Some Moments of Joy

The moment just before the bowl of noodles arrives.

Unfolding a map to plan a journey.

Reading what the children wrote about water falls.

An orange cat that isn’t mine in the shade of my car.

Happy I’m not single.

The tenor’s voice swells and peaks singing about love.

I can afford the necessary medication.

That is a very large squash in the garden.

I do not have to eat dinner with the president of the United States.

I now have A LOT of pens.

The Mama Chronicles, Last Part by Devon Miller-Duggan

The Mama Chronicles, Last Part

My mother died the second day after I got home from a recent trip to Santa Fe. She had a second stroke (first one in June) after a last espresso. It was not an easy passage, but it was fast and I was there holding her hand. Blogging our journey has been a great source of steadiness for me these last years, so I wanted to let you all know how the journey came to a rest. For the record, the Priest, the Deacon, the Crucifer, both Communion Assistants, and all three readers were women and friends of hers. I’m just copying the Eulogy below, because it gave me a chance to remember who she was before the dementia, and to be with that woman again, and that was a great solace:

What my mother loved (in no particular order) because who and what she loved was who she was:

Her mother. I don’t think she ever got over missing my Nana, who died when I was two and she was just 23. She also loved her mother’s glorious contralto and listening to the echo of it in her sister’s voice.

Her father. He was her hero. And though he wasn’t perfect, he was very remarkable and set, by example, very high standards for all of us.

Her sister Sandra. Sometimes I’d listen to the two of them talking and wonder whether they were speaking the same language to each other because their minds worked so differently, but, heavens, they loved each other.

Her sister Julie. Even when none of us was good at dealing with each other.

Her step-sister-in-law Maggie and her cousin Arlene. Two of her favorite people on the planet, in both cases for their razor wits and mordant takes on the world.

Gifted children. Teaching. Good teachers. Learning. Writing. Reading.

Me, with an occasionally frightening ferocity. My sister Mandy, who she loved without stopping, and who she wanted so profoundly that chose to have that child even in the face of an MS diagnosis, a failing marriage, and physical damage from her one other delivery that made carrying another baby almost impossible. There is a reason our former Rector affectionately referred to her as TOB, but she wasn’t just a Tough Old Bird, she was a Tough Young Bird. I thought seriously about making a poster for today’s reception that said “Hey, MS! Bug off! I won. NOT yours, Muriel.”

My father, in spite of what she said. How else to explain the splendid affair they had AFTER they got divorced? Besides, I was there for all but the first year of the marriage.

Her grand-daughters. I learned everything I know about letting my grand-children own my heart from watching her with my daughters. According to her, Hannah and Pippa were the most spectacular baby women ever born, especially when she was watching them play in Cape Cod bay, but, really, always.

My grandchildren. We practically had to pry Oliver out of her arms after he was born. Helping to take care of him for a couple of years after his mom returned to work was the last best thing in her life. Edison brought, not surprisingly, sparkle and laughter to her later years, and Freya brought lit her soul.

Chocolate. Very seriously, which is why there are piles of it for you to take home with you. Coffee, with which she survived the early years of her marriage when both my parents were going to school full-time AND working full-time. Ice cream, specifically Haagen Daz Vanilla Swiss Almond, which we’ve chosen as a stand-in for her body, which, as most of you know, has gone to Jefferson Medical School. She loved the thought that she’d get to be a teacher even after she left that body. And scotch, which is why we have a bottle of her favorite waiting in the Great Hall so that we can all make an appropriately-sized middle-of-the-day toast.

Walking on the beach. Pretty much any beach. For hours at a time. Body-surfing in the relatively gentle Cape Cod bay. The ocean, which she could watch for hours, especially in hurricane season when the big waves hit out at the National Seashore.

Babies, any babies. She had an almost magical rapport with babies.

Eating out. Almost any food from almost any kind of restaurant. But most of all, breakfast.

Beautiful clothes. The woman was a demon shopper and taught me most of what I know about how to tell if a garment is well-made, how to tell if something looked good on me, and how to find exactly what I wanted. Many of my happiest times with her involved trips to Saks, Lord&Taylor, Wanamakers, Strawbridges, Filene’s Basement.

Cheating at gin rummy and claiming that she hadn’t. Claiming to be a virgin, adamantly, as we all fell over laughing at the stunningly obvious impossibility of it. Which makes the fact that we are here, celebrating her, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin particularly wonderful.

“Bad” words. I learned much of my dockworker vocabulary from her, though not until I was a teen and needed it. She also loved to sing the first line of the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and exercise her middle finger when I was being particularly taxing. She had several vivid phrases involving scatological wit that I grew up thinking were things every grown-up said. Nope, she just had a way with words.

Poetry. Mysteries. Trashy novels about women who’d been done wrong by dangerously attractive men.

Classical music. Great Art. Travel. Great museums.

Flirting. Good grief, the woman could flirt. But she also truly loved listening, and she had whatever that pheromone is that makes strangers tell a person their whole stories with almost no prompting.

Sunrise, especially over the ocean. And, poor woman, she gave birth to an owl, at least in me. I did haul myself out of bed early a couple of times each summer to go watch the sun rise at the National Seashore, which was an act of great love on my part.

Making morning muffins, especially with Pippa’s help (ish). She made the only low-fat, whole grain muffins I’ve ever found to be worth eating, and then lost the recipe when she moved back to Delaware.

And climbing trees, which she swore she was perfectly capable of doing up until the end of her life. Ditto roller-skating.

The Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and “I know that my redeemer liveth” from Handel’s “Messiah,” fondnesses I share.

And I know she is at last meeting her older brother, who died at the age of 3 days, and whose absence from her life was a quiet haunting.

She is with God and rejoicing in the company of those she loved who are gone. She is free of dementia and all its fear and nakedness, free of MS and epilepsy, free of her seizure-battered spine. I’m okay with that, though I’m not sure how long it will take me to navigate a world without her. I hope there are trees in heaven and that she gets to climb every one with a good book in her back pocket.

Aretha Franklin

I’m twenty. I walk in to my Folklore & Mythology class taught by Professor Lord and he is playing something on the tape recorder. It is Aretha Franklin as a young teenager singing “Amazing Grace” in church and every hair on my body stands up.

So, You Want To Be An Artist by Miriam Sagan

I’ve been trying to figure out something I’ve been working on about creativity and risk. Does the life of the artist necessarily entail some kind of stepping outside of the usual materialism? Or is that just a romantic myth? Can you be an artist driven by the desire for fame and success, or is that doomed? By this I don’t mean commercial art or writing for money. As someone who made part of my living as a freelance writer for decades I’m well aware of the difference. Writing for money was writing to assignment. Writing to express myself is quite different. But most writers, myself included, may write innocent of the marketplace and then apply those standards later to a piece—at some real risk of failure.
Is failure something you cope with or maybe something you ignore?

Writer Holly Baldwin has some interesting thoughts here. She says “I think there is a distinction to be made between failure and rejection, the latter of which should be plowed through and not allowed to break one’s heart, because at the end of the day it is always subjective and usually never about you, or your work.

We are all driven by desire in some form, and I don’t think success is unhealthy depending on your definition, versus what society seems hell bent on defining as success for us.”

Candelora Versace adds: “I think you have to step outside the usual of everything to be able to create, but that’s not the same thing as producing, and plenty of creatives and producers are driven by the desire for some kind of success, altho many are not. Most recipes for material success for artists usually entail some kind of adaptation to the methods of the material world, for better or worse: show up for your work, make contacts, promote yourself, etc. and that usually turns into producing something you can sell in some way. It’s entirely possible to not want to do any of that and still feel successful internally as a person who is and needs to be creative and so therefore creates. I think it depends on how deeply you desire validation from the material world in the form of material success. I’ve been working on this for a long time and have parsed it out every six ways from Sunday to figure out what exactly it is I actually want out of my creativity. I surprise myself once I get clear on that.”

Here is how I’ve lived myself. I was very driven as a writer until I was forty one. When my first husband Robert Winson died I completely lost that sense of priority around writing. Suddenly, other people and relationships were the most important thing in my life. It’s a paradox that most of my career—both in terms of actual writing and in terms of professional expression—came after that turning point. It is probably just that those mid-life years were the time for it. But I can’t discount that letting go of my desires opened things up in radical new ways. And a belief in art over life has never returned. A few years ago I was on a panel with younger artists and a comment stung, that I didn’t have a sense of urgency. It might have been ageist. It might have been that I prefer to appear casual in these settings. Or it might have been true.

I also often feel that art can be experienced as a spiritual or practice path. As in all such endeavors, it doesn’t help to fear risk or to look for approval outside yourself. But lineage can be a great support here—tradition, skill set, and world view have all been worked out by people who tried this before. And so mentors—and heroes—can help. I feel that if you want to develop as an artist of any kind you must address these issues And be honest—know your limitations. And then try to push beyond.

I can’t give any further advice, because each person’s path is different. But I do know that you must pay attention to yours, or pitfalls will catch you unawares. For living as an artist doesn’t solve anything—other than the need to do it.

Jenny Holzer, Mass MOCA

Suminagashi in the Railyard

Yesterday’s workshop was beautiful! Thanks to all the participants, age 4 to retired! We had four kid/mom pairs, a grown daughter/mother pair, sisters, a daughter-in-law, friends, married couples, and more. Just to say, the students were very connected to each other which was exciting in the context of our mother/daughter team Maternal Mitochondria who were the teachers.
Isabel led the suminagashi and I had the writers outside, where the rain held off being more than some drops. The Railyard Community Room was perfect for the event.
The installation goes upin Septeber–I’ll have more news soon.

Here is Tim Brown, our water and all around engineer, without whom we couldn’t do events in these different settings.

Originally Maternal Mitochondria didn’t have the motto of “Suminagashi To The People!” But we do now,