Sunday, March 23, 2008

Living, Loving Links

It’s time to give away some aloe plants again. These all came from one I got from my mom. All of hers came from her mom. I don’t know if it goes back farther than that, but for at least three generations this plant and its scions have been entwined with my family. I can remember seeing it on the family farm, Emro. I know for a fact that my brother, sister, and both aunts also have off-spring; I’m sure others, both family and friends, do as well. Its extreme fecundity has very specific characteristics; individual plants do get bigger with age, but most of their energy seems to be devoted to putting out new plants, and getting them to grow to a certain size. Not all aloes do this, I learned some years ago. I rescued another one when a roommate in Alphabet City threw it in the trash, and I immediately noticed different characteristics. It too put out little plants like the Emro aloe, but most of its energy seemed devoted to enlarging the original plant. It got bigger, each frond lengthening and widening, new fronds springing up. Had I not known the truth, I would have sworn it and the Emro plant were two different species.

Eventually I no longer had space for the big guy, so gave him to my friend Megan, where, newly christened Big Al, he has continued to grow. I helped her repot him a couple of years ago, since that is now definitely a two-person job. He dominates Megan’s living room, sitting by the TV, still grows bigger, and frankly seems to have developed an attitude. Look for Big Al on Myspace.

But back to the Emro aloes. These are not the only plants that are descendents of plants from my maternal grandmother; the boston ferns that hang in the kitchen and bathroom are too. One showers me with negative ions (the good, mood-lifting ones) when I’m at the dining table, the other does the same when I shower. At one point Tommy hid his Frodo action figure (you heard me) in the one in the shower; I was lathering up one day to realize I had a tiny little peeping Tom. "Where's Frodo?" has become a new sport.

Then there is the angel-wing begonia; it too comes from an Emro plant, and has relatives living with several of mine. Actually, since they’re all cuttings, that means they’re technically all part of the same plant, which is even cooler, don't you think? This is the plant that seemed to be at death’s door back in September. I’m cautiously optimistic these days; it’s putting out more leaves and they look healthy. I doubt it will ever regain its former glory (it was five feet tall at one point), but at least it no longer looks like a sad skeleton.

Then there are the plants who were here in the apartment when I moved in, left by the previous tenant. There was a spider plant hanging in the kitchen where the boston fern is now. Ginger told me she’d had it since college, and had brought it with her everywhere she’d lived since (no, I don't know why she left it here). Hanging in the kitchen window, it felt like it was at the center of the apartment. I began thinking of it almost as the spirit of the place. It's funny to realize it had lived here longer than me. I started calling her Grandmother Spider, in recognition of her age and prolific outgrowth. It seemed to fit. She was even more prolific than the Emro aloes; runners and plantlets spilled over the pot, cascading down the window -which faces north, by the way, on a narrow courtyard, and is not someplace I would have expected a spider plant to thrive. For a while I had two of her sons (don’t ask me why I thought they were male, but I did) hanging in the two windows of the living room (facing east, also on the courtyard). They were both smaller, springing up with a youthful vigor and a deeper green. Brian, when he lived here, found these two plants disconcerting. When they began putting out runners and baby plants, he could never quite shake the feeling that if he sat in front of the TV too long, they would end up sinking roots into his flesh.

It wasn’t long, with all three hanging plants merrily reproducing, before we were neck-deep in plantlets. Brian was sure they were going to smother us in our sleep one night, and even I began feeling a tad overwhelmed. I was able to give several away, but many more were left wanting homes; scores of them sat in water, growing roots that became increasingly entangled with one another. Eventually through a combination of give away and culling (Grandma was allowed to continue reproducing, but both the boys lost that privilege), I was able to whittle things back, finally ending up only with Grandmother Spider. She was starting to look a bit peaked by this point though, and I realized she was potbound. The repotting didn’t seem to go well, perhaps because I had to break up the ball into separate plants. She never really regained her old vigor, and just faded away. I wonder if plants can die of old age? She had to have been at least twenty, possibly thirty years old. I was sad, but frankly also a bit relieved. With her gone, I felt like yet one more significant influence of the previous tenant had been allowed to fade naturally, and I was now, almost eight years after taking over the lease, able to invite a new spirit plant into the center of my home. So that is where the second Boston fern went. At present there are no spider plants living in this apartment at all, and I’m feeling like that’s okay. If I ever feel the need for one though, I know Grandma has offspring throughout the city, in the homes of many friends. I can even say hi to one of the sons anytime I want, since he sits in a first floor window not far from my building. He is allowed to reproduce again, and seems to like the southern exposure.

The other plant I inherited with the apartment is a golden pothos. When I first moved in, two or three short cuttings of this plant were sitting in a big, heavy blue vase. I have no idea how long they had been there. They were in the office, which at the time was mostly Kurt’s domain, so I assumed they were his. (Like the plants, I inherited Kurt as a roommate, and it also worked out splendidly.) After a few years though, I began to feel badly for the cuttings, so I appropriated, potted, and moved them to the living room (which, at the time, was exclusively my domain). I don’t remember when exactly I stopped pruning it back, and tying it to a string along the wall, but I think it happened no more than five, maybe six years ago. I’d keep wrapping it around the room, if there weren’t a heating pipe in the way now that would singe it. I’m doubling it back, and giving cuttings to anyone who asks for one, as long as he or she is standing right in front of me, hand out ready to take it that instant. I can't handle the guilt of homeless plants any longer.

This scattering of green throughout my space has helped save my sanity, I have no doubt. Their calming green and reminders of older, more important rhythms is often a good wake-up call for me. I also like the feeling of connection they give me: to my grandmother, the family farm, my mom, aunts, siblings and friends across the country, even former residents -known and not- of apartment #20. I imagine a greensong linking the plants with their counterparts regardless of distance, shrinking the space between me and my loved ones, and strengthening our bonds.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tending the Soil, Trusting the Season

Fragments I don't see relating, but want to put together anyway:

Sometime today there will be a procession through my mostly Dominican neighborhood, honoring Good Friday. There will be a priest on a megaphone, calling out lines in a musical chant, the congregants responding likewise. Actual songs will be interspersed through all this. To my no doubt unsophisticated ear, I always hear an echo of the Muslim call to prayer in all this, especially the priest's amplified chanting, but also in some of the hymns. I imagine the rituals of prayer coming down through the ages, starting in Moorish Spain, changing from Arabic to Spanish, Muslim to Christian, emigrating to the Caribbean, and ending up outside my doorstep in New York City, still retaining a bit of all those flavors. I may be completely off about the influences... but even so, I like the feeling it gives me that at the heart of true blessing, reverance and thanksgiving, we are more alike than not. At least that's how I see it today.

To answer a question from new friend Butch, the mask accompanying the post below is not the River Liffy, but the Green Man. This link is by no means the only place you can find information on him, he's an old fellow with lots of meanings. Put loosely, I understand him as the male energy of life, specifically a Celtic manifestation, a sort of Father Nature, and with particular ties to Pan, Dionysus, Herne the Hunter, and all the other male gods of Springtime. As such maybe he'd be a better accompaniment to today's post, but he seemed like the right image for my St. Paddy's Day post. Yeats, Ó Searcaigh, and I all connect with Pagan impulses in our own ways, I would say, and the idea of 'going back to sources' explored in both poems made me think of this guy. My sister and brother-in-law gave him to me a few years ago, and he hangs on my wall, across from my bed (one of the few guardian masks I didn't make myself), smiling down on me each morning as I wake up in my gritty urban fifth-floor walk-up.

I don't think St. Patrick would have minded.

By a funny coincidence though, I do have a small River Liffy mask, a gift from my mother a few years ago. Liffy hangs on the edge of the wall dividing the living room from the hallway. She's one of the first things I see when I walk through my front door, shrouded behind my exuberant golden pothos, twining itself around three of the walls. My sense of who she is to me is much more unformed (okay, just so Java's heart will go pitter-pat, I'll say 'inchoate'. Happy Easter, Dear). I'm always glad to see her though. And I do love Dublin. If you enlarge the lower photo, you'll also see that behind her hangs a beautifully calligraphed print of the Yeats poem that I copied out in the previous post, so while I didn't post her with the poem, she is close to it in my world. I don't know what all the lovely coincidences in Butch's question mean, if anything, but I liked them.

Years ago I heard a fantastic joke on TV, from Art Buchwald (yes, that takes you to Wikipedia, it was the most concise biography I could find; feel free to do your own search). I won't do justice to Buchwald's telling of it (it really loses something if you don't hear it told in his New York accent), but here it is.

A man decides that he wants to win the lottery, so he begins praying to God for this, every day. Years go by with the man making this prayer daily, all to know avail. After ten years of this increasingly frantic supplication one day he loses all patience and screams, "God, I've been a good man all these years, why won't you let me win the lottery?"

Suddenly, a voice booms from the heavens.

"Do me a favor! Buy a ticket!"

I fear I have spent a lot of my life being that man. One of the lessons I seem to have to relearn repeatedly is how to find the balance between taking action, and -for lack of a better description- going with the flow. The wellspring of joy and creativity in my life, particularly as it relates to performing, has felt very blocked for years now, and I haven't done much recently to address that (unless we include periodically moping about it on my blog). Spring is one of my favorite times of year, in part because of its reminder that life is reborn, growth occurs, rejuvenation does happen, it just happens according to its own time-table, not mine.

And yet... this doesn't mean I can just sit back. I still need to plant the seeds. For long stretches of time that may be all I do. I'm learning to trust fallow periods more as I age, trusting that just because I can't see it or measure it doesn't mean important growth is going on underground. But that doesn't let me off the hook for doing some work.

Sometimes the soil is sour, depleted or just unsuitable. Sometimes there hasn't been enough water. Sometimes the shoots come up, and it's my job to protect them from late frost and snow, careless feet, or hungry rabbits. Nature will take care of itself just fine without my help, but if I am hoping for specific results, flowers or vegetables say, rather than happy rodents or a rocky front yard, then I have to do some work. Yes, a balance is to be sought. Respect for the forces involved must be maintained. But I mustn't fall into the comfortable laziness (probably really a form of fear), of passivity.

Then there's the other side. Various people in my life are dealing with difficult issues right now, and various caretakers are watching them deal with those issues, trying to help, but often struggling with the recognition, and accompanying guilt, that there is nothing they can do. I feel badly for both people in the equation; both experience a feeling of helplessness, of being at the mercy of forces they can't control, even when they believe they should be able to. While I am reminding myself that I must do the things I can, THEN trust in other forces, many many of my loved ones might want to remind themselves that some things are beyond our power, and even when we do all the 'right' stuff, sometimes things still go wrong. Then we find what to do next. Feeling guilty for failing to protect a loved one is a burden many people subject themselves to understandably, but needlessly.

("Easy for you to say," mutters the chorus... I know, I know. I do it too, sometimes.)

So I hope each of you, in your own way, finds this season a time of rejuvenation, healing or just plain old joyous growth, in whatever way is best for you. Some of us may need to get our asses out there to plant seeds and pull weeds... but some of us may just need to trust that we've done all we can. Do you know which one you are? Are you sure?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Healing Waters: Two Irish Thoughts

We can make our minds so like
still water that beings gather
about us to see, it may be,
their own images, and so live for a
moment with a clearer, perhaps even
with a fiercer life because of our

W. B. Yeats

An Tobar/The Well

"'Twill put a stir in you, and life,"
says old Bridget, spark in her eyes
proffering a bowl of spring-water
from the purest well in Gleann an Átha,
a well that was tended tastily
from generation to generation, the precious
heritage of the household
snugly sheltered in a nook,
a ditch around it for protection,
a flagstone on its mouth.

When I was growing up
here in the early 'sixties
there wasn't a house in the neighbourhood
without its like,
for everyone was proud then
of how wholesome and pure
they kept the family well:
they wouldn't let it become murky or slimy
and at the first traces of red-rust
it was bailed-out with a tin bucket
then purified every season with kiln-lime.

Lively, living water, pellucid spring-water
gushed forth from our family well.
In tin-cans and pitchers
they drew it daily
and in the devouring thirst
of sweltering summer
it slaked and cooled them
in field and bog.
It was a tonic, too,
that made them throb with delight
and for their ablutions
it served from cradle to grave.

But, this long time, piped water from distant hills
sneaks into every kitchen
on both sides of the glen;
water spurts from a tap,
mawkish, without sparkle,
zestless as slops
and among my people
the springwell is being forgotten.

"'Tis hard to find a well nowadays",
says Bridget filling the bowl again.
"They're hidden in rushes and grass,
choked by green scum and ferns,
but, despite the neglect,
they've lost none of their true mettle.
Seek out your own well, my dear,
for the age of want is near:
There will have to be a going back to sources."

Cathal Ó Searcaigh
translated from the Irish by Gabriel Fitzmaurice

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, my friends.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Day Late

March 15th is my dad's birthday. Sadly I wasn't able to be there for the festivities, I wasn't even able to call during dinner as is my usual habit (fortunately everyone will be gathering at Mary's and Tony's tonight for Irish stew and twice-baked potatoes).

I can be reasonably certain how the party happened though. Dad, Mom, James, Mary and Tony all gathered in the dining room of Laceyland, joined by both the dog and the cat. Everyone held hands for silent grace, with Fang insisting she be a part of it too, so people on either side of her each took an ear. (The cat is largely uninterested in grace.)

The smells of Dad's chosen birthday meal -this year it was roast beef, mashed potatoes, and salad- wafted in from the kitchen, making mouths water (probably all seven of them; even I, who don't really eat beef any longer, would revel in the aroma.) Mom brought it out, James opened the first bottle of red wine, and everyone set to. In amongst talk of everyone's day were memories of trips taken, other occasions celebrated, a lot of wonderful meals remembered. We talk about food a lot, my family. A second bottle was probably opened, though none of them would drink much more than two glasses. We like being nicely oiled, or as my sister puts it "goofed up," but not more than that.

The volume and speed of the conversation probably rose a bit, but not to a mind-splitting degree. The lights were turned off, and Mom fetched the birthday cake. White cake, chocolate frosting, sliced bananas and frosting in between the two layers, this is Dad's favorite cake, the one fond memory he has of his mother's cooking. That wasn't really her thing. He blew out the candles (with the baby of the family turning 40 in June, any attempt to put the 'right' number of candles on the cake ceased decades ago), and Mom immediately took them off and dunked them in cold water, to save for the next birthday. Some frugal, Quaker farm-girl habits never die, but she takes the ribbing ('run! run! Get them to the sink! Aiee!') with a good nature.

The cake was sliced, tea poured, tonight the rule about seconds on dessert was relaxed, then it was time for presents. Dad has always been hard to find presents for. From what I hear, this is a condition common to dads. Not sure what the hell that is about. It's gotten worse as he and Mom have gotten older, because they need nothing now, and don't have much in the way of wants either. Even books, the fool-proof present in the past, now are chosen with greater discrimination, though the absolutely perfect ones are not by-passed. Mostly he got nice wine, cheeses, other fine comestibles, since those are always appreciated. Second cups of tea were poured, the news watched on TV, then everyone went off to his or her respective homes and evening chores. Part of what made this evening so special is the fact that it isn't that rare. Mary and Tony may not join them for dinner every night, but family meals still happen a few times a week, even if they're not always this fancy. I feel some envy at not being able to participate, but mostly I feel delighted knowing this quiet family ritual is observed so often.

I've said in other entries that trying to describe why you love a person is hard to do without sounding insipid and trite, or resorting to lists of fine qualities. I think that problem is only worsened when you're talking about a parent. I can talk about all the good I've seen Dad do in the world, as a teacher, counselor to students and colleagues, and now as clerk for The American Friends Service Committee, which has him gallivanting all over the world in his seventies, doing things we would have never imagined like going up the sides of mountains in Columbian war zones in trucks with benches bolted in the back... but this wouldn't tell you about his goofy side. I could mention that in hearing the news about Eliot Spitzer he speculated about what one would get for $4300 an hour, and decided he wouldn't settle for anything less than a trampoline and an off-stage accordian player (and comments like these from my parents have long since ceased to traumatize me, if they ever did), but that wouldn't tell you about his ferocity... I could talk about when I was a student at Dad's college, he and I frequently found ourselves going after the same administrators, so my 'teen rebellion' years got to be spent with my dad in the same trenches...but that still wouldn't give you a full picture of him. I might mention his special bond with babies and dogs, his desire to have a pet penguin and baby elephant that he would take for walks, the way he taught us to that literature and art matter in the world, but didn't let us get precious about it (In a copy of The Joy of Cooking he gave me, he quoted Bertolt Brecht, writing "First food, then rights!"), his love of Benny Goodman, Beethoven, the Beatles, Yeats, Keats, Levertov, Austen, Eliot, of dancing... okay, so I'm making that list I said I wouldn't. And I've barely scratched the surface.

Suffice it to say, I think he's been a force of love, vision, humor, and celebration in the world and he's just been a hell of a lot of fun to be around. We have had our problems, of course. Human beings will, after all, and fathers and sons may almost be required to... but in all the ways that mattered, he has always been behind me.

Below is a poem of his that I'm particularly fond of, and perhaps does a better job of showing his character than my scatter-shot approach above. If you're not familiar with the Dickinson poem he's responding to, it's included at the bottom of the entry.

Happy birthday, Dad. I love thee.

Another Slant of light

This afternoon’s sun is not yet at the horizon,
and it has bathed the unmarked snow fields
a mellow pink. The sun has set a joyful scene, dear Emily,
not like that New England winter light you praised
and mourned, a century ago.

Now more gold has
entered the light, and the snow invites us to urge
the dog’s happy leaps in and out of the drifts. Were
I not too old and stiff, too self-conscious
at looking foolish, I would make snow angels
in the trackless field or roll down the hill
below the meetinghouse. Like the dog, I would bathe
in this light, the brisk cold, the soft-tinged snow.

I hear a different heft of music, Emily,
this winter afternoon: the perfect cathedral tune,
Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,and the triumphant last movement of St. Saens’
organ symphony. Listen to the opening bars:
dah dah dah dah / da da da da DAH! /
Da da da da, /da da da dah Dahh!
Oh hum along, Emily, wave your hands.

I always want to dance to that tune,
Emily, all around the room, though it
also makes me look foolish beyond my years.

But I don’t just hear organ music. The light
makes me imagine the dancing harpsichord
driving Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five
on "Summit Ridge Drive" and "Back Bay Shuffle."
(A couple of Boston tunes, Emily.)

The day will darken toward more somber hues
and tones when the sun dips below the horizon,
but for now there is no heavenly hurt, no gouging
into the heart to find the meanings. It is cold, it will
grow dark, yes, as always, but now the light
is soft, golden, pink; the snow receives it as decoration,
as barrel-organ honky tonk, splashy
show-off tunes, as the body’s pleasure
in the triumphal, long-shadowed winter light...

Paul Lacey.

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons -
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us -
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are-

None may teach it -Any -
'Tis the Seal Despair -
An imperial affliction
Sent us on the Air -

When it comes, the Landscape listens
Shadows - hold their breath -
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death -

Emily Dickinson 1890.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Tying Knots

From time to time I’ll feel a vague, inchoate desire to make something. Sometimes it finds expression in baking bread, making red sauce, or having friends to dinner. Sometimes (all too rarely) it results in me emptying my mending bag, sewing on buttons, closing up seams. I can remember a time when it took expression in sketching on pretty much a daily basis, but sadly I’ve fallen out of the habit, and the ability has atrophied. I still make masks, but they are more often motivated by specific projects or commissions these days; less often do I turn to it as pure impulse. Sometimes the house gets cleaned, lemon and lavender scents clearing my head and my mood, clean, uncluttered surfaces letting my eye come to rest.

And once every great while, the desire to make will find expression in making friendship bracelets. You know what I’m talking about, right? Well, maybe if you didn’t go to a pinko-commie-Quaker-pacifist-hippy-dippy-crunchy-granola college, you didn’t come across them. They’re those colorful little ribbons of macrame, made with embroidery thread. They're given as gifts to someone special (not exclusively romantic partners), tied on the wrist, or in some cases, ankle, then worn until time, sweat, and showers causes them to break off. Almost everyone in my school wore one or two at some point.

From the very start they satisfied some deep needs in me. First of all was the need to play with color in a very basic way. I love rich, deep, super-saturated colors, more jewel-tones than neon. I don’t usually care much for pastels; I like colors with the courage of their convictions, and usually pastels just look watery and wimpy to me (as in all things, there are exceptions). I’m generally disappointed in the colors of men’s clothing. Maybe there will be an ultramarine blue, a tomato red, a green once in a while, less often a lavender – and even then they are shades I find boring or unappealing – but most of what one sees is black, grey, khaki, white, the least interesting browns one can imagine, and of course, navy blue; this is what real men, at least in the United States, are allowed to wear. Anything else runs the risk of making one look frivolous, if not downright faggy.

I like blue. I wear blue. I wear a lot of blue. But the colors that really get my juices flowing run more towards pine green, deep violet, Tuscany yellows, and copper reds just to name a few. In recent years I’ve come to appreciate fire colors like never before, reds, oranges, yellows, (I think coinciding with a lifting in spirit, and greater willingness to be seen) but even then I don’t want them to look like they came from a Crayola box. A SMALL Crayola box. Primary colors in general bore me, especially the most basic blue and red that exist out there (often even in the plaids). I think I would like them well enough, if they weren’t so damn ubiquitous.

So anything made with embroidery thread is a good antidote to all this. They were meant to be used purely for decoration, so there is no need to bow to utility. Every possible color and shade, is available. Just browsing at the store is a delight to the eye. What’s more, the bracelets allow you to explore colors in combination. How will this teal look next to this magenta? How about if a lavender is placed between them? Can a yellow be added, or will it just spend the whole time screaming at the lavender? And what about pattern? The repertoire of the friendship bracelet is limited to angled rows, chevrons, diamonds, and something I call alphas (basically diamonds with an inverted V attached), but that still opens up an array of possible color and pattern combos.

Maybe this need for color would be equally satisfied by finger-painting, but that’s not the only need it fills. I also find a great satisfaction in making knots. In the simple act of joining threads, the image of healing is never far off for me. Then there’s the pleasure in watching the pattern take shape, rows of knots slowly accruing, like weaving but with much quicker results and fewer equipment needs. Also like weaving, the process of tying knots becomes a great gateway to a trance-state, what Abraham Maslow called ‘flow’. At the very beginning of the process I may need to focus on the task so the threads get put in the order I want, but once I’ve made it through the first complete sequence, my hands can take over with only minimal attention paid by my eye and conscious mind. This is when things often rise to the surface, questions I’m grappling with, confusions I’m feeling, all the clutter in my brain that needs shaping, organizing, purging. Occasionally when I’m aware of feeling this way, I’ll choose to make a bracelet. More often than not though, the impulse to make one, even to some extent the choice of colors, will come first, and only after I’ve started do I begin to see what is lurking in the depths.

I used to have this joyful, timeless experience in a lot of different ways; like I said above, drawing used to provide it; so did putting the layers of paper mache on the mold of a mask. In 1992 though, when I had just ended my first serious relationship, I was asked to make some masks for a production, and realized that while I was working, instead of my welcome trance-state, I was tapping into a whole lot of anger. Fights were replayed, irritations relived, I wrote new scenes where I explained why his ‘let’s be friends’ approach was unwelcome and insulting... not the peaceful meditative state I was used to having during this task. I no longer envision my poor ex-boyfriend’s head on a platter when I make masks, but neither have I regained the sense of flow I once had. Someday, I hope it will return.

I never lost it with these silly little bracelets though. And that’s another part of their appeal, I think. They’re completely pointless. Wearing them until they rot off, that's the closest they get to having a purpose. Occasionally I will tie one around a gift bottle of wine, or a vase, but attempts to use them like actual ribbon, i.e. for tying up packages, rarely works. I’ve sometimes offered them as bookmarks, but they’re ill-suited to that purpose as well, for all but the biggest, thickest hardbacks. I made a big one once, just for the hell of it, and ended up sewing it into the bag I made to carry my tin whistles. It does the job okay I suppose, but something else would have probably been better. I rarely give them away these days because people feel obligated to put them on, then they worry I’ll notice it missing the next time I see them. I explain that unless they’re surfers, skate-boarders, or under the age of 20, I don’t expect them to wear it, but they don’t believe me. There was a time when I had a plethora of them, and left them tied randomly to poles and fences in Greenwich Village. I figured I’d recognize my own patterns and color choices well enough that if I ever saw someone with one later, I’d recognize it and strike up a conversation, but so far that has never happened. Chances are good most of them got thrown in the trash by disgruntled supers.

No, they’re utterly pointless, and frankly, I don’t make them for the finished object, but for the process. Sometimes life fills me too full of experience, and I need the clarifying, organizing energies the making of these things gives me.

Last night I found myself needing to stay home. I thought it was simply wanting to take advantage of having the apartment to myself, but soon I realized that I was feeling the desire to make a friendship bracelet. It’s probably been years since the last time. I think I’d been feeling the desire for a few days, so my unconscious finally just made me sit at home, declining all invitations.

Right off the bat my color choices indicated new thoughts. Black, white, sunny yellow, a dark, not-quite-wine-colored red were my choices. I got two strands of each, for a V pattern. These are not colors I would typically combine. Normally I would have seen them as the the easiest choices in graphic design, striking yes, but maybe dull from over-use, in newspapers, logos and posters all over the place. I went with it though, and soon into the pattern realized I liked it, perhaps needed the message each color had to give me.

The white thread warned me of my perfectionism, rigid thinking, my fear of looking foolish, my need for there to be absolutes. The yellow reminded me to notice the simple, quiet, daily pleasures, especially the ones I think I don’t deserve. The red spoke, yes, of passion, love, committing deeply and fully, taking risks, but also of seeing the bigger picture, and committing fully to that as well. The black spoke of mystery and nighttime (when I often feel my creativity is at its most free), of the seed planted deep, committed to its own secret growth. It reminded me to be patient, truly patient, not just pay lip-service, to the secrets working underground, according to their own rhythms.
I felt for a number of years that I was spinning my wheels professionally and artistically; in recent years I felt like I wasn’t even doing that much. This black thread told me to have faith, to trust that things have to work at their own pace. I must tend the soil, water and feed the seed, but mostly I need to leave it alone, and trust I will know what to do when the next step presents itself.

The knots spoke to me as well. They tied me to so many people in my life; to my family and college friends of course; to the new friends I’m getting to know on and off-line; to the old friends who show up out of the blue - even from out of town - with an uncanny sense for when I need them; to the cautious optimism a treatment plan is providing a loved one; to the celebration of a deep bond being made deeper, where I drank too much and kissed too much and gave straight guys noogies that they took with admirable forbearance; to the new friends and gracious hosts who once again opened their home and lives to me, revealing themselves a bit more through older friendships; to the death of a wonderful old man who had helped liberate Bergen-Belsen, and let the horrors of what he saw there move him to connect, to befriend, and to nurture; to another celebration of another impending marriage and the joy I felt in being included; to the cooling words of a good friend reading my first draft of an enraged letter, less than a week after I had done the same for her; to shared meals and late night talks that nourished me more than the missed sleep; all these bonds, all these connections were recorded and celebrated in the tying of knots.

A sense of gratitude has been growing in my life in recent months. You can see it in my blog, I think. I’m sensible enough to know that it isn’t enough however. If the only thing my gratitude leads to is bits of macrame and cheerful mooning about in my apartment, then it hasn’t done me much good. I am ready to take action, but I know I haven’t yet. It’s odd too, because the fact is I like working. At least I think I remember feeling that way. I agree with G.B. Shaw when he says "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake." I dance with Rumi as he sings "everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart." I nod with recognition – and cringe at the unwitting accusation -- when Thoreau says "be not simply good – be good for something." I say this with no self-pity, and with no need for loving denials (Seriously, I’m not fishing), but in recent years I don't think I've been good for much. I’m wary of the ego’s need for adulation being the secret motive for my work (a constant bugaboo for actors), just as I watch his tendency to insist that not doing things at all is better than doing them badly. But the need for work, the need to do, to make, that isn’t ego. It’s recognizing responsibility to life.

Goodness. What a lot to hang on a tiny piece of ribbon. By the end of the evening though, I felt like something important had been rediscovered. There was a sense of grounding: of coming home even. I don’t know what the next step is. But I think I will when I see it.