Being Guided

Clouds may block the moon
Covering your reflection
Still I see your face

I experienced a lot of wending and winding in the month of October, and as we slip into November, it seems much the same. With October came the loss of my jewelry studio of 10 years: a wonderful place that I shared with like-minded spirits and its beautiful owner and wrangler of souls: Bob. I miss that place, and hope we find a new venue soon. I am experiencing a lot of friction at school with teachers whose ethos don’t match mine, and my great, ever-expanding heart is more than a bit bewildered at what seems like powering the Shame Train in the direction of 7th grade little girls rather than thinking about them as the delicate little fledglings that they are. 7th graders…so special. Then, an agreement and a plan to take over a friend’s farm, a process that has involved a huge amount of time and energy over the last year fell through at the last minute, due to differences in expectations.

I am endlessly fascinated by humans, and by our ability to change our lives so fundamentally, so quickly. The friend who owns the farm is about to have her own baby, but can’t seem to see that the reality that we have a 13 year-old would make us want to live on the farm, as originally agreed, by ourselves. It is strange to be a step-parent who is now fully-oriented in the direction of this kid’s success. I have all these little girls who I work with every day, and while I think of him slightly differently because he lives in my house, I care about each of them just the same: I think about the power of their self-determination, and my own determination to give them access to knowledge without limit, with laughter and love.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed, a bit worried, and a bit sad. But, the clock of time and life keeps turning, and I found myself on Saturday afternoon touring the UT Austin Art Building as part of the MFA Open House. I learned that the program is fully-funded, that all grad students teach, and that, as a grad student, I would have access to all the studios, all day- and night- long. It seems like an amazing opportunity. As I was walking back to my car along San Jacinto street, I was reminded of being a student there over ten years ago: wandering around under tree branches and in the shadow of buildings. There are many new buildings now, and I am older. I think that if I am afforded this chance, I will spend every day, in the morning, drinking coffee under this one very crinkled Live Oak that grows between the Art Building and the Texas Memorial Museum, just thanking my lucky stars that led me to this.

So, I digress. But, all is not lost, or bad. The theme for this month is, indeed, “Turning the Soil”, and it would seem that is what is happening. Stirring the pot a bit, turning over new and old leaves, exploring ideas and options, focusing on the fact that the right thing will happen, even if I can’t see it right now. We went and looked at a property in Elgin yesterday: an old house that needs work and sits on 5 acres. I immediately thought of learning how to use a chainsaw and hacking down some trees to create a campground back in the property somewhere. I thought of creating spaces for birds to eat yummy birdseed and live in the old trees. I thought of the old building on the property that we think is an abandoned brick house with trees growing out of it: very Secret Garden. Neither of us ever thought of living in Elgin til we drove out there yesterday and saw all the old Victorian houses, the horses in paddocks, the Cottonseed Oil Mill, the old depot, the downtown of Southwest-style brick buildings and tiny shops: a place for a farmer’s market, a co-op, and a thrift shop. I thought: good enough for me! Life is full of surprises: if you don’t watch it, it will change on you in a blink, as my grandma would say.

I think it’s time to wait this out, finish the art projects that need to be added to the portfolio, stand tall, and look inward.

Maintain an open heart in your stillness;
This cycle of obstruction shall pass
Walk with peace in every step.
#12
Above      Qian/Gan        Heaven, energy, spirit power
Below       Kun        Center of the Earth, responsiveness
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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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In Moments

Last night, I was sitting on a small bed in the lamplight and I was brushing my teeth. It was midnight and I was staring at my lover sitting at the opposite end of the room, staring off into space. He seemed to be thinking deeply about something, occasionally shifting his head and nodding, sometimes stroking his beard with his right hand. Distractedly, I moved my gaze to the ceiling, to a wreath I had made yesterday out of mustang grape vines and spent poppy pods. Feeling something, I looked back, and noticed him looking at me and smiling.

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Sunset thunderstorm with rainbow…yes, it was actually this color

On Sunday, I took a walk with a small and young friend who is new to me, despite having known him since he was about three. We watched pond skimmers on the surface of a tannin-stained creek and then threw rocks of increasing size into it, creating cannonball-like effects upon its surface. We moved on after the largest one created waves so large they spread almost instantly across the creek bed. Later, we were walking along a country lane and came upon a large field with a tilled-up bed on its left. The earth was black and stood up in perfect rows and the rest of the landscape was that early spring green that is so electric it seems colored in with a pencil rather than created through chlorophyll and sunlight. As we stood there, my young friend said, “don’t you want to own a bunch of land someday and have half of it fenced off so all you could do is ride a horse all around it?”. I smiled and said yes.

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Ireland’s fuchsia bells interpreted in textured sterling silver

Last night, my jewelry teacher of ten years, Bob, walked up to me and hugged me so close and laughingly asked, “are you suffering some culture shock? Hmmmmmmmm?”

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Good morning poppy forest

Last week, my best friend and I walked through my old and her current neighborhood, gazing at fancy houses and drinking iced coffees on a late spring afternoon. She tricked me, you see, into a false sense of strolling, because all of a sudden, we turned down an alley and before us was a house with four wooden tall birdhouses and a field of poppies. Rather like somewhere in Europe, but actually in Austin, Texas, the poppy flowers were suspended on their stalks and in the air at the same time, moving lightly and liltingly in the breeze. Someone else was on the other side of the field: we watched each other til we realized he was taking photos, so we moved out of his way.

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Sunlight at the Barton Creek Greenbelt

When we were driving back from Houston via Route 71, meandering toward Bastrop on rainy but sunny Saturday afternoon, two weeks ago?, on the right side there was a large field populated by beautiful black cows. The cows were that perfect, deep, midnight black that seems to pull all light into it. Some were standing, some walking, some laying down with babies beside them. The field, normally green and grassy, was overwhelmed with thousands, millions maybe, of pink buttercups, a wildflower that some call primroses but children of Houston seem to know them as buttercups, from the years of balancing them on our noses and holding them up to reflect their bright yellow pollen color onto our necks. The field was filled from highway to horizon with nothing but pink flowers and black cows. In the background was a bright blue sky, dotted ever so perfectly with white clouds.

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Maidenhair ferns on limestone

The other night, I drove home through a huge thunderstorm, in which my car was buffeted around by winds that reminded me of blizzard wind. Across the sky in front of me stretched a flash of white lightning on black sky so large it seemed to span miles.

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Look up!

On Monday I sat on a cool concrete patio of an old hotel-house with one of my best friends: someone I hadn’t seen for three and a half years. We drank Arnold Palmers and beers and went for a walk and looked at photos and laughed and confirmed our mutual doubts that we really don’t know anything.

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Top secret phone-call-making spot behind an ol’ oak tree

Being back in Texas is beautiful and overwhelming and friendly and strange all at the same time. Last night I skipped through the halls of an antique shop and spoke in silly Russian accents with another old friend…”you are soooooo prettttyyyyyyyy” we said. “No, you are sooooo prettyyyyyyy….your mama, she did goooood.”

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Branching

The Veil

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It was a pack of cards with optical illusions printed on both sides, it was a stamp of a skeleton, it was a book about a mysterious girl with a colorful cover, it was a gilded leather jewelry box. It was memories: the memories of times gone past, of another life, of being oh so much younger. Held onto for years, they were tucked in the corners of old trunks and the shelves of bookcases.

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Moving, packing, sorting, organizing: de-possessing. Communing with all of the things in this cabin in the woods: holding each item in my hand and examining where it came from, who brought it, what it meant over the passing of time and asking myself, honestly, whether it had a place in the house anymore. For most things, surprisingly, the answer was yes. Over the past few years, I have done a really good job of shedding the errata, the flotsam of life defined as possessions.

What does it mean to let it go? It is a phrase that we often utter ourselves or hear others utter in terms of life and its myriad experiences. Let it go, we say, not really knowing what that may mean to others or to ourselves. This week is the beginning of spring, although you wouldn’t know it here on the coast of Maine where snow seems firmly planted in our landscape everywhere you look, but nonetheless, Friday is the spring equinox and the beginning of the sun’s warmth beckoning the living things back out from under the ground, under the snow. Shortly, Persephone returns to us and her mother will celebrate by giving us flowers and leaves again. Shortly, the days will become much longer and we will be able to celebrate the feeling of the warm air on our shoulders.

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Let it go….let go all of the stuff that is holding growth, feeling, evolution back. That pack of cards went into the fire, that stamp went to the growing free pile, the book went to the library. Such magpies are we: holding on to shiny objects, putting them up on shelves or in drawers to be gazed upon during the dark moments. What does it mean to really glean from our lives those items that have meaning and purpose, and to slough off that which doesn’t? Does it mean we are losing or gaining ourselves? Does it mean that we are better at the growth, or worse at the remembering? Does it mean we shall find ourselves at some future date wondering where that bit or bob went? Possibly, but after all, it is just stuff. You can’t take it with you, as the other popular saying says.

Spring is a natural time of cleaning, sorting, and developing better habits for the warmer days. It is a time of reckoning with oneself and with the earth as we witness the huge shift that is happening beneath our feet and around our heads. It is an antsy time: a time of intense preparation, hesitation, and promise.

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Where are we all going on this tiny blue planet hurtling through space? What will happen to us in this new year, after the beginnings of it have been so slow and so cold and so dark? The only thing I know is that I don’t know: I feel like I know less as I learn more about this game of life we all are lucky enough to play.

Lately, I have been trying to appreciate something about the place in which I live each day: mostly I notice the mountains that I can see from my front garden: the dooryard, as it is called here. In front of me each morning is a line of graceful, arced mountains that are dotted with trees that appear black and stand out of a uniform field of white. Behind them, during the day, the sky is either white with snow or blue with sun. At sunset, the sky transforms into a pink-purple-salmon wonderland that casts the roll of those mountaintops in beautiful relief. The lake at their base is beginning to melt: the ice is going out, again, as they say here.

As we all make this grand transition, again, as our axis posits us in greater exposure to our central star, my goal is to remember something simple, something about being in the present moment, something that goes something like this:

“Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”

Frida Kahlo

New Beginnings

“THAT crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea” 

W. B. Yeats

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Late Autumn via Skylight: Degregoire Park, Mount Desert Island

So here we are, on the first day of a new year: 2015! How did we make it here, marching through the muddy cloudiness of life, keeping feet forward and a sense of hope in our ragged hearts? Magically, almost, the universe ushered in a new year last night late on a cold January evening; ours was marked with fireworks and fire and friends, and it was good to kiss a new year on the cheek, welcoming in the wishes of another turn around the Sun.

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Treasure from the River’s Bottom: Lincoln, Maine

This is the third January 1st that I have ushered in this cold and magical place where the ground is covered with moss and crinkles when you walk upon it on a cold winter’s morning. This afternoon, as I moved armload after armload of freshly chainsawed wood to its winter home of pallets set in the side yard, I watched the sunset over two mountains in the distance: it was colored pink and peach and seemed to be held interminably above the ridge of those mountains, clouding them in rose and salmon and magenta. I remarked to the neighbor who was helping me chainsaw piles of birch timber how lucky we are, and he remarked how everyone watches the sunset in different parts of the world, everyday. I disagreed and still feel that today was special.

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Sargent Drive in Snow: Northeast Harbor, Maine

So what does a new year mean, in its essence, in its whole, in the grand scheme of things? It is hard to posit meaning in and of itself; only to say that we are welcomed with opportunities and responsibilities in each moment, really, but especially in the birth of a new year, another transit around our central star, a time to reflect and plan and foresee, as best as we can, what is to come.

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Ice in the Driveway: at the Tool Barn, Hulls Cove, Maine

I have spent my year of 2014 in quiet and not so quiet contemplation of how I got here: how I came to be in this peaceful and quiet place, surrounded by misfits and oddballs, a kinfolk for sure of people who seek meaning in the everyday, who try to make it despite the natural adversities of life here. Here is a place you have to consciously commit to, as the way of life is so different, so difficult, even, and yet, so soothing and comforting and welcoming and warm. As I sit here in my new house, my home I hope to say, I am listening to and watching the fire burn, staring at old brass lamps that are glowing in the darkness. I type on a table that has been in my family since I was a small child, transplanted from England to Texas. This small pine table sat in many kitchens of ours; we moved many times within the same corporate-created borough of north Houston. We, an immigrant family seeking place and meaning in a foreign environment, created ourselves, as we all do, as products of our environment, our family and our friends. Today, that old table is covered with an antique quilt top gifted to me by Angel many years ago, one night during jewelry class. I always meant to make it in to a quilt, but haven’t so yet, and so it has become a beautiful tablecloth, covering a cheap heirloom of sorts, providing a grounding force in this new home.

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Treasures Hidden Inside an Antique Piano: Bar Harbor, Maine

Each morning, I look out my kitchen window at Champlain and Gorham mountains while I drink coffee. When I venture outside to grab more wood or make the move to my car to go to work, I gaze upon the notch between Dorr and Cadillac. At all houses here, previous to this one, I gazed upon the ocean. Here I look at the mountains, and the metaphor is clear: no longer a time of intense reflection, this time is for grounding and building, embracing this place and finding a spot in this community, continuing to build upon my projects, create more beauty, more artwork, in these awe inspiring, and at this time of year, rather desolate surroundings.

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The Cusp of December: Belt Buckle in Copper, Bronze & Milky Opal, 2014

I have found that it takes a certain person to make life work here: there is an intention within those who choose to be here to live and work and make a life despite adverse circumstances that are mostly based on a seasonal economy and general lack of orientation around money. Money here is not a driver, but experience is, peace is, serenity is, building things that will stay becomes a sort of guiding force for all of us. Once you have found it, you want to hold on to it. I remember discussing with a friend how he felt about his first stone wall, and how he went to check on it regularly over its first few years. I asked him if he was afraid it would have fallen down, but no, that wasn’t it: he wanted to see how it was standing, how it was living as a piece in a grander landscape. I suppose that is how all of us are here, there, and everywhere.

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The Flower Tower: a Memorial for Eden, Bar Harbor, Maine

My hopes for 2015 are for more creativity and more communication and for connecting the dots between how I see myself and how others see me. I wish to become more present, more available, less of a mystery and more a citizen of this place. For the past two years, I have waffled back and forth about staying and going, whether to commit, or not. In reality, I haven’t committed to anything in five years, until right now. I moved into this beautiful little house (photos forthcoming) a bit less than a month ago, and have found, after all the ups and downs of recent times, of the discoveries, enlightenments, experiences, sadnesses and true joys, have found a home.

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A Helping Hand: Davistown Museum Sculpture Garden, Hulls Cove, Maine

Thank you for reading. It is the winter, truly, now, and I look forward to writing more about how it unfolds here, sharing my thoughts with you and yours. It is time for a celebration of a sort: as a friend told me the other night, how amazing is it to be 34 years old? Or however old you are. Enjoy it.

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At the Tool Barn, Autumn 2014 – photography by George Soules