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This miracle!

Each day I see a little more clearly what a miracle it is to be single, responsible to no one but myself, still relatively healthy and as sane as I’ve ever been, and about to live in some beautiful new place where the necessity to earn a living and provide for other people no longer dominates my life. Scales fall from my eyes. I want to move into a new landscape and touch it, smell it, roll in it, squish it between my fingers, chew on it, drench myself in it, know all its seasons and moods and colors, know it well enough to adore it: I want to move in and grow roots in it and make something, maybe something with my hands, that doesn’t have to be successful, doesn’t have to please anyone, or sell, or meet anyone’s standards but mine. If that is possible, life is about to become true in a way I haven’t experienced since I was four. For the first time, I see how dishonest the necessity to earn money has made me, how habitual that dishonesty has become. But I also see that it is possible to drop dishonest habits and come home to a home that is not a place but a way of being.

When I lived in Austin in the mid-80s I visited the home of a woman sculptor–I have forgotten her name now. Mary something. She lived in Austin early in the 20th century, and she created a life that allowed her to be completely honest and to do what her intuition called her to do. She lived in a house she designed, with a trap door in the floor so she could hose the place down quickly and efficiently when she wanted to. She slept in a hammock so she didn’t have to make a bed. She had only one set of cutlery (I remember now, that idea is not original with me), so she couldn’t “entertain” and was freed of that drain on her time and resources. She was part of the folk art movement, if I remember correctly, and she spent her time making what she wanted to make, or wandering around in the hills and forests. She was completely outside the rounds of artists who had to get patrons and show their work in prestigious galleries and get money. I don’t remember where her money came from, but she didn’t have to please anyone but herself, and she made wonderful, original, beautiful things. Ultimately, of course, her work did end up in galleries and museums, but that wasn’t what she was after. She just wanted to do what she could do. And of course Walter Anderson wanted the same thing, and his wife, who I dearly loved, made it possible for him to have his intercourse with God, to make what he made not for mammon but for the same reason Marc Chagall said he made things: to appreciate them fully, and by appreciating them, to redeem them and return them to their Source.

Last night I was too tired to work on some of the projects I have before me, so I turned on the TV and found a wonderful program on NPR, called Craft in America: Landscape. The link takes us to a two-page description of the program, but a short description is this: “examines the relationship of craft artists with their physical environment, which serves as a source of materials and inspiration. The program spotlights Timberline Lodge, woodworker George Nakashima and his daughter Mira, jewelers Kit Carson and Jan Yager and ceramicists David Gurney and Richard Notkin.” These people all draw into their work the landscape and the materials they find near the place where they live, another variation on the theme so wonderfully present in the work of Andy Goldsworthy, about whom I’ve commented often in this blog. (There’s a very recent interview–but no pictures–with him here, and a four-minute clip from the hourlong documentary called Rivers and Tides on Youtube here.) I was powerfully moved by this TV show, and it reminded me how limited my vision has been by the necessity to earn money.

Oh sure, I rejected a life entirely focused on making money. I was an actress, a writer, and a teacher, all things that gave me some rein for expressing myself and doing what I loved. Doing no harm. Right livelihood. But it was always within limits. While I was acting in New York I earned my living as a counselor for ex-junkies in a methadone program. I audited Uta Hagen’s classes on my days off and thought of her as my teacher, but I couldn’t actually take her classes full-time, because I had a job that I had to go to during the hours when she taught. I auditioned on my days off, but my career never took off in New York, and I left after a year. Then I supported my acting habit in other ways, and finally I sang the song of capitulation and went for a Ph.D. in drama because I imagined I needed to put Seth through college, and I needed a reliable job in order to do that.

Seth surprised me and refused to go to the colleges I could afford to send him to. But that came later. While I wrote or acted, I did other things to pay the bills, feed the kids and myself, pay for our medical care, and whatever else needed doing. Teaching paid me just enough to get by, although I have lived my whole life in debt, because teaching really wasn’t enough to get by on, especially after I adopted the two girls and had to pay thousands and thousands for therapists, hospitals, doctors, and medications to help them cope with their early childhood trauma. I learned huge lessons from all this, had glorious romances along the way, and there was great love for and from the children, deep satisfaction in our relationships, and effort and success and joy in all of it besides. But there was always, always a bending to necessity.

My being in Houston is a result of that bending. I have never found a way to love this place. I love people in it, but the land itself is unfriendly with its fire ants, mosquitoes, suffocating heat, and endless acres of concrete, glass, steel, and traffic oh god TRAFFIC, massive 18-wheelers, and personal trucks, Hummers, and SUVs: mean steel boxes careening toward each other at 70 mph, shimmering in the sun. I can love the clouds in the big Texas sky, and I do; I can love the wildflowers in the spring; I love the trees outside my balcony. But that will only take a person so far, and she is still here in this flat swampy hot city where even in the parks and by the bayous she dare not take her shoes off or she will be eaten alive by the fire ants that really own the landscape. I never wanted to be here, and I have been here since 1999. I keep laboring to love what I can, but it is a labor. The landscape doesn’t call me out to play in it.

If I can find a way to live on the $900 a month social security that is coming to me (so long as the US social security system doesn’t tank, and I don’t even want to talk about that), then I can unfold to all the possibilities I put aside while satisfying the so-called mother of invention. Oh brave new world…. My friend Leif, who was first my friend when I was six and she was seven, and who became my friend again after we’d lost each other for twenty years, sent me an email this morning saying, “I feel as if I may be having a another awakening (related to that of the seventies) but it is too soon to write of it. I may not be awake enough yet.” She’s being modest. Her life has been gloriously awake, full of her own making that expressed itself in dance, sculpture, painting, and even a book of her own. But we can always wake up again. And again. My favorite cup is one my friend Lillie gave me. It says, “Wake Up!”

In my answer to Leif’s email, I found myself raving about the possibilities that lie before us at this moment in our lives. I didn’t get this when I was thirty or forty or even fifty. I guess it’s just as well that I didn’t, because then I would have lived the intervening years longing for this time to come. But I get it now. I wrote back to Leif, “These are our last days on earth. I will love a new place and unfold myself there, doing a new work. Even when that work is gazing into the trees, or watching an ant carry its load, or watching a raindrop course down a window pane, it is my work, and I can do it now.” If the universe allows, there may be other work to do, as well, and if I allow, I may finally live with real integrity.

That is not to say, of course, that people who don’t live to retire lack integrity. My grandfather worked till he died, and he is my primary model of integrity. Most people in the world do work for an income till they die. But for me, if time allows, there is another integrity I’m hunting than the one I know in laboring to support myself and others. There is an integrity I want to discover, and it calls to me now.

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One response to “This miracle!”

  1. jessie says:

    My parents are in similar place as you, Kendall. They have been there for the past five years, experimenting with life and time. My father, a school teacher for 33 years couldn’t just give it up. He returned to a charter high school. Though a public school, it was far from the deperate terrain he traversed as teacher for 30 years in poor, rural, isolated Michigan. Though more like an alternative high school, dad found his students to be brilliant and respectful. They lit a fire in him just as he lit one in them. (I’ve see his impact, first-hand.) Their brilliance led my father to his first undying love. Painting. His landscapes are often stunning. Loved by nature, he loves, in turn. nrnrNot to sound like a commercial, but if you’d like see his paintings visit nrnrKeep in mind, a photograph doesn’t do a painting justice. nrnrJet

  2. admin says:

    Great story JetGirl, and thanks for the link. I hope everybody has a look. May each of us return to our first undying love–or our most recent undying love–by whatever path works to take us there. And while we’re at it, let’s hear it for whatever lights that fire!

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