Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

Let’s Just Hug It Out

The Cuddlesome Kraken

You think that I’m all hands, my love,

Controlling, holding tightly so?

Don’t wriggle, struggle, push and shove;

This is the only way I know!Digital illustration: Cool Kraken

I love you, darling, s’truth I do,

So let’s just cut right to the chase—

Let me wrap all my arms ’round you—

Embrace, embrace, embrace, embrace!Digital illustration: Kraken is Warm for Your Form

Love-Birds of a Feather

I’m as much a sucker for a good bird-brained, glutinous, weepy love story as the next guy. But I only like that stuff in fiction, and only in small doses. It’s not enough for me that a love story should have a meet-cute first act and an upbeat dénouement–it’s the stretch between that ought to be uplifting and exciting. Yes, it’s a rather charming sounding concept, at least on paper perhaps, that love would be perfectly lifelong (a lot riding on how long the lives happen to be) and all-encompassing. Yet aside from the exceedingly rare few seemingly flawless pairs for whom there is no apparent need for a world outside of them at all, most of the best relationships I’ve seen or known happen because they comprise two actual individuals, with all of their own unique characteristics, their daily existence intertwining intimately without losing the color and clarity of those individual souls shaped by their distinct thoughts, actions, experiences and inspirations. A true partnership, with all the challenges of give-and-take, beats cloning any day.

That popular book-and-movie of my younger days, Erich Segal‘s ‘Love Story‘, may by now be better remembered for its tagline ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry‘ than for its actual story of an opposites-attract kind of couple barging and charming their way through thick and thin, plucky and witty and utterly devoted to each other [because of course his haughty family has disowned him for linking up with One of Them, not of Us], until she dies–but very prettily, mind you–of leukemia and her grieving spouse is reunited with his estranged father. The whole story I could take reasonably well, but that one phrase really stuck in my craw, negating all of the negotiations it took to get the fictional couple from their meeting to the bittersweet end of their partnership at her death. Never mind that Segal himself seems to have had a great marriage that defied the glossy sentimentality of such a thing, it always struck me as cheapening the very joy of learning each other’s ways and enriching each other by simply being flawed and odd yet willing to figure out how to fit the two brands of strangeness together well. If I interpret the slogan as regarding regrets rather than apologies, it’s less distasteful to me, though I still think if there’s no risk of hurt, there’s little chance of reward either. The ultimate hurt, in this case, being not death (the old inevitable, despite the dramatic awfulness of its being untimely and painful in this heroine’s case) but the possibility of the relationship failing or being destroyed.

I guess it boils down to this: if a so-called love is so flimsy and flighty it can’t withstand mistakes and the necessary if clumsy duct tape and chewing gum sort of repairs we make on it, how can it be worthy of the name love at all? I much prefer the sort where feathers do get ruffled occasionally but the draw of true companionship and care and hilarity and comfort and adventure all together makes it well worth smoothing them back down.digital illustration from a photoMore than anybody else I know, I have been lucky in love.

I have never suffered through ill-treatment, being dumped or neglected or abused or any of that terrible stuff. I was raised by kind, loving, enjoyable parents–who still seem to think I’m worth keeping around–and have three wonderful sisters who have also kept my coffers filled with affection and excellent companionship. I’ve had a raft of kind friends who have been constant in their warm and encouraging presence throughout my days. Even the teachers, co-workers, postal carriers and shopkeepers peopling my life’s paths have generally been of a goodly sort. Best of all, I am lucky to know just how lucky I have been. And am.

No, that’s not exactly right: the true pinnacle of all this is that I found a best friend I could love, and be loved by, in the truest sense, for the rest of my life. It’s his birthday today, and I can’t help but be reminded how wildly blessed and fortunate I am in having him as my partner and daily companion as well as my great love. Being the best of friends makes all of the rest of it possible, the love and joy and kindness and life challenges faced together. We are birds of a feather, my love and I, and I wish him a long and marvelous series of birthdays yet to come. And a deeply happy one today, to get the rest of them started.

See you back at the ol’ nest by evening, my Sweet.photo montage

Tending the Garden of Love

photo montageIt’s my parents’ wedding anniversary. When they got married 57 years ago, I can only assume that they hadn’t the remotest idea of where they would be in their lives today, let alone all of what would have transpired between then and now. For the most part, I think it’s a tremendous blessing that we don’t know what lies ahead, because the bad parts would probably terrify any sane person out of moving forward, and the good ones would lose some of their savor for having been predictable. But however innocently ignorant my parents may have been in youth, they had the good sense to marry for love.

photo montageThe real kind, of course, not just that thrilling inner swell that is romantic infatuation. That stuff is fantastic and helps fuel and sustain the deeper sort, but without the kind of love that abides when life’s realities are too hard at the moment, when we’re too tired or busy or distracted or cranky to skip through shimmering meadows of happiness with kindness in our souls and sugar cookies in our lunch boxes, infatuation is instantly deflated. I’m pretty certain that my parents had an inkling of this from very early, but it’s something I saw them cultivate and tend like flowerbeds throughout the years. Their modus operandi has generally been one of keeping the mechanics of the operation to themselves, not being the sort to air their disagreements in front of others or to be so publicly rampant in their amours that their companions would fall into diabetic comas in their company, but the depth and intensity of commitment and actual friendship have always been in evidence. The passing anniversaries merely mark further milestones that demonstrate how those gifts have continued to nurture real love. Trials and tribulations and happier adventures all along the way inevitably change the shape and character of such love and its multifarious accoutrements, but the signposts stand firm and the blooms of beauty and kindness never fade, no matter how the path meanders in the garden and no matter where the beds need to relocate or be retrenched from time to time.

photo montageYou won’t be surprised, then, that I think they deserve bouquets of fond recognition on this day, even if they’re only virtual bouquets; they’re all from my garden, which I learned from my parents to tend, and that I hope when I grow up I can be as constant in my love and affection as Mom and Dad are. Let love continue to bloom.

Crazed Weasels and Other Objects of Affection

The Georgian era gave us, along with a whole raft of other creative gifts for sweethearts and mementos of important occasions, the piece of portraiture-cum-jewelry known as the Lover’s Eye. Something of an oddity, to those of us in the modern day who don’t happen to be of that individualistic bent that swallows capsules of a late wife’s ashes with daily vitamins, wears vials of a lover’s blood as a pendant or keeps the deceased boss’s body as a nice piece of taxidermy so that he continues to sit in on board meetings in perpetuity. Yes, all realities for some folk. Not so much for Average-Joan. Portraiture is generally so very much more socially acceptable.digital collageA portrait of a lover’s eye, even if it happens to be shown without reference to and other, presumably equally adorable, parts of said person, isn’t quite so unsettling and freaky then. Of course, that assumes that one’s dearest has eyes, at least one eye, that is pretty attractive in its way. I got to thinking about this whole little question when I had the allergic attack recently that made my eyes so distinctively disgusting. However, I was reminded by that very episode that love is genuinely, in its way, blind. My darling husband didn’t cease to treat me with the usual kindness and affection and sweet intimacy, and while I know there was for both of us an underlying hope, nay, assumption that this was a temporary appearance for me, the possibility of permanence existed as well.digital collageWhat did this prove? Nothing in and of itself, really. It did, though, remind me ultimately of the age-old truth that love makes us see the objects of our affections as good, desirable, as beautiful. That beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My spouse saw the Me he loved, without necessary reference to how I looked at the moment. And he does, after all, love me either despite knowing I’m a little bit weird and kooky, albeit (I hope) pleasantly so or, weirder and kookier yet, because I’m that way. Probably not especially hankering to wear around any new jewelry, my beloved. Least of all, jewelry with a little picture of my eye staring at him all of the time, as if my gawping at him in person, however admiringly, isn’t enough to send him up the wall. I’m not absolutely certain that a prettified version of my healthy eye would be markedly better than a silly and outrageous portrait of my eye in its bizarrely bloodshot wackiness, as jewelry goes. But my guy, he looks pretty fabulous no matter what he’s wearing. So there’s that. Wink, wink.

Another Good Thing about Waving One’s Arms

 

Waving my arms is something I may think about more than the average person does. From when I was pretty young I was conscious of arm movement as being mighty significant in a seriously diverse series of ways. First of all, there was that childhood training we all enjoy, if we’re well inducted, in the art of waving hello and farewell. I have almost always preferred the former to the latter, but in either case, whenever the occasion was deemed genuinely worthy of such a gesture, I knew that it was a sign of love or affection, and that made it pretty darn worthwhile.

Then again, I also had an early fondness for wagging my crayon-gripping fist over a piece of paper (or whatever flattish surface was convenient) to make squiggly lines and, if I got lucky, get them to coalesce into picture-like concoctions. I  might be sitting off in a cozy corner at Grandma and Grandpa W’s, scribbling away, with the faint sounds in the background of parental and grand-parental chatter as they sat drinking their coffee intermingled with the slight chattering sound of Grandpa’s cup doing a little jitterbug against the saucer, because he had a mild tremor in his hand. Of course, his arm-waving was hardly dramatic, but it was one of those delicate underpinnings of my early memory that became part of the whole subtle weave of my perceptions.

Sometime in my early teens or thereabout, I found that the family resemblance extended to my having my own familial tremors, occasionally in my head and neck but mostly in my hands and arms. There have been times when it was more pronounced than was entirely convenient for a person wanting to draw, but fortunately it’s rarely been at problematic extremes, more often merely requiring that I find ways to compensate for or control or use the tremors to advantage in my art-making. In any event, keeping my hand in (no pun intended) as an artist has tended to keep the inevitable interactions of these two kinds of arm-waving present in my attentions. Meanwhile, my other grandmother had her own kind of arm-waving to lend to the family skill-set: Parkinson’s Disease.

Typically, Granny had the wit and will to battle her Parkinsonism not only with great tenacity in staving off the ravages of the illness for many more years than is typical but also with a lot of good-natured humor, because that was her style. So whenever we had a family gathering, she was the first to offer her services for tossing salads and making milkshakes. That my mother has followed in the Parkinsonian lineage would make her forms of arm-waving far worse to behold, knowing that the same sort of insidious progression lay ahead for her, and to be fair, including the knowledge that the odds are a bit higher for me than for some that I will eventually join the parade, but she too has maintained a bright attitude about it all. Besides that, I am very slightly suspicious that her particular skillfulness when it comes to shaking the dice gives her a unique edge in the evening board games.

But the top of the list when it comes to magnificent ways and reasons to wave one’s arms has surely got to be the one I’ve been witnessing so much now that the concert season is well underway again: conducting. Bands, orchestras, operatic performances, choirs. No matter what the form of the musical art, if there is a conductor up there waving his, her (or, particularly, my beloved husband’s) arms, the love that fills the air is what makes all of the arm-waving a worthy and beautiful thing. It brings hearts and minds into focus and, often, into community, and it makes the world a more wonderful place to be.

And that makes me want to stop waving my arms altogether, just opening them wide enough to embrace that better world and anyone I can in it.digital image from an acrylic painting on canvas

 

‘Twixt Heaven and Hell

graphite & pastel drawingMuch of the repertoire categorized as Early Music by us modern folk was, whether religious or secular in nature, directly connected with the ideas of Heaven and Hell. Not surprisingly, a great many of these songs used love–doomed or newly married, joyful or unrequited, chaste or wildly earthy, or whatever brand was of interest in the moment–as the vehicle for exploring the concepts of Heaven and Hell. We are only able to conceive of and interpret any grand philosophy or construct through the lens of the familiar, and best so, through what excites our attention and preoccupies our waking hours. Love, in all of its myriad aspects, is a logical choice indeed for such explorations.

The programs sung and played thus far this week at Berkeley have been unsurprisingly full of love, lust, longing and loneliness and all of their cousinly affections, then. I had to laugh when a humorous piece contrasting Heaven and Hell included text and visual references in the performance that made Hell seem remarkably likely to be just another name for Texas, but that’s merely a reflection of this same recognition factor that makes songs of love such a universal language, so globally appealing.The whole festival this week is in itself a fine microcosm and affirmation of this communal language, created by not only the sharing of these great and even the not-so-great pieces of music, but also richly by the sharing of our common interest in music and the arts and the newly fledged acquaintances and enriched relationships that come from our all crossing paths in this event, by coming together as it were to sing the same song and revisit our sense of love and its wonders.

Now, let the players and singers strike up another chord!

Foodie Tuesday: Love is an Everyday Thing

photoOh, yes, Ladies and Gentlemen all, it is Valentine’s Day. At least, here in the good old US of A, where we constantly rebel against being told what to do and how to live our lives but are terrible sticklers for traditions that may or may not even suit our beliefs and needs. Now, celebrating the life–and, let’s face it, not-so-charming-to-celebrate death, since 14 February recognizes the officially accepted date of the martyrdom of St. Valentine by clubbing and beheading–of a possible whole group of Christian martyrs, who all have become conflated in the popular mind as one really nice guy who pitied and assisted the lovelorn, all of that is a matter of personal belief and taste, to be sure. Celebrating the highly adapted holiday of Valentine’s Day is one as well: as it’s been popularized, it’s a day for telling people we love them, filling them up with romantic food and drink and notions, showering them with flowers and sparkly gifts, and paying homage to our love in generally showier ways than usual.

There, my friends, is the rub where this stubborn old lady is concerned. I’m not really as curmudgeonly as all of this sounds however arguable my crankiness is on other topics. It’s just that I feel mighty strongly that if the love isn’t expressed on a fairly constant basis, in (as one might say) thought, word and deed, it means nothing whatsoever on Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, a birthday, or any other celebratory occasion no matter how the gifts and gooey treats are piled up and the lyrical words flow. It’s got to be the real, the every single day sort of deal, or it’s so much useless fluff.

photoThat said, I am among the biggest mush-meisters inhabiting the supposed real world, never tiring of being madly in love with the one person who’s crazy and silly enough to love me back in equal extremity. When we’re sitting at our respective desks down the hall from each other–which we have positioned conveniently so we can see each other across the way while working and maybe sneak a wink for no better reason than that after more than 16 years we still have a school-kid crush on each other–we are both inclined to chirp I Love Yous back and forth at intervals just because we actually do. He cheers me up when I’m feeling low and cheers me on when I’m flagging, chauffeurs me because I’m not fond of driving, works long hours to keep our accounts balanced, and tells me I’m smart and pretty like he really believes it.

So I am delighted to make a favorite dinner for him on Valentine’s Day. Appropriately enough, I can operate on the K.I.S.S. [Keep It Simple, Stupid] principal on this day of romantic silliness, because he likes things unfussy. So all he gets is a slab of tender, untrimmed Texas filet mignon, skillet seared in butter with salt and pepper (my blend of black, white, green and pink peppercorns and whole cloves) and a pinch of ground coriander, a handful of fresh-cut Romaine lettuce and some juicy tomato pieces and a few ripe strawberries, a flute of South African bubbly, and a piece of dark chocolate with toasted almond bits and crunchy salt in it. Couldn’t be easier. No recipes, no muss, no fuss, and because I made big steaks, we both have enough left over for steak and eggs in the morning.photoBecause romance is not a one-day deal, and expressing love should be the most important practice of the everyday. Bon appetit!