Meditations on Friendship

I have had a friend for almost twenty years who I met in the jewelry studio in Mexico, in San Miguel, in 2004, when I was a jewelry student and she was on break from art school in Philadelphia. She is from San Miguel and was visiting her mom and her friend, Billy, the teacher of the school. We met and went out to a mezcal bar and talked about talismans and teachers. We hung out for a few days and then she went back to Philly. A year or so later, I happened to be in Philly for a boyfriend’s brother’s wedding, and we saw each other again, cementing our friendship. About two years after that, I moved to Philly, seeking a geographical solution to divorce. We ended up living together in a crooked house in Point Breeze, owned by a crooked landlord in a neighborhood in the transition of gentrification that we now know became common in all big American cities.

We had our ups and downs. I am not the perfect roommate, and neither was she, but there were signs of something bigger, even then. Breaking down into uncontrollable tears, rages, and benders became not common, but predictable; if something hard happened, one of those would, too. Threats were common (“if you do this again, then I will move out”), but so were treats of dinners out or massages at the spa where she worked. There was a lot of back-and-forth, up-and-down. Then came Halloween of that year. We went to an amazing party in downtown Philly hosted by the eccentric owner of an eccentric jewelry store, and there were costumes and drag queens and performances and swingers and so much booze it could make your head spin. We went with two other friends and were having a great time until I couldn’t find my friend, and then did find her, smooching a fireman in a thong. There were men all around her, and I realized how drunk she was. My other friend who had come with us said to me, “we need to get her out of there”, and he went to go convince her to stumble off with us, and we went home. She spent the next day in her room and the adjacent bathroom, sicker with drink than anyone I had ever seen or heard before. Shortly thereafter, she got fired from the spa for hostile behavior toward a coworker and abruptly left Philly for points South.

We remained friends for a time until I made the stupid mistake of dating her brother (a dumb move never to be repeated). After that inevitably fell apart due to me not being ready for an actual relationship and him not being ready for an actual relationship as well, she was, understandably, very mad at me. A few years later, I heard from her, asking if we could be friends again. I had just moved back to Austin, where her cousin lives, and she was thinking of moving there, too. I was excited to hear from her and I still felt bad for dating her brother. She moved to Austin in the fall of the same year I did, and we began hanging out all the time again. It took a while for the same strange behaviors to begin again: the comments, the asides, the tone.

She and I and another friend went to Mexico for a week in the spring of 2018 and stayed at her mom’s gorgeous ranch outside San Miguel. During the trip, we made a lot of delicious food and drank a lot of tequila (Bloody Marias, mostly), and took walks. It was during this trip that I saw the same behaviors that she did to me aimed at her mother; I was confused as I thought she just treated me that way. At that time, I didn’t know that it happened to a lot of people. One night I was talking with her mom in the kitchen, and she came in to say that she hated the cabinets in one of the houses on the property and her mom said something flippant like, “well I had them made because I needed them, so……” and my friend responded, “well when you die, I will rip them off the wall!” and stormed out. I apologized for my friend to her own mother, blaming all the tequila.

After a couple of years, I became engaged to my husband, and my friend took me wedding dress shopping. We found the perfect non-wedding wedding dress in a small boutique in Austin. She did the flowers for the wedding and made a beautiful curtain of flowers with lights that hung behind us as we performed the ceremony. That was 2019, and life changed so rapidly after that as we moved Cody’s grandma in with us, she died the next fall, and then of course COVID started early in 2020. We saw each other fairly frequently during the early COVID times, always outside as she was very COVID-averse. I began to feel something was off then. The friend group was changing and the people around were seemingly much more affluent than what I was used to; I felt I didn’t belong. I noticed, every time I hung out with my friend and her boyfriend, that she was treating him the same way as me and her mother; she was abusive and embarrassing much of the time.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. I talked to other friends about it and they told me just to not worry, but to find new friends because friendship isn’t supposed to feel so odd. I felt every time that I was around her, that I was going to do something to upset her and then would have to deal with her wrath in some way. Last summer I went out for dinner with her and another friend and she said that she wished all of her friends weren’t 40 with kids and that she just needed to meet new friends. At a party last summer, she alienated another friend after the friend responded negatively to having her daughters jumped on by the dog. The clock was ticking.

I couldn’t figure out what was going on, except our “friendship”, if that is what it was at that time, felt terrible all the time. Every conversation was strained and I didn’t know how to make it better. She went to Mexico at the end of the summer and texted me tons of photos of her trip, telling me how much I needed to get back to Mexico (I agree, btw). I asked her to let me know when she got back, but she didn’t. I called her and texted with no response. I left her a message asking if she was ok, telling her I was a little worried and didn’t understand.

A week or two later I received a response that she needed space from our relationship. I was blindsided and also shocked because the language she used this time was almost exactly the same as the last time we had split, all those years before, after I dated her brother. I felt very sad and did not understand what had happened. I wrote her a text saying that this was a pattern in our relationship that I didn’t like and that I hoped she can find peace in her life. I received no response. I sent her a book and an email. No response.

The reason why I am adding this chapter to my Odes to Grief is that this friend is the person in the closest proximity to my friend who has cancer. This friend provides the sick friend with food almost every day, and the sick friend even lives at this friend’s cousin’s house, in the garage apartment. It is all very connected; this issue was one I was worried about when the friend cut me off without explanation. I wrote her an email saying that our social lives are so interconnected and with taking care of our sick friend, could we be cordial and see each other and would it be ok? She responded that I should never contact her again.

Like I said above, for a long time, I thought that this friend only treated me like this; I thought I had done something wrong and somehow deserved the treatment. It has taken me a long time to realize that true friendships have a core value of mutually assumed forgiveness (because we are all human). Because of how I grew up, I oftentimes assume that I have done something wrong. This is something I am working on. Over the years, I began to see that my friend treats a lot of people this way; she is an equal opportunity offender in terms of abusing people who love her. I do not know if she knows how to love others. She knows how to buy presents, host parties, and take trips, but she doesn’t know how to talk about feelings and fears or own up to her part of disagreements. She becomes hostile and full of rage or she just leaves.

The connection to the Odes of Grief is complicated, because, like I said above, this friend (I suppose, ex-friend) is the closest to my friend with cancer. She is the gatekeeper in some ways, or at least, wishes to be. She has actively excluded me and one other friend and is in the process of doing the same to a third. When our sick friend was hospitalized in the early part of this year, my ex-friend made no effort to communicate with those of us who she had decided to “write off” (a term used the other day by yet another friend trying to understand how she could help). It is fine for people to “write people off” if that is what they need to do, but when you all are part of a web of support for a friend who is dying, this is where the issues arise. One person can’t get the power to decide who knows what is going on, and who doesn’t.

The other issue in this scenario is that the sick friend (probably) has no idea that this is all happening around her and behind the scenes. But as the process of “writing people off” becomes more expansive, most likely because the stress of the situation is increasing, it is inevitable that the sick friend will begin to notice or know something. One of my concerns and guiding ideas in this process of taking care of my sick friend is that I don’t add stress to her life. I don’t want to do anything that makes her worry; the idea that she would worry that a lot of her friends are fighting feels juvenile and unnecessary.

When people die, things get weird. I already know this. I have already written about this here. I think the challenge of being around people who are dying is that, until you have done it, you don’t know how you will react. Add to that that each relationship with a dying person is unique and then you may know a little bit about how you deal with the death of loved ones, but again, until it happens, you don’t know the specific manifestation of the death of that one person. Hopefully, people have done their own work enough to know themselves; I know also that this is a false assumption.

My friend who has “written me off” (if you can’t tell, I really hate that expression. I feel like I am a line item on a ledger somewhere or something) has not done a lot of her own work. She has a hard time talking about emotions or things that are frightening. She has a hard time taking responsibility for her behaviors of hostility, rage, and manipulation. The last time we talked, she was blaming it on her childhood, which I think was a step forward. I hope there have been some other steps since. I think one of the reasons she is cutting people off is because she is having a hard time facing the situation and facing the people within the situation and she has to at least interact with the life of our dying friend so cutting people off is easier. That is my assumption, and could be totally wrong. Since she won’t speak to me, I cannot know.

The other night, I had a good chat with another friend, our Switzerland-like friend who lives out of state. Switzerland she is because of her out-of-stateness, her personality, and then as a major bonus, she is a doctor who did her residency with geriatric patients. In this mix, there are three of us who have taken care of dying people: this friend, myself, and my friend Kris, our sick friend’s oldest friend and the one who first took care of her when she was first exhibiting symptoms of cancer fourteen years ago. I am not using names here because I find that people don’t like to have my analyses of them outed on the internet, so please excuse any confusion. Let’s call the Switzerland friend Suzy. Suzy and I spoke at length about the importance of prioritizing our sick friend’s care, and smoothing over any factions or ill will that may exist in the group. This is my core belief as well. The issue between me and my ex friend is not relevant to us being able to be a caring support team for our sick friend. Maybe we will heal our relationship and maybe not; that doesn’t actually matter in this context. Suzy is a new friend of my ex friend and perhaps their relationship is different than other relationships I have witnessed with this ex friend; after all, they met at different times of each other’s lives, in different places. I have hope.

The end to this long piece of writing is to close with hope. I believe that we all, and I mean we as the collective human “we”, can set aside our egos when we need to take care of people in need. I see it all the time, I have years of evidence to support my claim of this ability of our species. I believe one of the root causes of my divorce from my friend came from the fact that she has no responsibilities, no career or job, no one that depends on her or that she helps. She is blessed with wealth and so does not have the worries of most people. She has no children, so does not have that anchor. She does not need to work, so she doesn’t. She has nothing holding her in her own life, so it is natural to drift and find purchase on certain things. She has found purchase with our sick friend; it is clear to all of us that she is holding on to our friend desperately and doing everything that she can to help. Unfortunately, she is anxious and afraid and is striking out at other people who just want to do the same thing in collaboration with her.

My hope is that we can abandon ego, all ye who enter here. We are heading into a tunnel. It is up to us how we reappear on the other side.

Let Everything Happen to You: Beauty and Terror

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59

Today I reflect on a day. A day that is part of a week, which is part of a long, but short, month. February. February. No month can drag on quite like it; the month that is the bridge between winter and spring. The month that has so few days, but so many of them are grey, cold, and icy.

Life feels interminable in February.

But! Tomorrow is its last day.

Reflections on loss for February:

I felt myself for the first time since October last week. I felt that I was actually a good teacher who was engaged with her students, her curriculum, and her process. I thought of this yesterday as I was driving into Austin, on a flyover between US Highway 290 and I35 North to meet a friend for brunch. I thought of a photo of me and my dad in west Texas in 1983 or so. I am wearing pink corduroy overalls, and he is wearing a cowboy hat. Neither outfit makes sense, and yet it does in this image. I am sitting on a shelf, and he is looking at me. I thought of showing this to the students and telling them about this realization of last week, and I started to cry.

Fort Davis, Texas, 1983 – Two lost English people

These tears were different. These tears are acceptance tears, and tears of peace. These are tears that come with the realization that he is gone and he did a lot of amazing things for me and was a complicated person who made a lot of bad decisions. These tears are also an acknowledgment that my relationship with him was not the relationship I thought we had when he was alive. I was always mad at him, disappointed in him, judgemental of his behavior, questioning why he did all the things he did. In death, I realized how much I talked to him. I would call him, randomly, all the time, and talk for about 5-6 minutes each time. Then he would say something like, “well this must be costing you a fortune!” to get off the phone.

The hardest thing about death, for me, as the obviously loquacious person that I am, is that I can never speak to my lost friends again.

Sometimes, at night, I go outside and sit on a hard surface and talk to my friend Meredith. I have no idea why it has to be a rock or a road or a sidewalk. I look up into the sky, into the stars, and talk to her until I hear her laughing at me. She always laughed at me, with me, she always thought I was the best person, the most knowledgeable about education and school, and she was always one of my best friends. At 52, she counted on me, and I was only in my twenties. She laughed at the absurdity of it all, she wrote me all the time (all of her emails are saved of course). She died back in 2011. When she was dying, she complained about the British being imperialists who tried to take over the world. This was clearly aimed at me. She also told me, over and over again, how much she loved her children.

Today I thought about my Dad, and I visited my friend Patty who is my quilting friend and the mom of one of my best friends, Ann. Patty recently was diagnosed with cancer as well, although they caught it early and everyone is very hopeful. I had to see her today and give her a hug and a kiss and we went through bins of fabric that she had inherited from a friend’s grandmother who just went into a residential home for people with dementia. I went through tubs and tubs of fabric and I watched her and her daughter play fight about her inability to use the Costco website.

Afterward, I drove up the highway, on my way home, to see my friend who tomorrow goes in for the first dose of her last possible chemotherapy. First of the last. We talked and ate cheese and walked and chatted with Sarah, her friend and owner of the big house, and ate spicy Thai food with Marie that made all of our lips burn but was delicious. We laughed and talked about weddings and old friends. She said she thinks tomorrow will be fine and is not worried.

Earlier, I found Marie in the road as she was on the phone with me. We are dealing with a hard situation in this mix which I will enumerate later, but today we drove to the UT Campus and sat on the steps of the Texas Memorial Museum in the sunshine and talked about losing our friend, and what we want for her and for our friendships. Marie is so strong and wise it is daily amazing to me. She was born across from a special star, I am sure, and inherits this wisdom and palpable love from her mother, Ruth. We talked about how maybe we will take care of her in Denton, at Marie’s house, and she will be comfortable. I don’t want her to be in any pain or any worry.

Such a strange time on this Earth. In one place on its surface, there is a war brewing. In another, there is hateful rhetoric spewing from a small man in a wood-paneled office in downtown Austin. In another, my friend is celebrating her 5th anniversary with her sweet boyfriend in New Jersey. In another, my friend is planning her first restaurant. In yet another, I sit at a table, in the dark, typing away, as my husband eats dinner 4 hours north in Grapevine.

We are all part of this world, and yet are alone and floating within it at any given moment. Some of us read poetry, and some of us listen to music. Some of us ride horses, drive trucks, sing, or dance. Some play sports, some walk in the woods. Some watch television. Some sleep. Some watch the sunrise, some the sunset. Every day the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; I see it rise through the boughs of my 200-year-old post oak tree when I walk home from my early morning walk with my dog.

The light changes each day; as I get older, I notice how each day is different. I never noticed that when I was younger.

Tonight, I looked at the lighted windows of my friend’s apartment while I talked to my friend Marie in the street. I looked at the silhouetted branches of trees, the muted colors of the curtains, the outline of lamps. I thought about her sitting up there, facing all of this. I thought of all the things we have done together and all that I have learned from her; I thought of the time she had a steroid reaction and I drove full-speed through tiny Texas coastal towns in our friend Jenny’s brokedown car, and how we had to get out on the side of the road and pee and how I ran into a hospital yelling, “HELP ME MY FRIEND HAS CANCER” only to be looked at strangely by all present. I thought about being on the jetties in the wind, about hearing her story, about going to the Barbican in London, and her chastising me for always having horrible shoes to walk around in. I thought about her laughing, laughing, laughing.

I hear my dad’s voice in my head, but the sound of it is fading. I will always be able to see his face and to remember my memories of him, and I hope I will always recall his distinctive voice. But I don’t know. All I can hear of Meredith now is her laugh, and the one time she told me “it was a really great wedding” after my first wedding, which she paid for.

Hugs to you and yours wherever you are in our strange world. xx P

Heart Shapes

I have been being a snoop today. I like being a snoop, and am one of those people who is guilty of looking in peoples’ medicine cabinets and awkwardly moving around homes at parties gazing intently at curios and especially, photographs.

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“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Brené Brown

 

This is what I did today; in the somewhat vain attempt at unpacking, I found myself snooping in one of Cody’s boxes that is full of old photo albums. Two baby books filled with sweet notes from his mother and photos in that classic 1970s sienna tone. The photos are of a blonde baby who looks remarkably like two of his nephews, Paul and Dominic. There is also a scrapbook of his first three years, filled with more photos and birthday cards. Then there are a few more photo albums. Two are of old family photos that range from baby Cody to teenage Cody, photos of his parents and grandparents. His mom had brown hair then, blonde now, cut in that poofy 70s/80s style that I think all of our moms wore. There are photos of his father cradling him as a newborn, in the exact same way that he later cradled his own son when River was born in 2004. In those photos, you actually couldn’t tell but for the age of the photographs that the man in the frame is his father and not Cody, for when River was born, Cody cut his hair short and clean in the same style as his father’s when he was born. Little Cody peeks out of photos, holding fish on fishing lines, dressed up in terrible Halloween costumes, sitting next to his father and mother and grandmother, posing on the trunk of a very old, silver Honda Civic. His father so young, and Cody so small: the family resemblance between the two is so strong. They share brows and shoulders, height and lankiness. Later, Teenage Cody begins to look as he does now: very tall, thin, with long-lashed eyes. Those long lashes show up in one photo from when he must have been about two.

There are also photo albums from later life, from when he moved to Austin in 1998. Cody out with friends, on the road to Albuquerque and Amarillo, and photos of the highways in between. Photos of him in Amsterdam with an old girlfriend who looks very sweet and very 90s in her baggy pants and oversized t-shirts. There is a photo of Cody from when he was building his first tattoo shop, when he was 25, and he looks almost exactly as he does today: glasses, beard and mustache, t-shirt, jeans, tattoos from tip to tail.

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Living with someone versus dating them and spending nights at each other’s houses is so different: all the cards are out on the table. All of each other’s strange little behaviors are on full display for each other to eke out over time; learn to tolerate, appreciate, and love. Cody puts a paper towel under the french press every morning while he makes coffee and it makes me crazy because it makes no sense. He apologizes almost constantly, seemingly just for moving around. I keep telling him he doesn’t have to do that. I wonder what things he notices about me that bug him, but he appreciates because they are mine, all the same.

In a set of the photographs, I saw the houses he lived in a tpwn in rural Louisiana, when he was learning to tattoo. There are photos of his first tattoo on an orange. There are photos of his Uncle and Aunt’s house, surrounded by potted plants and 5 gallon buckets of soil. This photo shows me why he collects so many plants and 5-gallon buckets of soil. This behavior of his ties back to the past, gives him some sense of continuity of time, perhaps. There is a photo of him in front of the school bus he lived in during his time in Louisiana, dressed up in the same leather coat he wears when it is cold, in front of a cook-fire. Cody loves cooking on an open fire. There are photos of his grandparents camp house in Center, Texas: an old, white trailer with a deck in the front. There are photos of the back porch with his mom and dad and grandmother. Little did I know that by looking at those photos on a quiet, rainy day in July (thanks be for the rain!) that I would learn so much about the man who I thought I knew the most about: the man who has become my best friend and my companion in this life.

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A few years ago, during the time when I was at the beginning of my “nervy b”, as I like to call it, I culled through hundreds of photos, scanning some and throwing away the rest. I used to have two photo albums but I don’t know where they are anymore. In some ways, during that time, I chose, albeit with a frame of mind that had a distinct lack of clarity, to literally throw out much of my past evidence. Today, I realized the sadness in that is that not that the things are gone, and neither the memories, but the signposts are no longer. Perhaps we hold on to objects not just because they are precious but because they help us re-establish that continuity of time in our own lives. Perhaps if I still had those photographs, I could remember better the times in my young life when I was friends with a boy named Eric, son of my mom’s best friend Pat. We used to do things all the time, dress up, ride horses, be really silly. Eric now has schizophrenia and lives in Florida: I wonder if he remembers anything from that time, at all?

I got rid of almost everything I owned, sold it to strangers and left it on a street in Philadelphia to be combed over by neighbors from countries near and far. I used to have a bag of my great-grandmother’s hand-made lace. Where is it now? Not that it matters much, really. I suppose I am mulling over my own rejection of my continuity of time. At that moment, in the years between 2012-2014, I was so ashamed of myself and my decisions that I threw all evidence of it away. No wedding photos, and all evidence of Steve is gone except a box from China his father once gave to me. Even my wedding ring is gone, and I stuffed my wedding dress into a trash can on the back porch of that house in Philadelphia.

Love-Sky

Here I am, today, in 2016, going through boxes of my own and of Cody’s, as we piece together a new life in a funky house in Dripping Springs, Texas. I grew really sad during my perusal of photographs today, realizing that whatever I had that was like these objects before me, I had destroyed in mad, sad intention. It’s true that my parents have a treasure trove of photographs, so I need not really worry about that specifically, but it’s like I am looking back at these last few years and wondering about putting together the events in a chain that makes sense and represents my memories. I suppose that is what this writing project is all about: a memoir, the establishment of the story after many years have passed.

I love Cody for many reasons, but one of the main ones is his ability to recognize his own painful life events and hold on the positives. He has a very good sense of perspective and being present. He isn’t perfect, and neither am I. This morning I hung a bamboo shade of his on the window in the living room. It has a giant batik of butterflies on it, and it used to hang in the front window of his first tattoo shop on Burleson Road in south Austin. I remember staring at it during the hours of talking and tattooing that were the beginning of our long-standing friendship. And now it hangs in our house: the home we are building together, doing our best, muddling through, baring it all to each other, every day, and every night.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

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Let’s All Try to Help Each Other Make Decisions

If everything is temporary, then why do we have to make decisions that sometimes negatively effect some while positively effecting others, or the self?

We have to make decisions because the oxygen mask must be placed on our own faces first: without self-love, self-respect, goals, and an attitude of cheerfulness, we are no good to anyone else.

I have a hard time advocating for myself: perhaps some of you share this. I find it difficult because it means confrontation and the risk that someone may be disappointed, hurt, or upset. Pre-recent times, I did a really good job of practicing my strategy of Avoidance. Avoidance is a magical strategy that someone taught me when I was little; they taught be to look calm, speak intelligently, dress nicely, be incredibly selfish, and when backed into a corner, leap out, run away, and disappear. It is a terrible and sad way to go through a life and this is something that I realized about three years ago, when I moved to Maine.

At that time, I had narrowly escaped a very dangerous relationship with another person, with myself, and with a city that seemed to have Bad Luck for Patience written all over it. But even my very presence in that city and the choices that led up to that move were the effects of that age old Strategy of Avoidance, and its brother (in my case), Rushing Through Life at Warp Speed. I had decided that I didn’t want to deal with the repercussions of divorce in Austin, and so I created a path to reinvention that has taken me here, there and everywhere, finally resulting in coming back to Earth and making some hard, but important decisions.

When I returned to Austin, I interviewed for the job that I was just recently offered. I interviewed twice, and was very encouraged by the interviews. I really liked the school and its students and was excited to be part of such a dynamic and forward-thinking place. After I interviewed and was able to substitute teach for a few days, I was confronted with Avoidance again. When Avoidance walks in, the conversation is usually the same. In my mind, Avoidance says, “but what about your freedom? Do you really want this? This is going to be hard.” And I used to say, as long as it was nothing to do with the heart or my personal life, “well yes, I do, and how hard can it be? I am a very capable person who is good at making plans and carrying them out.” In this specific case, Avoidance said: “but you haven’t been a classroom teacher in three years. It’s going to take a lot. And you aren’t even sure if you want this, anyway.” And I said back, “you know….you are right.”

I was filled with doubts: doubts about what I wanted, and what my abilities were. My doubts were confirmed when I did not hear from the school regarding a position for a very, very long time. I remember one evening when Avoidance was pushed aside by Pragmatism and Peace, who both said to me, “you know, if this is what you get to do, then you are doing something right.” And I said back, “you know….you are right.”

And then I sat, and waited. I wrote a couple of emails. I waited. I came to the realization that maybe Avoidance had let me tarry too long and I had done something wrong either in my Life, or in one of the interviews, or that this just wasn’t meant to be. I sat with that for awhile, and eventually learned to let it go. At this time, I was very nervous about jobs and money being that I have been working at a bakery part-time and not making as much jewelry as before. I felt I was losing my way, somehow, and that even though everything felt right and ok, I hadn’t found my place yet and I was worried about that. In ran Rush Through Life and said, “you have to do SOMETHING. This isn’t going to work.” I debated the options, the pros and cons, of what to do: whether to return to Maine and work for the summer, knowing that at least I would have a nest egg of some sort for fall. I thought about leaving Austin just as it was coming to feel normal, and uprooting myself again. I thought about trusting the Universe that the right thing would open up in my heart and hands. I made the decision that Maine at least made sense financially, and that since I had no other options, it was the best one to do: I knew the ins and outs, and could predict (basically) the path of the summer, and that it would be great to see friends and be in the party-party atmosphere of MDI in the summertime. I decided to go, and leave just after my immigration appointment on June 26th.

A few days passed, and I was beginning to plan how to get to Maine, and the plan for returning in the fall with the remainder of my belongings and some cash in my pocket. I realized there were good reasons to go, despite friends and family, and that I could continue to grow my career in the direction of jewelry and jewelry making. I realized that if I were to open my own space here in Austin, that I had more to learn and connections to make. So, I was going, and soon. And then there was a phone call.

The phone call was an apology and a request to come in to meet the following Monday. Early on that Monday morning, I had a conversation with Avoidance and Fear of Commitment. I thought, in that moment, that I was going to be asked to teach an entirely different class, one I was not 100% behind or necessarily skilled to teach. I sat in the parking lot for a minute, thought about going in with confidence and calm and communicating what I felt, and to Sashay Away. It was in this meeting that the administrators of the school offered me my teaching position of my pedagogical dreams: art-science-engineering. I sat in an uncomfortable chair, bewildered and laughing. I asked them if they were really going to hire me to do what I want to do, and what I have wanted to do for years. They said yes.

I realized, over the next few days, that this point in life is not only a turning point, but it is also a new chapter, and that fundamental changes are taking place. Yes, I made the choice to return in those early days of April, but I wouldn’t have guessed the changes that are here, that were here, and that would begin to happen in my own life. I wondered if other people think of their life in terms of chapters, or matrix points on the crazy flowchart of life. I realized that had I not gone to Maine and worked on all the myriad projects I had worked on, that I would not have been offered this opportunity. I realized that it is a priceless one, and that not only its potential but its long-term application was worth more to me than, well, in truth, any other career-related opportunity that I had ever been given. So I smiled and I took it.

Avoidance, though, being a tricky character, came back in and I delayed in sharing the news, due to wishing to not hurt anyone in Maine that I wasn’t going to come back. It took me a long time, too long, to be honest about that, and that is because not only do I care about all my friends and family up on that beautiful island, but it was also the place where I found myself, where I was truer to myself and grew to understand myself in ways I don’t think I ever would had I stayed here all along. I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, and most of the time, was happier for the experience. Occasionally I still felt pent in by my own feelings: especially in the winter. But I worked on understanding the temporary nature of day to day life, I grew to appreciate establishing a sense of calm and equanimity, and I truly began to detach from things and learn to love people and experiences. It is tremendously hard to not go back to Maine for these reasons and others that include comfort and quiet and that special place of peace that we all find on MDI, which is one of the reasons why those of us who know it love it so.

However, I had to make a decision about my Life, and about what was important to me and what would serve me best in the future. I had to acknowledge the changes that were happening and understand their level of gravity and importance. In other words, I had to grow up and learn that I could leave for the summer and let Avoidance take me on another journey, albeit a short-term one, or I could stand on my own two feet, look at the path my life has taken, acknowledge its rewards and its trials, and be here now. I feel like I am being given great gifts at this present moment, and I intend to stay grateful and present with them. I want to not run away from what is scary: commitment, success, long-term friendships, closeness, responsibilities. Despite my fear of that list of Scary Ideas, and I know there are others that I am not including for different reasons, I feel like I am at a time and place in my life to accept my choices, celebrate where I can, and continue to learn from every step along the road that I am lucky enough to pay attention to.

Although it is hard for me to write this, I am very proud of the last few years. Despite the emotional shifts and the intense ups and downs and the instability, the experiences of Philly and Maine made me a stronger, more grounded, and more understanding person of myself. This means that the selfishness is still there, but perhaps that old adage of awareness being half the battle is true. Maybe also is that one about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Avoidance and Rushing Through Life are still there: perhaps they will be, in some ways, there forever. But part of my subconscious-level new commitments since returning to Austin are to work on those aspects of my life and really try to examine why they are there so that I can be a more content person than I have been. My return to Austin has been full of learning how to commit, be in the present and not the past, and how to share. I feel like it is time to be at home; I don’t want to run away again.

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Mirages — or, the Power of Forgiveness

FORTY-FIVE

Great accomplishment seems imperfect,
Yet it does not outlive its usefulness.
Great fullness seems empty,
Yet it cannot be exhausted.

Great straightforwardness seems twisted.
Great intelligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.

Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Stillness and tranquility set things in order in the universe.

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In my house, near the door, there is an old mirror that I gleaned from my parents’ camp house in Salisbury Cove, before it was torn down sometime in the fall of 1999. The mirror is chipped and faded: covered in scratches, you can hardly see any reflection but light. Tucked in one of its corners is the mantra: to err is human, to forgive divine.

For a few years now, I have posted this mantra in two places: by my front door, and on the wall of my studio-workspace. I look at it multiple times each day and think about what it means for that specific day and time. For the most part, I seek forgiveness of myself: for my mistakes, for my actions, and sometimes, for my speech.

When I returned from Austin last week, late on Tuesday night, I found my home changed. No longer was it the comforting, cozy space that I had left. Instead, it was a comforting and cozy home in which I live alone, on 10 acres, far off in the distant lands of Maine. After ten days in the light and love of friends and discovering new love, I came to Maine changed. I realized that I have a powerful and profound sense of positivity, and this is something that I can hold in my heart as a true strength, despite any and all adversities that are flung at me. However, as in all things, it is valuable to take time to reevaluate circumstances and belief systems when they are presented with alternative truths and/or realizations.

About a week ago, I took off on a road trip to West Texas with my best friend of many years. We camped in Marfa and in Presidio, Texas, and we drove through Big Bend. On our first night out in the desert, we made bean tacos in a community kitchen and camped in the parking lot of a place called El Cosmico. We drank tequila and smoked cigarettes whilst wearing hoodies. We laughed and we cried, but mostly laughed. We stared at stars. We talked about friends and lovers and life and husbands and divorces, change and acceptance and the present. It was, to me, one of the highlights of our friendship. The next night, we met a gaggle of strangers and later left them to perform some rituals in the dark that involved prayers for presence, prayers for strength, prayers for forgiveness, and a genuine desire to strive to be happy. In the darkness of the Chinati mountains, with a frog chorus behind us, we lit some words and some photographs on fire, we stamped them out from this world into the next, and we drank more tequila and laughed and cried and told stories to each other and thanked each other for the other one’s time.

Upon returning to Maine, I was forced to reevaluate that positive attitude that I am so proud of. I realized that maybe I was missing some things, or kidding myself, somehow. I realized that the vision of myself as an axe-wielding, blizzard-braving woman who lives in a cabin in Maine was missing some huge pieces: namely, the love of old friends and the love of one who sees your darkness and wants to walk with you, anyway. In Austin, I was almost constantly struck with the beautiful merging of those two relationships, for my friend-family in Austin not only have loved me for years, but recognize my darkness and choose to love me, anyway. Perhaps this is the mark of true friendship: something I have been lucky enough to find here, as well. And in a mystical universal bonus, I found one old friend who wanted to hold my hand and gaze into my eyes and love me and walk with me. When I think about those ten days, it is with utter awe that I reflect upon them, for I feel like my large and open heart, one that keeps growing as time goes by, was rewarded a million fold by those who already lay within it: my friends, my loves of my life.

In this cabin, late at night on a weekday, as I sit in the light of an old brass lamp and listen to music on a tiny speaker, watching the crackle of wood in the wood stove, I am almost constantly reminded of Jackie’s kitchen with its loteria cards, of Rodi’s laughter in the West Texas desert, of Chuck’s maligning of roses in his living room vase, of Angel’s tarot trailer, of Cody’s garden and the stars that shone out above him, of Bob’s studio and his knowing smile, of Julie’s tears and honesty, of Martha sitting in her office in her purple silk shirt, of the movement and changes of all the people who formed my family of friends for twelve years. It is the history of our lives, the mystery of the wending and waving paths of life, that forms our concept of love and life and friendship. While I have loved my time here, and I truly have: having grown from a broken and bent version of myself to the stronger and resilient and more prone to humor version that presents itself now, I have done so with a sense of resolute solitude and independence. However, whilst in Austin, not only did I realize that I ran away from my life of many years, from my family and friends, but that I was a critical part of a net, a spider’s web, of people, who would never really let me go no matter how long I stayed away. So while I felt truly alone, which I did, especially in the fall-winter of 2012, all my loved ones regarded me from afar with love, kept the net close and strong, and waited with love for me to visit them again.

There is a great comfort in change and realization and personal growth. There is a message in this from the universe, and that message is the one tacked up on a piece of white paper, written in blue pen, decorated with squiggles and eyeballs and hearts: to err is human, but to forgive, divine.

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Full of Grace

“All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity. Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.”

Simone Weil

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Let us talk about grace, and about cultivating grace. Grace, to me, implies a feeling of wafting oneself through an empty room, early in the morning alone, or late at night in a party of people, carrying yourself as if you alight on tiny clouds of air instead of treading upon the solid earth that all must walk upon.

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Grace implies taking breaths and steps back from awkward or uncomfortable moments: in other words, taking pause. Grace, to me, is colored green like the wings of a luna moth: a creature which, in essence, is the emblem of impermanence and fleeting time.

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Grace makes me think of gazing with eyes wide open, with a heart that is full and only opens greater despite past hurt or breakages of trust. Grace is hope. Grace is love and a desire for others to find their own path in this world, whatever series of mud puddles they stumble into along the way. Grace is acknowledging that everyday you too step in those mud puddles, land with egg on your face, stand up with skinned knees and sore palms and just keep going.

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Grace is standing up straight even if you feel self conscious. Grace is squeezing someone’s hand, or wrapping your arms around someone’s neck in the darkness of a bedroom on a gloomy Tuesday. Grace is relishing moments. In times when there are more unknowns than knowns, when the future is uncertain yet faith remains, grace is catching oneself while stumbling, playing pretend on an imaginary highwire, knowing that, after all, there IS a net. The net is you and yours: present, past and future.

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Recordando

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What do I remember?

I remember searching for old bottles at the bottle graveyard in Austin on warm summer days, shaded by mountain laurel and cedar trees. For what seemed like miles lay bottles 6 feet deep, maybe more, and we trundled through them, looking for blue ones and manganese ones, for white milk glass and bottles with writing still legible upon their surfaces. Once, we found an old refrigerator, and a sign for Violet Crown Cola. Each time, we took them back to my house and set up tubs of hot, soapy water on the floor of the old kitchen, set up shop in front of the ancient double-barrel oven, and scrubbed with toothbrushes until the bottles came clean: my favorites were always the ones with rusted metal tops still attached. As I sit here typing, I am looking at many of them sitting on the tops of tables and on the piano.

I remember camping in the Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico, deep in a winter’s night. Camping high above the valley floor, we could see the glowing embers of hunters’ fires that mimicked our own. Up there, we cooked beans and rice at night: oatmeal in the morning. In the dark, you could see the black forest floor below pinpricked with campfires, and up above were innumerable stars. Once, in the morning, we woke up to discover snow 6 inches deep all around our campsite and down the hunting road that we had to walk to return to the car.

I remember telling my parents that I was volunteering at the library one summer, and spending every day at the base of a giant, man-made hill, sometimes in the sun, sometimes in the shade, occasionally sneaking off to read poetry and philosophy books at the Barnes & Noble. In many ways, we fell in love in the aisle of the bookstore that held Kahlil Gibran and Rumi and Hafiz.

I remember rides on Texas highways in a 280ZX with t-tops, glazing brakes coming down a mountain in Death Valley, sitting on the rooftop of a hotel in Mexico, and a kitchen with a brick floor in Ossining, New York. I remember watching eagles fledge in my back garden, listening to the Velvet Underground in a trailer, discovering a sea lion on a beach in Washington, rearing feral kittens behind the washing machine and later, behind the couch in an old house in East Austin. I remember drinking lychee martinis in Manhattan, and trading peaches for special brownies in Oregon. I even remember a wedding, buying a home, planting gardens, raising chickens and cats. I also remember sitting on my back porch, feeling bewildered and lost when it was all dissolving: moving away from me so fast that couldn’t process what, indeed, was happening. I remember ending up in a tiny house in Hyde Park; I loved it despite the fact that it was hotter inside than out on the warmest summer days. I remember opening the door to my life too quickly to one who didn’t deserve entrance, and once he was inside, destroying what I didn’t even know at the time I had to rebuild, I found it very hard to get him to leave. Eventually, of course, I found a path to get him out the door, and lock it behind him so that neither he nor anyone else could come in without knowing the secret password and a set of very complicated keys.

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But herein lies the problem: I didn’t even understand the secret password, nor did I know to which locks each key belonged. In fact, it is more accurate to say that when I locked that door, I threw away the keys and erased the passwords so that I couldn’t let anyone in. It was an unconscious risk assessment, you see, and I deemed myself too high a risk.

Two weeks ago, it was a warm summer night and in a moment I spoke the words that rebuilt and created a new set of keys, and gave me the secret password that I hadn’t yet discovered. I said that I had realized that the state of mind I had been in for the last two years, of fight and flight, of holding my fists in front of me lest anyone try to get too close, no longer applied. I verbalized that the people in my life are good people, that I care for all of them and they me, and that it was time to shed the past and realize where I am.  In this moment was when I realized that I needed to express more gratitude to those I love, that I needed to bring my fists down and relax my hands, and that I needed to say yes much much more than no.

The Yes is fraught with panic and insecurity. The Yes comes with what if? and maybe? and I don’t know what is happening? and all of these thoughts are mechanisms of trying to control situations that are inherently organic and dynamic, in which control doesn’t really play a role. The Yes is cautious and is dependent on trust, so it involves alot of timidity and dipping ones toes in the waters of life only to pull them out again, but I will say that everyone who I have been lucky enough to surround myself with, now, after a bit of trial and error, loves me, encourages me and laughs with me at myself and allows me to grow and be here. There are hands held out to me here, and after two years, I finally trust that they are really here to catch me, and I am ready to catch them, too.

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Bene Vixit Bene Latuit*

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

Anais Nin

10_05_10_Matches2It was one of the last warm mornings, and by warm I mean it was in the low 40s, as we drove a silver truck down a lonesome highway on a small island toward an equally small pond.

This pond, owned by the Rockefellers and gifted to us as our dog park, is one of my favorite places on our island and the site of many morning and evening ice skates of last winter. Little Long Pond was even memorialized into a pendant made of silver, which I, of course, forgot to photograph. It was purchased by a lady book seller from the Yosemite Valley of California, who found it to be truly beautiful despite never having been there. I asked her to please go to the pond after she left my little town, and she told me she would take her son there and take photographs.

In the bed of the truck lay tied a red canoe: flat bottomed, without a keel, it promised to glide over the smooth surface of the pond at that early morning hour. It was Saturday, it was sunrise, and we were all alone, as we are during most of our adventures. Ours is a sort of magic that one finds only maybe once in a lifetime, and the moments one finds to be so precious you hold them in your heart like the palm holds a delicate match’s flame in the darkness.

P1030983Carrying the canoe down to the water, I was surprised at how heavy the canoe was and found its fiberglass-plastic to cut into the palm of my hand. Switching positions, my friend ended up dragging the boat to water’s edge, to the very same spot that we had laced our skates nine months before. There is a stone bench under a sweeping tree with weeping branches, covered still with leaves turning gold and rusted brown. The canoe slipped into the water, and I stepped in slightly to push us off and back. I simply kept the pace as all navigation was taken care of for me, slipping away, away, and down the pond.

gentleman-matchesTo my right lay the bank that, last winter, was frozen and held in ice and snow. I used to skate near that bank and watch the snow’s height grow and shrink. I saw how the wind carved the snow and ice as the winter progressed. It was there that I gained confidence as a skater, doubling back many times to skate in large swathes, circles and ovals, taking precious time that I know made my friend impatient.

We paddled on, toward the end of the lake, watching the trees and grass on the left and the boathouse on the right. The boathouse is brown, and the ground near it was littered with brown leaves and yellow ones, too. The boathouse is always empty: its windows are like eyes, downcast.

tumblr_liflao7oaI1qagc5do1_1280Slipping through that water in the early morning, I looked back toward the ocean and saw the colors of the sunrise beaming to us across the water. A crowd of eider ducks ahead of us were disappointed with us interrupting, and whined and cried and muttered and flew off to the far end of the pond. We paddled on, looking at the muck of the pond’s floor, the grasses and reeds covered with detritus. Some of them coiled and looked like fuzzy brown intestines, clumped together on the floor. So shallow this pond: months ago, I dreamed of its depths, of the ice cracking and of my body slipping below into black water so cold and bottomless. Only now I know that it was shallow enough to stand up in the whole time.

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Towards the end of the pond lie two beaver dams, one closer and one further away. They are constructed of branches and twigs and leaves and myriad other items, these bower birds of our biome no doubt are resourceful. Most of their dam lies beneath the water’s surface to protect their homes from predators. That morning, they were coated with hoarfrost, and glistened in a musky way. The eider ducks continued to watch us from the left side of the pond, and we endeavored to paddle further back into the cattails, into the marsh, into the rivulets we had skated last winter. We were, alas, curtailed, by a low water mark that caused our boat to run aground in silt, and we turned away. As we glided by the closer beaver dam, my friend remarked to me to look at the water’s surface and as I listened to a strange, slight crackling, I realized we were canoeing through thin sheets of ice.

Russian-Matchbox-Labels_01Like the sound the wind makes through leaves, like the feeling of your hand brushing across grasses in an open field, like the cracking of a crusty piece of bread, the bow of our boat pushed through the ice crystals, breaking them apart into hundreds of invisible pieces. I reached out and tried to touch them, only to pull my hand away when I realized that I would do nothing more than disrupt them myself. The crystals had formed large triangles, prism-like, as if they were transparent, gossamer wings stretched across the water’s surface.

xmatch_winged_koi.jpg.pagespeed.ic.uV-73JKyTwAs we headed doggedly back to where we’d started, the ice dissipated, seemingly only to be found where the eider ducks swam, where the water was least disturbed by the tide or perhaps the wind off the ocean. Canoeing on through those shallow waters, I remembered skating for hours on this same pond, when the ice was bright grey, when I imagined wolves and foxes and harpies and Russian faerie tales alive in these woods, so silent as they are in midwinter.

P1030984Almost back to the stone bench, we slipped around an edge of the pond that was covered with small lily pads, the same ones that soon will be frozen into its surface. Skimming among and between them reminded me of skating in tight circles, of avoiding the leaves and lily pads because they caused the ice to melt and form dodgy places that could catch the tip of your skate and cause you to fall.

Screen-shot-2013-03-26-at-14.09.53Pulling the canoe out of the pond, my friend dragged it back to the truck and I helped him hoist it into the bed once more. He tied it up, we climbed back inside, and returned along that same highway, not so lonesome as before as others had woken while we were paddling, and returned home for another late autumn day in Maine.

il_570xN.374922236_edrn*”The good life is the hidden life”

the epitaph found on Descartes‘ gravestone

A Man Named Granny

dan photos september 2013 231Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

The man named Granny lives in a tiny house in the woods; surrounded by the homes of his close family, he lives in relative quiet and isolation from the surrounding, larger world. Granny’s small cottage is shingled in Maine white pine, finely landscaped, and when you drive past his house at the end of the day, the sunlight shines, flip-flapping, through the tall trees that border the sound.  Whilst driving, and seeing the little houses that are the homestead of the Toogoods, I wonder how it was that this man came to be named Granny.

dan photos september 2013 230A Summer’s Afternoon in Peggy’s Cove

The real story of Granny is actually one of his mother, who also was named Granny. I have often wondered what the elder Granny’s name actually was, or if she was simply a grandmother. I have often wondered what the younger Granny’s name is, too, since I only know him as “Granny”, as the man with white hair and a strong handshake that I sometimes meet when I walk into McGrath’s for coffee in the morning.

dan photos september 2013 232Lichen growing on an old fishing house

Diane Arbus must have been describing Northeast Harbor when she wrote: “There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”

Granny is another unique personality in our small town, our “island of misfit toys”. This is a town of women who walk down the center of Main Street with parrots on their shoulders, a town where heiresses marry the sons of construction workers, where grocery store employees drive black Cadillacs with the slogan “Touch of Class” emblazoned upon the back windshield, where people hula hoop on their way to parties, where people abandon apartments only to leave 14 desiccated cats in their freezers, where people feel their lives are in the midst of a very tiny, crowded, and misanthropic fishbowl. This is a town where one minute you can be disliked by many, and the next, defended by those same people who sought to run you down because people from away are trying to do something to shut you down. The old saying about freaks goes something like: she may be a bearded lady, a freak!, but she is our bearded lady.

dan photos september 2013 241On Deck: Lunenberg, Nova Scotia

And so it goes, life, marching on, one step in front of the other, and we all experience the orbit of our Earth around the Sun in different ways.

“We’re freaks, that’s all. Those two bastards got us nice and early and made us into freaks with freakish standards, that’s all. We’re the tattooed lady, and we’re never going to have a minute’s peace, the rest of our lives, until everybody else is tattooed, too.”

J.D. Salinger

dan photos september 2013 242dan photos september 2013 246The Most Beautiful Scallop Dragger in Nova Scotia

Today is the one year anniversary of me moving to Northeast Harbor, Maine. I came here from Philadelphia, city of 1.548 million people, after living in Austin, city of 842,592 people, for almost 12 years. Northeast Harbor, Maine, is a town of 300 people year-round. In the summer, our population swells to close to 2,000, but most of the time we move along with only 300.

dan photos september 2013 247Rust, Paint

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During this time, I have learned how it is to be one woman in a small town. I have learned how to be beholden to strangers, and how accountability in a community works. I have learned that everyone talks about everyone else, mostly because it is more fun to talk about other people than focus on yourself.

I have learned the true goodness in people, and I have learned that some people will be nasty no matter what you do to make them see the light. I have learned that every personality has a place in our small town. I have learned that people help each other, even when you don’t necessarily want them to. I have learned to take a deep breath and not take things so personally. I have learned why it is good to be a person in a place, and of a place. I have learned how to live near my family without it feeling overwhelming. I have learned to say yes, and to meet new people, and to understand that just because things aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean that you should search, constantly and without end, for an unattainable perfection, a perfection that only exists in TV shows. I have learned that everyone you meet has something to teach you. I have learned that the peaceful joy that comes with sitting near the water and listening to loon calls at night is the most powerful antithesis of the stress of my previous life. I have learned the beauty of quiet, and the kindness of people.

dan photos september 2013 229Do You Think He’s Missing His Gloves?

I have learned about trust and openness, intimacy and fears. I have learned to put one toe out into the deep waters of life, and to hold it there, trusting that goodness will return from risk. I have learned about friendship and love, and how things may not always be the way they seem at the get-go. I have learned about beauty: natural and human. I have learned about adventure and calm. I have learned about quiet time and the importance of hearing your conscience. I have learned to sit and listen on long docks that jut out into the ocean. I have learned how to be a new person in an old place. I am trying to be patient and just to see all that is happening around me. I have learned to laugh, and to try to understand everyone and everything that cross my path, but not to take any of it very seriously.

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I have learned to talk to the wild birds, to grow flowers, to appreciate the wildness of this tiny island. I have learned to forage nettles, eat rosehips, and look at yellow beech leaves in late fall. I have learned what sea smoke is, and why it is important to drink coffee and look out at sailboats, to drive for hours through the Maine countryside, to have conversations with new friends where each betrays one’s individual intricacies. I have learned that it is acceptable to fundamentally change the course of one’s life, and to be a friend to those who seek the same.

I have learned, ultimately, that just because it is random, unplanned, indescribable, organic, and dynamic, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the highest form of living, the one based on a vital interest, a serious, daily investment in the course of one’s life. Are we here to have fun and to help others have more fun? Yes. Are we here to notice, engage in, and expand all the beauty that exists in our world on a daily basis? Absolutely. Are we here to feel the viscera of experience and understand that the closeness of life’s twists and turns, and the impacts of those changes on us and around us are here to help us notice that time is fleeting and like smoke: we cannot grab on to time, only watch it pass? Undoubtedly.

Here’s to a year, and here’s to where it all began.

dan photos september 2013 325On a Canadian Ferry, Early in the Morning

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.”