Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thoughts on an alley

The tree across the street is sporting new green buds. Set against the dark spiny branches, they look almost neon, dazzling the gray spring morning canvas.

I have a thing for trees. I don't think I'll ever tire of looking at them, the way they bend and stretch, always in their own unique way. The other day I was strolling through a local garden and this glorious creature stood donned in a pale pink. The blossoms draped like a willow, the branches resembled an abstract painting. If trees had personalities, which I fully believe they do, I'd want to be friends with this lady. We'd have tea and pastries in her very exotic garden, probably filled with gnomes and statutes. She'd tell me about her travels and almost love affairs with Italian men who made pasta and of Vespa rides through the ancient streets, when the lights danced across the river and music filled the air. She's a hopeless romantic, of course, and the real world hasn't tarnished her at all.

In the backyard of one of our old homes was the tallest, grumpiest grandfather of a tree. So many knotty branches, all twisted and broken. Something pale and green grew in the places where the bark wasn't peeling. I imagine him as the kind of old man who appears distant and uninviting, but if you won him over, he'd tell the very best stories and always come to your defense. I would sit in my chair as the kids played in the cluster of trees and study him. Strong and silent, it was as if he watched over us. Maybe he was dying, but he wasn't letting go of him gumption.

Right now, we live in the city, the only trees on our property are the Great Myrtles that line the street. Soon they'll burst into a marvelous pink and make the whole place will feel a little more charming. It's one of those up and coming neighborhoods not far from the trendy parts of town and equally close to the places you'd be wise to avoid in daylight or dark. In my opinion up and coming is used with great optimism, is it not? In the front yard jutting out of the ground is a grand stump, the kind that children could hug and their fingers would not touch. We looked online once and saw the house sheltered in its expanse. I wonder why they chopped it down, I feel like the reason is never quite good enough.

However, we are surrounded by trees. They line the alley and stretch across the fence lines, segmenting properties into square domains. The alley as you might expect is not given much attention. Brushes and rouge limbs droop over the dirt road. You'll pass gardens, a small shed once used by an artist, still full of tools and paint. There's a large fence that houses an unfriendly dog whose name, according to the haphazard spray paint is Tupac. Garbage blown by the wind collects against the fence of one yard amidst the towering weeds. In the opposite direction not too far from a tree of interest is what might be the making of a very legal car junk yard and other very legal activities. Then on another side is a wooden fence with a welcome sign and flower pots with living, thriving plants. All this is the alley of one city. Ours is the yard nestled between privacy fences that we try to keep clean, but is usually scattered with toys. It would be easy to only see the questionable parts of our little neighborhood, but did I mention we have the front porch of our dreams. It doesn't overlook a mountain or sparkling water, but when sitting on the swing you'll catch all the best breezes and there's some excellent people watching.

And if you stand in the alley and look beyond the overgrowth and the arching tunnel of trees so thick that the light doesn't break through it. Beyond Tupac and garden flags and backyards that could be a flea market or used (stolen) car lot, the light shines upon a resilient white door set in the one hundred year old walls of a red brick church. The stonework of a craftsman arches above and three small steps rest below. On top a steeple is encircled in light as you look down the alley. Whether gray or blue, the sky is brilliant in contrast to the tree line. It's so easy to miss for all the stuff. It is even easy to miss when trying to avoid the deep potholes that might ruin your car, but there it is, every single time.

I never want to be a writer who draws out the deeper meaning and beats it to a simple mind-numbing and catchy pulp. There is a need for that, but never here. Readers must find their own understanding.

So, I will end this rabbit trail of thoughts on trees and alleys, on shadows and light. And maybe, my words carry a sparkle, something reflective of something greater.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Understanding life by the stone bridge

“This is the place of all our firsts,” she said.  We sat on a concrete bench just off the trail.  Runners and dog walkers passed.  Professors and students stretched their legs and cleared their minds in the middle of a Tuesday. 

Two babies slept in the two strollers, one on either side of us.  My oldest daughter climbed rocks in her natural fearless way.  Jumping and pouncing, so free and unaware of the high chance of smashing her head into the jagged stones and or slipping into the water.  Tragedy never came, but there were close calls.  Always close calls. She laughs in the face of those.  She ran through the leaves of last year, hunting the largest rocks to drop from the little stone bridge.  Sometimes a heavy one splashed her face and she giggled.  To say “don’t get wet or messy” is a waste of words, so instead, I suggest that her feet not get too wet because we didn’t have other shoes.   Her clothes were already a little dirty, since we got dressed in the dark.  To be honest, there is always a bit of dirt somewhere on my Harper girl, smudged on her face or knees, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve decided that I have more to live for than spotless children.

A reddish-brown hawk landed on a light post, clenching its lunch.  On the menu was mouse, all the way dead.  We stopped to watch.  Its wings were spotted black and white.

The air was cool and an early spring grey lingered.  Our feet were slightly chilled, because we had dressed optimistically rather than practically.   The woods were not yet green, clinging to the hues of last season.  The little brook trickled over the rocks and rippled as  breezes swept through the clearing. 

Next week, my friend and her little family sets off on a new adventure.  Here in the richness of these hours, we talked about this place.  I happen to know a few things about moves and new adventures, I’m rather fond of that genre.  To reflect on the way that leaving brings a great understanding of what a place has been is a beautiful thing. Chapters close. Stories advance.  It’s not a finality that comes with the end, as all the ends of our days just bleed into a new beginning, until the very great end which will lead into the greatest eternal. So, what is the end really, but a small word we use to make sense of that which we attempt to define. 

We paused as the runners ran and walkers walked, as another rock splashed in the water, and the babies snored.  Little feet stuck out from blankets.  Having faced similar experiences in this season, we celebrated how we were eternally grateful for the lessons and growth, because we would never be who we are today without those obstacles.

Sometimes, we take roads less travelled and not because we’re more amazing, it’s simply because not everyone needs to take the same path.  On my journey, I won’t face the same troubles as you may, but there will be times when our ways cross and then we will lift each other off the ground, shake the dust and continue onward. My greatest trials may wear a different mask, but bravery and hope are the same within us all.   We are shaped and refined.  We contribute what we have and who we are, which is always enough.

The ones who stay and build.  The ones who risk and question everything. The ones who float about with no place to belong.  The ones who encounter new lands and claim them as home. Home, belonging, mission, and purpose may sound different to us all, but bravery and hope are written in all our stories.  We must recognize them in our own lives. We compliment each other.  We need not conform. 

On most days, I question what everything means and what happens next, not out of discontentment, but because I will forever be paying student loans for that English degree.  Give me a good book and I will happily praise the most beautiful words and draw out themes and meaning. How does this character grow in light of their challenges?  How does this experience shape the story? I don’t just want to read a story, I want to explore it and understand each part.  I’m not into the casual, light read that is tossed aside and forgotten.  I suppose that’s also how I want to live too, always with meaning and connection. 

Here amidst the towering trees so bare and exposed by winter,  we rested in the beauty of truly being understood by each other, in the comfort of friendship, hearts and souls safely unveiled and vulnerable.  We speculated and dreamed about what lies ahead, naively though, because how can we know.  I won’t pretend I do. 

Over  warm coffee and a bag of cookies pulled out of nowhere, we celebrated the closing of this first chapter for my friend.  As we walked back to our cars, the sun sliced through the thick blanket of grey that had lingered all morning.

In a story, we call that foreshadowing.





Sunday, March 8, 2015

To begin

“You have everything you need to begin.”


I read the words once, twice, three times and my soul uttered an inaudible yes.  This is just what someone might need to hear. The words simmered all day, and I considered just how it might encourage a person just waiting for the right sign.  I thought all day about the depths of the sentence and I never once considered how maybe it was only for me.

I’ve been in the midst of an internal battle, to write or not to write.  The question itself is foolishness, is it not?  Honestly, the only problem here is why I’m still asking that question.

I can give you approximately 400 answers, none of of them very good.  I’m not writing because I’m painting like a madwoman. I’m painting the best art I’ve ever made.  I’m not writing because I have three children and my baby has made it her mission to solely interrupt the consistency of my beloved sleep.  Because homeschooling and motherhood and life are wonderful, brain-numbing challenge that requires my all.  Because, I need a succession of stillness and silence for words to form in any remotely eloquent way and because three children are so very loud.  Because I want a new name for the space where I write and share online, but can’t think of a single thing. And perhaps, if I’m being honest, I’ll throw in the good old standby, but what would I write anyway? 

No need to appease these excuses with any response.  They are valid, but not good enough to stop me.  Except, sometimes they do.

I had a dream a few weeks ago, starring the faces of some majorly influential people in my life standing in a room.  I could only make out one thing from a single person, these words, “Now is the time.  We need your voice.”   I still feel the emotion and poignancy with which they were said.  Dreams are annoying, sometimes, because most of the time they are bizarre madness, but every once in a while, they are very important.  I’m not saying that my words are the missing piece to a great puzzle or that I should have a spot reserved on a bookshelf next to the greats. I do know, as I’ve always known that words are a gift I’ve been given.  When I was younger I said them all, so I’m told., I filled notebooks with stories, poems, and journal entries.  I destroyed trees in college with endless papers and an English degree. Now I think more than speak, because my children are always talking. 

Words are power and life.  Words hold create hope in the darkest places, a pause in the rush of life, truth in the midst of madness.  Always words.

2015 has launched me into what might be my most creative year yet.  I’m pushing past the limitations that I carried for so long as an artist.  I can not even begin to explain this renaissance of art, so I’ll let my paintings speak for themselves.  I’ve always found that the ebb and flow of my creative energy is either writing or painting and for so long I’ve let that become the final word.   However, in this season, the more I paint, the more I unblock all the thoughts just floating in the damned waters. 

I wrote a short story for children in December.  It’s not only for children, because I think certain messages span all stages of life.  I poured some energy into further steps for it, but I didn’t feel like it was time.  I’ve learned strongly to trust that inner voice.  I have it close by for safe keeping.  I started another story, but maybe it was just an exercise.  So much of what we think is important is just an exercise for something else.  I suppose all of life is that way. 

What I’ve learned already in two months from pushing past all the things I thought I could never paint was that I actually could, if I tried.  You can do hard things.  I tell my kids everyday.  And every time I do, I’m reminding myself, because being a mother is a lot of hard things all day long.  I was forever terrified of painting people.  So, I never did.  Now I love it.  I was terrified of faces, I only painted them from the back, which also lends to the feeling of thought and reflection.  One day, though, I woke up and knew I was going to paint a face.  It took so many tries, but I did it.  Last week, I finished another painting with a face that made me jump up and down with delight, right in my kitchen.  It’s a far cry from the Mona Lisa and her eyes are closed, but chasing down your limitations is magical thing.  I don’t know what flying feels like, but I imagine it’s similar.

The thing is, I’ve lived and breathed certain creative dreams for so long, many fall aside, serving as stepping stones and they are important.  Only now am I seeing a mere glimpse of where it has brought me.  Not in a way that I know exactly where I’m going, because I have no idea, but in seeing how important it is to bear the heavy dreams we carry.  When they feel so heavy. When they feel impossible. When they feel ridiculous.  Those things you carry that light a fire in your soul, don’t let them go. Don’t.

You have all you need to begin.

I thought it about 200 times before I realized that it was for me.  I don’t need to know what book I will write before I start writing.  Oh that taunting idea.  I don’t need to know, but I have to write.  Words to share here.  Words for the safety of my journal.

Tonight it may be foolish to admit to anyone who will read this, but if I can paint a face, then perhaps I can write and paint together.  Perhaps the two will fuel each other.  Even if my baby won’t sleep.  Even if silent minutes must be seized. 

And perhaps, you can do that very hard, challenging thing too.

I have no idea where this year will lead me, where these dreams will take me, but if my dreams are uttering the message and the art is rushing from my fingertips, then  why not.