Friday, October 31, 2008

trick or treat, astoria style

A battle-ready Anakin Skywalker and the demure Princess in blue.


Halloween is not a happy time for me this year. There is no other way to say this. A year ago tonight Bob told me he wanted to separate. I had taken the kids out trick-or-treating by myself while he was working, and then when he came home, long after they were asleep, it happened. Life as I knew it started to creak and crack and crumble around me.

Today I am being gentle with myself. Although I acknowledge the feelings that come up, I am trying not to "dwell on it," as my mom used to say. I am focusing on getting some of my mountains of work done. I am focusing on having fun with the kids--this year we are teaming up with another family for trick-or-treat. I am going for a run. I am remembering to breathe. I am looking forward to tomorrow.

I am also reading Psalm 27. Yesterday I got a card from my Aunt Jan, my godmother, suggesting that I read the following verses:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?
The LORD is the refuge of my life; of whom then should I go in dread?

Hear, O LORD, when I call aloud; show me favour and answer me.

Wait for the LORD; be strong, take courage, and wait for the LORD.

Because I cannot for the life of me find the white leather-bound Revised Standard Version my grandparents gave me as a kid (probably around the age I would have been confirmed if my family had stayed with a church), I have been using The New English Bible (Oxford Study Edition) I bought for Tony York's "History of the English Bible" course in grad school. Anglophile that I am, it's the very thing, except that I often miss the familiar cadences I recall.

Yes, Dear Reader, Saint Nobody has just put Bible verses on her blog. No, she has not gone off the deep end. Well, maybe she has, but she is starting to believe that a Presence, a Power is there to rescue her from the depths and buoy her to the surface. She's bobbing in the waves, getting some air, just enough to keep going, and sometimes more.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

random access memory: september song

Princeton, New Jersey, was like a town from a storybook. The campus with its stone buildings, literally ivy-covered. The fountain in front of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The libraries and laboratories, the famous architects, the English-style garden and the art museum with its eclectic collection and its one spectacular Van Gogh. The chapel--more like a cathedral, really--with brilliant stained glass, vast vaulted ceilings, a sense of reverence and stillness yet full of life. The Richard Serra sculpture, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," two tremendous panels between which you could hide, no one would see you while you walked through it, you could take someone in there and kiss them and no one would notice.

The shops and restaurants on Nassau Street--Labyrinth Books, Small World Coffee, the old hoagie shop and pizza place, the newer Thai and sushi and Mexican restaurants, the Blue Water Grill with its comfortable booths, casual elegance, and four stools at a counter in the back. You bring your own wine because licenses are few and far-between, the two of you just have to drink the whole bottle. The movie theater a real old-fashioned cinema with no commercials or trailers, just popcorn and soda and swingy padded seats, and the film that had a scene where one of the main characters attends a boozy, cigar-filled Princeton alumni dinner, bellowing with his classmates:
In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.

The residential streets quiet in the soft dark, stars showing through carefully pruned trees, spacious houses presiding over tidy but comfortable lawns. The cars in their driveways, a green Beetle proclaiming Free Tibet and Obama '08.

The funny little train that goes back and forth to the Princeton Junction station, just two passenger cars, like a toy train, called "the Dinky" by the locals. The schedule and the time for departure, the return to the city, the lingering goodbye and yes, the tears, the embarrassing tears, the whistle and the steady turn of the wheels, the distance, the hopes, the blurred landscape turning from green and brown to gray, the beginning of autumn, the end of a beginning.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

not so fast....

Well, I suppose it was inevitable. No sooner had I written this post about how calm and cool and copacetic I was about my divorce, than the skies clouded up and darkened, and the waves gathered to crash on the sandy (rocky?) shore of my psyche. Or something along those lines.

Divorce, my friends, is hell. Plain and simple. It is exponentially more hellish when children are involved. It takes a long, long time to "move on" in any meaningful way, and even when you think you've started to do that, something can happen to trigger all the yucko feelings you thought you'd started to leave behind.

I think I am experiencing the anniversary effect--meaning, since it was Halloween night when my marriage was handed to me on a platter, the crisping air (which MacGregor refers to as "that first chilly scent of Canada") and signs of orange-and-black faux-ghoulishness start to remind me of the real horror of grief, shock, abandonment, guilt, failure, fear, etc. etc. etc.

Love is not always enough. The best of intentions falter. Resolutions wither and die. Things change. Leaves, like plans and hopes and dreams, turn and fall and crumble to dust.

But yes, there is always the promise of far-off spring, that cliche of cliches for new beginnings--but no less apt an analogy for that. There is hope. There is faith (more about that, soon). There are grace and forgiveness. There are, thank goodness, lots and lots of kleenex. (No one really thinks you're crazy for crying on the subway, right?) There is tomorrow--and tomorrow, as Scarlett O said, is another day and, as Annie reminded us, only a day away.

Friday, October 24, 2008

miz lonelyhearts in the lone star state

She's at it again: the fantabulistic Jilly (aka Jill Alexander Essbaum), having returned stateside (namely, the Republic of Tejas) from a lengthy sojourn in Switzerland, is moving and shaking on The Best American Poetry Blog. No longer qualified to be a European correspondent, she's set up shop as an advice-to-the-lovelorn-and-poetry-challenged columnist (at least for this week). Head over to her "Dear Jill" posts...and send her your romantic and poetic "befuddled messes," as she puts it. She's spot-on, pulls no punches, and cracks me up.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

classic gothic

This evening from 6-7 pm, I'm introducing a reading of classic gothic fiction and poetry, as part of the Museum at FIT's exhibit Gothic: Dark Glamour. FIT faculty, students, and even an alumna will read selections from such favorites as Poe's "The Raven," Stevensons, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," and, yes, Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

It will take place in the Museum's Tile Gallery, on the lower level of the E Building, 7th Avenue at 27th Street.

Now I'm off to find a shawl worthy of Heathcliff's Cathy!

Monday, October 20, 2008

down syndrome awareness month

Hard to believe that it's been a year since I took up Tricia's "31 for 21 Challenge" and posted almost every day during October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I've been too busy and distracted to post about it yet this year, but it has definitely been on my mind, especially as the election frenzy escalates.

Readers who know me will find it as no surprise that I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. I think McCain's choosing her was a cheap shot; I agree with those of you who think she is unqualified and find the prospect of having her as second in command downright frightening. I have strong objections to her political and ideological views, to put it mildly. I hope Barack and Joe kick their behinds all the way to the Arctic Circle.

But I have to admit that I am not ungrateful for the positive attention that her son Trig has brought to the Down syndrome community (I won't go into the negative attention, often in the name of "political humor," rife with uses of the "R word" and other slurs). The fact that someone so in the public eye is the parent of a child with Down syndrome can only shed light on the condition and the many individuals who have it.

Let's just hope some of that positive focus lingers, even when Trig's mom and her running mate, um, well....we shall see in just a few weeks, shan't we?

Oh, and as a special treat, here's a pic from Stella's day out in the city--including a Dan Zanes and Friends concert--last spring with her new friend, Emma Sage, and blogger mama pal, Tara (photographer extraordinaire).

Sunday, October 19, 2008

emotion and calmness

From Nature doth emotion come, and moods
Of calmness equally are Nature's gift:
This is her glory--these two attributes
Are sister horns that constitute her strength;
This twofold influence is the sun and shower
Of all her bounties, both in origin
And end alike benignant. Hence it is
That genius, which exists by interchange
Of peace and excitation, finds in her
His best and purest friend--from her receives
That energy by which he seeks the truth
Is rouzed, aspires, grasps, struggles, wishes, craves
From her that happy stillness of the mind
Which fits him to receive it when unsought.

William Wordsworth, The Prelude, (1805) Book Twelfth

Sometimes when I'm feeling agitated, unsettled, or even a bit desperate, I grab a book of poetry and open it, I-ching style, to see what comes up. The passage above was the result of such a search today. In the margin are my notes from a summer class I took in graduate school with the wonderful Professor Les Chard. In blue pencil (leftover from my freelance editing job) I wrote, "emotion & calmness," "active & passive," "grace?" and " 'rehabilitation'."

Although Wordsworth is clearly asserting his belief in the power of capital-N Nature to foster the imagination and restore "right reason," it spoke to me more about the vicissitudes of human nature, in particular my own vacillations between intensity and calm.

It was a quiet day on the surface here, but internally I weathered storms worthy of Prospero's books. This happens from time to time--a plunge into the depths, feeling unable to navigate the turbulent waves. I guess I am still seeking some sort of guidance, and these times are when I feel its lack most keenly. For now, I'll just try to keep feeling my way until the tempests pass and light breaks through the clouds again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the "d" word

It's been almost a year now. It wasn't my idea. On Halloween night, 2007, my partner of over 14 years and husband of more than 12 informed me that he wanted to separate. I knew we had our problems, that neither of us was what anyone could call "happy," that our difficulties had increased markedly in the past few years. But I just didn't consider divorce to be an option. My parents have remained married, happily from all accounts, for better or for worse, since June 9, 1962. I expected the same from my marriage. Bob and I had always said we would stay together no matter what. We had two kids we both adored, one with special needs. We needed each other to get through the days and weeks, sharing parenting so we could both work and scrape together a living in New York City. During those moments when things got particularly tense and the subject of splitting came up, we quickly dismissed the idea, mainly because of the kids.

So now it was on the table, and I had no choice. He wanted to separate for "at least six months," then revisit the marriage. Meanwhile, we would work with a mediator on a separation agreement. He slept on the couch or stayed at a relative's until December, after Bobby's birthday party, when he moved into a shared apartment a few blocks away. It wasn't until January that I realized that he didn't really want a trial separation and faced the fact that my marriage was over.

The past year has been one of the more difficult of my life so far. The hurt and confusion behind this post from last November was only the beginning. I've weathered countless emotional storms and found myself blindsided again and again by feelings I thought I had already been through, dealt with, put behind me. I've learned that grief, as so many of you must know, is not a linear process. You don't progress through Kubler-Ross's stages steadily and in an orderly fashion--anger, guilt, even denial cycle back often when you least expect it.

Now, though, nearly a year later, I can honestly say that it is very likely our lives--all of our lives, the kids' included--may very well be better for this decision. In the intervening months I have had many opportunities to mull over our relationship and see the signs that I had ignored all along, the issues I thought I was willing to compromise on but deep down allowed to fester into anger, bad humor, ultimately contributing to depression and other stresses in my life.

What I feel best about now is the fact that, no matter how stormy or venomous or uncontrollable my emotions seemed, I never allowed them to push me into decisions that would be less than ideal for my children. As the title of this blog implies, I am no saint, and I made mistakes, acting out, venting within earshot of the kids when I felt I couldn't avoid it. There were times that I actually hated their father, I couldn't stand the sight of him in the cramped two-bedroom apartment that had been "ours" but was now mine, where for logistical reasons he took care of the kids most of the time. The boundaries were blurred, and I wanted clarity.

I couldn't imagine parenting these wonderful and challenging little people on my own, but working with their dad now that we were no longer life partners seemed equally impossible. Friends suggested I give up on mediation and get a lawyer who would help me get what I "deserved." Family members urged me to get full custody, even move away from New York. But I knew how much that would hurt our children, and although I wanted nothing to do with him anymore, I got through it and somehow put up with it (albeit often kicking and screaming) for their sake. I honestly don't know how, since I'm not exactly the martyr type, but it has gradually gotten easier, and now things seem much less fraught.

Now that we are within striking distance of closing the marriage chapter of our lives, I can appreciate the good things about the man I married. Bob is a wonderful father. The kids adore him. He is also a good friend, and now that I have started to recover from the heartbreak his choice has caused, I can see the possibility of a future that includes my children, a parenting partner, and perhaps even new relationships that are happier and more functional. The marriage is broken, but the family goes on and--I think, I hope--thrives.