Remember This

Photo: Forgotten ThingsIf you are getting more forgetful with the years, all is not lost. It’s more about remembering the central, crucial, meaningful things than about being able to rattle off all of your codes and passwords, your second cousins’ birthdays, or the conversion tables for metric-to-imperial measurements. It doesn’t matter terribly if you can recall whether you closed the back gate when you came in, since you’ll eventually go out again. Recollections of your intent to mark a play you want to attend on your calendar because it’ll be in town in six weeks or of what you meant to buy when you got to the grocers’ might be important, but only for a short while, and only in the smaller scheme of things.

It’s much more important to remember the peculiarly exciting, if murky, odors of a busy train station where you waited to take your first solo journey of more than ten city blocks, at the tender age of thirteen or so. More useful to recall the sound your heart made in your ears when that feral and atavistic fear and longing of new love brought its strangely sweet and terrifying joy into your central nervous system for the very first time. It’s far and away more significant to remember that you ever had a single human, known to you or an utter stranger, who looked you straight in the eye and said a kind word, or who listened to you speak because it genuinely mattered what you said, regardless of how small the topic.

It’s most important of all to remember that your presence on this planet shifts the very molecules of time, space, and reality for every other living entity, and did so from the instant of your conception and will do so forever and ever after you, simply because you came into existence. You are matter, and you do matter. What positive effects you can have by merely being present here might seem infinitesimally minute to you. But for one other being, someone you didn’t even realize could be so affected, you might be that person who looked her straight in the eye and said a kind word, the object of electrifying first love, or the indirect yet needful reason a youth boards a train, solo, for the first and most memorable journey of his life.Photo: A Life's Journey

Uncertainty and Hope

Beloved, let us sit down together in the shadow of the oaks; let us take deep draughts of fresh water from the clear, swift stream. In the scorching heat of the middle of day, let us take refreshment like the dragonflies that skim the water’s edge, and be restored by the caroling of birds in the distant shade.Digital illustration from a photo: By the Cooling Stream

The days are long and our work makes wearying and seemingly infinite demands, and we know that this will not soon change. There is change of many sorts ahead, this we know too, but what it will be is yet beyond our imagining. Thus it has been, and so shall it ever be: we travel our paths, seldom knowing quite where they lead, and we labor in darkness the while. Some days, the destination is sparkling joy, and on others it is marred by sorrow and strife; at times, the mists of uncertainty part and the way ahead becomes clear, and at others it remains quite fully obscure.

Photo montage: Beloved, Let Us Sit

What I know, Beloved, is this—that no matter how hard or easeful is the road and no matter what the destination holds for us, we walk our way together, you and I. We may long for clarity and even for the strength to wait for it, but in the meantime we will take our stops for breath along the way, sitting in shade when we may and drinking deeply from the icy stream, traveling always hand in hand no matter what the journey brings.

Ridin’ the Fences

I’ve lived in Texas for five years now. Safe to say, no native of the state would remotely consider me a Texan, though. Being a true Texan, I think, is not so much a matter of hometowns and habits as it is something that exists in the ethereal zone where there is an overlap between a spiritual state and an art form.

I don’t begrudge this; I merely stand in awe of it. It’s as intense and intrinsic a form of identity, I gather, as any birthright. I also believe that regardless of where on earth you had your nativity, you either are or aren’t born to be a Texan. Some people born in the state of Texas can take it or leave it, some just need and can’t wait to leave it, period, and can’t take it at all. And as the slogan here goes, there are non-natives who swear that ‘I was born in X, but I got to Texas as fast as I could.’
Digital illustration: Ridin' the FencesKind of the way of all callings, I suppose. Some have a clear sense of destiny or vocation, and some don’t. Some adore what that purpose promises them, some are indifferent, and some will go to the ends of the earth and beyond, if necessary, to escape it as if it were Toxic Doom, Incorporated. We all have our ways of ridin’ the fences.

So if I can’t be a real-live ranch hand no matter how that suits my romantic image of what it ought to mean to be a Texan, at least I’ve found my ways to make living in Texas suit me just fine, for as long as I desire to live here or the Real Texans don’t hogtie me and ship me out of the state in a rickety hay-wagon with a busted axle.

We Wait for Change…

…when we should be agents of change. We wish for rescue when we should be out seeking ways to aid others. We huddle fearfully in the late summer, already conscious that the autumn ahead will lead inevitably to winter’s dormancy or killing frost, when what we could be doing is plotting the way to make use of the transition to position ourselves to take fuller advantage of the ripening and plenitude illustrationWe are, after all, only human. But the exemplary people of generations past have proved, and those of our own time are still showing, that as long as we exist to worry about them the ages and seasons, the events and goings-on do indeed go on, cycle and change, and that if we choose to do so—if we determine to do so and act on it—we can make the changes better and the growth so much the more meaningful and joyful. If we wait for change, it will happen, all right, but it will happen however and whenever the universe or others in it decide. Ours is the calling to engage in the world, no matter how intimidating it is, and move toward what we desire. It may seem like plowing on foot through chin-deep snow, but trusting that there’s a thaw ahead and behind it, renewal, we can stay the illustrationAt the other end of it is potential that surpasses even our fondest, wildest imaginings, if we dare to move instead of lying waiting.

It’s interesting to me that I wrote the foregoing portions of this post a few weeks ago and set it aside for this very date, not knowing that it would follow immediately on the heels of my publishing my first book, something I’ve longed to do for years but never had the nerve until now. Funny how we sometimes put things in motion without even realizing what we’ve done; it’s a saving grace of our race, I think. O happy day, when we stumble into our dreams because we kept seeking them despite all sense!

It’s a Doggone Shame If You don’t Live It Up

I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to state clearly that I do understand that a lazy and fearful person like me is unlikely to plunge into newness and adventure, no matter how alluring the topic or event. Not that you didn’t already know this about me from any number of previous confessions and revelations in a related vein. Yet while my lack of courage and spirit will undoubtedly hound me for the rest of my days, I’m happy to report that I still manage to grow and change over time, if perhaps more slowly and accidentally than others do so.graphite drawingThe ancient adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is ridiculously pessimistic, if you ask me. I’ve known plenty of senior citizens to avidly pursue and conquer all sorts of new skills and knowledge, and I’m working my way toward being a bit of a Grandma Moses myself, being ever hopeful that at least by the time I hit my eighties I might also hit my stride in whatever turns out to be my life’s calling. But beyond vocation or avocation, that tired and cynical aphorism also assumes that we can’t just continue to better ourselves once we hit a mythical age barrier. What an unpleasant and unproductive idea!digital illustrationI much prefer the concept of discovering what we are capable of learning, accomplishing and enjoying for the first time (or anew) and embracing it at whatever pace suits us. While others are busy jumping through hoops of flame and running obstacle courses and playing catch with other dogged devotees of the disc, if all I can do is learn to Sit Up and Beg, then at least I’ll get some handouts from wiser, more talented and skilled beings. Could be downright fun, and I’ll lap it right up I’m sure. It certainly beats sticking forever to the one trick I’ve known best since my youth, Rolling Over and Playing Dead.

Amazing but True

Some years ago on this very date there was a shift in the universe. It wasn’t exactly an unexpected one, in the sense that it had been foreseen for about nine months, but surely its full grandeur could not have been predicted. And not everyone on earth knew right away what a wonder had occurred, because the wild and wonderful event in question was the birth of my third sister.

digital painting from a photoWhile she was, like the others–I can’t speak for Big Sister‘s first two years except upon having studied pictures of her effortlessly spectacular adorableness before my own appearance in this plane of existence–charming, pretty and charismatic from the start, there was no way of knowing in advance just how fabulous she would prove to be. That’s the thing about siblings: they are inherently outliers to our frame of reference until their influence on our lives appears in real time. And like our two other sisters, the youngest was her own brand of greatness from the start.

What we quickly learned was that she had a uniquely clever and witty point of view and was rather fearless about besting her trio of big sisters in many a moment simply by sitting back and watching our various adventures, figuring out where we might have gone a bit astray with them, and powering on ahead when her turn came. This was perhaps most evident to the rest of us when she would check in with our parents on whether a particular action of any of ours that seemed just a little outrageous was in fact worthy of our getting in trouble over, and if not, then couldn’t she do it, too? [I am not entirely certain that she wasn’t occasionally disappointed when we weren’t in trouble for the activity in question, but that’s a topic for another day.]

And Little Sister wasn’t very old at all when some wise guy quizzed all of us girls on our life’s plans. What did we intend to be or do when we grew up? Undoubtedly he was looking for some nice, pat conventional answer like Teacher or Nurse or some superlative man’s nice little wife, but my littlest sister’s response was unhesitatingly ‘Amazing but true!’ We did not quite grasp at the time that this was indeed both a plan and a vocation, but by cracky, she turned out to have gotten it exactly right. In all of the years since, she has been and done many things, accomplished a tremendous amount, continued to be charming and beautiful and charismatic, and absolutely has embodied a life’s saga that despite being utterly Amazing is still entirely True. We can all vouch for both

She has been, in various turns, an outstanding student, a fine violinist, and an intrepid traveler; all three of my sisters studied and/or worked overseas at college age, and this youngest met and married our superlative brother-in-law while doing so and has now lived longer in Norway than she did in the US. She speaks Norwegian not just like a good student of the language or even like a person whose lineage encouraged her to hone it to refinement but like a native-born speaker, which prompted one of her nephews in his youth to proclaim her the Smartest Sister in our family. Since I happen to think each of my sisters the Smartest One as well as the Most Fabulous (and if you can’t do that kind of math, refer back to my post on Auntie Ingeborg’s science of favorites) I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. My sister has been an administrator, translator, friend, daughter, wife and mother, and much more. She has navigated the waters of an adventure-filled life with both nerve and verve and I still marvel at her excellence every day.

So, on this anniversary of that auspicious occasion whereon she first graced us with her presence, I can say as I always have and always will that her arrival completed the set of our family in ways that we could never have expected or would have dared to wish, and filled any empty spaces, even where we didn’t know they’d existed, with a rare form of love and happiness. I thank her for this gift of herself. And I wish for her many, many more years of being as Amazing as ever!photo

Daring to Live the Adventure of Life is Its Own Reward

The wonderful Eve Redwater ( gave me a generous gift on my birthday. I’m not sure it was intended specifically as a birthday present, but it was aptly timed so I’m certain there was at least some synchronicity at work in the event. See, I operate under a very contentedly delusional science system in which I, the sun, am always finding ways that the universe and all of the wild diversity in it revolve around me and conspire to do good to me and for my benefit. On the heels of Lady Eve’s kind gift, I was contemplating how to respond appropriately to receiving the Versatile Blogger Award from her and, virtually simultaneously, both got into a discussion via several posts and comments on my blog and those of several friends (thank you, CF, Smidge and Co.) about the roots and responsibilities of our creative lives and was reminded by my own birthday that my late godmother’s birthday was imminent. And yes, they are all interconnected–what a coincidence, eh?–in and through me.

It all meets at that point of origins + inspirations once again.

Getting involved in blogging was quite a milestone in my progress as an artist: the culmination of a large push I’ve been making toward steady, committed practice and broader sharing of my work, and also a starting point for working with a marvelous new community of inspiring and educated peers and mentors in the online community to expand my horizons to places I can’t yet imagine. No surprise, then, that it also begs the questions of where I started, where I am now, and where I might possibly be heading. That’s what’s on my mind a lot lately.

A significant part of the whole equation is that I have parents who raised all four of their kids to be unabashedly themselves and do their own thing. Of course, being semi-normal mortals, we all had our periods of self-doubt, frustration with finding out just what our own ‘thing’ might be, and any number of other growing-up issues. Having loved to draw and write and do any number of similar, incredibly unworldly things from very early, I was haunted fairly often–not least of all in my undergraduate days–by worry about how ridiculously impractical and selfish it seemed to study, then major in, and commit to a life’s work involved with the arts. I mean, really. Mom and Dad patiently assured me at all points that I should do what I felt called to do and be who I thought I was made to be, and I thwarted all of their efforts with equal stubborn force of hemming, hawing and hunkering fearfully behind innumerable university requirement courses before I would willingly and publicly admit to my addiction to art. [Ed: I like that when I typed ‘art’ just now, my computer offered to “correct” the word by writing “artichokes“, so it apparently recognized that I was in such denial it wanted to help me by disguising my intentions even from you, faithful readers!]photo

The upshot of all of this muddling around and foot-dragging is that I approached my junior year of college without having dared to declare a major, and I skulked around like a sneak-thief in the hallways of the art building and spent significant amounts of time maundering and mewling about the whole ordeal when I really ought to have been simply plunging in and getting soaked in all of the art I could lay my grubby little hands upon there and then.

Oh, woe is me! Boo Hoo, and all that. I thought I was supremely talented at evasion, but of course my parents had a secret weapon trained on me from the very beginning, and it was activated during these very tenuous years of my faltering development. It was a pair of super-agents they called my Godparents. My parents, it happens, besides being nifty talents in the parenting department, had the smarts and/or temerity to choose as godparents for their children some people that took the whole parental-surrogacy aspect of the job quite seriously. Mine were a couple of Mom and Dad’s closest friends from the quartet’s days together attending (you may be beginning to feel the frisson of familiarity, the sting of synchronicity, here already) the very same uni where I was now paddling around in a diminishing spiral of destiny-denial. Furthermore, my Godma, as I called her, and The Godfather, as he was known to me (for being, thankfully, the polar opposite of that fictional character), had long since taken up employment at said institution as a Business Office administrator and head of the department of Radio and Television, respectively. So I could go and see my Godma when I was paying my tuition or trying to find out where my last scholarship had wandered, or just when I needed some bucking up, because she was seriously skilled in dealing with all of those aspects of my college life. Her estimable spouse was housed in another building, across Red Square from her digs, and I had a little journey through the catacombs of the old dustbin to drop in on him, which trek I gladly undertook on certain occasions when I wanted a different flavor of encouragement from hers, or–gasp!–artistic advice.

See, with The Godfather, I could go all clandestine and it seemed right in character, so I didn’t try to pretend with him that I wasn’t heading in an art-ish direction, though which one of many directions was still quite cloudy in my crystal ball. After all, there was that James-Bondish crawl through dusty and dimly lit corridors in a faintly creaky building just to find him in his office. And of course there was the visiting, during which he would puff away on his pipe and I would pretend not to see or smell it, because Officially he had “quit smoking” and his wife “didn’t know” he still did it. Apparently he thought that her willingness to admit to relation of any sort with me proved she was non compos mentis, and I was certainly in no position to argue that, so he pretended not to smoke and I pretended not to be coming in every time to whine that I couldn’t sign up as an Art Major because that was just plain irresponsible and stupid. I would go ahead, maybe, with an English degree and get ready to teach, because at least that might lead to, oh, I don’t know, a paycheck or something like one. My godparents, bless their dear departed craziness, never once chastised me overtly for being, oh, I don’t know, irresponsible and stupid by not doing what I really felt called to do and exercising what little native wit or talent I might dig up in my education to do what I was perhaps meant to do. But somewhere along the line the gentleman with the invisible pipe neatly skirted the issue of what-to-do by saying, in effect, Never mind what you think you’re supposed to do, or even what you want, this is about who you ARE. He proceeded to clarify by telling me that it was perfectly obvious to him and to anyone else that might have spent thirty seconds or so in my company that there were certain compulsions and eccentricities that I couldn’t exactly gloss over that earmarked me plainly as an Artist.

I won’t say that I never questioned the whole thing again, but somehow Mr Wise Guy pressed the right button at the right moment so that what my parents and sisters and friends had all been eternally encouraging me to do and be suddenly was revealed as so much more dazzlingly clear and excellent than when I had been studiously ignoring them and covering my ears and singing LA-LA-LA-LA! at the top of my voice to drown them out the whole time.

This is all a mighty stretched-out way of telling you that I still believe life and all of the fine creatures surrounding me in it work pretty hard to steer me in happy directions and plunk dandy gifts in my path all the time. That many supportive people and useful events in confluence led me down the primrose path of Art; that a life lived in the midst of said art connected me to a whole lot of additional supportive folk and dropped me amid numerous other grand gifts; not least of all, that opening up the stubbornly barred gate to my own artistic playground was one of the really great gifts life has given me and I can’t imagine not living life surrounded by all sorts of ARTICHOKES! ARTICHOKES! ARTICHOKES!

Oh, you know what I mean: + text