Summer House: Ch. 6

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Shingo has been hanging out at the Summer House lately. We paint. We sit on the porch in the morning sunlight. We talk art, artifice, and verisimilitude.

I might Shingo a few weeks ago at the art gallery when I went to see if they might be interested in my paintings. Shingo was delivering some of his own canvases, oils painted with bold palettes, heavy, textured brush strokes, and off-balance compositions. I liked his work. I like his personal style, too, which seems another aspect of his artistic expression.

He dyes his hair–eyebrows and mustache, included–bright copper-penny red. He waxes his mustache, so he can curl it like Hercule Poirot.  He dresses in a cross between a left-bank artist and a K-pop idol: striped long-sleeve t’s under a blazer, baggy stone-washed jeans, and flamboyant, impractical shoes.

The contrast between his seemingly simple work and his careful appearance is opposite  my own personal contrast. My current paintings are carefully rendered and delicate, with flamboyant splashes of detail. And my appearance is natural and easy: no make-up on my face, my clothes all natural fibers and line-dried in the sun, my hair an honest gray.

But maybe that’s why we’ve become such fast friends–whether seemingly carefree or carefully tended, we put equal thought and intention into our styles.

I enjoy spending time with someone who, like me, notices beauty everywhere: the sable feather curls of fur on Dixie’s long tail; the hatched shadows traced by the railings on the porch floor when the butter sun shines; the slices of blue ocean, startling, no matter how often we see it; a dart of indigo as a Steller’s jay darts through pines.  We will be talking, and one of us will gasp–Ah! The other will look. We fall silent. We fall into the beauty, then we catch each other’s eye, and we laugh, and pick up where we left off.

“See? This is what I was trying to capture! Did I succeed? No!”

“But it’s a beautiful painting,” I assure him. We look again at his canvas on the easel.

“It is, isn’t it?” he says. A cloud passes over the sun, and we gasp again, for the sudden coolness descends just at the exact moment that the light shifts. “How would you paint this?” he asks.

“I tried to paint cold,” I tell him. “I’m so helpless as a painter.”

“Ah! No! But your work is lovely!”

“I could write it,” I say. “In my poems. I could have this moment when the breeze, and cloud, and sudden shadow stop a person’s thoughts. But in painting?”

He takes me downstairs where I have a coffee table book of Monet’s works.  He thumbs through until he finds The Woman With a Parasol. We both gasp.

“So this is why I have been doing the brush strokes I have been,” he says. “But I see now my composition is all off. What was I thinking, so off-center? It’s Fibonacci–perfectly balanced! But I wanted to catch you off-guard.”

“How does he do that?” I ask. “I am caught off-guard, but it is all balanced, like you say.”

We walk back out to the meadow, Turtle racing before us, Dixie trotting at our side, looking up at Shingo, as if she expects him to rub her ears, Crystal plodding behind.

We stand on the bluff and look at the ocean.

“It is the form that allows it,” he says. “The perfection of the form.”

“It’s the resonance,” I say, thinking of the prelude from Bach’s first cello suite.

We lie on our backs, Turtle leaping over us, Crystal lying against me, Dixie with her chin on Shingo’s thigh. We watch the clouds pass.

“In poetry, the perfect form provides a container,”  I say.

“But what of free form?”

“There is no such thing. There is form in everything.”

I turn to look at him as he studies the clouds. The symmetry of his hands, his face, his limbs.

“What makes us gasp, then?” he asks again.

I close my eyes as the breeze flows over the long grass, carrying the scent of green oats and cattails. Beneath me the earth, above me the sky, beside me my friends. The gasp carries the memory of what we might be, of what we are, of what inhabits the perfection of form.

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Summer House: 200 Eyes

eyes

200 Eyes

Two hundred eyes stare
at the front of the room
where I stand, baring
ideas, insights,
and thoughts.

Eyes judge
to find wanting,
searching for cracks,
fissures open to
critique.

Eyes long
to desire, wanting,
owning, dressing
and undressing,
possess.

Eyes admire
to respect, idolize
and capitalize,
buying a piece
of belonging.

I run from the lectern,
stand on the bluff,
in the wind, raw,
escaped the gaze
of two hundred eyes.

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Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 7

A reply to: A letter from Seth

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Dear Seth:

Thank you for your letter, and my apologies in my late reply.

My receipt of your letter was delayed. You see, I left town for a spell, on a personal mission of sorts.

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While I was away, I asked a friend to collect my mail. Which he did, faithfully. He delivered it when I returned, all except for your letter, which had fallen behind his TV stand, and which, since my friend rarely cleans house, was not discovered until yesterday. By now so much time has elapsed since you wrote. I suspect you may have immigrated to a completely new universe, as I feel I have.

I trust all is well? Have you been able to build upon the honesty with Sarah that you described in your last letter?

I hope so, and that you and Sarah are both healthy and reasonably happy.

I am both–happy and well.

seth702

My personal mission was a complete success, surpassing even my optimistic hopes.

My life and family have expanded since I last wrote.

My nephew Norm got married. I was fighting a flu (the flu won, temporarily, though I’ve emerged the victor now, with a robust immune system fairly bursting with antibodies for that specific virus. Three cheers for white blood cells! Warrior lymphocytes to the rescue!), so I did not attend the ceremony, but by all reports, save for my nontraditional niece Meadow’s, the wedding was a smashing success. A good time had by (nearly) all!

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A few other expansions have happened within my own nuclear family, too. I won’t bore you with the details at present. Suffice it to say that the old aphorism, “Open doors lead to happy homes” holds true.

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I have been busy.

You live with another, so you must be well acquainted with ways that conversation tracks through the daily routine. When I lived alone, I seemed to have plenty of time for everything–when I wanted to talk, I called a friend, invited someone over, or strolled to the coffee vendor in the plaza. Conversation happened on my terms.

But now? Now conversations seems to happen at any odd moment!

I am not complaining, merely stating that I’ve been busy, busy talking.

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Of course, the frequent chatter makes the moments of quiet more valued. Do you find that?

I had forgotten the simple joy of spending silent time in the presence of another, the joy of living alongside other living beings.

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To hear someone breathing beside you, to hear another’s unexpected laughter, to feel that body warmth that can stretch even across the distance of a couch pillow. And socks. I had forgotten what another person’s dirty socks smell like! How odd that this, too, would be a source of contentment.

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I’ve been expanding my culinary repertoire. Have you or Sarah ventured much into the vast territory of recipes containing cheese? Not fancy cheese, mind you, what some may call “stinky cheese,” or “ew, gross cheese!” But good plain cheddar, preferably white. Simple, white cheddar.

It is amazingly versatile and, from all reports, even makes broccoli taste “delish!”

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I’ve always considered myself to be a happy man, except, of course, during those crises when falling apart or mired in the depths of grief. Even a happy man experiences different flavors of life, sometimes–those undercurrents and shadows that ground the high tones. The basso continuo to life’s merry melody.

But now, I am happy at a new level. Maybe it is deeper? Or maybe, it is that it can be shared. When happiness contributes to the happiness of another, it becomes happiness squared.

seth708

Forgive me if I don’t answer all your questions. I find, on a typical day, I now spend about three hours answering the questions of another. And so my capacity and energy for question-answering is taxed.

I will skirt around one of your questions, though. You asked about dreams. I won’t tell you about my dreams. But I will tell you about an experience that was as rich as dream and as profound.

This happened shortly before the expansions in my household I’ve referred to. I took a walk through the city, winding up near a public festival in the Arts Quarter. It was a thinking walk, so I kept apart from the crowds, wandering the back alleys. I’d been talking to Bess in my thoughts, as I do, especially when I feel I am approaching crossroads.

The full moon shone down. I looked up, and, like a romantic, asked for a sign. A breeze from the bay. The silhouette of a jet across the moon. And the pink explosion of fireworks followed by a thundering boom.

seth703

Confirmation. The path of energy is anything but stagnant. It’s OK to seek a new constellation.

seth711

And a new constellation is what I now find myself in.

Seth, I hope your and Sarah’s lives lead you to happiness, expansion, and the rich fullness of breathing the same air.

Your friend,

Jasper

<< Jasper’s Previous Letter

HFH: Some Changes, Sometimes

finale13

I always wanted life to stay the same, once my dream of living in a big house with all my friends came true. Then I met Elder, and my dream changed. We had Free. Some of our friends moved out. Emelia came to live with us. More friends moved, until the only adults left in the big house were Tani, Elder, and me. We adopted Roxie, and then we all moved out here, to this new home on the bay, a home that fits like it was made for us.

Now that we have Caroline, the kids out-number the grown-ups.

But I was OK with that. I was ready to accept this as the new dream.

Tani is such good aunt to Caroline, and having her around made four kids almost manageable.

finale01

Once Free-Jon adjusted to the new house, he assumed the role of Super Brother. He’s become so responsible. He washes the dishes…

finale25

collects the laundry…

finale23

finishes his homework…

finale22

and reads bedtime stories to his little sister. I don’t think she minds that he reads from his math book.

finale02

I wonder where my wild child has gone.

That is, until I watch his sister! She has enough wildness for a tribe of hippie kids.

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She gave us a real scare when we took the kids to the Game-Con in the city. Aya, who was working there as a volunteer with her game club, invited us, and we looked forward to an afternoon with the gang.

finale04

Emma met us there, too. She, Elder, and Emelia entered the Virtual Tournament.

finale05

Emelia held her own. It looked like she might win.

finale07

I cheered Emelia on while Caroline played at a Lego table nearby. I turned back to look at her, and she was gone. Nowhere in sight.

“Caroline!” I called.

Elder jumped out of his game, and we both scoured the plaza for her. At last, a Princess Leia cosplayer walked towards us, holding Caroline’s hand.

“Missing an ewok?” she asked.

Elder scooped her up. “Where did you get to?”

finale08

I was a little more firm.

“Caroline,” I said, “you really mustn’t wander off. When I ask you to play near me, I mean to stay near me.”

“But over there,” Caroline explained, “not over here. I have to go. So I go. There. You here. It’s OK, Mom. You no worry.”

finale06

When we got home, she raced to Auntie Tani.

“Tani,” she said. “I have adventure! I big ghost, now!”

finale09

Of course, Caroline wasn’t the only one to have misadventures. Emelia had become obsessed with the science station. Somehow, she created a combustible compound and set the thing on fire.

finale10

I grabbed the fire extinguisher and dashed over.

“Get out, Em!” I yelled. “Run to safety!”

She remained, finishing her notes in the smoke while I put out the flames.

finale11

It was such a different dream–but I loved it. I was ready for this to go on forever, or at least until the kids graduated from high school.

But Tani changed everything.

“I think I should move out,” she told me.

“What?” I couldn’t believe it. “Why? Tani. I thought we were going to share a home forever!”

“I think it’s best,” she said. “Simplest.”

“But you can’t. I mean, you can. Of course, you can. You can do whatever you want. But Tani! Weren’t we going to grow old together? In the same house?”

“Everthing is different now.”

She let it drop for a few days, and I thought that maybe the whim had passed.

finale12

But one Sunday, after breakfast, she followed me as I changed the sheets on the beds. Everyone else was outside, playing in the morning sun.

“I really do need to leave,” she said. “Things are getting complicated.”

“I know we have a lot of people in the house,” I said, “but you’re such a help, Tani. Besides, I’d miss you.”

“It’s too hard!” she said, plopping onto Roxie’s unmade bed.

“Are you sad?” I asked. I sat on the floor facing her. “What’s wrong, Tani?”

She told me that she’d developed feelings for Elder, and she wasn’t even sure it was one-sided, anymore. She was picking up on a spark between them.

I tried to tell her it was okay. It really was okay with me. I must not be wired like most people. I know that Elder doesn’t belong to me. I trust him. I know that even if he were to share affections with someone else, it wouldn’t lessen his feelings for me. We can love more than one person. I tried to explain that to Tani.

“I’m not made that way,” she said. “It’s not OK with me. It hurts every time I see him with you. Every time I’m alone with him. And even if I could work my mind around it–around sharing him–with you–which I can’t–what would other people say? What would the kids think? What would their teachers say? Their classmates? Besides, I’ve got an important job in the community. I can’t do it. I’ve got to be a role model. I guess I’m not really a hippie, after all,” she confessed.

We let it go for the time being. That evening, I noticed her forced smile while Elder elaborated on his latest theory about time and the missing mass in the universe. She looked unhappy behind her clenched grin.

finale19

“All right,” I conceded. Caroline slept, and we sat whispering in the room she and Caroline shared. “If you feel it’s best to move, go ahead.”

“It’s simplest,” she said. “And I’ve already found a place! It’s just down the hill, by the wharf! It’s so cool. You’ll love it. Emelia wants to come, too.”

What? I had only just come to accept that Tani would move out–but Emelia? She had traveled through space, time, and hard-drives to come live with us.

I asked her before bed.

“Do you really want to move out with Tani?”

“Of course!” she said. “Tani and I are that close! And you don’t want Tani to be alone, do you?”

“No, but. Maybe Tani should stay?”

“It’s a really neat house,” Emelia said. “And it’s just down the hill! We’ll be over every day! And besides, I don’t really want Free-Jon to grow up thinking of me as a sister, know what I mean?”

finale18

I did know what she meant. She and Free had a rare connection–they’d found each other across the impossible. If I had a connection like that with someone (which I do), I wouldn’t want him to think of me like a sister, either (which he doesn’t). Family, yes–sibling, no.

So it was decided–just like that.

A month later, I sat with Emelia while she did her homework on her last night in our house.

“You sure you’re ready for this, Em?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “You’ll see. We’ll all get closer through this, not farther apart.”

She turned back to her assignment. I hoped she was right. We’d stayed close with Emma, Forrest, Aya, Alex, and Gray, even though we didn’t all live in the same house anymore.

finale16

We’d stay close with Emelia and Tani, too.

I guess family is more than sharing a roof. I hope so. I don’t know how I’ve come to find myself living such a traditional life, a wife and mother, with a husband and three kids. It’s not what I dreamed, all those years ago.

finale15

But dreams can shift sometimes, can’t they? And maybe it was the spirit of the thing I was after: that spirit of a house full of love, full of friends, full of freedom, to love, to be, to choose. And I can have that in a house full of family, can’t I?

 

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Author’s Note: This concludes A Houseful of Hippies. The story will continue in a sequel, Houseful of Kids. Watch for the first chapters to be released in Summer 2018!

Forgotten Art: Norman – Mel 6

A reply to: A letter from Mel

normmel604

Dear Mel,

First, an apology. I am sorry I haven’t written sooner. I wanted to write to tell you the good news, but life got busy.

normmel703

In your last letter, you wrote:

“I see that you now refer to Aari as your stepdaughter. Is it what I believe it means, or would my celebration be premature?”

Well, truth is, in my last letter, I referred to her that way as a type of short-hand. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Or maybe, some combination of both.

But by now, and this is part of the reason for me writing so late, she is, officially, my stepdaughter.

Yup, her mom and I got married.

And, your premature celebration was right on time! You always have been good luck for me. Thank you, Mel.

wedding120

It was a real wedding, with Ira looking story-book, and all our friends and family in attendance. Well, almost all. My uncle Jasper was coming down with a flu and didn’t want to spread the germs, so he stayed home.

Everybody there had a great time. Everyone except my sister, that is.

She wore her grumpiest face throughout the ceremony and even during the party after.

wedding122

Ira said she cornered her before the reception to ask philosophical questions about the institution of marriage, like, “Isn’t it a patriarchal relic?” And how does she reconcile it with her feminism?

wedding126

But Ira was too happy to let Meadow’s cultural analysis stifle her mood.

We danced til dark.

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After all the guests left, Ira insisted on doing the clean-up herself.

“We can hire someone to do this tomorrow,” I said.

But she wouldn’t hear of it.

“But is this how you want to spend your wedding night?” I asked.

“I want to get us off on the right start,” she insisted, “and leave nothing undone. Besides, this won’t be how I spend the whole night. This is just the opener.”

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I never saw a more glorious dishwasher. Of course, I stayed up with her to dry and put the dishes away.

I’ve seen her face first thing when I wake for many a morning. But now, it feels different. It feels permanent, somehow, and like maybe, it’s a step towards undoing–or at least getting past–all the bad things that happened to her and all the lonely selfish days of my own youth. We’re a couple now, official-like.

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I was happy to hear about your horse. I hope both your boys are healthy and that Gari’s ear infection cleared up OK.

In other news, the family business is going well. We’ve got more investors than we need now. I guess solar energy is all the rage these days, and I’m busy. All the staff we kept are working hard, and we’re even hiring new folks. We are, even after our previous set-back, ahead of schedule.

normmel602

I got a lot to be thankful for, Mel. Sometimes, I stop and think about who I was when we first started writing–a lonely guy, struggling with my business, struggling to find connections, struggling to do right.

Now, I’ve got the business on track, in good shape financially and, more important to me, in line with my environmental ethics. No more windmill raptor deaths in the Windenburg hills! Solar power firing up our town.

My home life is on track, too, more full than I ever imagined it could be.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for writing in the busy future. Each day seems more full than the next. Aari has said that she would like to write to you, so if you’re able to write back, maybe you would have the patience to read a letter from her. Or maybe she could write to your boys, and you could read over their shoulder to learn what’s up with us.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever know how to thank you for being a friend and bringing me good fortune. But I bet that you can see into my heart, so look close. All this shining rose color? That’s for you. Thank you.

normmel605

Wishing you lasting happiness, good health to you, your boys, and your horse, and…

Love always,

Norm

<< Norman’s Previous Letter

Summer House: Ch. 5

nocontract

“I hear somebody hasn’t accepted her contract yet.” Denny calls. “Patrice in the English office was worried it was because of me. Was it my MeToo moment?”

“You didn’t have a MeToo moment, Denny. You caused one. And it wasn’t a moment.” More like a lifetime, I think. I’m outside, grateful for the slice of ocean beyond the bluff. The breeze reminds me to keep my cool. “It wasn’t you,” I say.

As we talk, I realize that I’ve come to my decision. I won’t be signing my contract. I won’t be returning to teaching full-time, face-to-face. I’m moving onto something new.

I have options. I will sell the condo in the city. The duplex is paid for, the only expenses utilities, taxes, and insurance. I won’t need a car, living on the island, where everything is walking or biking distance. I can rent out the other half. I can pick up a few online classes from the county community college. I can sell some landscapes in the gallery. I’ve put in enough years to qualify for a pension, and if I hold off for another six years before drawing on it, I’ll have plenty to meet expenses then. Until then, I’ll stitch together this and that to make ends meet.

“Why aren’t you coming back, then?” Denny asks. “Burned out?”

“No. Too many eyes,” I say. “Take care, Den. Come visit anytime. I’ve got a spare couch in the music room.”

Turtle, the dalmatian, races towards me, her tail bent like a rudder. She tackles me, paws on my shoulders, and I rub her back. I’ve got three anachronisms now. The water spaniel, who I call Dixie, also let me coax her to come live with us.

I must have already made up my mind when I took in these three strays. Of course they’d never have a happy life back in the city. I must have decided I’d be staying, only I didn’t realize it yet.

I’ve been in the netherworld, moving without conscious thought, wading through memory, through dream, through feeling, waiting to see where I would emerge.

I’ve emerged. The call with Denny helped me see. I’m here, and here is where I’m staying.

Tomorrow, I’ll email Patrice and the department chair. No, better yet: I’ll call. I’ll tell them I won’t be returning. I’ll put in a good word for some of the part-time instructors to cover the classes already been assigned to me. I’ll let them know they can share my email with students who might ask after me.

And after the phone calls, I will have walked into this new life.

Crystal stretches and leans against my leg. Dixie races out the house, chasing Turtle. I pick up frisbee and follow the dogs to the meadow.

The otters, with their dens in the marsh, the gulls, with their nests on the rock-islands, are safe now. The strays live with me, and I live on the island, here in my home, where I can lose myself and find myself and need never hide from watching eyes.

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S-Boys: Episode 12 – Training

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We’ve been training. I’m talking pre-dawn dance practice, all-day singing practice, work-outs in-between, and no rest for the idol.

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Yeah, training’s important. But the skills, essential as they are, aren’t main benefit of the training. The magic is in the bonding.

You try dancing all morning, every morning, with the four guys you live with, and you’ll find you end up with four close friends, too.

training04

If I’ve learned anything about boy-bands, it’s that it’s the friendships that make the band.

Fans crave that. They want to watch those candid moments and see some genuine affection. That’s what brings them into the magic circle, and that’s what we’re aiming to do. We want to make people happy. Make them feel like they belong. And the only way to do that is with love, and love can’t be faked.

Vee-Jay wants to make music. Of all the guys, he’s the one who puts his heart and soul into it. He works the hardest. After everyone else has moved into the kitchen for vegan tofu breakfast wraps and hot coffee, he’s still on the dance floor, lost in the song he’s writing, feeling it move through him. This maknae’s gonna be our best dancer yet.

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Now Joey, he’s focused on being an idol. It’s not the music, it’s the adoration of the fans that drives him.

“I’ve got the look, right, Tony?”

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“You gotta nice, smile, bro. Cool mustache. You got the swag. But you could use more definition.”

“Hey, man. I am definition. I am the definition of swag!”

“Not the kind of definition I mean, Joey.”

Tony has taken on the role of fitness coach for Joey.

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He’s the most qualified.

But Joey? I’m not sure if he’s got the discipline and dedication his coach demands.

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As soon as the scent of fresh popcorn wafts up the stairs to the gym, he runs down the stairs and sits himself behind a mega-bowl.

“I think tank tops are over-rated, don’t you, Akira?” he said. “Where’s the cool? Vest, scarf, sleeves–know what I’m talking about?”

Akira winked at me and began to chuckle.

“Working out is for more than muscle definition,” I told Joey. “You need stamina if you wanna be an idol.”

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I heard singing coming from the great room.

“That a new song?” I asked Akira.

“It’s one of Vee-Jay’s. He’s working on a unit for him and Rylan.”

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Rainbow Apollo,
Down where
the river flows

You go
where I go
Rainbow Apollo

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It was a ballad.

The boys stopped when they saw me.

“Oh, Sierra,” said Vee-Jay. “I’m still working on it. It’s not done. I’m kinda stuck.”

“I’m sure you’ll get it,” I said.

“I’m not. I was kinda hoping… I shouldn’t ask. But, you think you might want to write it with me?”

“Co-write it?”

“It’d be an honor,” he said, shyly.

“The honor would be mine,” I said, and I meant it.

training10

Rainbow Apollo
Sun spots
and ice flow

Iris calls you back
with a message
for the hero.

Will you go
where I go

Rainbow Apollo?

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We worked for a few hours. I hadn’t felt that jazz of inspiration for decades, not since writing songs for my own albums.

We’re getting closer. Everyday, we’re getting closer, and Vee-Jay keeps pulling that debut date towards us with his great big stage hook.

It’s gonna take a lot of pots of coffee, but we’re getting there, and quicker than I thought.

training02

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