Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Saturday, March 25, 2006
FINDING HER HERE
Jayne Relaford Brown
I am becoming the woman I've wanted,
grey at the temples,
soft body, delighted,
cracked up by life
with a laugh that's known bitter
but, past it, got better,
knows she's a survivor
that whatever comes,
she can outlast it.
I am becoming a deep
I am becoming the woman I've longed for,
the motherly lover
with arms strong and tender, the growing up daughter
who blushes surprises.
I am becoming full moons
I find her becoming,
this woman I've wanted,
who knows she'll encompass,
who knows she's sufficient,
who knows where she's going
and travels with passion.
Who remembers she's precious,
but knows she's not scarce -
who knows she is plenty,
plenty to share.
Painting by Henri Matisse, 1905, Woman With a Hat
What's contagious about the happiness there is the huge smiles on everyone's faces. For them, this is a social occasion as much as a workout. There is so much talking going on in the pool it's often difficult to hear the instructor. I'm loving how these folks look out for one another. Many have been coming to this class for 15-20 years, and they know each other well. If someone is having a bad day, has become ill, or has a spouse who is ailing (or dying), they rally around each other in such a loving way.
They are proud of the fact that they sing in the pool every morning. Promptly at 9:30, at the mid-point of the class, they burst into song. Choices are usually "oldies", such as "Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer, Do" or "Tavern in the Town". There's a repertoire of about 10 songs that are rotated throughout the month.
For me it has especially been a blessing to be in a locker room full of naked old women, all of whom seem totally comfortable in their bodies. For the most part, they show the signs of their age, but to me they are very beautiful. There is a softness to them. Their flesh has been used until it is worn, like flannel. They have nothing to hide and nothing to pretend. They have aches and pains, but they are joyful to be able to come together and enjoy the many pleasures of the warm water and the companionship.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Agnes Martin knew so much about solitude, silence, geometry, the empty mind, and how to find inspiration. She stood out as a memorable and remarkable person, especially in this culture we have where everything seems speeded up, complicated, and everyone's mind is over-full of garbage. I know that mine is!
******* Unrelated Postscript:
On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis, at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, Professor of Law at AU, was requested to testify.
At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"
Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."
The room erupted into applause.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
For me, memories of our attic are inextricably tied with another memory from childhood. One Christmas morning, in the 1950's, my mother was waiting for her favorite moment - opening the gift from Dad's millionaire friend, Norman Woolworth, a great practical joker. Often Woolworth's gifts were something elegant and luxurious, and this one - packaged in a large hat box - looked wonderfully promising. My mother was down on her knees under the tree, with the whole family gathered around. She was breathless with anticipation. She tore off the wrapping paper, lifted the lid, and out of the package, like a springing jack-in-the-box, popped a hot-pink, foam rubber bath mat. It was covered with realistic life-sized pink breasts, topped with erect, cherry red nipples. Mom shrieked "Oh Tom!" and stuffed that thing back into the box, clapping on the lid. We had all see it, and couldn't believe our eyes. We begged to see it again, but it disappeared after that one tantalizing moment. For years afterwards I searched the attic for it, convinced that it must be stored away somewhere up there, but I never found it. I think my father must have taken it to the dump. Mom would have insisted.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
I recently finished reading a fascinating book, Savage Beauty, by Nancy Milford. This is the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a tortured genius whose life story is a total page-turner, as described by Milford. She came from a childhood of poverty and deprivation, yet somehow pulled herself up through her enormous gift for poetry and self-promotion, until she became perhaps the most famous poet of her generation. Her books were best-sellers, and she travelled around the world in the company of many of the brightest artists and writers. The dark side of her world was her increasing alcoholism, and eventual drug addiction. I was especially struck by what must have been her enormous personal force and magnetism. Even when she was in poor health and dark disposition, people fell in love with her to the point that many of their lives went completely off the track in pursuit of her. She lived with such passion and intensity.
Here is the poem I was thinking of this morning. It also speaks volumes about the life of the author.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this:
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
During spring break, 1969, when all the students and faculty had vacated the campus, the four of us got a notion to undertake a fun project. The college had an unused room underneath the Cowell Dining Hall. For some reason we decided to decorate this empty room while everyone was away, and then throw a surprise party there when they all came back again. For two weeks, we barely slept. We drove all over 3 counties going from super market to super market begging for the colorful food advertising that, in those days, was common throughout grocery stores. Sometimes we scored big - whole rolls of oranges, for example, that we used to cover the ceiling and floors.
For days and nights we cut and arranged and glued our food art onto the walls, ceiling, and floor until every inch of the room was completely covered in colorful food. It looked so terrific, but lacked a certain finishing touch. So we bought a large piece of green astro-turf for the floor, and hauled a couple of large rocks into the room, to complete the artificial "dejeuner sur l'herbe" effect.
When spring break was over, we sent invitations to the whole of Cowell College to come to a party in THE FRUIT ROOM. Nobody was allowed in until the party began. Meanwhile, we had set up huge bushel baskets of fresh fruit as our only refreshment for the party. In the photograph below, Philip and Beatrice Thompson, our co-creators, sit along the wall at this party.
Page Smith, founding Provost of Cowell College, below, has a piece of fruit.
Jasper Rose, art historian, joined the party.
In the photo below, Mary Holmes, Professor of Art History, sits with Professor Jasper Rose.Below, Sara Holmes Boutelle (author of the book Julia Morgan, Architect), with Philip Thompson.
Philip and Jane, with Keith Christiansen (now the Curator of Italian Art at the New York Metropolitan Museum, but formerly a Cowell College student and pal).
A writer from American Artist magazine came to view the room soon after it opened. He was very excited about it and wanted to do an article for the magazine. However, once he determined that we had not been using any drugs while we created the Fruit Room, he declared that it was "not significant" and went away! It didn't matter that we were high on the creative process. The late 60's were all about hallucinogens, and we were not!
Several years later, long after the four of us had left the college, Cowell covered up all the fruit in the FRUIT ROOM and painted it white again. No trace of it remains now, except in the memories of those of us who were part of it.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
For the first year of Annie's life, we continued to live on the ranch in Alberta. All her grandparents (and Anne Sliker, for whom she was named) made trips up to meet her, and she was the light of all of our lives. She was a happy, precocious baby - walked at 9 months, talked very early, had a huge vocabulary, and a playful, easy-going disposition. In 1974 the ranch went through some changes, and we decided to move back to Santa Cruz. We lived in a couple of rental places here, and in 1975 bought our current home. A few months later, Annie's first brother, Philip, was born. She was 2 1/2 years old. A couple of years later, in 1978, a third child, anoather boy, Tommy, joined the family. Along the way, her dad and I divorced, a time that was hard on all of us.Annie grew up as an active and creative little girl. She did well in school, had a large group of friends, helped with her little brothers, loved animals, was very artistic, and especially loved helping other people. In 1989, when the huge earthquake ripped Santa Cruz apart, and we were all camping out in the back yard, stunned by what had happened, Annie organized a group of high school kids to go around the city helping people clean up their losses. She was not one to sit still and feel sorry for people. She volunteered in nursing homes, babysat for countless children, sang in choirs. Most notably, in her teenage years, she became a peace activist and travelled to Russia on three separate occasions, learning to speak a fair amount of Russian along the way. She was involved with Peace Child and other international youth organizations. It was not unusual to see her making speeches at peace rallies, singing solos with the Peace Child choir, and leading marches and demonstrations. She was really somebody to be proud of!After high school, Annie chose to attend UC Santa Cruz. Here she became active as a peer educator in the AIDS prevention program. She put on "rubber-ware" parties in the dorms, worked with the campus health officials, and even did a radio broadcast about her work on AIDS prevention. In 1992, one night, she was swinging on a rope from a redwood tree, out over a ravine, at UCSC and she fell and shattered both wrists. It was mothers day, and I got a phone call at about midnight that she was going into surgery - ugh! This ultimately forced her to drop out of school for that quarter, and instead of returning to campus she moved on to San Francisco.
Up there, she continued to work as a sex educator, several years as a high-end nanny, and eventually as an AIDS specialist. In her current job she works for the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School on an AIDS research project. Her responsibilities include being a resource person for newly diagnosed AIDS patients and their families, as well as running the research protocols for her boss's project. She recently moved out of the city, with her partner into a beautiful home on a creek. I will see her in a few days to give her a big hug in person. The two photos above are both old ones - I don't have a good current photo to post. In the meantime, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNIE! I love you.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Friday, March 10, 2006
Our school was in her home, a sunny old estate with winding hallways, a separate school room, a huge living room with stone fireplace, grand piano, and winding stairway. There was a tea room where we had formal little tea parties every day on delicate china, and my favorite - an aviary full of bright yellow canaries in floor-to-ceiling cages all the way around the room. The birds sang constantly, and the house seemed filled with birdsong - delightful. Aunt Jane’s assistant was a strange woman we called “Miss Junie”. She was probably around 50 years old, unmarried, and not related by family. She was stout with short, wavy brown hair and eyes that were too wide open and had the constant look of someone about to scream. It was clear that she was a little deranged, in a harmless way. She had many Dickensian qualities - cried at the drop of a hat, effused way too often about everything, dithered and fussed. She was the one who prepared the food and who escorted us through the hallways and into the gardens. She was affectionate and kind, but a little embarrassing, even for a child.
I remember a performance we gave to our parents in that old living room during one holiday season. All of us children stood in a ring around the room and each of us had some lines from Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” to recite. I was well rehearsed, but when it came to my turn I blurted out “he was plubby and chump, a right jolly old elf”. My mother erupted into a fit of giggles that she could not control. I knew I had gotten it wrong somehow, and shrank into my spot in shame. It was my first theatrical venture. I was five.
No, I take it back! I just remembered that when I was about four I had an episode on the stage in our church. The Sunday School children were brought in to climb up on the platform at the front of the church and sing a song. In our family, we had 3 babies at home younger than me (twins born a few months earlier, plus a middle brother). I was doing my best to be a big girl, because there wasn’t much attentiont to go around. So I dressed myself for church, but I forgot to put on underpants. As I climbed up onto the stage, that became apparent for all the congregation to see. Again my mother gasped audibly, and lashed out at me afterwards. You would think I had made my debut as a four year old porn star instead of a simple and innocent mistake. As a child, I got the message that I couldn’t do anything right in front of an audience. No wonder now I love Improv so much!
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Looking down at the farm from the middle of the apple orchard. Right about here I spent many hours sewing soft, velvety leaves together. They grew on a particular weed, and I thought they made perfect doll blankets - for a few hours at least!Here are my brothers and I, in the sheep pasture, riding in the wagon that my father pulled behind his tractor.
A favorite pastime for all of us four children was playing in the big red barn. It had a huge hay loft, full of baled hay, and a chute where the hay was thrown down into the barn below for the sheep. We reached the hay mow by climbing a wooden ladder. Just thinking of it, I remember the sweet smell of the hay, and the golden dust that rose up and glinted in the sunlight as we climbed around on the bales. We built forts out of hay bales, and tested our jumping and climbing skills by rearranging higher and higher piles. We were strictly forbidden to get near the hay chute, for fear we'd fall through and get injured, but all of us went down that chute as soon as our Dad was not nearby. It was our version of a big thrill.
Another favorite activity was to forage in the feed bins where the sheep feed was kept. Some of the feed had lumps of molasses in it, and we kids loved to sort out the molasses pieces and eat them. Our Dad, again, tried to curtail that activity, with little success.The house had a huge attic and a full basement, where we played hide and seek, often with our many cousins. The dog slept on a huge shelf at the top of the basement stairs. My dad had his desk down in the basement, and there was a cold room for food storage. A large coal furnace sat in the middle of the basement, with a room full of coal next to it. Dad periodically disappeared into the basement to shovel coal into that furnace. Big steam radiators heated each room, and I spent many hours leaning against the radiator in my bedroom watching the blaze of autumn leaves on the maple trees, or later, the ice storms that turned the world into a glistening wonderland of twinkling ice.
In the first years we lived there, the kitchen table was a fold-out one, kind of like a Murphy bed. After eating, it folded flat onto the wall. In later years, our parents remodeled the place and made a huge new kitchen, the absolute center of all family activity. There was a mud-room (a place to remove coats and boots when coming indoors), but it was rarely used.
Upstairs there were four bedrooms. Outside my bedroom window was a lilac bush, so hauntingly sweet in the spring months when it bloomed and filled my room with its fragrance.
We all learned to drive the tractor when we were very small. I have photos of myself at age 9 driving a tractor and pulling a hay wagon full of hay. When I was 14, my brothers and I bought a car together for $25. We drove it endlessly around the big field in front of our house, so that by the time we were old enough to get our driving permits, we had all been driving for years. Here we are, with our pride and joy!
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Monday, March 06, 2006
Hmmmmm... This I can handle. I just cleared my calendar for the day, made a pot of green tea, turned up the thermostat. Now where is that wonderful book I've been longing to get lost in? Picture me with the big grin now!
Saturday, March 04, 2006
The second part of that fabulous field trip was touring the chocolate factory in Hershey. I remember smelling chocolate from miles away as the bus approached the town. Once again, we went right out onto the factory floor and milled around the huge vats of melted goo, watched the candy get formed into various shapes and then packaged up and boxed. Of course we got free samples. And of course we were all on a sugar overload for the trip home!It must have been the inspiration of those kisses. The third part of that trip, as I remember, was that my pals and I sat in the back of the bus and had a kissing contest. The game was to see who could kiss the longest, and I was sitting with my boyfriend, Bill H., going for the championship. We were lost in a seemingly endless smooch (no tongues yet) when everything went silent in the bus. I felt a large hand on my head, opened my eyes, and looked up to see the face of Mr. Flynn looming above me - not looking pleased because we had won the kissing contest, but looking pissed because we were not "behaving". We ended up in the principal's office the next day with an embarrassing lecture about public displays of affection, good behavior, yadda yadda. I think our parents were even telephoned - yikes! The photo below shows Mr. Flynn, on the right, and Mr. Vosseler, the principal, on the left, in front of our school.On Thursday this week (in 2006), I went on another student field trip, with my Painting class from Cabrillo College. Our instructor, Tobin, packed the day with a wonderful array of treats. First we toured the campus at California College of Arts & Crafts (CCA) in Oakland, where we were drooling at the magnificent art facilities available there for students. They seem to be a place that has everything. Want to borrow a really high-end camera and then print a wall sized mural of what you photograph? No problem. Want to cast in bronze, or blow glass, or make monumental sculptures? No problem. Want to make stone lithographs, or have your own jewelry workbench? No problem. I am already planning my next lifetime - I'll go there to school and try it all, seriously!