A Laborious Mosaic

 

“She was very aware that it was temporary. She was not defensive about it; she was offensive about it. She would say that it was an attribute. Everything was for the process–a moment in time, not meant to last.” Arthur C. Danto about Eva Hesse

I have been accused of being a perpetual boyfriend-chaser.

I have also been labeled a love addict.

Tis too true — I love falling in love, being in love, feeling love. Although, I must admit that I do not truly know what it is to be a participant in mutual, building, sustainable love. I love helping people and I love loving others. I love feeling them need me; I love attention.

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That being said, I choose the wrong partners almost every single time. OK: every single time so far. I choose partners who are selfish, who cannot really love another person. I choose partners who are emotionally unavailable. I choose partners who are artistic and aloof. I choose partners who are needy and manipulative. I choose partners who see me as someone, as one someone, and I change into that person. I am a chameleon for men. I have written here earlier that I am the Queen of Running, and that I can adapt to almost every situation. Maybe my spirit animal should be the chameleon, or one of those amazing walking sticks that look like leaves, or a black panther or the moth that has cobra heads on its wings. I have changed for whomever comes across my path and shows interest in me. I am natural nurturer, and if someone lets me take care of them, I will. I will care and nurture and support until I am left, hollow and exhausted, usually about two years later.

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The exception to the two year rule was my husband, who I was with for almost seven years. We made it those seven years for various reasons. We split because we had never learned to communicate, could not disagree in a productive way, he had no motivation to really be a partner to me, he depended almost entirely on his parents who were always going to be more important than me or us. We had become roommates, friends, not lovers. Our life had become routine, so routine. Our life was managed by me, nurtured by me, maintained by a series of expected movements and dependable, predictable routines cultivated over the years. I worked the stable job, I managed the money, I organized our life: I was the one that held it all together. We could have kept that life going for a little while longer, maybe another two years, but the progression of life was not there: we had stagnated. There is a saying about relationships that they are like sharks: they have to keep swimming or they die. Ours was a sleeping shark, drifting downward into the depths. I simply cut off its fins and forced it to sink faster when I asked, after months of painful deliberation, that we separate.

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The other exceptional thing about my ex-husband is that he was easy-going and meek. He was artistic and creative, but not passionate. He didn’t possess the animation, the mad energy, the lust for life, that many other lovers have possessed. He didn’t spin in mental and rhetorical circles, or live in a house that was crumbling and had no refrigerator. He didn’t have long hair and love to go backpacking up the sides of mountains with no map, he didn’t write me poetry and weep in my arms, he didn’t ride bicycles until 7 in the morning and come home drunk and angry at something inside himself. He didn’t live in a foreign country in a beautiful house, separated  from what he really wanted but with enumerable possessions, and he didn’t pretend to be someone he was not by dulling himself with alcohol or drugs, spinning records on weeknights, using philosophy as a tool for avoiding people and experiences, but he was, in the end, like all the others, a liar.

When my friend asked my other friend if I was a perpetual boy-chaser, she was referring to my seemingly endless pursuit of the passionate man, the man whose madcap dash through life is something akin to a drug for me: something that I will seek and find, even unconsciously. Put me in a city of millions or an island of a few thousand, and I will still find this man. I find him everywhere, even when I am not looking. This spirit of chaos, this spirit of degradation, of manipulation, of skewed love, of lust, of power, of personal disaster will be rooted out, as if there is a magnet or a hidden sign emblazoned on my spirit, heart, or soul…..here I am, it says.

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Another friend of mine says that it is like I have two minds: one that knows what I should do, and one that tricks me into torturing myself, into the painful place of this type of relationship. I can tell you where it comes from, but it doesn’t really matter, and you can probably guess, anyway. Many of us have these same issues, coming from that man that we grew up with. Suffice it to say, my father suffers cruelly from what David Foster Wallace called The Terrible Master, and I look or act or sound or remind him of someone from his past that recalls the painful terror that echoes through his inner dialogue. Since I was about thirteen, I was a fairly easy target for his frustration, his failure. I listened, I internalized, I began to question if what he said was true. And almost every person I choose as a partner reflects those questions back at me and I end up telling myself the same thing: if I can just stay here a bit longer, then he will get better/happier/more stable/more successful/more loving/more open/more motivated and will be able to show me what I need. I know he will. And of course, he never does because he was unable to, all the way at the beginning.

leopard-camouflage I read a beautiful article today about an artist named Eva Hesse, a woman that previous to today, I had never heard of.

“At this point,” Hesse wrote, “I feel a little guilty when people want to buy it. I think they know but I want to write them a letter and say it’s not going to last. I am not sure what my stand on lasting really is. Part of me feels that it’s superfluous, and if I need to use rubber that is more important. Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.” 

Born in Germany but who lived a short time, part of her short life, here in the United States, Hesse was a 1960s modern artist, a sculptor who sought to navigate through her world and interpret it through her sculptures of industrial materials, anatomical forms, and repetition. She named her pieces with coy names, or ones that reflected scientific discoveries of her age, or her opinions on the direction of the movement she participated within.

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One of the things that I love about being a woman, and especially a woman artist, is our ability to craft work based on our experiences and our lives. All of us, man or woman, has a life whose path is fraught with pain and difficulty, as I said before, Life can be Suffering. (I have amended that Buddhist belief for my own devices.) Woman artists have a unique capacity, I think, to craft and exhibit that pain and make it remain beautiful. Look at Frida Kahlo‘s self portraits, or Georgia O’Keefe‘s flowers, or Eva Hesse‘s sculptures, Annie Leibovitz‘s portrait photography, Yoko Ono‘s drawings and sculptures, and, more simply, the huipils of women in Central America whose embroidery communicated the stories of their culture as the Spanish decimated their people with disease and domination.

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Traditionally, women are seen or expected to take on this role of nurturer as if that means that they are to bend, to be flexible, to be willing to support no matter what. I believe that one of the great gains of feminism is an understanding of how those roles can be both male and female, and that women, too, can be ambitious, business-like, healthily selfish, and strong. I believe that the women’s movement is about choice, and that men, too, can gain from an understanding that feminism helps men break out of their codified existences of cold, emotional distance or “strength” at any cost. Feminism is all-encompassing, if we let it be.

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To get back to my original point, of being the boyfriend chaser, the love addict who seeks the wrong sort of love in place of the real thing, I am seeking to combine the understanding that it is time to find self-love and then real love, it is time to create art out of the understanding and final comprehension of these experiences, to channel the spirit of other woman artists who have broken their patterns and found their inner artist. As one line from one of my favorite poems says: it is time to eat my last meal in my old neighborhood. In many ways, the tiger trap I found myself in lately, was a gift because all I had to do was look up, grab those pieces of bamboo, and begin climbing out.

Climbing out, for me, as a woman artist, as a person whose own experience and own Terrible Master has clouded her judgement for so long, involves speaking to other people, and sharing these experiences. Today I read this article, and found it gut-wrenching, so I am linking to it. Today I spoke at length with a new friend and she opened my eyes in ways that others had not been able. Today I recommitted to being a woman artist and making this journey work, whatever it ends up being, wherever it ends up going. When I get into that boat of my dreams, every morning as I wake up, and make the conscious decision to do this, to really do it, to being the artist that I am, it is about looking these fears and decisions and successes and challenges in the face and moving through them, slowly. It is about taking moments to savour the beauty of everyday experience, like ice-skating alone today down a creek bed. It is about standing up with a straight back and liberating the self from years of patterned behavior. It is about writing, and looking, and creating, and melting metal into new shapes and forms. It is about trusting others, but trusting oneself most of all.

Being a woman is being “of fierce delicacy and passionate fragility,” and of recognizing that those two aspects are not weaknesses, but beautiful pillars to share with the world through art, or writing, or speaking, or however else you choose to communicate.

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successful developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anais Nin

crane heart

North Wind

Jordan Pond January 34

In the midst of a meadow

A skylark singing

Free from everything

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There are hotspots on the ice, on the lakes and ponds of our island, that look like black neurons embedded in the hard, icy surface. The pattern they make echoes perfectly the endings of our neural cells, or the pattern of growth in reindeer moss, or the paths of rivers as they progressively etch the surface of our planet.

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Why are there such similarities in shapes and forms that are found in nature? Why is that the millions of bubbles suspended in the ice of a frozen pond mimic the lattice of old bridges, or that the edge of a huge crack in that same ice, one of the cracks that stretches thirty feet in one direction and 4 inches down, has the same structure and form as a chunk of granite a few feet away at the water’s edge? Why does ice, frozen under the lake’s surface, look like a field of daisies, or the surface of a sea urchin, or the tentacles of a jellyfish?

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Are we, as humans, so desperate to find meaning in our lives, however short they may be, that we find meanings and patterns in natural phenomena? Or are those patterns simply patterns: repeating shapes and structures that are big and small, in hot and cold, in water and air, all through our Earth system? When I look at photographs of nebulas and galaxies, I see shapes that resemble eyes and horseheads. When I sit on a frozen pond and stare down through the ice, I see shapes that resemble stars and clouds in space. Perhaps there is no great meaning in these similarities: perhaps they are simply a repetitive alignment of the atoms that make up all that is our planet Earth.

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It is very, very cold here at the present moment. Last week, on the coldest day of the year, I went ice skating with a friend on Little Long Pond, at sunset. As the sun’s light descended into peach and orange, all around us, the shadows stretched long and the fir trees reflected, black, on the pond’s surface. I skated to the far end of the pond, across a patch that, in summer, is a swampy bog of reeds and grasses. I skated over ice with brambles and grasses growing up out of it: it looks like hair growing out of skin. As I headed back to my boots as they sat on shore, I noticed the sunset, pink, reflected on the ice’s surface.

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Three times lately, I have been skating at Jordan Pond — an epic and majestic place with two mountains at the end of the lake, and trees on all sides. In summer, this place is crawling with people; now, not a soul. On my first and second visits, the wind blew, shrieking with all her force, out of the north with a viciousness and a bite that is unexplainable except when you are experiencing it. (Estimated wind chill was -33F!!!). I struck out on the ice, fighting the wind and battling forward along the middle of the pond. The pond narrows at the boat launch, where my boots and the truck sat, and funnels the wind into a tunnel of cold, strong air. The wind was blowing at 30 knots at least, and it almost blew me over as I stood up on my skates.

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Fighting forward, swinging my arms and legs side to side like a high speed Olympic skater in slow motion, I was dressed in mechanic’s coveralls over a down jacket, performance fleece, wool leggings, corduroys, a hat and a  hood on my head and a scarf wrapped around my face. I scooted, slowly over the ice, occasionally pausing during greater wind gusts, turning my face away from the inevitability of frostbite and giving my legs a break. Slowly, across an intense, bumpy ice flow that spanned the width of the lake, I inched my way toward the smooth center of Jordan Pond, and stared down beneath my feet at frozen bubbles and black water. So clear that you could detect stones and branches beneath you, it felt scary and unnatural, as if you were flying or scuba diving, or both.

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Skating over this alien landscape felt dangerous and otherworldly: as if I was caught here in this moment in time, and that I would never be able to be here again because it could just disappear with the snap of my fingers, or this week’s thawing temperatures. Flying and gliding over the ice is like riding a bicycle or racing a sailboat or sawing a piece of silver or vacuuming a large carpet: all you think about in those moments of movement is the act itself, of paying attention to the ice beneath your feet so that you don’t catch your skate blade in a crack and fall. In those moments, you hear the wind howling in your ears, the rapid flapping of the leather of your mittens, the clattering of a piece of velcro as it is wrenched loose from the hood that protects your head from losing all of your heat, gliding over green water and black, staring at pond stones and deer bones and birch trees now suspended, frozen, at the lake’s bottom.

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 This past summer I took some friends who had never been to Mount Desert Island around this lake on a walk, and listened to the water lap the rocks at pond’s edge. Now the water is silent and like glass; it still looks like open water at a distance, but is 6-10 inches thick, solid, frozen. Patches of snow-ice dotted the pond the further I skated down, as if they were giant white lilypads stretched across the lake’s surface. Skating over those lilypads is deliciously bumpy, and you feel the shock absorbing properties of your knees and ankles as skates and your body bounce across.

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The wind was at my back as I skated over to a sacred spot discovered the day before: a place where the ice had frozen into tiny, perfect floral shapes, where it looked like algae or sea urchins or jellyfish, or all three at the same time. The wind, with so much force, pushed me so hard that I sped up very fast and took a few moments just to glide between the icy lilypads, leaning on one skate or the other to direct my path around and between them. Needing no push from my muscles, I was simply guided forward by gusts of intense north wind. I finally managed to slow down by doubling back and facing the wind again: able to slow down and stop, I took a moment and looked at the two mountains that are the distinguishing feature of this pond.

Jordan Pond January 18

Returning for a third visit this morning, at sunrise, I spied birds’ wings made of ice trapped under the pond’s surface, and vertebrae, and skeletons. I saw the shape of two birds fighting each other, complete with feathers flying. I saw jellyfish, and shapes that looked like antique carousels, and baskets, and cages. I saw spirals trapped and motioning me down into the black depths. I took a few moments and lay down on the ice and stared at a 10 inch crack in the surface. I looked at it from one side and saw how the early morning sunlight was shining through its cracks, making it appear polka dotted, or etched by some invisible hand. I looked at it from the other side, and peered closely and noticed how much it echoed the shape of the mountain that stood in front of me, on the west side of the pond. I noticed the strings of bubbles and noted how similar their patterns are to the way cave glow-worms hang, or the shape of the nails and pins we use to build houses. As my friend and I lay there, bundled up against the cold, on our bellies, gazing into the ice, a huge boom echoed below us as a new, large crack formed somewhere behind us. The boom, the cracking, was so forceful it shook us: you could feel the vibration all through your body. At that moment, we stood up and skated around each other again for a few moments, savouring the serendipity and the silence and silkiness of perfect ice, and then went off to begin the day.

Jordan Pond January 4

In Fertile Fields of Long Ago..

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“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”

Anais Nin

Tonight is a night of clear skies and twinkling stars, of descending temperatures and the promise of snow.

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In fertile fields of long ago
I’m sure I had a mistress though
Her face fleet footed flees recall
And aught remains save winter’s pall

In fertile fields of long ago
When I knew all there was to know
I set my hopes on happy days
And borrowed joy which time repays

In fertile fields of long ago
Where fruits once ripened gloom does grow
In fertile fields of yesteryear
I lost the ones that I held dear

In fertile fields of long ago
When summer lulled and days were slow
Youth concealed the freeze and frost
That settle in when all is lost

Author Unknown — it was sent to me in a letter long ago

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I have kept diaries consistently since I was eleven years old, since 1992. My first diary is The Dahl Diary, and is one of my all time favorites since it has pictures from Roald Dahl books and snippets and quotes from him sprinkled throughout. I have journals with fancy covers and simple ones, journals that are tall and some that are short. My favorite journals are Moleskines with gridded pages. I have a shelf on my bookshelf dedicated to four things: my flower press, my Prismacolors, my Grandpa’s old Minolta camera that he used to photograph my parents’ wedding with the lens cap still on, and my diaries. The diaries take up over half the shelf.

My diaries tell me stories from my past, and without them, I would forget all the things that have happened. When I got divorced and immediately afterward got into an abusive relationship with someone with a mental illness, I stopped journaling, and when I discovered this at the end of that relationship,  I made a promise to myself to not do that again. I said to myself that I would always keep writing, if not every day, then almost every day, so that I would never again lose great chunks of time.

Time passes so fast: I blink and six months have passed. I blink again and it’s the middle of January in 2013. I realized tonight that I met my best friends 11 years ago and how it feels like I have known them forever but that the intervening years are a blip: they passed us by so quickly.

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Self determination is a quality of life that we all possess, especially here in the United States, a place where we are so lucky to be able, within limits, to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. This is a powerful aspect of our culture, and one that can create a sense of being crippled by choices. As a woman in 2013, especially a woman who has an almost 10 year career behind her and who was married for almost that length of time, those choices are even further complicated by the questions of children and marriage and partners and the social pressures still placed upon us despite our abilities to forge career paths and live by ourselves, out of our parents’ houses.

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I grew up in a house probably similar to yours: my father worked and my mom stayed at home until I was in seventh grade when my father lost his job and our family collapsed around what I recognize now was a very tenuous existence based on materialism and status in 1980s Houston. My father suffered an emotional crisis, my mom went to work for the first time, and my brother and I continued living our suburban life. My parents worked hard to keep our life as much the same as they could. We always had a roof over our heads and the power was always on, we had clothes and food. My father never really recovered from this time and steadily has passed his time (this was 1994) growing more and more angry at something or someone outside himself that doesn’t really exist.

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For the last several years, I have been adjusting to the fact that life is full of tragedies; as is said sometimes, Life is Suffering. I realized the other day that this year is the 10 year anniversary of the death of a man who was very, very important to me for a time. Love,  I have learned, is rather uncontrollable and inconvenient and sometimes you don’t even recognize it, and sometimes, when you do, it can be so scary that you run away from it as fast as humanly possible. It is hard for me to believe that it has been ten years since I last spoke to this friend and since he left us in the way he had nightmared about for months before his actual death. One of the things I loved about him was that he was always open and honest; speaking from his heart, he was brash and eloquent and challenging.

you and i have not the strength,
compassion, or centered-ness to shake other humans
loose.  the delusion is just too strong.  for the most
part, penetrating the oceans of bullshit in which we
swim requires WILLINGNESS–the unprepared, the
unwilling just don’t get it.  you know, you tell
someone, yo.  yer living in a nightmare.  please, WAKE
UP!  and they say, huh?  like that.”

I have come to realize that our faults are a factor of our daily lives. Our faults are yes, what make us “human”, but they are also the things that make us ashamed of ourselves, and less likely to be honest with others. I believe this is what makes it hard to sustain meaningful relationships. For my whole life, I have been afraid to be honest lest I disappoint someone, hurt someone, or make someone feel that I am not “good enough” or perfect. This is real, this is me. This is hard to admit because it means that others will know that I am not perfectly capable in any given situation, even though I may appear to be.

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“The moving finger writes, and having writ
Moves on.  Nor all your piety and wit
Can call it back to cancel half a line
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”

from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam

“Now all the truth is out
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat…
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

W.B.Yeats


The passages above, as well as many others, were things written to me over the course of a very intense time of communication and mutual love. These writings and their intensity I recognized as love, I knew that we were in love, that we loved each other, but the danger of the other person’s decisions at the time made that love not a realistic possibility. His intensity too much, I, as I am wont to do, ran away and into the arms of someone safe but great, in his own way: the man I married. Of course he wasn’t the right person, and of course the marriage dissolved, and here I am, ten years later, re-reading the letters of one who loved me as I loved him, but he was not the man for me. It is hard to recognize love when it is flat in front of your face, when it is complicated and scary and one person is too young and the other too…something that I do not have a name for.

Tonight, as I enter my 33rd year on the planet, and am able to look backward very far and forward just a few steps, and am beginning to turn a corner on this life that I have been stuck on for years now, I have to remember that love is the spirit of the universe, and that understanding the place of others in this life, and that they may be fucked up, or confused, or upset, or perfect or seeming to be, or strong, or weak, or whatever it is that they are, that our loved ones are what create meaning for us in the daily stew of this confusing life, this rolling, pitching ship on which we all find ourselves. This is the sentiment I get from this letter, received well over ten years ago now, but apropos at this exact moment:

“i see you in my mind with that sly grin on your face,
that flash in your eyes, and i hear you laughing.

which is not to say that you are always happy, rather,
that you make ME happy when i find you again after
long and hazy journeys of many months, wiping the dust
and sweat of all that horseshit striving and yearning
from my eyes and thinking how TIRED i am of this
cycle, this dance that goes on and on and on and i’ll
probably be reborn as a cockroach, and there YOU are
and i hear that brilliant laugh of yours that starts
as an amused giggle and soars, lifting me with it, and
i feel better for a time, knowing that you are in the
world.

you know, i feel this way about you, and i’ve the
sneaking suspicion that i always will.  it makes me
happy to know that my feelings are not the result of
delusions and striving.  you don’t have to BE
anything, if you know what i mean.  you’re just you
and that’s special enough.  ah, P…if you could see
yourself with my eyes, you wouldn’t worry about
anything pretty much ever.”

“and in my mind you are poking shit at the patent
absurdity of the world and laughing like the
mischief-crazed madwoman you in fact are.”

Photodiary – A Foggy Day in January

This morning, the second day of warmer temperatures caused most of the snow to sublimate to its gaseous state of fog. (This was my first experience with sublimation, and as an ex-middle school science teacher, it was really exciting.) Thick, pouring fog descended down from heaven and up from the roiling surface of the ocean and filled our tiny town with beautiful whiteness. White fog on top of white snow creates an incredible environment full of silhouettes: trees turn from three dimensional forms to black two-dimensional forms set upon the landscape.

Early this morning, I took a walk down to the water.

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By the end of the day, the fog had completely burned away and the sunshine returned.

At dusk, the sunset was colored a bright marigold orange, smooth bands of color stretched horizontally out across the horizon. The ocean water was a continuous, deep blue, textured only with the bands of waves as the light wind played across its surface. The islands and trees were once again transformed into black two dimensional silhouettes, stark against the orange and deep blue. Standing on the deck of one of the Rockefeller’s summer houses, my boots deep in the remnants of snow, waiting only a moment lest I be caught, I watched the sun retreat below the horizon as one more day passed by.

Winter Begins

Marie Sioux – Flowers and Blood

“We take from life one little share,
And say that this shall be
A space, redeemed from toil and care,
From tears and sadness free.”

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I came here in June, sick and tired. I came here late at night, with a headache splitting my head in two: it felt as if an axe blade was lodged in the left side of my skull. My car was packed with belongings and I drove, forward, through the black night, past houses and the ocean streamed at my right side. That night I cried, cried, cried, and continued through days and nights as my head hurt and my heart ached at realizing I had made it away from a place of so much pain. After re-decorating that basement space that was mine, for a time, I stayed in bed for weeks, while shingles wracked my body, erupting on my face and eyelids and scalp, causing pain and burning and itching. As it healed and the nerves reconnected, I had a hard time sleeping because it felt like electricity was running through my skin. There were days when I would venture out to swim or to bike ride, and feel as if I almost had to crawl back inside the house, into bed, because I was so tired.

“And, haply, Death unstrings his bow,
And Sorrow stands apart,
And, for a little while, we know
The sunshine of the heart.”

Time passed, and I began to feel better. In time, I ventured out more often, and was able to plant plants in the ground again, and be in the sunshine, take walks, swim across the lakes. Late in the summer, after a confusing but exciting trip to the Yucatan, during which I learned how to make pie crust in the tropics, became a certified scuba diver, watched a hurricane pass by, and learned that a special someone was not who I thought he was, I worked in a large, open barn with wooden sculptures everywhere. I started the day by weeding the granite paths in a flower garden, and passed the day helping children paint boards and wooden fish, and painted my own things, too. There was a moment on the third or fourth day when my head came back — my mind came back to my body and I felt reconnected again. It had been months since I had felt that way.

“Existence seems a summer eve,
Warm, soft, and full of peace,
Our free, unfettered feelings give
The soul its full release.”

Time passed, and the fall began. I continued to work in the garden, weeding cosmos flowers and beets and kale and onions. I watched pumpkin vines grow in compost piles, and planted evergreens on a steep hillside and pondered how quickly lavender will grow in a place with such a short summer. I took drives in a 1970s Porsche into the hills of this island, and looked at fancy houses and ocean views. I housesat in a little house in Seal Harbor, where I had to walk one mile to the beach to use my cell phone and reconnect with those people in my life who felt, at that time, so far away. One afternoon, one of those days of golden light and warmth, I was standing on a roof deck of a beautiful wooden summer house on the top of a hill and looked out at the trees that grew all over the mountaintops, at the water of Somes Sound, and decided to stay.

“A moment, then, it takes the power
To call up thoughts that throw
Around that charmed and hallowed hour,
This life’s divinest glow.”

Staying is hard for me. I am more apt to run: I am the world’s most skilled runner. Adaptable to any situation, a great and hard worker, friendly, I can fit in anywhere. I can come and go, and do, quite often, if I am unhappy. I find ways to escape: I am an artist that way. I am the Queen of leaving. Committing to anything is, well, plainly terrifying to me, and the decision to stay here, while I knew it was the right thing to do (I had originally planned to be in Mexico and had sold everything I owned toward that purpose), was scary. I felt I had to hide a little bit, hole up and re-evaluate, re-group. I rented a beautiful apartment, and then left on a huge trip across the country to see everyone that I loved. I documented that trip here, detailing all the themes that appeared in my mind and my life along the way.

“But Time, though viewlessly it flies,
And slowly, will not stay;
Alike, through clear and clouded skies,
It cleaves its silent way.”

I came back, and fall passed quickly. The light changed, and faded away. It became dark, and cold. I spent much time walking and looking, looking and listening, writing and sitting. I made a lot of jewelry and tried to stay quiet. Christmas came and went, as did the New Year. Emotions ran the rainbow of possibilities: I felt happy, then sad, then elated, then scared, then passionate. Then suddenly, the miasma of the holidays, the painful memories and the excitement at that season, passed, and it was winter.

“Alike the bitter cup of grief,
Alike the draught of bliss,
Its progress leaves but moment brief
For baffled lips to kiss”

Winter is a new experience for me. I have no frame of reference for this season. Yes, we all have experienced “winter” wherever we live as a cooling of temperatures and changes in light, but Maine winter is different. Maine winter is quiet. Maine winter is empty: you know the people are here, but you don’t see them. You see evidence of them in the glow of windows, and the sounds of snow plow trucks trundling past your house. Maine winter is three feet of snow that sits for weeks. Maine winter is going ice skating on a lake that a month ago was liquid water; now you can skate across the surface almost silently, watching ice fishermen wait for their orange flags to bob down letting them know they have caught a fish. Maine winter is watching people in canvas tents in the woods, nestled around woodstoves, escaping their daily lives for a day or so. Maine winter is cold, and the cold is biting. It freezes your toes and feet, and your hands. The wind whips around your face and stings your eyes and lips and nose. Maine winter steals heat from your body as you walk, sucking it out of the top of your head if you, stupidly, go without a hat. Maine winter is long, and it just began in earnest.

“The sparkling draught is dried away,
The hour of rest is gone,
And urgent voices, round us, say,
“’Ho, lingerer, hasten on!””

For the last week or so, I have been taking an informal survey on “What Winter Means”. I have asked everyone that I know who has lived here for a while the same few questions: Why is it so different? Why do people go kooky after New Years? and Is it true that everyone will go nuts in February?

“And has the soul, then, only gained,
From this brief time of ease,
A moment’s rest, when overstrained,
One hurried glimpse of peace?”

I can tell you that winter is a lonely time, if one is alone. It is cold, and you want to cozy up next to someone to get warm. Winter’s coldness is felt inside your body, down to your bones and further inside. Winter is scary because, in January, you realize that it will be like this until March or April, but most likely, April. Winter draws out before you with the promise of ice and snow and bright sunny days and deep cloudy ones. Winter causes you to question yourself, and realize that you do not know exactly what will happen to you in a place of this much cold, this few people, this slow of a pace.

“No; while the sun shone kindly o’er us,
And flowers bloomed round our feet,—
While many a bud of joy before us
Unclosed its petals sweet,—”

On Monday, I rode in a small steel boat to the outer islands to interview to become a substitute teacher in a two-room schoolhouse for 9 students. The ride out was cold, but it had the hopefulness of morning, and the water was deep blue and turquoise green and the smell of diesel is comforting, in its own way. People kept busy reading their mail, playing games; I spent the time knitting and chatting when I could. First we stopped at Great Cranberry, and I looked at the pileons all covered with bronze seaweed and barnacles. We pulled away and across the straight to Islesford, where I embarked and walked up a narrow road, perfectly snowplowed. Snow two feet deep was on either side of me, and most of the houses, summer places, were empty. The field that, last summer, I used to play volleyball with two friends from Philly lay vacant, vast, white and empty. Everything was silent with the empty echo of winter: the sound of silence and of hunkering down. This is survival time. I spent the day in the school, visiting with children and adults and a dog named Ruby, and then took the same steel boat back to Northeast Harbor. The sun set over the mountains as we rode in, all orange and red and salmon pink over deep blue mountains. It was cold, colder than cold on that boat, and everyone seemed to be adjusting to it well but me. I walked up the gangplank to the harbor area and felt colder than I have ever felt. Walking into town, I began to panic thinking I would never get warm, or I would get sick again, or both. I slipped on ice and sank into snow, feeling colder by the minute. In that cold, your head hurts with the cold air, your eyes water, your hands and feet ache despite boots and gloves.

“An unseen work within was plying;
Like honey-seeking bee,
From flower to flower, unwearied, flying,
Laboured one faculty,—”

I went to a friend’s house then and bemoaned the cold and he laughed and said he was at least happy that I understood that he wasn’t kidding when he said the cold was serious. I sat, practically hugged, the woodstove, took off my shoes and socks and he handed me steaming hot coffee and eventually, my warmth came back and I stopped panicking about the winter, about the cold.

“Thoughtful for Winter’s future sorrow,
Its gloom and scarcity;
Prescient to-day, of want to-morrow,
Toiled quiet Memory.”

And just like that, the deep cold left us that very next day. The next day, the sun shone on our town and the snow began to melt and temperatures that were in single digits and teens all of a sudden were almost to 40. The snow melted into water and dripped off the eaves of buildings into the street, making slick patches of clear  ice, impossible to see but easy to slip on, and catch yourself before a fall.

“’Tis she that from each transient pleasure
Extracts a lasting good;
’Tis she that finds, in summer, treasure
To serve for winter’s food.”

Despite our warmer week, the winter’s chill has taken hold and taken effect on people. People are changing. I wish to record these feelings here so that I remember them in a month, when winter is really in full swing, and in its depth of experience. People are spending less and less time out, more and more time in their homes. I, too, feel the desire to curl up inside and surround myself with blankets and fabrics and sewing projects, and other creations of comfort. I seek to design and build things that reflect those aspects of life that I miss: warmth, light, plants, flowers. I dreamt the other day of a place where the plants are still growing, where leaves are unfurling and flowers are in bloom. I remembered the pink oleander in front of my old house in Austin that still grew and even bloomed, sometimes, in the winter of central Texas.

“And when Youth’s summer day is vanished,
And Age brings Winter’s stress,
Her stores, with hoarded sweets replenished,
Life’s evening hours will bless.”

So what will Winter bring? I have no idea what is coming toward me, except a distinct sense that my perception and interaction with my environment will become even smaller than it is now. It is hard to imagine that a year ago I was living in a large American city, and now my world has shrunken so. In the cold, even though the light is returning to us, I envision a time of watching, and waiting. My new motto is “don’t think, don’t feel, any more than you can help, don’t conclude or decide — don’t do anything but wait.” Henry James must have spent a winter in Maine as an outsider, and spent much of his time just watching how people’s restlessness magnified, how all people turned inward to the coziness of houses and hearths.

dans guest room

***The poem cited here is Winter Stores by Charlotte Bronte,

a woman who knew the isolation of winter better than most.”

Monday Mix Tape

***because we all need help on Mondays***

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Lisa Congdon Illustration

Gordon Lightfoot – Cold on the Shoulder

Karen Dalton – Something on Your Mind

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Robert Plant – Big Log

Stevie Nicks – Rooms on Fire

Foster the People – Warrant

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A.O.S. – History Repeats Itself

Atlas Sound – Te Amo

Fleetwood Mac – Need Your Love So Bad

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Chris Isaak – Heart Shaped World

Neil Young – Tell Me Why

Kristin Hersh – Me and My Charms

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Allison Krauss & Gillian Welch – I’ll Fly Away

Gesi Bagari – Selda

Norah Jones – Not Too Late

Ani Difranco – Educated Guess

il_570xN.395361987_48vbHere’s hoping! Have a great Monday, y’all!

Sunday Faerie Tale

bedroom 1

Slumber

On my bed, I have a grey wool blanket with a herringbone pattern, an orange ticking-striped down comforter, a white cotton blanket and an old Indian cotton blanket. All of these magic elements of my bed were piled and curled around my sleeping body early this morning, in the grey light of the beginnings of sunrise, when I peeked my head out from between pillows decorated with abstract Queen Anne’s Lace, and gazed out that window that I gaze out of each morning.

Yesterday at sunrise, my neighbor’s windows glowed golden in the blue morning light. A beautiful feature of this much snow is that, in those moments before dawn, the scant amounts of light, the photons just drifting through the air from the east, cast a deep cobalt tone to the landscape. Everything is blue and black, and electric light is golden-bronze, held in place for mere moments, each morning.

This morning, however, snow was on the horizon; Icould see it coming in ombre grey folds of clouds up above the horizon, behind the trees. Layers, as if folds of a giant blanket, grew darker grey the further out I looked with my early morning, sleep-weighted eyes. In the air, I could see not light, but snow.

Pulling on two pairs of tights, one wool and one polyester, a wool skirt, a tank top, a wool shirt, a shawl, a vest, jacket and a hat, I took myself ice skating out onto Upper Hadlock Pond. It was very early, not even 7, and there was no one else at the pond. In that early morning moment, when all was very grey-white, no shadows at all because there was no sun, all was silent and amazingly colorful in its simple shades of green, white, grey and black. Mere moments later, an ice fisherman appeared with his sled and buckets, said good morning and that he was surprised we were the only people there, and stomped off across the ice to his favorite fishing spots.

As I skated around, getting my skating legs back (it always takes me a few moments) and skating across a huge rough patch that is the only path to the beautifully clear and smooth skating area, I stopped-and-started my way across, noticing the lumpiness of the ice, getting my skates caught in patches of ice-snow, noticing how the waves had frozen in place, and that bubbles, forced up as those waves froze, had frozen, too, into these strange circles that look like white eyeballs or lilypads floating at the surface.

upper hadlock pond4

This photo is from the other day, when the sun was shining…

Onward into the morning quiet went I, paying much attention to where I was going so that I didn’t fall like I did two days ago. In those early moments, all you could hear was the swishing of skates on ice, and occasionally the most magic of sounds, the shifting and cracking of the lake’s surface. As the ice cracks and bends, it makes a deep gurgling noise not unlike the sound wine makes when poured out the neck of the bottle.

The ice sighed today, heavy with the weight of water moving underneath it, over the dam at the other end of the pond. The ice sighed as I skated over it, and tiny cracks formed alongside my feet as I slid over and around it, making curlycues and stripes and curved lines with my steel blades. Sometimes the sighing and cracking spooked me: especially when a crack happened quickly and I watched it form in the blink of an eye next to my feet.

In the eerie stillness of this early morning, when the sky was grey and white, and the trees deep green and bronze, and the ice white, myself and the ice fisherman were black against a stark landscape. Parkman Mountain peeked over the tops of the trees, now completely coated in snow and dotted with the tallest of trees. It was at this moment that the scant snowflakes that started moments before transformed into huge pillow-like flakes that fell with the rapidity of a rainstorm onto myself and the fisherman, my silent companion on the ice. As I skated, snowflakes became caught in my eyelashes and stuck to my lips. The snow fell, fell, fell around me but there was no wind so it drifted, and sank, through the air from sky to pond’s surface. The snowflakes were huge and seemed to be held in the air, as if they were tiny feathers delicately drifting downward toward the center of the Earth.

I stopped skating for a few moments and just listened. One of my favorite things about snowstorms is their silence: you hear nothing. This morning was no exception: I stood on my skates, still, listening to nothing, ears echoing in that silence. I stared into a little finger sized cove on one end of the pond, watching the snow fall, listening to the silent air, noticing how the branches of the pine trees looked like the bronchi of our lungs, watching them catch the snowflakes in their boughs. Caught in the moment, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, and not able to look away, became very emotional and breathless.

As the snow continued to fall, and the landscape became more fairy-tale like, and I was imagining all kinds of things happening as they would in faerie stories, and contemplating my life and the many interesting things that have happened and what it all means when one catches yourself in beauty for a moment at 7:30am on a Sunday morning, I began to realize that I could no longer distinguish my skate marks from the cracks in the ice. For a few more minutes, I spun around in large circles, holding myself up on my right foot and then my left, holding my hands above my head in a circle, bending my knees and straightening them, and slowly made my way back across the lake to the crossing point. For one last moment, I stood staring at Parkman Mountain again, now shielded from view by falling silent snow, and crossed the bumpy, crunchy ice back to the mouth of the pond. I skated over the pocked patches of ice, drawing more curls in the snow with my skates, dancing as best I could without falling. For a moment, I sat on the ice, on top of my mittens, taking off my skates and looking out at the landscape that was steadily filling with snow. Once again, silent, no sound save the swish of snowflakes falling around my ears.

I realized that, next time, I need to leave my boots upside down, for, as I was skating, they, too, had filled up with snow.