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Lamps and chairs

When I told dad I would present my final masters research (with some bad-assery) in ten days, all the terrible anxiety and fear vanished from his face. He smiled.

He is in the final, non-verbal stage of dementia, frustrated beyond imagining that he has no words and only emotion, no time, only an endless Now of waiting.

He aches for contact and love, is willfully strong in his child-like, impotent rage at the hospital and nurses and pushings around; time to get up now, time to eat now, time for your bath now, time to brush your teeth now, come one now, you can do it….

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Complex, these relational family stories, aren’t they.

I’ve just moved my work and my life to the city where he grew up – a twenty minute walk from Delta High School where he was a young football hero, the much admired alpha-male athlete, scholar and master of ceremonies at assemblies, funny, smart, beautiful in body and strong in integrity. He was a dreamboat.

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So often in my life I’ve been astonished by his empathy for those who struggle, his wrathful impossible judgement of people from cultures not his own. By his blind reliance upon others – mostly my mom- for the simplest of human requirements – laundry, house cleaning, the facilitation of travel, trips, makings-so.

He has uttered bone-headedly hurtful things to me without a hint of awareness or remorse. He has offered, with infinite tenderness, a perfect, graceful insight at the precise moment it was needed.

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He wrote poems to us, when we were small.  The Keira Lynn flower’s the one I love best… (i.e., more than petunias, snapdragons, and pansies). When things were sometimes difficult, we communicated in carefully considered, written notes. In these, he always, always told the truth.

He cried, every time I played or sang. I do this too, without restraint, when I’m moved.

In the past week I’ve visited him four times, six hours return from here. Each time, fewer words, more frustration. Each time, more moments of peace, and grace.

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He smiles because he knows that even though it was never my role in our family to be the academic one. Nevertheless, I will present this final bad-assery of a masters capstone in ten days, and it will be good.

It will be better than good now, because I have his chairs with me to write in, his lamps, for inspiration. He is helping me.

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My dad is an artist, these are his horses.

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Thanks for your help, Dad, it’s perfect.  I love you.

 

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old becomes new

Cold toes, bruised ribs from this wiry pull-out mattress, the roar and scrape of post-christmas industrial traffic three floors down.  I keep my eyes closed and read last night’s snowfall from the speed of the passing plough: maybe two inches.

A truck beeps itself backwards into the garage, shovels scrape pathways to retail:  Not a snowday then; We are open for business. I’m tired beyond measure from seasonal work, christmas effort, road trips, and navigating the annual ocean of paper, plastic, wrappings, cups and boxes; private aches, public belly laughs, snow bruises, exhilarations and odd behaviors.  I’d much prefer to be waking in my bed at home, where there’s a bath for slow entry into the day, a kitchen to make simple breakfast in.

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Nevertheless, I have deadlines to meet.  In answer to this, the dawn light pours in through eastern windows to spill on the floor: it’s beautiful here. I feel the call of possibility, and the rituals begin – fold up the bed, start the kettle for coffee, pad down the long hallway to fill the water jugs, come back to play with the cats while my coffee brews.

My studio, where I have worked and played for eight years, produced a hundred or more paintings, taught cello and art, designed, wrote blog, essay and books, rehearsed and performed music, read, edited, shared poetry, and built a rich and enduring collaboration with Knuckles the once-feral cat (who I will love ferociously and tenderly all my life long).

It’s late November 2016 and I’ve not yet decided to dismantle and reinstall it in the spare room at home.  It still feels like I’ll be here for a long time yet; content and safe in the art factory.

Everything is white again.
Everything is white again.

This six-windowed room is on the top floor of an old building that once housed a ladies hoisery factory, managed and operated by my maternal great-grandfather, Walter Keebler*. At one point he employed 200 women here – women who previously could only find work as maids or cooks because until then only men worked in factories.  I imagine that when they found themselves working together, they organized, and sorted things that needed sorting. Women tend to do that, given a little empowerment.

My other great-great grandfather was the CEO of Kennedy Foundry which made propellers for most of the merchant marine in the great lakes.  From the roof of the Circle Bar building I can see where the foundry was.

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When I moved in eight years ago I stripped and refinished the floors, filled the plaster holes with durabond, painted the walls, stripped half of the moulding around the windows (why?  sentiment, I think – it’s just cheap pine), and foam-insulated the ceiling cracks. I got my materials and equipment out of limbo and set up – the first time I’d had a working studio in four years – SUCH a relief to have a space for my soul again.  Since then it has always answered my soul’s need for sanctuary, art factory, practise and rehearsal space, writing space and woman’s shelter – all the more rich because of the family connection.  I feel as though I’ve got to know my ancestor Walter Keebler, somehow.  His slow steady, his endurance and care.

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This week I am packing it all up and removing myself from here, because it’s the right thing to do.  The initial decision was made in answer to the interminable delay in settlement from my marriage (which officially ended late summer 2013), but the choice resonated in my bones: yes, it’s time to move on.  Like the lobster whose shell has become too tight, I need to shed this place so I can grow.

As my mind and heart changes through the work of this masters degree, so is my painting shifting.  I still love working large, but I’m in search of more playfulness, new techniques, new experiments, new media – these will start small, because I have less time after music work and school are done.  Moving studio will help that, as well as insuring that I have enough money for gas and groceries.  (an aside – I just heard a statistic that sent me reeling: Video here, worth watching. I’ll paraphrase – the average annual income for professional writers, musicians and painters in Canada is $6,000.  Yep – I made $6,600. last year, working all the time.)

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Still, my heart breaks each time I fill a box and take it to my car, each time Knuckles the cat looks at me so full of trust and love, each time I look at the bare walls and empty windows.

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What a wonderful, rich eight years it’s been.  Thanks, Great-Grandpa, for the Circle Bar.

*Walter was the descendent of german refugees from the 100-years war, granted asylum by Queen Victoria. She in turn sent her 8000 refugees to the colonies, where William Penn, English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher and early Quaker presided over a flock of immigrants.  His great-uncle Frederick fought with the 50th regiment (for Lincoln) in the American Civil War – we are transcribing his letters home as a family project.