Monday, August 25, 2014

A Nod to Starry Night

Starry Night by Alex Ruiz...a tribute to The Starry Night by Van Gogh

Nod to Starry Night
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

In the mind or in the meadow,
we must find our starry night.
From the green hills to the ghetto,
we are moved to set things right.

Through the bars that block our windows,
past the cells our souls create,
we contest the way the wind blows,
brushing off the hands of fate.

Man is weak and prone to stumble.
Let the daylight count the cost.
But the moon will never tumble,
and the stars shall not be lost.

Sailing on a ship of crystal
or a van Gogh-ing to hell,
wrap that starry night around you
and believe that all is well.

∞§∞

The Starry Night was painted by Vincent Van Gogh in June of 1889. It is based on a view from the east window of his room at Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a mental institution. "Through the iron-barred window," he wrote to his brother, "I can see an enclosed square of wheat...above which, in the morning, I watch the sun rise in all its glory." In the end, however, Van Gogh opted for what he called a "night study" of the scene, one which he deemed a failure. "Once again," he wrote his friend Emile Bernard, "I have allowed myself to be led astray into reaching for stars that are too big..." Of course, time has proven Mr. Van Gogh to be considerabaly more successful in his efforts than he imagined. (Perhaps the stars are never too big for our reaching.)

Vincent van Gogh
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: The Joy and the Sadness


It's been a long time since I've felt irresistibly compelled to blog about something that's happened in the "real" world. My posting has slowed down considerably since my husband retired, and much of what I share is poetry at this point.

Having said that, today I hope to create some prose that somehow expresses my feelings about the death of Robin Williams. Experiencing such a visceral reaction to the passing of someone I don't even know surprises me, and I want to understand more about why I feel so personally bereaved. Clearly, I am not alone, because everywhere I look––both online and off––people are remembering him, talking about him, mourning him. I am mourning, too.

There was a joy about him, wasn't there? An irrepressibility of spirit that is rarely seen. It showed up in his comedy and in his acting, and it was carried in his eyes...kind eyes...eyes that twinkled both his joy and his suffering, often at the same time. In every close-up, you could see his humanity, his realness, his compassion...and he felt like your uncle, your father, your very close friend. There was a sweetness in his smile, one that transcended acting...or maybe I should say eclipsed it...because you could not look past the sense that he was every bit as kind and loving as he appeared. His unshuttered eyes were one of the remarkable things about him, I believe.

Of course he was funny, beyond funny, perhaps the funniest man we've ever seen; and he could act his pants off. (I smile, knowing Mr. Williams would have been off and running with that idiom.) Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets' Society and Good Morning Vietnam speak for themselves, and I believe Mrs. Doubtfire probably speaks for all of us who hope to find love and belonging in the world, with a few laughs along the way.

And so we are sad for ourselves, because we lost a bright light...a lively and creative mind...a genius of so much more than comedy. And we are sad for his family, who loved him as only those whose lives are personally touched by someone's energy can...up close and personal...so personal that his daughter Zelda's quote from Antoine de St.-Exupery's The Little Prince brought tears to my eyes in the reading, as did his birthday tweet to her last month (same link). But there is something more that saddens me, something that touches all of our lives as personally as Robin Williams touched the lives of his family.

Robin Williams was bipolar, which means he not only swung happy, but he swung sad...a sadness every bit as devastating as the humor that he so freely shared with us was elevating. Articles are saying that he "struggled" with depression, but that verb doesn't quite work for me. If my observations (formed by knowing and loving more than one person who is bipolar) mean anything, this remarkable man didn't struggle with depression. He was tormented by it, anguished by it, devastated by it. It terrified him in its unpredictability, in its inability to be reliably affected for the long term by treatment of any kind. Every remission was fickle, every relapse a desperate search for something new that might work, now that what was old had ceased to be effective. Most of the time, he didn't let that stop him. Monday, on one very bad morning, he did.

We are all the losers. The man was beloved, but I am troubled at statements made by strangers who would label him "selfish" for having the audacity to leave them and us bereft, people who clearly have never suffered as Mr. Williams did. Don't get me wrong, I am not a proponent of suicide...and I hope I never have to find out how it feels to love someone who seeks respite in that particular escape. But we can't judge another's pain unless we have walked a mile...no, 63 years...in his shoes, nor can we judge that person's inability to withstand the lure of permanent release in one weary, weakened moment when even his valiant spirit failed him.

Here's the thing. Robin Williams, judging from a career observed by many, was what we like to call in my family "a very hard tryer." He pushed himself to excel and achieve again and again, despite being afflicted (through no fault of his own) with the worst sort of burden to bear. I would guess that Sysyphus himself had nothing on Mr. Williams as he stressed and strained to push that boulder of depression up the hill, only to see it roll back down...over and over and over. Every time that stone hit bottom, I can only believe the heart of Robin Williams did, too...and as time passed, that bottom probably started feeling lower, that rock heavier. One of the most harrowing features of depression is its relentlessness...the inexorable nature of it...the entirely based-in-reality fear of never truly escaping it.

Selfishly, I wish Robin Williams had not escaped it. But I take exception to anyone calling him "selfish" for being temporarily overwhelmed by it. Another day, he might have found the strength to start pushing that boulder uphill yet again. Monday, he didn't. But that was one day out of a lifetime. And his courage was and is undeniable.

A final thing, if you'll bear with me. One actress tweeted, "If only Robin had known how many people loved him," her well-meaning inference being that, had he known of this love, he would not have ended his life. My thoughts run a different direction. I believe it is because Mr. Williams knew exactly how many people loved him that he found a way to live with his depression for 63 years. And for that, I thank him.

{I also thank untold others who are doing the same.}

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Lifted

Lifted

On a quiet summer morning,
after night's unbroken rest,

I look past the tree-framed window
and discover I am blessed.

Peaceful joy arrives on tiptoe, 
unexpected––a surprise.

I've been gazing at gray shadows;
now they've fallen from my eyes.

Nothing changed. The scene is static,
every branch and leaf in place,

but the sun is warm and welcome
as it plays across my face.

Tender mercies may seem fleeting,
but their goodness lingers on.

Knowing that the night is coming,
shall not wrest from me the dawn.

∞§∞

second image by Portia Lee

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Glory Days: A 4th of July Poem

We the People
Glory Days: A 4th of July Poem
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

Declaration of Independence.
Pilgrims' feet, well-planted.
Heritage and brave forefathers:
all taken for granted.

Continental Congress,
Articles, Confederation.
Patrick Henry, Paul Revere:
heroes of our nation.

Words forgotten in a breath:
"Give me liberty or give me death."
"English coming," warning ride.
Things revered now tossed aside.

Thomas Jefferson turned knave,
fresh dirt thrown into his grave.
Lots of blame to go around:
so much lost; so little found.

Citizens left in the cold.
Congress putting them on hold.
(Keepers of one dream: their own.)
Unity stripped to the bone.

Cynicism honed as art,
curling into every heart,
smothering the hope within.
Are we out or are we in?

Shall we sing or shall we sigh?
Will our glory pass us by?

∞§∞

I sincerely hope it will not pass us by.
Our nation's strength is her citizens.
And this American is all the way in.

Happy Independence Day!

{some things will always be worth fighting for}

founding-fathers

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Fix Is In(side)



The Fix is In(side)
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

My life is hard; she likes to say.
In fact, she says it every day.
Reliably and without fail,
Poor me has been her holy grail.

She's taken knocks, and that's the truth.
It's gone that way right from her youth.
The girl can't seem to catch a break.
Most days are more than she can take.

Maybe, she says, her luck will change.
She's always thought it's kinda strange
how helpers come and helpers go.
Nobody sticks around, ya know?

They don't show up for me, she cries.
And no one's gonna say she lies.
But how can anybody help
when she's a no-show for herself?

∞§∞

Of course, nobody makes it through hard times alone. We all look for cheerleaders in life––and who doesn't need good people to pass the ball to when we're about to take a dive? With trouble chasing us down, a quick hand-off can keep us a step ahead. But we still have to suit up every day, to get our own hands dirty.

Lasting change comes from within, where the power is...our power. And the precursor to finding life fulfilling? Being willing. 

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dads Are Grand

Matt, Todd, Karin, Dave, Ryan


Father's Day has historically been kind of a mixed bag for me. Though he did have his moments, especially when I was a little girl, my dad wasn't always the kind of father I wished for. My husband, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of dad I wished for, and my children (and grandchildren) have reaped the benefits.

Don't get me wrong. Big Daddy Dave isn't perfect, but he definitely has come close enough to get the job done. His success is evident in the faces of my adult children when they look at him; in the security they feel knowing that someone of substance always has their backs; in the respect they have for his integrity and selflessness; in their teasing as they interact with him playfully, knowing for sure that he is and always will be their friend. Loyalty is so important in family relationships, and my husband has plenty of it to go around. Through thick and thin, he has been there for my children, and he always will be. Of that, I am certain. And more importantly, so are they.

With this in mind, I will be celebrating Father's Day with a grateful heart and no small appreciation for the man I married and the children we have raised together, one of whom is an excellent father himself. As for my own dad, he has been gone for many years now. Strange as it may seem, I think my connection with him has improved since his death. Either he has done some growing in his new state of being or I have done some growing in my old one (probably a bit of both), but I'm glad for it. When I think of him on Father's Day, I now find myself remembering the good times…sitting on his knee zipping and unzipping his leather key case, turning the ruby class ring around and around on his finger, feeling safe and secure diving under big waves in his arms, singing silly songs with him in the car as he honored my pleas to go faster over the bumps, laughing at the jokes and teasing that were so much a part of his personality. I'm convinced he meant well, and that counts for a lot.

So happy Father's Day to all you dads out there…and to my own dad, too. Happy Father's Day to my mom's husband of over 40 years, who has been a friend to me and a wonderful grandpa to my children. (Dave's sweet dad was a terrific father and grandfather, too.) And finally, happy Father's Day to my husband, a devoted family man who has given his all and then some to the ones he loves most. No wonder we love him so much in return.

Have a great day, Dave. 
Breakfast in bed is coming your way!

=)

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Collecting Peace


Collecting Peace
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

Collecting is a testament
to life already lived––
a witness of the future
still in store.

The past holds value far beyond
the grave in which it lies;
we are wraith-ed in peace and yet left
wanting more.

Our ghosts inhabit weathered woods,
etched glass, revolving clocks––
every tick marks a beginning
and an end.

So we gather warm and lovely things
to comfort and surround,
ground ourselves in new tomorrows
with old friends.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Broad Stripes and Bright Stars

Broad Stripes and Bright Stars
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

We reverenced the flag when I was a young girl...
proud and strong we stood, hand over heart.
Deep emotions were raised as we saw it unfurl;
our allegiance was pledged from the start.

We were taught by our parents' example...
their knowledge that freedom was fragile at best.
They had seen evil threaten the world and
defeated it soundly when put to the test.

Liberty was an essence that sang in their blood
for the blood of brave countrymen slain,
and the flag was a symbol of all we had lost
and a tribute to all we retained.

From ocean to ocean, our voices were raised
in an anthem proclaiming our worth.
As heroes had given their all, so would we,
in upholding the land of our birth.

We honored the flag and the nation it stood for.
We sang, and we pledged, and we stood.
We were grateful enough to hold sacred a symbol
defining our country as good.

Today things are changing. So many young people
just watch the parade passing by.
They stay in their seats or stand carelessly slouched,
quite unstirred by our flag in the sky.

Our patriot songs are less known and less sung,
our allegiance less fervently vowed.
Cold winds of dissension blow harder each day,
and the roar of contention is loud.

If united we stand and divided we fall,
then survival demands common ground.
Our roots lie in legacies, planted by love
of the country our forefathers found.

True freedom is more than the right to dissent;
it's respect for the things we can share.
When the patriot dream seems elusive, our flag
carries hope that the dream is still there.

Those broad stripes and bright stars are reminders.
Embrace them. They help us to know who we are.
In peace or in conflict, they fly on a standard,
and we must keep raising the bar.

On Memorial Day, as we reverence our dead
and remember brave souls, let's be clear:
We live in a land that requires our devotion
and honor each day of the year.

A nation is fed by the people it nurtures,
and all of us drink the same cup.
Our stories are told in the symbols we share.
May every heart treasure them up.


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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Atlantis – The Ghost Ship


Atlantis – The Ghost Ship
©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

She sails across an open sea
obscured in fog and memory...
a ship of ghosts, of days gone by,
her battered flag lost to the sky.

Inside she carries hopes and dreams
unraveled, threadbare, frayed at seams
that pulled too tight and bound too fast,
first tries that faded into last...

a fallen star, a broken wing,
a lump of clay, one note to sing,
a jilted peak, an ocean floor,
an empty space that begs for more.

Her tall mast lifts no sinking heart,
and yet she knows a sailor's art:
to ride upon the wind and wave...
a ship of dreams, a gliding grave.

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Exaltation: A Journey into Light

Image ©2010 Rose Braverman

©2014 Susan Noyes Anderson

The road of life is rough and steep
with little ease along the way.
Some rivers cut and plunge so deep
they throw us back to yesterday.

We pick up things along the path
to carry with us as we go.
They weigh us down when times are hard
or lift us up and help us grow.

Quite often, we can see the light
that beckons from beyond the shade,
but other times the view is dark
and progress must be blindly made.

It matters not; the trail is marked
by twists and turns beyond control.
This is the journey all must take
to sanctify the human soul.

To bend, not break is our desire
and by His hand we will succeed.
A sacrifice was made, well made,
and God alone knows what we need.

In His own wisdom, we reside.
I would not thwart His will with mine.
And yet I cannot help but dream
of gentle stream, of soft sunshine.

Why must the storms come crashing through,
the waters roil and rise so high?
The jagged rock looms slick and sharp;
the thunder swallows up the sky.

And we are left to brave the night,
a night that stretches on and on.
The moon goes out; the stars fall down;
hope flickers, wanes, is nearly gone…

And then a spark…a glow: sunrise.
The day is won. The Master’s grace
shall never yield to darkness, yet
He cedes to us our part, our place.

We lift the load, resume the journey.
Faith renewed, we carry on
with burnished hearts, the light in us
refined each time we wait for dawn.

His light will turn our hearts to gold
as we, in faith, await the dawn.

"Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory 
of the Lord is risen upon thee." – Isaiah 60:1
Image ©2012 Brian J. Matis

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