Friday, May 29, 2009

From UGH to A-HA!

Woke up this morning feeling UGH. Actually, it didn't happen right away. It happened over time, after Dylan left for work with many smooches, and warned me that Aviva seems a bit off today. After I checked my cell messages, which I had been putting off for a few days, frankly. After I realized it's likely going to rain so I won't bike my brand new Raleigh bike, purchased last night, downtown to do errands. UGH. It hit my chest in an almost palpable way, though maybe the realization of it felt more like that - certainly the actual sensation built up over time.


At first I felt the familiar "fine, whatever, I feel shitty." Then followed by, "hey, wait, you have things to do, you can't just be depressed." Quickly a voice kicked in "that's no way to treat her when she's sad! back off!" and the littlest voice, under the "fine whatever's" said "i am a crappy teacher."


Yesterday was my last Face to Face with my Junior High School kids. The "Jerkitis" group. They weren't even in full form, but my heart was definitely not in it. Some even had the gall to say they learned nothing in the class. I didn't care. Didn't even pump it out of them. We played story games and when the kids who always inserts zombies and AK 47's into a story kept doing both, I didn't stop him, not even in the school library. I let the popular girls use each other as characters, and didn't try to compel the shy ones to participate. "I haven't changed them at all," I thought, despite having a great conversation a couple of days ago with a friend about how neither of us cared to nor really understood the role of revising from our arrogant rough drafts until college. "They haven't learned to revise or give good feedback. They think it was a waste of time." The most dominant of the bunch, the one who threw a fit when others changed her name around online, she said, when I actually asked if any of them had suggestions for the class, that I should make it just "educational games" all the time, mocking my set up for the last Face to Face.

Now, I write these things and I think - so what? Of course I didn't change their lives that much. One can only do so much online for nine weeks. It's like any kind of Bodhisattva-like activity: you don't know the karma of what you are doing, you do your best with the circumstance and someone else will carry the torch, or not, and you have no control over that. So what if noone of the kids turned out to be my super-special ones, who can both write and act like adults? This time my tiny part listened. "Oh, I guess you do have a point." This wasn't defense speaking, this was truth. "Hey, Miriam," it said kindly, "You done real good. The teachers said so, and lots of the kids did learn a lot. And it's done now. Let it go." And the tiny voice said "Ok."

A-HA. A weight about a mile deep and ton-heavy melted right off my chest. Huh. That easy? Not entirely, I still feel gooky and confused about the less-structured work ahead I have put off for weeks. That's the mix of liberation (in my mind I picture a wildflower mix with bits of peat moss in a package) - some growth, some stagnation. Lots of space for all of it. But the crappiness isn't hidden anymore, it's on the surface, breathing out with the rest of it. So for now, much more workable than underground self-judgement. That's the real A-HA here, and the source of the original UGH. The primordial UGH. Take the plot away and that's always what it is, isn't it? I'm not good enough (thanks, Stuart Smalley). A-HA - maybe there's no such thing as not good enough.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Break-down and Re-Cover

(photograph from the side of a dumpster I took awhile back, that will now be on a set of electronic tunes by my brother, Alex Hall, for a collection of breakdown beats)

"I had another breakdown this last week"
"I feel like I'm heading for a breakdown"

A friend, who's in a rough spot, said these two things to me yesterday. She is grieving the death of her father only a few months ago, and picking up the slack he left behind with her mother, who has serious mental health issues, in "taking care of her mom" and making sure she is ok.

We talked a lot about grief and dealing with mental health issues - my mother having been an alcoholic, likely suffered from serious narcissistic personality disorder and depression - and how to handle both at once. The thing is that I am not sure I would classify what my friend describes as breakdowns as just that. Unless we consider things not operating "as normal" or "as expected" a breakdown. Which I suppose broad culture does. I'm just not sure that is such a problem.

Last night my guts gave out. On the way home from seeing this friend, in fact, I felt the gurgle gurgle my IBS issues don't usually manifest as. I am used to constipation, tightness, pain - this was looseness, giving way, liquid. I managed to make it home, get rid of what I could, and spend the rest of the night in bed. This wasn't a bad thing, once the pain passed. I read - finally finished Heat by Bill Buford - and snuggled, with Dylan and the cats. I drank lots of sparkling water, tea, and ate toast. Definitely Not What I Was Planning, but who cares. Really. Who cares? To expect our systems to never break down would be an awful lot to ask. Especially in special circumstances like that of my friend.

And for that matter, what circumstance isn't a special circumstance? We bumble along, treating every day as if it is the same day as the last and the next. Every moment a continuation of the one before, the one after. What if, as the texts tell us, this is in fact NOT THE CASE? If we really look at this, notice how we string together our lives, then "breakdowns" of guts or the happiness strand we maintain for public consumption, are actually not a breakdown of anything that exists. They are a break in a system which is systematically made up. A break in a fantasy. A gap. That's a good thing. A chance to catch up, to see things as they are.

The thing is that we only label things as breakdowns when they are bad - losing a job or a partner or parent, breaking a leg or worse, being "unable to function" at work due to old issues cropping up and taking us over for a bit. These are breakdowns. Is leaving work early to go watch the birds migrate or see the spring flowers bloom in the forest a breakdown? Not unless associated with other aberrant (read: negative) behavior. Yet a moment of pure bliss can do far harsher "damage" to daily fantasies than a "breakdown." You realize this isn't the work for you because you experience a moment of real connection with the world and that isn't present in your current relationship/job/place of living. That breakdown begins in a space of what we normally classify as "revelation."

I am struck by the scene in Battlestar Galactica, for me a flashback as I didn't see the beginning of the season, when Madame President runs out to a fountain and wanders in it, soaking herself completely, upon getting a heap of super bad news. After my mom died, I felt there was a statute of limitations on doing things like this - the crazy shit that others do in times of grief or breakdowns. Driving across country with nothing but a Bjork cd in the car. Wandering into public fountains and soaking oneself in full daylight, fully clothed. The kind of behavior one "gets away with" to a certain extent because they are "breaking down" and we expect the unexpected in those circumstances: we forgive it, some even see it as healthy. Why isn't it healthy the rest of the time?

The dying, the diseased, the grieving and the disturbed really have a leg up on "the rest of us" this way. I am not romanticizing being in those situations - having gone through and likely going through many more of them myself - rather noticing that there is a level of permission allowed to those in pain which the rest of us, so fearful of breakdowns, avoid. I wouldn't call it breakdown. I would call it "uncovering." Exposing. Revealing. Opening. It is freaking painful but also so helpful. This friend and I talked about how losing our fathers actually made it possible to crack open some things we would not - could not - have otherwise seen for decades to come. The pain, the horrible gut-wrenching pain, wears us down, breaks down the walls we work so hard on building. That is what is broken, not us, not our emotions, but our hard-struggled-for tenuous connection to the fantasy of every day reality. And what do we call it when we gather our strength for a day of work after being disgustingly ill in the guts, or weeks or months or years of missing those we lost who meanst so much to us? Recovering. Recovery. Re-cover.

We cover it back up. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says regular meditation practice is necessary purely because of the sheer effort factor. If you meditate every day for 15 minutes, you continually dig the dirt off your real, actual self, and you can keep working over time. If you don't, it is akin to digging a big hole then filling it back up. Re-covering it. We can do this kind of discovery work - dis-cover (un-cover) - either as a practice, through meditation, yoga, writing practice, art, whatever - or we can wait for something horrible to happen, let it rip us open, break-down, then re-cover. Or, we can let something horrible happen, as it is wont to do, and let it open us, break us down, and try to let ourselves be there, without re-covering it, without putting the dirt back into the hole.

All of this is easier said than done, of course. I would be one of the first to know this. And it is all a practice. But the fact is shit is going to go down in all of our lives. If it hasn't that much already it will. Impermanence promises this. The question is, are you going to see it as a breakdown or as an uncovering? Are you going to prepare the ground by doing some early non-trauma associated digging on your own, or wait for death or loss or insanity to rip it open for you? I'm not just asking you. I am asking myself. From my very limited experience, in the large perspective of things, it feels a hell of a lot safer if you have gone ahead yourself a few steps before everything falls apart. Becauase it will fall apart. The question is how much we are going to bother covering it back over afterwards.

(In honor of this friend who opens her heart steadily and regularly through the pain of loss, and to all of my students, who are "off" for the summer, facing their demons on their own)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Somehow, it feels like I am on vacation, though I have 246 un-dealt-with emails in my inbox and lots of final papers to grade and final grades to give. The tightness I have felt for weeks between my shoulder blades, which radiated in particular out on my left side into my tricep, is loosened, almost non-existent. My summer, still working, but on a totally different schedule, rolls out in front of me; Tuesday night farmer's market, summer school, bike rides, retreats both attended and taught. Somehow expansive days in which I do nothing but write and a small amount of paperwork really do balance out being gone for weekends on end and a couple of whole weeks of my life filled with 12 year old's poetry.

This last weekend, we spent a chunk of time really breaking down our kitchen. With a borrowed sawsall we chopped up our counter and cut out old ratty cabinets in the kitchen. Out came laundry poles uselessly parallel to each other in the backyard. Weeds and dandelions, invasive grasses, crumpled chunks of concrete: even unusused shoes, too-tight pants packed up and given or put away. All done. Give us some space to let the chaos of summer run loose in our house.

For now it feels good to not know for sure, to be unmoored. Out of that chaos can come creativity. I'm not talking drunken day-wasting chaos, but the natural dis-order of things as they are. I invite it all in, move around in our space and re-inspire me, give me my breath back.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fire On Babylon

It happens sometimes. Sometimes isn't true - it happens a lot. I get to the end of the spring, end of the term, end of teaching my regular schedule for the year, and there is my birthday. It often happens around or even during a major program - for two years, happened before major Shamanic training weekends, then during or after closing programs for Shambhala Training. Because I don't talk about it much, and especially in the pre-Facebook era, folks wouldn't know until the day of when I would be sad and no one would know. How awful is that. And yet, to tell folks my birthday is on the way sets me up for more attention than I typically want on that day.

That day. A day I was made - or made to be out in the world. I love myself, and the idea of celebrating me isn't an issue. No problems there. The issue is one of origin. A Mother's Day/Father's Day issue. My birthday is my annual Child's Day and I am no longer anyone's child.

The year has piled up. Emails fill my box, unpacked suitcases and disrupted novels and books of poetry. This is my new year, my real new year. It's a painful one, a time of total rebirth, of being thrown into the fire. I am not a summer person, and I have noticed the poignancy of spring in a new way this year - I do not look forward to loud stereos and too much sun. Caught in this in-between place of then and tomorrow called now, I find in the center a sense of nothing-ness, which often feels like space but today feels echoey and empty and nauseating.

Which is ok. Writing about it helps me to realize that. It's ok. Not going to change, necessarily, but I can be ok with it. Do the bare minimum work I need to do. Visit with a friend who won't mind if I cry, if I am barely there and will walk around in the spring with me to give fresh air to my feelings. Let the cats smother me. Let my students cradle me. Gentle gentle fire on babylon.

Goshdarnknit got grabbed by "phishermen" and is currently being checked out.
Shucks. And it just got going!

So in the meantime, check my blog at for updates - newsletter out soon. Sorry for all the misdirection!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Joke's on Me

I had this great profound title for a blog entry planned for this morning.

"The Gift of Gross Emotions"
It was going to be so enlightening, and enlightened. How much we hate panic, how much we hate true sadness, heavy emotions, gross not in feeling (though sometimes that too) but in size, quantity, as in "a gross is equal to 144 of something."

What waylaid me? Not even my own gross emotions, which caused anxiety dreams all night, but those of my 13 year old students. The little pricks had a jerk fest all last Thursday and Friday, when I should have been watching them. They found one to pick on and subtly/not so subtly mocked her and her penchance for, imagine this, having her name used correctly. Meanwhile, they have gotten sloppy in their feedback (saying things like "I like this piece a lot," then giving a list of 10 things they think didn't work at all, for instance) and the whole thing snowballed into one very gross mess.

Turns out my class isn't the only place, and certainly not my fault. But I have all kinds of gross emotions about their gross emotions, and it's quite the way to end a term.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Orderly Disorder

I've been reading about Chinese Landscape painting over the centuries (following up on Way of Nature program with John McQuade a few weeks ago) and the influence of Taoism and Confucianism. They allowed Landscape painting, even if idealized, to go on for centuries when, in the West, nature was "out of favor." I just gave a talk on Friday, pointing out just this absence of direct relationship with Nature, which, in so many ways, gives us direct access through our senses to our worlds, and, by inherent connectiveness, our own minds and hearts. You can do it with industry and internet, with cars and telephones, but it's not the same. Something is purely transmitted in nature - something ineffable - and it's nothing romantic, but something real. The "East" (Zen of all kinds, Taoism and Confucianism, and most Buddhisms) tends to favor nature, and mostly always has, for it's quality not only of harmony but also of reality. A dose of what is, delivered through your nose and eyes and ears.

Today, the Madison Miksangers went to Olbrich Gardens to do a shoot and review. In all of the springtime blooms and bursts of green, some folks managed to, quite accidentally, find chaos. Normally we consider chaos a bit of an odd bird in nature - like the Taoists, to us nature tends to show at least some kind of underlying, inherent order. One woman put up a photo that seemed to have pasted a tent caterpillar nest onto a crab apple tree. Another photo, same woman, had a dead white spiky tulip again practically collaged onto a rounded purple bloom. These, for us, showed exactly the kind of flat, slapped together quality that usually represents the visual chaos of man's world. Not the concept of chaos, but actual perception of it. And suddenly, here was nature making a mess - a beautiful mess, actually, something our eyes literally couldn't make sense out of. Gorgeous.

What's funny about the Chinese landscape painters, especially of the 12th/13th centuries, when it really kicked in, is that they (like a lot of artists earlier on than the Renaissance) were pretty wealthy, hobbyists, time on their hands. Their depictions of nature, which seem so accurate, so spacious, so open, are in fact quite symbolized and idealized. I was, I have to admit, a bit shocked to read this. No! You mean it's all fake? Not entirely, but idealized, based off of reality. Then again, what isn't?

So they thought the natural world wasn't orderly enough. Or maybe not. Maybe they thought it was perfectly orderly, but with standards the paintings could represent a language of sorts. Two fir trees equals this philosophy, eight conifers, that school of thought. What is it exactly that we want from nature, anyway? Go to any garden, any countryside drive, and nature has been changed everywhere - adapted to or by man. If you look on my recent Flickr pages, you'll see I've been immersing myself in all these kinds - landscapes of southern Wisconsin, my own garden, walks down the streets of Madison, the orderly and meadowly Olbrich. There is no "Nature" out there, no rules, no set of orders. It's all nature, and it all both makes sense and doesn't. Orderly disorder.

What it does for me is reminds me to let go and trust. Sure I pull out the things I don't want in my garden where I don't want them ("weeds"). Sure I pick the roads with wild woods more than farm fields. But for every choice I try to make away from chaos, it sneaks in as Creeping Charlie or wily Poppies, as sunlight puffing the bowl body of a double tulip, of a rainstorm bowing the last daffodil heads. It isn't out there to favor or ruin anything. It just is.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

When Hitler is About as Logical as it Gets

"It's already been two years. I should be moving on."
"That was over ten years ago. What the hell?!"
"No one asks about it anymore at work. Clearly I shouldn't be worrying about this."
"No one wants to hear about it at this point. It's old news, a broken record."
(-from the last two days' classes of writing, from folks who are grieving)

Why do we put such standards on grief? Where did we get the idea that it is logical, rational, orderly? Or did we ever get that idea at all? Are we all a part of some conspiracy cabal in which we all came to the conclusion, separately at the same time, that one should only mourn for a distinct period of time (which no one can enumerate when I ask, btw) and after that, be done. Life finishes, right, so why shouldn't grief? Why don't emotions, memories, and thoughts of loved ones lost ever cease? Sometimes get stronger or more evocative even ten, twenty, fifty years later?

Last week's This American Life had a story on a woman seeking to renew her faith in God. She had lost it after praying so hard for a good, kind friend dying of Cancer. The friend died and her pact with God was lost - you didn't save her life, so I am not going to believe in you anymore. A classic answer: "Why would God take someone like her from life?" Answer: There must be No God. I am not mocking her at all - I did the same thing after my dad died, only I had to find God first, then angrily rebuke him after my Pastor told me that I would never see my daddy again because he went to Hell, since he didn't believe in Jesus. This woman went to talk to a media-promoted hand of God, some guy in Texas, and he kept throwing illogical, big-picture things at her: Evil is here for a reason and we can't know that reason, God takes folks for reasons we don't understand, etc. Ira Glass and this woman had a good laugh that Ira, an unbeliever, was able to give her answers based on an existence of God that this man couldn't that somehow also explained her friend's death.

Eventually, the pastor/priest resorted to a Hitler argument: that Hitler had to be killed, so some folks just have to go. The woman balked - said she, like many meme followers on the Internet, knows that as soon as Hitler enters an argument, you know the argument is over. Seriously? Really? Hitler? Was that necessary to talk about this woman's loss? She didn't throw out all he said because of this ending, but that was it for her. Clearly they were on different pages.

When we try to come up with answers about emotions, we are on different pages with ourselves. As soon as we begin to apply logic to loss, the Hitler contingency should be in effect. A blaring alarm should kick off: storyline, loss isn't an encyclopedia entry, shut it off, return to feeling.
Then we also notice, if we stop to share in unhurried, compassionate company, that all of these stories, from "I should be over this" to "Hitler had to die, too" (?!) are all coming from some kind of resistance, judgment, inside of us. Not outside. Not others, but us. Our impatience, our worry, our fear that we've done something wrong by feeling for so long.

Doesn't matter if it's a breakup, a job loss, divorce, death, death, death, impermanence isn't logical. Never has been. Never claimed to be (though some have claimed it to back up their reasonings, Buddhists included). It just is. The feelings come and go, clouds, storms, tornadoes, and we feel them when we can.

When I was 17, I tried to take my (turned out to be last) acid trip to "get to the depth of my grief over my father's death." It was the first time I tripped alone, and it was a super bad idea, though I am sure you already figured that out. Luckily, I had a friend willing to put our friendship on the line, and a brother willing to make me really uncomfortable without calling me out just to make sure I didn't do anything stupid while on serious hallucinogenics and also severely depressed. It took me ten or so years to really get that grief, like life, is bottomless. No answer will satisfy the heart. No answer will satisfy the mind, even. Needless to say, it was a bad trip and I never did acid again. But I had - and still have - a lot of grieving ahead, not just for those already gone then, but those still to come then and now.

Does grief get in the way of accepting impermanence? Are emotions a hindrance to enlightenment? I have come to decide that the only thing questions like this do is cause a further block to understanding. There is no analysis for emotions. They just are. Loss, like grief, is a fact, a fact as true and also as temporary as a rock. So let it be. Give it space. Don't try to get to the bottom of it. There is no bottom.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Our Endless Numbered Days

(Album and song title by Iron and Wine, one of my favorite albums "about impermanence")

Yesterday wound up being quite the whammy.

I went to my parents' grave just outside of Lake Geneva, WI. Back a couple of months ago, when WCATY offered a second gig for teaching creative writing online back-to-back with my Jan/Feb gig, I decided I would take it. Needed the cash, and I've got the class down pretty well by now. They offered me two spots - a small town near Milwaukee, or Elkhorn WI. Both had their benefits, both had their detriments. Milwaukee is somewhere I drive to already every week in the fall, so I both love and hate that drive. Plus my brother and a best friend live there. Elkhorn is 10 miles from where my parents are buried, at the cabin they owned when we were growing up - now owned by my eldest brother. Not a place I go often. So I put it out to the fates: you choose. The fates, through the guise of my manager at WCATY, chose Elkhorn.

The first time I went my book wasn't out yet, and it was before my mom's birthday, April 10th. The deal I had made with myself (I say deal because I had thought it was a promise, but I soon realized this week it was a noose) was that as soon as I had a copy I would dedicate it to her and take it to her grave, since it was published on her birthday, on the way back from teaching. That day was yesterday. I didn't think about it consciously until Tuesday, when my "need for space" "overwhelm with the world and others' pain" and "sudden sadness" hit a peak. Oh, I thought, maybe there is Something Else Going On Here.

Indeed there was. My good intentions were wrapped around my neck, and suddenly I felt I HAD to go, as if she would KNOW if I didn't and would be DISAPPOINTED or I would be DISAPPOINTED. It took awhile to untangle that voice, but as soon as I did, I re-promised that I could do only what I felt up to, and immediately (big surprise) felt better.

I taught the morning class as rain poured down past the library windows, giving me a misty view of HWY 12, right next to the exit to our cabin. Very spacious. Very open. The kids were, for the most part, calm and happy to write and share. I was the same. A couple of times I teared up, but I knew as soon as class ended that I wanted to go to her grave. The book had already started to run since rain had gotten on it earlier (I wanted it to disintegrate in the outdoors, that was the plan), and it seemed a sign. A gentle sign. A sign matching my sentiment. I tooled my way over, knowing the backroads, going past childhood friends' houses, and landed outside the driveway at around 1:30. Pouring rain.

The last time I went there was in November of 2006, after Thanksgiving in Zion with Erika's family, and I had brought Dylan over to "meet my parents." I believe it was raining then, too, for what I could see beyond my bawling.

I started to cry instantly, as soon as the ignition went off. I wrote a haiku above the title, then dedicated it to her. I slowly walked down the path, noticed a huge chunk of the weeping willow fallen, the daffodils still blooming, undergrowth near the oaks. The graves, and there are a lot of them: both my great aunts, my great uncle, my paternal grandmother and maternal grandmother and father, my parents; were all covered in dead leaves. A while ago my sister in law had put stones with words like "peace" on them on each headstone - I was grateful for them now, as I could find where to clean.

Bawling in the pouring rain, I noticed a car slowing down and tracing back along the property. I knew instantly they were scoping me, not thieves themselves, but watching out for our family. I called out first - "I'm just here to visit my mom's grave" and over the wind I heard an older woman's voice "...Trish?" (that was my mom's name. Did she think I *was* Trish? Oh boy. Or that I am visiting her?) "What?" "...Trish?" "I'm Miriam, Tricia and Michael's daughter."
"Oh! Wow. How you've grown!" This said through the leaves of a fallen willow and ten feet of oaks already budding and thick, needing thinning. "Where are you living now?" "Madison." "Ah. D'ya live on the lake?" "Nope. Not yet!" (Choking back tears, relief at some kind of human living connection mixed with anger at being interrupted) "Well, if you get a spot on the lake, call me, ok? So I can come up dere and fish with ya!" "Ok! Will do!" and we all laughed as they pulled away into town.

Now what? I circled and cleared off all the graves, struggling to find Aunt Eleanor. Wandered around the yard, glancing at grasses overgrown and the cabin locked up tight for the winter, down the embankment toward the end of the property, into the forest my parents planted the year my father attempted to complete his PhD up there, in the woods, in the silence, in their early marriage. I felt a sudden twinge of betrayal - here I had gone on to love other lands - fallen in love with SouthWestern WI, told my teacher a couple of weeks ago that it wasn't until I found the driftless area that I finally liked the countryside in WI. Had I forgotten/forsaken my childhood of summers in SouthEastern WI? I still feel oddly connected, oddly repelled to that place, that cabin, all the memories, my family in general.

As I went to leave, looking back over everything, I began to cry again. The pain felt pure, not ongoing, a passing cloud I could actually feel on my face. Out of me suddenly came a cry, a child's cry, but contemporary for me: "Why can't you just come back?" to which I cried harder.

But it's true. It's true that grief is a major mindfuck. And at that moment I realized that impermanence, the truth behind the feeling of grief, is also a real heartbreak. This is where the joyful heart of sadness comes from. Small consolation when you are feeling it, but somehow to me it helped to see that mind and heart are both stopped at the paradox of death and loss. There is actually no way to "get it" in any traditional sense. The ultimate paradox. The ultimate Koan. The voice of the teacher who gave me my Bodhisattva vow popped back into my head: "Go toward paradox and you will go toward truth." Oh boy. How can I not with a death roster this long?

I stopped by a quirky antique shop in a tiny town called Emerald Green, got a sundae at Culver's, worked my way along the long quiet highways to home. Took it easy all afternoon: napped, watched Buffy, got pizza with Dylan for dinner, watched more Buffy.

By the time Dylan got home at 8pm from a meeting, I was raw again, quietly raw, not raging like earlier in the day. He had had a rough day, needed help sorting emotions and logic out, and I helped, tears at the edge of my eyes the whole time, often not able to speak for keeping my own stuff not mixed into his. Once we were "done" with his "stuff," had reached a workable point for his own feelings and plans, I began to bawl all over again. The pain flooded out, held in place for most of the day, like a dam breaking. A phone message came back to me to a friend earlier who's going through a breakup about how painful grief is, how she can know it will take awhile. A phone message back from her with two huge points: that I have been shaped so much by grief it's almost incomprehensible and just now she is starting, after knowing me for 7 years, to really get how hard that has been for me. And the second, the second: her realization that logic, that acknowledging an emotion even, may feel like a calm spot in the flood for a moment, maybe even a day or week or month, but loss is a permanent truth, as permanent as it gets, and in the end, no conclusions, no resolutions, no emotions can cover or soothe the pain.

She didn't say it exactly that way, but I heard it in what she said. And this was both a huge point of pain (you mean there is no end?) and of relief (ah, there is no real end. I can stop looking for one). Even these are just consolations, just logic. Leonard Cohen, in a recently reprinted interview in the Shambhala Sun, caught the interviewer at the game of trying to "pin down impermanence." "There's no acceptance," Cohen said (paraphrased) "for that would imply there is something there, that exists, that is finite, to accept. It just is."

Our Endless, Numbered Days. Indeed.

Today I woke at peace, or some semblance for now. I feel more realistically paced than ever. Next time I tell someone about how my parents died and they do the thing, the only socially acceptable thing you really can say to someone who tells you a story like mine "That must have been so hard," or "I can't even imagine," I think I have a new answer.
"It is hard. Harder than hell. But I am learning to live with the pain, work with it, be with it, and that has made all the difference." Because it isn't my pain, not really. This manifestation of it is, for certain. The fact is, though, so obvious it feels funny to even call it a fact, that I've just had more direct, face-blown contact with the truth that is the same truth for all of us. No one gets out alive. We all die. Everything we have we will lose. Even now I say these things and my mind says "Yup. That's the truth," while my heart says "Um, but wait, what about your cats? Your cats will live forever, right?" Even for someone who has been made out of so much grief for so long, someone who, like many of us, "knows better," the truth takes far more in order to really be seen and any semblance of accepted than we can even begin to imagine.