In December I looked at the year to come. 2018. My mother, Margaret, was born in 1918. Had she lived this long, she would be 100 this year. I must celebrate her birthday!
Margaret was not the easiest of women to have as a mother. A reluctant mother, she regaled me with her stories from her dating life. Then time caught up with her. She was 24. Her little sister was getting married. My father, handsome and available, fresh from Seattle, wandered into her church singles group in September. They married in January. Their first child was born on their first anniversary. This child, my older brother, died suddenly and tragically at four. Life was not easy for them.
Had she waited even 25 years to be born, my mother would have chosen not to have children. She told me this over and over. She lived vicariously through me, the freedoms she felt I had in the 60’s, the challenges I found in my professional life. The night I told her I was expecting my first child, she replied, “I bet you will drop the baby in the snow.” She was clearly totally disappointed in my choices.
But it was the narcissism that made our relationship particularly difficult. Life with my mother was always a competition. She set the rules. And she won every time. Women were more beautiful with natural curly hair. Perfect pitch made you more perfect. We went to the same elementary school where my teachers, who had been her teachers, told me how perfect she had been as a student. And then, when there was something she did not like to do, by definition, I was better at it. Like cooking. I cooked many of the family meals by the time I was 12.
I had to live with the fact she would always came first. She rewarded me for my self-sufficiency, for all the times I isolated myself from her and the family. Then she could more easily take care of Margaret, celebrate her unique gifts.
I do not want to write a whole essay about poor me, and my less-than-perfect mother! We all tell these stories. What I want to affirm is that I can move beyond the Margaret-the-Narcissist stories. My mother did the best she could under her circumstances. She was married to a brilliant, taciturn man with a rage disorder. She had no support to move through her grief after my brother died. Her husband and her uptight family was certainly unavailable. Her victorian mother, who lived around the corner, could not acknowledge anything tragic. Margaret was on her own. She did her best to care for her toddler daughter, her infant son, her own wounded soul. I can only feel deep empathy for what she went through at that time.
Margaret’s birthday was on Valentines Day. And boy, did we celebrate it! We hung up red hearts. We found the Valentine birthday cards, and bought her ones from all family members, even pets. We planned a red/pink meal—beats, rare steak, tomatoes, cranberry sauce. She and I made all my Valentine cards for my friends, lacy doilies and pink colored paper. We shunned the punch-out books of cards. Too ordinary.
Knowing this celebration is what Margaret wants, I would like to invite you to her Valentine-Birthday party on Wednesday, February 14. We will make lacy cards, decorate heart cookies, and share in her heart-shaped red birthday cake.
But, since I want to move, myself, beyond the pain and sadness of not liking my mother, of constantly being embarrassed by her, I want to be sure this celebration is one where we celebrate all mothers. I believe we need to express or gratitude for all love they brought to us as we grew through the years.
Soft, gray fur, green eyes the color of shaded water in a small pond. A stretch and a scratch at the wicker table near the door as I entered her room. A jump to my shoulders where she perched for hours overlooking my work. Her scratchy tongue grooming the back of my neck, tugging at the strands of shimmers in my hair. She patrolled her studio, carefully jumping between the pieces of art on the tables. And she slept at the top of her cattree. , overlooking her empire.
You taught me gentleness, and calm. You converted me, a total "dog-person". Now I know there are wonders and deep love awaiting me in the feline world!
Dodi, my red-haired mini doxie, is curled up in the living room. Although the wind is whipping outside, and the temperature is cold for us, she drinks in the warmth of the sun. This is a lesson for me: “Accept what is. Find the blessing. No need to moan about the cold wind. With a bit of shelter, the sun’s rays are still warm.”
This is also the theme I want to use for the Sunday Soire next week. All around this morning I feel the the strident tones of politics. Blaming. Shaming. Name-calling. I want out! For me, the constant reminders of dysfunction and disagreement bring up my anger and my fears. And my frustration. What can I tangibly do to bring about a change this morning? Realistically, the answer is nothing. So, I will seek out that patch of sun, soak in the radiance of this morning, even if the cold wind blows. I will move on, into the sunlight. Join me.
And I invite you to join me in a small patch of sun. Come, listen to Hank and his well-crafted songs, his soothing voice. Come enjoy a community of like-minded friends who also seek sunshine even on dark and windy days.
This will be next Sunday, January 28, from 2 to 5 at my studio, 423C S. 6th Street in Cottonwood. There will be a prominent tip jar for Hank’s contribution, and a chance to donate money to the Center for Universal Light, a group dedicated to finding light in all its forms.
Today is the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King. As I listen to the events going on to honor this man my mind goes back 50 years. How can it be 50 years ago? 1968. In some ways the best year of my life. In some ways the scariest year of my life. I see so many parallels between then and now.
Our country was embroiled in the VietNam war, badly divided. Lyndon Johnson was president. How we joined in our contempt for that man. He was a buffoon to be jeered.
I was in Berkeley. The summer before everyone flocked to San Francisco, Berkeley for the love-ins, the music. As we marched through these places against the war in 68, the atmosphere seemed different, more charged.
The draft. That colored everything. Guys our age were putting their lives on the line for this worthless war. It was going nowhere, and it was taking our lives, our dreams with it.We marched to the train station in Berkeley. In tears, I begged the guys standing there to step away from the train which would carry them into war.
Not that they had many choices. It was difficult to avoid the draft. Escape to Canada. Some of my friends did. Conscientious objector? My brother took that route. Find a 4-F exemption? Many of my friends tried that route. Bad eyes? Fake mental illness? Join the Peace Corps. Some draft boards handed out deferments for that. That was the route my husband, Dan was going to se.
Civil Rights. I had marched in 1966 with Martin Luther King in Chicago. Every Wednesday I went to his rally. The energy, the electricity in that space was palpable. I was so totally committed to ending all discrimination. Voter rights. Open housing. Integration.
The first three months of 1968 seemed charged, but fun. Bill Graham concerts. Psychedelic posters. Speeches and spontaneous concerts in Sproul Plaza. Mind bending. Thought-provoking.
Probably the date things began to change was March 31. President Johnson scheduled a nationwide address. We crowded around the television, prepared to boo his every word. Then he said, “I shall not accept the nomination of my party. Televisions had no pause then, no rewind. Our mouths dropped open. It was difficult to take in what he said. We looked at each other dumbfounded. About a minute later, the halls of our apartment erupted in cheers. Others had the same experience. Had our problems been solved so effortlessly?
Then April 3. I was tutoring a girl in the Oakland ghetto in reading. A hush fell. I left her home. Everyone seemed subdued, tears streaming down their faces. I quickly hopped on my bus. Headed home. We had no riots. But I knew this was not my neighborhood. gray pall had descended. There was no glow anywhere.
Politics took over. Who would go for the Democratic nomination now? McCarthy? He was the hero of the left wing. He was totally opposed to the war. Put himself out there immediately. I had watched every television address he had given. Could he be elected? Before we spent much time contemplating this possibility we found ourselves glued to to the television a second time. Bobby Kennedy was going to run!
So smooth. So good looking. So seemingly empathic.
Maybe my husband could finish his PhD without s break for the Peace Corps to get out of the draft! Even though King was gone, hope returned. Until June 6. Again we gathered around our television sets. It was the California primary. This would propel Bobby into the nomination. He could end the war. Dan might not have to join the Peace Corps. Again our apartment house echoed with everyone’s cheers. Then Kennedy entered the kitchen of his hotel. Shots rang out. A hush, once again, fell over all of Berkeley.
We had to leave. We could not stay in the turmoil. Dan would n ot be drafted. My country could not rely on assassinations to solve its problems. I never got involved in watching the Chicago debacle. This was not my country. What happened there could not happen in my country. Police thugs and delegate manipulation, for me, was unacceptable. We grabbed our acceptances into the Peace Corps in Nigeria.
We had heard about the civil war there, in Nigeria, but it was not “our war.”
2017 brought me a Happily-Ever-After ending to my 43-year-old dream:
In 1974 I lived in Berkeley with my husband, Dan. I taught orthopedically handicapped students in Fairfield, forty miles north. Dan was a PhD candidate in Political Science. Young-marrieds, we went from concert to picnic, to gourmet dinner.
Then Dan was offered a fellowship to do research through the Brookings Institute in Washington DCA for his doctoral dissertation. Dan was insistent. We could not afford for me to move with him to DC. I would remain in Berkeley, hold down my teaching job, get together with him several times a year.
At first I was devastated. I did not want to live alone. I enjoyed our life together, and could not imagine being almost single. I went out, searched for activities I could do by myself. I sought out a Newfoundland dog. Irmagarde and I took up backpacking. I trained her to carry her own neon orange backpack. She brought food and water for herself. I still smile when I remember the time we were hiking in Yosemite near the Hetch Hetchy Dam. These people came toward us white-faced. “You would never believe what just passed us—a Grizzly bear with an orange backpack!”
I needed a car I could use to get around in. Nothing fancy. Basic. My friend Lou found me a 1963 Dodge Dart. It had almost 100,000 miles on it, was a bit dented, but ran well. The ignition didn’t work, but that was fine. I did not need keys. My mother borrowed it one time when she was visiting. She made the mistake of parking at a BART lot. It was “borrowed,” but this being Berkeley, it was found two days later parked a block from the BART lot where it was borrowed.
But the best part of my life that year were the Adult Ed classes offered by Albany Public Schools. I tried several classes on basket weaving and self-enhancement. I wove some gorgeous hemp baskets I still have. Then I saw there was a sculpture class using live models. The plan was to make pieces out of clay, then cast them in plaster. I was in heaven.
I began by making a torso. I found I could translate the lines and shapes I saw on the body using my fingers in ways I could never draw them. After the torso, I moved onto a full body. My second piece was Lady. She is about two-feet tall, a realistic full figure. I moved from there to a bust. I worked for two evenings trying to get both sides of the mouth to match, the eyelids to be the same. In frustration, as I walked out of the class, I scooped out the offending right eye, left lip. The next evening I took the piece, worked the changes into the overall face. The back of his head joined into the abstractions I already had. All of a sudden art looked different. Zorb was born, and I have never looked at heads the same.
Just before we left Berkeley, I cast Zorb, perched him on a piece of driftwood I picked up along the Berkeley shoreline, and threw him onto the moving van heading to Bloomington, Indiana where Dan would be an Associate Professor. I had to leave my sculpting behind.
We planned a family. I became pregnant. We bought a summer-long ticket through Scandinavia as our final fling without children. Then I got an excited phone call from Dan. “I have been offered a position as an assistant to President Carter’s science advisor. I was entertained today at the President’s dining hall. I have to take the position.”
“But what about our trip?”
“We will have to make alternate plans. What would you want to do instead of a European trip?”
“The Corcoran Gallery offers classes.”
I signed on for six weeks of sculpture classes at the Corcoran. I was five months pregnant. It was a very hot summer which featured a three-week transit strike. I had to walk daily from Georgetown down to the Corcoran and then back up. But I was in heaven! I worked on a challenge with boxes, inspired by Louise Nevelson. I soldered a mobile together. I carved a two-piece sixty pound piece, an abstract seed from soapstone.
I spent the afternoons in the Smithsonian galleries nearby. This was the summer the Hirschhorn was opened. I spent hours in front of a sculpture of Picasso’s or a form of Giacamelli. The East wing was also brand new. I spent many afternoons perched on a seat in a gallery of David Smith’s pieces, or on a bench studying a Moore piece or a mobile by Calder.
After our time in DC, we still had time for ten days in England. There was an outdoor installation of Moore sculptures. We went there three different times. We got to Stratford on Avon. We trudged through the palaces and got lost in a maze.
We left England and moved onto parenthood. I did not go back into sculpture for the next almost 40 years. I have always known I have a gift for sculpture. I have never forgotten the feel of clay between my fingers. A few times I have gotten into some papier mache or pulp. Each time I have found the way to mould the slop into an abstract face. And, for a few moments I have traveled back into the heaven I found back in Berkeley in the mid-seventies. And for this entire time I have known I will find a place to get back into my sculpting.
Two years ago I took a workshop in papier mache. I made a couple of masks. I enjoyed them, but the papier mache did not respond to my fingers in the same way as clay did. I found I could use the papier mache to attach intricate desert woods to bases of different materials. I loved doing the art. I picked up more wood, mixed up more papier mache and moved into a studio up in Jerome. Something was missing from my art, but it was three-dimensional, and I was having fun.
Then this summer I heard about the Don Reitz Ranch for Ceramic Arts. Clay! Studio space. Multiple kilns. Affordable price. Now I have returned to the heaven I remember from 40 years ago. I have been going out about twice a week for five months now. I have about 25 ceramic pieces I have made and completed, several more awaiting bisque firing.
In the next few weeks I will add lessons to my ceramic adventures. My major accomplishment for 2017 has been returning to my passion for ceramics. My hope for 2018 is to find a way to get my art out where others can see it, hopefully purchase it. And I am happy!
The moral? Hold onto your dreams! It is not too late to realize them!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"