Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right. Nineteen pet sits today, up at 5, lots more dogs than cats (this irregular/imbalanced truth often arrives like the rush of retail), Greta and Tala’s (and Sophies [see Come See Me, Sophie]) family leaving later because new baby is teething, colder day, easier on the dogs, new shoes, old car, star rising, melting ice of (emotional) winters, sun, sun, sun, here it comes, tricking minds into living inside the surprising joy of a moment of NoThing, smiles returned to faces, waking the safety of our soul its taken years for us to clear. [Its a Beatles kind of day]
[in memoriam to 2019]
Some Little darlin’s from that day
[Just popped in a Paul Simon CD, and now St Judy’s Comet rides shotgun, rolling across the skies and leaving sprays of diamonds in its wake. Music, poetry, words left out like cat food for homeless cats….it’s all part of love].
I’ve been waking up at sunrise to love like lightning shaking til it moans and rainbows in the high desert air.
For I’ve got a Nikon camera that gives me the greens of summer, and from the light across my room, follows the music seeping through,
saying. “honey take me dancing” but instead we love like lightning and sleep
In a doorway
By the bodegas and the lights
on Upper broadway
Wearing diamonds on the soles of our shoes.
And I watch the night receive the room of my day late in the evening, taking photographs about the arc of a love affair. —Paul Simon (abbr. 😌)
[Edit for Paul Simon novices: St Judy’s Comet; The Obvious Child, Hearts and Bones, Kodachrome, Late in the Evening, Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes].
Animals in order of appearance: Sadie, Cat, Lucy, Skippy, Tux, Boyfriend, Tala, Mildred, Snaggle, and Izabela. I sit for these creatures—or at least I did, pre-pandemic—and no matter how much time passes, they’ll live always in my hearts and bones.
Click for audio
“Eddie Vedder admits that he changes the lyrics and meaning of the song when he performs it, but he wrote the song with one story in mind. The song was written during the first gulf war, when “Papa Bush” was President, as Eddie calls him. The story is about a young Grunger kid, all dressed up in his flannels with the long greasy hair. His brother goes off to fight in the war and gets killed. He gets a letter that comes in one of those yellow army envelopes and learns of his brother’s death. So, all upset, he decides to go out and walk it off. On his walk he passes by a neat, middle-aged or elderly couple sitting on their front porch having some tea, and he sees that they have an American flag out. He gives a wave, because he feels like he relates: “The flag, my brother, you know…” But they don’t know, of course. They don’t know what’s underneath the grunge and the long hair. All they see are the outward appearances, and they don’t wave back.”
Today I unfollowed a FB page when one of the members group-texted calling Bernie supporters ‘burnouts’.
It was all pro-Hillary and blah blah blah, look at how over-intellectualized we are followed by invented narratives and name-calling like five-year-olds.
And maybe I’m rushing too quickly to protect myself from those unlike me, but when time is short–and honestly, it’s actually short for all of us, all the time–it becomes less possible to entertain living within such an unsightly, formulaic dynamic. Because I’m more than the sum of one-word branding and finding space inside to nurture myself has been hard, and I’ve grown intolerant of a world quick to call names while simultaneously wondering why the world is so messed up.
And interestingly, I didn’t get too upset about it, like I might have at one point in time.
It just made me think of this song. They played it at the Bernie Sanders rally last year.
I went with my younger daughter, Livy (who’s named after Mark Twain’s wife; born in the year 2000–11 months after the Y2K “disaster”, 10 months before 9/11–on the same day as Twain, and gifted too with writing ability, and cursed, as he, with too many ideas) because as we walked back to the car, the sun was going down, and I was like, why not live the big dreams?
Why not believe in a better world? Why not use my passion to unplug a world that instinctively questions the goodness of a broken-hearted grunge kid? Why shouldn’t I live a truth in which the ideas spoken by an older politician gives me hope that the world won’t forget the tender people in tatty shirts?
For when you look at what we do with our thoughts–mindlessly cataloging human beings so as to protect our emotional selves–we are magic beings creating poison worlds, distancing ourselves from one another for no reason, lost inside a world in which somehow it makes more sense to create a docudrama of nefariousness out of someone waving than it is just to pick up our goddammed arm and wave. And why should I not let my heart hold to that hope we can do better? What is so unbelievable about a big dream?
And driving home, we turned up Yellow Ledbetter as we sank into the sky and clouds of a magic day, and passing the golf course, I was singing along with the mournful lyrics–and yes: I was so dreamy that day–but when I looked at Livy in the passenger seat of my car, window down, hair blowing in the air of a warm day, the earth was tilting towards a star and I was like “look at that big dream.”
Look at that art project of sky and skin. The sky painted color that’s actually just air and the girl of tender-hearted benevolence imprinting the world with a more grace-filled future.
And even in the dark, I knew I was cutting it too short.
But the late hour and the music from my headphones were mixing forcefully in my head with the words she had spoken so back and forth, back and forth, I cut the grass, leaving the carpeted earth raw and sore, and thoroughly exposed to the ferocity of the next day’s sun.
And there was power in her words, for previous to this night, this neighbor’s life was boasts of Bella her dog toughened by being chained in the snow and Tiger her cat who’d dragged his broken leg behind him until it healed on its own, and I’d avoided her like a voice of imminent darkness, running from her and her pride over images of sad shivering dogs and injured cats. But an innocuous question this evening began the unraveling of her soul, and what started as an unmowed lawn at sunset had manifested into this neighbor’s eyes misty, her voice husky, together weeding my flowerbed, the sharing of her self dissembling her carefully-constructed bravado.
And as steel blade sliced the grass, I rewound and walked with her through my mind. No car, no money, a bipolar husband who won’t let her leave but uses grocery money for weed and stashes condoms for dalliances, knowing that at sunset when I’d come out to mow, we’d both been different. But as light faded, she’d let me see who she was and we’d descended into the sacred space of intimacy, my mouth forming the questions I dared not even want the answer to–“But do you still love him/does he love you?”–and her answering–“No”, face collapsing, eyes spilling–standing aside any veneer under the realness of the darkening sky, as if the world was right then living within a poignant vulnerability it could not resist.
Because as she said it–“No”—she dissolved her own dream; and there was no love anymore, no happier moments to soothe the heart of rough times, just $600 of weed replacing food in children’s tummies, Bella the dog going hungry on nights the kids clean their dinner plates; her heart filling itself with days of impossible longing, baring her soul to her neighbors because of the agony of the loss, and cradling broken dreams from within her most tender self until there was nothing else to do but reach out to the world for solace.
And the disintegration of her façade made my heart implode.
And later–weeds pulled, soil under fingernails, living the truth of a dirty life–I sheared Nature as I softly cried, replaying a singular song as I mowed the long, thick green so short that it could not now avoid being scorched by Mother Nature’s sun, playing out the life of this woman as Elton lowed to me his sweet song about young days of dreams and hopes.
But standing in the cool of the darkened planet, I felt a shift. For as day goes to night, such is the way of everything, and as I smelled the shaved earth, I remembered that burned forests are actually the best fertilizer for new life.
And in a single second, the words of this grieving woman became the music of a human soul, her vulnerability beckoning me closer, inviting me to love her, to nurture her fragile dreamer and inhale the softness of herself. And it was a magical act of grace that from within the power of her own sadness, she could let me know her, for in so doing she had heeded the call of cherishing her own self.
And under the dark of the summer sky, the world sang to me lyrics of nostalgic counterpoint, and the tears falling down my face christened the night, and changed me. And from within my own private emotional world, headphones still in ears, I replayed the evening, now hearing the whispers of it’s cleansing beauty.
For there are nights of heartbreak, feeling trapped within a life we don’t want, our misery perplexing and hardening, feeling distracted by our thoughts into the clipping of a scorched lawn.
And there are nights that are the end of a summer’s day, where we slip out of the room of our own experience to step back into the dream of ourselves, listening to Elton extol the universality of our bittersweet journeys while we wait for the deadness of the brown grass to once-again turn green.
The “I’m going to single-handedly save this marriage!” off-switch was pretty hard to find during our final years together. (Maybe it was hidden under the super-hero cape I thought I was wearing). My brain just couldn’t last a second, at the end of the marriage, without wondering what new and inventive way I could come up with to fix his unhappiness. Because he was definitely unhappy; I knew that much. He told me all the time by criticizing the meals I cooked, the food I bought, the way I cleaned the house, and handled the kids. The gas I put in the car. The way I watered the grass. My ideas. My existence (probably). You name it.
I knew that it wasn’t the way I should be treated, so, initially, I stood up for myself. I’d point out that he had unrealistic expectations and that he talked disrespectfully to me. For a few months, I even stopped cooking altogether to teach him not to criticize my meals.
But my defiance didn’t last. Mostly because I’m pathologically easygoing, and it was always so much work for me to fight over these things. According to my aunt, I’m a Libra with Aquarius moon—in some sort of conjunction or something–which means that, apparently, I am astrologically programmed to be the most “Whatever” kind of person you’ll ever meet. My view is that life’s just too freaking short to hold onto slights and grudges. But, unfortunately, that’s exactly what I needed to be able to do in order to see that a pattern was emerging. A pattern of “he’s a verbally abusive, control freak.”
I also had another strike against me in that I was pathologically afraid of ending up like my parents–divorced, and perpetually angry.
So, at some random point, I must have “Whatever”-ed myself into giving up the fight for equality in my marriage, and, after that point, my whole focus turned into keeping him happy. I listened to his complaints and tried to be “better.” I became a different “me,” who supplicated for mercy and gave up her needs for the greater good, in which—somehow–his happiness became the “greatest good” I could think of. I was rolling over like a dog and peeing all over myself to please him. Which is a pretty strong tactic. Since groveling is so attractive and all. I did what I could do to change myself—insidiously—until finally the inevitable happened and he left to be unhappy somewhere else.
At the end, though, I was gasping for freedom from the thankless, impossible task I’d assigned myself, and an event from February 2007—right before he first mentioned the “D” word—has become emblematic of the near death experience I was assuredly headed for had the marriage continued.
It went like this: my Dyson vacuum had pulled up some of the new Berber carpet that had just been installed in our remodeled basement. I knew he would blame me, if he could, so I called the carpet place—in a panic—to tell them what had happened, and see if I had recourse (you know: to see if I could blame someone else). I didn’t, because apparently you aren’t supposed to use rotating Dyson brushes on this carpeting; it was in the Dyson manual. I told her that my husband was going to be so mad at me, and she was very apologetic and wished me luck before we hung up. Thinking quickly, I grabbed my hot glue gun, gathered the pulled up strands of carpeting and tried to jimmy the carpet back into place. It was near the futon, so he might not even notice.
A few minutes into my job, the carpet place called back. I was in a hurry to finish the repair job before he got home—burning myself with the hot glue as I used a bamboo skewer to push the carpeting back into place–but I answered anyways. It was the same woman, who sounded concerned and asked, “I just wanted to call back and make sure you were okay.” It was weird to hear the worry in her voice, reflecting back to me the panic that had inflected my own. Like a banner saying, “Game over, sweetie. Hang up the cape.”
Which—I gotta say—was such a damned relief. ‘Cause it was such a tiring charade.
What else should I be,
This Nirvana song–All Apologies–reminds me of “it all.” My marriage, and it’s suffocation. My divorce, and the resultant tailspin. But I’m not sure why. I don’t even know what the famously-vague lyrics mean; they might seem obvious but their author–Kurt Cobain–was a complex guy and “obvious” wasn’t his thing. I only know that every time I hear them—and see those words “All Apologies”–I think about the last few years, and my dedicated and regular probing of my marriage to test it for doneness.
I take all the blame,
aqua seafoam shame.
It was Nirvana’s song–soft, with chords leading to reflective thought, and orchestral strings juxtaposing against roughed-up vocals–but Kurt Cobain’s lyrics. And no one can say what the lyrics mean. I’ve looked it up. Some say it’s Kurt’s goodbye before his suicide. Some say it’s about his marriage to Courtney Love, and how he was upset at himself for getting her hooked on drugs. But apparently the lyrics were written way before he met Love, and contemplated suicide.
So, what then? When he says “All Apologies,” is he wanting to apologize for being a disappointment to someone? Is he apologizing to his fans for not being who they want him to be? Or, for being a disappointment to himself? Or doubting the worth of himself as a new grunge superstar, and expressing remorse for the general, inexplicable feeling of malaise he couldn’t shake even though he had all of this external success? As in: I’m sorry, people, you think I’m something so special, but I’m not. I’m a normal, messed up guy. And I’m sorry you’re fooling yourself by thinking otherwise.
Then these lyrics:
What now? Does he mean that marriage leads to the feeling of suffocation and being dead inside? Seems unlikely, since years after the lyrics were written, he dedicated this song to his wife and young daughter. Or do these lines mean that the time span between married life, and death (being buried) will seem short. And compressed. Because marriage is entertaining. And adventurous. And distracting. And as real as a dirt nap. Is he confused, or calm? Defiant or accepting?
The lyrics trigger memories of that time with my ex. And not just in the obvious way I could compare the two: the suffocation of my self and my needs, and my apologetic stance mixing with the lyrics about apologies and acceptance of blame. Or in a wishful thinking kind of way, in that wouldn’t it be Just-Like-So-Totally-Super-Awesome! to bond with Kurt Cobain over our similar life challenges.
Because all that sounds good and possible but feels false. Because I can hear—or think I hear–Kurt’s active suffocation in the lyrics—but it’s suffocation at the hands of himself. And I also hear contempt. For taking himself too seriously. For others taking him too seriously. For allowing himself to indulgently overthink things and for audaciously trying to single-handedly decipher the complexity of the world, and emotions, and intention through song.
And I know that all the overthinking I’m doing trying to figure it all out–all the analysis of the meaning behind the lyrics–is BS. ‘Cause I’m Gen X, and we share—Kurt and I—this mutually compatible, angst-ridden self-consciousness. We share a need to ridicule ourselves because we hate the intentional seriousness of it all. (We’re a bit jaded because we saw how “Free Love” and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” morphed into BMW’s and second homes in Carmel).
Maybe the lyrics mean nothing. ‘Cause Kurt isn’t anything like my bossy, control freak ex-husband. He knew enough about life—and it’s temptations and humanity’s collective desire for “easy”–not to offer his fans—like me–clear demands on what to think and how to feel. By making his lyrics so hard to interpret, he addresses the impossible complexity of life. And somehow says it all without saying anything. “Everything in life is open to interpretation depending on how deep in the muck you’re standing.”
And so, anyways, it’s BS. My mental journey for what Kurt meant. Because I’m aware that my efforts at finding “The Answer” to the riddle of what Kurt is trying to say belies an emotional neediness that–in marriages and in life–can never, ever be pacified. And I know now that it’s best to part ways with the extreme desire for external validation long before you’re on your hands and knees frantically hot gluing carpet back together.
Each time I listen to this song, I eventually find myself in this same spot. In the murky waters that prevent easy “answers.” At which point, I end up just enjoying the way the song makes me feel in the moment. Free of definitive meaning. Free from thinking any particular thing. And wrapping up life lessons into convenient, labeled file folders. Free to have my interpretations change as I change. Free to pacify myself with “Whatever” once again.