The Year of Magical Thinking

I just started reading this book, by Joan Didion. She physically (and, as I read, emotionally/spiritually/whatever) reminds me of my friend Meredith, who I lost almost nine years ago. I was inspired to write to her, as I do often talk to her, in the garden, on the patio, gazing up at the stars and the clouds of Milky Way on dark, dark nights. Please bear with me as I write to her here, and no doubt jettison us off somewhere.

I was thinking about you just now, as I was reading the second chapter of “The Year of Magical Thinking”; have you read it? When I think of you, and of Joan Didion, I think of women very physically similar: tiny, thin like birds, blonde hair, great style, strong wit, indefatigable intelligence. But you were you and she is Joan Didion: after all, there is a Netflix biography on her, when, sadly, there is not one on Meredith Farmer. If I were to see Joan Didion at the supermarket, if I didn’t already know who she was, I would see someone like you: a middle-aged lady with simple elegance, beautifully-colored hair, probably looking with disdain at something in produce, ever in judgement of all the “normal” things.

You’ve been gone almost nine years, and life has ebbed and flowed and changed, moved around, wiggled, metamorphosized a wee bit (as my grandma would have said: she now gone 15 years, and that, another story). Ultimately, though, life is still the same: I am just more skilled at handling its curve balls due to experience and therapy and probably, my friendship with you.

There was a night about  6 years ago when I chatted with you off my front porch in Northeast Harbor, Maine, when I lived in the Dollhouse (or the Fishbowl, depending on who you asked) : the tiny house on the town parking lot in which my comings and goings were very public knowledge and everything in the house was so small. My closet was a pole that hung at the end of the bed, and the shower felt like I was hosing myself off on a dock somewhere with hot water. But, it was $650 a month and the landlords were dolls and I walked to work and to get breakfast sandwiches at Ben’s, and I had a wonderful, small garden of unruly morning glories that threatened to take over the house! I had many memorable conversations on that porch, on the picnic table that I stole from someone’s trash and Dan Bondo‘d so that it would survive, and I painted Seal Harbor Green after JRa and I put in the new path up to the front door, made from stone dust that we bought mostly drunk one day from the quarry in Trenton. That was where you and I talked, formally, the last time. Informally in between, many times. I don’t know what we talked about, but I am sure that I asked you questions and you laughed at me, in a loving way.

I remember, at your funeral, there was a slideshow of pictures of you. My favorite was a photo of you in college, cigarette in your right hand and an ERA button on your left lapel. Your hair was strawberry blonde and you looked so damned engaged. I feel, I wonder, do we lose those feelings as we get older? Do we blame husbands/partners/kids and is that bullshit? Is it just projecting like everything else: an excuse to disengage, to check out? What do you think?

I see you smiling. I feel like you are at the pool right now, but perhaps that’s just because I read a chapter in which Joan Didion describes her newly dead husband as having a daily routine of reading in the pool (reading “Sophie’s Choice“, no less) while she gardened, and of course that made me think of my small 8 foot cattle waterer pool that I bought after doing some work for the old lady next door and now I share with Cody almost every day, sometimes several times a day, despite his almost constant chagrin with me about how I let the leaves and flowers and bugs in, and he doesn’t.

Such is married life, to someone I am actually married to, rather than the first one, that you bore witness to, or to your 2nd, as I bore witness to. Marriages, men, children, time: rental houses and the houses we “own”. All the stuff within those houses, the boxes, the moving, the priority of sorting out the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms. The conversations about Mama and Daddy and who built Mansfield Dam, what the role of all the boyfriends and husbands actually were. I look at your Carnival Glass dish, blue with a sheen of multi-color on it, as if it is coated with oil, all the time: I think of you wryly smiling at me, or of that day we went fishing on the dock of my neighbor’s house on the Croton River, when Steve and I lived with Brien and you came to visit and told me I was a witch because my garden grew so well!

I think, in the end, that the boyfriends and husbands are not as important as the memories of people as unique entities in and of themselves. I remember you as such: and think of you this way often. I find it funny, sweet, sad and ultimately, joyful, that you still are such a part of me: that we still talk. I wish you could see where I am now, as it is a very nice place (and the pool is pretty nice, too) and you would like Cody a lot. You would laugh at both of us, in a loving way.

Rest in peace: I miss you. Love, Patience

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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

A Spirit Balanced on the Edge

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Bene vixit bene latiti

Having just returned from another Haystack weekend, this one punctuated by instructional time and seeing friends and delicious food and kinetic jewelry and assemblage sculptures, I am sitting here, on a cool spring night, thinking about the hidden things and secret places. photo 2

Artists at Work – MeCA

When I was in middle school, my brother played a lot of little league baseball, and despite my lack of connection to the game, I would attend all of his games and wander around the ballparks eating purple sno-cones. (Purple was my favorite color and flavor). I remember walking through dusty patches of ground, kicking at the sprouts of bermuda grass desperately clinging to life amidst the parched nature of East Texas summertime, I remember my red All Stars, and I remember how the grape syrup would leak out and around the waxed paper cone that held the ice and cover my hand with sugary sweetness: the stickiness would linger until I could find a bathroom in which to wash my hands. photo 4

A New Machinist’s Box

One afternoon, as the baseball games played on in the background, I found myself standing and staring down into a storm drain: one of those giant square openings in the ground that are covered in a cast iron grate with many square shaped holes. At the bottom, I noticed something glimmering in the Texas sunshine. I sat, then squatted, then lay on my young belly, All Stars pointed straight out, jeans collecting dust and dirt as I gazed intently downward. At the bottom lay something golden, that I was sure of. Always the fan of a challenge, I unlaced my shoes and tied my two shoelaces together to see if they would reach the bottom. They did, but no closer to my goal was I until I went to one of the snack stands and secured a paper clip from an obliging ballpark worker. Slowly, carefully, with much focus, I hooked the golden ring onto the bottom of the paperclip and edged it up, through the grate, and into my young hand. photo 1

The Beauty in the Simple – Copper Embossed with Miscanthus

Here was a golden ring, wide, a man’s ring to be sure, with a clear stone in the center. Its surface was brushed and dinged, as if it had traveled quite a distance and been smoothed down by silt and water and the innards of pipes. I put it in my pocket, and later the drawer in the bathroom that held mysterious treasures, and occasionally I would pull it out, look at it carefully, and hide it, again. photo

Ineffable

Many years later, as a lab assistant at a biotechnology company, I became friends with a person who came to work on Halloween with a purple tshirt on. The tshirt had a black P made with electrical tape and he had blackened his eye with shoe polish. When I asked him what he was, he answered, matter of factly, “A Black-Eyed Pea”. This was the beginning of a friendship that included motorcycle rides on a thin-bodied Harley Davidson painted with iridescent flames, camping trips in Austin, Mexican restaurants in downtown Houston, swing dancing, road trips through the deep South, visits to gem and jewelry shows, and my first experiences making jewelry. My friendship with this person introduced me to city life and all its hidden places: a coffee shop in Houston named Not Su Oh, dances at the Last Concert Cafe, midnight picnics in the gardens of the Contemporary Arts Museum, hula hooping at Stubbs Cafe, following music through Pace Bend Park to find a man with an envelope full of strips of psychedelic magic, and people with patios full of pots of baby peyote cactus. photo 3

Swoon at Space Gallery in Portland, Maine

Mere months ago, I reconnected with that friend after an absence of several years; in fact, we had not spoken to each other in probably twelve years. He called me during my last few days of living in the tiny house, and as we spoke, his voice transported me back to those days when we spent so much time together. I remembered his kitchen and making pasta in his stainless steel pots, his velveteen couches, his old Mustang with the hood pins, our visit to fortune tellers in New Orleans, and him teaching me the basics of jewelry making at a small bench in the corner of his living room. I remembered us making a ring together dotted with sunstones, three in an offset row. In fact, it was he who had the ring I had found all those years before appraised, only to find that my ballpark treasure was a solid gold ring set with a large diamond. photo 5Now, after many of life’s twists and turns, and the holding on to curios and treasures that help us mark time, but mostly help us remember the hidden and secret moments, I am struck by how important those little things are, those signposts that help you remember moments in your lover’s bed when the only thing that existed was the two of you and the rain outside and the brass bell cast in sand that lay on the bedside table, or the box covered with peeling paint and filled with prisms that was given to you solely because you asked for them, or the old mirror from India your father brought to you when you were five and you have held so many times in the same place that the enamel has worn off as if to mark the place your thumb belongs. These are the hidden places, the secrets, the markers that bear no explanation except as memories for ourselves. photo 1 How do we know what is valuable and what is transitory? How do we know what is treasure and what is trash? We, as the magpies that we certainly are, cherish these tiny, priceless, useless, beautiful things. They make up the palimpsest of our lives: layers and layers of love and loss and memory and change. We collect, we gather, we hold up to the light: we categorize and place, carefully. We make a puzzle picture of  a life, decorating it was we go with baubles: with strange and lovely secret things. photo 4

If Not Now, When? If Not You, Who?

Assemblage Sculpture 

Found Objects, Glass, Copper, Paper, Epoxy, Beach Stone

A Sense of Place in Time

Haney House

This was my house, until about four years ago. My house, the Haney House,  was the last place that I felt home, a place where I didn’t have to run from one thing to the next. It was a house in which I could stay, and paint the walls, and build gardens, and raise chickens.

Whilst driving home tonight after dinner with my family, the almost full Moon was shining huge and bright through my windshield, and I realized with the pain that only nostalgia can bring, how much I miss my house. And yes, I miss the brick and mortar of that house, but mostly I miss the feeling I got when I walked inside at the end of long days. I miss waking up on weekends and going outside to work in my gardens. I miss the rustling-squawking of the hens in the mornings, and how they waddled towards me to get cracked corn through the fence. I miss the dark purple walls of the laundry room and the sun I painted in metallic gold paint on the ceiling of the hall bathroom. Although I don’t think I would ever paint another house with each room being a different, deep colour, I loved each room in that house, most especially the craft room with its dark orange walls, blue ceiling, and silver trim.

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Four years ago, in the spring of 2009, I was planting more native species in the bed in the front of the house, and building a raised bed in the side yard. I was hanging lights in the old Elm tree, and sitting outside at the blue table with elephants for legs. I was on the back porch with its sagging roof, surfing the Internet for tickets to Mexico and England, rubbing my hands on the old cotton tapestry that covered the plastic table, swinging in the Mexican hammock, building a house for grapevines out of re-bar.

So. Nostalgia: the pain of remembrance. Conveniently, we remember those things we wish to see in our minds eye, and forget much. This is perhaps a function of survival, of resilience, or perseverance. I remember the Haney House as the place in which I was married, in which I worked to make a home for my family; it was the house in which I expected I would have children, or at least, further expand my life from the point at which I found myself when we bought it in 2006. It wasn’t meant to be, because the box of life I found myself within did not make me fulfilled, and I chose to step out of it, into the harsh air, on my own.

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Tonight I sit here, in my little house on the ocean in Maine, and all is not perfect, and sometimes I get inconsiderate and impatient with life’s imperfections. Sometimes I wish for that sense of stability again, for a future that could be mapped out. But of course, even when we can see down the road, we cannot predict all of life’s curves and challenges, and even when we have what society calls stability, we have only the things that we can really hold in our hands, and everything else can be taken away in the blink of an eye, the movement of someone out the front door, or names signed on the lines of forms produced by the State of _________.

I have had a beautiful life, and each day, my life becomes more so. It is hard to see oneself through the eyes of others: in fact, it may be almost impossible. I have had so many adventures in such a short amount of time, and sometimes, I judge myself based on the failures, whether actual or just perceived, that I have encountered along the way, even though, to others, those failures are insignificant, or not failures at all.

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Maybe I will never settle down again. Maybe I will always be a wild woman. Maybe I will meet someone who is a true partner and find love and companionship and team spirit. Maybe I will always travel. Maybe I will always have a sense of home not tied to physical place, but to friends and experiences. Maybe I will be okay, finally, with who I am, despite the fears or uncertainties of others, including my family, and myself. Maybe I will always relish newness: visiting a perfect replica of the Alamo in central Mexico, listening to the eerie calls of loons on a lake in Maine while sitting on a floating dock, running up and down sand dunes in England, illegally importing cars in Belize, driving a Ford F150 through narrow streets in Canada. Maybe I will always be me, uncertain, changeable, flexible, flighty, loving, loyal, colourful, creative and kind.

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