September 29, 2009

Forget Paris

I am reading in The Washington Post a movie review of Paris. Ann Hornaday says, “Cédric Klapisch’s intoxicating portrait of a city that, despite (or more likely, because of) being in a state of constant flux, retains timeless energy and allure.”

I have not seen the movie that is playing at E Street but I plan to go instead of going to Paris. It is hard to go to the city of love without love. I had been thinking of Paris because my daughter and son-in-law and granddaughter, hurtling onto five months and wowing the Parisians, are there.

Paris equals love: the too-oft used equation of the romantic comedy.

Hornaday to my surprise does not mention that Cédric Klapisch has directed two of my all-time favorite movies that I classify as Parisian romantic comedies—an off classification that suits me perfectly because the Rom-Com that fits that term too well has lost its edge: L'Auberge Espagnole (filmed in Spain) and Russian Dolls (Paris, London, St. Petersburg) are edgy.

I’ll let you know when I see the movie Paris.

Meanwhile, as in yesterday, the CEO I’d met on the plane home from Australia—my Ezio Pinza (across a crowded room …)—wrote me again. This time to say that his “love” has died. My “love” is the way he has always referred to the woman he was on his way to see when he met me on the plane from San Francisco to DC, the woman he’d been dating since he met her on a high-end cruise—meaning not many people, small boat—after his wife had died.

Last we talked on the phone ever so briefly I told him things with D. were in flux and in play.

He writes, “I probably should not be sending this since our connection lapsed so long ago.” He explains what has happened and ends with, “It is as I said at the beginning, ‘I probably should not…[his ellipsis].’ Yet at times like this, perhaps we need to cut ourselves a bit of slack.”

I sit in front of the e-mail: I ponder him. I ponder me. I ponder D. I reply with words about mourning, with my own realization that, as I say to him, “I can only imagine how this loss has thrown you back into the déjà vu of your beloved wife. As to my husband [or rather D. as we know him here, dear readers] I say that the story of our relationship “is an open book for all to read. I am writing a blog, have been doing so for a year now and though the beginning is a bit rough, the later entries seem to know what they are doing.”

I wonder now, A missed chance that was probably not a chance, that the CEO never allowed to be in his honorable stance and his privacy? I gather that he has kept quite a distance from his east coast “love” as he lives comfortably with cook and housekeeper in Saratoga and retreats often to his house in Carmel—no phone, no computer—to paint and collect, perhaps for a book, the letters of his wife.

I wonder D.—as in, I worry him. His presence pervades this writing and, I now see, all the preceding entries. You don’t need to say it. I will: She’s not moved on.

As synchronicity would have it, as I was reaching for Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and for T.S. Eliot’s Selected Poems because I sought something to quote to the CEO from these works, a small torn-edged card falls out of one of the books: the note from the brief encounter in the galley on the plane: his e-mail address and this line in his hand, “Cooking is an over-rated feminine attribute …[his ellipsis],” a reference to the title of my book, the title that appears in the margin of this blog, much as it appeared in the margin of my life (instead of celebration, separation).

Didion says, and I write this to the CEO, “Grief is different, grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Virtually everyone who has ever experienced grief mentions this phenomenon of ‘waves.’”

Now I read this and see that the description of grief likens, oddly and out of her context, to love. The miracle of Didion’s book is that she never once mentions the word love while she writes a love story.

Later, she describes the dailiness of her life with her husband; she has her own list. I have mine: espresso and steamed milk in the morning. Cuban bread made quickly with three packages of dried yeast, the baked bread devoured with lightening speed what has lightened with time. Pea soup from Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. Beef stewed in red wine and tomatoes, string beans added at the end. Fork-stirred omelets rolled onto his plate.

Didion quotes from Eliot’s “The Wasteland” with no reference; in others words, you either know the source or not: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” p. 190-1 in her book. This is line 431 in “The Wasteland,” in part V What the Thunder Said, three lines from the poem’s end.

The CEO ends his e-mail this way, “Incidentally, I’ve reread two poems you sent to me, ‘Leap Before You Look’ and ‘The Privilege of Being’ …[his ellipsis] both compelling.”

The first is an all time favorite of mine by Auden; the second, a poem by Robert Hass that has resonated throughout my life.

I now ponder whether either of these poems would fill up the ellipsis of time that has passed between me and this gorgeous seventy-ish, stylish, loyal, sensitive man.

I reread. The poems, as poetry magically does, answer:

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep.
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire.
But to rejoice when no else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

—W.H. Auden, December 1940

I like to think I have lived by these words, but knowing oneself is the work of a lifetime. So, who knows? But whether I have lived the words or not, they ring like bells. They answer.

Hass’s poem answers with stunning reality and Victorian swoon—Wisdom more often than not comprises paradox:

Privilege of Being

Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate, they hate it. They shudder pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling sad this morning because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,

wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with odd, invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.

—Robert Hass, Human Wishes, p. 69

Love is the human wish.

Meanwhile Eliot reminds:

He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

I’ll let you know about Paris. More soon …[ellipsis mine].

September 25, 2009


When a photographer uses a filter, a transparent or translucent disc, on his lens, he alters the light. If a flock of geese appeared on a clear day—cumulus clouds, horizontal white streaks on blue—and the photographer placed a lens on his camera’s eye, for a black and white photo—as if that term, black-and-white, accurately defines a photo without color—the lens turns the clouds gray as on a dark day, and the bird’s wings white, their undersides, shadows of their shapes. How we see: Through a scrim.

On August 25 my parent’s anniversary, I wrote when I began to tell—like a child “telling”—and so I repeat here, childishly repeat: They were married fifty-four years. Can you believe it?

“I need to live alone,” he said. Oh so Greta Garbo.

There was absolutely no noise.

I was sixty years old listening to Bill Maher, who tells me, “menopause.” Get it? Men A Pause. Yeah, I got it.

But how to see my way. That is the question. Is that not always the question?

Bird on a wire, out of the cage.

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

Three years later, on the street, when going to the movie—they went to see The Reader, the movie about the woman who teaches herself to read—first she touched his arm to reach for it. He said, “Don’t pull on my sleeve.” In the movie, he bought popcorn. They are on a date. She is moved by him despite the gesture of dismissal, moved by all that she’d known of him.

This is the man who left her.

She eats a handful of popcorn, reaches to touch his head, the head he shaves—smooth like a baby’s bottom. Their thirty-five-year-old daughter has had a child. A birth, a new life in a new marriage.

Again he pushes her away. “Greasy,” he says, as if that mattered, as if she’d muss his hair, as if the popcorn were buttered. It was not. She recalls: After they’d sold the house, after she’d taken the job as a visiting writer at U. of Missouri, he invited her to a wine tasting at the Greek Embassy—this man who did not want her though he’d not said that. After that awful Greek Embassy thing (barely any food that you had to fight for and zillions of people standing in line for wine), he wanted to take her out some place; she wanted to go home, but they went to Cloud in Dupont Circle. She asserted, “You don’t desire me. Tell me.” “No,” he said.

Like the O ring on the Challenger that exploded in the sky—from where we stood watching through a lens: no noise. Like the O ring when placed in 32-degree water. “The O ring, a large key to the problem,” the investigator said. Indeed, it would not give, it wouldn’t expand or contract—frozen.

We were frozen.

After The Reader, when they got to her condo—gone: the house with the chef’s kitchen, the four-story one-hundred-year-old Victorian they’d renovated like a wish fulfilled—he stays with her. They watch The Thomas Crown Affair, the second version, the one with Pierce Brosnan, the financier and art thief who takes a hundred-thousand-dollar bet on a golf swing from a sand-trap the day after he’d stolen the Monet, and Rene Russo, the insurance investigator who wants to nail him, get his head—you know that he loves her: When he gives her the controls on his glider that slides through the sky with no motor—“Like a hawk”—when he brushes his hand across her hair. While they are window shopping, when he stands behind her, his head down, when he takes hold of her shoulders, the slight brush of his hands.

No noise.

She wakes in the middle of the night, knows that he must go, that she is returning to territory she knows too well: backtracking.
I backtrack: a dream: My father lies in a bed, my dead mother stands near. An official-looking man, clipboard in hand, asks him questions. He says to me, “I know you hate me.” I say, “I don’t hate you because I believe you know that my father’s intelligence and wry sense of humor drive his answers.” The clipboard-man persists, says that my father’s answer to his last question confirms that he cannot live on his own: assisted living needed, nursing home more likely. “So what was the question?” I ask. “If you are outside, on open grass and see an object coming toward you, what do you do?” “And his answer?” I ask. “Golf.”

In the morning, they make love and, as they begin, she says, “The trouble with you is,” and he says, “Only one trouble?” She says, “The trouble with you is that I love you.” And he says, “That’s not the trouble. That makes all things possible.”

I look out a window. Sky and water merge and in the mix I see iridescent blue-black birds, yellow-blue-black fish on limbs of trees. Through the glass, safe inside a house with a large kitchen, my pots hang again. But how could fish and fowl, light and small as they are come to my tree? How could they, so rare in size and startled color, come so close to me? The answer is, Whoever would become light and a bird …

September 19, 2009

One game at a time

D. makes me think about baseball. In particular about Albert Pujols.

“Pujols … really does take 'em one game at a time, one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time… . Questions are beside the point. Talk is beside the point. The point for Albert Pujols is to hit the ball hard. Everything else is just noise.

“This doesn’t make him especially fun to approach after a game, even a two-home run game. But it’s part of what makes him the best baseball player on earth. And it’s what makes him likely to have many more two-homer games, even if he isn’t a home run hitter.”

With D.: no answers to questions. Silence.

D. makes me think, too, of the movie Juno: Two years ago, an awful dinner-movie date with this man I used to call my husband: He was anything but a “husband.” He hadn’t made love to me willingly anyway in so many years I could calculate the time in terms of a decade, a wall of time, a block so large that it stood in the way of vision, my recollection of the past. I have talked about this too much here. I now know I am a fool for having done so. Fools repeat their mistakes—except in Shakespeare’s plays where the fool speaks wisdom: In Lear, the fool wisely says:

He that has and a tiny little wit—
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain—
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But that night, I was thinking about the fact of lack of sex as the source of all my trouble, fool without wisdom that I was. I drank myself through the dinner after the movie. I drank my way through D.’s silence.

And this brings me to the movie Juno. Juno is a sweet flick about a sixteen-year-old who makes love once with her boyfriend, her initiation into sex with only the motive of love, and she gets pregnant. She decides to have the baby and give it away to a couple that really wants a baby. She says she’s ill-equipped to raise a baby. She is a wise, sharp-tongued, witty and oddly sweet character. Sweet in her sharpness. And at the end, when she’s had the baby, her boyfriend comes to the hospital in his running clothes and gets in the bed and lies down and holds her. I watched the movie with D. and my heart broke at this image, because this is the way he used to lie down at night with me. We didn’t make love—no home run to continue the metaphor—but we did lie down together, body on body.

The Sunday after the date was difficult: My chest full of anxiety that raged so hard I couldn’t eat, and my head, hungover. I didn’t have the energy to shower. My teaching work was done and still I couldn’t eat. I began work on the separation agreement again. I had a vodka and tonic. The anxiety subsided, hunger appeared. I ate a frozen pizza and cooked some asparagus. My kitchen and my body were low on food.

I had finally gotten the pot rack hung in my apartment, the same pot rack I’d had in our house. I’d finally gotten all the copper and stainless steel pots hung. I’d polished the copper. Even though I did not have the energy to cook, I was ready to cook.

I slept but woke at 2 a.m. from a terror: My kitchen. In the dream my son came to visit—my son who has not spoken to D. since D. left me. He swiftly took down all the pots. The pot rack wasn’t there. Just some hooks in the ceiling. He had cleaned up what he viewed as my mess. I called out: Where are they, where are my pots and pans? Where is my Bain Marie, my French copper and enamel double boiler that I used to melt chocolate, that I scrambled eggs in, that I loved. I find instead dolls and children’s clown costumes. I’d made these costumes for my daughter and son when they were little. I’d made one for myself too. I’d made one for D. after my first husband had betrayed me. But in the dream the only costume I can find is the one I’d made for myself—the pink gingham one.

For the fool does need the costume.

When I am awake, this costume is the only one that is lost. I have all the others in a box in a closet that D. built for me this year—after the separation agreement was finally done. After it was clear that we would live apart, that we are done.

After all that, he gave me money to build out the closets in my 1200 square foot loft with virtually no storage. The loft where I am making a life—alone: where I make content with my fortunes fit.

He did this after he’d come over to drop off miss-delivered mail—an excuse? He could have forwarded the mail. He gave money for the closets after he found me throwing out the clown costumes, the sweaters my mother had made for my children, the dress she’d made for me in 6th grade, after he found me in tears, throwing away what I could not store.

Now all is stored away in my California-Closet-re-done apartment where I live alone.

And then he sent an e-mail. The subject line was: “I know this is against the rules but …

Would you like to go to the Nationals baseball game Thursday night? They're playing the Cardinals. Really good seats. Red, Hot and Blue barbeque. Or Ben’s Chili Bowl.”

I didn’t go to the game where I would have seen Albert Pujols at bat.

I said I couldn’t go because we were done, because I needed to move on, because I couldn’t bear the silence.

And then he spoke. He wrote:


I do love you and always have. I have in the past only known how to show love through care-taking. I never learned any other way. But that is no longer enough. I know I need to show it in other ways, most especially through emotional intimacy. I can tell you I love you, but it sounds hollow because there is, right now, no other action behind it. I know that is how it appears, so it is hard for me to say it to you. I just know my feelings are deep, and it is not just history, important as that is. I have always thought and said that I believe we will end up together. I still believe that. But I know it is very hard for you. I don't want to lose you, but I also don't want to hurt you again. That is how I am torn. It is hard; it is painful. I hope and pray that it will work out. I just want you to know that I do love you and care deeply for you.


All this makes me think of Albert Pujols. He avoids reporters. When he does talk to them, he doesn’t answer their questions. He just keeps going to bat.

All this makes me think of the movie Juno: When all goes wrong, how to set things right?

And I answer: One at-bat at a time.

Once D. asked me, What do you call a player who strikes out two out of three times?

He answered: A hall of famer.

September 06, 2009

The wave

In August the Obamas went for a week’s vacation in Martha’s Vineyard: Ten-year-old Malia’s head already sprouted almost above her father’s shoulder—she is tall and willowy, feminine like her mother, lithe like her father. Gorgeous Michelle followed behind the two with her arm around Sasha: all the “girls” wore shades as Barack waved from the tarmack at the camera.

He did not wave as he boarded the helicopter on the Wednesday before the Labor Day holiday to fly with his family to Camp David with health care reform and the war in Afghanistan looming. But I recall his wave.

I recall my sister’s wave before she got on the plane to Ethiopia, willowy at seventeen, three days before her eighteenth birthday that she would celebrate on her arrival and where she would marry. Her fiancé was in the Army on the base—gone!—in Eritrea. Thirty-five years later she would die on a gurney, legless and about to lose her arms because the blood from her heart could no longer reach her hands, blue with loss and the diabetes that took her life in 1993.

Her wave, full of hope and risk—that fearless wave. I write a postcard to her now: Wish you were here.

How do I deal with all the leavings?

How do I deal with the desperate longing for a new beginning?

How do I deal with the shame of Internet dating that resulted in my daughter’s assertion, “You are fickle, your fickle ways,” said in merited disgust. I am in love and out of love: She recounts: “The psychiatrist who one day is the love of your life and the next, dangerous to your life. The college professor who one day is the love of your life and the next … .” Need I go on reporting how I failed? How she must wonder, I suspect: Who is this woman I have called my mother?

Meanwhile The New York Times reports that “fewer than half of [Obama’s] appointees are in place … a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring ….”

Who are the appointees in my life?

D., ephemeral?

I spent another Saturday night with him and I write him on Sunday morning:

It’s hard for me on leaving you, as you could see yesterday. Sometimes, as over this weekend, it is also hard for me to be with you. I think that is because you are not yet able to be fully with me, to express the “need” to be with me in some way that makes sense to me, to put words and gestures around the need. You did seem to do that Saturday when you came over to me, when you sort of asked to stay, when you most poignantly laid your head on my chest. I needed to be cautious because if you had stayed, I would have given myself to you body and soul. That is what I want to do, need to do because I love you, flawed as I am, flawed as you are.

I sense that I must take on—but you point out when I say this, “unfairly to yourself”—the blame for what seems lacking, something nameless, something I think, must be my fault and that needs to be “named.” That doesn’t mean I need to “understand” or have full disclosure about your journey toward your self, or in any way invade your privacy, but something seems withheld, almost as if to accept comfort from me would be to accept blame on your part. I am to blame. I must be. And I don’t want you to take on my blame or yours with the stuff (talking, touching) that would help.


D. replies:

I have held back, I think, because I tend to see our relationship as “all or nothing.” That my approach to you in any measured way would mean or be interpreted as full engagement—and be found lacking, because it is not yet full engagement. I have tended to be silent to protect that space I need to work through my personal past [what does he mean by that? for what is between us is personal? Don’t we share the past?] for a while, but I hear from you that, if I am present, you can also be present and help without full engagement. I do know what full engagement means and looks like, and I don’t want you to think that I want something short of that. I am trying to get to the point of full engagement, and need some space—not totally—still to get there. I tend not to talk about that because I think it’s hurtful to you, even though it has nothing to do with you and is not a rejection of you.


I slept and dreamt after D. left me on Saturday night. I suppose this is one of those classic dreams like the airplane dream: I am driving a big dark grey car—not like my father’s Chevy, not a big rectangle, how I always thought of that bulky car he loved. I’m driving a hyperbolic bullet, sleek and large, probably a Toyota on a road that is soon covered with snow. I tell myself to slow down on this surface but can’t keep my pedal off the metal. The snow is filling up my side windows and the rear window so that all I can see is forward. I know this is not a safe way to drive but I keep going though I don’t know where I am going except that I am on Route 66. As the snow begins to fly off my peripheral windows and my vision opens up, I realize that I have passed a store at a mall where I am trying to meet my parents and my sister. She waves from an unknown location. I know I need directions. I know my parents and my sister are dead. This thought is always a sad thought, sadder now that my husband has left me. When they died, I mourned their loss but had a sense of safety in my marriage. Now that is lost. My loneliness is profound, not unique, but profound. I must stop the car and get directions. When I do, I discover—the way dreams work— that I have driven onto the top of the drugstore soda fountain counter like the one where my father and I used to eat coddies and drink chocolate sodas on Dolfield Road in Baltimore while my mother got her hair done next door. He liked the chocolate soda better than I did. I always wanted an ice cream soda and he could be counted on to get me one.

I am lost but dream: D. waits with his arms open. He kisses me full on the mouth, deeply, with desire, and with admiration if one can feel that in a kiss. I think one can.

He is so slim, so beautiful and in real life so totally unattainable.

I send him this poem with the note: Remember this?


Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

—W. H. Auden (1907-1973)



And he replies:

Think not lost, perhaps nearly born.


I recall D.’s heart and being like the drift of the Caribbean sea over the sand, the strand of light that reaches through the clarity of that sea. His touch and his kiss that once expressed a clarity of vision that took me in its sight and held me so that I let go, floated in its buoyant assurance.

I may not know what I am doing but I do know that what I have just written bears itself on the incontrovertible.

I must understand the multiplicity of irreducible people, of the irreducible D., and that my humanity lies therein. We will not have perfection in discourse. But I must seek humanity in discourse. That responsibility weighs heavily on me as I think it should.

And so, I wave. I wait for the sea.