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  • I am sure of nothing but this

    My friend’s father has died. Last week, as it was happening — as she and her family spent agonizing hours of waiting and wondering at the hospital — I searched for the words to write to her. I was at a loss, so I kept typing the same things again and again in my texts: Thinking about you. Love you. Just checking in.

    It wasn’t enough.

    “I wasn’t sure of the right thing to say”; “I’m sure I said all the wrong things” — sentiments we all have heard, and said, during times like these. What I learned many years ago was that I wouldn’t remember anyone saying the wrong thing, but I sure as hell would remember who said nothing.

    So I continued to text the same things and searched for what I wanted to really say instead.

    I bought a Mary Oliver collection and looked for it there. I read this one poem, “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” and cried, because it was exactly right, and completely wrong. Anyway, it goes like this:

    I step into the painting of the four blue horses.
    I am not even surprised that I can do this.
    One of the horses walks toward me.
    His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
    over his blue mane, not holding on, just
    commingling.
    He allows me my pleasure.
    Franz Marc died a young man, shrapnel in his brain.
    I would rather die than explain to the blue horses
    what war is.
    They would either faint in horror, or simply
    find it impossible to believe.
    I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
    Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
    Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
    is the piece of God that is inside each of us.
    Now all four horses have come closer,
    are bending their faces toward me
    as if they have secrets to tell.
    I don’t expect them to speak, and they don’t.
    If being so beautiful isn’t enough, what
    could they possibly say?

    I didn’t send her the poem, because I was incapable of articulating how Franz Marc and his blue horses and Mary Oliver felt exactly like the hope I wanted her to feel in this time of deep despair, the beginnings of grief. I tried to write, but wrote a shitty poem instead. I read a book. I felt angry at the world that would make my kind friend ever have to sit in a hospital room and wait and wonder.

    I didn’t feel good about the outcome. I tried to think positive thoughts, but I knew too much. I’ve been in that kind of room before.

    So I read more Mary Oliver.

    *

    Recently another friend said to me, “This album will always make me think about this time.” I was playing the new The War on Drugs and I knew exactly what she meant.

    *

    This week I’ve been listening to Shannon Lay, a singer I just discovered. I’ve listened to her new album, Living Water, every night, and thought: “This album will always make me think about this time.”

    The sparseness of it, the melancholy — listening to it feels like reading that Mary Oliver poem. But I wasn’t going to send my friend songs like “Orange Tree” or “The Moons Detriment” and try to explain what the hell that could possibly have to do with what she’s going through.

    Although, like the Pitchfork reviewer wrote,Living Water is shot through with a kind of ragged hope—not optimism, exactly, but a determined belief in the power of that life force to pull us all toward something like transcendence.”

    So, it makes total sense and no sense at all — pretty much exactly like what it feels like to lose a parent. You think you’ll know. You don’t know. And then you do.

    *

    This morning I was eating avocado toast cause I’m a real asshole like that and as I stared at my cat Mufasa staring at me, this Frank O’Hara poem popped to mind and I thought I had it — the right words for these feelings. And also fittingly, a poem with a reference to avocado toast.

    I’m so brilliant in the mornings!

    Turns out, the poem, fittingly called “Poem,” doesn’t have a reference to avocado toast at all and doesn’t make any more sense than Mary Oliver talking about stepping into a painting of horses.

    Here it goes:

    Light clarity avocado salad in the morning

    after all the terrible things I do how amazing it is

    to find forgiveness and love, not even forgiveness

    since what is done is done and forgiveness isn’t love

    and love is love nothing can ever go wrong

    though things can get irritating boring and dispensable

    (in the imagination) but not really for love

    though a block away you feel distant the mere presence

    changes everything like a chemical dropped on a paper

    and all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement

    I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing

     

    *

    I’ll probably never know the right thing to say, and maybe none of us ever will. But as we all search for the words, what counts most is the feeling behind it. I am sure of nothing but this.

  • to be sorted later » something funny started happening

    to be sorted later » something funny started happening

    "Brilliant Disguise" | art by Vin Zzep | via Society6

    I started drafting this post a month and a half ago. Seems like whatever it was I was sorting through at the time wasn't too inspiring! 

    That is both the truth and a lie. I've felt inspired; I've felt like sharing. Then I've talked myself out of it. 

    I've been here before. This is nothing new. But I'm back, ready to sort through some things with ... my computer screen! And hopefully, you, person reading this. Hello.

    So, to begin, and what brought me back here to this month-long abandoned "to be sorted later" post: My friend Jimmy recently shared this beautiful little comic with me. It's called "Doing This," and in it, the artist describes "being afraid of being bad at the things I loved," and it made me remember.

    I remembered the rush of creating, of compiling, of writing, of sharing — even if it is only silly, little, blog post. (Emphasis intended on all the places I naturally felt inclined to diminish what I enjoy.) 

    Maybe no one will read this. Maybe no one but me even knew I had started my "to be sorted later" posts. Maybe no one knew I had abandoned them for two months. But, as I was reminded:

    "What did it matter if I made something and no one cared?

    I cared."

    Thanks, Jimmy, for the reminder. And thanks to the artist, Sarah, for Doing This.

    *

    Let's just keep sorting through things that inspire us, shall we?

    For Literary Hub, Rebecca Solnit offers 10 tips on "How to Be a Writer" — of course, maybe you don't want to be a writer, but that's pretty clearly the game I've been playing at here, so here we are. I particularly like #8 on her list: Joy. 

    "Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing."

    Whether you're trying to be a writer or not, I am a firm believer that the suggestion to "pause, look out the window (there should always be a window)" is some of the soundest advice you'll hear today. 

    *

    Speaking of writers. Speaking of inspiration. Each year on September 11, I like to reflect by reading some of my man E.B. White's writings on New York, of which there are many. The most obvious, and one you should start with, is "Here is New York," but this year I found myself drawn to some of his other musings in Writings from The New Yorker 1927-1976. 

    You really must experience E.B. White's takes on New York in far more depth than what I'll leave here, but here it is anyway, from "New York," 6/11/55: 

    "The two moments when New York seems most desirable, when the splendor falls all round about and the city looks like a girl with leaves in her hair, are just as you are leaving and must say goodbye, and just as you return and can say hello." 

    I often feel that way about Chicago, though I can't say when I last saw a girl with leaves in her hair. Sounds like a vision, nonetheless. 

    *

    I also finally caught up on some reading this weekend. I finished Terry McMillan's new book, I Almost Forgot About You, and was reminded how satisfying a happy ending and a good love story can be. (I also started, and finished, the excellent and too-short novel, Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson this weekend. Highly, highly recommend.)

    Apparently I'm being reminded of things a lot lately. I cried as I finished I Almost Forgot About You, partly because, as it turns out, I'm a huge fucking sap, and partly because I was thinking about my mother. She loved Terry McMillan's books and would have been surprised by the romance in this new one. It's so much more than the romance, though—it's about friendship and family and most of all, the relationship you have with yourself. 

    Early on in the book, as the protagonist Georgia reflects on her divorce, I couldn't stop myself from nodding along, and then pausing my reading to take a picture of the page to send to my friend Natalie. Here's an excerpt of what had me nodding:

    "I ran out of tears. And by the time I went back to work, I realized I wasn't angry. I was numb. I felt as if he had killed me and this is what it felt like to be dead. 

    But then as weeks and months passed, something funny started happening. I stopped missing him. I stopped mourning him. I stopped mourning the loss of him, and in fact he was the one who became dead to me. I was relieved to have our condo to myself. I started feeling like I was on vacation in my own home. I did whatever I wanted to do without needing to clear it with him. I learned how to stop editing my every move. I stopped apologizing for being myself. Because I liked who I was."

    *

    It feels good to be yourself and like who you are. Maybe it's not always easy, but it's worth it, baby. Don't apologize for being you. Don't apologize for wanting to create and share. I'm trying it, and it feels pretty great.

    Let's do this. 

    *

    Previously: "once seen, it cannot be unseen"