And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

This week disappears.

I have no real deadlines. A couple of rewrites. Follow-ups. Post-conference crash. Am I tired, sick, or just slow? Slow. The smoke is bad. I go to yoga, meet a friend for yucca fries, solo sheesha date, take Flora shopping, cuddle Ender a lot, I want a time-out, a vacation—I grab a night—Co-op birthday party, yes, I washed the kitchen floor but the stairs are fuzzy, ha ha.

3 families, 8 kids, tribe

I think the kids are happy this week except when Flora slams the doors or Cinder won’t leave his room.

Teenagers.

Sean has a shit day at work—I’m leaving for the night before he comes back, try make it a little better with baked apples and a curry soup.

A friend is stepping back from the world. “I need to take care of myself,” she says. “I don’t protest. “If I don’t, nobody else will.”

I pause, ponder if it’s a request, a cry for help. Is she saying, “Take care of me, a little?”

But healer and caretaker are not my archetypes.

I want to build a world in which you’re taken care of, I whisper. Taking care of your individual needs drains me.

Hypocritical?

I suppose. Or, realistic.

I rip through two books. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman:

… and I tell everyone I know to read it, best thing I’ve read in years, Sean complies—we argue about it.

and Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley:

so fun, so well-done, and my name shared space with hers in a recent conference promo, so I’m doubly pleased now. She is as good as I remember, I am as honoured.

Today, I might clean the living room. Then again, I might not.

Fun times.

Lazy pen.

This happens too—a text from a “friend,” while Sean and I are out on a long overdue date, Afghani food, look, they have sheesha (this is a bad idea, already so much smoke in the air because BC is burning), then a stroll through a new-to-us Indian spice mart—we are in heaven, looking up the names of beans (who knew there were so many varieties of mung beans and chickpeas, how, exactly, are they different?)—I don’t buy a kitschy Ganesha statue but I think about it—a text from a “friend.”

Friend. “Friend.” Facebook friend.

I suppose, ultimately, I mean acquaintance.

Friend used to be such a meaningful word. Don’t you think?

Anyway.

Text.

Quotation marks.

I only hear from her when she wants something. This time, she wants to borrow my car.

I’m perversely happy I can’t help. Because, of course, I’d say yes. Resent it.

I had to borrow my neighbours cars for eight months this winter.

Hypocrite?

I don’t think so.

I don’t only talk to them when I need something.

Today, I want to smoke cigars in the smoke and drink Scotch and Turkish cofee and read Czeslaw Milosz—listen:

LOVE
by Czesław Miłosz

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills.
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.

Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.

via BrainPickings.org

–maybe Jack Gilbert (yes!) and not do very much else.

But.

Perhaps I’ll clean the living room. And sweep the stairs. They are fuzzy.

But.

Perhaps not.

“Jane”

Sunnyhill Housing Co-op, August 18, 2018
Happy 40th Birthday to Us!

2018

The year started with a Monday; so does every week (Week 1: Transitions and Intentions)

Easier than you think, harder than I expected: a week in eleven stanzas (Week 2: Goodness and Selfishness)

A moody story (Week 3: Ebb and Flow)

Do it full out (Week 4: Passions and Outcomes)

The Buddha was a psychopath and other heresies (Week 5: No Cohesion)

A good week (Week 6: Execute, Regroup)

Killing it (Week 7: Exhaustion and Adrenaline)

Tired, petty, tired, unimportant (Week 8: Disappointment and Perseverance)

Professionals do it like this: [insert key scene here] (Week 9: Battle, Fatigue, Reward)

Reading Nabokov, crying, whining, regrouping (Week 10: Tears and Dreams)

Shake the Disease (Week 11: Sickness and Health… well, mostly sickness)

Cremation, not embalming, but I think I might live after all (Week 12: Angst and Gratitude)

Let’s pretend it all does have meaning (Week 13: Convalescence and Rebirth)

The cage is will, the lock is discipline (Week 14: Up and Down)

My negotiated self thinks you don’t exist–wanna make something of it? (Week 15: Priorities and Opportunity)

An introvert’s submission + radical prioritization in action, also pouting (Week 16: Ruthless and Weepy)

It’s about a radical, sustainable rhythm (Week 17: Sprinting and Napping)

It was a pickle juice waterfall but no bread was really harmed in the process (Week 18: Happy and Sad)

You probably shouldn’t call your teacher bad names, but sometimes, your mother must (Week 19: Excitement and Exhaustion)

Tell me I’m beautiful and feed me cherries (Week 20: Excitement and Exhaustion II)

A very short post about miracles, censorship, change: Week 21 (Transitions and Celebrations)

Time flies, and so does butter (Week 22: Remembering and forgetting)

I love you, I want you, I need you, I can’t find you (Week 23: Work and Rest)

You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

The summer was… SULTRY (Week 25: Gratitude and Collapse)

It’s like rest but not really (Week 26: Meandering and Reflection)

It’s the wrong question (Week 27: Success and Failure)

On not meditating but meditating anyway, and a cameo from John Keats (Week 28: Busy and Resting)

Hot, cold, self-indulgent as fuck (Week 29: Fire and Ice)

In which our heroine hides under a table (Week 30: Tears and Chocolate)

Deadlines and little lies make the world go round (Week 31: Honesty and Compassion)

That’s not the way the pope would put it, but… (Week 32: Purpose and Miracles)

And before you know it, it’s over (Week 33: Fast and Slow)

—->>>POSTCARDS FROM CUBA

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POSTCARDS FROM CUBA: and she asks, is being childless good for a poet?

“for the women I have
been privileged to
in extreme.”

Today’s postcard is very special. Listen:

 

and/or read… and tell me what you think.

I.

I’m on the verandah, smoking a cigar—yes, again, no, I’m not violating the spirit of our agreement at all—and…

Actually, first this:

II.

I’m in the bathroom, about to sit on the toilet and…

Jane: “Why? Why? Why? Why do you guys always come in and ask me questions when I’m trying to pee? Can’t it wait?

Flora: “Well, it could. But you see, when you’re peeing, you’re sitting down and not moving and not writing, and so it’s pretty easy to get your attention.”

Jane: “Get! Out!”

Cinder: “She’s cranky. Maybe she needs to poop.”

Jane: “Out! Out! Just wait for me outside the door.”

Cinder: “We’d do that, Mom, but we’ve figured out…

Flora: “…that sometimes you go to the bathroom just to hide.”

Well. True that.

16-Kidsinfrontoffountain

III.

So. I’m sitting on the verandah, smoking a cigar, because…

Ender: “Are you done yet?”

Jane: “No, not yet.”

…they’re good 21st century children and they know second-hand smoke, as well as the smoking act itself, gives you cancer, and so…

…for the time that it takes me to smoke a cigar, I am on the verandah, completely, blissfully…

Ender: “Are you done now?”

Jane: “Not quite.”

…alone.

Well, mostly.

IV.

My reading while here is the Paris Review Interviews, and I’ve now left Ernest Hemingway for Jack Gilbert—it’s okay if you haven’t heard of him, I haven’t either until the interview—and now I wonder how it is possible I have lived a life, at all, without him in it, and so you must meet him too.

A quote from Jack:

“Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice.”

I fall for Gilbert but hard. But then, there’s this exchange:

“Interviewer: Is being childless good for a poet?

Gilbert: I could never have lived my life the way I have if I had children. There used to be a saying that every baby is a failed novel. I couldn’t have roamed or taken so many chances or lived a life of deprivation. I couldn’t have wasted great chunks of my life.”

Um.

Er…

Jack, sweetheart…

Actually, it’s not the answer. It’s the question.

Despite the brilliance and aliveness of Gilbert’s responses, I’ve been struggling with the quality of the interviewer’s questions from question two (“Did you ever think you’d live this long?”—what the fuck?), and at this “is being childless good for a poet” question, before I read Gilbert’s answer, I want to throttle her. (What will she ask next? “Is being a man good for a poet?” “Has being a vegetarian affected your writing?” “Do you write better in cold weather or hot weather?”)

After I read Gilbert’s answer, I laugh.

Like most breeders, I find the childless so sweetly naïve.

I would never, ever presume to tell anyone to have children. (Although, to be frank, I have at times been tempted to tell people they should not have children, frequently after they’ve already reproduced without asking me whether they should do so, but I do keep my mouth shut then as well, most of the time.)

If you do have children already, I do want to tell you this: do not use them an excuse to NOT do the things you need to do.

Because… martyrs make terrible parents. Not particularly good lovers or life partners either.

16-KidsonMaleconfromback

VI.

I want you to forgive Jack, though, in case you got angry with him when you read that quote—did you, my love?

Listen:

Doing Poetry / Jack Gilbert

Poem, you sonofabitch, it’s bad enough
that I embarrass myself working so hard
to get it right even a little,
and that little grudging and awkward.
But it’s afterwards I resent, when
the sweet sure should hold me like
a trout in the bright summer stream.
There should be at least briefly
access to your glamour and tenderness.
But there’s always this same old
dissatisfaction instead.

Precisely, that, yes. And also, this:

The Great Fires / Jack Gilbert

Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.
What is not love provokes it.
What is not love quenches it.
Love lays hold of everything we know.
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness
at first. Passion is clearly the path
but does not bring us to love.
It opens the castle of our spirit
so that we might find the love which is
a mystery hidden there.
Love is one of many great fires.
Passion is a fire made of many woods,
each of which gives off its special odor
so we can know the many kinds
that are not love. Passion is the paper
and twigs that kindle the flames
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes
because it tries to be love.
Love is eaten away by appetite.
Love does not last, but it is different
from the passions that do not last.
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.

…oh, and just one more. This is one of his first, first poems, from 1962, before he had really lived…

Between Poems / Jack Gilbert

A lady asked me
what poets do
between poems.
Between passions
and visions. I said
that between poems
I provided for death.
She meant as to jobs
and commonly.
Commonly, I provide
against my death,
which comes on.
And give thanks
for the women I have
been privileged to
in extreme.

VI.

You’re not tempted to ask, are you, what any of this has to do with Havana and Cuba? Because the answer is—everything—but I sure as fuck am not planning to connect Jack Gilbert to Che Guavara.

Flora, by the way, keeps on forgetting Che’s name and calls him “That hipster-looking cute guy who’s on all the posters? You know, the one who had the good luck to get assassinated before he got old and ugly? ”

16-HavanaBuildings

VI.

Back to Jack Gilbert:

“This is hard—when I try to explain, it sounds false. But I don’t know any other way to say it. I’m so grateful. There’s nothing I’ve wanted that I haven’t had. Michiko dying, I regret terribly, and losing Linda’s love, I regret equally. … But I still feel grateful. It’s almost unfair to have been as happy as I’ve been. I didn’t earn it: I had a lot of luck. But I was also very, very stubborn. I was determined to get what I wanted as a life.”

Me too, Jack. Me too.

VII.

On the verandah, cigar smoke sticking to my dressing gown, Ender in my lap. We watch geckos crawl on the ceiling, and the moon peek over the powerlines and old school television antenae.

Jane: “You ready to read books and do bedtime, dude?”

He nods. Negotiates for the right to light the incense stick. I read, caress, love. Turn out the light and sit beside him until I hear his breath turn to sleep. Something like a poem dances to the beat of our conjoined breaths; it goes…

My son’s breathing,
soft-yet-loud, my lullaby
as my heartbeat is his.

…look, it’s not quite a haiku. I laugh, love. Tiptoe out of the bedroom, and gather up the elder two. Read them their bedtime novel—which is The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau—a post-apocalyptic young adult novel, strangely apropos to be reading in Havana, but more on that in another postcard)… and then, back to the verandah.

Rum. Laptop. Notebooks.

Words.

I’m in Havana

I. Am. In. Havana.

16-Favourite light

I am so stupidly happy in this moment, I’m having a hard time breathing.

It’s not the diesel stink from the street, or the fumes from generator that’s just kicked in ‘cause we’ve had another blackout.

It’s exhilaration and gratitude.

I realize this will be in violation of the spirit if not the letter of our agreement… but I think I might… I think I might smoke one more cigar now.

You understand why?

*

LANDED here for the first time? Let me catch you up:

Series 1 of Postcards from Cuba is now fully live. Check out the annotated table of contents for a tour, or, if you prefer, hop over to the chronological table of contents.

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If you’d like to make a contribution but have PayPal issues, email me at nothingbythebook@ gmail.com and we’ll work something out.

Or, ya know. Just hang out with us and enjoy.

xoxo

“Jane”

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