Monday, August 13, 2018

How it really is


Somebody who knows a bit about our lives said recently on Instagram: You are so calm.

But real life is not for Instagram. On Instagram life is perfect.

It has been wet. Very wet. And if we sit outside in the evenings we are well sprayed against the striped invasive mosquitoes. August is their voracious peak. The garden is lush and wild. Katydids, cicadas, and the first crickets accompany dinner.

Inbetween time-consuming apartment hunting (we have not found the right one yet, and yes, I am nervous), book-related event-planning (book party on August 21st), and plain old work, I pot up in-ground plants for this plant adoption party I have dreamed up.

But don't ask me when that will be.

In fact, don't ask me anything. I wake every morning with dread in the pit of my stomach. News from home is bad, my brothers are on the warpath, Vince and I have no idea where we are going to live. I am not a self pitying person, but 2018 seems to have birthed a wave of the worst of human behaviour, in terms of our personal lives. Malice, resentment, an absolute lack of ethical integrity. A black depression grips my heels and pulls me back. I say it out loud because I now feel it's better to say it than pretend it is not happening. There are days when I am felled.

In many ways, we lead privileged lives. As my father would say. This year far worse things have happened to friends. Cancer diagnoses. Death by home invasion. Death too young. Real suffering.

And for me there are points of light. The Frenchman, who is an incredible human being, with a backbone of solid integrity. Perhaps that is all that matters. There is my new book. I like it. I know that must sound strange, but you never know. There is my publishing team at Chelsea Green - very good, supportive people. There are the early, generous reviews, written by authors and editors who have very busy and successful lives, but who took the time to be kind. Time is the one thing none of us have, anymore. There is our wonderful little car, who (of course we have anthropomorphised her) has given us wings. There is Vince's wing - after years on the ground, he is taking to the paragliding skies, once more. There is humor. We can be very silly, and we laugh.

There are books, as essential to me as air. I have been reading my way through Michael Ondaatje's work, sequentially, beginning about three weeks before his Golden Man Booker Prize was announced for The English Patient, a book I have read several times. I began backwards with his new Warlight, and then started at the beginning. On a back page in each book I track in pencil his patterns. Dogs (almost always funny dogs), bird song, war, tunnels and holes and caves, the female voice, the creation of a person's character. Books have removed me from or returned me to myself at every stage of my life, and in times of crisis they are a lifeline. Half an hour before bed, I read, and mute the demons who threaten sleep, and who have stolen peace of mind.

There are friends, to whom I do not reach out - or give - often enough. They are all better and smarter than I am.

Which reminds me of my father's neurologist, a few years ago. I went to see him with my mom. He said rhetorically, with a smirk, "Your father likes to be the smartest person in the room, doesn't he?" Any respect I was prepared to have for this man, this brain doctor, dried up on the spot. One, that he would find it necessary to say this. It revealed far more about him than it did about my father. Two, that he was wrong. And so bad at reading a personality. This neurologist. Who never had the guts to say to my father's face: You have dementia. Because even then, my father was an intimidating man. So my father, who scorned computers and consequently Google, had no time - no reason - to plan for catastrophe. And now the sharks are circling. He had rejected a first, honest, diagnosis from another neurologist, and Dr. Second Opinion lacked the cojones to tell him the unambiguous truth. "To spare him the shock," he said. Sure. Wuss. Same guy laughed out loud when I asked him if he could recommend any local support groups for my mom. He thought that was very funny.

My father hated being the smartest person in the room. Because it was boring. He spoke with such admiration - almost a sense of wonder - of the marvelous brains of a handful of good friends. He loved a good brain. And he liked to listen.

So home - here and abroad - feels lost to me. My sense of identity is in crisis. And the toxic guy who lives upstairs, does not work, and sleeps till 3pm to smoke weed, is pounding music as I type. (Upside: Maybe when we move we can retire the noise canceling headphones and three (yep) white and pink - yes, it's a thing - noise machines.)

And none of this belongs on a blog. But if I do not wave, I might drown.

We will return to regular programming. Sometime.

50 comments:

  1. Hard to explain how it's possible to care about a writer you have never met but whose blog you've read for years. I'll just say I think it's good you wrote this ...

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  2. This summer has been awful for us, for almost the same reasons as for you, though we are not looking for a place to live, but we were not able to stay at our adored summer home this year and it has put both my husband and myself in a terrible funk. We also had severe family problems on both sides of our family, though luckily, both of our daughters and all of our grandchildren are as lovely as ever. Then yesterday, my husband woke up deaf in one ear, just out of the blue. I can't wait until fall and hope all will be well. I love watching each new garden you have develop into something beautiful and bountiful. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

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    1. I am sorry to hear it. I hope fall brings better things. Thank you.

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    2. Did you get him an MRI? My grandfather had the same thing happen and it turned out he'd had a small stroke. Don't wait.

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  3. Oh, Marie. And Vince...
    How I wish we could fold you into the peaceful embrace of our "bit of earth" here in Vermont... for an escape from your current reality. You could get to know Wilma and Corazón. You could wander the fields and woods to see what you could forage. You could flop into the hammock to read or snooze or gaze at the view. The quiet might keep you awake at night and the dark sky, spangled with the Milky Way, could be such a respite. You could wander just down the road to sit at our local brewery and sip
    whatever is on tap. We would feed you the simplest of foods, because, well, I might be just a tad intimidated...
    Clearly you are immersed in so many things. Just know that you are welcome here. Anytime.
    Just ask.
    Sending you hope and comfort from the Green Mountain State,
    KarenLR

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    1. Karen, thank you so much. Kitty therapy and the Milky Way and the green hills, it all sounds so good. xxx

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  4. We are all human, and somedays, we are all the more so. Despite this being a summer of community and connection with all things political, I feel more lonely than ever. Your pictures and your book make it all a bit less so.

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  5. You are dealing with a lot. Thank you for sharing it... and not bottling up too much. We are all connected far more than we know. You bring such joy and beauty to all who know or read you. Sending thoughts and love to you and your loved ones.

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  6. Sterkte, Marie

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  7. You have a way of communicating directly from your heart, and I'm glad you wrote this. Your words pull me in, even though you're writing about an intensely personal situation. Thinking about you and hoping your days get calmer and brighter.

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    1. Thank you, Diane - I still miss your writing.

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  8. Thank you for your honesty. It's easy to forget that your Instagram life is not reality. But your Instagram life does help us forget for a moment or two our realty. So Know that prayers and kind words are being sent to you now. And hopefully soon the waters will calm... writing is the best of catharses and it is much appreciated.

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  9. Dear Marie, from a remote continent I have read for years, I love your blog, I live with you the Calvary Moves. It was my first thought: envy. For your gardens, your books, your blog. We are people, all kinds. Therefore, for the miracle garden, my heart breaks, but I can create new miracles. Strength, endurance to it!

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  10. My backbone is at your service. Still, a roof will be nice. We can do this.

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    1. xxxxx

      They just started demolishing Rose's house next door. Drill-drill-drill-hammer-hammer-drill.

      So it's not all bad.

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  11. Marie, I love your blog, most especially your honesty with sense of humor. I'd like to blame all our ills on the current President, and I will continue to do so as much as I can, but I think as we get older, life in many ways gets more difficult. Hopefully, you'll find a new home soon - get settled in - and then perhaps a trip to visit mom and dad. Stay well

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    1. Cheeto in Chief. I know... And of course things change as people age and seldom in good way, at least physically. So you are right. But we can be good to one another. And I think it floors me when people choose to behave badly. Thank you very much for the good wishes.

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  12. I'm so sorry, Marie...dealing with an ill parent is not easy, that's for sure. My dad just passed away in June after a 10 year illness...at the end he was in very bad shape and we were praying for a quick end to his suffering. But I miss him every single day. Sending you hugs from the Catskills. xo

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    1. It would be better if I was there; from here I can so little, and that is 3/4's of the problem.

      I am very sorry about your dad. Hugs back to the Catskills.

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  13. Oh, Marie, so much to deal with! I think you have good coping strategies. I'm sorry the neurologists are so obnoxious; God knows they deal with a lot of dementia; one would think THEY had better coping strategies. I'm sure there are lots of support groups; I think if you contact the Alzheimer's Association they can get you plugged in. Be strong, keep reading and potting.

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    1. I have done what I can. My mom does not like to talk about it with anyone. xx

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  14. For what it's worth: one of the things I like least about IG is the personas folks put forward. These perfect lives, full of time to do everything; to explore their every passion, and succeed at all of them. Bullshit. The ones who flat-out lie about it are the worst. "How do you have time to do All of The Things?" "Well, I manage my time well. For example, if I'm waiting at the DMV or stuck in traffic, I work on carving spoons." Ick. Unfollowed. Perhaps a better way of saying it: there are ups, there are downs, and it would be nice if folks shared both (when willing) so we can all both strive for new heights, and know how to cope when we don't reach them, even if all that means is understanding that you're not the only one who doesn't have it all figured out. Stay strong.

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    1. Thank you so much, and I've really enjoyed your IG feed! (Maybe I should try carving spoons.)

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  15. Thank you for sharing, I'm sure you have helped a lot of people with this post. We are all struggling with something and I think being mum about it only makes people feel more alone.
    The English Patient is my favorite movie, can't believe I haven't read the book! I am adding that to my list. And you have one of my favorite books quoted-The Count of Monte Cristo. I meant to reread that this summer but that didn't happen.
    Hang in there. You have a lot on your plate, and having to move...ugh. And this horrid weather can't be helping!

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    1. Jennifer - I adore the movie, too. The first time I saw it I just sat there afterwards, bawling. The book of course contains all of the movie, but there is another dimension that the film did not address at all - a Sikh character, who is wonderful.

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  16. Over here in Australia I cannot help, except to say your blog is one I follow and I am caring about your feelings right now. If my mother was alive she’d tell you ‘it’ll be alright in the end’. And it will be. Virtual hug from me.

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    1. Thank you, Sally. I think it is the mother's right and duty to say that, of course. But it is not something I even remotely believe. It is frequently not alright, in the end. But hugs matter more than anything xox

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  17. So sorry you are having to go through this. Like many others, I have read your blog for years and always it has made me happy. And like the others, wish I could wave a wand and make it disappear, or help somehow. Can only offer sincere best wishes for you in this difficult time. Stay strong.

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  18. When my father was dying many years ago--the worst of it was my brother and his greed. I got more warmth, help and understanding from the handyman who was helping me empty the house. I am ever thankful for that man--he never said a word about me wearing pajamas for four days in a row and not combing my hair. I can't imagine how you suffer each day with the noise.

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    1. I am sorry, Joanne. Handyman sounds like a good guy. (The noise is not everyday, it comes in spurts, but the malice that sometimes accompanies it is disturbing.)

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  19. Thank you so much for your candor. It’s easy to read your blog and assume you float languidly along, noticing beautiful things and eating divine food with the even more divine Frenchman. But of course the reality is so much more complicated. Best of luck in this difficult season of life and for a brighter (or at least quieter) future.

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    1. Ha, yes, not much languid floating, actually. It's the beauty in moments that gets me to the next moment. Thank you.

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  20. Just sending you both my good wishes.
    Having ill-prepared in-denial parents (mine pretended nothing could happen to them till they were at least hundred) across the continent and an ocean has been brutal to my heart, and to all of our well being. I am a split person. Life here is lovely, home, garden, husband, cat, job. But any thoughts on what I should or could do to help fix things over there lead right into confusion, fear, despair and sleeplessness. I have to wall that off, otherwise can’t function; this feels unhealthy too. Specially since we have to wall off huge chunks of political events and discourse too.
    Wishing you (and us all) also continued love, courage, patience, good health and a big dose of luck.
    -Natasha
    (So glad to hear about Vince flying. One of his flying stories was maybe the only other time I commented on your blogs, even though our lives parallel in many ways. Much love to you both.)

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    1. I understand what you are saying and experiencing, so well. And about walling off. And luck! So much is determined by rather random events. Wishing you good things and some peace, too.

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  21. Life does "happen" and moves along. It's unfortunately not stagnant and does not remain still on the best moments in life. I wish it did. Sorry for the unprofessional behavior shown by your father's neurologist. There are "good" and not so good health care providers. In life we age if we are lucky enough to reach this point, sometimes in ways we would not wish. Be encouraged and continue to enjoy those things that bring you joy and help such as reading, gardening, your husband, and other things. I appreciate anyone who chooses to share reality and truth in their blogging and that life is a process of often unknown outcomes.

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    1. I like the term "be encouraged..." Thank you.

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  22. You write from your heart and it show as does your love of gardening. I'm sorry you're dealing with family problems. The worst traits in people come out when someone is dying especially if money or property is involved. It has taken me a long time, but I finally came to a point where I realized it didn't really matter in the scheme of things. If my stepmother wanted to use her estate as a club that was her problem not mine.

    My husband has survived two stokes (due to Afib) and can walk and talk. We have each other, our cats, friends, a roof over our heads and a garden to plant (never as beautiful as yours). I hope you and the Frenchman weather the storm and find a place that soothes your souls. Bon chance!

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  23. There appears to be a species of doctors who can not and will know understand how to talk to women ... either about their family members and/or about answering questions directed to them from the woman about her health.

    Especially when that woman is not a fool and is asking pointed questions, expecting to get real answers.

    One would think the environment has changed for the better, but some old white men never will learn.

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  24. I'm a little late to this conversation and for that I apologize. I'm also sorry for what is going on in your personal life but stay strong. You will get through. The only bit of wisdom I offer is the fact that you and most of the people that read this blog are gardeners. That gift supports us in our perseverance that tomorrow will be better or at least bearable, no matter how many plants die or get eaten or are trampled or frozen in the winter or cooked in the summer. We cry, fuss, get angry and get on with it. Being an amateur gardener has seen me through death, fear, heartache, dementia and sometimes joy. My garden has seen my tears. It doesn't matter. I going to get up tomorrow morning and do it again. Whatever it is. And you will, too.

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  25. I usually check your blog once a week, and I really appreciate this glimpse of how you are dealing with senescing parents and vexing siblings. In a way, I wish you delved into this a bit more, though I realize it is sensitive and difficult. As for the neurologist: it’s amazing how unprofessional and insensitive doctors can be. May you find the strength, resolve, and inner peace to get through trying times.

    I’ve followed your blog for almost a decade having found it in a fit of homesickness for Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill after having moved away exactly 10 years ago this month. After I bought your first book, I actually went back and read the blog from the beginning. I still marvel at some of the memorable posts from relabeled chicken being sold past it’s original sell by date and getting the local butcher to make South African sausage to front gardens that caught your eye, the lovely harbor views and sunsets, and of course Estorbo and his kikoi. Because of a comment of yours, I started buying tuna packed in olive oil again, and I treat myself annually to an order of herbal soaps from the South African farm you mentioned.

    Over time, the tone of your blog did change a bit. I had wondered if impinging issues (you had mentioned once your father was ailing) had taken a toll, not to mention Brooklyn and NYC changing so rapidly with rapacious landlords and pell mell redevelopment. You have made all of your homes seem luminous and magical (not at all Insta-fake and glossy). Wherever you land, I feel sure the new home and garden - even if only a terrace or roof top - will be incredible. Hopefully you will be able to have a new four legged companion as well.

    By the way, ages ago I asked you a few times about the fate of an edgeworthia you included in a client planting. Last summer I finally gave in and added one to my own foundation planting. It survived the last winter but lost its buds. Maybe next year will be better!

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    1. Thank you so much, Klaus. You have followed along on a lot of adventures! My blog has changed, I know, especially as I have less time, and also as I tend to be less personal, in some ways. There is no explaining the family situation publicly although it is sometimes very tempting.

      Remind me where you live, now? I hope the edgewarthia blooms next year. They seemed to do quite well locally, this pre-spring.

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  26. Wow. You are in the heart of the forge, having such a challenging year. Hold on to your joy in your new book. May I recommend, as escape hatches, the 2005 Kate Bush album Aerial, for it's birdsong and stunning aural landscapes, and the book A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, for its alchemical, well-written, escapism for grownups.

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  27. Marie, I’m catching up on blogs this hot Labor Day weekend. You always bring a poetic perspective to whatever you are writing, whether serious or joyous. It is part of how you cope and we see our own humanity in it. I hope the move is going well!

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  28. Dear Marie. How does it work that so many traumatic things happen all at once: a parent getting older, death by home invasion, illness, moving...? I'm not surprised that you are feeling sad & depressed. Please know that you are not alone & that your post & your blog is such an inspiration to so many to keep going. Most of us are just to ashamed to admit that we are drowning.

    Your magic is not lost. Well done on your book & for doing what you are doing. I also love the idea of a plant adoption party (so clever!).

    I do believe in seasons & I trust & pray that your next season will be full of blessings - including an amazing place to stay. xxx

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