Friday, June 20, 2008

lives not ordinary

I have always been drawn to eccentric and interesting people. When I was a child, there were many of them who came into our lives and we were encouraged to seek out and value these encounters. One of my favorites was Billy McWayne.  Billy was a heroin addict who met my dad in the emergency room one night. He was a handsome, soft-spoken Southern  man in his thirties with impeccable manners, articulate and polite. He stayed with us for awhile, to the consternation of community members who knew his history and doubted my parents' judgement in allowing a dope fiend around their children.  He certainly was about the farthest thing from a fiend that I ever had met, and we were sad when he left.  Billy never did stay clean and wound up on a chain gang somewhere, but for awhile, he was part of my life, and my world got bigger as a result of knowing him. Another favorite was Jimmy Daggitt. He also had a rich dad and a substance abuse problem-his was booze. He had a cute little house by the beach that was loaded with antiques, including a cool old ladderback chair which he fitted over his toilet, hinging the seat. The towel bar was a huge old sword in a sheath. There was baby grand and I swear it was painted gold. He had a jeep, and he always kept Koolaid in the fridge for us kids. He had wavy hair and a big nose and I thought he was so handsome. Jimmy eventually went to law school and practiced in DC, where he overdosed on some combination of drugs and alcohol and was found, legs twisted under him, unconcious several days later; it is a miracle that he survived. He suffered physical and cognitive damage and walked with a cane and an even more eccentric point of view from then on. Very gay and sort of Truman Capotesque, he has faded from my life, but I did get to see him at my brother's wedding, where we shared memories and his stash of Xanax. 
I am blessed with some pretty colorful friends now, people who have never shied away from putting themselves out there, stepping into life with both feet and making some noise. I am learning every day from them to have the courage to be who I really am.  One of them seems to be running at a higher voltage than usual, leading her loved ones to wonder if a little lithium might be in order. Being less than practical and very artistic, she takes risks, makes dramatic moves, lives outside the box and walks on edges that would make many of us a little woozy.   And my response, to my dismay, is only too often one of thinly veiled disapproval and an urge to "help" and advise. As if. 
It is a spiritual axiom that those things that hook and irritate us about others are the very things that we reject in ourselves.  Maybe this is why cultivating compassion and understanding in relationships is so hard; we have to do it for ourselves first, and that critical voice that lives in our heads gets loudest when directed inward.
So, a poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay for my impractical, dramatic, beautiful, wild friends (I include myself among them):

My candle burns at both ends
it will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
It gives a lovely light.

If you are reading this, dahling, you know who you are. 
sleep well, if sleeping is on the agenda tonight.
I loved your assortment of weapons last night:)

Monday, June 16, 2008


Friday night was the Relay for Life event at the WOHS track. Cancer survivors were invited to walk a lap together, wearing our colorful teeshirts inscribed witht he words, "Remember", "Celebrate", and "Fight Back" on the front, and "SURVIVOR" on the back.  My friend Kathy and I found the sign-up tent and I got my shirt, then looked around and took in the scene- a sea of shirts like mine, survivors everywhere: a toddler, an elderly man in a wheel chair, a beautiful woman with just the tiniest bit of hair..
Many of you know that my dad is a retired Oncologist as well as a cancer survivor himself, and he came to my heart as I walked with Kathy. I worked for him over summer college breaks and got to witness him with patients. One woman I remember had breast cancer-she looked like someone's second grade teacher. A year later she came back on crutches-it had gone to her hips, and she had consulted a faith healer before finally returning for more radiation. Who could blame the woman for wanting to avoid that. Many other stories live in my mind from the dinner table, my father telling us about these people. Memoirs around the house, gifts from grateful patients. My dad's weary eyes as he told the stories.
I talked to him on Father's Day. I told him  that I wondered if I deserved to walk that lap with the likes of Emma, my friend Barb's mother in law, who endured chemo and surgery three years ago when diagnosed with breast cancer.  The neat and tidy ennucleation of one eye seems to pale in comparison.  I don't know that i "fought" cancer. I basically had it removed.  
My dad called cancer " a perverse lottery".  You just get it, and it doesn't really give a damn who you are.  
Our West Ottawa team, headed up by the amazing teacher, musician and dad, Jeff Gaul, raised over 14K. Maybe this is how I fight back-by following his example, doing something good that allows me to forget about my damned self for a little while.
Thanks to all who do that each day so that I can walk with Emma and enjoy another sunset.

Benny and the Tiger Game

My ex Mark has an eight year old named Benny. When he was born,on the day after Annie's high school graduation, the kids and I were still reeling from the divorce and splitting up of the old family, and the thought of this new life somehow fitting in to our old ones was a hard one, to say the least. Jon and Annie would now have a half-brother, and who the hell knew what he would be to me? I could see what a child of Mark's with no Claudia involved might look like, maybe, but really, who would this little person be?
Mark introduced me to Benny when he was a baby, and he as an angelic little creature.  Over the years, I have gotten to know him better.  After my surgery, Benny and Mark came over, and he brought me a book about the Detroit Tigers, inscribed carefully in beautiful first grade printing: : "Dear Mrs. Art, I know you like the Tigers, so I got this book for you. Love, Benny." We decided then and there that we would go to a Tigers game this summer, and we did just that yesterday, on Father's Day, 3 days after Benny turned 8. 
He was in full Tiger regalia, sporting a cool two-toned Tiger hat and a Pudge Rodriguez jersey. He kept saying, "I can't believe I am in Detroit!" When you are eight, Detroit is still a cool place, and seeing it through his eyes, I had to agree. An old church became a castle through Benny's eyes, and Ford Field looked a whole lot bigger. And then, of course, there it was-Comerica Park, with huge lions poised for attack and a giant screen proclaiming, "HOme of the Tigers! " Enough to make anyone's heart pick up a little, I think.
Even the rain delay was fun.  We ate, we cheered, we watched some great baseball (back-to-back homers by Guillen and Thames! The Dodgers' rally in the ninth!) and drove home playing the alphabet game and a few that Benny made up as well. I looked over at Mark, navigating through the crowds, and remembered so many car trips with the kids in the back, playing those same games and enjoying a beautiful day. We held hands for awhile, and it felt just fine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Be Still

from Thomas Merton:

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall
Be silent, they try
To speak your

To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you?

These iris and many more belong to my neighbor on Lakeshore Drive. They are a highlight of my walks with Bella. I have three blooming myself, along with my lilac bush, which is groaning under the weight of all the blossoms. They are the color of pale lavender silk.
Suddenly the air is friendly and caressing, the daylight seems to last forever and the color is everywhere. In Michigan, spring is a miracle!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

after the storm

Good morning, friends,
If you live nearby you weathered an incredible storm last night-awesome in its power. Phone lines are buzzing this morning with stories from benign to tragic of its consequences. The sheer volume of water coming down from the sky was hard to wrap your mind around. And, it raged well into the night.
The storm left its mark in many ways on the beach.  The waterline showed evidence that the waves traveled farther than halfway up Riley beach, and dragged sand to the shoreline, forming a little dune. Everywhere, the rushing water carved rivulets into the sand, re-enacting the making of the Grand Canyon on a small scale and creating crevices  delicate and precarious.  Fractal patterns were everywhere along the sand. Debris had been lifted, carried and dropped along my path, most organic but also, the remnants of beachgoers mixed in-a stray sandal, plastic components of something or other, charred wood from campfires.  
The wind was refreshing and clean. The sky as peaceful as it was turbulent the night before. 
The beach once again has been made new, baptized by the rain and the magificent dance, the raging minuet of the water, in and out, to and fro.
I walked in tandem with the footsteps of a child for awhile and wished that I could see around me with his eyes, free of thought and preoccupations. As happens so often, I thought of all of the people I have loved who have walked this beach with me, both in person and in spirit. Again I saw the two certainties of life-that it will change, and that it is eternal.

I have a good friend who is having a storm of her own this weekend. This morning's call sounded like it is dying down and the sun is peeking through. 

words for today:

Friday, June 6, 2008

school's out

School is out as of noon today and me without a camera! I wish I could have shared some images with you of my fifth graders at their Aloha breakfast-they were just beaming with joy and promise and although I will miss them all I am happy to send them forward from their Waukazoo nest to the bigger world of middle school. We teachers waved good bye from the hill and I brought home another rose bush from the Marsman family--this one is coral pink, a fitting color to represent their youngest and most colorful child, Kristin.  Three other Marsman bushes grace my garden and the blooms are almost as beautiful as the girls (Kaitlin, Kelly and Kara).  
One of my favorite things is finding a piece of artwork like the one above on my desk.  Perhaps this helps to explain my relentless optimism-kids having a way of making your world much brighter. I have a friend who is retiring next year, and when I asked her why, she said, "you know, Claude, being an accountant for such-and-such company isn't quite as rewarding as teaching art to children." thanks for the slap upside the head, Jean...:)
My heart has been so full today that I am now sitting here listening to the wind blow and feeling the peace that has alluded me all week. The transition was aided by a call from my darling Vanessa, who had her last day yesterday. Only teachers know how it feels. 

I have a poem for you from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda that speaks to this idea of stillness after such busyness:

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the
let's not speak in any language
let's stop for a sceond,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together in a sudden strangeness...

sending peace vibes out and feeling them coming back...

another passage

I sit here in my wonderful old leather chair with Bella sleeping soundly on my lap (just the tiniest sound of a snore) and the intoxicating breeze blowing the curtains as it enters the house and whispers, "summer! summer!" The birdsong, the smells. The cup of coffee in my favorite mug.  All of this and the promise of some open time ahead. Longer mornings, the beach, a nap on the couch in the middle of the day. It seems impossible to be this blessed!
Yesterday I taught yoga and papermaking to my kids. Today I say goodbye to my fifth graders at their Aloha breakfast. The teachers at Waukazoo have a fine tradition: we stand on the hill by the driveway and wave goodbye to our kids as they leave in their busses and cars. It is like a parade. There is an exquisite feeling of joy and sadness-and love. We all know that we will be together again.
A quote for you from LEGACY OF THE HEART, by Wayne Muller: 

"As we explore the practices of faith, sraddha, and equanimity, one thing becomes clear: Genuine faith is born of the ability to trust in what is most fundamentally true within ourselves.  Circumstances will change, and all manner of things pleasant and unpleasant will arise and fall away; sometimes our lives will be touched with joy, and at other times we will be given tremendous pain and sorrow.  Many times we will be afraid.  But the object of faith is not to eliminate difficult circumstances, nor is faith about trusting in a God who will rescue us from hurt, or who--if only we believe strongly enough--will make everything better.  The real question of faith is when pain and loss inevitably come our way, do we withdraw in fear that we will be destroyed, or do we deepen our trust in our innate capacity to endure them? Can we find a strong and courageous heart, a place of clarity and wholeness within ourselves in which we can place our ultimate trust, gently allowing both the fear and the pain to simply move through us?
Faith is a centering response.  The search for faith is a search for our true nature, for the spirit within, the divine strength that lives in our deepest heart...we begin to see that true safety is not the absence of danger but rather the presence of something else-the presence of a sense of faith, born in the heart and sustained by a spirit of serenity, trust, and courage. "

peace to you, friends.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

annie's home!

 What a morning for a walk on the beach.  Glorious. So good to have Annie here.