Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year and a Word

For a long time New Year's Eve felt like an empty holiday to me.  So much of its sparkle and glamour is borrowed from the leftovers of Christmas, like some hand-me-down of a once-fabulous party dress that's been worn a few too many times.  Of course I understood the symbolism of the holiday; I got the idea of starting fresh. Resolutions are important, even if we abandon them a few weeks later when the three-layer chocolate & raspberry cake is hauled out on a bier at some cousin's birthday party. The thought that we can make serious changes for the better in our lives is profound, indeed, but I've always felt like I make such changes better in a quiet way, without the hoopla.  After all, every day is the eve of a new year, if we choose to make it so.   

When I was a girl, my parents and their friends took turns hosting New Year's parties, complete with canapes, streamers, and champagne.  We kids would be shooed upstairs to play Twister and drink punch with Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve blaring on an old TV in the background.  Periodically throughout the night, we'd sneak downstairs to restock our supply of chips and onion dip.  I remember running back up the grand staircase in the elegant old sea captain's home of some friends, cupping a napkinful of cheese cubes in my hands.  Glancing down into the living room, I suddenly felt positively tipsy from the laughter of the grown ups, the pipe tobacco of the men, and the flashing costume jewelry of the women.  The whole world was a film reel that had been speeded up, clicking faster and faster, and so I ran as quickly as I could to keep up with it, rushing headlong into the next year, making myself stay up all the way until midnight to see the great glittering ball drop on TV and all those people in Times Square hugging and kissing and singing "Auld Lang Syne."

Around me at the party the other kids who had managed to stay awake were watching the ball, too.  We didn't hug and kiss.  It was a strangely passive moment watching other people celebrate in a city far away, accompanied by the sound of our parents' cheers drifting up the stairs.  What exactly were they celebrating, I wondered?  Before I could even begin to answer that question for myself, we were bundling into our heavy coats and hats and scarves and gloves, and heading back out into the crisp, cold night.  The rest is a blur until morning, when I awoke with the knowledge that I had stayed up later than ever before.  Not much else had changed.  I was too young to make resolutions, because I didn't have any truly bad habits yet (little did I know that those would come soon enough), and the only thing different was that I would have to start training myself to write 1975 instead of 1974 on papers and quizzes at school.

All that noise and cheer had felt a little bit hollow to me.  Years later, when I was old enough to drink champagne, it felt even more hollow--fun, but hollow.  New Year's possessed none of the delicious fright of Halloween, none of the romance of Valentine's Day, no stirs of the patriotism I felt on July Fourth, and definitely none of the joy I felt at Christmas--that one holiday that can make even a small child wax nostalgic.

My cold regard for the holiday was reinforced when I was a teenager and my father died a few days into a new year. Nearly two decades later, my grandfather died on that very same day.  Last year, on the 26th anniversary of my father's passing, I received news that turned 2010 into one of the most difficult years of my life.  Honestly, I've come to dread January.  And yet . . . there is a part of me that is happy to mark another year alive and the chance to make the coming year a better one.

Each New Year, several of my friends choose a word for the year that lies ahead.  I've never done this before, but I've decided that I want to this year.  I thought the word would just come to me, maybe just fly in through a crack in the window frame or land softly on my head like a snowflake when I was out walking.  No such luck.  I've had to really think on this.  After much searching, I've found my word: grace.  Now that it's here with me, it feels like a perfect fit.

Here's to the new year, to health, to peace, and to grace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Legacy XI: From Her to Me and Back Again

Almost the New Year, and I am thrilled that D Smith Kaich Jones is at the Magpie's Fancy to share an extraordinary post.  It just seems right that she's the next writer for the Legacy Series, and the one to help wrap up 2010.  There's a quote from Katherine Mansfield that's been running through my head all morning: "The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your actions will be."  This describes how I feel when I read the posts of this gifted photographer, painter, and writer.  Her blog, Emma Tree, is a touchstone for me and for many other bloggers.  It's a joy to welcome her here today.

First – to Gigi - thank you.  For including me in your wonderful Legacy series, and for making me realize a few truths about myself, all good, including the fact, that I do, indeed have something to leave behind.

There was once a fan”, she told me, “that blew magic instead of air . . .”   She was four, and I was enchanted, and it was a long time ago, on a hot Texas summer afternoon.  We were spread across the floor of my mother’s living room, playing games, aunt and niece, she, cousinless on my side of the family, forced to endure as playmates us grownups, I more than willing to be a child again.

She was a born storyteller, a conjurer of magic and witches, and she believed - once upon an Easter time, upon being told we thought we’d spied the Easter Bunny hopping across the backyard, that perhaps he’d left an egg or a basket, she asked if he was white and was he wearing a vest? -  because that’s how the real Easter Bunny dressed; her eyes lit when I told her yes.  She knew.  She believed.

And so the day of the story.  That hot day, the fan blowing air in lazy semicircles back and forth across the room, she weaving a spell with words, spinning yet another of her tales.  I don’t recall the details beyond that opening line . . . “there was once a fan that blew magic instead of air . . .”   What I recall is thinking this will end.  She will grow up and she will lose this just like the rest of us lose it.  The magic will fall away from her; never mind that it is still out there, she will grow up and the workaday world will take her away and she will lose it.

I have a degree in photography and almost an MFA and have been writing for as long as I can remember.  I help run a small business and when you are exhausted and the clock moves too swiftly, it is hard to find the magic.  You live paycheck to paycheck as far as magic is concerned and you forget that it is free, that it is out there waiting for you, that it is sending signals and voice mails and you stop seeing it; you trip over it on the street and don’t even bother to look down to see what caught you.  That is where I lived when she told me her story, and my heart broke when I realized that someday, she, too, would maybe, possibly, live in the same place.

And so a painting came to me, as paintings often do, just a moment of a moment, just a bit of nothingness, a hand held out to catch magic.  An open palm and magic falling from the sky.  I found the time to paint it and called it When Emma Still Believed in Magic, and told no one about it, I just propped it against the wall and went on about my workaday life.  But I was ruined – she’d reawakened within me that desire to run out into that falling everyday magic and play and get soaking wet, drenched by its downpour.  And the magic felt me looking its way, and worked another spell, directed me to a magazine called Artful Blogging, said look here, see this, don’t you want to ?. . .  you should try . . .

And so I did.  On a Saturday morning.  I opened with that painting.  And I told myself the blog would be about painting, but in truth and in my heart, I knew it would be about magic.  Everyday, plain ordinary magic.  That stuff that surrounds us, even in the bad times, if we but choose to look.  I showed paintings and photographs, but I mostly wrote, and almost 3 years later, I am still writing, and I am still finding the magic.  I write for you, to show you, to slow you down, to say see? isn’t that amazing?, and I write for me, to slow myself down, to make myself step out under moonlight and listen for the whoosh of owl wings, to put pen to paper or fingers to computer keys and type out words that spell magic in languages understood by flowers and storms and little girls and grown women.

And I write for her.  She is almost 14 now and at 14 the magic has begun to slip away; it makes her laugh when I tell her tales of her childhood.  But the day will come when she is my age and she is caught in that workaday world and she will feel that there is nothing there but the going and coming and the paying of bills and there will be tiredness waiting for her at the end of the day, and maybe then she will take out my words – she will need something to read over a cup of coffee – and she will understand again.  She will remember the magic, she will realize it is waiting for her, it has been so patient.  My words will suddenly make sense.  You have to grow up a bit to become a child again.

It is all I have to give her.  My words, and that painting.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

The weather outside is frightful, but inside the cats are napping, the tree lights are twinkling, the paper whites are blooming, the tea is steeping, and we're writing thank you's.  There's much to be thankful for this year, especially the love of family and friends.  I hope that wherever you are, you are safe and warm.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Art of the Parcel, revisited

Thanks for the lovely comments on my last post.  They brought comfort and cheer.  You are the bee's knees.  

And now it's already the weekend before Christmas, which means my kitchen table has been transformed into gift-wrap central, and everything on my holiday to-do list (cards, shopping, crafting, baking) is half done, or half undone, depending on my mood at any given moment.  But I love wrapping gifts, I truly do.  When I was a girl, I'd volunteer to wrap gifts for my mother and father, and I'd spend hours cutting the paper, folding over the edges, curling ribbons, and making gift tags out of Christmas cards from previous years.  I imagined being the woman at Filene's who got to wrap Christmas gifts for customers.  My dream job!  All these years later, I don't usually have has much time to linger over the gifts, but I still love to wrap them, especially for people like my sister-in-law Cate, who adore paper and ribbons and pretty boxes as much as I do.   

Last year, I crocheted little ornaments from the sparkly yarn above, and I attached one to each gift.  This year I've been making paper flowers.  I often save and reuse beautiful paper from the year before.  Or old pages of books . . . or old maps.  I even reuse tissue paper.  And, of course, I reuse ribbon.  A quick iron, and it's ready to go.  And I love creative reuse of containers.  All year I save the metal canisters that Republic of Tea tea bags come in and then I glue pretty paper on them and repurpose them as beautiful containers for small gifts.  I also love gifts that double as packaging, like a pretty vintage purse with smaller gifts tucked inside.

As far as opening gifts is concerned, I'm a sucker for Christmas stockings.  Bigger gifts are lovely, but the stocking has always been my favorite part of Christmas morning.  When we were kids there were certain stuffers we could always count on: a Lifesavers Storybook, a bag of M&M's, an orange, a pair of socks, and a quarter in the toe.  I loved those "regulars" just as much as the surprises.  As we grew older, Santa, always a hip guy, began to toss in scratch lottery tickets.

Okay, the sun's coming up, time to get cracking with that list.  Have a beautiful day, my friends!  

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Deep Breath

For the first time ever tonight I'm at a loss for how to begin a post.  I've been a million miles away.  I could blame it on the holidays, but I won't.  There's nothing earth shattering to report.  I have been working hard, spending time with family, writing consistently, and tucking in Christmas-y outings here and there.  I can't seem to make every piece of my life fit right now, and I am almost afraid of what would happen if I did.  I'm also afraid of looking back over my shoulder at all that I lost this year.  I know I am gaining other things, but at costs that cut me to the quick.  I know that you know about years like that--the ones we'd just as soon pack away with the ornaments come January. 

One saving grace has been family, another has been intense work.  A third has been the Legacy Series, and all who are participating in it as writers and readers.  I'll be continuing with it for a few more weeks with a new post next week and more writers coming along to help begin the New Year with beauty, wit, and insight.

In the meantime, I'm gathering up my nuts and berries for winter, and wrapping up tight 'cuz, baby, it's cold outside. 

Back soon with holiday cheer.  Hope your season so far has been merry and bright.  xo Gigi

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Legacy X: Mothers and Daughters

Most of the Legacy posts thus far have been written by bloggers I've known for quite some time, but today I'm excited to share this post written by a woman I met just a few weeks ago.  Her blog, Eliza Deacon Photography, has become one of my favorite places to visit.  Visit it to discover stunning images and tales of her life in Africa, and I have a feeling she will charm you, too.  Eliza's Legacy post fills me with awe and not a little wanderlust.  It also speaks straight to my heart.

Written with many thanks to Gigi for letting me tell this story here...and for her encouragement as to the writing of it. 

When I reached the age of 33, it was something of a milestone: my mother had now not been present for more of my life than she had ever been in it. She died when I was 16, had been ill from when I was 13.  At 13 I remember her sitting down with my twin sister and I. I can remember the room we were in and where we were sitting, I even remember how I was sitting, legs tucked up beneath me in a brown armchair. She told us that she had this thing called cancer and that she was going to be away in hospital but that we shouldn’t worry. With the innocence, and ignorance, of a 13-year-old I remember thinking ‘wow, I wonder what that word means, but I can’t wait to tell my friends at school’.

I didn’t think then of how I would cope without a mother, I was too young. But how did I negotiate my way through the rest of my adolescence, my tricky teens, my 20s, 30s and into my 40s?  I did of course, with various crashes and burns, but it’s a loss I’ve always felt. You get over it, you learn to live with it, but it’s always with you isn’t it. Your mother, any parent really, isn’t meant to die when you are 16 and your mother especially not. Aren’t mothers meant to guide you, be something of a blueprint to show and teach you how to be the woman you’re going to become: a girlfriend, wife, lover, friend, mother, adult...all those things that we intrinsically are, but somehow also need to be shown. And whilst you do find your own way, you rather stumble through the complexities of your 20s when oh lord, how on earth do you know who you are meant to be when you really have no real idea where to start!

My mother was the most amazing woman: she was born and grew up a barefoot jungle child in India, she rode horses as a cowboy on the Colorado plains, she became a top model in the swinging London 60s scene, and she was a Bond girl in the original Casino Royale (the one without Daniel Craig!). I know now what I didn’t know then, that she often had a far-off look; she gave up many of her dreams when she – not unhappily, I hasten to add – settled down. But I think she still yearned for distant horizons and that never went away. 

As soon as I could, I started to travel with an ignorance is bliss attitude, a sort of ‘I want to do this because I want to know how it feels’ attitude. I discovered it very quickly, in war zones and far-flung places. I wanted to be able to look back and say what an incredible time it all was. And yes it was, I was very lucky. I think my life, whilst not the same as hers, was set on a charted course to somehow follow hers yet on a different parallel. Exploring, finding new horizons, new adventures, and in the process learning more about myself and the person I would become. Knowing the synergy of our lives makes me very happy; it’s also the knowledge that she would love my African life, this crazy and wonderful continent I’ve lived on for the past 16 years. 
I don’t have children, and am unlikely to now. It could be an overwhelming thought, if I let it, to know that I won’t share that mother-daughter bond that I experienced so briefly. But I don’t dwell, I figure that things have turned out ok and I don’t want regrets. Life sends you on strange tangents and I can’t imagine any other than this one; one that I know she will always be very much a part of. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Local Joys

I love my town.  Have I told you that?  It is a truly remarkable city.  In one weekend I got to shop at the Maine College of Art Holiday Art and Craft Fair, take a free horse and wagon ride with my sweetheart through the Old Port, go on the Holiday Stroll at the funky shops in my neighborhood, eat astonishing pizza at the best pizza place ever, rent actual DVDs from a real local video store (remember those?) that has nearly every movie you could ever want in stock, and watch the Maine Red Claws play some seriously good basketball (plus, it began to snow lightly as we left the game).  
(I used  Kim Klassen's greyday stone texture when processing this photo.)

Next week we'll be joining in with a sing-along of the Hallelujah Chorus at a local church (I hope good singers stand near me and drown me out!) and doing a little more holiday shopping at local stores.  I avoid the mall as much as possible during the holidays, partly because I can't stand it, but mostly because I believe in shopping at local businesses.  I can't think of a better way to support the community I live in and find beautiful, unique gifts at the same time.  Do you have any favorite local places (including perhaps your own shop!) where you go for cool gifts?  Share them here!

Oh, and in the last photo that's a detail of the menu on the wall at Otto Pizza.  Yes, that is squash, ricotta, and cranberry pizza, and yes, it is to die for.  Come have a slice with me!    

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've sought as much solitude as possible this week.  It's the only way to do the work that I must do.  I have to admit, though, that I enjoy it, too.  I know that many of my writer and artist friends out there will understand. We need to be alone.  We need quiet.  We crave a hidden corner just big enough for a chair, a table, and our thoughts. I love being alone in my workshop, but I seek solitude in other places as well, like churches,  beaches, and graveyards, with just the echoes of others' lives for company. I also find a kind of solitude that I like in the midst of crowded places, especially cafes.  I love the clatter of cups and spoons, the wash of voices and piped-in music. Somewhere in all the clutter and noise I find a kind of anonymity that feels like the release of a pressure valve in my head.  I stare at the window fogged by the heat of conversation and latte steam, and the words come.  

Do you need alone time to create?  If so, where and when do you find it?