Emma is on her knees digging in the garden as he sleeps, and she can feel when he dreams about her. Their hands press together, palms open. The bottoms of her feet burn with an intensity of feeling that suffuses her body. A world away he is loving her, and she barely breathes, allowing him to linger. It is exquisite and maddening.

How like the pain it is, she thinks. For over a year she felt pain ebb and flow through her body—tides and undertows in an ocean of tears. As despair deepened, so did this pain. She felt it in her palms, the insides of her arms, her chest, her forehead, the bottoms of her feet. It led her to assume mental, and sometimes actual, postures of supplication—bare knees on naked earth, head bowed, palms up, arms held out toward…what? She didn’t know. She only knew that her life had fallen away and nothing was left except this fluid pain and the supplication it demanded.

Over the dark months she learned to siphon it off into drawings, desperation pressing her back to the familiar processes long ago abandoned in favor of practicalities. Pencil to paper, concentration on form, seeing. These grounded her and drained some of the pain away when it was unbearable; when she did not think her body would survive otherwise. It was how she limped through winter, and as light returned to the world she realized the pain had led her back to her life.

Now, here, in the garden, Emma is not surprised to discover that this delight is the twin of that pain. It is indistinguishable, in fact, except in its effect upon her emotions, and the knowledge of whom she kneels to in supplication. For although the air appears empty between her outstretched arms he is there, meeting her gesture with his own. Time and space cannot bind this.

The highest value of art lies in its creation. It is an act of love.

∞ ∞ ∞

I wrote this little picture a few months after I had gone through an experience of pain like this–after loss upon loss, both in my personal life and in the outer world, finally acted to break me open. Emma siphoned the pain off in her drawings, I siphoned my pain off in writing. But it is very much the same–the quality of attention that goes into seeing what is there and accurately rendering it on paper….

I was caught by my need to please people, to live the life I thought everyone expected me to. I thought if I gave people what they wanted they would finally leave me alone so I could do what I wanted. But it doesn’t work that way. The fact that writing was the only thing that got me through that dark winter, that it took me until I truly felt I would die if I didn’t write…well, it is something that makes the tears well up inside my chest with tenderness for my young self and gratitude for that pain.

You see, my young heart and hot head made a vow never to write again, after my writing was instrumental in taking me away from my friends and my freedom when I was sixteen. I threw everything into a hospital trash can and vowed never again. Then I took up drawing, which is a second language to me. Not as fluent.

So twenty years later–twenty years of trying to fit what was or what I imagined was expected of me–I broke open and couldn’t do it anymore. I stopped believing I could ever in a million years give everyone what they want. And then I started writing again, and I started to come to life again.

And twelve years after that, it’s still hard to get myself to write regularly, the way I know I should.

Vows are potent forces in the psyche. But some vows must be broken.

What if…

It is like it was before? What if it isn’t as good as it was before? I’m afraid of experiencing or not experiencing what I’ve previously experienced. But the fact–the fact— is, it is never like it was before.

So stop it.

Brookly Daily Eagle

Walt Whitman was here.

A Story for Mothers’ Day

My mother and I have not been a part of each others’ lives for 13 years, and I think we both agree that this is for the best. However, for a few years, when I was in my twenties and early thirties, we were actually quite good friends and shared some good times together. This is what I like to remember, and that is why I am sharing this story today. It still makes me laugh.

∞ ∞ ∞

In June 2000, my mother and I flew out to California to check up on my grandparents. I was also to buy my grandfather’s car, as he could not drive anymore, and we would drive it back to Boston–taking Route 66 through the Southwest, detouring to see the Grand Canyon. In other words, an adventure. It was exciting to go west again after so many years in the northeast, and we were both feeling free–she from the health issues of her husband and me from my daily routine.

We had a layover at O’Hare, but the plane we were to board there was grounded so long they gave all the passengers vouchers for lunch and told us to come back later. We walked all over before settling somewhere with salads and V-8 juice, which we spiked with vodka from my mother’s purse. (She doesn’t regularly have a stash of vodka in her purse, mind, but she’d filled a few airline bottles to save money and why not?) Well, they were potent V-8 Bloody Marys on top of green salad, and we were a little tipsy and actually late arriving to board our plane. The last ones on, in fact: grinning and happy to finally be moving on our adventure again.

We find our seats and sit for a long time while two or three flight attendants struggle to close one of the overhead compartments a few rows ahead of us. This is one of those big-bellied jumbo jets with the middle seating, and in my tipsy state, given the whole grounding-for-mechanical-repairs thing, the shoddiness of this giant contraption that we are willingly bound to fly in strikes me funny and I can’t stop smiling so I look down, pretending to be busy with things. Mom and I fool around with the earphones they gave us free for being patient customers: Hawaiian music is on one of the channels, and again it feels really good to be going West.

A female flight attendant starts talking to us over the loudspeaker, but it isn’t the usual fluff about welcome aboard and know your exits–instead we are made privy to her extreme annoyance with the airline and their planes. She calls our attention to the buttons on our armrests. “See that one with the human figure on it? If you press that button, one of us will come over to you and step. on. your. fingers.” Mom and I look at each other to make sure we’d just heard the same thing, and burst out laughing. Tears are rolling down our faces before we’re done. Oh, we might die in a plane crash, but we’ll at least have had a damned good laugh first.

The pool at my grandparents' condominium complex. Very complex.

The pool at my grandparents’ condominium complex. Very complex.

A Main Theme

It’s only when we try to twist ourselves into unnatural (for us) shapes in order to conform to some perceived expectation that we go bad. Or crazy.

It matters not what others think of you, because they will not be there when you die. They may be beside you, but no one but you can be there when you die, so you should be the first and final authority on how you live.