Paciencia, Paciencia – Part 2

I have known for a long time where I wish my ashes to be scattered. I have walked that stretch of beach, a cove within Salsbury Cove, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from The Ovens, probably a thousand times. Maybe I have walked it more than a thousand times in the 37 years I have known it. Known its curves, its predilection for purple seaglass and mussels with pearlescent shells; the pads of seaweed at low tide that you can walk across if you are careful to feel out the rocks beneath with your feet. The tiny island that forms just beyond the point that *sometimes* has a seal on it, but more often, you see the seals in the water, watching you.

I have walked this beach for years of my life. I learned to skip stones in the water there, have taken countless pieces of driftwood to burn in their Aurora Borealis colors in a campfire: I have found bricks and glass and jellyfish and dishes and seaweed growing, attached to same, for years and years. When I was ill 21 years ago, I still walked down to this beach, and back up the hillside walk to the house on the return journey.

It was on this beach 5 years ago that I set off lanterns with Cody into a winter sky: a night sky so clear and so full of hopeful wishes from the both of us. Drifts of snow lay before us on that beach and we crouched, almost in silence, making wishes as we sent wasteful lanterns off, over the water.

So, I have long known this is the place upon which I would like my ashes to be sprinkled, which brings me to my latest update: the newest iteration of the blog.

I am in the middle of downloading the old, and rediscovering the need to write the new. I am finishing an old project, and beginning two new ones. I am editing and rewriting the first version of this blog into a book:  a memoir. I have learned, through reading many memoirs over the past two years, that memoirs are best suited to a specific,  certain time, place, and theme. Hence, I realized that I finished one at the end of my last post, and here I am beginning a new one about the understandings one has at the cusp of turning 40. I now understand all the strange “over the hill” comments of my childhood. I am, for the first time, more than likely, closer to the end than to the beginning of my life. Now, being a person who became very ill and almost died at 18, a whole other aspect appears: I wasn’t sure I would make it this far. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey, wherever it will take all of us, each of us, individually: after all, it is a one-person journey as far as I can tell, despite all the lovely people who dot the landscape of our lives.

Happy New Year.

Taking Care of a Dying Person

I remember when I first met MawMaw, she told me to keep Cody on the straight and narrow. To be honest, she kind of scared me: this tiny, old person with a perm was clearly no woman to challenge. Over the years, though, I learned that tough exterior covered an extremely sweet person who felt herself to be much worse than ever could be a reality. She has given me and Cody so much, and so, when the time was right, we moved her in to our tiny, old house, and here she remains, in the slow and strange process of leaving the planet.

Last week was hard; it started with conversations with her dead sister Tootsie about Steve (her also dead husband) going out to the chicken coop in Bossier City only to discover a snake, would you imagine? We advanced to an admission of being afraid and a night of nightmares and everyone being awake trying to coax MawMaw back to our reality from one of her own. She sleeps with a little boy but doesn’t know who he is because she has never seen him. But, the last two days have been clear and almost normal. Her “symptoms” if you can call them that follow the pattern written out in the hospice folder. Perhaps we are within days, or weeks, perhaps not. No one seems to know anything specific about this mystery we call dying.

Taking care of a dying woman who cannot walk and who is bedridden while teaching 8th graders and trying to complete my first semester of grad school is very hard, and everything is suffering. I try to not take it all so personally: I feel defeated and grumpy all the time. I feel overwhelmed and sad and worried and anxious; I have a short temper with my students. I hope that will change, for their sake and mine. It is not their fault, after all, that they are teenagers.

She tells me funny stories sometimes, and sometimes I do nice things like give her a facial with lovely oils to soothe her “onion-skin” as her nurse calls it; paper-thin, almost translucent, and apt to dry out and tear if we aren’t careful. She still has her sense of humor and she winks at me when she is being wicked. I appreciate that very much. When she gets upset I ask her to tell me things about her children when they were little and about Bill (her husband) and when they got married, and how he built their house for $6000. Many times now, she doesn’t remember the details.

I have been watching her sleep and she reminds me of a puppy right now: moving, twitching, frowning and smiling as she remembers…something. I feel she is reckoning with her life at the moment, when both awake and asleep. She said the other day she wished she had been a better mother.

This process is slow, and it is also fast. Sometimes it feels like longer than 4 months, and then I realize how short 4 months actually is. So much has changed for us; our marriage is better for this experience as we actually have learned both to communicate and to take care of/appreciate the other one. We say “thank you” more and give each other breaks when things are hard: walk away even, or just kiss one another or hold each other’s hand rather than trying to prove something. These are good things.

As I type this, the north wind is blowing around the house, as it likes to do on some winter nights. I wonder how much longer she is with us, and if the wind will take her away one evening. I know the wind is a woman, and she a harbinger of change, especially in winter. We all talked about death the other day; we are all on the same page. We will be all right when it happens. Like she says, she has to get to heaven to be with her mama again, and her sisters, her brother, and her husband.

Such a mystery this life.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

– Mary Elizabeth Frye

Fathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Mother’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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All those empty rooms: connected by time and consciousness.

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

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

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

There are no doors.

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The Noise

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all pictures in this post are by the wonderful Maxfield Parrish…what a dream to dream!

It is late, dark, and quiet. Next to me, someone is sleeping sweetly, curled against a pillow and under a blanket. To my left, the air conditioner blows on and off, and to my right, a fan oscillates slowly back and forth. It is the quiet time, when no one and nothing stirs: if I go outside, all I can see is the guard light shining its amber glow, stars that flicker but remain in position, and occasionally, a passing car.

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My home is very quiet. A few weeks ago, a nice woman who is in Chinese medicine school but who moonlights as a phlebotomist came by to do some medical tests for our life insurance policies. She took her shoes off at the door. They were so small, black tennis shoes, that I thought they were a child’s shoes! She remarked how quiet it is here, and that was during the day.

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Lately, I find the external world so very loud: so much noise. News, social media, and people driving on the highways just seem to be shrieking, screaming, pushing, prodding, yelling: the common theme, fear of…..what exactly? Fear of the unknown? Fear of the inevitability of change? Fear of the direction in which our society finds itself? Fear of not having enough, or too much? I can’t put my finger on it, but I see examples everywhere.

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Currently, I drive 3 hours round trip as my commute to my school: this is about to change. I drive with hundreds of other people to and from Austin. I find that at least 10 each day drive so aggressively that they scare me, and I worry about finding myself in an accident like the ones I hear about every day. People chase around me in their cars, cut me off in their cars, drive just behind my bumper in their cars, and every time it happens, I wonder why. I hear teachers at my school yell or complain: I hear students do the same. I see article after article online and hear article after article on the radio about the President. Its as if the noise is catching: once it starts, it has to keep building to some mad crescendo.

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The presence of the noise makes me thankful for the quiet. I find that I catch myself in its moments rarely, and so, I try to cultivate them. Today I walked in the garden and checked in with the cotton and roselle plants, gazed at the sunflower seedlings. I pet the neighbor’s dog. I sit here, typing. I find the quiet helps me understand that the noise is just that: noise. Meaningless, temporary, distracting: the reality is the moments of quiet, the moments that I catch the mockingbird sitting on the garden’s arch, the arc of a cotton stem, the funny way that sunflowers bend toward the sun, the way children look when they are distracted and staring off into space, breathing. I suppose the task of the moment is to change the focus from the noise to the quiet: otherwise, where shall we go?

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Inspiration

 

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Here, I watch the sunset over the neighbor’s barn 

Over the last month, 29 new people have started following this blog. Since I have not regularly posted to the blog in almost three years, and am rather a fair-weather blog friend these days, I am taking this as a sign from the universe and the second nod of inspiration to get to it again! A few weeks ago, my mother’s best friend Jean also asked me: “what is happening these days with your writing?”.

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A bridge in Hogeye, Texas…a few miles from my new home

Challenge accepted, and with gratitude, as I have discovered, in the in-between times, that writing is a way that I understand my own experiences, my meandering wander through this game of life, and, most useful, it helps me remember the things that happened. I was happy to hear from a friend yesterday (and she is younger than me!) that she is now depending on her 4 year-old to help her remember new peoples’ names and the details of the day. Memory is funny: it’s like there is only so much space in there and so many little things get deleted. Perhaps it’s a survival skill.

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Chinaberry blossoms: this year, I felt like I had never seen them before. Maybe I hadn’t.

The same friend also inspired me yesterday by carving out a writing nook in her home. My house is quite small, so there is not a space for this as such, but I have taken the “dining room” (sounds quite fancy but it is really just a small, lovely room with two windows that looks out into the garden and is a pass-through to the living room) as the sewing room and so decided, yesterday, that it will also be the “writing nook” starting, well, today. In this room, along with the two lovely windows, is my sewing machine, the sweet hutch my lover surprised me with a while back (it houses all the fabric, the patterns and the sparkly things in the two lighted cabinets), a nice round brown wooden table, two brass candlesticks, four chairs, a wool rug with a hole at one end, and me.

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The sewing/dining room now writing nook

As I look out of the windows, I can see a windy crepe-myrtle tree and in it, a pair of cardinals. Mama usually shows up first and then is quickly chased by her partner, Red Papa. They are very sweet and chubby these days, no doubt from all the birdseed and everything else around the large yard. There are so many trees: trees in trees! In fact, in the center of the crepe myrtle is a small pecan. There is debate in the house about which goes. I vote for the pecan, as I love the crepe myrtles so much and a pecan there is too close to the house. There is also a blue ceramic birdbath that the doves love, and the grackles like to land in and splash everyone else. Beyond this scene is a white driveway shining in the early summer sun (when did it get so HOT?) and beyond that, the ever-expanding garden fence, a greenhouse, vegetable patches, and many flowers just beginning their pretty journey with us here at the new house in Elgin.

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The house with its first flower patch – now teeming with tiny flowers of myriad variety. I am sitting in front of those two full-sized windows near the back of the house in this photo. The small window is the window over the kitchen sink!

Paciencia, Paciencia is starting a new step in the journey it seems! I am leaving my current school in a few weeks and have transferred to the small middle school here in town. I will still teach the same things; the making of things, the drawing of things, the thinking of things, and the feeling better about ourselves way of things, but I will be able to bike to school on my wonderful bicycle, rather than sit on a highway in my wonderful car. My life is circling around me, the wagons of inspiration hugging a bit closer: more time for art, for garden, for writing. Here we are. Thanks for being along.

20180416_191831Is there anything as beautiful as a tomato and pepper patch in the afternoon light?

To Thine Own Self Be True – Happy New Year 2017

Musings on a new year are forthcoming. It has been almost six months since I have written here: a place that used to be an almost daily practice. But things shift, and change, and priorities, too. Change, as I said to the man in Home Depot about how to heat houses in Texas, is the only constant that we can count on.

So let’s dive in to a new year. It is 2017, which makes it my lucky (to me) 37th year on planet Earth. For as long as I can remember, 37 has been my lucky number. I can’t tell you why or where it came from, just, that as a small girl, I noticed the number 37 all over the place and began to associate it, and foxes, with luck or, perhaps, an awareness of the magical influences in my life.

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Being that it is 2017, it means that I graduated from high school 18 years ago, and college 13 years ago. That seems like an awfully long period of time, and one could, I suppose, wax and whine poetic about the passage of time, but here’s a thought: my life since those two major life events has involved travel and art and love and friends and being a grown up, all of which add up to the ineffable truth of my life: that life post education is the richness, the soup, the delicious Caesar salad with anchovies of existence. Adulthood is beautiful and fractured, delicate and stressful, colorful, moving, changing, solid, long, and, for me, quite happy. My tune has changed quite a bit since I started this project about four years ago.

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South Philly’s Magic Gardens by Isaiah Zagar 

 

I have a couple of themes for 2017. Last year I focused on having a Year of Patience, and worked on what felt right for me. For the most part, it worked out very well. I established some boundaries, I was very creative, I was inspired by and inspired many young people, I lost a great friend, gained some new ones, and reconnected with some old ones, I moved out of the city, and I thought, a lot. The themes for 2017, so far, are clarity and staying the course: in other words, to thine own self be true BUT also, check in with that self regularly because, as adults, life moves very fast and it is very easy to get in the habit of moving and working and doing so that you don’t actually know if the path you are on is the right one for you.

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Image of neurons in the brain under activity from the Franklin Institute’s exhibit “Self Reflected”

 

There are some things that I am doing this year that, I hope, will help with flying along the migrational path of these themes. I have recently become reinvigorated in the jewelry department after a couple of craft shows around the holidays, and have decided to up my game a bit and try to get some pieces in galleries that I would like to see them in. I gifted myself 10 opals to help in this process! They are beautiful, and will become two bracelets that are inspired by internal structure, structural integrity, and the warrior’s spirit.

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Some of the opals are here displayed by the stone cutter who cut them especially for me!!! Everyone should check out Mountain Song Jewelers

 

Also, I am gifting myself a plane ticket to England. I decided it was time to put up or shut up about going to England, as I have said every year since 2009 that *this* is the year that I am going to go, and then I don’t do it. This year is the year. I am flying out around the 20th of July, and will come back around the 20th of August, to start another school year with flying colors and, hopefully, much inspiration. I will see family, tour gardens, watch the ocean, go to museums, drink tea, go mudlarking, and get in touch with my roots. I will see what happens after that, but I became so excited about this the other day that I became teary-eyed and that was what cemented the decision. I was daydreaming about landing at Gatwick, getting in a black taxi-cab, and traveling through the streets of London to my aunt’s house. I was looking up and around out of the windows, watching the comings and goings of the city. My heart swelled, and I decided I would just make it work.

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Kynance Cove on The Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall, England…just looooooook! 

 

That is really it in terms of plans: jewelry-making and traveling. I want to travel as much as I can, get out there into the world and take some chances. Also, I am becoming deputized to register people to vote, and will have my Deputy Patience face on every day at school to help teachers and parents and students understand how to register and how to vote. I think it is something that I can actually do in these strange times in which we find ourselves. One question that keeps coming back to me is: what do I do? I think I have an idea, which is to wait. Wait and listen. Listen and wait. Think about the goals, and work toward them. Allow everything else to be nebulous. Stay the course, but remain flexible. Someone told me that the mark of a successful person is, when confronted with something not exactly as you would like, you make do anyway. I think she is right. She was commenting on my disappointment in a lack of plain milk chocolate bars in her store, and so I took a risk and bought one with pretzel bits in it. It was her observation that I was a successful person. I took the compliment, and the chocolate, with delight. It was delicious, by the way.

The Seer by Andy Moerlein, 2012 – sculpture of bent branches at the Hulls Cove Tool Barn

 

I was back in Maine in November for Thanksgiving, but I ended up spending about half the time in Portland with friends. We went to restaurants and bars and drove around a lot. Meg and I met a really funny Maine Guide in a gas station somewhere between Brunswick and Bar Harbor who told us he was writing a book that was a cross between Hustler, 50 Shades of Grey, and Downeast Magazine. I went to a bar called the Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box that had a magical mural painted behind the bar, and all the menus were framed in old brass thrift-store frames. I ate dumplings a-go-go and drank delicious special cocktails with things like Cymar and Frenet and egg-whites and lavender in them. I went walking with my friend Tony to Two Lights Park on a very cold and sunny day and we looked at rocks and the ocean. We were talking about relationships and people and life and memory, mostly, and we met some people who were walking their long-haired whippets along the same path as us. They remarked on the beauty of the day, and I too, was struck by the blue of the water, and the shiny brown undulating forms of the rocks at its edge.

Oh Maine, you beautiful place, you. Two Lights State Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

 

Maine water is the deepest blue, so clear but yet so cold and deep: like a sapphire that stretches and moves out to the horizon, dotted by boats, glinting in the sun. I miss Maine, and decided at that moment, that I’d like to be there, again. As my friend Carolyn has said, it looks good on me. I miss the people, the ocean, the trees, the seasons, the natural beauty, the enveloping environment, the quiet, the peace of it. I know now that nowhere is perfect, and I know now that I love Texas at its heart and soul, and I love Maine, too. Over the last few weeks, I have realized that I could work with and teach refugee and immigrant children up in Maine, in Portland or Lewiston-Auburn, and keep working on the mission that I started eleven years ago, as a baby teacher, at the young age of 25. Little did I know then that I would end up, 11 years later, an art teacher at a girls’ school, aiming to inspire a sense of art, of criticism, of laughter, of bewilderment, of creativity, of capacity, and of resilience in a band of young girls, embarking into their own adult world. Their world seems different than mine was at the age of 18, but perhaps it truly isn’t. I suppose I will have to ask them in almost 20 years.

I could write about my critiques of our current political situation, of the current political situation in Texas, but I won’t today. Perhaps later. For today, this is simply a forecast and a casting of wishes like dandelion seeds out into the ethers for a new year. Here we are. Hope *is* a verb, as I have learned, and clarity is my mission. Stay true to myself, and remember to have a lot of fun. Human connections, art-making (which this semester includes puppets!), and food with friends are what stave off the cynicism and the despair that creeps in at our society’s edges. Hold it at bay with sword in hand!!! Whatever your sword is, wield it with love not malice. To win, we stay peaceful and present and we bring light into dark places, understand that each day is new, that nothing is permanent, and that our friends are what help us mark the passage of time, not things, or money, or calendars. These are my wishes for our new year. Happy happy to you. May all your wishes come true, allowing for the almost certainty that what you wish for will change.

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