We Imagine Ourselves Great

Digital illo from a photo: MonumentHow did We Get Here?

In our dreams, we were hip-deep in cotton picked by willing, happy, high-paid underlings and we smiled with satisfied benevolence

We were standing in the shade of magnolias and wearing our widest-brimmed Sunday hats and crisp seersucker and poplin even on Tuesday

We nibbled tiny toast points dabbed with pimiento cheese while a string quartet hummed like honeybees up at the portico

We fanned ourselves to keep cool as the sun sank, listening to mourning-doves serenade the arrival of the winking fireflies

We drank our bourbon out of snifters, neat, and never got more than a little bit hazy, what with having well padded ourselves with roast pheasant over a very long suppertime

We spoke in soft, lilting tones and said kind words to our mothers and children just because that’s how it was done

In our hearts, we were the pathfinders, the athletes who carved a road of freedom and justice across the plains to make new territories ring with accomplishment

We stood tall in the evergreens and set down mighty roots of dedication in lines running from the lakes to the mountaintops

We shipped on the seas and shouted joy with the birds of the air, and of an evening we were wont to watch the stars for signs of adventure yet ahead

We called ourselves hardy stock for braving the cold and wrapped our red-cheeked children in woolen blankets after a day spent in the bracing light of education

We wrestled with bears for the salmon that we ate, but then sat down to dine on it with all the gentility of our many foreign forefathers

We called our politics piety and our egalitarian philosophies a revelation even if everyone who didn’t qualify might not agree

And here we are today, being All-American but half-savage…

We live in the same states of grace but relish our superiority with self-congratulatory rudeness that would shame our imagined selves

We sneer at gentility as outmoded and write polemical pieces about each other with no sense of irony left in the spaces between the hard-edged words

We forget the flaws that taught us our cultured best’s fragility and instead of learning from the mistakes, we widen them as far as our waistbands and pockets can stretch

We turn a critical eye on the wounded world and manage to keep it keen despite the moral blind-spot toward our contributory, if not our sometimes causal, role

We are a nation of would-be saints dressed in brutes’ clothing…but perhaps in that, we may not be entirely alone…

If there is hope, it’s that we’ve gotten here at all, for surely those in our hearts and dreams must have been real somewhere to seem so tangible in imagination

We might still embrace the justice and benevolence we thought we had, if we are willing to strip away delusions of grandeur and the lust for power

We could take a moment, while nibbling our toast points and standing conqueror on our latest promontories of success, to offer a meal to the hungry and a foothold to the poor

We ought to care less about self-image, and more about wholeness and devotion to the betterment of those people and privileges we say we love so well

We are capable, if we watch the exemplars before and around us whose courage and kindness walk arm in arm instead of standing on opposing distant shores

We may yet become the greats that we imagine we should be, if only we stop pretending we are so and humbly take to walking toward it on the faint horizon instead…

Snowflakes & Shadows

photoEvery one of us is said to be, like a snowflake, incomparable and magically, perfectly unique. The parade we saw this summer passing below our balcony was a dazzling reminder of this truth: hundreds of marchers, players, riders, movers, shakers and dancers were in the four-hour parade that wound through the city streets, and hundreds of thousands lined the route, and even the groups dressed in matching costumes or uniforms were groups of wonderfully individual characters.photo montageOur privileged hotel perch, though, highlighted the even greater beauty of the masses. The acute angle of the early sun gave sharp and shapely shadows to everyone in the crowd, and every single one of those shadows was the same color–grey. The shadows, like the people, were of an infinitely varied range in shape and movement and each attached only to him who cast it, but every shadow darkened the area near its maker in just the same way as everybody else’s. We may be unlike each other in nearly endless ways, but in some ways we are still all truly alike. It was lovely to see our differences and our commonalities literally on parade.digital artwork from a photo

My Relationships are an Open Book

photoA recent Wall Street Journal article about couples finding the re-jiggering of their relationships around retirement quite complex amused me a bit. The general theme of the article was that most modern retirees, those from in-home jobs and those from outside employment, come from a world where they have established fairly separate-but-equal lives and find it a challenge to spend so much more time directly with each other, doing things together. I’m so happy that my partner and I are not like most. In my book, there’s no need to be that different in retirement if you’re secure in your pre-retirement life. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that we won’t face nearly the same sorts of questions or find many of them nearly so daunting as this newspaper item intimates they could be. Despite a hectic daily life, we apparently live together like retirees already in some ways. After all, modern retirees are among the busiest, most active class of people I know.

There are a number of reasons I don’t worry about our transition. Working as we both have in art-related fields (and both of us in academia and elsewhere), where schedules and projects and income and venues and so much more have always been in flux, means that we’ve both dealt with fallow times, whether job-induced or voluntary, wherein we were responsible for directing ourselves and choosing what to pursue next and when. That means each of us has taken the lead occasionally in having the more fixed schedule, project, income or venue and left the other either more freedom or more angst about how to fill the void for the moment. We are both artists, yes, but of slightly different sorts (his the musical kind and mine the more visual/verbal); these don’t compete or conflict with each other, so no ego is at stake should either of us be hung up on that kind of thing, but rather our artistic views are complementary; both draw on similar resources of effort, inspiration, creativity and skill, so we can speak the same language even when the details differ widely. As it is, our core life-values are pretty similar, so we don’t have much reason to go far afield for purposeful or enjoyable conversation. We have a whole library of possibilities from which to choose.photoWe have, in fact, worked side by side. Not only did our relationship start when we taught in next-door buildings at university, but I was already good friends with and had even collaborated with some of his colleagues on combined recital/art show projects, a sort of classical-based performance art, perhaps. As members of the same faculty, my future partner and I ended up at plenty of the same meetings and events over time, while both still having our own tracks of need and interest. Since our pairing, I have had the privilege of collaborating with him artistically as well, and his music provides a great deal of the soundtrack, live and recorded, of my life, working or otherwise, while he lives at home and work surrounded by my art and reads my writing. We are lucky in simply relishing time together, whether to Do Things or do nothing at all in companionable silence.

But we are neither conjoined twins in tastes and wants and needs nor dependent on each other for a primary sense of identity. He inhales reads books as quickly and easily as though it were breathing, and I labor through them; his reading ranges from professional interests to serial mysteries and thrillers and more, and mine, when my dyslexia forbids the time and attention required for favorites like SJ Perelman with his dazzling wordplay, or Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies, is devoted more to blog articles and short-form works; I read and write fairly constantly, but it’s a slow-moving river indeed. My Foodie Tuesday posts here will tell you that our preferences in dining also differ widely, if not wildly. Sometimes it’s tricky finding a meal at home that will satisfy both of us equally, given the limitations of our common subset. As for movies, he’d happily be in a theatre watching the latest offerings on the big screen, but he opts to stay home with me where I’m not troubled by the overwhelming noise and the overpowering intensity of on-screen action that were intolerable to me in my anxiety-ridden days and remain somewhat unappealing even now. He still watches a lot of stuff that I have no interest in watching or even hearing, but then I’ve learned that an evening in front of our own big screen makes a great time for me to install a good pair of earplugs, rev up my trusty pencil to draw or my computer to work on blogging, photo editing, magazine proofreading and correspondence. I still get to spend time in his company and swap intermittent witticisms with my favorite companion, and we both get to do what’s more appealing to each of us.

I realized long ago that I have a different attitude about relationships in general than many others, and I know that my attitude differs greatly from my own when I was younger as well. Now that I have a number of years of marriage under my belt (no comments from the cheap seats about ‘love handles’!) I am even more baffled by the people who harp on about what constant hard work relationships and marriages are and how difficult it is to keep them operational. Seems to me that if they’re consistently hard work, they’re not really relationships other than perhaps in the form of a slave/master sort. If it’s really high maintenance, it’s a job, not a relationship. Any that are one-sided because of abuse or complete conformity or any other sort of enforced imbalance cease to be viable or valid in my eyes. Only when both parties have something to contribute that is genuinely respected and appreciated by the other does it seem purposeful and potentially joyful, and if neither of those aspects is in the equation for any length of time at all, it is based on something far different from a relationship in my book.

At the same time, if we thought in perfect synchrony and had no differences of opinion or thought or preferences, it seems to me there would be no point in the relationship either. It would be pretty much the equivalent of marrying oneself, and idea that is both ridiculous and more than a little creepy. Narcissism is inherently the inverse of relationship-ready.

Apropos of this: both my husband and I had spent a fair amount of our adult lives single (he, divorced and I, unmarried) when we first dated, and both of us were fairly certain that we would remain single for the rest of our lives–and most importantly, both of us were okay with that idea. We were whole, functioning, socially active, happy individuals with full lives and immersed in relationships with great companions of all sorts. We think it’s part of what made us ready to slide into a life partner, love relationship with very little adjustment at all. Our cosmic crash into each other was instead a landing beautifully cushioned and protected by the remarkable net of many of those other relationships of ours, almost as much as by our personal contentment, mutual attraction and shared interests. Seems to me entirely noteworthy that a strong and happy relationship was founded on and remains supported by a network of other relationships.

This, too, is significant in protecting us from the dangers of too much intermingling of lives in retirement. We already share a lot of time together that we really love. And we already share so many great friends and loved ones that it’s far from essential that all of the newly acquired ones be mutual. He knows and enjoys the company and support and good humor of plenty of friends and colleagues, many of whom I know only as names or email-senders or office acquaintances or voices on the phone, and I have my own contingent of blog friends, expedition companions, collaborators and mentors as well. If every part of life were spent together, what would we have to talk about at the end of the day?

There are so many aspects of our marriage that make it pretty easy for me to avoid worry about what-ifs when retirement comes, I almost feel guilty. But not! I appreciate that we like to do things together as often as we can, daily, hourly, and that we have a life that allows us to take advantage of it. When we worked in side-by-side buildings in years past, it meant we could meet for lunch or stop by each other’s offices or for any number of other excuses quite conveniently; now, when I’m homemaking and blogging, I have the flexibility of schedule to take the shuttle over to the campus where he now works and grab a quick supper somewhere nearby with him before a tightly scheduled evening recital or concert, or sit in on a rehearsal of one of his choirs, or tidy up his files before sitting down to write and draw while he studies a score for the next choral-orchestral extravaganza. If I’m able to get a job again, I’d like to make sure that it still allows space for our interaction, however different that will be, because we really do value time spent together, however it’s spent.

If that makes ours a little unlike the average relationship approaching retirement age, I’m just sorry for all of those out there making up the bulk of the average, let alone any who remain under the mark for any reason. I’d much rather be novel in this respect.photo

Equilibrium

photo montageOne of the things I enjoy most as an artist–as those of you who frequent this joint know–is playing with all of the commonalities I find in the visual world. I am very much an analogous thinker; what I see is tested, examined, recognized and theorized on the basis of what it reminds me of at first glance. I suppose it’s the virtual equivalent of judging a book by its cover, but what it allows me when I’m thinking in strictly visual terms is the opportunity to fiddle with the ideas of what I imagine to be the links between one subject and another and as patterns emerge from it, use that for creative fodder, learn something about these pet subjects of mine, build images based on them, and in turn, learn something about myself along the way if I make even a little effort.

It’s very easy to become a collector. We all have our idiosyncratic passions and interests, to the degree that when we’re not actively gathering objects and concrete stuff that reflects them we are still busy building our internal storage of ideas and images related to them, and we end up with personalities shaped by, and like, them. People associate us with our sets of tastes and ways of thinking. Me, I am addicted to patterns and repetition and all of those other characteristics that seem to me to express the wholeness of the world. I like the unique iterations that make each part of the larger network have its own personality or meaning yet remain subservient in one way or another to the more visible and outspoken qualities that are held in common.

I strongly suspect that this simply showcases my longing for a wider world wherein the beauty of each individual is respected and nurtured yet the things we know we have in common are celebrated above all else because we treasure our place in a bigger picture. That’s a work of art that we shouldn’t have to take art classes to appreciate.

Strange Birds & Iconoclasts

Nothing particularly wrong with being a strange bird.

Strangeness may be my only truly notable characteristic. I may not be particularly memorable to most people, what with being a mere mortal and all. Superpowers, I’ve none. Standout knowledge or skill or charisma? Nope. But being just a teensy bit weird, yeah, I’m all over that.

So I like to make art sometimes that is as pointlessly silly and eccentrically absurd as I am. I just feel I’m in a larger company of fringe characters than ever. And that, after all, is very probably exactly where I belong. I kind of like it on my perch. From here, the view is quite quirky and therefore strangely appealing. Come on over if and when you like, all you other odd birds out there.

digital illustrationRoom for Everyone

My friends, you are welcome to sit in my house,

admiring my other friends, family, spouse,

each one of us charming, delightful and sweet

as any convention of people you’ll meet,

as brainy and clever and heartwarming, too,

as anyone can be, and that includes you;

come in and enjoy the great company,

come in and be welcome, as welcome can be,

but please keep in mind, while you lounge in this spot:

compatible, yes, but the same we are not!digital illustration