Monday, May 27, 2013

At Last, Home



As the sun sets, my eyes close to this world, opening to one I might’ve known with you. Stepping from the wrinkled fabric of my body, I am clothed once again in the skin of my youth…
We were young and under the impression that our ideals would feed both our dreams and practical needs; if not now, at least eventually. The heat and light of a Southern July sun made the belief all the more real. You walked through the too tall grass as I imagine a lion would: stealthily, easily, carelessly, the sunlight haloing around you. All words were gone from my mouth in an instant, but you had extra to spare. And so goes the story of our meeting. 

The summer kept us alive that year. Parties by the poolside, cocktails on Linwood Avenue, dinner with anyone well-to-do, you seemed to gain the invitations coveted by the elite. Always you asked me to join you. “You are the most important person in my life,” you would say in a way that unraveled my cautious disposition.  Following along, I believed you. I liked the feeling of walking in on your arm and watching you captain the crowd with your aloof familiarity, the counter of your coolness and charm, like you could be anywhere else, but had chosen this place and time, these people to be a part of your present moment.
It was later, the crowd tucked into their own secret things, that I saw you unveiled. The charm and surety of self, dissolving into a whisper, you would reveal your heart to me. “He is only a child.” I would sometimes think. “A little boy still searching.”  Maybe I should have listened to myself before so many defenseless nights and so many breaths shared in between had bound us irrevocably together. But my own na├»ve understanding of love would not let me leave you alone to fend in the world of soulless men. 

I remember the first time you told me what I had felt all along. We were driving home from some late night adventure. You were in the passenger seat, full of courage and strong drink. Your fingers traced the tops of mine before closing around my hand. I felt your eyes embrace me. Glancing from the road I caught a glimpse of your face, a half smile that parted when you spoke, “I’m in love with you, you know.” I didn’t know what to say to you. “You’re the only girl I’ve ever really been in love with. You’re the only girl I’ve ever said that to.” I didn’t know if you were telling the truth or letting the imbibed murmurs speak for you. I want to go back there sometimes, pull the car over and kiss you. But even in my memories, I can only do what I did then. Drive on. 

At home on your front stoop, we would recount the memories we had made (as if they were coins or items of clothing, but much more precious) over and over until they were bound within the folds of our minds. Skinny dipping at midnight in a pool we’d snuck into, dancing in the Lerner’s garden, driving too fast on back streets. Our laughter filled the sky, competition for the stars. Your hand would rest on my knee, my head on your shoulder.  But soon your thoughts would turn to wanting more. More money, more love, more recognition. Always, you had drank too much so I would help you to bed and wrap my arms around you, feeling the rise and fall of your body’s breath between dark and dusk, letting our dreams fuse us together.

My heart was full, packed with the world of you. Then, morning would come bringing sunlight and clarity; the fear that our togetherness would not last forever. Fighting reality with my entire being, I held more tightly to you driving myself mad with desperation. I questioned your motives, analyzed your words with deft precision, eyed the people in your life with scrutiny. You reassured me that I was your only love. But your words sounded hollow, hanging in the web of my doubts. “You are diffident.” You would say. “Diffident, defensive, and rude!” Those words I believed. They seemed more real to me. I tried to stop. I tried to reason myself from the narrow, shaky limb of paranoia, but it was too late. You did not want to make amends. And I watched, as if helpless, while you and I slipped through my fingers. 

“I’ve met someone.” Your words were the saw cutting me down. “She will help me get where I need to go in my career She will help me get more.” I could feel my breath leave my body. “I don’t really love her. But we, you and me, are no more.” And all of my bones cracked as I landed on unyielding ground.
My fear had met reality. They were the same.  You buttoned your shirt and adjusted your tie, spraying on your cologne you looked at me, the last look between us, “I’m going out.”  It was the finality of our existence. I sat in your floor, tears eroding my hot cheeks, breathing you in for the last time: the weight of your presence, the rough, familiar feel of wooden floors we’d danced on most every night in bare feet, the sound of water dripping in the kitchen that made us think we could try our hand at plumbing and the note on the counter still reminding us to call a professional,  the empty glass holding salty taste of your lips from your nightly drink, the smell of your body and mine still mingled on your sheets, I could almost feel your heartbeat. Picking myself up, I moved with surprising agility, through the thickness of the air and walked to my own house where I began removing every reminder of you. Two boxes labeled “thrift store” now held the mementos of our life together. 

A few days passed and I was able to walk in the sunshine again.  In a few weeks I was eating. The months following found me able to sleep, even if alone. And soon years were going by with an ever dulling pain. I would think of you sometimes, less often with the passage of time. My life had become one of contentedness. No emotional highs to match my life with you, but you had slowly drifted into the past, part of another existence. I married a friend who had loved me for years. You knew him, Adam.  I thought of you only a little as I said “I do.” We never had children, but our nieces and nephews made the walls of our house feel like a home when they were there. 

I saw you several weeks ago. I think you may have seen me. I was leaving the market as you were walking in. Our eyes met briefly and the same feeling I’ve always had when I see you wrapped around me again. You were with a young woman. She was holding your arm. She looked like you. “Dad, are you alright?” I heard her ask. You leaned in to whisper something to her and she turned abruptly to look at me. “That can’t be Ruth.” She said, leading you into the store. I smiled to myself. I have thought of you every day and night since, hoping to see you in my dreams but they will not bring you. 

Closing my eyes tonight, all of my years cascade around me like an ethereal curtain, the outline of a figure walking as if waiting on the other side. I would recognize that familiar profile even if I were blind. My heart racing with hope, I reach out my hand; I notice it looks the same as it did the day I first met you. I pull back the fabric and there you are. Your arms are around me before I can say your name. Your lips dance across my face. We cannot stop laughing. I feel myself let go of life and breath and all that came in life before.  At rest, at peace...at last, home.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Matters of Life and Death: Intro



"Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! Deuteronomy 30:19 (NLT)

I meet my mat, dripping with sweat, my muscles simultaneously exhausted and energized. This last pose, shavasana (literally corpse pose), is a welcome reprieve. Death is, after all, part of the cycle of life. As my own life has ebbed with changing tides recently, as the movement of breath in and out of my body mirrors the acceptance and letting go of circumstances, people, choices, I find I am met with matters of life and death. This theme of life and death has circulated through both my mind and spirit at least a few times each day.

When I rest my thoughts on life I think about hope and joy, fertility and growth. Life is synonymous with goodness and light. But death seems to darken my thoughts with its shroud of eternal finality. There is not much hope there; unless, of course, you are in Christ (Romans 81-5). Then death is simply a passage between earth and heaven.  Death, itself, doesn’t offer much other than the chance to contemplate what once was, all the things that have been.  And in the contemplation, it strips them away.

Isn’t that what sin does? Strips away life. And not only does death strip life from us, it strips it from those who will come after us.  Death is selfish. Regardless of religion, I believe sin can be defined as choosing death. It may not be that we will keel over on the spot, but there is a part of us that dies every time we choose sin. If it kills the spirit, if it depletes life, if it is death—it is sin. If it is sin, it is death. Sometimes the option of death seems welcoming, pleasurable even, but its destined finality is fatality.  Sometimes it is hard to tell it is death because it is disguised so well. I think that’s why I am learning to look more closely. Sometimes the choice obviously screams, “DEATH!” but we choose it anyway. We listen to the hissing, whispered echo from the Garden that “We will not surely die.” We believe a lie. We choose the moment rather than the forever simply because we want to.

The thing about death is, it’s easy. It requires nothing of us, except our life. Life takes work. Life asks us to be a part of it, to be present. It calls us to action. It calls us, at times to be selfless, to consider others needs and happiness and best interests before our own agenda.  And every day I am alive, I am given opportunity to choose between life and death. I can choose to drink goodness and blessing into my body or to take darkness and curses into it. The choice between life and death is always before me, before us.  I can choose to use words of encouragement or to speak poorly of someone. I can choose generosity of my resources or keep them greedily to myself. I can choose friendship toward the lonely or I can look the other way pretending not to see. I know I am not so perfect that I always choose life. But I hope that more often than not, I am choosing it. I hope that I am learning more and more to recognize life and be a part of it. I hope that heaven and earth witness more life in me than death.  I hope that my ”descendants might live.”

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Nude Self-Portrait

I've purposely held off on painting this self-portrait until the end of the semester.
Today is the day. I am embarking on my first (not that there will be any others
kind of first, but I've never done this before kind of first) nude painting of 
myself.
 
Thanks to my anatomy and figure studio classes, I can practically paint naked
people with my eyes closed. My quick studies class, however, has stretched me, 
probably beyond what it ever intended. For all of the paintings on our 
assignments list, we have to provide the subject, be it still life, figure, animal, 
or furniture. My eyes scanned the list at the onset of the semester. Everything 
looked fairly easy to ascertain my own model or objects for...until landing on 
the "nude female" and "nude male" assignments. 
 
Without luck finding any response to my query on posing for a painting,
I decided I would paint myself for the "nude female". (As a side note, I
have yet to find a willing male, so if anyone's interested, let me know by
 the end of today. Really. I'm serious.)

I've done quite a number of self-portraits, but never one like this. 
Self-portraits are very humbling and almost cathartic in a way. With any 
portrait the goal is to capture the likeness of the person(s). This means looking
beyond their outward appearance and using elements of pose, gesture, color, 
value, and the like to render some of the personality into the brushstrokes, onto 
the canvas. It is the same with self-portraits. They force you to really look at yourself, 
to be honest with who you are in not only a physical, but also an emotional and 
mental capacity. It is somewhat spiritual to look at the outward reflection of your
inner being, and then to record what is there. 

Painting a self portrait forces you to be vulnerable and authentic with yourself. 
Especially when you are painting yourself stripped of clothing. You are left to 
discover and document the barest essence of yourself between the skin 
and muscle and bone. 
 
Here is mine...  
 
Nude Self-Portrait, 11x14 oil on artboard, 90 minutes

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