reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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we can sit together. [two artists tuesday]

and in the hours of late evening we discovered it. a song that spoke to us in every way.

it wasn’t intentional. we were intentionally watching an everest youtube, the highest of mountains, vicarious adventure.

but there was this song. we stopped the video and moved the cursor backward, to hear the song again.

you and me.

we’re meant to be.

in the great outdoors.

forever free.”

it’s been nine years since we met face to face now. nine years since baggage claim at o’hare. nine years. it doesn’t sound like an eternity; it just feels like an eternity. and yet, not long enough.

because the moments i glance across the room and catch his gaze – well, it still takes my breath away. he drives me crazier than probably anybody else on earth, but he can make me well up in the turn of a second.

and the times we are inside, sitting and writing together, cooking in our old kitchen, happy-houring at the table in the sunroom, loving on our dogdog, mutually missing our babycat, planning trips…those times…are times that create a little bit of wonder.

and the times we are outside, on a mountain, on a trail, on the sidewalk in the ‘hood, by the side of the lake in the shadow of an aspen stand, in the new black adirondack chairs…those times…are times that create more than a little bit of wonder.

the wonder of finding, the wonder of reaching, the wonder of meeting, the wonder of walking this walk together.

we feel lucky.

eldar kedem got it right.

“we can sit together.

it’s so beautiful.”

*****

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black ‘dack stack. [two artists tuesday]

i was a doubter. i doubted the plastic lumbar support. but i had done my research and, with the budget we were allowing for new chairs – which didn’t include traditional wood, composite or cool new resin – and the fact that we wanted black chairs – these were what i had come up with.

so we went to the ace hardware store not holding out a lot of hope, thinking that we would have to nix this plan and move on to target or menards and get some other color.

the adirondack stacks were outside on the sidewalk. every color you could think of, stacked high against the front windows. a rainbow of adirondacks. we pulled one of the black ones down and drew in our breath to try it out.

in a surprise moment of don’t-expect-too-much-this-is-plastic-after-all it was actually quite comfortable. we bought two, loaded them into littlebabyscion, drove them home and placed them on the back patio to see if we would like them or if they would need to be returned. not shockingly, we quickly decided that we wanted a few more and, as luck would have it in our plastic-chair-budget-world, the ace was having their grand opening the next day and had given us coupons for $20 off purchases.

we went there in the rain. early. we didn’t want the black stack to be gone. you know…a lack of black in the ‘dack stack.

the dj was pumping out music, there were hamburgers and facepainters; it was quite the festival of celebration for a hardware store.

we grabbed four black adirondacks, whipped out our coupons and moseyed off into the wild grey yonder, happy as clams to have six new adirondack chairs in which to sip wine, gather ’round the bonfire, soak up the sun, ponder life and all its mysteries and support our lumbars.

*****

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how unprecedented you are. [two artists tuesday]

we don’t really know. we rise each day, bold coffee at our lips, with curiosity. truly, what the day will bring is a mystery. the best-laid plans, well, they are only that – plans. things change and the kaleidoscope swirls around us in mere moments.

“this being human is a guest house. each morning a new arrival…” (rumi – the guest house)

and we rise again the next day…

…the day lilies and the grass blades are rising as well. through the upheaval of their dirt, the excavation of their home, the burying of their fallowed stems, the netting and straw post-waterline-replacement, they are rising anyway.

my thoughts of pulling everything up and starting fresh in the front yard came to a screeching halt when i saw them. if they are resilient enough to bright-green their way into this upheaved spring, i think i would be somewhat dishonoring to remove them. in doing so, i would miss their profound message of fortitude, of courageous no-matter-what-ishness, of their coy laughter reaching for the sun.

“you are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.” (john green – the fault in our stars)

we miss it. in the middle of our don’t-really-know days, we miss seeing the absolute stalwart root in clay we each bring. we miss the credit of finagling another chaotic day. we miss our embrace of the new arrival of mystery. we miss our own unprecedentedness.

yet there it is. rising through the netting and the straw and the mud and the excavated rocks and cement.

“on the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you…”

(john o’donohue – beaanacht)

*****

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marcel. in the woods. [two artists tuesday]

in these times, we often hike the same trail. there is not enough time for long-distance travel right now. but we are comforted, nevertheless, by this same place, again and again. it has become an old friend and there is nothing better than someone or something you know really well and love in all its moods and through all its seasons.

it was easter sunday and, for only the second time in decades, i had no obligations. it was cold – almost miracle-mitten cold – and we were trying to choose between meandering through the early spring flowers at the botanic garden or hiking “our” trail. we suspected that the botanic garden would be crowded; we believed the trail would be almost empty. we chose the trail.

you might think we would tire of this trail. you might think we would choose something else, somewhere else. you might think there would be nothing new to see. on the contrary.

i am reminded, as ever – again – now that i am, finally, just the tiniest bit wiser – of marcel proust’s words, “the real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

there was lots of trailside vegetation coming alive, tiny buds, green sprouts. the familiar turns in the path led us past busy squirrels, chipmunks we could hear but not see scurrying in the underbrush, birds and geese and ducks.

after a couple hours, we set up our pop-up bistro table and chairs in the middle of the woods. surrounded by tall pines in a spot that would be underbrush-inaccessible in the summer, we sat, in the cold, snacking on cheese and crackers, quinoa tabouli and a few sips of wine in small yeti tumblers with lids, springtime napkins reminding us of the season. we took our gloves off, had a few schnibbles, put our gloves on, chatted and repeated. we pulled up our hoods and turned our backs to the wind picking up. mostly, we sat in the quiet.

and we looked up.

and there, that which we could have easily missed, was this magnificent view of the blue sky and the towering tops of pine trees that had endured the same forest for a very long time.

there is nothing ordinary about a view like that.

an idiosyncrasy, a quirk, a hallmark, a side you hadn’t yet noticed. such is the complexity of an old friend. such is the charm of discovery.

*****

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the view. [two artists tuesday]

in an effort to grab the moments and store them away so they will be retrievable, i take photographs. i want to remember the physical surroundings, the way it feels, the way it tastes, the way it smells. pictures help me recall the visceral. they are prompts in a memory script. the “remember …” cue.

i didn’t take a picture, but, because there is nothing like an unexpected call from your adult child, when the phone rang in the middle of costco and i glanced at it to see that it was our daughter calling, the moment is indelibly ingrained in my mind. walking toward the exit, standing and chatting near the tires-for-sale, shielding the phone’s microphone from the wind as we walked to littlebabyscion, sitting in the parking lot, dogga in the back wondering what errand adventure was next…these are all part of this wonderful rambling conversation, a joy that topped off my week – a perfect friday early evening – in a way that nothing else can.

the neighborhood eatery was not far from his apartment and as we drove over, our son was in the front, directing me, nagging me about going too slowly, instructing me how to properly drive over the humps in the residential streets of chicago and getting out to check the damage when we were rear-ended at a traffic light (luckily, no injuries and no apparent damage). we discovered the joy of lobster deviled eggs, had the skinniest delectable french fries, sipped mimosas and laughed over brunch. we went to his new place, took measurements, talked about decor. i took many, many photos, my iphone always at the ready. the best belated birthday gift – this time together. nothing else can top it.

i don’t take these moments for granted. our children are adults, with busy, consuming professional lives and significant people to share time with. there’s not a lot of spare time and i get that. they don’t live in town and i don’t get to see them as often as many of my friends see their grown children. “the moment they are born the separation begins followed by a life-long balancing act,” a dear and sage friend wrote about children and motherhood. the perils of parenting.

it is often the people with children in their own town who remind me that we raise children to be independent, wingèd and free. though well-intended, these are easier words, these wisdoms, and less painful when one does not have to tamp down the embers of longing that missing beloveds creates.

i try to “think of life…in all its small component parts.” (anna quindlen) it is, truly and after all, about balance.

so i save every one i can. every moment and conversation, all eye contact and every hug. i take lots of pictures – of them, of me with them, of us with them, of the surroundings, of what is right around me when i am with them. it is a storehouse of riches that i may go to in a self-absorbed minute of feeling scarcity, a reminder that, indeed, life is full, nevertheless. a springboard of deep appreciation.

“exhaust the little moment. soon it dies. and be it gash or gold it will not come again in this identical disguise.” (gwendolyn brooks) glory in either, for we learn the lesson over and over: you can feel it. and they all count.

i “try to look at the view.” (anna quindlen)

the view – that must be why i have twenty-four-thousand-seven-hundred-eighty-eight photos on my phone. twenty-four-thousand-seven-hundred-eighty-eight views of twenty-four-thousand-seven-hundred-eighty-eight moments.

and this one – the open-beamed ceiling of cherished brunch with my son.

gorgeous, in my view.

*****

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edges and kaleidoscopes. [two artists tuesday]

the edges come fast. a blink and they’ve arrived.

i did a photo shoot with my cello. it’s a gorgeous instrument, elegant and full of tear-your-heart-out melodic possibility.

i am sitting at the edge.

i clutch onto it tightly, yearning to yo-yo-ma, yet knowing this edge is somewhat irrefutable. in my heart, my wrist, the tendons of my fingers ache to bow, to press string to fingerboard. the edge pushes back. i know that it is time and that no dream in the night – onstage with soaring, weep-worthy lines – will change that.

my edges – like conglomerate rock, a mixture of wishes and knowings and new – reorganize in the kaleidoscope of life. and, because life is like that, surprises will show up, lit by spotlights and sunlight.

and, once this stunning instrument has moved, as it should, from my studio to the embrace of someone else, i understand that, though my hands will not touch its graceful lines and resonant soul, there will be other learnings, other touches. and always, other edges.

“though i play at the edges of knowing, truly i know our part is not knowing, but looking and touching and loving.” (mary oliver)

*****

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wisdom of the swoop. [two artists tuesday]

sitting against many pillows, the window by my side, i could hear the ruckus. i looked out the window and there were a zillion starlings in the gutter over our neighbor’s kitchen window and another zillion on their roof. probably another zillion in the trees off their house. i stared at them, foggily remembering the movie “the birds” and having a vague sense of unease. so.many.birds.

dogga jumped up next to me and stared too. we were transfixed by them. starlings everywhere. and then, in just a moment, they all swooped together and left. looking out the back window i could see them swooping over the yard, to tree heights, to the grass, swoop, swoop.

they were suddenly joined by a whole ‘nother group…the great-tailed grackles. i wondered if it was going to play like “west side story”, rival gangs of birds lining up in disagreement over turf. but grackles and starlings flock together, it seems, and, though the grackles don’t have swooping down like the starlings, it seemed they hung out together with no ill feelings.

because we are who we are, we looked up the meaning behind being visited by this giant contingency of starlings and grackles.

starlings are symbolic of communication. they are the picture of unity – a visual display that we are better and stronger together than alone. iridescent grackles are a symbol of courage. they are audacious, i read, not at all snobby, and, conveniently, they eat insects we do not care for, which is helpful. neither have a particularly beautiful birdcall, but they are not hung up on that. they make lots of noise anyway. they are protective and can be aggressive, but it has been said that their noisiness represents that an overwhelming percentage of problems may be solved with communication.

backyard swoop story. a movie. two gangs of birds. different yet the same, their qualities join them together. they swoop in murmurations in unity, with courage, communicating loudly and with great audacity, yet they are together. swooping, a bird dance of complexity and grace, of working it out.

so…relationship and courage, communicative and plucky. these are good things: bold and intrepid, enterprising and one-with-others.

it would seem to me that this ole people-world should be lookin’ to the birds a bit more.

*****

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the stuff we see. [two artists tuesday]

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.

because in truth, the shark tree was beautiful.

*****

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the pod of our diapause. [two artists tuesday]

the color of a palomino, the pod of milkweed off the side of the trail captures my attention. though i want to touch it, to feel what looks like a velvety ear, i don’t disturb it. this pod has burst open, its seeds scattered, waiting for verdant spring and the eventual arrival of monarchs. the butterflies left the midwest for the winter, migrating, traveling up to 2500 miles to shelter and hibernate through winter in coolness that is not cold.

their diapause is a period of suspended development. it is common in the insect world, this inactivity: “a state in which their growth, development, and activities are suspended temporarily, with a metabolic rate that is high enough to keep them alive.” it’s a kind of dormancy. it sounds a little like isolating in the middle of a pandemic, a little like a response to a few more-difficult years. a slowing down, an insulating, a turning-in, heartbeats enough to sustain yet not enough for vast inspiration. hmm.

back on our favorite local trail, we are watching it wake. we take note of the changes in color, the changes in the woods, in the meadows. sipping coffee this morning we listen to the new sounds – birdcalls we have missed in the quietude of winter, the middle of our diapause.

we start to feel the pull of the outside more, the draw of places to see, the falling-off of quilts we have wrapped around us. i begin to wonder – with a little more energy – what next and next look like. the sun streams in the window and stays up later, pushing back night like feet on a crab soccer ball.

we begin to break open the pod of our diapause, long after milkweed but before the butterflies come back.

*****

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even in waning. a firework. [two artists tuesday]

do you know that there’s still a chance for you
’cause there’s a spark in you?
you just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
just own the night like the 4th of july
’cause baby, you’re a firework
come on, show ’em what you’re worth
make ’em go, oh
as you shoot across the sky
baby, you’re a firework
come on, let your colors burst
make ’em go, oh

(“firework” performed by katy perry.*)

even as it wanes, it is clearly beautiful. stunning, really. the 0230-pantone-chart-heading-toward-rhodamine-red bloom is attracting attention, its droop the stuff of grand success. as its petals drop to the ground, one-by-one, it feeds next and next. and the flowers nearby sigh, “ohhhh.” and they know, despite anything – age, health, roadblocks, lack of nutrients, overabundance of tending worry, calendar of blooming-period – that there is still a chance for them.

artistry never stops. no matter. its imperative – to bloom – to shoot across the sky – is ceaseless, a perpetual poking, an unfaltering urge. the chance is never gone, never erased, never doused-left-with-no-embers.

i listened to a guided meditation a few days ago. it was merely four minutes long. “the mountain”, it – in only four minutes – made surprising tears stream down my face. its message…to be grounded and solid – rooted – just as a mountain – in all that is going on around you, regardless. to stand in it all. like a mountain. those four minutes were profound.

there are things i would choose to be different right now. many things. this season has been somewhat fraught. yet, there are reasons to be grounded, rooted, to stand here and just wait, to ride it out, to hold on.

all around us were orchids in shatter-the-silence gorgeous bloom. all around us was greenery, textural and rich. all around us were beginnings, closed buds with pent-up energy waiting to burst onto the stage-of-earth.

but this leaning-to-rhodamine caught my eye, in its waning no less, no more than the others. and it whispered, “baby, you’re a firework too.”

even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
it’s always been inside of you, you, you
and now it’s time to let it through
’cause baby you’re a firework
come on, show ’em what you’re worth
make ’em go, oh
as you shoot across the sky
baby, you’re a firework
come on, let your colors burst
make ’em go, oh

*****

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*songwriters: katy perry, mikkel s. eriksen, tor erik hermansen, sandy wilhelm, and ester dean