Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#SOL16: Four Words


I didn't know what being brave meant. Courage was more an abstraction, not of this world--or at least of my world at the time. Now I see more. Towards the end of Rob's life a friend sent me a private tweet that simply said, Try to stay curious. At the time I was barely hanging on and I didn't stop to think how staying curious could keep a body whole, present, brave. But words are sometimes acted upon without conscious thought.

By the last day of February, Rob's hold on reality was fractured. On that day, I recorded this:
Rob has had a total break with reality. Even when he did not know me by name, he knew me by sight, sound, touch. Now he stares beyond me. Yesterday he said he wanted to die and who could blame him? (2.29.16)
I wrote that early in the morning as I watched him grow still. And later that same day I would open Twitter and read the message about curiosity. That night as the house quieted those words found me again.  Curled in the chair pushed up against the hospital bed, I listened as my brave Rob figured out how to consent. How to leave. He would be lucid again--temporarily--before the foot he had in this world was gone. He would tell me during the next few days that he had figured out how to cross over.

He would die seven days later.


Six months have passed and though the calendar won't note the season's official end for another few weeks, summer closes with Labor Day.  Early this morning I was reading Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary (recommended by another friend via Twitter) and came upon this:
"Back in my 'cell' I unpacked my suitcase and was surprised by the collection of books I had decided to take with me: A Spanish Bible, the works of Saint John of the Cross, a history of the United States, a book about common weeds, and the novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (Kindle Locations 128-130). 
The mention of Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance brought me back years--nearly a decade before I would meet Rob. Then I was a college student and the whole campus read the book, not too long after it was first published. I recall knowing it was an impressive work by what others had to say, but at the age of 17 it was out of my reach.  This morning I reread the opening, noting how the idea of perspective is illuminated. The father/narrator thinks,
"At age eleven you don’t get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds.  
You have to get older for that. For me this is all mixed with memories that he doesn’t have. Cold mornings long ago when the marsh grass had turned brown and cattails were waving in the northwest wind. The pungent smell then was from muck stirred up by hip boots while we were getting in position for the sun to come up and the duck season to open. Or winters when the sloughs were frozen over and dead and I could walk across the ice and snow between the dead cattails and see nothing but grey skies and dead things and cold. The blackbirds were gone then. But now in July they’re back and everything is at its alivest and every foot of these sloughs is humming and cricking and buzzing and chirping, a whole community of millions of living things living out their lives in a kind of benign continuum.  
You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other" (p. 4).  

Reading Pirsig this morning sent me back to my art journal to paint. I had blackbirds on my mind. Ravens actually. And I painted outside as crows called to one another and throughout it I felt an odd sense of peace.

from my art journal (9.5.16 - gesso, acrylic and watercolor paint, ink, digital remix)


There are some things you have to get older for. Others that defy age. I know this now.

Most days I begin with the hope the day will teach me what I most need to learn--what I will surely forget. Against the waves of grief, the making helps. I was told it would be making art that would heal me and perhaps there is some truth to that. So after reading a bit of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I took out an art journal and painted outside. I felt the wind, heard the call of birds through trees, and watched the way light moved. Soon it will be fall.

These too may well be things you have to get older for.

I painted boldly, allowing movement and line to guide my hand.  Meaning emerged and I stayed curious--whole, present, brave.


  1. Wow. What heartfelt post. I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts with all of us.

  2. Wow. What heartfelt post. I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts with all of us.

    1. Thank you Lisa so much for taking time to read and comment. I appreciate what you wrote.

  3. "...words are sometimes acted upon without conscious thought." So, so true. The blackbird painting is magnificent!

  4. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal. My favorite line is "Most days I begin with the hope the day will teach me what I most need to learn--what I will surely forget." I think the universe teaches us lessons every day and over time our souls build a sort of "muscle memory". We don't realize we've learned the lesson until we can suddenly apply it. Wishing you peace.

    1. I love the idea of the soul building a muscle memory. I must remember that. Thank you Adrienne for your kind and insightful words.

  5. What a heartfelt post. I am sorry about your loss. Whole, present, brave - those aren't always easy to accomplish, but something to strive for every day. Your painting is lovely and I hope your art continues to bring you some peace and healing.

    1. Thank you Lisa. Wholeness is awfully hard. Painting brings me peace.

  6. To stay curious... On my best days that's what I'm doing... You create with words and paint... Me, I need to move to my videos waiting for me... I don't get there enough... I love that mantra... to stay curious... You are so close to Rob's death still.. I'm with you, friend.

    1. Thank you Bonnie. The day now --with the start of school echo his loss all the more. I am so close.
      Would love to see your films.

  7. I don't know that even age, and the wisdom it brings, can help us know how to navigate the chasm of grief. But your art, and the way you seek understanding through reading inspire me. You are so fiercely brave.

    1. I don't feel brave most days. I just do what must be done. As a teacher and writer and artist making meaning is in my bones. Grateful for that and your words.

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  9. I read this poem, and thought of you, Mary Ann:
    "Grief" by Richard Brostoff

    Somewhere in the Sargasso Sea
    the water disappears into itself,
    hauling an ocean in.

    Vortex, how you repeat
    a single gesture,
    come round to find only

    yourself, a cup full of questions,
    perhaps some curl of wisdom,
    a bit of flung salt.

    You hold an absence
    at your center,
    as if it were a life.

  10. "To begin the days with hope" and staying curious are brave acts. Your posts and art are express both.