In the rain, I looked up and saw a snapshot of my new life. Rocky was moving into the shelter of the barn, Red, oblivious to the downpour, was watching the sheep in the new feeding area. New images from my new life, new things to see, to consider, new colors and shapes, a new perspective. Why are we moving?
To buy a place together.
To live in a more compact space. And yes, cheaper, simpler, so that I can take more time to write my books and do other creative things.
To find new experience.
To be stimulated and challenged. To paint, scrape, remove wallpaper, to know my home in a new and more intimate way.
To give rebirth to life. I saw this in this photograph, this perspective.
Monday I set out on my 22nd book tour, this one for “Dancing Dogs” my first short-story collection. I’m going first to Brookline, Mass., then Philadelphia, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area. An intense trip, changing cities every day for a week or so, days crammed with interviews readings, rushing to and from airports. I’m reluctant to leave the new farm, so much is happening there. We hope to move a week or so after I return and we are moving the donkeys as soon as we can next week. Winter is close and we will be feeding the animals hay and heating up water buckets soon. The living room, the soul of the new house, is beginning to look like a room.
We’ve painted the walls and cleaned the floors and begin to bring some furniture inside. We haven’t figured out where things will go yet, or brought in the sofas and reading chairs, but it’s nice to have a space to sit in. This room will be beautiful, I think. This has been an important few months for me as I begin my final stretch at Bedlam Farm, my home since 2003 and a place where I changed and grew creatively, fell apart, fell in love. Lots of mixed feelings about this place. It is time to go. I know it will sell to someone who loves it, I just feel it.
In the past few months, I have moved closer than ever to confronting the fear and panic that swirled all around my heart for most of my life. I am recognizing panic and anxiety as a symptom, not as reality. We will confront life as it comes, with strength, grace and acceptance. And the new home suggests for me a rebirth in so many ways, something my life has long been about.
I am not bringing my good camera or laptop along. The trip will require all of my energy and focus. I will be bringing my Canon powershot and my Ipad so I’ll post when I can and I hope to meet some of you wonderful people along the way.
We’ve figured out that the small building behind the farmhouse – Maria’s new workplace – was an old country school house. Old-timers say they can tell by the windows (four on the South side) and the two doors – one for girls, one for boys. We know the building was used as a workshop and a children’s playhouse. It was probably moved from some other location. Maria has decided to keep the name of her art business – fullmoonfiberarts – but she has also decided to name this the Schoolhouse Studio. A neat name, I think, honoring past and present. Ben is renovating the inside, Maria and I are going to have to scrape the paint off of the outside and re-paint it before the winter, to protect the wood and seal it.
It is the creative heart of the farm, I think, a radioactive jewel of a space. Maria will love it there, I think. Aside from the great character in the space, she can look out the windows at the animals she loves – the dogs, the sheep, the donkeys and Rocky. I am so excited to be able to work on this new and creative space.
I sometimes feel as if I am disappointing some of my good and caring readers by not being sad enough. Perhaps I am shallow or cold, as has been suggested. This morning, I went on my Facebook page to answer some of the weekly questions posted there, and I checked some of my e-mail, also a Sunday habit. I often get good questions about my photography, dogs and donkeys, barn cats and books. Almost every day, sometime asks me if I am sad about losing Rose. Or Izzy. Or if I miss Orson or Elvis the Steer. Today someone saw a photograph of Lenore and Red and said they were concerned, because Frieda was not in it. This is also common. If I do not put all of my dogs in every photo, some people think the missing ones must be dead. If I do not mention my dogs who have passed away, there is often concern that I do not miss them enough.
“I cry so often for Rose and Izzy,” someone posted the other day. “I miss them all the time.” I don’t. I miss them some of the time, and I relish every second of my time with the living animals on the farm. “Simon must be so sad,” someone from Michigan e-mailed me. No, I thought, Simon is not sad. He is quite content in his life as a donkey, eating sausage and ravioli as well as grass and hay, and I am not sad for him either. He is a lucky creature and I am lucky to have him.
“Are you sad about leaving Bedlam Farm?” one reader asked, “I cry all the time about it.” I was surprised to see a message from someone asking me if I missed a bookstore that closed last year. Hmmmm, I thought, if I missed all of the bookstores that have closed in my life, I would not be happy too often. I sometimes think that I am not sad enough about all the things in my life that have gone and gone, changed or been lost. It does not seem productive or worthwhile to me to miss the many things that are no longer around. I’d much rather take photos of the things that are here. Like my wife, my new home, Red.
I have to be honest, and say that I do not generally look backwards in my life. Nostalgia is a trap for me, as when people are constantly talking about how good the old days were, and I tell myself I guess they weren’t in England or Poland or Russia in 1940 when the good old days were in full bloom there. If nostalgia is a trap for me, then sadness is a choice.
And here is the choice.
I can miss Rose or be grateful to Red. I can miss Izzy or love Lenore. I can mourn Orson or take Frieda for a walk.
I can regret my painful divorce or celebrate my wonderful marriage.
I can look at a photograph of two happy and beautiful dogs, or I can look at the same photo and see a dead dog who isn’t even dead.
I can mourn a bookstore that is closed or be happy that my local bookstore, Battenkill Books, is doing well and is such a happy presence in my life.
One day, Red will join Izzy and Rose. Battenkill will close and move into the mists of memory. So will I, and all of the things
I love. Somehow in our culture we are taught to mourn the nature of life. Thankfully this is one of many lessons I did not absorb, mostly because I wasn’t paying attention. Loss and change is the nature of life, and my choice is to rediscover sadness every time life occurs. Or not. People looking for sadness will not, I hope find it here. I am sorry to disappoint. I do not hide from life, or deny it. When Izzy and Rose were ill, I shed my tears and shared the process every step of the way. When it was over, it was over. And life resumes.
Everyone has the right to be as sad as they wish about whatever they want. But you will not find much sadness here, or too many tears shed over the nature of life. When one of my dogs dies, no one will have to wonder about it. It is not that I don’t feel these things, I surely do. But I hope to feel much more than that and look forward to making my life (and my blog) a celebration of what I do have in my life, not what I don’t.
Someone asked me this morning on my Facebook page – I post a question topic every Sunday – what are the most powerful moments in my life, and I didn’t have to think about it. They mostly have to do with Maria, the shining light in my life. Feeling her love for me, mine for her, seeing her open and generous and creative spirit, watching how hard she works, how inventive and artistic she is. She has love in her heart for everyone and everything – donkeys, dogs, spiders, crickets trapped in the house, mice snatched from the jaws of Mother, people and friends. And for her wonderful and inventive work. Maria saved me. I was heading for a loveless life, preparing to die a loveless death, alone and confused and stricken with panic and anger.
I now live a life with so much life, I expect to live a good while, and want to, I never feel alone and the panic and anger and confusion receded almost every day, thanks in no small way to her dedication and patience in helping me get well, for believing in me, and supporting me, for the strength in her from which I draw. Maria has opened me up creatively, led me to my photography, helped me change and better my writing, be more honest and open. How does one acknowledge such gifts? They cannot ever be repaid. I hope I return some of them. To love her is a powerful moment all its own, a cosmic joy that echoes through the universe, the greatest of gifts, a song in my heart.
My most powerful moment was loving Maria and seeing that she loved me, and that love makes every moment of life powerful and rewarding beyond measure. Thanks for the great question.