Sunday, September 30, 2007

Drive Tapes

I left work Friday after wrapping up a complex project, helping a work mate with a broken leg get his gear down the stairs to his waiting parents, and after saying bye to another work mate of over twenty years, who has left us for the competition. I had a lot of emotion - all sorts - added on top of the already deep turbulence of the last few months.

So I boiled out to my car taking long fast strides, already hearing in my mind the bass guitar. I opened the Wink and dropped into the cockpit with one smooth motion, fired up the engine, popped in Drive Tape 1, cranked the volume, maxed the bass, balanced all four speakers, swung out of the space, chirped the tires, and headed for the highway. I merged into heavy traffic with the rhythm pushing everything, strong rolling guitars and a good voice over it. I Jersey changed for the far left, already joining the singer, floored it to pass a crawling truck, and reached the speed limit before the refrain finished.

The entire trip home I alternated between swearing and hollering with good humor at sloppy traffic patterns around me and singing at the top of my lungs with the music. I fast forwarded over one song because it was too slow, shouted with joy when another began that is particularly great for driving. When I got to Hillsborough on I-40 I didn't get off at my exit, but passed it to the merge with I-85. The Wink and I love a great curve, and we took the slingshot ramp to double back east, and smoothly merged already doing 65.

The tape side ended at the bottom of the other Hillsborough exit, and I went downtown to the gallery's September featured artist show, the one I would have been in had I stayed. I had to park way out on Tryon Street as the Last Friday crowd had already descended. I whistled improv blues, very loud, in the gorgeous weather all the way into town, met my former gallery mates, shared a little champagne, bought a small piece by the artist who would have been showing with me, had I stayed, and turned in my keys, having already cashed in the month before.

I drove home in silence, emotions played out, tired but contented somehow.

(Photo from soumit's Flickr pages - thanks for sharing!)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chicken in a Blanket

I believe I know where this towel came from, but I first encountered it draped over my terracotta chicken and she doesn't want to give it up. Even during the hot summer days she seems to love to stay under it, like a tea cozy.

I suppose I should return it to its rightful owner.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maine - Part 2

More photos from our trip to Mount Desert Island, Maine. Last year the island seemed huge and confusing to drive around. This year it felt just the right size, it all made perfect sense, and we stayed on the quiet side, which made it more relaxed.

My favorite places were the Bass Harbor Light and the rocky shore to the east of it (shown in Maine - Part 1), the tide pools and rocky beach on the Wonderland Trail, Sea Wall (which might be my favorite of these favorites) and the shore of Jordan Pond at the extreme other end from the visitor's center (there is a neat bridge there over the marshy stream that feeds the pond - see a picture on Flickr, here).

The photos here are:
1. Bass Harbor Light
2. Wonderland tide pools
3. Ship sailing up Sommes Sound, which nearly splits the island in two - we saw this from the rocky shore of Valley Cove
4. Last light on top of Cadillac Mountain (the first place in the US to be touched by the rising sun)

Will we go back? I hope so - but four days of driving, especially through the Midatlantic states, is a bit like torture.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bat Guano

OK - something light hearted this time:

I used to belong to an organic garden forum online. The members were experts on organic gardening and organic fertilizers, and got amazing results. Even among this enthusiastic crowd, however, I was pulled up short by the following post: "I just flew back from Austin, TX, where they have, I think, the 2nd largest bat cave in the world, with a total of 100 pounds of bat guano and cotton boll mulch!"

I posted the following entry to the forum's thread:

I am afraid I looked blankly at this several times. Flew with 100 lbs of bat guano and cotton boll mulch? Did you check this or take it as carry-on? I pictured the usual jostling and competition on today's overcrowded planes, as a parcel of bat guano was lifted overhead (would any sprinkle down on the unappreciative? Would they know it for the gold it was?) to be placed in the bins. "Please make sure the overhead bins are securely closed." Can't have bat stuff flying loose about the cabin.

Or I see the look on the stoic airline ticket clerk's face as a 100 lb bag of bat guano was checked. Placidly tagging it for transfer to the connecting flight...

Or I imagine the looks (and nose holding?) in baggage claim as the 100 lb bag of bat stuff tumbles out of the shoot and quietly moves around until it reaches its rightful owner. The stares (and sudden silence?) of the crowd, waiting to see who will claim this most unusual bag.

The porter, helping to load this onto an airport shuttle. "I don't know what "guano" is, but this bag stinks. Heavy, too. What do you mean, manure?! You went all the way to Texas for this stuff?! Haven't we got enough right here? Man, I need to wash my hands." Some people just don't get it.

Photo is of our Halloween bat puppet, and just imagine...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Real Places

We just saw The Majestic on DVD. Jim Carey's performance was moving. The heroine reminded me just enough of Lauren Bacall to evoke that same magic. The depiction of American small town life, the beauty of the characters, the unabashed tenderness of the relationships all swept us away.

And it made me think of the many small towns we pass through when we travel.

Like Willis, Texas, where a work friend and I stopped, on the road from Dallas to Houston, to get real Texas barbecue (at Leroy's BBQ, "38 years and still smokin"). And we knew as soon as we got out of the car that we were in a Real place (and the aromas outside made us wait the twenty minutes until they opened for lunch) . The waitress helped me solve my problem by suggesting I order a sampler, so I could try all four of their smokehouse specialties (the ribs were the best).

Or like Graham, North Carolina, where we see movies at an old movie theater (The Graham) not so different from the Majestic, though not so fancy. We take extra cushions so our youngest can see over the railing, and go sit in the balcony, up near the old fashioned ceiling fans.

Or like Clarksville, Virginia, where I love to end up at a certain cafe, after driving narrow roads near Kerr Lake - roads with no paint on them anywhere. The people in the cafe will treat you like you're potential new neighbors, and make a fuss over your children.

Or the little town of Wetumpka, Alabama, where the bookstore owner advised I dine at the local luncheonette and be sure to order the rutabagas (I'd never had them before - they were wonderful). There were no free tables, but I was invited to join a gentleman in his eighties, who turned out to be a big band leader from the 1940s (I looked him up later - he's in the Hall of Fame). We were later joined by a parole officer, who knew the jovial jazz man, and with me followed his aged wisdom in ordering a large slice of the coconut creme pie.

Or the campground where we stayed in Fruita, Colorado, where the owners were from Minnesota, and advised we eat at Dinosaur Pizza, which seemed to be the front of a house, and the pizza was made in the kitchen (as were the brownies).

No pretense - just an abundance of American warmth, a kind of open friendliness you can rest on for a spell, a way of living that makes everywhere seem like it could be home.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Maine - Part 1

I don't think I would ever get tired of walking around Mount Desert Island, in Maine. We were there after Labor Day, so the annoying flying insects were gone, and the weather was gorgeous the entire trip.

The photo above was taken at Eagle Lake, in a strong wind (which caused the canceling of our kayak excursion on Long Pond). The light was amazing, and this photo doesn't do it justice.

This photo was taken the first full day we were there, from the rocks below the Bass Harbor Light, looking East in the last ten minutes of the sun.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Horror Vacui

I'm looking at my latest abstract in progress, painted for the relief of my soul, experimenting with grays, constraining color, trying something a little different. I see that I have filled the space, again. That's not different.

"horror vacui - The compulsion to make marks in every space. Horror vacui is indicated by a crowded design. In Latin, it is literally, "fear of empty space" or "fear of emptiness." Some consider horror vacui one of the principles of design. Those who exclude it from their list of principles apparently interpret it as possessing an undesirable, perhaps obsessive quality, in contrast to the desirable, controlled principle of limitation, or perhaps to that of emphasis or dominance."*

I have a lot of uncertainty at the moment. My Dad is in the midst of surgeries for cancer, having vertebrae removed. I think my mind can't abide the idea of the gaps the surgeries leave in the heart of his skeleton. I think of the radiation treatment slowing the formation of new bone there and I feel a smoldering anger. I want those gaps closed, those wounds healed.

I have a new boss at work, and it's too soon to be able to interpret his motives, his tone, his unspoken expectations. That gap inside me usually leaves room for demons. I fill it up as best I can with what I do know about him (which is all good) and a repeated mantra that I always borrow the most worry where there is the least real cause.

What I need is to know what people think of me; a vacuum there makes my teeth ache and makes me restless, prying and poking to know how they feel. The needy side of my personality.

Driving to work without the radio feels impossible right now. It leaves a mental vacuum where all the other vacuums gather.

An empty page creates a similar horror.

So I make marks, add colors, paint until the entire page is full, and every large shape is broken into smaller shapes, like someone compulsively tearing a piece of paper into smaller and smaller bits.

This is all like the weather, and I know the current stormy time will give way again to mild sun and playful shadows, where the sounds of crickets and small birds can fill my heart, music for the happy skipping steps of my inner child.

I want to reach there, though, with my Dad.

*from ArtLex's Ho-Hz page. So control and dominance are not obsessive, also?

Photo above is from the beach at Grand View Preserve, near Norfolk, VA. Hardly a blank space in the sand as far as I could see; I wanted to take it all home.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Last Hour of Light

One of my most vivid early memories, and I knew at the time I would recall it forever, was of a return drive from swimming at Lake Taghkanic, in NY, when I was five or so. It was the last half hour of sunlight, Lara's Theme (from Doctor Zhivago) was playing on the radio, and I recall looking at the glow on the passing scenery and yearning so much I thought my heart would burst.

The last hour of sunlight has continued to haunt me or drive me wild with longing all my life. When I heard in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince how the prince once watched 44 sunsets in one day, by moving his chair on his tiny planet, I understood at once. I recall reading Carlos Castaneda's Journey to Ixtlan and encountering the passage where Don Juan realizes that Carlos' time of power is the sunset, the last hour of the light. It resonated within me like a foghorn.

While I love the quiet and the light of early morning, I always feel like a visitor there. When I am facing a long road in the last hour of the sun, I feel like I have come into my kingdom. As a child I used to look up into tall cumulus clouds near sunset, to places that were like lit mountain passes, when all below was already in shadow, and I would think heaven would be in a place like that. I would climb up out of the blue gloom into that dazzling last moment of the light and be home.

I have hundreds of photos of the last hour on the road. I think one of the reason I love random road trips is finding myself somewhere, unknown and far from home, in the last moments of the day. Knowing that these moments are fleeting, and that I can't stay, makes them almost unbearably sweet. The pictures in this post are from Grand View Preserve on the coast of Virginia, the carriage road around the Bass Lake on the Cone Manor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and the little park on the New River in Foster Falls, Virginia.

Lara's Theme (also called Somewhere My Love for lyrics added later) can be heard here (with a slide show of scenes of Russia). I somehow sensed, even at age five, that the music was also about longing.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dance and Daughter

Dance camp for a week in July at Barriskill Dance Theater School - they prepared and performed several numbers from Cats. The owner, Michael Barriskill, played Magical Mr. Mistoffelees on Broadway, and a friend of his came down from Virginia, where he has played Old Deutoronomy. They each had a significant number, and so the show, free for the parents, amounted to getting a private performance by pros. As you can see, they also did make-up, and costumes (tails, at least), and they sang as well as danced. It was well done; the kids had all worked hard, and had a lot of fun.

This is a special place, with amazing atmosphere, and inclusive of everyone. It's a marvel how much they can create and do in just one week at these camps, with an energetic group of eight to ten year olds and a handful of teenagers.

With my Dad in the hospital still, in the middle of a series of surgeries to stop cancer, recalling this kind of moment, before we knew, seems sweet.

Thanks to anyone praying for our family.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Dad and Cancer

My father has been diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer, which has metastasized to his spine, where it is destroying vertebrae and causing the pain that originally led him to see a doctor. His team of physicians referred to his situation as "serious but not grim." He has had one successful round of surgery, to remove vertebrae/tumors and to encage and brace the spine. He has at least two more rounds coming in the next days, for more cancerous areas and more bracing. With radiation and chemo, the doctors are optimistic; the tumor removed so far was relatively easy to take out; they believe they removed all but the most microscopic traces, and the healthy bone is more like they see in teenagers (Dad is nearly 70). His vascular health is also unusually good for a man his age, so these are in his favor for the ordeals ahead of him.

There was nothing to do, really, but wait this last week - so we took our Maine vacation, and had the special family time we planned. It was an exceptionally good trip, with unbelievably cooperative weather, magnificent scenery, good spirits and health for all of us, and safe travel. We are grateful. We were out of phone range, and we thought of Dad and Mom, and prayed for them, throughout the trip. They were always on our minds and in our hearts.

While much of our lives over the next weeks and months will be filled with my Dad's illness and his fight to remain with us for many more years (his dad lived to 93), I know our lives must not become about the cancer. We believe this is ALL in the palm of God's hands, because everything is, really, and as such we will continue to live and dream and create as always - even as we spend more time together (my siblings, parents and I) than we have in decades. I expect my blog, my art, my days, will be a jumble of things as the pot is stirred deeper and my needs emerge for sharing or brief escape.

I thank anyone who reads this for their interest, concern, thoughts, prayers... This is one of the many ways we are all connected. This is one of the things church really means. These are the times when we discover what is really important to us, and who is important to us, and why. And having this space to express those feelings in one more way will help me help my family through this - and it will help me through it as well.

North and South

We spent the last week (10 days, actually) in Maine, or traveling to and from there. It's two days each way to drive to Mount Desert Island from North Carolina. (More on this trip in posts to come.)

After that time in the Northeast, especially the crowded and fast paced Mid-Atlantic states, we were all feeling more and more compressed by the North's privacy standard. NOT greeting everyone you pass feels bizarre to us, and is hard to do. While we did get a beautiful smile from a lady walking down a sidewalk reading a book in Southwest Harbor, Maine, and while people were friendly if you smiled, waved, or spoke, they usually acted surprised, or even startled. When, in a Maryland rest stop on the return journey, a lady from a northeastern state stepped out of her car right into my personal space and did not so much as glance at me, it seemed the perfect symbol for the entire cultural difference, to me. I was so ready to get back to the South.

As we left the Petersburg, VA area on I-85, leaving I-95 behind at last, everyone commented on how I was singing with the music, laughing more freely, and smiling. "You're just glad to be south of Richmond!" Moomin Light said to me. She was right and I grinned from ear to ear.

We had a great time in Maine, and we met and spoke with many friendly people - particularly the folks who own the cottage where we stayed, but there's no place like the South.

In the NC Welcome Center on I-85, as my youngest and I entered the men's room, we passed an elderly gentleman. He looked up, smiled, and said, "How are y'all doin'?" I flashed him a huge smile and said we were doin' just fine, and how was he? I grinned like a fool and chuckled the entire way through that stop. At the car I commented that the sky was the most beautiful we had seen all day, and everyone laughed.