“She’s got the whole dark forest living inside of her.” ~ Tom Waits

 

Ruins of 19th Century Manor House by alterallensteiner (flckr creative commons)
                   

“Life is either a dream or a frenzy, inside an enclosure.” ~ D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Thursday evening. Rapidly dropping temperatures after a lovely high of 70 degrees.

Hidden Abandoned House

First let me say that there will be no ranting tonight. Just thought I should let you know right upfront since the past two days have been pretty vitriolic, even for me.

Today I finally set up my Avon representative e-site. I thought that I would give this a whirl just to see if I can make a bit of money from it. Who knows. If anyone is interested in checking it out, click here.  I did send an e-mail to a few people in my mailbox, but it was automatically generated, so I have no idea what it said . . .

So at the moment, I’m listening to some tunes and munching on saltines. I saw my PCP on Tuesday, and most of my blood work was fine. Only problem was that for some reason, the lab didn’t do my lipid profile or my thyroid, which meant that I had to fast again and go back on Wednesday. Those are probably the two most important tests for me: my triglycerides and my thyroid.  One troubling thing: I seem to have adult onset diabetes (just barely). The reality is that if I start exercising again and cut down on the carbs (no rice?), I should be fine without any additional medication, which suits me just fine.

Tomorrow is the eye doctor. I don’t think that I’ve looked forward to an eye appointment so eagerly since my very first appointment which I had when I was 12. I had put off telling my mother that I thought that I needed glasses until I could no longer see the blackboard. For a while, I borrowed Kim Reese’s glasses (funny, the things you remember). I was so eager to have glasses so that I could see things clearly again, but getting used to glasses was hard as I didn’t wear them all of the time; hence, I lost my first pair fairly quickly.

The reason I didn’t wear my glasses all of the time? Because of something my mother said to me (and yes, you will probably be horrified): “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.” What the hell? And you people wonder why I have such low self-esteem. That was fairly typical for the kinds of things my mother said to me, and at the time, it was a pretty stupid thing to say as I wasn’t even really interested in boys yet.

Whatever.

“With the daggers I
pilfered from an angel
I build my dwelling.” ~ Edmond Jabès, from “Slumber Inn”

Abandoned Building by Scallop Holden

(Just an aside: If you’ve never heard Eva Cassidy’s version of Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” you should give it a listen. Beautiful.)

Isn’t the above just a bone-jolting quote? “Daggers I pilfered from an angel”—wow. I mean, just think about it, someone writing about stealing daggers from an angel, the juxtaposition of the hard g-sound in daggers with the fluidity of pilfered and dwelling. Bold. Beautiful. Mystical. I love it.

I have come to Edmond Jabès late in life, but at least I have finally found him. Jabès was born an Egyptian Jew but was forced to relocate to France during the Suez Crisis in 1956, where he become one of the most famous post-war French poets. I haven’t read any of his books yet, but as is often the case in life, I keep running across quotes from his work in the strangest places, and the more I read, the more that I want to read.  I suppose that I shall begin with The Book of Questions, Vol. I.

Paul Aster in the New York Review of Books said this about the book: “Neither novel nor poem, neither essay nor play, The Book of Questions is a combination of all these forms, a mosaic of fragments, aphorisms, dialogues, songs, and commentaries that endlessly move around the central question of the book: how to speak what cannot be spoken.” I find the description very appealing, that Jabès’ work is an amalgamation of writing forms.

“I have followed a book in its persistence, a book which is the story of a thousand stories as night and day are the prow of a thousand poems. I have followed it where day succeeds the night and night the day, where the seasons are four times two hundred and fifty seasons” ~ The Book of Questions, p. 325

“Mystery is truth’s dancing partner.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Abandoned Building Alcove

My tumblr dash continues to be a sustaining source of inspiration for me. I find that I open it each day with an emotion akin to giddiness (truthfully, I just don’t do giddy) at what new, beautiful things I will see and read there. The dash is where I first saw words by Jabès, where each day I see incredible photographs of abandoned castles, old writing desks, empty performance houses.

I’m not sure where my love of abandoned buildings comes from. I’ve only been in a few, but I love to see pictures of them. I’m certain that if I were younger and still able to do such things, I would be one of those urban adventurers who seeks out abandoned buildings, the ruins of castles and manor opens, old opera houses, empty hospitals that still house rusty gurneys in hollow exam rooms. I think that such places are filled with a singular mystery and beauty because they are abandoned. And once so, they assume a presence of their own.

The emptiness allows the imagination to run free: What kind of soprano stood in the middle of that stage? Was she wearing a red velvet dress? Who sat in this alcove and looked out the lake and the gazebo and the trees? How many people climbed this staircase? Why did they leave just the shell of a grand piano here and nothing else?

These are the kinds of things that I ponder if I just let my mind wander, and it only stokes within me more of a desire to visit these places, to walk through the crumbling entrance to an abandoned manor. It’s like Harry Potter returning to Sirius Black’s family home and looking beneath the dusty bed, finding part of a letter written in his mother’s handwriting. Those forgotten pieces of the past that most people see as trash and junk—what secrets do they hold?

I remember walking to school when we lived in London. Part of the route took us past the iron fence to an old hospital. One day, I noticed a woman’s black clutch purse shoved behind a bush. I thought about that purse for weeks: Who did it belong to? Who put it there? Why? I wanted to look inside that purse so badly that I almost became obsessed. I didn’t care about finding money; I wanted to see what the purse revealed about its owner. I still remember exactly what that purse looked like. I was six, seven at the most.

“When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could bear to live with.” ~ Anaïs Nin

Abandoned Building Blue Doors by kentfagerdotcom

Last night, in keeping with our newest addiction, Corey and I watched a particularly good episode of  “Dr. Who” called “Vincent and the Doctor.” It was the episode in which the doctor and Amy Pond went back in time to Provence to see Vincent van Gogh (played by Tony Curran, a great likeness for the self-portrait). I had already seen this episode, but Corey hadn’t, and I really wanted to see it again because it was poignant.

When the doctor and Amy encounter the artist, he is the subject of public ridicule, being thrown out of cafes for not paying his bills, his works of art seen as garish depictions in which no one is interested. The appearance of the charming doctor and his companion provide a nice distraction for van Gogh (as an American, I am so used to Gogh being pronounced as go, so it was unsettling to hear the British pronunciation rhyme with cough, as in goff), who happens to be seeing invisible monsters.

Turns out, the monster, a Krafayis, is just as real as the other things that torture the artist. In the ensuing battle with the monster, Vincent accidentally kills the Krafayis while defending himself. But as the doctor, who realizes that the creature is blind, comforts the dying creature, the visibly stricken Vincent comments that the creature was only afraid and frustrated, feelings with which the artist can empathize.

But the part of the episode that I really liked the best was when the doctor and Amy took Vincent into the future so that he could see his paintings hanging in the Musée d’Orsay  (I will go there one day) and to hear an art scholar (Dr. Black, played by the wonderful Bill Nighy) praise the artist by referring to him as “the greatest painter of them all” and “one of the greatest men who ever lived.” A stunned Vincent cries tears of joy and hugs and kisses the confused scholar.

The doctor and Amy had hoped that by affirming Vincent’s talent, that they might be able to keep him from the despair that drives him to take his own life a few months later. Of course, it doesn’t work. But during the episode, to hear the Vincent character speak about beauty and color so passionately is incredibly moving. I know: I’m a sap.

I have always loved van Gogh’s paintings, the vibrancy of the colors, his choices of subjects. But it has always been the brush strokes that have always fascinated me: they are almost ferocious, as if he couldn’t put the paint to the canvas fast enough or hard enough. What is must have taken out of him each time he created a canvas awash in color and a beauty that he saw, and how it must have devastated him that no one else saw it.

A tortured mind and a tortured soul who produced such immense beauty.

More later. Peace.

Music by Don McLean “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)”

                   

I Know My Soul

I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of
sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days
with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

~ Claude McKay

Touching Home Base

Chugach State Park AK by JJ

Fall Colors Chugach State Park, Alaska, by Janson Jones*

“And you would accept the seasons of your heart just as you have always accepted that seasons pass over your fields and you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” ~ Albert Camus

It’s been rainy and cloudy here for days, which is all right considering that my spirits have been rainy and cloudy for days as well. But a few days ago, something subtle changed: It is beginning to smell like fall.

Looking Skyward by Janson Jones
Looking to the Sky by Janson Jones

I remember when I was a child, fall lasted longer. And before they were such harbingers of air pollution, the smells of neighbors’ fireplaces infused the night with the comforting aromas of woodsmoke.

The falls that I spent with my family in Great Bridge were especially wonderful. With the longer days, my cousins and I would stay outside as long as possible playing hide-n-seek well past dark, the big Sycamore tree in the front yard serving as home base. The sounds of tennis shoes crashed through the thick carpet of fallen leaves as we all raced home so that we wouldn’t be tagged “it.”

Leaves and sticker balls everywhere. Ignoring calls to come in now. Irreplaceable memories of our innocent days.

On Sunday afternoons, smells of burning piles of leaves permeated the neighborhood. This was before Great Bridge was overdeveloped to the point that trees are almost non-existent. The big trees in my aunt and uncle’s yard were enormous. Someone tied a tire swing to one of the trees in the backyard, and we would push each other so high, high enough to get flutters in our bellies.

My cousins Butch and Sheryl tried to get me to climb the tree with the tire and then jump off a branch while in the tire. If any of our parents knew an iota of the things that we did. Good times.

“Autumn to winter, winter into spring, Spring into summer, summer into fall—So rolls the changing year, and so we change; Motion so swift, we know not that we move. ” ~ Dinah Maria Mulock

Fireweed Chucagh St Park
Fireweed, Chucagh State Park, Alaska by Janson Jones

Sundays at Great Bridge were such a large part of my life for so long. Being an only child, those times spent playing with my cousins are some of the best memories of my life. We were a motley group. No one wore designer clothes or expensive tennis shoes. We were made equal by our extreme ordinariness.

Of course, I was different—no blonde hair, no ordinary name, the ony one with no siblings—but after their initial mistrust faded of anyone who didn’t know what iced tea was, I was never treated any differently.

In actuality, the younger ones, the ones who were my age, were my second cousins; my first cousins were closer to my mother’s age, daughter’s of my Aunt Ronnie and Uncle Ros. We were all close, until the first divorce, the first move out of the area, the first pregnancy. Time and circumstance, as they always have a way of doing, stepped in and ended our idyllic lives.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw one of them, but I’ll be seeing all of them soon. My Aunt Ronnie died yesterday. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for a number of years. That most unkind of diseases that takes over the brain, erases memories, makes even the most familiar face into the face of a stranger.

The last time she saw me, she did remember me, fleetingly. But it was so long ago

“A few days ago I walked along the edge of the lake and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves with each step I made.  The acoustics of this season are different and all sounds, no matter how hushed, are as crisp as autumn air.”
Eric Sloane 

Eastern Tiger Swallotail by Janson Jones
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail by Janson Jones

For me, Aunt Ronnie was the closest thing to a grandmother that I had. When my cousins called her grandma, I was always so envious. A part of me wished that I could call her grandma as well.

I used to buy my Aunt Ronnie butterfly pins for Christmas. She loved butterflies.

I never knew my mother’s mother. She died when mom was only eight years old. The youngest of 12 children, my mother was raised by her older brothers and sisters. My Aunt Ronnie was almost the oldest of the 12, so my mother’s relationship with her oldest sister was very close, more like mother and daughter than sisters at times.

I wasn’t as close to Uncle Ros. I don’t really know why, but the first time I met my Aunt Ronnie was when Mom and I were visiting the States while Dad was stationed in London. I remember that my cousin Jeanette and her husband at the time had been in a horrible car accident, and everyone was recuperating.

I was overwhelmed by all of the people and completely unused to so many children in my own age range. It was great. I never wanted to leave. 

“Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” ~ Stanley Horowitz

December Snow Anchorage by JJ
December Snow, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

Once my dad retired from the Navy and we moved back to the area, visits to Great Bridge became almost weekly events. 

Christmas at Great Bridge was such an occasion. We would open presents on Christmas Eve. So many presents everywhere. But Christmas Day we would all get together for Christmas dinner.

I know that I’ve written about Sunday dinners at Great Bridge before, but Christmas dinner was the ultimate Sunday dinner: turkey, stuffing, country-style green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens, country ham, homemade biscuits (usually two batches), sweet tea. Homemade banana pudding, fudge and pies for dessert.

And the most amazing aspect of this feast was that until she was in her 70’s, my Aunt Ronnie made almost all of the food by herself. If someone were going to contribute something to the dinner, it was usually dessert.

We would eat in the early afternoon, and then the parents would watch football and nap on the couch, Uncle Ros in his recliner, while all of the cousins would go outside and get into whatever we could, depending upon the weather. If there was snow, so much the better. There was no keeping us inside.

Then later in the early evening, people would snack on ham biscuits, turkey sandwiches, cakes and pie. Sleepy, satisfied and totally at ease in each other’s company

“Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.”~ Edwin Way Teale

I remember their long driveway would be packed, two-wide with cars, the overflow going onto the street. Leaving was always strategic, depending upon who was parked where and whether or not the car was small enough to turn around in the front yard.

Anchorage Dawn by JJ
Anchorage Dawn by Janson Jones

Eventually, we stopped going to Great Bridge for Christmases, long after I had gotten married (the first time), and Alexis was born. Of all of my children, only Alexis really remembers Aunt Ronnie. My mom would take Alexis with her when she would go to Great Bridge to visit. Alexis would play with my cousin Theresa’s daughter who was a few years older.

Christmas celebrations had moved from my Aunt Ronnie’s house to one of her daughter’s houses. It just wasn’t the same.

And of course, we had all grown up, gotten married, moved away, changed jobs, had children. My second cousins still went, but I kind of dropped out of the fold.

I saw many of them at my Uncle Ros’s funeral several years ago. It was an event that I had to attend and then return to work, so I didn’t have time to visit with anyone. Sunday will be different. I have the time now. I have the memories. I have the regret. I have the loss, the second in less than a month.

“Once more I am the silent one
who came out of the distance
wrapped in cold rain and bells:
I owe to earth’s pure death
the will to sprout.” ~ Pablo Neruda

My mother says that she isn’t going to go to Great Bridge for Aunt Ronnie’s funeral, that she’s never going to another funeral again, that she doesn’t want to see Aunt Ronnie in her coffin; it will give her nightmares.

Turnagain Arm Sunset Anchorage AK by JJ
Turnagain Arm Sunset, Anchorage, Alaska by Janson Jones

I don’t agree with her method of coping, but it really doesn’t matter if I agree or not. Does it? Her unwillingness to visit the family bothers me tremendously, just as her unwillingness to go to Uncle Melchor’s funeral bothered me.

We are so different, my mother and I. While I love to keep hand me downs from family members, appreciate antiques and the memories that go with them, my mother calls it clutter and sees no point in it. I see a tea service that she bought on Portobello Road in London as something to be cherished, a reminder of our time in London and that wonderful section of booths and shops. My mother has no use for it.

Who knows, when I get to be her age, maybe I’ll feel the same way, but I doubt it.

My memories make me who I am. All of the little nooks and crannies in my mind are filled to overflowing with the sweet and the bittersweet. To me, that is life. Little pieces of jewelry, a china cup and saucer, a silver sugar bowl—each is part of a story, my story.

It makes me sad for my mother who only wants to think about happy things, who won’t watch anything deep or sad, who loves sitcoms and talk shows. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not what she does but what she doesn’t do that makes me sad. What saddens me is that she closed a part of herself off a long time ago, and it has been so long since she went through that door that I don’t think she remembers how.

 “There is no answer to any of these questions. It’s a matter of time and timing, of seas and seasons, of breathing in and breathing out. It’s a matter of balance.” ~ Peter McWilliams

Yes, funerals are for the living. My mother wants to be cremated, as do I, as does Corey, all for different reasons. What happens to our bodies after we die is not really the important thing. But memorial services allow a chance for those left behind to say goodbye, to talk about the person who has been lost with fond words, to forget petty arguments, to remember Sunday dinners and sticker ball fights, new bicycles at Christmas and melt-on-your tongue homemade biscuits.

Dawn in Deland Florida by JJ
Aurelia's Dawn, Deland, Florida by Janson Jones

My Aunt Ronnie’s death is like the closing of yet another chapter in my life, a very good chapter, one filled with so much loving and giving. The woman in the casket is not the woman I loved. The woman I loved is already gone; unfortunately, she has been gone for quite a while, ravaged by an unrelenting disease that rips apart everyone touched by it.

But in my mind’s eye, I still see her smile quite clearly. I remember her dining room table, filled to overflowing, and the conversations around it. That was my Aunt Ronnie. The woman who said come and see me sometime. The woman who liked “The Old Rugged Cross” but did not like “Amazing Grace.” The woman who accepted butterfly pins from a young girl with as much relish as if they were rare gems.

These are my memories, the pictures inside the permanent locket of my heart, the ties that bind and make us who we are. The sweet tea of the soul. Piles of fallen leaves. Running as fast as possible when the coast was clear. Touching home base. Being safe. Knowing unconditional love.

 

More later. Peace.

*Many thanks to Janson Jones for giving me the perfect images for this post. Your photographs help me so much to form the words that I need to say.

Grace in Small Things #42

beautiful-waterfalls-paradise

Goodbye to Grace

It’s getting harder to write these entries, so I don’t know that I’ll be able to fulfill the commitment that I made. I find this disappointing because I want to keep my commitments, but what I am finding is that I am only writing GIST entries and not writing other entries, and that is not the purpose of my blog. The purpose of my blog is to expand my writing, to write about different things, and not all of those are positive. I have appreciated this chance to try to look at more positive things in life, and I truly appreciate the concept of grace as I have written about it many times before, but I find this format too limiting.

When something becomes an obligation and ceases to be an insightful exercise, then I believe that it is probably not contributing to my creative well-being. So this will be my final GIST for a while. I may return to the concept occasionally, but more than likely it will probably be a spontaneous, one-time post.

1. Beautiful cards. I love to receive cards that show that the card-giver has really thought about the event and my personality. Corey has become a master at accomplishing this with the cards that he gives me. They are always so beautiful visually, and then he finds cards that have sentiments that are reflections of how he feels. Alexis has inherited the card gene. She loves to buy cards for people, and she is great at it.

2. Toasted bagels with fresh butter. I don’t eat these very often, but when I do, they are sumptuous.

3. Pedicures are a wonderful way to relax. I haven’t had one in a long time because they are a luxury item, but a good pedicure can restore your whole spirit.

4. I love water in all its forms—the ocean, the bay, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, swimming pools. I am a water baby, an Aquarius. I don’t swim all that well as I don’t have a lot of endurance, but I love the feel of water on my body.

1026536church-bells-in-greece-posters1

5. I love the sound of church bells. Whether they are just souding out one tone, or summoning people to church, the sound of the bells touches a deep place inside of me. I think that it’s because when I was a child in London, I heard so many church bells in towers with real change ringing, and I became so used to the sound. Now, there is only one Catholic church nearby that chimes its bells. But the sound of bells gives me a wonderful sense of peace.

That’s all for my Grace in Small Things. Peace.