Journal Journey

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The journal is beautiful.  Covered with textured paper and bound with string, its large pages are thick and creamy, flecked with fibers.  When I couldn’t sleep one night almost six years ago, staying with David at a friend’s camp on Bear Island in Lake Winnipesaukee, I got up to write.  As I sat down and opened this journal, which David had recently given me, I thought to myself, “I’m going to write a book, in this journal, and only write it on islands.”  I filled that journal over the next eight months, always writing on islands, and have since filled many more pages on many other islands in other journals and on my computer.

When I started writing that night, I had no idea where my intention would lead and certainly never thought I would soon be recording another difficult life passage, as untimely cancer death bumped up close again within weeks of our time on Bear Island.  Turning that original island journal into a full story, into the book I’d imagined, has also meant going back to my life with Eric and how losing him reverberated in so many unexpected and disorienting ways.

That’s the memoir I’ve been working on over the last several months, starting with my time at Vermont Studio Center.  Several blog posts lately have talked about the difficulty of revisiting such turbulent times in my life, but there’s more to it than how hard it sometimes is.  It’s also necessary.

As one writer friend said to me, when I told her there are days I start to hate this book, “You have a story to tell and this is your story.”  She shrugged.  Another writer friend asked, “Why are you writing this book,” not to challenge me, but to understand why I’m engaging with a subject that’s clearly hard for me.  “It’s a story that resonates with people, that I want more people to hear,” I said.  “It’s about recovering and getting past something you feel you can’t get past and learning how to go on.”  She nodded.  She understood.

I understand too.  I need to do this, which is why I’m sticking with this book, even when it makes me uncomfortable.  How could I have known opening this lovely journal on a summer night six years ago it would lead me here?

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Bluets

 

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Bluets are blooming, salting the grass with clusters of their pale blue blossoms, another reminder of how this season conflates renewal and loss for me.   “I know you haven’t been able to get outside much for the last few weeks, so I brought some outdoors to you,” a friend said to me the day of Eric’s funeral.

My friend is a clay artist, and had made a tiny pot, dug up a clump of bluets and packed them into the bowl to bring to me.  He was right.  Eric’s illness and death had been so fast, and taking care of him so all consuming, the opening of spring happened without me having time to notice.

I kept the small patch flowers on my windowsill for a few days, and when the flowers faded, I kept the pot.  The small empty well of brown clay was sad and sweet and comforted me, thinking of my friend’s thoughtfulness, and how right he was to know I’d missed the outdoors.

When the pot got knocked off its shelf a few years later and broke, I was sorry but not upset.  I had the memory and the association of the bluets, that still comes back to me every year.  The Truth About Death holds the bluets too, as one of the final images from that year of grief, that season that comes and goes.

Anniversary II

Someone is being buried, cars clustered on the road
by the cemetery, brilliant like the day your coffin rocked
in the haul, the cemetery men jiggling a stuck strap, rocked
as if in your boat, we’d dressed you for kayaking, swinging
paddles in the pivot of your hands. I’ve stayed organized, ready
for blackness, speed the answer, no question. The grass is longer,
dandelions will be next. I found stones in a box on your bureau.

I was dazed, I was sitting in the funeral car, the scary center,
a friend ran to get me water when I asked, the clearness
of water, the green gleam of lake water over white sand,
the coves we found and rocked over, passing fruit and Scotch
across our boats, parallel, holding each others paddles,
face to face. I move too fast, bruise my hips, keep
moving. You told me never to leave you alone again.

I bring the stones to your grave, one white, one a perfect black
circle, I slept with them in the pocket of your father’s shorts,
found them on the sheet this morning. Birdsong from a maple
budded red like at home, bluets in the grass. I’m living
on ink, fire on the paper for the millisecond before it dries,
sunlight on water, the constant flow and flash, the center,
going through the door and never coming back.

Disappearance

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So much appears in spring, it seems counter intuitive to think of it as a season of disappearance.  Trees are full of blossoms, from the silky petals of magnolias to the rows of white cherries that line roadways and sidewalks.  The buds of the maple in my yard are like small flowers, red bleeding in the veins of tiny green leaves.  The crowns of hardwoods on the hills to the south soften as rose buds break open to the chartreuse of new growth.

David and I went for a hike yesterday and the branches of bushes and trees were covered with specks of leaves, a slight fuzzing of the views we could still catch as we climbed.  By the time we walk that trail again, the views will be gone.  A riot of leaves will have filled in all the spaces that let in some distance, and there will be walls of green wherever we look.

Sitting on the back deck in morning sun, we can still see the neighbors’ yards and the road on the other side of the brook. Soon the apple trees beyond the garden beds will fill in and the trees along the brook will make a privacy fence for our back yard.  The road and neighbors’ yards will disappear, and so will we.

Like everything, spring is a paradox.  The green world expands, and our views constrict. As I say in one of my poems, that’s “the nature of nature.”

Eight Years

 

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What does eight years feel like? The grain of memory runs against the rushing train of time, and too many mornings of sun through the windows as I first walk into the kitchen get crushed into today. For the first two years after Eric died the early sun made me cry.  “Why do you do that to yourself?” my therapist asked me and all I could think of was the river I was swimming across and how some days the river seemed to widen into infinite water. The sun was in my eyes.

“You won’t always wake up to the slap of it,” a friend told me in the months afterwards.  She knew, because it had happened to her, that every morning when I woke the first thing I felt was the truth of Eric’s absence in my gut, as if I was being hit with a 2×4.  Hard.  My friend was right.  One day I woke up to sadness, but it had softened.

“It will change between the second and third year,” another friend who lost her partner told me and again, she was right.  There was no day or week or hour or moment I could point to and say, “there, that’s when it changed.”  But at the third year “deathaversary” the grief had spread out into a quieter pool.  I could touch the shore on the other side of the river.

I still tell time by before and after Eric, but now that it’s been eight years it’s more events than emotions I can track.  One morning last week he visited me in a dream, walking into the house with a brown paper bag under his arm.  What was in the bag?  Peanut M&Ms and Twizzlers, his favorites?  A bottle of single malt scotch?  Milk for coffee in the morning?  His appearance was so ordinary and extraordinary.  I was glad to see him.

It’s been eight years.


 

The Refusal of Time

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The Refusal of Time is a brilliant exhibit by South African artist William Kentridge.   Currently showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston (but only through Sunday so get there soon if you want to see it), the work uses drawings, collages, dance and theater moving across five-channels of video projected on large wall panels, music and spoken text, and a central “breathing machine” sculpture to explore time’s mysterious elements — how time shifts and moves, how we try to regulate time, how time is perceived, how the measurement of time has changed over human history, how we “refuse” time.

“Everybody knows that we are going to die,” writes Kentridge, “but the resistance to that pressure coming towards us is at the heart of the project. At the individual level, it was about resisting; not resisting mortality in the hope of trying to escape it, but trying to escape the pressure that it puts on us.”  And politically, “the refusal was a refusal of the European sense of order imposed by time zones; not only literally, but this refusal also referred metaphorically to other forms of control as well.”

Sound deep and interesting?  It is.  The 30 minute video and sound loop is mesmerizing and complex enough that I sat through much of it for a second time.  I wrote down words that were projected or announced that spoke to my own musings about time, which find their way into my writing over and over.

Some samples:  “In praise of bad clocks.”  “Full stop swallows the sentence.”  “Here I am, here I am, here I am.”   “The universal archive of images.”  “Poems I used to know.”  “Performances of transformation.”  “A suitcase of teeth and glass.”  The poetry of this astounding work is profound.

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