Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, is dead. I feel heavy writing those words as if I lost a friend. I am simply another reader…one of millions. But with her books in my hands, I’ve felt the companionship of a friend. I’ve nodded my head or spoken aloud as if in conversation with her. And, so it would be true to say that we had a relationship. That was the power of Mary’s art. That’s what made her so well-loved.
She was the rare poet who sold well. My social media feeds are filled with her brilliantly strung together words and moving tributes from regular people like me and her famous admirers like Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Oprah.
When I heard the news of her death, I retreated to my shed to pull her book Dog Songs from my shelf. The book popped open to page 31:
BENJAMIN, WHO CAME FROM
WHO KNOWS WHERE
What shall I do?
When I pick up the broom
he leaves the room.
When I fuss with kindling he
runs for the yard.
Then he’s back, and we
hug for a long time.
In his low-to-the ground chest
I can hear his heart slowing down.
Then I rub his shoulders and
kiss his feet
and fondle his long hound ears.
Benny, I say,
don’t worry. I also know the way
the old life haunts the new.
I read that poem as a dog lover, a hound lover, to be precise. But, I also read it as a person whose old life can be haunting. In one of the rare interviews Mary gave, she spoke of her unhappy childhood that included sexual abuse and parental neglect.
“I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood,” Mary told Maria Shriver. “So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.”
Thank you Mary for sharing your world with me.The joy, solace and inspiration your words have given me are alive. Still. On my bookcase.
My daughter insists that she remembers the day we passed a tattoo shop in Lahaina, HI and I said, “Someday, I’ll get one!” She was five years old, so I would have been 42 years old. I don’t remember the moment, but I’m sure it’s true.
I stop to admire people’s tattoos all the time, and sometimes I ask if I can take a picture. My phone is full of random shots of stranger’s body art. So, when Natalie told me she had a second ear-piercing done at a tattoo shop, I thought…it’s time! I visited her the following weekend and asked her to accompany me to Traditional Tattoo. I figure a college town is a great place to find a good shop; they work in volume.
Before an artist begins to work on you, there’s paperwork to be completed. I laughed out loud when I read the question on the consent form asking if I was drunk or in any other way unable to make a sound decision. Ha, ha…I thought…I’ve been planning this for 16 years!
Then I met my artist, Brian, and told him my story and showed him a picture. I wanted a shell on my ankle because two of the three most important people in my world have or continue to call me “Shell.” My dear, sweet brother, who was four years younger than me, could not say: “Michele.” So, he abbreviated from a tender age and continued to call me that until he died in July 2001.
Sometimes, when there’s a death, little things like nicknames will disappear. But, I’m fortunate. My husband of 32 years mourned the loss of Matt with me. And, he picked up where my brother left off and still occasionally calls me “Shell.” It always touches my heart when he does. (I haven’t told him that…oh, now I have!)
There’s one more very good reason for me to carry a shell around with me; I’m leaving my home by the ocean to move to a tree-lined street in the city! You can read more about that right here in the coming weeks.
Brian checked out my photo and asked if I’d like it exactly as shown or if I wanted him to artistically interpret it. You guessed it. I told him to put on his artist’s cap. He came back a short time later with a tracing of a shell and I agreed to it immediately. I was then ushered back to a room that resembled one in a dentist’s office…if the dentist was really wild.
I took a seat in the dental chair and felt the butterflies alight in my tummy as he cleaned my ankle and started to prep for work.
“Two things,” he said. “Do not move without first giving me a head’s up. AND NO WHINING!”
“I don’t whine,” I said as my daughter took my hand and nodded in agreement.
He began the work slowly pausing to allow me to gauge the level of pain I was going to feel. I knew I could handle it. It’s a small tattoo. From prep to clean-up, it was a mere twenty minutes and we passed the time easily talking about his three daughters and the ink he’d placed on his wife’s body. We laughed when he told us that he sometimes gets carried away checking out his work and noting needed touch ups when his wife would rather he stay focused on her other assets.
My art was covered with a special, medicinal tape used for burn patients, so my after-care has been easy. Nothing was needed until I gently peeled back the tape four days later. After another four days, the redness has dissipated and I love the look. I continue to simply clean it and apply Thayers Witch Hazel Toner and Vanicream lotion to alleviate the itching.
As we left Traditional Tatoo, my daughter asked if I’d be back for more art. My initial response was “No!” But, within ten minutes, I noticed that I kept referring to my shell as my FIRST TATOO!
Let me introduce you to Amy. She’s wearing her Aunt Bessie’s tablecloth, and she’s so happy that I noticed just how magnificent it is!
I had an amazing sandwich at a tiny little neighborhood restaurant in Sacramento last week. Despite how very hungry I was when I walked through the door, the first thing I noticed was that dress and the woman who wore it so joyfully.
I never hesitate to compliment people…why should I…that’s my thinking. I see it…I like it…I say it! And, sometimes I am rewarded with a great story, as I was on this day.
“Excuse me,” I said as she hurriedly passed me. “But, I must tell you that I adore your dress.”
“Oh, it was once my aunt’s Christmas tablecloth and I inherited it!”
Well, that’s not something you hear everyday, I thought. But it helped explain the great happiness that I felt emanating from this woman. Her aunt saved the bright red, hand-embroidered cloth for just a single day each year. Her niece remembers it fondly.
“I wasn’t sure what to do with it,” she continued. “Then one day my friend offered to turn it into a dress so that I could enjoy it all year long.”
‘The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with her* through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards her.”
Tamara Jare, at My Botanical Garden, speaks fluent “flower.” You may remember that her bouquet graces the desk in my pink shed. It’s such a lovely reminder of the beauty found in nature, art and friendship.
Some days, especially when you’re blue, you just need a bit of pink. Today is one of those days and I’m grateful for the escape and comfort Tamara’s art brings to me. You can visit her at Saatchi Art.com. Enjoy!
*I took the liberty of replacing “him” with “her” in the above quote.
This cute little garage is attached to a cute little house in a cute little neighborhood in a cute little town. Sorry… couldn’t resist being so cute! But, seriously, I think “Paws Awhile” is good advice. No matter how much one enjoys an activity (or a person, for that matter), a little break can be a good thing.
I didn’t blog/write much during the holidays, but I did express my creativity in other ways. Our home was decorated top to bottom, the presents were wrapped in grand style, the gingerbread houses were sweet pieces of art, the table was set with my beloved collection of china and our doors were open to family and friends.
Today, I’ve returned to the page after having a restless night immersed in ridiculous, but unsettling nightmares. In one vivid scene, I can see myself frantically searching for my site. From the pink shed has disappeared. It is gone, because I have neglected it!
I’d say that is a very good sign that I should return to the shed to enjoy the creative adventure that is my blog.
The first thing I see when I enter the pink shed is the image of a young girl, dressed in pink, flying over her suburban neighborhood. I purchased it fifteen years ago to hang in my six-year-old daughter’s bedroom. Natalie, who turned 21 a few weeks ago, re-gifted it to me as she felt it would be perfect in my writer’s shed.
I know that flying is common in dreams, however I never fly. Actually, I fall in my nightmares. (I believe this is related to my severe acrophobia!) But, the painting was a simply lovely artistic representation of the hopes I had, and still have, for my daughter.
I imagine the young girl in the painting feels strong, free, capable, gifted, independent and joyful. When I was young, my Italian grandmother, Nonnie, was my cheer-leader. “Tutto e possibile,” she’d enthuse. I’ve tried to carry on that tradition with Natalie.
We all need someone to remind us that “anything is possible,”especially as we begin a new year!
I wore my first sweater of the season last week; it was a chilly 68 degrees. It’s fall in California, but I have a summer bouquet to enjoy every day.! It was created by my blogging friend, Tamara Jare at My Botanical Garden. It was spring when I selected the lovely watercolor and I was anticipating summertime as I always do. I framed the small piece and it sits on my desk in the pink shed. I can almost smell the peonies, roses, grasses and spirea in full bloom.
As Tamara said, “It’s a special arrangement in the same way that each summer is special.” It’s particularly meaningful to me because it’s a reminder of one of the first friends that I made after creating my blog. I have a friend in Slovenia! I never thought I’d be able to say that!
Tamara found my site just two days after I established it and became one of my first followers. I was glad, not only to have her as a reader, but also to discover the beauty on her site. We developed a connection over the past months and have continued to communicate through e-mail.It was fun to discover how much Tamara and I have in common. We are about the same age and happily married with grown children. After she read my post about aging, she shared that Oil of Olay (tanti anni fa) was the secret to her youthful good looks, too! We agreed that they must have a good advertising company!
We are both creative women who feel happy and complete in our lives. Tamara began her blog when her mother was terminally ill and the artistic expression helped her through that very difficult time. I started my blog when my one -and -only left me to go to college. If one could bottle creative expression, it would be truthful to state that it is a potent remedy in times of loss or change.
I’m sure that I will sound my age when I say that I am amazed to find women who are so seemingly like me in all parts of the world. I’m an “old dog” who learned a “new trick” and I’m grateful to be part of a blogging community with no boundaries.
I am hopeful that someday I’ll meet my friend in Slovenia, but, until then, her art keeps me company while I pursue my creative side.