At the End of January

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Coming home, I light a fire: coaxing flames and warmth from cold and sometimes frozen wood.

Glowing embers, twinkling lights, and old brass lamps brighten my small home that is blanketed by cloudy yet starry skies and surrounded by a sea of glimmering January snow.

On the stove is a red pot of beef stew, and in the oven bakes cornbread in an old cast iron skillet.

“I am lonely, yet not everybody will do. I don’t know why, some people fill the gaps and others emphasize my loneliness. In reality those who satisfy me are those who simply allow me to live with my ”idea of them.” – Anais Nin 

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Another Rainy Day…

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“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”

Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca

Let’s talk about rain; Maine is truly a rainy state. After spending most of my adult life in Austin, Texas, land of almost desert-like plants and a serious lack of rain due to a ten year drought, when I moved away from Texas and to Philadelphia I had forgotten that these things called umbrellas existed. The first few times it rained, I was trapped outside sans-protection, and became soaked. Since living in Philly, I’ve adjusted and now have my own umbrella, striped with color, naturally, that, hopefully, travels with me on rainy days, protecting my head.

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I moved to Maine almost a year ago, in the midst of a bold and warm and sunny summer. I lived in a giant tent built in the basement of my parents’ house and spent most of my days there as I was very ill with shingles. Sometimes, I ventured out into the garden or down the road to the lake to swim. The summer was golden and light and even the breeze off the ocean was warm.

This year, however, is a rather wet year. As I sit here, at this moment, in the morning, having finished one cup of coffee and needing to get to work, I am listening to the rain fall, again, on the deck, off the picnic table, off the eaves. I am wondering if my plants will ever grow big and bushy with all this rain, all this lack of sunshine. I have to say that the consistent rain, interrupted here and there by sun, is rather similar to the wintertime darkness and absence of my favorite star.

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People say here that you must take Vitamin D to deal with the lack of light, and I think they are right. It is hard for me to understand how the sun can come out so few and far between; this is a place in which you feel so lucky and excited about sunny days that it’s as if everyone is outside all day long, soaking in sunshine with the knowledge that tomorrow, it may be grey and windy, rainy and cool again. Like today.

Yesterday was one of those days and I spent the whole day outside building a fence of peabrush. I am in the midst of a garden transformation, taking the blank slate which is the yard of my little house, and building an outdoor sitting space and green screens and veggie patches and flowerbeds. After all day in the sunshine, my shoulders and back were bright red and warm, I felt the strange chill of sunburn, I sat outside on the deck at night and looked at the few stars peeking through the thin, wispy nighttime clouds.

The parking lot next to my house is large and full of spaces demarcated by white lines. There is a yellow painted path, newly dubbed the Yellow Brick Road, that shows you how to walk down the steps to the water. At night, there are no streetlights and if you stand in the middle of the lot, staring upward through the power lines and beyond the trees, a whole world, a patchwork quilt of stars opens up before your eyes, each and every night. To the Northeast are mountains, silhouetted slightly against the nighttime sky, and everywhere you turn your head are more stars, clustered together and far apart, shining, twinkling brightly. Over the ocean rises the Moon, when we are lucky enough to have her, and she sits happily in the eastern sky as the nighttime passes.

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Last night, I lay about in my bed, curled up under a down comforter, flannel sheets and a woolen blanket, reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and imagining the scene set in the book, the scene of Manderley and its grounds and its epic loneliness, emptiness, romantic desolation, as set here, in Northeast Harbor, amidst the mansions of old wealthy families, the cold hallways set with beautiful artworks and conservative wooden furniture upholstered in salmon and off white silk, the kitchens larger than most houses I have lived in, empty for months, populated only for weeks. In the winter, I can pretend they are mine, or partly mine, anyway, and now have to realize that, just as the de Winters in the book, in the summer, the houses, and their ghosts, must awake. Are there creatures like Mrs Danvers in the houses in Northeast Harbor? Are there skeletons in closets and banshees wailing at the gates? As old rock walls begin to pitch and break apart, as pink paint peels off walls and old sinks rust, what happens to the families within? The people…who knows all the stories?

Such a spookiness and a subtle fascination, this rainy place full, now, almost, of its summer population, its summer people, summer not residents. Soon, the streets will be filled with people, Billionaire’s Island in full swing, mostly hidden behind heavy wooden doors, and behind leaded glass windows. Sometimes, I can see a glimpse of this old-fashioned life out of a mid-century novel, by catering parties in those beautiful kitchens, holding delicate antique china, staring out at the ocean from the patio, but most of the time, the wonder comes at night, under the covers, thinking about what it would be like to really live in a house like Manderley.

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The Enormity of Spaces

next servicesWhen I was 19 or 20, I have forgotten which, I went on a long road trip with a college boyfriend out west, from Austin all the way to Washington state and back. We traveled through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado all in a blue Ford Taurus that looked a little more worse for wear when we returned two months after we had left.

A highlight of this trip was our stop at the Grand Canyon. Previous to a random stop in Pecos, Arizona, town of art and college students, we were, like everyone else, going to stop at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, walk along the plexiglass bridge and marvel at the sights alongside throngs of other tourists. In Pecos, we stopped in a cooperative art gallery and I started chatting with the man working the gallery that day and he told us we should go to the Toruweap entrance instead, and so, we did.

painted desertThe Painted Desert, on the way to Toruweap

Toruweap is a hidden entrance to the Grand Canyon, one accessed by driving up into Mormon country and knowing where you are going because no one will give you directions. After a few turns here and there, you end up at the bottom of a valley with a very large sign at your right telling you the road ahead is 65 miles long and only suitable for all wheel drive vehicles. We pressed on in the Taurus, and two and a half hours later, arrived at a ranger station. We were allowed in and proceeded to drive along huge, flat slabs of limestone on our way to the rim of the canyon, at which point we parked and set up our tent, and walked to the edge of the canyon, realizing that we were the only ones there.

One of my first memories of the Grand Canyon campsite was looking around and noticing the largeness of that place. Later in the day, I walked through rattlesnake infested terrain, over rocks, and sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, looking down. At that time, only the two of us were there and we were able to experience the Canyon in a way that most people do not: it was immense, many-layered, radiating with heat in the summer sunshine. I sat there a long while pondering how deep it really was, and how I could get down there, and what would happen if I were to fall?

That night we lit a campfire and stared at the stars, thinking about the monstrously huge cliff’s edge only a few feet from where we sat. In the morning, we woke up and went walking around, looking for strange rocks and plants, narrowly missing a rattlesnake, until we saw a small, white Toyota truck with a Utah license plate parked next to one of the picnic tables.

Walking up to the truck (we had already learned to just say hello to other folks on similar journeys to ours), we saw an old man with a long white beard, eating cantaloupe and drinking black coffee, reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Now here was an interesting character, who we learned had driven in late last night for the evening and was about to head home. We sat and shared cantaloupe and coffee, and talked about the world, and traveling, and quickly said goodbye to take off to our next stop: Arches National Park in Utah.

barn windowSalsbury Cove Barn Window

That trip was many years ago now, in fact it was something like twelve summers ago. If I look outside my window today, I see fog and dreariness: the markers of Maine spring. When I was a child, we would arrive in Maine every May and every time we pulled up the driveway of our camp house, with a grocery bag of chicken pot pies, tea, and who knows what else, it was always raining. My memories of Maine in late spring always involve fog, cold, and greyness.

sculptureSculpture and steps outside the jewelry studio at Haystack

It was been awhile since I have written here: too long, as life is passing me by quickly and the events that necessitate recording are piling up inside my mind. I haven’t written since just before leaving for my Haystack weekend, and suffice it to say, I am more than thrilled that I went and had that experience. I met many incredible people, made many things, learned how to be a baby blacksmith, drank a lot of bourbon, and didn’t really sleep for three days. Not sleeping turned out to be a bad decision as it left my body quite empty and shaken up for almost two weeks!!! No longer am I a woman who can party all night and stay up all day the next day…

early morning coffee cupsEarly morning light, many coffee cups…

At Haystack, also, the Maine spring was in full force and it was foggy and cold and clammy almost every day, culminating with our last day being downright soggy, slippery, and windy-cold. There are two bridges to Deer Isle: one is a green metal suspension bridge reminiscent of something you’d find in New York, and the other is a low stone bridge made of white stones that stand out in stark contrast to the grey and brown pebble beaches, the amber and golden seaweed, the green fir trees, the blue water, the white boats.

Haystack is a crafts school that was build in 1961 outside the village of Deer Isle, Maine, and sits on the edge of the ocean, on a small bay that is dotted with the fir covered islands so common to Downeast Maine. If you walk down to the bottom of the steps that run the length of the studios, and lean against the railing, you will see birds fishing and swimming in the water before you, some moorings, some lobster buoys, a large island draped with golden and amber seaweed, and many smaller islands laying long and flat along the horizon. If you sit down there at night when the wind is blowing, you will hear the banging of the cleats of the flag against the metal flagpole, and hear loons call their eerie song to you. You will see the nightlights passing through the wooden slats that make up the deck and stairs, and perfectly frame a pair of windy, Arthur Rackham trees that grow up out of the beach and against the bottom railing of the deck. These are the trees that became part of the top of the box that I worked on most of the weekend. The box is made of copper and bronze and a 100 year old lockset with key, copper rivets, and epoxy that covers a piece of paper from an old newspaper, asking the question: what shall we do with our daughters? What shall we, indeed?

treesInspirational Trees

box topDo you see them?

Haystack helped me understand something about myself: that I crave the night spaces, the dark times, and that I like to work uninterrupted by others. I can work with others, as long as do not have to interact with them very much. The first night at Haystack I experimented with tools like the hydraulic press and their very fancy rolling mill and their many daps and dapping stumps and made a really beautiful, tiny vessel that looks, almost, like an autumn leaf.

vesselLate night fold forming experiment

The night spaces at Haystack are what are special: the coolness of nighttime, the sounds of the wind rustling the trees, the glow of orange and white lights out of studio windows. The sound that the sliding door made when I opened and shut it, knowing no one else was there, was immeasurably gratifying. Opening the studio door early in the morning and seeing the blue morning light cascading through large windows, casting the anvils, the tables, the lights, the walls in an eerie, silvery light. The smell of that studio reminded me of my old studio in Austin, but much, much colder, as if the environment that surrounded us on all four sides penetrated the walls, becoming part of the building itself.

studio instagramLate night, empty studio

haystack benchWork space

heat patinasExperimental heat patinas on paper-thin copper

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etchingsExperimenting with salt water etching

And that is, of course, my experience of life in Maine, that we are literally drawn into and become part of the landscape, and it of us. It is impossible to not be affected by and to effect the landscape, whether it be your footprints on old leaves whilst walking in the woods on a rainy day, or whether it simply be the memory of the way the birch trees with their white and black trunks look in contrast to their lime green new leaves. The landscape is burned into your mind, your heart, your soul, and becomes tied to its ever changing daily face, no two days the same, just like us.

When Haystack Weekend was over, and I was left completely exhausted after not sleeping the last night at all: I was blacksmithing til dawn and then just powered through to work on the box until crashing for about ten minutes at 9:30, my friend and I drove home along the windy roads of Downeast Maine, in the rain, talking about people, laughing about the weekend: making a wrong turn at one point, we ended up almost in Penobscot. The roads from Blue Hill to Deer Isle wind and wind, twist and turn around houses old and new, showing bushes bursting forth with spring color, lobster traps, old cars, hidden in the woods sometimes are even older houses, stone walls, and other mysteries that stay half hidden as the seasons keep rolling by.

It is hard for me to understand that in a few short days it will be the 1st of June, and that I have lived in Maine now for almost one year. I started writing here at the end of August of last year, and have watched the seasons change from summer to fall to winter to spring and soon, it will be summer again. Time keeps marching by, keeping its own pace, and we are simply swimming through, bearing witness to all the changes, small and large, planned and surprising.

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In Fertile Fields of Long Ago..

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“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.”

Anais Nin

Tonight is a night of clear skies and twinkling stars, of descending temperatures and the promise of snow.

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In fertile fields of long ago
I’m sure I had a mistress though
Her face fleet footed flees recall
And aught remains save winter’s pall

In fertile fields of long ago
When I knew all there was to know
I set my hopes on happy days
And borrowed joy which time repays

In fertile fields of long ago
Where fruits once ripened gloom does grow
In fertile fields of yesteryear
I lost the ones that I held dear

In fertile fields of long ago
When summer lulled and days were slow
Youth concealed the freeze and frost
That settle in when all is lost

Author Unknown — it was sent to me in a letter long ago

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I have kept diaries consistently since I was eleven years old, since 1992. My first diary is The Dahl Diary, and is one of my all time favorites since it has pictures from Roald Dahl books and snippets and quotes from him sprinkled throughout. I have journals with fancy covers and simple ones, journals that are tall and some that are short. My favorite journals are Moleskines with gridded pages. I have a shelf on my bookshelf dedicated to four things: my flower press, my Prismacolors, my Grandpa’s old Minolta camera that he used to photograph my parents’ wedding with the lens cap still on, and my diaries. The diaries take up over half the shelf.

My diaries tell me stories from my past, and without them, I would forget all the things that have happened. When I got divorced and immediately afterward got into an abusive relationship with someone with a mental illness, I stopped journaling, and when I discovered this at the end of that relationship,  I made a promise to myself to not do that again. I said to myself that I would always keep writing, if not every day, then almost every day, so that I would never again lose great chunks of time.

Time passes so fast: I blink and six months have passed. I blink again and it’s the middle of January in 2013. I realized tonight that I met my best friends 11 years ago and how it feels like I have known them forever but that the intervening years are a blip: they passed us by so quickly.

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Self determination is a quality of life that we all possess, especially here in the United States, a place where we are so lucky to be able, within limits, to do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. This is a powerful aspect of our culture, and one that can create a sense of being crippled by choices. As a woman in 2013, especially a woman who has an almost 10 year career behind her and who was married for almost that length of time, those choices are even further complicated by the questions of children and marriage and partners and the social pressures still placed upon us despite our abilities to forge career paths and live by ourselves, out of our parents’ houses.

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I grew up in a house probably similar to yours: my father worked and my mom stayed at home until I was in seventh grade when my father lost his job and our family collapsed around what I recognize now was a very tenuous existence based on materialism and status in 1980s Houston. My father suffered an emotional crisis, my mom went to work for the first time, and my brother and I continued living our suburban life. My parents worked hard to keep our life as much the same as they could. We always had a roof over our heads and the power was always on, we had clothes and food. My father never really recovered from this time and steadily has passed his time (this was 1994) growing more and more angry at something or someone outside himself that doesn’t really exist.

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For the last several years, I have been adjusting to the fact that life is full of tragedies; as is said sometimes, Life is Suffering. I realized the other day that this year is the 10 year anniversary of the death of a man who was very, very important to me for a time. Love,  I have learned, is rather uncontrollable and inconvenient and sometimes you don’t even recognize it, and sometimes, when you do, it can be so scary that you run away from it as fast as humanly possible. It is hard for me to believe that it has been ten years since I last spoke to this friend and since he left us in the way he had nightmared about for months before his actual death. One of the things I loved about him was that he was always open and honest; speaking from his heart, he was brash and eloquent and challenging.

you and i have not the strength,
compassion, or centered-ness to shake other humans
loose.  the delusion is just too strong.  for the most
part, penetrating the oceans of bullshit in which we
swim requires WILLINGNESS–the unprepared, the
unwilling just don’t get it.  you know, you tell
someone, yo.  yer living in a nightmare.  please, WAKE
UP!  and they say, huh?  like that.”

I have come to realize that our faults are a factor of our daily lives. Our faults are yes, what make us “human”, but they are also the things that make us ashamed of ourselves, and less likely to be honest with others. I believe this is what makes it hard to sustain meaningful relationships. For my whole life, I have been afraid to be honest lest I disappoint someone, hurt someone, or make someone feel that I am not “good enough” or perfect. This is real, this is me. This is hard to admit because it means that others will know that I am not perfectly capable in any given situation, even though I may appear to be.

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“The moving finger writes, and having writ
Moves on.  Nor all your piety and wit
Can call it back to cancel half a line
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.”

from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam

“Now all the truth is out
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat…
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

W.B.Yeats


The passages above, as well as many others, were things written to me over the course of a very intense time of communication and mutual love. These writings and their intensity I recognized as love, I knew that we were in love, that we loved each other, but the danger of the other person’s decisions at the time made that love not a realistic possibility. His intensity too much, I, as I am wont to do, ran away and into the arms of someone safe but great, in his own way: the man I married. Of course he wasn’t the right person, and of course the marriage dissolved, and here I am, ten years later, re-reading the letters of one who loved me as I loved him, but he was not the man for me. It is hard to recognize love when it is flat in front of your face, when it is complicated and scary and one person is too young and the other too…something that I do not have a name for.

Tonight, as I enter my 33rd year on the planet, and am able to look backward very far and forward just a few steps, and am beginning to turn a corner on this life that I have been stuck on for years now, I have to remember that love is the spirit of the universe, and that understanding the place of others in this life, and that they may be fucked up, or confused, or upset, or perfect or seeming to be, or strong, or weak, or whatever it is that they are, that our loved ones are what create meaning for us in the daily stew of this confusing life, this rolling, pitching ship on which we all find ourselves. This is the sentiment I get from this letter, received well over ten years ago now, but apropos at this exact moment:

“i see you in my mind with that sly grin on your face,
that flash in your eyes, and i hear you laughing.

which is not to say that you are always happy, rather,
that you make ME happy when i find you again after
long and hazy journeys of many months, wiping the dust
and sweat of all that horseshit striving and yearning
from my eyes and thinking how TIRED i am of this
cycle, this dance that goes on and on and on and i’ll
probably be reborn as a cockroach, and there YOU are
and i hear that brilliant laugh of yours that starts
as an amused giggle and soars, lifting me with it, and
i feel better for a time, knowing that you are in the
world.

you know, i feel this way about you, and i’ve the
sneaking suspicion that i always will.  it makes me
happy to know that my feelings are not the result of
delusions and striving.  you don’t have to BE
anything, if you know what i mean.  you’re just you
and that’s special enough.  ah, P…if you could see
yourself with my eyes, you wouldn’t worry about
anything pretty much ever.”

“and in my mind you are poking shit at the patent
absurdity of the world and laughing like the
mischief-crazed madwoman you in fact are.”

Two Thoughts

 

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Patience is not sitting and waiting, it is foreseeing. It is looking at the thorn and seeing the rose, looking at the night and seeing the day. Lovers are patient and know that the moon needs time to become full.

Shams Tabrizi

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TWENTY-NINE

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?

I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.

You cannot improve it.

If you try to change it, you will ruin it.

If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;

Sometimes breathing is hard; sometimes it comes easily;

Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;

Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.

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