Saturday, April 22, 2017

On breathing in and out

Do you remember when the sky wasn't falling?  Some days I can make it all the way without imagining the worst happening over some daily challenge.

Other days, the weight of life and reality is overwhelming.

I almost don't remember that other life.  I think, I used to have a life. I used to know which way is up and which way is down.  I remember that I didn't fear anything.

I remember it like a dream or a movie, though, and it is someone else's life.  But it wasn't that long ago.

Four years and seven months ago, my world turned upside down and then seven months later, another fissure opened, making sure that I understood that I should never say, again, things can't get worse.

Remember that, things can always get worse.

And when I was still standing despite the world being upside down, six months later, a volcano erupted.

I stood, shakily, and made it through, but the bending was giving way to breaking. I think that I had the beginnings of a panic attack one day... I had been hiding in the library, taking a moment to breathe in the quiet of a carrel.  And I realized I was supposed to be writing, but I was breathing instead.  Breathing as though it was no longer something my brain could remember to do on its own. And scared that if I didn't put all of my focus on breathing that I ...

I couldn't go there, not then, not even now.

I decided to try not to feel, I had already been trying to keep my feelings in a box for while. It was working, mostly, but to the detriment of everything else in my life.

For years, I figured out how to keep busy by *fixing* everyone, pretending to be alright and breathing.

You would think that would be enough ... breathing, especially; it is necessary for life after all.

But it was not enough.

Now I have been trying to put my life back together for over a year.  Much of that time has been spent trying to unravel the tight hold on the emotions.  Sometimes that means I cry, a lot, for apparently no reason.  But I can only do that, still, when I watch or read something sad, about someone else, or I drive.

Now that my car has decided not to be reliable, I no longer have a safe place to cry ... so my neck gets stiff, and I eat sugary things, and I feel out of control and unable to go out of doors.  And I try to feel.

But responsibility creeps in and my hiding abilities fully respond.

And I breathe in and out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quote Thursday, maybe a repeat...

I knew life began where 
I stood in the dark, 
looking out 
into the light.
~Yusef Komunyakaa

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

words and feeling, aka cryptology

Here are the words that I wrote yesterday ... and set me off on yesterday's blogpost.

It strikes me now how sparse the text is, how laden it is with unspoken pain, isolation, desolation and need.

Wrote this to one friend, punctuated with :( at the beginning and the end, as though the words themselves would not convey sadness:

"This is going to be my hard week. Besides all the work, it is the 4th anniversary of my sister going in the hospital, having the "catastrophic event" and then the agony of the hospital watch. I bought the books so I could have something easy to escape into. Perhaps the universe just wants me to sit with the grief. It is just going to be a hard week." [She had stopped by a park to see if a book I have misplaced had ended up in their little library. It was a silly book, something easy and mindless to read.]

I sent another friend this email:  "I have to keep running after all the work ... and in between having little breakdowns because this week is the 4th anniversary of watching my sister die... ugh... compounded by the fact that every day brings us closer to the year anniversary of S's death. It is all one big trigger neck is killing me and I am frequently on the edge of panic attack over seemingly silly things... oh PTSD is so real. Trauma I do not love you and don't know how to let you go..."

Hours later, this friend responded via text, not necessarily inviting conversation about the pain.

 I responded thusly:
"It is interesting on the grief issue Each year is different. Last year I was dealing with other losses and then S and no room to process. So here I go again wondering if it will ever get better. ... I am not sure what better would look like. Honestly when the grief hits me I am utterly bereft. And other times I feel guilty or angry to be the survivor. And of course there are times I just want to crawl back into the convenient middle child role where I am not responsible for everyone's well being. Better would be to not have any of these overwhelming feelings. Perhaps to remember good times without the stabbing cruelty of loss bound to it."

I look at it now in black and white and wonder if either of them had any idea how hard it was for me to put those feelings into words. I wonder if they can feel the subtext and intertext that does not appear in black and white. There are precious few words there in those messages. Can they know how hard it is for me to talk about this at all? Does anyone have the capacity to read around someone's terse, cryptic messages?


I don't talk about my grief very much.

I don't always have words for it.

But April is the cruelest of months... in so very many ways.

It was already tugging at my, like the rip tide, threatening to take me deep, tire me out and drown me.

Then I heard that a classmate from college had died.

Like so many things in my life, it was the domino that I could not hold upright.

The intricate balancing act toppled and there went all the dominoes in a long, elaborate cascade snaking around me, threatening to throw more than my emotions out of balance.

In my experience, this has meant spending lots of time trying not to think about the raging grief looking for an outlet.

In my current experience it means a lot of crying, and a fair amount of physical pain that I carry mostly in my neck and shoulders.  If I could give in to the crying as much as I needed to release it, perhaps I could stave off the pain.  Then again, I am not sure if I could manage any work.  As luck would have it, I have the most crazy work schedule for the next two weeks.

The universe loves me.  Or at least the universe loves to toy with me.

Actually the universe has bigger fish to fry, but it helps to have somewhere to point the accusing finger.

To be honest, it has also meant a lot of irrational eating... this is all complicated by the fact that I finally got that horrible cold/flu thing that everyone else had months ago... and my sense of taste is seriously compromised.  So I eat to try to contain the raging grief and it tastes like cardboard, so I eat something else, and the cycle continues.

Sometimes, it is like being in the hospital on death watch, feeling like eating would only prolong the suffering. And so I don't eat until the stomach demands something.  I think -- ah, at least the stomach can demand.  When we were in the hospital I am pretty sure I went at least five days without eating anything at all.  Someone finally realized I wasn't eating and brought me a protein shake. 

Thank goodness for friends.  I certainly would be lost without them.

And, actually, I came here to write about friends, and hiding, and trusting and vulnerability.

I often don't tell anyone how I feel.  I hold it. I deal with it.  I power through whatever it is.

I may seriously maim myself in the getting through, but I will rarely ask for help.

I have so many wonderful friends, it is ridiculous that I don't ask for help.

Then again I frequently reach out to the friends who, for reasons of their own, do not know how to respond.

It like a reverse secret power -- to agonize about needing help and then reach out to just the person you know will not know how to respond thus creating the negative feedback loop ... shouldn't reach out, it will only make it worse.

Well... today, I reached out... and I probably chose the people least prepared or equipped to handle my raw emotions.  But they each did their best to respond... whether or not there are truly appropriate responses has yet to be determined. 

The upshot is getting it off my plate was actually just what I needed.

Problems are not solved... but load is lightened.  And any bit of weight removed is greatly appreciated.

And some hiding in my apartment where I don't have to explain myself.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Poetry Thursday


Ella Wheeler Wilcox
To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.
Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Tennessee Valley

Went for a hike to the Tennessee Valley in northern California.  I was surprised at the name, and then my friend found this.  Amazing.

A beach named for the ship that ran aground there... amazing.

Here are some pictures from the adventure. I am barely to the 75% point of being better from this cold or whatever it is, so my hands were shaky (oh, and I hadn't eaten when we embarked on the walking), so... you know, not the best pics ever.

Still... amazing place.

And gorgeous flowers 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Poetry Thursday

Bells in the Rain

Elinor Wylie
Sleep falls, with limpid drops of rain,
Upon the steep cliffs of the town.
Sleep falls; men are at peace again
While the small drops fall softly down.
The bright drops ring like bells of glass
Thinned by the wind; and lightly blown;
Sleep cannot fall on peaceful grass
So softly as it falls on stone.
Peace falls unheeded on the dead
Asleep; they have had deep peace to drink;
Upon a live man’s bloody head
It falls most tenderly, I think.

Monday, April 03, 2017

going back

Just returned from a few days in Princeton ... so many emotions to untangle. Not quite ready, yet, and I don't have time just now.  But here is a tiger for you, idly minding the square.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Poetry Thursday


LĂ©onie Adams
When I stepped homeward to my hill,
   Dusk went before with quiet tread;
The bare laced branches of the trees
   Were as a mist about its head.
Upon its leaf-brown breast the rocks
   Like great grey sheep lay silentwise,
Between the birch trees’ gleaming arms,
   The faint stars trembled in the skies.
The white brook met me half-way up,
   And laughed as one that knew me well,
To whose more clear than crystal voice
   The frost had joined a crystal spell.
The skies lay like pale-watered deep,
   Dusk ran before me to its strand
And cloudily leaned forth to touch
   The moon’s slow wonder with her hand.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Poetry Thursday

At the Fair

Edith Sitwell
                   I. Springing Jack
Green wooden leaves clap light away,
Severely practical, as they
Shelter the children candy-pale,
The chestnut-candles flicker, fail . . .
The showman’s face is cubed clear as
The shapes reflected in a glass
Of water—(glog, glut, a ghost’s speech
Fumbling for space from each to each).
The fusty showman fumbles, must
Fit in a particle of dust
The universe, for fear it gain
Its freedom from my cube of brain.
Yet dust bears seeds that grow to grace
Behind my crude-striped wooden face
As I, a puppet tinsel-pink
Leap on my springs, learn how to think—
Till like the trembling golden stalk
Of some long-petalled star, I walk
Through the dark heavens, and the dew
Falls on my eyes and sense thrills through.

Friday, March 17, 2017

St Patrick's Day...

On St. Patrick's Day, I remember my grandmother, pictured above with my older brother, because it was her birthday.

When I knew her, she would spend her birthday with us and then leave for Mexico to visit her sisters and brother.  She would stay there for six months and be back for the holidays. 

Not quite a snow bird, but something in that vein.

She died when I was only 5, so my memories of her are cloaked in the fog of a small child's mind.

She stayed with me a fair amount when she was in the US.  It is said we could not talk to each other as she didn't speak English and I didn't speak Spanish.  Actually, she chose not to speak English and I was still in the language acquisition phase, so there is no way to know what was going on in my brain.

But, when I started to speak Spanish, all those language acquisition memories were triggered.  Now, I believe that we probably communicated just fine.  She spoke, I understood and answered in whatever language seemed appropriate. 

Besides that early imprint of language skills, I inherited from her the finger.  It comes out unbidden whenever I need to slow someone's roll.  Not the middle finger, that would be vulgar.  The pointer finger that windshield wipes slowly or quickly depending on the need.

There may be other traits I inherited, I am just not aware.

What I know for sure is that the bond we had was real and ours alone.  After she was gone in the physical form, she would sometimes visit me.  I would wake in the middle of the night and see her seated at the foot of my bed, just watching.  Though we had a short amount of time, I carry our relationship with me wherever I go.

Happy birthday, grandma... hope you are celebrating with family in heaven.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Poetry Thursday


Amy Lowell

I cut myself upon the thought of you
And yet I come back to it again and again,
A kind of fury makes me want to draw you out
From the dimness of the present
And set you sharply above me in a wheel of roses.
Then, going obviously to inhale their fragrance,
I touch the blade of you and cling upon it,
And only when the blood runs out across my fingers
Am I at all satisfied.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Poetry Thursday

What Is It You Feel I Asked Kurt

What is it you feel I asked Kurt when you listen to
Ravel’s String Quartet in F-major, his face was so lit up
and I wondered, “the music is unlike the world I live
or think in, it’s from somewhere else, unfamiliar and unknown,
not because it is relevant to the familiar and comfortable,
but because it brings me to that place that I didn’t/couldn’t
imagine existed. And sometimes that unfamiliar place is closer
to my world than I realize, and sometimes it’s endlessly distant,”
that’s what he wrote in an email when I asked him
to remind me what he’d said earlier, off the cuff, “I don’t
recall exactly what I said,” he began, a sentence written
in iambic pentameter, and then the rest, later he spoke of two
of his brothers who died as children, leukemia and fire,
his face, soft, I’m listening to Ravel now, its irrelevancy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

ugh, um, oh yeah?!

I am literally running on caffeine (and adrenaline) right now.  I write that by way of excusing myself for anything crazy I may write.

Or perhaps to warn you that beyond this line there is only crazy...

I have been up all night working on a document to send in as yet another test for a job.

Plusses --
I wasn't sure I really had it in me to do all nighters anymore, but I do think I pulled it off.

***Fingers crossed ***

I started reading an awesome book about compassion and love and where to start -- and it all makes sense, no resistence.

Minuses --
I could have been done a long time ago, but I let some of the drama in and it was not good.

Ok, so not so crazy, but I stopped drinking coffee, finished the project and ate something...
now I am going to nap for two hours and hope it helps.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Quote Tuesday

Trying to write a little bit each day, but the post for today is not quite ready. Late nights teaching does not lend itself to a lot of writing, yet.  Hoping to rectify soon.

For now, this was the tea bag wisdom gifted to me today by Good Earth tea:

Success is to be measured 
not so much by the position 
that one has reached in life 
as by the obstacles 
which he has overcome.
~Booker T. Washington

May we all be well and consider ourselves successful in all we do.

Monday, March 06, 2017


It's not new, many folks have been kvetching about adulting.

I guess I am no exception.

I hold it together.

I really do.

If you see me, you would never know the pressure I feel. I don't usually claim it in waking hours.

This really is an anomaly.

But, I am breaking inside.  I can't tell if it is into tiny pieces or just the corners breaking from the pressure.

What it feels like is an earthquake.  Fissures, cracks, movement, slippage.


I can barely get the words out, but there it is.

And, tomorrow is another day, and I will soldier on.

Maybe now that I have declared the difficulty, it will ease, just a little bit.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Poetry Thursday

Hospital Writing Workshop 

Rafael Campo, 1964

Arriving late, my clinic having run
past 6 again, I realize I don’t
have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them,
these students who are patients, who I lead
in writing exercises, reading poems.
For them, this isn’t academic, it’s
reality:  I ask that they describe
an object right in front of them, to make
it come alive, and one writes about death,
her death, as if by just imagining
the softness of its skin, its panting rush
into her lap, that she might tame it; one
observes instead the love he lost, he’s there,
beside him in his gown and wheelchair,
together finally again.  I take
a good, long breath; we’re quiet as newborns.
The little conference room grows warm, and right
before my eyes, I see that what I thought
unspeakable was more than this, was hope.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Street Art, Chinatown edition

Taking a friend on a walking tour of Oakland, we ended up in Chinatown. 
It was full of street art that was too good to be true... yet somewhat difficult to capture with the phone camera.
The dragons were really amazing.
But this was my favorite.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

late February

The skies have been incredible of late. This one was above city hall in San Francisco in the second week of February. I have been more than a little obsessed with the buds and the trees.
Spring really starts in February in California, sometimes as early as January if there isn't a lot of rain. It seems counter intuitive like you need rain for spring to come, but not in California. The air gets warmer and this happens:
Even though there are many buds, there are still trees that look like this:
Then there was this tree that looked like an unfinished sculpture.  It was irresistible with its roots pretending to be molten lava.

Of course, rain makes everything more interesting. Just ask the folks who had to evacuate San Jose last week. San Jose! Rain is a strange and powerful thing.

It brings out all the mushrooms and gathers the pretty leaves everywhere.
It creates sculptures on the leaves of the succulents.