Let us give thanks . . .

 

Shadows and Reflections

 “Once you have tasted the sky, you will forever look up.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve written several posts on the subject of being thankful, including the Grace in Small Things series. Today, I thought that I would focus on things, events, and people that I have encountered in my life that have helped to shape me into the person I am.

  • Having the opportunity to see original masterpieces by Renoir, Monet, Glackens, Bernini, Van Gogh, Klimt, Morisot, Wyeth, Hopper, Sargent, Kadinsky, Pollock, Caravaggio, Tiffany, Manet, Leighton, Rembrant, Tissot, Matisse, Veronese, Rothko, as well as ancient Ethiopian art, tribal masks dating back to the 12th century, real Samurai armor and weapons, and photography by Brady, Stieglitz, Bourke-White, Mann, Strand.
  • Walking through a tropical rain forest in Africa and seeing shades of green that I never knew existed. Crossing a hanging rope bridge that was situated high in the air above a stream.
  • Sitting in the dark and listening to live performances by Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Seeing Nureyev and Margot Fontaine perform.
  • Hiding in the trunk of a car to get into a drive-in movie for free and then not watching the movie because it was too scary.
  • Going snorkeling in the Caribbean
  • Walking among the ruins of Tulum amid the huge iguanas and then eating fresh guacamole with cold Sol atop a small mountain.
  • Seeing the volcano in Baguio, Philippines
  • Riding up a mountain to get to Baguio in a bus very much like the ones you see in the movies, which was filled with villagers, chickens, a pig, old women, and my very American mother.
  • Reading some of the best literature ever written: all of Shakespeare, Michael Ondaatje, Marlow, and far too many others to mention.
  • Meeting some of my favorite poets and writers in person at literary festivals, including Chris Buckley, Mary Oliver, Tim O’Brien, Barry Lopez, Caroline Forché, Bruce Weigl, and many others
  • Working in a newsroom right at the crest of computers. Watching the paper be printed, smelling the ink.
  • Attending three wonderful universities: The George Washington, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion.
  • Doing on-camera interviews for the museum, which sometimes meant being at the studio at 5 a.m, but still fun.
  • Performing for the Queen Mother in London in a Dances of Asia program.
  • Starring as Rizzo in Grease.
  • Participating in a drum-making ceremony with a drum master.
  • Working in a donut shop for a few months during high school and getting to bring home the leftovers.
  • Dancing on the runway at a go go bar for a story on the Norfolk nightlife.
  • Hanging out over the water in a trapeze while sailing on a catamaran in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Going cave tubing and not feeling the least bit claustrophobic
  • Hiking on the trails at Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Getting my four-cylinder Pontiac Sunbird up to 80 mph while driving home from Blacksburg one Sunday night
  • Attending grade school in London
  • Going to a military tattoo in Scotland and sitting in the outdoor stadium wrapped up in blankets because it was so cold.
  • Seeing huge statues in the mountains of Spain as we drove through the country.
  • Seeing live concerts by The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Sarah McLachlan, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Sugarland, Norah Jones, and a bunch of other people I can’t remember.
  • Playing Chopin and Mozart on a grand piano at a recital in front of 100 people.

These are just a few of the highlights. I deliberately did not include anything personal about my children, husband, family, or friends as that is an entirely different list. But putting these things down in words makes me realize how very many opportunities I have had in my life to travel, to embrace other cultures, to see stunning natural and man-made beauty.

I have done things that I never thought that I would do, and I have seen in person things that I had only dreamt of.

I have not led a life of privilege, but I have been privileged to have had these experiences. There is nothing on this list that is earth-shattering, nor is there anything that changed humanity. But individually and collectively, these moments in time have changed me in ways seen and unseen. They have moved me to tears and made me cry with delight. Trite as it may sound, I have had a wonderful life.

More later. Peace.

 

Itzhak Perlman performing Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” a song that I performed in recital at Virginia Wesleyan College.

 

“Friendship is a sheltering tree” ~ Samuel Coleridge

dawn-by-janson-jones1

“Dawn” by Janson Jones (Floridana Alaskiana)*

“A friend is one to whom one can pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keeping what is worth keeping . . .”

“. . . and, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” ~ Arabian Proverb

gulf-fritilary-by-janson-jones
Gulf Fritilary by Janson Jones

My second semester of teaching at ODU was one of the hardest. Caitlin had died the previous November, and I had managed to finish the Fall semester with my two classes. But going into Spring semester was an endurance test.

I was just trying to survive the fact that my entire life had been turned upside down. I frequently burst into tears, and was more depressed than I ever had been or have been since. The one good thing about that semester was the entrance of a new person into my life: Mari LoNano.

Mari’s (pronounced like Mary) office was right next to mine. We had talked briefly during the Fall term, and then more after Caitlin died, but our friendship really bloomed during the Spring (no pun intended). We began to eat lunch together and to have long conversations about life, death, and survival. By that summer, we had become inseparable, and by the fall semester, when Marty, Mari’s former office mate, moved up in the hierarchy and was given an office to herself, Mari and I became office mates.

It had been a long time since I had had friendship with another woman on a daily basis, and it was something that I really cherished. In fact, I’m not sure that I would have survived that first year after Caitlin if not for Mari.

“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

key-west-sunset
Key West Sunset by Janson Jones

I realized in those first painful months that I was but a shell of my former self. I wasn’t sure about anything, least of all life and my own existence. Mari offered me comfort in so many ways, but probably the most meaningful way in which she became an important part in my life was through our long conversations. Mari told me about the death of her mother years before. It was obviously still very painful for her.

Like me, Mari carried around an immense amount of survivor’s guilt. After caring for her mother during her illness, Mari had not been with her when she died. I could tell that this fact bothered her tremendously. It colored all of her relationships.

We were two lost souls, and we found each other. I have no doubts that fate brought us together.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.” ~ Goethe

great-blue-heron
Great Blue Heron by Janson Jones

Another important aspect of our friendship was that we were both aspiring poets. Mari had more experience in the craft than I did. At the time, I was still writing mostly from my gut, paying little attention to the actual craft of poetry. We shared our poems, and from her I learned more about line breaks and rhythm than I had ever learned in my undergraduate workshops.

She was also responsible for broadening my horizons into contemporary poets. From her I learned about Bruce Weigl, Christopher Buckley, Molly Peacock, Kate Daniels, and countless other wonderful poets. It was the opening of an important door for me: Writers become better by reading the works of those they admire.

Most of my poetry dealt with grief, while Mari wrote about a wide range of topics: her sister’s horse, her mother, her grandfather, her dogs, nature. I was amazed by her ability to bring to life images and to capture feelings.

We tried to inspire each other into writing more, and we talked about going to poetry retreats some day—something that unfortunately, we never managed to do.

“No love, no friendship, can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.” ~ Francois Mocuriac

bahia-honda-state-park
Bahia Honda State Park by Janson Jones

We found that another thing that we had in common was that both of our husbands had attended Virginia Tech in the forestry and wildlife program. Ironically, neither of our husbands were working in their fields.

Mari’s husband was working for UPS, and mine was working for the medical school as a radiation safety officer. Luckily for us, Buddy and Paul hit it off, and we started to do things together as couples; going to dinner along with Marty and Jack was always a nice evening out. And the four of us would try new restaurants in the area. Those dinners were great fun.

But mostly, it was Mari and me together. One of our favorite things to do was to eat at the cafeteria near the mall where they had those great rolls and then go shopping. Boy did we shop. For about four straight years, we went shopping at least once a week. Unfortunately, my shopping addiction was my way of dealing with my grief, not a very healthy coping mechanism, especially because of the debt that I incurred.

Mari shopped for a lot of reasons: she loved fashion; she had the money to buy pretty much what she wanted, and I believe that shopping also filled a void for her as well. Regardless, we had some great times finding bargains at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, two of our favorite stores.

“The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship.” ~ Sir Francis Bacon

snowy-egret
Snowy Egret by Janson Jones

I ended up at The Chrysler Museum after doing some freelance work, and Mari got a job at a very prominent private school. I have to admit that even though I loved my job at the museum, I was envious of her new teaching position. Our new jobs caused us to see each other less frequently, and then, suddenly, abruptly, our friendship ended.

Mari was going through a very turbulent time in her life, and I was trying to be supportive, but it seems that something came between us. I spent months trying to get Mari to explain to me what had gone wrong, but I never really got an explanation. Finally, hurt and frustrated, I stopped trying.

One of the last times that I saw her before she moved out of the area was purely by accident. We ran into each other at the post office. By that time, she had divorced Buddy, and I was separated from Paul. Our lives were still moving on parallel paths, but they were not intersecting as they once had.

I truly grieved the loss of my friendship with Mari. At first I didn’t realize that I was grieving. It took my therapist pointing it out to me before I acknowledged the obvious. Mari’s exit from my life was a significant loss, so important and integral had she been for years.

“Hold a true friend with both your hands.” ~ Nigerian Proverb

Great Eggfly by Janson Jones
Great Eggfly by Janson Jones

I thought about Mari a great deal over the years. Finally, in 2005 when I was working for the realty company, I did a Google search to try to locate Mari. I found out where she was working, and I e-mailed her and included a poem that I had written about her. It was called “Your Mother’s Pink Sweater.” I had written it in response to a poem that she had written about her mother that I never forgot, “Flying Into the Sun.” The poem was about her mother, and it mentioned a pink sweater that her mother asked for when she was dying.

I was surprised but incredibly happy when Mari wrote back to me. It was as if the years and distance between us had never happened. We started writing and calling each other, and we are still in touch today. We’ve never had the long talk about what went wrong. We’ve been saving it for the day when we live near each other again and can float around in the pool, sipping iced tea together. I’m content with that.

“For believe me, in this world which is ever slipping from under our feet, it is the prerogative of friendship to grow old with one’s friends.” ~ Arthur S. Hardy  

adirondack-chairs-by-lita-liwag
Adirondack Chairs (detail) by L. Liwag

I’m glad that I finally decided to find her. I had been talking about it for years, and Corey kept urging me to do something about it. I suppose I waited because I was terribly afraid of being rejected again, and I just wasn’t sure that I could handle that. Luckily, that is not how things turned out, and I got my best friend back.

When Mari and I were writing together, we used to talk about growing old together, how we would get a house by the sea and two Adirondack chairs. And then we would spend our days growing flowers, watching birds, and reading. It was a wonderful fantasy. I don’t know that our plans will ever come to fruition, but if I had to choose one friend to grow old with together, it would be Mari.

More later. Peace.

*Most of the images in this post are from Janson Jones’s blog, Floridana Alaskiana. I know that Mari loves beautiful photography and nature and would appreciate the beauty of these pictures. To see more of this incredible photography, please visit http://floridana.typepad.com/weblog/.

                                                                                                                         
 

 

Your Mother’s Pink Sweater

 

I have it, you know,

your mother’s pink sweater,

the one she wore

when she ran headlong

into the ocean. I claim it.

 

I stole it from you

when you were distracted

by the boy’s brown skin.

I placed it in a box, beneath unsent words

and misdirected sorrow.

No longer the color of spring peonies.

you would be much pressed

to avouch its heritage.

Stained by too many tears,

(yours, mine),

It little resembles the soft, pink yarn

of youthful memory. Nor do we.

 

Who holds your hands now

when you step into the night?

Do your thoughts fly south

even momentarily?

 

I have your mother’s pink sweater.

Do not ask me to return it.

I have woven its threads into my tapestry.

It cannot be separated without unmaking.

Did you think that I would leave it

untouched for eight years?

 

January 28, 2005

 

 

The Poems, the poets, the writers

When I was teaching at Old Dominion University, I had the good fortune to meet many different poets and writers over the years. Each year, ODU was host to the annual Literary Festival; in addition, the English Department hosted an annual visiting writing series, which has now evolved into a visiting writer in residence. There were writers and poets such as William Styron, Gerald Stern, Maxine Hong Kingston, Galway Kinnell, W. P. Kinsella, Carolyn Forche, Maxine Kumin, Tim O’Brien, Bruce Weigl, Toi Derricotte, Christopher Buckley, and many, many more.

The Literary Festival was always a predictably busy week in the department, and I could count on at least two things happening: I would get my fall cold, and I would spend lots of money on books by new authors whose readings I had attended. Christopher Buckley was not a Festival reader; he was a visiting writer who my friend and office mate Mari had invited to read, which made me exceedingly lucky. I had direct access to this wonderful writer. The two of us, Mari and I, took him to dinner before his reading, and then I had the privilege of introducing him before his reading. Introducing a poet is no small thing. You must be familiar with his background and his work if your are going to do him justice, so I did not do an off-the-cuff introduction. I prepared and made notes because I did not want to slight him and because I truly loved his poems. After his reading, I ended up buying every title that he had brought with him so that I could get all of them signed. In them, he urged me to keep writing. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not.

I have many reasons/excuses as to why I have not kept up on my writing. Some legitimate, most not. And now with Google, I can put in names of others who were in workshops with me, or who came after me, and see just how far they have come. Buckley has won a Guggenheim and deservedly so. He has written six or seven more books since I met him. I have sent nothing out to be published. Fear of failure? Fear of success?

I really don’t know. I just know that if I don’t get off my ass soon, I’ll have died without ever having reached any of my goals as far as my writing goes, and that’s only because I won’t have tried. I’ve published, but not the things I intended to publish. The purpose of this blog is to exercise my mind, to flex myself creatively. And I believe that it is working, because I’m starting to come back to the memories that matter in my creative cortex, if you will. The literary festivals, the talks with writers, Christopher Buckley, lines that I wished that I had written, working on one line over and over, creating something like “My Father’s Hands” and knowing that it was good. Knowing that feeling again.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember–poems, essays, journal entries, long diatribes about things that make me crazy, musings about life. Words are to me what drugs are to an addict. I roll them around my tongue, taste them, hear them. I cannot live without them. I test phrases in my head constantly. Opening lines pop into my consciousness at all hours of the day and night. I wonder if this happens to other people, and then I realize that of course it does, but other people do things with it. And that’s what separates me from the ones who succeed. They actually do something past this step. They take the next step, and I am paralyzed on this one step. It’s as if I am still on my childhood porch, waiting for permission to leave, to go exploring in the neighborhood. But I know, deep in my soul, permission was granted years ago.

That first step is a killer, or it’s salvation.