Sunday, October 30, 2016

#SOL16: Turn on the Light


The Lightbulb (M.A. Reilly: paper collage, handmade papers, found papers, digital remix, 2016)
I.

Imagine a very long chain suspended from a ceiling fixture. Get that imagine fixed in your mind. Now, look up and see that the fixture has no globe.  It had been lost along the way. Or perhaps it broke one afternoon. These details matter, but not today.

There's just a single bulb.

To turn the light on, to illuminate the room you know too well and night beyond the windows, you must reach up and tug the chain. Tug it hard.


 II.

About 9 days ago I began to wonder about what remains after the initial shock of grief passes. I realized then that I had stopped crying daily. I could think of Rob and not cry. I had just stopped and in the space where tears fell there was now this cavern, a hollowed out place. And I wondered what fills this body of mine now that the daily tears have stopped?  What new room have I made?


III.

An idea began to formulate so bold that at first I turned away--shielded that part of me that has known such deep wounds. Could the easing of grief be as simple as deciding to actually live--not simply exist?  Could it be a matter of deciding?

Back in February when Rob told me to live brilliantly, he first warned me, no not warned for that is too tame a word for it. Rather he commanded me to not hide away.

"Don't you hide away," he told me.

What I could not know last February was that sometimes it feels necessary to hide in the dark--to pull the proverbial covers over my head--to rest what feels ladened with sorrow.


IV.

"It's heavier than I thought," I said to my brother.

Last night when my brothers came over, Brendan brought Rob's ashes with him.  I had asked him to do so. When he handed me the bag containing Rob's ashes, my first thought was how heavy it all is.  I had not expected my husband's remains to carry such weight.

Later after my brothers had left and I had placed the bag on a book shelf downstairs, I went to tell Devon. We hugged as touch is often more important than words and we each cried just a bit.

"It's not Dad," he told me.

"I know. We'll figure out what to do with the ashes," I told him. "At some point what we do will make sense."


V.

I don't know where the idea of choosing life over grief developed. I imagine if I reread what I have written these last 15 months, I might find a thread to tug and follow that would help me to better understand the evolution of this thought.

For now, I am less inclined to do so. For reasons I cannot explain, I have reached up and tugged that chain and light
               falls warm over me--lightens the darkened, heavy spaces I have known.

It's a matter of choice. When the body and the soul are ready--it's always a matter of choice.  I had forgotten. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Please Sign My Petition to NOT Pay GOP Senators

Screenshot of the petition


Given the consistent nonperformance of 54 GOP Senators who have refused to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing, I believe they should receive no pay, no health care benefits, no pension benefits for each and every day they have acted as obstructionists. You and I pay their salaries and benefits and for what?  Imagine if you or I decided to not actually do the job we are paid for?  Although I have never written a petition, I decided to do so.  Now I need to collect signatures. I have thirty days to reach the required 100,000 signatures.  If you feel strongly that the Republican Senators are acting in bad faith by not doing their job and want to stop them from getting paid, please sign.




Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#SOL16: Bone and Heart

Devon sitting on the steps (2003)


I.


The second step from the top creaks. It seems hard to miss that step and as such it is now a familiar sound. A comforting sound. This has always been more home than house, faulty in its grace.

Only Rob, Dev and I have ever lived here. The house was new when we bought. Others that spring would outbid us and yet  Dave, the builder, sold it to us anyway. I'd like to think that he knew we were at our limit and that we would make this place he built a home. And we have.

We gave rise to that creak. We made it climbing up and down these stairs for the last 14 years. Bounding down and trudging up ladened with books and boxes and laundry and more times than I could count, the sleeping weight of a toddler. Time has loosened these stairs--caused the wooden treads to rub against the risers and stringers; to grind against the screws and nails that hold it all together.  And how odd it is that such a noise could be more solace than annoyance; more balm than pain?


II.


Rob climbed those stairs a year ago for the last time this month. He was unsteady on his feet and the climb up those stairs became too much for him to accomplish. We each did our best to not notice his unsteady and too heavy gait. We wanted it to be something temporary. We told one another how this set back would resolve itself with treatment. To pay note would have shifted the narrative from ever so hopeful to less so. And truly that bit of hope we held on to was more gift than not--more necessary than any pseudo cure the legion of doctors would prescribe and (un)prescribe.

On that last day he climbed the stairs, I washed him, washed his hair and we laughed at my clumsy attempts that morning. And how good it felt to laugh. He needed to sit  halfway through as holding his too-sick body up was too much to bear.  He could no longer manage such things. Even shaving become a chore and though I gave it a good try, he would take the razor from my hand and redo my first attempt. We were getting ready for what would be his first chemo treatment, as he had been cleared by the infectious disease doctor after five weeks of fighting a staph infection to finally receive treatment--treatment that would only land him back in the hospital in need of emergency thoracic surgery a week later. As the chemo stripped his body's defenses, the staph resurged growing into an abscess a millimeter from the right ventricle of his heart.

Rob would never see the second floor of our home again. Never walk up our stairs to our bedroom. Never sit in his favorite chair in the guest room which was more his study than not. Imagine that just seven weeks earlier he went up and down those stairs without a care. We each did.


III.


Late at night I listen, listen to welcome him home, as if his departed spiritual self might bear some weight when all things grow dark and the barriers between here and there grow thin. In the dark anything can happen, anything can be. Now and then I hear the tread of my now six-foot son take those stairs two at at a time well after midnight. He is in search of a glass of water, a glass of juice--and it will be the empty glass I find sitting in the sink the next morning that confirms this late night tale.

On his way up the stairs to his bedroom, I hear the creak and I think of Rob. I think how this home we made is part bone, part heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

#SOL16: Sublime

from my art journal, 10.22.16 (gesso, found papers, acrylic paint, Tombow markers, tissue paper, ink)

I.

The weather has finally turned sending the too-hot and humid summer-like weather we had this past week in the Northeast US, packing.  Good riddance. The first fall-feeling day is here. Gale winds, raw cold, and buckets of rain ("Buckets of tears/Got all them buckets comin' out of my ears/Buckets of moonbeams in my hand...")

And it is absolutely glorious to walk in the fall of rain, feel the wind so strong tug at the umbrella that I must hold at an angle--less the wind with a sharp snap will turn it inside out. This afternoon I have the path to myself. No one else seems to have ventured forth and surely I can see the appeal of curling up with a good book in an oversized chair with some mint tea. I painted most of the morning, making the journal page at the top of this post and after lunch I found myself heading to that chair with some tea and a book. It was after all, raining.

So? I thought.  I transferred the hot tea to an old Starbucks cup, threw on a sweatshirt, and let myself outside after saying goodbye to Devon.  To me, nothing affirms life like a storm.


II.

I am rounding the last mile when the audio cuts out and my phone begins to ring. The display reads, Patty. My oldest friend in the world is phoning. We have known each other since we were each 4-years-old. I answer right away--using one hand to hold the umbrella and cup of tea and the other to put the phone closer to my mouth. We haven't spoken in a few months and I am eager to catch up. Between old friends there is no settling in to the conversation. No awkward pauses. No wondering what to say. There is just talk and lots of it--as if we talked every day. And well, I guess for so many years we did.

Pat tells me that creating helps ease grief.  Her husband John retired early and has taken up writing. "He says he needs two years.  One year to write and the next to reflect on that writing."

"How wise," I tell her, "to give himself that second year."

Pat's an art therapist. She recommends movement and creating as means to ease grief. She laughs telling me it was in the low 30s this morning in Michigan and raining too and she went out for a run anyway.  After about 20 minutes of which only the last 5 were dedicated to the election (Pat says with a chuckle that in Michigan all of the millennials and she voted for Sanders), she rings off as she is heading to a client.


III.

Later, after night has fallen and the wind has quieted a bit, I am reading an old copy of Flow Magazine.  I see there is an article about loss and begin reading. Dealing with loss says RenĂ© Diekstra,

"is the ability to create something from our pain. This can be simple, like keeping a diary, contacting a fellow-sufferer or looking at a painting. Re-forging our pain can frequently lead to something sublime. The main question we must ask ourselves is: What can I do with my pain besides suffer from it?" (from Flow Magazine,  Issue 12).

What can I do? As much as there are days when I desire to stay active, I realize that I am even more partial to solitude. I enjoy writing and making art and both of these tend to be done alone. Painting all morning fueled me, allowed me to feel content and even, joyful.  It is the small acts that heal. Talking with an old friend. Walking in the rain. Watching what begins to emerge as I paint and become.




Saturday, October 22, 2016

#SOL 16: Now

Rob showing Devon how to work his first camera. We were in the Redwood Forest in late December.

I.


When someone knows sorrow--sorrow others could well experience, feeling relieved that such loss does not have your name written on it is natural.  I was listening to Kim Snyder, the director of the documentary film, Newtown speak a few weeks ago and I remembered that guilty feeling that arose when the horror of Newtown first happened. I thanked God my then 13-year-old son was alive and not touched by such misery. I was relieved to not be any of those parents. This did not stop me from feeling for those families, wondering across these last four years about them and their slain children.

II.


A few weeks ago, a woman anticipating a first wedding anniversary expressed sorrow about the death of my husband.  Her expression was timid and she explained how she felt uncomfortable about her joy given my recent loss. This surprised me for I so keenly believe in love. To have been loved so well by Rob makes belief in love easy. Yes, this loss is life altering and as such there are now certain closures and openings to my life that are uncharted. No map exists.  But honestly, no map ever did.

Love has a way of shaping reality, softening ambiguity, curbing disappointment, allowing us the pretense of an endless life.  For in the glory of love time functions without borders, curves and folds as we need, as we desire.


III.

We have this moment.  Among those who know such sorrow, the value of the present is not lost.

Friday, October 21, 2016

#SOL16: Holding Their Tongues and Impossible Futures

from my art journal 10.1.16 (Gesso, marker, acrylic paint)


I.

When I was 15,  I first read Edith Wharton's slim novel about impossible futures. By the end of Ethan Frome, tragedy has occurred.  Ethan and Mattie try for that impossible future by sledding into a big elm and neither accomplish the permanence of death. At the top of the hill, seated on a sled, the narrator comments that Ethan
"...sat still a moment, straining his eyes down the long hill, for it was the most confusing hour of the evening, the hour when the last clearness from the upper sky is merged with the rising night in a blur that disguises landmarks and falsifies distances."

And isn't this an apt description of those times we leave the present moment and try for a future that is not ours? What seems most certain in the present is obscured when we peer beyond where the soles of our feet meet earth. And yet the impulse to do so, remains strong.


II.


Tonight I wonder what it is it about impossible futures that beckon? Why do they seem to call to us when we would rather be anywhere but the present moment. Sorrow anchors a desire for what cannot be, while being fueled by all that has been lost. The tension between is almost too much to bear. Towards the end of his life, Rob's sure-footedness here on earth slipped more and more. And I could do nothing except bear witness as the pull for life lessened. The man I married left before his last breath gave out.

III.


The novel closes with the two residing once again under the weight of Ethan's too sad wife Zeena. The three know only sorrow and anger and pain. Mrs. Hale a fellow townsperson from Starkfield, closes the text by saying,
"And I say, if she'd ha' died, Ethan might ha' lived; and the way they are now, I don't see's there's much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; 'cept that down there they're all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues."
Imagine that holding your tongue is sum difference between living and not.


IV.

I'm a photographer with hundreds of photographs of our son and now each one reminds me of Rob. Something simple like getting Devon shoes when he was just a toddler is a story. I remember how very much we loved. Each image is a story we shared. A truth we learned. A record. Some are silly, others less so. But what I know tonight is that we lived fully, unlike poor Ethan and Mattie. We did not wait for a future that would not arrive. we lived. Ethan and Mattie flirted with love and lost. We did not.


V.

No more than an hour after Rob learned he would die, my husband's thoughts were of me and our son. As his grip on this world loosened he somehow found the grounding to tell me what I most needed to know--what I, at the time, did not know I would need so dearly.

"Live brilliantly," Rob would tell me. "Love Devon and live."

I am, Rob. I am.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

#SOL16: On Writing and Teaching Writing

Art Conversations (M.A. Reilly, 2008)

I. 

Recently I wrote in the comments section of a blog, "I like to think every letter of every word written and the spaces between these words are a record of healing." 

And I do.

For the last six years that I have kept this blog, I never imagined how much I would grow to need it--to need you--my imagined reader. Back in 2009 when I first posted, I did so out of obligation. I was taking a weekend course at Bard College and everyone enrolled had to make a blog.  So I started this blog, posted, and did not write again for another 8 months. But even as I did not write, I knew in the back of my mind that there was this space waiting for me to fill.

Since then I have written more than 1500 posts and have published 1400 of those. Since Rob's diagnosis, I have written more than 200 posts, more than 100,000 words and I recognize that each utterance and the spaces between have been healing steps. 

Who knew I would ever need this like my very breath?

II. 

I think a lot about the intersections between writing and healing. And today, I am less sure that writing instruction at school is worthy of our children's time and attention. These commercial units of study that are so popular feel so contrived. So jammed up with tasks to do that thinking, yes thinking, feels somehow left out. Completion should never be mistaken for grand conversations. When I read the prepared units I think that learning is so outlined and calendered that one might wonder where there was room to pause. To think. To talk. To err.

I grow weary just thinking about the rush to teach so many different genres each year to children of all ages. Surely in this drive to pack it all in we may be missing what is most fundamental: 

Invention. 

Yes, invention is at the heart of writing. William Carlos Williams admonished us years ago when he wrote, "Shame on our poets/they have caught the prevalent fever:/impressed/by the 'laboratory,'/they have forgot/the flower!/which goes beyond all/laboratories!/They have quit the job/of invention. The/imagination has fallen asleep/in a poppy-cup."

When I think of learning, not necessarily teaching, writing seems more possible, more ready to wear, less stuffy. I want the young people I work with to make meaning because they must. I want them to do it daily and to do it with intention when possible. I want them to learn the art of contradiction, the wonder that comes when the poem writes itself, the frustration that happens when the page remains empty. I want them to live wide awake lives and take notice. I want them to privilege accuracy because the words and marks they place on a page matter so, as do their readers.

I want the young people I teach to learn writing by walking/wheeling/moving/chatting. The world beyond the school house beckons and we ought to help our young people build bridges with words and intentions to it--to gather the shorelines in their fists. I imagine writing instruction has more to do with painting--with mess making--with building stuff, than with strict guidelines about any particular genre. I shudder when imagining teaching a class to write poetry at the same time. No, not that. Never that. 

I would surely fail as a writing teacher today, likely I would be dismissed. But, I would fail brilliantly. Chuck those units of study out the nearest window or better yet use them as substrates to bloom beautiful works. At best, I would hope to occasion the interest in my students to see what might be waiting around the bend. To listen to what is not said. To consider the possibilities before them and say what must be said and honor, yes honor, the silence such saying might evoke.  We could sit awhile. Perhaps take tea. There is time for this. 

John Cage knew. I have nothing to say and I am saying it--may well be the first creative act after breathing.




Wednesday, October 19, 2016

#SOL16: A Dead Fir Tree

the dead fir tree.


The fir tree next to the front stoop died two weeks after Rob. It did so suddenly without a hint of sickness. Green one day and then not. It's a sad looking tree now, still draped with Christmas lights--all the more pronounced now that the needles have thinned and browned. Vinca vines from potted plants have begun to curl themselves along the tree's perimeter.  A reminder perhaps that life resurges, seeks its voice in all things.

The tree's twin is on the other side of the stoop and it seems to have grown at least another foot since March. Now it is lush and green. Its strings of light rest easy, mostly hidden among the many overlapping branches. There's an odd symmetry to the front of my home. Symbolic even.

For the longest time I have intended to replace the fir, but have not done it.  I inquired about the cost last spring and it was not too dear to do.  Yet, I have hesitated as if I can't seem to bring myself to have it gone. To see the absence it makes. To replace it.

Perhaps, I have developed a newfound affinity for the dead.  I can't bear to part with even this odd reminder of the terms I now live with, the terms that define me, partially.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

#SOL16: What I Know

from my art journal 10.15.16 (Gesso, ink, watercolor, Tombow paint markers, acrylic paint, percolator app, digital remix)



...Now that the bones are gone
who lives in the final dust?

  ~Pablo Neruda, from LXII, A Book of Questions


I.

Knew.
New.
Each works.
Both out of sync with here, now.


II.

What I know is limited to the rhythm of my breath. Each breathed-out moment feels new fleeting, so ephemeral. After the death of a husband, life reveals the absence of long vista views.

Here there is only terra firma.

The land, so parched, like my heart--so parched that I write love notes in the dust with just the tip of a sneaker hoping you, dear Rob, can somehow decipher the marks. It's a Morse Code of sorts. Or perhaps a bridge, left to span the void between here and there.

Each day my feet eat up the hard ground and I think, surely walking and writing and painting and talking have saved me.


III.

What I know now could fit inside the smallest of thimbles with room left for heartache new. And when the uncertainty of the very-second-beyond-right-now rises up like an old rickety carnival ride cresting a hill, I want to turn away, to not see the empty swing of ferris wheel gondolas bereft of you, of me, of who we were together.

"Don't look," I want to shout.
And I look anyway. Stare down that emptiness with bravery that catches in my throat.

How did I not know life could be so very hard and I would be so very capable?


IV.

What I know about loss murmurs so soft some evenings like prayers intoned at vespers. There are things I say in the dark and I say them so softly that sometimes I think they are more imagined than not.

After all these months, I want to offer praise for I have come some distance. I have. But I have no such song to sing. No praise song, yet--just these bits of words and phrases I have fashioned here. A start of sorts.


V.

What I know is grief keeps it's own liturgical hours, knows its own mind. It is indifferent to pain and need and desire and the well turned pages of the calendar.
I may be more monk than not, now. You may be, too.

Hymns offered to a husband dead by a wife grieving.

It will get easier, I think.
This awful newness will get easier.

Monday, October 17, 2016

#SOL16: To Do


Trying to Find Home (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

Each new step is hesitant as if I had somehow forgotten how to walk. Now that Rob's responsibilities are mine, I find myself waiting, delaying--as if paralysis were setting in. So, I'm making a To Do list--something I watched Rob do each day for decades. He was forever adding to and scratching out lists in whatever Moleskin journal he was using at the time. After he died, I found in his office nearly 50 journals he had written in. Poetry and essay mostly but interspersed in each of those journals were lists.

So here's mine:
  1. Call the plumber to bleed the lines. Soon we will need heat.
  2. Find a reputable person to service the generator. 
  3. Have someone fix the siding that is warping at the top of the house.  
  4. Have the chimney cleaned.
  5. Clean out the attic.
  6. Pack up the books for Val.
  7. Pay bills.
  8. Wash the windows.
  9. Replace batteries on the smoke detectors.
  10. Replace the fir tree next to the front stoop that died two weeks after Rob.
  11. Add salt to the water softener.
  12. Sweep the garage.
  13. Breakdown the boxes for recycling.
  14. Call the Vets to pick up more bags of clothes.
  15. Clear the chrome books and donate.
  16. Clear Rob's computer and do something with it.
  17. Buy more salt.
  18. Pay more bills.
  19. Empty the vacuum.
  20. Clean the gutters.
  21. Carve a pumpkin.
  22. Shred some of the saved financial records.
  23. Take down the umbrellas and store the chairs under the deck.
  24. Move the potted plants under the deck.
  25. Paint the first floor of the house.
  26. Bring the herbs inside before the first frost.
  27. Call about the window installation.
  28. Winterize the outside water lines.
  29. Remember in May to have the sceptic pumped.
  30. Pay more bills.
  31. Fill bird feeders for winter.
  32. Replace the cover for the baseboard heat in the bathroom.
  33. Take Devon for his driving test.
  34. Learn how to start the snow blower (Dev and I never could get it started last year).
  35. Rake leaves.
  36. Fill the propane tank.
  37. Place the winter shovels by the garage.
  38. Cut back shrubs.
  39. Do something with Rob's office.
  40. Have the wooden ramp taken down--the ramp Rob never go to use.
  41. Rest.





Sunday, October 16, 2016

#SOL16: Shoes

Sneakers (M.A.Reilly, Paris, 2016)


It's so disconcerting to see the pair of shoes next to the bed. Rob's side of the bed.

I edged off my sneakers, leaving them where they settled and after finishing some laundry I headed back into the bedroom. And that's when I saw the sneakers.

For as long as we were together, Rob's side of the bed remained closer to the door and mine was always by the windows. He kept his shoes on his side and I kept mine on my side.

Now, even the shoes are confused.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Packing Tape Transfers

from my art journal with new tape added: Sing For Your Life

I. Making a Clear Tape Transfer

An easy way to add print and color to art journal pages is through tape transfer. In the image above I added the phrase, Sing For Your Life, using the tape transfer image. Here's how you do it.

To make the transfer you'll need:

  • clear packing tape
  • a magazine
  • a basin with warm water
  • wooden spoon to burnish the image 
  • your art journal



  1. I looked through a recent copy of The New Yorker and the most recent New York Times Magazine and found images and print I wanted to use to create transfers.
  2. I placed tape over the images and words I wanted and then ripped the taped images/words out of the magazines.
  3. Next, I burnished each using the back of a kitchen spoon.
  4. I then placed the taped images/words into a basin of warm water and let them sit for  few minutes.
  5. Using my fingers I rubbed the paper pulp off the back of each piece of tape and the set it (tape side down) on paper towels to dry. You can see in the image to the left how translucent the images are.
  6. As I am not planning on using all of the tape right away, I placed the sticky side of the tape on pieces of wax paper.

tape in the water
Sample piece of tape

Clear tape drying












Using the Tape in Art Journaling


I added the phrase, In the End, to this unfinished art journal page.

  1. Two pieces of text caught my interest and I added them to art journaling pages I had been working on. 
  2. Because I am not sure yet if where I placed the tape is where I want to keep them, I just stuck the tape on the page.  
  3. Later, if I want to adhere the tape more permanently I will use some gel medium (matte) to attach it.




Tuesday, October 11, 2016

#SOL16: Bear Hunting, Donald Trump, Chinatown, and Becoming (Other)Wise

Storm Warning (2012)

When the chesty, fierce-furred bear becomes sick he travels the mountainsides and the fields, searching for certain grasses, flowers, leaves and herbs, that hold within themselves the power of healing. He eats, he grows stronger. Could you, oh clever one, do this? Do you know anything about where you live, what it offers? Have you ever said, “Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know.” - Mary Oliver, Upstream, p. 7.

I.

from here: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/bearseason_info.htm
In New Jersey yesterday, 206 bears were killed on the first day of bear hunting season. 206 black bears shot dead by arrows. The first bear killed this year was a 104-pound female. 74 of those 206 bears were killed nearby my home, in ZONE 3 of the bear 'harvesting' map. A prodigious day apparently. Beginning on Thursday through Saturday, eager hunters can kill bear with bow and arrows and guns (muzzleloaders).

I share woods with bears; my home situated between multiple state forests in northern New Jersey. We moved here nearly 15 years ago to be close enough to Manhattan and to still live where trees aren't something that simply line streets. I walk in the woods (not this week) a good portion of the time unless hunting is happening. Sometimes, especially in early spring, bears wander from the woods and can be seen lumbering across gravel roads and asphalt; across newly greening lawns. People come to ZONE 3 to kayak, hike and run trails, ride bikes, walk in the woods, and apparently now to use bows and arrows and guns to kill black bears.

II.

Death is so final, so absolute. There is no going back, There is no do over.  Losing my husband, seeing Rob die last March taught me that. Once dead, you remain dead. The 104-pound bear is as dead today as she was yesterday afternoon. And we are the worse for that. Perhaps my sensibilities about death are heightened given the last 15 months, but when I read about the bear killing it gutted me. When I read about the 'bear problem' in New Jersey, I thought how very foolish we are. And so it was with this on my mind that I started to read Mary Oliver's new essay collection, Upstream. I stopped two pages in when I came across the paragraph at the top of this post. It offers such a sharp contrast to killing bears--a contrast worth our notice.

Oliver situates a bear as knowing differently than us. Bears know stuff we don't.  She asks, "Have you ever said, 'Sir Bear, teach me. I am a customer of death coming, and would give you a pot of honey and my house on the western hills to know what you know.'" 

Have you?  Have I? What might we learn if we had the courage to do so?

III.

Maxine Greene wrote about the need to become otherwise.  Becoming otherwise is to consider points of view that feel foreign, not as some exotic exercise, but rather as a way of being in the world. Rather than judge it wrong--there is an interest in understanding, in not naming too quickly, too singularly. I think of this stance--this way of living in light of the presidential election that seems to have gone on for more than a epoch. Has there been in recent memory another election that has so divided a country?  That has set us against one another?  That we are more  nation of us and them, than we the people?

How do we mend what we have torn apart?  How do we gather up the courage to become wise about others who are not us? How do we resist harming more?

IV.

You may have read about the recent O'Reilly Factor debacle that found correspondent Jesse Watters loose in Chinatown (NYC). He was sent there by the show's host, Bill O'Reilly because "China" has been so often mentioned during the election.  In what has been defined as vile and racist by NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Watters conducted pseudo-interviews on the street. Interspersed among the interviews were video of Watters "getting a foot massage, playing with nunchucks and asking loaded questions that some residents appeared not to understand or couldn’t answer." (from here).  Watching the segment left me disheartened, my stomach clenched, and stench of fear and anger.  This was a stab at humor? How is this even possible in 2016?

I have been thinking about this a lot. Thinking about the country my 17-year-old Korean son will be claiming for in a few brief months as he sets out from home to go to college. What world will this young man find?  How safe will he be?  How loved? Misunderstood? Demeaned? How dare Watters and O'Reilly determine my son's worth by their narrow white privilege. How dare them.  And how dare anyone who laughs alongside this 'news' show.

We must demand more of ourselves and say loudly NO to such depictions of others/selves.

V.

And perhaps this demanding more our ourselves is at the center of what we must do regardless of the election outcome.  We cannot delay such actions.  To make a kinder, better, brighter and more humane life in this country, we need to cozy-up to other. Learn to love what we don't like.

That means all of us, although I need not wait for you to start.

I'm taking an inventory of what is other in my life.  At the top of the list are Trump and his supporters. I don't understand the motivation to support this candidate, but that doesn't mean that I need to hate him or his supporters--for I don't know even one of them.  It's easy to dislike a group--easy as it is foolish. It's far harder to dislike a person with whom you share a story. I know I don't need to be perfect at this embrace of other, I just need to do it.

VI.

Oliver closes the essay by reminding us that "[a]ttention is the beginning of devotion" (p. 8).  How observant she is. How wise.

And so tonight I am praying that I might practice noticing and learn how to resist the too easy naming that blinds me.  Let me take notice of what is in front of me--be it the bear in nearby woods, the voter I don't understand, the candidate I can't seem to respect.  Let me pay attention so I may better love.

Sir/Madam, teach me. I am a customer of death coming. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Art Journaling Resources

from my art journal, 10.8.16 (Gesso, ink, acrylic paint, tombow markers, stabilo pencil, pan pastel)



As some of you already know, I began art journaling shortly after my husband died last March.  I have made digital images and photographs for years, but felt the need to immerse myself in something more physical. Frankly, I had so much nervous energy that I needed full immersion in the work. Art journaling meets that need as it allows me to paint, draw, collage, and write. During these last seven months I have been following a few blogs, read some books, viewed online some work by other artists and thought that in this post I would share a bit of what I have been learning by listing some resources.

I recently started a meet-up for those interested in art journaling in northern NJ.  We will have our first meeting soon. This January I will be participating in Life Book 2017, an online art workshop that last the full year. I'm super excited about this.

Here are just a few resources I use or have used when art journaling.

Blogs

The Altered Page (Seth Apter)
Art Journal Everyday (Julie Fei-Fan Balzer)
The Common Denominator (Marybeth Shaw)
Creative Art Journal (Emily T)
Creativity Unleashed (Traci Bautista)
Journal Girl (Samantha Kira Harding)
Michelle Ward
Misty Mawn
Mixed Media Journal with Judy Wise
My Art Journal (Diane Salter)
Ponderings (Dina Wakely)
Serena Barton's Blog
Studio 274 Design
An Uninterrupted View (Louise Nelson)
Willowing Arts (Tamara Laporte)

Blog Post: Packing Tape Transfers

Books

page from A world of Artist Journal Pages...
Barton, Serena. (2013). Wabi-Sabi Art Workshop: Mixed Media Techniques for Embracing Imperfection and Celebrating Happy Accidents. North Light Books.
Carriker, Pam. (2015). Mixed Media Portraits with Pam Carriker: Techniques for Drawing and Painting Faces. North Light Books.
Carriker, Pam. (2013). Creating Art at the Speed of Life: 30 Days of Mixed-Media Exploration. Interweave.
Mawn, Misty. (2011). Unfurling, A Mixed-Media Workshop with Misty Mawn: Inspiration and Techniques for Self-Expression through Art. Quarry Books.
Sokol, Dawn DeVries. (2015). A World of Artist Journal Pages: 1000+ Artworks - 230 Artists - 30 Countries. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang - An Imprint of Abrams.
Sokol, Dawn DeVries. (2013). Art Doodle Love: A Journal of Self-Discovery.  New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang - An Imprint of Abrams.
Wakely, Dina. (2014). Art Journal Courage: Fearless Mixed Media Techniques for Journaling Bravely. North Light Books.
Wakely, Dina. (2013). Art Journal Freedom: How to Journal Creatively With Color & Composition. North Light Books.




Digital

Art Journaling blog
Art Journaling on Pininterest
Beginning Art Journaling on Pininterest
21 Secrets Tools and Techniques

How To's
How 2 Art Journal
How to create and keep an art journal: Aisling's How-To Page

Magazine

Art Journaling Magazine
Art Journal No. 2 Zine

Video

Pam Carriker video page





See more here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

#SOL16: Sorrow at 7 Months

from my art journal Sept, 2016 (gesso, ink, acrylic paint, pan pastel, stabilo pencil)
When Rob was first diagnosed and I understood how dire it was, I would calm myself by saying, "It's okay. You can still touch him. He's here." I would repeat those words over and over, soothing myself by holding the fear that surfaced in abeyance. He was still here. I could reach out and touch him. And when the time came, when we were told that his prognosis had changed from at least another year to live to terminal in three weeks, I no longer needed a mantra. His needs consumed me and my fear was subdued by shock and answering that need. My husband was not going to his death without me holding him up as much as humanly possible. I would make the last month of his life whatever he needed. I'm uncertain if there has ever been a time in my life in which I had such clarity.

Tonight I am wishing that I would have memorized each and every encounter, gesture, touch, word we exchanged those last few months of his life. A year ago, Rob was in the hospital having been diagnosed with the first of three staph infections. He would be hospitalized for twelve days--it would mark the longest time we had ever been apart in 28 years. He would be home for less than four weeks before returning to the hospital because an abscess had formed in his chest from the staph that had not been treated correctly.  Then he would be in the hospital for another fourteen days. He wouldn't come home this time until the night before his birthday. He would stay home through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and our 25th wedding anniversary before being rushed to the hospital the morning of December 30 because he could no longer walk. As we waited for the ambulance to arrive he told me he feared he would not be coming home again. Fifty days later he would come home and one day shy of three weeks, he would die.

I know these dates like I know my name. And now it is another fall and I think of all that my husband will not experience. I'm wishing that I could replay, like a film, each moment during the last six months of his life so I might savor what has been lost--substitute the film for the emptiness I know now.

I miss my husband's touch, his voice, the weight of his arm wrapped around my shoulder. I miss the certainty that came when he would lightly grip the back of my neck and pull me closer for a kiss. I miss the smell of him, his feet touching mine in bed, his boisterous laugh, and our late night talks. I miss our shared love for our son, how we knew the other's thoughts, the times he played guitar. I miss getting dinner ready together, dancing together, coming downstairs in the morning and finding him at the kitchen table with The Times spread out before him and his hand wrapped around the Black Dog Cafe mug--the same one we bought when Dev had just turned three and we had spent a week on holiday on Martha's Vineyard. I miss talking shop, commuting together, trying out a new theory, reading aloud the rough draft of an article, and hearing him read a poem aloud. I miss seeing him through the viewfinder of my camera tangled up with Dev or years earlier our dog, Max. I miss our many road trips, our travel around the world. I miss watching him with Devon, how they would lean heads together and talk. I miss our future and how we planned to travel across the country making art and writing. He was always after me to make a photography book about learning at school.

This afternoon Dev and I were at a diner when I looked up at a TV and realized for the first time that it is football season. The only time our television was on was when Rob would try to convince me and Dev how great the Giants were going to be that year. I'd sit next to him during the games and read-watch and he'd shout at the TV and cheer. Usually Sunday dinner would be cooking and I'd time it so that we could eat at halftime or after the first game. When his dad was alive Rob would call down to Florida and they'd rehash the game.

This past weekend, Devon submitted an application to the college he hopes to attend next year. His college essay about a critical incident that helped him to mature brought laughter and tears.  Next week Dev will take his driver's test. This past weekend Dev and friends went to Brooklyn for a gaming tournament--just a few blocks from Brooklyn Tech, Rob's old high school. So many firsts that Rob is not here to see. I mourn not only my loss, but my son's loss and as time moves on, all that my sweet husband is no longer here to experience.

How do I carry on knowing the loss is so immense? An ocean of sorrow that does not end. Where might I tuck such grief?  In whose pocket might sorrow reside? Seven months have past since Rob's death and the world is no less certain than it was when he was alive, it just feels that way.





Monday, October 3, 2016

#SOL16: Prayered Up


Crosses (M.A. Reilly, Tuscany, 2009)

In response to the recent bombings in NJ and NYC, a woman from Linden, NJ who was interviewed on the radio last week said, "It's scary. We just have to stay prayered up."

Stay prayered up.
Prayered.

Sometimes it is that simple. Sometimes.




Sunday, October 2, 2016

#SOL16: Seek Its Name


from my art journal, 9.28.16  (acrylic paint, pan pastel, marker, stabilo pencil) 

"...weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

I. 

"Would you have a silver Sharpie?" a friend of my son's asks this morning. It's not quite 7:30 and soon Devon and some friends will be off to Brooklyn for a gaming tournament. Apparently silver Sharpies work best for signing the oversized badge each wears. 

"Silver?  I'm not sure," I say as I head downstairs to check a supply of materials we have for workshops. Instead of heading into the garage though, for reasons I don't know, I stop at Rob's desk. And there, right in view, is an oversized pencil case--unzipped--and I can see it is stuffed with Sharpies. Just Sharpies. I carry it upstairs and as I do I begin to look through, finding the silver-inked pen. 

Early in the summer, I began to go through some of Rob's things in his office and so overwhelmed, I stopped.  It simply was too hard to do. So much of our lives were entwined and work was certainly not an exception. His desk is largely as he left it nearly 14 months ago and now I'm grateful that I waited--for finding the pens this morning was a small, pleasant gift--almost as if he had been here, helping out. 

II. 

Today is a better day and I'm not sure why. Today, reminders of Rob don't blindside me, but rather offer comfort. I wish I knew how this all works--how one day's reminder is a wave that nearly drowns me and the next may be nothing more than a slight pull, an undertow that reveals what I did not know had been hidden years before. A love note unexpectedly found on a rainy afternoon.

Perhaps sorrow and grace are more kin than not--allowing what is deep in us to rise up, seek its name. And naming is what these last 14 months have largely been. A rising up of that which I did not know, but intuited. 

And I do know things now. Dark things and light. Each present in the breath I take and exhale, in the memories that undulate shaped by tremor and joy. I know what comes only when the heart is shattered, when loss is bone deep, when you are compelled to watch your own son's delicate heart take shape. And what I am learning is not mired in grief and sorrow, even if these sourced it, even if these seem to have replace the very blood in my veins. 

III.

On that last day, I grasped Rob's right hand between both of mine, watching as his jaw unhinged, grew slack. He was a too wild bird seeking flight, finding it in that last moment of breath, defining wholeness in a way I simply had not known.

"There is in all things...a hidden wholeness," Thomas Merton tells us and that is what I am learning this last year--how to discern that hidden wholeness within.  Nothing has been as profound.  Even in, or perhaps especially in the mundaneness of our common lives, we too are wild birds seeking flight, compelled to live, to seek a wholeness to heal our divided selves.

Yeats was right. Things do fall apart; centers do not hold and out of that "twenty centuries of stony sleep" are loss and an occasion to seek wholeness.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

#SOL16: Knife

form my art journal (Gesso, acrylic paint, pan pastel, stabilo pencil)
I.

The knife is dull.

Too dull to slice through the lemon peel. Lemon in water, my start to the day and this morning it was more like sawing than slicing. I never learned how to sharpen a knife. That was always relegated to Rob--something he did religiously.  For nearly thirty years each time he used a knife, he would first sharpen it. Love lets us remain complacent, uninitiated. I never learned, regardless of the times he attempted to show me.

You want to put an edge on the knife. Watch. Like this.

And then he would draw the knife down, applying steady pressure against the sharpening stone, holding the knife almost perpendicular to the stone.

Always away from your body. Yeah? Okay you try.

I'd give it a go and quickly slide the knife back into the block, pleased to be done with it. Who knew I would need to know this and know this so early?

Four seasons have come and gone and the knives are now dull.


II.

Grief is insidious. It stalks, not like a wild beast trampling through brush announcing itself, but rather it slithers unnoticed until it's too late to safeguard a heart.

This morning, the house was filled with the laughter of Devon and his friends who were sitting at the kitchen table while I was standing at the cutting board ready to quarter that yellow fruit. And quicker than it takes to read this sentence the memory of Rob's death punctured me; the room tinged with such yellow sadness.

It is these small matters, things hardly worth the notice, that cut--not too deeply, but enough to slice open.