Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Remains of the day

Gentleman from Memphis asks me what I am doing this evening..."rattling around all alone."

I answer:

"Talking to my best girlfriend. Baking corn muffins. Eating two of them (that was dinner)...commenting on various blogs I follow and a couple new ones I've found. Answering comments on my blog (the writing blog). Piling dishes into dishwater and then not doing them and telling myself I HAVE to do them and I HAVE to tidy the place up. Reading "Fools Crow"...
and metaphorically wandering around my life like a drunk who has been let out in an unfamiliar neighborhood and has no clue where to go next. Only I haven't been drinking."

PS to myself: Start drinking.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I am from

*Inspired by a poem of Mary's (Breath of Air) and Teri (Blueberry Pie)

I am from green rolling hills, studded with pines. A river and ravine weeping with willows. From a tiny house with a coal burning stove and rain barrel and then the big new house my father and mother built alone. I am from Forget-Me-Nots and Bleeding Hearts growing in a garden next to a rhubarb patch. From sensible brown lace up shoes bought by a mother obsessed with not ruining my feet, while subjecting those same feet to x-ray machines at the shoe store. From hated beige cotton stockings, garter belts and plaid skirts for school. From Peter Pan collars and sweater sets, one new outfit in September.

I am from Black Beauty read to me before I could make the words out for myself. I begged for a horse. My father would not need to mow, if we only had one. The logic was impeccable.

I am from budgeted meals and pennies pinched and parents going without so we could have more and from stories of prairie farms. Parents, aunts and uncles sleeping 4 and 5 to a bed, trudging miles to school, staying home during harvest. I am from poor but clean, poor but proud. I am from proper grammar and spelling in this house and sunday school classes where black is for sin and white is for good and red, for the blood of Jesus. Onward Christian Soldiers.

Where I am from, neighbors help and share and gossip meanly sometimes too. I am from a kitchen perfumed by homemade raspberry jam. I am from never-ask-wait-until-it's-offered and white gloves for church. From where no door is locked and no child unknown to the neighbors. I am from dog-eared catalogues before Christmas and real stockings hung on Christmas eve. I am from Evening in Paris for my mother, bought from my allowance.

I am from Ladies Don't. I am from Settle Down Now. From It Is Too Nice To Play Inside. I am from worried looks when I just want to draw by myself. I am from Boys Don't Like Girls to be too Smart. From Duck and Cover, Bomb shelters, and the first water cannoned blast of the civil rights movement pouring from a counter top radio. A lonely little girl in a starched dress, walking by a frothing mob.

I am from mother dying and father mourning and then there was nowhere to be from it seemed.

I am from do-wap, then rock and roll and motown gold, micro-mini skirts, Levies, Bob Dylan and Joan Biaz, Napalm, life-events marked by music. Free love would cost more than I knew.

I am from happiness, love, grief, angst, appetite, curiosity, lust, tenderness, anger, mystery and calm. I am from dark and light places, from guilt and complicity and bravery and determination. I am from compassion and also from envy and judgment.

I am from the journey but still do not know who travels.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

In praise of losing my mind

Too often introspection leaves me with my head stuck so far up my...

That when I can escape from the confines of the blind maze in my head, I occupy my physical self with the enthusiasm of a two year old.

Curled against the Scorpio, cocooned underneath sheets and a comforter, I am listening to the sound of his voice. "Listening" is a relative term. I hear the sound of his voice rise and fall. I wander around in the pauses. Now and then, I raise my awareness enough to acknowledge that I'm following.
"I'm really going on," he says, "and you let me talk. I like that." He doesn't often "go on."
"I like listening to you."

I do like to listen to him. I stroke his right arm while he talks...enjoying the smooth skin under my fingers. I inhale. He has a mildly salty, male smell that I find reassuring. My fingers observe the differences of texture, from his arm to his chest to his neck. My head is resting on his chest, one of my legs is thrown across one of his. His left arm is wrapped around me.

There are no deep existential questions here. The mind is not beating against itself and for a little time, I am safe from my mind and safe from the world. Blessed be the body.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Advice to myself

Knock softly.

If the door opens,
take time,
the signs,
the messages tucked
in the stems of plants.
Observe the weave of light
the gravity of walls.
See if the table quarrels
with the chairs.
Be alert to the spaces,
the shadows,
the grace notes of absence.

This is how to enter a room.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I wish I'd posted these links long ago - but for those of you of haven't visited, Jess D'Zerts has two new blogs up and running and she's always worth reading. See I'm Jess Sayin' and while you're there, if you love poetry, click on Dark Tigers.

Friday, February 16, 2007


It's the simple, truthful things I find hardest to express. I do glib well. This is what's underneath all the Internet hilarity and...

I have to get this down. I want to make sure that I never forget it.

He says, "I come from a family of controlling, emotionally abusive men. And if you break a pattern like that, you do it over and over. You have to pay attention for the rest of your life."

I cried so hard the day after we said goodbye that it took a good long spell the next morning with teabags on my eyelids to return them to something passing for normal. I cried for my own sadness and because I thought he was sad too.

He pauses and then, "So yes, I felt those things, but if you have something good and then it ends, if you focus on sorrow, your sorrow turns to bitterness and then to bitterness against the other person for what you miss. So, I told myself it was not a bad goodbye and I would always be your friend. We've been good for each other all this time. That was what I focused on. I had to because otherwise, I'd fall into that family pattern - ownership, control, jealousy - and I'm not going to do that. And it might look uncaring but it doesn't mean I don't care about you." It's quiet, even, matter-of-fact, his tone. He doesn't trust words much and I know he is choosing these carefully, so that I don't get it wrong.

I am sitting with my head resting against his shoulder. I'm astonished to think it is an effort for him, that it requires attention. In all this time, I've been perplexed by the absolute absence of controlling behavior or possessiveness. I confess, at the beginning, I even tried once or twice to pique a little jealousy. He laughed at me. Called me on it, immediately, cheerfully.

I knew about the male side of his family. I knew he'd broken the pattern, but it never occurred to me that it required constant vigilance.

Why didn't that occur to me? Why would I ever think that an emotional demon is suddenly vanquished once and for all - an event instead of a process. A lifelong process of attending, noticing, altering the tumble of thoughts and emotions that push us into unhappy shapes.

Why didn't I ever think about how sadness can turn to bitterness, if you let yourself wander there? That you turn it outward and against someone? That, bit by bit, you can forget all the good parts. If you don't attend. If you aren't vigilant.

"I have holes inside myself," I tell him, "they have been there all my life. My family pattern is for women to throw themselves on their swords for people they love. To think that the needs of men are more important than our own. I was criticized constantly as a kid." I am thinking, with hope, that I have begun to fill those holes with something that is beginning to feel like self-worth. And knowing this man has helped that process greatly. And if I sometimes fail to heed my instincts, fail to protect my own boundaries adequately, it's less often and less serious now. The good part and the hard part is realizing that is one of my lifelong tasks. I just have to keep practicing.

"I had holes like that, too" he says, "I filled them with good things."

Would you date this woman?

My new profile:

"A friend of mine claims that nothing is a waste of time if you get a good story out of it and I'm inclined to agree. I'm collecting some great stories here although my original intention was to actually meet people. Now, I'm a novice here but I'd like to hand out a few small tips to the gentlemen.

1. You can pay people for phone sex. There are 1-900 numbers. Get your wallet out. Don't call me.
2. If you say you are going to call at a particular time, please do it - otherwise I believe that you are, well...being disrespectful of my time. If something comes up and you can't call, send a note to explain.
3. Don't suggest Tim Horton's. If I want to have a date in a place with the ambience of a public washroom, I'll let you know.
4. If you are from out of town and in Halifax for two days, don't ask if I'd like to meet you. Dinner is not what is on your agenda and I am not brain dead.
5. If you are looking for a "real" woman, figure out what that means first.
6. Most women have a past. If you want a woman with no past, they make life-size rubber dolls for that.
7. Use spell check.
8. "Successful" is a matter of opinion. Employed is fine - as long as you are passionate about something and engaged with life, curious, and aware of something beyond your golf clubs.
9. Overnight stays are not a go for the first meeting.
10. Please, please. Have a sense of humour."

**Note - Since posting this, the email has slowed to a crawl. I can't imagine why.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pod People.


That is what comes to mind.
White breaded
regularly shaped

I don't believe I've ever met anyone so singularly unreadable and passionless.

Fifteen minutes or so into the coffee date, I say, "Well, this is certainly feeling very weird and awkward."
"Well, generally I find it easy to get some sense of who a person is within a few minutes. I'm just not getting anything like that."
"This is just to meet. To see if the person is real."
"If they look like their picture. If they seem like their profile."
"So, how am I doing?"
"You look like your picture. You seem honest."

I can't quite convey the lack of expression, the complete absence of emotion.

He asks if I'm Christian. No. Grasping at straws, I say, "Your profile says you're Catholic."
"I'm not trying to convert you," he replies, "it's important to me but that's personal." This is as close to emotional as it gets. Paranoia and defensiveness.

God (excuse the expression) forbid we be personal.

Another desperate crumb picked from his meagre profile. "So, you were married?"
"Yes. Sometimes these things don't work out." No kidding, chum.
"Yes." Please! Don't flood me with information like that.
"Do you see them often?"
"What ages?"

Financial planner. "Successful" his ad reads. Matter of opinion, boyo.

So why, dear friends, you may be asking yourself, did I agree to meet Mr. Fishstick for coffee?

Well, because no matter how loud my instincts scream that nothing is going on, my ever-present left brain accepts the logic he's presented, which is:

He is ambivalent about the Internet. He believes that meeting in person is the best way to establish whether there are any like interests or connections. Hell, I'm all for that. And I'm in agreement with the idea that addresses and last names need not be exchanged at first. I'm in agreement until he says it for the third time and I want to blurt out, "Please. I don't even want to know your first name."

We won't discuss my reactions to a cell phone being pulled out.

The other reason I'm on this ill-fated but terribly safe little expedition is that someone really interesting failed to call back at the time he said he would and this was beginning to feel entirely too familiar. I've come to the F*ck You stage about that now. The defiant, chin-out, I-Am-Better-Than-That-How-Dare-You stage.

But really, I didn't think fishsticks would be the result.

Ain't love grand?

And if ONE of you say anything like, "Maybe he's shy," I'm going to make Darkmind a happy man and discuss serving you with tartar sauce.

And MF? If you're reading this...I told you I'd at least get a story out of it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cheering myself in the face of defeat

I've resigned from the off and on chase with New Guy. Too many back problems, too many other obligations, too strong a come-on for little actual effort on his part. I am trying to swear off being low on a man's priority list.

That was the depressing start to my day. Subsequently, I decided to pitch myself into the virtual hell of a dating site again and someone genuinely funny contacted me. The excerpts from his ad are in blue, below, followed by my answers. Obviously, I was not trying for a deeply meaningful connection here. I am, in fact, deeply mistrustful of ALL deeply meaningful connections at this point. But I had fun. And I made him laugh.

Besides, it's my claim to having written today. It's not War and Peace - but hell, it's free.

The ad and reply:

No heavy luggage.
Well, obviously not. I’ve been on the planet for fifty years and experience has left me entirely untouched and blissfully cheerful at all times.

No support stockings. How about under wire bras?

Ability to laugh without cracking make-up. I never laugh. It cracks my makeup.

No common sense/common sense. Exactly.

Picks up a book on occasion. I don’t need an occasion. It’s an everyday kind of thing.

Must not be looking for one good man. What? You mean there’s only one? Do you know where he lives?

Must enjoy men. Well, not in large groups. Okay, wait. What are the men doing? If they are talking about golf, I have to confess, I’m bored silly. Are they being charming? I might like them if they are charming. Or funny. Are they intelligent men or stupid men? You see the problem here? I need specifics.

Must not have a list of “must nots” that is longer than her profile. Mine is memorized so no need to write it down – at least until I hit volume 14 and then it will become onerous to commit it to memory.

No pictures of fuzzy bears with hearts. Jesus. I should think not. How do you feel about bunny pictures? The letter “i” dotted with a heart?

Knows what a mirror is for. Got me there. I thought you looked in them to comb your hair and floss your teeth and to make sure your cosmetic trowel is doing its job, but if there’s some mysterious other use, you should inform me.

Same with the weigh scale.

Must be perfect. No brainer. Of course I’m perfect.

Should have faults. I prefer to think of them as side-effects of genius.

Must see the humour in all this. Ditto.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Life on earth: suspending disbelief

You have a dream - you are in your own home, or your childhood home and you know that's where you are but it looks completely different. Completely familiar and yet not from your waking memory. Or in the dream, you are with your sister or friend or husband. You know that's who they are, but it isn't the sister, friend or husband from your conscious waking life.

The odd time, it happens to me when I'm not sleeping and it gives me an eerie sense of worlds reversing.

I could be sitting on the couch in my living room. Every object in the room and the history of every piece of furniture, every ornament, every painting and book is familiar. It's all mine, but I have no sense of attachment to the person I think of as "me" who has things which are "mine."

I stay very still when this happens, stretching my mind into other rooms, examining the layouts, the contents. Then I reach farther - into memories, into life experiences. I feel that I am watching an old reel to reel movie. The sound is gone. I can see the dust motes swirling in the beam of projected light. The images flicker and the projector is whirring noisily. I can't suspend disbelief enough to believe that I am anywhere real, looking at anything real, remembering anything real.

I cannot believe the projection but I cannot see what is there when it stops.

Sunday, I took this self-portrait with the camera on automatic timer. The shots were rapid fire and this double-exposure is what made me think about this.

In. Between.

In spite of Darkmind's suspicions, I don't believe that New Guy has plans to use my hide for lampshades. (Yes. A charming opening. You're welcome.)

Now, hours of telephone conversation have revealed that he may have plans to compromise my dubious virtue but he's willing to wait, pretending to be a gentleman, for my say-so. My say-so would no doubt be forthcoming more quickly than anyone with pretensions to gentility would admit. But the reality is that we are both waiting for a ruptured disc in his back to mosey home to it's proper place in his spine. Until then, compromised virtue and any chance of meeting in person - are imagined. Until then, he is out of commission entirely.

And I am in the place I hate most in the world. "Do Not Pass Go" which is located in the south east of "Not Quite Anywhere." Whenever I'm there, I can't focus. On anything.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I want it to be this or that. One or the other. But it isn't.

He's an interesting old man. He truly loves a certain set of painters and paintings and he has beautiful books. When he sets one in his own cookie crumbs, he's nearly frantic - dusting them off with puffy hands, fussing and clucking about how those bits of flour and sugar will embed. He opens the books, one by one, handling them like treasure. Shows us the plates and talks about how only a truly fine artist knows how to use white, how the artist didn't like the subject of this particular portrait, how he was sad when he painted another. His passion for it keeps my hands folded and my gaze attentive.

He's a tyrant and a snob. He's worked this promised donation of books (many of which our library already has and some of which we don't actually want) into several years of attention. He's demanded that someone catalogue the collection. We send a student to list the books. He's called repeatedly, wanting to lecture formally. Truth is, he's not qualified. But he's been so insistent that he's involved everyone from the president's office on down to the library.

The informal presentation - tea and cookies in the library - several art history professors, the president, the dean, the secretary from art history and myself volunteer to be the audience. There are occasional exchanged glances. Although the dean acquits herself like a pro, the rest of us lurch and stumble, surreptitiously check our watches.

I give myself a generous number of brownie points for volunteering. At the best of times, unless I'm obsessed with something, I don't do sitting still very well. But my boss, who agreed to this over groans and protests, is out sick - and nobody, least of all the staff member who dealt with him in person before, wants to do it. So, I'm taking it for the team.

And I'm taking it for an old man who wants to talk about a powerful, sincere love.
And I'm taking it for an arrogant, snobbish old tyrant who bullies and pushes and can use up the time of people who have no time at all.
I'm taking it because the tyranny alone is an interesting study and because maybe, some day, I'll be an old tyrant who fears that no one will love the magic I saw in something.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Growing old gracelessly

On Tuesday, I am interupted by a student. He asks his question and I answer, distractedly. He hovers and I look up. "How long has it been," he wants to know, "since you cut your hair?"
"Last week. Actually."
"I like how long it is," he blurts, "and how you always wear those clothes that...float."
I am wearing a tailored jacket at the time. I'm a little stunned by the comment. He is so terribly earnest and self-conscious and probably all of 22 or 23 years old. I'd never noticed that he even looked at me.

Now, it would seem a man only ten years older than that is courting me. At least, he is pursuing the "me" whose photographs he's seen. The "me" who is a voice on the phone and words in email. I begin by thinking we might be friends.
What is puzzling is that the more straight-forward I am, the less he goes away. "I am my age," I say, "I have the imperfections that go with it."
"Doesn't matter," he replies.
"I'm not rushing into anything," I tell him, "so the question is: how much of a hurry are you in?" Usually this throws men off in less time than it takes to finish the sentence.
"No hurry at all."

I tell him about the relationship I'm in. The bare bones facts. That if I take up with someone, this other person, who is very important and dear to me, will step back, out of my life. "I think you've made your position clear," he says. He says it calmly and evenly.

I send an email. "If there is chemistry in person, and that is if..." He replies, "that's not even a question."

He's so calm that it makes me feel a little frantic. I'm holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He's creative, even makes a living being creative. He seems too stable to believe...loves his family, his dog. No temper, he claims. He's attractive. No, he's really attractive. He's a loner but not so much that he can't function in a spotlight - which is his job.
Like me, he doesn't want a live-in arrangement and equally doesn't want superficial relationship.

I do a chart comparison. There it is again. "This is an unusual relationship and it will not survive being forced into a conventional shape." Some stuff about the depth of impact, the potential for changing both people. Do I ever get a comparison that says, "You will get along beautifully. This will be peaceful and harmonious?" No. I don't.

In the old days, women used to finish their lives in nunneries, in "severe contemplation." I wonder when it is going to occur to me that this might be a good idea. I wonder if this is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Studying a photograph

Animal forebearance. Like a dream of that. Touch fingers to a picture. Be patient in remembering. Only a small sigh in the settling of skin and bones. Wait. Wait. Curling around myself, circling to stillness.

I think, at first that it is the way someone looks into you that makes it possible to wait. But that is wrong. It is not that they see, but that you do not look away.

A line of lighter skin against dark, a scorch line. He reaches towards the table, eyes down. He was sad then. The scorch along his shoulder where the sun seared skin. A twelve hour day, sweating in one hundred plus heat, expiating his half of our demons. I touch my fingers to the picture, to the line of burnt skin, to the cheekbone. Eight months later, I can still be sorry we made each other sad.

Over two years later, I still do not look away.
Sometimes, it is my only tether.

Like a dream of that.