not anyone else’s, and you are free to accept or ignore any advice that you receive. Remember too that everyone else has their own filters, and may not perceive what you’re trying to do. They may make a criticism that would make sense, in a general context, but then not realize that your playing with the language has taken you to an evocative place that “breaks” some rule or other. Just because a critic doesn’t get it, doesn’t mean you’re wrong, or that you need to change it. This is certainly true for personification—which is not the same thing, after all, as anthropomorphism or that ridiculous critical term, the “pathetic fallacy,” which has to be one of the most misleading and pejorative lit-crit terms ever coined. If your poem has a good reason to do what it does, don’t change it; be prepared to have to defend your choice, however, at some unspecified later date.



How do you go from being a principal caregiver to being someone who needs caring for? It’s disorienting, to say the least. I feel incredibly isolated, geographically and emotionally. When I moved here to take care of Dad last year, I had no friends here, no one I could call up for a sudden desire to sit together and talk. I have the phone, to be sure, but I still don’t have face to face meetings, the contact of a hug or a held hand. That requires getting in the car and driving at least an hour, one way.

I need to spend time thinking about all this, and working towards the grief, and what it all means. Now I have the time, I suppose. I may not be going to Holland for Xmas after all, because of this illness; it depends on whether I can get it under control, and still have enough energy left over to be able to go. Today I remembered that I used to think I had enough energy to work four hours a day on projects; now it seems like a single hour tires me out so much that there’s nothing left over. I am spending a lot of time thinking and writing, and that does take energy, too; it’s not free of consequence. A bout of anger will exhaust you, for example. It’s physical work, even if it seems not to be.






724. 8 December 2007, Beloit WI

So, yesterday I came closer to an actual diagnosis. It’s not a pretty one, but it’s better than this endless anxiety of not-knowing, of being in a limbo of anxious existential uncertainty, not knowing what to do, think, or feel, but feeling mostly terror nonetheless.

Things are strained between my sibling(s) and I. When I called to give them the news, they were cool and distant. Some of that is my fault, probably, because I’ve been out of my mind with terror and anxiety and overwhelm, and I’ve been a real drama queen and terrified overwhelmed paranoiac. I’m not going to apologize for being hard to be around lately, though, because I’ve been doing the best I can do. Nor do I expect apologies, because everyone else has also been doing the best that they can do, too.

As I was thinking these thoughts, a redtail hawk paused in the tree just outside my window. It paused and fluffed its feathers in the cold. When I looked up again, it was gone. Now I see it circling above the river and the floodplain.

So, I find myself with a potential lifetime of chronic illness, or, more accurately, of continuous vigilance and self-care. The goal is to live in the state of remission, and avoid relapse. This is true of any chronic illness. I will no longer be able to afford the luxury of wallowing in self-pity. I just won’t have time for it. Imperfect soul that I am, I also don’t expect to declare it done and have it actually be done in the moment; emotional relapses and remissions will no doubt parallel physical relapses and remissions. Oh I sound very wise and calm about it, don’t I? Truly, what I feel at the moment is the hawk’s vigilance, which is of the moment, and at the moment I am not feeling like doing cartwheels for joy, but I’m also not feeling despondent. I am seeing the hawk’s-eye view from aloft. I woke up this morning and while I still have symptoms, I don’t feel as destructively depressed as I have been for the past few weeks. It’s dire, but it’s not dire, if that makes sense. I’ll settle for not-bad, or neutral, frankly. Happy-happy-joy-joy is something for later.

The only thing moving outside, this morning, is birds hopping from branch to branch, and picking at what they find, and the clouds, slowly changing shape and form. The river is iced over here, with a few streaks of clean ice between the vast white tundra. Long icicles hang from the house’s eaves.

Dietary changes. I feel like I might have to give up red meat again, as I did years ago, then started eating it again after ten years. I feel like cutting back on the diary (yogurt doesn’t really count) and starches. I feel like eating more green vegetables, and what fruits I can manage. I’ve never been a big fruit-eater, always preferring vegetables and herbs. Did you know the difference between herbs and spices is that the oils that create the flavors manifest in the leaves, in herbs, and elsewhere in the plant, in spices? Did you know that cardamon and cilantro were the same plant, expressed differently, from different parts of the plant?

I want to focus on those things, today, that remind me to be alive, that I am alive, and that I want to continue to be alive. Music, photography, nature, sex, friendship, good books. I have the HD camera for the weekend, and it’s gorgeous winter weather outside. It’s overcast today, but if the sun comes out in the next day or two, I will get some amazing afternoon winter light footage.






723. 7 December 2007, Beloit WI

I will write this all down once. Some may say I shouldn’t write it down at all; but their reasons are mostly that they don’t want to hear about it. I write it down so I can remember, and track my own journey. The point is not to proclaim my sorrows; the point is to Know Thyself. The things we do that make ourselves and others uncomfortable are often the things most worth attending to.

I’m just back from the hospital, where they drew more blood for a complex blood test, that looks at something like seven protein markers to determine if I have either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; the two types of chronic IBD (inflammatory bowel disease). Either would be a long-term thrill. I’ve got this pack of medicine, and I’m supposed to start taking it three times a day. Since I’m still on the toilet up to three hours a day, and when I get up afterwards, there’s still blood in the water more than half the time, I’m up for any treatment they want to do at this point. But it’s looking like a long-term chronic illness, probably triggered by stress exacerbating a congenitally irritable bowel. There is no cure, only management, if it’s Crohn’s. If it’s ulcerative colitis, there’s management that will be easier to do, but again, no cure. A lifetime of pleasure and fun await one. Can you tell how thrilled I am? Well, I guess it’s better to know what’s going on, than not, but I wonder if this would have ever flared up had not the past year and more been so stressful and exhausting.

I have inflammation and bleeding in the sigmoid colon area, the rectum, and over on the right side by the ileum. Because of the bleeding, I am not allowed to take ibuprofen or aspirin till we get the bleeding under control. That means no help if I get a migraine in the interim, except shiatsu and caffeine. Those both help some.

Because both of these are chronic, long-term, medically-incurable conditions that will go through cycles of activity and remission, I am looking at a lifetime of problems. I may not be able to fly to Holland for the holidays, because my symptoms may not be managed by then. They’re lumped under auto-immune disorders, along with other things that no one can really explain.

Either way, I quit. I need to be taking care of myself, now, and not killing myself over organizing the house, worrying about Mom and everything else, or having to deal with things like the basement flooding, etc.

But, I have this medication now, mesalamine (Asacol)—a month’s worth of samples—and I’ll start taking it in the morning, along with the vitamins and other supplements I bought today—and we’ll see happens. If we can get the bleeding and discomfort under control, that’s an important step. No matter what else happens.






722. 6 December 2007, Beloit WI

This morning it’s 1 degree outside. The sun is filtering through trees coated with white layers of frost and ice. Everything is brittle and delicate and silver.



Later, night:

This morning I went to another funeral, at Dad’s church, of the grandmother of my friend D., who is originally from here before his family moved to Madison, and he later moved to Minneapolis, which is where we became friends.

Then I drove directly to Milwaukee to have lunch with friends, then I spent the afternoon at the Milwaukee Art Museum. It’s a gorgeous modern building, and a beautiful display space for art. The sky was grey and the building was covered with snow, so the white wings of the roofline blended into sky and landscape, and the Lake in the background, like eggshell over abalone. Truly astonishingly beautiful. I wandered till I got tired, then had a cup and tea and drove home. By the time I got to Delavan, the snow had started, and I drove the last twenty miles in blizzard whiteout conditions. It's been snowing hard all night, another three inches or more of fine powder.

I am still sick. I am not getting better. I am still bleeding. I need to start some sort of treatment soon, before all my anxieties come back to haunt me again. I am so physically tired tonight, after walking in the museum all day, then just coming in from putting the trash and recycling out on the curb, that I feel dizzy and woozy. This isn’t good. I need to know what to do, before I can safely go to Holland for Xmas—if I can go at all.

I’ve now been sick over a month, been to two funerals in that time, the basement has flooded four times, and I’m not recovering. I’m either the same or getting worse. It’s beginning to scare me again. I can’t take any more of this.






721. 5 December 2007, Beloit WI

It snowed last night, about five inches of soft powder. It was beautiful white and black outside today. I went out for a bit and took photos, then shoveled the walk and part of the drive. I’ve been sick all month, and I’ve been too weak to shovel the whole drive; so I could only do a little before I had to stop. I drove out to do a couple of errands, but by the time I got back I was so tired, I had to rest. I’m still weak.

The basement flooded again earlier this week. On Monday, everything happened at once: the city assessor was here to look over the house because it had changed ownership from Dad to Mom, via his estate; the plumbers were here; and I had to go get a colonoscopy at the hospital. It was a real stressful day. Plus, the drive was iced up and I didn’t have the strength to do anything about it.

The colonoscopy revealed no polyps, but there was inflammation and bleeding, and they did a biopsy; I’m still waiting for the results. Tomorrow I have to go to another funeral, then drive to Milwaukee for lunch and a visit to the museum. Then I have this chorus concert on the weekend, which I feel unprepared for, and not strong enough to do.






720. 2 December 2007, Beloit WI

As the storm progressed yesterday, it came from the east, and turned to ice. The ice was ticking on the big windows overlooking the backyard all afternoon. The wind was up, too, and when I lit a fire in the fireplace, it drawn steadily, the wind singing in the chimney pipe. The clouds at night were very low and threatening, and had visible shapes very low to the ground. The wind came and went, making the trees whisper and creak around the house.

This morning, everything is calm, but there’s an ice fog in the air.



Later:

I’m sitting here, writing, the bleak and white land outside, and there’s a flash of lightning out of the bright sky, and rolling thunder. These winter thunderstorms are rare and amazing, seeming to break all the usual patterns and expectations of how the weather works on an annual basis. They inspire breakthrough into something numinous, because they break the “rules.”






719. 1 December 2007, Beloit WI

There have ice-barges floating down the river for some days now, in this cold wave. This morning the river is choked with them, moving only slowly, backed up as happens every year by the bottleneck of the bridge downstream. Thin light snow has begun to fall from a featureless white sky. It’s beginning to coat the brown and disconsolate ground with powdered sugar.

Now the ice has backed up and filled in from upstream so that my entire stretch of the river, moving slowly an hour ago, is completely clogged with ice. The more stable ribbons along each shore are whiter, as the dry snow covers them, than the wetter floes in the center of the stream.





718. 30 November 2007, Beloit WI

So I went to see the doctor this morning, and the upshot is I’m going to have a speedy colonoscopy on Monday. So, let’s see, so far in the last month: I’ve gotten sick, gotten sicker, my basement flooded with raw sewage three times while I sick, creating a recurring hazmat situation that I had to clean up, making me sicker, I went to a friend’s funeral, had walking pneumonia, and now I’m going to have theoretically ambulatory surgery in three days, in the same place that my Dad, who died of colon cancer, had ambulatory surgery twice. In the same ward, and same rooms of the same hospital, even. Flashbacks, anyone? No? How about a little PTSD, then. Plus, the usual ongoing grief, exhaustion, and overwhelm. Have I left anything out? Oh yeah, just the pattern that every week something new and worse keeps happening. I’m on tenterhooks, waiting for the other shoe to drop, always expecting the basement to flood again, or something else to happen. All I can say is: This shit I’ve been going through is now at the point of literally threatening my life. So, next Monday, they’ll do the procedure, and I’ll find out if what’s been making me sick for the last month is anything between minor hemorrhoids to colon cancer, the same thing that killed my father a few months ago. So, you’ll excuse me if I’m more than a little freaked out right now.






717. 29 November 2007, Beloit WI

Late night after a long day cleaning and organizing. It feels good to get something done, but I still feel sick, and tired. I could only do so much, before needing to stop. Watched a lot more junk TV than I usually do. Feeling creatively stagnant today. Like I can’t make any forward progress on what really matters.

The truth is, I’m scared. I’m sick, and I don’t know what it is, and it scares me. Do I have something bad, or is it just something small? Until I find out, I have all this anxiety hovering over me. I don’t even want to articulate my fears, for fear of making them come true. Which probably doesn’t help, I know. There’s very little I can do about it, tonight, but night terrors are always what keeps me awake, unable to sleep. I want to change my sleeping arrangements, too. I need to move to another room, for a few days, and sleep differently. Just for a change. A lot of this is mental trickery you do on yourself, to distract yourself, and to keep things fresh.






716. 27 November 2007, Beloit WI

Dreams vivid but I slept better last night, and was less wanting to stay asleep. Eight hours of sleep is usually enough for me; more than that is an indulgence, or a barometer of exhaustion or illness. One dream sequence in the sunny warm light by the ocean, everyone nude and calm and comfortable.

I’ve decided that I need to write out everything, as therapy. I don’t want to edit much of it. It’s A Grief Observed. I don’t think it’s self-indulgent, and for now, it’s necessary. Later on, I’ll track through it all, and sort it out. Truth is, this is unexplained terrain; in writing about it, I’m attempting to chart a map through it.

For example, one realization: I’m incredibly emotionally vulnerable, at this time. I have a greatly reduced ability to let things slide off my back and ignore the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I’m vulnerable to emotional attack, and things get under my skin too easily. It’s like my shields are gone, even though they’re not.






715. 26 November 2007, Beloit WI

Dreams so compelling and interesting, I didn’t want to wake up. So vivid, I wanted to stay in that world, and not return to this one. Feeling disoriented upon waking. Here, nothing but the same old troubles. There, nothing of that, but a kind of freedom of the new world, of travel to places where no one knows you, of starting over with no history.



Later:

I’ve spent most of the day organizing and cleaning, rearranging things in the kitchen and bedrooms that had crossed the threshold of irritation some while ago. Now I’m left with a clean(er) counter, a pretty good new system for storing certain oft-used items, and a bit of weariness.

People are really irritating today. I find myself with no patience for spinelessness, fear, fixed opinions unopen to change, or snarkiness. You want to be snarky to me, you’ll get some right back. It’s another zero tolerance for stupidity day, I suppose. But look at it this way, too: I need some slack. I’m dealing with major illness, depression, grief, a house full of repair problems, a lack of funds, too much to do, and not enough energy or time in which to do it. Not to mention isolation, alienation, and lack of support. Even people who otherwise mean well have lately not been very supportive; their own needs coming first for them, one supposes. You can’t really argue with that, but it can leave you high and dry at critical times.

These are dark times. It’s a serious struggle to try to keep them light.



Are you tired? Yes.
Tired of living? Yes.
Are you ready to die, then? Yes; and no.
You’re not ready to give up? You’ll have to drag me away kicking and screaming, you son of a bitch.

I found a lot of anger today. Maybe that’s part of the grief process. I’m not mad at the dead, though, but the living. Mad at anyone who can’t care enough, or witness enough, to have their lives affected. They want to be safe and secure, all illusions, and they want me to shut up and be a good boy; and I can’t.

How long does this full moon last, anyway? It’s been days and nights, and the moon never seems to get dimmer. It’s still big and silver, one star hanging below it tonight, through the branches of the treeless autumn oak.

Nobody wants to talk to me, but I’m going to talk anyway.






714. 25 November 2007, Beloit WI

My dreams were still violent last night, but not as bad, and I didn’t jerk awake with my heart racing, this morning. I was aware of coming in and out of sleep a few times, but feeling no urge to get out of bed and start the day. A quieter morning.

I find it interesting that the main alkaloid found in chocolate is called theobromine, which derives from Theobroma, the name of the genus of the cacao tree, (which itself is made up of the Greek roots theo ("God") and brosi ("food"), meaning "food of the gods")[

Theos, god, the god in the food, the food of the gods, the ghost in the shell, the spirit in matter, the ghost in the machine.

Chocolate is therefore a god-food, and is to be worshipped, and taken as a sacrament. I certainly treat chocolate as my religion, being as I need a daily dose.






713. 24 November 2007, Beloit WI

Horrible nightmares. In the dreams, bad things keep happening; four car crashes in the space of a week; more house or apartment problems; there is a young man who is present, who I am talking to, who is supporting me through it all; a guide or mentor or something similar; in the dream, I am feeling exactly that anxiety and fear and panic that I have been feeling in waking life; I wake up suddenly my heart racing, full of fear.






712. 22 November 2007, Beloit WI Thanksgiving Day

It snowed late last night, after a blustery cold and gloomy day. This morning I look out on a yard covered with about half an inch of white. Wet, heavy snow. It probably won’t last.

Yesterday the plumber was here again, because the basement was flooding again, because the sewer was blocked up again. I had just had the carpets cleaned, from the last such event. I lost the entire day to this crap, again. I can’t even tell you how annoyed I was. Do I trust that they found it now, and that it won’t happen again? Not hardly. I am left with a renewed and deepened sense of how quickly things can fall apart; that sense of fragility. I’ve outlived my father, now, and am struggling in the wake of his death with my own major life changes, so I have an acute awareness that there are no guarantees, ever, about anything.

Juncos, round slate-blue birds, come to sit on the deck railings, kicking up tufts of snow as they land and take off again. The cardinal couple that lives here year-round is brilliant against the white land, the male a moving spot of bright red against a black and white background. The chokecherry tree will still produce it’s small black berries over winter, and the birds will gather in its branches, gorging themselves, and picking through the snow under the tree for more fallen berries.



Later:

Already melting. The sun coming out, fitfully, streaks of blue between the clouds. A few more light flakes falling, here and there, just particles of air-borne dandruff. I am supposed to go to Milwaukee now for Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve been in more festive moods, and I’m trying really hard to find things to be thankful for. I worry about my own state of mind, when I can’t find my gratitude, even a poor and starving minimal gratitude for simply being still alive. A temporary and conditional existence universally terminated in a face-on meeting with entropy.



Later:

I went to dinner with the W.s in Milwaukee. We had a great time: good food, good company, even better conversation. Driving home, the clouds thin and high, an almost-full moon was hanging high overhead. I thought to myself, When did you get to be full again? Then I realized, I hadn’t seen the moon for weeks, between being ill and exhausted, and all the cloudy weather we’ve been having. So it caught me by surprise. And a pleasant surprise it was, too.

moonlight and starlight
on snow-draped fields near town:
winter berries



Later:

I sit for awhile at midnight, in the armchair with my heaviest quilt draped over me, staring at the fire burning in the fireplace, no lights on in the room, thinking. The moonlight on the snow outside makes a silver light, and a few stars are visible through the bare trees. The cold clear night is dark and light both at once. I come to a place of quiet, of inwardness. The room is silent except for the sounds of the fire. I feel myself approaching silence within. Nothing moves but the flames. The black lines of treeshadows on the white snow are arteries, rivers, tunnels between now and some deeper place.

I think of so many poet-wordsmiths I know, so invested in the power of words that they never listen to silence. They never let silence rise up around them, and still them. Like impatient children who want to run on, while their parents quietly watch the sunset from a favorite vantage. Their minds never still; so how can they hear the silences rise up in them, and give them other words, other poems? They make things; they don’t let things arrive, and appear, as they will, in their own hours and days and nights.

I think of so many poets who trust words above all else, and think their artform is the highest because it’s the most abstract. But more primal is music, wordless music, even chanted primate song with words. More abstract in projected meaning, in interpretation; even program music, with scenarios depicted as narratives by the composer, can still be listened to as abstract and non-narrative. Can poetry ever be non-narrative? Only by breaking syntax and grammar, and the fetters of traditional linear-narrative chicken-scratching in that road of dreams. Can poetry ever be egoless? Only by continuing to be not a story, not a narrative, just a moment captured, described, envisioned, written out.

Ego and narrative are joined at the hip: the stories the self tells itself about itself, the personal myth turned into story. Does every experience need to be turned into a story? Probably not; but it’s the habit of time-binding, of fixing an uncontrollable flow of moment after moment into a conceptual framework that can be remembered and retold. Most kinds of freedom come with boundaries already built in; the genuinely free mind doesn’t bind time the usual way, or insist on narrative, or even on consensus meaning. It also doesn’t reject it. Nothing is more unreal than the self-talk that claims to be real.

I seek silence again, and go back to sitting and staring at the flames, while out of the corner of my eye, stars and treeshadows slowly turn the wheel of the sky’s clock, winding up, winding down. And the return to silence is durable, inevitable, unexpected, tremulous, and like nothing else. The lights flickers through the fireplace screen, and on the ceiling of the room, and splashes on floor and walls of the silent house.

I have nothing to say, and I am saying it, and that is poetry. —John Cage






711. 21 November 2007, Beloit WI

My dreams last night intense and vivid, which they haven’t been in awhile. Several times loud voices spoke fragments of dialogue. One time, my name was spoken so loudly, it seemed as if it was spoken in the waking world, by someone entering the room I was sleeping in. It woke me up. It was a woman’s voice, speaking my name, and saying “excuse me” for entering the room and interrupting. Strange.






710. 20 November 2007, Beloit WI

Yesterday I went in to the convenient care center at the Beloit Clinic. I got some antibiotics for the pneumonia, and having taken three of them, I’m already feeling less congested, and that bitter-copper-blood taste in gone from my mouth today. I’m not well yet, but I’m feeling better. I’m starting to catch up with the fact that I’ve gotten nothing done these past two weeks of illness; not that you’d expect to, but it piles up when you don’t do it, even for good reasons.

It’s still gloomy weather outside. A little rain coating the deck, but not enough to mention. The lawn is still mostly green, even though we’ve had a killing frost finally. I covered some of the plants, but I still have yardwork to do. I want to bring another load of firewood onto the porch, as I burned a fire in the fireplace all day yesterday, as much for mood as for warmth, and it felt good. I will do that again over the weekend, also for atmosphere. We have so many candles here, I’ll be burning some of those, too. I need to do some neglected cleaning and organizing today, and preparations for the holiday weekend. I want to spend a little time outside, too. These fall overcast days create their own mood, an autumnal mood.

The leaves are mostly down, now. Still some lingering green leaves in the woods, and the oaks still have some brown leaves on the branches. The river seems low. The floods in August changed the river, dredging it out in spots, and leaving a new sandbar by the opposite bank. The ducks like the sandbar, it’s a place for them to stand and rest. One of the bigger trees across the river has come down, roots undermined by the flood, and a heavy branch breaking loose, and it hangs over and covers part of the shore opposite.






709. 18 November 2007, Beloit WI

Yesterday I went to a funeral in the morning, rested in the afternoon, then performed one of the solo parts in Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, in the evening in Madison. It was cold and blustery all day, and I took a chill. I feel like the walking pneumonia I had back in California, when we had those 6 weeks of continuous rain in March of last year, is back; like it never really went away. I can taste that taste in my mouth, smell that smell in my nostrils; the coppery scent of blood in mucus. This past week has been one of the hardest weeks of all, between being sick, a friend’s death, having to sing a concert while still sick, and the basement flooding twice—all in the space of a week. I wonder if I would have even gotten this pneumonia feeling, if I hadn’t been wiped out by having to deal with the basement. I should have gone to Chorus rehearsal tonight again, in Madison, but the prospect of driving to Madison again, still sick, twice in 24 hours, was too daunting. Instead, I lit a big fire in the fireplace, curled up on the easy chair with my heaviest quilt, and watched DVDs, and later, some TV shows. I made chicken soup with curry in it. I’ve tried to write today, or do something, anything but couldn’t do it. I did bring in a couple of loads of firewood to dry out on the porch till I make another fire in the fireplace. And I did go grocery shopping, which I hadn’t done in two weeks. This upcoming week is both Mom’s 84th birthday, and Thanksgiving. I really don’t feel up to it. It’s late at night now, and having napped earlier, I don’t really ready to go to bed, even though I’m tired. My mind is still firing on all cylinders, probably because I haven’t been getting out enough, having been sick for two weeks now. (Don’t ask me to count how boxes of Kleenex I’ve gone through in that time.) TV is a horrible drug; now I feel stuffed with useless overstimulation, from drama and data, none of it really intended to anything more than disturb me. Far better to go back to watching music concerts on DVD.






708. 15 November 2007, Beloit WI

The basement keeps flooding: the waters of the unconscious rising up, demanding attention. The first time was when the water heater decayed, the second was when an upstairs shower was leaking, the third and fourth times were when the sewer under the house backed up in two different ways. That the last two events happened within a week of each other has only added to my feeling of being under constant attack all week long.

Yesterday I was informed that a beloved family friend had died. It wasn’t unexpected, she had been in Hospice care for awhile, but it still hurts. I was upset all afternoon and evening. A phone call from a friend only upset me more. I slept for three hours last night, then was up for two, then slept for several more. I had difficult dreams, and wanted to go back to sleep afterwards—do nothing all day, just stay in bed—but I wasn’t able to.

In my dreams, Dad and I are at a huge bookstore, a multi-level store the size of several city blocks. I am concerned for his health and strength; it’s a big store to walk around in; be is cranky and doesn’t want to be watched over; we get separated at some point, and then the dream turns into one of those long dreams I have had all my life in which I am trying to get somewhere but I keep getting turned down wrong paths, having to backtrack and try again, or there are unexpected twists and turns and I never get where I am trying to go.

These dreams, when they infrequently happen, are always frustrating, and leave me upset upon awakening. I’m still upset, and I need to go out for awhile to distract myself by doing other things.

The various gatekeepers of admission to the portals of knowledge are self-satisfied and content to be as obstructive as they can: it gives them a sense of their own power, as tiny as that might be.






707. 14 November 2007, Beloit WI

I’m in the time between the end of an old cycle, and the beginning of he new. I don’t want to go back and write the old poetry, the old music; the new is not yet formed, not yet emerging, except in small pieces. I’m in a desert time, a waiting time. I am not sure where I’m going, or even who I am; I’m not sure of anything, anymore. It’s hard to be patient, sometimes. Sometimes the world wants you to rush ahead, and not wait. But in crossing the desert, you have to cross on foot, which takes time. Sometimes you have to wait.

I feel like I am back in Joshua Tree, camping in the desert under a sky full of stars, the reflected light of my cookfire flickering on the surrounding rock formations, making them orange and alive in the wavering light. I sit there, listening to the fire crackle, no other sound around me. Out in the silent dark something moves. I can sense it, but it hasn’t come into the circle of my light yet. I’m waiting for it to come sit down opposite the fire from me, so we can have a dialogue. I can wait a long time. The fire shows no signs of going out.



Later:

Irritable with people. I’m in transition. Nothing makes sense right now. Why can’t they get that, and leave it alone? Emerson: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Emphasis on the word foolish. Which implies that an important consistency is worth striving for. And I have always striven for it; I don’t feel inconsistent at all, right now. Chaos theory: turbulent zones exist between levels of dynamic stability. Order is found at a higher level even when all appears chaotic. Order is an emergent phenomenon of even the most chaotic systems.

Sometimes the Beast rises up, and snarls, telling everybody to back off.

I realize my tolerance for stupidity is at a low ebb. On the other hand, my basement has flooded twice in the past week, I’ve been sick with a cold or flu for well over a week, with concert coming up this Saturday which I somehow have to get through without coughing, and oh yeah, my Dad died last summer, and I’m still dealing with it. So cut me some slack.






706. 13 November 2007, Beloit WI

Well, it was going to be a pleasant day today. I was going to go out and enjoy the sunshine, and take it easy and relax, and then go up to Madison for another rehearsal. But now the basement’s flooded, again, and I’ve called the plumbers, again, and I’m waiting for a response, again, and I might be stuck here all day and into the evening. I may have to call and cancel my rehearsal. I am righteously pissed. The problem of flooding in the basement has been addressed twice already, and each time we thought it had been fixed. Clearly not; clearly there is something else going on, something small but serious. What I am is pissed that I have to keep giving time and attention to problems that have supposedly been fixed. First we replaced the water heater; then we fixed the upstairs shower stall; then we cleared the sewer line out to the street; yet each time the water comes back, more or less exactly as before. I am getting seriously exasperated with this recurrent scenario. Clearly none of the plumbing in this house has been stable since the water heater was replaced; and now it’s time to get busy and fix it once and for all. I just want to be able to forget about it.



Later:

The plumber worked for several hours. He thinks he found the problem, under the house, and has flushed the blockage loose and away. I remain unwilling to collapse into the belief that it’s all fixed now. I will probably not ever believe that, completely. So I’m going to wait a few days before doing much else, just to see if anything else happens. If it all still seems to be okay in three or four days, then I’ll get back to work. Till then, though, I’m still not willing to assume it’s all over.

After the plumber left, and I had called to postpone the rehearsal till a few days from now, I sat in the living room on the blue couch, enjoying the quiet. The late afternoon sun was coming through the windows, after a mostly grey day, and the warm golden light was making everything more beautiful.

I received in the mail a review copy of a book that is a poet’s long-term response to the Paleolithic cave paintings of southern France, many of which he has visited. I look forward to reading and writing about this book. I sat there in the afternoon sunlight, reading a little, just sitting and thinking and looking out at the backyard for awhile. I even closed my eyes and briefly napped in the sunlight.

I don't know much right now. I feel hopelessly at sea a lot of the time. I'm being drawn, as I often have been, back to Paleolithic art and values; something that I have always felt connected me to Gary Snyder's work, too.

As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic; the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. —Gary Snyder

So I’m going to be going back to the dawn of human artistic consciousness: maybe to that time where we first separated ourselves, in our conception, from the other animals, and from nature. Where we first started making art with deliberate conscious intent.






705. 12 November 2007, Beloit WI

It’s pleasantly warmer outside, around 60, but I’m feeling weak, and I guess I’ll be coughing for awhile. I need to continue to rest. I went to rehearsal last night and coughed my way through it; my voice did indeed give out before the end, and I was hoarse the rest of the night.

Most of the leaves are down from the trees, now. I can see further into the woods. I’ve been seeing a lot of ducks and geese on the river, and flying up and around. A few days ago, I saw the heron twice, flying one way, then the other a little while later. Great skeins of geese have been flying over, honking, day and night. It’s winter coming on. Everyone is getting ready.

Yesterday I hit a couple of thrift stores before rehearsal, and picked up a few new books and DVDs. I’m on a Coltrane kick at the moment, because I have to write a review of a new book about him; I picked up one of the live CDs.

I also found two recent hardcovers by Gary Snyder. I still find him to be the one Beat writer I really respond to. The shared experience of nature, perhaps. At one point he wrote that his values were actually not modern but Paleolithic, which I agree with: sustainability, husbandry of the land and resources, respect and reverence for nature, and the spiritual aspects of living. These are all things I feel I share with Snyder. Once or twice my poetry has been compared to his, along the lines of people noticing the shared themes; I was flattered, I’d never claim to be in his league as a writer.

Danger On Peaks. A new collection of poems from 2004, published after a gap between that and his previous book of poems.

No Nature: Selected and New Poems. A nice retrospective of his whole career.

One book of his that I am eager to read is his newest book of essays. I’ve read excerpts in a couple of magazines so far.






704. 11 November 2007, Beloit WI

So, my cold or flu recovery got set back a day because I had to overexert myself yesterday, when the sewer backed up (again) and the basement flooded in two places (again). Not the cleanest water either, as you might imagine. I got the emergency weekend overtime plumber in, and he cleaned out the pipes, then I got my weekly house cleaning person over and she cleaned up most of the mess. Pretty exhausting day. I went to bed early.

It’s a dreary day, gray and overcast, cold and damp outside, drying out inside. I’m supposed to sing a concert in a week, and I have a rehearsal tonight, and I don’t know if I can make it. Feeling better, still coughing stuff up, or just hacking and wheezing. Doubt I have the strength to sing. Should still make the effort to show up, though. Really, I’m waiting for this to become fun. Any day now. I joined this chorus to have fun, right? Any day now. So far it’s been more stress than anything else. It does get me up to Madison once a week, so I suppose that’s all to the good.






703. 10 November 2007, Beloit WI

Intense, vivid dreams. Full of groups of people; emerging from a stadium, then going off to the shallow pond nearby, dozens or hundreds all swimming together in the waters, synchronized movements, some fully clothed, others nude, everyone surging together in the waters; I am on the lake’s shore, by the stadium, taking photos. Long rays of a low morning sun making everything sparkle white and green and blue-gold. (Just like the sunlight outside my window as I write this, I realize.) A long ceremony with lots of movement and color and chanting and trumpets and drums, featuring groups of all the holy people from around the world, gathered together in a college campus and cathedral setting at the foot of some hills; Tibetans and Greek priests and many other kinds of holy monks and teachers; chanting together; a celebration of Unity; at one point during the long ceremony, 12 birds of different species are released into the air, to fly off to the 12 corners of the globe; a great blue heron, a wren, an eagle, a pelican, and others; I am off to one side, listening and marveling, and taking photos; a true gathering into common purpose of all the world’s great spiritual powers into common cause and agreement. The colors of the robes and musical instruments and flags and banners were all the colors of the rainbow, only richer and deeper, as if made of velvet and earth.

I look out the window and the great blue heron flies between me and the sun. Now there goes a skein of geese.

I feel liberated, even joyous.






702. 9 November 2007, Beloit WI

This entire day, my will and strength weakened by being sick, I’ve let myself get sucked into other peoples’ dramas, I’ve let myself get hooked in to their crap, and it’s all left a bad taste in my mouth. As a result, I’m feeling really testy and irritable. It’s my own fault, I suppose: a moment of weakness brought on by general weakness. And also exacerbated by it.

You have to ask yourself why you bother sometimes. When you speak uncomfortable truths, they circle the wagons until the savage troublemakers are repelled. It’s predictable to see how those who prefer to avoid conflict at all costs close ranks to resist even having to think about the festering wounds that have just been brought up into the light. Part of me is laughing at all this, too: it’s low comedy, the predictability of it all. As long as you can laugh at the idiots, they haven’t beaten you.

I hate being sick. You sneeze and cough everywhere, and you go through paper tissues and handkerchiefs till your nose is red and sore, you want to wash your shirts, and pitch all the hankies into the trash instead of the washing machine. (Nothing messier than a sick Dragon that sneezes Flame.) I’ve been coughing up a lot of stuff, too, which is exhausting; but at least it’s clear. So there’s a slim chance my hoarse and froggy voice of today will morph back into something resembling human by next week’s Chorus rehearsals and concert. Maybe.

On the plus side, I got the keyboard hooked up to the computer, finally, and booted a couple of software synths. I laid down MIDI tracks for a techno/ambient piece. It’s a sketchbook short-short, not a finished piece of music. There are some good ideas to it, and it might be worth working up into a real, actual piece someday. But just to get even a sketchbook piece done feels like a major accomplishment, at this point. I might post it to the podcast later, just for giggles.

I also finalized my Thanksgiving plans, to go to family friends in Milwaukee on the day itself. The day after, friends from Minneapolis will be coming down here. I am toying with the idea of cooking a turkey on Friday or Saturday, just because I want to. I have to see if I have the stamina or brain-power to handle making a meal that complex, though. I probably do, but I couldn’t have done so today; not without screwing up, I was so out of it all day long.

I realize I’m babbling. Time to go to bed. I’m not interested in being conscious or vertical much longer, but I’m going to have to sit and drink some more foul healing herbal tea before I can be able to lie down long enough that my own coughing and hacking won’t keep me awake. Isn’t this fun? Ugh.






701. 8 November 2007, Beloit WI

It’s been a struggle the past few days, only made worse by the fact that I’ve finally gotten laid low with some sort of cold or flu. I may have picked it up in Chicago last weekend, or since I got back. I have been outside doing yard work a few times, and gotten chilled, too. Regardless, I’ve felt sick and tired for three or four days, on top of every else that has been going on. More household crap to deal with, and buying a plane ticket to Europe for the Xmas holidays; that sort of thing. I’ve also been sleeping longer, and napping. I guess the plus side of being sick is that you are forced to catch up on your rest, and so you do.



I am going through a book recommended to me by S. that I am finding very helpful: The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John W. James and Russell Friedman. I am getting validation in this book for what I am feeling, but also for how I am able, or unable, to respond to things. Some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed and take a shower. Other days I feel like I get a lot more done. I feel numb sometimes, just unable to feel anything. Other times, I can’t sleep, I can only weep, I can’t get my mind to stop racing. One of the things that I find validating is something I’ve been having a difficult time explaining to people:

When you’re someone’s primary caregiver, you live in with them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. There are no real breaks. Even a respite break is just a breather, because you know you’re going back. My trip to the west coast last January was actually a moving trip, not a vacation, and it was made more stressful by having to do so much; it took extra time and effort, too, so I had to scrap most of my plans for the return trip, and just push on home. Also, Dad wanted me to call home and check in every day, so I never got a mental break. All this makes both the grief and the recovery process more intense, and longer-lasting, than it is for someone who was not so close to events, not, as it were, on the front lines. I have been feeling this, and not knowing how to communicate it. Now, I feel validated in my feelings. It was (and is) more intense for me, because I lived here with Dad 24-7, for a full year, and more. Also, when I first moved back here, I had no friends at all in the area: no peer-friends, of my own age and interests; that was terribly isolating, and it was very hard to go from feast to famine without losing my sense of self. And now here I am living in this same house, alone, without Dad or Mom here, yet with constant daily reminders of their presence and their past choices. Even the artwork on the walls is things they put there years ago, that hasn’t been changed in years. I am the person doing the lion’s share of the cleaning and sorting through their remaining belongings, sorting them for recycling or sales or to be given away. So, I’m the one whose emotions continually get stirred up, willy-nilly, simply by going through boxes in the basement, or looking through cabinets. It’s in my face every single day. I’m still on the front lines. So, it’s still intense, it’s still hard, and it’s going to take me longer to recover from this than most of my family and friends have so far been able to understand. I need a real respite, a real vacation, a real mental break. I realize now that I haven’t really had one since I moved back here.

Just to be clear: This isn’t some new woundology, and I’m not blaming anyone. It’s just the facts of the matter, and the facts have needed to be acknowledged. That I am able to feel validated, even by a grief book, takes a great deal of pressure off me.






700. 4 November 2007, Beloit WI

in fading light,
geese blanket the river—
fallen leaves

Daylight savings time changed last night. It’s always disorienting for a day or two. I usually wish they just didn’t bother. I think the time is the time. Daylight savings time has everything to do with commerce and nothing to do with nature.






699. 3 November 2007, Beloit WI

Just back from two nights in Chicago, working in the studio and on LCG. We seriously upgraded my studio computer, so I can continue working on LCG and musical projects, with a lot of new software tools. We had a business meeting or two, planning our next moves.

I drove back late last night, arriving here very late, and going to bed right away. This morning, the clear October sunlight through the windows feels good on my skin. I have to sing a chorus concert in Madison this afternoon, but I’m taking a leisurely, quiet morning first. It was stressful driving home that late at night, and today will be a rushed day, but I’ll survive.



Later:

I have been tired and irritable all day, rushing around trying to be on time, and having to remind myself constantly that this is supposed to be FUN. Maybe it’s two days of driving in Chicago, but everyone else driving today seemed to lack attentiveness, and to be moving like snails. Just get it together, people, or get out of my way! As usual, in two days in Chicago, packed in a week’s worth of living and working. So, everything by comparison is slow and, well, stupid. I just want to get done what I get done. I’ll slow down later tonight, but for the afternoon, I was sleep-deprived, impatient, blood sugar crashing, and just wanting to get done with everything as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I bought a USB MIDI keyboard this afternoon; it was on sale, and with the new software synths we’ve just installed in my studio computer, I needed it as a tool to work productively, This evening, I’ll set the computer up and try it all out, and maybe make some music. For now, though, this afternoon, I just plan to chill out for awhile, have a bite to eat, and do nothing strenuous for at least a couple of hours. Food first, then rest.



Later, ‘round midnight:

I was unable to nap for long. I have taken a day of rest, after all, doing exactly nothing. My mind races, even though my body is tired. I have written an essay or two this evening, and watched some junk TV.

I realize that I am irritable because I am in that place where I feel pushed to the wall by circumstances, where I have zero tolerance for stupidity. It can be a judgmental place, even though my desire is to be merely honestly contemplative.

I am being frustrated on some practical fronts, and that only adds to the shortness of temper. I back off from the things that are provoking me. I spend quiet hours reading good books. I come back to interpersonal relationships with fellow artists, though, and I sometimes feel surrounded by snails. I wish folks would catch up, sometimes. I don’t want everyone to agree with—nothing would be more boring—but I do crave a good, challenging conversation on a high level with no personal umbrage being used to deflect attention from genuine flaws in the argument. Such conversations are not that common for me. I’ll admit what I have sometimes admitted before, and still struggle with: it’s sometimes hard to find people to talk to on the level I want to talk on in part because I really am a smart person. Not even all of my best friends can keep up all the time, or, not on every topic. When my mind is on fire, the way it been all day today, the whole world seems slow, and a test of my patience. My short fused temper is a direct product of my worst interpersonal vice, which is impatience.

I mean, this can even come down to the petty level of someone offering me a coupon for some percentage off the cost of buying books on the best-seller list at a chain bookstore; to which my immediate, snarky yet true, response is: there’s usually nothing I want to read on any best-seller lists. With the exception of an occasional mystery novel (SF never makes the best-seller list, ever), most of the books on those lists are fashion-driven, light-weight, and celebrity-oriented or authored. They’re very shallow, in comparison to some of the books I find at Goodwill. Like today’s find: The Body Reader: Social Aspects of the Human Body, ed. by Ted Polhemus. A fascinating collection of source texts, with a whole long section on the interplay between the naked and the nude, and another long section asking the question, How much body language is universal, and how much culturally relative?






698. Samhain 2007, Beloit WI

Outside my eastern window, Orion is rising, dominating all of the sky between the tree shadows. I have just completed another annual remembrance and scrying ritual, as I do every year. Today was a quiet, mostly contemplative day. I thought about Dad and Mom and lot. I did some Halloween decorations for the trick-or-treaters; I gave out some candy, though not many kids came this year; it was very quiet. I built a fire in the fireplace and have kept it going all evening. I have had remembrance candles burning in Dad’s room all night long. I have done my readings, and my meditation, and clearing and releasing. I am very tired, physically, but alert mentally, and awake spiritually.

Last week or so, remember, an opossum crossed my deck outside the window at night, then stopped and exchanged looks with me for a very long time. It was the first possum I’d seen here in awhile. I very certain it was a female.

When I closed the circle, I could men’s voices in the space outside. Not words, just murmurs. The dead, talking. I knew I was not alone, on this night of all nights. When the veil in thinnest, and it’s easy to cross over, or hear those now passed over. Especially for someone like me.

I work with the animal powers a lot. Almost daily. Whoever turns up is who I am to be working with.






697. 30 October 2007, Beloit WI

This morning, sitting at my writing table, I watched as a six-point buck crossed the yard to disappear into the trees. Later in the day, out photographing, the exact same thing happened: a six-point buck crossed the road right in front of me. I doubt it was the same buck, though, as the distances between locations would have made that unlikely.

In the afternoon, I went out to the southern unit of Kettle Moraine State Park to photograph the changing leaves. It was a little bit disappointing: clouds came in, and I lost the light for a full hour before sunset; also, a lot of the leaves were down from the trees, even though they hadn’t changed colors, because of all the dry winds we’ve been having lately. Color is not at peak yet, and many of the trees are already bare. What can you do? Oh well. I did get some excellent shots of a stand of yellow birch trees, though; and later, reddening oak boughs overhanging a small lake, and moving in the high wind.s






696. 29 October 2007, Beloit WI

Even though the piano hasn’t been tuned, I just recorded two solo improvisations for Samhain. One of them quietly mournful and lyrical; the other more harsh and atonal, and for which I also used some effects processing.

I’ve been feeling emotional, sad, unsettled, for the past few days. I watched a PBS documentary tonight that was partly about family, and depression, and loss, and I started to cry. Then I took a nap for a short time, just as the moon rose. When I woke up, I felt moved to play piano, and record whatever it was that I was going to play. (Just a simple setup on the laptop, not even the fancy microphones.) I like what came out, and I have edited and posted the two pieces to my podcast.

   Samhain No. 1: AD, piano and effects processing

   Samhain No. 2: AD, piano






695. 29 October 2007, Beloit WI

A difficult night. I’m not sleeping well right now. It’s hard to get to sleep, so I’m staying up too late. Last night the downstairs fireplace seemed to put out too much smoke, and the fire alarms went off, making me jump like crazy. I’ve been watching too much crap TV, and it’s affecting my dreams. I’m feeling overwhelmed about the house, about my own work, about things that need to get done that I don’t have the brain power to be able to do. I wake up feeling not at all at peace, but agitated as the nervous sparrow hopping from branch to branch outside.



Later:

One of Dad’s old friends came over briefly today, and chatting with her settled me down somewhat.

I’ve just come back in from shooting HD video of the fall leaves on the trees around the house. The woods around this house are one of its stand-out features, I’ve always loved them. There is one tall jagged oak tree out back where the leaves are still turning color, and have that marvelous multi-colored effect I love, with yellow and red blending into areas still green.

I went hunting for art supplies in the basement, and found a stash of crayons, pencils, markers, combo art kits and paper. I’ve been very attracted to colored pencils lately, I’ not sure why. Drawing has never been my forte. But I was drawn to buy a little cloth case when I was in Madison a couple of weeks ago, with pencils, a pad of paper, and a couple of other small drawing tools in it. It’s the perfect size case to stash in the truck, along with sumie brush calligraphy set I have in there. At any time, if I am so moved, I can pull those out and make art with them, anywhere I am, on a road trip, or parked somewhere.

It makes spontaneity possible, wherever and whenever it comes over me to make art. Sometimes when I’m out taking photos or video, just being in the creative mindset, or maybe just being in mindfulness, other avenues of creativity also start to open and appear, too. I might find a haiku. An image to draw might appear: a line of hills reminding me of Georgia O’Keeffe, which I want to draw quickly. The readiness is all.



Later:

Is this post-partum depression? Is that what I’m feeling today, a day after announcing LCG’s official release. It’s a project I’ve been keeping quiet about for many months, not wanting to talk about it till it was real, official, actual, factual, tangible, with physical product in my hands. Am I feeling some sort of weird post-project angst? Absurdly, I might be. It’s absurd because there is still so much work to do. This is the beginning, not the end. There is a great deal to do before it gets off the ground; I feel up to the challenge, but I also feel overwhelmed by it. Another major project on my plate, along with the house, my own things, and everything else I have to keep doing in the next few months. I’m having anxiety over the size of the metaphoric hills to be climbed. One step at a time is all one can do, of course. But taking those first steps seems so daunting, today. Tomorrow, I don’t expect to feel this way. Maybe this is just one of those days where you spin your wheels, and feel stuck, before you get back on the horse and get to work. I don’t feel up to the work, right this moment. I don’t hate the idea, though. I’m just having a difficult time, today, probably just today, getting me feet under me, to start that climb.

I just feel so full of doubts, today. So full of uncertainty. I look out at the changing light, in the autumn, and can only see what is falling away. Even knowing it will return, next spring, doesn’t help my feeling like it’s all falling away from me. I’m full of doubts, today.






694. 27 October 2007, Beloit WI

If there’s any music moving in me right now, it’s very quiet. Maybe a gentle piano solo, cantabile piu mosso. Where I sit at my writing desk, with the blinds open, the full moonlight spills over my hands, silvering them.

The past few nights I’ve had difficulty getting to sleep, then, when I do sleep, sleeping a long time. I’ve slept very late several days in a row now. A new phase of change? a temporary thing? who knows. The moonlight is silent and yet full of life. I don’t want to do anything, now, except sleep.

I feel something moving slowly, just beneath the surface. Something sublime and deep, gradually rising. I’ve been feeling this for awhile. It’s not ready to surface tonight; perhaps soon.

A few evenings ago, I took the HD video camera out into the cornfields between Beloit and Janesville, and filmed the full moon rising through the corn tassels. A long, perfect take. I also filmed, later that night, the clouds scudding over the moon, framed between the bare black branches of the oaks over the house. I got a little cold out there in the wind, as the sun went down, and felt chilled and little sick yesterday. I worked some in the garage and porch, cleaning and organizing, just before sunset today; then I brought over a wheelbarrow full of wood and stacked it on the porch to dry, and be ready for when I start making winter fires in the fireplace. I am reading a book on Frank Lloyd Wright’s interior spaces, and this house reminds me of his Prairie Style homes. It is a descendant of that aesthetic: it breaks the box, with it’s long low L-shape and overhanging eaves, plus the big wind wall overlooking the back yard. This is where I place my writing desk, and the view is constantly changing. Tonight the back yard is bright with moonlight.





It’s official: our Liquid Crystal Gallery DVD project is now real.

The first DVD, A Day in the Natural World, has been duplicated, and is available for all to see, and hopefully buy. I have also built a website for LCG, and will add to it as time goes on, and more films get made. We have previews of the first four films on the website, available for anyone to view as streaming or downloadable video. I have been photographing and, now, shooting HD video of the autumn color changes, which will be the material for my next DVD. There are four completed, with one already duplicated, and the others soon to follow. More films will be on the way. I really want to get back into this, now that I have more time available for it. We have a long way to go to make this DVD business a viable concern, but at least the first steps have now been taken. It’s taken me more than two years to get this far, but now I’m at the threshold, and waiting to cross over into the new life.






693. 24 October 2007, Beloit WI

Almost full moon, so of course some of my technology is acting stupid. Grief is not a process with stages, so don’t let some idiot talk you into thinking you are in a staged, predictable process. Expect loss of concentration, or numbness; expect disrupted sleep patterns; expect an emotional roller-coaster. That’s all true. There are no absolutes, and no universal truths, in this: all relationships are unique. Don’t expect otherwise. I observe all this to be true in myself.

I had a rage attack just now, as my technology pissed me off, but then it was over very quickly. I feel okay, just minutes later. It felt focused, and not overpowering. It felt manageable. I wonder sometimes if the Powers That Be don’t provoke, for my own good, to get it out of my body, to blow up, and then move on.

You don’t get over grief. You do, or you can, get complete with it. You get to a point where it doesn’t rule you. Where it doesn’t dominate you every day, all day long. Where you can actually think past it. I am nowhere near that point.

I look at the house after the whirlwind has passed, and it looks actually manageable, at the moment. So much organization and pre-sorting was accomplished last week, that it seems les overwhelming. I’m still going to take a few days away from sorting and organizing, though; except for very light tasks, in the public rooms. I’m going to give myself time to recover from the turbulence, both physical and emotional.

I am a grief observed. I am observing myself, in the midst of it, to know where I am, and to learn how to re-find the center that I have lost. To re-find my balance. Meanwhile, I am watching what happens, both inner and outer landscapes.






692. 23 October 2007, Beloit WI

I indulged myself by allowing myself to sleep in as late as I wanted. I ended up getting ten hours of sleep. This was after a long day’s driving back from Minneapolis yesterday; the day started with a cranial-sacral bodywork session with S. and two of her colleagues, then I took photos around St. Paul, then visited musician friends, then finally got on the highway. I made good time, but I was tired and had to stop a few times to stay awake.

I had vivid, oceanic dreams again last night: My family is at the beach for the weekend; I have been playing nude in the surf all afternoon; an older couple drive a red car drive out onto the beach flats just as the tide is starting to turn; I want to go out to warn them about the tide turning; I am wearing a bathrobe, having been naked all day; my uncle warns me to be careful of the turning tide, and not ruin the weekend for everyone else by causing trouble, which I resent, but agree to; I run out over the sand flats into the giant boulders and cliffs beyond, which make an island when the tide is in, but are accessible when it’s out; this is where I saw the older couple go; I can’t find them, but I discover there’s an artists’ colony there, buildings with studios and labs, and many people, all of whom ignore me; the buildings clearly show marks of being underwater, or half-underwater, when the tide rises up; the windows and sides of some buildings are stained with salt and seaweed; I can’t find the older couple, but I find their car again, after wandering through the half-undersea artists’ colony; the tide is beginning to come in, now; I wait for them in their car; presently, another man comes to take the car, and I get out; he is a thick-built Asian man, who mostly ignores me; he starts the car and drives it back towards the sea, and into a garage door I didn’t see before, a large door in the side of one of the giant boulders; there are many cars being taken into the door; the track spirals down deep into the earth, where there is some kind of manufacturing going on; there is steam and power and giant mechanical tools shaping and forging and forming metals and rocks and other materials; parts of what they are building are lying in some of the underground rooms, but nothing is complete yet; they are building an iron giant, a mechanical man made of black shiny metal, who will be over a hundred feet tall when finished; I have snuck into this place, and now I need to escape, before the tide buries the boulders and makes them into an island again; I need to get back to shore; I work my way out, mostly unnoticed, although they no longer ignore me when they see me; then I am back outside, and running through the surf towards the cabin on the beach.

This dream is obviously oceanic and chthonic, with the waters of the unconscious being so prominent in it, and the deep manufacturing inside the bowels of the earth. It feels like a connection to the source of art, the unconscious, revealing its power. In the dream, I am a tall, thin boy, probably around my early teens in age.






691. 17 October 2007, Beloit WI

Vivid dreams again. At one point, my dreams pause, and I meet and have a conversation with a calm, smiling man named Brian; he’s some sort of senior wizard, and I realize he’s a guide for me; advice given and received.

Yesterday S. and I cleaned out a huge amount of stuff from the storage room under the basement. It’s now half-empty, with all the trash and old boxes no longer there. (S. is here all this week to help me clean and organize. She’s getting so much done, it’s truly liberating for me. I’m then going to drive her back up to Minneapolis, and spend two nights visiting friends, and resting.) There was a lot of disorganized and wasted space. We have also cleaned out the closets in the upstairs bedrooms, providing me more space to sort things into. We took a load to Goodwill yesterday afternoon, after which we went up to the Japanese Garden in Janesville for an hour or so of walking and meditation.

The Japanese Gardens, and the Rotary Gardens there in general, are moving into fall phase: leaves falling everywhere, some color in them, but some just drying out and falling while still green. Some of the garden beds have been cleared out of flowers, and are black mounds of tilled dirt rather than riotously colored as during the summer months. We sat in the pavilion by the bridge, where I like to sit and meditate; the river was dry, the waterfalls shut down for the season, many of the plants removed. I took several photos of leaves fallen in the ponds, with the bare tree branches reflected. A layered image: bare branch of tree, leaf fallen from the tree, one reflected in the water’s surface, the other floating on top of the water, the stones showing through the water underneath.

My mood was quiet and reflective, very much aware of fragility, and the ephemeral nature of things. A follow-up to yesterday’s deep awareness of fragility, or rather a continuation. So much change, so rapidly, and nothing lasts. A truly autumnal mood.

And in the dying away is still beauty, and still an awareness of the appreciation of beauty because of its very fragility. While the beauty lasts, we appreciate it, knowing full well it is not going to last. The same is true of life.






690. 16 October 2007, Beloit WI

The other side of fragility is appreciation. Of what we can do, while we can. Of when things seem okay. Rather than taking it all for granted, being aware of the always possibility of immanent collapse and loss. Appreciation leads to naturally to gratitude.

This morning it’s foggy. The back yard is grey and green, with a single pink rose as a startlingly bright highlight.

These past few turbulent weeks, I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing out my thoughts each morning, or before bed. In that time, a poem or two has appeared, a few haiku, and many photos. I’m shifting gears. I’m also very aware, at the moment, of the futility of language as a container for everything that’s going on, that I’ve been feeling and doing, that has happened. I’m hyperaware of the limits of words to contain all this. And how words can cheapen it, if you try to force it into words prematurely, or at all.

What I’m saying is: I choose to let it be, to let it unfold in its own time. I choose not to try to force things into words that can’t fit. I choose to let the process unfold as it chooses, and not try to control it, or direct it, or make it into something more superficially friendly or comfortable. Let it be what it is. If I write about it, I do. If I don’t I don’t.






689. 15 October 2007, Beloit WI

Fragility: the suddenness with which everything can be taken away from you. Another lesson in fragility when, a few days ago, my email software crapped out; it’s taken me a few days to restore functionality, meanwhile trying to finish a freelance deadline and clean house at the same time. I’ve lost a lot of old emails, but I restored my address book of contacts; I’ve lost some other data, but I’ll just deal with it. And I’m left feeling a new awareness of the fragility of everything: how easily it can all get taken away, or just fail and dissolve. Nothing is permanent, nothing is solid. There is no certain, sure thing, when even the ground you walk on can liquefy in a moment.

I planted all the tulip bulbs that arrived in the mail last week: bulbs that Dad had ordered from Holland last spring, including some I had picked out. When the package first arrived, I got very emotional. But then, I decided to plant them, and make next spring a celebration of bright tulips and other bulbs. I also planted some other new perennials out front, mixed in with the tulips. There was a sale at the local hardware outlet on bulbs, and I picked up a few more kinds of red flowers. Red was Dad’s favorite color, and what I am doing here is a flower garden memorial for him. He loved to garden, it was his relaxation. I’m not so dedicated and gifted at gardening as he was, although as in everything else I attempt, I am a very fast learner. But these new red flowers, and the tulips that arrived, are my tribute to his gardening, in the best way that I know how to do.

When the bulbs, it was very emotional. It was like receiving a message from the dead. A reminder that they still act in our lives, still have a place, still talk to us. It choked me up. But then I remembered that he had ordered these last spring, and I could both weep and be happy.

It’s funny how those once so close and now gone
can still so affect our lives.
—Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Osiyeza (The Crossing)

Now, it’s late at night, after I’ve restored the email software. The rains have gotten heavier, and it’s a true downpour on the roof. A comforting sound, and the newly planted flowers will have no difficulty being watered. It’s a blessing, a validation of the new flowers, and perfectly timed.






688. 11 October 2007, Beloit WI

Sudden waves of emotion come over you, for no apparent reason. I don’t try to stop it, I just let it happen. I can feel very mercurial during the day, especially when I’m out with other people around, with the inner weather changing rapidly and constantly.

I went to see Mom today at the Alzheimer’s unit. She recognized me right away, this time; I had been worried some, because last time it seemed she needed a minute to remember who I was. This time, she seemed able to track things well, and we talked about music, and I could follow her stories. It’s the most lucid I remember her being in a long time. Her stories all made sense to me, for once. We looked out the window at the neighbor’s vegetable garden, and admired the orange and yellow squashes growing in the back row. I had brought a pink rose from the rose bush behind the house, which has started to bloom again, despite the cold weather. She admired it several times. I have gotten used to repeats and loops in conversation, they don’t set me on edge anymore, I just go with the immediate moment’s flow. We also looked at the dramatic clouds in the sky, both light dark, threatening rain but no delivering. It was the best visit I’ve had in months, to be honest. I don’t like going to visit when I’m not feeling good, as I know she would pick up on it, and I never want to upset her. I felt neutral when I arrived there today, and good when I left. It’s still emotional, knowing what’s going on: her slow fading away. But today, if not last time, and if not next time, I felt like I had my Mom back, and that we could talk and understand her.






687. 11 October 2007, Beloit WI

Dreams of travel; of men getting together to fistfight out their problems with each other; of stopping at a fast food joint for lunch while traveling; and one last dream of being naked at the nude beach at San Gregorio, a cloudy humid day, with two other men, one of whom I know well, and taking photographs of them making love in this beautiful location where the land and sky and sea meet together. The cave at the end of the beach; the benched, weathered rocks surrounding it; the cove of high cliffs and soft sand near that end of the miles-long beach; the beauty of skin on skin and on stone and water in the luminous afternoon.



I realize, in the doing, that I’ve embarked on a series of poems, mostly dense prose-poems, that use Greek words as their titles. Specifically, responses to Greek words used theological discussions, each of which reflects spiritual places and practices. I’m not even remotely Christian, anymore, certainly not in any orthodox, familiar, or accepted way, but these strange seem the best way to write at the moment. This might be part of the grief process, a reconciliation. I don’t intend to over-analyze it.






686. 3 October 2007, Beloit WI

Had a long talk with Sage today, and felt emotional afterwards. He’s dealing with PTSD, the same as me, for different reasons. I was reminding him during the call, and hearing it myself, that these things take time to heal: often longer than you think they should. An analogy is that when you break or strain an ankle, it might feel completely healed in two weeks, but in fact it will take six weeks for full recovery; during those other four weeks, it might feel okay, but it’s still weakened, and recovering, and you can re-injure it if you’re not careful.

I find myself starting, very slowly, to write poems about my parents, this past year of caregiving, and all the aftermath. Very tentatively, very slowly. I have no belief that any of them are any good, or particularly groundbreaking as literature. (And I’m learning not to care, since most of my poems seem to go right past most readers’ heads.) But they’re starting to come out. So far, they’ve all come out in radically non-traditional forms, with regards to poetry: as haibun, as prose-poems, as delineated poems with extremely long line lengths and no punctuation, so that they might as well be run-on prose poems. I refuse to push at this; it will come when and as it comes. I refuse to force the writing into a set style; I choose to let it come out the way it wants to come out. In no way do I depend on my writing poems for therapy, for survival, and least of all for fame and reputation. Poetry is the artform I practice that I feel most detached from, usually: the easiest to not be concerned about the audience in, the least likely to cause me angst if rejected. Paradoxically, of course, it’s those things one is least attached to that sometimes bring one the most notice; my poetic and critical jottings have in the past few years have brought me a fair bit of notice, in the tiny world that is poetry, within the not very large world that is literature. Poems are things I can throw out into the air without feeling much attachment to outcomes. I’m a lot more attached to my music and visual art. Not so much the pure photography, but indeed the artwork I make from the photographs. I care more, there.

When you look at what you’re doing as an artist, it’s wise to observe without being editorial or judgmental. What am I doing right now? Oh, just make a note of it, and don’t think it’s bad or good. That judgment can come later. In the mid 1990s, when I was living in small-town Wisconsin near Madison, I went through a period when I could write no poems for many months. Nothing came out, except haiku. Some of those haiku were good; although I write better ones now. I wasn’t stuck, and I’m never really blocked, as I am always doing something; at that time, I was doing a lot of fulfilling musical and graphics work.

During that period, I learned once and for all not to push poetry: whenever I force myself to write a poem, it’s never better than an etude, and it’s usually pretty bad. It’s far better for me to wait for poems to come to me. My discipline is a discipline of readiness: being ready for a poem to arrive, and waiting. This is my writing practice, if you can call it a practice. (And many writers don’t. They think I’m completely undisciplined, and I suppose by their several-pages-a-day standards I am.) Yet I wait, and I am always prepared. The practice is a listening practice: waiting for the inner voices to speak, to bring me the poem. Sometimes I think I write on a completely subconscious level, and the poem only appears to my conscious mind to be written down when it’s already complete; very much like somebody hitting the Print button on a printer. The waiting can be very much like meditation. You sit, and you listen within. If something comes forward, that’s great. If not, that’s also great; and in the meantime, you’ve mediated and become calmer.

So, these fallow periods, or dry spells, in my poem-making don’t alarm me. I know they’re not permanent. Even if they were to prove to be, it’s not the end of the world. Plus, there is always music, and visual art. Boredom is an impossibility.

Back in that non-poetry period, emerging from the haiku-only fallow period, I started to write some poems in a style that was new to me. It seemed necessary and exciting at the time. I eventually gathered them together into a small chapbook of about twenty or thirty poems. Now, I look back on those poems as mostly etudes; mostly they’re imitative of other poets’ techniques and manners of phrasing; most notably, Rilke’s. One or two of those poems were “given” to me, in the usual way, and those are the ones that survive. The rest were far more intellectually created. I’ve had comments from other poets whose opinions I trust that the poems from that period are not my best work. They’re derivative, and not very good.

What I started to write a few years later, though, was the beginning of the period I’ve been writing in since 1998 or so: possibly my “mature” period, certainly the period in which I feel like I’m actually writing something halfway good, and not just more apprentice or journeyman works.

Now I’m noticing that I’m writing mostly prose-poem or haibun: blocks of dense poetic text, not usually broken into lines, and when they are enjambed they are done so in ways new to me, and quite different. It feels like a new direction. That seems appropriate: a life-changing event will change you, by definition, and that is going to change the way you are, the way you think about the world, and the way you write. The very small number of poems I’ve written in the last year (except for the usual haiku) have all been quite unusual in form, mostly prose-poems, the occasional haibun—all quite “experimental.” I don’t know if this is a new phase, a change (permanent or not), or just something that happens when you’re recovering from big life-changing events. Or all of the above. I don’t know; I’m not giving it much thought, actually. I just notice what’s happening, and don’t try to figure it out, or force it to be something it’s not, or try to change it.

For an artist, this can be a big lesson. We often do things for approval that we should not, and we often sell ourselves for the sake of survival. Prostituting one’s art is no bad thing per se, but it’s how you do it, and your motivations, that make it problematic or not.

The fact that I can’t articulate what this new kind of poem I’m writing really is—the fact that I can’t neatly and rationally stick into a categorical box—I think this is a good thing. It’s a familiar feeling. I often get it when I’m exploring territory new to me, in which ways of describing the landscape haven’t yet become clear enough to articulate. All the old maps are useless, and the new maps are still being drawn. Talking about the work comes after doing the work. (Theory always follows praxis, or ought to.) So I fumble my way through, noticing as I go, not worrying about not being able to describe it as I go. It doesn’t mean it’s a breakthrough, even: it could be another dead end. The only way to know is to do it, keep on doing it, and pass through until you get to a point where you can talk about it; whenever and however that might come to pass.

If you think you know where you’re going, you’re probably wrong.

If you think you know what you’re doing, you probably don’t.

Those who know don’t have the words to tell
And the ones with the words don’t know too well.
—Bruce Cockburn, Burden of the Angel/Beast




 

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