Archive for September, 2010

Writing To Live

September 30, 2010

Last year I completed a novel. MEANT TO BE ME (A Dancer’s Story) was made up of words I had to write. It gave me a second chance, an alternate life, a legend I could live in for the year it took to complete. For a few months after that, I made an effort to sustain its magic by making ineffectual attempts at getting it published. Then I let it slide as real life took over. The realized hopes and dreams of Lily, the young dancer, disappeared behind a fog I could no longer penetrate. The traumatic effects of my daughter’s ruptured marriage – and the birth of a fourth grandchild – made of my year long idyll a fairytale I must put aside in order to live in and cope with the present reality.  The ensuing months have been long, grueling and stressful – albeit with splashes of joy and fulfillment. I have managed to be present and helpful to my beloved family, even as I suffered physical symptoms brought on by stress. A cheerful demeanor has masked a tendency to depression. I have known some small triumphs in my creative life, but my endeavors have been sporadic – with frequent interruptions. Discouragement and exhaustion have accompanied too many days.

In January, I began this blog with hopes that it would serve as this years writing project, but I am wondering whether instant publication makes me too guarded with my words for my own good. Perhaps I discovered – during my year of fiction writing – a freedom that cannot be attained by blogging, or only occasionally. Truth-telling through fiction can bring about life-changing revelations. I believe this regardless of my own backward slide into old ways. The characters in my novel taught me about myself, showing me capabilities I have but fear to own. Helping them to live revived and renewed my former passion for existence. I remembered and honored aspects of myself in various guises, various ages. I placed them in environments that healed and strengthened me, while enlarging my world and sharpening my perspective. There is something about the writing of fiction that provides a safe venue for the liberation of the hidden self.

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Companionship

September 25, 2010

Almost every day I walk with my dogs in the Inner Harbor Park. This is a small, pretty park with sloping green lawns, tall pines, and spreading oaks. There’s a wooden gazebo large enough for picnics and parties and a constantly enjoyed tennis court. But, best of all, it is surrounded on two sides by water spreading inland from the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf beyond. Its muddy edges, when exposed, allow a glimpse of scuttling, burrowing fiddler crabs – each one  sporting one impressive and colorful claw. There are curving walkways and little picturesque bridges that the dogs and I make use of, and there is a pier adjacent to the park upon which shore birds perch and from which the occasional fisherman tries his luck. One can stand on this pier and spy an alligator sunning himself on the opposite bank. Alligators can be a menace to unleashed and overly curious dogs – and to the ducks who meander tamely around the park.

Over the years, the number of ducks have varied; I have counted seven, but two seems to be the magic number for any length of time. Before the dreadful destruction of Hurricane Katrina, there were two that I had taken for granted for several years. They seemed an elderly couple; I never saw any offspring. They were simply there, waddling slowly through the park, partaking of corn, cereal or bread that someone left in generous sprinklings – and, I suppose, of unwary fiddler crabs and minnows from the water’s edge. After Katrina, when mountains of debris were finally cleared, one duck returned to waddle solitarily through the devastated park. As the terrain was slowly healing itself, and fallen trees were sawed and removed, my walks there resumed and the presence of “the lonely duck” (my name for him) conveyed a dual message: one of survival, but also one of incompletion. After all, two was the magic number. Wasn’t it?

I’m afraid I identified with the lonely duck. Back on the family compound, I was the one left behind – the lone survivor after the storm. Other homes and buildings had been swept away while the large, barn-like studio in which I lived and worked – though badly damaged – remained habitable. Family members had makeshift and temporary housing all over town, and while present during the day, occupied with the “clean up”, evenings and nights I was on my own.

These days, the obvious effects of the hurricane have mostly dissipated. My family members have rebuilt and most have returned. It is not the same, but a recovery of sorts is undeniable. People are living and working here, and in some ways things have improved. Change has brought new life to the family businesses. Tradition has relaxed to allow the younger generation its contribution. Growth is evident. I bear witness to all of this and celebrate even as I mourn the loss of ancient landmarks. The environment known by my child-self is no more. I am not as at home in my home, and even though living in the midst of family again, I still identify with the lonely duck.

The lonely duck in the Inner Harbor Park was also joined by a slew of other ducks. Someone took pity, and one day I found him waddling happily – if somewhat confusedly – among his six new companions. I never quite trusted this new arrangement and, sure enough, the number seven was gradually reduced to two. This is the present reality. Once more, an elderly twosome waddles contentedly over the lovely terrain of the park, or sits companionably on the grassy bank overlooking the water. They are always together, so well-suited that they turn their heads in sync as the dogs charge pass, barely held in check by yours truly. I am charmed by their togetherness – by the beautiful line of their necks and their glossy feathers – and despite the mostly acceptable fact of my own aloneness,I can almost be inspired to believe in the magical two they represent. No more lonely ducks…

Winging It

September 16, 2010

I have flown to New York and home again since my last blog, and though I was blown about a bit by circumstances and events, I begin to believe the trip was worthwhile – that experiences gleaned will gestate slowly into something new and surprising.

The drawing I have posted is in the exhibit at the Luise Ross Gallery, one of three that was hung. Called “Joyful Reunion”, it was purchased at the opening by a lovely man with whom I spoke at length about dance and yoga, and how the practice of meditative movement can transmute into other forms of expression. I am pleased that this particular expression has found such a home.

It is a lovely exhibit – with art by my father, Walter, as well as by my Sister, Mary, my nephew Christopher, my niece, Mary Annette – and, of course, my own work. There is also a silkscreen from my father’s blockprint of Beauty and The Beast, printed by Carolyn Anderson and painted by her daughter, Mary Annette. The arrangement on the walls seems almost random – no names are with the pieces – which accentuates the relatedness of all the art. The “legacy” is apparent; we have all been affected. I think, especially, the influence of nature is echoed through out this blending of diverse personalities from the same family. Given this acknowledged influence, I cannot give all the credit for my creative expression to my father’s genius. It is said that we who are related to Walter Anderson cannot call ourselves self-taught – no matter the lack of training. I have difficulty with this, because I was there to witness my own awkward fumbling with various mediums – the initial messy attempts that led to piles of ink or paint-smeared paper on the floor around my feet. I was there to lift cracked or exploded sculptures out of the kiln. I have allowed myself to play with color as a child might play – splashes and smears of paint going onto the paper without thought for what might manifest – with occasional interesting results. I believe that whatever courage has led to these endeavors comes primarily from my experience with dance. Improvisation is my delight. Though I did have training in Ballet, and I did find form through Airth, my most dependable approach to the making of art has been to wing it. And to wing it one must transcend the fear which always comes first. As with the little birds that inspired my drawing, I must let myself fall before I can fly.

Off With Her Mask

September 5, 2010

Some days I am convinced of my isolation. Yesterday was like that. Having spent hours with grandchildren on the two preceding days, on Saturday the emptiness was profound. I was tired. I even went back to sleep in the morning after walking the dogs. On waking I tried blogging – tried editing an unpublished blog from earlier in the week. But I didn’t believe in my capacity for reaching anyone. I have felt like that all week: that the me I wanted to share… Well… What was the use? I have found myself angry several times: hurt and anger mixing together into a barely suppressible brew. I have felt explosive – and fearful of that possibility.

One day I tried to channel my anger by sculpting with wire, having no pre-ordained idea of what I would sculpt. When I stopped – my fingers bruised and sore – I held a mask, its pleasant expression denying what I’d been feeling. I could look at the world through its minimally outlined features. I went outside and photographed my own serious visage, staring out through the shining aluminum wire that formed the mask. Yesterday, frustrated by its uselessness, I crumpledthe flimsy thing and tossed it into the trash.

Was there any truth to this creation? All I can think is that in my daily communication with the world – with those I normally encounter – I am wearing a mask of sorts. I am hiding behind its pleasant and compliant features in order not to explode into something I cannot handle, or they cannot handle.

At first I tried to see the wire mask as art, or part of a work of art awaiting further development. But, yesterday – stopped as I was in my creative tracks – I saw it as going nowhere, worth nothing to me, easily destroyed and discarded. After that I felt something ease in me. I even began to believe in a future of artistic growth: untried possibilities lay before me.

In the late afternoon I went out with the dogs. Unleashed, their happy bodies catapulted down the path and out onto the family compound. I took my time, unconcerned, heard voices greeting my wayward pups. Soon I saw members of my older brother’s family – two of my nieces and several children – greeting Music’s and Star”s delight with equal delight. I was glad to see them – here from New Orleans for the weekend – bringing a different sort of energy with them. Welcome energy… 

Looking back, I see that I was  myself in their company – glad to be seen – softening, melding into their midst. As we walked together, the group was gradually dissolved until only two were left: myself and my brother’s middle daughter. M and I had been speaking so intensely – so intimately – that it wasn’t surprising to find that we were alone, still talking as though reunited after months of separation. We are always this way, instantly picking up the thread, no matter how much time has passed. The spark of our rapport ignites and flares into effortless exchange.

We continued down the path together, accompanied by my still delighted dogs (no struggle to keep them them from straying off). What did we speak of as the light of the day intensified before its inevitable fading into night? Art and isolation; the need for stimulation and encouragement; shared artistic goals; hope that can be difficult to sustain. Really, it hardly matters, for our obvious ability to communicate in a deeply satisfying way banished any sense of isolation. Before we parted, we made a pact to encourage one another’s artistic growth. She invited me to return to the carriage house behind her New Orleans home and treat it like my New Orleans studio.

I was left with hope – reminded by my vivacious niece of that “thing with feathers that perches in the heart” – and, hungry as I was for my supper, my hope took flight and I danced with such an ageless  rapture that it was some time before I heeded my gnawing stomach.  Better a gnawing stomache than a starving soul.

Fall Temptation

September 1, 2010

September… Early mornings are fresh and cool, inviting me to shrug off summer and all the humid thoughts that bind me to the earth. Anticipating now, I cut off my hair and nearly lifted off, already tasting freedom by affirming a relief of sorts. I have no regrets at being shorn of my lady-like do. My step is lighter than before, and with the coming of September, I can almost frolic with the same abandon as my frisky dogs. At least my heart is feeling frolicsome, and tempted by familiar allurments.

Never tell anyone anything has run its course. Say it’s over, and it seems to get a second wind. The pull upon the soul intensifies. For love is a fickle thing, a to and fro dance that charms and captivates. We are so human in our longings for fulfillment that – against our better judgement – we respond. Response is so delicious – after all. It tells us we are still alive. The numbness we have clung to out of fear is – thankfully- replaced by sweetly tingling nerves; truth-telling tears seep from our eyes; we cannot tell the difference between joy and sorrow. We are entranced again.

I’ve known my share of human lovers, been so haunted by a former passion that I followed strangers with a slight resemblance only to awaken suddenly to my absurd behaviour. So what do I do about the present apparition?  What if the pull is real; the lover worthy of pursuit? What if I need to return to Paris, after all?