Living in Frames, by meshing the lyrical moments of life with the captured images of experience. This is a reverie, a journey, the fork in the road, and the never-ending story....

Friday, May 29, 2009

It Comes in All Forms: Part II

It was summer break. I was 20 and full of bright ideas and romanticized notions. Really it was not that long ago, but if you can imagine, it was a time before IPhones, American Idol, and Twitter.

My boyfriend Chris, was both my fondest companion and love of my life, but also a master of stoking the imagination. We were going to live in Alaska, we were going to follow the Appalachian Trail, we were going to bike from New England to Nova Scotia, we were going to get lost in Europe. He compelled me to dream and I thirsted for adventure. I once wrote of him:

" He loved me naturally, the way he loved the earth between his fingers... His touch was always tender, as though he were tending to a delicate sapling, in need off the first signs of love to flourish."

So, young and restless, Chris convinced me to embark on a grand road trip across the country. We were coming to the end of our sophomore year and spontaneity was not hard to come by, for a couple whose only serious commitment was to each other. Abbey and Kerouac were becoming a bore and we were ready to see for ourselves, "the paper mache Rockies" and the raw beauty of our homeland.

Chris had always talked about this lovely, quaint town in California, that he had visited with his cousin. It was called Bishop and little did I know, I had been there before (will elaborate more on this later)... We decided that this would be our ultimate destination and our pilgrimage would be to learn more about ourselves and each other as we camped, hiked, climbed, and drove our way there. Everyone we knew, claimed that "You really don't know who you have for a partner, until you travel with them." And to this day, it is one of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have received.

The '98 Dodge Caravan couldn't have been more befitting. We had lined the ceiling with a dyed tapestry that we had picked up in some "head shop". The blue, green, and orange floral designs were unique, probably native to India, and they reminded me of far-off lands that I would one day travel to. We pulled the seats out and built a box framed bed. Our climbing mats served as
matresses. We had thought of everything: cookware, clothing, camping supplies, climbing equipment, books, a game of chess, cameras, binoculars... The finishing touch, a yellow sign made of construction paper reading: "California or Bust".

We left on a hot day in early July, before the birds could catch their breath. We hadn't been on the road for 5 hours, when in upstate New York a black sports car, with a pretty woman, pulled up beside us on the highway. She motioned for us to roll down our windows. I rolled down mine and she yelled over to me, "I am going to California too! I will race you there!" She smiled big and took off. And so it began; our great pilgrimage.

We didn't have an itinerary, just a map, our dreams, and free-will. We were headed west, just as the transcendentalists, the pioneers, the beat generation, and the hippies had done before us. We were naive to what lay before us; a tabula rosa mind-set. But we had so much to look forward to and we drove through the night just to get beyond our beloved Northeast.

I could recount for days the many details of our trip across country, but I have a point to this little tale (It Comes in All Forms), so I will share but two quick anecdotes with you, that happened on this journey.

The first begins in Colorado. We had cut through Colorado diagonally, off our usual migrant Rt. 70. We had arranged to stay with a professor of Chris', who owned a house in Durango. The day we arrived in the south-western corner, a hike had been planned for us and we were anxious to get out and stretch our legs.

The pollen was thick in the air, as we traversed the mountain roads, with no guard rails and non-surviving drop-offs (after my stay in Colorado, I began to think these roads contributed to the "balls-to-the-wall" mentality of Colorado natives). My senses were completely overwhelmed between the elevation and the air-quality, as though someone had blown a dusty vacuum cleaner in my face for hours on end. We were headed to an off-the-map kind of place; a old mining town call Silverton and one of the junctions of the Colorado Trail.

During the hike, I struggled to keep up with the guys, who didn't seem to be phased by the largest pollen particles known to man, flying above our heads. At an elevation just over 15,000 feet, there were few trees, just cascading green slopes littered with their sun-bleached, skeletal remains. A patchwork of wild flowers, hummed with activity as we passed by. The real ascent, was rocky and difficult to navigate, and we found that we were no longer in the upright walking position, but were actually crawling up the face of a summit. After 2 1/2 hours, we reached the ridge and stepped into two feet of snow (it was mid-July).

I was weak in the knees, out of breath, with blood-shot eyes, and on the verge of vertigo. But when I looked out at the distant gray peaks, sharp and cathedral-like, I was humbled. And I knew in that moment, there would always be something larger than myself.

It was that day, I found a new place of worship. It wasn't confined by four walls, stained glass, or hard wood pews. It was an internal devotion, to the outside world. It was a feeling of connectedness, to all that was natural and pure. And I felt that same energy running through my bones, as it did along the spine of the Rocky Mountains.

(As promised I will pick up, with my second anecdote tomorrow) So, for now :


Thursday, May 28, 2009

It Comes in All Forms: Part I

Recently, I had one of those moments that really made me question my faith. (And this is after having emergency surgery for internal bleeding. And falling asleep at the wheel at 65mph, crossing three lanes of traffic, missing a telephone pole by two feet, and plunging into a construction zone. Both true stories from this past year.)

For those who know me in the physical world, I lost a dear relative of mine a little over a year ago, to cancer. And if that experience couldn't have been tragic enough, irony had to make its appearance, by taking someone I love away, on Valentine's Day. Just like the marathon runner who becomes a paraplegic, the professor who dies of a brain tumor, or the health-nut who is diagnosed with multiple-sclerosis. My grandmother died of stomach and liver cancer, when she swore she drank all of twice in her entire life. (The poem Chanel No. 5 is dedicated to her)

After, losing my grandmother, Norma Lenora, I went into one of those all-questioning states, where I wanted to know the point of everything and if everything even had a point. That summer my questions were answered, blatantly with two shocking, eye-opening events (as mentioned above). They were definitely signs, screaming loudly "Sarah, wake up! Your life has meaning. You are here for a reason. You can't live in fear. Figure out what it is you want and do it!"

So, I did. I began efforts to reacquaint myself with myself. I wrote down all the things I ever wanted to do and began to dissect the steps that were needed to do these things. I wanted to go back to school for my master's, so I began the process of applying; putting together a manuscript, gathering recommendations, aligning my work schedule. Very positive progressions, toward a grander scheme.

But as I reached in that positive direction, other aspects of my life seemed to struggle to keep up. My relationship with my boyfriend, teetered. My job became a droning, aggravation. I found myself in fits of depression and frustration, when all I wanted was to glue myself back together, and be happy. I felt like I was back to where I had started after the passing of my grandmother, and wondered if all my efforts were in vain.

It was a gray, mid-week day when I was given another sign. I had just finished having coffee, with the unwavering love of my life. The day wasn't all that different, from any other day. The conversation, the usual. The moments, beautiful. But as I left the comforting, perk that is my relationship, and wandered back to my car, I saw something fluttering on my windshield.

At first I thought "Oh shit! Another parking ticket!" But when I pulled the paper from underneath my wiper, I realized it was a Christian pamphlet. I will premise this saying: I have always prided myself on having an open mind. I know where my comfort zones are, but occasionally walk on the outskirts to see what other pools of thought have to offer. I also know what makes me uncomfortable; what makes me back away with my hands up saying, "I don't want any part of that." Displays of violence and racist remarks make me squirmish. Aggressive behavior and crossing personal space boundaries make me uneasy. Being a female, alone, in a dark alley is a situation I avoid. But another infringement on my comfort is, unwarranted religious preaching and propaganda.

Intuitively, I felt that pang of uneasiness sneaking up on me. I looked around to see if I could catch the perp, who sneakily slid their ideals onto my car. But the only people on the street, were a couple sitting in the doorway of a run-down, Thai restaurant. They probably saw the solicitors, but smiled their big, toothy grins and watched with amusement as I huffed into my car, with the literature clenched in my fist.

I threw the pamplet on my passenger seat. (I have too much of a conscience to litter). At the first street light, I looked over at the 3 x 6 booklet, gnawing with annoyance. I shook my head. At the second light, I coyly leaned over to read the title, just to satisfy my curiousity. It was called "I'll do it later." At the third light, I began to read.

This wasn't the typical Christian propaganda that I had become accustomed to over the years. It wasn't like the mini-bibles handed out in front of bars and on college campuses (I make a donation to the Salvation Army every couple years, because I am too scared to throw them away). Or the unnerving preacher, with the card board sign and cross, who you try not to make eye contact with on the street. Between these pages, a story unfolded, just like a funnies cartoon. And I was intrigued.

The character's name was Johnny and in each frame Johnny was seen procrastinating through his life, from a young boy to a grown man, always making the excuse that "he would do things later". Then one day a friend of Johnny's approached him about "being saved" and Johnny responded as he had always had "I will do it later". But Johnny dies and he is sent to hell and the caption reads: "Poor Old John! I wonder if he got saved? It's too late to say, "I'm sorry now".

Well, I am not going to say that between stop lights I decided to "be saved". I don't think my mind would ever allow me to subscribe to any organized religion (or organized anything), no matter how appealing their philosophy or theology is. But underlying, the religious content, there was a nugget of wisdom that hung true for me. And that was: to stop making excuses, to be aware of your actions, to trust in your faith, to live with no regrets, and your destiny will present itself.

It was a simple sign. It did not shake me silly, with philosophical discovery or inner-bliss. But in that moment, I thought, "Everything will work itself out in due time, as long as I keep myself open to faith". And for the first time in my life I didn't judge those who chose to practice their faith differently, because on a certain level we all believe in the same thing; something bigger than ourselves, something out of our control, something to live for.

Some call it love. Some call it God. Some call it happiness. Some call it enlightenment.

I guess I call it truth.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lost and Found: Reclaiming My Experiences

In 26 years, I have called 15 different places my home. I have traveled, lived, and loved. All my experiences in this life, are closely tied to the people I have met and loved, and the places that I have fallen in love with. Some were brief encounters:

Following the beacon windmills of Kansas. Sheltering from red lightening in Western corridors. Passing the lonely veteran on Main Street who I gave spare change. The man with white cowboy boots and no name, who gave me the secret to life.

Then there are the epic relationships; family, friends, and lovers. Challenging the New England waters in my underwear. Letting my soul find peace in the Sierra Nevadas. Lingering in old museums, on rainy days, just to feel inspired.

Think of Silly Putty; that pink, leathery glob that you can roll and squish under your palm, with non-demanding pleasure. When I was five, I discovered that pink putty could create a newspaper imprint, like a reverse stamp. I would find my favorite words in the local paper to carry around in my pocket, sometimes for days. Then when I would find another special word, I would peel the putty from the cotton lining of my pocket, fold the old word back into the glob, and make another imprint. I would imagine that the putty was magically storing all these words within its elastic body, never forgotten, even if no longer visible or tangible. And one day I would stretch it out and have a full novel. I imagine my own experiences were created a bit like this, storing in the putty of my mind, to stretch and morph into the many stories that have become unique to my life.

The other night, I was recollecting the places I have lived and traveled to, and how they have been a backdrop to the people I have met and loved. My experiences in each one of these places, will always be mine alone and no one else will be able to recreate the experiences I've had. And when I remember these places, it is not by what they had to offer, but what I discovered on my own. For within every memorable place I have been, there were memories created, giving me a deeper admiration for the place as a whole.

This thought resonated with me. With these ever-happening and changing relationships (with both people and places), it is difficult not to leave something of yourself behind as well. Especially, if there is an unexplainable attachment, that takes years to understand or fully realize. It's those things that one day you look around for and discover they are no longer the same, and at some point along the way, they were changed and maybe are now unrecognizeable. So often we hear ourselves or others say, when articulating a past relationship, "I lost a sense of myself ", "I am no longer the same, as I was", "I do not feel whole". Then we set out to reclaim what was once ours, and the essence of what made up who we were in that experience, or in that moment.

Where I currently reside in New England, I have grown to love very specific places within New England, because of a memory that unfolded there or how that place made me feel from the beginning. The other night I was feeling nostalgic about my special places and considered revisiting them, hoping to become rejuvenated or reclaim little parts of myself, as I had been feeling more in pieces than ever.

"Maybe", I had thought, "I just left a little too much behind over the years."

I began to list my favorite places in my head, but with each place I realized I had shared this place with a person I loved, and now if I were to go back and revisit, it would no longer be MY special place like it once was. The original memories and how a place made me feel, were now replaced by new memories, and if I were to go back, then I couldn't help but remember that person in that place. And I didn't want to. I wanted to reclaim my place again, but would that mean I would have to forget the memory I had shared with that person? Or could I even still love these places, after they had been shared? It was a dilemma.

How much easier it would be, to have a Lost and Found, in cases like these. The information desk would be run by one those sweet, frumpy ladies from the public library; endearing and all-knowing. And when you arrive, they give you one of those "You Are Here" maps, that has all the answers to the "what-if-should-i" questions you seek. Here you would be able to reclaim those things you gave up, somewhere in your life; your dream of visiting Africa or Brazil, having children, or writing a book. And in my case, the places I cherished and people I have loved, that are no longer mine.

So, I've decided to find something new to call my own. New places where I can find comfort, happiness, inspiration, and reflection. The old places will never be forgotten, I am just tucking the rest of my impressions away for safe keeping. And it is my hope, that the trail of pieces I have left behind, will once again reveal themselves to me, whole and shiny. My endeavor for the next week, month, and year, will be to document these new places, literally and visually. I will travel to them alone, but will share them with you here. Just as they will inspire me, my hope is to inspire you too.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Creative Men and Their Wives

In response to A Nonfiction Marriage by Jonathan Van Meter:

I read in the May issue of New York magazine, an article about Gay Talese and his wife, Nan; both larger than life figures in the literary world. After contributing to their community for the past 30 years, it was now time to peer inside their own story, with an article called A Nonfiction Marriage.

In the late 1970's, Gay wrote a book called Thy Neighbor's Wife; an exposé on the emergence of the Sexual Revolution, in the 1950's. Similar to Alfred Kinsey, Gay gathered his information by delving into the taboos of sexual culture in America, exploring topics from "free love" and "open relationships", to nudist colonies, prostitution, and the early porn industry.

By the time the book was released in 1980, Gay's "research" had created fractures in his own marriage and his book was met with mixed reviews from critics. Some thought him to be a genius, others thought he was a flamboyant, swinger who lived a life of sexual decadence, with little regard for his or his family's reputation.

This recent article in NY mag, followed Gay's new project; a book about the aftermath of Thy Neighbor's Wife and how it affected his personal life, his marriage, and his relationship with his children. The book will be called Thine Own Wife, a perfect compliment to his first opus.

After finishing this article, I couldn't help but have mixed emotions about the characters, Mr. and Mrs. Talese. We live in a society that eats this stuff up. Sex and infidelity are topics people are always uncomfortable discussing on their own terms, but when it comes to others' dysfunctional intimacies, we are intrigued.

For example, the movie Obsessed has been the number one movie in the country these last couple weeks. It even beat out the movie The Soloist, a cinematic gem, to claim this spot in popularity. The reason the movie did so well (which comes as no surprise to me), was not because Beyonce Knowles’ acting capabilities, it was because our society wanted to see what infidelity provoked on the big screen. We are entertained by the sexual exploits of others, like voyeurs. However, when it happens in our own lives, we justify or rationalize it any way we can, but heaven forbid we call it "normal" or "natural".

This story is original, but it isn’t. There have been many famous, creative couples, who we've romanticized their intimate lives. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Georgia O' Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz. Sylvia Plath and Edward Hughes. Their artistic genius, their self-indulgence, their volatile behavior; it's all there for us to scrutinize, because they are different and we are diffident?

My last thoughts on this piece were focused on the wife of Mr. Talese, and the wives of these men. These women were amazing artists/contributors in their own right, yet their husbands had a lot, larger shadows. Some of these women lived in their own quiet, “unknowing fog”, while their husbands flaunted their feathers. Yet others participated in the same behavior, but in a more discreet manner than their spouses. Either way, while the men were gallivanting in the spotlight, the women remained in love and supportive of their husbands, and still had the energy to make a name for themselves. What should really impress us is the beauty of this unconditional love between husbands and wives, the kind of love that fueled and inspired their art and work, and not the explicit details of male philandering.

We've seen and heard enough already!

RECOMMENDATION: "The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists They Inspired" -Francine Prose


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cartwheels and Martinis

For me, youth takes many forms.
Sitting crossed legged, with a yellow bucket in my lap. Watching as black-eyed tadpoles swim about; bumping into the plastic walls, but curiously never into each other. Eating slices of cool watermelon, with the juice running down my chin. Sticky hands and cheeks, and a mouthful of seeds to spit at an unsuspecting passerby. Building tents in the living room, while mother's soothing voice recites Yeats through the sheets. Followed by shadow puppets that never seemed to take proper form.

Today, my yellow bucket has turned into a shallow fishbowl, lined with vanity glass. Those who swim in it are still bumping into the walls trying to find a way out, but never a way to connect.
The sweet juices of fruit, have been replaced with martinis and red wine, and sometimes it is hard to refrain from spitting them at some of those who pass by. And the only sheets I play under these days, well, the imagination knows best.

Would my life be more fulfilling if I were still able to dress like a ballerina whenever it seemed fit, to do cartwheels in the produce section, and eat with my fingers? To not know the burden of money, the emptiness of greed, and the crudeness of love. Is innocence truly a virtue these days? Or something we are forced to let go of?

Which One Are You?: The Bee, the Spider, or the Rose

Not long ago, my therapist handed me a photograph in one of our sessions. In the picture there was this beautiful, fuschia-colored rose. And on that rose there was this large, green spider devouring a bumble bee. Knowing that I enjoy writing, she asked me to write a story about this photo, as a metaphor to how I perceive life. The cynic I am, laughed and said "okay", knowing full-well that my fatastical mind could conjure up all sorts of hypotheticals. It seemed a simple task, but then she asked me to choose which one of these beings, was me; the rose, the bee, or the spider? And so this is how the story unfolded:

Along a coastal shore there stood a sea rose bush. It had grown in this spot for many years, laying its roots in the salty soil. Braving weather changes and tidal patterns, this sea bush entwined itself into a safe haven and thicket, where pink rose buds blossomed and grew.

Amongst the briars there also lived other life; a bee and a spider. The bee was naïve and curious, buzzing from one flower to the next without a care in its world. The bee enjoyed the nectar of the bush, never fully committing to one superior rose or another. The bee was free, with little dictation other than its own instinct.

The spider however, chose to live in the enveloping petals of one rose. The spider chose this rose without question, for it was the most beautiful and grand. And while the bee lived on a whim, the spider chose each target without hesitation or mercy; following its genetic disposition.

One day, unlike any other, the bee was buzzing along and came across the spider. The spider asked the bee,

“Why have you landed here? Don’t you know this is my rose?”

The bee sweetly responded,

“I didn’t realize this was your rose. It looked so beautiful from a distance. I had to see for myself what it offered.”

Offended the spider said,

“You are imposing on my space. Either you find your own rose or this will not be a happy fate for you.”

The bee laughed,

“You can’t possess this rose. It’s not yours to own. This rose is to be shared and appreciated.”

As the bee turned to leave, its wing got stuck in the sticky web of the spider.

The spider consumed the bee and every bee that came after, never sharing the rose with another. Then one day the spider died and it was never known if it was a stomach ache or sheer loneliness.

The rose continued to exist as it always had; watching creatures come and go, fight, and make love, without interference and a sense of humor.

So, which one are you?