Forms of distress

img_0781Ruin porn is a thing, you know. I learned the term after Season One of “True Detective” which was set in Louisiana and featured one ruined landscape after another. This post’s photos were taken at the Aiken-Rhett House in Charleston, SC. It’s a site dedicated to preservation rather than restoration, meaning a tour affords a gorgeous array of distressed surfaces. Evidence of life, sorrow, styles, labor, wealth, oppression, and the passage of time are made plain on every surface. I love history speaking this way. I find the peeling paint, scraped up wall paper, splintered wood, and decaying furnishings so evocative. I know it would make you swoon, too.

But here’s the thing: distress of the soul does not enamor me. It most certainly does not make me swoon. It is NOT where I want to start, thank you very much Pema Chodron.

After a morning of being told how unsympathetic I am, hearing my sister’s reports of ongoing (possibly life threatening?) diarrhea, and making multiple calls to arrange the dissembling of one hospital bed and the delivery of another (there is such a long and fraught story there), I’m on to ordering sheets and mattress covers and protectors, with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I just want that feeling to go away.

And then, there’s how the dog lunged at people this weekend! It’s discouraging, hard not to blame myself, or feel a stab of self-pity — (“Couldn’t I have gotten ONE easy dependent,” goes the whine). I’m watching Cesar Milan and adopting his interventions but worry they won’t work because I lack inner calm and confidence. (“My dog makes ME anxious not the other way around!” goes the defense). Finn’s distress might be partly physical, too — oh how he itches lately! He’s always been allergic, but that too has worsened. So far efforts to identify an allergen have failed.

Writing’s hard and sometimes (truthfully — OFTEN) I just hate it. Love it. Hate it.

There’s a new house renovation four doors up the street, meaning the summer of ’17 now rolls into its ninth or tenth week of jack hammering. On Friday I just couldn’t take it anymore and fled the house as if my pants were on fire. Writing in a coffee shop turned out to be a good thing, but still…

Then there’s the absence of compensatory external rewards, like you know, a paycheck or communicative children.

Image result for monty python it could always be worse

from “The Holy Grail”

I DO KNOW it could be worse, because it could always be worse. (Think: Monty Python’s crucified characters singing: “always look on the bright side of life!”).

For instance, I just read about a father who traveled to Texas last week with his family so his son could have brain surgery. The parents were stranded at the hotel, unable to visit their hospitalized boy on account of the flooding. The poor man said, “It’s bad enough that my son has to have brain surgery without also having to deal with a hurricane.”

So yeah. I have a lot to be grateful for. Today? The sun, the cool air, the time to write, the financial support to write, a stocked fridge, noise-cancelling headphones, tons of state-sponsored care for my sister, an upcoming trip to see Son #2, the coming of fall, friends, ice cream.

Ta-da! What’s on your gratitude or complaint list today?

15 thoughts on “Forms of distress

  1. Mo Crow

    love your photos of the effects of time on place, interesting how decay, rusted surfaces, weathered wood and frayed edges are so “in” in this 21st C world, a decadent time, “In Ruins” by Christopher Woodward 2002 is a beautiful meditation to quote from the blurb on Amazon-
    “If “[a] ruin is a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator,” this book listens in intently.– ruin is a dialogue between an incomplete reality and the imagination of the spectator,”

    1. deemallon

      Maybe that’s part of its appeal? No one is supplying the narrative? And in particular, no one is supplying a white washed narrative marred by crucial omissions.

    2. deemallon

      went to Amazon and tried to have more of a peek at Woodward’s book — is he focused on the antiquities? His words apply to decrepit plantations and crumbling slave cabins as well as to armless marble figures, I’m sure — certainly the snippet you provide does — but probably because of my intellectual/emotional focus on American history and the mythologies and horrors of the South, in particular, I feel a kind of a charge with rural Southern buildings than I don’t with other ruins, say Egyptian or Roman. Here’s a fabulous photographer dedicated to documenting southern history through its building: Brandon Coffey — on instagram : @itsbrandoyo

  2. Tina Zaffiro

    Crazy me always thinking I’m alone in this feeling of uncertainty. For weeks I have felt like this Bird flying in circles looking for that perfect place to land … that place filled with joy and contentment. CRAZY me knows that those are things I will only find within myself ..not in some place. And like you my goodness I have so much … my life is not care free without responsibilities but …. it is CRAZY for me to feel sorry for myself.
    Ok so that is what I’ve got going in my CRAZY head today.

    1. deemallon

      The Japanese say that “laughter comes in through a smiling gate” or something (if that’s true – I’m screwed). The experience of gratitude is transformative (even this morning that short little list was elevating) — of course it is — we don’t need Oprah to tell us as much. Here’s the thing though (and I think Oprah has said this as well): it is also transformative to admit what is true for us in any given moment — even if it smacks of self pity. Just as hope can be a radical act (see : Rebecca Solnit) so can self acceptance. I am telling myself this more than I am telling you.

      So I’m sorry to hear about your restlessness. If you live in the US, I have no doubt that some of your restlessness is collective. To NOT be disturbed by events would be truly alarming in a different way. How to get through a day — still needs to be addressed, doesn’t it? I will go back to pictures of Texas today to remind myself of how truly awful it is for some people right now. And then send some money and prayers. And then feel grateful for my home.

      1. Tina Zaffiro

        I live in the city of Milwaukee WI … so yes I have no doubt that much of what I am feeling is collective. Thank you for opening the door for me to put into words what I am feeling…I already feel somewhat better. My husband always wants to fix everything and my adult daughter that is on disability and lives with us only ends up feeling guilty … so thank you.

        1. deemallon

          You’re welcome. After reading your comment, I found your quilt show pix on Grace’s blog and went on FB to see your face and family, which I’d done before. Sorry I didn’t remember!

  3. Liz A

    I thought of New Orleans when I saw your pictures … the French Quarter was full of weathered eye candy.

    And no complaints here … just gratitude that we escaped the worst of Harvey.

    1. deemallon

      How far are you from the severe flooding? Nothing like an epic disaster to make one grateful, is there? And by the way, I’m grateful that you and Don and the kids are okay!

  4. Michelle in NYC

    You named your blog well…but just so you know, I appreciate both your distress and your efforts to lift out of it. You are truthful and aware. Your honesty often helps others open up to their own issues. Distress of the less artistic kind (the beautiful and telling art of distressed spaces) is a difficulty all share in varying degrees no matter what economic or cultural conditions we find ourselves in. We are all ‘stuck’ and/or ‘blessed’ by having been born into a human body that will inevitably change and eventually have to be relinquished.

    As you know, and our beloved Pema often articulates masterfully, that is immutable fact. We have whatever span we have of time to develop acceptance. All ‘spiritual’ practices are for the purpose of helping us develop that acceptance, and there is no need for guilt or shame in our stumbling efforts. Personally, whatever I practice (yoga – Zen – Mantra chanting or just making the bed first thing) is to that purpose. What’s important is not to squander life in past or future thinking, not to miss what’s right in front of us wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Golly, you do so much, help as much as you can and I want you to know I see that.

    Every day I just begin again. Tich Nhat Han suggests, among many suggestions, that upon first waking…before the mind web reconstructs itself and before we move at all…take a deep breath exhaling completely and smile…just slightly. Begin there. See how many days you can remember to begin there. I did it consciously for a week once. Now I do it when I think of it and I think of it often.

    1. deemallon

      Your comment was one of the first things I looked at this morning — still lying in bed — and so I breathed in and I smiled and I felt waves of appreciation — for being alive, for the Buddhist teachers of the world, for blogging, and mostly — for you …. you are such a treasure. And your practice reveals itself in every word and turn of phrase — because you manage to offer helping ideas without a trace of insistence or judgment. Thank you for that. I will pull down one of my Chodron books today, because the truth is her words are always uplifting — just like yours. Have a great day. I am smiling right now.

  5. christicarterphotography

    Forgive me if I’m repeating something I already passed along, but our Belgian shepherd, Quinn, is allergic to grass (took a while to figure that out!) and she itched like crazy, also chewed on the pads of her feet, scratched & licked her sides until bald patches formed – really awful. We now give her Temeril-P in grass growing season … she’s MUCH better with only mild irritation.

    As for C Milan, he’s a bit of a controversy in the dog-training world due to his rollovers & alpha mentality. I’ve had far greater success with our dogs following / experimenting with any method that is considered “positive reinforcement training.” I really like the Karen Pryor Academy teachers, also Lindsay Stahl – ….. Nicole Wilde – ….. Eileen at

    I wish I lived closer to you, Dee. I would come over & help.

    1. deemallon

      Grass?! My god. Will mention to vet asap. I know that C.Milan has some methods that are not liked by all. What I do appreciate tho is the quiet way he seems to be able to make a dog feel secure. Finn is definitely a tense animal. I’m really good at setting up challenges for him and making sure he is stimulated and exercised and loved. I just don’t know how to make him feel more secure. I’ve heard of Karen Pryor but will look again. Does she do clicker work? And thank you for those other links. It is really time to invest time and treasure again. He is such a great dog. The trainer that I did 16 weeks of work with when finn was younger lived with Belgian Malinois and had good insights. But that’s been a while now.


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