Thursday, December 31, 2009

dec 30 early morning

I am back at my father's house. We had sunshine the whole trip down. I sleep in his wife's bedroom. She is in Miami with her daughter; she does not have snow or cold winds or an old man to take care of. Her room is full of flowers-the draperies, the chair, the painted dresser, the sheets. Dried flowers arranged in a shadow frame-her daughter's business. Pictures of her grandchildren in different sized frames. She has been my dad's wife for thirty years. Our family pictures have never blended.
Last night I dreamed of my first husband. I washed my hair in the kitchen sink this morning, using green travel-sized shampoo and conditioner. I made organic coffee in the french press that I brought from home. Dad's coffeemaker is an old white drip-pot of an obscure brand, and he buys his coffee from Dollar General.
This is my third trip here in a month. The route is straight through Indiana, down route 41. There are old houses, weather-beaten barns, occasional farm animals and worn signs. We pass through several little towns. The skies are usually beautiful. I stop at Subway and get gas at the Pilot station. At my dad's corner, there is a machine rental place, and huge backhoes are lined up along the highway. They always look like brontosaurus heads to me, necks extended.
I read in Dad's chair until I hear sounds. First, the water in his bathroom. Then, the thumping of his scooting down the stairs, one step at a time, on his bottom. It has only been ten days since he fell down those stairs. There is still blood in the carpet; I make a note call the guy to finish the job. He comes around the corner and smiles. He is wearing his Christmas sweater. I want to cry but smile back.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


what is the residue of the past six weeks or so? this is the question that floats through my head this morning...residue, like what you see in the bottom of the coffee cup from a good cup of french press that you maybe ground a little too much or let sit a little too long. Or the residue at the bottom of the water containers my students use when painting-deep syrups of purple and brown.
Birthday residue: two cards propped on the kitchen counter and a shipping box in the recycling bin. Residue of Annie's last visit: wrinkles her bedspread, a necklace from Chicago waiting to be worn. The residue of a busy schedule: shoes and bookbags piling up by the door, dust gathering in the studio, no posts on the blog, no pictures in the camera. Thin ice when you need to create in order to breathe. Thin ice for all of us.
Teaching is hard, and the hardest part for me is to do it from my truest heart. If I don't, I feel dried out, hardened, grey, as we all do when we are merely going through the motions of life and not entering in to the beautiful, complex murkiness of the moment. Of course, there are children who don't accept my invitation to walk down that path, and my sadness in the face of this is palpable. I try not to take it personally. There are others with whom I experience the kind of creative communion that fleshes out my heart and brings the color back to my cheeks. After all, what greater gift can we give one another than the sharing of the things that are truly alive for us-things with a heartbeat, things that warm us and say to us, "yes, that is it! exactly the right red! the right word!"
I am teaching four students this semester who are going to teach kids, and each Wednesday night, I pull some treasures out of my box and share them-tentatively, sometimes, because sharing my heart is so scary, but other times, with such a sense of urgency that I trip over myself. I want them to see the things that warm my heart. I want them to find what will warm theirs and to share with children their stories through their work. It is a holy gift.
The residue of last night's class is curled into the corner of my heart, still sleeping. When we got to our cars at the end, we saw the beauty of the leaf shadow on the car. A shadow we may not have seen had our hearts not been together, encouraging each other to look.

Friday, August 21, 2009


i've had the urge to write for two weeks and haven't done it because I have been either working or staring at a TV or sleeping. Apparently, all of these things seem to be easier than writing, making art, doing yoga, meditating, going for a run...all things that I wish I could have listed as reasons why I have not updated my blog recently.
I want to tell you that going to New Orleans was a beautiful thing. Jon starts back at Tulane on Monday to finish Masters in architecture and together we searched for housing, lazily smoked in the shade, watched the sun go down at the fly, ate incredible food and tried to avoid moving too fast--just too hot for the type of frenetic movements characteristic of us Michiganders. We bought hats at Meyer the Hatter, the oldest habedashery in the South. We met some unforgettable people, including a guy named Johnny Angel, who was one of the people who had a room to rent. He was probably in his 40's somewhere, and had a huge, jet-black pompadour ala Elvis. His kitchen was fabulous, full of retro kitsch like Aunt Jemima images and cool old wallpaper. We went to the Columns Hotel and had drinks under huge tropical plants sitting on old wrought-iron furniture. We drove all over the city, up St. Charles, under the huge live oaks; up and down Tchoupitoulas, past four-star restaurants and galleries on one end and old, beat-up shotguns on the other. We walked, or rather hiked, up the old sidewalks, so uprooted by age, tree roots, (Katrina?), and diversity of materials that failure to pay heed could quickly result in a bad wipe-out.
Jon found a tiny little house in the back yard of a woman named Hannah, a woman with three kids who will need some help around the house and with babysitting that Jon can trade for a cut in rent. When we walked into the happy orange kitchen, we both knew that this would be the place. It is five minutes from the Tulane campus, the grocery and the gym. I left feeling that he was going to be ok.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Taos, New Mexico

Taos energy is like no other I have experienced. It is a town mostly composed of artists, spiritual seekers, odd ducks and visionaries. the red adobe walls glow in the late sun and provide a perfect backdrop for the many mountain flowers that grow everywhere. Here, you see purple sage; there, a collection of red pots; up the road, an old gate that has creeked back and forth for generations.
Today I am helping my friend Ginto Naujokas, a Taos potter, load an outdoor, woodfire kiln. I am documenting all of this for my students. I have told Ginto that his face will grace a bulletin board this fall: "GINTO THE POTTER."
There is so much I have to tell you and I am busily writing notes and taking pictures. It is hard to properly express beauty and life like this. Until then, have a beautiful day wherever your life is taking you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"wild geese" by mary oliver

took off on a road trip this morning, and will be checking in with you via this blog along the way. this poem by mary oliver captures so much for me tonight:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

© Mary Oliver.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

sacred spaces

I just got back from a long visit with my dad. This picture was taken in New Harmony, before he, Deborah and I went out to dinner and a play there. We stopped at this memorial garden and wandered around first, admiring the way the tree branches seemed to join together to form a rooftop over this quiet, sacred space. It was hotter than hell, as it had been all week, in the 90's, but it felt comfortable here, and it was a feast for the senses. A fountain gave us the gift of the sound of softly falling water; the hostas burst forth lusciously; little benches with feminine curves invited us to sit.
I turned around, camera in hand, and saw my dad standing there, with is arms crossed, standing straight and tall and handsome, and took this picture. In it, I see his essence shining through. I thought, this is him, the eternal him. I see the same man I looked up at when dancing with him, my feet on his, when I was little. The invincible one. The next day I photographed many views of his basement, where he has multiple working spaces where he works on his trains and practices his trumpet. Again, I was struck by it: there he was, the same man. It could be that the spaces in which we do the work we were intended to do, the work that makes our hearts sing with gratitude, show at least as much about us as our faces do, especially when we get older, and we weat time as well as passion on them.

things i don't remember

o I don’t remember most of my kindergarten through fourth grade years. I am particularly blank on kinder and first grades beyond a few brief flashes of images…. kinder rugs and naptime and saying something stupid to the teacher and having her look at me with one of those disgusted looks I dreaded. First grade, cleaning out the fishbowl-come to think of it, why the hell did they make that a job for a first grader? -And dumping the damned fish down the drain in the process. I have no idea who my first grade teacher was. I have no idea who my second grade teacher was. I also don’t remember what the classrooms looked like. I remember the hallway because I was there for six years. I also remember the playground.

o I don’t’ remember what my first three houses looked like. The first one is understandable; after all, I was barely past infancy when we left it. But Forrest Avenue=the stairway, the front porch, the rhubarb plants in the back yard, the alley.
o Lewis Avenue-long curtains that were shiny and I thought quite ugly. The bedrooms are a blank. I probably shared them both with my little sister but I don’t remember.

o I don’t remember what my mother smelled like, or what her voice sounded like. The home movies I have of her do not have sound. Her voice is on a demo record for Kego the Eskimo, a story my dad was trying to sell that included a song. My mom played the voice of Mrs. Santa. I haven’t heard it since the kids were little and we played it for them during a visit to Grampy’s house.

o I don’t remember what I saw in Dave Treul. I remember a great deal about what happened during the two –plus years that we were together-places gone, events attended, snippets from particularly hideous fights, but not what I actually saw in him. I don’t’ remember actually loving him.

o I don’t remember most of the days between listing the farmhouse and actually moving out of it and I certainly and maybe thankfully don’t remember moving day. I am sure that it was hell, but mercifully, I don’t have much in my file on that one.

o I don’t remember what Annie Lane looked like, except that I remember thinking that she looked a lot like Jon, which was a relief, because someone at the hospital, I don’t remember who, told me that she heard that there was a facial deformity. I am glad that I saw for myself that it was not true. I wish I had a picture of my tiny daughter who never drew breath in this world.

o I don’t remember how bad it felt when I was at my worst, those many dark days and nights when demons flew through my head and I was unable to find solace, to rest, to feel safely held.

o I don’t remember being drunk feels like, or being stoned-but especially drunk. I haven’t had an experience that mimics drunkenness that would even be reminiscent, a time when I could say, “ wow, I feel drunk.” I have twice had anesthesia during my seventeen years of sobriety, and both times, I was just OUT, that fast. When I was on heavy pain meds after the enucleation surgery, I just felt sleepy.

o I don’t remember what hamburgers taste like, or chicken or steak, or bacon—you get the idea. I haven’t eaten meat for almost as long as I haven’t had a drink. I don’t miss meat. I don’t like the smell of it. I imagine the molecules traveling through the air, microscopic meat specks, and I don’t want them to get in my nose.

o I don’t remember what PMS feels like. How great is that.

o I don’t remember what is in all of those boxes down under the basement stairs and taking up space on the shelf in the garage. I filled them up before I moved here and I don’t know what I put in them. I have considered just having them all hauled away without opening them.

o I don’t remember what it is like to live without cell phones, cable TV, and computers. In fact, it is fascinating to me to sit and think about that. Hell, I hardly remember what it was like to be chained to a phone or computer by chords.everything is wireless now, and I talk on the phone in the car and pay my bills laying in bed with my laptop propped on my knees.

o I don’t remember to take my vitamins and other pills on a regular basis.

o I don’t remember how to do most math calculations. It has been too long and, as I suspected, I never did have to use any of them in real life, as my lying teachers contended.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Geographic Cure

At AA meetings, you will frequently hear about this concept of moving somewhere else to make a fresh start, get away from the old grind, see things from a new perspective. We call it the Geographic Cure. We call it that because it sounds like just the ticket for a lot of what might ail you about where you live.  If you are still out there drinking, you might be thinking of escaping from  a variety of stinky relationships, obligations, and messes created while under the influence or trying to get under it somehow.  We alcoholics have a way of finding every conceivable bridge that might offer a way out or up and burning it the hell down.  We go through lots of friends, lovers, jobs, rental agreements, cars, library cards, volunteer commitments, gym get the idea.  So, moving sounds incredibly seductive and we do it a lot, only to find, to our horror, that wherever we go, there we are (to paraphrase another AA ditty).  
If we aren't drunks or addicts, we still may have reason to want to make that leap into a new life.  This seems to be the case with we boomers, as we contemplate the possibility of retirement, or just the possibility that we could die before we get the chance to live in the mountains or go to Bangladesh for a stint in the Peace Corps.  We have a sort of renaissance of the same cravings for adventure, novelty and challenge that we had when we were starting out, except that we have some money in the bank, a longer and more impressive resume, and maybe a slightly more mature perspective.   

For the past few years I have toyed with the idea of moving to Colorado or New Mexico. I love it out there, have friends and family strategically placed and once again am wondering how in the hell I will survive another winter in the Land of Grey that is Holland at that time of year.
This year, I looked into it a little deeper, talking to my financial guy, Ron, ever patient, practical and steady, and to some friends, and to my kids.  What I found happening was that I began to create a sort of dichotomy or polarity between here and there in which I was able to create an ever-longer list of pros for there and cons for here. Some of them were no brainers: Denver gets 300 days of sunshine a year, there are cool people out there and I can live out all of my hippie fantasies in close proximity to Boulder.  Others, a little more subtle: I have been doing the same thing for a long time here. That is the good news and the bad news of it all. That is the trap and the allure.  Could I do it? Could I pick up and leave, sell it all, take off in my little car with my little dog and just go? Find a funky little apartment out there somewhere and simplify my life?  Make a new start? Escape the sameness and the routine of my life here?

Of course, I am a drunk, and this could smack a little of the GC, though of course daydreaming about the possibilties in life is what keeps us interested and moving ahead.  It could be quite the adventure to move away. The only trouble is, I can't figure out how to do it without taking me along.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the things that are bugging me about my life have little to do with where I live and everything to do with my reticence to do the work I need to do to make it better. The grand gesture always sounds better to me than the daily work of making a life and making it worth living.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Last Day of School

If  you are in the proximity of a school child today,
you cannot help but know that school is either out or should be, depending on which school you are talking about.  And, it you are in the proximity of a school teacher, you probably are making an effort not to be today: we glow on the first day off, and it can be a little annoying to the rest of the world, for whom Monday will be business as usual. We are alive with the possibilities of summer and all it may hold. We may have a fat check in our hands that we vow we will not piss away by the end of July, leaving us penniless and counting the days to the first paycheck in September.) We may be feeling some sadness, saying goodbye to certain kids who burrowed into our hearts especially deep.  We may be pushing aside the nagging reminder that our rooms need to be packed up and report cards marked.  We may, as I am, be slightly nauseous from a last-week diet that was a little too carb-rich and veggie-light.  (In the teacher's lounge on Thursday: two  boxes of donuts, a box of bagels and cream cheese, a huge sheet cake from a family saying, "Thanks Waukazoo Family", that was out of this world, a crock pot of overcooked veggie chili (my contribution) and lime-flavored tortilla chips.)  
But, understand this: we are glowing anyway, as we throw out the produce in the fridge that we bought with good intentions, as we clean out boxes of end of the year gifts, the best ones hand-made, and re-read heartfelt letters smudged and misspelled so endearingly ("Thank you for making me hapy. Love, Thomas"), as we clear off the kitchen table and throw in the laundry and go to Lowe's to get serious about the lawn.
Yesterday was a half-day, and as always there was so much to do. There is a sense for me on that day that I need to be ready for anything, and of course I never am ready for what actually happens.  I did pretty well in passing back gobs of artwork (cursing myself for procrastinating), 
saying goodbye to kids, getting started on room clean-up, chatting with friends (and fitting in several cake-trips to the lounge).  Then, at about  11:00, one of my first graders named Jaden came in and asked me about his clay fish. The one he had to make a week late, because he was sick. The one that had lots of very sharp teeth and  a long remember, right, Mrs. Art?
(Fish? there is still a fish that hasn't swum home yet?) Then, I remember, and there he is, sitting on the edge of the kiln, ready to go. Jaden and I put together a tray of paints and brushes and he sets off for his classroom to paint his fish. All seems well. Phew, I think, I am glad the little guy remembered!
Then, at 11:40, twenty minutes before the final eruption of joy when the kids run out that door for summer vacation, Jaden returns with his fish. It is in three parts.  Apparently, it was on his desk, and he lifted the top. sending it flying onto the floor. The delicate jaw with its snaggly teeth has broken off, as has the sleek (really, really skinny) tail. 
Quick calculations tell me I can do this, and I plug in the glue gun and examine the pieces.  The jaw and teeth aren't too hard, but the tail is really a challenge; the hot glue leaves a thick line that doesn't allow the two pieces to fit together well, and it takes repeated tries to get it back on. (Jaden: "his tail is very thin so he can swoosh it through  the water and go very fast.")
I get it on, and then he says, oh, here is another piece-it is the tip of the tail." It is now five minutes before the bell. I am sweating and I have glue on my fingers. Nothing like  challenge in the last lap of the marathon.  I glue the tiny piece on and the whole tail falls off.
Somehow, the tail gets glued back on and Jaden hugs me and says goodbye. He walks out the door with his ferocious fish and now, only now, do I feel like school is really out.
Love and gratitude to all teachers out there. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

bad day

I usually don't write about the bad stuff, but I am going to today. It is the end of the school year, and I, like everyone else at Waukazoo school, am cramming six or seven days worth of work into every five and wondering if I will get it all done by the last day, when we all wave goodbye to the busses and collapse in a heap.  I feel this way every year, no matter how I swear that I will plan better, do fewer last minute clay projects (this totally demolishes me every year, but I do not learn), get more sleep, say yes to fewer commitments....the end of May comes, and I am right back here, feeling harried, worried, exhausted and stressed.  Don't get me wrong--there are many gifts each day that come from working hard and keeping those commitments: watching first graders painting their awesome clay fish, putting on a play with third graders which germinated one day a while back when I mentioned, "wouldn't it be fun to turn this story into a play?"), seeing smiles on kid faces enjoying creating in the art room.  So today, just to balance that all out, I guess, I find out that Sarah's second clay zebra has blown to smithereens in the kiln (so did her first one)--and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.  And this was a beautiful zebra, folks.  She worked so hard on it, and she is a great artist. I wish I could just blow myself up instead. She cried when I told her. God. I hate it. I feel like such a failure.
I also had some other negative stuff come my way, no way as severe but enough to stick in my head, and enough to make me feel like a loser.
I hate these days. I do know, however, that I won't have two like this in a row, because I never do, and somewhere inside I know that this is life and it is only my feeble ego that is whining now. Whining loudly. Telling me, who needs this job, anyway? Well, as a matter of fact, I do, and not just for the money.  I still have this idea that if I just try hard enough, all of the bad stuff will somehow vanish.  I know that this is impossible but I just keep trying.

Monday, May 25, 2009

garden stories

Judging from the crowd at Lowe's garden center this weekend, my passion for gardening is shared by a whole lot of people. I love to walk through the rows of flowers and look at the bags of mulch, the cement pavers, the wheelbarrows, the planters and all of the lawn medication designed to cure the ills caused by a long winter. Today, I bought a calla lilly plant and a foxglove to add to my front flower garden. I chose two good spots, dug holes, felt the warm dirt in my hands as I patted it around the stems, and then got out the sprinkler.  New additions for the new year. 
The first thing I learned about planting a garden is that it is an act of faith; a good garden takes years to evolve.  What you do this year probably won't flourish this year. The next thing I learned is that weeds are really a matter of opinion; some of my favorite little guys arrived unbidden by me and have stayed.   The third thing I learned is that, like every other living thing, each plant has a story to tell.
My iris, for example, began with a couple of plants that I bought on the way to my dad's house. There is a place in Renzelaar, Indiana, where you can buy just about any kind of day lilly or iris, and they have a gorgeous koi pond where you can eat your lunch. Anyway, I bought the iris because my grandmother had them in her yard, and then my dad had some of her bulbs in our family garden when I was growing up. I felt that iris were a part of my family history and so a good start for my plot. It took about three years to get one to bloom, and what a joy when they did! I have since added more iris (and day lillies) from my trips to my dad's. They will be blooming in a couple of weeks; I often greet the first one right after the last day of school.
My lilac bush is enormous and also reminds me of my grammy Freda, as do the tuberous begonias I plant every year. She loved them and had them in the bed in the front of her house in Howard City. I remember walking around the yard with her every summer and listening to her stories about those flowers.
Next to my new calla lilly is a huge bleeding heart that was a gift from an old boyfriend. When he told me its' name, he smiled sheepishly.  The only picture I have of him was taken by that plant. It grows bigger and more beautiful every year.  I have three rose bushes, each of them a gift from one of the Marsman girls, students of mine from Waukazoo.  The peonies went in after a trip to the Ann Arbor Arboritum.  The black-eyed susans are my reminder that it is almost time to go back to school. The cone flowers are probably my favorite of all; those orange spiky centers and delicate purple-pink petals are ravishing to me. The Japanese maple started as the tiniest little snippet from my dad's and is now shoulder-high.  The pansies are in honor of my mom. When I was little, it was my job to pick them so that more would bloom. I never look at a pansy without thinking of her.
Hauling the hoses around, pruning branches, weeding, digging, raking, mowing... what joyful work it all is. Days like today, with the breeze blowing, the water pump groaning as the sprinkler arches back and forth, and the hostas unfurling, seem like a long way away from those frigid days of winter. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

sunday afternoon

This morning I walked to the beach, as I so often do on Sundays, with my camera in hand,and looking forward to seeing just what yesterday's storms had wrought on the beachscape.  As always, I am guided in my picture taking by intuition, by my artist self, snapping only when certain. I can't tell you what captivates me so about certain images: delicate ivy growing up the trunk of a massive, gnarly tree trunk; evidence of other beings who were there before me, such as birds crowding around a fish carcass and picking it clean; the light on the tops of the beach grass so delicate as the filtered sun bathes them. The sounds have changed from my last visit; the waves caressing the water's edge unimpeded by ice and snow. The rhythm is ancient music that we all respond to, if we listen.
As I walked I thought once again that this place is as constant as anything I have experienced in my life.  As a child, the beach was across Lakeshore Drive, just like it is now,  but in a town south of here called St. Joseph. To get there, I walked through the neighbor's deep lot, past a vegetable garden and a grape arbor, and climbed down the rickety steps that had all of the character of fine driftwood.
My brother and I wandered down there very early one morning with our blankets and rolled up in them, pigs in blankets, and fell asleep to the wavesounds.  I found clay on the sides of the bluff and walked on it, feeling aboriginal.  I watched the boats.  My parents took us out in ours for day-long picnics, the little vessel rocking contentedly offshore, held by the anchor. I made Frank Lloyd Wright houses out of flat stones with my mother. I made sand portraits. I do this, still, and I dig my toes into the sand, and I have to stop myself from diving into those waves before the water warms. When I was little, i jumped in in March once.

Today, of course, so many new things to see, as always: my favorite image was that of delicate bird feet, so lightly impressed into the loose sand and reminding me of Japanese kanji.  This sense of timelessness and newness is the stuff of life-I look in the mirror and I see that little girl walking the beach and building houses with her mother. I see that young mother digging holes in the sand with my Annie; watching Jon, drenched with water, deliriously rolling in the hot sand. I see myself today, slowing down, seeing differently than before, seeing better in some ways, delighted by that which used to elude me.  I see an older me, if I am lucky, still finding the perfect piece of driftwood and trying not to frighten the gulls as I approach. It is the same being and I am seeing her on different days. My essence is the thread that connects us all.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maria Felix

Actress, art collector, fashionista, outsider woman.
Just had to share.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Edvard Munch

Yesterday I was able to go to the Art Institute of Chicago and see the Edvard Munch exhibit with Annie and her friend Efrat. The exhibit was powerful, with themes of melancholy, anxiety, 
love, and alienation. His prints are really amazing and very rich in their technique; his paintings, many of them, are very linear in their style, which surprised me, given the looseness of the brushstrokes  of his most famous work, The Scream.  One gets the impression that Munch was a serious sort of guy, given to some obsessiveness and more than a little gloominess.  The yellow vertical symbol for the moon on the water, seen in Summer Night, the Voice, is a recurrent theme in his work, and I think it symbolizes the melancholia that he so often expresses in his work. 
I am sure that it wasn't lost on many who attended this exhibit that his themes are just as relevant today as they were then. The other day, I had a discussion with dear friend Bobbi about medications that have been developed for the anxiety and depression that seem to be sort of running rampant among us today.  Would Munch have created these works if he had the edges softened a little by a daily dose of Prozac?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

eye stuff

Sometimes I forget that this blog began with a grim diagnosis coupled with a car crash. The eye and the car have both been replaced, with varying degrees of success. My car is pretty fabulous: a little white Toyota Rav-4 with a pug nose and sexy lines (in an athletic sort of way).  It goes pretty fast and, with my many custom-cool mirrors attached, my visibility is really good.  Weirdly, I can parallel park better than ever.
My prosthetic eye is another story. It is beautiful, that is for sure.  Michael painted it for me, following some vague directions about echoing the colors of my favorite turquoise ring. I was hell-bent on an artistic prosthetic. It is a work of art, I thought. It is but another way to express oneself, I reasoned. I can tell you that the usual responses to it are 1) wow, it sure looks real! and 2) why is it a different color?  So, in terms of aesthetics, mission accomplished, sort of.
What is lacking, to some extent, is what opthamologists refer to as "horizontal motility", or the ability of my prosthetic to move from one side to the other.  The up-and-down movement is pretty good-at least within the realm of normal eye movement.  We just don't peer WAY up or WAY down that often.  The problem comes when I am looking at you from a slightly sideways perspective. My artistic prosthetic stubbornly stares off somewhere in the distance while the real one works the way it should, giving me a rather cross-eyed appearance. 
My friends assure me that this is not noticeable with glasses on, but I am aware of it, and no more than when I am a close huddle with my little guys at school. It just looks a little weird.
Fortunately, there is a solution: the peg.  Here is what happens: the occular surgeon drills a little hole in your implant, and inserts a titanium peg in it that sticks out a little bit.  Then, the occularist, Mike in my case, makes a little dent in the back of my prosthetic, into which the little peg fits. As a result, the prosthetic eye articulates back and forth in concert with the other one, with a few adjustments here and there.
I consult with the surgeon at the end of April and we take it from there. 
A good day to read to all out there in the universe.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Annie Lane

I got pregnant again when Jon was only six months old. It was a surprise, but then again, so was Jon, so Mark and I, happy in our lives as young parents, looked forward to meeting the next little Hagar. It was an uneventful pregnancy. I knew that delivery would be by C-section, as Jon had been; that was just the accepted procedure. 

A week before the scheduled birth, I went to my obstetrician, who proclaimed all well and sent me home. The next day, I felt a heaviness through my swollen belly, and as the day went on, a quiet stillness came over it. By eight, the contractions had begun and we left for the hospital, leaving baby Jon with friends.  My joy evaporated as I watched the face of the physican who was moving his stethoscope over my contracting abdomen; he was searching in vain for a heartbeat.  Someone took my hands and lifted them over my head; still nothing.  An anesthesia mask came down over my face. "Count backward from ten," a voice instructed.  Their urgent faces told me that the baby was in trouble. I began to cry as unconsciousness overtook me. 
I woke up to see my doctor standing by my side, tears streaming down his face. He told me that our baby, a girl, had been stillborn. My husband Mark joined us. More words about autopsies and possible causes of death were uttered but of course we were beyond hearing such things.

I was placed on the surgery floor, away from the new mothers, in a private room. Later, a nurse came to give me a backrub. I remember that she was very kind and had gentle hands. As she kneaded my shoulders, she quietly suggested that I see the child I had lost. I hesitated, remembering something someone said about a facial deformity. I was afraid. She told me that in nature, mothers always inspect their young, whether living or dead. this made sense and I agreed to see her before the funeral.  My dad arrived, picking up the tabs for funeral and headstone and fighting back tears at my bedside.  He and my mom had lost two little boys in similar fashion and it brought it all back for him. 

Mark and a friend went about the business of buying a coffin and arranging for a funeral. We named her Annie Lane-Annie because it is a beautiful name, and Lane, after my mother. I found the christening dress that my mother had worn as a baby and we sent it to the funeral home for her to wear. We arranged for a private viewing.  My father, Mark and I entered the chapel and sat with her for a few minutes. She was quite beautiful, and all of these 28 years later, I wish that I had taken her picture. She looked a lot like Jon when he was tiny. 

Mark chose a plot at the Lakewood Cemetary, across from the elementary school. He told me that he wanted her to be able to the sounds of children playing. We chose a line from a Shaker song for her headstone: "Tis a Gift to be Free." Someone cleared out all of the baby items. I never found out where they went.

We buried her on March 19th, in a drizzle of cold rain.  I still remember how it felt to stand there shivering and looking at the tiny white coffin going in to the ground.  Afterwards, my friend Patti DenUyl, who was nothing if not generous, arranged for half the staff of Point West to come to my rented cottage, setting up tables loaded with a huge buffet dinner. She brought with her a large basket overflowing with personal things for me: bubble bath, lipstick, scented oils.  She was pregnant, too, and her grief nearly matched mine that day.  A few weeks later, her Mia was born. 

Of course, time heals, and now I mark March 16th by visiting her with flowers, and talking with her for awhile.  Early on, of course, Mark and I went together, and took Jon and then our beautiful Annie Elizabeth, born 54 weeks later, with us.  They would find pinecones and beautiful sticks to put by the stone. Later, after the divorce, we would show up separately, one of us adding flowers to those left by the other. 

When Annie Elizabeth was born, we had the same team in the delivery room; the nurses joked about putting "pink juice" in the IV to assure that a little girl came out. Tears of joy reigned as she entered the world loudly and confidently, looking slightly Asian and very pink.
I spent a week in the hospital and she rarely left my side (I  marvel that my insurance company paid for that now; how relaxed it all was back then.)  

I sometimes wonder about what Annie Lane would look like.  I try to imagine a collage of Jon and Annie. For some reason, I think that her hair would have been more like Jon's, darker and coarser. I see a taller and somewhat more lanky version of Annie Liz.  I think that she would have loved music.   

To all those who have been close to the death of a child, there is this kind of dreamy wondering and speculation.  In one way, we feel that we knew them so well, as they nestled and swam inside of us. In another, they barely touched this earth, and what is left is what might have been.

The picture was taken when I was about seven months along with Annie Lane.  I marvel at my youth and I marvel at the resilience that we all have to have when walking through this life.
I am not sure how to close this post, except to say that tomorrow, when I visit Annie Lane, I will tell her once again how she would love her brother and sister, how beautiful the trees are around her, and how much her spirit sings inside of me still. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Earning our place

From Parker Palmer:

"Our inner world has a reality and a power that can keep us from being victims of circumstance and compel us to take responsibility for our own lives."

This distinguished author and thinker wrote a book called THE COURAGE TO TEACH. 
Here is another quote from that book:

"Authority is granted to people who are percieved as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts.  When teachers depend on coercive powers of law and technique, they have no authority at all."

Palmer's message is good news and bad news for all of us, whether we are educators or not. 
The good news is that investment in and commitment to our inner lives-turning our compassionate attention to what is in our hearts- will lead to affirmation and authentic success in our personal and professional lives.  The bad news, of course, is that this work is necessary if we are to truly succeed in our endeavors.  Remaining in the hole of victimization and spiritual blindness is what in AA we call the "easier, softer way." It may be a seductive path initally, when we are in pain or facing huge challenges, but it will lead only to more suffering.

I think of all of the years that a false and pretty two-dimensional Mrs. Hagar has posed and functioned, sort of, as a teacher of art. Of course, she can and does take over immediately, should I decide to leave.  Going through the motions, relying on "powers of law and technique", I really can do a great imitation of a teacher.  The hollowness and lack of fulfillment of that path are hard to describe and harder to live with. When Claudia shows up for work, and true connection with students then occurs, I can tell you sincerely that there is no greater joy for me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leonard Cohen: ANTHEM

I found myself singing this to myself this of Leonard's greatest songs and a beautiful way to follow my last two posts. 


The birds they sang
at the break of day
start again
I heard them say
don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yeat to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
the holy dove
she will be caught again
bought and sold and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent;
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
yeah the widowhood
of every government--signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud 
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring...

You can add up the parts 
but you won't have the sum
you can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
tha's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One View of Julie

This is a poem I am working on about my sister. 

She was a beautiful child
Irish colors of copper and green
a face you always remembered as dimpled
though it wasn't 
an upturned nose

We loved dolls, Julie and I
hers blonde, mine, dark,
Snow White, Rose Red,
She the beauty, me the brains

Then came the injections
blood sugar tests
syringes in the bathroom
clearing of sweet things from the cupboards.

A shift happened.
Dad, the doctor; Mom, the nurse.

the glazed-over eyes and slurred words
sweating, shaking, 
foretold trouble
we quickly got orange juice or candy
and watched her slowly return
like an image coming back into focus
and then the relief that it was over
but she was disobedient
and it would come again

and she pulled out her hair
growing back in a little crown
my mother's mouth a thin, straight line
as she cut long strokes with scissors
trying to make it right
but it wasn't

i don't remember 

her looks got her boys
her mouth, attention
Irreverent, funny, drunk
Julie didn't give a rat's ass, it seemed.

A trail behind her of jobs
told us to keep our advice
told us to fuck off
she had married boyfriends she met at church
she had medical bills 
because the diabetes was taking its toll
and she had to run faster.

This disease makes your little veins burst
and your feet go numb
and your eyes go to hell
and your bones get brittle
and your nerves don't tell you when you broke your ankle
until your eyes insist that the angle is wrong
lying there on the kitchen floor.

Your body races toward old age.

She had a heart attack.

Near the end, Thanksgiving
She traveled here with Dad,
He the doctor, she the patient,
On the ride up, already, Julie zones out
(stubbornly refuses breakfast once again)
He hauls her into the restaurant
the waiter calls 911
"it's ok, I am a doctor, give me some orange juice"
My old dad dealing for the millionth time with Julie

It happens again at midnight
I hear her screaminG: 
in an unholy voice
a cat howl
a ghost howl
so loud
my feet lead me to her

she is drenched in sweat
Dad looks weary in his pajamas
we wait for the orange juice to work
In my terror I yell at her with all the love
         i can muster
and I hold her and rock her
I hear her voice in my shirt:
"I don't want to die"

Nothing we could think of could stop these things from happening.

Three months later
My dad knew she was gone before he got there.
Only the cats greeted him, skittish, hiding.
I got the call.
I remember, I remember 

Her old boyfriend was in the doorway
at the funeral
people from church
all of us sickened, sickened

cleaning out her apartment
excavating the layers
witness to the life and the aftermath:
evidence of
hastily shoved furniture to fit the gurney
sheets dragged off the bed
medical supplies
dishes in the sink
surprising, sweet touches
an unfinished needlepoint:
"A Sister is a Friend Given to You by God."


It was one of those friendships that happens fast.  I met her through another friend and there was something about her that intrigued me, that I found sort of exotic and quirky.  She agreed with me that we had some things in common and what followed were get togethers for food--she always brings food to people, wherever she goes, a charming and sometimes maddening habit, since she can't afford it--and increasingly, serious talks about some issues with her new husband, with the old husband, with the three children with the old husband.  
Cracks began to appear in the relationship after a few months, and I am pulling back a little. It is more a matter of staying with myself than with staying away from her.  If relationships are the stuff of life, then navigating through them is the task that requires the greatest skill and has the greatest potential for pain--receiving it, and causing it in others.  
I love to read Buddhist stuff because the message is-believe nothing, understand that things are not good or bad, they just are.  There is a story about a young man who becomes crippled, in a wheelchair. Then, the general comes riding up to the farm, looking for soldiers, and they leave him behind, and he can stay with his family. So, being crippled is bad, and it is good. It all depends.
I feel that way about cracks. They are an indication of growth and change, of softening, of movement.  A crack in a pot is not so good. A crack in the ice could mean that spring is coming. Cracks are what happen when trees grow, and from the cracks we get the beautiful texture of bark.  Cracks in the sidewalk create opportunities for small plants to grow where they otherwise wouldn't.  Cracks in our armor and defensiveness create the possibility of movement toward each other.  Cracking up can mean we're enjoying a good joke or losing our marbles.

I felt some cracking in the veneer of my art work this week-breaking through some walls that I thought defined the edges.  This, of course, is the great enemy of creativity: thinking that you know the size of the room you are in, when in reality, there is no room.  

Sunday, February 8, 2009

february thaw

What a glorious gift this weekend has been-the oppression of the cold air and the ice underfoot has lifted, long enough to venture out sure-footed for a walk with Bella, camera in hand and joy in my heart.  Bird sounds. The smell of dirt and old leaves, recklessly unearthed by snow plow blades.  The glorious sun in the blue sky, shining through the trees and landing on the snow, sometimes casting a satin sheen, and in other, slicker areas, an icy glow.   For Bella, a cornucopia of smells and puddles to drink from. Today, the windows are open and the curtains pushed back. This is one time when being reminded of impermanence has been a cause for celebration!
Yesterday, I began a new adventure with some other women who are also interested in creativity and the spiritual life.  Organized by my friend Kim, a writing teacher, author, and passionately humanitarian friend, there were five of us brought together in her warm and peaceful home. I was a little nervous as I looked around the room, even though I knew all but one of the participants. Sherry, my old friend and fellow art teacher, is one of the more giving and thoughtful people I know. Jeanine, another Hope professor with maintains an air of the urban life she and Andrew left behind when they moved here long ago, and a sparkle undiminshed by MS.  And Jennifer, who I had met a few minutes before making tea in the kitchen while we loaded our plates with hummus and veggies. She writes music and children's books and has a soft, reflective air about her that I was drawn to right away.
Kim led us in readings from diverse spiritual traditions with common themes. The point of this curriculum, she told us, is to bring us together; it is being taught worldwide, among the learned and the unschooled, everywhere. The exploration of the arts follows the study-we wrote in our new journals about what the "composted" thoughts from our discussions yeilded in our hearts and minds. I look forward to our next meeting, which I will host. I spent hours this morning making art from my journal notes. Like the thaw outside, my creativity is warming and moving, flowing forth. It feels good.