Beneath a Gibbous Moon

I throw open the French doors and stand, listening to the dripping eaves. The crusted puddle of snow on the garage roof doesn’t calm my stubborn heart that, despite the sage warning of the ground hog, feels the ebb of spring. I can smell, I can feel, I can hear the life returning to the earth.

As the days lengthen and the temperature stays above freezing for tonight, I wander out on the deck and pull a blanket from the basket, overjoyed in its mildew-free, dry embrace. I stand beneath an open sky, dipper filled with gibbous moon. At least that’s the phrase that comes to mind as I look at the plump half moon. The snow and the ice melt on beneath cold moonlight. They sigh off shaded ledges. Branches creak and pop like the ankles of an old man rising in the night to pad softly to the toilet as his wife sighs and rolls, spine groaning.

Indoors, the Don Quizote clock ticks a metronome. The furnace pipes click and thock and clank. Tires whine by before stillness returns.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Feb. 4, 2009


Some recent reading I’ve been doing related to the memoir indicates that physicists now more or less support the idea that time is not linear or progressive but rather a mental construct. In reality, apparently, everything that has, is, or will be happening exists in the soup of the universe and we select our now. Even if I truly understood the work, which I do not, the idea that people elect their reality, their now is quite astonishing especially when so many folks I know elect to stay in a specific moment for years, sometimes forever.

Without grasping the fundamentals, I may have this wrong, but the idea that this time selection is personal and yet not entirely free-willed helps me better release frustration and anger with my ex and others who persist in endless rehashings of hurts and harms now over and done. I am trying not to do the same and not to react when their rehashings do not square with any reality I ever lived. To say, “you don’t remember” as a way to erase my lived experience is infuriating, but the truth is that details do slip away when you let go. And if they continue to live those moments or years over and over and over, they are more present for them, though they shift each and every time they are relived.

Turns out the metaphors and other language we use about trauma may be spot on. I’m not sure how this relates to the slippage of memory, but it must. Still, it seems you truly can get stuck at that precise moment of pain and anger and act out from that place over and over and over again. Until you choose to move to another moment in time.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Jan. 14, 2016

No Say

A cold, gray day clinging to the verge of snow, when you know it would be warmer if the moisture would begin to pile in drifts around your feet. Reminds me of Carolina in January. Instead the dampness hangs in the air at a stubborn 32 damp degrees.

I finished my last class for the term today and returned home to a lovely surprise. There was a package that I should have anticipated because the sender requested my address about a week ago. Still, it was a surprise. Inside were three bottles of flavored olive oils for cooking and a lovely note from Susan that pulled me back to all those evening joys on the porch of the inn in Castine. Friends are such a gift.

I’ve begun writing a monthly letter to my grandson, which is loads of fun. They say he loves to get them. A friend disappointed me today by rescinding an offer to watch the cat while I am gone for the holidays. There’s nothing to be done but board him now, but it made me think that maybe the definition of friendship, or even love, may be the ability to place weight on follow through, to know that when problems arise, loved ones develop a solution rather than dump the problem back on you. But that’s just rancor, probably prompted by another friend who cancelled a much-anticipated visit at the last minute “to work on the kitchen” and a very strange “Christmas” card from friends featuring their photos of homelessness in Santa Monica. Truly bizarre. The holidays do bring out the weirdness, I guess.

I decided not to apply for the distinguished professorship even though I think I’m a good fit because I reviewed recipients and recognized the “good ole boys club” at work even, or especially, in the female winners. That’s a club I never want to join, and have assiduously avoided with great cost all these years, but sometimes, sometimes, I do wish I could have even a few of those perks from some other means. I know. If I were “nicer” to them and “smiled more” and bolstered their egos … Can’t, won’t, will not do that not when all the way back to my first post-college “real” job their crap has been a constant, then as now forcing me out of opportunities, jobs, earned rewards. I’ll just dive into things I care about, especially writing that memoir. They have no say over that.

Dec. 8, 2015

Snake Skin

When I came back from Atlanta in August, it seemed too close to the start of the fall term. I am so much a creature of steadiness and routine, even more so after a full year at home on sabbatical living to my own rhythm. Last night, again, I had trouble getting to sleep, perseverating over what “needs” to get done before I leave for LA tomorrow. I recognize that my anxiety has less to do with my very short and simple to-do list and more to do with my growing sense of general frenzy over the past few weeks: How to finish prepping the new course, start classes, evaluate tenure candidates, have a visitor for almost a week, throw a birthday party for a friend, prepare for the wedding weekend, sort out the usual onslaught of start-of-term issues, work with a completely revised syllabus. There is nothing big at all and yet everything lacks the predictability I enjoy and rely on. Something to be mindful of, I think. Clinging to routine sounds alarming like sedimentation.

I also have a sort of performance anxiety around the wedding, I guess. As Sheila Heti asked: How should a person be? It’s a great question and one I don’t often ask myself as I stumble from one action to another fulfilling expectations, both mine and from those around me. To say a person should be herself begs the question because how do you know your true self when you are bombarded with demands and norms and expectations? When I’m in small groups, especially one-on-one, I feel more centered. I can find myself and behave genuinely. But with a group, especially a group of folks I don’t see often who are very close friends and family, I always feel the outsider and, seeking to fit in, I can really lose myself. I want to be liked and not stick out as the loner, outlier, weirdo without really wanting to jump into their activities.

Truth is, partying terrifies me, especially when I have no duties, no tasks to occupy me and enable me to appear “as if” I am a part of it all. Some part of this is my introversion, how draining I find it to try to interact with a lot of people at one time. Part of it is that the young adults are, many of them, my “kids,” and I struggle not to become my mother, not to drink myself into oblivion in the corner, and not to feign being the “cool mom” everyone likes.

But who am I really among these kids turned adults who invite me but with whom I’m unsure of my role? It’s really all about my deeply ingrained need to become “valuable” by always, always doing something (indeed, the correct thing) for those around me. What have you done for me lately? Today? This minute to deserve to be here? Of course, I have trained them to see me this way by always playing caretaker mom. They know no different, but perhaps it is not at all what they want or need. And perhaps all of this is my projection onto them and has nothing to do with what they see or want or expect. Maybe it’s as simple as wanting me to be there to celebrate their wedding.

It is so easy for me to project my insecurities onto others when the real terror comes from the fact that it is truly up to me, and only me, to be the person I am and to deal with whatever may occur in relationships if I am no longer the person they once knew. I think the lesson of the rupture with my ex is that I need to jump into that void. I need to stop behaving as if I am the reflection of others’ desires. I want to let that “me” pass away and see what me springs forth free of my imagined and real constraints.

I read somewhere that Socrates, maybe, said something like, “The secret to change is not to waste your energy on clinging to the old but to spend it building the new.” Something like that. It’s true, of course, but it even takes a snake a couple of weeks to shed her skin, and I’ve had my habits a lot longer than a few months.

“California Mountain King Snake Shedding Its Skin” by born1945 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sept. 3, 2016


I woke up early and did some work on Madwoman for the first time in a long time. I think it was prompted by the email from P. Whatever the impulse, it felt good and I did some work incorporating rather disjointed but quite specific feedback from the writing group. The result is that the book is morphing from a daughter’s biography into a hybrid biography/memoir with a lot of researched data added in. Injecting me into the story is both more honest and more engaging, I think, but it means I can no longer be invisible.

I continue to obsess and perseverate, particularly at bedtime, over very minor things, sometimes spending sleepless nights over them before I just do them. It’s a relatively newer pattern and one that feels off kilter, counter-productive, even worrying. It makes me think of Aunt Helen in her later years being completely incapable of doing the most routine and minuscule things. “I just can’t see myself walking into the hairdresser” or “I just can’t see myself sitting on the pier” she’d say. Visualizing was essential. Is what’s going on with me related? Is it a natural part of aging? Something different? Nothing?

For now, my strategy–as ever–is to push on through. Carpe diem! Fight the tendency and do do do. That’s the way. Then I draw a rune: Thurisaz or thorn, a gateway to extreme change that may involve pain, misery, even torture. Force, courage, perseverance are required to push through this transition. There is the potential to unleash great power but the transformation is associated with the deep subconscious, anger, chaos, and brute force. Hmmmmmm.

“Crown of Thorns” by Doug1021 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Oct. 14, 2016

Clear Water

Today is my last full day at the writer’s retreat, and I’m sad to be leaving. I worked hard, got abundant and extraordinary feedback from P., and pushed Madwoman to another level. I have the vast majority of what I will need for this book roughly together, although I remain open to its continued growth and transformation. This project has been so stunning, so illuminating. How the book itself shifts and changes and expands as my knowledge and insights and openness grow. A life lesson, for sure.

I drafted a new piece of the book very early this morning, in the wee hours. Nodded off for a short nap and then took a hike down along the Clearwater River for about an hour. It was a glorious sun-filled cold day with sharply drawn white cloud puffs skating the sky and dancing their reflections on the smooth river. The water moves swiftly but except in the depths, where it swirls and froths around rocks and snags, it deceives with its clarity. Beneath feet of water, the sandy, rock strewn bottom appears mere inches away and the rocks fairly glow, red, orange, amber, pewter, brightest yellow, even blue. Though the river is filled with fish, as evidenced by the occasional angler drifting by with lines trailing behind like miniature earthbound contrails, I rarely see them. The occasional glint of a flank caught by the sun or the splash of a momentary leap, but its crawfish type critters I see most and their shells along the bank give evidence of raccoons, perhaps, or mink, otter, something of that kind. I could look it all up, of course, but prefer the mystery for now.

I got chilled and returned to my cozy room to read Laura Flynn’s Swallow the Ocean. It’s beautifully written, and her mother’s growing madness certainly resonates with my own experience. It’s a gripping story and also a wonderful study in technique. Each time I read something this good I feel drawn to it and critical of my own skill and story. But we each have a truth to tell. Laguz, the rune of deep water, running water of unknown depth, tells me to that there is an unseen power (the unconscious) at work and that I should listen to my intuition and emotions.

“Down River” by `James Wheeler is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Nov. 7, 2016


The snow’s been coming down for a while but the ATV was dead for a bit until B. came up and replaced the battery for me. Don’t know if it was me or K., but someone left the ignition on and absolutely killed the battery. These small ones don’t last long in single-digit temps, it seems, so he also brought me a trickle charger to keep the battery topped up. He has been so great getting me set up and functional for plowing.

I gave K. a plowing lesson yesterday, but she’s not a natural. Reminded me of that wonderful and brilliant young writer who worked for me one summer at The Castine Patriot who simply could NOT cut the edges off the galleys without cutting through the type. He couldn’t see when waxed copy was pasted in crooked, when spacing was off, etc. In the end, I relieved him of production duty because it took me longer to clean up after his truly earnest efforts than to simply do it myself. I fear the same will be true with K.’s plowing. She can’t seem to get the hang of the level the plow needs to be, how far to push back berms, how to avoid leaving clumps of snow that will freeze into immovable blocks in the middle of the drive, etc. It seems the universe really does want me to learn that folks have their limits. Most people really cannot do lots of things. I could use help with the plowing for sure, but I don’t need a repeat of paste up! For now, I’m on the ATV clearing the drive for about three hours a day as the snow keeps coming down.

Snow is forecast pretty regularly through the end of the year, and with my ex out of the country, I’ve been doing the main drive as well as my own. But I bumped into him yesterday plowing his drive so his partner could get in and out, and he told me he came back from India shortly after a major hurricane. I was there with him a few years back, so he talked about the trip, folks I know, and the storm a bit. Quite a pleasant, casual exchange and a departure from his usual snub or anger. Perhaps he recognized that I was the one person here who would care or really relate to what he was talking about.

Speaking of an ex, one from years and years and years ago popped up through FB recently. At first I engaged out of curiosity, but like others who emerge after decades and seem intent on becoming part of my life, the ardent interest made me pull back. I’m not sure whether I really doubt his good intentions, whether a lifetime of being poorly used and abused by the males in my life makes me suspicious, or whether I simply don’t want to nurture a relationship that will likely, inevitably, pull me back into a past I do not want to relive and that I escaped with great difficulty. Either way, I’m not pursuing it. It seems to me that at least for now my most fruitful partnership will be with myself, my writing. I’m fine with that.

Dec. 19, 2016

Long Beach

A young worker, iPod deaf to the dawn, saws at the deadened banana fronds, alone in his Winston-scented world. Warming air soughs and whispers the branches in growing bright as invisible birds chip and chirp and the asparagus fern twitches beneath the fitful movements of a miniature lizard. I could be in Mytilene or Cyprus except for the absence of the Orthodox prayers or mullah’s calls replaced in this secular land by the hum of hot tub jets, a lower-decibel barrista’s churrr.

I jump at a CRASH! The worker has not trimmed the dead fronds but topped a 20-foot expanse off the palm that marked the corner of the yard. Four black cables like a poorly drawn bass clef slant from the neighbor’s roof to fill the space. The sound of ripping palm flesh confirms he is no gardener, merely an executioner.

My eyes tear from thin ground haze that reminds of yesterday’s wildfire. The air carries the sting of wet charcoal and smoldering wood. Like an ill-extinguished cigarette, the earth exhales death’s putrescence.

Photo by Frances Davies

Nov. 19, 2008


I see myself in the interactions from my family and recognize that same fear and dysfunction that have marked so much of my behavior. It is good, healthy, for me to stop jumping each time they push the buttons, and it is encouraging to see clearly the destructive behaviors I learned in that collective. BUT it is deeply, profoundly sad to see how frightened and angry and unhealthy they all remain and to know how much I harbor those same problems.

Our patterns are so well engrained and normalized through a lifetime. This cycle and mixture of supercilious sweetness, false fellow feeling and mutual interest, talk of love, care, shared values, mutual concern and cooperation all as a feint, an effort to placate that, when unsuccessful instantly transmutes into sarcasm, anger, attack, rejection and refusal of the simplest or most reasonable request. Though they all fail to mention it, my withdrawal from the joint tenancy has them all at a loss and afraid. But now, for the first time in my life, some of them privately and in sotto voce say that they too are seeing the ugliness that has been my daily diet from the others all my life. Some more constant and virulent than others, of course.

I see so much of this same pattern in my relationships with men. When I move beyond self-destructive or self-denying relationships, a rarity, the barbs emerge. But I am guilty of the bait and switch, the lure and rejection, the come-hither and get-the-fuck-out. I too carry hostility garbed in concern and anger cloaked as love. But through this past decade, and increasingly each year, I have begun slowly, slowly and with much back-sliding to move beyond these worn and worrying patterns and to begin to reshape myself, to remove my very skin and peel off this false face that years of practice have melded to my own and to find myself, my soul within.

Photo by Asher Legg on Unsplash

March 28, 2009

My Orientalism

I am beguiled and attracted by the remote, the unfamiliar, the different. I yearn for the places I have not been, not as a fickle tourist or outsider but as someone who inhabits them, not as a dilettante sampling or an occupier oppressing, but as a seeker of the sources of my being, of paths to truth, of the multiple tongues of my heart. I fear sometimes that the allure of exoticism pulls me with its simultaneous fantasy of escape and the smack of Western privilege. The bitter aftertaste of this truth quick kills any imagined shared beauty, and my brain composes eloquent defenses of my pure intentions. But the moment is strangled. Rapacious intolerance and self-judgment bind my feet and blind my childish imaginings.

Still, I savor other languages in my mouth as my clumsy tongue struggles against my brain’s ill-stored vocabulary. Awkward efforts at translating half-forgotten words form artless ideas until I allow the language to wash over me and cease my analytical decoding. Only then do I hear the distinct rhythms and melodies, and my tongue imitates. To speak and be understood, I must abandon the books, the tortures of grammar and knowing and definitions and play like a child with words that seek always to see and to touch and to taste and to be. Like a child I will dance yesterday and look back on my death, drink fish and watch rocks walk. Like a child my tongue will know no boundaries and speak home in a foreign tongue and look forward to yesterday’s joys yet to be.

Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash

May 9, 2009

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