Haunted

July 4th, 2003

Last night I went to the 4th of July BBQ I’d planned to be part of two years ago. A lakeside camp, boats, swimming, friends and lots of my friends’ family including adults I’ve known since they were kids now with kids of their own. Burgers and hot dogs and fresh strawberries and then fireworks set off from the raft off the beach and other rafts up and down the lake front. I had fun.

Then this morning I got up and cried. I missed the BBQ two years ago because I wanted to be with Chris, my sister whose metastatic cancer had progressed enough to make her so sick she couldn’t see how sick she was. My other sister Meg had a cookout at her house with my family and David and I knew that was where we wanted to be. It hurts to remember how fragile Chris was that day, how she had trouble standing on her own, how she talked about being patient while she waited for her new medication to work.

At one point while we were eating she looked up at Meg and thanked her for the invitation, as if she hadn’t spent more holidays with Meg than almost anyone else in her life. Why does that moment haunt me more than others?

The rest of that summer haunts me, and last summer when our friend Peter was so sick, and the summer after Eric died and all the summers he was alive and healthy when we had our own July 4th traditions — a day of kayaking on Squam, followed by a BBQ and fireworks at a good friend’s house, Eric along with his buddies John and Mark bending over a batch of fireworks with a lighter and then backing up quickly as light and color exploded upward. I remember the heat of summer sun on our skin, the fresh smell of lake water, the ease of a cold cocktail on our friends’ deck as burgers and chicken sizzled on the grill.

Last month David and I spent two weekends with my family, bracketing the week Chris always rented a house on the beach in Humarock, near where Meg and my parents live. The rental on Humarock tradition has continued and much of my family was there. At one point we did a Face Time call with Adrienne and Emilio and Ava because they couldn’t get there, and after my mother had said hello to her great-grandchildren she handed the phone back to me.

“Who else do you want to talk to, Ava?” I asked.

“Grandpa Eric,” she said with a smile.

I’m happy we’ve done such a good job telling her about the grandfather she’ll never get to meet that she wants to meet him.

If only she could.

Posted in Family, Grief, Life Changes, Moving On | 1 Comment

Peony Porch

 

 

Home, on my porch, as gray storm clouds pitch across the sky and peonies poke through the balusters. For a change I’m not going to miss peony season in my yard. The last couple of years I’ve been away during the peak of peony blossoming. To extend the season, I wrapped buds in newspaper and stored them in the refrigerator. When I took them out weeks later, once I was home for awhile, they bloomed.

This year I’ll get to pick the heavy heads as they open their extravagant faces, petals tucked in petals tucked in petals in silky folds that seem like forever. The house smells like heaven. I have such peony bounty yesterday I brought a bunch to a family gathering in Massachusetts.

This morning I sat on the porch of the beach house my siblings are renting, watching sun begin to brighten the ocean out near the horizon, the never ending in and out of the waves, white water on white sand. Beautiful.

But I’m happy to be home. Instead of the hot, dry, empty, full ocean beach view, now I face a green world of rampant vegetation and peonies so thick they become part of the porch. I live in a beautiful place and it’s a treat to be here in the height of the light season.

I’ve been away a lot. Last week I was in New York playing with Emilio. We had a blast — a ferry ride to Fire Island, wave tag on the beach, ice cream every day, a DIY water park in the backyard with Ava, timing how long it took to round the bases of a ball field and run the smallest circle on the running track at the park. Short distance, Emilio is faster than me. Youth is a powerful thing.

Now I’m sitting still on my porch as the rain approaches and wind begins whipping the tall grasses in the field across the street. Most of the coming week ahead I’ll be home. Next week too. And the next and next and next until I’ve been home the seven weeks I don’t have to be anywhere else for longer than an overnight. I’m delighted.

I’ll bring in a fresh bouquet of peonies every day. Then it will be zinnias and cosmos, marigolds and nasturtiums, salvia, rudbeckia and poppies. Plus lettuce, kale, peas, beets, squash, cilantro, basil, peppers, and dill.

Yes, I’ll say it again. I’m happy to be home.

 

Posted in Flowers, Gardening, Home, Light, Outdoors, Seasons | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A Book of Boxes

I’ve written before about John the Founder (of Vermont Studio Center) welcoming everyone on the first night of my latest residency there by saying, “This isn’t a place for ego or worrying about how our work is viewed by the world. We’re just a group of people, who for one reason or another, like to make things. So go ahead, make things.”

That has stayed with me for the more than three years since I was there, because I like to make things. Sure, I make dinner and a garden and crackers (check out these amazing, life-changing crackers) and yogurt, but those are all practical. When I most need permission is when I want to make something that’s a creation for the sake of creation, something arty, something that pushes me to try something new, something that might not be perfect.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing and editing in the last few weeks, going through another revision of my memoir and working towards the deadline on an editing job related to my work on sexual assault. Lots of hours at my computer, very few hours at my art desk.

I’ve also been making a lot of phone calls and writing emails to Senators and Reps. There is no shortage of the need for political action and resistance , and I’m keeping up with my 15 acts of resistance a week (mostly).

With all those hours at my desk and nothing tangible to show for it, the urge to make something was strong. The Image & Test class is over so I’m not getting a weekly fix of making: printing or folding or binding a book.

Yesterday I tried an idea from the class and made a book of boxes. I folded six mat su boxes (a basic origami box) from prints I made in class, collapsed the boxes, and then used a coptic binding to make them into a book.

I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I figured it out well enough and the result was more interesting than I’d imagined. Not only can the book be closed, then opened as each box is unfolded to find what’s hidden inside, the book can stand on its own as curious object. It spurred David to do a serious of photographs that catch it all angles.

But what is this for? It’s for itself.

 

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Returning

The last month may be the longest blog break I’ve ever taken. It wasn’t intended, but it happened. Which is life, right?

Or maybe it’s my reflexive response to the current political insanity. Yes, I’m still obsessed with the news and spend a lot of time working to keep myself centered and using my energy to resist the dismantling of so much of what I’ve taken for granted as norms of democracy and living in a country inching its way towards true social justice.

At a party this weekend I talked about how meaningless my blog seemed to me after the election. How could I write anything that wasn’t directly political and pushing back against the madness engulfing us? Why write about the apple blossoms filling the trees and then salting the ground around my garden as the flowers start to fall apart?

“Because that’s exactly what we need,” one friend said. “We need to read about apple blossoms.”

It has been an extraordinary year for blossoms. From the forsythia bushes to cherry trees to apple trees to dandelions to lilacs, everything is having a bumper year of flowering. There are maple trees on my running route that have such thick clumps of red seed pods (also called samaras, maple keys, helicopters, whirlybirds or polynoses) they look like tropical blossoms, heavy and full as they nod towards the ground.

Yesterday afternoon I sat on the back deck steps for a few minutes, looking across my garden beds to the lilac bush intermingling with the largest of my apple trees. I could hear a catbird and finches singing. Every time I walked towards the small wood shed on the side of the barn a robin screeched from its nest at the top of one of the posts, trying to distract me from what must be a clutch of pale, blue eggs. The yard is an unbounded aviary (which actually would make it not an aviary at all, but you know what I mean), full of birdsong and nests and the flash of wings.

The world is still beautiful. I’m still resisting (15 acts of resistance a week — phone calls, emails, meetings, discussions) but I’m also still writing and drawing and turning over the soil and planting and picking bouquets for the house.

I’ve learned this before but have to keep learning it again. Bad things happen, but birds and trees and bushes don’t care. The sun comes up and spring comes on and the grass gets green and then grows again and the cows return to the pasture across the street, as they did today, right now come to the corner right across from my porch, as they do most evenings.

That’s reason enough to celebrate.

 

 

 

Posted in Art, Flowers, Gardening, Life Changes, Outdoors, Seasons, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deathaversaries: When Dates Line Up

 

This deathaversary season (what Adrienne, Sam and I call the anniversary of Eric’s, or anyone’s, death) has felt harder than other years. Or do I say that every year? I don’t think so.

The accumulation of other losses, the spread of grief in my circle of friends and family from those losses, and the communal dismay of the majority of Americans at the continued display of arrogant greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia (okay, I won’t go on forever) among the white fuckboys currently trying to run/ruin our country all contribute I’m sure.

But I suspected dates were lining up in a way to remind exactly of what was going on 11 years ago, when Eric was diagnosed with metastatic cancer just before Passover. I was right.

David and I had a busy weekend, spending time with my family to celebrate Easter in a decidedly secular way then coming home to host a Seder with a group of friends we’ve been celebrating Passover with for many decades.

Wasn’t this the weekend in April 2006 that we had a much diminished Seder after Eric got home from the hospital with his grim diagnosis? We’d planned to host the Seder with friends that year, but had called it off earlier in the week when we understood Eric’s back pain and accelerating fatigue was from bones full of cancer. Instead of a dozen friends seated around the table, we had a small family Seder, using a two minute Haggadah someone had sent to Adrienne. Eric sat at the head of the table as he always did at Seders, leading the ritual telling of the story of the Jew’s exodus from slavery in Egypt, embellishing the minimal text with his own knowledge of Jewish history and custom.

Yesterday afternoon when David and I got home I pulled out my folder of calendars and wasn’t surprised. Yes, the dates line up. The day Eric got home from the hospital in 2006 was Friday, April 14. We had our small Seder on April 15. This year David and I hosted our Seder on Sunday, April 16.

No wonder I’m feeling the presence of sorrow. The 2006 calendar is repeating. The sun is at the same angle, birdsong is rising out of the fields in the morning at the same pitch, the brook out back is running high and hard, and the red buds on the maple tree out front are fattening into their familiar, fuzzy flowers. On some level, my body takes this all in and connects it with that scared and bewildered body 11 years ago.

There is a difference in the Jewish calendar though. Passover is ending today, not beginning as it was in 2006. Tonight I’ll light a Yahrzeit candle, which I just learned is a tradition on the last night of Passover.

How fitting.

 

Posted in Family, Grief, Life Changes, Light, Moving On, Seasons, Time | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deep Cuts: In Trump-Adjusted Terms

Detail of One Story At A Time by Kim Rugg

“In Trump-adjusted terms, I’m fine.” That was the answer a woman gave on a podcast I listened to this week when asked how she was.

Perfect! I thought. A way to skip the usual five minute greeting of yes, things are okay for me except I’m completely freaked out about the ongoing circus that our federal government has become — the meanest, freakiest, scariest circus ever — and half the time feel like I can hardly breathe. Now we can just give our TAT score.

In TAT I’m doing well, in part because I saw the Deep Cuts exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art on Wednesday.

An attractive part of delving into visual art for me is the absorption in making something with my hands, beyond my fingers on the keyboard as I write. Most of my writing time these days is editing anyway, which doesn’t even mean many keystrokes — mostly I’m reading and sifting.

Time spent weaving a collage of newspaper strips or cutting blocks of words or gluing beads to a piece of paper for a pressure print as I listen to music can feel like slow snow — a suspension that’s going to amount to something at some point, and the creeping pace to that place feels just right.

But the level of detailed suspension in a head space of meticulous making displayed in the Deep Cuts exhibit is breathtaking. It can take me an hour or more to fuss with the strips of newspaper I weave to make a collage, painstaking for a relative newbie like me.

Then I saw Kim Rugg’s collage in the exhibit, “One Story at a Time,” and understood painstaking on a whole other level. Her work is a reconstruction of the front page of the NY Times after dissecting it letter by letter and pixel by pixel. The letters are put back together by alphabet, starting with all the a’s and preceding to z.

Detail of Altered Text: Unbearable Lightness of Being by Youdhi Maharjan

Detail of I am the rejection of you by Ambreen Butt

 

Youdhi Maharjan cut every single letter out of pages of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, along the exact lines of the letter, then massed them in a central column that runs through the excised pages pasted on either side. The letters are all discernible and black — you can see each letter in the cut spaces also, glowing gold from the background of the collage.

Ambreen Butt cut and collaged pieces of rejections letters — her own and others she got from friends — into a 10 foot circle that looks like an alternative sun. It’s beautiful, a source of light from an unexpected globe.

This is just a taste of this mind-blowing exhibit. Where do these artists’ brains go during the hours upon hours upon hours of exacting work? The same place my own brain goes as I continue to massage 85,000 words into a book constructed of the exact right words in the exact right places?

Whatever that place is, in TAT, being in that headspace myself, or looking at the marvels artists make from that space, makes everything better.

 

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Early Spring Tableau

My desk as this early spring afternoon slips over to dusk — Belvenie on the rocks, in a lovely tumbler Eric bought. He would approve.

My sketch book with a drawing of tulips I bought yesterday. Last week I figured out how to draw a leaf turning over on itself; I followed the contour line through the flip, added a bit of shading, and there it was. I’m practicing, still drawing almost every day.

Not Sunday. Under the sketchbook is my bib from the NYC half marathon, on its way to getting pinned on the decidedly not-decorator-worthy-wall of homasote in our bedroom from back in the days David was seeing if the room would work as a studio. It didn’t. But having a wall of fiberboard to tack up race bibs and Emilio drawings and sketches and poems and cards and posters is too wonderful a thing to take down. Two weeks ago David put up homasote over the art desk in my study.

As I ran down the West Side Highway towards the Battery on Sunday, sun on my face and the wind at my back, I knew I was probably going to make it to the finish line fast enough to qualify for the race next year, but my right knee and left thigh and left, blistered foot hurt.

So I let them go. I remembered what Sam told me after he ran an 11 mile trail race a few weeks ago. Describing his fastest stretch, running downhill after a grueling, steep-as-shit climb, he said, “I was flying. My body was gone.” A faster song came on my playlist and I picked up my pace.

1:58:17. That’s 31 seconds slower than last year. I’ll take it. It gives me 3 minutes and 43 seconds to come under the 2:02 qualifying time next year, and the year after I’ll be 65 and get another 10 minutes. With my time on Sunday I’d have been fifth in the 65-69 age group. The number of women running dropped from 162 in the 60-64 group to 53 who were 65-69. Two thirds fewer. Can I keep running into that age group? That fast?

In the first years after Eric died I would have laughed at myself for making plans to place in races two years out. Where do plans get you?

But I like the idea that by keeping myself on the road I could get closer to winning, even though being able to run 13.1 miles is winning enough.

 

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