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Reasons to Survive November

January 30, 2013

Yesterday Eleanor sent me a poem, which is a reason right there to make it through another miserable winter day. Moreover, she said it reminded her of me, and that delights me almost as much as it discomfits. This is the poem, by Tony Hoagland, from the volume What Narcissism Means to Me:

Reasons to Survive November

November like a train wreck—
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze—
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

—Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

It’s discomfiting to realize how far my 19-year-old daughter can see into the depths of my “donkey soul.”

Yes, there’s a pleasure in surviving the “train wreck” of winter. Yes, sometimes the only thing that gets me through the end of a long, miserable day of it is something like a “soup special at the Waffle House downtown.” I’m particularly fond of the healing properties of a bowl of queso dip and a drink at the brightly neon-signed Fiesta Margarita restaurant, run by a Mexican family here in this small Ohio town.

Yesterday I bought a case of wine at the Kroger, because February is coming and if a person buys it all at once, there’s a discount. I’ve done this…well, perhaps I don’t want to say how many times before. But a few. Anyway, yesterday I got the irritable check-out clerk–the one who makes me shuffle out my Kroger card in the middle of putting the heavy container of cat litter on the moving shelf going towards her because she likes to have it first, before she starts ringing up my groceries, even though all the other clerks now allow me to swipe it myself whenever I manage to get it out of the wallet. She made a big production out of how there was an item in front of the wine bottles and she would have to ring it as a separate order. Fine, I said. None of the other clerks ever do this, but if it would give Ms Irritable a charge, I was going to let her have that small victory. As I left the store with a cart piled high with $200 worth of groceries (we’re feeding a 16-year-old boy here) and the case of wine, I realized that Ms Irritable is probably a teetotaler and I was completely missing her criticism of my purchases. HaHA! “My survival is their failure”!

Just walking around campus sometimes feels like a defiant act. Just walking. Just seeing people, and letting myself be seen. Yep. Still standing. Still here. “I shove joy like a knife/into my own heart.”

Does it ever help you keep on going through adversity to hope that your bared-teeth grin—at least the semblance of happiness—will be annoying? Tell me I’m not alone!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. lemming permalink
    January 30, 2013 9:36 am

    Being extra nice and smiling at the people like that at Kroger (they are at Target, too) is a definite mind-game perk.

    • January 31, 2013 8:40 am

      I have a kind of “happy idiot” face that I put on for such occasions.

  2. Ron permalink
    January 30, 2013 9:43 am

    Perhaps Ms. Irritable also hates January in her own special way.

    • January 31, 2013 8:41 am

      Perhaps, although she’s irritable every month of the year. You never know what someone else you meet only casually like that is having to deal with on a daily basis, though.

  3. January 30, 2013 11:50 am

    I’m not sure. I’m rarely the happy one in any random transaction with people though it does occasionally happen when I’m dealing with someone even more ornery than I am. I like this poem, though. I love “donkey soul” and stabbing the joy knife into you. It often feels that way – so much work for a tiny glimmer of some feeling that is not despair. I don’t buy wine by the case. Yet.

    • January 31, 2013 8:43 am

      Some days, I’ll bet you have to look a long time to find someone more ornery than you 😉
      Probably you don’t buy wine by the case (it’s six big bottles) yet because you drink beer, too.

  4. January 30, 2013 11:54 am

    Survival is pretty good revenge.

    • January 31, 2013 8:43 am

      It is! And you get that, having been on the same campus in something of the same boat.

      • January 31, 2013 5:34 pm

        So very many difficult memories. Except for dinner at Fiesta. Happiness, chili rellenos style.

  5. Karen D permalink
    January 30, 2013 12:28 pm

    Oh dear. I just realized that at some point I’m going to be feeding 13- and 17-year-old boys simultaneously. Oh dear.

    (What a blessing that will be.)

    Anyway, I can identify with your experience of just seeing people and letting yourself be seen being a defiant act. Keep on defying, and I will too.

    • January 31, 2013 8:47 am

      Keep on defying makes a good motto in all sorts of situations.
      When I was at Otterbein I had a writing exercise that I used in conjunction with a poem entitled Those Winter Sundays, in which I would ask the first-years in my class to list all the things their parents had done for them. I was always amused by how the guys dwelt on food. Now I know why–they consume it, and it consumes them for those years.

  6. January 31, 2013 7:30 am

    Yes, keep on defying and shoving more joy around, will ya? (Get any mail lately? Did you like the postcard? Did it work?!)

    • January 31, 2013 8:52 am

      I did like your Caillebotte postcard of the men planing floors. It…warmed me up. Kelly (Kailana) also sent me a postcard of Nova Scotia webcam views. They are lovely and cold, full of schadenfreude.

  7. January 31, 2013 8:03 am

    Wine can help you survive anything. We haven’t had much of a winter here but we did have a train wreck of a storm here yesterday.

    • January 31, 2013 8:57 am

      Wine and fiction usually help, preferably taken together. I think everybody in the eastern half of the U.S. got some of that storm but it really took aim at your area.

  8. January 31, 2013 8:13 pm

    What an interesting choice of poem from your daughter.
    And I love that you were willing to give Ms. Irritable the victory … while very probably missing her point .HA!

    • January 31, 2013 9:51 pm

      I guess it’s like method acting, wearing the “happy idiot” face!

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