Michael and I sit across from one another in our bedroom. He taps on his keyboard. I tap on mine. He faces south. I face north. The curtains are open. Light spills in from the gray outside. It's cold in here. I sniff chilled snot back into my nostrils. March 3rd. The sun opens the sky up for five seconds. It settles into spouting trees and rooftops across the street. It melts away. My abdomen aches a bit from the grief residue that fills our house. Two parents gone in 9 days. His parents. And it wasn't because they loved each other. They divorced 40 years ago and lived in separate states. Coincidence?
In Raleigh, North Carolina, nearly two years ago, I met you for the first and last time. It was a hasty 30 minute visit. You looked polished, pretty and sophisticated and your clean house smelled like berry potpourri. You offered me a glass of expired vitamin water and out of politeness, I drank it. We introduced you to Beckett, your only grand-daughter, and you refused to hold her because you thought you might get her sick (even though you weren't sick). There were pictures of your three children, Michael, Ivy and Rob on the walls, shelves and side tables. If I hadn't known your story before arriving, I might have assumed you were a doting mother, a mother who beamed when talking about her kids and grandchild, a mother who was present and responsive to all her childrens' needs. But I knew the story...
At least a fraction of your story, told by your oldest son, Michael. The story about your misery, abandonment, anxiety, sorrow and sadness.
I realize there are several unknowns and missing parts to your life that your children nor anyone else ever knew. There were things you may have wanted to do or say but didn't. Things that may have been done to you. The abuse you may have suffered as a child and as an adult. Reasons for why you needed to escape again and again.
I do know that at one point you were a tender mother to your children. You may have stroked their hair when they were sick and you probably sang softly to them as they slept. I know you loved them. Even if you couldn't always locate that love within yourself.
It's obvious you lived a tortured life. I hope this death you've chosen will finally bring you some peace.
We will miss not knowing who you really were,
It's been months since my last interview with my wife Felicity. We rarely see each other these days, and when we do it's usually for a quick chat about household dust, hangnails and leftover cashew cheese. Soon I'm going to demand she spend more time with me.
Here she is, sitting in bed under a three blankets, while a small heater blows hot air into the chilly bedroom. Her feet are usually cold this time of year along with the tip of her nose. She's got the last hint of a fever blister on the bottom of her left lip. Her face looks rather waxy from the argan oil she uses to keep her skin from cracking.
FF - Hello dear wife. How are you feeling?
FF - Eager, exhausted, elated, elbowed. And you?
FF - The same I suppose, but a little more elbowed than exhausted. And definitely less eager than elated.
FF - Did you ever find the blue ball you were looking for?
FF - The plastic one the cats like to play with?
FF - Yes that one.
FF - I did. It was in the sock drawer, all the way on the bottom, hidden beneath the unpaired socks I've been keeping around for years.
FF - Why are you keeping unpaired socks?
FF - I assume one day they'll show up. Where could they possibly go anyway? They've got to be around here somewhere.
FF - Socks are supposed to go missing. It's their job. They go missing to keep us from settling into complacency, to keep us curious about their whereabouts, to keep us looking for them in places we'd never look otherwise.
FF - Your probably right. I went looking for my unpaired socks in Tunisia several years ago. I was convinced they were in a town called Tabarka. The red ones anyway.
FF - And did you find them?
FF - No. Not them, but I found another red sock that belonged to a young prince. I put it on my foot and felt its silk gently tug my toe... Then, after sitting around for too long, drinking mint tea with the (much smaller) lone sock on my foot, I decided I didn't want to wear socks anymore.
FF - At all?
FF - At all. For a while anyway. I left Tunisia and went back to NYC and I didn't wear socks for a few years.
FF - What about on the subway in January?
FF - No socks.
FF - What about at the community center gym in Williamsburg? On the treadmill?
FF - Sockless.
FF - What about when you biked on a mountainbike from NY to Vermont?
FF - Yes. That was when I started wearing socks again. It's much too hard to spin pedals sans socks.
I didn't know you very well. Not the you that could sit at an opposite chair at the dinner table eating something I prepared. Not the you I could call up and chat with about various rainclouds and sound waves. Not the you that would ask me to help you replace the engine in your car or build a new mast for your boat. Not that you.
I know the you that seeped into a man I love - Michael T. Hensley. I know you through him. And through him I witness lush gardens, brimming with food that we eat and eat and eat all year round. I continue to learn about salt vs. vinegar pickles, the potent smell the salty kind make when festering in the kitchen, and the sound of their crunch when being chewed on by a toddler. I ogle painting after painting with pieces of you tucked inside them. A bottle. A sad face. A house. A happy face. Dates. Times. All of these images and words are there in part because of you. Because of your influence and determination and encouragement. The kind Howdy Michael voices to every neighbor and stranger he encounters. That is you too. His tenderness for cats and birds. You.
So thank you Dwain. Thank you for raising a brilliant human. A curious adventurer, sparkly visionary, trusty daddio, husband, amigo and a truly gentle being.
We are going to miss you.
According to the the handy dandy meditation timer app on my phone, I've approached almost 100 hours of seated meditation over the last year. This is no small feat for an American 36 year-old lady who is also a mother, a working artist, a working worker (for the man), a wife, a fart, a lunatic, and also a parrot named Alphonso. But I still have a lot of work to do.
Up until a year ago, my meditation sittings were harried and restless. Sitting with my eyes closed for two minutes felt like waiting in line at the DMV while holding 6 bulky suitcases. With a little prompting (and loads of support) from a teacher, I started to sit with more intention for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15, then 20, and now I'm up to 25.
This practice is surreptitiously cracking me open. I'm noticing a lightness in the ghost I house inside this body. Things that once bothered me, specifically the petty things like household messes, the cat licking herself while I'm trying to write, and driving in traffic, don't disturb me as much. Little bits of insight and buried emotions are busting their way from my heart. I'm feeling more, but it's a less reactive kind of feeling. It's raw and real and much more difficult to ignore.
A few words from Alan Watts:
In November I found a button on the ground. It was a large, black plastic button used to connect one piece of heavy fabric to another piece of heavy fabric. It was a shiny, reflective button and I could see sky in it. I could see birds in it. And I could see a strange woman lurking behind me in it. She wore a blue baseball cap with a blonde ponytail pulled through the back. She tapped me on the shoulder and squealed lets!
I pretended not to notice and continued to watch her through the button. I whispered to the button I can't hear you, and I'm busy, and Leave me alone. But the woman remained behind me, now shuffling her feet back and forth while whistling the theme song to Dallas.
Then I saw more people in the button. Neighbors I hadn't spoken to in months, friends from long ago and my cat's veterinarian. They all tapped me on the shoulder and squealed Lets! They shuffled their feet and whistled the theme song to Dallas.
Through the button I saw snow falling from the sky. Snowman-sized flakes began to blanket the ground around me. I was hunched over and my back ached, but my eyes remained on the button. The shuffling and whistling around me increased. My hands became numb, then turned an eggplant shade of purple, then black. Tiny icicles formed on the edges of my eyes. The shuffling and whistling continued, but the sounds were more muffled. I watched the people through the button. They were shuffling, whistling and smiling at one another. They looked ridiculous. They looked beautiful. I suddenly loved them.
The snow's blinding whiteness, heft, and silence engulfed me. I tried to open my mouth. I tried to say Whistle louder. Shuffle more. I can't hear you. I tried to squeal Let's! But my lips were frozen shut.
It's snowing here today. It snows here once a year. Then the snow turns to rain, then to seeds, then to flowers. There are other places where the snow lasts longer. I grew up in such a place. The Icebox of the Nation. When I went outside my nostrils would crack. My lungs would ache with each inhalation. My fingers were often a purply blue. And once I accidentally stuck my tongue on a frozen banister. There was nothing to do but yank and yank. Rip. A little piece of my tongue remained there until the end of spring.
For years I have somehow managed to skirt my way out of jury duty, but a few days ago I received a card in the mail that changed my path as US citizen (and mammal) forever. Yes. Today I was summoned to report to a courtroom in the ever-icky city/suburb of Gresham to maybe serve as a juror on a civil trial amongst two people who supposedly don't like each other much at all.
It was dull, arduous procedure that involved lots of sitting around and staring at people who were all in the same position I was in. Few of them wanted to be there. And everyone wished they had brought a cushion for their sore rumps.
And amidst the waiting and unknowns as to what would soon happen to us obligated US citizens, we all managed to find a way to occupy ourselves. I flipped-flopped through Essays by Wallace Shawn and Harpers and Facebook, then texted with friends who also had friends on jury duty in another part of town. A woman, three rows in front of me with a silver bob and salmon colored cardigan, made neat little piles of receipts and bank statements then filed them in folders for her CPA. Two women to my right, both plump with barretted ponytails, cracked open romance novels and continued to read them even during a very special screening of the featured film, What it means to be a juror in the State of Oregon. A guy with dreadlocks and facial piercings slept with his head between his hands. The lanky man next to me perused stocks on his iphone and scanned a paper on endodontics. A couple in the back of the room talked in whispers and giggles with their arms around each other. It was obvious that one lover was accompanying the other to keep them company in all of the dismal drear of jury duty. This struck me as one of the more romantic gestures in the world and I immediately cursed my manchowder (and cats) for not being there for me.
At some point after reading an article in Harpers about eating rats, I had to poop. I got up, went to the bathroom, emptied my bowels and tip-toed back into the waiting area. The jury administrator was calling the names of all the jurors who would be moving onto the next round of waiting and interrogation. A woman next to me asked if my name was Felicia (which it is to my mother and the state of Oregon). I said yes, and she said that the administrator had called my name while I was in the bathroom. Oh boy. I said. Goodie. My name had been chosen along with another 23 names to move onto the next round of juror waiting and questioning.
But as the room emptied, the administrator approached me and told me I had been excused as juror because I wasn't present when my name was called. I was in the bathroom. I said. She gave me a lopsided smile, took the juror badge from my hand and said It happens sometimes. Her tone and smile made it seem as though going to the bathroom was a rare, but totally justified reason for being excluded from jury duty, that I wasn't in trouble and wasn't required to do anything further, that I could go home.
I left feeling slightly baffled by my experience as juror and by the immense power of my bowels.
Where mammals convene before roiling waves, to sniff each other out, to snack on ocean air and spotted leaves.
Staring contests with handsome trees like this one in the Osa Peninsula - Costa Rica.
Bovine friends have it good here. The verdant hills, a few hundred feet away from a river or the ocean are ripe for ample grass chomping. There is plenty of tree shade for sleeping and loads of space to roam. Pelts are shiny and cow-eyes clearer and seemingly happier than their cousins in the more industrialized farm situations up north where I'm from.
Las vacas tienen una buena vida!
la vaca guapo Ramone
Just outside our casa de flores, we march through a river, climb a slippery hump of a hill through monkey clad banyan trees and dive into the remains of a waterfall's chilly tendrils.
We are in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. And right now, I'm watching macaws above race toward ripe mango trees while I float in a hammock on the back porch of our jungle cabana. My belly is filled with rice, beans and salad from a farm a few steps away. Feeling heaps of gratitude for this experience.
I went to the eye doctor today. And this is what they gave me, two pictures of my left and right eyeballs. I'm feeling closer to the sun than ever after ogling these beauties.
A seed for a new project has been planted. To launch it into being, I am asking people (friends, family and strangers) to send me a single screen shot of their computer desktop screen. How do I do that? You may ask. Here is a helpful link with instructions.
For this project, I'll be examining the unique placement and patterns of files on a screen. Flat and artificially lit screens lack the depth and light found in nature or any physical space that surrounds us. And though screens remain flat and too-bright, once a user begins to add files to their machines, screens begin to look more organic, or more like a piece of the user's personality. Some screens may be meticulously organized while others are more chaotic. No two screens are alike.
The submitted images will all be posted and added to a dedicated project page on this website. After I've compiled enough of the images, I plan on doing large-scale ink and watercolor drawings of each screenshot submitted. Each participant will receive a print of their desktop image.
If you are interested in participating, please email me your screenshot.
About a month ago, I came across poetry by Nick Flynn while flipping through Tricycle magazine. Soon after I picked up his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, which ended up being one of the best memoirs I've read in the last five years (My other recent memoir favorite is Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When Could Be Normal?).
I've considered (and still consider) putting together my own little memoirs about certain periods of my life (my 15th year of existence on planet earth, the various jobs I've taken, my 3-month trip to India, my first year of motherhood, my public and private experiences with social-based art practice, and eating food with strangers around the world.) Reading memoirs like the two mentioned above certainly help move this proces along.
Here is a poem from Nick Flynn's debut poetry collection, Some Ether.
Cartoon Physics, part 1
Children under, say, ten, shouldn’t know
that the universe is ever-expanding,
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies
swallowed by galaxies, whole
solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence. At ten we are still learning
the rules of cartoon animation,
that if a man draws a door on a rock
only he can pass through it.
Anyone else who tries
will crash into the rock. Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,
ships going down — earthbound, tangible
where they can be heroes. You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships
have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump
you will be saved. A child
places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus,
& drives across a city of sand. She knows
the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks. She will learn
that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall
until he notices his mistake.
My commitment to 2014 (as it has been to this year and the years before) involves perching, watching, being, making, not over-thinking, writing, listening, learning, re-learning, singing, laughing, idling, farting, playing, mostly vegetable feeding, gushing, not over-working, confabulating, snuggling, elbow-wrestling, bird-ogling, breathing, high-fiving, fondling, adoring, devoting, absorbing, detoxing, indulging, meditating, nudging, exploring, chewing, digging, cantering, wiggling, gyrating, dreaming, and washing myself in giant trees.