Music Monday | Here Comes The River – Patrick Watson

It was my birthday a few days ago. Birthdays in 2020 are something different, aren’t they? I am sheltering in place in a small apartment in the “covid capital” of Australia aka Melbourne. But thanks to our state Premier’s leadership, the Chief Health Officer’s medical expertise, and my fellow Victorians (largely) doing the right thing, our daily case numbers have reduced significantly from more than 700+ cases a day a few weeks ago, down to less than 50.

But this isn’t where I was supposed to be for my birthday. Earlier in the year, I booked annual leave for the next few weeks. I had planned to be in New England, traveling first before arriving in Maine for the Camden International Film Festival with a friend.

But 2020 looks nothing like the plan I made in January.

Instead, I spent my birthday here with G, before having to rush him back to the hospital when a pain in his hip prevented him from walking. Scans indicated another infection. The news of a temperature spike after a procedure to drain fluid from the infected joint whacked me back into mid-August when he developed sepsis after his first round of chemotherapy dictating that he spend weeks in ICU in a critical condition.

We lurch from crisis to crisis, barely recovering from the last before a new one begins, with the original cancer somehow just a low background hum. Tonight, his temperature has settled. He is being flooded with strong antibiotics. Fluid is being drained.

I knew the cancer treatment and chemotherapy was going to be intensive. But nobody told me that it was going to be this hard.

Nobody told you that it was going to be this hard
Something’s been building behind your eyes
You lost what you hold onto
You’re losing control
There ain’t any words in this world that are going to cure this pain
Sometimes it’s going to fall down on your shoulders
But you’re going to stand through it all

Here comes the river coming on strong
And you can’t keep your head above these troubled waters

Here comes the river over the flames

Sometimes you got to burn to keep the storm away

Today, there is also a bonus song; I played this song as part of a meditation last night to remind me to get up, always.

Music Monday | Stars – Ayla Nereo

Around us, a pandemic rages, but new daily cases are dwindling under the Stage Four restrictions. A curfew is in place from 8pm until 5am. This means you must be at your home between these hours unless you are working (with a permit), seeking medical care, or providing care.

It is fifteen minutes until curfew as I pull into the underground garage of my temporary home. The rain spatters on my roof and windscreen as the GPS announces my arrival. Although I’ve driven the same twelve kilometres twenty times this month to and from the hospital where my husband is critically ill, I still use the GPS to keep me company. I cannot stomach music.

During the day, you may only leave your home to exercise (for one hour maximum), to shop for necessities (one person per household, for one hour maximum), to work (if you can’t work from home and have an applicable permit), to seek medical care, or for compassionate reasons. You must stay within five kilometres of your residence.

Due to the nature of my husband’s illness, I am allowed to visit, provided I maintain full self-isolation. I do not work. I do not exercise. I do not shop for necessities. Some incredible friends are doing this on my behalf followed by a contactless delivery drop to minimise my exposure to the outside world. Anything that arrives gets doused in Glen20 (Lysol), spends five days in quarantine in the spare room, and is soaped or disinfected further upon opening.

When you leave home, you must wear a face covering unless you have a lawful reason not to.

I wear two; a particulate filter mask beneath a surgical or cloth mask. I do not know if this is safer. I just know it feels safer.

I leave my home only to drive to the hospital and sit by a bed on the days they allow it.

On the other days, I disinfect the apartment from top to bottom. Again. Just in case. But no-one comes in. And I do not go out. I phone a friend. I pace. I try to shake it out. I cannot sit still long enough to read. I cannot sit still long enough to write.

The adrenaline bath inside my body turns every abnormal event to terror. Is that tickle in my throat because I haven’t drunk enough water, or is it covid? Is that weird, red colour on my toes because I’ve been been sitting on them squished up on the couch, or is it covid? Is that shortness of breath, panic and palpitations anxiety, or is it covid?

I’ve had two covid tests. Both negative. And I’ve not been anywhere except the hospital and the apartment in three and a half weeks. I do not have covid. But I still feel like I should have another test. Again. Perhaps one every day. Just in case. 

My OCD  thoughts and behaviours are out of control. Something I’d once managed has rewired itself in this pandemic, found a new obsession. Gifted me new compulsions. Now, personal safety (my previous OCD focus) and contamination are the same thing. Now, I do not want to leave the haven of the apartment, except for the hospital. Now, I want to disinfect the entire place, again, just in case.

The government keeps reminding us to stay home, soap and sanitise, wear a mask. How do I know where the line is between normal precautions and compulsions? How do I know when I’ve crossed it?

I don’t.

But I am learning to just be as I am, by grace and devotion to let go, to just let it be.

Giraffes and The Mystery of Happiness

Many years ago, I took my then-boyfriend to the zoo for his birthday. It wasn’t just the zoo though. It was Roar and Snore, an overnight behind-the-scenes zoo experience. The Sydney skyline twinkled on the other side of the bay. Our evening began with crocodiles and crudites, as we shared a few drinks with the rest of the group who’d also committed their night to glamping in the middle of winter, while zookeepers paraded a series of small reptiles around us.

There was a night safari tour of the nocturnal animals including the big cats but my favourite part of the weekend was the private giraffe feeding, early the next morning before the zoo opened. I lined up, took the carrot the zookeeper gave me, and waited my turn.

I was so excited it was all I could do not to squeal. I have loved giraffes for as long as I can remember; when I was seven, I wrote a story about having a pet giraffe named Joe. As I approached the stall, the giraffe stretched his neck down to where I stood and wound his long purple tongue around the carrot I was holding.

Wait, what? Purple?!

Well, blue-ish purple.

I was 32 when I learned that giraffes have purple tongues (and no-one really knows why), a fact which still brings me exquisite joy today.

And so when a friend shared this poem with me a few years ago, it went immediately into my list of favourites. Bryony Littlefair uses the imagery of a giraffe beautifully and beguilingly as a euphemism for happiness but I also know that true happiness is feeding a giraffe.

GIRAFFE
by Bryony Littlefair

When you feel better from this — and you will — it will be quiet and unremarkable, like walking into the next room. It might sting a little, like warmth leaking into cold-numbed hands. When you feel better, it will be the slow clearing of static from the radio. It will be a film set when the director yells cut! When you feel better, you will take: a plastic spoon for your coffee foam, free chocolates from the gleaming oak reception desk, the bus on sunny days, your own sweet time. When you feel better, it will be like walking barefoot on cool, smooth planks of wood, still damp from last night’s rain. It will be the holy silence when the tap stops dripping. The moment a map finally starts to make sense. When you feel better, you will still suffer, but your sadness will be graspable, roadworthy, have handlebars. When you feel better, you will not always be happy, but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled: a giraffe.

Published by Popshot and in Bryony Littlefair’s winning entry in the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition, also titled Giraffe

Music Monday | Here With Me – Dido + a Bonus Track

It’s late. Monday is almost over and I’m trying to squeeze this in before midnight. I’d planned to do it earlier in the day but I’ve been sick, procrastinating, hoping I’d improve instead of getting worse.

In the early 1990s when Beverly Hills 90210 was released, my parents deemed it “inappropriate” television for me. There was sex *gasp*, drugs *the horror*, and domestic violence. While all my high school friends were following the lives of Brenda, Brandon, Dylan, Kelly, Donna, David, Steve and Andrea, I could only watch it in secret at friends’ houses, or listen to the stories around the school lunch table and try to piece together the episodes.

It may have seemed like “just a tv show” to my parents but not being allowed to watch it excluded me from fundamental group bonding between the ages of 12-17. I missed out on popular tv culture that not only provided entertainment, but that also dealt with some serious adolescent issues. Date rape. Eating disorders. Racism. Teenage pregnancy. Suicide. They may have been trying to protect me from the world but the world insisted on making itself known to me through direct experience, even if I hadn’t seen the preview.

Later, when I was living on my own in my late teens/early 20s, a new teenage drama began. I started watching it the first night it aired, not because of the show itself — it was on by accident — but because of the opening theme. The show, Roswell, didn’t last long, a few seasons only; sci-fi teen drama isn’t really a popular genre. But the opening credits rolled with a style of music I’d not heard before. An eerie swooning song, it captured my attention from the first bars. When Dido sang the opening lines, “I didn’t hear you leave, I wonder how am I still here, I don’t want to move a thing, it might change my memory,” I was swallowed whole, into their world.

Roswell wasn’t renewed for a fourth season but my attention was drawn by another show that was starting — The OC. I was married now but Ryan, Seth, Marissa and Summer were living the type of teenage experiences I’d missed out on. Except for the sexual assault. To this day, I don’t know many women who’ve avoided it completely. I inhaled all these shows; the characters with their complicated angst and their ability to act out their emotions so assuredly. The theme song for The OC had an entirely different impact on me; I longed for the seemingly simple, nostalgic American teenage years.

It took me years to realise I was always trying to be somebody else; to escape my own life for something else, somewhere else.

And it’s taken many more to build a life I no longer want to escape from.

Nostalgia

And in the distance
As barren hills are touched by black-tipped fingers
The fading light reminisces about the days it lingered
Over pots of tea with toast
Whispering sweet nothings to its only ghost.
Then the moon rolls across the inky sky
With a gut full of ache and his upside down smile
And he stops to rest in the furthest corner
Heaves in gasps as the solitary mourner
Closes his eyes just for a minute and
Imagines the days when he was thinner.

January 2013

Tribute

Warning: this post contains gratuitous Mary Oliver references and poems.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

Earlier this week, I posted two pictures on Instagram as part of the #10yearchallenge that is making its way around the interwebs. In the caption, I mentioned that I haven’t posted a selfie in a while because all I see are the same tired, empty eyes and the same strained smile as 10 years ago.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be this depressed. How nothing feels like anything and everything feels like nothing.

The difference, I said, between the two women was that one of them — thirty-year-old me — didn’t know she’d survive the depression she was in. And she didn’t want to. Forty-year-old me, on the other hand, knows that she can survive anything, and she will.

But I left something out. Something critical. There is also another major difference. Forty-year-old me has support that thirty-year-old me never had.

In late May 2014, I met G at a work conference. I flew out for the USA at the end of that week and, for the six weeks I was away, we somehow managed to find up to five hours a day to Skype. At one stage, while we were chatting, I was in a library, looking for a book of poetry.

“Poetry?” he repeated, as if I’d spoken another language (and perhaps I had).

“Yes,” I said. “Mary Oliver.”

I found what I was looking for and sent him a picture of the page. It was The Uses of Sorrow.

The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Mary Oliver

When I arrived back from my holiday, instead of going home to Sydney, I jumped on a flight to Melbourne. We needed to know if this thing we had developed and nurtured was Real. True. Lasting.

Picking me up at the airport, he gave me two gifts; a set of pens from my favourite stationery store, and a copy of Thirst by Mary Oliver, containing the poem I’d been searching for.

I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly

I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver died this week. She was 83. I cannot remember how I first came across her; which poem it was that struck me, in all the ways her poems have struck me since. But I have a number of her books, and read them when I need reminding how to be human.

Poets, I find, know this intrinsically. And I am still learning – how to be a poet, and how to be a human. Because being human; being gentle, kind, loving, compassionate, and patient in this world is hard. Knowing death comes for us all is hard. Feeling dark things is hard.

When Death Comes

When death comes like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me,
and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes like the measle-pox
when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver

Although Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1984, the National Book Award in 1995, wrote 15 books of poetry and essays and was described by the New York times as America’s best-selling poet, she was still largely criticised as being too simplistic, too accessible with her plain verse and lack of typographical gimmicks.

As if that’s a thing.

Where most people find poetry confusing and convoluted, never fully grasping what the poet is trying to say, Mary Oliver used the natural world, interior revelations and small, daily observances to reach the reader. In a radio interview, she said that “poetry wishes for a community”. She wanted her words to find us.

Tonight, G found me struggling with anxiety. It was a state I’d hoped he’d never see me in. Not there. Not like that. And while it must have been a shock for him, his compassion and gentleness in the face of it made all the difference. He doesn’t yet know how much he helped.

There are things other people can do for me right now, and there are things only I can do for myself.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

It is fair to say that Mary Oliver, much like Leonard Cohen, has shown me how to live. Her words speak to you directly, straightforwardly, kindly and earnestly.

In sixty-nine days, G and I will stand in front of our friends, say some lovely words to each other and commit to continue to nurture this incredible relationship. We both know what it is to be betrayed and it makes us all the more grateful for second chances, love, and joy.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Mary Oliver

tell me, what is it you plan to dowith your(1)

 

 

Music Monday | hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it – Lana Del Rey (Aaron Darc Remix)

Six days ago, Lana Del Rey released her newest song.

I’ve been tearing around in my fucking night gown 2/47 Sylvia Plath

It’s a sheer, luminous ballad with her perfect voice echoing in a wash over barely-there piano chords.

Writing in blood on the walls ’cause the ink in my pen don’t work in my notepad

The sparse, elegiac lyrics pierce the hard shell I require in place in order to function at the moment.

Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not but at best I can say I’m not sad

But they can’t crack it.

‘Cause hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman with my past

A friend remixed it into a deeper orchestral version with a percussion beat. A feeling of foreboding in the verses is emphasised by the addition of cuts from Marilyn Monroe’s last interview. A repeating piano melody makes melancholy look good.

‘Cause I’ve got monsters still under my bed that I could never fight off

This is the most extreme depression I’ve battled in some years. I am empty.

Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
But I have it

And yet, there is hope. Because history tells me it will pass.

 

If you want to listen to the original, here it is.