Congratulations: Your poem, Age, has earned Honorable Mention
in the 2017 Steve Kowit International Poetry Contest.
Your poem will be published in the next edition of the San Diego
Poetry Annual, due out on March 1, 2018. A PDF of the annual
will be available for free reading and downloading in February 2018
on our website: http://www.sandiegopoetryannual.com.
You are invited to attend the awards ceremony to read your poem
at the Neil Morgan Auditorium on Saturday, April 21, 2018. If
you can attend, you’ll be paid a small honorarium ($50). If you
cannot attend, a certificate of achievement will be mailed to you.
Again, congratulations. Your support for the legacy of Steve Kowit
helps us donate of copies of the SDPA to every public and university
library system in our region, making the annual part of their
Most of all, thank you for allowing us to publish your work.
I wonder if she woke feeling any different that day, if she’d had any telltale dreams. We women have our sixth sense about things. But she probably had no inkling that it was her last dawn, at least on this earth. It was a sudden heart attack. Who did she greet on the way out of her building? Who got the last of her smiling gift? Who gave her her last hug, reminded her that she was loved? Susan Irene Fox is not the first blogger I’d known to have passed – she is, actually, the fourth on WordPress – but her death hits close to home. She reached out to me, put me on her prayer list three years ago, in response to a difficult post I put out. I just revisited our emails, the comments and the guest post Single At Sixty she left on this blog, a brave, humble confession of loneliness and the peace she claimed. She was a kind, giving person, one who had nothing to prove but the truth that had transformed her life.
I think of people hungry for life who dance on the edge of death. Adrenaline junkies, athletes, addicts of all stripes who run to meet Goliath and nearly die so they can live again. I am not so brazen. I have felt a generosity upon my life, knowing the ground can slip from under me any moment. I imagine that Susan, had she known, would’ve wanted more time. More time to do the many little wonderful things we choose to leave undone: forgive, hold, kiss, dance, linger. For me, I feel a greater urgency in the writing as I wonder how many hours remain in my ledger. I could travel more, see more of people and the world to say I’ve lived, but I would be just a consumer in the enterprise. I would rather leave something behind, namely, more poetry, which though I am just a vapor will endure until the sun should die. That is a marvelous thought. My breath on the page, a legible love and memories – a great honor.
Honey, if my brain ever ends up sustained by a machine, if you don’t see the tears and recognition in my eyes, if I can’t make your amaranth and tell Tennyson to do his math, you have lost me already. It’ll be just a ghost of me on that bed and I want you to pull the plug. Don’t extend me beyond my time only to leave me a burden, neither living nor dead, without my words. I pick my lane, the freeway stretching North. But in exchange for the Mexican wife you’ve said you would get, I ask for one final gift: my own little pine box. You are so good with your hands. I know, I know. I put you to work to the end. But you’ll be a free man after that. It should be perfectly within the rights of a man to dignify his wife with a final custom home and tuck her away in the mountains. While you’re at it, bury me with a book. I won’t be needing the Bible anymore. I’ll be in it, getting it 3D! It’s not like I can take this blog. How freaked out will my readers be if I wrote them from the Other Side? But I won’t disturb anyone, buried with my nose in a book. I’ll pick it out and put it in the master where you can grab it easily in the whirlwind preparations.
It’s me again. Remember, I’m the one who sends back her plate when it’s not done right. And though I know the cooking will be just right for Goldilocks there, I’m also the one who’ll be bothering all your best writers and asking that you not room me with a fellow Type A. Don’t forget that I’ll be looking for Eve. What a MESS that girl’s got us all into! So how about we make a deal? Give me just twenty more years so I might hold my grandchildren and make sure their mother doesn’t feed them junk, and I will turn my keys in, no questions asked. You are juggling so much at the moment: our presidency, North Korea, the refugees, not to mention the missionaries who’ve been asking for you. Why don’t you take a break from my small affairs, drop me from your radar for a bit. A thousand years is like a day unto the Lord. Why, I’ll be there in no time. And one last thing. Please tell Susan I said hi and bye, that I miss her – and she doesn’t need to save me that seat.
My Greek immigrant grandparents arrived in this country sometime in the early 1920’s from Istanbul when it was still Constantinople, and while no one talks about it, I’m fairly sure they didn’t just leave, but escaped. Ethnic cleansing is nothing new across the globe: WWII Germany; Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990’s; Syria today. For my grandparents, it was the problem of the Armenian extinction. About 1 million Armenians and half a million Greeks were killed between 1915 and 1923, but the number is sketchy because to this day, Turkey denies it even happened. (For a great book on the topic, read Black Dog of Fate, by Balakian.)
What was once the Ottoman Empire — the most culturally ambitious and religiously inclusive place the world had known, a stunning experiment of cooperation and trust — was losing ground as parts of it claimed independence, and…
Why does Facebook famously feed depression? The Happiest Virtual Place On Earth can feel like one endless reminder of the Things That Are Missing in our life. Offline, I look at the people around me. My single friends would give an arm to be married. Those with families of their own each have their burden, ones I am grateful to have been spared. So why are we convinced that others were dealt better cards, when every one of us remains in need of support and understanding?
Reasons We’re Sure Everybody Else Is Happier
1. We are unsatisfied with our lot, no matter how it turns. The human condition is not, in the language of mathematicians, an equation but an inequality: My life < The Ideal. By literary metaphor, we are an unfinished story, which is why our heart beats for more. More money, more time, more joy, more toys, more love. We bring to the table our fractured perspective, limited understanding, hopes conceived of an unresolved past. We will never, by the bootstraps of our humanness, be able to complete our relationships because we can’t complete ourselves.
2. Our sense of entitlement. Conflict in these imperfect relationships gives us away and pride declares, “I deserve better. He owes me appreciation, recognition. She should’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.” Disgruntled where we are, how green we find the grass on the other side.
3. The myth of perfectionism. I borrow insights from Alain Botton, author of the NY Times article Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, on our misguided notions of love because nowhere else do we so generously spin our fantasies of happiness. In a recent roundtable entitled How We Choose Our Spouses, Botton spoke of the reaction his article had garnered:
What was interesting was that people were overwhelming relieved. Look, it’s like telling people you will have an unhappy life…I think that often we suffer from a burden of shame around how difficult it is that we find it to live, to love, to make good choices…And the reason that there is something oppressive in being told that only perfection will do as the basis of marriage, is that so many of our marriages, under that kind of judgment, have to seem below par and it can seem rather punitive and oppressive as if we have failed to measure up to a standard which most of us simply cannot measure up to.
We allow Facebook and blogs to perpetuate the hope in fairy tales, the expectation that we grow up and live happy, photogenic lives.
We should learn to accommodate ourselves to ”wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners…We don’t need people to be perfect in love. We need people to be good enough.
4. Love, according to Botton, is not an impulse of feeling but a skill. It isn’t pay dirt at emotional Roulette but “with all of us deeply broken, a chance of success in love means being able to deal with our brokenness, both inside ourselves and in a partner.” I’d say this truth holds for all our relationships. “Compatibility is ultimately an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be…the precondition of falling in love.” Love is something you work, and often work hard, at. You manage expectations of spouse, friend, self, and life, being able to explain your craziness as you grow in self-awareness. But we somehow believe life doesn’t exact so much effort of those around us.
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than Good Job,” intones Fletcher, the monomaniacal music instructor in the film Whiplash. Isn’t good, after all, the enemy of the best? Fletcher’s psychopathic devices sucked me right into the vortex of the questions I ask as my son’s teacher. How much do I push? And how? With the promise of Pokémon cards? There’s the drum student Andrew in the movie. His single eye upon Whiplash, the jazz piece he determines to conquer, he denies himself even the distraction of girlfriends. Would I have my boy bleed in the pursuit of excellence? Of course not. Except, if he were Korean, the first time Andrew plows through practice as the blood on his finger oozes from useless band aids would’ve been cinematic cliché. Because falling short would’ve hurt more. So logic and genes say I should at least allow my son to bruise a little.
Last year when he was not yet eight, we went for the optional Memory Master challenge in our Classical homeschool program. Tennyson had to recite the hundreds of facts he had learned in seven subjects (English Grammar, Latin, History, Science, Math, Geography, Timeline of 161 events in human history) through four rounds of testing. Beyond the one mistake allowed per subject in the second round, he had to come through with 100% accuracy in the last two proofs. He was so close but made more than the one error in the second sitting. He had rocked the memory review games in class and the teacher told the director he knew his stuff. The director was willing to give him a chance at the next round of testing. I bowed out.
I could see he’d felt the pressure – from me. After some yoga out back under a full moon, his hippy dippy California mother had suddenly shapeshifted into Tiger Mom from New York. She kept putting raw meat in front of him. Testing season came, and once again her Old Self, the one who unblinkingly had bled for grades at his age, she found herself oh, ambitious for her son. On the cusp of the third test, I realized I simply should have started reviewing the material with him sooner. We were running short on time and though the potholes were few, we were cramming. I was drilling Tennyson in the little time remaining and overwhelmed, he got headaches and spilled tears of frustration. Sigh. He had bruised enough. I chewed the last of my raw lamb liver, the mineral taste and feel of flesh a sad memory in the swallowing. And in the privacy of my backyard morphed back into the California homeschooler who wanted to honor the sacred whole child and spare him the pain of that great modern evil, stress. What I really didn’t want was to get in – make the hallowed halls of Memory Masters – by the skin of our teeth. I could’ve kept pushing him and been able to applaud as his name was called in the awards ceremony. But I didn’t want to barely make it. I wanted him to own it. Mastery means mastery, not hope crossing fingers that he doesn’t slip in the testing. I loved how high we set the bar in the program, the tall demands we aspired to. I would submit to them. And when my son reached for them again, they would be his without question.
So he went for it again this year. And he did it. He went up on stage recently, where one-eighth of the students in Kindergarten-Grade 6 received their Memory Master certificate.
I paced the material in such a way as to prepare him months in advance and by the time testing rolled around, the countries and their capitals, the math multiples and linking verbs, each continent’s highest mountain and the history of Western Africa were in his bones. I found myself at peace in the third proof – fingers uncrossed – where he could’ve lost it all. After an hour-and-a-half, he came out of the room smiling. I had told him to enjoy himself and the teacher said yes, he had himself a grand old time. Two days later, he did the Hokey Pokey as we got ready to leave for the final test. So I’m not Fletcher. I didn’t throw chairs at my son for him to get it right. But Fletcher had zero tolerance for mediocrity (well yes, if you despise it) and that’s something to appreciate. I’m still trying to figure out just what it is Tennyson needs to give up while we uphold those standards but I can’t sit with the majority and tell my child he’s doing a good job when he can – and should – be doing an outstanding job. It wasn’t recognition I was after. At the most practical level, the journey was about nailing down a solid foundation of knowledge he can retrieve at will and use in the older years. But the process was really about self-respect. That whatever his resources and abilities, he discovers he can use them to turn possibility into reality. I love the scene where Andrew’s got it. He’s mastered the impossible Whiplash and, when he finds himself in the band competition, it’s a part of him. He sails through the piece, sticks dancing on the snare still stained with blood. His new reality.
Here’s a glimpse of what Tennyson learned this school year. I threw random questions at him from the year’s work for you. I am proud of him for keeping the joy and must say, of myself for not ruining it.
Math: Counting by 12s
What are the major groups of invertebrates?
Sponges, stinging cell animals, flatworms, roundworms, segmented worms, mollusks, sea stars, arthropods
What are the major groups of vertebrates?
Fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds
Latin Noun Cases
Nominative – Subject
Genitive – Possessive
Dative – Indirect Object
Accusative – Direct Object
Ablative – Object of the Preposition
First and Second Declension Noun Endings, Singular and Plural
English Grammar A preposition relates a noun or a pronoun to another word.
About Above Across After Against Along Amid Among Around At Atop Before Behind Below Beneath Beside Between Beyond But By Concerning Down During Except For From In Inside Into
Like Near Of Off On Onto Out Outside Over Past Regarding Since Through Throughout To Toward Under Underneath Until Up Upon With Within Without
History Tell me about the Age of Imperialism.
During the Age of Imperialism, the British established rule over India in 1858, and Queen Victoria was declared the Empress of India in 1877. Before his assassination in 1948, Mohandas Gandhi led the passive resistance movement, which helped win India’s independence.
Tell me about the Heian empire.
As the Heian government weakened in Japan, Shoguns began to rule and expelled all foreigners during the period of isolation. Circa 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. restored trade, allowing the Meiji to modernize Japan.
Some kinds of leaves and leaf parts?
Spines, needles, tendrils, bracts, bud scales, palmate
What are the four kinds of volcanoes?
Active, intermittent, dormant, extinct
What are the five major circles of latitude?
Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Tropic of Capricorn, Antarctic Circle
I imagine people don’t know what a recluse I am. I socialize at church and in the homeschool gatherings stand tall, take initiative, make announcements. My parents, struggling to piece together a life in a country where they were Other, taught their little girl to write large and speak loudly. That’s me in the school play, mike in hand. (My husband would now like me to lower my voice by 20%.) I’m usually the one to notice inefficient or unjust ways things are done in our different communities and the one to speak up. So I can pull off extrovert and can be sociable because I know it’s rude to sit next to someone for half an hour and say nothing. But all I want, oh all I want is to bolt the door and write. Bury myself in what novelist Dani Shapiro calls the Cave to give attention to the voices in my head, meet myself on the page. Because inside is where so much of my life is.
I would probably long for love and community if I were granted the hermit’s wish (er, I think). ‘Tis human to want what is out of reach. Look at me glaringly not in step with the vogue practice of being present. No, I can’t be fully feeling the current of the moment around my feet when my head is in books, ideas, memory. In my defense: we women are wicked multitaskers.
Speaking of tasks, I asked Husband to scrape the stovetop stains last week. With equanimity he announced that he had just vacuumed and was done for the day. “I’ve done enough,” he declared pleasantly. I marveled at the male self-preservation mechanism in action. Granted, that was a lot of carpet. But it was the question corporate executives, business owners, moms, students knot themselves in angst over. When is enough? And he had solved the cosmic conundrum with such ease. Buddha Man just might be able to undo the problem of world peace. I laughed, “Done enough. Imagine mothers saying that. The world would stop.” No skin off his nose, he agreed – feet up, on the couch. I shouldn’t grouse about the responsibilities. It’s a blessing, not a burden, to have places to go, people to see, (aaalll these) things to do. George Eliot debuted at 50, Laura Ingalls Wilder at 65. There are others enjoying their second life publishing in their 70s and 80s. I don’t plan to wait another 30 years to go and to see all that’s in my head but in the meantime, I show up where I’m needed. Whether or not I can show up for myself, I will keep writing large and speak to be heard. Poor Husband.
I want to file an official complaint as a subscriber to the Holistic Wayfarer for going MIA on us. (Completely forgetting she’s been out week after week with his son while keeping the lessons going.) You need to blog again, be reminded there are good people all over the world. They want to hear from you. When you don’t blog for a while, you crawl into yourself and scowl about the people who are !@#!. You become deeper, happier, and look out when you engage your readers. You should take a few days off school, give T a break, and just BLOG.
~ Mr. Wayfarer last night
Where I’ve been is a good question. The kitchen, trying to keep up with You-Know-Who’s sumo appetite. Foodie is growing before my eyes. We’ve been at the annual appointments I saved for the summer (photo shoot, physical, dental), and there are his classes. I’ve had all four hands in homeschool business – convention and conferences to boot. Also got off to a running start in preparing for the Fall cycle we’ll be entering with our group, working on a music project and gathering material. I remind myself I signed up for this. I’d rather choose my own curriculum than have the schools do it for me.
I believe that child rearing must come with an imperative, must be driven by a sense of longing and even destiny…I’ve witnessed this longing in other people…but I never felt it in myself. Moreover, as I aged, I discovered that I loved my work as a writer more and more, and I didn’t want to give up even an hour of that communion. Like Jinny in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, I felt at times “a thousand capacities” spring up in me, and I wanted to chase them all down and make every last one of them manifest…Katherine Mansfield wrote in one of her youthful diaries, “I want to work!”
I, too, wanted to work. Uninterruptedly. Joyfully.” ~ E. Gilbert in Committed
So what do you do when you can barely get your hands around both desires? When your whole wonderful life feels like an interruption of the work you want to do and your burden is heavier for the guilt of one who should be more grateful? As long as your child is young (or as long as you homeschool), you let go the notebook with your thousand capacities spilling over its pages and as it falls watch the rain bleed the ink into the ground. You take the hand you’ve emptied and close it over his. And you die just a little. Writing, after all, is only your oxygen.
At the conference last week, we were presented a chart that helped us sort our priorities. At the top was a section for
VITALS, what our life is about. This will depend on your worldview but most of us will fill this box in with relationships (with family, friends, self, God). Below that we had
NECESSITIES, where our time and money go. The things we need to sustain our life and our vitals. Food, shelter, health, education, transportation. They are not what life is about but postmoderners forget this in the grand Pursuit of Things. Below this box were the
ACCESSORIES, our happy upgrades. We need to eat but not at high-end restaurants. We need a car but not a Bentley. We need to work but don’t need to hanker after the position that will take us away from family. Last came the
DISPOSABLES. TV, Facebook, iGadgets. Many of us, especially in America, have turned our priorities over on their heads.
I appreciated the list but am still struggling with a part of it. Where does my writing go? The question at least explains the frustration that’s shadowed me this summer. While I live and work within the relationships that are important to me, writing fulfills me as nothing else can. It balances me, as I feel incomplete apart from it. It is a necessity because it feeds my relationship with my self – not to mention friends around the world. I feel at my best, approaching the summit of who I was meant to be almost like Gilbert’s Alma Whittaker who sets out to put a lifetime’s scientific study on paper, “not merely alive, but outfitted with a mind that was functioning at the uppermost limits of its capacity – a mind that was seeing everything, and understanding everything, as though watching it all from the highest imaginable ridge. She would awaken, catch her breath, and immediately begin writing again.” ~ The Signature of All Things
But my words have been excised from my list of priorities this season as though they were disposable. (What do you do with that?? You eventually risk sabotaging your delicate sleep and write at two in the morning.) No wonder I’ve felt amputated.
I grew by an average of 1000 followers a month last year. But blog growth right now is a luxury of a thought. All these piles and piles of notes and drafts for posts, the books I’ve wanted to share with you, the personal challenges I’ve needed to process in print. Here I’ve sat before a keyboard that might as well have been calling from across the ocean. My Stats have read like an EKG of someone lost to us forever. Oh, my heart. But we can administer shock to resuscitate hearts, can’t we? When Opinionated Man asked for my keys and offered to run my site if I had to stay away any longer, the thought was enough to zap me out of the grave.