reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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fragile and crucial. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

“and someday the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life?  and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.” (story people)

nature has no pretenses. it isn’t trying to be all-that. no keeping-up-with-the-joneses. it just is. it’s truth at its core. it is color in all spectrums, bold and diffused, opaque and transparent.

this aspen leaf lay at the edge of the lake. no longer vibrant green or golden yellow or even toasted brown, it lay, waiting to be seen. light shining through it; it was exposed. and ever so brilliant. i knelt down and studied the veining, intricate and delicate, fragile and crucial.

my sweet poppo, in his latest years around 90, had delicate skin, seemingly transparent. this man, strong and never afraid of hard work, became more fragile and his arms – that had cut down trees and repaired volkswagens and tiny bulova watch fixings and rube-goldberged nearly anything and made coffee every morning for my momma and drove mopeds in early retirement and whirled me around the ice rink and gently held his grandchildren – turned translucent, telling stories of his life. his eyes, unclouded, spoke those memories – the beloved tales of family, the challenges of being a prisoner of war in world war two, the upstate water hole, the waterfowl games out their back lanai. no pretenses.

i suppose we will all lose our color at some point. we will become more gauzy and our veneer will start to fade. maybe it’s in those moments that we realize that none of it – the veneer and the joneses – really mattered. that all that was important was being. through all the phases – all the color – all that was important was life, clear and true. and that it was fragile and crucial all along.

*****

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and then, another star. [two artists tuesday]

and just like that, in a sliver of a moment, columbus became a star in a constellation of galactic proportion. he joins with all who have gone before, souls of people-loving-people and surrounds us in the wind as we move about our days.

i won’t forget the day my dad died. though i saw him hours before, i didn’t know it would be that very night. the axis tilted and the news came.

same with david. i know he won’t forget. his last visit with his dad was months earlier and, in his latest days, columbus had taken a path where memories escape into the atmosphere and he was simply in the moment or in a moment of his imagination. we held vigil, as we all do in those last somewhat-expected days. and then, we woke on friday and just knew. the axis titled and the news came.

there have been three fathers in my life – generationally-speaking. my sweet dad, erling, ever-present-poppo-chain on our wrists, was a quiet steady force in my life, always encouraging, undaunted by the hardships of his life and a loving champion for his family. and marvin. the father of our children’s father, marvin was delightfully positive and simple, hardworking and a mush for those he loved. and columbus, whose perspective is easily that which louis armstrong sang about in “what a wonderful world”. each, men who would tear up when beloveds were leaving. strength in honest hearts.

all – stars in the constellation. all – love in the wind.

and now, now that the earth has regained just a little center, though never to be absolutely balanced again, i imagine columbus sitting with my sweet poppo and marvin too. talking shop, telling stories, assigning the breeze on which those they love will find them, shining in a night sky.

*****

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momma’s 100th birthday. [merely-a-thought monday]

i hope there is chocolate ganache cake and asti spumante. today is my sweet momma’s 100th birthday and, wherever she is roaming in that other plane of existence, i want there to be an enormous celebration of this day she was born back in 1921. there is not a moment i don’t miss her. there is not a moment that i am unaware of her presence.

the dining room table is piled with all kinds of finnish glassware and etched crystal and scandinavian birchwood as i empty bins that have been packed for years. i carefully unwrap the end-of-roll-clean-newsprint that layers between these and i’m immediately reminiscent. every here and there there is a tiny note, written by my mom, to explain the origins of this vase or that kissing-couple-wine-stopper. i have many questions and know that they will now go unanswered. i find myself researching and researching, a google-fest of information about these items, some of which have no story i can access.

i am drawn to pieces and carefully clean them. we poured chilled white wine into a pair of chunky goblets, ittala ultima thule glass designed by tapio wirkkala, inspired by melting ice in lapland. yesterday i made strawberry rose sangria and poured it into glasses from a heavy crystal etched pitcher, which i remember was a gift to my parents early in their marriage. the other day we had happy hour snacks out on the deck, olives and crackers and goat cheese on hand-painted japanese china, a post-world-war-two-origin lost to me, served on a glass mid-century hazel atlas boopie berwick party platter (which is actually called a ‘smoke and snack tray’ but i can’t bring myself to call it that.)

the history gathers in our dining room and i can almost feel the cheers of my momma and my dad, my grandmother mama dear and grandfather gramps. they encourage my googling and they also encourage me to sort through and find the things that really resonate with me. i can hear my momma telling me, “pass it on to someone” or “sell it!” as i unpack more bins of things, things, things that would otherwise remain packed. although i still abide by the unspoken ‘beaky rule’ to saaave new things for a bit before using them, keeping all these things packed in bins for years, no, decades – unused – is silliness and it is rewarding time spent opening it all up, seeing what’s there, going through, incorporating these jewels into our daily life. i know that is making my momma smile.

today we will lift our glasses to my momma, our beaky, and celebrate her. her spirit and spunk live on. her stink eye penetrating look, her raised eyebrow “oh?”, her ‘write-a-lettuh’, her sisu, her new-yorkishness. her kindness, her storytelling, her love.

today i will light a candle and gently ring the delicate glass bell she and my dad received as a wedding gift and i will be grateful that this day – 100 years ago – my momma was born on this earth. for that, this world is better.

*****

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no timely manner. [d.r. thursday]

now i understand. at least, i am beginning to understand.

my sweet momma and poppo would linger…watching birds, gazing at flowers, studying the horizon – be it shorefront or mountainside, cityscape or tiny town or rural farmland, slowly taking it in. in the hurry-hurry of my younger years, i would scurry past, noticing but maybe not really.

i am moving slower now. not because i can’t scurry, but because i am choosing to list to the linger side. though we still watch re-runs after re-runs of joey hiking and climbing and backpacking and pitching tents any and everywhere, imagining ourselves in those canyonlands keeping up, imagining ourselves on the pct or the john muir or the colorado trail, i know that our pace would not match the pace of joey or the exuberant younguns on heading somewhere or walking with purpose or the meticulous norwegian xplorer. we would be slower, lingering, lingering. i’m not sure that would get us from point a to point b successfully or in a timely manner, but i’m thinking that our definition of ‘timely manner’ may have to just be different. because now – in the middle of this grand middle age – is different.

for now i want to watch the birds and gaze at flowers up-close. i want to stop and stare, drop to sit on a nearby log and take it in. i want to notice the intricasies of all of it, the undertones, the overtones.

as i look at the close-up of this milkweed trailside i am struck by the layers of detail. it somehow makes me recall decisions between the major chord and the relative minor, a continuum of impact. it makes me think of melodic gestures, a spectrum of color and of grace. a horsehair brush extended from the heights of the universe, painting perfection in the woods. artists’ hands waving paint on canvas, cupping clay on a wheel, flying over the white and black on a piano, coaxing lines that make you weep from a cello. all the same. creation in all its iterations.

on the call pat told me that the music – my music – had harmonics, tuned with the universe, that made her travel. humbling.

for i see that is what my momma and poppo were doing. traveling. they allowed the beauty around them to touch them, to slow them down, convincing them – in all the infinite glory that beauty -and art- can muster – that ‘a timely manner’ was relative, that time was relative. that time spent in a slow linger was precious.

*****

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blooming. [merely-a-thought monday]

as i stand with david, together with his mom and siblings, watching his dad walk down the path of dementia, i am deep in thought of my own parents, missing them. elusive complexities become simple and unimportant as i think about my sweet momma and poppo and their stamp on the world. though certainly worthy, they will not be detailed in history books or in record-holding guiness lists, nor will they be featured in paintings in state buildings or referenced in periodicals, footnotes of prestige. but, just as the life that columbus is forgetting, a life rich in experience and love, so were the lives of my parents. their lives had purpose, their stories were and are important. their dreams counted and their voices mattered. and, though it need not be said, they made an impact.

there are moments when i gaze around and marvel at the rapid movement around us. i feel as if i step back away from the edge of the chaos that is everyday life in a society that values ‘more’ and i just wonder. i wonder about how we all fit in, how, from beginning to end, our lives – in the swirl of everyone’s lives – play a part in this world. i wonder how our very molecules affect other molecules, how permanent or impermanent this effect we have.

pat said, “it’s why you’re here.” she seemed much more certain of that than i. middle age, or maybe it is later middle age, as ross pointed out the other day, is complicated. there is a bit of that elusive complexity whirling around, waiting for us to reach up and cup it in our hands, like catching fireflies on a muggy summer night. holding memories close, we glance back at our lives, pondering the rights and the wrongs and the joys and blisses and the mistakes and the regrets and the happies and the sadnesses, and we watch the glimmering light, surprised at the time that has gone by, stunned by the arc of life that even the tiniest path-choices brought us. in the looking-back we notice the insignificant. in the looking-back, we notice the significant. and sometimes, when we are lucky, we realize how absolutely preposterous it is that we are here at all, how miraculous that we can feel, that we are breathing in this very time.

and i think about my mom and dad. though perhaps generations from now – even possibly just a few – there may be no more out-loud mention of their names or their stories, but they will have been here and, for that, the world is different. i think about columbus, who, though forgetting, is still here, is still holding to life and the filmy stories he can access, his innate and unspoken courage on that path – so painful – moves us, brings us to tears, yet, inspires us. his forgetting reminds us to remember – to live.

we are all on our way to changing the world. each and every one of us, despite our differences, despite anything. it’s why we’re here. it’s ridiculously simple and ridiculously complex.

*****

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pointers. [d.r. thursday]

“i believe art is utterly important. it is one of the things that could save us.” (mary oliver)

in those moments – so many of them – when all else fails to reassure – beauty reminds us. it keeps us present, in the moment, working to get to the next moment, breathing in deep breaths, slowly, slowly.

the work of an artist, in any medium, is as a pointer, just like the wooden ones with the rubber tip that your fourth grade teacher used as she pulled down the world map on the roll above the blackboard to show your class the track of an expedition or the location of a country. artists pull down the map and point to it, making it accessible to anyone, making it alive, bringing an infinity of beauty, pulling your attention away from the narrative inside, whatever it might be. it is a tool of healing, a balm, a salve. it is freeing. it is free.

we immerse in music, in the ecstasy of dance, in the flow of poetry, in the spectrum of paint on a canvas, the feel of clay pots in our hands. we sometimes forget and are driven into the angst of life’s dimensionality, missing the limitlessness of the simplest. these are the moments we turn to art.

for in the end it is not the accumulation of things or wealth or titles or power. it is simply and utterly the sheer beauty of being here, the absolutely stunning realization that we get to be here in this moment in a continuum of moments we share – albeit tiny within the vast – with the universe. inside the art.

“you can’t take it with you,” my sweet poppo would say as he would refer to money or stuff. in those pondering moments he had, he somehow knew watching the cormorants on the lake out the window, listening to music on their stereo, puttering and creating in his garage workshop, quietly coffee-sitting with my momma – these were the things of value. the day he threw caution to the wind and purchased a large painting at the splurgy karl’s mariners inn restaurant perched on northport harbor; he was answering the call of art – the pointer that drew him in and wrapped him, in this case, in the fjords of norway and endless dreaming. it moved home to home with them and always was a source of calm, a reminder of beauty and peace.

each day i walk downstairs and see this canvas on the easel. each day it reminds me of the trail we often walk, for it is the paused and erased beginning of a painting of the woods of that trail. i pay attention to it because it affords me tiny spaces of river trail within my day. it reminds me, as i scurry about attempting to get things done, to remember. it slows me down and i can hear the rustling of leaves, the birdcalls, the crunch of our feet on dirt, the chatter of squirrels. i can feel the sun atop my head, the breeze in my face, my arm looped through david’s. i can see the color of wildflowers, lush green underbrush, rough grey-brown bark, cloud-dotted blue sky. i can sense a bit of time on my hands, but just a bit. and i am right there, stepped out of the up-close worries, stepped into beauty. i am paying attention. art has done its good work.

to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. (mary oliver)

*****

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aging-ageing. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

rejuvenate. anti-aging formula. anti-aging rejuvenating serum. skin repair and firming cream. anti-aging rice phytoceramides plant-derived capsules. advanced natural anti-ageing cream complex. crepey skin repair and firming cream. anti-aging supplement and multi-vitamin for energy, skin, bone and joint support. anti-aging organic flax seed oil and phytonutrient formula. multi-collagen capsules with hyaluronic acid and vitamin c. awakening hydraskin system. ageless cell life extension. anti-aging beauty spray vacuum. age-defying face lifting concentrate. night total facial rejuvenation system.

“achieve visibly younger skin.” “who wants to look their age?” “visible results in minutes of use.” “recommended for discerning patients.” “join me in the battle against ageing.”

i am wayyy wayyy behind the curve. the pink oil of olay hydrating lotion in my small cosmetic drawer in the bathroom has been around for sixty years. hmm, i should have written that sentence in a structurally different way. the little plastic bottle has not physically been in my drawer for sixty years; the product has been produced for sixty years. sheesh. other than a few pass-me-down gifted clinique products from my sister, this has been my moisturizer of choice. simple. done. i have not researched this nor have i had long conversations with girlfriends about moisturizer. joann has absolutely lovely skin. her face glows. one day i asked her what she used and, delightedly, she told me oil of olay. yippee! samesies. so, that means if i keep using oil of olay my face will glow? hardly.

the jowls i woke up with one day that my sweet dad and gravity so generously passed on, the wrinkles around my eyes, the sweet-momma crease in my forehead – these are genetics. webmd.com says that the intrinsic aging of skin cannot be avoided. and the time: time spent outside as a child, spud and kickball in the neighborhood, swimming in our round above-ground pool, teenage time spent on bike hikes and on crab meadow beach laying on a bazooka gum beach towel playing my radio, trips to florida beaches with woven bags holding tanning oil and iced tea and potato chips, motherhood time on backyard swings, at lakefront beaches, on soccer fields, at baseball diamonds, earlier-middle-age un-thinking time on adirondack chairs basking in the sun – though perhaps innocently skin-irresponsible, cannot be erased.

aging. ageing.

my dad received national geographic magazine for as long as i can remember. paging through were articles and photographs through which i was introduced to cultures i was likely to never actually visit but from which i could gain small bits of wisdom.

though i mostly understand the medical importance of taking good care of our skin and using spf products and staying out of torrid sun and hydrating and eating proper nutrients, i could see that the women and men of these other cultures – outside of our society – did not concern themselves with aging-ageing. indeed, they were not in a battle or a race against it. instead, they upheld it, celebrated it, honored it. and while i would probably prefer less jowls and less wrinkles and less crepe and less of the other stuff with horrendous names that advertisers have come up with for natural aging processes -god-forbid- i will choose to stand in it and feel fortunate to be here.

fortunate to be aging-ageing. winning the race either way.

****

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the lateral list. [merely-a-thought monday]

it’s on the list. i explained to d yesterday that i have a lateral list of things that need my attention, in addition to a vertical list. cleaning the attic, sorting through the basement, going through the closets, these are all on the lateral list somewhere vertically among a number of other things that need to be done. every so often, this lateral push-pull bobs to the top. but procrastination is a fierce reactor and readily slaps the bobbing tedium down.

lately, though, it has risen – triumphantly – and called my name. since the attic is hotter than heck right now, the basement will be first up. it may take me weeks just to decide what to wear down there – how to dress for the plethora of memories mixed with spider carcasses and a whole bunch of sunflower seeds i noticed a while back in the storage room. at the time i wondered why the boy had eaten sunflower seeds and disposed the shells in the storage room and how i hadn’t noticed these and cleaned them out years earlier. the realist raised her hand, shooing off the ridiculous and suggested that cute little mice had made the mess. the boy is now off the hook and there will be a broom ready. so, yes, the outfit might be important…something i might leave down there to specifically don for the lateral look-through. as chores go, this one will be to leave no stone unturned, to peer into every box, unearth each bin, gingerly throw away every spider and centipede carcass. there is no telling what treasures we might find. if it wasn’t so much work, i would be totally looking forward to it. ok, admittedly, part of me is happily anticipating it. because – it is rich in memories. and therein lies the root problem.

i explained to d that this will take some time. that he should not be thinking that – poof! – it will be done quickly. oh no…every single everything down there has a story. and, to jump on ann landers’ bandwagon, some things have words. lots of them. like old greeting cards, stories my children wrote when they were little, scrapbooks of adventures, brochures saved from, well, everywhere. not to mention old report cards, newspaper clippings, letters penned by my sweet momma, tiny notes on pa pad paper written by my poppo. so, draw up a chair, d, this could take a while. but, hey, don’t go away, because i’d love to share it all with you.

we recently brought home a bin from colorado in which david’s mom and dad had saved miscellaneous clippings and photos and playbills about him. we combed slowly through it; for me, it was my first viewing of many of these pieces. articles and wedding invitations, school letters and the note that the man in the neighborhood wrote to the editor of the paper bragging about what “a little gentleman” david was as his paperboy. sitting at the table going through all these was like having a viewmaster toy full of different slides, snippets of his life during which i wasn’t there.

though i may have a few more slides, bins full, shall we say, it will be a chance for him to peek into the viewmaster and see me as a little girl, a teenager, a young woman, someone who wore a bikini and went water-skiing and sought out all the lighthouses on long island. to see the tangible evidence of me as a young mother: art projects and cheerios containers, favorite rattles and the tassels of high school graduations. so many artifacts, so many stories to tell.

this might be the right week for that. the temperatures will be in the high 80s, the humidity will be drippy and this-old-house-with-no-central-air will be cooler in the basement.

i need to plan my basement work clothes. cue-up the lateral list. full-speed ahead.

*****

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shabby chic. [two artists tuesday]

i was grateful when they attached a name to it – shabby chic. my inclination to love things with the texture of peeling paint and a bit rough-hewn was vindicated…wait!…not only vindicated, but reinforced by the decorating fashion industry. phew! that meant that the old screen doors on the wall, the glass-less window frames tucked here and there, the chopped-off-side-of-the-vintage-desk end table, the vintage black suitcases, the metal radiator grate catty-corner in the foyer, the old door laid horizontal on horses, the tin ceiling panels…these were all fashion statements and not statements of making-do-decor. such a relief.

i must say, however, that i wouldn’t have changed anything anyway. these all make me happy. they are cozy and warm and, mostly, they have history. and it’s the history-that-remains-a-mystery and the history-that-i-know-a-smidge-about that i love. i had no idea whose screen door screens these were when i got them at a wholesale trade show years ago but i could imagine the sound they made when they slammed shut. nor did i know where the old black window with one colored glass square in my studio was from. the old four-foot tall window frames were being thrown out of the historic lakefront building where i had my offices, making room for new windows. i couldn’t bear to see them in the trashpile and the way i adored those offices made it easy to take them home. someone literally chopped off the side of the old desk leaving three drawers and a rough edge and selling it in the estate sale for $5. you can’t see the rough edge unless you really look and this piece has been in the living room for years and years now, serving a purpose and feeling loved. the tin, well, who knows? what i do know is that they make marvelous places to magnet photographs and cards and tiny little signs with sayings that help each day. so, yeah, i guess my point is that whether i know the back-story or not, i really appreciate the warmth of long living they bring. they sit alongside many rocks and sticks that have made short and long journeys home with me, in the back of little baby scion or in backpacks with corks that come home from times spent with my children and moments i want to remember.

i haven’t purchased a lot of brand new furniture. there was the first herculon-fabric overstuffed couch with two matching overstuffed chairs, a tweed in lovely shades of very-early 1980s brown.

well over a decade later that was donated to a youth group and a new couch in mid 1990s floral barn red and forest green with a reclining wingchair of red and white checks made its way into the living room. both of those pieces still have a place in the house – though no longer in the living room. the couch, still very comfortable, is covered with a black slipcover and has a place in the sitting room with a hand-me-down lazyboy, an old farm table and an antique copper boiler tub that stores our roadtrip writings.

there’s a black leather couch in the living room now that has been there over a decade. it shares the space with the old secretary that was my brother’s, the bistro table that was in the second story porch of my old offices, a vintage typewriter 20 bought me for my birthday a couple years ago, a few paintings i spattered, the desk-turned-end-table you now know too much about and the driftwood we brought back from a trip to long island. the two big branches we painted white and potted to hold happy lights still stand steadfastly happying up the room and each day i pass them i wonder if they are too holiday-ish. i quickly reject this as too big a decision and plug them in.

it is in recent days i have had the good fortune of hearing from a dear old friend i taught with in my first two years of teaching way-back-when. we soon will have a phone chat and catch up on everything from a-z. what lois doesn’t realize is that i have thought of her simply every day…as it is her dresser that stands in our bedroom of vintage size that couldn’t really accommodate one of those bedroom suites you see in magazines. instead, this old sturdy five-drawer sits opposite the windows of the sunrise and hold my dad’s peanut can, one of the precious items i have of my sweet poppo’s, the planters peanut blue metal can he tucked in his drawer that always held a few dollars and was the place he sent you if you were going to go pick up the pizza.

as i look at the top of that dresser right this second, pictures of d and me and of my beloved children are on top. there is a small piece of the carpet padding from the irresponsible-gasket-flood waiting to go in the special box next to the yago-sangria-wine-bottle-turned-lamp i made when i was 19 and there is a card in a glass frame that reads: “someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life? and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.”

all of this – the stuff with history i know, the stuff with history i don’t know, the peeling paint, the rough-hewn, the used and the it-took-me-a-long-time-to-decide new…all of it – around me reminds me of that and is the connecting thread. of the concentric circles of me, of us. probably that’s why “shabby chic” speaks to me. it is most definitely why it works for me.

*****

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hold kjeft. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

i never asked where the deer head on the den wall came from. we were not a hunting family and we were verymuch a mammal-loving family, but it must have never occurred to me to ask. this old deer head, hung on the paneling of the room with our black and white tv and giant rock fireplace built stone-by-tedious-stone by sven, ruled over the garage wall side of the room and was somewhat opposite the back door.

if snoopy, our modell’s sporting goods $10.20 dog (of which i paid the 20 cents), got to barking incessantly, my sweet dad would point to the deer head and, in his brooklyn-voice, taunt her, “you wanna go on the wall?” somehow she understood this empty threat and would mostly stop barking. but if she didn’t stop, my dad would bark back at her, “hold kjeft!!” my sons-of-norway norwegian lessons were not long-lived, but they were comprehensive enough for me to know that meant “shut up!”. spoken in a different language, it didn’t seem as rude.

when they were growing up, i never allowed the girl or the boy to say “shut up!” to each other or anyone. it just seemed like an unnecessarily aggressive way to ask someone to be quiet or at least quieter. i never thought to use “hold kjeft” as an alternative back then.

but now, as dogga runs the backyard looking for the rest of the cast in 101 dalmations to bark back at him, “hold kjeft” is my command of choice. as we pass people in the car and he is suddenly aware of a dog on the sidewalk out the car window, “hold kjeft” is my command of choice. as the neighbors get him riled up, with fifteen kids or so in the backyard all screaming at the top of their lungs and their dog barking-barking, “hold kjeft” is my command of choice. every time i say it, i see the deer head in the den and i can hear my sweet poppo’s voice.

it doesn’t necessarily do the trick all the time. but it conjures up precious long-ago memories of a different time, when i watched black and white tv with no remote, sat on the hearth with hot chocolate and sit-upons, paid no attention to decor or other adult-riddled-responsibilities and laughed when my dad stared at our underbite-blessed-boxer-mixed-breed-mutt and pointed to the wall.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY