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“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”—Cicero

It is a bitter cold morning in Maine, so cold that my teeth hurt when I walk outside, boots crunching in the frozen snow. I am thinking about something a friend once said to me on a hot, end-of-summer day. She felt depleted by the season and described her own experience as mirroring the drying and dying roots underground.

In contrast, she gave a vivid description of the dynamic activity beneath a snowy, wintery day—like today—hardy perennials developing and delivering their winding root systems beneath the frosty layers, worms and frogs and gophers establishing their cold-weather getaways.

It was a new awareness for me and I’ve since enjoyed imagining the vibrant, creative world beneath the still, white surface of these colder months. I have always liked to imagine what lies beneath the surface of things.

When I was living in Spain in my last year of college, I came upon a calico cat sleeping on a green, park bench. I took a photograph, appreciating the contrast of colors. I carried the picture around for years but didn’t make a connection until recently that I had later adopted a kitten that grew to look just like the cat in the photo. She’s been with me for nearly eighteen years now and we are in the final days of our long-goodbye.

I’ve moved her bed over by the fire so I can see her and she can feel the warmth radiating from the fire—and me. Her head is drooped over the side of her bed, waiting.

Yesterday I petted her nose—running a single finger along the black triangular marking that has always given her face a striking beauty. I wondered if I will be able to remember the way that feels—her soft fur, her explicit trust in me. I’ve seen how sensations met with presence are preserved longer within the mind—a body memory inscribed more deeply with the aid of heightened attention.

This is the way to recall chubby, silky, baby legs, and the warm hug of a friend. This is the way to remember when you have said that thing that makes them laugh so hard. Recording a life occurs moment by moment by every-single-precious moment. Slowing time in the luscious present allows for the reapplication of the sweet times— like a salve—upon the heartaches of living.

Autumn’s first home was my threadbare, West Village apartment in New York City where a gutted out fireplace served as my closet. She would sit on the windowsill and peer out at the pigeons in the courtyard making chattering sounds in communication. She liked to climb up onto a dresser and stick her head up under a lampshade and take in the light. My sister referred to this as Autumn seeking the light. She was with me there on September 11th when ash covered the street outside my building and she has been with me in every life-changing event ever since.

We’ve had a meeting place twice-a-day for several years now. In the mornings, I sneak downstairs in the dark. I scoop out coffee to brew and sometimes stir up a fire leftover from the night before. Autumn silently rises from her own bed and makes her way into the living room, meeting me on a pillow placed for her on the ottoman in front of the couch.

Before I begin writing or meditating, I lean forward—cross-legged—and bump my head against hers, sometimes lingering, rubbing my forehead back and forth. When I raise my head back up and look at her, she blinks her eyes slowly at me. This has been our ritual.

In the evening, I call out to her in a sing-songy voice, her name becoming two, distinct, higher-pitched syllables. If I happen to see her when I say her name in this way, I can witness her ears perking up and expanding wider—taking in my voice. She always comes to me from wherever she is.

When I do this now—as a test—she remains still, her head down. When she does finally look up at me, her eyes are narrowed and hollowed. Last night, Adrian said, “It is almost like she already died.” I knew just what he meant.

I have stacks and stacks of re-purposed wall-calendars in my studio that I draw on for my work. My hands are always so dry in this season and I am aware of this as I thumb through looking for the colors I need for my latest piece. I’m in search of the hues I use for skin—rose and coral and salmon; blush and cinnamon and umber. Images that are good for this are sand and mountains and azaleas; pottery, sunsets and tile.

With each page I turn, I take in the many notations made within the dated boxes. Some people fill up the spaces within their calendars fully—every appointment, birthday and remarkable event notated. I can almost feel them writing out these reminders, their arm propped against a wall as they lean forward writing, trying to make all of the information fit.

Others are more sparse with what they jot down—only the occasional indication of use can be found. I imagine them gazing at the many beautiful images that appear—Rothko’s rich color choices with bleeding edges, Georgia O’Keefe’s succulent desert displays, Katsushika Hokusai’s great waves.

The transformation of these famous works into other creative expressions has me in its grasp. My studio—though mostly solitary—feels full with the many lives that have at one-time been engaged in the materials I use to create.

I imagine standing near me the growing girl whose first birthday was notated on this calendar, the mother of a friend though gone now is present in this one—her lifetime of notes entrusted to me. My dry fingertips pick up the particles of living that have come so abundantly into my care—like a towering pile of sand. I carefully extract the essence to be transformed into a new life on a fresh page.

I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to say thank you and I want to say see you in another way, at another time. I have inscribed you—and you, and you and you—on the fabric of me, never to be erased and there—carefully, fully notated— to be replayed. Again and again.

 

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“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” —Aristotle

Bringing to life the “Park City Boys” left an imprint on me. I was commissioned to create this piece last spring for a family who live in Arizona and spend some of their most meaningful time together on the slopes in Park City, Utah. Year after year, these four brothers have been photographed on the ski lift as their mother turns back from the lift in front of them taking them in, in the way that only a mother can. She described to me the ways in which her boys could be together there on the lift, over the years. One year they might be fooling around—teasing each other, another year they might be huddled up from the cold, on this particular year the youngest brother—the “bonus baby” of the group—discovered a place to rest his head on the shoulder of his oldest brother. She asked me if I might be able to capture this unique way in which she viewed her four children and all that it meant to her. I instantly felt a resounding sense of “yes!” In retrospect I can see that taking on this behemoth work of art—it measures a sprawling 5 feet wide and 6 feet tall—on the cusp of a very large home-renovation project with little child-care arranged might have been somewhat audacious. I am a “leap and the net will appear” devotee and this undertaking was no exception.

I quickly began learning about the four brothers and what made each of them unique. It became clear to me that the substance, the imagery, the mix of color that I used to distinguish each of them would be crucial in getting across their essence—the part of them their mother recognized at the core of their being. Silently I meditated on them, I thought about the images I had seen of each of them—they are truly a beautiful and vivacious group. I thought about the heartfelt and passionate words that their mother used to describe each of them. I got very, very still and just sat for a while and then I jotted these words in my journal:

Bradford: A Mountain
Colin: The Wind
Nate: A Breeze
Caden: Child of the Earth

Over the course of the next two months, I poured myself into this piece. I collected imagery from southwestern landscapes creating a palette reminiscent of the colors of Georgia O’Keeffe. I began the work of creating a drawing around fifty times the size of the image that I was working with. I carved out time to work. And then I began working. It took me a very long time to complete the “first” skier who came to life from images of red rocks and various layers of the earth impacted by geological pressures. I took pause upon completion of this mountainous young man and reflected on the strength it took to move him. He was true to form. I thought of the words of a friend who had recently reminded me that when you say, “yes” to the Universe, you have the right to ask the Universe to back you up. With a bit of sweat on my brow, I began asking for backup and moved on to the “bonus-baby” who rested his head so peacefully upon his brother’s shoulder. I relaxed. Each day my two young boys would come home from school, from being out with my husband and they would comment on, “our skiers.” They were intrigued with the mismatched pants of the first skier. “Why did you do that?” they asked. It was hard to explain that I didn’t make that decision myself, that it was revealed to me. Each of these vibrant boys—these skiers—went on to declare themselves to me. With their ease and with their energy, with their depth and with their wit and I just marveled at the accuracy with which they had been described. I fell into a flow and reveled in these moments of channeling bliss. My six year old son Jonah came home from school one day and upon viewing the third skier, exclaimed, “I want those pants!” We laid next to the skiers and measured ourselves—they aren’t quite life-sized, but close. I anticipated shipping them out with a bit of longing in my heart. I knew that they would be missed.

Coincidentally—or rather not coincidentally at all—just after the “Park City Boys” had been sent off to be carefully packaged and shipped, I traveled to Arizona for the very first time. It was a trip long-planned prior to taking on this commission. I remember arriving there and coming from the land of pine trees and rocky shorelines, I experienced the landscape as otherworldly. I was mesmerized by the blooming cactus and the arid, mountain horizon. I rolled the windows down in the car despite the high temperatures—the closer to be with this mysterious place. Later, I found myself nestled in a magnificent hideaway in the midst of Sedona. I found myself in the depths of the towering red rocks and the palette of my latest work. I looked out and I looked up—taking in the colors that I had been living in—mind, body and soul—for many weeks now. I felt as if I was being fused with my surroundings. I was no longer looking at the rocks—I was within them, a part of them. Time suddenly became fluid and in that moment—if only very briefly—it felt as if this time was the beginning of my creation, that this part had come first.

 

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