Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thinking about Books

Late last year I bought an iPad and began to read books using the Kindle app when traveling so that I would no longer be lugging around a book or two or three on my frequent travels. While I found I was reading more, I also noticed that I was enjoying it less, missing the many different experiences which go along with reading - holding a book, looking at the type, feeling the paper, glancing at the author's information, backtracking, thinking about the cover design/art.

When I spent the day with two great friends, both avid readers and book lovers, much of the day ended up being centered around the subject. One friend runs an organization that has developed a reading curriculum for small children. According to her, research indicates that if a child becomes reading proficient by the end of second grade and able to read chapter books, the other skills for learning/growing/succeeding will fall in line. Without those reading skills and that hardwiring, the journey is so much more difficult. So it got me wondering about the debates about the roles of teachers, the amount of time small children spend holding electronic devices rather than books or being read to, and hoping like hell that schools remain funded and committed to making each child not only a reader but an experiencer of books.

Together we visited a show at the Donna Seager Gallery, "The Art of the Book Sixth Annual Exhibition of Handmade Books, Altered Books and Book Related Works". Talk about loving books. These works of art took the notion of books and turned it inside down, upside down, and multi-color. Whether through altering books, creating non-traditional books, re-using pages for whole new purposes, sculpting books, or referencing them in paintings, it was clear that for thes artists involved in the show, as well as for Donna Seager, the book is a multi-sensory object to be held and lingered over, allowing for discovery and contemplation in every interaction.

The show, the day with my friends, the conversations and the inevitable trip to a bookstore all swirling around inside my head, aided by a glass of wine, made me start thinking about the electronic age being a kind of equivalent to the fast and faster food that started with TV dinners and brought us to a world where for many, a home-cooked meal means something taken from the freezer to the microwave. That world is now soundly challenged by locavores and foodies, first ladies and food-cart proprietors, and I hope and suspect the same might happen with readers and book lovers. Don't get me wrong. I love my iPad. But I love books, and never EVER want to see them replaced by an electronic reading experience. It just misses, not all, but many of the points of a book.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hurt, Scarred, Healed

Doesn't this house look lovely? In its quintessential California style, with wisteria trailing around the posts and a wide sweeping porch, this house looks to me today as it did almost 40 years ago when I first found it and decided to make a small apartment inside of it my home. I loved that apartment, loved it up until the last time I had seen it, again, almost 40 years ago. And then I was raped inside of it, attacked by a man who entered through that window on that beautiful porch, and altered my life and sense of security for years to come.

I didn't mean to visit the house today; I went to Rockridge to meet up with a friend for coffee, and after our delightful encounter, I decided to explore my old stomping grounds. Oakland has changed so much since I went to school at CCA(C) there, and the bobo atmosphere attracts and amuses me. Artisanal everything, from coffee to gelato to babywear is available along College Ave, and only a few signs of the transitional nature of the neighborhood from when I lived there remain. And so I explored, and then found myself driving off the main drag. I couldn't name the street of my old house, and really didn't mean to be searching for it, yet there I was.

It was nice to know that the sight of the house and the memories of my final horrific time spent there held no power over me today. That was not always the case. For years - decades - I was haunted with memories and nightmares, and my poor ex-husband and many a poor travelmate would be awakened by my blood-curdling screams from night terrors. But I have exorcised those terrors, worked through and past them, and the daytime equivalent was not present when faced with the location of the crimes committed against me.

Why am I writing about this, making such a private subject so public? Because it amazes and impresses me over and over again to see how resilient we humans are - whether in recovery from natural disasters or issues of health, whether dealing with grief or terror. So often, though, we have difficulty acknowledging the hurt, a step so crucial to overcoming it and moving through and past it. That's why I am writing this blog, because rape is such an embarassing thing to admit. It is horrible to admit you have been violated by someone, horrible to admit the dirtying feeling of sexual abuse, but unless you do, you can't move on from it. My hope in writing this is to give courage to any who might need it to speak of their own violations out loud in any effort to send those violations on their way so they, too, can move on, visit their old houses and not be stirred by anything more than a "that was then" moment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

You Can't Hurry Love

A couple of years ago I badly, desperately wanted to be in love. After the end of 33 years of marriage, I wanted love again, wanted to know I could love and be loved and raced into an exciting relationship the moment my separation was formalized. I thought I was in love. I was. But the emphasis on badly and desperately clouded my vision and emotions and led me to behave in ways which, in hindsight, I regret. I do not regret any of the experience as it helped me learn a lot about myself and I had many wonderful moments, hours and days.

Since then, I have continued to bump along on the road of love, learning more, loving some, and finding myself in a very different place now - less obsessive, more aware of what is going on with ME and what I want, more aware of signals being sent to me and listening to them.

And so, here I find myself having just brought to the end another promising start with another interesting man because the relationship was not right for me. I saw pink and red flags and paid attention (as opposed to the way I behaved 35 years ago or 3 years go or one year ago.) It's not about whether he is a good man or not (and I believe he is) or if I am a good woman or not (and I believe I am), but whether who we are now, who and how we show up TODAY, is who the other wants to be with. And no fantasy of all the wonderful things we COULD do together or who we wish the other might be can replace the here and now.

Sing it girls.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chicken or Egg

Just two months ago I wrote about my inability to knit and my surprise when I found two pairs of intricately patterned mittens I had made a few years ago. I wondered if I would ever have the calm again to return to knitting, to say nothing of the desire, or if perhaps the knitting phase was over, to be replaced with....what?

Perhaps through voicing it out loud, or perhaps because I was finally open to considering it, I have begun to knit again. Not compulsively, not obsessively, but replacing other mindless activities which had been substituting for down-time, I have returned to the needles. Four friends are the recipients of new hats, and I have broken my online dependency habit as a result.

This is symbolic for me, because while knitting can induce a sense of calm through the repetitive nature of the activity, it also requires a certain calm, a willingness to slow down and do something which takes time and does not have immediate gratification. I didn't have that calm a year ago, and it has returned, for which I am most grateful.

In addition, knitting represents the domestic side of me, a side which I associated with my marriage and from which I apparently had a need to emotionally divorce. And now I can face that side of me, sans husband, sans association, sans fear of not appearing sexy to potential suitors. It really is a fifty/fifty situation, like so many others: half mind, half body. Sexy isn't about how you dress or the fact you don't knit; domestic isn't about who you are sharing your life with. One person, multiple facets. Welcome back, knitting, welcome back calm; I'm not sure which came first, like the proverbial chicken and egg.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Artifact as Autobiography

Always attracted to shows at museums which reveal an aspect of a culture through the jewelry created and worn, I decided to take an anthropological tour of my own small collection during a recent rash of cleaning. It's not as if I own a lot of jewelry, and certainly little of it is precious, at least in the conventional sense. But I have collected pieces throughout the years, and I found it interesting to note what I had held on to,examining these pieces for common threads or obvious signs of different phases of my life.

The first pieces are like a Cliff's Notes version of my journey from hippie girl in crocheted waxed linen to boho woman in Navajo silver to corporate executive in my grandmother's pearls. All of these were gifts, and all reflected a version of me I was trying on or someone else wanted me to be. None of them were worn frequently, but they do each represent a point in time, a cherished memory, and thus will remain with me probably for life.

As I have grown older and my personal style has solidified, I have tended to gravitate toward iconic pieces, pieces which I am happy to wear every single day and feel almost naked with out. Both of the silver necklaces fall into that category, and as I stared at them, I realized they each let me be me, neither overpowering me nor shying away, announcing my love of design without shouting.

The glass bead necklace, another gift, reminds me that I can continue to try on new styles, add pieces and experiences to my life which, while perhaps not suitable for everyday use, continue to add richness, color and memories. While none of us are defined by what we wear, we can use personal adornment to express a mood, a feeling, or a fantasy and I look forward to adding to my treasure trove, both literally and figuratively.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


It seems to me that the word visionary is used a lot these days, often to describe someone with a great idea. A completely different use of the word that fascinates me is in relation to art. Visionary or outsider artists are self-taught individuals, who don't necessarily self-identify as artists, but who create work out of a strong personal vision. Often their creation is obsessive, abundant, prolific, exuberant, religious, childlike, or uninhibited, and it begs taking a closer look and learning the story of the creator.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, a visionary in her own right, founded the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore in late 1995, and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting it last week. What a magical, unique, exuberant, inspiring place! Everywhere you look from the moment you arrive is filled with examples of someone's artistic expression/obsession, from the mirrored mosaic schoolbus to the entry greeting of a floor inlayed with toothbrushes spelling out "Smile".

The current exhibit at the museum is called "What Makes Us Smile" and is filled with works expressing the curators' idiosyncratic perspective of what is funny, highbrow to low, pithy or trashy, poignant or teasing. It is impossible to go through the exhibit without smiling, laughing or raucously guffawing, not the normal responses one expects to have in a museum.

To quote Langston Hughes,“Humor is laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it.” But this show - and this museum - gives it (humor) to you where you ought to have it, as expressed by artists, by writers, and by the wonderful vision of a remarkable woman who demanded that inspired outsider artists be noticed.