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I wanted to let Thanksgiving pass, and the Chamber of Commerce's holy days go by as well, before speaking of holiday burdens. I'm not one to write a diary about emotions in any case, and I beg pardon now.

Holidays, though, can make those of us who are alone or depressive feel as if we are pregnant with a void. This weight of nothingness in our stomachs grows and grows as radio, television, and shop windows chant the days left until it's delivered -- just as they do to gravid women (whose bellies become community property by virtue of "Awww, cute"). Each B-roll crammed television ad, every news story about traditions and shopping stampedes makes the birth ever more implosive.

Lousy metaphor, but it fits the feeling. All that really arrives at a holiday is expectation, but expectations make for long and painful labor.

I don't believe "seasonal affective disorder" is worth much outside of a clinical setting. If it's a disorder, then it refers to inappropriate emotions, and it's not inappropriate for unmarried, childless people to feel melancholy, nor for those suffering financially or medically. If it's a sickness to feel sad about being alone or poor or sick, then America's industrial efficiency at building whole-life experiences called "holidays" is a public health menace.

So I'm not going to talk about seasonal blues. I'm going to talk about Thanksgiving day, Christmas day, and New Year's Eve.

I know, as the fellow said, that "I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in." What most depresses me about the holidays is how darned whining I can be about them, and I get like that because of two fundamental mistakes: looking at others, and looking at what I have given back. If you follow below, I'll use two poems -- Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Thou art indeed just Lord if I contend" and John Berryman's "Dream Song 385" -- to show how these two fundamental habits of looking at others and looking at one's worth lead to that ethereal, ghostly feeling that often makes the holidays wretched.

I love poetry, and I have read a great deal of it. One consequence is that some snatches of verse can come to my lips or sound themselves out in my mind compulsively. When they do, there is usually something they want to show me about what I am doing. The concluding lines of G. M. Hopkins's "Thou art indeed just" and the opening lines of John Berryman's "Dream Song 385" come upon me when I am reflexively moody and surly on holidays.

I have thought about what the lines mean in my case, what I am telling myself, and I could sum it up by saying that my chief miseries come from envy and mortality, but no bald nouns can do justice to the experiences of the alone. Most depressed people are not very fond of themselves, so dealing out the additional insult of reduction is no help.

A note on the texts of the poems:
I do not want to fondle, much less violate, copyright, and if I can convince any readers to go out and purchase a Collected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins or the combined Dream Songs of John Berryman, then I will have done that reader a favor. All that I can say with any certainty is that other people have already made these works available online, and I will link to those sources. With good intentions and strong trepidation, I quote both poems below.

See how the rest of the world prospers?
This is the first crime, the principle mistake, the misplaced stone at the base of the wall, and it can make the alone lonesome.

If you read Gerard Manley Hopkins, you cannot miss how, for him, feelings were not just vivid, but vital. He did not write pastorals or eclogues -- no looking at nature as a lesson or a prop for fair Daphne and the cruelty of love or a symbol of the devil's misrule or the raw material of creation. Instead, he felt in nature a seamless fabric of essence and creation. Yvor Winters complained that, although he bred championship Airedales, he would never compare one of them to Jesus Christ, so Hopkins's "The Windhover" is a bit absurd, but Winters can only say so by misunderstanding the peculiar faith and feeling Hopkins has. Hopkins does not compare the bird, and the bird is not a symbol, nor an allegory; it is a reiteration and reenactment of Jesus even as it remains a bird acting in accord with simple animal life. It shines out the "deep down things" of essence and God's truth, which runs like blood in the flesh of the world.

Hopkins was a Jesuit, and yet the Jesuits did not like him very much. He got poor marks and was treated poorly. His poetry was not published, for the most part, either. Nor has Hopkins's poetry fit with any movement -- least of all those of his age, for it was an age of narrowly academic and broadly colloquial newspaper versifiers. Poetry as worship, as sermon, and occasionally as the only voice that the profound truths of metaphysics could speak was (and still is) hard to consider.

Just listen to this:

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-   
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding   
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding   
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing   
In his ecstasy!
That's the opening of "The Windhover," and most first time readers are stunned by it. They try to solve it -- which is what one does with sentences -- and that means decoding vocabulary that is archaic and just plain odd, and the words are packed into phrases that are non-idiomatic and bizarre as well. It is almost as if the poet is trying to paralyze one's translating/paraphrasing mind. Did you also notice, though, that all the lines are enjambed? There is no end stopping. The syntax and form actively combat sentence solving, because these lines are all one breath. This opening is read in a long, excited rush of syllables that undulate and hang like the bird in the air. At the same time, the syllables act like a koan, in that they send the left brain scurrying through the whole house of memory so that it cannot interfere with the right brain.

Have you ever heard someone speaking in tongues? Glossolalia sounds like an hyperventilating warble, with joyous sounds in a frenzied fencing match. (There are YouTubs of it, but I do not feel anything would be gained from a link.) The opening of "The Windhover" does not mean very much: it enacts; it enacts the ecstasy of contemplating Christ.

Hopkins wrote of joy so achingly that he could be the saint of joyful verse, but, like John Donne before him, and St. John of the Cross before him, he also wrote of spiritual pain. The "terrible sonnets" cover feelings of doubt and spiritual aridity. For those of you who are not religious, "spiritual drought" is a dread part of every religious life, and you can look at John of the Cross's The Dark Night of the Soul for a theological account of it. The body and mind have pains we know well and anodynes we swallow readily, but the soul has pain, too, and there are fewer things on the shelves for it.

Birds nest, Springtime, Chapel Hill
"Thou art indeed just, Lord"
Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum: verumtamen justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c

THOU art indeed just, Lord, if I contend   
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.   
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must   
Disappointment all I endeavour end?   

  Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,            5
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost   
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust   
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,   
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes   
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again            10
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes   
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,   
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.   
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

The poem seems to ask the eternal question of theodicy: as Tom Waits put it, "Why are the wicked so strong/ How do the angels get to sleep,/ When the devil leaves his porch lights on?" As with other Hopkins poems, he practically begs us to misread him. In this case, he offers us a chance to think he's repeating Job or the even more hopeless maelstrom of why the wicked flourish and the virtuous suffer, and he has those syntax-in-bondage structures, too, but for a different reason. "Just" takes on two positions in the two opening lines: God is just, and the petitioner's question is just. God is in the right, and the man is in the right, because both can be true. Without ever arguing, Hopkins cracks the dichotomy we are accustomed to of accuser and accused. He is not doubting God's justice, just asking why "Disappointment" seals all his work.

He has "spent" life on God's cause, and "spent" is multivocal -- sold, used up, worked -- but this spending is all he ever does. He is doomed to spend, not get, and "spend" corresponds with the later complaint that he has no progeny, but only "strain."

The dichotomy is not between a just and unjust God, but between those who achieve wickedness and those who achieve nature. A horny couple will make a baby in its "spare" time, but his works will not "wake" (and the verb is ambiguous; his works are stillborn, they are dead, and they do not wake sinners from their paths). Those who do no toil (such as the lily of the field) also achieve and mock him, for the fields renew in obedience to God's nature.

"Birds build -- but not I build; no, but strain" is one of the saddest lines I know. The wicked and the natural both create, but he is too sublime to be nature's and yet something in providence will not let him achieve the service he longs to give.

Ultimately, the unitary opposition of God's justice serves only to heighten his own worthlessness. He rejects himself as what Alexander Pope would call "amphibious" and a "vile antithesis." The living world's dichotomies reject him, as he rejects them: the carnal do their lusts, and the natural act their nature, but he -- he thinks, strives, works, and is forever caught in toil, strain, and work.

That last agonized cry sounds out across the centuries: to become one of God's creatures rather than the desiccated seed.

*     *     *

"Birds build, but not I build" is something I mutter to myself quite often when I get near the conventional holiday celebrations. When I am completely alone, I'm alright. The freshly grated rind of Hell is when I am put in a pen with the others.

Each is mated, while I missed that window of one's 20's. Each has a house, while I rent. Each has children, where I . . . . (It's complicated. I helped raise twins until they were three. Everyone in my family thinks that's weird.) I'm simply across the border for them, and each probably has an explanation for "what went wrong." I think generally they don't think about me at all.

Many of you will have run into the same Island of Misfit Toys. What turns me from an outsider to sad, though, is that there is a ritualized game they play, and I can't join in. The reason being at a family gathering makes me sad is because the same groups lay out the same course of conversation each time.

What makes me want to run the high hurdles down the interstate is the nauseating spectacle of man talk and woman talk, boys work and girls work, and the way that every person goes right into the game of personae (and they know mine won't fit). First, topics are laid out along which each participant will compete for place. For men, it will be shooting a goose or deer or ATV's or gas grills, while for women it will be ChildName-ie's school or after school program or the very best dessert ever. Even in the worst of years, they have new guns or paintball simulacra or boats or golf scores. The players then talk to one another and compete to know most or have most. The sex lines only cross on mortgages and promotions.

Don't get me wrong: the academic world is at least as phony as anything I'm talking about here. I have quotations at the ready and aphorisms of my own that make me a hit at urbane gatherings of sophisticates. I'm much worse than Mr. Douglas or Ava Gabor in the family game: I become Arnold Ziffel. All the while, though, I hear a voice: "They build, not build I."

*     *     *
"Leaves the world to darkness and to me."

"Leaving, as the moon leaves, twig by twig, the night-entangled trees."
Samuel Johnson -- the man who wrote a dictionary, who single-handedly wrote all those Rambler and Idler essays, who edited Shakespeare, who did prefaces to Shakespeare that are still worth reading -- that Samuel Johnson, was depressed. He felt like a failure, and he was haunted by the "Parable of the Talents." Does hearing this make you feel better?

Whether articulated command by law of Caesar (Augustus to Diocletian, they made laws demanding the marriage of Romans to make more Romans) or of religion, or the cruel accountant who measures achievements against capabilities and reports the negatives, holidays loop and hook us back into the network of mortality and generation. The achievements of the flesh and mind that defy erosion are hidden in the boiler rooms and steering houses of the human machine, and so, whether we are voluntarily alone or not, the flesh -- awakened as if magnetically by the nearness of others -- transmits the familiar ancestral demands and omens.

All are sentenced to death, and growth is another way of sinking deeper into the ground. This is the other source of sadness around holidays, an awareness of one's emptiness before the void. What have I made, and how funny is it to even ask?

If only the sea were somehow more like the sky, and if only we used our wings before we grew too fat to fly.  

Dream Song 385

My daughter's heavier.  Light leaves are flying.
Everywhere in enormous numbers turkeys will be dying
and other birds, all their wings.
They never greatly flew.  Did they wish to?

I should know.  Off away somewhere once I knew
such things.

Or good Ralph Hodgson back then did, or does.
The man is dead whom Eliot praised.  My praise
follows and flows too late.
Fall is grievy, brisk.  Tears behind the eyes

almost fall.  Fall comes to us as a prize
to rouse us toward our fate.

My house is made of wood and it's made well,
unlike us.  My house is older than Henry;
that's fairly old.
If there were a middle    ground between things and the soul

or if the sky resembled more the sea,
I wouldn't have to scold.
                                                 my heavy daughter.

I found the text online here.

John Berryman was an alcoholic who killed himself in 1972. I went through college (1980 - 84) at just the time when my professors had met/heard him and consequently despised him, because, like other alcoholics, he disappointed those who looked up to him -- repeatedly, according to them. Further, I heard only dismissals of his poetry. Either he was lumped into the porridge of "Confessional poets" or dismissed as a "New York intellectual fad." I tried to convince my professors that meeting the poems without any sense of the man or the publisher's hype, there are jewels to prize. I made it clear to them that I loathed confessional poetry, but I liked him, and I didn't know nothing about no Book Awards.

Explanatory notes on the poem so we can get them out of the way

The poem makes two allusions: Ralph Hodgson and "Henry." Ralph Hodgson was something of a poet's poet, because he countermarched his age. While Modernism operated by the infamous dictate that "this age does not deserve beauty" and that the twentieth century was incapable of beauty, Hodgson wrote as if immune to not only the movement but even World War I. He wrote eclogic poetry in praise of nature. In particular, he had written a lovely, long poem, "The Skylark." Like Vaughn-Williams's "Lark Ascending," it is evocative of a beauty that is beautiful because of it must evoke and cannot speak itself to us.

Berries against a blue sky
"Henry" is the waking poet. In The Dream Songs, the poet refers to himself and the life that he leads in day to day business. That's Henry. "Henry" goes to lunch with other faculty members and faints with lust as a colleague's wife is "filling her compact and delicious body with chicken paprika." In "Dream Song 14," the speaker announces, "Life, friends, is boring" and art is boring -- especially great art, and Henry is boring, and Henry loves great arts and peoples. The speaker in the poems is the poet's dream self.

*     * Back to the poem *     *

Berryman's poems look and sound tipsy. They read as if they were tossed together in a single draft by an indifferent "sot to lusts," but it takes a pile of work to sound casual. It takes immense care to look easy. In fact, each poem in the three hundred eighty-five poem sequence has structural development, word play, and extremely rewarding figurative language.

In this case, the poem gains part of its power by what it doesn't say. The prior poem in the sequence addressed the poet's father. The Wikipedia biography is serviceable for background. John Smith, Berryman's father, used to swim out into the ocean with the child on his back and threaten to drown him. He was alcoholic, depressive, and violent. Finally, he killed himself, and the boy discovered the corpse. In "Dream Song 384," the poet imagines visiting Smith's grave, digging up the coffin, and chopping up the cadaver. It is a moment of supreme crisis, and what follows is this. . . the infant daughter's first Thanksgiving and her father's effort at thanksgiving amid death.

I once thought this a strange anti-climax of a poem, but it is no such thing. Look at the nouns; only one of them is alive, and that's the daughter. Everything else -- leaves, house, Ralph Hodgson -- is dead. The daughter is an infant, which is when we measure growth by weight, but it is obvious that the poet is thinking of a different sort of weight.

His daughter is getting heavier. Turkeys have wings, but they do not fly (because they are too heavy). He, himself, once could fly, but now cannot even recall it. Ralph Hodgson, who flew in his verse, is dead and cannot teach him desire for life. Unlike things, which we can make well, we grow heavier, and our wings are less and less a match for our weight. Once he could have escaped to sky or sea (the unknown of death), but growing heavy is silent and eliminates prayer, desire, and death. If only there were a way that we could be between, truly between, spirit and thing, dead and living . . . if we could fly, then he could allow his daughter to sink ever more deeply into the tread of life.

*     * They never greatly flew *     *

When I am alone, I hear that line, over and again. "Did they wish to?"

When I have the seasons bleeding through the walls, I do not need animated polar bears with soft drinks. If I go out into the wind, or even drive my car past the carcasses that intersected the highways, I won't worry about what letter every kiss begins with or how I could show her I love her with a year's salary in a form that could be dropped down a Dispose-All.

Again, it is when the others are there that I need props to keep me screwed into a present moment so short that I can believe that the waitress at Shoney's really wants me to have the best day ever. Death is neither good nor evil, since every bug and saint and king is under the same sentence, but Thanksgiving deceptions, and the multi-generational photos try to rob us of our place.

The weight accrues, and we can almost Fall. Grievy, brisk times at Thanksgiving through to Christmas to New Year's, and what makes me sad is, after all, the happiness I am not having. When I was young, I could scorn their paths by taking flight. Now, I only know I need to flee.

My favorite Thanksgiving alone was spent in Chapel Hill. The whole town evacuated, it seemed like, and so I went out to the Botanical Gardens (if you're a New Yorker, this is nothing like what you're imagining). I hiked out about a mile or so, up hill upon hill, and I just looked. I did not feel failed or incomplete.

I looked and looked, and I realized something hieratic at the time: there is more to see above me than before me.

Pear tree in full autumn color against a clear blue sky, photographing through the leaves.
The leaves like a mosaic against the sunlight.
= Consolation =

It's not much of a lesson or moral or meaning or motto, but there is more above you than before you. In other words, the tug that says, "You haven't checked the boxes we told you to need," is coming from beside you. The chains that are made of exigency, failures, and mistakes are coming from behind you and your other side. Misery is starting from looking at other people. Looking ahead is needful, but not now -- not on the holiday. On a day like this, being alone gives us the freedom to count the bolts of cloth in the mantle of the sky.

Originally posted to A Frayed Knot on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 05:02 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight and Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  I wish I could offer you some comfort, but (25+ / 0-)

    anything I could say would be hollow compared to the depth of your writing, and your pain.  

    What particularly spoke to me was your point about the appropriateness of emotions... how it is not inappropriate for unmarried, childless folks to feel alone, especially at the holidays that so celebrate family and togetherness.  I understand what you are saying, and I strongly agree with this - no pill or therapy can resolve it.  (Well, some pills can, but... that raises the question of whether or not it is good/right/healthy to medicate oneself out of reality on an ongoing basis.)

    I have learned that alone-ness is a state of mind.  I have been alone in a marriage.  I can be alone in a crowd of strangers and in huge gathering of those who are related by blood or marriage.  I can feel complete when I am by myself.  Having a child does not make me less alone, because although others can empathize and sympathize and accompany, no one can walk my own personal path - that is only for me to experience.  

    I have not completely mastered the art of feeling whole, regardless of where I am or who I am with, and that is the challenge with which I am wrestling.  You are not alone in your feelings.  My wish for you is that you can find solace in the beauty of the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.

    And by the way - the sky is a gorgeous shade of blue in your photos.  

    "I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization." - United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (Republican) -8.12, -5.18

    by ncarolinagirl on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 06:43:07 AM PST

  •  No doctor, I am going to make a prescription. (21+ / 0-)

    This is based on my own experience of the holidays in the large metropolitan area where I live. Last year, I was an "orphan" who spent the holidays away from family. On Christmas Eve, I had dinner at one friend's house. There were about 20-30 guests, many of whom I didn't know, all of whom were "orphans," alone, and only too grateful to have a social invitation for the holiday. I think it's wonderful that this friend hosted us. I am so grateful. But the occasion felt impersonal to me, like a "tank" for holiday orphans who otherwise wouldn't interact with each other. The following day, Christmas, it worked out for me at the last minute to go to the home of a married friend for dinner. We were joined by her spouse, his grown children, and her teenager, for a few little presents and a homemade Chinese feast. What warmed me through, what made the day such a contrast from Christmas Eve, was how genuinely glad these people were to see me. It was really touching. I could not have asked for a better holiday.

    This is my holiday Rx: seek out people who enjoy your company. Intentionally spend time around those people.

    Thanks for the diary. The best to you.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 06:58:39 AM PST

  •  Thank you (13+ / 0-)

    for giving me this unexpected beauty this morning.  I have been there, and still go there when I don't expect it.  I would have the feeling that I could die or disappear and no one would know.  Not about caring, but about knowing, about my not being here would make no difference.  

    And thank you for two poems I was not familiar with.  You could add learning to your tags and more people might see this.

    Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

    by ramara on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 07:00:15 AM PST

  •  I don't really know what to say, but I am crying. (15+ / 0-)

    I'm feeling the same thing and struggling to understand why I feel empty. I feel "homeless," and yet I am not. I feel old, and yet I am not. I feel alone; I am in some ways and not in others.

    There's an inexpressible ache in wanting to be known fully.

    We get along somehow regardless.

    Every honest communication poses a risk that we will hear something that could challenge or change us. -- Kenneth Cloke

    by GreenMtnState on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 08:11:00 AM PST

  •  As someone who has coped with many dark (6+ / 0-)

    nights, especially this time of year, I concluded that part of the grimness was the lack of physical sunlight. Sunlight helps make vitamin D3, and brings physical light into the brain. I think both have a strong effect on mood. Since adding D3 in the amounts of 10,000-30,000units every other day or so, my mood doesn't tank as readily. And I make certain I spend some time outdoors each day to catch the sunlight, or even sunlight filtered through the clouds.

    I'm also going through non-season-related sorts of stress right now. Though I love poetry, much poetry, to my perhaps unenlightened and worried mind, attempts to say too much in too few words. Hence when attempts are made to 'explain' poetry, my mind seizes at the effort.

    It has been well said that a hungry man is more interested in four sandwiches than four freedoms. ~ Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.

    by 4Freedom on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 08:22:57 AM PST

  •  Your worth is that of a pearl beyong price (5+ / 0-)

    Please never forget that God don't make no trash.

    When you feel otherwise tyou are suffering a delusion. It's the diease tallking.

    Don't let millionaires steal Social Security.
    I said, "Don't let millionaires steal Social Security!"

    by Leo in NJ on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 09:14:34 AM PST

  •  Love this (9+ / 0-)

    And think it is perfectly ok to buck the holidays.  

    On the bright (?) side, if you're alone, you have more freedom to get away from all the corporate greed and forced movements and emotions.  (It's hyperbole, but November and December, one sixth of my year, are always "taken" somehow - "oh I can't do it then, it's the holidays" - etc, etc.)

    If you have the means it can be really refreshing to take that backpacking trip through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (or wherever) that you've been meaning to take.

    They pretty much don't give a shit about Thanksgiving or Christmas over there.

    •  I concur with this (5+ / 0-)

      I know quite a few academics who use their holidays to either volunteer in wildly foreign parts or travel extensively. I must admit I envy them because even people with families can feel themselves alienated and alone if their interests are too divergent.

      "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

      by northsylvania on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 09:59:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I wish (6+ / 0-)

        It's complicated.

        First, when Alan Grayson talked about what Mal-Wart managers make, I thought, "Well, that's about my take home, so. . . ." Second, the reason I am among the voles and bolls is that I was elected to be the care taker for my mother.

        Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

        by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 11:53:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh my. (6+ / 0-)

          That does make things difficult indeed. I used to be an adjunct and figured that my take home per hours worked was about the same as the cashiers at 7-11. People here in the UK make a bit more (if I had a job here, I'd brag about it) and travel is not as expensive out of England. My apologies.
          As for being a caregiver, it has got to be one of the most strenuous jobs around both physically and mentally. I was an only child so there was no question, but my parents died when I still had some energy to deal with it. My condolences, and if you are  around during the holidays, check in here. There aren't any festivities planned here and I'd be glad to hear from you. Your writing is excellent.

          "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

          by northsylvania on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 12:58:32 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Well, maybe Little Italy (5+ / 0-)

      I taught at an exclusive boys' school in Manhattan for a few years. The parents were masters of the universe, but the teachers made about $20,000 less than median. The kids did not know they were rich, and they would go to Jamaica for a three day weekend, or they would go to France for Thanksgiving break, or to the beach house. They'd ask me where I was going for the weekend, and I'd say, "I'm going to Jamaica, too. Jamaica, Queens." Either that, or I'd say, "Me? I'm going to BED."

      Now that I live in the middle of tobacco and cotton plants and pecan trees, I can easily find forest primeval (well, primeval enough), but when I lived in New York City I would take a subway line I'd never gone on before to a stop I couldn't imagine and just find out where I was by stumbling about.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 10:08:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Those who discuss golf scores and the best (8+ / 0-)

    dessert recipes rushed into conventionality.  They were, maybe are, more than that, but have abandoned a larger, higher sense of self in order to be comfortable with the group.  Maybe they are the ones to be pitied.

    As for reproduction, more of us need to not reproduce.  Pat your self on the back for choosing to be one of the ones who performed this invaluable service for humankind.  I will start an organization soon to hand out medals to those of us who serve humanity in this special way.  We need the recognition.

    The elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short term gains over lasting achievement displays a poverty of ambition. It distracts you from what's truly important. - Barack Obama

    by helfenburg on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 09:41:52 AM PST

    •  The old pain (7+ / 0-)

      I have friends who never felt odd for being unconventional. Their parents were enlightened and intellectual, and conformity was a spectacle to them. Most of my friends, though, are like me, and they have been "That One" all their lives.

      I remember having my eyes opened by hearing the director of graduate studies where I got my master's talking about how his sister was mean to him and accused him of being arrogant. He was in his 60's.

      I used to think, "If only I'd taken a job at a gas station, knocked up a girl, gotten a double wide on rented land, and developed a refined appreciation for rice malt beers, I'd be happy." The snobbery of that thought is one sin I've repented of, but the duncery of it is another. The people who conform are not happier, but, and I think this is something, they are more easily distracted from their unhappiness, and, even more, they can find someone or something to blame and feel exonerated.

      The gender-walled conversations and materialism aren't even genuine, necessarily. They're learned, and they're the common ground. "We can all do this" is tacitly assumed. Well, I can't.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 10:15:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is the second diary today (9+ / 0-)

    that has brought me to tears.

    I often marvel at how many others, well known or not, have expressed emotions and thoughts that make me cry in both joy and sadness.

    Joy that I am not as alone as I feel.  Sadness that anyone else should experience this.

    The old saw " count your blessings" makes it even worse.  How fortunate I am in world of much poverty and despair!  How silly to feel so impoverished in the midst of riches: family and financial.

    And so I work to believe that my feelings are "wrong" and I should be able to fend off this void.


    What is the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on. -Henry David Thoreau, naturalist and author (1817-1862)

    by Spirit of Life on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 10:14:58 AM PST

    •  Biggest lesson I learned (6+ / 0-)

      was that you cannot argue with your emotions. They're right, whatever they are, and you have the right.

      You can talk to them and see what it is that they want of you, where they came from, and the direction they pull, but you can't tell them that they're wrong.

      When I was young, I had a huge chip on my shoulder, because I was sick. That allowed me to think that I had some really special problems. One of the first great realizations of my life was that someone else who suffered from feeling deformed for having a mole had as much right to self-pity as I did for having a deformed heart.

      The feelings are there regardless. We need to know what they want to tell us or who is holding their leash.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 11:45:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here are a few thoughts (5+ / 0-)

    Not as nicely written as your diary, but here they are. Some perceptions, deductions, and conclusions made over the years in my own life. A life in which I've been married and not married, and married and not married again, and have spent holidays variously with family, alone, with in-laws, or with friends. Childless but not fruitless.

    For creative people, often their creations are their "offspring." Many ordinary (average, typical) people don't see this or appreciate this, but they do not create, either. And they define you through their own lens. When you are with them, you see yourself through their lens, which devalues your own gifts and contributions, and you are confronted by what they perceive as your lack or shortcomings and feel worth less (or even worthless).

    •  However ... (7+ / 0-)

      Forgot to say this before posting my comment. A counselor I went to a while back had some incredibly helpful insights, and one that I've called to mind many times since is this: Don't let other people define you.

      •  True, and never be a negative (6+ / 0-)

        One I have learned intellectually but not existentially is that we must never be "not-him" or "not-her." A man who is "not-dad" or a woman who is "not-mother," or either who is "not-my-brother" or "sister" is defining her or his character by an absence and giving enormous power to the person she or he abhors. The same is true of institutions.

        Heck, being "not Democrat" pushed Southern Baptists into supporting a bishop in the Mormon church! That's what happens when you allow opposition to be a defining principle.

        Like I said, I know this, but I haven't learned it. Part of the reason that our families wound is that we still want them to see the light and change their standards. If we're gay and dealing with homophobic parents, poor and dealing with materialistic siblings, progressive and coping with troglodytic codes of John Waynery, we're all still wanting them to award us the star. We know we're alright, but we haven't learned it.

        Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

        by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 01:35:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for reminding me to re-read Hopkins (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, NapaJulie, Lorinda Pike, Chi

    And for the beautiful and thoughtful post. You do build, probably far more than you give yourself credit for.

    With regard to the family gatherings at which you feel so alienated: You reject the choices the others have made (banal interests, rigid gender roles), so why do you accept their judgments of you, or what you perceive their judgments to be?

    •  Thank you! That's very nice. (5+ / 0-)

      I appreciate that a lot.

      I think there is a part that can't help it. I think it's probably good to always want the whole family to come around and throw a parade in my honor. If I'm not with them, I can be at peace with the fact that they will be as they are, and we will be as we are. If I'm by myself I am in good company.

      If I'm in their presence, though, I'm alone. That is when I am out-numbered.

      I think a fair number of us have encountered this paradox, too.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 01:40:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, it's a paradox (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre

        I'm familiar with.  I thought today how my family does not see me or think of me..... "out of sight, out of mind".  But in my case too, it's out of mind even when I am with them.

        I feel better this year, hearing that other people have the same thing going on in their lives.  So thanks for speaking out.

        "I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."~ Christopher Reeve~

        by Texnance on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 08:48:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Dear, I am not a doc either BUT (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, NapaJulie, BitterEnvy, Chi

    I do deal with people who feel inappropriate emotions in their minds.  I want to remind you that your worth is greater than you know.  A mother does not mean bearing a child.  One can be a Mother to many.  Look at those babies at the threshold of Hell in South Dakota and make a project for yourself to become a Mother to one of them..a long distance Adoptive Care for the family.
    There are too many hurting poverty stricken children and young people and even the veterans who sacraficed so much who could use a good poem, or beautiful picture to lift their day.  There is beauty in you and it needs to be shared.   You have a gift of writing and who knows?   What a difference the little we all do can impact some of the hurt right here in America.  Please think of how much you can contribute in such a menaingful way and while you remove some of the sadness it their lives, you will find some joy..that I do guarantee.

    We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 12:28:45 PM PST

  •  Your younger relatives (5+ / 0-)

    might very well need someone with your insight and perspective to be part of their lives. One or two of them might have trouble fitting into their conventional families and having the benevolent interest of an older relative could make all the difference for them. Please keep an eye on them as they grow.

    And thank you for the poems. I have an anthology with some Hopkins poems in it. I will go read them now.

    There is not such a cradle of democracy upon this earth as the Free Public Library

    by gorgonza on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 01:19:14 PM PST

    •  You're right, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I have failed one -- or not.

      The son of a first cousin always hung on my words and liked to hear me talk about how appearance and dress are just reflections of how we feel, not what we are. He was growing up before the Internet, and a man with hair over his ears had "hay-r like a girrel." I told him that, first, some men did like men, but who cares, and, second, a hair cut doesn't have that kind of power. He was nine at the time.

      As he headed off to college, he pursued advanced degrees. He also came out as gay.

      I may have helped him, some, but there was too little opportunity to do anything. In particular, my nephews and niece need to know that there are middle ways, that they won't have to choose between kowtowing to a father with norms from the 1940's or blind rebellion. (Rebel with a cause.)

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 04:19:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you. I stopped, years ago, reading (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NapaJulie, Lorinda Pike, The Geogre, Chi

    poetry, but in the past few weeks have been considering it again. Beautiful writing, with many wonderful references. I felt tears just as several others have.

    I lost my mom almost thirteen years ago (December 23rd; as Crashing Vor said, "Only your Mom would try to outdo jesus,"), and lost also any desire to gather with family at holidays. My many siblings are irritated with me about that, but I know the holidays will not be the same. It is because I'm no longer anyone's child, and more so, our holiday celebrations were about friends. A Christmas with only twenty people was rare. The majority were men, with a few married couples, some offspring. I did not realize until my mid-twenties that we were family for many of these men because their families were embarrassed by them, some even disowned. I loved those men, hugging them, sitting in their laps, talking incessantly - I was the little girl they'd never have, the child. And the talk was politics, the market, wine, food, another drink.

    The last of my dads hasn't much longer; his partner calls me late at night sometimes, drunk, and we laugh and cry about the old times, and he always asks when I'm coming up there again. I can't. Too many dead, not enough life in what's left. I too prefer trees now (and I'll be looking for my old poetry books).

    "Until death it is all life." Don Quixote

    by cv lurking gf on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 02:16:12 PM PST

    •  Surfeit calls to vaccuum (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cv lurking gf, FarWestGirl

      What you describe of your earlier years sounds inviolable. Your siblings will each have put one weight or another on this or that element, and you have the right to preserve them all living in your heart.

      All that you say sounds entirely right to me. It is hard to visit the inhabiting dead. When I go to the town that my maternal grandfather ennobled, his absence is standing at every place. I can not regain memories by visiting the places, but by not visiting them. If I go to the places, I see the subtraction, the layer of ash.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 04:11:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The colour of your Blues is Black, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre, Papuska

    with the venom of the disconnected. I know not the path that brought you to this crossroad, but I can guess at some of the turnstiles, for I have been there before you.

    Age does not always impart wisdom, but it does lend you perspective. Do not wallow in the misery of poets who yearn for death's answers, or the ones who offer advice on how to hate the society that surrounds you.

    You and I are of an age that remembers the joy and anticipation of the world of tomorrow. The disappointment that greets us can be overpowering when our dreams so seldom meet reality. Do not let this become your governing philosophy.

    Joy is found in simple things. But a smile is the first step. Especially when you don't feel like smiling. But make it a habit and it can become a new aspect.

    Just as the frown and judgemental attitdude come easily to the disconnected, laughter and a sense of belonging comes to those who find the kernels of joy in  the sound of a child's laughter; the wisper of the wind on a full moon night;  the look of adoration in a pets eyes.

    My friend, do not let the cycle complete with another year of despair. Only you can break it. Only you can find the first step to recovery.

    But only if you look for it.

    See you on the other side....

    Beware of Bad Bhadsha - Zn'rx Proverb

    by Jack Pine Savage on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 02:28:32 PM PST

    •  Oh, I laugh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jack Pine Savage

      and most often at myself.

      However, the natural hymns and dances, jigs and dirges, that are appropriate to the individual are bisected by the calendar. I wrote, above, not about how every day is, but about how the days are when a date stamp gains tyrannical power over the individual.

      I may be in a mood for contemplation or for rolling down a hill, but the calendar has orchestrated one deed and one emotion for all, and, like the one guy going up the subway steps against the morning rush to the trains, it seems as if everyone else is going to make me pay for disagreeing.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 04:01:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Beautiful read, thank you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre

    I'm a poet, yeah, I know. But really I am. So it's great to read your close readings of the poems you presented. I love close readings.

    I never acquired a husband (though I had several sweet loves), never bore kids, and my siblings did the whole great career, marriage, kids thing. I moved to NYC where I could be a poet in peace. My family never got it. They always saw me as a ne'er do well. In my middle-age years, I would make an effort to spend Christmas with them, sometimes Thanksgiving. I'm Jewish, but my bro converted, so they do Christmas. One Christmas, my sis-in-law gave me a pair of very expensive boots with rather steep heels on them. I never wear heels.

    It showed me that they really don't see me. When they give me presents, they buy presents for the me they'd like me to be. I've never been that person, and never will be that person. So I stopped hanging out there on holidays, and stayed in NYC with my poet and political friends. I learned a long time ago to create my own family with people who get me, and people I get.

    Freedom is an inside job. That's what I've learned. And whether I'm alone or with people, it's always an inside job. When I've been on a crazy job where people didn't get me, it's still an inside job. When I'm in any situation, freedom is still an option, because I've learned how to keep that light glowing. It takes effort sometimes, but it's worth it.

    Not trying to deny emotions. Have been through several dark nights of the soul. Have stared deeply into my eyes when they are darkest with fear and sorrow. Not easy. But I know my emotions quite well now. I know where anger clinches my body, where fear tightens my gut and jaws, how sorrow empties my energy. Important not to repress emotions. But also important to know how not to sink into them and let them cover me like a shroud. Here's the ending of my long poem, Duties of My Heart:

    When in the midnight lamentation
    I have lost my eyes from weeping.
    When my sighs shake the wilderness
    and paradise mis-fires
    it is the duty of my heart
    to ask me if
    I want to dance.
    I always do.
    And so I live
    when the agencies of presence
    blood and breath
    put on this name
    and play the living moment.
    It is the duty of my heart
    to remind me
    that my lips illuminate this cup of tea
    and the abyss that swallows
    is the source
    of my fullness.

    This poem really taught me a lot, which is one reason I write. I learn so much writing a poem. I begin with one idea, and by the end, the poem usually takes me some place I didn't know I was going to go. I've gone on quite a bit here, not sure if it resonates with you, but hopefully some part of it will.

    You are a beautiful writer. I hope you write poetry too.

    •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

      I found out that I was not a poet, but also that I had no scope, and so I was left with the small scale attention to image and rhythm of poetry but without the satisfactions of form or capacity to innovate technically there. That meant that "sudden fiction" and the essay were my form, although I had no idea that the extremely short short story organized around image or epiphany had a name when I started doing it.

      I did manage a couple of long pieces, but only by convincing myself that I was just describing a present moment. Once that present moment stretched on beyond any customary length and could not be squashed, I was stuck with describing.

      I enjoy the essay form. We may be in an age of the essay, although we dare not say so. It is what the blog does, and whole armies of writers have adapted and learned the form.

      I think you're right: freedom is always only from within, but that is the ultimate and the defiant. Like Hopkins, we can strain and toil, but we feel like asking, "Is it too much to hope for a haven that is home?" Graduate students learn early that all of these are temporized, and by the time one emerges as a faculty member, one knows that, if one missed marriage, all the families will be tenuous webs. Either people stop trying or they make do.

      I have a nice network, myself, most years, but the empire of the calendar, with its demands, sometimes is best fought with solitude.

      Time is not a fiction; it is a narrative.

      by The Geogre on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 03:37:25 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We approach poetry and family (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        broths, The Geogre

        somewhat differently I see. For me, the haven that is home is always within me.

        Yes, there are different "families" at different times, temporized, as you say. But there are always one-three soul mates in each temporized family that have stayed in my life and have a deeper connection to my heart than most of my family members.

        But perhaps I had a head start in learning that freedom is an inside job. I was raised Jewish in a small, Southern Baptist town, and from the moment I walked into kindergarten was continuously put in a separate box from the rest of the kids. I learned early to create my own group, usually with the other misfits (which is why I lived so long in NYC when I got out of high school).

        Also, I'm a long time meditator. Meditation really freed me from dwelling in certain dark hallways and taught me how to find peace with what is. I'm reporting this as if it was easy, it wasn't. It was a struggle. But worth the results.

        And the poetry school with which I am associated is the New York School (Ashbery, Guest, Kock, O'Hara, Berrigan, Padgett, Waldman), and one of the teachings of that school involved creating poetry communities. There was lots of hanging out and collaborating on poetry and various poetry projects. Ted Berrigan, my teacher, was great at showing us how to create our own community and family of poets.

        So my initial isolation in my hometown, my meditation, and the wonderful poets who schooled me I guess all contributed to my being able to be less attached to my blood family than I am to my heart connection family. Because that what it is about really. A heart connection. And heart connections are not limited by blood connection.

        That's my view.

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