A Late Night in Pittsburgh: Compare/ Contrast

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Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

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Assata Shakur 

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.
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Otoño y La Gracia

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This morning, it was autumn. I woke up at sunrise to the sounds of the street sweepers and noticed a copper light cast across the tops of the buildings and caught in the leaves of the trees. Cadillac Mountain, standing so stately at the end of the street, was highlighted by a glimmering sheath of coppery-gold-red-and-yellow very early this morning. The slant, or angle, of the light is so sharp now as the Sun’s light is bending around the curves of Earth! Take heed for soon it shall start to slip away…and away…and away.

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This is my bedroom, or at least, a part of it. I have spent some hours over the last few weeks decorating its nooks and crannies for winter. I have added tropical plants and candles and nicely smelling things. I have stared out the windows, wondering how it will change. I have thought about my own feelings of this house’s temporary feel: never have I felt that I will stay here for long.

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I ended up here on Saturday night: a club called the Oak and Ax in Biddeford, Maine. I watched some friends perform beautifully, and I watched a couple in paisley and beige dance. I watched young people dressed like the Beastie Boys sing space trip-hop. I spoke to a girl wearing a white polyester dress she had bought at the Goodwill-by-the-pound in Gorham. I smoked a cigarette with a man who sang like Stevie Wonder backed by synth beats. I danced, and was happy, because, beside my friends who I was attending the show with, I knew no one and was happy in a brief moment of true anonymity.

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Out beyond ideas

of wrongdoing and right doing,

there is a field.

I’lll meet you there.

Rumi

Fall is a season of overturning: of watching the colors of our landscape change before our eyes. We can feel the energy drain from the surface of the Earth to its undercarriage: the Sun begins to wane and the light disappears, the leaves turn red-orange-yellow-brown, and the wind becomes sharper and colder. We ourselves learn to spend moments feeling the cool wind blow on our faces and the warm sun shining on our backs for just a little while more. We can watch the clouds move in the blustery wind and hear it shake our windowpanes as the cold blows in off the water, and down from the North.

One of the themes of late, for me, is a feeling of letting go, of accepting new beginnings whatever they may be, and to try to say goodbye to a feeling of fighting for fighting’s sake. It is time to transition and to take off the battle garb: to look into your lover’s eyes late at night and see light flash and listen to your souls laughing. It is time to feel one another’s skin between sheets and hold another’s head in your hands: appreciating in moments the beauty of hair and skin and bone. It is time to hold hands while sleeping, and to be tender in whatever moments you are lucky enough to express it.

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“I do not understand the mystery of grace, only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

Anne Lamott

What a Difference a Year Makes

dan photos september 2013 114At Rockefeller Gardens

I have a neighbor named Jill; she and her boyfriend are about to go to Florida for the winter, but she came over to chat tonight and betrayed The Secret, the thing that you are not supposed to say out loud when you live here: she said, “this place is hard when you’re alone, by yourself, that’s for sure.” (Her boyfriend, Bobby, is already on his way to Florida and she has been solo now for about a month. She also said she’s staying til November 20th and at this point, has no idea why.)

The stores all closed this past weekend, the weekend of Halloween, and many of the year round places are taking some time off. This is not hugely significant to me, as I spend most of my time at my house or at my friend’s houses, but it is strange to think of this island, so abuzz with activity all summer, as literally shutting down: closing doors. I keep noticing the dark curtains pulled close across all the windows of the summer houses and interpret it as a metaphor for this place.

What does that mean? I honestly have no idea, just am mulling over the loneliness factor of living here for a second winter. People here pair up, hardly anyone is single, and I think the reason is that the starkness and the harshness of staring down the barrel of a long, cold winter, is just too much for any one person to seriously be able to handle. Perhaps people like the North Pond Hermit love the loneliness and isolation, and I do, too, for many, many hours and even days during the winter.

But I miss strangers, strangely. I miss the surface level interactions you have with people in cities: with the guy that works at the coffee shop, or the bartender at the pub. I also miss seeing people on the street and smiling at them or just saying hello, knowing that will be your only interaction with them for the rest of time. Here, in winter, you know almost everyone to the point of being actual friends, and having conversations every time you run into them. Now, this may sound magical and sweet, and it is, but sometimes I just want to be anonymous as I walk around the towns, and there is no anonymity here. You, your business, your quirks, are all on public display and a topic of public conversation.

To meditate for too long on one’s existential loneliness is probably not a good idea, but places like this tiny island do force you to think about the Big Ideas, the life issues that we all must confront at some point: what gives our lives meaning? What messages are we putting out there for all the world to see? What does accountability mean? How do we really communicate with those we love? What is community? Family? Truth in relationships? How do you balance independence and a desire for companionship? Are you doing it right? The last question is, of course, a joke, but these are the questions floating through my mind tonight, a night of cooler temperatures, a rare solar eclipse in the morning, and our first snowfall coming sometime tomorrow.

Today, whilst driving through the park, listening to the hum of a very loud engine, I saw hundreds of naked beech trees. Silent, tall, skinny, with knobby trunks, they are deep grey with black blotches. Growing in stands, or groups of trees, they dazzle the eye with their sheer number and monochrome. Beyond the stands of trees are great granite outcroppings, covered with lichen in various shades of green. Almost gone are the colors of spring and summer: green and grey are highlighted in the fading light, in the absence of leaves and flowers.

from school laptop 2012 093From Outside, Looking In! Photographer Unknown

A Man Named Granny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.D. Salinger

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

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

dan photos september 2013 247Rust, Paint

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

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

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

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

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

What Trees Teach Us About Belonging And Life

Seal Harbor Beach

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

– Herman Hesse – Trees: Reflections and Poems, 1984

 

I miss Maine. If any of you out there reading are my neighbors, say hello to the trees, the air, the water, the rocks and the wind. Walk a while for me. Watch the birds and say good morning to the days. I will be home soon. 

Age & Aging

The Dream Garden – A Glass Mosaic Mural by Maxfield Parrish & Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1915

I left Maine six days ago to start this journey across the country.  It feels so far away: like I am drifting. Me and my purple suitcase are attached together, detached from all other things. I feel as if I am floating through time and space, tethered only by the places in which I sleep at night, and the writings here and in my paper-and-pen journal.
As I have been traveling these last six days, I have realized a few things. The first is that I need stability and my own place to live. I moved out of my old house in the middle of May, and since then have been staying with friends and family or house sitting. At first, this was an adventure that I was ready for. I sold all my belongings save the 12 boxes of prized possessions, and was thrilled by feeling freer and lighter than I had for years. I still feel free and light but my understanding of what that means has changed from a relative position vis-a-vis possessions to desiring lightness inside my heart and mind. Part of that is the attempt to cultivate a sense of peace within myself that has nothing to do with objects: just being observant of the passing of time and place around me. However, it has come to my attention that I am ready to have keys again. I have no idea where I put my keys as it has been so many months since I have needed to use one. I am ready to settle into my winter house and create a little, temporary home there and reflect on the changing seasons and my new place.

Maxfield Parrish lived in rural Vermont in a beautiful house.

He loved theatre, and often staged beautiful plays at his home that starred his friends and family.

The next thing that I have been thinking about is age and aging. Lately, I have been feeling my age. I looked in the mirror yesterday and started making funny faces at myself, as usual, and noticed these large wrinkles that stretch across my forehead. Now, when I am not making funny faces, those wrinkles are invisible. But how often am I not making funny faces? I noticed the permanent wrinkle between my eyebrows. I noticed the grey hair that is everywhere now, especially since I haven’t colored my hair in four months. I notice the way I feel around younger people. I feel like I am counting my experiences with more importance. I feel like I am more contemplative than before, and that I am less likely to try to foist my opinion on to others. I feel like I have learned a lot but also have just lived through a lot. I feel tired and reflective, as if I am spending many hours of each day reaching and looking back into the parts of my life that have been neglected for a long time, trying to suss out meaning where I have usually neglected an analysis.

Louis Comfort Tiffany created new forms of glasswork for this mural. It is the largest glass mural in the world.

One of the things I keep coming back to is the experiential gulf between people. Someone you know and even love can be so similar in age to you but yet have not shared even a handful of the experiences that really carved out the person that you may be at the present moment. That isn’t to say that you can’t share experiences and learn from each other, but I think a sense of perspective may only be created through multiple experiences, good and bad, that provide you with an understanding of what is important, what is doable, what is a waste of time.

The Dream Garden – Detail

I turn 32 on this birthday, this Christmas Eve. When I think about my birthday this year, my dream is to spend it in my little house with a friend or two. I hope to have candles and lamps burning (I hate overhead light especially in the coziness of winter) and to drink a glass or two of wine. I hope that it snows, and that I can watch the snow falling and later, go walking in it when it is dark and everyone is asleep. I hope to walk down to the harbor and look out at the water, at the few boats that will remain in the water at the end of December, and walk home. I hope to have a cozy blanket on my couch and be able to stay there until Christmas is born the next morning. That is what I wish for, nothing more and nothing less.

I do not feel old, far from it. I feel very young most of the time and people tell me almost constantly that they are surprised that I am almost 32. I blame the hair dye, crazy outfits and desire to smile at everyone and everything. People often tell me that they notice my smile first. I count this as a win. When I say that, however, I realize that now I have been on the planet for 1/3 of the time I will get to be here, if I am very lucky. I plan to not leave till I am about 97, as long as I have all my faculties and can walk around and knit. Now that I know that I have been here for 1/3 of my life, and I look at all the experiences that I have had, the hardships endured, the beautiful things that I have seen and felt and appreciate every day, I feel older than some of the people who are around me.

The reality is that I lived life to the absolute fullest until about a month ago, when I decided to stop. When I say lived life to the fullest, I mean running around like the proverbial chicken with her head cut off, running from this to that. Pressured by a desire to succeed, I did. I succeeded, and I did not understand the meaning of the word no. I did everything I could all the time. And that, in a lot of ways, is a great thing. I know my capabilities and strengths and weaknesses and know now that I will always be ok; I will always be able to take care of myself. But I am tired. Tired, tired, tired. I have to stop rushing; there is no rush. All we have is time, granted it passes very quickly, but it is, really, all that we have. Time to stop and think, time to drink tea and eat soup, time to walk and listen to music, time to create beautiful things and tell people that we love having them around.

The Dream Garden – Detail

Since the age of 28, when this process of realization began, I have seen myself rush headlong into many things. I have seen myself make a decision that was absolutely critical to my happiness, despite the social rejection of that decision. I have seen myself take on everything that was thrown at me. I have seen myself adapt and change even when I shouldn’t have. I have seen myself dedicate my life to others while neglecting myself. I have seen myself run, run, run, desperately afraid that I would miss something, or something would miss me, if I didn’t. Desperately afraid that “it” wouldn’t happen, while not even knowing what “it” was.

The Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut in Philadelphia – Home to The Dream Garden

When I got shingles this summer and was forced to stop, I started thinking about age. I started thinking about all the things that I have done and wished I had done, and about all the things that I thought I would have had at this point. And then I realized, wherever you is, there you are. And all of a sudden, all the madness, the running around, began to slow down. The spinning began to slow and eventually stop. Friends helped me with this, helping me understand that I was still rushing around, still making plans where none needed to be made.

The Dream Garden was designed to inspire wonder at nature and a sense of solitude in the viewer.

This tour of my country is so beautiful because I get to see lots of people who I love, I get to do whatever I want to do in some of my favorite cities, and I get to spend some serious time thinking about this and other subjects. By the time I go home in a few weeks, hopefully I will be ready to stretch and unfurl this new me, the one that will be slow and dedicated instead of rushing around scared. The one who will spend time every morning appreciating instead of stressing. The one who will age gracefully, quietly. The one who will not look too far in the future for plans, but try to stay in the present and notice people, places, and things of beauty. I feel like this trip is my last for a while, because the task at hand is to practice being still for a while and watching the world by walking within it, instead of running, driving, and doing all the time.

Wind & Sirens

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Wind on 84th Street

 

“Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.”

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

 

Traveling is disruptive to the spirit, no matter how happy you are to see people you haven’t seen for a long while. Feeling disconnected, and detached, the noises of the city at night are disconcerting. Deep breaths with eyes closed, visualizing home…..good night.