Category Archives: reading series

kaleidoscope

 

Halfway to Long Island, Ben had a panic attack and had to pull over to the side of the road. Still clutching the damp and wrinkled directions in his hand, he decided that he was a jerk, an idiot, for thinking that they would even want to see him.

Each exit he passed was the one he was going to get off, the one that would take him as far away as possible. The sun was prismatic; it shattered the sky with kaleidoscopic color. He couldn’t see through the glare on the windshield. His head was pounding.

Taking a deep breath, he wiped his brow, then pulled back onto the parkway. It was nearing two o’clock. He knew Ari wouldn’t be home from school yet, which would give him a little time alone with Robin. He couldn’t face them both at the same time. Ben parked at least ten houses away from where Robin lived.

She had moved, Matt said, because the rent at their old place got too high. She was living in a basement apartment outside of the city with Ari. Ben knew Robin had always hated suburbia and he felt a pang of sadness as he passed houses that all looked the same, searching for the right number.

78. It was a decent, rundown house. Matt had told him to go through the side gate, which lead to the backyard. To the right was a stairwell lined with painted terra cotta pots and chimes that, moved by the sudden wind, rang in cacophony. He descended the stairs, his hand clutching the bag which held Ari’s gift. After several deep breaths, he knocked tentatively on Robin’s door.

“What does he want?” was the second thought that ran through Robin’s head. The first thought was not a thought; it was a visualization of action. She wanted to back away from the door. She wanted to run away and hide. She stayed in the hallway for a few seconds, her heart racing.

Ari looked like just like him: same nose, same eyebrows, same jut of the chin. Ben’s eyes were Ari’s eyes, pale green or blue, depending on his mood and the way his mind was turning. Ben bit his lip nervously. He was wearing an impossibly thin coat despite the March snow that still lingered in the bottom of the stairwell. She opened the door a crack and met his eyes.

“I know … it’s been a while,” he said. His hands were shaking slightly, and he attempted to put them in his pockets. The shopping bag secured around his wrist caused him to struggle to find his right pocket, until he gave up and let his arm fall by his side, still clutching the bag.

“What are you doing here?” Robin asked.

Ben opened his mouth to speak and closed it again. He looked at her plaintively, unable to find the words. She closed her eyes slightly, and opened the door further for him to enter.

They moved around each other in the small space. Robin thought, how strange it was to have loved someone so fully, to have breathed that person in until he had become part of her; and then, to have him before her as a person she could not touch, a person she could no longer lay claim to.

“Would you like some coffee?” She asked.

“I would love some.”

Moments passed in uncomfortable silence. Ben looked around the kitchen, trying to find threads of their old life. His eye caught the painting above the table, “That’s new?”

Robin turned and followed his gaze to a rather small abstract painting; it was a scene of the beach, the colors muted and distant. Sometimes Robin thought she could hear the cry of seagulls, their insatiable hunger, vibrate on the surface of the canvas.

She tensed. “Oh, that. I finished that about a year ago.”

“It’s … it’s really beautiful,” Ben said. He cleared his throat. “You’ve gotten a lot better. I mean, you were always great. But it’s different …”

“Why don’t you sit down?” Robin asked.

Ben wondered which place was Ari’s. There were three chairs at the table; the thought that the third chair might belong to someone else pained him. He remained standing.

“I read your book.”

“Oh.” Ben said. “I’m almost done with my second one … that’s why I’m here. I mean, that’s why I’m here in New York.”

“I see,” Robin said, looking down at her hands. “How’s that coming?”

“Good, I guess. You know. It can be… difficult, at times.” Ben cleared his throat again. “You know how it is.”

“I don’t know if I do, Ben.” Robin said, her voice edging discomfort. The coffee pot behind her continued its persistent sound, a noise that seemed to gather volume as they avoided each others eyes.

Ben wrapped his hands around his cup. Robin imagined that if he lifted a finger, or his palm, off the cup, he would crumble. She wondered if she would try to put him back together, or if she would purse her lips and blow, as if that movement of air would push him away, scatter the past like dust.

“I can’t force a conversation with you …” Robin began.

Ben looked at the painting again. “You know I’ve been in and out of the hospital, right?”

“I’ve talked to Matt.”

“It’s the meds … They’re supposed to be making me better, more stable. But I think they’re just making me worse.” He paused then leaped ahead as if crossing a stretch as wide and deep as a fault line in the earth.

“Do you know how much I’ve missed you?”

“How could I know that, Ben? After the first time you just checked out. You left. Nothing …” Robin struggled to control herself. “Didn’t you think about Ari? Even once?”

“Of course I did.” Ben faced her. “I wanted … How could I …”

They stared at each other for a long while, frankly, viewing each other in parts that did not quite make up a whole.

Robin’s face told him about the days she had waited to hear from him, about Ari at six, seven, years he missed, years he left her to take on the responsibility by herself. Ben’s face told her about the nights he had stayed away from her, about the spiraling downs, the manic highs, the loneliness and the guilt, the bathroom mirror at 3am, all the pills.

“I brought something for him,” Ben said, motioning to the bag that he finally released and placed on the table.

After deciding to visit Robin and Ari, Ben had rationalized that he couldn’t show up empty handed. Matt told him about a store in Manhattan that was packed with curiosities and antiques, all unusual or different in some way. Ben had walked throughout the store lightly; afraid he would bump into something and knock it over.

“Can I help you, Sir?” A well-dressed saleswoman had asked, eyeing Ben as if she wasn’t quite sure he could afford most of the items in the store.

“Yes, I’m looking for a gift… for a boy, about seven years old.”

“What are some of the little boy’s interests? Science? Art? Music, perhaps?”

Ben didn’t know what Ari’s interests were, but he couldn’t say that; he barely wanted to recognize it himself. “I just want to get him something unique and beautiful … something he can hold, something to stir his imagination.”

The saleswoman had nodded and directed Ben towards the back of the shop. It was there that he noticed a kaleidoscope, tucked into a corner. Ben picked it up and looked through it. The world changed unexpectedly. It was breathtaking and filled him with a deep joy. He wanted to share that vision, that momentary enchantment.

Robin looked at the clock. Ari would be home from school soon.

“How is he?” Ben asked, averting his eyes.

“He’s okay. He’s really smart, really creative. I don’t think he has that many friends in school. But he’s relatively happy.” Robin paused. “You hurt him, Ben. He and I have a great relationship, but … I’m not his father.”

“Look at me.” Ben said, extending his hands upward. “I’m a fucking mess, Robin. It’s better that I’ve stayed away all these years.”

“Better for who?”

“For you, for Ari. I can’t be what you need.”

“What do you know about what we need? You’ve been, what, in and out of hospitals, you’ve been working on your second book. You, you, you. Do you hear yourself?” Robin felt her voice growing louder. “It’s all about you. It always was.”

Ben looked at her with relief; he would no longer have to wait for her anger, knowing it would come but not knowing when. “You’ve always been the more responsible one.”

“Because I had to be,” Robin spat at him, “Don’t you think I’ve wanted to be free of consequences, to do whatever the fuck I want, to really concentrate on my art, and not just … when I can?”

“Is that what you think I do? You have Ari, you have a life… I have nothing. Words, paper, a book. I spend half my time writing and the other half of it wanting to die. You want that? You can have it. You can have my disorder and my pills and my instability and my fucking overwhelming emptiness.”

Robin gazed into the living room, instinctively searching out the painting she had done when Ari was about five years old, around the time Ben had left. When it was finished, she had laid it against the wall to finish drying. Robin had sensed that it was a turning point in her work.

That night, when Ari had walked into the kitchen for dinner, Robin remembered turning to him, noticing his look of joy, then his hand, streaked with yellow ochre and alizarin crimson. Her heart had seemed to stop.

“You didn’t touch Mommy’s painting, did you?”

“I’m an artist, too!” Ari laughed.

Robin had raced into the living room to check the painting. The right side of the painting was blurred along the edge. Ari had taken his hand and allowed it to travel downwards in a long stroke, as if petting a sleepy cat.

Robin broke down. She literally fell to the floor in front of the painting; the strength that she had seemed to summon since Ben left was gone. She wept openly, bitterly. Ari watched, his eyes wide and scared. Robin caught his expression through her own pain, and knew that she would have to pull it together, allow the gaping wound to scar, accept that it might never heal. She needed to be stronger. For herself, for Ari.

At 3:25, the school bus arrived. Robin had told Ben it would be better for him to wait inside the apartment.

She stood on the sidewalk and waited for Ari to descend from the bus. The sun was cold brightness. Light refracted from windows and the chrome of car bumpers, throwing a dizzying spell.

Ari’s blonde head burned brightly under it; his hair was getting a little too long, and he pushed it from his eyes in order to see Robin. He ran across the street, smiling, dragging his book bag on the ground, his coat thrown open against the rough wind.

“Ari. Hold on a sec.” Robin looked at him, his face was so trusting, as open as the sky.

“What’s up?” Ari asked, furrowing his eyebrows and smiling at the break in their routine.

“Someone came over … someone we haven’t seen for a long time. Your father …”

A cloud passed across Ari’s face. Robin didn’t have time to explain any further; he took off running and didn’t slow down until he reached the gate. Robin was breathing hard when she caught up to him.

“Ari,” she said.

He avoided her eyes.

“Are you sure … I mean, it’s sudden. Are you okay with this?” Robin paused. “I can tell him to leave.”

“No,” he whispered. He didn’t move. He didn’t look at her; he stood rooted outside the gate.

“Do you want me to go in first?” Robin placed her arm protectively around his shoulders, and he nodded.

Ben was sitting in the living room, on the couch that doubled as Robin’s bed, his head in his hands. He looked up when they walked in, his face pale, so pale that Robin instantly asked, “Ben? Are you okay?”

Ari stood behind Robin, the way he used to do when he was much younger, when he was afraid of grown-ups, of strangers.

“I’m … I feel a little sick. I’ll be fine.” Ben tried to smile, but the smile came out more like a grimace.

“Ari, sit down,” Robin said, “let me get your snack.”

Ari sat at the kitchen table. His large eyes, dark and unsmiling, were focused on Ben.

“I brought something for you, Ari.” Ben said the boy’s name as if tasting a new word. “It’s right there, in that bag. You can take it out.”

Ari reached into the bag and took out a wrapped box. He opened the wrapping slowly, carefully, until he reached the plain cardboard that held his gift inside. Lifting each corner flap, he tipped the box so its contents fell into his hand. He turned the object over.

“What is it?” he asked.

“A kaleidoscope. It’s an old-fashioned one,” Ben said.

Robin set a cup of milk in front of Ari, along with some cookies on a paper napkin. “Wow, Ben, that’s really beautiful.”

The kaleidoscope was heavy. The body was constructed of solid wood, the lens was real glass. The turning chamber was an oil filled cell infused with color, containing pieces of glass, beads, wire, polymer clay and other hand made trinkets.

Ari gazed into the object, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Well,” Robin asked, “What do you see?”

“Colors,” he said. “I see a star, full of colors and shapes. When I turn this part, the picture changes. This is really cool.”

Ari looked at Robin; he seemed slightly dazed, as if his equilibrium had been altered by the spell of the object. He held the kaleidoscope possessively in his hand and glanced at Ben.

“Thank you,” Ari said softly.

“I … I just wanted to see you for a little bit. But I have to go now.” Ben stood up.

Ari looked up at his father in disbelief.

“It will probably take me about an hour to get the car back to the city, and my flight’s at six o’clock,” Ben explained thinly.

“You’re leaving?”

Robin watched Ari’s face change. She turned towards Ben as the kaleidoscope hit him in the jaw with a smack, a thud, and then crashed to the floor. Ben instinctively put his hand to his face; his eyes filled with tears.

Ari ran out of the kitchen.

“Go.” Robin said sadly. She put her hand on his cheek and gently brushed his bruised jaw with her thumb. Ben closed his eyes. He remained still, as if her touch extended beyond his face to the entire surface of his skin, then deeper, to his heart, his soul.

As she walked down the short hallway to Ari’s room, she heard the faint click of the door closing behind him.

Robin called Ari’s name, then stood outside his door and waited. Moments passed. Each second Robin felt the distance between them growing and shaping into something real.

She thought about the kaleidoscope in her hand and wanted to cradle it in her arms, to restore it to its earlier safety, inside the box, wrapped, an unexpected gift. She called his name again.

Ari opened the door slightly, and then returned to his bed. He curled up, facing the wall. Robin entered lightly and sat on the edge. She smoothed the hair from his damp forehead and placed the kaleidoscope beside him.

“Did I break it?”

“No,” Robin said, “It’s okay.”

Ari touched the kaleidoscope gingerly and held it to his chest.

“I didn’t mean to throw it.”

“I know.” Robin laid down on the bed next to him. Side by side, they searched the cracks in the ceiling.

“Will he ever come back?”

Robin wrapped her arms around Ari and closed her eyes. She imagined Ben leaving, walking into the raw sun, the wind beating down on his shoulders, leaving, over and again, caught the cycle of eternal return.

 

*

 

 

Kaleidoscope is a story I wrote many years ago, and was first published on this site in February, 2012.


reading series 5.4

flying-letters11

 

“Stories of failure” was a project I began through this reading series which, in spirit, is something of a cross between Russell Banks’ “Success Stories” and Samuel Beckett’s conceptual line, “fail better.” My idea for this series was to share some personal stories and anecdotes from some of the more challenging times in my life. I suppose it is an odd project because most people, myself included, like to focus on the positive. However, I do feel that the challenging times in our lives define us as much, if not more, than the positive times. These times teach us how to rise from the fall, how to find light in the darkness, how to learn new ways of being, how to persevere, and how to find reserves of strength within ourselves, enabling us to begin again, anew.

I wanted to write a little about this before I started up the series again because the last time I embarked on this project, I had received a couple of letters from friends asking if I was okay. They were worried about me because I guess stories about failure tend to be on the sad, depressing, and/or negative side. For the most part, I have tried to temper this with what I learned, how I grew from the experience, or how these experiences have informed my writing, but sometimes the experience stands as is, without a contextual explanation. Nevertheless, I feel that in our failures – what hasn’t worked out, what brought us to our knees, what left us in spiritual darkness, what we have had to overcome – we find, in reality, the truest measure of our success.

 

Quotes about Failure:

 

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” – Henry Ford

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Confucious

“Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure.” – George Eliot

“Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” – J.K. Rowling

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

“Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” – C.S. Lewis

“We are all failures – at least, the best of us are.” – J.M. Barrie

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

“We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.” – Amos Bronson Alcott

“Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”  – Mary Pickford

“There are defeats more triumphant than victories.” – Michel de Montaigne

“Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” – John Dewey

“The line between failure and success is so fine that we scarcely know when we pass it – so fine that we often are on the line and do not know it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Many people dream of success. To me, success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection.” – Soichiro Honda

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Isaac Newton

“It is only through failure and through experiment that we learn and grow.” – Isaac Stern

“Failure is not the enemy, but a life-changing experience. It is a human experience, and it prepares the way for us to grow and transform our lives.” – Sobonfu Somé

 

 


on voting, elections & politics in america

138711513

 

I had my first experience voting when I was in second grade. The year was 1980, a presidential election year, and my teacher carried out a “mock-election,” as per the instructions given in our scholastic news leaflet, which was an adjunct to our social studies curriculum. I remember that there were 3 candidates shown, including a picture of each, a short bio, and a very vague description of what they hoped to accomplish as president. Politics were not really discussed in my home, and I didn’t know any of the candidates. I remember wondering why there were no women choices, or why there were no other races represented. Nevertheless, I chose the person who had been a peanut farmer, because I thought being a farmer was cool, and I think I liked the idea of a farmer being president.

The votes were collected, and my choice was severely defeated. I remember feeling a little embarrassed as my classmates crowed that they had chosen a winner. I had clearly chosen a loser. Yet, I didn’t exactly regret my decision … I felt like I was forced into making a choice between only 3 people. I wondered who came up with those choices to begin with. I remember thinking that a movie star probably wouldn’t make a good president, even if he was popular among my classmates. I thought farming was a noble pursuit. What happened in my classroom was a small microcosm of what would happen in the general election; Reagan defeated Carter, and won the election by a landslide.

There are so many things about this experience that would resound in how I viewed voting and politics later in my life. I was a weird child, no doubt, but I really did wonder why there were no women or men of different races when I first learned about the presidents of the United States. I really did think about the implications of what it meant to be told that you can choose the president, but you have to choose among these specific people. Perhaps this also speaks to my later radical, feminist, democratic socialist leanings, or even my tendency toward championing the underdog, but I wished I had better choices, and I still thought that a farmer would make a good president, because I loved the earth and I loved helping my grandmother in the garden. There was nothing glamorous about Carter; he looked sort of humble, and part of me thought that he would make a good president because he looked like a regular person – one of us. (Interestingly, Carter did an amazing amount of good things for people outside of politics, after his presidency and throughout the rest of his life.)

 

 

Of course, if you know anything about Reagan’s presidency, you know how that worked out. In the next two elections, Reagan, then Bush, won. I was disgusted by what these people stood for, and I didn’t think they represented me, much less the majority of people in America. I was still not able to legally vote, but my feelings about the whole process didn’t change all that much from what they had been when I was 7 years old. By the time I was 18, I was already jaded by the whole process. I don’t consider myself a political person. I used to think that I was an idealist, which seemed to be at odds with the business-as-usual game of politics. Nevertheless, in 1992, I was caught between “rock the vote” and the same 3 choices … I registered to vote during Lollapalooza under a festival tent, declining any party affiliation, because I saw Democrats and Republicans as two sides of the same coin. Of course, there are other parties to choose from, but everyone knew that the final race would be between Democrats and Republicans. I had learned from the time I was child that “you lucky Americans are so free that you get to choose your president! Here are your choices, pick one!”

That year, I also learned a bit more about party affiliation and primaries when I went with a friend to vote in the Democratic Primary and neither of us could vote because neither of us were registered Democrats. I had been swept away with voting fever, my past cynicism temporarily quelled, thinking that the primary held some key to the choices given on election day. Still, there was gender and racial bias, but that was America, right? The system can’t change overnight! Jerry Brown seemed better than Clinton, at least, or so I thought at the time. But being locked out of the primary, even willing to overlook all the things I had learned about how insidious the whole thing was, I saw how deeply our choices were already made. Who chooses the president really? How can you win the popular vote and not the electoral vote? What the hell are delegates anyway?  What is the role of money and corporate sponsorship in terms of who is allowed a voice?  Do votes by the people actually count?

Again, if you know anything about the 1992 presidential election, you know that Clinton won, not only the democratic primary, but the presidency. I voted for Clinton, but it was a begrudging vote. I wanted to vote. I wanted to exercise my right. Yet, anyone who said that they smoked pot and didn’t inhale was a major bullshit artist in my book, and I didn’t trust him. Nevertheless, the long standing Republican agenda of being against abortion, against welfare, pro-gun, and essentially pro-capitalist in every sense of the big money corporate world did not agree with me. I was simply voting against something, not for something. I didn’t have a political party to stand behind and support at all costs, even blindly. And honestly, I didn’t think my vote even mattered in the long run. I didn’t see that a single president, either Republican or Democrat, could affect the kinds of promises made during their election bids, or the kind of change I wanted to see. There are other aspects of the government to content with – the senate, the house of representatives, etc. This isn’t even getting into the lobbyists and corporate interests lurking behind everything in American politics. No single person holds that much power. I feel that the president is a kind of figurehead, to tell the truth.

 

 

However, figureheads, even symbolic and ideological figureheads, are important. They represent us as a country. They represent who we are; they hold a mirror to ourselves, and to the rest of the world. That is why by the year 2000, I was caught up in voting fever again. I was so thoroughly against Bush becoming president, I voted while in labor with my second child. That night, I went through triage with the election results on televisions in the hospital. My daughter was born a little after 10pm. My mother visited me a little after midnight, and I asked her who the president was. “We don’t know,” was all she said. “What?!” This was a situation unheard of in my lifetime. We simply didn’t know, because all kinds of shit was going down in Florida, which happened to have Bush’s brother as governor. What happened in the 2000 election that left the American people without a president for several weeks, as the votes in Florida had to be recounted because of an outcry that the voting system was being rigged?

How exactly did so many voters disappear from the rolls – mostly young people, Democrats, “minorities”, and people with low-incomes? How many polling places had machines that didn’t work? How many opened late, closed early, or didn’t open at all? What about entire ballot boxes from “certain” areas that simply disappeared? How did Bush become president when Gore had won the popular vote by a half a million votes – yet they each needed to win Florida – Bush’s brother’s territory – to officially win? This was so outlandish that it could not be hidden. Even when the numbers came in, they didn’t add up. The election was rigged in Bush’s favor in front of the eyes of the entire country, and no one could do anything about it. Besides Florida, voting irregularities in the 2000 election were reported across the entire country, and it is estimated that between 4 to 6 million votes were left uncounted.

The same thing happened in 2004. And it happened again recently, during the primaries for the 2016 election – in Arizona, in New York, and in god knows where else, because we only hear what the media reports. A few thousand here, a few thousand there … these votes go relatively unnoticed. A few weeks ago, it is estimated that 126,000 voters were purged in Brooklyn alone. At first, people were outraged. People were demanding answers. What answers have been given? It’s been a few weeks, life goes on. There are no answers. There will be no re-vote. We’ve accepted that Clinton won the Democratic primary in New York, even though it put Sanders at a serious disadvantage in winning the nomination going forward. But wasn’t that the point? Right, we get it. Politics as usual. We’ll fall in line. We are a nation with A.D.D. We are a country with selective memory. We blink and the issue is in absentia. We have other things to worry about, things we can control, or at least, we perceive that we control far more than we actually do. There is rent to be paid, mortgages to manage, bills, insurance, utilities, etc. We have families to take care of. There is work to be done, we need that almighty paycheck. That’s America, where roughly less than 1% of the population hoards most of the wealth, and the rest of us are millions strong, struggling every day.

 

 

So here we are again, 2016. It’s an election year. My 7 year old self would be happy to see that we’ve had an African American president, but my conscious self knows that he was a figurehead put forth by the Democratic party; nothing has truly changed. My 7 year old self would be happy to see a woman running for a chance to be president, but my conscious self knows that gender is not a definitive issue; Clinton is a politician’s politician, she’s had her hand in every pocket she could put money into, and she’s bought her way this far. I see her as a person who is both power-hungry and untrustworthy, a person who will say anything she thinks the person she is talking to wants to hear while taking care of her own agenda secretly. My 7 year old self would not be so surprised to see Trump doing so well … I saw how people loved Reagan, how Americans worship their celebrities, how fear controls the American people far more than love. My conscious self remembers the 2004 election, when I sat on the couch and cried, watching the map of America bleed red from the center, ice-blue around the edges, barely containing the whole of it. My 7 year old self would have chosen Sanders, the one who appeared to be one of us. My conscious self wants to choose Sanders, knowing that he may not even make it that far, because I want to see America as a country I can be proud of, a country who has stayed true to its roots, a country whose founders wrote the constitution on the wings of revolution and hope, and who would be dumbfounded to see what we’ve become.

I don’t consider myself a political person, but perhaps I am more political than I think. I refuse to accept business-as-usual politics, because this is not the way things have always been in this country, and I do not believe that is how things should be or how they need to be. The past 16 years have seen a growing number of unprecedented abuses in our voting system, as well as in the system itself, carried out in full view of all, and it is amazing to me that Americans can stand for this. We are a country founded on the tenets of revolution – together we stand, divided we fall. If we stand together, we can accomplish things we can only dream of. I still believe that this can happen. I believe that the foundation of this country is our people, not corporations, not the corporate interests of those in power and those who hold the wealth. This country belongs to all people – no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic level happens to be. And I think that we need to care for each other. It seems odd to me that this is a radical, revolutionary idea. It just seems like common sense, but perhaps I am still an idealist, after all.

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 


3 dreams

 

1. Night again. I am restless; I toss and turn. My skin itches. I brush my hands across my body in revulsion and fear, trying to ward off the prick and bite of the insects I feel crawling over me. I feel sick. I don’t know if I am awake or dreaming. The sensation continues. I focus on the movement, recognizing the signs and strokes. Someone is writing on my skin. I feel the itch and scratch of vowels, consonants. I strain to decipher the symbols; I can barely make out the words. In the morning, the sheets are crumpled, violently, blurred with blood and ink. There are missing letters everywhere.

 

2. The corridor is empty, and long. I am searching for her. Fluorescent lights throw a naked glare, leaving dark hollows, deep shadows. The walls are rectangles of dull grey-green tile. I am trying to find her in this wretched place, this place we have been before. I remember her eyes, terror-stricken, as I pleaded with her to talk to me. “Something bad is going to happen tonight,” was all she said. I didn’t know if the danger was real or imaginary. She could not be persuaded to say anything more. She had to be very quiet; the voices were screaming inside her head. And then she was gone.

 

3. He is here, again. Here. I reach out to touch him; he is flesh and blood. I inhale the wild scent of him. He is hot-bright, emanating light, casting away all my darkness. Above me, his skull is blinding white. I reach for him, my arms encircling his skeleton. His bones crack and pop, his eyes are black sockets. He is inside me, so deep inside me he is part of me; he inhabits me. My body disintegrates into waves of energy as he takes me further and further into bliss, nothingness, the dreamless sea. I do not want to return. He says “not yet,” breathing the words into my mouth, bringing me back to consciousness.

 

4. I wake up crying. I don’t know why.

 

 

*

 


on letting go

letting_go_by_bandico-d5s1eyh

I’ve been wanting to write about letting go for some time. However, something kept holding me back. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say because, the truth is, letting go is not always easy for me. It’s not always difficult, either. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I wanted to write a post about it, because sometimes writing posts on specific topics gives me a place to explore the topic more deeply.

My general idea about letting go is often defined by it’s opposite concept: holding on. I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to give up. I’d say I’m more the type of person who likes to keep trying. I will think a thousand ways around a problem in order to find a solution. It’s in my nature to analyze in order to understand things. Nevertheless, I also understand that sometimes there are things that can’t really be understood, and we need to make our decisions and choices with nothing more than intuition, a deep trust in the universe. I think that knowing when to let go is a little like that.

There’s a balance between holding on and letting go, it’s a dance we engage in constantly throughout our lives. From the moment of birth, we form our first attachments; we also grow and change, establishing a cycle of learning how to let go. As we evolve and move through different stages in life, it is necessary for us to leave the past behind in order to step into our future. Sometimes we hold on to things, even if these very things are preventing us from moving forward. Sometimes we hold onto these things especially for that reason, because we are afraid of change.

We repeat this cycle throughout our lives. When we are born, we do not know how to walk. At first, we do not even crawl. We are dependent on those around us to carry us, to feed us, to care for us. What propels a child to crawl? I think it is natural curiosity, the same curiosity that also propels a child to walk. During the process of being carried to crawling to walking is a constant exercise in holding on and letting go, even for caregivers, who are also receiving lessons as to when to hold on, when to let go. I do not remember what it was like to stand for the first time, on my own, but I imagine dizzying freedom.

In thinking about letting go, I’ve also thought a lot about the nature of attachment. In psychology, the nature of attachment refers to Attachment Theory, which basically seeks to understand the way we interact with and respond to people as rooted in the infant/caregiver dynamic, extending to different types of relationships. Attachment is a biological imperative, and the foundation of our interpersonal relationships. This is where we work out our issues surrounding love and trust, nurturing and caring, power dynamics, giving and receiving, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

As a parent, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that growth is rooted in change. Indeed, the only constant in life is change. With each life stage my children have gone through, I had to say goodbye to who they were at that particular stage, and also to the person I was during that time. In response to this, I have learned that parents need to grow and change with their children at each stage – essentially, holding on and letting go.

Since my own life has been one of constant flux and change, I’ve come to accept many aspects of holding on and letting go. This has affected how I parent, but it has also affected how I am. With everyone I know, I try to be conscious of the fact that we all change. The person I was yesterday is not necessarily the person I was last year, and I accept that we are always growing, changing, and evolving. When I engage with my children, I am looking at who they are right now, not who they were in the past, or who they will be in the future. When I look at my love, I fall in love with him each time I see him, because he is not the same person I saw the last time we were together. In this way, I have cultivated an awareness of the present moment, and of living in the present moment.

But still, I have trouble letting some things go. I’ve been thinking about different times in my life where I had to let go. Sometimes I have let things go with relative ease, accepting and optimistic about the future. Other times, I have had great difficulty letting go. Recently, my cat died. It happened very suddenly, and no one was prepared. I had a lot of difficulty letting go. I could not let go of the pain. My sense of loss was profound. I was very attached to my cat. I cried so much, I began to worry that my reaction to his death was too severe. I tried to think about all of the moments we shared, all of the things I loved about him. I had to let go of the loss and sadness I felt without him alive. I had to let go of trying to find a reason. I had to let go.

In religion, Buddhism in particular, attachment refers to the things which cause us suffering. Our attachments may be people, places, things, thoughts, behaviors, beliefs, etc. To put it simply, the reason for our suffering is rooted in the idea of holding on and letting go. We hold on to what is impermanent. The reason we suffer is because everything in life is impermanent. It is only through letting go that we can achieve enlightenment … meaning, understanding that our attachments are mired in our own preoccupations, our possessions, our obsessions, even – but all of these things are impermanent and fleeting in the great cosmic dance of life. So you have to let it all go, to just be. That place of being is my understanding of enlightenment.

Of course, enlightenment is the goal. It is not quite as easy to live in moment and to “just be” as it is to explain what that means. I feel that there are moments where I have engaged this state of mind during meditation, writing, and sex. But I do not feel that I am living in the moment on an everyday basis. I’m aware of my attachments, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them.

For example, I have a lot of books. I guess I’m attached to books. When I moved, the primary thing I had to move was my books. I don’t have a lot of clothes or shoes. I don’t have a lot of furniture. I don’t have a lot of things, in general. But I do have a lot of books. I don’t think it is a problem, because I don’t have to sculpt tunnels through the house (I have bookshelves, counters, only one or two piles), or spending an exorbitant amount (I get most of my books used). I’m aware that I’m rationalizing … I know that I have a psychological attachment to books, as much as I love the physical object. It goes deep.

Every once in a while, I donate books. I do it consciously. I go through my bookshelves, looking for ones to part with, making room for new books. In this sense, I’m letting go. I’m still holding on, but, I guess that subconsciously, I’m seeking to balance my attachment. As humans, we are biologically predisposed towards attachment. It is part of how we have evolved as a species, and how we continue to evolve. Nevertheless, from the moment our earliest attachment bonds form, we are in a continual balancing act of holding on and letting go.

As we get older, we grow and change sometimes in less noticeable ways than we did when we were children, yet the process is the same. Sometimes, we need to let go of relationships that have become hurtful, jobs that no longer serve us, places that constrict us, people who control us. We need to let go of the past in order to make way for the future. And although it is difficult to live a life free of attachment, we need to at least question our attachments, to be aware of them, to make sure that they are healthy and promoting our overall growth. The most important step in balancing our attachments is also the hardest: we need to discern when to hold on and when to let go.

Finding this balance and level of discernment can be challenging. Sometimes we stay too long in bad situations, afraid to change, holding on because we are afraid to let go. Other times, some people do not try hard enough, they give up too easily, letting things go because holding on would take too much work.  I think that when most people think about letting go, the connotations include putting the past behind us, freeing ourselves from a bad situation, and accepting one’s limitations. However, we also are letting go when we open our mindset or challenge our belief systems, when we accept creative energy and flow, and when we accept change without fear, as a vehicle towards evolution. Letting go means to release something, to free something. When we exhale, we let go.

There is also an aspect of control when it comes to attachments. It almost seems in human nature that the first step after attachment is the need to possess. When a child becomes attached to a favorite toy, the child will cry if the toy is not ‘there’. Sometimes children like to collect things, because they are so attached, they need more of them. We carry these behaviors into adult life in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We want to possess things, as well as people. The root of this possession is our attachment, and all of the layers of meaning that we’ve attached to it. I think that control plays another role too, in the sense of general control that we have over our lives. Control is in many ways an illusion. When things happen that threaten our sense of control, it can be very disorienting and confusing. We don’t understand why some things happen. They just do. Sometimes letting go means letting go of the illusion of control, and allowing trust to carry you on part of your path.

As humans, our attachments are many. We bond with people, animals, plants, places, things. We wrap our self-identity in our attachments, seeking definition and meaning from them, telling us and others who we are. I think it is this enmeshing of identity and attachment where people find the most difficulty letting go. We can be so attached to a person, a place, a state of mind, that we lose ourselves in mirrors, powerless, afraid to change. And yet, we still change.  We always do. Whether by circumstance or by choice, we change. And in the process, we subject ourselves to forming attachments, over and over again, certain to hurt us. We hold on, learning what it means to live, to love, to grow. We want to hold on to what is impermanent – life, time, money, illusions, possessions, everything. We let go, over and over again, we let go.

I’m going to close here with some quotes I found about “letting go.”

Holding on is believing that there’s a past; letting go is knowing that there’s a future.
—Daphne Rose Kingma

Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.
—Hermann Hesse

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.
–Lao Tzu

Suffering is not holding you. You are holding suffering. When you become good at the art of letting sufferings go, then you’ll come to realize how unnecessary it was for you to drag those burdens around with you. You’ll see that no one else other than you was responsible. The truth is that existence wants your life to become a festival.
—Osho

Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.
—Deborah Reber

What happens when you let go, when your strength leaves you and you sink into darkness, when there’s nothing that you or anyone else can do, no matter how desperate you are, no matter how you try? Perhaps it’s then, when you have neither pride nor power, that you are saved, brought to an unimaginably great reward.
—Mark Halperin

It is by giving the freedom to the other, that is by letting go, we gain our own freedom back.
—Aleksandra Ninkovic

Even as I hold you, I am letting you go.
—Alice Walker

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
— Havelock Ellis

Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go.
– Anais Nin

We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
– Joseph Campbell

Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.
– Ann Landers

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.
– Deepak Chopra

*


reading series 12.1

Persephone by Mia Araujo

 

The gorgeous image above is a painting of Persephone by Mia Araujo. I love finding contemporary artists who are also interested in mythology, and who find inspiration in some of the same myths and tales that have also inspired me. For more of Mia’s beautiful work, visit her website at art-by-mia.com

For this reading series, I wanted to share another early story of mine. I decided to share an unpublished story I wrote quite some time ago called “Between the Earth and the River Lethe.” This is a story that initially came directly from a personal experience, and was one of my earliest forays into writing fiction. It was also my first exploration into the Persephone myth, which has obsessed me for many years. Since it’s initial draft, I had revised and expanded the story, but there never seemed to be a place for it. Still, I like this story a lot, and I thought it would be a nice addition to this series.

Interestingly, the Persephone myth has found its way into some of my other work, beginning with a poem I had written which I called “Persephone’s Affliction.” From there, I began writing other poems that explored some of the themes in the myth. Later, I decided to compile the poems into a collection. The first form of the collection was a full length poetry book which included not only the relationship between Persephone and Hades, but also sought to express Demeter’s part in the myth and the mother-daughter connection therein. However, I felt that the collection was not working as a whole. After several other attempts, I decided to narrow down the collection quite severely, resulting in a chapbook length work which focused solely on the relationship between Persephone and Hades. I also decided to illustrate the chapbook, which became a whole other endeavor. Thus, my illustrated chapbook, “Persephone’s Affliction,” was born, nearly 20 years after my first encounter with the myth.

“Between the Earth and the River Lethe” had its first seeds of creation the day one of my classmates from my Greek Mythology class stopped me on the stairs, pulled a pomegranate from his pocket and offered it to me in exchange for a kiss. Little did I know then that the young man’s bold gesture would be stored in my poetic memory, and that the myth of Persephone would haunt me for so many years afterwards. From my perspective now, I can trace the paths that have lead me to Persephone in my work, and I think it is amazing how mysteriously the universe works.

You can read “Between the Earth and the River Lethe” here.

 

*

 

 


between the earth and the river lethe

Down by the River Lethe

 

There was nothing unusual about that day, except, in retrospect; I was more aware of his body moving closer to mine in the ascendant staircase. By the fifth floor, his stride quickened and as I passed the sixth, he edged around me as if he were in a great hurry. He swept in front of me at the seventh floor and his coat turned in a circular motion akin to the dramatic flourish of a cape. He reached into his pocket and extracted a medium-sized dark red fruit. He held it out to me and said, in a gravely articulated manner,

“A pomegranate, in exchange for a kiss.”

“What?” I stammered.

For several weeks, the heavy sound of his boots had followed me up the stairs. He always paced himself so that at least one half-turn of the staircase was between us. When I reached the seventh floor, I never held the door for him; he was always too far behind me.

The sound of his footsteps would reverberate in the hall before he entered the classroom, his shoulders bent in an awkward stoop as he walked through the doorway. He never corrected his posture after passing through the aperture; he continued a few steps, hunched as if awaiting a blow, and sat in the first available seat nearest the door.

A quick glance revealed nothing of his features. I could see that the desk was ill-fitting to his frame. His long black coat tailed on the floor, the edge dirty and stained. His clothing was a blur of blackness. He kept his face downcast, obscured by lank dark brown hair. When the class began, I averted my attention, and I didn’t give him another thought until the next week, when his presence assaulted me in the flight of stairs.

“A pomegranate, in exchange for a kiss.” He repeated his previous request, though his voice seemed a little more strained.

If the ground had opened up before me, revealing a winged chariot, I would not have been as surprised.

I looked directly into his face and searched for a hint of a smile, to let me know he was joking, but found nothing. His skin was without colour and the iris of his eye was so brown it was hard to locate the circumference of his pupil; as a result, his eyes appeared so dark I questioned the depth of his soul.

He stood patiently, his palm outstretched, unwavering.

The usual before-class noise dimmed and within moments, there was a certain stillness that could only mean that classes had begun. I hadn’t answered him and he still stood before me. Neither one of us moved or seemed to breathe.

“We’re late for class,” I finally said, “I hate walking in late.”

“Will you accept my offer?” He asked quietly, as his eyes fell to the floor. He picked at the hem of his pocket with his right hand, the left still outstretched but wilting.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I’m no Persephone.”

He smiled, and his face shone with a rare light.

“Would you like to go for a walk or something? I hate walking in late to class too.”

I nodded in agreement and we began the descent down the stairs. He put the pomegranate back into his pocket, but it weighed between us, an unanswered question.

We walked out of the building and were thrust into the city street. The sidewalk was crowded with people and I started to get anxious. My therapist had suggested that I take a class, once a week, as I was making progress with my social phobias. I started to walk left and he started to walk right, but then he stopped and reached for my hand and led me in his direction.

For all his awkwardness, he appeared to negotiate himself on the sidewalk with ease. Whereas I could not walk a block without stuttering in my step and nearly slamming into the people hurrying towards me from the other direction, he moved effortlessly through the chaotic rhythm of the street.

“Have you lived in New York long?” I asked.

“All my life. I grew up over by Central Park. My parents still live there, but I don’t see them anymore,” he said, his voice edging discomfort.

“Oh.” I answered, not knowing how to respond. I thought that I could tell him about my own parents, since he mentioned his. However, I didn’t have parents, well, not exactly.

I found out that I was adopted in my early twenties, when my mother and father died in a freak car accident. But that wasn’t exactly the type of thing you would talk about to a stranger who cornered you in the hallway, was it? I wasn’t even sure why I agreed to take the walk with him. I wondered what my therapist would say. She would probably think that it was an important step for me. I hadn’t gone out on a date or had sex or even kissed someone in over two years.

After we were quiet for a while, he asked me where I was from.

“Not Manhattan.” I answered.

“I figured,” he said, “you kind of have an accent.”

Of course I had been told that before. I didn’t want to tell him where I was from or that I didn’t know who my birth parents were or that sometimes I still looked into the mirror, trying to piece together a picture of my birth mother, thinking perhaps she had the same shape lips, or the same nose, or the same pale fringe of eyelashes that didn’t seem quite capable of protecting the eye.

We entered the park at the north entrance and walked the path, past the undergrowth and grass, to the benches. I was immediately comforted by surrounding nature. The sky was darkening and there was a chill in the air. We sat down and he put his hands into his pockets. It was a little colder than I had first realized and I rubbed my hands together, careful to pull the sleeves of my sweater over my wrists.

“Are you cold?” He asked.

I shook my head in an ambivalent way, meaning yes, but no. He looked at me for a moment, as if turning a question over in his mind.

“We could get some coffee, if you want.”

“No, that’s okay. I can’t really stay that long.” I said. I knew I wasn’t contributing to the conversation, but I simply didn’t trust myself to say anything.

I had been practicing my conversation skills with my therapist, but the same rules didn’t seem to apply with him. I tried to remember his name, but couldn’t. I thought about asking him, but figured we had already spent some time together and asking now would be somewhat awkward.

We fell into an uncomfortable silence. I absently kicked at the twigs and dried leaves that had gathered around the legs of the bench while he sat with his legs straight out onto the path. He stirred, crossed his leg over the other, and then, moving again, he settled into a more upright position, but remained slightly hunched over.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” he suddenly said, his voice so soft that I had to strain to hear him.

“What?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean to offend you by my offer,” he said again, a little more loudly.

I began to wonder if he had social anxiety as well, because he didn’t seem much better at conversing than I. In fact, I couldn’t recall him ever speaking out in class, or answering a question, or talking to someone nearby.

“I wouldn’t say that you offended me.”

“Because that really wasn’t my intent.”

“What wasn’t your intent?” I asked.

“To offend you,” he said.

I paused for a minute, and a slight smile crossed my lips. “Oh, I thought you meant … to kiss me.”

“No, I intended that.”

He laughed nervously, which made me laugh a little nervously as well. I stole a glance at his face and wondered what it would be like to kiss him, thinking how strange it was that between two bodies, the most insurmountable wall was something as simple as touch.

He took his hands out of his pockets.

“Look,” he said, “at the moon. You can see it just behind those trees.”

He pointed in the direction of the moon, and I could see it rising low on the horizon. The branches of the trees, reaching desperately for the sky, were outlined crisply against the fading light. Looking at the trees in the park, I felt suddenly sad.

“Where I’m from,” I said, “Nature is something you live in, not something you have to find, tucked away like an ill-forgotten secret, battling for space against buildings, bricks, and concrete.”

“Everything is confined in one way or another, isn’t it?”

We had been sitting for almost an hour, our silent conversation growing more comfortable, when he suddenly said, “I want to show you something,”

He hesitated, then brushed the hair out of his eyes. Holding his arms out in front of him, he pushed up the left sleeve of his coat with his right hand, and then the right sleeve with his left.

He held out his arms to me, and I instantly recognized the disfiguration of his skin. Each of his arms were scarred badly with several deep lines, starting at various points at the wrist and continuing upwards.

“I’ve been dead for a long time,” he said, “Each time, I put a coin in my mouth, and prayed that Charon would accept his fare … but I can’t seem to leave this world.”

He pulled down his sleeves and put his hands back into his pockets. He exhaled and shifted his position on the bench.

“All my life, I’ve searched for the river Lethe,” I said.

He nodded and whispered absently, “The river of forgetfulness. The stream of death, the tributary of rebirth. I would surely wait one thousand years to be called to the river Lethe and cleansed of my memory.”

“There’s something I should…” I said, fingering the sleeve of my sweater.

“You don’t have to show me.”

He took his hands from his pockets and reached for my hand. Then he placed his other hand on top of our joined hands, so that my left hand was enclosed in both of his.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I recognized you from the moment I saw you.”

We sat on the bench, turned towards each other, as the evening fell later into night, and the moon rose high and bright in the sky.

“Can I hold the pomegranate?” I asked.

He nodded solemnly and untangled his hands from mine to reach into his pocket and extract the fruit. He held it out to me reverently, as he had earlier, when he made his offering.

I took the pomegranate and held it with both hands. It was slightly warm from being in his pocket. I held it as if I were holding a very small globe. If I accepted his offer, could I survive the months of darkness, the black rivers and bare earth reflected in his eyes? Would my mother, then, try to find me?

I brought the pomegranate to my mouth and brushed my lips against the hard rind, tasting the scent of the ancient fruit. I imagined the labyrinth of seeds and the dark red pulp hidden inside, waiting to be revealed. Then, cradling the world between my fragile hands, I turned to answer him.

 

*