Pentimento

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We went back to the Getty.
Every curve of sidewalk exposed a teasing glimpse of her destination. Wild sage scented the air until it felt almost holy. The path widened, finally opening to a panoramic view of the mountains to the east and the Pacific to the west. Homes hugged the ocean side cliffs north and south while in the distance, streams of cars moved their occupants through smog filled life. They'd created a building where a person could transcend the mundane and leave reality behind. 
When we first visited, I'd promised myself I'd return within six months to wander the galleries and fill myself with the beauty of the paintings. Instead, it's been over a year.

I can't speak intelligently about art. I don't know the words or the proper descriptions. It's like poetry, I suppose. I read a poem and ponder if there is more meaning behind the words. I wrinkle my forehead and concentrate on the meter and tone and still, it eludes me like a whisper in the breeze while around me others see symbolism and metaphor.

Even with the amazing Bill as our guide, I can't really do much more than stare in wonder and feel the deep ache in my heart at the beauty.From Van Gogh's Irises which makes my throat tighten with tears to the ballet dancers of Degas and their flimsy pale costumes hinting at depth and color, I stand in awe at the idea of so many viewing something once created in private and the artists who likely doubted their impact.

I wonder about their stories, how they must have felt. I think of their passions, their fears, their joys. They fell in love. Their hearts were broken. They got colds and blisters and had backs that ached when they woke in the morning. To see the common in the unique while standing in the glow of their unfading light...it draws me back again and again.

We roamed into a room blanketed with Andrea del Sarto's sketches, his studies. Here a line drawing of a cherub's round cheeks. There an arm with each tendon stretched and etched to perfection. In the center of the room, over six feet in height, was the finished painting. I stood next to Bill and puzzled over an extra leg extending like a shadow. Pentimento, he told me. The artist had changed his mind.

I stared at that shadowed leg, thinking of del Sarto's quest for perfection, his reputation as "faultless" and, centuries later, the revelation of the imperfections he tried to hide. The weight of time pressed on me. Almost five centuries of eyes on this very painting. Could he have known when he mixed his paints that he'd achieve immortality through those brush strokes and fine lines? Could he have realized we'd eventually see his mistakes? And, once visible, laud them?

Pentimento.

It's a beautiful word for what is, in essence, a mistake. It is from the Italian pentirsi which means "to repent".

I returned home to a pile of paper six inches high, the edges no longer crisp but rolled and folded, the steady stream of black and white smeared with red. So much red. Whole pages are ruthlessly slashed, the words deleted, the ideas discarded and then repainted to hide the mistakes.

I have no illusions of greatness. I'm not writing the Great American Novel. No one will ever read my stories and liken them to master works. I am not even the Thomas Kincaid of writers. Still, the internal pressure to produce something "faultless" weighs on me.

I have two chapters to go, two chapters to finish. And like a painter who tries to paint over a mistake, I wonder if anyone will see my errors. Or, like del Sarto, will they rise like ghosts from the story, exposing my lack?

In the beautifully lit room, surrounded by red lined sketches, I remind myself pentimento can be a beautiful thing.

Now I just have to believe it.

Head of an Infant in Profile to the Right

Because I've Always Wanted To...

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I often find myself having deep, meaningful conversations with random people. There's Jim at the campground we're trying out this summer. It's going to be his birthday and he's already put in an order for Crown Royal. He met his wife when he was overseas and she was Stateside. Her dad was a little put off by this much older man chatting her up online, but after discovering the reason he was so far afield, so to speak, was because of his job as a wildlife biologist, he cut them some slack. They've been married almost a dozen years now and while he wasn't sure she'd be able to handle the often transient life he leads, they couldn't be happier.

Or there's Sam who stood behind me in the grocery store. He lost his father a couple years ago to cancer. When he got the call that his dad wasn't going to last much longer, he jumped in his vintage Ford and drove day and night back east to try and take his dad for one last spin in the truck they'd both restored together. He didn't make it in time and regrets it still, wondering if his dad realized how much he loved the time they spent on the truck.

And there's Andrew. Andrew moved to Morro Bay from the Valley a few years ago with his wife and kids and embraced the coastal lifestyle whole-heartedly. He'd always wanted to learn guitar so when he turned 39, he bought a beginner's acoustic guitar and a '68 VW Bug because, well, that just makes sense. He worked hard to learn and for his 40th birthday, his brother - a guitar player from way back - built him a custom electric guitar. His long-suffering wife - because we just know she was - finally told him he needed to sell his acoustic guitar because it was just taking up space and collecting dust. He posted it on Craigslist and two weeks later got a message from another almost-forty-year old with a hankering for learning the guitar as part of her midlife crisis. He cut her a deal with the understanding that if she were to ever sell it, she'd find another 39-year-old beginner who would appreciate the story.

I signed up for lessons at the adult school taught by Zen who is as mellow as his name would imply and populated by students who speak the language of music and artists the way I speak the names of authors and books.They're a different breed of people - ears attuned to the slightest variation of pitch, eyes able to read small dots on even smaller lines, fingers nimbly moving across frets and strings at a rate I can't seem to comprehend.

"It's a beginner's class," Zen assured me in my front row seat as I asked for perhaps the third time how exactly my fingers were supposed to stretch that far. "There are no bad questions," he said as I stood my guitar like a cello in front of me to figure out the direction of the music.

I can read the notes dancing across a page. I can see the quarter and eight notes beating their measure. I can write the chords down a diagram as quickly as my pencil moves.

And I can now play an A Chord.

Just the A.

It's a good chord;, solid, strong, the beginning of the alphabet.

The class played Hound Dog at a pace that would have had Elvis shaking his head instead of his hips. Strumming up and down, A....
There ain't nothing like a hound dog.....
My hands grope the strings trying to cling to the second note only to realize we're on the third. Reading ahead, I put my fingers back on A...
There ain't nothing like a hound dog...
This isn't really a good time to try and learn a new skill. My days are filled with work, my nights with the kids and chickens and garden, my weekends with writing, so much writing. I juggle Open House with birthday parties and try to keep the ones I love from feeling neglected. It's really not a good time to try to jump from an A to D.

Still...

Unlike everything else in my life right now, there's no hurry. There's no deadline, no rush, no looming end pushing and pulling my attention. I can spend an entire year learning to perfect an A chord. And then, perhaps, move on to D. 

Or not. 

I could stay with A for five years, seven. I could be a one note wonder, strumming my A chord until my heart's content.

Or not.

But last week, I didn't even know A.


Am Writing

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I've been working, every weekend, for hours, on this novel. Drinking my weight in tea, planting my ass in a chair, listening to music until my ears are sore from the earbuds. It's slow going, this editing process. Cam said it was like dumping a story on the table and digging through the bloody guts. I would add in the dark with a penlight. It's almost physically painful and is mentally draining and for some odd reason, I keep doing it. Weekend after weekend.

It's an endurance challenge, a test of my stubborness. Do I want it bad enough? Whatever "it" is? Do I want it more than bike rides, trips to the beach, sleeping in, blogging, gardening, canning, all of the things that make me who I am?

Yes.

I want to finish this story, have others meet these characters. I want them to laugh with me, cry with me, and find hope with me. I want it with a desire that makes my stomach churn, my fingers shake, and my teeth clench when kind people witnessing my self-torture tell me to just let it go.

So here we go. Another weekend. Another five hours in a chair sifting through blood and gore to find the jewels of the story.

Another weekend of pushing aside the lingering fear that I'll never finish, that the story isn't enough, that the world existing in my head will fall flat under my novice fingers. Another weekend of ignoring the voices of doubt constantly whispering in my ear.

Another weekend of looking at the people I admire, their books sitting on my shelf. Another weekend of hunger to join them. Another weekend of hope and determination. Another weekend of knowing, knowing I'm a writer and that I'd better get my eyes off of Mandyland and back on my characters.

Another weekend where I am writing.

He's Nine

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Joseph’s entrance into the world was not easy. During the last four hours of labor, I was feverish, passing out between contractions and wondering, in a small corner of my brain, if I was going to survive. I’d been in labor for over thirty hours when my doctor made the decision to move forward with a cesarean and what had been a loop of pain and exhaustion took on the frantic pace of a fast forward film.

I don’t remember much of his delivery. I read about it, sometimes, grateful for the presence of mind in those first few weeks of newborn haze that forced me to write about it. I remember Chad crying. I remember throwing up. I remember the doctors and nurses yelling, “Happy birthday!” I remember him being rushed to NICU. And I remember waking to a blurry Polaroid and Chad grinning ear to ear that he was “beautiful”.

Motherhood was not what I expected. I imagined myself as the quintessential Earth Mother, always patient and loving, never short tempered or frustrated. I was not prepared for the ugliness of motherhood - the sweat, the vomit, the pee, the poop, the blood, the tears; the earthiness less flowing skirts and picking flowers, more elemental.

Today marks nine years of motherhood. Nine years with my Joseph. He’s reached the halfway point of childhood. Another nine years and he will be an adult, ready to conquer the world, or, at least, explore it. The glimpses of the man he will be are becoming more and more visible as we inch closer to the mirage of adulthood.


There is such kindness in him, kindness that humbles and inspires me to be a better person. It’s in the way he snuggles Elizabeth when she’s afraid or patiently rubs my shoulder when I cry at Hallmark commercials. It’s there when he holds my hand because, “I know you need me to, Mama.” It’s in his voice as he matter-of-factly tells me he’s been giving the class bully part of his lunch not because he was forced but because, “He was hungry and you’d be mean if you were hungry too.” It’s there when he gently plays with his baby cousins, helps his toddler friends feel like big kids, and looks after his “little buddy” at school with all the diligence of an older brother.  

I see other glimpses of the man he will be. They appear sporadically, little bursts during an otherwise mundane evening between arguments with his sister over who needs to feed the rabbit and who has to empty the dishwasher.

He wandered over to where I was sitting at my computer and asked, “If you could live for 45 seconds and have them be the most amazing 45 seconds or for 45 years and not accomplish anything, which would you choose?”

“Years,” I replied instantly, barely glancing up.

“Well, if you think about it, if you live an amazing 45 seconds and then die, then you die happy and feeling like you did something really awesome.” He stopped for a moment and said, “It’s what I think about with R. Maybe he lived an amazing three years and that should make us feel better because not everyone has that.”

He shrugged and walked away leaving my mind blown at his ability to process and accept the death of a friend with such profound wisdom.

He knows who he is at such a young age. I hope he always keeps that confidence, that ability to be perfectly content not to do something he doesn’t want to do even if all of his friends are doing it. I hope he always remembers, “I don’t know why you are so concerned with how my hair looks or if my shirt is inside out or if my neck is clean, Mama. It’s not as important as what’s on the inside.”

I hope he always believes in himself. "I signed up to play violin at the school variety show."

"But you don't know how to play! You don't even own a violin."

"I could if I tried. I have two months to learn."

His is a gentle, curious soul. His humor is dry and sarcastic without being caustic. He teases and jokes with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his mouth. He’s not a rough and tumble boy rolling around like a puppy, but a cautious explorer, a careful friend.

"Why do you let her hit you like that. Push her away and tell her to stop."

He looked at me in surprise, "She's a girl. And she's smaller than me. I can't push or hit her!"

That little baby I held in my arms with legs so skinny I could encircle them with one hand is now wearing bigger shoes than I am. He’s less than a foot shorter than me and when I drag him down for a snuggle, I find it more and more difficult to fit him in that snug place under the place where my heart beats for him and his sister.

We are halfway there, halfway to adulthood.

And while a large part of me wants to pull him back and wrap him tightly in my arms, another part of me is waking and watching, excited to see him fly.

Introducing Damselfly Inn

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A little over four years ago, a woman I met in The Red Dress Club asked me if I'd be interested in beta reading her novel. I was new to the world of long form writing and only had a vague idea of what she expected of me, but I was already a huge fan of my "brain twin" so sent an enthusiastic yes and smiled when the file popped up in my inbox.

I spent the next few days falling in love with two characters who were so three dimensional and real that I was sad when the story ended. I had a long chat with the author, letting her know my thoughts and then waited.

And waited.

And waited.


The author was, of course, my dear friend Cameron D. Garriepy and the book, Damselfly Inn. In the years since I received that email, Cam has written short stories, another novel, and has pushed and prodded me to work on my own creations. She's an inspiration, a force of nature, and I'm so incredibly proud of her.

It's not easy in the world of indie publishing. Readers are hesitant of authors who do not of the backing of a corporate publishing house. They might have good reason - some of the self-published novels I've read could do with a good editor and a firmer grasp of grammar - but as the saying goes, cream rises to the top and Damselfly Inn is cream - rich and utterly delicious.

I invite you to join me in Thornton where you can taste Kate's chocolate cherry cookies, take a spin in Jack's sports car, cheer on the home team while tailgating with Nan's famous potato salad, have a beer on the front porch of Joss's cabin, and watch two people fall in love.

Because sometimes, we all need to escape into a love story.

Bearing Witness

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I'm sitting at my desk, the words swirling in my head and fighting to be let out. My head is pounding, my eyes are dry and itchy, and my heart. My heart aches.

A woman in my circle of friends lost her son suddenly and unexpectedly on Easter morning. He went to bed on Saturday night and he never woke up. Shock and grief have ripped through our little community and all week I've seen grace and generosity. Meals have been made. Their home was cleaned. The family was pampered and loved and taken care of in a way that makes me glad to be a part of this little place in the world.

I've been lucky in my life. I can count on one hand the number of people I've lost to death.

One hand.

All week I've struggled with my role. My friend is a new friend. Someone with whom I've shared too many bottles of wine and too many late night confessions. I had - still have - diaphanous plans of summer evening dinners and board games, of growing and nurturing our friendship. But I am not a part of her inner circle. Our history is too clean, too new. And right now she needs those who have seen the smudges of her soul and know how to bring light.

I've kept the amazing Ring Theory in mind. Comfort in, dump out. I wonder what comfort I can offer. What help I can give. I signed up for a meal. I checked in. I donated. I'm not one who knows the right thing to say in the right moment. Words do not magically come to my lips, but are drawn from my heart to my fingers where they can be edited and pruned. In their greatest sorrow, both she and her husband have assured me it's okay not to know what to say and for that I feel gratitude and shame that they are comforting me rather than the other way around.

Today, I went to the memorial services where I saw a hint of what might have been, a glimpse of little boy who will always stay a little boy in our memories. I think of the time I babysat him and had the stark understanding that I was a stone skipping across his life. There for an instant and never getting to truly understand what an amazing and funny little person he was.

I sat in the back row of a church filled with hundreds. I listened as his father spoke so eloquently and bravely. I watched as their pastor prayed over them, offering them peace. And still, I struggled over the role I played. My heart ached and tears soaked my tissue until I finally gave up and joined those sobbing around me. 

All week, I've looked at my children differently. I've seen the incredible, fragile gifts they are. I've said yes more often, snuggled them until they squirmed to be set free, inhaled their scent and imprinted their faces more deeply on my soul. In this way, death brought a gift; a small treasure in the wake of grief. 

While sunlight streamed through the stained glass window, in the middle of a detailed description of what happened less than a week ago, I suddenly came to a realization.

I am here to bear witness.

I am here to bear witness to their grief and pain, to stand sentinel at the outer edges. To sob for them and take, in some small way, a portion of that pain into myself and say yes, this happened. And yes, I grieve.

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