swarm

I’m not sure when I started her.  How can I say when these things begin?  Is it when I start taking steps towards making a tangible object?  The earliest photo I have is from late 2018, but by then she was pretty far along.  Is it when the idea first appears in my head, having arrived from who-knows-where?  I was writing about her in late 2017.

And what about when it begins as one thing and turns into something completely different?  What then?  Who’s to say she wasn’t always a swarm of smaller sculptures waiting to happen?  She had a name, but I have forgotten it.

It was mid-February when I started taking her apart.  I’d moved everything into the new studio a few weeks before that, and had finally done enough unpacking to begin to feel at home.  I was grieving, like I do when something ends.  Like I do, for longer than most people would say is reasonable.  Like I do, even when it’s been over for years and life is actually not so bad.  I sometimes think that when-life-is-not-so-bad is the best time for grieving.

Anyway: I was enormously sad, and I started taking her apart.  Here she is, without her lower half, without her back.

I made a couple of smaller sculptures with the wire I salvaged, plus other things I found around the studio – a handful of blue beads, an assortment of washers and springs, a worn wire brush that someone left behind after cleaning a furnace.

And I started to feel a little less bereft.  And I made a couple more.

And then we were in the middle of a pandemic.  Remember the year you thought you were going to have?  Kiss it goodbye.

I kept making little sculptures until I had used up all the salvaged wire.  As I worked, it seemed more and more appropriate to be giving up the thing I had thought I would be doing.  They had names, these smaller sculptures.  They had names, but I have forgotten them.  By the time I finished, I wasn’t sad about the same things I’d been sad about when I started.

People sometimes ask me how long it takes to make a sculpture.  The answer is: however many years I’ve been alive when I finish it.  This swarm of little sculptures took me 52 years.

it’s like this

I’m here.

I’m here, and it’s like this:

Last month I punched one of those talking gas pumps because it wouldn’t shut up. The screen turned orange and displayed an error message. I don’t know how difficult it was to fix. I wasn’t sorry then, and I am still not sorry. Citgo and Gas Station TV can kiss my lumpy white ass.

This morning I went for a walk, and there was a baby robin in the road. So I stopped and googled “what to do if you find a baby bird.” And I read that most birds people find are fledglings and they probably don’t need our help. So I didn’t go back to the house to get gloves and a box and call someone who knows what to do. But this bird was sitting in the road and I didn’t want it to get run over. I took another step towards it and asked it, “Can you move?” And it squawked, and it hopped and flopped into the weeds by the side of the road. Good enough.

I walked away and left it. I’m sure it was terrified. And I thought: maybe some people are like that. Maybe they cross our paths to scare us away from something worse.

Halfway up the hill, a neighbor’s dog came out of the woods to walk with me. She followed me home, and she is still sitting on my back step enjoying the day. On my way into the house, I called her by one of our cat’s nicknames: KittyCake.

We’ve had this cat for four months. It’s been about five months since our old cat (Tiki) died, and this is the first time since then that I haven’t accidentally called someone else’s pet Tiki-Teeks. It felt like a milestone.

KittyCake is not happy about the dog.I don’t know the neighbor’s phone number, and I threw away most of our phone books last summer when our house was overrun with mold. Oh well. The dog is not hurting anyone, and at some point she’ll get hungry and go home.

I’m trying to get together enough people to hold a grief ritual soon. This morning it occurred to me that a grief ritual is like a sculpture with a lot of moving parts. I don’t have much formal training in making sculptures, or in facilitating grief rituals, but that never seems to stop me.

I have not been able to settle down and work in my studio for a good long while. Part of it is that I have come to hate a lot of things about the studio. Another part is that I seem to be undergoing some kind of internal remodeling.

Last year I finally gave up on the studio and started building a new one across the street from my house. It’s almost finished.

Maybe I’ll say more about that someday. For now, it seems like I need to break the silence by chattering.

Hi. I’m here.

good grief

(Snoopy smoking a blunt and Charlie Brown with a cup of purple drank on a train in White River Junction this morning) IMG_0648

I used up most of my courage at a Reiki training over the weekend. Now I have just enough to show up for Notebook Club, but not enough to write the way I want to. Everyone else dives into the sea of words. I pretend to swim. They think the rest of me is in the water with them, but really it’s just my head floating on the surface.

Most of the essential bits are back in the relative safety of the boat.

In my dreams I drive the way I used to, merging onto the interstate at 65 miles per hour like it’s no big thing. Like visiting my family wouldn’t be the end of the world.

It all reminds me of when I sprained my knee and dreamed nightly of running up and down the stairs.


“I’m not even sure why I’m here,” I said to the instructor in a moment of panic.

“Because you want to heal,” she answered.

Don’t we all?

And don’t we all wish sometimes that healing was more linear and straightforward?

I climbed onto the table. She put her hot hands over my eyes, my ears, my heart.

On the next table, another student began to snore softly. Tears spilled down the sides of my face and into my hair.

I never did manage to unclench both fists at the same time while she was working on me.

they don’t want me

Kathy asked if I had ever written that story on one of my canvas prints. I had not, which was both surprising and not-surprising-at-all.

So I started. It’s coming out in the disjointed way that these stories do. Not a straight line, but a zig-zag lightning-strike path.

when i was nine, my mother got very sick

Last year E suggested that I write a question with my right hand, then answer it with my left hand.

Q: What are these panic attacks about?

A: they don’t want me they don’t want me they don’t want me

I woke up at 3 o’clock the other morning, having put the pieces together in my sleep. Suddenly knowing that “they don’t want me” belonged on this piece of canvas with the rest of the story.

IMG_0629

Back in E’s office, after we finish laughing about the wastebasket, I pull up this picture on my phone. We pass the phone back and forth. There’s not much talking. I zoom in on the details, one after another, so she can see the whole thing.

it got worse. i decided to run away.

A list of the things I had in my pockets when I left:

  • two dollars and sixty-three cents
  • a girl scout knife
  • a small red and silver flashlight

Last, but not least:

i brushed my hair for once.

We’ve been working together for more than five years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever told her that before. I’m not sure I could have said it aloud.

E looks up at me. We’re both crying.

Some things can never be fixed, but maybe you can find a way to stop being alone with them.