What is the most compelling beautiful work I’m capable of creating at this point in my life? Roderick MacIver
Creativity is conceived as a reproductive act with tangible result — a child, a book, a monument that has a life beyond the life of the producer. Creativity, however, can be intangible in the form of a good life, or a beautiful act, or in other virtues of the soul such as freedom and openness, style and tact, humor, kindness. James Hillman
What is the most compelling beautiful work that I am capable of creating at this point in my life? During the lush and star-spangled and busy and crazily green-growing days of the first half of summer, I’ve held onto this question that Roderick MacIver poses, held on like a lifeline, like a Tarzan swing that I’m clutching with both my hands. And, indeed, it is a two-handed hold that I have on this metaphoric swing.
In my one hand, I hold dear to the knowing that my greatest life work, my most compelling and beautiful creation is to live a life of presence, that the living itself is the greatest art that I could possibly manifest. And what a month of living July has been! Our son, daughter-in-law and three-year-old grandson have been visiting with my husband and me in Upper Michigan. For the first two weeks of the month, a just-turning-three-year-old guy was my buddy, my first mate of household chores and Joy Center errands, and my hiking partner for several memorable excursions around the neighborhood and along the shores of Superior. It was the dear art of living that Viren and I created on these summertime outings. And one particular trek shines brightly as an afternoon I want to remember. We called it our roots-and-rock-hike, and I said, “Be careful, this is a challenge!” and he said, “This is tricky!” and we both agreed that we were having a blast on this sunny sparkling seventy-degree day. We parked at Wetmore Landing, followed the trail to the wide stretch of beach and to the path that traces the shoreline all the way to Little Presque Isle. Viren wore a backpack; I carried lunch. And it was the adventure that I am savoring now as I remember, the adventure that carried us along over the roots and the rocks and down a steep sandy root-ridden incline to our own private cove. We were living a string of Huck Finn moments. The path was new to Viren, out of his box of routine activities, and out of my box as well. I had let go of Joy Center responsibilities that day, let go of any possibility of a writing time, and off we had gone, carefree, letting freedom lead the way, letting the Lake and the rustling trees and the warmth of the sun beckon us forward. And that sense of freedom, that sense of a stretched-out trail and a day spread out wide, it stays with a Grandma and her grandson for a long, long time and can be conjured up at a moment’s notice.
And after two full weeks of Viren play, I, the Huck Finn Grandma, said good-bye to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I set sail — air sail, that is — for a different sort of adventure. I flew west laden with a suitcase filled with gifts from Michigan friends for Viren’s baby girl cousin soon to be born, flew west over the northern plains and the mighty Rockies. And I eased down into the country of rolling wheat and lentil fields and majestic cedars and pine, and I spent a weekend there in the Panhandle of Idaho with our other son and our pregnant daughter-in-law, and this, too, was sweet music for a summertime soul. The air was clear and dry, and their cottage home was inviting, and it felt real, the impending birth of a baby girl. I placed my hands over my daughter-in-law’s belly and it felt like a prayer, the roll and the tumble inside, and I whispered, “I love you, Baby Girl!” And I treasured the three days in Idaho, the dinners out at farm-to-table restaurants, the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning and the juicy peaches still warm and sweet with sunlight, the gentle hikes through the nearby forest, the coyote and the deer eating cherries dropped from the backyard tree. And again there is a memory that I hold especially dear. While our son, the dad-to-be, biked on mountain trails new to him, my daughter-in-law and I found a bench by a reservoir filled with blooming lilies and ripple-tiny waves, and we sat there for an hour with the breeze cooling us off and we spoke of grandparents, not of the current crop of grandparents, but of the grandparents we knew as kids. I loved listening to my daughter-in-law’s stories, loved the expansiveness of that time on a summertime bench sprawled out and relaxing, an expansiveness that embraced these people who came before us, that brought them into the fold and made them real for my daughter-in-law and for myself, and for the baby girl who is about to be born.
And perhaps that is what I loved best in Maine, the next stop for this Huck Finn adventurer. It was a triangular route I mapped out over the country, east from Idaho and south to Atlanta and north again to the rugged and rockbound coast of Maine, my home state, to a cottage that I had rented on the ocean just two miles from the land where I roamed as a girl. And it’s not that I didn’t love the action in the present moment, the walk on the long stretch of state park beach with my friend and writing sister Muriel, the trek along the wide Androscoggin River with another friend Rebecca, a friend who I have known forever, the lobster dinner, the blueberry deserts, the gatherings with siblings and cousins, the overbites with niece, nephew and their baby, the boatride on the 1930’s Ruth with my husband Cam, and his mother from Michigan and her boyfriend from Maine. This was all fabulous, this was all blueberry pie and salt air wonderful.
Yet, it was the rich bubbling up of the past that brings me such joy, that reminds me that life is even wider than the great Great Lake that is my dear companion in Upper Michigan, more expansive than the pure blue sky in Idaho that makes me want to soar with those western hawks, more mighty than the north Atlantic that makes my heart sing and my hair curl wild. It was the connection with those no longer living in their bodies yet ever so present in the present that brought me to happy tears. I felt them at the dinners and on the boat ride and when I peeked in the cottage windows of the now-vacant summer dwelling of my parents’ best friends. And I especially felt this connection when my family congregated at the Maine Maritime Museum this past Sunday. We siblings all just happened to be in Maine in a grand orchestration of perfect timing. It was the opening of the “Lobstering the Maine Coast” exhibit and there he was, our father, one of the visionaries of the museum back in the 1960’s, once again hauling up his favorite trap in two photos on the wall — the hoop net, he called it — a round net that sunk to the ocean’s floor and collected all sorts of treasures that brought us to squeals. And there it was, the red boat, the one I write about in essays and poems and stories, the one named after our grandmother, the Emma L, the boat that carried us to Wood Island and Spring Beach, the boat with the bow I straddled as a teen, gangly legs dangling into the splashing sea, the boat that served as lobster vessel for my father and later for my brother as well. And thanks to my brother’s efforts, here it was now and forever preserved in a world- class maritime museum in our hometown, and here we were, the siblings, on the opening day, savoring it all.
That’s the kind of July it has been, a July so packed with gifts and places and people, with time stretched out wider than I could ever have imagined possible. And how does a gal take this all in, absorb this expansiveness into her cells? How does she push the save button on these experiences before swinging out over the sea of possibility and plopping down into the second half of summer? It’s with a two-handed hold — at least it is for me. I can’t move forward before breathing all of this into my bones in a blog or a poem or a story, without gluing the photos of the adventures shared with that beloved grandson of mine into a book made with my owns hands at a Joy Center Book Art event with him sitting on the stool next to me making his own book, without claiming the time for a pause and allowing the creative impulses of the moment to rise up. And this creative work of integration is compelling to me, and beautiful to me, and as essential to the journey as the vibrant action moments. It is the living and it is the making sense of the living that calls to me and it is all creative and all necessary if I’m going to swing myself forward. And that’s what I am going to do right now on this first day of August. I’m going to grab hold of that rope and fly out into this glorious sweet and sunny morning.