Monday, October 27, 2014

Time Lapses

After my mother died, I kept thinking about time. When she was sick, there were predictable thoughts -- precious time, wasted time, good times & bad, being cheated of time, how much time she lived and how long she suffered in illness.

But after she died, I more often thought about time as it works as a dimension. Time, sometimes called the 4th dimension, locates a specific event as it occurs in a specific location.  After she died, that's the time I wanted to understand.

I've long tracked my own history by location, e.g, if it was when I lived in New Mexico the first time, it must have been 2006.  Because of my many moves, my timeline is easily tied to longitude and latitude. Many of those locations I have repeated.

In The Moviegoer, Walker Percy writes about the pleasure of repetitions separated by time.  In his character's formula, a repetition is "the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle." When I moved back to a location, it was often with the (mistaken) belief that the peanuts would be gone this time.  And, of course, it was never like that -- life is always throwing peanuts at you, no matter how many times you leave and return, a point that I'd been rather slow to learn.

During my mother's illness, time's looming presence for all our family was largely tracked by her life, with markers for key moments such as diagnosis, first surgery, chemos, remission, recurrence, emergency surgeries, hospice, death.  And we chronicled the first of every event after her death, as in, all the things she missed, all the times and places when and where we missed her.

But if time is just a portion of the equation of locating a person in a spacetime, I reasoned that it seemed like just one measly layer, one that if you could just peel through it a bit, you could see everything and everyone that had ever been there in that location throughout time, and see them clearly. Think time-lapse films, where the plant germinates, grows, blossoms, withers and dies.  Everything is there on the film, all happening all at once; it's just where you choose to play the film that gives you what you want to see.  

In the refashioning of history and relationships that happens when one party is no longer there to refute them, I found my mother everywhere. There were remnants of her in the places she frequented, in every object she touched, even in the way she appeared in dreams, as dream time seems the most permeable to changing the physics of time, a loophole or wormhole or what-have-you.

In Bill Bryson's book A Short History of Nearly Everything, he talks about the dispersal of durable atoms over time and points out that we all may have a little bit of Shakespeare in us (o happy writers!), as those freewheeling atoms have been circling about for long enough that some may have found their way into your pinkie finger  But if you're hoping that you have some Elvis atoms in you - sorry. There hasn't been enough time since his passing to have dispersed the atoms far enough through the universe for you have incorporated his atoms. I thought about Mom's atoms when I walked on the beach, splashing feet in the water, as up in Maine, some of her ashes went into that water. Who doesn't want the whole ocean, all oceans, as their mother?

People talk about ghosts, but what if it's just you can sense evidence of where they were, like perfume that lingers in a room someone has just left?  And what if everything is drowned in that smell, and peels layers of time away like turpentine on paint?

Or what if you just miss your mom - and you want to bend your limited scientific knowledge to keep her around for a while longer, even if only is in some great cosmic metaphysical time travel kind of way?

Joan Didion describes in The Year of Magical Thinking how after the death of her husband, when she was clearing out his closet, she kept some of his shoes because he would need them when he came back.  It was around then that she realized she was not, perhaps, holding things together quite as well as she had hoped. She writes:

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes."

I remembered that comment with particular relief when, after my mother died, I realized some part of me believed Mom was sending me messages in the lyrics of pop songs.

Immediately after she died, I moved to Florida.  Coincidentally, Phillip Phillip's song "Home" was playing incessantly everywhere, the song with the refrain, "Just know you're not alone / Cause I'm going to make this place your home."  If, for instance, you are afraid you're going to start to cry for no reason standing in the towels aisle of Target, and that song comes lilting on the piped-in music, it feels like a benediction - or it did for me.

And then I spent some time pondering how it must be for those people with schizophrenia or psychotic breaks of some kind who believe they are receiving coded messages from the TV, and I got a little uncomfortable with finding comfort in pop songs and feared I was just a short time hop away from wearing a tinfoil hat to keep the aliens at bay. But even with that, I took the comfort anyway, that moment at Target and those that came after, moments where the music felt like what I needed to hear just then -- a coincidence, a serendipity, a sign, grace, good vibes, self-nurturance or my mom looking out for me, whatever it was, I took that comfort. I let it be, which I suppose is my own version of faith.

So when an ABBA tune played while I was in the rug section in IKEA, I got teary because I figured it was A Sign that buying furnishings was a good plan, tending to my new home.  Mom and I listened to ABBA in the car on the way to chemo a couple of times.  She came to ABBA late in life, having spent most of her life listening to classical music and occasionally musicals, but somewhere in there, Mamma Mia picked up the relentless happy beats of ABBA.

After Mom died, I turned to time, wanting more of it, wanting to redo it, wanting to relive the good parts and fix the bad parts, and I wanted her to still exist in a fashion, to be literally living and breathing.  And in the timeline, she is.  I can't fold time over like a Star Trek episode, but then again, I live on a planet that is still receiving light from stars that could have winked out of existence hundreds of years ago.  If all things are simultaneously happening in all timelines, then in some tiny portion of those instances, there is Mom humming along to store music as she did sometimes.  Why shouldn't I find parts of her in pop songs -- or wherever else she pops up?

Graffiti seen in a park, Bangor, ME

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Back from the Dead

Having not posted on this blog for months, I found I'm tongue-tied by the prospect of return.  Like most things, writing is a habit, and when you fall out of the habit, picking it up again comes with the aches and pains of, say, trying to start jogging again (another habit I am trying to resurrect).

Confession: The last months have not been full of giant creativity.  Until very recently, my easel remained disturbingly dusty.  Last week, I finally brushed off some very old short stories for some revision.  But largely, I reached a What's the Point moment with art, which led to an extended stall, and so I explored other avenues in my eternal quest on How to Feel Good.

This wasn't made any easier in July, since it became clear my beloved 17-year-old cat Leo was heading down to his final decline.  In the weeks in between the 1st anniversary of my mother's death and her birthday, he was diagnosed with cancer, and became so weak that he could no longer walk. I had to have him put to sleep. I cried a lot in July.

Leo sporting his acupuncture needles. 
Aside from innumerable veterinarian visits, I also spent a lot of time in an easy chair napping with needles in my ears, arms and legs -- I discovered the magic of acupuncture. Typically, my cat received acupuncture first (from a vet), with the hope that it would help his pain issues, at first thought just to be worsening arthritis. And it did seem to make him feel more relaxed.   Given that animals have no interest in the placebo effect, it seemed a good bet it might help me too.  I found a community acupuncture clinic (for humans) ( and got myself into that lounger. On my first few visits, I was near elated post treatments, perhaps a sign that I really needed to calm the heck down.  More recently, my reaction has been less intense, although I still leave relaxed and soothed.

In August, I started a couple of classes at the local community college in environmental science. Given that it's been twenty or so years since I've taken a science class, that was a mild shock to the system.  And yet, my 20 year old student self persists in some ways, with notebooks full of doodles and journal entries interspersed with actual notes. I still sit in the back of the class and daydream too much and still manage to cram my way to As on exams (which probably pleases me more than it should, the gold star of intellectual approval). College campuses are, from the small sample of my recent exploration, more or less the same, except for the addition of cell phones.
You missed seeing this amazing mural from the exhibit My Generation:
Young Chinese Artists. 
It closed at the end of September.  Still time
to see Jamie Wyeth's Portraits of Rudolf Nureyev though. 
There are still guys on skateboards weaving between very young women trading stories about their, yes, prom dates. Color me Methuselah.

Through most of my silent summer, I continued on at work at the museum, and continued to be impressed by the kindness of most of my coworkers.  I left that job at the end of September, as their kindness no longer successfully masked the inherently dull nature of processing memberships. I saw several coworkers at the last exhibit opening, where I was just a civilian again, there to see the art and collect a little shop gossip. I'm immensely grateful to the people there for their good will during my odd transitional first year here in Florida, something I worry I failed to make clear.

In the last months, I've also spent a great deal of time looking for a house to purchase.  I've looked at zillions, thanks to a very patient real estate agent, and even made offers on a couple, but nothing has quite come together, which has left me questioning the whole project.  Is buying a home going to make me feel rooted?  Or trapped?  Will I feel at home, or like an impostor? Will I just add inability to decorate to my list of character flaws? Could I overthink this more?
17-year-old Hazel pointing out that not only is she still
alive, she is also still darn cute. She'd also like a backyard
for lizard hunting. 

In my online searching, for a time, I was also looking for dates when not scanning real estate ads. The process is not dissimilar, where you scan through pictures and profiles and see what you can live with (no garage, but a lovely fireplace) and what you can't (appears to be screaming racist and not-so-bright). Thanks to the wonders of online dating, I met with four people in person, and three of them were pleasant enough, if not fabulous love matches, a reasonable percentage all things considered. But then I reached my saturation point. Right now, I'm not sure I want to hear about more divorces and broken hearts (and this also begs the question, if you've only been divorced for 45 seconds, or you're desperately hung up on your all-but-perfect ex, or you're not sure, but you might actually hate all women, then why exactly am I sitting here having a cup of tea with you? Do I have a special gift for picking people who are unavailable? Or am I just too picky in general? Am I supposed to be so fanfuckingtastic that I make all forget any previous woes? Sorry, that's clearly not gonna happen; we all drag our baggage into the event, as evidenced by this mini-rant).

The aptly named Sunset Beach, Treasure Island, FL
Maybe despite all my relentless questing and researching and occasional successes all things are not found on the internet. Shocking. I am trying to spend less time tangling up in the world wide web and more time out wandering in the real live world.

Throughout my tenure in Florida, I've remained dedicated to my sunset walks the beach and enjoying people watching happy locals and tourists. A week ago, a woman was standing stock still at the tide line because an enormous dragonfly had landed on her.  She was beside herself pleased with its magical presence: "He thinks I'm a great big flower."  Yesterday, I saw a woman sauntering along with a brightly-colored parrot perched with great dignity on her shoulder.  Never underestimate how delightful it is to watch the tide slowly devour a sandcastle or how in-tune the herons are with the possibility of snacks as they linger by the fisherman.

Philippe Park
Besides my beach trips, I've been checking out local parks, mini-road trips to find new views.  The slightly-busted camera that lives in my purse is getting a work out, and I've explored places like Philippe Park, which is just crazily beautiful.

I know this much: happy does not come from basking in some external bullshit socially-acceptable status checklist. I know people with houses, jobs, relationships, friends and full bank accounts who are also flat out miserable, and desperate for someone/something to blame (a bigger house, a "better" job, more money, a spouse or partner who doesn't or does __[fill in the blank]__, losing just 10 more pounds, waiting just one more year for ____ to happen).  Who I don't know are that many people that are actually, on balance, mostly content with their lives.  Some, mind you, many even.  But not as many as you'd think given their full checklists.

And maybe no one should be too content, lest that be too close to complacent.  One review of the news is enough to verify that there is no shortage of pain, tragedy, misery and horror out there, the real stuff, not my first-world middle class angst. Should anyone be content in the face of the sad state of human nature, the environment, governments, world politics, religions, wars, swaths of --isms and violence run amok?

Or is that just evidence of my bad attitude, an inability to thoroughly embrace the power of positive thinking?

That's something to ponder as I walk the beach and see if I can capture a photo of a pelican in flight, something to mull on while I  breathe the sea air.