Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Reading Man steps up

The Reading Man had not led an idle life, had not sat about with manicured nails and uncallused palms.  He had worked indoors, outdoors, in blue collars and white, had external scars and less visible interior wounds from decades of showing up, providing, being reliable and finding any honest day's labor was worthwhile.  When he saw the sign leaned against the weathered board siding of the marine and general hardware store, he stepped inside.
At last he found James, the owner, toward the back of his place, looking physically uncomfortable, trying to get about the cement floor on an office chair that seemed to have time-traveled to Billington's Cove from the early 1950s.  The green leather seat and back sprouted silver patches of duct tape that could be seen under and behind James as he used a cane to propel himself in search of requested merchandise for a fisherman customer.  Not saying the obvious, Mr. Apotienne instead offered to look for the parts so James wouldn't put additional strain on the already-dingy cast that encased his right foot.  The part located, the immediate business transacted, Mr. Apotienne asked if applications were still being accepted.  He didn't ask the hours, the responsibility or the pay.

"Applications," James snorted.  He fanned an imaginary sheaf of papers and tossed it in the air.  "When can you start?"  The Reading Man removed his jacket, which he'd traded for the all-weather coat of earlier, colder mornings, and hung it on a rack just inside the back room, next to James'.

It is a mystery and a bit of a miracle, what one picks up and retains from odd jobs and curious encounters.  TRM did know a bit about boats, even had some familiarity with sailing vessels, and could tell a wrench from a pair of pliers at fifty paces or more.  He walked behind the counter to get a good look at the cash register.  James nodded to him to go ahead and explore its functions.  When the bell above the front door rang to announce the next seeker, they were almost ready.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Heed the call

Floral images ushered me into sleep last night, into dreams no longer remembered except as impressions and a sense of peace.  Flowers printed onto everything have elbowed other thoughts aside (thank you!) to become a renewed obsession, language, identity.  The call of these sprigged beauties has stalked me for a while.  Their voice is growing louder and much more insistent.
Fabric by Liberty of London
We are, I know, called by what needs us.  For a few months if not longer, illustrators from around the world, especially those who use lots of red, but others as well, have pulled me into unimagined realms where I feel oddly at home, welcome.  Add the florals which arrived more than a year ago with roses-on-anything and I think I have absorbed these images for an adequate amount of time.  Now I need to take the next step.  What also calls is the temporarily set aside relationship to intentional, exhausting, healing exercise.  My physical therapy is now up to me and I have let myself be distracted by the shine and sparkle of flowered print and illustration.  I'm not sure that exercise needs me.  I certainly need it.

In this movie that is life, I see us all handed clumsily-wrapped bundles, bound in rumpled paper and too much knotted string, shoved emphatically in our direction on the platform of the train station by a stranger - he may be wearing Leonard Cohen's famous blue raincoat, torn at the shoulder.  Each parcel is intended for no one else, is an assignment that can be completed only by one candidate.  We leave that package in the taxi at our peril, for it will appear again, shouting louder, seeping more revoltingly, causing strangers to give a sharp look, then turn away.  They recognize the cry, especially if they have ignored their own.

It is not a neat business, nothing predictable about it, unless one tracks the clues back and back through this lifetime, maybe others.  A grandmother's fading wallpapers, reused scraps on an intricate quilt, childhood picture books, murals painted on kitchen and patio walls, the chintz dress of a handmade Raggedy Ann.  I have been the teabag in this cup my whole life 

Yesterday's post with Diebenkorn's thoughts on certainty tell some of this story.  I have come to believe that every moment is an act of faith, nothing is assured or promised, not in an ordinary fashion.  I think what we were guaranteed was an adventure, depending on your definition of adventure, something much closer to myth than the Hardy Boys.  Danger, defeat, redemption, turnabout, loss, triumph, stoic plodding, graceful turns and endless wonder. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Certainty may or may not come later

"Coffee" by Richard Diebenkorn.
For now, let's think about #9.  The #1 item is what we refer to at our house as "must be Tuesday."  Is there anything that is certain-certain?

Recently I used the word chaos about a state of disorder in our apartment.  My son recoiled, asked me not to use the word, at least not with strangers.  I think I'd said it twice, once to him, once to someone who was not a stranger.  What we perceive as chaos has the ability to upend us, creep us out, yet it is a natural state - it is the universe's version of order, right?

I have always loved the title of Madeleine L'Engle's book,  "A Swiftly Tilting Planet," simply for the affirmation it gives me for how I feel about, among other things, Earth.  We orbit, we travel through space and time and yet assume we are stuck, immobilized.  We are, as Diebenkorn mentions in #7, moved from our present position.  Any success or lack of it can become a stimulus for further moves.

In my state of less-than-extensive mobility, I sense new movement.  One of the forms it is taking is saying yes, not to everything, but to what would have been unlikely or impossible less than two months ago.  Something vibrant is afoot.  Oscar Wilde said, "The suspense is terrible.  I hope it will last."  I may keep thinking about Polyanna.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shaun Tan

For your viewing pleasure, the work of Shaun Tan.
"The Reading Group"
The merest sample.  There is so much more to be discovered.  I could just keep stacking the illustrations up for days. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

A sandy manifesto

It had been days since Gloria walked the beach.  She either walked slowly, thoughtfully or she danced with the incoming tide like a child, watching its moves, letting it brush her feet yet not surprising her with a show of its power.  Or not often.  She could observe the waves for hours, whether the surf was high and daunting or flat like a placid lake.  To her it was a continual give and take.  What it brought in was often unseen or subtle, a line of foam.  What it swept away was at least a portion of anything in its path. Sometimes Gloria fed it words the way she set out crumbs for the quick songbirds behind the shop when the gulls weren't looking.

She came to the dampened sand knowing all was ready for the start of business.  Fiona was there, apron tied, for any early trade, which gave Gloria time to copy sentences from the scrap of lined paper in her pocket.  She thought of it whole as a sort of manifesto, a declaration of truth as it had seeped into her over the past few weeks.  She didn't mind crouching to write with her finger rather than a stick.  Leaving a message for the sea, either to deliver or digest, created the sense of having taken a serious matter directly to the source.  She wrote:

I will always trust my knowing.
I will be happy and grateful because they are choices.
I will remember I don't have to explain.
I recognize that each love is unique and does not have to match anything else that has ever been.
I will be patient and simmer down.
I always have the option to change my mind.
I know that magic is real.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


In conversation we are likely to talk of things or events.  We rarely, I find, speak of process.  Yet over time my life has become one of process, an interior existence, resulting from illness, infirmity and the realization that stillness has long been my natural state.   I find it difficult to answer the questions, "What's new?" or "How have you been?" for I have no external events to share.  Receiving an exciting order of drawing tools from Jet Pens hardly qualifies.  A quiet, process-centered life where the doing is about being does not leave one with much to report by ordinary standards of social exchange.
"Inner Space" by artist Anselm Kiefer.
Acknowledging and accepting habitation of this interior world is a process in itself.  It has taken time to be even mildly comfortable with a lack of news to offer when friends report of foreign travel, community functions, normal activities for the mobile and those whose assignments vary so widely from mine.  I continue to learn a new vocabulary to describe these states of being, to tell how intuition, when trusted, leads me to connections, to kindred spirits, to doors that open on caverns of discovery.  A message left yesterday by a friend in which he described being drawn unexpectedly to certain music and how much he has found there paralleled my growing love, for it is certainly more than infatuation, for red and the illustrators who use it lavishly.   I pictured an image of the calls we hear, if we pay attention to immediate and rather unlikely passions that rise like a sudden-onset fever, seeing them as mercurial, winged creatures that we chase down with sturdy, long-handled nets, knowing we are summoned for soul-based reasons we could only explain to a few, if any.  The language of process springs from the poets' realm.  It is a story that can only be told in metaphor.

Monday, January 20, 2014

One step on the curious path to Divinity

Sometimes when I awake in the middle of the night, returning to sleep is thwarted by internal lectures on self-improvement.  Just as in a childhood illness when I would wish for the grandmother who brought gentleness and gifts and instead too often received recommended treatments from the other grandmother, the one of mustard plasters and sheep dip, I want to be sung back to sleep by my angels wearing rose-patterned socks.  Alas, who arrives is the pitchman, bullying voice oozing confidence that any vexations would vanish if I just (fill in the blank).  Early this morning it was - and he/she meant RIGHT NOW, no shilly-shallying - lose weight and get hopping.  When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  I prefer the school of thought that tells me being emphatically imperfect is actually a sacred opportunity.  Later when I had fallen peacefully back to sleep, I was walking on a beach with Jerry Seinfeld.  Count on the unconscious mind to deliver a welcome bouquet when ordinary reality wants to put something ouchy on our boo-boos.
NOT the child's friend. 
On Saturday I listened to a new-to-me podcast from Sweigh Emily Spilkin, during which she asked us to consider questions such as, "How can I be kinder to myself and learn how to forgive myself so I can open to the Divine?"  Gentleness and compassion are not hallmarks of the bootstraps evangelist.  All of you who know the perilous road from human train wreck, at least by our own perception, to someone we can accept and even cherish for surviving the journey, are familiar with the black-and-white dogma of the just-get-over-it school of thought.  Among the things which I believe to be a non-negotiable essential of human life is balance.   Balance travels with its companions paradox, ambiguity, duality, unknowingness and patience.  It is an all-star line-up, neither recognized nor valued by the mustard plaster school of how to be a better person.

This is material for a dissertation, a rant, a manifesto, none of which is going to happen today, if ever.  In a few weeks I will turn 69 years old.  I am still a novice, a newby in more realms than I can name.  I have so much to learn.  One of the things I spent years not knowing was that yanking on my arm and scolding me will not bring me closer to what I consider divinity, the ALL is how I think of it.  If anything, harsh treatment will block any sun that has managed to reach frozen emotional ground.  As you either know or, I hope, can imagine, we are here to love ourselves and each other into claiming our authentic beings.  Ms. Spilkin reminded that, "our deepest longing is to be ourselves."

In the small, dark hours my defenses are low, I am unarmed and groggy and have difficulty standing up to what I would see in other circumstances as absurd absolutes.  I forget what I know, that I have been invited here to lead a life of service and love, that I am here to surrender for, as Rilke said, "What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us."  It is our gift, that the ALL, the Divine wishes to shape us and use us, often reaching us through trauma, illness, pain, loss, the only ways to get our attention.  Rilke goes on to say, in his poem THE MAN WATCHING,

What we choose to fight is so tiny! 
What fights with us is so great. 
If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm, 
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it's with small things, 
and the triumph itself makes us small. 
What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us. 
I mean the Angel who appeared to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers' sinews 
grew long like metal strings, 
he felt them under his fingers 
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel 
(who often simply declined the fight) 
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand, 
that kneaded him as if to change his shape. 
Winning does not tempt that man. 
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, 
by constantly greater beings.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How many cups of Gloria's tea?

Robert Apotienne tried to calculate how many cups of tea he'd poured and savored since arriving in Billington's Cove. His math skills were top-notch and still he found his totals wandering, distant from each other as stars. It had been a simple brain exercise, a way to include The World of Gloria in his thoughts without being entirely Gloria-focused. It was not a simple exercise at all, it served no purpose other than to unsettle him, so he chose to think of Gloria: her laugh and her handwriting. There. Two entirely different things, distinctive, individual yet not too creepily personal. He hated it when his foot trod on the border of unsavory obsession. He was, and not just by his own definition, a gentleman of the old school - the really, really old school - and he was committed to a certain gentlemanly standard of imagination and behavior. It could be called an impediment to progress but there it was.  His story and he was stuck with it.
Photo via FB, with thanks here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The red door is returned

Artist Sunny Carvalho has a new rubber stamp that says, "I was going to take over the world but then I saw something shiny."  My story is I saw something red.  The rest has simply vanished.
Original art by Jill Logan.
Falling back to sleep night before last, I remembered that the house we used to own had a red front door.  I had not forgotten the house, the owning and inhabiting of it by our little family, but in my current preoccupation with matters of illustration and red, it drifted up like the answer in a Magic Eight Ball.  Where had I been?

Science fiction series and stories give me images that substitute for gaps in language, those moments when I resort to hand gestures to try and fill in the blanks.  Even though human life really is about the journey and not the destination - for what would the destination be? - I still feel, at times, as though I fell asleep in my age-suspending pod as we rocketed from Earth's gravity and awoke three years later to begin a new mission on the other side of the sky.  It is often unclear how I moved from one state of being to another and I am content to give miracles the credit.  The mysteries of time and space, we meet again.  I now count in decades the years since I lived in that house or was married to that husband, yet how did I become so clouded that I lost track of a red door when the color grabs me every day, yanks me by the lapels or the sleeve or pant cuff or puts me in a head-lock and insists on itself.  I am helpless, willingly, in the face of its shameless self-promotion.

I think of it, this state of being, as wandering away from myself.  It is a thing we do, drift off and become estranged.  The intense mindfulness required to stay present, to stay connected to all our essential parts and not be lured off into the shrubs by shiny things or tedious, worrisome, wearying things takes muscle.  Reversal of fortune has a way of inducing amnesia and lethargy.  We forget, even as we remember and grieve, what and how our circumstances used to be.

The return of the red door brought with it Isak Dinesen's words, "I had a farm in Africa."  I believe each of us has equivalent remnants of other days.  When I was fully awake, I sensed the memory would not disappear again, until perhaps greatly advanced age came and hid it under the sheets which no longer fit any bed we own.  My cells, not just the ones in my brain, knew that, as Isak Dinesen would never not have had a farm in Africa, even though it was gone, I would never not have had a house with a red door, next to which geraniums grew in a brick planter.  The truth of the good that was cannot be taken.  It can never un-be.

This makes me wonder whether loss may bring with it a token to exchange for what is gone.  I have sacrificed time and certainly emotion to dwelling on the absences, the emptiness, the missing pieces.  I have allowed what is gone to diminish and even define me.  Perhaps for a time that was the best I could do, an authentic response but not one intended to persist.  The forgotten door became a gift, like finding money in an old purse.  It felt like a restoration.  It was not here, it was no longer mine, yet it still was.  It had been.  The temporary nature of how any of this works, the fact that everything including ourselves is on loan, I don't know that I ever saw it quite like this.  I'm not sure what it means, other than another example of how a thing is and is not at the same time.  I have a few prescription medications that caution "may cause dizziness."  So might any of it.  It is a dizzying world.

Friday, January 3, 2014


That red will never love me back causes me no loss of sleep, no ache which one might seek to fill with paler substitutes. Pink, there are days when yours is the soft touch, the sweet voice for which I hanker. But red, red, it is enough for me that you are in the world. You make everything groovy.
Artist: Troy Brooks.
Four works by Rebecca Dautremer.

More on red another day. I haven't even begun.