I am starting on my blog again, posting monthly, and I’m going to do it without reconnecting with Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post them on both my WordPress blog site and my website and the inestimable Richie will put them on his vast social media empire, too. But please, if you like reading my posts, go ahead and press that little “follow” button in order to be notified of my new posts. I really appreciate it and as I do your interest and your support.
So this month’s post falls under the heading of buy my beautiful notecards why don’t you? It is, after all, the season for sending out little cards. Sure, I don’t have theme- specific ones, but you can use your imaginations. I’ve got pears and aren’t there partridges in pear trees for one holiday? I’ve sheep, lots of sheep, and that says to me Thanksgiving, hands-down.
The little landscapy ones can be used for all sorts of themes. I just can’t think of which, exactly, at this moment, but I’m sure you can.
And of course there’s the pigs and the horses. Now that I think of it, the pigs, although I think they are lovely, might be a tad insensitive for, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah. Okay, ixnay on the pigs for the holidays. But the horses would work. You know, “over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go, the horse knows the way…” etc. And that Robert Frost poem about stopping in the snowy woods and the pony does that little shake of the harness thing.
So go here and check them out. And thanks.
I thought it might be time for something beautiful.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the trees
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
One night not long ago, I woke up at 2:00 am. I lay there listening to Richie and Buddy breathe. I listened to my brain rushing through all its thoughts of what to do, when to do it, and what has been done. Our window looks out on the water and for the first time in at least a week it was a clear night; I could see stars reflected in the still water and Orion like a jewel.
Stars. They settle me—settle my restless brain with their steadfastness. A long time ago, I read a poem by the nineteenth century English poet, Matthew Arnold. It had me at the first two lines:
Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,…
Ah, isolation, confusion. I could relate.
…”ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!”
From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
“Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.
Live as they. Calm and Belonging in the universal sense. It was the answer I was looking for those many years ago and it was the answer that renewed itself to me again that sleepless night.
Recently, Richie has been posting, on Facebook and his website, pieces of ephemera from his bicycle history with his reflections and backstory. Since his involvement with bicycles, bicycle racing, and frame building dates back to the early 1970’s this project, taken as a whole, has become a testament of sorts to his life—his choices, his experiences, his observations.
Tonight, we go to my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary dinner party. To give them something, my four siblings and I have been combing through photographs. There are lots of photos of sailing—comfy coastal sailing and gritty ocean sailing. There is one of my Dad hang gliding, another of my Mom horseback riding in the Grand Canyon (looking none too thrilled), a lovely one of her resting on a Swiss mountaintop à la Sound of Music, and one of them in Russia with a young Russian couple they met when they were stuck there for a bit.
Reading the ephemera and perusing the photographs makes me think, what makes a life? Is it adventure and experiences—new places, travel? Is it people—those you’ve met and interacted with within your passion? Or is it something more fundamental?
The common denominator in Richie’s ephemera and my parents’ travels is connection. Each of them has lived—is living—a life filled with connection. Connections to people, places, adventures, experiences, words, ideas, nature.
So what makes a life?
The courage to connect is what makes a life.
When I can, I walk with The Ladies in the mornings. They range in age from sixties to early eighties. We walk up and down the dirt road, two miles in all. It allows lots of time for conversation. Many of them have lived in this tiny town most, if not all, their lives. They talk about the stuff of life, matter-of-fact, and do not dwell on the big questions. They are not blind to the big questions, far from it, but they think that if they pay attention to the details, the big questions will take care of themselves.
It is refreshing to be around them. No one talks about being unfulfilled—they are mostly retired from their jobs as factory workers or assistants, but even if they were still working, you get the feeling they wouldn’t complain. Be grateful to have a job, they would say; work at it earnestly and honestly and treat people the way you would like to be treated.
There is a simple honesty to the life of making do with what you have that is lost in our age of instant gratification. We want more because there is more—it is shoved at us so relentlessly that we have forgotten we have the choice to decide our own happiness.
The Ladies have mastered the art of being content.
. . .is nothing new. Renaissance devotional panels were commissioned and the patron usually insisted that their likeness be inserted, next to the Madonna and Child. Kind of like a selfie with the Pope.
So it’s nothing new to have artists paint for patrons.
But these days, though, there seems to be a proliferation of what is euphemistically called some version of “idea tanks.” A pseudo-creative tag that hides the business of commodifying creativity. Here’s how it works: business people get an idea, which invariably is more or less a rip off of something that has already been successful, hire a “content provider” to make it and then market the heck of it.
This is a commodity, pure and simple. It is not a labor of creativity. It is a labor of…well, labor. Kind of like factory work. There’s nothing wrong with factories and the commodities they produce, but creativity is not factory work.
Creativity is for taking leaps and pushing boundaries and all about making the artist grow and when she presents her creative work, the public, experiencing it, grows too.
Think about Andy Warhol and how he presented our commercialism as art and how it made us think about our world. Think about The Catcher in the Rye, and how it defined adolescence. Think about Piero della Francesca and how the stillness in his frescos ring with the exhale of God. Think about To Kill a Mockingbird and the photographs by Dorothea Lange. Even thinking about them, picturing them in my imagination makes my lungs fill with cool, fresh air.
If all we feed people are commodities—stale air—they’ll never know what they’re missing, because they’ll never how much more inspiring it can be. It doesn’t have to be all worker ants and the ones that control them. Or maybe it does.
The Renaissance is over. The age of communication has begun.
I’ve been watching my amaryllis grow flower stalks for, jeez, it seems like a month now. They emerged from the awakening bulbs after a month of dormancy and slowly, slowly inched upwards. They are about two feet tall now and the blossom ends are teasing me with the promise of spectacular blooms—someday. Perhaps the sixty degree nights in my house are making them prevaricate. Perhaps I’ve got languid bulbs. Perhaps I am just desperate for the juicy life of spring. But whatever it is and no matter how much I want them to bloom faster, instant gratification in this particular matter is not going to happen. They’ll bloom when they’re ready.
Yesterday I got a letter in the mail. It was a missive from my neighbor responding to a note I had sent her. In my note, I had given her my phone number so she could answer my invitation in a timelier manner. But she chose to write another note back instead. It was wonderful! I felt like I was in Downton Abbey. This languid pace of correspondence rejuvenates me. It gives a body time to reflect, to re-read, to exhale.
So I watch my pokey amaryllis, I re-read the note, brushing my fingers over the paper and I marvel at the civility and space each has created for me in this hurry-up world. The waiting, I find, has a nourishment all its own.
If you’re like me, you’re craving color about now. Big, bold, shameless color. What’s my fix? Going to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams to see the three floors of Sol LeWitt installations–it’s a veritable bubble bath of color. Last week, the hubby and I travelled there, over the scary mountain (hairpin turns galore!) and stayed at a very cool place called The Porches Inn, right across the street from Mass MoCA. Highly recommend The Porches, not just for its rooming house chic and heated outdoor pool and hot tub, but also for the breakfast delivered each morning in a metal lunchbox, complete with thermos of coffee and OJ.
At Mass MoCA, we arrived ten minutes before opening and were surprised to find the place packed. “Wow, lots of Seasonal Affective Disorder people,” we thought. But that was not the case (or maybe it was) but at any rate, turns out the new governor, Charlie Baker, was there to give a little speech, no doubt about how western Mass is still Massachusetts, ihho, and he’s going to bring us into the twenty-first century with things like cell phone reception and fiber internet (which would be very nice, btw.)
Seizing our opportunity, we bought our tickets and galloped to the Sol LeWitt, knowing that we would have all those luscious rooms to ourselves.
Lovely, lovely, I’m getting happier by the second.
Yup. We went to the next floor.
Whoops! That governor sure does get around. Is he following us? Should I tell him about my tiny town that has no cell phone reception?
Nah, I’d rather soak in more color.