Friday, November 19, 2010

Falling up

I am not sure how to write about my feelings for New Orleans. So many people have; it’s almost a cliché. But though my emerging attachment to this place is hardly unique, it is real and mysterious enough for me to want to share.

Before becoming a NOLA transplant, I spent 7 years in Ithaca, New York--not a place I was lukewarm about. During several years away, living in New Mexico, Virginia, and Alabama, it haunted me. There is a joke that because Ithaca is in a valley, it boasts a gravity that sucks people back in. In my house in Alabama where, as a poetry grad student, I spent most of each day writing, I had daydreamed of Ithaca: the lake with different colors of ice; waterfalls gushing each spring; the tidy grid of streets, yards messy with flowers; the high likelihood of glimpsing Tibetan Buddhist monks around in red and orange robes. During my last stint in I-town (as it is called), I often walked with Sara in her stroller along Cascadilla Creek. Watching the ducks or geese drifting by, and dreadlocked youths streaming in and out of Gimme Coffee across from a pretty park, I felt I was in a paradise of beauty and simplicity.

When it was time to leave, I did not want to go. Like, at all. I envisioned myself buying one of the Victorians in the coveted Fall Creek neighborhood and settling in. At the time I could have done so (probably a ranch, not a Victorian) thanks to an inheritance from my grandmother. I had a support network of friends and my mom 3 hours away to help with Sara; she and I lived in a spacious apartment in one of the downtown’s “high-rise” buildings (i.e., it had 5 floors) where there was a balcony from which we could see the whole city and surrounding farmland. Packing up in July 2009, I felt a huge ache.

At the time, my then-boyfriend and child’s father was heading to Tulane Law. Things between us were tenuous. If he left and I stayed, I felt, I would always wonder if I could have made it work, and would bear the responsibility of depriving my child of a day-to-day relationship with her dad. It was a natural time for me to think of leaving, too, since I craved a change in my career situation and—laughably—thought New Orleans would have more, not fewer, opportunities. Delusion is probably a big reason why anyone does anything in life.

But in the end, I moved because of a dream. I am not a religious person except when it comes to Mary of Guadalupe, whose images/statuettes have taken over my décor in the past ten years. So I prayed for an answer—stay or face an uncertain move—requesting that Mary’s response be as immediate and unambiguous as possible. That night, I dreamed that my boyfriend and I were in a boat together suspended in the sky over New Orleans. He skillfully guided the boat down to land on Lake Pontchartrain. It was like a precognitive dream for dummies.

The first months in New Orleans, though, were reminiscent of Biblical plagues rather than an affirmation of my divinely-guided choice. Car break-in and GPS theft were followed by months of scabies (if you don’t know what that is…good). The almost-immediate breakup with my boyfriend segued to 10 days of homelessness when the energy company killed the power at my new apartment. That October I somehow found myself on 3 leases at once, with no job; subsequently, over 6 months and with a Master’s, I could not land even one interview (eventually securing a temp position with the Census).

Yet New Orleans gave me things I didn’t even know I was missing. Ripe citrus on trees in November; king cake; the St. Charles streetcar lit up at night, full of tourists eager to abandon themselves to this place of muscular oaks and joyous funerals and decadent cuisine. Several friends I know of were arrested here in their youth, because it’s that kind of place where you do things to excess. When you lose, you lose big, and when you receive, you have more than your arms can hold.

Like any experience of love, my love for this city has been complicated. I resent the insufficient drainage system that causes water to gush up onto my lawn almost every time it rains; and I was exalted after the Superbowl win when people in the Carrollton neighborhood (where I watched the game) stopped their cars in the middle of the road, jumped out, and hugged strangers. Due to the endless summers, everyone always seems to be partying like it’s prom night or New Years, so there is pressure to make every day and night a tremendous event: to be, as one of my Counseling classmates labels it, a “fun-seeker.” If you feel isolated in such an atmosphere there is not much support, and it can be challenging to break into groups that have been established for years among locals.

Last Friday, I witnessed a brass band playing outside near Frenchmen Street, the bohemian hub of New Orleans nightlife. Watching the musicians, I didn’t want to stand still, and I could feel that happy energy in the crowd of strangers around me. Wanting to dance in a crowd outside is what this city is about. It is also about yellow-tape crime scenes and poor neighborhoods lacking any trees to shelter residents from the brutal months of heat, the monsoon-like rains. There is no illusion of anything being egalitarian or offered easily. When you can’t get a job in your field, your water is shut off due to a bureaucratic misunderstanding, and you are part of the massive population on Medicaid, there is a sense of living close to the fundamentals of life, having to discern and love what is of greatest value.

And I try to. I love that my daughter is growing up here, that—in contrast to my early, homogenous environment in the North—she is among kids of diverse backgrounds at daycare. I am excited that she will be able to claim this place, with its unique resemblance of European and Caribbean cities, as part of her identity. She won’t have to mumble, “I’m from…Jersey,” as I do every time someone asks my origins. Growing up in New Orleans will give Sara years of conversation at parties, at the very least.

As for me, what this place will provide in the final analysis (as my grandmother used to say) is a mystery. I have experienced its chaos and my own insecurity, felt keenly the Otherness that excludes and attracts me. Here, I am invited to be stronger than I have ever been rather than remaining a person who is self-characterized as “Falling Over” (the previous name of this blog). It is easy to fall: fall in love, fall apart. It’s a matter of gravity and of old patterns. It is harder, and richer, to rise.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The End of the Innocence

One of my classmates did a cool thing the other day: brought a small, flowering branch to our Research and Statistics class. It was from a local bush called Sweet Olive which, he told a couple of us during lunch, blooms during sudden changes in temperature. He said the smell, more intensely than any other sensory data, brings back a childhood of happy time spent outside. That reminded me of Proust’s madeleine—the capacity of scent (and for me, music) not just to evoke, but almost to conjure or reinstate the past. This is why I could never really get into Buddhism; because I find the past to be one of the best things in life. Why try to detach from it? Why not just wallow in it?

I remember returning from class one gloomy October day during my sophomore year of college to find my suitemate, Dawn, sitting alone in the dark, listening to music and weeping. I hope it doesn’t ruin this if I say, the music might have been Journey. I must have attempted to console her; she tried to explain to me that one day, I would understand and even welcome the pleasures of melancholy. I think I may have since taken her message a little too far. She also suggested that I would not always feel the need to hide my long brown hair under a hat—which I did for roughly 3 years of college, either a baseball cap or the soft, velvety winter hat given to me by my grandmother, the queen of hats. She was right about that, too. I probably could have learned more from her; but in her wisdom she soon transferred from Colgate to a much more liberal school in Massachusetts, where people probably understood such things automatically.

Anyway, in the car this morning on the way home from Sara’s daycare—where, when I lingered too long, my child ordered me to “leave, mom!” in a tone that made me flash ahead to her teen years—I heard a Don Henley song on the radio that catapulted me back. I somehow drove home but I was not really aware of my current surroundings. Instead, I was in the summer of 1994 when the man I was in love with (my first requited love, which is a powerful thing) had made me a mix-tape—to take the sting out of the fact that he was spending the summer after our Freshman year strolling around Princeton with his long-term girlfriend, and I was spending it working at Drug Fair and DJ’s Fast Pizza, as well as cleaning the 4 litter boxes in my parents’ basement. (I remember counting down—only 64 more litter boxes before I go back to school...) On lunch breaks from Drug Fair, I sat on the bleachers behind the middle school with my Walkman and listened to the tape, which had on it Henley’s “The End of the Innocence”; “Nights in White Satin” ('Cos I love you, yes I love you, oh how I love you); Simon and Garfunkel’s suicide-inducing “Scarborough Fair”; and the REM song with the refrain I’m SOORREEE… Oh, the drama. I sat out there crying, my headphones sealing me into a private world in which I was the star—not a minor player relegated to ringing up people’s cigarette purchases or sneezing over cat litter boxes. The songs he gave me, while they did not help me to stop imagining him in bed with her, did help restore me to myself, and that was quite a gift.

Hearing that song today, I felt some tears for him (who I am still in touch with, of course, on Facebook); tears I had thought, 16 or so years ago, would never stop. But they did. And that is the real “end of the innocence”: to become aware that it all passes; a well that seemed inexhaustible goes dry. I used to think love meant marriage and a future. Now I know that if love comes into my life, I can’t assume I know what it means. I should just be thankful for its fleeting presence and the enduring sensory traces it leaves behind, the being happy inside the being sad.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Life as a pair of pants

My friend Elizabeth told me about a study showing that things which annoy you on a daily basis can cause more mental harm, over time, than larger events such as divorce or job loss. The researchers’ finding was that if a minor annoyance—the broken fridge door, the tree in the yard that blocks light and generates a litter of needles, the paint flaking off the ceiling—is not dealt with, it spreads like a stain, causing mental anguish and slow physical decline. Well, for the past five years, my pants won’t stay up. Maybe this explains…a lot about my recent life.

Let me start at the beginning, during the time when my pants sat cozily at my expanding waist: marriage. Living in small-town Alabama with no access to decent restaurants, my spouse and I cooked pasta, filled our recycling bin with wine bottles, and ate cheese. A lot. I gained 15 pounds, he gained 20, and I hadn’t got the memo telling women that to be fashionable, jeans were now supposed to reveal the butterfly tattoo flowing out of their ass crack. Not only did my jeans button way high up, they were baggy, tenting out around the crotch like those worn on the Northeastern college campuses of my early-1990s youth. I think the intent of this style was to redirect attention from the butt toward the brain, as this was the hopeful early-Clinton era, when egalitarian relationships seemed possible. (Remember?) At any rate, I had no idea that the winds had shifted…until my separation from my husband when, sooner than I’d imagined, I began dating. As well as dropping the 15 pounds from stress and a cross-country move. When I went to the local mall to find some new clothes for my new, uncharted life, I found a curious dichotomy. There were hideous, “sensible” garments meant for folks in my age-range (I was 30), who were clearly perceived as spending all their time in a corporate office or on a golf course—or boat. Alternately, there was Juniors: clothes designed to make teens look like hookers. I didn’t want to appear 53 at 30, so I chose hooker-wear (I chose…the microwave!), and my lower back has been chilly ever since.

As the weather in my Northern town cooled and my pants sexily offered sparse cover, I began dating a 25-year-old—who later became the father of my child, but that’s another story. He told me that in his college classes he often noticed girls, as they rose from their chairs or walked around campus, spastically yanking their pants up in attempt to recapture parts of their lower back/ass that were poofing out. I don’t think he perceived this as flattering. So if this style disaster has been an attempt to please heterosexual men, one might question its success.

When I “became pregnant” a year later, I settled in for 9 months of pants misery. Anyone who has ever enjoyed maternity wear, and the changes of pregnancy, knows what I mean: at a certain point the pants either retreated in horror as they were forced toward my thighs, or, after seeming to fit, loosened and slid toward my enlarged feet. In the last trimester I often felt that I would give my kingdom for a pair of jeans with a zipper . But my post-pregnant era has provided scant relief for the overriding (low-riding) problem of pants designed to punish the fact that most of us, unlike prepubescent girls, have got “back,” and fill our stomachs with good food occasionally. OK, there’s also vanity. I could buy the golfing/ yachting/ office pants and have done with this. But I want to appear as if I have a sexual pulse, which has meant, among other things, never working in an office. I also have a generously-proportioned ass that requires restraint or containment, so baggier or high-waisted pants make it look HUGE. And I don’t have the budget to acquire whatever new styles are available to rich people, which may have moved on from the plumber-crack trend: I’m stuck in thrift stores where the jeans are from at least 5 years ago.

I wrote this because all morning—dropping my kid off at daycare; purchasing an iced coffee; crawling back into bed to stay warm, since New Orleans’ temperature has, in two days, just dropped from 89 to 59 (hi, Fall!)—I’ve been yanking and pulling at the little lip of denim inching down my post-brie-consumption hips…and realizing I don’t have a single pair of pants that gracefully accommodates this ever changing, feast-or-famine portion of the figure which is like a barometer of one’s moods and stance toward life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Through the puddle

Just now a cloud has pulled up
while I was talking to the Emptiness

of the Universe and my voice plugged into the waves

at the bottom of the ocean.

–Jason Shinder

It was March and the sidewalks were full of rain, when the man I was newly seeing stopped our ungainly umbrella-walk to look at some children. There was a large puddle on the cement in front of us, and these kids were playing in it—taking advantage of another crappy Ithaca day and finding in it cause for lightheartedness. X., beside me, sighed deeply and said, “I guess I’m just going to have to go through the puddle.” He was referring to the fact that officially, he was still someone else’s, and he was going to have to go through all the fallout of ending a long-term love.

He is a man I still sometimes wonder about. If I hadn’t, six months later, moved to New Mexico for grad school (where he sent cakes and other whimsical gifts to me through the mail), would we have stayed together, married? He’s long since wed someone else, and after following suit into (and in my case, out of) matrimony, I have put the question to bed. But the puddle is still there, so to speak, and I’m beginning to realize—as New Orleans evinces its painfully abundant fall beauty—that this time I really do have to go through it.

In the puddle are heartache, loss, my own ambivalence about intimacy. It holds the things those of us who can’t fall asleep do to avoid getting into bed (and also the peace that might eventually find us, given a chance)—which, for me, is mostly aimlessly surfing the web, scrolling through photos on Facebook that represent all my far-flung friends, as if the images could become less flat and distant, could accompany me in this haunted interior murk that rises up when the noise and the lights die down, when my child is asleep in her pink plastic bed and I go in to turn the AC up and look at her closed and flowering face.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eye or I?

I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me... –Emerson

When I was 14 and spent the summer at camp in Blairstown, New Jersey, I had a couple of firsts: I finally bled (the last among my peers to do so) and had my first huge crush on a man. His name was Richard and he was 19, from London, fond of soccer and chess. I don’t know what created such combustion within me—a yearning that lasted for years. At first, he was just a cute guy my cabin-mates in our so-called “Algonquin Village” gushed about. Then, as I turned my own focus on him—because these other girls had, they must be on to something—I found him to be an excellent blank screen for projecting almost anything. He was tall, spiky-blond hair (this was 1989...), blue eyes and that accent that made wonderful things happen, as if he had melting ice cubes in his mouth so that everything he said was cool and without edges. And, God bless him, he was mostly quiet. So I had no real idea about his personality, opinions, etc. and could imagine all the best, imagine he secretly noticed me, too despite the fact that he was dating a girl his age who worked in the dining hall (my friends and I, envious, called her the “Kitch Bitch”). There was also the strong taboo element: others in whom I confided about my crush told me he would be arrested if he even laid a finger on me—which, duh, wasn’t exactly off-putting. When I left camp at the end of the summer, dragged away in my parents’ Volvo, I missed him—whose longest sentence to me had been, “You don’t have to pick those chips up, they’re biodegradable” (in that accent)—for months, for years.

That was the time, the moment, when my focus definitively changed from me looking out at the world, to me seeing everything through the Other as I imagined this Other looking at me, through me. (I am reminded of philosopher Simone Weil’s idea that God, who is referred to as male, can only love her as the space in Creation that she takes up; the more fully she submits or removes herself, the more God can fill and possess the space she leaves behind.)

…I was wearing a long tie-dyed t-shirt over my bathing suit, floating on an inner tube down the Delaware along with Richard, another counselor called Sarge, and a handful of kids, all of whom were somewhere in my line of sight but not nearby; when in a moment that seemed to magnify into a revelation, a shift, a bolt of knowledge or love, I saw everything around me—the swirling water, my bare legs and feet, trees rising up on the shore, the vivid Pennsylvania summer sky—imbued with significance and specialness as if I was not alone, as if Richard were inside my gaze, like I was imagining being him, almost, or feeling him finding my perspective fascinating and larger-than-life. This is how falling in love made me feel (and has): it replaced my “I” with the eye of the beloved in an ecstatic act of subjection, a hyper-aware openness.

How can I relish life with just my own eyes (and “I”), my own days, “reality” that feels like a ribbon ironed flat?

This is larger than a self-esteem issue, although that is involved. It’s why I write—as an act of reflection, to give the world to myself as if from outside, so I can feel the space that I, too, take up.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


The last time I saw my recent ex was on a hot August night when I visited his workplace. Nursing several glasses of wine, I had a long conversation with a woman a few years younger than me who bartends there. She had intentionally taken a significant amount of time away from romantic relationships to focus on herself. In that time she had done a cleanse, yoga, and a lot of reflecting, and is also training to become an alternative healer. Glowing with health and beauty, she concluded her description of her ongoing “single” experience by saying, in a tone of evident satisfaction: “My head is so quiet now.” My response was jealousy, for my head was not quiet. My head was like a 4 AM party that needs to be broken up by police or concerned neighbors. Even as I registered my response to this woman’s words—and her state of secure wellbeing—I could feel the howling wolves and broken glass of my inner hysteria…which, a couple of hours later, prompted me to initiate the end of that romantic relationship.

Now, about a month post- this latest breakup, I realize that I have either been in love with or dating someone since I was 18; almost half my life. What would it be like if the psychic energy I have been channeling toward men were poured back into me and my life? I also realize that to be a 35-year-old unemployed single mother is a horrible cliché. Around me, everyone I know has paired up. They have built or bought enduring structures. They appear able to, in the lingo of my Counseling studies, “form and maintain satisfying relationships,” both intimate and communal. Since about 18, non-sexual relationships have interested me very little: something that becomes clear whenever there is a holiday and I have no plans; that was apparent last month on my birthday when I did not receive a gift. How can I advise other people on how to succeed in relationships—of all kinds—until I can define what such success means to me?

I do not want to be judgmental here about my (or anyone’s) strong drive for love and sex. Trying to scrub these parts of me away or condescend to them would mean harming myself…which is exactly what I want to stop doing. I just want to press pause and see how I arrived at this state of things.

I am reminded of the end of the Jane Kenyon poem “Eating the Cookies,” which is about cleaning out the house after a close relative has died: the speaker pauses in her packing/folding and, for a moment, presses the last cookie from the tin against her forehead, “because / it seemed like the next thing to do.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Transparent Life

When asked if I plan to have a second child, my answer is an immediate NO! as if I have been asked, instead, to debone a whole fish. (As Sara nears school-age, I have been delighted to get sleep, poetry, and other kinds of freedom back.) But there is another urge that has been growing in me for years: to join so many Americans in the strange act of writing a memoir.

Memoirs, in my understanding, used to be something you wrote when you were older or had experienced something catastrophic. Now, the field has been opened up and it seems that anyone, no matter how young or inexperienced, can write a memoir about anything. My creative inspiration has always been experience, and the only experiences I feel confident about recording are my own. Anais Nin wrote, “We write to taste life twice,” and I think there are some of us who have that taste—for whom living once isn’t enough. To have an experience, good or even awful, is one pleasure; to recreate past worlds of sensation and feeling is another that suggests a further pleasure of opening the vault of private experience to a wider world (why I blog): making private life into public record. Clearly, some people would rather be shot in the face than do this, but I have had an exhibitionist streak since the times when, during naptime in kindergarten, I would cross to the boys’ side of the room and flash them (who suggested this—them or me—is unclear).

I have read many memoirs this year as I’ve turned this wish over in my mind. Some were beautifully written—like Mary Karr’s Lit—some were about some combination of food, romance, and France; or, extending this further, butchery and infidelity (I really like, and was slightly embarrassed by, Julie Powell’s second book). Some also served as a self-help manual for the reader, teaching by example; maybe all, since another person’s story can always be internalized. Some I’ve read and thought, I can definitely write a better book than this person. But when it comes to it, I can never commit to a topic (depression? motherhood? marriage/divorce?) and get started. Maybe underneath, there is some conviction that I don’t dare speak about my little experiences; that I have nothing valuable to say to people.

During my senior year of college, I worked as an artist’s model. Once a week, myself and several forty-somethings met at a beautiful little house out in the country—lots of warm wood and glass doors, a transparent kind of house—and ate avocado salad and plates of rotini, sometimes proceeding to the outdoor hottub with our wineglasses and sharing a joint. Then, off would come my robe and I stood (or sat, knelt, or lay) among some white pillows in the center of the basement room under a spotlight. I did this, for something like $20 a session, because I thought it was a cool thing to do and because it scared the hell out of me. As a result, I did not create the best or most graceful poses. I think I looked rather stiff and awkward and, as one (male) artist remarked, I appeared skinnier when wearing my clothes. My nipples, as another person despaired, kept changing size due to uneven heating of the room (this was winter in upstate NY). In other words, I was completely under scrutiny: more than physically, it felt like. Because I believed the body—my own not-so-skinny 21-year-old body—to be the gateway to love, to being known as a person by another person. This was something I could barely conceive of at the time, since I’d had very few lovers and was about 10 years away from discovering the clitoris and any sense of ease during physical intimacy. But to reveal oneself, I learned, is an opportunity, opening one up to criticism, joy, and the complexity of things.

Self-disclosure, whose different forms I’ve pursued ever since, has never brought happiness—for long. But it has occasioned knowledge and, as my friend recently wrote in an email reflecting on my (transparently) messy life, knowledge is the most faithful of lovers.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Coming Home

My daughter returns from her month-long stay with my mom in the Northeast on Tuesday—and I can’t wait. It was a strange period of “vacation” time without her. I was laid off from my job, fired by my boyfriend, and enjoyed considerably more alone time, and 30 Rock episodes, than one person should have to withstand. (Liz Lemon, I am you!...) I also slept really late a few times and was accepted into Loyola’s graduate Counseling program, so it wasn’t all bad. Overall, though, the feelings I routinely experienced during this time make me think of a practice that my stepfather used to indulge in: walking across hot coals barefoot while chanting cool moss…cool moss…

Today I bought a cute tablecloth so we can eat meals, which I will theoretically make instead of microwaving, at the dining room table (not in front of the TV/at the computer, as was the custom before she left). With the crystal candlesticks from my dad’s parents’, the table I have been hauling from place to place for years—and have egregiously under-utilized—suddenly looks warm and sweet…and I realize that the one thing I need in my life right now is some kind of domestic happiness. I want to embrace the love I have in my life, with my child, and be able to really feel and give love (the real and nurturing kind, not the kind that steals from you and makes you less-than), in my body and in the space I create around me. This has always been the thing it is hardest for me to do; and I wonder why.

I keep trying to find a copy of the Laurie Colwin novel Family Happiness at used bookstores because I want to reread it. It’s about a woman who is split between her family, with whom she has a happy and secure connection, and her extramarital lover, who “gets” her like no one else; and chooses, in the end, to stay on both paths without ever having the two meet. Colwin’s writing is existentially comforting, nuanced, and buoyant and I need that now. I don’t think, though, I will be following the path(s) chosen by Polly Solo-Miller, the main character in the book. I want those two things together: a love, and home. Is it possible? I am going to hope. In the meantime, there is just a tablecloth. And three placemats.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Untying the Knot

For years, I’ve been wondering what to do with my wedding rings: two simple white-gold bands, the engagement ring featuring a pink tourmaline surrounded by two tiny diamonds. During the two-year separation, I occasionally brought them out of their black box in the bathroom closet and wore them (usually while cleaning, for some reason) to give myself a jolt of weird security. Their existence suggested I had once had things figured out: there had been a man, a cat, a rented house, and dinner to come home to, followed by Law and Order reruns. At the same time they were a reminder that I had failed to fulfill their promise. I had loved and, like so many others, lost, leading to a division of zero assets and the temporary moniker of “defendant.” Once in a while I would actively consider parting with them, especially after my ex remarried two summers ago, pushing our unsuccessful union further into the zone of irretrievability. But I felt paralyzed by indecision. Pawning them seemed so crass. Better to keep them—out of sight, out of mind?—or, someday, do something meaningful and ceremonial like toss them over a waterfall, experiencing a cathartic sense of release.

In the end I sold them, today, to pay my energy bill. The transaction was held at a cardboard box-cluttered jewelry store in a strip mall in the suburbs. The buyer—a guy with the same first name as my ex-spouse, which seemed poetic—dropped them in a plastic Krewe of Rex cup intended for beer conveyance during Mardi Gras; weighed their slight physical presence; and wrote down an amount that almost covers one month of AC use in New Orleans. Goodbye…

Monday, May 31, 2010

Were we even there?

Today a high school acquaintance “friended” me on Facebook and I accepted (though, as usual with these requests, I had never spent any personal time with her in my life), then checked out her profile. The thing that struck me is hardly unique among people my age: her profile picture was of her kids, not her. On closer examination, I saw that she was there, but in the background, with only her face and a sweet, self-effacing smile showing around the bodies of the small children she crouched beside.

This morning at 5:40 AM my daughter, in the next room, began crying, as she always does but not usually this early; and I lurched out of bed to see what was going on. She requested milk in her sippy cup, and when I told her that it was still time to sleep, not eat, she insisted, “I hungry!” So I got the milk, gave it to her, and flung myself back into my bed, in anger that I could not express toward my child. I can barely remember a single day in the past 3 years when I have been able to wake up on my own, when I wanted to, instead of being interrupted out of sleep.

The dining room in my apartment is a room that is never used. It holds a little piece of my grandparents’ house, where I spent so much happy time as a child, in the form of their 50’s wooden table, chairs, sideboard, and jelly cabinet. Large, red-toned portraits of them, taken in the early 1980s, rest high up on the walls looking down at me so often—I feel—in disappointment that I have no innate abilities (or maybe willingness) to create a warm and nurturing home; to keep a relationship, a marriage, a contract, a pleasant demeanor…erect a Christmas tree, host dinners, enjoy being a member of the larger social structure. How did I get this way? Is this how I am supposed to be? Is there some model for “bohemian, neurotic, introvert parent” that is missing in our culture? Do these labels absolve anything—just because I know I have these qualities, what do I do?

And so, the picture of my high school acquaintance kneeling in a streambed with her four children and muscular husband awakened old debates in me and a yearning for that word “family,” which is so fraught that it is impossible to feel positively about it and impossible to live without what it represents.

The division I feel inside continues in my life, in which I am dating someone who, though he has a daughter, too (older than mine), does not want to be involved with my child, at least at present, or to see me as a mom. He prefers that we get together outside of our domestic situations, current and former. So while our exes babysit, he picks me up in his sporty car like I am a teenager, and we progress from restaurant, to bar, to bed, to a brief iced-coffee session in the morning, then back to our separate obligations. This world we inhabit is about romance, leisure—illusion. Because how can these things be real when they ignore huge parts of our experience and identities? And yet, what single mom would not want such a break from the rigors and disappointments of life? A chance to enjoy globes of red wine, animated discussion about art and relationships, spontaneous time together; and avoid mundane conversations about dry cleaning or potty training?

On one of our first dates, he and I went to a wilderness preserve in another part of the state. It was just before spring had begun, and the irises he was hoping to show me hadn’t bloomed yet. Instead, there were all these waving, brassy stalks where, in a month or less, the flowers would surely appear. They were dry like husks. They resembled wheat, nourishment, but also gave an impression of decay. It was a windy day, and there was something displacingly eternal—I know of no better adjectives for this—about the sound the wind made blowing these parched golden things around. It was a dry, old moan-hiss that said, the world has been here forever, and this life is just an accretion of perceptions arranged in time, not necessarily wedded to anything stable…look deeply into anything and it will blow away.

It was a second or third date. We held hands, or his arm was around me, as bundled in our coats we walked and sat and listened in the quiet, far from highways. I don’t know what he was thinking, but on top of the thrill of feeling his body in contact with mine, that newness, I felt a detached weariness, like we were each just collections of particles experiencing other collections of particles, forming them into stories and feelings. Were we really even there at all? I imagined how months before we met, that sound had been there, with only the small life—insect, fish, mold—subsisting in that mute place to witness it; and it would be there in the utter blackness that night after we left, when people in the cities and towns nearby were fashioning certainties of their plans and happiness.

Irises at Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I love...oops

Last night I spontaneously declared my affections to my boyfriend in the traditional style: in which, after weeks of unconscious deliberation, one stares into the face of the beloved and deploys the word love, hoping that it may be said back or at least, that one won’t be ejected from the beloved’s lap. Similarly to when I said I’m pregnant to someone else 4 years ago, it did not go well.

After the stunned silence and polite, non-I-love-you- infused reply from him, he asked if I would like some water (we had been finishing dinner) and went to get it from the other room, probably doing his best to restrain himself from leaving the apartment and from there, the country. I felt as if my insides were coated in tar, or that I should request my water with a side of arsenic. In short, I sort of extremely wished I could take it back. Now my miscalculation is sitting in the middle of my life, both of our lives, like a poop in a hotel sink. If the relationship does end it will be the first time, in my experience, that I love you has been the cause.

Afterwards, we failed to fuck. Nothing puts a damper on sex like saying those words to a man who is not desirous of hearing them; or at least, hearing them from you.

And today, some decision must be made. Do I take the email he wrote this morning—in which he spoke of his love for his recent ex, relief in finally being over her, and weary repulsion, now, for all things love—as a final end or a post-I love you male freakout? I think any self-respecting woman would end things with him, but self-respect has not been my thing. A trail of past missteps and humiliation had led me—over a candlelit dinner in his bedroom; after being referred to by him as his “girlfriend” multiple times; after 3 months of amazing sex, planning a vacation together this summer, and several calls/texts throughout each day—to tell my lover that I love him. Big mistake.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Easy come, easy go

Today my job with the Census, which was supposed to last until the end of the month, ended. I am dropped back into a familiar void: of not checking my bank statements out of fear, hoping I can coast on the fumes of cash past; wondering how I will continue to pay Sara’s daycare and my rent costs alone, wondering how I got to be almost 35 and in this position. Reader, that question will not be answered here but probably relates to my inability to check bank statements, stop buying lip gloss / red wine, or function while emotionally flattened—which, since graduating college, was most of the time.

On the plus side, I can lie in bed eating sea-salt encrusted dark chocolate and reading O Magazine. I bought a new notebook at Borders last night because I intend to start writing again: yes, the aforementioned writing that will never be published and, if it is, only a few will see. I feel like there is more welling up and I need to connect…and this past 5 weeks spent in meetings, wearing a nametag, driving over the steep Mississippi river bridge to New Orleans East, sitting in church cafeterias and community centers, walking the streets with my black Census bag, has definitely exhausted and disconnected me, even as it’s been affirming and invigorating (making money, being valued by the world in some way). I am hoping that I will be rehired for the next Census operation next month. But in the meantime, it’s back to the world of unemployment, guilt, and creativity.

Over 9 months of unemployment, even as I have lost much in terms of the means to be materially secure and proud of myself—and have wrestled a group of new poems from some inner necessity—I have shared a common fate with many other people in this country at this time, and I believe that is valuable...and provides perspective. A beautifully-dressed woman in her mid-50s who recently began working in my Census “crew” (only to be told, 3 days into her job, that we’re out of work) spent last week moving out of her home, which she lost after 3 years out of a job. “Now I live with my mother in the ghetto,” she told me. There was a kind of question in her careful but blunt tone of voice—why this, what now, why me?

I don’t know what the answer is for her, and can’t imagine being forced to make such a transition. For me, I am just trying to survive until August when I plan, if they’ll have me, to enter Loyola’s MS in Counseling program and from there—after years of homework, further debt accumulation, and a lengthy certification process—a new life and career I hope will carry me and my child forward for the long haul. One dream is definitely finished: while I will still write, I won’t try to live as a writer anymore. I won’t take jobs in coffee shops and bookstores, or volunteer at a holistic studies institute (I’m sure my mom still cringes at the thought of months I spent living in a tent in Rhinebeck, NY), in order to have the time and emotional space to write. I won’t pursue a creative PhD to be more competitive for academic jobs. I won’t market myself as a freelance editor or writer, making a business out of words and reading; or try to direct my skills into related fields such as marketing. And I won’t do any of this for the most impractical reason of all: my heart isn’t in it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Outside the door

I seem to be entering, or revisiting, a depressing phase as a poet—the old struggle of should I keep doing this? This is coming up because in the first months I was in New Orleans, I was very productive and now find myself faced with a poetic “product” or body of work ready to be disseminated—in literary mags, to chapbook and book contests.

But I’m deeply tired of the public poetry world: the money part (paying to enter contests you won’t win), how you have to be grateful for a remotely positive rejection, the bullshit that does get published that I find tepid or otherwise uninspiring (I’m not saying all published poetry is tepid, of course, but definitely some). And for what? So a few other, um, poets—talk about preaching to the choir—will read your scribblings? Probably they’re also jockeying for position, of necessity thinking: is this work better or worse than mine, has this poet won more or fewer contests/publications than I have? Even if someone is passionate about others’ writing, she cannot help but position her work/herself in relation to it and to the larger culture and conversation, which includes competition and doors that either open or stay closed. Yes, I can write for myself and never publish. But in this world of instant connection to everything, such a pose does not feel appropriate or realistic. With so many opportunities to connect, why would I make a goal of creating in isolation and obscurity? But self-publishing or doing so on this blog just wouldn’t give me the sense of affirmation I can’t help but crave.

I believe in saying something: in speaking out, preferably in a way that can be understood/felt not only by a few who are within the same official poetry forum, but by some in the wider human community. I believe in the power of writing to organize and capture, or even bless, a moment or emotional process that otherwise would have bloomed, died, and gone unnoticed. And I will keep standing up for that. However, whereas in my 20s it honestly didn’t feel important that I had no significant success and recognition to speak of for my labors (and trust me, it IS labor), in my 30s it does, creating a feedback loop of: if this is not going to be noticeably valued by or useful to others, if these words are sent out into the wind, then why am I putting so much energy into this, what is the source that will keep feeding this vocation? It turns out I can’t be like Tibetan monks who spend days or weeks completing sand mandalas, only to immediately dispose of them. I want to hear a response from the world besides the one that basically says: “Thanks for your $20, which will promote the publication of another writer; but your poem/manuscript did not make the cut.” (And if I did hear a more positive answer, as sometimes happens, how satisfying could that possibly be given the narrow margins within which such success is measured and appreciated?)

Lately, not only does it feel insulting and crappy to accept this reality, it feels limiting to have—as a life goal—writing for a few, while essentially hiding from the people in your own family who will never understand or like your writing. Going forward, I would rather reach other people in a tangible, humble way than promote my “so smart, so artistic” self in a finite and less-than-hugely significant one. (Caveat: if this unassuming, real connection can happen through writing, that’s fine too, but in that case it probably won’t be poetry.) I am glad for the moments of connection and recognition I have felt over the years as a poet in a larger community of writers; and I have found folks I met in this sphere to be among the most compassionate and nuanced people I know. But the question of whether such rewards as are available can sustain my whole existential enterprise is, well, a question.

Growing up, thinking that I was intelligent and creative kept me from feeling like shit. I clung to this side of my nature in order to avoid the other things: being judged unattractive, unpopular, clumsy in my skin—a flawed human like everybody else, but somehow worse. It’s a classic story. Now, the thought of moving away from this identity—born of pain and a need for approval—and becoming a therapist seems to offer a way of having my voice actually be heard: of receptively entering into an intimate conversation with the world outside my door.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My Honda is da bomb

Yesterday I received a letter from Honda recalling my driver’s side airbag. The letter stated, in calm language, that in my model (a 2001 Civic) the airbag inflator is under too much pressure and “could,” if the bag deploys, explode, striking everyone in the car with pieces of metal.

For 9 years, since purchasing my Civic new from a lot in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I have driven back and forth across the country over and over, an intricate criss-cross reflective of major life choices at different times. There was the meandering trip my fiancé-to-be and I took from Cruces to Seattle—his hometown—and back the first summer we were dating. (My car was “the safe one,” as his was a much older Accord; so we used it for all our travels.) After he moved to Virginia that autumn to upgrade his MA degree to an MFA at the venerable UVA, I soon followed, packing up my small adobe house—at the time, everything I owned fit in my Honda. When I developed a flying phobia after 911, I thought relying on my car to travel long distances was safer than getting on a plane to anywhere. And so I went: from Charlottesville to NJ and back for holidays with family, to Asheville twice a year for grad school, to eastern Pennsylvania for Chris’ and my wedding in a town called Washington’s Crossing, and then to our new life in, of all places, small-town Alabama—occasioned by his finally securing a tenure-track position. Two years later, the Honda followed a yellow Penske truck driven by my stepfather over a thousand miles north to Ithaca, NY and my eventual divorce. After two more years, with my boyfriend (now ex) at the wheel, it ferried our 6-pound daughter away from the hospital in her first carseat; and, recently, has delivered me back to the South and another uncertain future.

All this time I thought the car was my friend, my container, my vessel from life to life. It hadn’t hosted a first orgasm or anything (that honor fell to a battered ’77 Chevy Impala, on a hilltop covered in cornstalks) but it had pretty much been everywhere else, and gotten me home safe each time—wherever home was.

What can I know about the journeys of my life, what they mean, where they should end up? I’ve been driving around a bomb.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Russian, French, Chinese

I have noticed a number of writers lately taking a stand on the subject and experience of marriage. Cristina Nehring’s book A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century totally kicks the ass of “companionate marriage;” as does Sandra Tsing Loh in her Atlantic article “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” which narrates the story of her surprising divorce after a long union. Most recently, there is Lori Gottleib’s book rather provocatively titled Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

I find myself very interested in the discussion because I have been trying to conclusively decide stuff about marriage—or, the most intimate one-on-one relationships we can have, whatever their legality—in my own life. 12 years ago an astrologer (don’t laugh: this was an Ithaca astrologer: brilliant, had studied Sanskrit) told me that if I ever figured this issue out, I would die. I believe his words were: “Your marriage certificate is your death certificate.” After this prediction, I should not have expected any marriage I entered into would have a good outcome (to my ex-spouse, now happily remarried: sorry about that). However, what he meant was less dire, and more metaphorical: basically, that this area of life is a complex and passionately meaningful one for me—and, clearly, for so many other people—and in that sense it can never be resolved, in the box, finito. (I think he also described my relationship life as being “like a Russian film with French subtitles, dubbed into Chinese.”)

As I see it, there are two basic ways of thinking about the whole romance/marriage conundrum—not that these ways can’t overlap, but they can become very polarized. You can try to be wise, or to go deep. If you are trying to be wise, you want to approach the whole thing rationally to achieve the most positive and successful “result” possible. Dating websites, which I explored recently, are a good example of this kind of attempt. On such sites, you clearly articulate, or try to, just where you are in life and what you’re looking for: your qualities, the qualities of your ideal mate; your astrological sign, salary, body-type, who lives with you (dogs? kids?), what you do on weekends. You try not to be sucked in by the bad guy with tattoos with whom you could have bottomless, but non-practical, sex; instead, you look for a life partner, someone who will not emotionally body-slam you but who will nicely complement your life and goals. You say lucid, absolutely true things like: “No relationship is going to completely fulfill me, and there is no ‘The One’ (sniff sniff); I just need to be a certain percent happy and get X and Y needs met…I’m going to need to compromise and to work hard for the commitment I want. And listen to a lot of Dr. Phil…” You go out with the person who is perfect “on paper” (similar interests, intelligence, values, charm, perhaps a skilled and considerate lover), at “the same place in life,” but somehow does nothing for you from day one. You keep going out with him or her, even as that doesn’t really change. Eventually, you can marry this person—probably with the full support of your mother. I think you’ll be pulling your hair out soon enough due to repressed desires and a sense of suffocation. But go ahead…

Partial kidding aside, Lori Gottleib has the right to nurture this results-oriented vision of marriage and relationship, and so do millions of other people. Personally, I think this approach, if taken on its own, fails to invite a certain kind of depth (maybe why Gottleib is still unwed: she is, after all, not so compelled by her own idea of how such a relationship should come together). What I mean by depth is that you are listening to your real desires and irrational knowledge, the kind of knowledge that maybe “sounds crazy” at first, and makes you feel vulnerable and uncertain. This listening is not the same thing as what some may call perfectionism, or super-pickiness. It is being real and not lying to yourself, and I assert that whatever form it takes, it is the making of your psyche (or soul, if one cottons to that concept), drawing you into an experience with uncertain results; possibly ending in futility or “failure," if any relationship that doesn’t last forever is somehow invalid (questionable).

The force that initiates one to the unknown may be called intuition, imagination, whatever…madness, inspiration—Andre Breton’s Amour Fou. This kind of shit is outside the social structure. Maybe for some people, following such inklings in themselves actually leads to happy marriages with compatible partners. I imagine it could, maybe (certainly, the mojo could be expected to fade over time), if the people involved are self-aware enough, had healthy childhoods, or are just lucky. For me, following my romantic impulses has led to some pain and hardship that has come with divorce, and now, with being a single parent. I feel caged in relationships, eventually; and lonely when single. But after chewing this over for years, and trying to be wiser, I decided I am going to keep on. (If not, this blog probably would not be titled “Falling Over.”) The positive thing is that over time, living this way, you actually act less crazy and more intelligently, even as you are still guided by insane-making feelings and impulses…you aim to surf the turbulence and Do No Harm.

I can’t recommend that everyone, or anyone, follow my lead, though some already do and will recognize this kind of path (if “lead” it can be called, since we don’t know where we’re going). But I am aware that these disparate tugs toward eros and love—rational and irrational—are ancient. They’re not going anywhere. Many more books and articles (and blogs) will be written, and have been. In Russian, French, and Chinese.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Just in time for Valentines Day

A man in a bar kissed my hand last night, and I am still floating. He is unavailable. But I am enjoying the feeling…which seems to encapsulate my emotions about New Orleans so far. I am bewitched, and the door is closed, all at the same time.

Houses all over the city now have their Mardi Gras bling up (as of a week or so ago), which consist of green, gold, and purple decorations. Often there are rows of beads slung over a black iron fence, or there are masks, the main Mardi Gras symbol. The other day I saw two shiny paper masks displayed beside each other on someone’s door: a happy and a sad face. It reminded me of the Tibetan Buddhist deities I learned about during my years working for a Buddhist publisher—there is often a duality to them, with one deity possessing several aspects (masks?), such as peaceful and wrathful. The wrathful face of the deity, which can be frightening to look at, is supposed to be helpful to meditate on in order to give a space to that part of one’s experience or emotions…and to channel that energy so it can be used to fuel something ultimately beneficial, not only to oneself but to all beings and all life. (Here are a few names I found, translated from the Tibetan, of some wrathful deities: “Hidden Sheet of Mail,” “Horse Neck,” “Great Black One”) If there had been a concept like this in Catholicism, maybe I wouldn’t have left. Anyway, seeing the side-by-side faces so theatrically and anonymously trumpeting the duality of the basic human experience, in this city that juxtaposes rich and desperately poor, celebration and mourning (as in the expression “jazz funeral”), I had a thought I jotted down in the notebook in my purse: sorrow and joy are masks of the true destination.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I’ve kinda had a fantasy, of late, of becoming a Jew, as Charlotte of Sex and the City put it (it always sounds weird to say “Jew,” but this is the correct street term, yes?). And, unrelated but related: I just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I admire her integrity in so clearly laying out her thoughts and feelings (mostly thoughts) about intimacy and marriage, and I enjoyed it, not as much as her previous book written when she was miserable…but one thing sticks out. She asked women of her acquaintance and, one assumes, high intelligence level and socio-economic status, why (God, why?) marriage appeals to them given all the bullshit that has gone along with it, and its high non-success rate. One woman replied that she just wants to feel “chosen” in a special way by someone, above all others, officially, and thus affirmed in front of the world (symbolized by the wedding day). It’s clear that Gilbert is a bit horrified by this desire though she makes polite noises about respecting it…as if such a wish is mainly immature, like a toddler’s temper tantrum that is all ME ME ME, CHOOSE MEEE!

Tonight I was thinking of my ex-husband…something about life lately has stirred up the specter of my failed marriage (not Gilbert’s book, in particular)…and I Googled our names together to see if any trace of our union remained in cyberspace. (I had read an interview with him in 2008, on the occasion of his winning an NEA or Pushcart, in which he cleanly omitted me from his biography, admitting only to his first, 14-year marriage. Soon after, he remarried; and I assume he did not want it widely known that this was his 3rd. Can I blame him?) I was strangely comforted to find one entry surviving: an old bio that accompanied one of his published works and stated that “he and his wife, Elizabeth Green, live in Alabama.” I was compelled to read the sentence several times, with tears pricking my eyes, just letting the “chosen-ness” soak in: I had been chosen. I was (and on this webpage still am) a “wife.” I was one of them! Someone had loved me that much.

In a life that feels like a bridge burning under my feet as I run (I assume I’m not alone in this feeling), this idea of a solid identity of some kind—one that binds me permanently to something larger, to the enduring social structure—feels necessary and poignant. I am always forlorn on holidays when there are no special rituals to mark them. Nothing I invent feels as if it has enough weight and texture behind it. It doesn’t count. Hence the idea of adopting a religion, a culture: so I can add a bunch of special days to my calendar and on those days, participate (with other people, ideally) in actions/events that humans have been performing, with their own individual nuances, for thousands of years. I want to be part of that club.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

This is one of the most challenging times of my life, but there have been others. I was thinking this while walking through my subtropical neighborhood this morning with its narrow cobblestone sidewalks, having just broken off another friendship with another woman who disappointed me. I seem to keep paring my life down to almost nothing, then expecting to survive on the scraps. What is it in me that is so ferocious, and so hungry?

I recall being 22 and dyeing my Italian hair blonde “to own the glam,” I wrote in a notebook. Whatever that means. I was writing a lot in a notebook, in lieu of actual human contact. I had recently graduated college and ended a highly dysfunctional 1-year relationship with someone I was still in love with. I shared a house with 2 guys, fellow graduates of my school, who drew breasts and penises on our bathroom wallpaper, used a Victoria’s Secret catalogue as toilet paper once, and didn’t seem to like me very much. Well, one of them did climb into bed with me at 3 AM one morning, and we ended up smoking on the front porch both naked (but not post-coital), tapping the ashes into a tomato sauce can, in a moment I am not sure really happened. But that’s another story and for the most part the 2 men avoided me, and vice-versa. I read a lot of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Khalil Gibran, as well as dipping into the Confessions of St. Augustine: not a good idea if one is young, female, and looking for reasons to live. Due to severe indecision regarding my future, I worked late-night and early morning hours at a hipster coffeehouse in Collegetown. All the regulars, mainly Cornell students, smoked and the windows—high up at the front of the atmospherically dark, narrow space—were tinted brown-yellow from it (this was just before smoking in such places was banned in New York State). I inhaled a pack a day of Camel or Winston Lights, not yet having become scared of actually dying—it seemed so far off, no matter my destructive behaviors. Yet there was a vivid beauty to that time, maybe because of its intense, on-the-edge quality. I remember walking home from work at 3 AM, after sweeping and mopping the floors to the pounding beat of Tricky and slamming dirty pint glasses into the 3 sinks behind the bar. I had an adrenalized feeling of just having accomplished something physical and real and having been set free into the night on my own, into a pure loneliness that was the blue of snow or water on those northern streets; trees and their shadows; streaks of moonlight on car windows that slid past on my walk up the hill to the Belle Sherman neighborhood, where all the families in the houses around ours were bedded down for the night together.

This patina of grace does not adhere to memories of London in the fall of 1995, when I lived there on study abroad, and desire and isolation made me feel I was on the edge of the earth alone. All I could think about was a ponytailed guy back in the States whom I had been orbiting for several semesters as he dated other women, talking about them with me at length (one of his most memorable musings was scatalogical: "I give part of a shit about you, part of a shit about Chloe..." and he went on dividing the imaginary shit between all of us women in his life, who would doubtless have been happy to receive it). My flatmates—students from my college, who had been friends before we lived together—were not so much speaking to me, maybe because none had been trained to deal with a clinically depressed person. They explored the city with its street markets and museums, gleefully stuffed the Thanksgiving turkey, dressed the male students from our group in drag, and otherwise acted like 19-year-olds enjoying a foreign country. I kept a bottle of Bailey’s under the bed, and had to call my friends in the States at weird times like 3 AM—10 PM back home—from those red outdoor British phone booths. It seems that I spent the 3 months either in a phone booth, with the Baileys in my purse; or in the darkness of the movie theater in Leicester Square watching the latest American films alone, night after night, using a Visa Gold provided by my mom (to her later rue). In retrospect, looking at it all through a rational lens, I’m aware that London is a fabulous, world-class city. But I didn’t see it. All I experienced was my misery.

I’ve lost days, months, even years of life to this dark force. Living with it is like hauling around a black hole, so that various holidays and events get sucked in and I wake up somewhere else: older, clearer about what keeps happening, but no more enlightened.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Indian Feast

I react to the possibility of joy, it seems, by cooking large quantities of cauliflower curry and stuffing myself with as much as possible.

I’ve been saying to my friend Danielle over the phone: I just need one thing to go right. Then yesterday and today, just after I’d had this big-feeling realization (again) that I need to go back to school to become a therapist—and stop trying to miserably carve myself into another person—the following non-negative things happen: my landlord calls saying he will replace the heater under my freezing old house with a new one twice its size. One of my new poems, part of my second collection (though the first has yet to find a home) is accepted for publication in a great journal. And I have a really nice, possibly imaginary moment with a really French (really married?) bartender at my favorite restaurant. Ah, oui?

This morning, after getting the email about my poem, I decided to keep my daughter home a second day from daycare though her fever was gone, and that we would have a relaxed day.

First, we both mourned the sudden absence of the huge sparkly Christmas tree inside the little "mall" adjacent to my daily coffee shop. Our ritual is to retire to this open indoor space, framed by a few little shops, where I sit on the bizarrely unstable/uncomfortable benches and crunch sugar from the bottom of my iced coffee while she plays, going up and down the mini flights of stairs; touching the ornaments on the now-retired tree; or, sometimes, kneeling to do number 2 in her pullup (“I have to poop” she unselfconsciously announces).

After, we went to Borders, where she made me buy her yet another clear rubber ball with glitter floating inside (this one also has a smart-alecky white cube with writings on it, like fortunes: “in your dreams” and “true dat”), and to Whole Foods (“whole paycheck”), where I assembled the ingredients of what I thought of shimmeringly as an Indian feast. When I’m depressed I don’t cook and just want salt, sugar, and wine to be IV’d into me. So to be gathering the potatoes, tomatoes, lemon, and large goldish cauliflower into plastic bags felt hopeful.

The other morning, following the revelation about returning to school, I had a dream that I wanted to keep while it was going on. I lived in a house with a group of people. The house was beautiful and complex: large, and with an architecturally impressive or interesting design I studied from outside and in, trying to memorize its vivid, real-seeming details. The environment inside was very warm and free in a way unfamiliar to my waking reality, past or present. In this house, I could just be or express anything publicly, in front of the people around me, and feel embraced and self-accepting.