Sunday, August 02, 2015

Come, spread your arms

This shouldn't hurt so much

This shouldn't get to me. I'm hearing my therapist's voice in my head. We need to get you to a place where these things don't bother you, aren't important. You're in a beautiful place, your favorite place on earth. You spent yesterday in a boat out on the sea, saline splashing your face, grinning, with people you love. You cooked Lebanese food last night. You're loved. And yet, yesterday I got an email from my ex-boyfriend. It's been at least five months since I've heard a word, a squeak. He tells me, I didn't block you because I wanted to think you were dead. I didn't block you to hurt you, even though you think I did. I hope we can laugh about this. And then, I check on Twitter, as you do, and guess what? "You are blocked from following XXX and viewing XXX's tweets." What's that about, my friends?

Back from the boat tour, wind in my hair, a skip in my step, excited to cook, the whole of the bay filled with dark blue waves, Norwegian flags waving, sparkling eyes, and there it is, an email from him. And immediately the breath gets stuck in my throat, my heart starts to pound, I feel the anxiety creeping up my legs. I reply breezily. "All is well. Take care."  Even now, writing about it, I feel the adrenaline, the tears behind my eyes. I loved you, I think. You were lucky. I don't give it away lightly. Why are you trying to hurt me? Why can't you be kind? Are you really that damaged? Why are you trying to hurt me? 

You can do anything to me, I told him once. I am resilient. I bounce back. Just love me and I will do anything for you. But please, whatever you do, don't put me in coventry. I can't tell you why without sounding mawkish and wet and miserable, but don't do that, don't ignore me. It hurts me more than anything. It makes my heart jump into my throat, totally shuts me down, derails me. Do anything but that.

And he did that. Yes, that is who I loved. Someone who did that.

It's my last day here and I'm doing all the things I want to jam into the next year -- eating cardamom bolle with goat's cheese and painting watercolors of the view and listening to my favorite playlists, dealing rounds of patience, pulled out some smoked trout for lunch. I shall walk around the mountain, or further, with my favorite cousin and his clever, singing dog, and pick blueberries, and swim in the cold blue sea. And I will exorcise this. It will go away. But I had to share it. Forgive me. Forgive me.

Friday, July 31, 2015


It's around six in the morning and I'm at the kitchen table at the cottage in Tjøme, with the door open. Outside, a glorious sunrise, the clink of masts, magpies and seagulls, a calm blue sea. There is a blue cloth on the table, and I'm brewing tea -- not the bags, which don't seem to work, but proper Indian leaves, which we have to pour into cups slowly because we don't have a strainer. My mother left yesterday. This was the first night I've spent in the house alone.

There is fear and there is love. That is all.

I spent hours last night talking to my cousin, a woman who struggles with addiction. She is an artist in her heart and yet she does not find time to do her art. It's too hard to concentrate, too hard to be consistent, she doesn't want to be like anyone else, she has self-loathing. She is beautiful and bright and can't find her way.  I wake up thinking about "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.” -- Pressfield
 “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”-- Pressfield
 “Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don't do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself,. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got.” -- Pressfield
I lie to her. I tell her I write every day. I tell her I'm miserable if I don't. This part isn't a lie. But here at six in the morning, I realize this is how each day should start, in the sunshine, listening to the birds, with tea, my fingers on the keys of my laptop.

Yesterday's epic hike took us up the hill by Mågerø, through the pines and hundreds of small blueberry bushes, on a winding path, dotted with lingonberries and fallen trees and small puddles and rocky steps, and down again to the road, by way of a fjord pony and our favorite brown and white pigs, back through the woods. There were sheep and goats, a deer, some dogs, a few cats. It was the zoological tour of the island. It was the first time, we realized, that we three cousins, friends from childhood, had walked together. We laughed like children, spoke of trolls and witches, stained our hands and mouths with blueberries, splashed our legs in muddy puddles, had conversations with children, stood in awe in the middle of the forest where the light shone through. It's important to note these things: I had a distinct feeling of warm happiness, of feeling connected. These are my people, I thought, as they complained of their tiny family and then revealed stories of my grandfather's brothers -- an Artic explorer, a professional footballer, a javelin thrower -- all these people we didn't know existed until after my grandfather died. We found a mailbox with N-o-r-d-a-h-l written on the front and we all thought the same thing -- more long lost cousins. "People have reunions, sometimes with 50, 100, 150 family members, often twice a year" said my cousin. But we were walking in the woods together, the three of us, we odd three, and feeling like children again.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Norwegian woods

I could get used to this: powering through books while sitting on the wooden deck overlooking the bay, listening the waves, the clinking of the masts, the seagulls, the urgent Norwegian voices calling after their children, their dogs, the blue skies with the fairweather clouds, the rustling of the wind in the silver birches. The endless cups of tea on the blue tablecloths, and cardamom rolls stuffed with too few sultanas. The small, sweet, yellow plums. The relief of the sunshine after the heavy greyness of four days of rain. The hazelnut brown color my skin is turning; a shade I can never attain in LA because it's too hot.

And then the Norwegian woods.

The ground is soft from the rain, with a bed of moss and pine needles, dotted with blueberries. I never tire of looking up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


It's like a soul cleanse. I wish there were a better way to describe it using less woo-woo language, but that's how it feels. I'm on a small island -- about 12 miles long -- in the middle of the Oslofjord, a place I've come to for fifty years, a place that makes sense to me. In the small hours of the night wild geese flew over the roof; you could hear the powerful mechanics of their wings overhead. This is what it's like to be alive, I thought, planted smack in the middle of it all, on a rainy little island surrounded by blue-grey seas, nourished by wild strawberries and raspberries and sorrel and more kinds of wildflower than anywhere else in this long country. Thrown into its center, circled by sparrows and seagulls, spending grey mornings drinking strong tea the leaves floating on it as there isn't a strainer, playing cards, listening to Chopin's nocturnes, in a quiet, stillness.

I love the rain. It hammers us. It bathes the raspberries so that they shine an impossible cerise, brightens the leaves to a technicolor glow, makes your skin pink and puffy and healthy, your eyes more blue, your legs more eager to go forward, stride by stride. It inspires optimism, a big, fat, round world picture, not frayed or grey, but robust, bursting with ideas.

And you want to forgive. There is time to think about people you love or have loved, or people you should love. And all around, forgiveness. We do our best. Remember this. We all do our best. Inflicted pain is hardly ever intentional. "The days are more kind than unkind."

I am lucky. I come here to recharge. Sleep still eludes me still but I feel the anxiety washing away, my world expanding, the dots reconnecting, an ambling, gamboling, rambling, rollicking happiness that isn't so very far away any more.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Slow Dance

Some days I can go nearly an hour
without thinking of the taste
of your mouth. Right now, I'm at school
watching teenagers fidget through a test.
Outside, the sky is smoky and streets are wet
and two grackles step lightly in yellow grass.

Two weeks ago in Atlantic City
I stood on the boardwalk
and looked out across the water –
the railing was cool, broken shells
dappled the beach – I had been
playing the slot machines
and lost all but a dollar. I
tried to picture you in Paris,
learning the sound of your new country
where, at that moment, it was already night.

I thought maybe you'd be out
walking with the street lights
glossing your lips, with your eyes
deep as this field of water.
Maybe someone was looking at you
as you paused under the awning
of a bakery where the smell
of newly risen bread buttered the air.

I remember those suede boots
you wore to the party last December,
your clipped hair, your long arms
like the necks of swans. I remember
how seeing the shape of your mouth
that first time, I kept staring
until my blood turned to rain.

Some things take root
in the brain and just don't
let go. We went to
a movie once – I think
it was "The Dead" – and
near the end a woman
told a story about a boy
who used to sing: how, at 17,
she loved him, how that
same year he died. She
remembered late one night
looking out to the garden
and he was there calling her
with only the slow sound
in his eyes.

Missing someone is like hearing
a name sung quietly from somewhere
behind you. Even after you know
no one is there, you keep looking back
until on a silver afternoon like this
you find yourself breathing just enough
to make a small dent in the air.

Just now a student, an ivory-colored girl
whose nose crinkles when she laughs, asked me
if she could "go to the bathroom,"
and suddenly I knew I was old enough
to never ask that question again.

When I look back across my life,
I always see the schoolyard –
monkey-bars, gray asphalt, and one huge tree –
where I played the summer days into rags.
I didn't love anybody yet, except maybe
my parents who I loved mainly when they
left me alone. I used to have wet dreams
about a girl named Diane. She was a little
older than me. I wanted to kiss her so bad
that just walking pst her house
I would trip over nothing but the chance
that she'd be on the porch. Sometimes
she'd wear these cut-off jeans, and
a scar shaped like an acorn shone
above her knee. In some dreams I would
barely touch it, then explode. Once

in real life, at a party on Sharpnack Street
I asked her to dance a slow one with me.
The Delfonics were singing I'll never
hear the bells and, scared nearly blind,
I pulled her into the sleepy rhythm
where my body tried to explain.
But half-a-minute deep into the song
she broke my nervous grip and walked away –
she could tell I didn't know
what to do with my feet. I wonder
where she is now, and all those people
who saw me standing there
with the music filling my hands.

Woman, I miss you, and some afternoons
it's all right. I think of that lemon drink
you used to make and the stories –
about your grandmother, about the bees
that covered your house in Africa, the nights
of gunfire, and the massing of giant frogs
in the rain. I think about the first time
I put my arm around your shoulder. I think
of couscous and white tuna, that one lamp
blinking on and off by itself, and those plums
that would brood for days on the kitchen counter.

I remember holding you against the sink,
with the sun soaking the window, the soft call
of your hips, and the intricate flickers
of thought chiming your eyes. Your mouth,
like a Saturday. I remember your
long thighs, how they
opened on the sofa, and the pulse
of your cry when you came, and
sometimes I miss you
the way someone drowning
remembers the air.

I think about these students
in class this afternoon, itching
through this hour, their bodies new
to puberty, their brains streaked
with grammar – probably none of them
in love, how they listen to my voice
and believe my steady, adult face,
how they wish the school day would
hurry past, so they could start
spending their free time again, how
none of them really understands
what the clock is always teaching
about the way things disappear.

-- Tim Seibles


Friday, July 17, 2015


       Have you forgotten what we were like then
       when we were still first rate
       and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth
       it's no use worrying about Time
       but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
       and turned some sharp corners
       the whole pasture looked like our meal
       we didn't need speedometers
       we could manage cocktails out of ice and water
       I wouldn't want to be faster
       or greener than now if you were with me O you
       were the best of all my days
       -- Frank O'Hara [1950]

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

july 2014

(for jf, a year ago:) it's your hands i will miss the most, how you wore your watch high on your wrist, the way you held things you cared about, maybe not enough, but care was the word you used and you chose your words precisely, too scrupulously for me, in fact. i like the optimism of imprecision. i always looked at your hands for the truth.

Could it be magic?

Tjøme, 3am, July 5, 2013
As we get closer to the middle of July, we get closer to Norway and the magic island I've spent almost every summer since I was born. Its mythical status dwells in the heart of my brother and me, although my cousin and mother and aunt no doubt feel the same way but are less inclined to admit it. For them, it's a summer house, a summer place, for me it's long days and pink and white nights and warm rocks and picnics and wildflowers and magic. As a child, I would dream of bringing my dogs there, and still now that would be the only way to make it even more perfect. (The truth is, it often rains for days on end, with no let up, and there are slugs out en masse, and one can often wake up to a sea of orange brenn-manet (jelly fish) or the sea is far too cold to swim in, even for old Vikings like us). There are little pine beds with simple white cotton sheets and pale blue seersucker duvet covers. There are shelves of books - Somerset Maugham, Agatha Christie, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, the Brontes. There is the sound of the seagulls on the roof at three in the morning, spitting out cherry pits or digging through bags of shrimp carcasses we've accidentally left out the night before. There are picnics of hardboiled eggs and kaviar and shrimps and firkløver chocolate. There is a place on the other side of the island, near the world's end, with more kinds of wild flowers - vetches and daisies and orchids and tiny red raspberries - than anywhere else in Norway. There are endless pine woods and blueberries and tiny green lucky sorrel you can suck on for a refreshing sour taste in the middle of a walk. And it smells like saltwater and strawberries.