Monday, January 15, 2018

My Reading List

Years ago Kristina was reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk. I forget why. Maybe a class. Maybe just because he is a writer of note. I sort of remember she wasn't liking it much. Over the years I bought three of his books but never read them. I'm really not sure if it was something she said about the writing or just the fact that he is of note,  highly regarded and loaded with awards.
When I was in Bellingham visiting Val I went into a really nice bookstore and loaded up. Then in SF I hit two book stores one of which being Green Apple, a favorite. And then I got a lot of nice books for Christmas. I am currently in book heaven.
As I read them I reorganize shelves. My desire is to have all of a writer together with the exception of certain books that fit in sets. I love sets. I have one shelf that has most of the to-be-read books (although they are all over the nest.) I had moved the Pamuk to that shelf and as I was picking a book to read I saw them and wondered why I never picked them. It's like I felt like they were books I should read and didn't really want to read. But I had no idea if I even liked his writing. So. I pulled them off the shelf and began.
He is, in fact, a really great writer. He is also a bit of a yammer-er. He writes a lot of internal dialogue and it goes on and on. The characters from all three books have stayed with me. The stories were haunting. It's rough when you're reading translation because you don't really know if you're getting the words the writer would have chosen. I fall hard for a writer with beautiful words. It felt like work to read the books sometimes. So I'm on a fence about him. I liked/loved some things but didn't really ever get that enamored feeling I get about a writer.
The book I have in my purse is The Buddha in the Attic. It's about Japanese picture brides immigrating to America. The writing is amazing. It's like a prose poem. The subject matter is so heartbreaking. It's startling to have that beauty and horror in the same book.
I feel like reading is a great way to feel through experiences that you don't have. From the Pamuk I have felt the difference in the life of someone growing up in Turkey around the same time I grew up here. From the Otsuka I am feeling rage about the lives of women. The Pamuk experience was actually more internal.
There are two more Pamuk books I want to read but I'm going to take a break. I'm going to read Americanah by Adichie. Seems like a timely story. I read a few of her books a while ago. I really like reading more than one book by a given author at a time. You really get a feel for their style.
There are books that make me swoon. I always want to be reading them and never want them to end. But I like books that make me think and feel. I'm not really sure where these books fit. As much as I struggled with the Pamuk books I can't get them out of mind.
There are only a few of my friends who will even get what I'm yammering on and on about right now. Because it's ... just ... a little ... loopy. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Happy Place

The other day a woman stopped me as I was coming out of the Sports Club. She teaches yoga at the club. She offered to come to my home and teach me yoga. Very nice I thought. In a way. I said I do yoga every day. I started doing yoga years ago with Lilias on PBS. She said me too! But there was a look on her face. Like she knew I was at the club so I did some kind of exercise. She thought yoga might be good for me. Because ... yoga is good. It all might have been benign. But what would make her pick me? And why did she look surprised that I already did yoga? I mean. People occasionally compliment me for being at the club. I feel like it's so mysterious that I ... a fat person ... moves.
Of course I could be imaging any mal intent. It might all be well intended. It just feels. Off.

The pool is my happy place. I always want to be there. It isn't a discipline. I'm not always in the mood to be around people but I always want to swim.
My yoga practice isn't grand. I've focused on being consistent. Its more important to me to do it every day than to do more. It's a time of reflection. Stretching helps my joints.
If I don't swim I do a short session with some hand weights. I feel like I need to keep my arms strong. I like it least of all. For some reason I did like doing weights when I was in New York. When I'm doing it now I try to remember that. It just bores me. 
Tomorrow is the first day of the year and people are going to stop eating things they think are bad and start some kind of program. The parking lot at the club will be full and obnoxious. I just feel like we'd all be better to find a happy place. I know of at least one person who loves to walk. In this town people love all kind of out door things. Wind surfing, of course. River sports in general. Skiing in the winter. It's happy stuff. Women in the dressing room at the club often seem slouched. Resigned. There to do what they should do. And it doesn't seem to last.
Sometimes when the aerobics for people with arthritis class looks bored and a good song comes on I start dancing and sometimes they do too. We swing out.
My big push on this last day of the year is to clean the nest. It's going well. I clean for awhile and then I write a bit. I made it through the holly-daze with a few tears, a lot of time slumped in the chair under a blanket drinking Throat Coat watching Inspector Morse. It might sound dreary but it wasn't. It was subdued. I got some really nice gifts. I have a sense of what I will and will not be able to do in the future. I feel really lucky to have my nest and my friends and my books and ... my happy place.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Silent Night

There was a time in my early twenties in Boulder when I walked around taking chugs out of bottle of Triaminic. I had chronic bronchitis and was always coughing. I could have/should have been in a bed with a spoon for my medicine. Drinking it on the street felt so ... damaged. I liked that feeling at the time. I liked feeling poor (I actually was) and sick (again, I was) and ... damaged.
I might be remembering this because I've had some kind of crud. It starts with watery eyes and sore sinus. I start popping Wellness Formula and drinking Throat Coat and it goes away. It's been going on for weeks. This last week was the worse. There is a part of every day when I feel better. And then it returns.
I never used to buy Kleenex. I used toilet paper and paper towels and even cloth hankies. It seemed an unnecessary expense. When the mommie came to town I made sure to have Kleenex because she was a princess. Now I have a box in every room.
No longer romancing damage. I am warm, resting and medicated and can wipe my nose with comfort.
I just read:Where the Heart Beats. It's about John Cage and the many artists of his time and Zen. He was compelled by sound but searched for silence. He did a piece in which a piano player walked on stage, sat at a beautiful grand piano and ... did nothing. Some people walked out but many people became aware of their reactions to silence.  He was after that awareness.
I saw James Hillman years ago. He was promoting Dream Animals (which now sits on my fireplace). A young woman asked him a question. He was a very tall, lanky fellow. He sort of leaned back, rested one arm on the the other. His finger rested on his lips. He was quiet for quite awhile. The young woman stuttered a bit. The room squirmed. When he answered the question it felt like his answer came from a deep and well considered place. 
We can't really ever be silent. Our bodies make noise. Our blood pump. Our synapses whine. We can listen with awareness and a sort of distance. Or maybe we just learn to rock with the beat.
I've been looking for my copy of Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. Can't find it. I realized that I have most of my spiritual and psychology books on the top shelf where I can't reach them. I guess I felt like I was done with self improvement. Hard to imagine since it's been the ongoing theme of my life. Not so much to escape or even heal the ... damage. Rather to live with it. Attentive and sort of distant.
All of these musings have been filling my holly-daze. It's been snowing all day. Mr Berlin should be happy. There's nothing so quiet as the sound of snow falling.
The nest smells like roasted garlic and Thieves Oil.
If you're reading this I am wishing you all the best. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Object Lessons

When I moved into the nest so much of what I had dragged from SF looked better. There's no logic to that but it was true. Things that I'd barely looked at found primary places on walls and shelves. Everything seemed new. Then the Mommie moved to the Hood and brought so many things from our shared past. I wrote about a few of them, the Grandmom's chair specifically. There was furniture, photos, bric-a-brac from the Grandma's home and the Mommie's home. It felt like my entire life was represented. There are things that transport me back in memory. This Christmas has been overwhelming in terms of objects of memory. 
DeAnna decorated the nest. I might have done 5% of the decorating. She did the things I couldn't do physically, which is most of it. Last year I wrote About the Mommie's Christmas village. It is now sitting on the shelf about my desk.

I remember watching the Mommie arranging it on the buffet in her dining room. She took so much pride and pleasure in it. I wanted her to have it out in her room at the assisted living facility. DeAnna helped me with that as well. I knew the Mommie would worry about leaving the lights on all night so I talked it over with her but she said it was OK to leave it them on. That night after dinner some of the ladies came back to her room to see it. She told me on the phone when I called to say goodnight. A short time later they called to tell me that she had fallen. She was trying to turn off the lights and her feet got tangled in the cords. She looked like someone had beaten her. My entire being hurts when I think about it. I planned to put it where it is now so she could see it on the weekends but she was gone before the next Christmas. So I look up at it and am swarmed with memory and feeling.
I was always adamant about having a tree. Usually small. Even in New York where I had none of my ornaments and the really small and raggedy tree I got blocked the narrow space, I had a tree. Two years ago I couldn't find a tree that would fit into the really small space I have for one. I did find a live tree in a pot that was perfect. After Christmas I planted it in Gayle's back yard where it is reported to be very happy. It's a spendy way to have a tree but it feels better than dragging the tree corpse out the door. So...I have another tree in a pot this year.
Many of the ornaments were gifts. Many are from the Mommie's trees. I stare at it and remember.
There's a lot of chatter about the value of downsizing. I know it's a good thing. I feel like I've been doing it for the last five years. But these objects have sentience. I'm not interested in blank walls and empty shelves. I like color and texture and things that are held together with glue.
I was just reading about a Zen master's satori. Everything (including him) went transparent. We live in shimmering illusion. Beauty is a dream. I may not be a candidate for Satori. I'll be enjoying the shimmer to much. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

One Year

I don't like euphemisms. I say I'm fat because I am and I don't need to back away from that fact. It's a simple descriptive word. But talking about death has been a study in euphemisms. I find myself squirming away from the most simple word: dead.
Today marks a year from when the mommie ... died. When I've seen people who I haven't seen for awhile and they ask about her I say she's gone. It feels like the simplest way to say it. But gone? Where did she go? I've said she passed. Also seems like way not to say dead.
I was thinking about how we say birthday but not deathday. Birthday is about a beginning. Death is about an ending. We celebrate beginnings. Deathday feels morbid. I'm just not sure it should.
I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson being interviewed by Larry King talking about death. He talked about what happens with the body. So very science like. He wants to be buried instead of cremated because he likes the idea that his body will be consumed by the earth and become part of what keeps biological life growing. He has no evidence that anything happens to his -soul(?). Might not be the word he used.There may be no evidence. It's just never made sense to me that what ever it is that animates us (soul, spirit, personality) is just gone when we die. Nature doesn't waste anything so why would that energy be wasted? It's so vital and diverse.
In my life I've had many beliefs about what happens after death but now I have none. I told the mommie a story about her husband going to heaven early so he could build her a geodesic dome and plant a garden, which would have been his idea of heaven. I told her a story about her family coming to visit and welcoming her. And I hope she had that experience, even if it was only in the last flickers of brain waves. My only wish is that there be moment of revelation. A moment when it all makes sense. But even that is really a limit. What happens next might just be beyond our imagination.
The mommie is with me in so many objects, needlepoint pillows, cross stitch pictures, photos and (of course) frogs. Memories, good and bad. Songs. But she is ... gone.
Friends get tired of sadness. I've been trying not to talk about it too much. But today I am sad. I was sad a year ago but sadness changes shape. Last year it felt dense and heavy, like concrete. Over the year I've been knocked down by waves of sadness. Sometimes it's more like a breeze. Superficial and brief. Today it's like an ache. But it feels normal, in a way. Of course I'm sad. I don't feel like I need to work too hard to feel anything else.
It's grey and rainy. Perfect sadness weather. My plan is nothing special. I'm going to make soup and read and let the tears fall when they come. I'm going to feel through it. 

Sunday, November 05, 2017


I love dictionaries. I said that to David Meltzer once and he asked - which one? It never occurred to me there was a difference. I longed for my own OED but now they don't print them anymore. It's all on line.
There were years when I mostly read in bed during whatever amount of time I had before sleep took me. If I came across a word I didn't know I'd get up, go to the living room and look it up. Sometimes. I couldn't always push the covers away.
I just finished a book by John McPhee. His writing makes everything interesting for me. A whole book about Oranges! In the new book he writes about writing in terms of his career, editing, reasons for a given topic. He started thinking about oranges because he stopped at a fresh squeezed orange juice machine regularly and noticed changes in the color. I love that. In a sentence describing his reaction to a certain fellow he used the word horripilation. These days I reach for my phone and am always a bit surprised when the word appears after a few letters. It's one reason I might like a Kindle. You just click on the word. You stay under the covers in any case. McPhee has been gifting me new words for years.
I just watched the new documentary about Joan Didion. She's gifted me new words, specifically meliorative. After looking up the word there is the effort to use it in your life. I remember walking around with that word in my head waiting for a reason to use it. After a while the word is there whether I use it or not.
When I was in college I spent a lot of time with two young women. They made fun of my 'big words'. I didn't really know what they meant. I wasn't doing anything on purpose. Even worse was the time in my MFA program when a young man asked me why I used so many SAT words. Somehow I thought people who were trying to be writers might share my love of new (to me) words. Another person in the program felt that words that were too obscure made things too hard for the reader. Imagine the expletives that came to mind. 
Chiaroscuro was the last word that caught me. I think it must have been in something by Ferrante. I made a sticky and hung it on my desk. It's not a word that I can imagine using but it does come to mind when I look at Kristina's photos. It stuck with me because it's just so beautiful. I'm not sure horripilation will stick with me. I don't have the experience.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


Years ago a friend read a draft of my book and noticed that I hadn't written any of my abuse story. There were a few reasons. One of which was it would have hurt the mommie. I wasn't just protecting her. I was protecting me from her reaction. She was not great with emotional complexity. And when I told a favorite aunt, she didn't believe me. It ruined our relationship.
There are so many repercussions from abuse. For me there was the bolt to my nervous system when the physical act occurred. And the mad scramble in my mind trying to understand what had happened and trying to deny it. It messed with my sense of my ability to understand experience. It gifted me a nagging inner drone of self doubt. And then there was wondering why the people around me didn't know. I know my behavior changed. My doubt was augmented by the sense that I wouldn't be believed. I never regretted not telling the mommie. I paid a price for not telling but I feel like I might have paid a different kind of price if I had.
For so many years I told people moments after I met them. My feeling was that it was obvious there was something wrong with me and if they knew they would understand. I didn't have the money to do therapy but I read books. So many books. Trying to understand myself. Trying to free myself.
We're in the 'me too' moment. I think it is powerful and important but I also am not sure that it will create change. There are so many moving parts to any abuse story. Stories in the news currently focus on the work place in which it's really always about power. In my story it was about a profound lack of understanding. There may have been elements of power but it was really someone who just thought he was being playful and loving. I'm not trying to minimize what he did, or rationalize. I do not forgive him. I am however very clear that he cared about me. The way he expressed that care was confusing and harmful and wrong.
I worked in restaurants and hung around rock and roll bands. The double entendres flew and I was better at them then many of the men. The line between an inappropriately sexualized environment and an Eros playground should be drawn with care. Even in those worlds we all sensed when things had crossed the line and we often blanched together.   
It's not like there was just one abuse story in my life. There are always a million stories in most women's lives. And there was another reason I didn't write about it. I'm fat. My book is a memoir about growing up fat in the particular time in history. It was a time full of pop psychology and quick fix solutions. There is an idea that abuse and weight gain are connected. And maybe they are sometimes. But it's not useful except in very individual and personal ways. In my case I was fat before the abuse. I was fat after the abuse.
I will say that I thought someone wanting to be with me romantically would be a function of something miraculous and that was about my weight. For years I thought that if someone did want me the weight would magically fall off my body. There is an intersection of abuse stories and internalized weight oppression. But, again, it's very individual and very personal and so often overly underlined.
In some ways being fat gave me a way to pass through the world of men with out fear. I wasn't sexually important so they didn't act out around me. They confessed and confided and trusted the way I made it all OK. I didn't always make it OK but looking back I sometimes wonder if I slipped into a need to make things easy for them. And that most certainly comes from the struggle to accept the abuse.
I often feel that life is about holding conflict in a way that doesn't minimize offence and doesn't allow erasure of the offender. We have to understand each other. However, it isn't my job to do the work for my offender. The abuse had a terrible impact on my sense of self and my relationships. It's my job to hold what happened to me. At 64 I feel like I have things in a good place but I'm not really sure if that's true or if I somehow believe it doesn't matter any more.
I've been annoyed by men wanting to add their abuse stories. They need their own #. The process needs to be specific before it can be universal. And I wish I'd see some kind of # from men trying to understand how they are complicate.
For me, #metoo is about breaking silence. Would I be breaking my silence if the mommie were still here? Probably not.
As I am writing this I feel I am being too cerebral. I don't actually feel cerebral but I save my rage and grief and confusion for the spaces in which I feel entirely safe. There aren't many of them.