In the dark days of winter, searching for words

Normally January and February are my favourite months. The days are growing longer, minute by minute; the days cold and crisp, the ground a snow-covered white, the sky a bright clear blue. A perfect time for reading.

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Copyright JM Schreiber, 2014

More than one week into the new year, I have a strange sensation akin to trying to make my way on one of those moving sidewalks that traverse the passageways of major airports. However, because the direction of the sidewalk and I are at odds, I’m making little progress. Lately my weeks have been punctuated by trips to visit my father, 1 1/2 to 3 hours each way, depending on whether or not we pick up my mother. Weather dictates travel, scrambling the best laid plans, and now that my father has moved on to the rehabilitation unit his stubborn determination has returned – for better and, sadly, for worse. Through it all, my mother, now so tiny in her old winter coat, is entertaining the thought that he might someday return home – home to a setting that neither one of them is really well enough to live in anymore. The potential challenges that lie ahead are fraying the less than stellar relationships between myself and my brothers, and these are still the early days. Meanwhile I have dealt with car repairs and a burst hot water pipe. And I don’t even want to venture into the messy, potentially violent eruptions that have threatened peace in my own house as my son struggles with an addiction to alcohol.

To say that my reading has been scattered would be an understatement.

I am afraid that, anxiety and exhaustion aside, I seem to be responding to an internalized sense of guilt that reading, and writing about reading, has no value if it does not generate an income. If your life does not presently include income generating activity – a circumstance that was not by my design but has afforded me the time and energy to read and write – then my literary pastime is even more self-indulgent. Or at least that is what my family members (and their voices that echo in my head) are telling me.

Of course I have been reading, but my focus is off.

I have just emerged from Rafael Chirbes’ forthcoming On the Edge, a testament to internalized guilt, regret and resentment if ever there was one; fuel for my abiding mid-life angst. I’m preparing a review for Numéro Cinq. Otherwise most of what I have read lately is not quite carrying me through. I find myself distracted and picking at pieces, reading on line journals and stabbing aimlessly at collections. As I said, my focus is off.

§ Finish Your Thought!

As in death, we are equalized in thought when we think that every mind in its effort to comprehend the world must come upon the unthinkable.

§ Think for Yourself…

…not others. There is no such thing as thought to spare, only to share.

Matches_Cover_Front_Mockup_07182015-216x346That said, I find that I do have an appetite for aphorisms and fragments. Perhaps that is the ideal antidote for a scattered new year. I am dipping in and out of S.D. Chrostowska’s MATCHES: A Light Book, over 500 pages of illuminating meditative thoughts about the contemporary quality of thinking, reading, and writing. This is not a work intended to be read from cover to cover over a few sittings, rather it is ideal for slow, thoughtful engagement. Light the match, let it burn for a moment, reflect for a while – return again and again, over time. The perfect companion I hope, to lead me back into reading when I feel I am straying and, more critically direct me to writing when fear I am losing my way.

§ New Line of Thought

Every new line of thought is a departure.
Or a new way of arriving where one already is.

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Copyright JM Schreiber, 2013

MATCHES: A Light Book is available from Punctum Books.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

30 thoughts on “In the dark days of winter, searching for words”

  1. Taking care of parents who live far from you is incredibly difficult, especially if you and your siblings disagree. Luckily my parents had prepared Advance Health Care Directives naming me and my sister as agents after naming each other. That enabled us to make decisions to get them the care they need now.

    I know how difficult it is to love alcoholic family members. Painful.

    You, your parents, and your son are in my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My mother has a Personal Directive but my father has no intention of dying, you see… and I’m not sure he would meet the criteria for incompetency. But then wait until the OT makes a home visit and finds out where they live! We still have to see how he recovers, I am impressed at the progress he has made to date.

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      1. He has a strong defiant streak. But the reality of returning to a cottage in the woods with reduced physical capacity and a pulled drivers license hasn’t occurred to him. Or my mother really. But who knows, they could prove me wrong…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Actually, now that the OT is making a home visit, I imagine that a social worker may enter the picture. I wish them, and you the best. Sometimes a “neutral” third party can facilitate change when family members can’t.

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  2. I do empathise – I lost my father last year and my mother is still struggling to cope with it. Plus mother in law at 94 causes daily care issues and my OH is not in the best of health. So books are a refuge I need. I hope they can be for you and I’m sending positive thoughts.

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  3. Life can be very tough at times…I can only begin to imagine how emotionally draining this must be for you. Wishing you all the best – I hope you manage to find some solace in your reading and writing over the next few months.

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    1. Thanks Jacqui. After my hospitalization, a couple of trips to the hospital with my son, my mother’s recent hospitalization and now my dad… well, it does begin to pile up. Writing like this is cathartic and helps me sort out my emotions.

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  4. Thanks so much for your very thoughtful post. I am so glad that reading and writing helps you to deal with all of this. People often ask me why I read so much and I always find it relaxing. Best of luck with all of your family issues. I wish you peace and joy in the new year!

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  5. I’m sending you good wishes. Life can be tough sometimes, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed when you have to scramble to accommodate a number of equally difficult situations. If reading and writing help you keep your equilibrium, then don’t feel guilty about doing just that, even if it doesn’t benefit anyone other than you. (Though I always enjoy reading what you write!)

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  6. You are going through difficult times and it is deeply touching me what you write about the role of reading and writing in your life and how the actual family crisis affects it.There is no reason for feelings of guilt though, since you can help your parents and son best when you are balanced and have an activity that gives you strength – which in your case obviously is reading/writing. Maybe not everyone will understand that, but does it really matter? – In any case I wish you that things will turn out well and your father will recover most of his abilities, and also the other family issues can be resolved in a way that is the best for everyone concerned.

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    1. Thank you. Funny, as someone who worked for many years supporting, educating and advocating for stroke and brain injury survivors and their families, I seem to be having trouble putting the advice I would have given others into practice. I appreciate the reminders that reading/writing should be seen as a source of strength no matter what others think (or what I imagine they think).

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  7. Hang in there. Losing focus on/while reading is how my 2015 went. Family health problems too. I tell myself that I need deal and get back to reading because these crises might just be the new normal. Do what brings you comfort and balance.

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    1. Thank you for your wise words. When writing about what we read we sometimes set high standards for ourselves and forget the real purpose of turning to literature. I have to remember that.

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  8. I know it is really hard, but don’t forget to take care of yourself too. You’ve had your own recent health problems after all. Taking care of yourself is never selfish because if you are down and out, you can’t help anyone else. I hope everything starts to find a level soon. In the meantime, Matches sounds like a very good book to have at hand.

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  9. You are going through some really rough times, but grit your teeth and hang in there. This too shall pass. (That’s my mantra for the rough times: This too shall pass!) It always does, believe me.

    In the meantime, if reading and writing prove cathartic, just do it. As and how you feel like. After all, sharing – thoughts, emotions, pain, pleasure, hope – is what makes life liveable, most often.

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    1. Being cynical I might say, sure, as one thing passes another comes up to hit you from behind! That’s what it feels like lately. One thing down, I just submitted the review I have been working on. For the next while I don’t plan to read anything with more than 105-200 pages, max!

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      1. Some lives are like that. Never a dull moment, so to say. 🙂 Yet, it’s important to hang in there, turn to good friends, good books, good music. I have some ‘little’ books that I go back to, in times of despair. They are like a balm. The Little Prince, Alice’s Adventures, The Prophet… Read and reread so many times, but they still soothe. They even fit into your 100-200 pages bracket! I also read some butt-kicking stuff and watch mindless movies to get through the ‘down’ times. It truly helps – vicarious gore.

        This too shall pass.

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  10. I too read differently under various circumstances. And although Matches is published by the same press, punctum books, that published Zarko’s and my Repetitions and our Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary, I haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the tip. And I wish you well with your family.

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