Monday, November 29, 2010

Three Muses

I had to find the photos this morning. I've been casually looking for them for the past couple of weeks, wondering how I'd misplaced them when they were in one place for so long--a three windowed leather picture frame, old and worn. 

It held three pictures--Francie, Alice, and Polly. The three women to whom I'd dedicated my second collection, In The Gloaming. I'd been looking for the photos for a few weeks, since Francie died. I couldn't figure out where they'd gone. This morning, I needed them; the day had come when it was the priority. I had some work to do moving things around anyway, so I put finding them at the front of my mind. As often happens with what is lost, focusing on it brings it back. (I have tried St. Anthony, too, on recommendation. He found me a lost diamond engagement ring, and I haven't dared trouble him again.)

Francie inspired my story Watch The Animals. She was fierce, glamorous, beautiful, wickedly funny, noble, generous, intensely loyal if she liked you, scary if she didn't. She always had a pack of animals--mainly those that no one else wanted. Every time I picked a cat or dog off the streets of Manhattan and found it a home (too often with me), it was because she'd shown me that to do so was natural--just paying attention.

Alice Kirby had an incredible sense of humor. She was the younger sister of my father and his twin. After my father died, she wrote to me and sent me presents every year, weird presents that my friends and I marveled at. Is this what teenagers liked in Florida? These leopard skin bags, these gold belts? I began to count on hearing from her, though, as happens in such instances; I wanted those otherworldly gifts.
Charles, Alice, and William Kirby
When my son was born she sent me money, and I used it to buy a ticket to visit her. So much fell into place on that trip; I found out where my father was buried, for one thing. Alice was funny, sharp, and completely kind. She'd built her house on a lake north of Orlando, raised two kids on her own, started a successful business, and took care of her mother all her life. Her father had been born in a log cabin. I could see that.

Polly lived near us, in a house with a white living room--her world view allowed that. Every year we spent Christmas Eve with her and her family, even after divorces and remarriages. She had my engagement party at her house, and the gathering after my grandfather's funeral. Every one of these events ended with hurt stomachs from so much laughter; even the time I got violently ill while staying with her the night before I was due to testify in a court case. I felt like I'd never be better, and also that nothing more hilarious had ever happened on the planet earth. When the phone rang today and I heard her daughter's voice, I instantly knew what I'd already known all morning; I'd been searching for the Polly picture, after all. Tonight I took lots of other Polly, Alice, and Francie photos out of old albums. I don't know why, yet. 
Focus, find.

Friday, November 26, 2010

By Accident

A few nights ago, my friend A. was in a car accident, and I sat in the hospital with her for many hours while she was being checked out.

She's a good friend, an old friend, from 12th grade on. One of those friends about whom I could tell many stories from youth that all seem wild, and from more recently, that all seem brave.

We hadn't seen each other for a while so took the complete helplessness of being on the schedule of the emergency room as a chance to catch up. Kids first--we know each other's kids well, so this isn't as boring as it can be at times. Then we drifted off into the conversational equivalent of speculative fiction. We imagined how the accident could have been worse, then whether or not we should blow off Christmas and go away, and where we would go if we did.

I got to cover her with blankets, to help her drink water, to go with her to be X-rayed, and to help her up when no one would give us a straight answer about whether or not she was allowed to move. As it turned out, she wasn't.  By then we were already across the hall, by the bathroom. You snooze you lose, hospital people.

When the attending finally came in with the test results, he clearly thought I was her lover/partner.  He addressed me with that level of seriousness, and told me all future variables on her care and what we needed to do about insurance.  I didn't correct him. It felt good to be taken into account, as if I were essential--more than just the friend.

My mind leaped to Chagall. Chagall the magical, Chagall who painted dreams in the sky. An odd association, yet I understood.
At the school A. and I attended, there were many women teachers who lived in twos and taught together for their whole lives. One such set of housemates had a collection of Chagall paintings that began as a street purchase in the twenties and grew by gifts over time into a significant owning. I always associate Chagall with these bluestockings who educated me. When I was older I realized that such pairs were actually couples, "more than friends", which seemed a happy ending for them, but also a bittersweet realization for me--in that I had a belief in friendship as being as important as romantic love. I had always thought those women had idyllic lives, to go on living with a friend, after most girls peeled apart and married. I hoped that might be possible--that my friends and I would stay important to each other, would maintain our code of solidarity.

Altar Window All Saints Tudel
Last summer I went with another great friend to a little church in England where the glass was all Chagall. The windows told a beautiful and sad story of a young woman drowning, and the love and acceptance of Jesus and the angels when she ascended to them. She died before all her life got going--who knew what may have become of her? S. and I sat together in peace for a long time, looking at the great works of art made in memory of that girl. No one was there but the two of us. The sun came through the windows so fiercely we couldn't speak for all the color. We were on our own that day, far from everyone and everything that belonged to us but each other and this tiny church holding this enormous genius. We sat in the graveyard after and wrote then read our pages to each other. Not very good, really; but that wasn't important. The sun went down; the windows grew opaque; we headed back. Chagall stayed, floating, as always, his world a beautiful ideal, his Jesus smiling and happy, even on the cross.

When A. was let go after her accident, I drove her home to her husband and daughter and said goodbye. They asked me to stay; I didn't want to stay. I gave her husband the instructions that had been told to me, when I was her partner for a little while--her significant other, rather than just her friend.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Tag, Therefore I Write

Recently I was talking to someone about when he started writing.

"I was about to say a couple of years ago, but then I realized I'd actually been writing for a long time. I always called myself a writer. It was just that it was..."

I knew what was coming. He meant tagging. Graffiti.

I've learned a lot about this kind of writing in the last few years. I have many examples in my own basement. The other day I was taken to see the writing below, in an alley, in a city where tagging is a serious activity that involves turf, art, and politics. The artist showed it to me bashfully. "It's not very good. I'm working on it."
Tag by an anonymous artist
I recently watched a good graffiti movie called Infamy, recommended to me as it shows the parents as well as the kids. This is the link to the trailer.

Is this writing? I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt--except on my furniture.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wall of Water

 I haven't had it for a while--perhaps there has finally been enough therapy between me and my repetitive nightmares to keep them away. I did have this one for a long time, and it was simple: I was walking along the beach and suddenly, to my left, rose up with no warning a wall of water, grey or green, as high as I could see. It always confused me that I suddenly lost view of the horizon. I yearned for it again, one more glimpse, and hoped I could swim through the wave to the other side even as I knew I was about to get it.

One last wish, for a view to the edge of the world.

The big wave. Lots of possible interpretations. Right now, everything that stands between me and my novel.  The wall of water has its attractions, too, though. How do I sort it all out?

Lately I have been watching videos of big wave surfing--in bed, in the dark, on an Ipad. The habit began while reading The Wave by Susan Casey, much of which portrays the life and extraordinary abilities of Laird Hamilton, the big wave surfer. (Here's the fun of the Ipad--read a few pages, flip over to YouTube and watch the exact ride just described in the book.) I finished the book, but the videos remain, a waking dream before sleep.

Here's Laird Hamilton, surfing my wave dream. He is a genius of the sea.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fact or Fiction?

Today a friend wrote me with news of an essay contest she thought I might want to enter. I could write about when my father drove off a bridge and was killed, she suggested. Nice idea, except it never happened--except in my novel, Think of England. That father died in a car crash. Not mine.

An editor, a person who knew me very well, made the same mistake. In the course of a conversation she kept referring to "your first husband." 
"I've only had one husband," I reminded her. "The one you know."

"But in your story..."

Yes. In my story. Which was fiction.

This happens when people know each other. Somehow actual acquaintanceship with a person renders their fiction into non-fiction. I can think of many reasons why this might happen, but I don't know for certain. Perhaps there is always the desire for us to know each other more thoroughly, and reading into a book is too irresistible an opportunity. It can also be assumed for the fiction of strangers, but that is more deliciously gossipy. With friends, it's better to afford the benefit of the doubt for an imagination.

Yet that's hard, because there are always bits that do correspond to reality. The novel I'm writing now includes a murder. What will that mean for my friendships?