A Love Story, Part 2

In 2009, I lived at 6407 Haney Drive, in East Austin, Texas. I had just transferred to Bedichek Middle School in South Austin after several years at Garcia Middle School in northeast Austin.

I then lived at 3707 Montrose Street, in the heart of Hyde Park in central Austin. It was the first time in my then 10 years of living in Austin to live on the west side of I35. At the end of 2011, I packed up all my belongings (and there were a lot of them then!) and drove across the country in a terrible relationship with a very unstable and selfish person. We landed in South Philadelphia at 1819 South Rosewood Street. That house became known to me and my roommates (the boyfriend left very shortly after arrival) as the House that Slants, as no room was square. It was like a fun-house, but not fun.

From Rosewood I went to my parents house at 7 Locust Lane, Salsbury Cove, Maine, and then to a little house, whose number I have forgotten, on Jordan Pond Road in Seal Harbor, Maine. That one I only stayed in for two months and after which I moved into my first proper apartment in Maine, The House That Floats, at 5 Lookout Way in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Several months later, I found a more permanent place at 8 Old Firehouse Lane in Northeast Harbor. I stayed there for a year, and I loved it very much: I just didn’t love the isolation of the town in winter, and my friends who lived across the parking lot from me were evicted due to a gallery taking over their house. Off we all went to Bar Harbor, they to Otter Creek, and me to 60 Main Street, the amazing apartment with the terrible roommates that was stacked on top of Sherman’s Bookstore. I had an incredible third story bedroom that looked out over the whole town, but didn’t get along with a roommate with a drinking problem and boundary issues, and another roommate with a drug and drinking problem and boundary issues. So off I went to 201 Otter Creek Drive in Otter Creek, the no-man’s-land of Bar Harbor, to live at the beautiful house on 10 acres at the foothills of mountains, in the wind tunnel that is Otter Creek in winter, next to the Brown Family Farm. I heated the house with wood and named it Faerieland Farm. I left after the Love Story started, at the end of March.

In Austin, I lived at 415 Normandy Street, my friend Jackie’s fabulously funky, beautiful house that is decorated with Mexican and Syrian styles, and then moved to Jaguar Rose Cottage at 1700 Alameda Drive, where I sit now, typing this essay out. In front of my house is a Little Free Library, which I love, and on top of my roof is a flying pig.

Turns out, pigs do fly, and surprises do come, especially when we least expect them. Turns out, also, that love stories are not always easy stories. Sometimes they take extensive work, determination, forgiveness, love, and acceptance. Sometimes they put you through the ringer, and if you are very lucky, you are both left mostly whole on the other side. Sometimes you have to break up to realize what you were doing to mess it up. Sometimes, you are very lucky.

This move, the one that I am putting off by typing essays on the internet, is move #11 since 2009, if I am counting correctly. This move, though, to the funky house in the country, the one that hasn’t got a name yet, is one that is full of hope, love and possibility. We are both so excited to live in a space larger than 300 square feet, to have all of our things together and in one place, to have a garden, and a workshop, and a beautiful old bathtub, and a fireplace when it gets chilly. But I think the core of the excitement stems from understanding that we make this choice with eyes open, hands clasped, because each of us wants the other one to be happy, and we are happier when we are together.

I am going to get back to packing books into boxes, with the full knowledge that moving in Texas in late July is going to be really, really hot and sweaty. But then: home, love, family, peace, and quiet.

 

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Fathers

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My Dad is dying, slowly, in a living room on an island in Maine. He dies slowly of an ebb and flow disease: diabetes. His version of the Big D is complicated by the Big A: alcoholism. It turns out that alcoholism can cause diabetes, and once your body has been hijacked by this syndrome, continuing to drink just turns the dial up on its destructiveness.

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My mother really wanted me to come to Christmas this year because, as she said, “he isn’t doing well and it won’t really get any better”. I stopped going home for Christmas three Christmases ago, when I went to Enchanted Rock with Cody, instead. I camped with lots of other families under a giant, cold full moon, and thought about what making new traditions might mean. Cody and I have spent Christmas together ever since. Christmas, to me, is a holiday fraught with expectations (mine and others), disaster (real and imaginary) and has never held the beauty of the holiday that I see displayed in films and songs.

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I think my mother really tried to create that Christmas magic, and she probably still does. I just remember the harshness of being told a plate was worth more than I was when I placed cookies on it one year. I remember one year receiving boxes and boxes and boxes of presents, including piles of strange clothes that I thought someone should know I would never wear, under an LL Bean Christmas tree that was delivered by the postman on my birthday. That same year, my mom bought a first edition of the Canterbury Tales illustrated by her favorite Arthur Rackham (she has told me the story of how she once could have bought a first edition of the Lord of the Rings from a bookstore in London for 5 pounds, but didn’t have the 5 pounds to spare), and set it on a table behind a sofa in the formal living room, specially curated by her friend Oona the interior decorator. I remember the room curved at the front, framed with beautiful, tall windows, perfect for that giant Christmas tree. The rub is that we only spent one Christmas in that house: the year after, my Dad lost his job in the oil crash of the early 1990s, had a nervous breakdown, and we had to sell the house, the cars, and that 1st edition of the Canterbury Tales. He never recovered from the fact that we had to move into a rental house: I remember him disappearing for awhile I think, and after that, never coming out of the large master bedroom in that dark 1970s house with a duck in stained glass on the door. I suppose he never really did emerge again.

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I have this memory of my dad and myself. I must have been very small: about 6 perhaps. I have a nephew-in-law now named Peter, who is 6, and it must have been when I was about his size. My dad and I were climbing on rocks on the beaches of Maine, over by The Ovens in Salisbury Cove. We climbed onto a big rock that slowly became engulfed by a rising tide; I don’t exactly know how that happened, because now, as an adult, I understand how long it takes for the water to rise. Nevertheless, the memory remains; stuck on the rock we were, and my father had to carry me to shore.

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My Dad is a big, barrel-chested man who used to be 6′-2″. He is a lone wolf and a person who doesn’t fit in: two ways that we are similar. I was chatting with a friend a while ago about how our self-identification as people who don’t belong, who are special or unique, reinforces some pretty unhealthy patterns that contribute to all sorts of ills: like codependency, seeking out bad boyfriends to “help” or “fix”, a lack of self-awareness, self-love and feeling like success is an option. My dad never spent time looking in Life’s mirror: perhaps it was too frightening. He ran away and into anger, reckless spending, and the bottoms of gin bottles.

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It took me a long time to let go of the anger I had toward him: I would ask for years: why isn’t he like other fathers? Why does he seem to love everything but his family? Why does he do these crazy things all the time? Why does he throw stuff? Why does he crash cars? Why does he spend money he doesn’t have? Doesn’t he understand how much it hurts all of us? It took me years, really until this past year, to realize that he is locked in a prison of his own making and it’s almost as if there is no one else in that prison: like a man locked in a cell on an island with nothing but his thoughts and a shovel, he just digs that cell deeper and deeper into the mountainside, when the choice to escape is his to make. Even last year, at the age of 77, he somehow managed to open a series of credit card accounts and spend $10,000. When we asked him what he had bought for that amount of money, he really didn’t know.

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I have been on holiday break from school for 2 weeks now and, honestly, haven’t done much except cooking and organizing, helping Cody clear our land for our wedding, and watch movies. It wasn’t until tonight that I realized that all the films have had one common thread: fathers. Fathers who are good, fathers who are bad: fathers who are confused and don’t know what to do. Fathers who are trying, and fathers who are useless at trying. Fathers who are drunk, and fathers who are teetotalers. None are perfect, although a few match what I would have liked to have had. But, in some ways, like I said to my brother earlier today, perhaps we are just here to listen to these two crazy people who are our parents. After all, do any of us truly actually make sense? Probably not: but I do like to think that I try to be happy, to think of others, and I am trying very hard to be a good partner to a very sweet man who, as I type this, is drilling holes in a concrete wall so that I can hang up a mirror. That sweet man lost his father almost 11 years ago to brain cancer. His father, just as imperfect as any of them, is gone and he doesn’t even have a way to talk to him and become frustrated at his inadequacies and nonsense. All he has is memories of an imperfect man: the same that I will, one day, have.

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Where Is Fancy Bred? In the Heart, or in the Head?

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I am a bad listener.

It’s true. My name is Patience and I am a bad listener. I am a bad listener to complaints. I think I might be an ok listener other times…my mom’s friend told me a while back that it is because I am so good at coming up with solutions to problems.

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As a problem-solver who grew up with an alcoholic parent, it’s inevitable (I think) that my problem solving ability gives way to codependent strategies like: “I can do this for you!” “Just listen to my idea!” which both eventually give way to frustration at the other person for not doing those two things, and then frustration becomes anger, and then you both are fighting with each other in the kitchen and no one is happy.

I find relationships, especially the one I am in with my fiance, to be challenging in the best ways. Cody shows me myself in harsh relief, and shows me himself in a clear light. Sometimes these views go together and our opinions are the same, and sometimes we are standing in the kitchen, him leaning against the sink and I against the refrigerator, aghast at what we are putting each other through.

One of the many things I am thankful about my relationship is that we always fight fair, and so far, come to a place where we can agree to take a breath, seek perspective, apologize where necessary, and assure the other person that we are not truly angry and that the other one is very loved.

Coming from an alcoholic family in which either nothing was discussed or someone was throwing a plate or crashing a car, this is my greatest space for growth: how to be a responsive and loving human, despite when, and maybe especially so, I am most uncomfortable by being shown my self in the mirror of the soul.

As I type this and think how grateful I am for all of it, despite its momentary pain, bewilderment and frustration, I am sitting with a small kitten, under a handmade quilt that I named “Find Your Heart”. Indeed.

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Perspective: Old Houses and the Passage of Time

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Father Time with Baby New Year

It has been ever so long since I consistently have written here: it is my mistake, to be sure, because if there is one thing that I do know, it’s that I forget the myriad twists and turns in this game of life unless I write them down.

Almost a year ago, my now fiance and I bought a unique, old house in a rural town east of Austin, Texas. We are 25 miles and 50 years away, it seems. I now teach in the school district, and he works on the maintenance crew. The town is very beautiful and small, and we love our property and funny old house very much.

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Winter Solstice Fire with Full Moon in the Half Light

When we first bought the house, I would get very overwhelmed by all that needed to be done here: the house itself is built of bricks and concrete with no wood framing, but all the wood trim in the house was eaten by termites. There is a flat roof on the sun porch that leaks. The 4 barns on the property, also brick, have a decided lean to them. There are cracks in the stucco on the walls, which would make any new homeowner nervous, but, after all, said new homeowner was assured by the engineer, when he did his inspection, that the house was old, but everything was all right.

Over the last 10 months, I have learned not to panic as much, and understand that the house has been here for at least 70 years (the other mystery is that no one knows how old it is, as it was outside city limits until a few years ago), and everything still works. It is a wonder to live in an old, handmade house. I love the well-appreciated book about handmade houses, and I have to say, that living in one is a pretty magical experience. I feel everyday the love that went into the building of the house, and the living in of the house. We knew, when we first saw it, that it was our house, despite its cracks, peeling paint, rotted porch windows, etc. We could see the beauty underneath that now, is slowly beginning to come out again.

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Termite Art — now gone — but how beautiful (and a little scary!)?

About a month ago, when the weather turned cold and the winter garden was all in place, we started tearing out the termite-eaten wood and discovered the crazy beauty of termite trails, and felt very grateful for termite poison and not having to deal with these bad boys (like we did, as a surprise in the spring!!! til they were nuked). We cleaned away all the dirt and discovered that, more than likely, our house was built with piers of bricks on the dirt, creating a nice little open-air passageway for termites to crawl up, building their trails into the wood of the trim-work and eating the wood from the inside out. When we took the wood off, some of it was paint-thin: literally the thickness of the few coats of paint put on sometime in the 1960s. We have learned a lot about termites since, and now know that unless they have something to eat, they will not come back, so all’s well that ends well.

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More Termite Art…

We are having an adventure, to be sure: cutting down trees, carving out landscapes, retiring the old and creating the new, step by painstaking step. Cody spent last weekend shoring up the leaning barns with new posts, and, like, magic, as he set the vertical posts, the barns settled back into square: their roof lines straight, as if they were stretching out and saying “ahhhhh – thank you for that!” and seating back to the way they must have been originally built, who knows when and by who knows who.

My goals here, for the newest iteration of this project, are to write regularly and to keep track of this life as it passes by ever so much faster each year. I would like to see how perspective changes with the reflection on the passage of time. I would like to share some home-renovation adventures. I would like to write my book, based on these musings here-in. If you have been with me for long, I thank you very much. If you are new, I thank you, too. If there is no one out there reading, well, this is for me, above all, so that is ok, too!

Merry Christmas! Now is the slow, reflective period between the Winter Solstice and the beginning of a new year: how marvelous.

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Sunset Last Night – on the shortest day of the year! 

My Mother’s House

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My mother’s house has many rooms. One for Want, for Regret, one for Determination and Resignation, one for Hope, one for Money, one for Expectations, Children, one for Past, one for Present, one for Future; all adjoined, all empty.

Perhaps a chair appears in each room from time to time, near the window that shines white light. Looking out the window, again, you see nothing. All empty.

The curtains blow in a breeze that carries with it no scent, no temperature, no hint of its origins.

The chair creaks: does someone sit? Who is it?

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Older women know that life is not what you think it will be: life is a river and we all must just attempt to stay in the boat. Many times, we don’t; we are thrown into muddy waters and just as you look around, desperate for the help that has for years been promised you, you find it gone. Alone in the house.

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All those empty rooms: connected by time and consciousness.

There are tiles on the floor, decorated with twisting vines and flowers, emblems of kitchens, quotes and mottos. When you walk upon them, they begin to crack, to break apart, to tinkle under the feet like the sound of a windowglass shattering or a wine glass landing on the stone floor: broken, under your feet.

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You wander between the rooms for surely there is something in one of them that ties you to the visions that were in the mind all those years ago. You sit on the chair, stand up briefly to stare out the window, look down and even the chair is gone.

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No sounds, just the sound of your breathing. No one there to hold your hand. How would you hold one now, anyway? Time has passed and the muscle memory is gone. You can’t see the outside of the house: barricaded and entombed by walls as high as mountains. Looking out the window, you can’t see them. Within that empty light, you can’t remember that you built them yourself.

There are no doors.

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Transitions and Transformations…

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I love old maps, don’t you? Can you see Elgin up there near the top?

The other day I drove in my burgundy Ford F-150 pickup truck to downtown Bastrop. I love driving the truck down the country roads of Bastrop County: they are wide and open and go past field after field after field. I see cows and trucks and tractors, enormous circular bales of hay, old cars and trucks, houses, trailers and water towers. I have always valued driving time as thinking time; the only time this is not true for me is when I am stuck in terrible traffic and then I just feel frustrated and defeated! But country driving always gives me a sense of clarity, distance, perspective and tends to be a generative process in the ideas department.

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Bastrop County Courthouse in 1930

The Bastrop County Courthouse (and Jail it turns out) is a beautiful, old building in the center of town. There were lots of people standing around the entrance, waiting for their docket times I suppose. I walked up the center sidewalk and noticed that a petrified tree stands to the right, sparkling in the sunlight. I asked a man where the County Clerk’s office was, and he pointed me to a small, carved pine door that looked more like a cuckoo-clock facade than an office entrance, but enter I did and found myself in room after room of age-old filing cabinets, lining the walls. The ladies sitting at desks were very kind, and I had my businesses (the farm and the jewelry studio) filed in no time, stamped, and, I suppose, entered into one of those large files along the walls.

The wind had been blowing as I got back into the truck, and I always take the spirit of the wind as a woman communicating something each time she blows and whistles about. Most of the time, I take her message to be one of, “get used to change” or, when she is especially vociferous, “a change is a-comin’!”. I try to look up and breathe in the wind, as if I will glean something else from the scent, or temperature, or force of it.

As I have gotten older, I am committed to understanding that the only constant in this life is change, and that we can fight it, or not. I choose not, and for this I can be considered flighty. My mother calls me a willo’-the-wisp, and I don’t think that either categorization is quite right. Do I follow the river of my life, ever-attempting to stay in the boat? Yes. Do I run from idea to idea? No. Perhaps I used to, but doesn’t everyone, in one way or another, do that in their days of youthful indiscretions and blindness? I would say so, even to people who think that they had it all figured out in their twenties and did things “the right way”. Those folks make me laugh a bit.

The herb farm has begun, I think that is what the wind was telling me, and upon its wings I will be carried forward. It is amazing to be able to dream an idea into reality. I am very lucky to be in my boat on this great river, and I hope I am able to continue my journey for years to come. Today is a short musing on transitions and transformations: I am also lucky to have the grounding force of a little brick house in Elgin and a very sweet man to have dinner with in the evenings. It helps this Goldberry take stock of the beauty of the day, and the understanding that tomorrow may be very different. The clarity of the present is, perhaps, all we really have.

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Wind from the Sea, Andrew Wyeth 1947

In a Building, on a Mountain, near a Telescope, Hurtling Through Space

 

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Over the last two days, I have spent my time at the McDonald Observatory, touring telescopes, learning about the origins of the universe, and gazing into the cosmos. I have learned about the age of the universe and cosmic microwave background radiation, and how there is a giant telescope with 91 hexagonal mirrors being built to stare into the heavens 10 billion years back.

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Hobby-Eberly Telescope being prepped for the HEXDET Experiment

Awe is an understatement when one looks through a tiny eyepiece on a 36cm telescope and sees the Cassini Division, or a group of stars that look like someone just dropped diamond dust on a piece of black velvet. The awe extends to the surface of each of those 91 identical mirrors, as you watch a lithe and agile woman scamper and climb underneath them in order to take dirty ones out to be replaced with perfectly clean copies. Awe continues when you see photos of your heroes, Carl Sagan and Jane Goodall, Galileo and Neil deGrasse Tyson decorating the walls and declaring the power of imagination and the drive to determine the beauty and power of a great idea.

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Carl Sagan!!! 

The experience of seeing these giant creations of men and women has been nothing short of stupendous. I have decided, and inwardly declared, that astronomy is this wonderful, magic, perfect-as-is-possible discipline in which people combine science, math, engineering, imagination and art. I have seen a telescope from 1939 paid for by a kindly bachelor banker who owned a car but never drove it, who paid for a beautiful German atomic crystal clock but never saw it, and who bequeathed his books, including “The Social Life of Insects” to an astronomy department that had yet to exist. Today I was able to wander around a larger telescope birthed from the need for better technology and the funding of the space race…it is a giant, a megalith of steel, lead, glass and concrete. In it are 4 or 5 mirrors, depending on what its being used for, that bounce light up and down and back again, into the floor below, to produce spectrographs of distant stars. I listened to two students tell us about how they are looking for evidence of exoplanets using the study of spectroscopy and this giant instrument that literally beams light from distant skies down below their feet.

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Harlan Smith Telescope, McDonald Observatory 

I have learned that there is no center and all positions within the universe are the center, at the same time. I have learned that the universe has some sort of three-dimensional shape but that it exists on a plane of its own creation and has a fourth dimension of time. Is time, then, a construct? Or is it real? What is real?

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The Art in Astronomy is surprising and beautiful 

These last few weeks have been trying, terrible, and emotionally despairing times for many. Seeing, as a part of the 24-hour news cycle, that our civilization is in decline far deeper than perhaps we had thought leaves us feeling fraught and frayed. Seeing our fellow humans in pain and as humans, though, is a powerful driver in helping all of us see our sisters and brothers as just that. I am an optimist, despite the dark that seems all around. I like to think that at least we saw each other in these moments, and we reached out to help, and help we did, though we must continue. I think the power of extending a heart-in-hand, especially to children and their mothers, will never serve us wrong, and perhaps is a step in the journey to what might be right and better for all of us.

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This is our Sun, whose light is passed through and projected on a wall, and refracted using a diffraction grating. Isn’t it gorgeous? 

I generally always feel that I am exactly where I am supposed to be in any given moment. It is a strategy that helps me find gratitude and peace with what is happening. I also have been lucky, thus far, to land on my feet. I have been wondering today, especially tonight, as I sat outside a 36cm telescope and listened to it sing like a humpback whale as it re-calibrated itself, as I stared up at the stars and listened to the funny conversations of colleagues trying to take photos of the moon on their smart phones through the Dobsonian Telescope’s eyepiece, that perhaps I have been here for a few days to remember the greatness of the capacity of human possibility and imagination. There is no greater evidence of that than looking at these telescopes up close and realizing the amount of dedication and dreaming that goes into each one of them. I asked the facilitator what drives the design and fabrication of new telescopes, and she told me, “scientific goals”. I asked her what scientific goals are inspiring the new, almost complete Magellan Telescope and she told me there were so many that it was hard to think of all of them. How wonderful an idea is that? That there are so many dreams that a real expert in her field cannot even think of all of them.

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Struve Telescope, McDonald Observatory 

I love Langston Hughes’ poetry and this one really stands out to me tonight, my last evening in this building, on a mountain, near a telescope, hurtling through space. May it serve you, too. With love and hope, P

 

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

20180619_172618The McDonald Observatory grounds from my southwest-facing window.