Intimations of Mortality

Lately I’m expending a lot of effort feeling frustrated by the lagging response times of most of the journals I’ve submitted to, fighting the urge to dash off mild yet curious emails regarding my poems. I feel stymied, depressed.

Lately I’m frustrated by my failure to stabilize Aidan’s ever-erratic sleep schedule, my attempts at weaning, my formerly reliable and now nonexistent writing time. My, my, my. Stymied, depressed.

There’s more, there’s always more, especially in the fall. Lovely, the blazing migration of leaves, but I’m not ready for the morning frost. The cold nights. The days with more than just a snap in the air. The early dark.

But really, it’s all a smokescreen. Because my mother is fighting lung cancer, and who isn’t helpless in the face of her mother’s mortality? The reminder that life may be tenacious, but still as frail as cicada husks.

The use of the word cicada is not gratuitously poetic. It was my mother who taught me the correct pronunciation of cicada, who identified that constant buzzing sound for me when we visited family in Georgia.

Since suddenly losing my father in 1993 this has been a fear, because only with that loss did the possibility of further loss even occur to me. It’s not news that youth carries a nearly impossibly impenetrable sense of immortality. Nearly.

I’m writing about this here because even though I’ve been distracted, I have no intention of letting A View from the Potholes become a fallow field. My tenacious life has transformed and expanded, and retracted, too, in so many ways since that night in 2007 I began.

Grave illness doesn’t have to mean that everything else pales in importance. I think that’s a mistake. Perspective is good. Having a sense of proportion. But life isn’t a hierarchy.

In the first episodes of “Lost,” the character of Jack said something to Kate about dealing with fear that’s always stayed with me, though I missed its last seasons. He said that when he’s afraid, he gives in to the fear, allows it its full rein, for five seconds. For five seconds he lets the terror in. Then, at the count of five, he moves on.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five —

 

Saturdays are the golden brown…

…of the pancakes I made the boys this morning, of Vincent’s shorn hair cascading to the floor as I gave him a trim, and the Indian pudding cooking in its water bath in the oven.

The recipe I’m using is from an ancient edition of Fannie Farmer — who knew there were so many variations! I was just looking for something that uses what I already have in my pantry — and yes, I had molasses and corn meal in my pantry, thanks to Marianne, who cleaned out her pantry before moving across country with her family this summer.

I’ve never done the water bath thing before — I don’t actually have the proper cookware for that, so I’m improvising, as usual. We purchase most of our cookware from Goodwill etc, and for some reason, ramekins and casserole dishes don’t show up for sale there too often.

Tomorrow I’ll bring my Indian pudding, hopefully as delicious as it is golden, to Vermont with me: my friends and I are putting the finishing touches on the schedule for the 2011 season of the Collected Poets Series! And the finishing touch the pudding needs is vanilla ice cream. Or whipped cream. Or both. I’m in favor of both.

Happy last weekends of summer!

Children are all about imaginary time…

…as in, any time not spent with them is strictly imaginary and illusory, or, in fact, altogether nonexistent.

These warm sunny days, while energizing & welcome, make the perennial juggling of daily life an even harder challenge. When it’s cold, wet, and dark, it’s nice to stay indoors, easier to interest the boys in pseudo-crafty projects (I say “pseudo” because I am not even a little crafty. But the boys are too young to have made that determination for themselves, and are happy to be allowed to make big messes in the service of “art.”), baking — dough-kneading was a big success this winter — and thus easier for me to simultaneously work on my various projects.

Now, though, they want to be out out out. They zip around the apartment like mice hopped up on crack until a collision with some stationary object ignites a firestorm of tears. Hysteria, sniffle, repeat.

Or, Vincent says he does not want to be out, and proceeds to systematically destroy his room in a fit of stir-craziness.  This is not hyperbole. I, who am shameless when it comes to poor-housekeeping, would be mortified to show a snapshot of the current state of Vincent’s room, accomplished in five minutes this morning.

If we had a yard with a fence this would not be an issue, but as it stands, when we go out, I have to abandon any hopes of multi-tasking and spend all my time keeping the boys from clubbing each other with rocks or dashing into traffic.

(“Vincent, when you sit on Aidan’s head/push Aidan down/ poke Aidan in the eye/ stab Aidan with a pin Hey! Where’d you get that pin? Give that here right now!, it hurts him. That’s bad. Why would you do that?”

“Well, Mommy,” he replies, hands out as he explains in his most thoughtful, reasoned manner, “bad things always seem like a good idea to me.” Oy.)

Not that I haven’t written at all since the fair weather began, but I spend more time muttering lines to myself in an effort to remember them when I’m again near writing implements than I do actually writing. It’s frustrating — we’d had a nice workable rhythm to our winter days. Makes me long for nothing so much as a string of cold rainy days…

Imaginary Time & Poets

My husband has been watching a science program featuring Stephen Hawking on DVD. Funny how, as long as the scientists are speaking, the theories they’re explaining make perfect sense to me, but the second the tv goes silent my understanding evaporates. However, that doesn’t keep me from making free use, and profligate misuse, of them. Imaginary time, for example:

…imaginary time is not imaginary in the sense that it is unreal or made-up — it simply runs in a direction different from the type of time we experience. In essence, imaginary time is a way of looking at the time dimension as if it were a dimension of space: you can move forward and backward along imaginary time, just like you can move right and left in space.

Wikipedia

Scientifically speaking, I don’t really get it, but something rouses when I read that in conjunction with A.E. Stallings’ post over at Harriet:

I am somewhat mystified by correspondences with poets, perhaps fresh out of an MFA program, who have no job or children, and claim they need to come to Greece for a year, preferably on an island, to have “time to write.” Don’t they have the same twenty-four hour days where they live?

Because really, I have no patience for the very nice but entirely mistaken writers who claim they have no time to write. It’s all a question of priorities, isn’t it? Making more creative use of your time in all its dimensions. Stallings talks about having a space, a room of your own etc, but I think space in a more metaphysical sense is paramount. Making the space in your own mind to be a writer, whatever it is you’re physically doing in the moment.

No one can do that for you — are you serious about your writing or not? — but there are other, more pedestrian, ways to fit writing into your day, which I completely endorse. Stallings mentions some of the ways we waste time (Facebook, twitter, etc.), but what I’m talking about is even more basic:

Showers: If you take a shower every single day, not only are you not a mother, but you’re losing time. As long as you brush your teeth and wash your face twice a day, you’re fine. I mean, really. And models will tell you, freshly washed hair is murder to style. Try every other day (which would still count as a ginormous luxury in my eyes) and watch how your time expands.

Chores: Who are you, Martha Stewart? She’s got hired help. Me, my bank balance is in the realm of imaginary numbers. Decide: exactly what is  your chaos threshold? My bugbear is a neat kitchen. Neat, not clean. Because actual cleanliness would take real time. Dishes clean, clutter pseudo-organized, table crumb-free. Done. Some people can’t abide dirt on their floors, tumbleweeds of dust and cat hair. Get over it. (Unless, of course, you’ve been diagnosed with OCD by an actual doctor not yourself.) I’m not saying you have to live in filth. And, as Stallings says in her piece, chores can be good times to mull. (Before I had kids, I would play music & sing while washing dishes. Not anymore. Not only because this apparently disturbs the household  to ego-crushing lengths, but because I tend to use the chores I do do as time to think.) But know this: if you’re constantly putting the laundry/gardening/vacuuming/dusting (dusting? Really? I. don’t. dust.) ahead of your writing, you’re making a choice.

Sleep: If you sleep more than 5 hours a night, you probably don’t have kids. If you are indeed a parent, then you’re probably a dad. Yes, I said it. Anyway, if you truly can’t find another minute in your day to squeeze writer-time in (and I qualify “writer-time” as time spent not only writing, but reading, because you can’t be a writer without also being a reader), then you need to lengthen your day. Some of us are too foggy-brained in the early morning (that would be me), while others find their brains too full & fatigued in the evening. Discover which one you are, and then stay up a little later or get up a little earlier to fit your writer-time in. You’ll be tired at first, because clearly you’ve been flagrantly self-indulgent with your sleep all these years, but if you keep at it, you’ll find your internal clock’s reset and your mind’s alert and even eager for that space you’ve at last given it.

Because time is what you make of it.

Do You Realize There Are Only 7 Weeks Left to the Year?

Egads, where has the time went?! There’s micro-time, this week, wherein:

  1. I drove to North Adams for a meeting,
  2. have my reading tonight with Kim Rogers at the Green Street Café (which I am so excited about; that and the dinner provided — Green St. has an excellent menu!),
  3. and tomorrow afternoon I’m visiting, in my capacity as local poet, a classroom of first-graders at the Smith College Campus School.

Add that to all my regular doings & whatnot with the boys, and that’s a pretty action-packed week for me.  The last item is of special note — I’m not altogether confident of being able to keep one 7 yr old’s interest, never mind a roomful of them.  I’m going to read them two poems from Hunger All Inside, “All Souls'” and “Night Visits”, and we’ll talk about Halloween and what a metaphor is.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

And, as if the reading tonight weren’t event enough, yesterday was Lance’s birthday.  He’s coming with me tonight, and our dinner will be our first without the kids since Aidan was born.  Our first night out together, alone.

Which brings me to macro-time, this year, which is almost over!  Too soon to start enumerating blessings etc., but oy! This year has slipped by me as sneakily as Vincent hiding a bread knife (a.k.a. his “sharp sword” which he needs to fight the “bad witches”) behind his back.  That Thanksgiving is a mere 2 weeks away, and you-know-what soon after, doesn’t even bear thinking about. Oy.

NaPoWriMo.

I don’t know who started it, (Maureen Thorson?) or when, the first time I remember hearing about it was last year — National Poetry Month has been transmogrified into National Poetry Writing Month. One poem a day for a month, to be exact.

Unlikely? No — impossible, in every way — I can promise to merely draft lines in my head every day and attempt to write them down on discarded bookshop receipts. Much as I do now, only more so.

But the idea is so tantalizing. An Event, with a finite and clearly defined time span. And plan. The whole goal-orientation aspect of it is strangely appealing. And communal.

So, while I cannot commit to 30 poems in 30 days, and I will not be posting drafts here, no sir, you can find your crappy poems elsewhere, I’m on board with the whole let’s-celebrate-poetry-by-writing-a-lot-of-poems-this-month notion:  I’ll try to do more. How about you?

Le Bossu Deux.

For two nights now it’s been sitting in its envelope on top of our DVD player.  But for one reason or another we still haven’t had the time to watch it.

!

I guess after ten years I can stand the suspense another day.  Tomorrow night for sure.  I’ll make Vincent watch it if that’s what it takes.  Besides, if memory serves, there are no guns, just sword fights.

Hmmm.

Time. Again.

We have 3 clocks in our 2 bedroom apt–one on top of the fridge, run by batteries, one in our bedroom, your standard electric alarm clock, and one in the living/dining room, an old-fashioned pendulum-swinging tick-tock clock. Not one of them tells the proper time. In fact, if I want to know what the actual time is at any given moment, I have to check our cell phone or my computer. Unsettling, don’t you think?

Happy New Year!