Thursday, October 30, 2008

Any Night - Phillip Levine

Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
the yellowing ash, all the trees
are gone, and I was older than
all of them. I am older than the moon,
than the stars that fill my plate,
than the unseen planets that huddle
together here at the end of a year
no one wanted. A year more than a year,
in which the sparrows learned
to fly backwards into eternity.
Their brothers and sisters saw this
and refuse to build nests. Before
the week is over they will all
have gone, and the chorus of love
that filled my yard and spilled
into my kitchen each evening
will be gone. I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don't let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he's running
and singing too. He could be happy.

Clearing the Pile

I'm definitely seeking solace these days.

What is it about us that sends us seeking ourselves at every turn in our lives? Or is that special blessing of an instinct reserved for a certain segment of the population? And what would that be -- intelligent, curious, egotistical, self-absorbed, un-insightful, unbalanced, or is it, much more to my liking, a not unwelcome side effect of choosing to live an authentic life? A life examined. At least, from time to time.

I think about my childhood more than most people, I think. I had the same best friends from age 2 to 13. I had lots of childhood trauma, which helps things stick in your memory. I read books over and over and over, helping to imprint them and myself thinking of them in my mind.

My mother recently cleaned her garage and finally got us girls to take away all the stuff we'd been storing there, including boxes and boxes of books. Much to my delight, I did a great job as a kid knowing which books to save! I have so many of my favorites now, and I've been reading them voraciously in one or two sittings, night after night. They're exactly as I remember them, and there's such a warping feeling of rightness and strangeness between how I feel now reading them and the illusion of being different while reading them.

Is there continuity in consciousness? In experience? I have to say no. My memory is much more like packets of life [ha, meant to type light] operating as particles versus a wave. Maybe that's just a factor of what I use it for: occasional introspection to get me through the next transition.

Now there's the biggest one and probably second to the last one: dying. Parenthood is more than just about inviting a kid into your life. It's about the last chance to finalize your independent identity as opposed to your soon-to-be always-relational identity of you-as-mom, you-despite-being-mom.

I see Eric facing the same challenge but played out slightly differently. While this new life twist does have me wondering about my professional identity, it's not tied to my worth as a person in the same way as it seems to affect Eric as a man. He's thrust neck-deep in the question of: "Am I a good provider? Am I doing what I want to do in my professional life? Because I'm about to lose the flexibility to make changes easily very very soon."

As an aside, something I've learned about myself recently. I follow through. I used to think of this as being anal or having a high work ethic or being a perfectionist or something. Now, I'm thankful every time I find myself bending down to pick up a string on the carpet and throw it away, or unpack that box even though it contains a bunch of junk that I have no idea what to do with.

My mom came over to help me around the house for a couple hours -- bless her -- and I found her the same way, only more annoyingly so. She kept saying, let's just do a little more so that it feels good to have it done. And I knew just what she meant.

When I was little, I used to clean my room by piling up everything from on top of my dressers, everything out of place around the room, etc., into the middle of the room. Then I'd dust, make the bed, generally clean all the surfaces I could suddenly see. Then, one by one, I'd start to put things away from the pile. If I couldn't find a place for it, I'd throw it away. It was a painstaking process, and pretty slow. But it felt good from the beginning. Good to see cleared off surfaces. Good to have portions of the room done (if you could ignore the gigantic pile in the middle of the room). Good to restore order piece by piece as the pile shrunk.

I sometimes feel I take the same tack with the rest of my life, trying one by one to clear off my commitments, trying to make the other pieces of my life feel good and set and clean, even as I work to shrink my pile of should's and have to's.

I only have another 4.5 months to shrink my pile before it leaves my control more than ever before.

On Prayer - Czeslaw Milosz

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word 'is'
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No Time for Introspection

Suddenly find myself in an internal cycle once again. I should be able to recognize the signs by now, but ... life is too immediate to see sometimes.

Coming out of the most intense project at work - high pressure, fast deadlines, huge expectations, historical import. The whole shebang. It's laying in wait at the moment. Gathering comments. The onslaught will ensue next month, I'm sure.

In the midst, I discovered I've got new life growing inside me. No time to think about it, I mostly tried not to focus on how intensely uncomfortable pregnancy is!

I'm 4.5 months in now. Bought a house and moved. Still living out of boxes. Worrying about how to pay for new bills and a new mortgage. Wondering how other people do this, when we can barely do it, and I know we're better off than most. The financial collapse. The blazing political contest.

I have to admit it feels like a world in its last days. Biblical. Epic. Death throes of ideologies. All that.

And such internal silence! Amidst the sound and the fury, such thin worries! Such interim thoughts, bridging the gap between days with grocery lists. House needs. Future expenses.

What I do for myself personally these days is study "planning" to pass a certification test in November. Edifying...

It is a comment on where I am these days that my biggest joy is television shows: Pushing Daisies. Heroes. Others too embarrassing to mention.

Facing the most traumatic, life-changing times possible in life, I feel the rising panic to reestablish friendships and support networks. All after November. All in the future. All tomorrow when the pressing of today is not quite so insistent.

Several high school friends contacted me recently, which felt like a sign, but I haven't followed through. I'm not sure what I have to give, and having felt like I abandoned them before, I'm hesitant to promise what I won't or can't deliver.

But maybe all of it is crap. And life's moving so fast, there's no time to take anything back. You just have to try to do as much as you can right in the first place. Try to make the heroic efforts to fight the relentless succession of days. I wrote a graduation paragraph once that said Baudelaire was right: time is the enemy.

I am such a sad soldier. Doesn't really matter. There's always the marching.