When Things Get Weird

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I wrote this text earlier to a friend of mine, and it was about socks. I said something to the effect of “don’t make me come over there and throw them all around to show you to appreciate what you have!”. After texting that little gem over, I realized something, which was that I needed to read that statement as much as I snarkily needed to send it.

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This post is not about socks, obviously, although I am a huge collector of socks and really, really appreciate them, especially on days when it is hovering around 0 degrees. Right now, as I write this, I am wearing two pairs of socks, thigh highs and silk tights, a wool cardigan and a wool hat that was almost snaked off my head last night by an unmentionable character. But that is another story.

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I have been thinking about winter, about things getting weird, about analogies like sharks and minnows. In short, winter is beginning and so are the deep thoughts: the thoughts that cover things like: what am I doing? How am I doing it? Am I doing it well enough? What do others think of what I am doing? What do I think of others? What is the meaning of all of it? Is it temporary or is it really a giant game of dominoes, sometimes cascading quickly and sometimes piece by piece?

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It is January 6th, 2015. On January 6th, 2010, I was living in a small house with white walls in Hyde Park in Central Austin. On January 6th, 2005, I was living in a small apartment with orange walls in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico. On January 6th, 2000 I was living in a terrible but cheap apartment with tapestries on the walls in South Austin. On January 6th, 1995 I was a freshman in high school in Conroe, Texas, and was learning alot about people. I had met my first love and was tossing around the idea of having a boyfriend for the first time, not yet knowing that I had met my first love because at that time, we just shared Capri Suns and tangerines at debate tournaments.

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I was just reading another blog by a very talented flower artist, Sarah of SAIPUA, and she mentioned the self-indulgent nature of end of the year wrap-ups and instead focused on goals and hopes for the new year. I am hoping (ha!) to do the same as her: instead of focusing on what happened, because holy hell what a year, I am looking ahead knowing what is behind. She made a statement in her year-end review to the effect of hoping that she keeps doing what she is doing with love and intention, and that it doesn’t get weird, and neither does she. Her quote “…I hope I don’t get weird. Because that shit happens in the creative world, you and I both know it” really hit me, because “getting weird” is something I do think about in terms of being an artist. In myself, I know myself to be an ethically conservative, politically liberal person who looks to outside observers, probably, like a tattered bouquet or a well-traveled moth: many colors thrown together, prints, patterns, textures, all topped with wild and crazy curly dark hair and eyes that are green-blue-grey, irises ringed in dark. I am distinctly black Irish in appearance, in my face: in my clothes, I am a walking ad for loud prints that somehow complement each other most of the time.

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I am getting off topic. Things Getting Weird — whether this is with self, with space, or with vocation, it is something that I worry about. I am embarking on this life that very much evolves every day, in the sense that there is no outside structure that I am working within anymore, like I did when I was teaching in the public schools. Now I am inventing the structure, embarking on what I hope will be a huge adventure that sustains me emotionally, spiritually and financially as well as providing space and skills to others who wish to hone them. At this point, after these last two years, my contention is that artistic expression and care for yourself and others is THE answer to THE question of Why. We are here for each other, we are here to create beauty, we are here to make the world a more beautiful place, a better place.

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I know that artists, typically, see the world through a more colorful lens than other people. I only know how I see the world, being that I am only privy to my own experience. I know that I have always seen the world my way and have sought to express my feelings within it by making things for as long as I can remember. When I was five I was carving stamps out of linoleum and trying to watercolor clouds on blue sky backgrounds. Soon after, I learned to sew. Later, I learned how to bead, and then to make jewelry. Somewhere in the middle there I started making the boxes that are my favorite things to make, the assemblage sculptures as they are technically described.

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I also know that artists are regarded with a bit of chagrin from the general public: our passion and our emotions are regarded as questionable in a sense, despite the fact that the general public benefits from our ideas as they are constructed through physical objects like paintings or clothing or jewelry or sculptures. I know that our strong connection to our emotional selves can sometimes be overwhelming, although I suspect that all people, even hedge fund managers, get overwhelmed by emotions some of the time. Sometimes artists are regarded as lazy or flaky, and while our behaviors may dictate those judgements (mine definitely do), it is often that our thought processes, our spinning wheels if you will, are diving into the Weird, into the Dark, into the Heart of the matters of our lives. Without those dives, nothing we would create would have the meaning to ourselves or to those who consume our artworks. Oftentimes, I find that people find meaning in small elements, in the minutiae, and that in my creations, people will see things entirely different than what was my intention or my take away from a creation. I like the personal and the profundity of objects: our markers of our time on the Earth. Many artists, I know, fall from time to time into what I call the Deep Well: the mental cage of fragility and doubt and loneliness that can cloud and confuse our judgement of others and of ourselves.

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So, when things get weird in the creative world, as they are bound to do, how do we communicate out of those spaces so that the weird doesn’t become crippling, or that we truly distance ourselves from everyone, regardless of their merit? In other words, how do we maintain the creativity as a positive force, and not just a vomitous outpouring of emotion and insecurity? How do we maintain and function despite the delicate ins and outs of our conscious and subconscious beings? As I continue along this path that I have taken, a path to create a school and opportunities for more artistic resources in this community, I have to consistently take stock of how my own worries about how others see me is really not a part of the project as a whole. What I make is my own, what I do is my own, what others take away from it is theirs. Lately, I have been working hard on understanding that I have to have the confidence to do what I believe in, and that everyone may not like me or understand my choices along this path, but that if I am true to my heart, then that is what is most important.

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This is rather a lengthy and rambling treatise of fear of the unknown and expectations of a new year; I need to stop for a moment and remember that the fear of failure, or fear of disappointment, is illogical and also immaterial. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I do on the Earth, because for my own experience, my own self worth, is predicated by decisions that I make for myself.

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What is the takeaway here? What do I mean: what do I want to say? Little else than I am trying to look forward and spend less time in the far ago. I am going to try to be more emotionally available, finally, and this means that I am also becoming more responsible and less selfish. I am going to try to be more comfortable in my colorful skin: to connect the pieces of myself within myself and not doubt it all so much. I am going to have more fun.  I am trying to stay true to my beliefs and be okay with being a little bit odd, but not become “too weird”, because you and I both know that shit can happen. Art and the business of art is a beautiful way to live in and create a world, one for yourself and one for others.

Maybe I am the shark, and maybe I am the minnow. Maybe I am both.

{…all paintings in this post are by Egon Schiele}

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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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Formidable From A Distance

Still glaring
from the city lights
Into paradise I soared
Unable to come down
For reasons I’d ignored.

Total confusion,
Disillusion
New things I’m knowin’.

I’m standing on the shoreline
It’s so fine out there
Leaving with the wind blowing
But love takes care.

Know me, know me
Show me, show me
New things I’m knowin’.

Wind blowing through my sails
It feels like I’m gone
Leaving with the wind blowing
Through my sails. — Neil Young

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham

Thoughts for the End of February

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Stars Reflecting on Somes Sound Ring 

This winter feels long: ever so long, as if it is stretching out in front of us forever. Although I see the lengthening light, the shifting colors during sunset, and hear the birds singing, the cold just…keeps…going.

Winter, and this winter especially, has created opportunities for thinking about people and life: specifically, how do we interact with people in our life? What role do others play in our life? How do we know other people, let them in, support them, and really love them? I keep coming back to the idea that to love others is not to ascribe a specific meaning to who they are: friend, lover, coworker, student, but rather to understand that Love (with a capital L) is the fundamental tenet of why we are the way we are on the Earth. Love governs every action that we take, whether productive and caring, or dispassionate and alienating. We can fear love, we can hope for love, we can give love, we can receive love and many actions in between. We can be disappointed in others, and in ourselves, when our past definitions of love don’t meet our present experiences of how it feels. We can wander, in the dark, or at least the twilight, for such a long time, years even, and not understand how our perceptions color not only how we perceive others but how others perceive us. We can even be reaching out a hand or opening a heart and not fully understanding that what may come back to us may not look like we wish it to, or at least, how it did before. The hard part is understanding how not to shy away from the learning portion of loving our own selves and the others who we welcome into our world. Loving without expectations is….difficult, eye-opening, present, and unconditional.

With that in mind, here are two thoughts that I think focus on this idea….the first you almost certainly have read, the last may be new to you. Enjoy the last week of February…

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Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
  If this be error and upon me proved,
  I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 116 — William Shakespeare

“NAMING LOVE TOO EARLY

Most of our heartbreak comes from attempting to name who or what we love and the way we love, too early in the vulnerable journey of discovery. We can never know in the beginning, in giving ourselves to a person, to a work, to a marriage or to a cause, exactly what kind of love we are involved with. When we demand a certain specific kind of reciprocation before the revelation has flowered completely we find our selves disappointed and bereaved and in that grief may miss the particular form of love that is actually possible but that did not meet our initial and too specific expectations. Feeling bereft we take our identity as one who is disappointed in love, our almost proud disappointment preventing us from seeing the lack of reciprocation from the person or the situation as simply a difficult invitation into a deeper and as yet unrecognizable form of affection. The act of loving itself, always becomes a path of humble apprenticeship, not only in following its difficult way and discovering its different forms of humility and beautiful abasement but strangely, through its fierce introduction to its many astonishing and different forms, where we are asked continually and against our will, to give in so many different ways, without knowing exactly, or in what way, when or how, the mysterious gift will be returned.

January Thoughts
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press”

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Emptying out the tiny house…

At the End of a Grand Year

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(On my birthday, we had only two, but it was still beautiful)

Frida necklace13“Pies, para que los quiero si tengo alas para volar?” – – – Frida Kahlo

2013, lucky 13, was a year of great changes and growth. It was a year full of walking and ice skating and driving around my new home of Downeast Maine. It was a year of new friends and a new life, of teaching art to children and adults, of becoming a craftsperson full time, of, in general, adjusting and changing and adapting to this place that adjusts and changes and adapts as the seasons switch and the days appear and disappear, ever different, no two the same.

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Last night, while yet more snow fell and the skies looked ominous and grey-orange in the lateness of a December night, I spoke about how I felt that the winter here is more beautiful than the summer. My friend who I stood with, in the dark, said that he cannot really appreciate one without the other, implying I suppose that the contrast between the seasons, the starkness of this place, is what inspires the wonder and awe that I feel when finding myself on a porch at night with sleet and snow pelting my curly hair.

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Last year’s first snow, magnified on my windows

“I like it when I take the controls from you, and when you take the control from me. I really am a lucky man…” says Bill Callahan in his song, Small Plane, one of my favorites of his and a perfect song for the last few days of what was a huge year for me.

Jordan Pond January 5Ice-scape from Jordan Pond

A year ago, I lived in a beautiful but cold apartment that sat up above a quiet street in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I named it the House that Floats, and soon after, I moved into The Caravan: the tiniest house in Northeast Harbor. I packed my life into a space that is less than 350 square feet, and made a life there by planting flowers and vegetables, sewing, and making jewelry into the wee hours. It is a house with few doors and no closets: it is like living on a very small ship, with everything battened down into its appropriate place.

early morning coffee cupsEarly morning coffee cups at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Soon I will move into a new place, and I am not sure what its name is yet, only that it is a very blank slate in a very new town. I realized whilst walking around it the other night that I have no furniture at all anymore to put inside it: no table, no bed, no anything at all save a workbench, a sewing machine table, a cabinet and a bookshelf. So I suppose I do have some things, after all. If I have learned anything from life, it is that our magpie nature dictates that we fill our spaces in no time, and no doubt, the new house will fill up quickly with what I consider to be beautiful things. I decided a little while ago that one of the gifts of all the transitions over the last few years is that I get to decide what and who comes in my door, that this life is mine to create in beauty to the best of my ability.

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This past year has taught me a thing or two about beauty, and about cultivating a beautiful life. I have done my best to keep moving forward in this new place, this place in which many people have been for years. I still feel very, very new here: a feeling only amplified by the choice to try a new town on the same island. My newness is exposed almost daily as I remark on sea smoke on the ocean, or ice on the branches of trees, or on the discovery that a good winter coat really saves you in the cold days that seem to be with us with full force. Tonight we go down to 0 degrees, and over the next few nights, to much below that as we enter January. As far as I remember, January was the coldest month, last year full of ice skating on fierce winter days, and that by February everyone is ready for the bitterness of winter’s chill to be over, only to realize that at least two months lie before us before the warmth returns. February, as one of my friends said, is when everyone goes crazy for a while, just dealing with being in the middle of it, rather than at the magical beginning, or the slushy end.

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But, I am getting ahead of myself. Here we are, on December 30th, one short day away from a new year. I am sitting in a beautiful old house in Bar Harbor, housesitting and catsitting for friends who are out of town. I am eating pasta alla carbonara and drinking French wine that I bought from the folks who run the restaurant that took all my time and energy this past summer. I am thinking about what I want for the new year, what I am grateful for from last year, and what to do on the very important last day of 2013.

2667_1127644710456_1297271_nPlanting strawberries: another life (2007)

I have a few habits for New Years Eve; I clean my house very well, I take out all the trash, I pay all the bills, I sweep the dust out of the door. I light candles and eat good food and try to reach the people that I care about. I think about resolutions in a realistic way, as far as what I can really do with my time in the new year. This year I am resolving to be more organized in my business and teaching, and to believe all the compliments that people give me in order to be helpful and keep me going on this path. I am trying to let go of some fear and terror that has held me back for a few years in the hope that it is only a roadblock put in place by my survival skills and instincts. Fight or flight has no place for me here in my new home: this is a place of peace and forgiveness and acceptance of differences. This is a place where people help each other.

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Last night, during another long conversation, a friend and I spoke about the North Pond Hermit and other Maine characters of special significance. A friend of mine who used to live here was complaining the other night about how anti-social everyone is: how everyone stays home and expects others to come to them, about how everyone entertains themselves with various projects. I agree that it is a different sort of place in that way: we all are here for some reason, and I think that reason has something to do with peace and solitude, with creativity and independence, with being away. It is hard sometimes to communicate with people who do not wish to live here about the power of being away here, away in a small community of independent spirits, who occasionally gather together over dinner or a fire. Is it escapism living here? Sometimes I wonder about that, wondering if it is a sense of escaping the external world into a world of your own making. Sometimes I wonder if that is bad, or good, or neither. There is a power in creating your own world, and there are few places where you really can do that; in most places, I think the external forces are so strong that you are challenged to create an inner world at all, much less one that can influence and forge your external world in a meaningful way. There are so many people here who do so many things: small things that add up to a very rich and full life. Some people might think that life too quiet, and that, I suppose is why there are so few people here. Another friend said a few months ago that the beauty of this place is that there are so few people, and the ultimate downside is that there are so few people.

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Is it a place of contrasts? To be sure. Is it a place of introspection and quiet? Again, to be sure. Is it the end all be all? Most certainly not, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a place like that at all, or if life, is, indeed, what you make it.

Egon Schiele Landscape 1913Egon Shiele, 1913 —

I pasted this to the front window of my house. Each day as I stared outward, the landscape reminded me of this painting.

So, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year. Tomorrow night, during the new moon, we will all listen and watch as another year ends and one begins. My prayer for the new year is that we spend more time noting the present, thinking about the future, and are less hemmed in by our past.

I hope to spend more time thinking about where I am then where I have been or where I am going.

looking outLooking Out, Looking In

A Japanese Puzzle Box

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” – Oscar Wilde

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A Japanese puzzle box

When I was a young girl of nineteen, I took a trip with my family to England, to move my Grandmother out of her old house and into an assisted living house. She was so excited because she never had to cook again, and I was so excited to listen to old stories and go through old things with her. Her family: uncles and cousins and a brother, traveled on old steamships across the world from the port of Liverpool, always bringing back magical presents from Asia, Africa and Australia to the women sitting and waiting back home.

During that trip, my grandma gave me many things: an old porcelain shell-shaped ashtray, a Depression glass vase, a pressed-glass cigarette container, and a Japanese puzzle box. The box has no discernible openings, no drawers, and is inlaid on one side with birds and flowers, and the other with a mountain scene. Only she knew that if you slide the top panel to the right and the bottom to the left, that you discovered a hidden compartment: a drawer with a tiny button handle, in which you could store whatever you wanted.

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Let us think about dreams for a second, a minute, an hour, a day. Dreams are, for me, what guide my decisions. My heart bends in one direction or another, tied fast to dreams of what life could be, what it could look like if I could realize the wishes and hopes in my mind. My gut tells me what feels right; deep in my body come the yeses and the nos that dictate what I know to be right and true for me.

My dreams, since moving to Maine over one year ago, are to realize, finally, my deepest wishes and desires. My dreams involve turning the looking glass inward and looking at myself, deep into my hazel-green eyes, and allowing my happiness and sadness to flow through me. My dreams are to let go of the control, of the planned future, and instead step into a place where I move through life doing the things that I want to do versus what will make others happy.

Realizing dreams is scary, and painful, and involves a hefty dose of selfishness. Realizing dreams also involves the acknowledgement that others may ask of you a justification, an explanation of behaviors or choices that do not make sense because they break with past patterns. Realizing dreams involves sitting down and having tea with yourself, and saying that the little person inside, the child if you will, has many unexpressed desires and missing pieces that must be delicately crafted.

Maybe life is like a puzzle: those long and sometimes dull games you play with old, wizened aunts who love horse-racing and overly-sugared cakes on rainy days when there is nothing else to do. Maybe you seek the four corners, laying them out carefully on the table, oriented correctly, and after that, you find the edge pieces, and build the frame. And maybe you never really finish the puzzle, but have to be content with searching through the pile of pieces for the next section that will come clear: the flowers, or the sky and its clouds. Maybe the puzzle pieces sit on a small table in the dining room for years and years, and every month or so you find a new piece that fits. And maybe you finish the puzzle, but maybe not. Perhaps the goal of the game is to be happy looking at the tiny pieces and wondering how they all fit together. These are the dreams, I think.

Sweet dreams.

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The Duke of Gems

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“Go outside, clench both hands into fists and holdig your arms straight at your sides, come back inside and show me your left palm.”

I followed instructions to the letter, walking back into the studio on an early summer afternoon, after a long boat ride, a visit to a messy school building, and a conversation with a master puppeteer and stained glass artist. I had spent my morning eating gingerbread and staring at deep purple iris, gazing at the dark blue water and watching the land and the ocean pass by.

In the studio that day were piles of gemstones, both precious and semi-so, laid out on our cases, packed inside plastic bags, stored inside black cases.

The Duke of Gems grasped my left hand and rubbed it with the fingers and thumbs of both hands, and said,

“Who is this guy?”

I said, “excuse me?”

“Who is this guy? Do not commit to this! You don’t know him, he is not here yet. Do not commit to this, for marriage for the sake of it, for the paper, is not right.”

I stood, bewildered. My coworker said, “Do mine!”, and he proceeded to ask if someone was bleeding, sick. She, looking shocked, said, “I am a midwife, what do you mean?” He also mentioned that there was no threat to her father but that he must behave during recovery.

Next he turned to another coworker and asked, “why are you holding on to this? This weight is on your shoulders; it is as if you are diving into the deep water, and are doing it by choice!” She looked sad, explaining her situation, and he told her to stop.

Lastly, he said to our fourth at the studio, “sometimes when you help people this much, you are actually hurting them.”

Then he said, nonchalantly, that sometimes people tell him he is in the wrong profession.

We four, bewildered, continued to siphon through stones, picking out treasures as he continued. He and I spoke in Spanish, he told us about his family, and about the trade in stones. He showed us a $10,000 mystery stone and told us about buying and selling, winning and losing money.

Just before he left, he said to me, “Patience, what are you doing here?” I said that I had been offered a teaching position out on an island and he shook his head. “No,” he said. Then, “you can try it. You can go ahead and try it but it is not what you will do. You need open space, this place is too small, you need the open spaces. I would love to see what you will be doing next time I come, but you will not be here.”

The feeling of mystery continued until he left us almost four hours after he had arrived unannounced, and unknown to any of us. I had an idea to whom he was referring in my case, my coworker continued to counsel her patients and told her father he must behave, and our other two friends made moves to reconcile the emotions that he had voiced for them, too.

The next day he called us said he had been up all night praying for one of us.

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