well, it's official: i am utterly and completely wiped out. i hung more pictures today than anyone in their right mind would hang in one day, and i'm still not done. there's more yet reserved for tomorrow, which is also opening day. so if you happen to be in that cozy northwest corner of washington state called bellingham, and happen to have the evening free, please do stop by and see me, i'll be tending my wares at the JINX artspace, the perfect sort of setting for an anti-establishment kind of girl like me. and if you're feeling extra saucy, get some handcrafted spaghetti at the Table, there you will find the fishermen and banjo picker in my oil paintings staring straight down your blouse. until then, adieu.
yesterday, while i was writing my blog and searching the internet, my computer got a virus. instantly, my feet went numb, my heart started pounding, all my muscles clenched, i broke into a sweat. luckily, i recognized the culprit, a nasty trojan disguised as "xp total security" that popped up to tell me i had umpteen million infections and i would have to dump in my credit card numbers in order to fix the problem. out of fear, cures cost money, you know, some people might make that mistake. well aware of what i was dealing with, i logged off, jumped onto "james's side" of the computer (which is remarkably clean and well kept) and was able to search down a remedy on the internet, not before accidentally downloading another virus posing as a patch. start to finish, the entire ordeal cost me oh, maybe two hours. in the thick of preparing for two art shows going up tomorrow, the timing was sickeningly bad. that was two hours of my life i would like to have back, please.
there are few things in life that make me feel so helpless as getting a virus, real or virtual. searching for a remedy for my computer before it crashed and burned, ironically, reminded me of how the folks in japan must feel, reminded me all too well of the days when mom wasn't well... maniacal moments of i'll try anything desperation. back then, i spent half of my time coming up with hopeful antidotes, the other half, nose in a natural healing book, digging for answers. what i found was: some questions don't have obvious or concrete answers, questions like where does disease come from and how do we fix it? i could imagine the burden mom's doctor must have felt, looking into the eyes of a hopeful family, knowing damn well that her treatment was experimental, a last ditch effort, and that the very best he could do wasn't any better than a shot in the dark. i remember mom saying once, "that's why they call it medical practice." always a sharply sarcastic sense of humor, that one. but it was true, and she was right: science, the science of computers, machines, and people, however revolutionary it may be, is truly imperfect.
i have a strained relationship with sugar. in a lot of ways, i believe it is at the root of all evil, especially at the root of our disease ridden western culture. yet somehow, it tugs at my heartstrings, in the form of pies and cakes and donuts and candybars, custards and ice cream and hard candy, even down to the honey in my tea. yep, i'm a sweettooth. but what i've learned is: it's a trick, you see, that's my body playing a trick on me. for my health, i've cut out almost all of the refined white sugar from my diet, and refuse to buy it (or anything containing it) at the grocery store. but who can resist a quarter machine serving of m&m's, or a pint sized butterfinger on halloween? certainly not me. it's a weakness. our culture has made sugared food overly abundant, not only appealing to the palette, but to our well trained eyes and our emotions. sitting here today, painting this donut bought especially for the subject matter of my painting, it was awfully hard to not just break the thing apart and bite into that cruchy sprinkled topping. but i didn't. because i know better. instead, i might save it, put it under a little glass dome, and see just how long it will last.
mondays here are divine. i spent mine in blissful haze of last night's celebrations, going about my business as usual, framing my watercolors for the upcoming show. it was quiet in the house, james gone off to fetch groceries with his sis and nephew, so quiet you could hear a single leaf fall on the red metal roof, hear the whoosh of the wind against the windows, quieter still without any stereo blather to keep me company. sometimes, and usually, after a busy weekend of socializing, running the store, explaining this or that...the stillness is a tonic. i purposefully don't turn on music, the only sounds being the periodic whoowhoowhoo and slapping of wings from our resident gaggle of mourning doves, that and the heavy slogging of my clogs on the wooden floor. i got a lot accomplished today, slowly, methodically. washing the glass with soap and hot water, wiping it with a dry rag, trimming each painting to fit, slipping the paper against the glass, nestling the cardboard against the back, pushing in the glazier's points, turning it around, and voila! reveling in the resolve of tidy completion...again, and again.
earlier this week, while i was out back feeding the birds, i heard that familiar buzz of tiny wings in the trees. i looked up only to see a trace of her, whisking away in a swift blur: an ash-brown hummingbird. now as you may know, i'm a little superstitious about hummingbirds and their connection to my dear ones on the other side. i excitedly ran inside to the kitchen like a little kid, the first hummingbird! i shouted to james, quickly boiled four cups water one cup sugar, and while it cooled, scrubbed out the little nozzles on grandma mickie's feeder. i filled it, and hung it in the bony branches of the pear apple tree, expectantly awaiting spring.
today, while little jasper and i were out back with max the cat, we had our first hummingbird sighting of the season at that feeder. you see her? i asked. a stummingbird! jasper exclaimed. we sat there, close together on the stubby rock wall that tom built. be very quiet and still, i said, and she will come back for more juice. we waited, and watched while she buzzed back and forth, back and forth. she loves to drink juice? i love to drink juice! jasper cheered. yes, there she was, sipping away, at only a four foot distance, hardly flinching at the excited antics of jasper the laughing tow-headed 3.25-year-old, that little lady hummingbird, taking breaks between drinks, nearly disappearing against the camouflage of dead leaves on brown spindly blackberry brambles, though my eyes knew exactly where she was sitting. perfect i thought. this moment couldn't be more perfect.
today i held down the fort while james spent some time with his grandma mickie. i've always had a strong kinship with mickie, partially because she's a painter, and also because she closely helped raise james, my husband. whenever i see her, there's a fierce glow in her eyes that says more than words could ever say, but mostly, thank you for loving my dear boy.
today, james took the van and picked her up in conway, the same beige westfalia that she and gordy once owned. to suspicious onlookers, it may just seem like another dinged up hippie-mobile. but to us, it's an heirloom. in that van, those two drove up the alaska yukon highway, down the coast to baja, traveled miles upon miles, sleeping in the back bed parked on sandy beaches and in snow-tipped mountains. in that van, those two traveled darn near everywhere a road can take you, and so we figure: it's been blessed. today, mickie sitting comfortably in her familiar passenger seat, twisting down chuckanut with her grandson at the helm, chatting while the curves skirted the coast, i know it was an uplifting departure from the day to day life of a quiet old lady in an assisted living apartment.
gordy is gone now, gone to the rainbows as nell would say, and ever since he passed away, mickie has had a hard time picking up her paintbrushes. which really bothers her. without daddy, i just don't know what to paint, she said to james. and i could relate; enveloped in grief, it took me a long time to pick the brushes back up too. but today, i showed her my watercolors, triumphant. it looks like you just pick anything up and paint it, she said. yep, it's amazing, i guess you can make art out of anything. you have to start somewhere, so i just pick something up and start. take this egg for instance: you could paint the same thing a million times...
and it will be different every time! she chimed in.
my mom always had her lipstick. she applied it thick, with urgency, and like the ribbon on top of a present, it completed her. the lipstick made her fierce, a warrior, towanda she'd say, like suddenly she had the confidence to solve all of life's problems. she wore a pale frosted pink on those lips she always complained were too thin. you got nice full lips, she'd say, not like mine. it was one of the only complaints she ever had about her physical appearance, besides her nonexistent eyebrows she'd draw in and straight flat hair that daily she would fluff and tease and curl and mousse into something that would hopefully last well into the day. once she was done with her makeup ritual, mom was a knockout. i remember what an impression she made on me; as a young girl, i did a pencil portrait of her with a caption that read: my mom is the prettiest lady i know.
when she died, and i was sorting through her belongings, i found a tube of lipstick in her purse. i opened it, twisted up the trademark pointy tip shaped by her mouth, smelled the familiar scent of waxy makeup. that's my mom. i quickly put it back in the pocket of the purse, and began carrying it around with me...not to wear it, but just to have it close at hand, because it was something she touched daily, something that was so her.
today, james and i were eating our "hobo's lunch" consisting of tuna and tortilla chips, sitting on the ground on our front porch facing the sun. yes, finally, the sun, in full force. i can feel it warming my heart, james said, and i knew it was true, happening all around me, happiness from the sun growing out of the ground in synchronicity with the daffodils, nettles and crocuses. i could feel it warming my face, pulling me out of my shell like the opening leaves on the spindly twiggy blueberry bushes, making me want to work and whistle and do handstands outside, making the neighbors smile wider and say their hello's with a little more zest. and i thought to myself, it's no wonder ancient cultures placed the sun at the center of their deity worship. when the sun comes out, we all seem to rise to the occasion.
it's awkward, finding someone you don't know in your backyard. it probably wouldn't happen anywhere but here. now i know i live in downtown edison, which seems to be some sort of vortex of a rural tourist trap, but it still just don't feel right, havin someone trompsin' around in my backyard. especially when they're taking photos. of my backyard: my mess, my collections, my house....maybe even me. what's even more awkward is finding a way to respectfully tell them to get the hell off of my property. so today, i made a sign, in response to the nice lady with the sneezing dog snooping around our wood piles, and in anticipation of a busy summer full of visitors who don't really know where public property ends and private begins. so now, all i have to say is "can't you read?"
today, i met karie jane at her grandma's, in a little retirement community at the base of burlington hill. jasper greeted me blue eyes wide as i come in, "hey jessie", he says, and begins to tell me all about his toys: a little tool bench with multi-colored pegs that he's been hammering away on, a tiny plastic spider with sharp legs that can fly. jasper loves bugs, and so grandma is careful not to smash spiders anymore, she made that mistake once and only once. grandma's cozy little kitchen is decorated sweetly and neatly with a million roosters. she always has a matching outfit and and perfectly applied eyeliner, always a bowl full of jelly candies, like good grandmas do. i like visiting her, it is there i can get a little grandma fix. we take her clipped coupons with her little orange leather wallet to the supermarket, making sure to get exactly what she asked for: saltines, a roast, cool whip, raisin bran, boxed cake. she and jasper watch cartoons, check the status of the wind by watching the flag outside, eat cheese and crackers, and generally carry on.
after we run errands, me and kj hike up burlington hill for some exercise. there, elaborate mcmansions nestle against the striated rock walls, high enough up so that through their picture windows, even burlington looks like a glamorous view. breathing hard, we crest the top, avoiding dog turds like little land mines, surreal-seeming in such a tidy kept neighborhood. at the top, in a carefully landscaped lawn with a faux waterfall, bark dust and some sparsely placed bushes, a deer. it freezes, so do we. is it going to attack us? karie jane asks in a hushed tone. no, it won't attack says i. we sneak by, close by, the deer stays frozen. mostly frozen, except for its big black eyes, following us, and its mouth, still chewing.
sometimes a disagreement starts, and nobody knows how or why. but it happens. blood pressures rise, tensions mount, voices escalate. its natural, a part of life, a part of being together. it's scary: how two people who love each other so completely can one second be best friends, and the next, be at odds in such a primal way. but it happens. not just to me, or to you. it happens to everyone. from stress, confusion, differences in opinion. from low blood sugar, too much coffee, from impatience, or frustration. it happens to everyone. but it's so much better to get along, this we know all too well.
every time we fight, i know it will be over soon. i trust that when we disagree, when we argue, the time will come when we look at each other embarrassed. one of us will eep out an apology. we'll hug, and then laugh, hug some more, and it will be over. to me, that's what marriage is about: making it work. forgiveness. knowing it will work. trusting in the endurance of love.
every once in a blue moon, and usually by accident, i come across an artist's work that moves me. i know i've discussed this before, but when it happens, it changes everything. suddenly, my sometimes tiresome daily chore becomes re-inspired, infused with the eager hope that yes, someday i can paint like that too. as artists, i believe we need each other, just like scientists do. because when one artist makes a breakthrough, a discovery, we all do.
watercolor was starting to seem like a dying art: i've struggled to find contemporary realism that excites me, work that pushes beyond tulips and marinas, beyond rigid detail to show expression and energy in the paint. that kind of prowess takes a lot of practice, and patience. after seeing the watercolors of david rathman, i'm ready for the challenge again, i've seen the light at the end of the tunnel. and maybe, if i dissect the details and really examine what i see, i can think my way through the technique, and take it as an inspirational cue. perhaps i can breathe new life into my own work. because being a painter is a process, always winning and losing battles with the brush. inspiration, motivation, and technique, they don't grow on trees. and watercolors, like a farrel cat, are unpredictable and take a while to get to know.
i forgot to wear green today. instead i made a green superfood smoothie for breakfast, planted a little evergreen tree in my backyard, and then painted this green paper crane for my one-a-day. i'm not irish, i won't pretend to know what saint patrick's day is really about, besides a celebration of irish culture. so i looked it up on wikipedia, learned a little, and found out (!) that people go so far as to dye the chicago river green on st. paddy's day using 40 pounds plumber's dye. hmm. looks a lot like radioactive toxic sludge from the pages of a comic book i've seen before. i'd like to know what the fish have to say about that!
today, it was hard to find something to paint. i walked up the stairs, then down, waiting for something to catch my eye...until finally, this cup. we've had several like it, mostly handed down from karie jane, they always make me think of her. it probably graced her walls with the world's best collection of old fashioned wall plaques full of every cornball kitchen wisdom idiom you could possibly imagine. once she grew tired of her collection, she would pass the coveted chotchkies to me. maybe before that, this cup or one just like it could have been seen on the walls of the edison cafe, back when kj worked there, before jasper was born, before i knew her well as the powerhouse artist mother badass she is. back then, she was some tough-looking girl with short black hair, tattoos, and a whip-smart mouth. she poured coffee to the old guys who knew her well. she was an insider. back then, i was new around here, and i could tell i needed her approval, first.
call me superstitious, but i believe small towns are like that. there's an inside circle. the old school. they control things. everyone knows each other. it's political. you have to work your way in by earning people's trust and respect, by making friends, by being good and true. and then, that town will take care of you. and if not...well i've always figured that if you don't pass the test, that small town will spit you right out, back to where you came from.
today, i did the undo-able. yes, i did it: i turned off my computer. for most of the day it sat there, lifeless, black, not pumping me full of useless status updates, not streaming the latest and greatest tunes, not stuffing my mind full of photos of hot folks wearing the hippest fashions, not updating me on the state of current catastrophes. just sitting there: black screened, lifeless, benign. it was liberating, not having the i.v. of pop culture overload to tap into at any moment. and i actually got a lot of work done, with minor emotional toil. so from here on out, i'm going to practice turning the computer off. because i realized: unless it's off, it's a constant presence. an addiction.
i'm not so sure about the information chain. what's real anymore? what's truth? i've been checking as many news sources as i can find, and every one says something different about the magnitude of the nuclear crisis in japan. am i looking through rose colored lenses? it seems as if everybody has an agenda, everyone is covering some part of their own ass, or someone else's ass for that matter. should i be worried? i don't know. will the radiation reach me? i don't know. the iodine is plum sold out of local stores, people are worriedly talking, but is the fear warranted? is the media just pulling our strings? i don't know. i just don't know. nobody really knows anything, and that's the hard part about times like these.
so what do i do? go on like it's a normal day. thank my lucky stars. pray for an end to the suffering, a swift recovery. try not to think about the magnitude of tragedy. just another day.
so what do i do? go on like it's a normal day. thank my lucky stars. pray for an end to the suffering, a swift recovery. try not to think about the magnitude of tragedy. just another day.
sometimes i just shouldn't read the news. i know there's lots of stuff going on out there that i ought to know about, but a big part of me struggles with the information. because i'm just too sensitive. most of the newsworthy news is bad news, catastrophic news, death and destruction news that i can't do anything about. or sometimes the news isn't even real news at all, it's just a mumbo jumbo waste of time. yesterday, after crying a lot about the Japanese news and worrying about our own impending nuclear holocaust via radiation in the jet stream, i just had to stop. i had to turn it all off. so i went to the school carnival down the street at edison elementary.
there, at the carnival, swarms of kids were running around in a frenzy, getting lost in mazes, eating candy and pizza, bouncing in bouncy castles, doing every which kind of carnival game. the walls were meticulously decorated, with blue paper water and green paper seaweed, brown crumpled paper ocean bottom and colorful stuffed paper fish by the school. the energy was in the air, thick like cotton candy, boys and girls barely at puberty, some wearing clothes that revealed more than i would have at that age, some flirting and posturing, some dragging their little brothers or sisters around to the games. mostly all of them having the time of their life. there were the cake walks, seemingly hundreds of cakes, kids proudly toting the pink and green and blue fluorescently frosted confections wrapped tightly in plastic, either that or gorging from all sides on the long cafeteria tables. and there was the photo booth, stick your face in the hole of a rudimentary looking lobster or mermaid. yes, it was fun, going to the carnival, really put things into perspective, seeing parents so on top of their game not any older than me. it was refreshing, witnessing the kids, so joyfully immersed in their own world, no bigger than that elementary school at that moment, unaware of the larger scope of global issues. and i realized: times like these, it's important to nurture the child inside, that starry-eyed optimist, full of energy for having fun and excitement for the future. because no matter what happens in the bigger picture, life must go on. and sometimes living for joy, in the moment, is the best we can do.
|reserved for exhibit|
somewhere up there, on a heavenly poof of marshmallow cloud, i imagine andy warhol looking down at us, shaking his head of tousled white hair. ah, what a mess we've gotten ourselves into this time. i didn't make it, but i was born into it. nuclear meltdown? really? how your own mortality can so suddenly flash before your eyes.
people need to be made more aware of the need to work at learning how to live because life is so quick and sometimes it goes away too quickly. (andy warhol)
in the event of an earthquake and tsunami of such large proportions like the one that just happened in japan, it is inevitable that someone might suggest the idea of a coming doomsday. so many prophecies are said to line up to this coming year. so today, when james was on the phone with his grandma and she suggested that jesus was finally coming this may, i was not surprised. when i was in college, my grandma gave me the "left behind" series to watch on vhs. it was very important to her that i see it. and although kirk cameron was really the only reason i watched the movie, some of it stuck with me, thinking about the idea of apocalypse, how i would react, and what that would really mean for all of us. truly, some of the images of the tsunami i saw today seemed apocalyptic: cars in the ocean, neighborhoods aflame, unstable nuclear reactors...total chaos. it's possible, yes, very possible for everything to collapse overnight in this day and age, and you don't have to be a christian to see that...environmental health is nearing the brink of catastrophe! one of these days the planet is just going to have to fight back! so what will you do when you have no electricity, no heat, no grocery store, no gas? how will you live with no espresso, no shower, no facebook, no booze? how will you adapt? cuz me and james and the cats, we're packin up our dried beans and a kettle, wildcrafting books, fishin poles, pocket knives, a hatchet and some matches and headin for the hills!
i've been known to get in over my head before. and so i guess it should come as no surprise that i last minute double booked two art shows scheduled to open by april first. that gives me scarcely more than two weeks to prepare. in that amount of time, i will hopefully whip out at least a couple new oil paintings, and frame as many one-a-days as i can muster the glass cleaner for. times a'wastin, clocks a'tickin; every golden minute could be utilized toward productivity. today, i gave myself a break, one precious day off, just because i'm tired and i know i need a reprieve. tomorrow, i attempt to harness every last little bit of motivation...and conquer the world! my little world, at least. wish me luck!
in life, there are always those moments.: you flubb, you mess up, you totally biff it, and you wish you could start all over, have one more shot. the idea conjures those tense moments as a youngster in the spelling bee. up on stage with the polished floor and heavy hanging red velvet curtains, sitting in the squeaky plastic brown chair, you hear your name called, you walk up awkwardly to face the mic and what feels like millions of people staring expectantly. "minute" the caller says. "minit. m-i-n-i-t. minit." says i. oops. now i know that modern slang vernacular isn't always appropriate at the elementary school spelling bee, and the fact that i lived a mile away from a MINIT MART, yes, read the sign: MINIT, didn't sway their vote. sorry, they said, m-i-n-u-t-e. that was the first time i messed up at the spelling bee, and it wasn't the last. but i kept trying, got all the way to the local semifinals, won my very own telephone with programmable numbers, made it to state championships, and got a souvenir t-shirt with a little iconic spelling bee! i suppose perseverance pays off in the end. and really, the lesson is, you're gonna screw up. lots. but as long as you keep a good attitude and keep trying, you'll get somewhere. and the more you mess up, the more you forgive yourself, the less it hurts, and you're not as apt to do it again.....right?
that's why in the discipline of art, so many artists choose to do the same subjects...over and over and over again. you learn a lot by beating your head against the same wall. monet's cathedrals, his haystacks, his waterlilies, just a few obvious examples. the light changes, the color changes, the mood changes, and the paintings changes. so today, for me, another harmonica. a study in time, and how my perspective, my technique, my eye and my hand has changed. i've changed, but i'm still the same.
with my big city jobs and james's big city jobs combined, we were able to pay all the real estate fees and buy our big old barn on an owner contract. we pulled up anchor in portland, said a fond farewell to our second mortgage, goodbye to the busy streets and the coffee shop baristas, goodbye to the eucalyptus and the raspberries we planted, goodbye to our favorite taqueria, goodbye garbage beach...goodbye everyone. we'll see you again.
today, we've been full fledged edisonians for a smidge over two years, part-timers for six. in that window we've worked to make many improvements, adding woodstoves and removing rot, painting and paneling, lighting and wiring, insulating and roofing, cleaning and cleaning and cleaning some more....changing things around gradually, inch by inch toward our someday dream of the full conversion, from industrial barn to modern and luxurious home, with little more than tenacity and elbow grease. although it can be a little claustrophobic sometimes in that quintessential small-town way, we've fallen fast in love with our little neighborhood, not only for it's quaint, quiet, breathe-deep wide-open-spaces locale, but for it's real honest-to-goodness sense of community, something that's a little hard to come by these days. it's taken a long time to unwind my tangled mess of a heart and mind, but i feel safe here. i'm finally, finally getting somewhere.
i'm sure there are lots of riveting details to add in, but i won't bother with those. long story short, as many of you know, mom died. the story of her death is wrought with misery and beauty, grace and humiliation, tragedy and magic, mystery and peace, as death stories so often are. and if you ever have any questions, ask me. i learned a lot, grew up right fast, and nowadays would go so far as to consider myself an expert at getting through the hard stuff.
after the whole rollercoaster was over, my job was to clean up the wreckage, clean out mom's closets, and start over. i immediately made plans to get the fuck out of dodge and move to edison full time. i wanted nothing more than open space and quiet, to heal. dad made plans to remodel and move into our portland house. we both needed a change of scenery, tabula rasa. stat. the timing was right. we began the long, emotional process of boxing up our lives, taping those boxes closed, labeling them for someday when we felt brave enough to open them up again. me and dad and joe, we had meltdown after meltdown, we would sometimes talk about them, oh, you had a meltdown too? the comfort in going through it as a family was often met with the utter alienation that grief brings: a long, drawn out process it was.
about a year later, james and i had a moving sale on our portland postage stamp of a lawn, making it official, we're leaving for good, hearkening to the first time we moved away together, selling all the things we'd collected from alleys and thrift stores, the things we'd lovingly integrated into our landscape to comfort us, the things that we could bear to part with to lighten the load. keeping the piano. always reminding myself to let go. don't hold on to the past. it's time to move on.
thus begins a new chapter, called life in edison.
(this is where i digress. because the story is no longer about edison.)
in retrospect, i really think we made the best of it. mom was really sick, and in the back of our minds we did fear the worst. but we kept in good spirits, avoiding thoughts of the inevitable, hopeful until the end. for the next six months or so, during the weekdays when my dad worked, i became my mother's caretaker. we made it fun, and saw it as a good excuse to hang out together.
i had just been notified that i'd gotten a big painting commission for a new portland hotel, and was knee deep in an illustration job for national parks. my mom had just converted her dining room into a studio that opened to the living room, so conveniently, i could do my work there. every morning i would hop in my little pickup and drive the half hour commute to camas, there to wake her by eleven. i could tell by the way she looked when slept that things weren't right, but i blocked it out in order to stay on the bright side. i can heal her with love and joy. we would sip tea and eat lunch, watch what not to wear or the rock of love, laughing over how ridiculous it all was: scantily clad ladies pulling each other's hair with boobs flying, wardrobes all too full of sweatpants that should never see the light of day. comic relief. as i worked on paintings she would lightly doze. when she awoke, she'd check my progress and give me pointers. darker darks, lighter lights, she'd say. i would make the most delicious and nutritious dinner, and have it ready before dad came home. i can heal her with food, with the power of nature. sometimes i would stay and eat, sometimes not. on some days, i took mom to her appointments, we drove through fields and wetlands, past the old airport, into the strip-mall sprawl, to a room filled with plush recliners and sick people and iv's that administered hope. ours was experimental, a last resort. mom's nurses loved her the best, they swarmed around her and would giggle and make jokes, she'd ask sincerely about their kids and they would gushingly and tell stories. one day, i remember mom wore two different earrings, the nurse pointed it out, oh my goodness, how embarrassing, we all laughed our butts off, always a lady she was with her enduring sense of vanity, even when it should no longer apply.
and then the rest of the time, i would try desperately to construct a facade of normal life: go out with friends, go to art shows, play music with the band, try to be happy. etc. etc. what i realize now is: cancer is common. dealing with cancer is common. almost everyone has to do it, in some capacity. it is normal.
reflecting upon my entire life, i remember those six months the clearest, like the climax to a movie that plays over and over in my head. a culmination.
the next few years are a blur. there was lots of driving, up and down, up and down, with cat in tow, dog in tow, driving together, driving separate, lots of driving. arguing in the car, a hot box of stress and emotion with no way out. lots of living apart, working nonstop to try to make ends meet, trying to stay close through alienated phone conversations, trying to manage two living quarters so far apart and in dire need of attention. there was the throwing of art shows, every month for a couple of years, making postcards, paying for printing and postage, hand addressing, hanging the art, making the food, and selling little, if anything, maybe enough to cover the cost of wine. it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. it was one crazy ride in a foggy haze. how much longer can we continue on this way? i would say to myself. this isn't sustainable. yet i was still reluctant to cut ties with portland, my city, the home of my beloved family and my long sought after art career. james thought i would never move. eventually we would tire of the charade.
and then the levee broke. one evening i got the call. i was in edison. it was my mom.
"the cancer is back."
i guess there had to be a reason why i couldn't leave, all along.
what we agreed to that day was a cheap monthly lease with option to purchase. that granted us the use of the two street facing retail spaces, a grimy little kitchen, a bathroom no bigger than a closet with a tiny plastic shower stall, and the back office of the barn. it also guaranteed us first right of refusal to buy the barn, and every month's rent went toward an eventual down payment amount. for two kids as strapped as us, who already owned a house in a city five hours away, it was perfect. we were buying time, time to unravel our life in portland, and time for larry and jane to move their belongings out. the adventure begins.
we started right in. if i was going to eventually live in this barn, the place needed some serious help. there are the things i remember vividly, gutturally: years of other people's grime like thick rubber, coating the stove and fridge and kitchen floor, barely functional. the sink filled with old dishwater and a solid layer of dead flies. fly poop, tiny waxy brown dots coating everything. rotten spots in the floor which had broken through. more cobwebs, thicker cobwebs than i've ever seen. a pungent smell wafting from the floor in the heat of summer, maybe a snake's nest or something dead. termite blooms, dancing around the lights to lose their wings and disappear into a wall. at times, the filth was nearly impossible, inescapable. i cried, i toiled, i screamed. it's a miracle i didn't lose my shit completely.
we worked hard to make it feel like our place, even though half of the barn was filled with mass quantities of other people's boxes. the back room, once filled with plat maps and files strewn about from an alaskan gold miner who had abandoned an office there, became our bedroom. we installed a little caboose stove, vacuumed and dusted the corners, added a foam mattress and a rug from a garage sale down the street. we painted the gallery walls white, washed and dusted what were the old paint shelves of the hardware store, moved some furniture around, gathered as much art as we could muster, opened for business, and had our first show. i was having my struggles with the idea of moving away from portland, and was still living there half of the time to make money doing art jobs to keep afloat. as spread thin as we were, we were making a go at it, our best shot, at the beginning of a life in edison, an artful life, a small town life, best as we could with what little we had.
larry answered the phone. james made arrangements to meet him immediately. i believe it was on a saturday we drove the five some hours, past inland forests and over rivers, around the bend to nisqually where you feel the brisk ocean air for the first time, through the outskirt sprawls of tacoma to the metallic high rises of seattle, past the lumber mill and sewage treatment views of everett, and finally, into god's valley. it stretched out like a linen tablecloth before us. the grass seemed greener, the sky seemed bluer, and even with broken stereo speakers i remember it as a chatty and optimistic drive, onward to our destiny, not realizing that day how many countless more times we would drive that long, bleak, almost endless stretch of highway.
we met larry and jane in the gravel backyard of 14011 mactaggart avenue. i assessed the scenery: an airstream, green from the weather, and a large shed with lumber racks, the roof of which was alive with moss and ferns and birds but did little to keep out water. there was also a large tarped boat. and lots of other stuff, piles, foreboding and indistinguishable in the darkness of the shed. we went inside the barn, through the large barn slider in the back, which had swollen from moisture and didn't really want to slide. it was dark inside, dark and dirty, but the ceiling was as high as the sky, all the way up, solid wood illuminated by the south facing windows. it was breathtaking. an old soul, full of history. strewn about haphazardly, there was all sorts of stuff, filing cabinets, boxes, papers, books, photo equipment.. and mannequins. at first glance, i thought someone was standing there, and i was scared shitless. mannequines, six of them, eyes following, some of them armless or wearing sun bleached saris and dusty t-shirts, with no hair or maybe a sunhat, mannequins keeping watch over the place. it appeared as if they were the only ones holding court over this space, abandoned in it's disarray. like ghosts. we went upstairs, looked out the window, and from above the tiniest town called edison looked so beautifully serene, like a baby in a basket.
"well, what do you think?" james asked me that day, after our tour, in that disheveled backyard. "should we do it?"
i could see the gleam of excitement in his eyes.
"yes." i said, not really knowing what i was saying.
driving home that day, we had our hearts set on buying that dumpy old schoolhouse in edison. so we went straight to it. first, we tried for a bank loan, but commercial zoning required 20% down. we didn't have twenty percent down. we didn't have much more than our lofty ambitions and the support of my parents. the banks were suspicious; to them the run-down property looked more like a liability than an investment. and honestly, so did we. i guess two self-employed seat-of-pants tattooed ragamuffin artists aren't necessarily prime loan material.
next we tried for an owner contract. jeff seemed reluctant, but so far we were his only bite. james went about it in the most old-fashioned way possible, painstakingly negotiating all the details with jeff and then hand typing the terms with a typewriter on a long scroll. it was a romantic idea, but unfortunately, money talks. just when we thought we had it all figured out, jeff got a cash offer that he couldn't refuse. we tried and tried, for over a year, to stick our foot in that proverbial door, just to have our toe slammed in it. long story short, we didn't get the old schoolhouse. we were absolutely heartbroken.
after that, james couldn't get edison out of his head. he knew the fellas who bought the building. they just so happened to be two old friends of his from bellingham. as a last ditch effort, he called them, just to see if there was any slim chance they would want to sell it. no, they said. but the property across the street has a for sale sign in the window. he got the phone number and called immediately.
it wasn't until we lived in portland for a few years that we really seriously considered moving out. we had just bought a house there, gotten in over our heads, and it instantly became too much. the hand-to-mouth, starving artist, feeling of desperation was inescapable. the pollution, the noise, the expense combined were grating on our nerves. our dog had really horrible allergies. james needed to be by the ocean. we went out too much at night to avoid the stress, and in the day we were constantly at each other's throat. we needed an out.
we drove through edison one weekend on a van-camping getaway, and spotted a for sale sign hanging in front of a long schoolhouse in disrepair. with its peeling yellow paint, sagging foundation, poor roof and a boat under construction in the yard, lots of potential, we thought. maybe it's in our price range. nothing a little elbow grease couldn't fix. but edison seemed awfully quiet to me. too quiet. two shitty taverns, a cafe and bakery, a couple of seemingly abandoned buildings and some other indistinguishable places that were closed... lots of potential, we thought. maybe we could get comfortable here. what the hell, we decided, and knocked on the door. even the owner of the building seemed annoyed at our disruption of the quiet. but he humored us for a bit, gave us the tour of edison's old one-room schoolhouse-turned-woodshop. he told us the story of how they had to cut off the eaves so the building would fit around the corner when they moved it. he was a fine woodworker named jeff, and everything in the place was coated in a quarter inch of sawdust. "too many people knockin at my door, askin me to fix their grandmother's rocking chair," he said. gettin too busy, he needed to get away. further away than this? we're in the middle of nowhere. i thought to myself. but maybe it could work. in a building like this, where i could spread out and breathe deep, i could really picture myself making some great art.