Blurred by ice-then-snow-now, grass and tree and house and bay are rendered in the softest greys. Meteoric, a crow as black as space lands on a tailwind. Then another; black feathers plump and shudder off the snow. They strut like they own the place. Which today, they do.
Neighbors’ grand homestead, built out over decades of prosperity, has been surrendered to bankers, unmanageable. Dad became grandpa, then lost his memory one football story at a time.
So now, a ghostly hulk, their happy place is falling to ruin.
We had the world by the tail. We were invincible. We believed the tv gurus: you can have everything you want, if you focus clearly enough.
They didn’t tell us how inevitable the wind worries away the rock, and how an arc must eventually return to earth.
Let it snow, this cool balm, on the first days of spring. Breathe in the hush, let the softness dust your hair. It all happens right now. The house will disappear, and This will still be true.
Sometimes one piece of art stops me in my tracks with it’s inescapable beauty and truth.
Pixar, the studio that brought us Toy Story, Up!, Finding Nemo and so much more, has released a new short that’s a luminous paean to memory, grief and love.
“Borrowed Time” is an animated short film, directed by Andrew Coats & Lou Hamou-Lhadj, and produced by Amanda Deering Jones.
The music was written & performed by Gustavo Santaolalla, composer of The Motorcycle Diaries, Biutiful, and The Last of Us and Best Original Score Academy Award winner for Brokeback Mountain and Babel.
“A weathered Sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.”
It happens every day. Every second, actually. Someone is breathing one moment, then not the next. It’s nature’s way: we’re born, we die. But my mind refuses this. No, she can’t be gone, not that kind of gone. Not dead.
The word landed with a leaden thud, flat black, that sucked all the air out of the room. But I need that word. My child’s mind refuses to understand. Dead. Gone.
Monday I got a strange email from a friend-of-a-friend:
“Has anyone heard from F-?”
I called F’s cel, and got a wrong number. Idiot, I told myself, and dialed again. This time, a strange and business like voice answered, and asked me who I was.
“Who are YOU?” I demanded, confused.
“This is [name forgotten], County Sheriff’s department. Are you a relative?”
This was the moment when the chill of dread descended, when I knew something was terribly wrong. Why would cops be answering F’s phone in the middle of the day? It’s not like her to have been arrested, unless it’s finally illegal to be a snarky blogger in Florida.
Nice Sheriff Lady realized she had to tell me now, because, pretty much, I already knew.
“I’m sorry to tell you that F has passed away.”
The room went all echoey. She asked me if I knew any next of kin. Sorry. I was busy falling backwards through a tunnel, remembering last week when I called F on a whim.
“Hey you. Not interrupting a hockey game, am I?”
“You know you aren’t, or I wouldn’t have picked up.” I hear her short breath, sucking that damn cigarette, or maybe just gasping for air.
“I’m just calling with the neighborhood gossip report, and to let you know not to worry about the weather. You should really stop watching the news, you know. Bad for your blood pressure.”
“Well, you never know.” There’s that breath again.
“How’s the Bench?” We can always talk cats.
“He’s fine, but no more catnip for him. He bites me when he gets a buzz.”
I laugh, but now I’m the worrier. The last cat bite was serious.
“Please, Ferne, explain it to him again: you don’t bite the hand that feeds you!”
It was a silly conversation; like Seinfeld, about nothing. We were hanging out over the cellular ether. I want to grab those minutes back, and hold them.
I’ve been looking for photos of her, so far no luck. The last time I saw her was two years ago when I was in St. Pete. We wandered on the beach, went to the movies, ate thai food and hung out with her writer friends. I can still see her, in her Yankees cap and capris, an ageless platinum pixie with a cigarette and a smirk.
Bon Voyage, Ferne. Love ya, and don’t forget to write.
Finding the beauty in the everyday is on-mission for me. This show, featuring the works of Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Harun Farocki, Rabih Mroué, Hrair Sarkissian, and Rudolf Steiner, reveals artists whose work put them in the line of fire.
The power of art, photography, video, to tell the truth puts creators in mortal danger. This show focuses on a photographer in Syria. But dont forget the chilling video uncovered by Chelsea (ne Bradley) Manning, available here.
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Harun Farocki, Rabih Mroué
Hrair Sarkissian, Rudolf Steiner. An Unsolicited Proposal Program winning exhibition.
On July 1, 2011, in the neighborhood of Karam Shami in Homs, Syria, a young man stands on the rooftop of a building. He uses his cell phone to document gunfire in the streets below as his camera suddenly catches sight of a gunman on an adjacent balcony. For a brief instant, the cameraman and the gunman directly face each other. A single shot is fired. The camera falls, and with the cameraman’s death, image and reality collapse into one.
In the course of recent political events, anonymous cameramen and women have emerged as powerful…
The day after was perfect day: palmettos rustling in the light breeze, ducks chattering on the ‘lake’, rippling patterns on the stucko wall. He would have gone down to feed them.
My brother stumbles into the kitchen, rumpled, stubbly, and rubbing his eyes.
He grunts. I never see him like this.
We sip our wake-up drug for a while. Could be a scene from any south Florida morning. Except:
“We should call people.”
I nod. Hand him the phone.
He stares at it for a while.
“I’ve forgotten my own phone number.”
He looks up at me, and the incredulity, plus the grief on his face make him look like an old man and a little boy, all at once.
I start to recite his number for him and realize I don’t remember it either. I shake my head, dumbfounded. We’re not quite ready to laugh.
After Dad’s funeral, there was the business of getting life back to some semblance of normal. For weeks life had been waves of surreal, from the miserable conflict with second wife Mary, to moving into hospice, and finally his mystical passing. We then faced the challenge of organizing his wake in another state. I felt tumbled like a stone, no more sharp edges, and not knowing which way was up.
After all was said and done, I headed home to DC. I had something great to look forward to: the opening of a gallery show on Capitol Hill. I was never so proud of my work – it looked marvelous, drew lots of praise, and I sold painting. It couldn’t have been a better moment to celebrate with my fellow artists, neighbors and art fans. Time to launch a new season, a new Millennium, and the strange new life without my father.
The day after that opening was another perfect day, this time, the September-in-Washingtonian kind. Who doesn’t love the blessed return of moderate temperature and low humidity, the arching bowl of blue sky without a cloud, with the trees still green and full? It made me want to reach up, stand tall and hope.
I met a friend by the river for some optimistic early-morning exercise. We were both on course for a great new season of success, rebuilding momentum after summer’s travels. I went off on my bike while she walked.
West Potomac Park has waterfront sidewalks, some of which flood at high tide. Did you know that goose shit and algae make a slippery surface? Right across the river from the Pentagon, my wheels went out from under me. Sliding sideways I skidded along the slimy concrete. Somehow I made it back to the car, gashed, bleeding and smeared with a vile substance.
My friend took me home and helped me get cleaned up, tended my wounds. And thus I was not at work, but home when my cousin called, about 9:40am, nearly shouting:
“Are you OK?!”
He lives in Michigan.
I puzzled at the phone, smiling.
“Yeah, I’m fine. But how did you know I fell off my bike?”
A pause, then: “Bike, what? TURN ON THE TV!”
I comply, his voice was so commanding. And I stared in disbelief. I thought it was a bomb.
My father died as predicted, as comfortably as possible with loved ones near. It had nothing to do with horrific terrorist havoc.
But losing a parent feels like the rug is pulled out from under you. The world goes wobbly, what seemed solid thins and becomes crumbly, transparent. Brick buildings that looked solid sag as if made of sand, just waiting for a gust to blow them down.
The walls came tumbling down. It’s a different world now.
I spent last night curled around Seneca, my ancient and bony dog. I have not been sleeping with her the past few weeks because her incontinence has become so severe. But on this short night, her last, I did not care.
Today I will take her to the vet for the last time. I’ve been putting this off for weeks during her long and gracious decline. She rarely complains. She mostly does as she is asked. She will go anywhere with me, waiting patiently in the car. She has always been well mannered and willing to please.
Well past one hundred in dog years, Seneca has lived her whole life with that kind of grace. I’ve had her since she was seven weeks old. Runt of the litter, my standard poodle was chosen for me by the breeder for her gentle temperament. When I picked her up that day nearly fifteen years ago, she readily transfered her affections to me the moment I pulled out of that driveway, and has been my true and loyal friend ever since.
This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make: to help my dear friend have a good death (euthanasia from the Greek literally means ‘good death’). I have watched friends grapple with it, have gently encouraged them to let their pets go. It is indeed much harder from where I sit. I deeply do not want to lose my dog. I have cried like a six year old, losing her puppy. And then the other day I blurted out to a friend: “How can I do this to her?! All her life I have had a vow to protecther from all harm!”
My friend asked me: “Haven’t you done exactly that? Aren’t you still doing that for her?”
I have to admit that I have, every step of the way, given her the best life a dog could have. I began to see that I am not failing in my promise to her. I cannot prevent her aging, arthritis, the atrophy of her limbs. I could not prevent her dementia or it’s confusion and nightmares.
I can prevent further distress from these things, and I can prevent seizures or other painful experiences as she approaches her death. It is completely in line with my vow to her.
Last night as we curled together, I drifted in and out of sleep, and cherished the sensation of her warm, gently breathing form. I wrapped my arms around her and the words came to me “I have your heart.” I was saying this to her, as she has always said it to me.
Rest in Peace, Seneca
May 1998 – November 2012