Tag Archives: inspiration

Art & Grief: Finding the Perfection in the Imperfect

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What is that odd-looking, white object in the picture? What does it have to do with grief or art? What have grief and art to do with each other and why am I writing (struggling to write) this at this moment?

That object is a biscornu which, if I recall correctly, is French for “quirky.” These objects at this size are mostly used as pin cushions and the one in my photo is indeed a pincushion made using traditional Norwegian Hardanger embroidery techniques (as opposed to modern techniques).

As to what it has to do with art and grief:

A few months ago, I struggled with my writing process and wrote about it here. You can see in some truly helpful comments that it was suggested that I exercise my creative mind through other art forms. I thought this an excellent idea although I am the furthest thing from creative in any other way other than writing. I can’t draw a straight line, I failed miserably at the various doodle crafts, and I have long since given away my sculpting supplies because I would have to invest in learning how to do it rather than winging it. I do, however, love to do Hardanger embroidery. I thought I could perhaps design my own.

I can’t. So, I gave up.

2018 waned and my writing continued to stutter like a lawn mower in overgrown St. Augustine. The holidays arrived along with the U.S. government furlough including much time for my husband and I to spend together. I decided to try “new to me” traditional Hardanger as a creative endeavor and to make a Christmas gift for someone, the above biscornu.

Through all of this, the Big Blind Dog was lumbering through his days and nights, taking his medications dutifully, eating heartily, begging for scraps always, peeing the Niagara (diuretics), and growing that snore-and-sniffle inducing lump on his cheek without complaint. He and I sat on our couch together, tv on and spewing the horrors of Investigation Discovery or tv off and only the Gulf waves in our heads. Occasionally my husband left his cave, poured a soda, gave the old gray snoot a pat and a biscuit, gave me a kiss, and wandered back into his hideaway.

I stitched.

I stitched and the dog snored and life was sweet and warm. I finished the biscornu and in all those stitches and waves and snoring came words for the page and these pleasant, if bittersweet, blog entries here and here. Writing was a thing again.

Then I looked at the biscornu and really saw it. I’d failed. While it was pretty, it was wrong. Something I’d planned from the beginning that could not be undone was a major flaw within it. Others couldn’t really see the flaw but I knew it was there. It ate at me.

Finally, rather than wrap it with other Christmas gifts, I decided I would keep it. Better to make a better gift for that person later—something not so obviously flawed, even if only to my eyes. I left it on my desk with a mix of sadness and disgust.

We packed up and went to see family out of town and had a perfectly nice visit.

And on the morning we were to return home, we awoke in our usual hotel room and our beautiful, sweet, old Big Dog with his one great flaw, his useless eyes, had left us.

Somewhere in his dreams, he decided he’d had enough of being lifted and guided and medicated and diapered. Somewhere in his sleep he’d decided those last pets from family, the last sniffs of our granddog, the last bites of Woody’s barbeque beef, and his favorite dog biscuits were a good note to end on.

So it goes.

Twelve and a half of his thirteen years.

And a five-hour drive of tears and emptiness and silence.

And furtive momentary pats to the still form in the back seat as if he would miraculously come back to us.

When we arrived home that evening and I walked into our office, there was the biscornu, that silly, imperfect thing, and I realized why the Universe had me keep it. Nothing at all to do with its imperfection—an imperfection I no longer see—and everything to do with the fact that it is a symbol of those long luxurious days next to him, his paws pressed against me. Of those last few days when he’d taken to lying with his head on my leg as he had when he was younger, as if he was trying to tell me goodbye. I wondered then, but had chosen not to be certain.

I am grateful for that time.

I am grateful for that quirky object I kept that had a major flaw, like the flaw of the Big Dog’s blindness. Flaws that are visible but meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Now, the biscornu is perfect in that it reminds me of him. He was perfect in his love.

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Our Beautiful Yao Ming. Big Dog. Boo Boo. Young and happy.

Porpoises and Purposes

You might have noticed (you probably didn’t, so I’m telling you) that I haven’t written an entry in quite some time. That isn’t strictly true. I’ve written multiple entries. I simply haven’t posted them.  Most were typical writerly whining: grief, new house, more grief, lots more new house, topics too topical to discuss (Politics! Yuck! Outrage! Yuck!) None of what I wrote seemed to belong here. Either it contributed to the bile that everyone else was spewing or it was self-serving schlock. (Well, it’s a blog; all of it is self-serving shlock.)

We have a new home. It’s small and sweet and near the beach and I’ve never prayed through hurricane season so much in my entire life. It’s a joy and I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of money.

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A pod of porpoises often comes close to shore near our new home. It seems, if you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism, that they are making fun of the fishermen on shore. At times one pod member performs something similar to a gymnast’s tumbling line, making its way through the trough between beach and sandbar with one leap after another. It’s not all fun and games, I’m sure. The pod is likely snacking in their high tide hijinks, mixing purpose with their play.

My purpose has finally shifted back to writing to a point.

The stressful and time-consuming process of setting up the house has slowed. I no longer spend my days looking for stuff for the house or ways to stuff the stuff we already have into the much smaller place.

The grief flutters in and out several times a day. Little reminders arise that I won’t see or hear my parents ever again. Momma and Dad come to me in my dreams in various ways—good and bad—that leave me near tears upon waking.

The national and international topical topics grind away on my sanity daily. Politics and its cohort Societal Entropy are driving me to wish I drank. I am attempting to cope with them by reading a book that stretches me considerably. Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy by Susan Neiman. It’s a bit like drinking vinegar to cure acid indigestion, walking on hot concrete to heal stone bruises, or hiring someone who bankrupted his own businesses to balance your books. Neiman poses these questions: “Can there be meaning in a world where innocents suffer? Can belief in divine power or human progress survive a cataloging of evil? Is evil profound or banal?”

Meanwhile, my news feed tells me about earthquakes killing hundreds in Italy, chlorine bombs dropping on innocents in Syria, and my fellow citizens arguing over how many flags one must wave to be a true patriot and whether one can sit during the national anthem. Nothing has changed in fifteen years. (“I’ll take ‘Banality for Beelzebub’ for $400, Alex.”)

Still, I have this idea, perhaps unrealistic, that at the end of this book, I’ll better understand a purpose for evil, unfairness, and complacency, or at least be better able to stomach it.

My best response might be to retreat to our little island home and watch for our pod of porpoises. I think they know the answer to the questions that book poses. Evil is just a function of being an animal on this planet and must be lived through (or not). Move on to the next shore. Play and dine in the waves.

There are wonderful days ahead in this sweet home by the beach. I do know that. Purpose and play, not just politics and banality. I am grateful for, if yet baffled by, my world.

Ghosts, Dead Heroes, and Subatomic Particles: A Short Essay on Inspiration.

I’ve been grieving since Monday, August 11. In this time, I’ve written and rewritten a short-short ghost story, but the ending eluded me. Without an ending, there really is no story. I don’t mean putting it in a nice box and with a bow; I mean just giving it words that inform the reader, “This is all I have left to say.” I couldn’t find those words no matter how hard I stared at the two pages of story, or meditated on it, or lay with eyes closed trying to picture its scenes. Nothing said, “Here! Right here! These are the words for which you are looking.” So I put my story aside and wallowed in grief some more. I watched some wonderful old videos and some bad, distracting television. I did some hardanger. I tried not to think about those two pages.

Wednesday night Husband and I went on our nightly two-mile walk and I asked him for input on the story. He talked about the ghosts in the story and how sometimes ghosts haunt people “in a positive way.” That didn’t help me directly but I liked the theory. I’ve certainly thought about it plenty of times and I’ve written stories in the past that have drawn on it though I’ve never made much of those stories.

We arrived home and I took one last look at that danged short-short. As I read it, I thought of Husband’s comment and of a “good haunting” and thought how I hope Robin Williams could look down now and see that thousands of schlubs like me thought he was amazing and inspirational. I carried these thoughts in parallel as I read through those two pages, thinking of ghosts and death and trying to find the clue in my piece to finish that damn story.

Suddenly it was there. ending edit

Two or three words in the piece jumped out at me and I knew how to end it. They had nothing to do with ghosts or haunting (or comedy) but were entirely independent of those thoughts. I raced to get a pen, scratched the ending on the page and set about cleaning up for the night.

I was struck, however, by the strong sense of not having found the ending but having it presented to me.

It isn’t a new or unique idea, the thought that when a person dies, their energy goes out into the world. Different belief systems have embraced it for centuries. As I got ready for bed I had to ask, why not? Why couldn’t the energy of someone brilliant be making its rounds throughout the world, touching the fevered creative minds of those trying to paint pictures, sculpt forms, write plays or books? Why can’t that energy be a catalyst in the universe: a spiritual butterfly effect in which it bounces off one particle in space and from there spreads out and makes its way to League City over three days where a struggling writer says, “Damn, I’m going to miss that guy. I wish I had one-tenth of his genius. Maybe then I could finish this damn story.” Poof! That particle tweaks a neuron where the idea has been hiding and the neuron fires and the idea is ready to go on the page.

Why the hell not?

About twenty more pages of thoughts followed from that thought but I will spare everyone. Besides, as I said, these are not new ideas: positive thinking, getting back what you put into the universe, blah blah blah. Much of it is just downright controversial and I’m no philosopher, just a writer thinking about how I got my story ending.

Well, I have my ending. I had, I know, Husband’s help most of all. Perhaps I also had a stray subatomic particle that leapt from the bounds of that wild, brilliant soul and, in a roundabout way, struck a nerve.