Friday, August 1, 2014


I was just reading through The Sheila Variations (see my blog list) and there's a list of "My Obsessions." What fun! I decided immediately to post a list of my own.

There is nothing in the world so enjoyable as a thorough-going
monomania. -- Agnes Repplier

Barb's Obsessions

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll's, specifically)


John Tenniel's original illustrations of Alice in Wonderland


Native American Storyteller Dolls

Vane/Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


One of Mark Twain's curmudgeonly snippets of wisdom says "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." From this sort of outlook, I have developed an avoidance for most things that are extremely popular. Books that everyone is reading, the movie that the cute people discuss in the break room, the TV show that people rearrange their schedules to see - are usually ignored.

Certainly there are instances when I regret it. Recently, I picked up my copy of Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) and began to read it. I came all too quickly to the end, asking myself "Why did I wait so long to read this book?" While I asked, I knew that it was because it was one of those books, the bestseller books, which can be life changing or merely attractive.

Several people have asked me over the past few years if I have read Jodi Picoult's book, House Rules. That is all it takes for me to mentally wave a book aside. At the same time, I had read Picoult's Plain Truth and regard her work with a wary respect. Something about that novel suggested mainstream, lightweight fiction but packed an unexpected punch in its starkly honest characterization.

At work one day, I had asked about the many charitable endeavors embraced by the organization, and asked if a Walk Now event for Autism Speaks might be considered for support. I mentioned that my boys and I usually do the Walk and the director with whom I was speaking offered to lend me House Rules, which is about a woman and her son with Aspergers Syndrome and her son without it.

So far I have read two chapters with more pain than enjoyment. The second chapter, written from the perspective of the younger, neurotypical brother is the one where I left off, that I picked up last night when I went to the Y. My boys had been home for the day on spring break and immediately after I got home began to squabble over an online video game. The younger son, who has Aspergers, slapped at his brother. The elder, more than twice the size of his younger brother, pushed him so that he fell off his seat. The younger then picked up the remainder of his milk and threw it on his older brother, who for reasons unknown had both of the comforters from their beds wrapped around him.

Writing it now, it sounds like a small thing. Taken in the context of a long day at work, in which I had forgotten to take my own antidepressant before work and had just taken it when I got home; the younger son (with Aspergers) had avoided taking his meds; the house is in a greater state of deshabille than usual, as I am ripping out the living and dining rooms, and the ongoing financial pressures of being a single mom... I was ready to ship the kids off somewhere. Their dad's is not an option.

So, I get to the Y with one of the boys, and climb on the Arc Trainer, more than usually ready to berate myself for having gained weight again this year. And I read:

But I'm not allowed to say my life would be easier without [my brother who
has Aspergers] around. I'm not even allowed to think it. It's
another one of those unwritten house rules.

And I think of my two boys and I wonder what are the unwritten house rules that they have learned. While I am wondering, I look up and see that the older son who is very overweight is on a treadmill and he is rolling over the sides of his Converse high tops. He needs better sneakers for working out. I remember working in the pediatric doctor's office a few years ago, and there being a boy who hung himself in his bedroom when he was sent away from the dinner table for some misbehavior (I have often wondered, I don't know why, if the boy had undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome). I think about the need to have them in some kind of structured environment after school, and the fact that I can't afford it. I can't afford sneakers for the son on the treadmill but will have to find a way. I don't know what the future will hold for my son who has Asperger's. I don't want to think about my own future, with a broken marriage to a drug addict with pre-existing mental illness of one form or another.

With some effort, I was able to subdue the anxiety attack and the incipient weeping, grateful that the gasping for breath was perfectly normal for the arc trainer workout. The new rules that I have for myself don't include a prohibition on crying, but limits on it. Crying never changed anything, and looking for sympathy is addictive, and pathetic.

The boys are watching TV right now. New rules, or new practices in this house are going to include more household chores that they can do to contribute to keeping the household going and to use some of their energy. I will keep reading House Rules for now, hoping that before long I will come to the redemptive qualities that sustained me through the violence of Water for Elephants. If they don't surface, I will put it aside.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Last summer, a friend who was moving lent me (and eventually told me to keep) his copy of The Essential Rumi. I was interested enough to figure I would read it one day. There's a pattern in my relationship with books: I acquire or become aware of one, and let it sit. One day it occurs to me to read the book.

The longest time between purchase and reading, so far, is about 10 years. I had bought Beat Not the Bones, by Charlotte Jay, from the Quality Paperback Book club. It had the combined lure of being a mystery, and being about an anthrolopologist. My first attempt found it too dry, and it survived four home moves in a box before I rediscovered it. And loved it.

Wise, interesting friends have posted snippets of Rumi, on Twitter and on other sites that I frequent. Finally, today, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read. As is so often the case, the book came into my hand precisely when I was ready for it. Rumi wrote on "the howling necessity" and finally I understand, this tendency to do what needs to be done but to bitch and moan the whole way (as a very loving friend has put it).

Cry out! Don't be stolid and silent
with your pain. Lament! And let the milk
of loving flow into you.
This year, the past few years, I have been on a journey of loving. Committed to one form of love, in which I have worked at a friendship with my exhusband, for the benefit of our children and for his growth as well as my own. I have loved someone else, too, who is not part of my life - loved enough to be willing to learn to love myself better. I have changed because of this love, regardless of its outcome, so it is real. That simple statement comes of many months of struggling with blaming myself for things not going as I'd hoped, living with the tendency I've had all my life to mock myself for imagining something good would come. I am come through that darkness to a place where I can see how much I have grown.

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming
through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don't try to end it.
Be your note.
I'll show you how it's enough.

[Rumi, from "Each Note"]

It happens far too often to be a coincidence, that a book I finally read is exactly on topic for the personal journey I have been taking. I don't know if some phrase from the cover blurb hides out in the subconscious and prompts the mind at just the right time, or if it is a prompting of the Holy Spirit (reading Marianne Williamson's reflections on A Course in Miracles has given me a much higher comfort level with speaking of the Spirit). The Tao puts it simply, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."

E.M. Forster wrote, "I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have gone ourselves." Rumi seems to have taken my paths much further, but comes back along them through his writing, to renew my hope and to point me to joy.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Thanks to Twitter's #haikuwordgame, I wrote a poem today. It's the first in quite some time. Energies seem to have been going to the daily grind, securing a new job (starts in ten days), doing the work of another group in the series at Women in Transition. The words for the word game today are brilliance, night and fragile. I attempted a haiku, then tried gogyohka and finally realized that the combination of words called up something I have finally processed through to its end and needed more room.

Writing through something is always healing. Maybe for a time I didn't want to be healed, I just clung stubbornly to a vision I had. In sharing this draft, I am also posting to this blog for the first time in five months. I would say that I'm ashamed, but I am not. Post-divorce changes, work, parenting and exploring writing in different forms all take time and energy. I commit, however, to posting regularly or to making the decision to close this blog.

Here is the draft (work property of the author):


At last, one night I spilled it all,
and your lips speaking what I spoke
and that kiss, they shocked me.
The brilliance stopped my breath.

You were aware of that, the sudden
suck of air and the fierce joy as you
paused, listening. And I wonder if it was
my intense response that turned you.

The months that followed have
served their own shock, your silence
a ban that speaks shame
into my mouth, where lips met, where

tongue greeted your gentle, testing
tongue, where a sigh took voice
as it rose. Maybe it was too much.
Maybe too much of me repels.

Months of self-delusion have turned me
from myself, as I found one memory
more real than the silence, less fragile
than your arm's grip of my hips. At last

I am able to remember myself without
an assumption of you. Less jubilant
but centered. No memory matters
more than this moment.