The Fox at Dawn

9.26.20 A New Pen
September 26, 2020, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Art of the Day, Writing | Tags: , , , ,


Notes from my journal

A new journal, a new journal cover, and a new pen. Or at least a different pen. I am at a sudden loss. I feel unmoored and adrift. My beloved Waterman fountain pen is no more, after decades of service. It was not in great shape. The cap was cracked, held together with super glue. The clip on it had been bent and was loosening. A while back, Waterman, in Paris, offered to fix the cap for me if I could find the original receipt or certificate, but I could not find it. And I could not stand the idea of shipping it off and being without it for so long. So I kept it. It was not in great shape, I admit it. Still, I thought I would be writing with it the rest of my life. Then a new journal was delivered and I went upstairs to gather my pen, the journal I was just finishing and my glasses (I retrace my steps, replay this moment over and over in my mind). Coming down the steps, my pen flew out of the temporary case it was in for safety (my black leather pen holder has disappeared somewhere in the house in the last month and I cannot, cannot find it- was this a sign, a portent I should have seen coming?) The pen flew out of that velveteen pouch, hit a step that knocked the cap clean off, then went into a perfect swan dive onto the tile of the kitchen floor below bending that gorgeous 14k gold nib back like eyelashes. It was a trajectory that would be impossible to recreate. Honestly, it felt like the hand of God smote that pen out of my hands.

My heart stumbled when I saw what had happened to the nib. I did try to bend it back but it was clearly never going to write again. There’s no going back, only going forward. But it hurts. That pen has been my constant companion since 1998. It‘s been everywhere with me, all around the United States, to Canada, Europe, Asia, Central America and South America. It’s helped me navigate both joy and grief. It’s what I write with. Plays, poems, journals, papers, essays, notes, letters, lesson plans, stories. My Waterman fountain pen with the gold nib. It was a tremendous expense when I bought it for myself at the start of my life as a solitary, after my divorce from Patrick.  I knew I was embarking on an independent life, a new journey, though I didn’t know at the time that it would, in fact, be a solitary one. The pen was a gift to myself, one I saved for, bought from an ancient pen store on Jewelers Row in Chicago. I do not believe it is still in business.

The death of this pen seems to be a portent, all of a piece with these tumultuous times. Nothing is the same for any of us this year, either personally or nationally. The old ways of doing things have been completely disrupted. I am making the choice not to mourn its loss- the pen, the old way of living and working, the old way of seeing the world. It is a new beginning for me. I think. While I am as solitary as ever, I am more connected in friendship with others than I have been in years. I seem to be extending myself to others in ways I haven’t had the energy for in a long time. I feel a generosity of spirit in myself that I have long missed. I am learning to value and respect myself, even to love my Self in ways I don’t think I ever have before. Belief in my work is growing, as a teacher, as a writer, as an artist. Perhaps it’s only right that I lay my dear workhorse friend to rest and take up a new pen with which to explore the gifts of these troubled times.

Right now I am writing with a pen I bought at the Crescent Hill Fourth of July fair a couple of years ago. It’s a fountain pen made by a local craftsman. It’s heavier than my Waterman, though the weight is not unpleasant. The nib is finer, and though gold in color, is not gold in fact. It’s marked “iridium German nib” but a little research reveals that to be a false claim too, like the gold color. It’s a steel nib, made in Asia, and it scrapes on the surface of the paper, not like the smooth effortless flow of the Waterman. But it will do for a while. A great deal has been lost these last four years, and this current year is one for the history books. My heart, like so many hearts, has been heavy, yet somehow I feel lighter tonight. My beloved pen is gone but I can feel there is a gift barreling down on me and I will accept it with joy when it comes. The right pen will come to me and I will feel that I am meant to have it. What’s more, it will be a gift of love.

9.22.20 The Day Dawns
End of Summer 1

Monday evening, September 21st 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died a few days ago and like so many, I’ve been battling the waves of darkness that threaten to pull me under. It’s a truly awful time. I am not alone in feeling that our democracy is in real peril. I have taken it for granted all my life. I believed our system of checks and balances so carefully constructed and time tested that it could withstand anything, anyone. But I am wrong. The constellation of evil, the triumvirate of greed, bigotry and ignorance that is holding sway in positions of power, is sweeping all balance away. Every day we grow sicker, angrier, more divided as a nation.

I cannot write of it anymore this evening. I remind myself to breathe. I make myself look around, see where I am, see the goodness that is all around me. It’s grown dark. I sat outside in the dying light drawing until I couldn’t see my marks anymore. A clear cool night, the insects sing and bats take to the sky. The hummingbirds have not all left yet, but soon. Inside now, I sit in my dad’s leather armchair, the one he bought when we lived in the grand old house on Cherokee Parkway. I remember it was a big purchase, a long considered one because of the expense. It has a matching leather ottoman too. He bought it for the library where he could sit and read his papers, his endless line of Civil War books, Lonesome Dove. He was an infamously slow reader but a steady one. Dedicated. He always said that his reading was ruined when he took Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course in college. It took him two years to finish Lonesome Dove, but he kept at it. It makes me happy sitting in his chair, the worse for wear, the better for memories.

The Palette

Drawing brings comfort, especially the land drawings. It was my friend Reba Rye who first showed me it was possible to gather up things around you with which to draw. You needn’t be dependent on what you can buy in a store. Such a simple idea and yet it was a revelation to me. You can take leaves and petals, press and pull them across the paper. Charcoal from fires, red dirt, certain rocks are good too. Lately I’ve been gathering plants on my evening walks- flowers that grow in the alleys, leaves along the railroad tracks. Sometimes I surreptitiously pull off the heads of flowers that grow on the edges of my neighbors’ yards and slide them into my pockets. I only take them if they won’t be missed, if they are drooping and ready to fall, part of a profusion of cosmos, sunflower or crepe myrtle. I’ve some to know which flowers and leaves make the best color, (weeds are the most generous green). Rose of Sharon and day lilies are too watery , they ruin the paper. Zinnias are too dry. You can only make marks with your thumbnail scraping an imprinted line. Roses are wonderful, and cosmos and sunflowers. Black eyed susans are terrific because you can draw with the hard brown head of the flower as well as the yellow petals. Poke weed berries are amazing- such a dark purple stain. You have to be careful or it will take over the page. I love the leaves of the hearty begonia because one side is green while the underside is red and you can do a beautiful blend with it.

 When I get home from gathering, I lay my palette on a table. It’s hard to put into words why it is so satisfying to draw with this gathered beauty, to see their color transferred from petal to page. I draw imagined landscapes with the landscape itself and I am completely absorbed by it. It is a deep meditation that allows me to rest. I take my ink pens to define the shapes, add shading perhaps, shapes of its own. I don’t think, I let the color lead the pens. It’s another layer to the meditation, another part of the labyrinth. I may leave the drawing for days before coming back to it with the pens or to add more color. It feels effortless. It’s a conversation I’m having with myself, with the land, with being, simply being. There is no argument.

It is fully night and I need to turn my thoughts to bed, the book I am reading before sleep, the rest, the dreams that will come whether I want them to or not. The school where I teach is gearing up to have students back in the building for the first time in over six months, in a wildly different school day as we try to keep everyone safely distanced. There is much craziness to navigate involving the simultaneous teaching of students in the room, on video to different pods of the same grade level and students opting to stay at home on Zoom. I cannot begin to describe it all tonight. If I try, I’ll never fall asleep. If I check the news on Twitter, I’ll never fall asleep either. Better to move the pen across the page. Better to finish the landscape drawing. Better to read the words of a generous soul written long long ago. I am simply being tonight. Tonight I will not argument with myself.

            This is the solace I have been seeking as of late. 

Tuesday September 22nd. Walking the dogs before dawn, I see my old friend Orion in the sky and I know that the season is turning. It’s the turning I hold in my mind as I drive my daughter to her job at sunrise. My city is about to explode. Today is the day that Kentucky’s Attorney General announces whether or not there will be charges filed against the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. The downtown has been boarded up again, troops have been called in to surround federal buildings. Businesses have announced they are closed today. The courthouse is closed today. Everyone expects that it will be announced that there are no charges being filed. Everyone expects there to be a violent collective protest in response. The city holds its breath this morning. So much pain, anger, anxiety, fear everywhere we turn. On the drive with my daughter we are quiet for different reasons. She is still half asleep, facing her long day only a moment at a time. I am thinking about the sky, the changing light, what I wrote last night, what we are facing today. I know now what I am seeking when I put petal to paper, I know what it is that I love. It’s being part of the great circle for a moment, where creator and creation are one.  The energy of the sun brought the flowers and trees into being. The art I make from them becomes part of the circle, my impulse to create makes me part of the circle too. The earth spins on its axis as it circles the sun in a solar system that travels as one of millions or more in a galaxy that circles with numberless others within the ever expanding mind of God. The act of drawing (drawing out what? Beauty? The essence of a moment?) helps me step out of human time, that loud clockwork affair, and into God’s time. That which remains when all the clocks are broken, when there are no verdicts to return. I am not powerless there. There, I am home.

The End of Summer 2

Sunday Morning & the West Coast Burns 9.13.20
September 13, 2020, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Sunday Morning September 13th 2020

I sit at the glass top table on the patio, a cup of coffee sweetened with honey and a tiny apple pie are my breakfast, one that was leftover from the batch I baked special for my daughter and her friends. The late summer insects sing with the birds, the air is full of petrichor from the night’s rain. It is greener than most Septembers that I have known. I listen to a radio interview with a woman who has been keeping an audio diary about helping her three children with their online schooling during the pandemic for NPR’s education segments, only this morning her family has had to evacuate from the fires raging near her small town in Oregon. They are all in a hotel with their two dogs outside of Redmond, Washington. Even there, you can see smoke in the air. The woman’s voice is calm and clear, all her strengths mustering in this moment to hold her family together. To keep them safe. To keep fear from knocking them flat. They will do their best to keep up with school online, she said. Her son was doing his online English assignment as they were packing the car to flee. She apologizes for not giving very specific answers to the questions about education, she laughs a little and says ‘it’s maybe not the first thing on my mind.’ I listen to her voice and understand that she is speaking from inside the hotel bathroom or the closet, while her family is in the room, perhaps sleeping, perhaps watching the news, texting their friends. What have you seen? How is our house? Is it close now? I look down at my little breakfast. The little pie I made with love sits before me. How can I allow myself its sweetness?