another story

I was driving into a valley on the road leading from my hilltown home, right into the middle of a cloud. It was like driving into a dream. The edges of everything became muted and soft, imagined images of what was there. My thoughts up until then had been dominated by the mental to-do list to prepare for my first book reading since the book was published. Strategizing how best to pick up the last few items, seltzer, dollar bills, and another box of books. It was going to be a busy day and everything needed to be in order, tasks accomplished in small spaces between responsibilities. It is the kind of organized mind-set I am capable of, and I have learned to be grateful for the highly functioning executive capability that I can be known for. But there is always a hard edge to this way, a pressure to follow the script, which can be stressful. I would be presenting my book, a story of learning to go off script and what has resulted in a day to day life punctuated by soft imagined images of all that is here.

I had been talking to my friend Beth the day before, reviewing the selection of excerpts I intended to read. I shared my thoughts about the act of taking responsibility for both light and dark feelings contained in an experience or resulting from a choice. How taking responsibility can begin with an awareness of how stories evolve about what is good or bad. The process of writing the chapter titled ‘Another Story’ was the first chapter I wrote and the beginning of this awareness for me. She added, “We don’t really know what we know until we write.” Yes!

I write, “It’s like what happens when you tell someone the gist of a story in abbreviated form, but one of the details triggers a memory of something hidden and we say, But that’s another story! And quickly move on without actually telling that story. What stays on top is appropriate, immediate, accessible, conscious, light. What stays hidden for another time is full of promise, unconscious, dark, scary, still alive. I wanted to explore the meaning that could emerge while working with these aspects of light and shadow. What came to mind were the bars of light I saw one night coming out of a dream. They were floating down around me like gentle rain. The widths of the rectangular bars remained constant while the varying lengths moved around each other evoking the feeling of a piece of music from another world.” After establishing a strategy for beginning the quilts, “I made some basic decisions about scale for the first quilt and began to consider fabric. I had just received a gift of beautiful Japanese fabric squares that Kathy had sent me from Australia. I had also just acquired a unique piece of hand-dyed cloth made by a colleague. There was a huge contrast between these two fabrics; one could even say they clashed. I became excited about the possibility of creating balance by revealing another story behind the surface pairing of these two opposites. The technique of reverse appliqué was perfect for creating context that could support the revelation of something new.”

When I went to NYC last week, I planned to take one full day to immerse in art in the museums I’d not set foot in for years. As if to honor my choice, my friend Mindy pulled out a card she had been saving for my birthday with this Gauguin painting, saying it reminded her of my quilts.

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It was such a strong vision, to spend a day immersed in art. But the day ended up not being about time spent in museums. Instead, it began with a visit to the garment district. As if by homing device, I was drawn to peruse the cacophony of choices that live in large fabric warehouses there and with much discernment, managed to emerge with modest purchases. I was acutely aware of the commercial quality of what I was purchasing, happy to have these new coveted pieces of the uniquely expensive yardage.

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City life imprinted in stylized designs and commercial abundance. It wasn’t even lunchtime yet, the sun was shining and I knew I would now spend the rest of the day on foot traveling to see old friends, human and inanimate alike, see the building that had been home,

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familiar streets,

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and walk the now completed Highline that graced the west edge of the Chelsea neighborhood I once lived in.

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Each of these places offered me a view of something familiar and intimate, and completely changed at the same time for the space that lived between me and their current presence. I found a new quilting shop around the corner from the building I once lived in. I bought a few spools of my favorite thread and another small piece of fabric. With clear restraint once again, as if defying the abundant choice that oozed from every fold of urban life here.

Underneath the story of culture that lives in perpetuity on the walls of grand institutions is the heartbeat of the very culture itself. NYC is still, truly, a grand melting pot and the grandest of places to immerse in to bring back the richness of what life was like for me years ago. I had a thrilling day of walking over eight miles, re-charging with the energy of a city that once ran like blood in my veins.

Next stop was southern NJ for a visit with friend Colleen, and a day of hand-dyeing fabric. We are so good at creating context for doing this together after years of acquired efficiency working together. We made yards of beautiful fabric, including preparation and set-up, dyeing, clean-up, rinses, final washing and drying, and ironing each piece lovingly into crisp folded rectangles to transport home.

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All this accomplished with the energy of two young girls excited about every aspect of the endeavor. Shades of two women immersed in the lush landscape of Gauguin’s painting. Different lives and different stories that continue to spiral with each other.

The assemblage of newly acquired commercial fabric with the lush palette of newly hand-dyed pieces now on my work table holds the contrast of life in NYC meeting life in the country. I can’t wait to see what kind of story gets revealed in their pairing.

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I did begin the reading from my book with an excerpt from ‘Another Story’. It was the perfect place to start. It will clearly be a place I continue to come back to over and over again.

six decades old

 

*** Post has been updated to correct the original title of ‘five decades’ old. LOL. Guess I wasn’t really paying attention after all!

Today I am SIX decades old. Sixty. Writing the word feels surreal, signaling the beginning of a decade that I have been looking forward to, but was always still way out there. A friend wrote me a few weeks back saying he hoped I had big plans for the BIG birthday coming up. I wrote back and said I’d be sliding very non-chalantly into my 61st year. Pressing, he asked, is that the non-chalantly as in with grace, ease, celebration and aplomb, or the non-chalantly as in if I pretend this isn’t happening it will be another day of living spontaneously? To which I replied, No denial here! Definitely spontaneously! I’ve always said (and known) that my sixties were going to be some of my best years…

Which is true. The knowing that is. So here I am. It is an ordinary, not so ordinary day. I have not made plans. I was truly going to see where the day led me. My daughter Molly came down this morning with a wrapped gift in her hands and a big smile on her face. I shook the box and cried out with pleasure, a puzzle!, and ripped open the package. What a fun surprise. I can’t remember saying out loud recently how much I’d like to do a puzzle, but the desire has been there and somehow she knew. A thousand tiny pieces to put in order. The sun came up. Within a half hour I had a table set up in the porch room dedicated to this effort, where I could sit with this new pleasure surrounded by the beauty of the land I get to live with.

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Another half hour and I had all the edge pieces set aside. When I finally sat down to begin, I felt the rush of anticipation I remember feeling as a child. We are never too old to feel this way.

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As I worked the edges into place, I reflected on the significance of having a clear border to work within. I considered how six full decades of living have given me the structure to move into my sixties with. Most memories of my first decade are rooted in playing and having fun. Playing wasn’t as prominent in my second, third, fourth & fifth decades, the years of making career, family, and stable life. When I finished the edges of the puzzle, I began to lay out the rest of the pieces, making little groupings of like colors, a first attempt at finding the order in the 1945 New Yorker cover called ‘farm calendar’. Twelve images of country life. They could be blocks of a quilt.

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The pleasure of childhood abandon merges with the joy of where I feel my energy as an artist today. Giving myself permission to sit and play is a gift. Letting myself celebrate my sensitivities is a gift. Even if it opens up spaces for feeling tough feelings. The last time I did a puzzle was with my parents about five years ago. Mom loves puzzles too, but it is sitting at the table working silently with my father that I remember most about that particular time. A dear friend lost her fifteen year old son last week. It is an unfathomable thought, and my heart breaks for her. A flow of grief moves through and my fingers turn over a few more pieces. I anchor sadness I feel for another friend who struggles with a debilitating illness, in the pink border of one edge. I cherish my solitude, even if it means not moving out into the world in the way I did when I was younger. I consider the sadness I can feel for the losses in my own life, beginning to fit the pieces together now, remembering that I can also let the beauty and awe experienced in any moment, be enough.

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When the phone rang and I saw it was Meg, I thought, how perfect. We’ve never forgotten each other’s birthdays in the fifty-three years we have known each other. She loves puzzles too. Her presence in my life, a kindred creative spirit, reminds me of a way of living that I have gratefully found in the sixth decade of my life. I am learning to trust that the people I love, and the people who love me, will always be there. There is much to celebrate. And still so many choices to be made. Being here, playing with my puzzle, feeling everything that there is to feel, makes moving into the next decade something to look forward to.

doing the work

The molecules of spring in the air tease. I am itching to start a new quilt. New beginnings are just below the surface of the barely visible ground, still covered in a thin blanket of white on this cold late March morning. It’s that time of year that invites shedding, purging, and finishing. Closets have been cleaned out, preparations for a full body cleanse have been made, but all of my winter projects beg to be finished before I take on anything new. It’s time to do the work.

I spent the better part of the past week finishing the quilting of a dolphin inspired design that I had abandoned long ago. I had been too ambitious all those years ago, making a raw edge applique piece too big to accomplish the competent finish I desired. In an impusive moment, I had cut the whole thing up into pieces, thinking it would be easier to manage the machine quilted lines I was making. I remember feeling disappontment after sewing two pieces back together, how challenging it could be to make a curved seam under normal circumstances, but add batting and another layer of cloth, well, what a silly idea that had been. I had only ended up with an ievitable pucker and bulge never fully exorcised after mutilple rippings and re-sewings. All the pieces went into a bag after that, to be buried out of sight out of mind. I don’t know if it was the early call of spring or the call of this quilt to come out of hiding, but the urge to unearth the bag and iron out the long folded pieces for re-assembling on the design wall came hard and fast recently. Within three days I finished the last bits of quilting, sewed all the pieces together without the frustration of years ago, and fashioned a system of appliqued strips to enclose the seams. It would be a lot of extra work. Would it be worth it?

These winter months in the wake of my father’s passing have been quiet, as if inviting me to finally, cross over into a different way of occupying time. Not in the usual bursts of deadline driven effort that have characterized the tempo of my career as an architect and paid my mortgage. Everything about life at this time now feels, magically, more immediate. There is the time spent doing daily home health care work with elders, to being a daily presence for my daughter who is temporarily living at home again. Hours spent sewing, with needle and thread or yarn or fabric in my hands just becomes an extension of this new sense of dailyness that for some reason, holds the energy of Dad for me.

While sewing, a recently finished quilt that occupied wall space next to the worktable distracted me. It wasn’t right. I wasn’t in love. I was disturbed by the aspects of this quilt that, tweaked just a little, could easily evoke the feeling of a swastika. I had loved the making of the blocks of this quilt, large free form shapes in primary colors that were inspired by drama often seen in evening skies. As I sat and pinned and appliqued for the hours and hours it took to finish the back of the dolphin quilt, the flow of the work evntually led to a flash of clarity and courage to cut up this finished sky quilt into nine equal pieces. Which led to an entirely different way of assemblage that would require even more pinning and sewing of a system of self bindings into place.

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More extra work. And worth every moment for the transformation that became possible.

Doing the work hasn’t just led to completion. It has led to spaces where change is possible.

Then there are the many feet of knitting that has filled odd hours throughout this winter. Almost twenty-four feet to be exact, four scarves worth, three bound off with many many tails of yarn beginnings and ends to be woven in to make the finished edges.

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This work is equally repetitive, also hidden in the end, never seen except while in the process of its doing. It is the work of practice, of staying present to the beauty of a moment, however that might be manifesting. I have many hours in front of me of threading the ends of yarn into a large needle and finding just the right path for each one to disappear into. Is this what happens in death then? The thread of our life remaining interwoven into the memory of something worth remembering but now unseen, all traces of that thread’s beginning and end now consumed by the unknown?

Doing the work puts me in direct contact with this unknown. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

 

 

is this progress?

Its not that I actually spent endless hours in the kitchen. It’s that entire blocks of time, even whole days, were conditioned by the time required to prepare certain foods this past week. A clear pattern formed. Bursts of energy would go into kneading, rolling, rubbing, and chopping. The spaces in between would fill with anticipation, potent creative juice that would send me to a quilt or book chapter in process, a walk in the woods, or to my imagination for what the next meal would look like to accompany the fruits of my effort; a frittata that used up all the bits of leftover vegetables in the bin combined with the fresh eggs and feta cheese from a local farm store to go with the fresh bread, or a simple onion sauce to go with homemade pasta.

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Most of these efforts have been born out of a desire not to spend valuable time and money at the grocery store buying things I don’t need. All I really need is some good grain and flour for making bread; produce, meat, eggs and cheese from the local CISA farm I support. This past week, my experimentation with making levain starter has paid off, and the round crusty loaves, proofed and baked in a cast iron pot, emerged crackling as they cooled, yielding moist airy hearty sourdough crumb.

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One snowy cold afternoon I decided to try making filej, an Italian hand rolled spiral pasta from a recipe in “Cooking with Italian Grandmothers” by Jessica Theroux. I love this book full of hand-earned wisdom. Making the pasta took a long time. First kneading a stiff dough made from semolina flour and water. Then hours of rolling thin ropes to be cut into small pieces, each twisted around a skewer and formed into a smooth spiral with one swift roll with the palm of the hand.

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Like learning to ride a bike, once the feeling of the motion registered, the process became automatic, but each piece of pasta sliding off the skewer was still as different from, and as equally unique, as the last.

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I stood at the sink rubbing corn that had been boiled and soaked for a day, rubbing vigorously to remove the brown husks still clinging to the bright yellow surface of each kernal. Part of the large colander full would be used to make posole or corn stew of some sort. the other part would be ground and made into tortillas.

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So much time was being devoted to this task and I was loving the process until the thought popped into my head, but is this progress?

All week I had been loving the time invested in these tasks of turning something whole and raw into something delicious and nourishing. I wasn’t worried or second guessing why I found such enjoyment here. Only when the thought of this not so innocent question that came accompanied with hints of guilt and fear, did I think that I should stop the current food-inspired flow. I was forced to consider how my actions constituted onward movement toward a worthy destination. I struggled to find acceptance in the simple forward movement of my seemingly simple actions that allowed me to dwell in the meditative spirit of doing nothing, going nowhere.

I have to remember that anytime we create new capacities or resources, we also introduce new threats – so progress, defined in the way I have grown up, is never a simple forward movement. I think about my reluctance to embrace so many of the efficiencies created by industry, how processed food and fast food has introduced a whole new host of medical issues to reckon with, altering the core of systems we need for our very survival. And how ironically, our medical system has sped ahead to create even more efficiencies without even considering the impact of its supposed progress. I don’t want to accept this. I don’t have to accept this.

Eventually, I came back to knowing that there’s nothing wrong with doing nothing, going nowhere. The leftovers from the roasted chicken dinner with carrots and purple potatoes would combine with the corns for a hearty stew.

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I came back to feeling the compassion and equanimity that lives in this space. Yes, we do what we have to do to survive. And yes, infinite beauty and hope can co-exist in the simplest ways of survival too.

 

 

flying

I have started flying again. Not in an airplane kind of flying. This flying is just me, one moment standing on the ground on my two legs with the thought, taking a few steps to initiate lift off, becoming horizonal above the earth, and then simply gliding though the air. There is no surge or need for overt power here. It is as easy as taking a breath. As exhilirating as the most unanticipated discovery. As natural a movement as any other I have ever experienced.

Crazy, right? You could say I am dreaming. My eyes are closed. I am lying in bed presumably asleep. I know I have flown like this before, and I know this way of being with the world is completely normal. No surprise, the flash of lonliness that appears. Who else flies like this? Until now I’ve never thought to ask or consider that there could be a real conversation with another about flying. I’ve never trusted that I could be heard and be able to continue the conversation even if they didn’t see or understand it my way.

A friend recently sent me a podcast of Brene Brown and Krista Tippett about ‘the spiritual practice of belonging’. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/on-being-with-krista-tippett/id150892556?mt=2&i=1000401797450)  It is a wonderful conversation, where Brene Brown offers this,
“What if loneliness is driven, often, by changing who we are, being perfect, saying what we’re supposed to. What is loneliness is driven in part by our lack of authenticity?”

It would be easy for me to dismiss this flying as just a figment of imagination, to want the acceptance that would come from such a view. But that would not be an authentic me. To acknowledge my own desperate wanting to belong I need to say, yes, I want to be part of something, AND, I want to stand alone, to fly all by myself, when I need to. It’s terrifying. But as Brene Brown goes on to say, “Your level of true belonging can never be greater than your willingness to stand alone and be yourself.”

It is no coincidence that another friend also recently recommended I watch a Netflix series called Sense8. We had been talking about unrest in the world, how the black & white of political/economic separation is creating a context that is increasing unbearable to even talk about. He has found some hope in this show that depicts a world where difference can be celebrated through ultimate connectivity and intimacy with others across the globe, within an intact individual identity that can communicate telepathically. It is classified as science fiction, but for me, this show vibrates with a completely believable portrayal of humanity offered in both difficult and beautiful, always heartfelt, ways of love.

Last spring I ventured deeper than usual into the woods in front of the swamp I knew was there, but had never actually seen. There was a call of the wild that I had been hearing in the days prior, and finally couldn’t resist. It turned out to be a nest of herons located high up in a lone tree growing out of the middle of the water. As Yogi and Nora romped in the vastness of the swamp waters, I watched as the birds flew back and forth from this perch, emitting their distinctive cries. there was a lumbering grace to the large bird being horizontal in a way that felt familiar.

I want to remember this feeling of gliding so easily between worlds, between truly authentic me and a community that can hold a truly diverse and sustainable way. A world where flying like a bird, or communicating telepathically, or even standing alone, can be normal too.

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orb

It was Monday morning, the third sunrise after Dad’s passing. We had started looking at photos, and Mom had pulled out a shot of the two of them that would be perfect for the obituary. I offered to crop in, the way I like to do on my iphone and turned on the camera function that shows me the last photo taken in the lower left corner of the screen. I hadn’t taken but one picture in the past three days, unusual for me as I am always snapping something that I see here or there. So I was surprised to see an image I didn’t recognize at all there. A flash of thrill went through me. I opened the photo full frame to find a scene of two small cabins at a water’s edge taken on a cloudy day. It wasn’t computing, what this photo was, where it was taken, or how it had landed in my camera. Looking more closely I couldn’t ignore the large milky orb right in the middle of the red cabin that filled the center of the photo. Or a smaller fainter orb about the same size below it.

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Definition of orb (from Merriman-Webster online)

1: any of the concentric spheres in old astronomy surrounding the earth and
carrying the celestial bodies in their revolutions
2: archaic : something circular : circle, orbit
3: a spherical body; especially : a spherical celestial object
4: eye
5: a sphere surmounted by a cross symbolizing kingly power and justice

Seeing orbs in photos is controversial. Some believe it is a trick of the camera lense. Others believe it is a visible presence of a spirit in celestial form. I don’t have a hard time believing the latter. Whenever I see an orb in a photo, especially as prominently as this one, I feel a shiver go through me. My heart stops for just the briefest moment to register the energy of what is there. Looking down at this unrecognizable image in the wake of Dad’s passing, I wondered what someone, maybe even Dad, was trying to tell me.

Oh, I checked the time it was taken, 9:48 pm the night before (January 22). But I had been sound asleep with the phone on the bedstand next to me. I checked all the ways a photo could land in my album, through a mesage or what’s app chat. Nothing. I showed it to my brother who cycled through every rational explanation and came up blank, leaving even him with an uncharacteristic expression of confusion and resignation.

Two weeks have now passed and I continue to be haunted by this photo that still sits prominently in this place on my phone. It continues to taunt me to decipher its meaning. It’s no secret that I covet spherical forms, collect crystal spheres, embed spherical energy into my quilts, even watch for how the sun rearranges itself through the trees to be seen in the forest when I am there.

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For someone who thrives on seeing meaning and connection in all things, this continues to be a mystery that offers no clues.

So I trust. I trust that the meaning will reveal itself in time. I trust that whatever part Dad has in this comes from his heart, that maybe he is letting me know how much he trusted too.

 

a week

Dad’s obituary will run in tomorrow’s newspaper. I’ve had a week now to move through a range of shock, disbelief, grief, and acceptance of his passing, Surrounded by family, Dad died peacefully in his own bed after only one day of hospice. My mother, brother, and I have been re-adjusting to the feeling of three, not four. I don’t know what day it is. The space Dad has left is a huge culmination of molecules affected. The air we walk through here now contains both his essence and his absence. The words of sympathy and admiration for this man who forged an incredible life centered on family, friends, and community have been pouring in and we are resting in the truth of just how significanty Dad touched others.

When I am here, I love to capture the beautiful view my parents enjoy from their east facing exposure to Canandaigua Lake and the hills beyond. I have shared the glorious sunrises that fill the sky with color and drama during all seasons. I love them all, but it is the winter scenes that capture the spirit of something primal that I suspect Dad felt too. There is nothing more exhilirating than stark and cold of a brilliant winter day.

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Dad loved to downhill ski. He became part of a devoted group of friends who would travel to Aspen each year. After several seasons of this, he decided to initiate the rest of us, taking us to Montreal to ski in sub zero cold one winter weekend. It took. We became a family of skiers through his passion, and had years of weekends together travelling to our beloved Holimont in Ellicottville NY early on Saturday mornings to be the first on the slopes, not waiting for lunch to eat Dad’s famous egg and olive sandwiches for breakfast in the car from the large lunch basket which we all whole-heartedly contributed to packing the night before. There was always fun apres ski with friends after the last runs, and then we’d drive to Jamestown to spend the night with our Gramma Ford, arriving to the smells of her home cooking that Dad grew up with. We would be back on the slopes again first thing Sunday morning, ski all day, then make the three hour drive home, always stopping for some of his favorite Perry’s ice cream on the way. Black raspberry was his favorite. Years of family ski trips to Vermont and Colorado followed. He and Mom skied in the Alps. He became known for his signature one piece Bogner suit and white hat. And finally, retired here to the Bristol Hills west of Canandaigua Lake, he would ski daily at his beloved Bristol Mountain, just minutes away from home.

When Dad broke his leg two years ago at the age of 83, skiing, he mourned his loss of time on the slopes. He never did ski again.

A week has gone by, and the snow that was here for Dad’s spirit to merge with is gone. Rest in peace Dad.

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