I Wake to Sleep, and Take My Waking Slow

“Reflection must be reserved for solitary hours; whenever she was alone, she gave way to it as the greatest relief; and not a day went by without a solitary walk, in which she might indulge in all the delight of unpleasant recollections.”

Jane Austen

path

On Sunday, I begin housesitting at a beautiful post-and-beam house in the woods. This house is made of wood and windows, and is populated by ten cats who perch on shelves and beams and chairs and stairs. Outside are twelve large chickens who live in a henhouse with a red light, and two giant angora bunnies with tufted ears. Inside, in a black cage that hangs from the ceiling are two lady canaries who, I was informed, occasionally lay tiny eggs which, when cooked, have whites that stay clear, not turning to white as chicken eggs do.

During this housesit, this time in the woods, this time away from town, I am embarking on a daily writing and photography project, which will, of course, begin and end here. A photograph of the day, at least, and a prompt will frame the course of the day. Almost two weeks of time alone, to reflect on all that has happened, to prepare for the coming spring, to think about what lies ahead. The steps, still, are a bit murky, are still covered with snow and ice. The path’s end isn’t clear, as has been the case now for many months. I am beginning to be comfortable with the unknowns, with the trust that I will be borne by the universe, carried by my community, and spurred forth by love and faith in myself, by friends, by putting one foot in front of the other. I am looking forward to this small vacation in a home away from home.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke

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The Passage of Time in a Place

‘YOUR eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.’
And then She:
‘Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, passion, falls asleep.
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’
Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,
While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:
‘Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.’
The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves
Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once
A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;
Autumn was over him: and now they stood
On the lone border of the lake once more:
Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves
Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,
In bosom and hair.
‘Ah, do not mourn,’ he said,
‘That we are tired, for other loves await us;
Hate on and love through unrepining hours.
Before us lies eternity; our souls
Are love, and a continual farewell.’

 – Ephemera by W.B. Yeats, 1865-1939

For the last few days, I have been walking the two and a half miles from my friend’s house to the jewelry studio and realizing that the quiet time that walking gives me is what is giving structure to my day and to my thoughts. If I don’t walk a long distance, I feel like my day is incomplete.

The other day I went to one of my favorite coffee shops for lunch with a friend. We had amazing salads served by a super cute waitress who looked like Julianne Moore, and I was completely overwhelmed by the experience, simply because of the sheer amount of people who were so uniquely dressed, so funky, so cool.

The culture of Austin encourages uniqueness of spirit and clothing, and the young people here go all out. This is definitely where I get my own sense of style:  having grown up in a city where I was encouraged to be myself. One of the strengths of this city, I think, is its encouragement of people being themselves and not worrying what others think. This makes it a very young city, which is a good and a bad thing. The Peter Pan quality of Austin, or in other descriptive turns of phrase, the Velvet Coffin Effect, is one of the main reasons why I moved away from the city a year and a half ago. But, it sure is nice to visit and see  amazing people and realize how exciting it is to be in a place where there is so much to do.

That being said, however, I find myself overwhelmed by the intense action of this city. I used to find it very laid back, and on this trip I am actually finding it to be incredibly busy, colorful, loud and not the place that I remember it.  I know that, when I lived here, I had a home and a job and all the things that ground your life, but, I think that you gain a sense of perspective once you leave a place and return to it as a visitor. Returning to Austin with eyes wide open after a year of Philadelphia, New York and Maine, has shown me that while I truly love this city and the fact that it helped me cultivate and create my personality from a girl of eighteen to a woman of thirty, that I was right to have moved away.

Creativity has been the theme of my trip to Austin: I have spent much of my time here working on jewelry at my old studio off South Congress. There are few places in the world that I love more than this studio. The studio is in an old building above an antique shop called Uncommon Objects, and I have been working there for about five years.  I find the space itself inspiring and welcoming, and every time I go inside, my mind starts working on overdrive to make make make and to dream of one day having my own studio that is filled with a million inspiring objects.

Is clutter and collection a part of the creative process?

It definitely seems to be; all my friends, myself included, who are intensely creative are magpies of a sort. We collect, display and learn about many different things. Our houses are filled with tiny trinkets and artworks, seemingly random objects that hold an amazing beauty and inspire the process of making new things. I cannot tell you the joy I get from wandering through junk shops, looking through piles of old photographs, or installing a new treasure into a corner or shelf of my home simply for the joy of looking upon it.

For me, home is a place to decorate as if it were a living museum, dedicated to the beauty of strange objects. Home is an art work, one that is never completed.

About six months ago, after years of massive upheavals, I decided to fundamentally change my life and take this year off to reflect. Making that decision was a scary one, but just now I am beginning to feel that I am on the right course.

My Cross Country Tour has been very disruptive to me and makes me feel, sometimes,  like I am falling off track or something, but I am learning to just go with it and let it flow. Every moment I am thinking and learning about myself and what I want to be doing with my time. I am trying to pay attention to everything that I see, taking note of trees and flowers, rocks and houses, people, cars , animals, stores. I am trying to let go of controlling my thinking so that, especially as I walk, the thoughts that are important bubble up into my conscious brain and realizations are then made.

Today’s post rambles around a bit: I think this is the problem I am having here is that there is so much going on that everything is distracting. But perhaps this leg of the journey, these moments, are opportunities to be in the present and experience what is going on around me. To not over-think, just to be for a little while, watch and listen, create some beautiful objects, remember and think forward to two weeks from now, when I will have a home of my own again.

“Whatever it was, the image that stopped you, the one on which you
came to grief, projecting it over & over on empty walls.

Now to give up the temptations of the projector; to see instead the
web of cracks filtering across the plaster.

To read there the map of the future, the roads radiating from the
initial split, the filaments thrown out from that impasse.

To reread the instructions on your palm; to find there how the
lifeline, broken, keeps its direction.

To read the etched rays of the bullet-hole left years ago in the
glass; to know in every distortion of the light what fracture is.

To put the prism in your pocket, the thin glass lens, the map
of the inner city, the little book with gridded pages.

To pull yourself up by your own roots; to eat the last meal in
your old neighborhood.”

Shooting Script by Adrienne Rich

Photodiary — The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia

“The Masonic Temple of Philadelphia, or as it’s properly known “The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging,” is an astonishingly lavish building. In 1873, the New York Times described it as “the largest, costliest, and most magnificent structure consecrated to Masonry in the World.”

(from Atlas Obscura)

Last Thursday, I walked to the Masonic Temple of Philadelphia for a tour of this amazing building. Whilst living in Philadelphia for a year, I never made it to the temple despite having known about it for years. In the middle of the afternoon, after a long stroll down Market Street in Philadelphia, after visiting The Dream Garden, I came upon the temple, walked inside and spoke to the man at the desk about taking a tour. He gave me a deal, telling me I looked “studious” and sent me down a long hall to the left to wait for the 3pm tour. I sat in a lavish waiting room whose walls were lined with portraits of Grand Masters, old and current, leather couches, leather chairs and paintings of family life gilded in gold. At 3pm, a young man with a dark beard walked in and told me I was the only one in the tour group. His named was Seamus, and later I learned that he had graduated from U Arts the year before with a degree in film, was more interested in writing poetry, and since he was a mason from the age of 18, the temple hired him when no one else would. He is a docent and general helper around the temple.

Following are many photos of the temple, which, to date, is one of the most amazing, weird, tacky, beautiful, stunning, overwhelming and bizarrely decorated places I have ever been. You should know that one commercial artist (a Mr. Herzog) was responsible for almost all of the design of the building, and himself painted all the paintings while commissioning others to do the plaster work. When he started decorating the building around the turn of the 20th century, all the walls were bare plaster. As you can see, by the time he was finished, not an inch had been neglected of fanciful, precisely-themed decorations.

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Waiting Area – paintings depicting the honors of family life

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This room was modeled after Spanish-Moorish temples. The artisans who decorated the temple traveled for three months to various locations and learned how to reproduce elements of specific, themed designs.

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All the electric chandeliers were originally gaslights

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Ceiling in a hallway between rooms.

Up to 50,000 lightbulbs are used in the temple at any one time.

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The Egypt Room

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The ceiling of the Egypt room comes complete with the Sun

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The Norman Room

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Modeled after Norman cathedrals in England

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Room whose name I have forgotten

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Corinthian Room

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The Corinthian Room’s color scheme of teal and turquoise was my favorite

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Plasterwork Detail from one stairway showing Masonic symbols

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My favorite aspect of the temple was in the center, on the 3rd floor. These circles were painted just before the temple’s completion, and each person who worked on the decoration of the temple dipped his thumb into gold paint and fingerprinted his thumb onto the wall.

Philadelphia may have its faults, but one of its greatest attractions are the many beautiful, old buildings that dot Center City. Philadelphia’s history is fascinating, while its contemporary status is nothing short of tragic. If you find yourself wandering the streets of Philadelphia, be sure to add the Masonic Temple to your itinerary. And say hi to Seamus, from me.

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.

Photodiary — The American Museum of Natural History

There are very few things in life that fill me with greater joy than a visit to a museum in good company. This museum in particular transforms me from a 31 year old woman into a very excitable girl. Walk with me…

Leaves Turning in Fall Sun – Upper East Side of Manhattan

Stone Bridge around 77th Street – Central Park

Tree Roots in Central Park

Fish Guts Treated with Photo-reactive Colours

Scorpion Carapaces

Tiny Spiders in Alcohol

Red Spider in the Spiders Alive! Exhibit

Spiders Alive! was a good exhibit, but didn’t have too much new or exciting information about the creepy crawlies that I didn’t already know, for the most part. However, there were many tanks of the amazing arachnids and many pretty pictures.

Peacock Spider – my favorite

Wolf Spider

Orb Spider

Orange Spider whose name I have forgotten

Ladybird Spider

Diorama of a Chipmunk Nest – don’t you love dioramas?

Hall of Biodiversity

The Hall of Biodiversity is my favorite part of the museum. When I walk into this darkly lit room, I transform into a giddy little girl, so excited to see pressed flowers in frames, fish swimming through the air, acorns on a string, blown glass jellyfish and cast brass bacterium. Nowhere else can you take a turn around one room and walk through the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species of most creatures on Earth. In my dreams, I would have a house that looks like the Hall of Biodiversity…a seemingly living, breathing account of life on Earth, how it relates and how it has changed.

Don’t you want to visit? Maybe you should.