Archive for March, 2010

To Spring Or Not To Spring

March 31, 2010

Since last writing, I’ve become somewhat distanced from myself. It is Easter week: spring break, for some. Holidays tend to make me feel swamped by family. It is true that I am more  apt to be called, with grandchildren out of school, and with seasonal gatherings to attend. I am in the habit of going along with external happenings, and, today, the balance seems off.

It is disappointing after Sunday’s writing, when the balance of personal truth with family participation was perceived of as possible. A little extra babysitting, and several guilt-provoking encounters have left me out of kilter, and disappointed with myself. A cousin is DOING Easter dinner again this year. My invitation must include the comment “…since I am the one  expected to do it.”  This is an obvious referral to the fact that I am not. I have tried a couple of times, but as my home is actually a one room art studio, it takes a lot of adjustment with rather unpleasant results. Internally, I have decided this is not my way to contribute. I make homemade bread (not in a machine), which people enjoy – and probably take for granted as much as my cousin’s hosting.  Still, I am vulnerable to her implications. I long to break free of this.

Probably, I long to break free, period, of automatic response where family is concerned. The free spirit I was born to be is straining within the acquired constraints of my present existence. The years have appeared to tame the wild free dancer of my youth, but quell may be a more truthful word to describe the phenomena. I imagine that every time I raise my voice in anger at the unquellable  instincts of my dogs as they follow their enthusiastic noses while attached to my arm, I am actually expressing the rage of some part of myself that strains to be free of the leash that I rarely unfasten.

I have looked up quell in Webster’s New World Dictionary. It can mean “to subdue”, but it can also mean “to murder”. I wonder how much time it takes for subdue to become murder. Am I capable of murdering the most valuable part of myself? Or, am I coming closer to accepting the role of irrascible old woman – and following the instincts that will save me.

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Ode To Yesterday

March 28, 2010

It is Sunday: a spring day so pristine and promising that to stay inside might be a rejection of new life. Yet I am tired from yesterday’s going forth. I set out early, no dear little dogs attached to my arm. For once, I was not a creature of several minds – numerous arms, legs, and noses. It felt very strange, limbs freely moving in response to a torso all my own. My head was balanced on a tension-free neck and shoulders. Eyes looked  out on a pristine world, perhaps reflecting the fresh green leaf-life surrounding me.  Walking over the harbor bridge, my freedom is a vital reality on this Saturday morning. I thought to myself:  This could be Paris. This bridge spans a flowing expanse of water, its surface aglitter with universal diamonds, and I am striding free and clear of the usual burdens.  Below me the shrimpboats/houseboats line the banks; I can almost see wind-blown laundry dancing – flower pots bursting with blooms. My feet connect briefly, rebounding to carry me forward, and my whole being dances to the music of who I am.  For a while, I completely forget that ahead of me lies a destination.

I was on my way to The Little Children’s Park to meet my son, Vanja, and my three-year-old granddaughter, Julia, for a community Easter egg hunt. As it came into sight, a loudspeaker crackled to life and a voice bellowed directions to the three, four, and five-year-olds. Their parents were meant to guide them in their chaotic hunt for colored plastic eggs full of candy treats. I pushed  through the hordes, catching sight of my tall, handsome son and the blonde curls and yellow dress of his little daughter. They seemed to be an island at the center of a heaving sea. The first egg found appears to have been enough. She saw me and smiled, releasing a thread of chocolatey drool from her beautiful mouth. As I kneeled at her feet, she pushed what was left of a tootsie roll between my lips. Julia always shares, and I can’t help wondering if a remnant of my fanciful walk across a Paris bridge was shared in turn.

Finding Expression

March 25, 2010

Did you ever find yourself without expression: lacking words, gestures, images, forms of any kind that might express  the internal landscape? I do not think the landscape blank; it is more that I may have forgotten the language, or cannot  quite discipher a secret code. I can sense riches hidden within: wonders of the psyche – of the spirit. Perhaps I have lost the courage for revelation.

In the past, I lived in close connection with the depths, never questioning the expression of my thoughts and feelings. Childlike, I wept, laughed, danced. My body shouted, “Here I am.” I never wondered who I was, nor tried to fathom what I had to say. Being who I was was instantly translated into active sharing. I couldn’t help myself. If others were occasionally mystified by what I shared, that certainly didn’t stop me from expressing. Life was a full and glorious reality. It happened on its own if one were willing. And I was willing and determined to be me, Peter Pan in female form. “I’ll never grow up; not me!”

Yet somewhere along the way, I did grow up, became more cautious in my spilling forth of me. Reactions from a less than understanding world that, in the past, had caused a brief yet thorough deluge of emotion, began to have a deeper and more lasting effect. I found myself witholding gestures, gazing mutely out from my solitary tower. Walls grew thicker to protect someone I hardly knew. I began to wonder where I was and who she was. I still created, even danced at times. The vital force broke through the bonds and ageless glorious expression  found its way. But between these momentary liberations I retreated much more deeply and for longer periods.

Recently, I received my copies of the Southern Expressions show of February 25th, and watched again the woman dancing, drawing, speaking without hesitation. Happily, my critical eye was vanquished by my eager readiness for realization. Yes, I observed maturity: the obvious physical changes wrought by passing years. But through it all, the blythe spirit danced; this half hour retrospective gave me back to me. Gestures, images, and sculpural forms are clear and true. Language flows in easy rhythms, and I recognize the language as my own –  familiar words expressing who I am.  Perhaps I do still have the courage for revelation.  And now I hold the key.

An Offering

March 19, 2010

This morning as I walked on the graveled road near my house , a flurry of movement caught my eye  – a scrabbling among the fresh grown grasses and weeds. Small purple flowers and dewberry blossoms enlighteded the green. But the pretty sight of spring’s beginning was marred by what I found. A squirrel was there, yet no expected scamper met my approach. So strange to see the small familiar head alert, eyes darkly dancing in the early light, his tiny front paws scraping the ground. He meant to be moving forward away from the monstrous human casting a shadow over the spot where he lay. Poor creature couldn’t understand that part of him lay still and unresponsive to squirrel purpose. The inert legs lay sideways to the rest of him, and I stood  in sorrowful indecision. Intervene or let Nature take it’s course. Yet I had walked that way, and finding him, I felt responsible. I saw his fate: fire ants or plaything for a sharp-clawed cat.

Back home, I called the vet where I usually take my dogs and was given the number for a wildlife rescue organization. After speaking with a gentle but unavailable volunteer, I filled a box with leaves and pine straw, and hurrying back, used a shovel to ease him into the makeshift bed. As I drove to the vet I had called before, I knew  it would probably be discovered that his back was broken. No more ecstatic frolics through the high gnarled branches of his favorite trees; no more feasting on delicious pinecones, berries, and stolen birdseed.

Driving home alone, I felt bereft – of the creature I had hoped to save, but also of purpose. I could do no more. Some vehicle had hit the squirrel in his reckless dash across the road. It happens all the time, but this time life had lingered long enough to truly touch my life, reminding me of the fragile thread connecting all of us to earthly existence. I live in a woodsy place,  have often used my shovel to move a lifeless turtle, bird, or animal from the road to a gentler resting place, but this was different. Now, as I sit here telling this story, purpose returns. As I think of the bright squirrel eye, the living eye, and the spirit behind that eye,  my own eyes blink and stare at this screen with a livelier interest than before my early morning walk.

Dancing With Martha

March 15, 2010

Yesterday, during a long, soul-searching telephone visit with  my dear friend, Kendall, she mentioned Martha Graham as a strong proponent of restlessness in the artist’s journey. This reminded me of my one encounter with Miss Graham, when my restlessness brought me to New York City where I lived for several months in a studio apartment with my two-year-old daughter, Moira. Today, I want to go back to that earlier time, when my youthful self was innocent of dance as a mission. I simply was a dancer, through and through, passionately wanting to share myself, body and soul, through performing. I hadn’t yet seen myself as savior, responsible for teaching others the truth as I saw it. That would come later, when Airth became a method for teaching spiritual unity through dance.  No… In 1967, with a strong foundation in Ballet,  but  having  received permission through reading Isadora Duncan’s MY LIFE, I was dancing myself: My body was gladly discovering freedom through movement; my emotions were granted expression; dancing was love released and bliss was in sight. It might have helped that flower children were everywhere. My India print dresses and blouses, my bell-bottomed jeans and oversize naval sea cadet coat were in style, at least among the youthful rebels of Manhattan. I soon discovered that the world inhabited by the grande dame of the modern dance was a whole other story.

My mother’s old school friend, Nancy Hamilton, was a very close friend of Katherine Cornell, the actress, and Miss Cornell was good friends with Martha Graham. An interview was arranged, and it was suggested that I take some classes at Miss Graham’s school before I went.  Well, truth to tell, I wasn’t really a fan of the lady. I had seen her company perform and not been much moved, had even been somewhat embarrassed by the dramatic and limited gestures of the elderly star. So, just to be sure she knew where I was coming from, I sent her an album of photographs taken during a recent performance.

Some weeks later, I braved the doorman of her swanky  building, rode the elevator upward to her floor, and was let in to the holy of holies by the priestess, herself.  She was tiny, and watching her hang the heavy wool coat among her furs was agony. And the flimsy cotton of my homemade dress did not compare with the silk lounging pajamas that she wore like a costume. I had noticed a ballet barre attached to the wall, and I imagined her warming up for our interview. Her bony and aged face seemed made up for a performance. Against the thick white foundation,  the carefully drawn red lips were startling. The long black lashes made shadows on her wrinkled cheeks. She gestured toward a flawless cream-colored sofa and I gingerly sat as she draped herself in the throne across from me. Her expression was steely. Even so, I was hardly prepared for an attack. In her  long-fingered hands  she held my book of photographs – opened to a familiar image which until that moment had pleased me. Now I  listened to her berate me as yet another Duncan  impersonator. And who needs another dancer letting everything hang out? My lack of discipline was evident from how few classes I had attended at her school, and by my obvious reluctance to grasp her technique. Why, in the name of heaven, was I there, and what did I think Martha Graham could do for me? What make me think I could be a dancer? My eyes had been held by the petrifying glare of her black-fringed orbs, but there was no holding the tears that had gathered as she spoke.

The dam broke suddenly, and the watery flow was accompanied by words: “Miss Graham, I dance because I have to dance. I live to dance. And though my dancing may not seem as disciplined as yours, I have moved audiences, and I truly believe that I can inspire others by being honest through my art.” The lady was listening now, but she had also managed to produce a box of kleenex and a bottle of sherry.  If the flow was happening, she could make it a little more tolerable. I told her about my child, and how difficult it was to find babysitters each time I went to class. (I had taken Moira with me several times.) Then I told her that nothing would stop me from sharing my love for dancing with the world, and here she spoke the words which would return to me frequently over the course of my dancing life. “Miss Anderson, perhaps you should be an evangelist instead of a dancer.” My reply: “Miss Graham, perhaps I’ll be both.”

Today, knowing more than I did in my youth, I find my heart softening toward the woman, Martha Graham. She would have been close to my present age, had recently lost a younger lover, and was facing a waning career as a dancer. I think of Errand Into The Maze and Diversion Of Angels, among other amazing creations, and I can’t help wondering if she was the one who was dancer and evangelist in one – long before I made my bold reply to her suggestion.

Sister In Bloom

March 12, 2010

Her hair seemed dusted with pollen as she opened the door – her wild gray curls outlined with yellow-gold. Her mouth was a crescent of joy on her sweet round face, and her eyes danced gleefully over a badly kept secret. She invited me in, then sneezed, then laughed and apologized. But my sister, Mary, had no reason to be sorry. Along the far wall leaned a series of oil paintings: outdoor scenes with tall pines and gilded grasses. Pink-violet roads and pathways curved away past glimmering  bayous. The stark blue sky gazed happily at a more appealing version of itself .  This sister artist bounced beside me as I took in more than beauty.  Here was evidence of  am interior willingness to bloom.

Rest Cure

March 9, 2010

Imagine anyone going to New Orleans to rest. Perhaps I wasn’t in my right mind when I planned this getaway. I know I wasn’t in my right mind. My mind was fuzzy with fatigue – my planning automatic, based on other trips and better reasons. Still, it was a change of scene; something good must come of it. If nothing else, I would be exchanging one set of difficulties for another. Change is good. Right?

On arrival, the city seemed welcoming. I turned off of Claiborne and drove down funky Jackson Avenue to St. Charles with its graceful and unchanging charm, streetcars looking the same as they looked when I first lived there in 1965. Young ballerina, Leif, was far more at home in this city than this tired older woman of 2010. Still, that first afternoon, as tired as I was, I walked the Avenue, not counting the blocks. My eyes scanned the buildings, pristine mansions, one of which was home to June Havoc for the two years she directed Repertory Theatre. I thought I recognized a duplex shotgun, half of which once bore the name of Thomas Sidney Antiques. I recalled the delicious interior, crowded with beautifully rendered tables, desks, and chairs brought over from England by the rosy-cheeked blue-eyed Thomas. He was married to my cousin, Margaret, and several mornings a week I sat across from this sweet older lady and polished silver. We spoke of art and literature – and, of course, dance. She had once studied dance with Doris Humphrey and hoped I would one day forego the Ballet for Modern. At some midway point in our polishing, we would have tea and biscuits. Thomas and Margaret were very English in their habits. I still love the thought of those mornings with Margaret, am still thankful for the reprieve from being driven dancer, and I was paid five dollars for every three hour visit. 

The hotel where I chose to stay is called The Prytania Park, and prior to Hurricane Katrina, each room was individually furnished with antiques and brocade drapes. The dark wood gleamed from freguent polishings. One opened the door on a lemon-scented atmosphere, an old world charm that was very New Orleans. Even today, the initial impression is gracious and welcoming. The courtyard is still intact. But on this trip, I opened the door on fresh paint and contemporary furniture of a pale yellow hue. Even so, the window looking out on Prytania was hung with heavy brocade, and sunlight spilled through lace to land on the fluffy white bedspread. I was optimistic, until I lay gratefully drowsy beneath this spread, for I hadn’t remembered the squeaky old floorboards of the second floor rooms, nor that every footfall could be heard loud and clear by the first floor inhabitants. For two nights, my sleep was wholly dependent on when my upstairs neighbor slept. My every bathroom trip was prompted by the frequent nocturnal perambulations of an unknown human foe.  Needless to say, my days were colored by my nights. and on the third morning of my getaway, I got away from New Orleans and came home to rest.

Rest and Resolution

March 3, 2010

This morning I am in the grip of a familiar dynamic. Exhaustion drags me down as a restless element urges to action. It’s the height of discomfort, never handled with ease. It usually means I have gone to long without a reprieve from familiar demands. It is time to get away, if only for a day or two. I may realize this, but the state of weariness and fragility causes confusion and reluctance to act. Today I am hoping that I can surmount my usual tendency to delay. Even writing this blog may be assisting my procrastination. Yet it gives me a chance to connect with my deeper understanding, which can soothe the nerves and eventually strengthen resolve.

It is Wednesdy. In less than three hours I am due at my son’s house to sit with little Bryce. It is usually a peaceful time until his father and sister arrive. Then even as love and delight are aroused, my whole body braces itself for at least three hours of nonstop activity. On this particular day I must call on reserves that may not exist. I am feeling rung out before it begins.

The question is: If I can summon the elusive resolve to meet my present necessity, make a few phone calls that will lead to future rest, will I find myself better prepared for the afternoon? Will the promise alone bring relief to thin-stretched nerves and a weary, acheing body? Will a smile replace the urge to weep?

Meandering

March 1, 2010

On Sunday afternoon, out walking with my happy dogs on the family compound, I found myself blessedly free of the usual straight-forward route. I wandered off of the road where encounters were highly probable – veered away from the Shearwater Pottery showroom and floated onto the portion of land that once held my childhood home.  The Barn was swiped from the earth by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the building standing there now is a simple wooden structure where silkscreens from my father’s linoleum blocks are printed for sale in The Realizations Shop. It serves the practical needs of our family and furthers the availibility of Walter Anderson’s designs. 

But I do not look at this building whose pilings thrust deeply into the earth on which The Barn once gracefully nested. My eyes scan the ground and surrounding underbrush. I drift with the little dogs as they avidly sniff. I am pulled by their eagerness, hoping my own basic instincts are open enough to discover a remnant of other times. I supposed I might find some artifact, uncovered by recent rains – a clue, perhaps, to my present understanding of my life’s direction. My heart was briefly moved by a few clumps of blooming snowdrops left from my grandmother’s garden.  I admired their delicate perserverence in the face of dramatic change. Otherwise, nothing was left; it was time to move on.