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.

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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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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.

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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.

dan photos september 2013 233Sitting on a Bench

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.”