Since selling my home nearly two years ago, I have been wandering. Of course I have had places to stay during these years, but I have been without my own den, which we burrowing animals very much need.

I felt, though, that I had to draw out this period of uprootedness until I found my bearings because, wherever it turned out that I was headed, I knew I would be staying there for a good while. Now, having at last found a new home for myself, I am just days away from escaping my current, and most difficult, living situation. Still, despite my eagerness to make tracks, I have some anxiety about what lies ahead.

When I am anxious in this way, sleep seems the best palliative, so yesterday afternoon I went to bed at around 4:30 and immediately fell into a deep, blank slumber — “blank” because I simply disappeared. Next I knew it was 8:30, and there was a faint morning light coming in through the blinds. I sat up with a start and realized I had only a half hour to get to my 9:00 am meeting.

In the windowless shower, I reflected on how strange it was that I had slept for 16 hours without once waking up. In fact, I could not remember ever having slept so deeply for so long. “I must be really anxious,” I thought. Minutes later, as I was getting dressed in my room, I noticed that it had gotten darker outside.



Hornet Stinger

If we live long enough, we come to realize we are at the mercy of an indifferent universe and can be dispatched to the netherworld at any time. Although I am afraid of what lies ahead in the land of the unliving and so am reluctant to take risks when braving the elements, I also feel a deep reverence for the natural world, of which I am aware I am less than a speck of a part.

I am somewhat ashamed that the love I feel for Mother Nature does not extend to the world of insects, though even when I am alarmed or threatened by a flying or a crawling creature who has found its way into my house, I will go out of my way to capture it in a jar and to put it outside in the hope that this act of mercy will somehow nullify my cowardice — at least in the eyes of God.

I had been especially afraid of getting stung by a bee or by a yellow jacket, wasp, and other brethren, but somehow I had managed to avoid it. Still, if you go your whole life with nary a sting, chances are your number will one day be called. Yesterday my number was indeed called by a certain hornet that had found its way into (or that was trying to climb its way out of) my ankle boot. And let me just say that the only things more painful than getting stung by a hornet are having your baby delivered with a forceps and having your doctor give you an episiotomy without first administering a local anesthetic.

I was sitting in a chair, and I had one leg crossed over the other. Suddenly I felt a searing pain and at first thought it was a result of the way I was sitting. I then changed my position, but the pain only spread and intensified. My next thought was that my ankle bone was somehow shattering or that a tendon was somehow tearing because I had no other frame of reference for what could be causing such pain.

Suddenly I saw the thing crawling out over the top of my boot, and I screamed. Fortunately, I was with friends who seemed to know a good deal about these little assholes, and in no time the hornet had been identified as such and had been whacked to death with someone’s shoe. Soon, homeopathic spray appeared, followed by cooling gel and a paste of water and baking soda. Really I was in shock, though, and was outraged that I had been violated in this way. All day and into the night the pain did not diminish for one moment, and I wanted to stop everyone I saw so I could tell them I had been stung by a hornet. You would have thought nothing worse had ever happened to me — or to anyone else for that matter.


You’re breaking up with me question mark

Recently I read that using punctuation in a text might suggest that I am untrustworthy because it shows a lack of spontaneity and sincerity. Although being literate down to the last comma is etched into my DNA, I understand why literacy has become suspect. It appears that ever since electronic contact has all but replaced what was once considered genuine human contact, we have abandoned old-fashioned rules about written communication and have replaced them with new, and confusing, rules for writing intimacy.

Nothing brings home this point about the confusing transition to new relationship rules more poignantly than the Sprint commercial made popular a number of years ago, in which a young man and woman are sitting across from one another in a restaurant booth—both holding their cell phones—when the following takes place:

“I just got a text from you that you’re breaking up with me,” he says, looking up, incredulous, from his phone.

“Don’t worry about that, ” she tells him. “I switched to [the] Sprint $69.99 plan, so I wasn’t charged extra,” after which he receives an alert on his phone and again looks up, aghast, at his soon-to-be ex.

“Okay,” he tells her, “I just got your break-up email.”

“Emails are unlimited, too,” she says, this time with a big smile on her face. “And look,” she adds as she shows him her phone. “I just changed my Facebook status to ‘single.'”

Never mind that she is a sociopath incapable of feeling empathy. What we need to understand is that she is no less a victim, albeit a symbolic one, of our mass alienation from ourselves and from each other than are the more sensitive among us.

When I reflect on the faux intimacy of the twenty-first century relationship, I understand why the rules of written communication need to change. In the throes of a breakup, the rejected partner in the commercial is certainly not in any shape to consider whether he should use a series comma or should put a question mark at the end of his sentence. And taking the time to do so might send the message, figuratively and literally, that he feels less shocked and hurt than he has every right to feel.

Although until now I have resolutely followed the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage whenever I have sent an email or a text to friends and companions, I feel an emerging, and surprising, discomfort about doing it because on a visceral level I have begun to understand that, in person, one would never scream, “Don’t be an a**hole exclamation point” at one’s partner or whisper, “I want you semicolon do you want me question mark” into an intimate’s ear.


February 14, 2016

follow your heart:


“It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation….Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances.”

Letters to a Young Poet (#7) by Ranier Maria Rilke

The personal is political.

Generally, I do not write about politics, but my often deeply personal writing is always deeply political, if by “political” one means rooted in larger forces, both seen and unseen. That is to say I am incapable of separating who I am, what I believe, and what I have lived from the historical, social, economic, and cultural influences that have shaped me.

As a young girl and then as a grown woman, I suffered considerable emotional, sexual, and physical abuse — perpetrated, also, by a few doctors. Yet, while it is true that I have been badly wounded by these abuses, my deepest scars come from the violence my soul has had to endure. Those who are violent, even (or perhaps especially) if it is emotional violence they inflict, are incapable of seeing the humanity that animates their victims, and they lack the capacity for self-awareness and self-honesty that would enable them to do so. How else could they justify the pain they cause?

I grew up in an extended family of arrogant, self-deluded, cruel misogynists; even the women hated women (or, more precisely, they hated themselves). So when I listen to Donald Trump speak hatefully and cruelly about women — and speak grandiosely and with high regard about himself — I have to admit that I feel right at home. Although he is as much a victim of history and culture as my family is and was, he nevertheless is a bankrupt and soulless human being who, if elected president, God forbid, would have me waxing nostalgic about those very dark Reagan and Bush years. And, while I am as left of left as they come, last night I was giddy to learn of Ted Cruz’s victory in Iowa because perhaps it means that Trump will soon be down for the count — though Cruz is only slightly less reprehensible than his rival.



“How’s your Spanish?” Alan Rickman’s Jamie asks Juliet Stevenson’s Nina in Truly, Madly, Deeply. What follows is one of the most poignant scenes ever captured on film, in which Rickman recites a section of the Pablo Neruda poem, “La Muerta.”

When I first saw the movie in 1990, I was alone in the theater (it was a weekday matinée and I was playing hooky from somewhere). It was a good thing I was on my own, though, since I wept so openly and so unashamedly throughout the entire movie that I am sure I would have alarmed anyone sitting nearby. Since then, I have seen the film many times, and each time I have cried until my eyes were nearly swollen shut.

Alan Rickman - Truly Madly Deeply poem

It is the finest film I know about grieving, and, while the screenplay is superb, it is the acting that sets it apart. Stevenson’s work is sublime, but here I wish to say something about Alan Rickman, who died yesterday at 69 of cancer. An extraordinarily gifted actor, he had the capacity to find in himself, and share, a very deep humanity.

In his role as Jamie, he plays a ghost who returns to his beloved so he can somehow lessen her outsized grief. It is no easy task to persuade an audience that you have come back from the dead to comfort your stricken lover, but Rickman manages to infuse his character with such deep feeling that I could not help but believe absolutely that he was as real, as vulnerable, and as flawed as I was.

If only he could return to us one more time with a few words of comfort while we mourn his very great loss.

Image credit

(For a Spanish/English version of Neruda’s “La Muerta,” click here.)

What blogging has taught me etcetera


Four years ago, when I started my blog ruminationville, the word “blogger” was often used to disparage someone who either had limited writing skill or who thought more highly of his or her skill, personal magnetism, and importance than others might have done.

While the term still manages to purse some lips (as in “She’s not a writer; she’s just a blah-gger.”), and while a needless blog is born just about every second, I’m not much taunted by the negative connotations the word can conjure.

Starting a blog (and then having to call up enough discipline to maintain it week after week) has given me more moxie than I could have imagined for myself. Whereas before I couldn’t even see myself writing for an online audience of one, now I think along these lines: Come one, come all. Read me or don’t read me. Follow me, don’t follow me, or unfollow me. Like me or don’t like me. Just don’t land on this wobbly little planet of me looking to make a bit of stupid trouble. I’m shy and yielding, yes. That’s my nature. But when it comes to stupid trouble, I can be fierce.

So, what have I learned while I’ve been blogging? These things:

  1. People in this BuzzFeed era have become accustomed to headlines that seduce and alarm (as in “This One Ridiculously Crazy Idea Will Scare the Holy Bejesus Out of You!”), but I won’t write a ridiculously shocking headline unless I have something ridiculously shocking to say, which so far is never.
  2. In this age of online news-bite consumptionism, people have come to adore lists. I have come to adore lists, and I can be drawn to an article that promises I will discover the meaning of life if I follow six simple steps.
  3. Still, I try and stay away from giving easy, empty, unlived advice.
  4. I have absolutely no way of knowing, or predicting, if what I have written will appeal to readers. I can post something I think no one will find interesting, and my “like” stars will light up like tiny, pointy Christmas bulbs. Or, I can post something I am certain everyone will think is pure genius, and the only response I will get is nothing.


Turning four

number four

I’m not good at making resolutions. If they involve a bleak self-denial, such as when I try and say no to a food group, or if they require an inner tamping down, such as when I try and say stop to a pining, something from down deep rises up and digs in—leaving me starved for the very thing I think I should deny myself. Really, I find it’s best to pretend there is no hunger at all and to go about my business as if I were able to manage myself.

Still, it is a new year, and I feel obliged to reflect on the past 12 months. This has always been true of me during January, at least since I have been an adult, but as I get older it is even more crucial to consider who I have been during the previous year and who I will be bringing into the new year—these two seeming so much more important, in fact, than what I might, or might not, have accomplished. Accomplishments, like bones, fall to dust, and in the end who is going to care about what I have written here? I’m not even certain if I care about what I have written here.

Yet something in me does care about the fact that, in a week’s time, ruminationville will turn four, and I cannot help but ask myself what I have to show for these years. Certainly I could count the number of posts, or poems, or photographs, or movie reviews, or comments, or likes, or absences of likes. But there is such emptiness in this kind of exercise, and I have come to the end of my own emptinesses.

What cheers me now is the knowledge that I have all along tried to be genuine with you and that I have allowed you to see who I am, and who I love, if only a small bit. Nothing else much matters.


winter upon us

winter upon us

Shook elms lining the sloped

edges of a pitted road drop

their dying leaves while

Simon with Sam heave-ho

the grounded ones then

threaten each other with

pellets and rope.

Somewhere above the

yellow-brown heaps,

one songbird calls to

a white-winged friend:


and feeds her slick babies

black beetles and yarn.

What was once

dark was gray

after became hope

wanting to wind

its way down

to the ankles of

Carlisle Mountain

and lap at the feet

of the widow who

longed for that fat

girl Sanne to return

home and lie about.

Crossing over

boats on calm waterJust now I was rereading a beautifully written short essay from one of my more bashful students. In it, he writes of his connection to the Chesapeake Bay—a mighty body of water that ebbs and flows across six states, including Virginia and Maryland—and then goes on to use the image of ebbing and flowing as a way of describing his inner state.

While reading the essay, I saw before me an image of a man I had known only from a photograph. I cannot say why he appeared, since I had not thought about him for many years, and I cannot tell you the reason he was sent. I can say, though, that he had been the handsome amante of my friend Mary and that he had died one night of cirrhosis.

At first, she did not know of his alcoholism because he had been able to stop drinking for a while and because they lived countries apart—he in Mexico and she in the United States. An intellectual who frequented a university where she had gone to study Spanish and Mexican literature, he saw her one day in the school’s cafeteria and, no doubt because of her beauty, made a beeline and struck up a sexy conversation. Soon after, they fell in love and carried on their long-distance romance until his sudden and tragic death.

For reasons I do not understand entirely, her romance with him and with Mexico marked the beginning of my love affair with Mexico, in particular, and with Latin America, in general. My second husband, now an ex-husband, is from Bolivia and, like Mary’s departed lover, is an intellectual (or somewhat so) and an alcoholic—this last a fact I discovered only after we were married. Perhaps somewhere within and down low, though, I knew from the start that he was in trouble.

Alcoholism, or at the least heavy drinking, has flowed through my family for generations: grandfather, mother, father, brother. So embedded in my sense memory is the boozy stink of my lost mother and the liquored-up reek of my lost husband that I, myself, cannot even bear to smell hard liquor, especially scotch, much less drink it. Sometimes, however, I will drink a glass of Pinot Grigio or Prosecco and usually will enjoy it well enough. Also, Mary and I are no longer friends.