Saturday, June 26, 2010

Unpacking self, boxes, loss and love.

Whenever I move, the first thing that comes with me, aside from my skis, are about eight boxes of books, and two boxes of typewriters and treasures.

Over the years of moving, I've edited my stuff over and over and over again. I'm trying to learn not to be attached to things, and having my studio burn down several years ago, and losing in that fire a huge number of antiques and photographs which were in my safe keeping from my dad's family... heirlooms over 150 years old... taught me that while it is history, and it is beautiful, it is just stuff.

I held for a long time the things my father left behind when he died as sacrosanct. My house was a shrine to how my life might have been had he not died, had my mother not married someone else. Old photographs of us on the boat, treasures of a life in Laguna and Palo Alto, in a family that seemed to exist in my imagination rather than in my memory.

I remember going through my father's house when I was thirteen, the year he died. I remember how strange it was to pull the things that belonged to his person out of the home that had been in the family so long it belonged to his mother.

I didn't really get what death was, although it had been a rough year in that regard, several of my friends had committed suicide, two of them right in front of me, and one of my mothers best friends had killed himself with a shotgun in front of his three year old daughter. The air was thick with loss, I remember finding that losing people became, not the norm, but certainly a piece of life that was fact.

Since this year of submersion into loss, death, grief and healing has become a theme in my life, I find myself around loss, and I find myself at home sitting with it. I find that precious, tender moment when it is revealed to your human heart just how much you are capable of loving to be an honorable place, and I'm grateful to those who reach for my hand and trust me with that piece when they are there.

I remember walking into my dad's bathroom when we were beginning the impossible task of packing up his house, I remember hearing my mom and my sister talking about who would "get" what, and feeling ashamed that that conversation was even being had.

I remember standing in the large bathroom where I had happily bathed in this enormous tub every night, often to the sounds of my parents entertaining downstairs, the humm of their happily fed, slightly drunk adult conversation floating up the stairs. My mother's perfume lingering, her laugh, my father's baritone voice the sound of the piano, creeping down the stairs to watch the movie projected onto the large screen brought up from the basement.

Now, the bathroom was bright, but quiet. I stood there looking at the white tile, remembering the year of the drought when we had to flush the toilet with buckets of bathwater, remembering watching my dad comb his hair in the mirror. Looking at the counter, I see a used tube of V05 hair pomade, the imprint of my father's thick thumb still crinkling the tube. It occurred to me that when he put this down on the counter, his comb laying casually next to it, that he thought he'd pick it back up. This to me was the first indication of what death really meant.

This tube of V05 laid in a patch of sunlight coming through the bathroom window, and it seemed absurd that the sun could do this, come into this house like it always did, even though he wasn't here.

Today, my mom brought home a book case for me. My eight boxes of books and two boxes of treasures, distilled down from a lifetime of collecting and discarding, forced edit by fire or finances, (and where is my big green glass Buddha that I brought home from Thailand??) were finally reopened, and I'm sitting in my room, looking at the familiar paraphernalia of my life.

It felt soothing to find the things I've kept, but there is some sadness there as well. I've been happy living without them since December. Knowing they were in boxes made me sad, I thought about my books and typewriters and treasures often, but things have been so very busy, and really, life was just fine without them.

Today, they are here. My dad's collection of first edition first printing Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books. My collection of Charles Bukowski. Just one shelf of the five or six I have in Montana of my most treasured Art books, Andelm Kiefer, Richard Deacon, Tim Hawkinson, Leucian Freud, Richard Diebenkorn. Bartlets Familiar Quotations, Emily Post's Ettiquite, Gene Stratton Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost.

Prayer beads, old, cracking Buddhas, a lock of Sophie's hair, the beautiful, wild horse that loved a beautiful wild woman that I loved; some candles. A photograph of my dad and I. A huge heart stone that Michael found in the river the day we met, which seems to hold this echo of a promise that there can be a love that big and fierce. A rice bowl from Tibet. A sculpture that my aunt Mary, an incredible artist who died of colon cancer a few years ago, made.

Journals, sketchbooks, and manuscripts, photographs of paintings that were burned or cut up for firewood when I left Montana.

Last night, I was going through my photos on the computer and I found one of Tom climbing in the Shaaman cave in Nevada. From this trip where we were falling in love, we lived in my truck for months climbing all over the wester US. All of this ephemera is pulling on me. It belongs to what has come before. It seems to be full of belief that there is some future, and pieces of it fall off as impractical, people fall off as they stop believing, and I move on, trusting, perhaps foolishly, that there is this blissful present, and this blissful future.

The clouds have just cracked open with a vengeance suddenly, and I sit here on my bed, amidst this slice of the stickiest stuff, the stuff that used to define me as me and now seems to be a historical catalogue of what actually means something to me, and smell the hot roofs and soil getting soaked through suddenly. The cottonwood fluff is drifting through the rain lazily, the fat rain drops are washing the roofs of the cabins and the leaves of the huge trees. The sun is shining behind this enormous cloud, the sky is blue over pyramid peak, and I'm sitting amongst things that used to, and maybe still do matter.

I suppose that some of the nostalgic sadness is that I have moved in. This cabin is a place we intend to stay, there have been shelves built and long term organizational ideas, we have invested ourselves in nesting here.

I'm not in transition anymore, I'm rooting, building a home base from which to spring with my kids on whatever adventure comes next. And I'm grateful for this place, this paradise, safe and wild for them and for me.

And I live here now, and the family is myself, and my mother and my two kids. My time with Tom has come and gone, the dream of last summer with Mike and his kids turned out to be just that... a dream. The other great love in my life is destined to be just that, a great love, separate and strong. But separate. We walk together, and I hold his heart in mine, but the journey he has to take is arduous and solitary.

So while editing my things and unattaching from them, being willing to discard usually marks some stage in my life where I am becoming myself, undefined by others, I think this unpacking did the same thing, but in a different way. Becoming myself, in space that is only mine, without wishing for it to belong to some other as well, without defining myself through my things so that whoever was sharing my space would not mistake me. I am again learning to be alone, to belong to me, to trust that I am right where I need to be to learn the lesson I need to learn.

5 comments:

Russ said...

I love how you can express your soul in written words.

Kate Howe said...

Thank you, Russ. Sometimes, I feel like I am leaking. I'm grateful that you read.

K

Gin said...

i love your beautiful, brave, bold soul. muchos besos.

Kate Howe said...

Thank you Virginia. I love yours, too. Besos back, and I miss you.

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