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Archive for October, 2014

I contain multitudes — and so do you!!!

I am large, I contain multitudes.  Walt Whitman

It is the eve of Halloween and Joy Center is having a party tonight!  Adonna, who leads Chocolate as Medicine Workshops, has made the most scrumptious of candies, I’ve bought a large ceramic pot to hold a candle-flame fire that we can dance around, and I am gathering the pieces for a costume that I will slip into before the party begins.  I am going to be a woodland nymph.  It feels right to me, this costume choice.  Joy Center is nestled in the woods on land that my husband and I have owned for twenty-five years, a balsam and pine-laden forest that has always felt enchanted to me, a land where an elf or a fairy would be happy to dwell.  And I, in my spirit, feel elfish and fairy-like.  So it is from my own closet that I find the perfect woodland skirt, a hand-felted and dyed creation made by my friend Libby with wool from her own sheep, and a sparkly autumn-toned fairy-esque top that I save for occasions such as this, and green tights chopped off at the ankle in jagged nymph-like style.  And I will top my costume off with a crown of tiny coral roses that I bought in Istanbul six months ago at the May Day time of the year.

But there’s more.  As I formed a picture of my costume in my head, I realized that it didn’t feel complete, that it didn’t quite embody what my anticipated mood for the evening was.  In the lower level of Joy Center, propped against the tiled hearth of the gas-burning stove lies a sign, a wonderful sparkly red and orange sign, with the word “MISCHIEF” written in strong bold letters across its surface.  I love that word.  And it scares me just a bit.  That’s why the sign stays tucked away downstairs and not hung out on a random tree branch where the other signs created by Colleen have found their homes.  I am filled with mischief.  My Aunt Jo, my father’s twin, even in old age and ridden with dementia, could see it in my eyes.  “You have the devil in you!!!” she, who had always been of the mischievous woodland elfkin tribe, chortled with great affection as she hugged me tightly.  And she’s right; I do!  When I was a child, my father called me his little mermaid, but he also called me “the Hellion”.  Sweet honey flows through my veins and a warm inner breeze uplifts my spirit and my nature is intimate with sunlight and the shimmer on the ocean’s surface and the sparkle in the nighttime sky.  And my nature also is drawn to an October bonfire and flames that shoot high and sparks that fly from fingers and fireballs from the tongue.  And oh my goodness, what does a good girl do with all this badness?!?

I’ve said it countless times in the fourteen years that I’ve facilitated yoga sessions, and I said it again this week: “Invite all parts of yourself here, the parts you know, the parts you don’t know, the parts you love and the parts that you don’t even like; invite the whole glorious package of who you are.”  And as we breathed deeply into our bodies, as we stretched and twisted and paused to receive, I added these words, words that I’m sure I also have said countless times, but somehow felt and believed even more deeply this Halloween week.  “We are loved.  We are adored.  Not just in what we perceive as our goodness, but in our wholeness, in those dark corners and bonfire flames, we are adored!”  And as we fanned our fingers wide and roared our mighty ferocious roars in lion pose, I could sense it, a delight wafting through our yoga space.  A mighty roar in a yoga session is followed by the sweetness of a purr.  And in our off-the-mat-living, embracing our shadows and unclaimed parts and finding ways to express them with satisfaction brings out an even louder purr.  I love that about Joy Center, that it is a place that is large enough in its generosity and vision and heart to welcome it all, all parts of ourselves, a place where each of us can embrace our wholeness, our purr and our roar, in a yoga or meditation session, in an art class or a movie night, at a once-a-month open mic evening where all perspectives and art forms can find a home.

So I knew that my Halloween costume needed a garnish, a topping that would make it feel complete.  And off I drove, into Marquette to the Halloween Store.  I had never been to the Halloween Store before and what a store it was — a warehouse filled with all our shadowy secrets just waiting to be expressed!  And I found mine hanging on a rack next to the fairy princess crowns and the sparkly magic wands.  And tonight, I will place my garland of roses on the crown of my head, and then I will do it.  I will rip open the package and I will take them out, and I will wear them proudly as I hold up the sign that says that mischief is in the air, my red velvet devil horns!

Mischief is in the air: Joy Center, Halloween Eve

Mischief is in the air: Joy Center, Halloween Eve


Halloween Eve: Joy Center

Halloween Eve: Joy Center

Ageless Energy

Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings.  John Muir

The music was revving up, the strobe lights beginning to swirl like spinning planets in the Holiday Inn’s ceilinged sky and we were having to shout over a song with a strong beat as we talked, the matron of honor and I.  I was admiring her strapless purple dress, her bouquet of orange daisies, praising the heartfelt toast she had given so bravely and tearfully for her sister and new brother-in-law.  And that’s when she appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, a little elfkin wisp of a thing squeezing herself between the sister-of-the-bride and me and looking way up above the purple strapless gown to the beautiful friendly face and asking her question. “Will you dance with me?!?”  It wasn’t quite a request; it was more of a plea.  She was jumping up and down as she spoke to the matron of honor.  She couldn’t help herself.  She was feeling the music, sensing that the dancing was about to begin and she just had to be a part of it.  We learned her name was Emma and she was four years old and she had been searching them out, all of the beautiful young women in the purple dresses, beckoning them out onto the dance floor with her enthusiasm.  And her enthusiasm was contagious.  I could feel it too, the beat of the music, the planets swirling in space, the dance that my body just couldn’t contain.  I began to hop along with Emma!  “Can a grandma dance with you too?” I asked.  And she didn’t even need to speak a reply.  Her body answered for her.  “Of course!!!” her body was saying as she hopped with more vigor.  “Why wouldn’t we all want to dance?!?”

Indeed, why wouldn’t we all want to dance?!?  Why wouldn’t we all want to feel this alive?!?  I know the feeling, the “hopping up and down, can’t stay still because life feels so good” feeling — and it doesn’t require swirling lights and loud music and the heightened mood of a wedding reception.  It’s always there for us, this pulsating dancing swirling energy.  I feel it when I walk in the woods on a crisp day in mid-October and the path is a carpet of yellow leaves and the air smells like balsam and I can almost taste the snow that will be coming soon.  I feel it when I step back in the house again and our cat brushes against my leg and my husband is chopping peppers for the corn tortillas that he knows I can’t resist and the air feels warm and inviting.  I feel it in quiet ways in which the dancing is an inward symphony at the cellular level and, at other times, I feel it sweep over me with the fervor of a Springsteen concert.

I had my own Emma-like moment, my own Springsteen locomotive body-charging whoosh of forward motion earlier in that same wedding reception.  I was sitting there, all refined and gussied up in my black knit dress and coral shrug, sipping lemon water and snacking on cheese and crackers while talking to the brides’ aunt and second cousin.  I’m sure I began the conversation with my voice at a normal wedding octave, my legs appropriately crossed, my knowledge of taking-turns-etiquette intact.  And it stayed that way, level-headed and demure, until we started talking about our passions, our projects, and that’s when a fire started burning and my cells started rocking and I couldn’t hold it in, this voice of my mine that rises easy into a bellow.  Projects?!?  You betcha!!!!  “I’ve got a good one!” I exclaimed.  And I proceeded to plow ahead with little regard for whether my audience was on board or not, sharing the wild ride I’ve been on these past months as I play with the living and the dead on this Grandpa Project of mine.  Granted, the synchronicities are many, the side roads colorful, the subject matter captivating — at least to me, that is.  When I realized that I was shouting, that my legs were no longer crossed, that my arms were flailing, that I might have been spitting and that I sounded a lot like my father when he used to talk about his father, the artist, and God knows that my father’s enthusiasm used to be an embarrassment to me — that’s when I pulled myself in, re-crossed my legs, let go of the stronghold that I’d claimed on this one-sided conversation.  Oh my goodness, I thought, it is a strong energy that can rush through us when we allow it.

And Emma, she didn’t pull herself in, didn’t even try to cross her legs or keep her arms from flailing.  She let it flow, took it right out onto that dance floor and spun around and hopped up and down and swung herself hand in hand with each one of those bridesmaids in their purple gowns.  She shined as brightly as the sparkles on her dress and it was a sight to behold, witnessing someone lit up like that.  So what do we do when we find ourselves blazing with an inner fire, bursting with an energy that is begging expression?  Do we reign it in for fear of overwhelming those around us?  Do we dampen it down because it just might be too much?   Do we think that hopping is reserved for the pre-school crowd?  And that passion flames bright only for those who are young enough to be a part of the wedding party?  Pshaw, I say.  Energy is ageless, I say.  It is free and available to the masses, to all of us, pre-schoolers and grandmas alike.  It is in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, the food we eat.  It is in the autumn trees that set our hearts a’flutter and in those dark billowy clouds and in the sun peeking through.  And it is up to each of us to soak it in, to enjoy its benefits, to find out what is lighting our fire and to allow that inner blaze to burn bright.


Upper Peninsula Woods: Autumn 2014

Upper Peninsula Woods: Autumn 2014

My Dad

You stand on your own two feet, but you do not stand alone.  So many stand behind you . . . so many will come after you whose lives may be fuller, richer, wilder, and deeper because you risk living what you love.  Dawna Markova

I want to write about my dad.  I am surprised by this desire; it is his father, my grandfather, the artist who died in 1925, who has been on my mind.  On Grandparent’s Day, September 7, I began a 100-Day Project focusing on Grandpa Haskell and the boxes of treasure that have sat dormant in my closet for the past two decades, treasure in the form of letters and articles and newspaper clippings and original scrapbooks and sketches of Grandpa’s.  My father was the seeker, the transcriber, the organizer and the keeper of these archives.  I believe that it was a life mission of his to keep his father’s name alive, a father who he barely remembered in the flesh.  And I believe that it was a task he found fulfilling.  And sometime after I obtained a graduate degree in English/Writing, many years after my own dad’s passing, my mother handed these treasures to me — I think in the hopes that I would move forward with my father’s quest to bring an awareness to people of the remarkable life and talent of his father, the well-known-in-his-day etcher, Ernest Haskell.

Over the years, I have dipped into this closeted treasure, have skimmed some of the articles, have read the few letters written in my grandfather’s own handwriting, and have always felt a sort of weighty hangover as I’ve closed the closet door after the dipping.  It’s not only the amount of information that has been daunting to me; it’s my own expectation that I must do something wonderful with it.  There was a shift this summer, however, a change in the weather and the closet door practically blew itself open.  All of a sudden, what had seemed like an overwhelming and heavy task became part of a fascinating and fun adventure. This past spring, I had primed the pump for something wonderful to happen in regards to a possible Grandpa Haskell Project.  I had bought a beautiful sea grass basket, long and wide enough for me to place copies of etchings and posters, empty enough to fill with inspirations that might rise up.  I had even come up with a title for a possible book.  My Grandfather Was a Tall Tree —  a perfect title, I thought, for a grandfather who is known for his etchings of trees, a grandfather who I knew only though the copious artwork that adorned the walls of our family home.  And then, in June, I attended my high school reunion, connected with a classmate who I hadn’t seen in forty years, an architect/artist/historian with ties to our family and a keen interest in digging into this grandfather artist’s life and work.  And that’s what he did all summer.  He researched.  He wrote.  He prepared a powerpoint and a presentation.  He dreamed big of ways to bring Grandpa Haskell’s art out into the world again.  And I tagged along.

And the idea came to me sometime during this summer of tagging along that there was information in that closed closet that would help bring Grandpa Haskell’s story and art forward into the light again, and that a 100-Day Project was an easy way for me to dip my toes in gradually.  And that’s what I’ve been doing, first my toes, then my knees, then sometime during that first week of dipping, I did it.  I dove right in and I found myself swimming with a buoyancy that has surprised me.  This information isn’t heavy at all.  And it is not overwhelming either.  My father did a fabulous job gathering it all together, transcribing difficult-to-read handwriting, encouraging letters of remembrance from my grandfather’s friends, cataloguing the art, typing up the articles about Grandpa written before and after his passing, finding the talks and essays and thoughts that my grandfather himself shared over a twenty-five-year span.  It’s a marvelous ocean of treasure that I’m swimming in and I love my daily dose of it.  I swim wherever the current takes me and it always takes me into a deeper knowing of the man my grandfather was, the passion that he had for his art, the particular focus on etching, and the essence that is still him, an essence I realize that has been present for me my whole life.

But I said that I want to write about my father, and I do.  You see, I’m not just discovering my grandfather in this treasure.  I’m discovering my father as well.  I feel his presence as I read his transcriptions of letters and articles and essays, and I remember him tap tap tapping on his typewriter early in the morning and on weekends when I was girl.  I read his own words from lectures that he gave and in articles that he wrote for his weekly newspaper column, Art Palate, and I remember the times when I was a teenager that I delivered those articles for him to our local newspaper’s downtown office, and I hear his voice, too, which is deep and jovial and full of expression.  And this past Monday, I surfaced from my daily dip holding a letter that my father himself had written in the spring of 1953 when he was thirty-two years old, two years before he married my mother and three years before my birth, a letter to a dear friend and mentor of his, an art professor/artist, a letter in which he spoke of his dreams.  He had interviewed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, he said, and the director was most cordial.  My father’s work with Haskell art and his experience in helping to organize exhibits made him well-suited for this type of thing, he added.  If not museum work, perhaps something in journalism — his job at the Iron Works was okay for now, but not for the long run.

It was bittersweet reading this letter of my father’s.  On one hand, he had specific career dreams that were never fulfilled.  He worked at the Iron Works for the remainder of his life.  On the other hand, I was amazed by this letter, amazed enough to pick up my own pen and start writing a reply.  In the forty-one years since my dad’s passing, I have never written directly to him, but that’s what I did on Monday.  “Daddy,” I began.  “You did it all!”  And he did.  He worked at the Iron Works, a clerical job that put food on our table and paid for school shoes and a sea captain rambling home and for fresh scallops on Fridays in the winter.  And I don’t remember him complaining about his job.  I remember him whistling when he walked and I remember the others things, too, and that’s what I told him in the letter.

I don’t know whether he ever saw it when he was living his body life, but I saw it — even when I was a young woman I saw it, and now I see it more clearly — my father was an artist of life.  He may not have been the well-known artist that his father was, but, in the process of living an artful life, he did manifest his dreams.  He became a journalist, writing a weekly column for the paper for at least fifteen years, a column that buoyed up our creative community, and he did curate art exhibits, so many of them over a wide span of years, bringing both well-known and up-and-coming artists into our community.  I remember sitting next to Rachel Carson at our local library at an exhibit of her words and photographs.  And he was a member of a small group of people who dreamed into being a maritime museum for our town which is now a sprawling artfully-designed world-renowned complex.  And he did all this while taking his four kids on boat rides to islands and clearing the brush from the woods on our land and bringing a buoyancy into our household.  That’s what I told him on Monday, that he has been my mentor on how to live my life as art; I thanked him for this.  And I also thanked him for the beautiful job that he did in gathering together this treasure chest of material that I now find myself paddling through with eager strokes.

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