Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crackle, Rustle, Happy Birthday

Crackle, crackle, crackle, crackle.

I moved.

Crackle, crackle, crackle, crackle.

I lifted my arm.

Rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle.

I shifted.

Crackle, rustle, rustle, crackle, crackle.

I opened my eyes.

I was covered in a few hundred little pieces of paper.
I lifted one up and looked at it. I squinted and read the tiny writing.

I love you.

I turned my head. He smiled and said, "I love you."

It was the spring of 1974 and the man I was living with but not living with not according to if you'd asked my parents, the man I would later marry and later divorce had covered me in hundreds of I love you's. It was one of the reasons I  loved him and one of the reasons he claimed a piece of my heart and one of the reasons he still has the key to that piece of my heart. It was one of the reasons that it is always worth loving, even when we change, even when we walk apart and away. It is one of the reasons that as we continue to become who we are, the people who have loved us or shared with us become even more important.

It is your birthday today Wingfield.
Close your eyes and imagine that I have sent a shower of hundreds of little pieces of paper floating down on you, some of them say, I love you and some of them say Thank you and some of them say, Happy Birthday and some of them simply crackle and rustle for the remembering and for the fun of the sound of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Brian's Masked Sunrise

I stare at the painting. Its reds, oranges, yellows and flight move me as they have for 27 years. All things being equal, odds are, based on everything else I no longer have, that I would not have this either. For a good while it was 90% of everything I owned. It traveled with me from Seattle to Santa Fe, from Santa Fe to Dallas, back to Seattle, in the cargo of the plane to New York, and in the back of the mini-teeny truck home to NC. It traveled to Las Vegas, to a small apartment in Hilton Head and on to Atlanta, then to the NC tobacco barn, the log cabin and finally, this home where many lives and stories, merged.  I  have left clothes, furniture, books and most other things behind, but Brian and his Masked Sunrise have remained a constant, the first thing in place no matter where I landed, like my own sacred cornerstone, a sacred cornerstone and a sacred knowing, as long as Brian was with me, I could rise free as his birds into the sunrise.

Masked sunrise, maybe it was a metaphor for his life, the potential, the glory, and the mask. For me it was and is always about the sunrise as metaphor for possibility, goodness, love, sustenance, awe, for the true in nature and the true in us, for the palpably beautiful and the palpably real.

I see the blackbird winging towards the heart of sunrise and I think how much it is like Brian. Always in motion, always striving, determined to make it even when the depression, the suffering, the callousness, the disrespect and inhumanity tried to crush his beautiful soul, he was always seeking to fly, he was always seeking glory in the morning.

He has been sitting company a lot with me these last days. It has just been his birthday and mine.

I see him as I first saw him, leaping across the stage in the hot pink stretch pants that he later  gave  to me, the ones that defined him and later defined me, the ones I wore with hot pink stillettos, funk, bad taste and full-on "this is who I am." They were "who we were," shared.

I remember the first Thanksgiving where he invited all his alone friends and he cooked for us from his heart in his gourmet way.  I had not yet cultivated the taste for chestnuts, and brussel sprouts, or seaweed, I was longing for  thick gravy, stuffing made with butter and a pile of mashed potatoes. In memory it became two things, the Thanksgiving of trying to swallow what I'd rather have spit in the napkin and the Thanksgiving where alone hearts were embraced in a day of giving thanks for all the hearts. It is why each year, the tables and borrowed chairs grow and Mama's and my plates merge and each year it is more challenging to feed the growing Thanksgiving numbers, but it is why the Blessing Bowl overflows. It is Thanksgiving as ritual and heart, and as Brian defined it in 1977.

Brian was deep and deeply committed, a deep thinker, a deep feeler, a deep everythinger. He was deeply healthy and deeply working on staying that way, in either a slim and lithe dancer's body or the body builder, muscled and strong one. When he was training he'd think nothing of working out for 3 hours and ending the work-out with a visit to see me, running up the 46 flights of high-rise steps to get to my office. Most often, he'd walk in barely breathless and giving me "the look." The one that came when he saw my croissants and bacon and butter that he knew I'd either taken the elevator to get or sent Tina to get while my own butt stayed parked happily in my chair.  I would meet his look, reach for my bacon and we would talk. One day he waved his arm at me when he walked in, his hands held a rolled up  sheet of paper. An almost perfect likeness of me drawn from memory. The frame has long-since disappeared, the offwhite paper is smudged and dirty, but it hangs between my office and bedroom.  It is signed by 4 fingerprints turned into hearts that I remember he said he had blown kisses into.

He called me early one Saturday, he had a borrowed car, and took me to a  beach on the peninsula, a picnic basket of feast treats and a bottle of champagne and we sat and stared at the wild ocean and huddled together in appreciation of magic.  It was one of many Brian surprises, he delighted in giving and he delighted in surprises and he was master at combining both.  I was often the recipient of full-out serendipitous goodness.  The first gift ever I found on my pillow. He'd taken a bus from Seattle to Kirkland, broken into my house and placed an inscribed copy of The Red Balloon on my pillow. He'd locked the house back up and quietly left.  Years later when he came to visit he would leave behind more gifts or mail them after he left. The green bowl, the weaving he'd done on his grandmother's loom, "Things Not Seen" a painting I"d fallen in love with from the slides,  As I finally quit traveling and most of what I owned was not just my sunrise, as my possessions began to grow again, so did the gifts from Brian. He delighted my heart and my home.

The last thing that came a handmade book, each page a page of his last vision quest, each page a short poem of his soul that day, each page one day closer to when he decided that he wanted to live and not die. It is a beautiful book, fragile, delicate and unmeasurably strong, it is him. His grandmother's teachings about life and art had mostly sustained him, he had made peace with the love of his family and the love of his family removed. He had found partners and left partners, had had successes and the many lean times when having been the first Barista for Starbucks he would always return to that for making the money to pay the rent when the stretches between one man shows were too long. And he had doubted himself, his life and his gifts more times than a human being should, but finally, had found some peace.

Sometimes we would lose each other for a year or 2 or 3 but always we would find each other again. His last trip here he stood over the pool in the woods imagining his next one man show and beginning to draw figure after figure swimming, diving, flying, leaping, all of the figures in a place of movement but also all in a place of surrender  (just like him). He would cook our dinner, and draw, he would laugh at Jeff not smoking smoking and the curiously funny way that Papa broke his leg, he would talk of his Borzois and how he missed them. He would come upstairs to tell me he would be sleeping on the couch in the den because the spirits in the basement were way too active.

He would leave. For the last time.

I knew he had moved to a small town north of Seattle, had finally found a partner he was happy with, that he was teaching and working on several new shows I knew he was finally almost as close as genius can ever get to being happy.

I lost him for 2 years, I googled him. I couldn't find him and then one day a review appeared, of a one-man show of figures leaping and moving, dancing and flying off into surrender. I finally reached the gallery to ask  them to have him call me.

"Oh." She said.

"I don't know how to tell you this...
 That show was 2 years ago...
 and well, Brian died."

I hung up.

Over the course of the next few days I would learn about an opening night, a mosquito bite, a headache that started and wouldn't quit, a hospital that said nothing was wrong, a return trip back a few days later too late, a coma and then his death. I would learn of a family who did not want his paintings but finally took them anyway, unhappy with what they perceived as a burden.
I would never learn about his partner, the end of his life, his final almost happiness.

I would learn about fleeting, and about too sudden. I would remember big generous and big love.

These days he has been with me. His birthday August 28.
Telling people I love them is something I do, every day, and as often as possible. For whatever reason, I never told Brian enough.

I place the Red Balloon, the green bowl, the poster, the card, his handmade book on the woven throw, the throw that is  on the guest bedroom bed,  the one he wove with love, the one that adds his love to mine and reaches out in welcome to the one who comes to stay. I look at what is symbolic of the person who so enriched and continues to enrich my life. The soul I believe still paints the sunrise, while sitting in the middle of it.

I wonder if he knows how big he was, how gifted, how loving, how powerful, how beautiful. I wonder if he knows how much I loved him, how much he gave me, how much because of him, that glorious sunrises and flight free as a bird have always been and always will be, my possibility.

Things Not Seen
A note to me, a poem sealed with a kiss.
 "We fall & climb again into arcs of radiance fill the sky with vibration
 impelled like summer birds."

33 years of gifts that traveled in one small box across the country and back again.  The Red Balloon inscribed in 1977, the last handmade book from his 2004 vision quest, the weaving made on his grandmother's loom.
The article on Brian in 1996 New American Paintings: A Quarterly Exhibition, Open Studios Competition Number VI

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finding Beautiful

I think everyone should be told they’re beautiful until they believe it. 
- Unknown

Mama taught me more than a few things that stuck. One of them has to do with taking that extra moment on any given day, no matter where my head is, (and most especially when it is out of the world or up my ass) to say a few kind words to a stranger. It used to embarrass my ex, she would stop at a stranger's table to say,  "What a beautiful family you are," or, "the parts of your conversation that carried over to me that I should not have been listening to, were perfectly delightful." (The latter we all felt a little embarrassed about.) On the hot days of summer at her old apartment when the Hispanic crew were worn slap out, Mama would fix trays of ice tea and cookies and walk outside and motion to them to come and she would serve them a little respite. I have seen her stop a stranger on the street to tell them what a beautiful smile they have, a beautiful blouse they are wearing, how pretty their hair looks that day, something, always finding something she could compliment them on... sometimes reaching out her hand to touch them softly on their shoulder as if she knew they needed reassurance. This was and is Mama's way of telling the people she knows and doesn't, they are beautiful.

I try to remember. 

I might have been the other pea in my Father's pod, but in many ways, I am my Mother's daughter.

I try to combine Mama with me.  I try to find my own way to voicing kind and beautiful. 

There is no end to the ways of telling each other we're beautiful, if we trust ourselves to do it, step outside the comfort zone, reach out and down and say loudly in the quietest of ways, "You are beautiful." That one moment of our spontaneity births another moment of serendipity and maybe a little mirabilia. That one moment is an extra, the kind of extra that deep inside we all need and sometimes hope for, the kind that could change a life and the kind that in the end, will be what changes a world. 

The water, the breath, the food, they sustain us, being told we are beautiful gives us back our hope. The think tanks, the physicists, the philanthropists, the groups doing all the big and small of changing the world, somehow or way they began when kind met beautiful out loud and then they grew together.

Or,  maybe they met Mama. 

It is time for me to start the "You are beautiful" list, telling at least one person or one more person a day they are beautiful, and trying to see the beauty in at least one person I don't find beautiful at all. It needs to be a footnoted list, where every time I don't notice and should, I think about it and don't, and where every judgment that stops me seeing, will write itself. It needs to be a miles long and world traveling list, where its numbers grow and the footnotes shrink. 

Banjoel says it will take a long time, the telling everyone they are beautiful until they get it. It isn't just that enough of us might not be saying it but it is also that most people might not be hearing it. Beyond that he says it is doable. 

So I don't know who you are and when you read this, but when you do, I have this to say. 

"You are beautiful."

 I mean it. 

And if you don't think so, sit down and stay there until you figure it out, all the ways or any of the ways, you are beautiful.

Then sit with your own beauty or any part of it you can own.

And when you are done, go tell somebody else.
And mean it.