There is a natural instinct, I suppose, when you experience something wonderful, to want others to feel the same. “You’ve gotta taste this,” we say. “You’ve got to see this!” And I enjoy sharing things from around the world. But these are the obvious things. The guaranteed positive response. The Eiffel Tower, example. The Vatican. I feel blessed to have stood beside the Colosseum. Floated in Venice. But it’s not a surprise really. I expect people to like these photos.
Winter in Minneapolis. Not the expected destination for travel. But there is beauty. And I see it. Maybe it’s all just a reflection of the people I’m with, but the light!!!! The beautiful light of this city. One that I claim. This is something! I shared the image with my French family. When she replied, in French, how beautiful she thought the light was, it made me feel special. Not just because I took the photo. But that she could see it too. We were a little more connected. Sharing this truth.
It’s why I share the stories of the places I love, but even more so, the people. When I wrote this poem about my mother, The Truth about you, I did it because sometimes I just can’t imagine the incredible luck, the pure blessing, of having such a mother, and I just want everyone to know. To see it. To see her. So pardon my repeats, as I keep spreading the news. The joy. The love I have for my mom, my city. This world.
The light is coming in from the window. I hope when you see it this morning, you will know, it’s for you too!
To see yourself in the Alexandria Echo Press, was proof that you existed. The paper came out the day after our weekly softball game. During a slow news week, the local photographer would come to the fields and take some random photos. It happened only a couple of times between the ages of 8 and 12, but I can still feel it. That first glance of the sports page. Scanning. Long blonde hair. Bat. It was me. In full muddy black and uncrisp white. We rarely won a game. But that was never really the point. We were together. In the sun. With our friends in an endless summer. The proof was in our hearts, and randomly validated in the press.
When I finished this painting, the first thing my friend said was, “She belongs in the MIA.” It was as if I had turned the page and saw myself for the first time. I guess that’s what friends can do for you. Your true friends validate what is in your heart. They see you. And it is beautiful.
We are going to the MIA this afternoon with this very friend. And we all will belong. Together. My heart holds the proof — and even with a dusting of snow, I know the warmth of this friendship will never end.
Bracing her hands against her knees, still looking up at the painting, smiling, joyful tears filled her eyes. I stepped closer in, wanting too, to be caught in her moment of happiness.
It isn’t often that I get to finish the sale in person. Normally it’s online, and then I ship it out. The grateful emails are nice, but nothing like being face to face. Yesterday, I got to witness her reaction. In real life. In real time. Of course the money is always nice. There is validation to the dollar amount. But to see the reaction. To know that this painting brings her and her husband home, this is priceless. This is why I keep painting.
There is an intimacy to this life, that should never be missed. When people allow you into their moments, be it tears of joy, or sorrow, go all the way in. Stand beside the raised arms or bent knees and feel the moment. It is the most precious gift we have to give. We have to receive. It takes courage, for sure, to do both, but the rewards are immeasurable.
I hope you see these words each day as doors. As windows. Come in, you and your heart sit down.
I can feel her eye roll all the way from heaven as I sit in the hotel breakfast lounge. Not for me, of course. She would never have allowed me to go out into a public area dressed like that. She led by example. Hair, make-up, clothes — even when at their most casual — impeccable. And I wanted to be just like her.
When I was old enough, she got me my own starter kit for make-up. Most likely they were the free gifts from her purchases. She wanted me to learn with my own products. And not to mess up hers. This was clear from my earliest of memories. If I wanted to dunk my cookie, she gave me my own cup of coffee. And so it was with make-up. With clothes. I could admire her shoes, but never walk around in them. Because these things were special. They meant something. She took pride in herself. To be tall in stature was good, to be tall in self-worth was priceless.
And so we dressed for the occasion. Each day was just that. Whether we were toasting, or just going to the lobby for toast. I finished my morning coffee, not in judgement, but in thanks. I stand tall. Every day. My mother still sees to that.
She hadn’t told me anything deep, dark, or hidden. It wasn’t a designated secure place. Neither church, nor Switzerland. But for some reason, on the return bus trip from an out of town volleyball game, I felt safe. In this back seat, looking straight ahead. Knees pushed against the seat in front of us, I told my friend, as I had told no other contemporary, my secret.
This friend listened. Without judgement or questions. Braced, as if I were passing her the ball. I could feel the words spank off from my overworked forearms. She took the ball. What a relief to pass it on.
We had Judy Blumed our way through Junior High, but when I asked, on this yellow-orange school bus, “Are you there, it’s me…” she listened. No solutions offered. Just release.
I don’t know who we played that day after school. I don’t know if we won or lost. But never had I felt more a part of something. I had a real teammate. We didn’t speak of it again. We didn’t need to.
It’s not necessary to me that she remembers. I won’t forget. I had such a friend.
I would always sit in the front row. I loved my English LIterature courses. I wanted to be a part of it all. My hand shot up before my mouth even knew what was going to come out. “You’ll think of something, ” my fingers encouraged as they waved in the air. It wasn’t about assuming I was right. Not about proving my point. I just wanted to be involved. To be among the words. Part of the discourse.
I sat slunched in my chair. Sweating. Sick. My roommate had told me to stay in bed, but I didn’t want to miss out. Within the hour, my mom was on her way to pick me up from college and bring me back home for an emergency appendectomy. When Dr. Merickel gave the diagnosis of acute appendicitis, I smiled. He asked why I was smiling. “You said it was cute.” We hear what we want to hear.
I went back to school two days later, a little lighter, but no less enthusiastic. All that learning prepared me for what was to come. Not in the way you might think. I didn’t learn any foreign languages. So when I moved to France, arms at my side, I feared the conversation. Even the most simple were acute! Trapped inside an introduction, I heard my brother-in-law introduce me as his belle-sœur, I beamed. I heard the word belle and thought “pretty.” And the word soeur meaning “sister.” It turns out that belle-sœur means sister-in-law. But once again, in this need to belong, to be a part of the conversation, I heard what I needed to hear.
I don’t always get it right. I don’t think it’s always necessary. What we do have to be is brave. Curious. Willing to open our hearts and get involved. Be a part of it all. When I raise my hand today, it’s to wave you in. Welcome to my conversation. I’m glad you’re here.
I can’t say it was the most comfortable lap, my grandfather’s. If you wanted something soft, you went to my grandma. Her lap was pillowed with sugary treats, and as soft as the toasted marshmallows she loved to eat from Jerry’s Jack and Jill grocery store. You could easily get lost in her folds of love. So what was it that my grandfather had? First of all, I rarely saw him seated. He was skinny. The farm saw to that. He smelled of earth and pipe tobacco. And just where my head would reach, between his chest and shoulders, were the hooks and buttons of his overall straps. The real comfort came, I suppose, straight from the heart. To be let in, this was the magic. To be offered these rare moments of respite. Between the field and the plate wiped clean with a sheet of bread. To be given the time, when time was currency. This was pure love. Perhaps it’s not visible to the naked eye, but I know the button imprint remains on my cheek, and somewhere deep in my heart.
People often ask me, “Do you come from a long line of artists?” My first thought is the quote from Vincent Van Gogh — “There is nothing more artistic than to love people.” My grandmother’s quilts still keep me warm across the sea. The portraits I painted of my grandfather keep me safe. Protected. My mother’s blouses wrap me in a love that will never die. I was loved. I am loved. Still. I walk daily within this gallery given. So, YES! The answer is always yes! I come from a long line of artists. Today, in my most humble of ways, on canvas and paper, I attempt to pass on the line. To pass on the love.
It’s ironic, I suppose, that we only played freeze-tag during our Minnesota summers. Lit only by the tenacity of the hanging summer sun, and the surrounding porch lights, we gathered in the vacant lot next to Dynda’s. It was usually Lynn or Shari Norton, being the oldest, who decided what game to play. I loved kickball. And softball. Even kick the can — though I’m not sure I ever understood the rules. The only game I didn’t love was freeze tag. If the person who was “it” touched you, you had to stop. Immobilized. Standing still. Alone. While others tripped in giggles and weeds, you had to just stand there. Excluded from the fun. Hoping that someone would come and touch you to free you.
It was just a game. I knew, standing there, I still had cool sheets to rest in. A kiss good-night waiting from my mother. But still. It became pretty clear to me, even then, that we need each other.
There are so many distractions in this world. It’s easy to lose sight of the lost. Those frozen in time and space. When maybe just a simple tag, a touch, a smile, could set them free. I’m as guilty as the next person. But I want to get better. And let’s be honest. It really doesn’t take all that much. A returned email. A letter. A phone call. A knock on the door beneath the porch light that waits. Maybe one day, we can all be tripping in the giggles and weeds.
David Hovda and I were wandering, slowly and aimlessly around Jefferson Senior High School, both in knee-high plaster casts. (This was in my dream last night. I’m sure he’s actually fine.) I had no idea what my schedule was. The halls were empty and the classroom doors were closed. The bell had rung. And I didn’t know where to go. The cast part was real, but not once in my high school years did I ever forget my schedule. It surprises me that I would still have this dream.
I woke up before either of us found our way. I’d like to think we went to the Superintendent’s office. That’s where our parents would have been. His father. My mother. And in typing this, the dream just made sense. My mother sat too close in age and distance to Dr. Hovda. When he passed away first, something told me it wouldn’t be that long.
In high school, I suppose I thought that I would just learn things, and that would be it. The knowledge would stick, and everything would be fine. I had no idea how many times I would have to learn the same lessons. They first told us that we would understand when we got bigger, when we got older. We did both, but oh how the world can make you feel so small. So lost. And you have to learn again. Grow again. And find your way.
Normally a dream like this will unsettle me. But I didn’t wake up afraid. I guess it’s because my heart knows where the Superintendent’s office is. I know I can walk down the terrazzo hall, open the door, and my mother will still be sitting at the front desk, full smiles, overhearing something that Dr. Hovda shouted from his open-door office. And I, we, will all be saved.
I guess they could be in almost anything — these signs of hope — if that’s what we want to see. And I do.
I pass by this particular house on my twice daily walks, a total of four times. Coming and going, I see the clothes hanging on the line. And it’s not like they forget them, or abandoned them. No, they are different each day. Even as our weather begins to change to the cool humidity of autumn, the clothes are pinned to the line. Ever hopeful. On the days that the wind blows against my face and I tuck my chin to heart, I think, well, their clothes should dry today. When the sun hides behind the mountain and the clouds, I see her arms raised to the line and think, just as she must, the sun could come out today.
I have never met her, or them. But it’s not essential to our connection. I’d like to think the hope that bounces back and forth is our daily conversation, and we are united. I also humbly hope the same is true, when someone up the hill, from their unshuttered window, sees me passing by daily, in summer’s heat, or autumn’s damp, that perhaps they smile and think, “maybe I could do the same.”
We never really know what connects us. But make no mistake, I believe we all are connected. If you could see the hope in me, my daily actions, and I could see that in you… Maybe with our hearts on the line, we could do anything.