23

Mosaic Portrait by Pamela GoodeHaving just finished a self portrait from a photograph taken when I was 23, I’m rather enamored. She’s hanging on the wall across from me and, flaws aside, I like her. I like who she was — timid, too quiet, gentle and reticent — and I like who she’s become — brash, passionate, level-hearted, and wild for life. I like looking at her and knowing that she’s okay now, and that I am too. I like considering the deepness of her eyes so young, and knowing that I made her, moment by moment, each of 21,020 days now, give or take a few leap years. I like looking at her as she is, unaware of the intervening decades, and as I am now, aware and more or less okay with them. And I wonder, if she had peeked out the window in 1978 and caught a glimpse of us at 57, what would she say to this older self?

Would she be surprised at the friends I still hold close? And those I’ve let go?

Would she be surprised that I still sew, that I still read Faulkner, Eliot, and Nabokov, that I still write, that I’m still slow to speak?

Would she wonder how I found the nerve to travel alone, to open a business, to finally crack in the face of inequities and speak out, make waves, lose friends?

How disappointed would she be over my first marriage? How angry that it took me so long to learn to speak? How devastated over the too-many-times that I kept my mouth shut?

How much in awe at knowing our children, so like her and yet so not?

How stunned to realize that they are both older now than she is?

Our mother died six years ago, and missing her has changed my view of aging — a bit. I used to surprise myself by seeing her in the mirror now and then, and finding her skin across my legs and arms. Sometimes I scan the road ahead of my car, and I know I’m looking through my mother’s eyes, seeing with her hazel irises and interpreting my view in that funny way she had. For so long, I didn’t like these intrusions of age, but now I welcome them as a little more time spent with the woman who gave me life and shared it with me longer than anyone I know.

And when I glance across the room to 23 now, I’ve got that motherly thing going on. I want to protect her, to encourage her, to give her a fear of not living, to make sure she wrings every drop of life out of her years. In a way, I’m re-mothering myself, and she’s re-childing me.

Here’s what I miss most about those early years: knowing what you love and believing you’ll never, ever let go of it, for any reason; the certainty that everything is possible; being an impetus for change rather than fearing it; sharing a comfortable relationship with time; believing you’ll always be beautiful.

So yeah, she’s staying on the wall right in front of me. I suggest you post an image of yourself on the wall too — it’s quite the kickstarter.

Mapping a New Landscape

When I was a girl, every Saturday morning breakfast was punctuated by my father pushing his chair back from the table, standing, and announcing that he was headed out to “survey the estate.” Our “estate” was quite small — the size of an average back yard in the city — but luscious, with tended perennial beds, brick paths, a secret Japanese garden with a winding stream and waterfall, a couple of small brick terraces, climbing vines, tall hedges, a fig tree, and a hand-carved grape arbor. I loved this garden because it was cool and beautiful and welcoming, but more importantly, because it lived and breathed a family. Not only did we spend summer days and nights here, but it existed because we existed. Every flower and blade of grass, every scraggly shrub starter, every brick, every hand-patinaed piece of statuary, every pond liner and edging stone and wooden arbor joist had been planted and carved and laid and edged and watered and tended by my visionary parents, with the aid of three fledgling wheelbarrow drivers. I’ve lived in gardens ever since those early years, but my first remains the gold standard. Not because it was prettier or more lush or contained a magical variety of flora, but because watching an ordinary family create that garden taught me just how much influence we have over the landscapes of our lives. I grew up believing that anything was possible with a little sweat, imagination, some scavenging, a tool or two, and someone to help with the wheelbarrow.

And my life has been very much like this. When I’ve acted on this belief, some pretty magical things have happened. I’ve always claimed to be lucky, to be blessed, to have escaped turmoil, despair, poverty. I’ve been pretty good at remembering that I have everything I need to live, create, and love, even if I can’t immediately remember which drawer or which recess of my brain has it safely tucked away. It has been, most certainly, a wondrous life and, despite a few sorrows, I could hardly have penned it any better.

And now at 57, too old to be tragic and too young to be inevitable, I have cancer, and though I am quite often irritatingly adept at seeing things coming, I did not see this.

Today will be hot, but the sky is dishing out a soul-stirring bluster. Yesterday I watched a tree throw her leaves in an arc that crossed a lane, fluttering madly in a last dance. This morning the walnut and elm on opposite sides of the garden are tossing their dual ingredients into the tango in swirls like fall, and it feels both happy and sad to see a summer breeze awash with still-green leaves. No longer green myself, I still feel the flutter and recognize change.

And so I look at the bountiful landscape of a life and wrestle to place my changing self into the life I’ve loved. Though my prognosis is good, I’m irritated that my future, which should map out genetically at a good thirty years (still peanuts!) will now be measured and celebrated in five year increments — barely time enough to make a bucket list, especially one scheduled around chemo treatments. And I’m irritated that my gurus, carefully chosen by the matching of heart to soul, will now be peopled with strangers selected by paper credentials and calendar availability, and that they will have as much say, and perhaps more, in the way I live my days from sunup to sundown for the rest of my life. And I’m irritated that cancer so often attacks women in the very organs that give and sustain life — Karma, wake the hell up!!!

Of course the bottom line is that the landscape of my life has also changed, and shockingly so. The way I look at my days has changed. The way I think and experience has changed. In a way, I’m okay with that. But I need to start over like a child with my trowel in the dirt, learning the feel of both peat and clay, the difference between nectars and nettles, how to map paths around this sinkhole or that hornet’s nest. Landscape, I want to look you full in the eye with my colored lenses off and my antennae roused. I need to know you intimately so that I can meet you on my terms. And yes, I will bitch and moan. I will withdraw. I will snap. I will be preoccupied. I will cry. I will cling. I will write more than I will speak. I will not wear the smiley face. I will be unpredictable, just like this disease. Just like this changing landscape that looks so foreign to me in this moment. But in the end, there will be beauty.

I want to be Zen again, one day, but make no mistake that this time I will be Zen with a dragon tattoo, really good hiking boots, and backup. So please pardon me while I raise a little hell and clear the nettles.

Rousillon

Landscape of Rousillon, France
Read More Here

Running Behind vs The Odd Moment

I’m always running behind. Walking into work with a Carmen Miranda melange of must-be-done today tasks arranged willy-nilly and aslant, balanced precariously on my buzzing brain. And after a day’s work, I walk back into our house sporting a very similar headpiece — the fruits may have changed, but the basket is still overfull and topheavy, threatening to spill and be lost at any moment.

What are You Waiting For?Most of the time I’m okay with this. I love my life, and I snarl at sleep as a major annoyance. But I don’t have much down time.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I realized the gallery was covered Friday morning, and I had a few hours off before a long weekend workshop. Supplies were in and set-up couldn’t happen before 4:00. I cleaned my workspace (some would call it a kitchen), washed the sink, and sat.

And for someone who is never, ever, ever bored, I was oddly close. Quite, and oddly, at loose ends.

Given enough time, of course, I could have been productive. Or even mindfully unproductive, which can be just as good (and sometimes better). But caught unaware and given a gift — the one gift we ALL covet — I was totally unprepared.

Boredom always seems so expansive, no matter how momentary. It’s as if the mind, the heart, and the soul are all busy elsewhere, and all that makes you you is off on holiday. How is it that we can so easily forget who we are, what we love, our passions and pleasures? How is it that I can sit for a moment with time at my feet, and not be able to remember what I love? And yet I can always remember the chores left undone.

I’ve always laughed at myself, or maybe scoffed is the better word, when I’m trying to think of something to make for dinner and can’t remember a single favorite. For years I’ve been meaning to make a list: “food I like to eat.” And now it appears that I need to make another: “things I like to do.” I don’t want to be caught staring into space the next time a few odd  moments fall into my lap. Hmmm, sounds like the topic for my next post 🙂

Fah Who Rah-Moose

from shloshspot.com

‘Twas the night before New Year’s, and all through the house

Every Who down in Whoville was doped up and soused.

They hated the New Year; they grumbled and whined,

“We don’t want a NEW year; this suits us just fine.”

But the clock wouldn’t listen, it groaned and it wheezed,

And it paused not a whit on the cusp of the breeze

That would blow that foul second hand forward and then

Slap the faces of Whos with a pointy-mouthed grin.

Auntie Em hugged her teacup; Vern gripped hard his bottle

Cindi Loo sucked her nipple of mead on full throttle.

While Muffy poured scotch and Big Joe warmed the wassail,

I saw Gramps downing Nyquil to plump up his fossil.

Homer was huffing and Jane rode a bender

While Grams poured tequila and rum in the blender.

They binged and they cringed and they cowered in fear

“We must stop it from coming! We’ll stop it this year!”

But no matter the moonshine, no matter the crack,

Father Time gave the gift that he wouldn’t take back.

He granted them change and a hope for the new,

Whilst snickering snickers, ice cold as a shrew.

It’s a New Year, My Lovelies, You Hortons and Whos,

And you’ll take it and thank me; you don’t get to choose.

So get on with your hopes and your dreams and your wishes,

Cause I’ve got the clock, and you dogs is my bitches.

~ c. 2011 by Pamela Pardue Goode,

with apologies to Clement C. Moore and eternal gratitude to Dr. Seuss  🙂

And all of a Sudden . . .

Big Ben by Martin Keene

the wait was over. It’s like the Limbo Dial spun itself silly and suddenly I was plunked down on the sidewalk, handed a quarter, and told to be on my merry way. And a merry way it shall be. But still . . .

I can’t help wondering who the timekeeper of this universe is. I can’t help wondering why forward motion stops with a jerk and leaves you dangling on the threshold of a leap. I can’t help wondering what lubricates the rusty key and gets the whole shebang moving again just as if you didn’t spend those months staring at days that crept by, eying you warily to make sure you stayed put, uninvolved, uninvited, fettered and quite inanimate. And most of all, I can’t help wondering why the wheel stops short for so many of us at almost the same exact moment in this anathema called TIME, and how it can be possible for the wheel to wind back up and heave forward in a single motion, the same single motion at the same single moment for those same ones of us again. And perhaps . . . I wonder . . . could groups of us be united not so much by common traits or experiences or hair color or literary loves, but simply because we’ve found ourselves on the same capricious wheel, whirring along at the same speed, sharing the same lulls, the same bumps, the same spurts? Could it be?

And so the wheel begins again and it’s almost as though it never stopped. Flurry replaces lethargy; the mind spins; feet become fleet; busy-ness soothes us and feels good. I don’t know what it meant — the waiting — but I’m glad it’s gone for a time. Godspeed.

I Like to Pretend

When do we lose interest in “let’s pretend?” When do we stop allowing ourselves to kerplunk right down in foreign scenarios, dreams, flights of fancy? I know the why (too many disappointments to risk one more), but when is the when? And (egads) why do we allow it?

I’m “away” for the weekend — my favorite place to be. It almost doesn’t even matter where “away” is — but as places go, this one tops many lists. I’m sipping tea on a deck with a rail made of handcut and hand-reassembled mountain laurel branches — a wood and air mosaic if you will. A bird visits for handouts. A mist rolls across the faces of my hosts: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, is that an eighth? mountain ranges. Peace.

I like to pretend. What if I lived here? What would I hang on this wall, what mountain tomatoes would be the best to slice for lunch, which fruits in the feeder would bring the most colorful birds? And best of all, with ample time to look, what would I see in the faces of the mountain? What whispers would I hear in the night?

My life opens up when I pretend. I live in beautiful spaces, raw places, dine on the exotic or on the field greens I watched a woman in black gather from an empty lot in Greece. I imagine a new wardrobe: floaty and aqua near the sea, downy knits for the hills, pintucks in muted neutrals for France, accessorized by a long and skinny linen bread bag for markets.

But I can pretend just as well in my own backyard. I love to walk at night past the houses that look so alive, so exciting, with lights ablaze, the colors of various rooms leaping out (hello!), while I admire the addition of this or that piece of art. What if I lived here? Or there? Or, ooh! there!? Drop me down in a new surrounding and I fantasize: how would I be different?

Would the deep rose walls warm me? Would a daily infusion of Greek herbs clear my head? Would these blue mountains ground me, or would my spirit heal from the constant tumbling and resurgence of the sea? Am I fully a product of my current environment? 80 percent? 50 percent? How much of myself do I take with me from place to place, and how much of those places do I bring home?

Is there a dividing line between the life I lead and the life I dream, or do they commingle to make me whole?

The Summer We Waited

Waiting, c. Pamela Goode

Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow ~ T.S. Eliot

Am I going to fail my Zen test because I can’t love the shadow? I’m trying, really I am. I know good things will come, that fruition takes time, but . . . .  Good things come to he who waits is, I’m sorry, crap. Sitting around waiting never got anyone anywhere.  Good things come to those who DO.  But . . . do what? Where do you go when there’s nowhere to go?

I hate waiting. Of course this is a pointless comment — does anyone like waiting? Waiting eats our time, our patience, our resolve, our certainty, our energy. Waiting sucks, quite literally, and I am sucked out.

The spring seemed (was) rife with possibilities. I worked to schedule my time to accommodate them all, made lists and guides and proposals, gathered supplies and references, made contacts  and pursued leads. And then I moved on to take care of everything else — all the things that don’t wait while we’re waiting.

And it was good, but then . . . nothing.

Patience, patience, all good things take time. Deadlines pass. Excuses made. New deadlines created that will then pass and more waiting, more setting aside new chunks of more focused time to complete what you offered to committed to wanted to complete even though the game keeps changing. And the waiting gets a little less enchanting, a little less hopeful, a little less patient.

I fully believe that for change to occur, we must make the space for it. We must empty ourselves of pre-conceived ideas, old habits, tired ways, and the blindness born of always seeing things in the same fashion. But even being open to change isn’t enough — we have to empty the closets if we want change to stay for a while. But how long do you wait? How long to you wait and believe, with that damn shadow pulling out every sneaky trick in the book to become your new best friend? At what point will I morph from the being-who-welcomes-my-full-destiny to the-lady-with-so-much-time-that-she’s-making-macaroni-mosaics?

Too-abundant and so-rarely-productive surplus of time, I hate you. I want to love you, but I don’t. I want what I’ve worked for, and I want it now. Or even tomorrow, but I’ve had it up to here with this flapping in the breeze.

It’s a funny thing about waiting. Funny in that f***you sort of way. Because in the interim, time does what times does best: it changes us. Not the change we planned for hoped for made space for welcomed, but in some Other way, a way that’s a bit harder to pinpoint, speaking with a softer voice and holding out a very blurry map, but helping herself to my closet space nonetheless.

*This is not the post I meant to write, but this is the post that came out. I meant to point you toward my two newest blogs (that’s what too much time will get you): Wild Hair Adventures, a compilation of my travel essays and photographs (toddler stage), and Ormolulu, a blog to celebrate junking excursions (still quite an infant). Hope you like.

Happy . . . Something

RascalIt’s my favorite season of the year, and I’m speechless. I used to carry on in December with a twinkly grin and a ready, “Merry Christmas!”, one of the few times of the year when I didn’t have to depend on faulty hearing to know what people were saying, because everyone was simply wishing you happiness, family, and sharing. Now, older certainly and wiser mostly, I just smile and nod. I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel good. Continue reading

The Power of Thought

I was sitting on the Duke quad quite a few years ago when a guy in a black trench coat walked up and sat down beside me. I recognized him from my Philosophy class, but we had never spoken and I didn’t know his name. He asked me out. Continue reading

Be Still

Stillness is not my forte. Unusually still and silent as a child, I’ve been wiggling my way through life since adulthood. But travel is a mind shift for me, and after days of battering by sea and air, my thoughts are quieting to something like stillness, and not a little bit of awe. Continue reading