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No Hope

April 10, 2023

“Hope is the thing with feathers…”  Ah, I have lots of things with feathers outside.  Let’s call them birds. The showiest lately are the bright yellow and black hooded orioles who live in the palms on other folks’ property, but feed at the jelly feeders under my intense purple jacaranda tree.  Yellow and purple predominate with accents of red Baja Fairy Dusters and Island snapdragons and the local bright yellow daisies (every locality has some version of them), and then the glint of hummingbird’s throat, bright male lesser goldfinch, overcompensating for his name (who had the audacity to call him “lesser”?), his black cap, the red head and chest of the house finches, the tiny bushtits and kinglets and…

            But I’m putting this off.  I need to talk about yesterday.  Yesterday, after staying up too late to read Not all Boys are Blue because I have to judge for myself when a book is banned, yesterday, May gray, the purple majesty of Jacaranda, pretty in the mist, but the mist, dark and cold, the heaviness in my legs providing ample excuse to just sit, just do the latest game on the phone, blanket wrapped around me, arthritic fingers finding brief warmth in Tashi’s fur coat, mind winding around what-could-have-beens. So many what-could-have-beens. And unlike Emily’s avian hope, mine does ask a crumb of me.  “Get off your pity pot!  Plant a flower! Refill the feeders! Write dammit!”  

And something somewhere deep in me turns briefly, finds a way to lift one eyebrow, Me?  You don’t mean me, do you? And the eyebrow returns to the frown and the hands drop the phone back onto the couch and the tiny something inside turns the light back off and sinks into the ever-deepening tarpit. Let’s call it despair.

            “What a privileged lump of shit!”  

Oh, oh.  There’s judgement.  Not my favorite character. Judgement loves to use truth to turn the knife, cut deeper, add morality to the already deep mud, make sure I know it is all my fault.  All of it. 

“Ya didn’t have to get all mushy and fall in love with an abusive man—-shssssh, you should have known. Ya wasted nine years of that precious life of yours on the SOB and you still can’t get rid of thinking he might have changed, kept the good stuff and stopped with the booze and abuse. Ha! Those years of depression?  Hell, you’re still doing it you idiot!  Of course, you could get out of it if you really wanted to.  No excuses.  Just your sloth, your laziness, your inability to admit defeat and move on.  Yea, there ya go.  Great promise.  Gonna be a famous marine biologist, great writer, great poet. They all take work, baby.  That push you don’t have, sweetheart. Yea, go cry baby, you’ve always been a cry baby.  Didn’t get your way?  Well maybe if you sucked it up and worked a little harder…”

See what I mean?  I’ve got more self-loathing going on in that damn brain.  Why didn’t the stroke get rid of that instead of the neurons that keep me from driving? 

“Cuz then you’d run out of ways to feel sorry for yourself.  Couldn’t have that, could we? What if you couldn’t blame it on sickness or depression?  Huh? What if you had to admit that you are just a person.  Someone who’s gonna die just a little earlier that you planned.  And once you are dead, you are dead baby. Yeah, I know all that crap you push about living through your stories and poetry.  Pure crap.  Ain’t getting published now are ya?  And you ain’t no Emily Dickenson so don’t think it’s gonna happen in the future.  I’m on to ya, kid.  I don’t see you rushing to submit a lot of stuff.  You’re a sniveling little baby.  Get a rejection and you turn into some gelatinous mass of ‘poor me.’  I know you’ve read about papering walls with rejection slips and turning them back around to more places.  But you don’t, do you?  You think you are better than Stephen King?”

No, dammit.  But maybe secretly I want to be better than Stephen King. I think that is the basis of my loneliness.  Thinking, somehow, I could be better than Stephen King, or Emily, or Shakespeare or whatever brilliant writer I am reading lately.  Was that seed planted before birth or by gushing parents and teachers, oblivious to how I latched on and sucked deeply of their praise while classmates looked on in disgust.  Why couldn’t I be just a kid?  Why can’t I be just an eccentric old lady?  Why do I still want it all?  Am I kidding myself when that idiot in my brain insists somewhere out there there is an eccentric old man who would love to love me as we totter off into the sunset singing Bob Dylan and writing poems?  That some publisher will wander into some writing workshop (or zoom) and wax poetic about my eloquent short memoir pieces to his best buddy at the New Yorker?  That some rock star poet will introduce the pair of us—me and my eccentric poetic old man—to the world and we will travel that world reading our poems in every convention, pub, bookstore or in tiny resorts among pines or palms or Sahara sands? 

“You’ve lost it.  You’re nuts!  Go back on your damn pity pot. You ain’t that good and you definitely don’t have the drive!  What a bunch of malarky.  You had your chance–two husbands, college, writer parents, even a writing group that produced multiple books in spite of a pandemic.  Dammit, they had what it takes. You’ve blown every opportunity.  Just keep blaming it on everyone and everything else.  Look in the mirror, baby.  Damn laziness.  Damn self-doubt covered over by phony confidence. Oversized ego filled with hot air—you sure deflate easily don’tcha, ya big fake. Just keep on not submitting your damn work so you don’t have to feel rejected.  And while we’re at it, why the hell does it take deadlines and bulldozers to get you to write?  When you write you like it.  But getting you to sit down…?

Maybe I am ADD?

“Oh just shut up!  Just shut up!

Hope?   That thing with feathers? 

“I think Hope likes the crumbs better in someone else’s yard.” 

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)

Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

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  1. Janice Alper permalink

    Hey Barb, Take out the work “No” in the title. Just writing this is hope. Glad to see you are on a roll again.

    On another note, my book, “Sitting on the Stoop: A Girl Grows in Brooklyn, 1944-57” is on Amazon kindle. Hard copy is on the way…

    • I wrote this over a year ago and thought I had posted it. Things have changed on the app snd I didn’t know how to change the date and don’t know why it just came up for me to hit post. I tried to post something else yesterday and if never did.

  2. Bethel permalink

    I can very much relate to much of this, Barbara. Sending you love and grace.

  3. Hey Barb, I agree with Janice! And yes, you are a beautiful writer as evidenced by this amazing piece. SUBMIT IT! LOL

  4. Judy Reeves permalink

    Well, whether its new or reused… it is still you, writing, which yo do so well! Great to see your name in my inbox always.! Keep writiing.

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