Damn It

3 February 2014
6:30 AM
Manila

M.–

It’s past six in the morning and I just read some devastating news: Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead.

Damn it. Damn it.

Damn it, Philip!

Damn it.

I can’t process this.

T.

I Spoke Too Soon

2 February 2014
11:29 AM
Manila

M.–

I think whenever I mention the word ‘happiness’ in relation to my life, the bullshit meter of the universe gets pinged, and someone zaps my family a little so we’ll all remember who we really are.

Good day, I suppose,
T.

Keep True

1 February 2014
8:36 AM
Manila

M.–

It’s quite interesting to be without internet for a few days. Before, I would say how disconnected I am, how out of touch. In some ways that is still accurate. But there is a side of me that is fine with it, has relished it even, and has spent all that time away from the computer onto other things.

For example, I’ve been talking a lot lately with my sister, C., and somehow I am more aware, now more than ever, how much she’s changed. She is like a puzzle that I didn’t know I was solving, and one day it just came to me how her mind works. Of course I haven’t figured out everything yet–a human being is a complex being, after all–but there’s just this clarity now that I get.

I’ve also started a new journal, and have been thinking about other projects which looks doable. I feel productive, even if I am spending less time plugged to technology, and that’s refreshing for me.

What’s more important: I haven’t thought about being depressed at all, these past few days, even if I actually am–it’s not crippling me in a way that gets me scared every time I wake up in the morning. I think this is significant, and I am hoping it will continue as I begin a new month and look forward to being productive.

I was also re-watching Shawn Achor’s talk about “the happiness advantage.” It’s a good reminder to myself that the idea of happiness is very much tied to perspective, and that I should work hard to build perspective that is independent of other people’s expectations.

from Shawn Achor's TED talk

from Shawn Achor’s TED talk
TEDxBloomington – “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance”

I am reminded of a conversation I had with my sisters, about our idea of happiness. We agreed that we were afraid of turning into a person we all hate–someone whose life revolves around money, whose contentment is tied to monetary value, whose relationship with people depend on how much financial investment it would take. I remember I said that these days I know I am far from likeable, and have no immediate virtues to boast of–but I can gladly say I am not at all motivated by money when it comes to my work and my life and being successful, and having that knowledge about myself makes me feel all right. I mean–I tried, I really did, before. To motivate myself with the thought of money. To think about working tirelessly, day and night, forsaking a lot of things, in exchange for more money. It just won’t stick, you know? It just doesn’t make me get out of bed, doesn’t make me excited, doesn’t make me look forward to the future.

Poetry though–that’s another story. =)

Good morning,
T.

All Subjects Are Real

20140128-104614.jpg

25 January 2014
10:00 am
Dublin

T. —

We had internet this weekend, so I could have written a bit, but as you say – I enjoy being present – so these Dublin letters are all backdated. I like the idea of my letters being titled into sections someday when I’m maybe famous: the Dublin letters, the Scotland letters, the Amsterdam letters. I’m all for it. Someone tell my biographer.

I haven’t read Possession by A.S. Byatt in a long time, but part of what I really loved about that book (besides the letters, of course) is the role of the biographer, who approaches her subject like an academic, except that her subject is a real person. I guess that’s actually true of all academics and their subjects — all subjects are real. But what I really mean is that the biographer almost brings her subject back into existence. A living breathing person again, at least while the biographer choreographs the return to life. If I were — when I am an academic, what is my subject? Is it poetry, or is it something more than that as well? I’m not entirely sure.

We went to the Dublin Writers Museum today, but they didn’t come alive for me.

Thanks for your list of what I’m good at. Thanks for your support, is really what I’m saying. I feel like I’m in a translation phase. Do you ever get that? Where you say a statement, but almost immediately follow up with what I mean to say is….

*

If I Leave You Then Maybe I Won’t Have to Miss You So Much
Ali Shapiro

Lately I keep things
just to throw them away: practice,
practice. What I mean is, I’ve had enough
longing, enough of nothing
ever being enough. Look how the earth
shrugs its mountainous shoulders, how the cows don’t blink
unless there’s a fly, how the pavement quits
to dirt without warning, how the river can’t tell
itself from the rain. Since when can I not
get over anything? Just watch me go
to this town’s lone bar, which is open and chock-full
of blondes, blondes, blondes. The jukebox plays country
for free, which leaves me
with my ballast of quarters and cornered
by a woman who tells me she breaks things: horses
n’hearts. I wish she would take
my heart out back and shoot it, lame
as it is, run as it’s been
by you into the ground, but she’d rather teach me
to two-step, which it turns out
I’m born for having indecisively shuffled back and forth
through your door all these years. But from here
you’re a myth, tiny
jockey, impossible as Brooklyn,
elevators, it not being summer anymore.
Look, even the shades
are half-drawn and drooping
like eyelids, the walls
like the patrons, sloppy
and slouched. I promise I’ll love you forever
if you please just don’t make me
start now, in the brief dumb calm
of the just-fine, with this cowgirl pressing
her big stone-washed hips into mine. I want to take her home
but to someone else’s home, or perhaps just send her home
with someone else. What I mean is, I’m tired
of everything gorgeous. Of the burden
of burning. Of wondering
when. What I mean is, on some nights I miss you so much
that I never want to see you again.

*

Good morning,
M

Listening, Living, Flow

Ferocious Mingle Marcade, Dublin 2013

Ferocious Mingle Marcade, Dublin 2013

24 January 2013
8:00 am
Edinburgh — Dublin

T. —

This morning, at this time exactly, we are on a flight from Edinburgh to Dublin for the weekend (so this post is being written on Thursday night — also because I had some amazing conversations today, and I’m not ready to give them up into the past yet. Maybe this is part of the problem — if I don’t write as soon as things happen, or while I’m riding the wave of how they happened, then I feel wildly out of touch, and I can gloss over it quite easily by saying, “Yeah, Thursday was a funny one, and then I went for coffee, and then — and then –” but never really get to the meat of what happened).

So I’ll start the story by saying that on Wednesday night, my plans got de-railed. Someone once told me that I’m the type of person who does things out of habit: like sitting in the same seat, going the same way, expecting the same things to happen. Last week, Andrew told me that I’m a person who dips her toe into things before committing, or before jumping it. Which also resonates with what Rory told me this evening: that he perceives me as someone who flirts with a lot of different things, but without hitching my wagon to them completely, in case I might get disappointed. And then he scolded me for remembering everything too well (because I repeated back for him what he had said, and then, now, am writing it here) and told me that perhaps I should have been a Russian spy instead of whatever I’m doing now.

What I’m trying to say, is that it is both helpful and strange to see yourself through the eyes of other people.

I was listening to a podcast today from Buddhist Geeks, where Diane Musho Hamilton was being interviewed (episode title: Everything Is Workable), and she said that too many people are asking the questions, “What do I want? What do I want to do? What do I want to be?” when instead, they should be listening to their lives, and allowing their talents to be highlighted or shown to them, which often involves listening to what other people think you do well. I asked Rory what I do well, and he replied with a question: “What do you like to do?” which always unravels to more questions to me, and eventually ends somewhere close to the realization that I have no idea what I want from my life.

When I ask Andrew the same question: “What am I good at?” he answers: “Where do I begin?” Anywhere, I say. Editing. Manifesting (which has everything to do with knowing what you want and then getting it — sigh). Singing, acting. Writing, but creatively. Journaler (Rory also commended me on my letter writing earlier today, or instead of commending, more expressed his gladness about how many letters I write). Event organizing (really?).

What I mean to say is, I never thought I was someone who was married to plans. I have definitely been flirtatious with the future, with options and possibility. I definitely get disappointed a lot. And yet I still think I subscribe to life as an optimist. All of those things seem like they shouldn’t quite fit together, but I guess they do.

So what fell apart on Wednesday night: the Bangladesh program that I wanted to sign on for next year has been cancelled, indefinitely. No reasons, no explanation, just a confirmation when I emailed the company to ask why it was no longer on their website. I don’t know why it threw me so much, but it felt like the last straw. Although, so much has failed to work for the past few days, that there seem to be multiple ‘last straws’ going on. Multiple things going wrong, and plans changing, and all I feel like I can do is just stand still in the middle of it while everything shifts around me. Like those movies where a button gets pushed, and a magic door/stairwell is revealed, but the protagonist has to stay firmly rooted to their spot until everything is finished moving, because he doesn’t know where the walls and floor will end up.

I know it should feel like an opportunity to re-define what I want, but again, that familiar problem. Instead of feeling like a door is opening, all I can see are the plans that are getting de-railed, the many ways that the universe is redirecting me through negative confirmation: not here. This is not right. Not for right now. Don’t go this way. If I’m not supposed to go in all of these directions, then where am I being pushed, led, offered, shown? It feels like walking down a road with your eyes closed, and the only way you know is the right way is when there is no resistance. But that doesn’t tell you anything at all about where you’re actually going. Frustrating as hell, when I just want to open my eyes.

So we continue from coffee to rehearsal, but stand in the middle of the cathedral as Rory asks, When you are in the middle of doing something, are you focused on the fact that you’re doing it — like, are you continually questioning yourself and critiquing yourself in it — like, does it feel like work, or are you just in it? I wasn’t sure how to answer, but then I thought of Songs For a New World, and I thought of singing in my lessons with Natalie, and I realized that when I am the most engaged with what I am doing, there is no separation between myself and the experience, the process, the result, the action. It’s only been in the past year that I’ve gotten over the anxiety and stage fright of speaking or singing in public. One day, it just stopped. I think it was during Songs For a New World. It was just embedded in my body, and I stopped questioning myself, and I stopped running it all over and over in my head. I just lived it, and I was in it, and there was no separating me from it until it ended. Somedays I wonder why that quality isn’t really there in my work, as in, in my writing. And I also wonder why — when people ask me about my work — somehow, I never really think of my writing. Is that just a temporary glitch? Or is it a larger discussion I need to be having with myself? Or can I use singing as a case study to work out, to unpack, to question and dig deeper into that idea of engagement, that idea of absolute flow? I think maybe the answer is: yes, all of those things.

*

More on coming topics after this weekend: accents. Are they bound to identities like languages are? Are they vessels of language, or semi-languages in and of themselves? What would change if I woke up one day and only used one of my accents (say, my American one?) — how would that affect my relationships with people who only know me as British? Which one is the most natural to me? Why is there such a clear delineation between both of them? And how can they merge, or grow together more organically so that I don’t have to constantly think about them?

My Skittish Scottish Accent
Annie Boutelle

Where do you hide? Why do you leap
away mid Atlantic and parachute

down to Iceland — did someone laugh,
or curse, or put you naked on a stage?

Och, no, the world adores a burr, “r”s
tumbling out, acrobats at the circus,

rowdy, manic with energy,
charging around Ardnamurchan.

And the “ch”s at the back of the throat,
“braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht”

— now there’s a lullaby! My Uncle
John abandoned Caledonia, married

a lass with a creamy Devon voice,
and each year his Scots accent swelled

operatically till he outpassed the entire
clan, even the Glaswegians. You move

in contrary direction, master of camouflage,
present as soon as there’s talk of haggis

or Loch Linnhe, but somewhere else
when poets gather. Come back. I miss

you. We could be brave together, skin
flushing purple in the absence of thistles.

*

Good morning,
M

Away

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23 January 2013
12:39 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

I should never go back to sleep again when Andrew leaves for work in the morning. I had a terrible dream this morning about a violent take-over at a school I was working in or studying in. It was all conflict, and no rest. No peace. Just bloodshed.

We’re going to Dublin tomorrow morning, and I have a full afternoon planned today, but I might go ahead and leave the house early. I just can’t look at this screen anymore. I’m sorry.

I Write These Words to Delay
Jane Hirshfield

What can I do with these thoughts,
given me as a dog is given its flock?
Or perhaps it is the reverse –
my life the unruly sheep, being herded.
At night,
all lie down on the mountain grasses,
while mirror sheep, a mirror guard-dog
follow one another through rock outcrops,
across narrow streams. They drink and gaze by starlight.
This morning, waking to unaccustomed calmness,
I write these words to stay in that silent, unfevered existence,
to delay the other words that are waiting.

*

Good morning,
M

Now the Evening Comes

my lunch this week

my lunch this week

21 January 2013
9:10 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

I’ve had some good lunches recently. This one was from a few days ago. Today’s lunch was a grilled cheddar and parmesan sandwich, a pickle, and a bowl of baked beans. Sounds quite ridiculous, but it was delicious.

I finished Norwegian Wood today, as well as Soul Poems. It has been quite interesting to read them side by side. I’m not sure I can articulate why, exactly, except that they both address faith, life, and death, in very unique and distinct ways.

Anyway, I’ve been taking a nice day to take care of things, and now the evening comes and I’m bundled up under the electric blanket in bed, reading more books, writing more letters, and waiting for Andrew to come home from kickboxing.

Here’s a treat too: Harry Potter in the UK.

*

Why I Am Not A Buddhist
Molly Peacock

I love desire, the state of want and thought
of how to get; building a kingdom in a soul
requires desire. I love the things I’ve sought-
you in your beltless bathrobe, tongues of cash that loll
from my billfold- and love what I want: clothes,
houses, redemption. Can a new mauve suit
equal God? Oh no, desire is ranked. To lose
a loved pen is not like losing faith. Acute
desire for nut gateau is driven out by death,
but the cake on its plate has meaning,
even when love is endangered and nothing matters.
For my mother, health; for my sister, bereft,
wholeness. But why is desire suffering?
Because want leaves a world in tatters?
How else but in tatters should a world be?
A columned porch set high above a lake.
Here, take my money. A loved face in agony,
the spirit gone. Here, use my rags of love.

*

Goodnight,
M

Desire is a Trick Ghost

Milky Way in Autumn by Thunderbolt_TW

Milky Way in Autumn by Thunderbolt_TW

20 January 2013
9:11 pm
Edinburgh

T. —

Sometimes all it takes is a glance at the stars to remember how gifted we are to have this life at all: how the perfect combination of elements, space, and time, have allowed the circumstances for life to arise, to become conscious, to build, and to thrive. After that, what else can this life be, but miraculous?

“The sources of ecstasy are unexpected.” – Scientist Needs to Meditate

*

I’ve had this poem sitting in the same open browser tab for weeks:

*

Directions for Lines that will Remain Unfinished
Sarah Messer

Line to be sewn into a skirt hem
held in my mouth ever since the  unraveling

Line beneath a bridge
for years without hope I stretched my arms into the river searching for you

Line to be sent to the cornfield
history is a hallway of leaves.

Line written for electric wires
your voice inside the no history, sitting still

Line for future people
inside the work, only my empty teeth

Line from Maharaj
Presently you are in quietude. Is it on this side of sleep or on the other side?

Line that cannot be read because of its darkness
impossible walk under weight of honey
away from your hands that break me in half

Line addressing President Lincoln
when the handle and blade are gone, what remains
of your axe?

Line to be run over by a lawn mower
afraid of everything and to be of no use.

Line for a distant midnight dog-pack
because I can never speak it

Line to be sewn into a shirt collar
the streak of your finger across the hood of the car

Line for a stone growing old
a sunburst that lands inside a flower

Line written only with your mouth
desire is a trick ghost

Line for the garden weeds
slowly I am nearer to you

Line describing the better qualities of monsters
are we afraid of what we wished for?

Three lines written for bears
inside cells, water, trees, I am meaningless
darkness and light wind like breath on fur
I carry the circling cities inside me

Line for a leaf blown into the hair of the Master
seeing you, I want no other life

Line for a mouse
to die like that, held in your hands

*

It feels good to finally close it.

Goodnight,
M

Sweetcakes, God said

photo by Laura Pringle

photo by Laura Pringle

18 January 2013
11:33 am
Edinburgh

T. —

Good morning! Here’s a poem =)

God Says to Me
Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to do
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

*

M

You Long for Your Real Place

8 January 2013
4:00 pm

Edinburgh

T. —

Talking to Grief
Denise Levertov

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog. 

*

Good morning,
M