Sweet light

I’ve been trying to remember a former spiritual director’s surname. And I’ve been looking for the designer of a kind of settee with an angular metal frame and quilted fabric lining. The spiritual director was gawjeous, looking like and even sharing a birthday with the actor Don Johnson. The settee, though of modern design, has a gothic-castle kind of appeal — spare, stern, yet protective and welcoming. In both cases, it’s the contrasts, and how the tense results would play out in real life, that interest me.

From time to time I devise ingenious Google searches, to satisfy a need to resolve these little quests. I’ve had no luck, so far.

The spiritual director’s father was a bishop, the son was a Jr. or III maybe, but I’m not sure, and I remember his given name, along with a betrayal, a thing men do that I’ve never known a woman to do: conflating some person with you, then pasting the composite puppet into the space between you, as if that fantastical assemblage is real, as if it’s you. Does he still do this? Has he risen in the church, or did he bring himself back down to earth?

The settee was in a New York Public Library photo. Several settees, actually, in a beautiful children’s reading room. I wrote to the NYPL. They didn’t reply, and now I can’t find the original photo. The settees are maybe actually sofas, loveseats, or mega-chairs. They look perfect for reading without falling asleep, as their angularity wouldn’t support a snooze. (Just what I need, to be able read without falling asleep!) Perfect, I think, for reading to children, too: parent and child, curled up in the same space, communing over words and pictures, in a public area with a sense of privacy, or at home without feeling smothered.

In the space of looking for lost items, I was thinking of a mid-summer, or thereabouts, at an extended family cookout. After eating, I was lying on my back, the lawn prickling my skin, bits of roasted corn in my teeth, my nostrils flaring as smells of grass and dirt and flowers swirled and changed in the cooling air, a touch of dew coalesced on forehead, nose, and shoulders, and the Earth supporting me joined the sky arching overhead, their congress achieved in the luminous heure bleue.

How to paint such times? Words, lists, can stamp bits of an experience into a conscious place, where, shared, maybe others can understand a little. But how to share the experience of a moment from the inside?

How can I paint the little things, like the faint dusting of dirt that coated my back as my sweat dried? How can I paint swarms of mosquitoes and gnats all around, punctuated by occasional moths and flies, tiny potential dangers every one, none of them touching me even so because somehow I’m as much of them as they are of me, I’m not their prey, we are not enemies. Neither do I kill them or brush them away, nor do they bite, land upon me, or get into my eyes. A joint peace, with them dancing and looking for food, and me tired, replete.

How to paint something sensual, without observing it directly, without looking down upon it? How to paint the one who lay beside me, who was there, and then was gone, his wholeness faded into the dark, as if he, too, was made of sweet, blue light? I don’t know if he got up, or fell asleep, or if the darkness widened the space between us. But something of him stayed even so, a knowledge of the space he used up, and his weight, upon the earth. Later, when it was fully dark, he was there again,

We toasted marshmallows. We used branches — not skewers, mind: branches, strong and knotty enough to hold a semi-molten marshmallow for a minute without its sliding off, yet green, delicate and whippy enough not to damage the candy as it was being impaled, or burst into flames during the toasting. We set the treats alight over embers, then turned them so the flames blistered them dark gold without actually charring them.

I can see how I could illustrate this — the scene, the actions. The feeling of the experience is what I don’t know how to share. How do I paint the process of evaluating young ash tree branches in the almost-darkness, the sweet smell of their leaves and the slight stickiness of their bark, or what it’s like waiting until the night is absolutely dark, or the immediacy of the risks, danger, and the fun of running them, of flames to fingers and food?

I see the work of artists I love, who use gesture and color to tell me how the air feels to them, or how they experience an animal’s shape with all their inner self. Their shorthand languages, one to each artist, combining common symbols and unique motions, tell me their joys.

That’s what I need to learn how to do. To make something of myself, for myself. Looking for a former spiritual director’s presence, to see if he’s still into betrayals and how it affects me, if he is, if he’s not. Looking for the right settee to read in, to share from, to offer, to bridge my private and hospitable natures. Looking for unique movements, and selecting common symbols and colors, so I can put the sweet light in front of you, so maybe you can see it too.

Objects of Desire: A handful of plums

Like I want to close my eyes and sleep past the end of time right now, that’s how Macy felt, at the point where my story of her begins.

To see her then would have been like watching one of those dinner scenes they put in movies.

Directors think these scenes work, just because we all eat. They mix in some words and grins, some shallow viewpoints switching back and forth, some pauses, raisings of eyebrows, chewing (especially in English movies), and maybe a choking on liquid. Maybe, too, a face surreptitiously watching another player. They are non-action scenes.

That’s what it seemed like with Macy. Here’s how her story played out that day:

Macy fell onto her bed. She curled into a C.

On the table, she’d put a bowl containing a handful of plums. Both bowl and fruits were plum-colored. The fruits were gold-speckled, too. Macy was going to bite one later. It would be yellow and juicy inside.

After dozing a little, Macy reached backward, feeling around for the bowl. It was heavy. She pulled the O of the bowl into her C. The bowl felt cool. If you had been watching, you’d have thought she slept, then.

You’d have missed the bite she took. Too tired to chew, she swallowed a small chunk of flesh whole. Juice stained a corner of her mouth and dripped sugar into the shadows of her fatigued mind.

You’d have missed the hunter who rose from that golden bite to hover over Macy.

An unjessed gyrefalcon on her shoulder, the hunter had a bow in hand, and a quiver of arrows, fletched by herself with kingfisher feathers, bound to her cantle. The hunter’s toes touched Macy and took sustenance from her.

The hunter rose like a miracle out of Macy’s dream, and stepped forward to search for water. She would have been utterly delighted to find a table already set with a carafe and two silver mugs, and, nearby, some fruit.

But when she stepped forward, she lifted her feet over the sweet-sour gold-speckled plums nestled in the bowl around which Macy had curled, and strode away.

A story about me

Thomas Hardy girl-woman, spiritual sailor, seasoned hunter. That’s me. But I won’t tell you this. When I was a kid, a parent blew the magic away from an improvisation in a chair. That taught me to keep my stories to myself. You will think you know me, but you’ll misinterpret me in any number of ways. The visible surface of my life has been edited leanly. You’re welcome to reclothe it from your imagination. You can think of me as a paper doll or some such. Unless you have heart, curiosity and much patience, that is. Most people summon one or two of these characteristics, but it’s only the rare person who is all three. So pretty much, my secret’s safe with me.

You want to know anyway? Without taking tests or accepting challenges, without putting the work in? Well, here’s a brief rundown: There are “done” facts: I’m a Mom. I draw and paint. Then there are “would’ve” facts: I would have liked to dance, and be a doctor — a psychiatrist. And then there are “now” facts: I do tech and design things to make money. The rest is nobody’s business.

Do I have “if” facts? Yes I do. Those I can detail, because they don’t belong to me yet. If I had the time, for pleasure I’d be a beach girl. I more than like the ocean: I can’t live far away from it. I can accept an inland ocean — remnants of seas that rose up as plateaus, and folded into mountains that weathered away, leaving limestone strata riddled with caves, filtering rainwater into underground aquifers, the water pressurized, tasting sweet from dissolved minerals, welling up from springs that pockmark worn-down slopes dressed in blue-green meadows decorated with stands of ancient tannic-barked trees, the old fissures softened to valleys hidden in the mornings by ever-present mists: old oceans like New York’s Saratoga County, Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region. Near a living sea, or upon an old one, I’d dance, and have a horse and a couple of dogs. Maybe two horses.

And that’s it. Except: when I’m coldest is when I’m not. When I’m quiet, something’s boiling inside. And when I’m noisy, I’m feinting. For what, and why? It’ll take you years to figure out why, not to mention what’s involved. Just like everyone, I’m an imperfect mess (sic) of contradictions.

Lord, have mercy on us. Ameen.

 

The sloop on motor (edit 1)

In this story of then, long ago, there are just two of us: a man, wet through, in soaked purple shirt and running shorts, fast-walking through stands of lush trees tossing down by the river; and me, lounging against a stone parapet a hundred feet above him, watching as his fine profile and dark stride disappear into the dense rain.

The weather, from the east-southeast and pretty much right in my face, is heavy and wild. That’s an understatement. Even on the steep slope of this hill, the rainwater runs higher than my ankles.

Four hundred years ago, in the then-wilderness, dozens of stream-threads would have been tumbling down to feed the rising river. This then is not that then. Here, I’m wearing backless sandals, for the rain, and I’m weak. I worry about walking home. I might hydroplane on street asphalt, or slip on curbstones of granite and slate.

A rock-dove flies in, a few feet from my face, making for a cranny in the stone wall that this parapet overtops. The dove’s landing path is long and low, and shows the colors — iridescent blues and greys, creams and a little black — on the undersides of the dove’s wings. Its narrow, overlapping wing-feathers are distinct, against the soft backdrop of the clouds.

The dove’s passage spins out an epic moment, shaped by motion and light: an arc of bird-flight scribbled with curved muscled wings and scalloped feather-edges, traced through the inverted swoops of suspension cables of a sturdy bridge that sits, wet-footed and seemingly small, under a giant’s bow of clouds.

Then the world moves again.

To my right, clouds run below the cliffs opposite. To my left, the bridge makes its own weather, as fog mounts a hill of air hundreds of feet higher than the bridge-towers till, just above me, streams of clouds roller-coaster down.

On the river, where its north curve is lost behind a solid wall of rain, near a red-painted buoy, here comes a graceful sloop, sails down, running on motor.

Cars — usually turning north to enter the highway, or making a u-turn around the little park nearby — are stopping for 20 seconds at the dead-end overlooking the river, held by the stormy view.

Trees on the river — maples, oaks and wild apples wearing grapevine shrouds — are full and round, more so than I’ve ever seen.

The stone walls against which I rest are old and high, and very wet.

The river’s on the ebb now, even in this rain. We all are over-looked by the tall, strong bridge — hello, Brother Bridge. What’s that you say? It’s time I was leaving? Yes, yes.

Then, long ago, I set out for home again. I went with care and fear, and, once there, found myself very shaky and finally willing to be warm and dry again. The only bit of cloth dry enough to wipe the water off my door-keys was a small rain-shadow that my left elbow had made against my waist. Pneumonia sucks: I was so weak. And rain sings: my body and spirit were grateful for the rain.

Long ago, I went out to catch the smell of salt, and to meet you. I was cold and afraid. My feet were almost bare. But the rain had washed the air so sweet…

No words

Please, don’t speak when I’m making art or thinking about palettes with no greens, pigment granulation or studio space. I won’t hear you. I’ll deflect your conversation. Don’t wait for me, I have no words.

After having been away from art for years, I’m back to it. And I’m finding that it unmoors me from directionality, taking me into myriad-threaded deltas of possibilities, from which a wildness spills over, even into talking or writing.

Bits and pieces of ancient root words, casual talk, slang and language syntaxes float up, seemingly meant to be played with and mixed, like colors. And I play, willingly, with little regard for the structures that make language understandable.

When I wasn’t doing art, I learned to write, and speak, with strength and sometimes-grace. Such skills, the result of hard work, were mine to keep, I thought. But no — now I find they were only of that time.

My relationship with words has broken. It’s become a gritty confrontation, in which I fight to shift thoughts into meaningful sequences. My native way of communicating, apparently, is with my hands. Art feels fluent to me, words don’t. I’m communicating in my primary language again, and I’ve lost my way with words.

Yet I don’t want to lose my way there. I owe such a debt to word-work, especially editing, which taught me dispassion, care, economy and gave me multi-leveled vision, lessons I’ve carried over into art, where I sorely needed such capabilities.

As a result, I can now see what I’m doing, understand layers of composition and meaning, and see unity or what’s preventing it, much sooner than I used to be able to. Moreover, working with words wore down a fear I had, of my own creative nature and its capacity for making chaos.

I never would have come back to art if I hadn’t worked with words. I need writing’s structures, and how it teaches a writer to think and see, and its non-judgmental nature.

Oh blessed Words, thanks for what you’ve brought me. I have Hisham Matar‘s Reflections piece “Two Revolutions“, in The New Yorker, for fresh top-notch short prose. I have some Philip Levine and others’ work, for poetry. I’m editing old writing again. Let me not turn away from you, though things are a little tough between us now.

High summer, mid-afternoon

Then thank you, oh food delivery service, for running out of local peaches and cornish hens last night, so I ordered Finger Lakes plums, curried chicken salad, and home-baked chocolate cookies, instead. Then thank you again, for running out of chocolate cookies, so I ordered white-chocolate-and-dried-cherries cookies, instead. And thank you again, for offering summer juices from the upstate orchard that grows the plums.

And when your man came, he was quick and kind, leaving the boxes outside my door as I called out to him to do since I couldn’t get up from my work right away. And some minutes later on this difficult day that started so early and had me feeling beset and in need of pampering, I brought the boxes inside and unpacked them and put most everything away.

And then I had lunch. The turmeric, cumin, ginger and cinnamon in the chicken salad relaxed my breathing, the tiny plums shocked with flesh as diffusely-sugary as watermelon on the outside and as tart as lemon around the pit, and the cookies, oh the cookies!

Thank you, oh food delivery service, for being good bakers, and using pure ingredients. I promised myself one. One cookie, one white-chocolate-and-dried-cherries cookie. But oh food delivery service, you still had a mind to challenge my beliefs today. You knew what I needed wasn’t what I thought I needed. You shook the cookie box hard as your truck made its rounds all morning, and three cookies broke, and you knew the soft-hearted me, the me who couldn’t let three damaged cookies sulk, unloved, inside a darkened cardboard box, and so, yes: I ate all three.

And then I sipped some tart-sweet tingly lemon-apple summer juice from the Finger Lakes orchard that grew the plums you brought. And then, I wanted to work again. But only after giving thanks for the gifts that your last night’s minor chaos brought, on hard-bumping truck wheels, in the strong arms of a quick, kind delivery man, in mid-afternoon of a high summer’s day.

payaso-lage 2

A story in punctuation marks, words and short phrases, derived from a board message timeline
spanning Day and Evening of India’s 60th Year of Independence.
(yaaaay!)
Illustrating that:
– Writers and non-writers alike are people too;
– Even clowning around can take long to write and edit.
– Stubbornness may not be a good thing in a non-writer.
Just clowning around two.

hmmm

The board is quiet

holiday time
holiday holiday
want to take a nap

..
good one from Som
that’s funny

…..
hmmm, that Circus thing from s

…nice…
…that Slate thing, ha-ha,
suckitude!
…I’m bad enough!
[laughs at self]

hmm, that stuff is not so bad…
……………….
[work break]
….


good rhyming from Pushpa
..
new one from ahsan-ji
……
Seekersought story
good!
..
where is d.i.’s ghazal?
..
ah, that one from avinash
..
Josna’s sorry…

……
……
no new s
..
funny, that Radha piece
gotta comment
later
needs thinking

..
Mukesh revision
nice
..
so much good stuff

something from s now
danger? damger? doesn’t spell check title?
sheesh
….
……..

wah!

comment?
no comment?
later comment?

he can be tough…

ah, Pallavi

[PM break]
Gopika’s back

nice comments

[PM break]

wanna comment on at least six posts
too busy…
….
[enter courageous conscience]
hmmmm excuses
you wanna comment on the damger thing
but you’re scared…

am not
are too

nahin nahin nahin
haan haan haan

nope
yup

no no no no no
yes yes yes yes yessss
and why?
……
he’s smart and tough
….
and

I like his work

and

I try to write like he does
….
now we’re getting somewhere

I feel like a kid writing to him
..
why? you’re not a kid

I do not know
it’s a puzzle!
leave me alone!


OK OK
have it your way

just promise me

what?
….
you’ll comment later

I will
….
[exit courageous conscience]



..
tomorrow!
hehehehe 😛

[falls asleep]
z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z
…………………………..
…………………………
………………………
……………………
[ad infinitum]

tap-tap…
[sigh]…
…….
tap-tap taptaptap… taptap… tap.
…….
…….
arre!
shit!
…….
tap-tap-tap… taptaptaptaptaptttappp
arghhh!
…sigh…
why didn’t I see that sooner?
[tea break]
[2 incoming calls, one sms)
…………………….
shit.
my reason is b—
na… in flames
tap tap tap tap tap tappppp-tap-tap
asleep
wish I was now!
asleep at the wheel
asleep in bed
asleep in the hills
alseep in its cocoon
sheesh!
[incoming from Mumbai]
…………….
[smoke break]

tap tap taptaptap tap tap tapp ppptap
tap-tap taptaptap… taptap… tap…
tap-tap taptaptap… taptap… tap.tap-tap tap-tap-tap… taptap… tap…
asleep in its chrysalis
tap-tap taptaptap… taptap… tap!
haan haan
ji haan ya ya yup yes yessss
haan
that’s it…
click post
and
twiddle thumbs
await &
count comments
….
….
……………..
[patience break]
huh?
no comments yet?
………………..
………………..
………………..
[patience breaks]
damn!
………….
[smoke break]
thumb twiddlng continues
…………………………
…………………………
[meditation break]
………………………..
[smoke break]
thumb twiddlng continues
…………………………
…………………………
[smoke break]
thumb twiddlng continues
…………………………
…………………………
[meditation break]
[falls asleep]
z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z
…………………………..
…………………………
………………………
……………………
[ad infinitum]

Title trans: payaso -Sp. clown; -lage -Fr. suffix -ing.
Text trans: ad infinitum -Latin unending, to infinity.