Tag Archives: memory

After Kindcaid

In the spirit of learning through imitation, here’s something written after reading three pages from Jamaica Kincaid’s “At the Bottom of the River.” As promised, it’s pretty stream of consciousness.

There’s the book about indigo, the one about slavery, one called, “Unexplained Presence.” If you could explain anything you would. You know you can’t, but the trouble is you keep trying. A fan in a summer window whirrs, more to block out a roofing crew than to cool the hallway.

All hallways connect one thing to another.

Remember how little Markie crawled up the stairs and his brother trailed behind, exclaiming, “You’re a good climber-upper!” Stairs connect up to down, the present to the past.

With all the molecules swapped out since our babies were learning to walk, we might as well be different people. That’s supposed to make us feel better — scientific evidence that we are not, after all, stuck. But what of all the unread books? The tome about journalism highlighting Ida B. Wells or the new massive biography of Frederick Douglass? You don’t even take the time to reread his Fourth of July speech.

You go, instead, to the rocky shore looking for talismans, hoping to be refreshed because the evidence in hand suggests that you are indeed stuck.

The man’s forearms still lovely, still eager for son. You write ‘progeny son’ instead of ‘solar sun’ and give the game away. Our issue, 1,000’s of miles away, having left, and left again. Airports foreclosed for now. Even a run to the PO to mail care packages means defying the odds. Contagion everywhere, anywhere.

If you look at the lozenge of of light on the floor, what do you actually see? The puddles of gold like stepping stones from here to sleep.

At the shore, you gather palm-sized rocks, silently condemning the neighbor who fills his truck and fills it again to line his long driveway with Pebble Beach artifacts. Your offense is so small by comparison, three rocks in the pocket, but the impulse is the same.

A mist came in. The surf crashed in brownish rolls. We could smell the kelp. We could smell the brine. All the smells, stepping stones to the past.

Remember when Thacher Island light houses bellowed out their caution on days like this? If they were to do so now, I might weep. And why don’t they now?

The sandals are left in the car. The espadrilles get sandy and, because of recent downpours, muddy, too. We used to come here as children, as families, as the last of the boomers, ready to accept all as our due and then reject the same with ideology, entitled rage, and dirty espadrilles.

We were too young to protest the war. As Saigon fell, I was taking my boyfriend by the hand, lying him down, unbuckling him. We were too young to go to Woodstock. We watched the reels wistfully, knowing all the songs. We missed the mud. The dirty hair. Jimi Hendrix before he died.

We protested Three Mile Island instead. We made ‘Take Back the Night’ banners instead. How many forthright and righteous women does it take to bring down a single, lying predator — twenty, thirty? And maybe not even then.

I put the thieved, striped rocks in the garden where they can talk to others of their kind. ‘I was stolen from the beach. How ’bout you?’ ‘I long for the sound of the surf, for the sound of the fog horn, for the sound of children scrambling with their plastic pails and sunburned shoulders.’

Sunburns no more! Lighthouses silent!

When the sun illuminates a long string of cobweb draped from ceiling molding to light fixture, it’s hard not to gasp. How long, exactly, has it hung there?

How long had the creepy pair lured girls to the massage table? Why do we call her a ‘madam’ or ‘socialite’ and why do we call him anything but ‘convicted sex offender’? She turned up in New Hampshire, not Zurich, not the Upper East Side. She thought her money would shield her.

Will she live long enough to tell her dirty secrets?

The muddy espadrilles resist the bleach, refusing to be spiffed up. Now the toss away shoes cost unreasonable sums — formerly priced like upgraded flip flops, now like a mid-level shoe.

No foghorn blare. The mist a fine spray. We were refreshed. The dog always between us. Pebbles rattling in the backwash of surf like we remember. All the rock tokens. The light puddled on the floor. Hallways and staircases leading somewhere. Recalling the toddler proud of his new velcro sneakers. “Here, Markie, chew on these!” Those were the days when the little one put everything in his mouth, chewed banisters and socks. Memory like a plaintive foghorn, marking out where the invisible island lies.

The roofers bang the shingles in place.

The power of stuff to undo us

The Weight of Things, Part I

Look at the lovely Rosenthal platter — that flourish along the scalloped edge; delicate blue flowers draping off the rim. I have service for eight plus another smaller platter, a casserole, a tea pot (squat and round) and coffee pot (tall and slender), plus matching sugar and creamer, candlesticks.

They were a wedding gift from my mother.

Recall this: Mother is back from a trip to Germany with her second husband. They are seeing the world! While on the continent she buys an entire set of china for her daughter who, at the age of 33, is at last engaged to be married.

When Mother hands Daughter the crumpled brochure, Daughter doesn’t bother to hide her dismay. Are the dishes too feminine? Is she inclined toward blue these days? Such a fraught exchange!

They’ve been here before. A history of thwarted choices gives Daughter an unhealthy sense that she’s entitled to sour incivility. So many items ticked off! How much did Mother spend, exactly?

There will be a cost to Daughter’s wounding response and she knows it. It’s no longer a gift-giving occasion. It’s all about Mother’s hurt feelings. Daughter’s cooing and back peddling will be accomplished with a combination of guilt, annoyance, and compulsive, middle-child diplomacy. Of course the dishes will be beautiful! It took a second, is all! Of course, it was a generous gesture!

They’ve been here before, too.

Does it matter that I love the dishes now? That as I wash off the residue from last night’s dinner, I do so with care, knowing how inconsolable I’d be if the platter broke — my mother dead and gone these 22 years past. Stuff has the power to undo us sometimes.

The Weight of Things, Part II

We’ve purchased a shed in the sorry acknowledgement that our belongings have outpaced our capacity for sorting, disposal, or storage. The garage is packed: sports equipment, gardening tools, lumber, Christmas decorations, craft booth panels, two table saws, bikes and chairs. There’s beer brewing equipment, scuba gear, coolers, kayak paddles and beach chairs. At least three complete socket wrench sets, possibly more.

img_3262Now picture Son moving to Parts West with two suitcases. His entire apartment is boxed up in the garage, too. Now what? Most is too heavy to ship.

Too heavy indeed! Here are the pots and knives Mother purchased in such industrious cheer — the dish towels and extension cords, an array of spices! He’ll make curry and roast chickens! He’ll eat on Mexican dishes while looking at the spectacular skyline. Oh that view, Mother exclaimed, that view!

And then there was the dreadful pick up eight months later. Utter disarray.

Seeing these things makes for uneasy recollection. For some reason it is the contrast between the early optimism and the later despair that gets to me the most. I don’t know why. The hard questions arise, prime among them — how could I have missed so much?

I know how — because I wasn’t even looking.

It’s a little better now — maybe you can build up an immunity to memory by repeated exposure to triggering belongings. Things have resumed their status as objects. They are once again problems to be solved — sell? donate? keep?

The iron skillet is coming in the house, but — anybody want a waffle iron?

 


9/12

I was meeting with a fellow landscape-volunteer for the elementary school when her husband called. “Turn on the TV. Turn on the TV.” The friend said, “it’s Osama bin Laden”. Believe it or not, that was the first time I’d heard that name (an unthinkable state of ignorance now, with FB, twitter, etc.). We watched the towers go down in real time.K was sent home from work, the office closed. There was the fear of more planes, more death.

Because the boys were young (7 and 5), we didn’t watch the endless replays. We had a camping trip planned for the weekend and were glad to have a reason to interrupt routines, but actually drove down into North Adams at one point to buy a newspaper. A couple of times while the kids bombed around on their bicycles, K and I turned on the van engine and listened to the radio in a state of shock. I remember feeling a sense of kinship with our grandparent’s generation, listening for news about the war, huddled around a radio.

I remember how startlingly blue the sky was on 9/11. A perfect fall day. I remember reading an email from the school saying, “we have not told them.” I remember calling a friend over before I walked over to pick up the boys, embracing her and crying, “what kind of world are they growing up in?”

On Facebook yesterday (it’s 9/12 now), I watched a video clip of tolling church bells on the campus of UMass/Amherst. Not only was it a haunting sound, but the comments rolling underneath gave me chills, especially the ones saying things like, “my son was in kindergarten that day and now he’s a junior at UMass”. And then there were comments simply saying what they were doing that day. Where they were or who they lost. We will all remember.

It took days to find out if my brother was okay. He had been scheduled to fly from somewhere in Europe into D.C. to give a lecture. All the other doctors (sensibly) cancelled, but he was adamant about showing up. He first flew to somewhere in the Caribbean and next to Canada where he rented a car.

My brother, like my son, went to McGill and had crossed that border many, many times without incident. But this was post 9/11. Because he was coming from Europe, he had multiple currencies on his person — suspect. It was a one-way car rental — suspect. And then there was the Irish surname — also suspect given the long and troubled history with bombs (my sister maintains we’re related to Timothy McVeigh, but never mind that).

The police at the U.S./Canadian border thoroughly took apart the car. I don’t mean pulled him over to inspect the trunk and open a few suitcases — I mean, unbolting door panels, ripping up floor mats, lifting seat cushions.

I may have gotten some of those details wrong, but you get the gist.

What I don’t remember — is what we said to our sons, our young and impressionable and fairly innocent sons. What did I say?

 

P.S. That’s a SoulCollage card referring directly to the attacks of 9/11 and also referring indirectly to my maternal grandfather (using magazine images), who came to NYC in 1923, spent decades working in the bowels of ships while raising a family in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before moving up to Newburgh, NY.

P.P.S. The creepiest local connection was that the Boston hijackers spent their final night on this earth in a hotel less than a mile down the road. The place has since been razed and an apartment building sits there now.

P.P.S. A good friend of mine move to Battery Park sometime later and when we visited her, we went to Ground Zero. It was awful. One of the worst things? Looking at the dust on nearby building knowing that it had DNA in it.

Chores and light

Every season there are surprises that I’m not sure should be surprises — things that make me ask, did this happen last year? Or ever before? This spring I am astonished by how many dried catalpa pods littered the yard. Were they ever this plentiful before, requiring five or six large barrels? Perhaps I forget year to year.

And, in other Aprils, I don’t remember the late afternoon sun being so glorious in what we call “the new room” (it remains “the new room” even as it ages through its second decade). Lately, the light has honeyed the walls and furniture in a way that gladdens me so much you’d think I’d remember. But I don’t. It seems novel and remarkable.

 

I don’t perform an itemized spring cleaning, but I do find myself taking toothbrush and Comet to windowsills and slate on a more regular basis than I might during the winter. Since C is graduating in a few weeks (with a BS in Chem, in case you want to be impressed), I want his room to be nice. Or at least, clean. The old windows in our house collect dirt and insect husks and paint chips in a way that require some real elbow grease. It is kind of gross how much of the filth comes off, but ever so satisfying to watch it go. And yes, the photo is an ‘after’ shot – you should have seen it before.

Now, do you see the black form under the yew bush below? Left side? There’s Finn sniffing along the fence. His insatiable joyful need for ‘fetch’ has a lot to do with the state of our backyard.   We are considering a combination approach: rolls of sod, pea stone, and slate. Using what we had on hand, K and I got a pretty good start on a patio at the garage end. The midsection would get the sod (too much shade to grow grass from seed) and the back third, the pea stone. We’ll see. Right now, half of our dog training goes to getting Finn to sit and then stand while we wipe his paws at the back sliders (he’s pretty good about it). I’m waiting to see if any of the trampled ostrich ferns come back. Fingers crossed.

Collage to quilt

playing with paper

You can click on pictures for larger versions.

("doesn't SMELL like fish!")

stitching paper to paper

letting images direct where piece is going

making marks on back with oil pastels while wondering, what is left of an experience years later and how do we mark it in consciousness?

More marks.

 

Color copy of new version - with B&W figure in lower left. Abandoned brick/grape leaf background.

Using inkjet printer and prepared, commercially available fabrics - I print one copy on cotton; one on polyester organza.

love this

Placed sheer version on top of partially quilted opaque version

This corner is too dark - so paint and ink to the rescue

Made 'suckers' from erasers out of the junk drawer

Scary to mess about with this much time in, but stamped with copper ink and white paint

Finished piece is edged with striped linen and stapled to wooden frame - you can't really see the quilting or the layering effect in this light

Octopus on the wall.

saved backing sheet to use under fabric as stitching guide

Backer sheet is below the green wool. I stitched from back, following lines. Very messy because toner is not set on page. To be continued.

P.S.  Hope to fix picture resolution issues ASAP.  I have been wondering why my pictures are defaulting to a 72 pixel resolution and looked and looked at my Photoshop settings, but it now dawns on me that perhaps it is a setting on my CAMERA that I changed (the file size while noodling with something else – will check and hopefully fix.