it was easy to lose ourselves on the beach. it was cold, but the sun was out and we were all dressed for it. our hike had brought us through the preserve and then – a little jaunt through the woods – to the shore. deserted, it was sandy, punctuated by driftwood and thick stripes of rocks. the further south we walked, the more rocks. the shoreline curved and must have been the place where the stones were captured as lake michigan rogue waves carried them in. so much to pick up, with smooth edges to run our fingers over, ponder. so easy to lose ourselves.
we walked – heads down – looking, looking. the treasures were abundant, all right there. we found the first hag stone. there is something about hag stones. these rocks – with a hole straight through them – mysterious and beautiful, hag stones are thought to have special powers that represent protection and luck. sandstone, limestone, flint…we found another. and then another. we walked and walked on the beach, looking, looking – because it becomes addictive – finding treasures just waiting to be found. easy to lose ourselves.
it got colder and, with the wind picking up, it was time to leave. we ended up bringing home a few rocks, some magical hag stones, and some sea pottery, gorgeous sherds of earthenware with green glaze, worn down for years perhaps by the powerful great lake. despite no knowledge of the origins of any of these, the connection to the day and to the water made them alluring.
“luck will show itself when it’s there.” (ricko dewilde – life below zero) on challenging days, luck is certainly hard to see. the grass-is-always-greener mindset takes over and it’s easy to succumb, the we’re-never-lucky-like-that defeatist, unmoored. easy to lose ourselves.
but the grass-is-greener-anywhere-else moment yields. and after a pause, a deep breath, mind-quieting, a good lookaround tells us something else.
a walk on the beach with dearest friends. talking and laughing and quiet treasure-hunting. finding sea pottery and sea glass and heart-shaped rocks and smoothed-to-ivory driftwood and hag stones – there all along, just waiting to be seen.
and luck starts to show itself. even in ice cubes.
there was this knot-hole in this tree on this trail. i used to stop there each time we hiked – to gaze through it…stand and take in what i could see through the tiny porthole in the woods. always, it was a reminder of the fluidity of time, of ever-present change, of nothing standing still.
the porthole i found in the milwaukee art museum – through one of barbara hepworth’s sculptural pieces – had the same impact on me. bending down, i focused only on what i could see through that porthole. on a different day, at a different time of day, in a different month or season, never static. even minutes from my peeking-through, the wind picked up and the lake’s surface roiled a bit and all from before was erased.
late-late on sunday nights – into the wee hours – we stay awake to listen and watch our son livestream mixes from a club in chicago. he was away for a couple weeks and we missed these late dj nights. they are our porthole – our tree-knot-hole – into what he is creating, producing, learning, feeling. every midnight-hour-sunday we see the changes in the new seasons of his work, his growth, his zeal, his poise at tech controls that evoke curves of mood, layers of sound, textures of music we may not have accessed otherwise. we see his joy.
it’s the same reason i took my first snowboard lesson. at that time, it was a porthole view into our daughter’s life – a peeking window that allowed us to feel the smallest smidge of her professional work. watching her fly down mountains, picking up speed and agility and ever-more skill through our tree-knot-hole on the sidelines and touching her joy-magic with our own feet on a snowboard on a hill.
we can assume things about others. humans do it all the time. broad sweeping generalizations about people and peoples – different because of race or color or gender identity or ethnicity or country of origin or age or disability or socioeconomic status or politics or religion or whatever the prejudice-de-jour might be. we glance over at “them” and form opinions; we claim to be “open and affirming” yet we slam closed the porthole that might give us a true look into their life. we scrub away the transparency of truth and apply the balm of our agenda – totally missing perspective, the possibility of commonality, the gift of community, the connectedness of us all as a species attempting to just keep on keeping on.
were we – perhaps – to notice, to step forward and take a closer look, to shield ourselves from inevitable human failings of assumption and instead to breathe deeply and gaze – we might have a view into the sameness of us all, the things that unite us, the things we need honor and hold in high regard….that we are all one under the sun. that while we cannot walk in another’s shoes, we might learn by looking through any and every tree-knot-hole we can find. that new eyes, new focus may also mean new learnings and new appreciation and new grace. that we should stop and peer through portholes whenever we can. there’s no time to waste.
in the middle of the night – as i lie awake – i can hear the trains. not just the haunting whistles of freight chugging by or a late passenger railcar, but a train or two in the yard, idling. the sound hits me at just the wrong frequency – i am hyper aware of its rise and fall, the pulsing of it. once i hear it, i cannot un-hear it. it stays present and i stay awake.
nevertheless, the tracks hold sweet mystery and, each time i see a train, i wonder its destination, i wonder its journey, i wonder its freight or its passengers. i had not ever stood in the middle of a rural track, bent down – almost kneeling, photographing, until recent years. the track – a classic portrayal of perspective, narrowing further away.
i stood in the middle and looked both ways. south and then north. the south curved into the woods, the north was a straightaway. i turned back south.
in the right-now there seems no straight path, no tight focus, no horizon point that is clear. the tracks curve into the woods, beyond my sight, beyond my imagining. i meander. it makes me wonder.
we seek next and idle in our thoughts in the night, not-knowing. it’s liminal space, a diesel engine that needs to be kept warm for the next day, a time to be present on the tracks, bent down, looking for classic perspective. we are attendants.
i hear the haunting whistle in the wee hours and consider this journey.
“it’s projection,” he wrote. yes. bill penzey is right. it is projection. we project love onto objects and we “really see these objects as love.” he continues, talking about his desire – were there to be a fire in his house – to grab the six-quart stainless kettle he has popped corn in for every movie night he has had with his wife, and his love of the heavy-duty spatula his father gave him, adding, “and in a world where nobody gets too much love anymore, i want to do all i can to hold onto that love.” he is clearly thready. i’ve never met him, but he is on my list – people with whom i’d love to have dinner.
we have a pink backpack. it’s packed from back in the days our town was on fire, days i can feel and hear and smell and taste – viscerally – but would rather not. we’ve kept it packed, realizing that it’s wise to have one thing to grab and one place to go to find that one thing. it has important stuff in it…papers and such. it doesn’t have the tiny cheese knife we use every day, the one that was my sweet momma’s. it doesn’t have the wedding ring my dad wore or the matching flannel shirt of a pair. it doesn’t have the toddler drawings of my children or the small bowl turned trinket-holder that babycat ate from. it doesn’t have zillions of photographs. it doesn’t have masters of all my albums or a collection of jpgs or pngs or printed photos of all of david’s paintings. it doesn’t have the rock i picked up hiking with my daughter or the cork i saved from the first fancy dinner my son made for me. it can’t hold my piano or the vintage typewriter 20 gave me or the bowls we love from ken and loida or the snuggly scarf jen gave me or the old torchiere lamp from my growing-up. it doesn’t have room for the old quilt or our favorite mountain mugs or our ukuleles or my guitars or our dvd favorite-movies-collection or the cardinal towels from my sister or the ‘i-found-you-you-found-me” painting of early k.dot-d.dot days.
the one thing about antique stores is that they give you perspective. lots of it. so many items in the world. so much stuff. you ponder why someone might have held onto a plastic flower arrangement in a plastic flower pot long enough that it became part of an estate that passed into an antique shoppe or how it is possible that there are so so so many 45 rpm records out there, collections of so many long-playing albums, and, someday, so many cds. even mine.
and then you know. it hits you like a spatula upside the head.
though none of that will fit in the pink backpack, were there to be any sort of emergency – and all we could grab is the backpack – we would not lose it all.
and from the air – way high up – the mountains below appeared to be mostly snow-laden. you could see small groupings of trees, likely stands of evergreen, i would guess. it seemed like tundra, vast and untouched, far from anything. the mountains must have risen out of the ground centuries ago, no rhyme or reason, geological remnants of time past. it looked cold. i shivered gazing down. the altitude flattened it all out.
and, in a moment, i was back at the side of the pond, iphone camera in hand, capturing the frozen windswept surface in waning monochromatic light.
back a while ago – in 2018 – we were designing up a storm. we offered prints, throw pillows, tote bags, phone covers, shower curtains, coasters, leggings. i spent hours designing hundreds of products. it was a blast! one of our designs back then was “go with the flow” and you can still see (and purchase) items on society6.com.
because “go with the flow” still fits – and, i suspect, forever fits – when we passed these napkins at festival grocery store, it was on a day when they were the perfect companion to our happy hour. a reminder. a keep-perspective nudge.
i have learned that going with the flow is really an umbrella mantra. everything else can get neatly tucked in underneath the flowbrella. for what choice do we really have? pushing back causes undue stress and anxiety. hiding in a cave is just downright depressing. moving on – in the flow (picture yourself on an inner tube in a lazy river under a soft sun in 75 degrees with a gentle breeze) – is likely the best option.
having been raised in new york, i must say that goingwiththeflow doesn’t really come natural. there’s a little pushback in each o’ us and the older i get, the more i realize the uselessness of trying to dig in. my heels are not strong enough to withstand the force of the big river and it’s hard to curl my toes in the cold water to grip the riverbed (without getting a foot cramp, which is a whole ‘nother post).
in these days of getting older – and perhaps a tiny bit more sage but not too much but maybe a little – i have learned that the future comes – at least the next day – whether i agree with the present day or not, whether it’s my best day or not, whether i am wrong or right, whether i am blissfully happy or gutwrenchingly sad.
we are all kintsugi vessels. we keep our eyes peeled above the water, through the challenges of being human, and focus on whatever is our “go” lighthouse.
towering cloud. monochromatic tones. i took this photograph. i may not have taken a second look but for the wire cutting diagonally across it. it was the interruption that made it – a gorgeous cloud – even more interesting.
i’m not from here.
i am proudly from new york and sunday night out on our deck i reveled in feeling new york. i haven’t felt as new york as i felt that evening in a long time. we were playing records outside and painting rocks. i had selected a few albums – dan fogelberg, john denver, michael murphey, survivor, fleetwood mac – and i was playing dj, picking and choosing the songs to play. we sang along, somehow remembering lyrics of songs we hadn’t heard in ages, a mondegreen or two slipping in.
then i went inside to find a certain album, leaving david to pour a little wine and wonder what i was searching for.
i came back out with the double-album-set of saturday night fever. there is nothing that quite defines 1977 like that album and the bee gees. instantly transported back to the discos and beach bars of long island, i got up and, in the new privacy of our backyard, danced. the more i danced, the more i danced.
i texted a few friends, asking them if they remembered the steps to the hustle. crunch wrote back that he didn’t remember all the steps, but he remembered the spins and sent a picture from a beach bar on the island he was at as he typed his message. marc reminded me he didn’t dance – which i, of course, remembered – and told me – if i was indeed sending him snippets of “stayin’ alive” simply to annoy him – not to be such an “assassination” (which, back in the day, i would say for the word “ass” so as not to cuss. friends would tell you i have come around from those days.)
interrupting our 70s mostly-mellow flow, saturday night fever disco drew a line through the soft wash of memory in which we sat. it invigorated us. it made us dance and it made us laugh. it made a perfect night even more perfect. and it woke up the new york in me, never too far away but always a little at-bay, a little tempered.
new york is a little noisy for wisconsin. new york is a little demonstrative for wisconsin. new york is a little talkative for wisconsin. new york is a little emotional, a little animated for wisconsin. new york is a little exuberant for wisconsin. new york is a little brash for wisconsin. it’s a little center-stage, a little aggressive, a little assertive, a little interruptive.
if i were to get a tattoo (not to mention the “sisu” tattoo i would love to share with my daughter) i think it might be a simple tattoo depicting the japanese practice of kintsugi: the golden repair and honoring of flaws, beauty in human brokenness. there’s no telling if i will do that. there’s also no telling if i won’t. i’m not averse to ink. i know that ink is an expression of where you are in your life, of what you believe in, of what you seek.
“age and stage,” 20 often says when we talk about the stuff of life. tight bud to full bloom to blossoms falling, petal by petal, to the dirt. all the iterations in the middle.
everything is like that, i suppose.
the first time my boots hit the wood as i crossed from backstage to the apron was memorable. i won’t forget it. each time i’ve walked to the piano, adjusted the boom mic, took a breath and started…memorable. i won’t forget. i remember being in the middle of one of my concerts, in the middle of one of the pieces…i forgot where the piece went…i was lost. i made it up. it was a solo piece; no one else had to share in my lapse of memory. i followed the theme and noodled my way through to an end no one would ever hear again. my producer hugged me and laughed later, “nice coverup.”
the pace of my walk is slower now than it used to be…steadier. now i know that no matter what, no matter the mistakes, no matter the braindrops, no matter the missed lyrics, the thinking notes…the story will get told, the bud will open and, like any artist, i will give of myself, despite of whatever i get or don’t get in return. age teaches you that it is not the return that matters. age teaches you it is in the giving.
we talked in the kitchen this morning about the work we have done in our lives. david’s paintings, hung and not hung, my music, recorded and not recorded. we talked about our youthful desire to have everything seen, everything heard…and not in a little way. we talked about how age has brought us to this place – a place where seen and heard doesn’t really matter. painted and played matters. drawn and written matters. expressed matters. received en masse doesn’t.
it really is “age and stage”. it’s not just the moments of our children, tiny beings not sleeping through the night, toddlers in terrible-two-tantrums – people reassuring us “age and stage”. it’s not just the trials of parents letting go of those adored humans who are now adults in the world, a little less access, a lot less time – people encouraging us “age and stage”. it’s not just our aging moms and dads, significant changes in ability, in perspective, in health – people comforting us “age and stage”.
it’s us. it’s our age and our stage, we are reminded. we try to fix what is broken, try to start something new, try to perfect the blossom. and we realize that it was a bloom all along. it was beautiful. it counted.
were we to be able to see – from the beginning – all the stages – the tight bud, the slightly opened petals – the bloom – the blossom falling to the ground – we might take it all more lightly, we might not cling to ideals of success and how we receive it. we might know there would be mistakes and dropped notes, lyrics mixed up and words not spoken. we might know there would be vulnerabilities and painful angsting, gorgeous improvised melodies, pictures without everything we desired, without everything coming to fruition, vamped decisions, regrets and, yes, bows. we might know that we would join with the rest of the human race on broken roads.
and we might know that the stages of our ages were all wrapped in gold.
and maybe ink.
“and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (anais nin)
it was 1999 and bugdom reigned supreme, rollie pollies and ladybugs and fire ants all in the computer game kingdom, with plenty of other-bugs helping and undermining rollie mcfly. it was the early days of games with such vibrant graphics and i distinctly remember being wowed by such a ground-level view of the world.
the chipmunks are in their glory these days. our birdfeeder is always a draw; they have it all figured out. sometimes i wonder about their perspective on the world, these tiny adorable creatures, so low to the ground, scampering here and there. what it must be like when you are in the grass and you can only really see a little bit ahead and, if you turn your head to the sky, up. they don’t seem to mind that they have no real big picture. perhaps that is why they seem so happy-go-lucky and intent on the tasks at hand. over and over they will stock up their tiny cheeks, puffing out and puffing out, and then run across the patio and dart under the deck. again and again. they are not thwarted by the repetition of it all. they just keep on keeping on.
we had a really fun visit with our son the other day. in chicago, on a cubs’ game day, we wove our way through wrigleyville and lakeview neighborhoods to see the new place he would be moving. a cool two-story lofted apartment, it was a bright and happy place. he measured the space for furniture, calculating what he already had that would fit and what new items he would need. he’s done this a few times before, so he is very adept at the whole figuring-out stuff thing. both my children have already moved more times in their lives than i have in my entire life. they are much better at paring down and settling in to a new place than i am.
he mentioned that he would need an ant trap, which, for some reason, surprised me. “yeah,” he said, laughing, “there are ants in the city.” and, apparently, you need to be aware on the ground floor. then, in a told-you-so moment, he pointed to the tiniest ant on the sliding glass door wall. waaaaay high up on the wall this ant crawled. perspective-wise, were we to be crawling and were you to do the math equation proportionately, we would be on everest. nevertheless, the ant kept going. i wanted to bring it outside, but he assured me it would find its way. poor thing. it was a vast sea of white paint and all straight up and down. even bugdom wouldn’t have prepared the ant for this; bugdom was all outside – a lawn, a pond, a forest, a garden and an anthill.
the other day i saw a brown marmorated stink bug (known colloquially as simply “stink bug” and with the acronym “bmsb”). it was on an outside screen window crawling up. now, these poor bugs are not people-biters, but they are surely named properly and no one wants them around. i don’t know where it was going either. i can’t imagine why it would want to be up on the roof, so i’m guessing it was somewhat lost. when you can’t see beyond the screen, it’s hard to find your way.
we are fortunate, we humans. we have amazing prowess to be able to see the horizon. if it isn’t visible, if the horizon isn’t clear, we have the ability to climb higher to seek a better view, an overlook. though i suspect that some opinions are formed at dirt level, most of us seek the air and space to sort through what’s in front of our noses and see the bigger picture. our kingdom isn’t limited to the next grass blade.
rather, we have every advantage for gaining knowledge, learning alternate viewpoints, overcoming a narrow frame of reference, understanding the synergy of working together. we can form educated points of view, evaluate the difference between truth and falsehood, choose compassion and kindness as our stance toward others.
we can see blades of grass AND the landscape of the lawn.
more importantly, we can see the forest AND the trees.
we cannot help ourselves. we see stuff. i usually don’t suppose that’s unusual, until someone stares at us – with that blank look on their faces that betrays the “oh-sheesh-they-are-SOOO-weird” thought they are having. and then i realize we might be a little unusual. i shrug it off. “we-are-all-worthy-we-are-all-worthy” i repeat.
the shark was on the side of the trail. lurking. all crusty and gnarly, his face. he was obvious. he was cause for conversation, tales of scuba-diving in cold long island waters and off the coast of tropical islands. we can’t help but see and we laugh and gasp out, “look! it’s a ……..!”
seeing. it’s a burden every artist carries. it’s in the backpack with the parmesan cheese and the twizzlers and the tiny box wine and the kind bars. it’s probably good that we are mostly alone during these moments; our imaginations fly wild and free and we crack ourselves up.
and isn’t that the point? the laughter? i can’t think of anything better than laughing together, even at our own expense. we tell stories to friends, emphasizing the goofy, the silly, the utterly-profoundly dumb, self-deprecating and reveling in it. getting my hair cut and claiming the highest forehead in the guiness book of world records of foreheads. having a pedicure and claiming the biggest big toe in modern history. even, recently, at the doctor’s office, asking, please, for a sticker or a gold star for passing my bloodwork. just silliness. we can’t help it.
but to walk with him and find the sharks on trail and the ducks stuck in trunks (see below) and the tree mooning us (see below) and the desert hills from space (also see below) is to walk inside laughter. it’s to have maybe learned – at long last – not to take everything quite so seriously.
it’s to learn how to get older and crusty and gnarly ourselves and to hold it all lightly.