Today marks the 6 month anniversary of Vernon’s death. 6 months of incorporating Grief into our lives. When I’ve mentioned this to friends in the past couple of days, people have most often said: “I can’t believe it’s only been 6 months! Time does fly.” But to me, it feels at least that long. I think time started feeling different for me when Vernon was hit. Everything started slowing down. Even his final death was slowed down. It’s only now that time is beginning to speed back up for me again, now that I’m busy for myself again. And that is daunting in itself, so I don’t think about it too much. I suppose its much like the development of a child. The early months are slowed with lack of sleep and tending to a needy baby. Then the child begins to sit up, crawl, and (if you are lucky) sleep through the night. Development hastens. And suddenly it’s growing so quickly. Next thing you know, you are missing the cuddly early days, only remembering the good-parts version. Humans are funny like that.
I didn’t do this to mark the date, but it just happens that I was able to hang another group of paintings at a hair salon this week. The significance of these paintings is huge to me. Many of them were painted in the summer of 2005, around the time I started talking to Vernon. I actually was getting to know him a little WHILE I was working on these. They were to be part of my first solo show. It was a very special period for me, working on so many pieces at a time. It was incredibly therapeutic, as for me I was able to work out some deep issues I had with female beauty. (Don’t ask me now what they were or how this series helped me, but I remember distinctly recognizing this in my 34 year old mind.)
As a wedding present, an artist friend posted the remaining artwork to us in England, where the series continued to ebb and morph over the years, selling the odd one here, painting a new one here. They moved back with me to California as well…where from time to time, I would sell or add another into the mix. But some of the originals are still with me. So to put them together again in a local exhibit has been a poignant experience. I even went back to the same craftsman friend that showed me how to make my own box frames in 2005. He quickly helped me put together six new frames this month. So many circles closing. Now that they are up on show again, its clear that this family of paintings based on Chinese girls of the 1930’s has bookended my entire relationship with Vernon.
I came across this in an email from 11/19/06—from Vernon:
paintings are, especially this grey/green one in the bedroom and the
one in the lounge of the girl holding the jar. I think you should do
more head paintings like that. Then we can start the website afresh
too and start to market. I have a plan 😉Hurry home coffeebean – we have a future to plan & live 🙂
Please send my love to everyone there.Love You XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
These are for sale, incidentally. And if you would like to see them in person, you can visit: Syren’s Hair Parlor, 217 Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente, CA 92672
Here is a little film from the other day, putting up the show. And after that, some pictures. 🙂
“Art is an experience, not an object.” —Robert Motherwell
I visited one of my favorite museums today: the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LACMA). The sweet thing was that I was there with my museum buddy of 25 years, Nicole, and her son Julian. Julian and Justine are like cousins, very close. She was happy to be with him at yet another museum, but she moaned a little that “museums are boring.” I told her that museum-going was an acquired taste, and that it was my job to help her acquire it. 🙂
Nicole took the kids to the courtyard to make one of the for-kids projects, while I was free to quickly go through the permanent Modern Art gallery that I’ve seen so many times before. There were a couple that jumped out at me this time, Robert Motherwell and Franz Klein. Do you see what they have in common? They are stark black and white abstracts, modernist, and “of a time.”
When I see this kind of painting (and its not the first time since his death that I have) I think of Vernon. I think of what he loved about 50s era art, his knowledge of it, his appreciation for abstracts, his own personal style. Whatever he was most influenced by in art school influenced him for life. There were times in various museums in England that he would stand in front of one of these stark pieces in a sort of understanding awe. Alone without the responsibility for a child for a moment, I was sideswiped by grief. I couldn’t send him a text, but I could let the nudge of his memory wash over me. I cried…but I also laughed, recalling when we went to the Tate in St. Ives once upon a time. There, he was so mesmerized by a painting of a simple black shape on a white background that he stood in front of it for ten minutes and bought the book of the exhibit. He had studied this artist before and was so impressed that Myron Stout had taken 20 years to paint this one piece ‘perfectly.’ I remember rolling my inner-eye at such obsession but being secretly impressed that he was so impressed by something that seemed so simple to the rest of us.
It was on that same trip that he also bought a very large framed and expensive-to-us print in a similar modernist vein. I just saw it (sad to say) in the garage the other day, collecting dust —it was never my favorite, though I loved that he loved it. Funny to think of it again so soon now.
Back at the LACMA today, there was another exhibit that we were able to see: Lazlo Maholy-Nagy. It wasn’t until I saw the name in glorious plexiglass outside the gallery that it rang a bell. I think Vernon had texted me the name once, I’d checked out a book in the library to learn more about him, but I couldn’t remember why he’d sent the name to me in the first place. I assume it was to inspire some photography ideas. But that was the only time the name had come up for me. When we entered the show, I felt showered with connection. I thought: “Oh, I get it!” I got why Vernon liked him, though he had never told me himself. He must have been incredibly influenced by this artist—someone who was extremely prolific in his design/photography/illustration work. And there was so much of it, rooms and rooms of it. Again, I had the sense of connection to the work in front of me, wishing I could text Vernon a picture at least to say “I get it now.” It was a very moving experience, but this time there were no tears. Instead, I decided I need to let Maki know about the artist, whom I can already see aligning in Maki’s design-y style. I’m hoping he can get up to the show himself. Note to me: make it happen.
Incidentally, Maholy-Nagy was very prolific, mixing up all sorts of media ahead of his time, but like Vernon, he died at 49. What he left behind is a great treasure for the rest of us.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this:
“Painting that does not radiate feeling is not worth looking at. The deepest and rarest of grown-up pleasures is true feeling.” —Robert Motherwell
Happy Valentines Day, everyone!
This post is meant to bring encouragement to those who may be concerned about their loved one’s ill health at the moment. There sure seems to be a lot of that going around…guess there always has, but it still hurts. The fear of losing someone you love while you watch them suffer is awful. It’s also awful to lose someone you love by surprise, when you maybe didn’t have a chance to say goodbye, so sudden was the event. And yet the love you have for that person remains. I want to tell you not to be afraid that that love will be gone forever, even though the person of your beloved may be. It stays in your heart and it stays around you…hopefully for a long long time (I can’t say how long yet, it’s only been short of six months for me.) Love is a powerful thing when it is alive, but it’s surprisingly powerful afterward too. And it can manifest in the most unexpected little ways, just when you need it too. For all I know, I’m making this up, but that doesn’t make it less real to me.
Here is an example. This morning, I found myself a little sad about Vernon. I thought of his big brown trusting eyes as I looked at this picture.
I remembered how he responded so well when I finally found those old love letters last year. I can’t bring myself to read them again yet, but I know where they are when I’m ready. It’s also Valentine’s day, and I hadn’t expected to get choked up over that. Maybe not expecting it was the problem because Grief ambushed me again, and I cried for missing him, in all his versions that I’d loved.
And then, I looked down at my phone and it was open to this screen. I must have been fiddling absently with my contacts in order for this to come up. I didn’t even know I had this as a contact.—he must have punched this in years ago as a test.
Not sure I can reach you at this number or address, but Happy Valentine’s Day back at you from Earth, Honey. ❤️💔❤️
I don’t know if the Love that sticks around like this will continue to surprise me in notes and letters like this. I’m always shocked to find something of him I still haven’t seen. I always wonder if the early days of bereavement are like a balloon gently losing air—or more appropriately, a lung slowing down. I’ve only come this far, but others tell me they experience the phenomenon through the rest of their lives. I believe them. At any rate, there will always be pigeons.
This is for all our Valentines, those still with us and those who have gone ahead.
“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” —Bruce Lee
Somehow, I’ve found myself if a period of intense productivity, which feels great. I no longer feel like I need to dwell on my grief, so this also feels like a kind of emergence. I’m not sure where I’m meant to land in this journey, but there is a feeling of momentum once again.
This Wednesday, I’ll be hanging an exhibit of my recent painted ladies at the beautiful Mission Viejo Library. They will be up for Women’s History Month, until the end of March. I’m excited for the opportunity as even before I painted Eleanor (the first of the series) I imagined them as part of educational shows in libraries or other civic spaces. So this is hitting the ground running. I’ve been trying to paint as many of these as I can before Wednesday’s deadline. Now they are mostly all framed and ready to go. (I might have time for one more, we’ll see.)
The other big news is that I produced my first podcast, something that surely will be a sharp learning curve for awhile. It’s an interview with Justine discussing what inspires her about Harriet Tubman (we’d read about her at bedtime for a few nights.) You can check it out here if you are interested. As you will hear, Harriet Tubman was brain injured as a child. It’s quite remarkable that she was able to accomplish all she did with that disability. It made us wonder if sometimes the disability is a sort of gift which allows people to be extraordinarily focused perhaps on the one or two things that truly gives their life meaning. As I continue to learn about the histories of these heroines, I am finding some common attributes about humanity. Often it is those who have experienced great loss that are motivated to make the world a better place. I would hope that our family takes on that path of turning great grief into great good. I am inspired.
If I have to live my life without Vernon, then I get to create the life I want to live. That’s how I see it, anyway.
PS Next weekend, I’ll be hanging another beloved series of paintings at the Syren’s Hair Parlor in San Clemente. I’ve just finished painting the frames that a friend, Bob Lloyd, helped me build. And God-willing, I’ll have another podcast going up this week. (Next up: Mother Teresa.)
I know many of my readers have been curiously waiting for me to share the details of the meeting with the other driver, and whether it even took place. It did take place, the very morning it was planned, though we weren’t sure the wife would be there or it it would be postponed till the last minute. It turned out that she only got the news that morning, and managed to come out during her lunch break. I was grateful for her willingness to be there regardless of the communication mix up. Because of their repentant attitudes, I won’t go into all the details here. It’s their story too, which I don’t feel I can fully share now that we’ve established that. But I will say I went into the meeting assuming I would find uncaring people. I was ready to say my piece but I imagined the worst: that it would fall on blank ears. It wasn’t like that at all. We found a young couple who had been overwhelmed by the situation, who had listened to the advice of others/lawyers not to contact us or answer us. I still believe conscience should trump advice, because we have to live with ourselves and our choices. So we talked about that a little bit, and I explained what had happened to Vernon. I asked them my questions and they answered every single one. I felt like they were emotionally present with us, which I am sure was difficult. It was difficult for us too, but so important.I found out that he had lost his own father in a car accident when he was young. When I heard that, I stopped hearing anything else as clearly, but began to hurt for that boy.
So when Maki came in (we’d spoken as adults for a half hour or so, with lawyers in the room) and evenly delivered his words about his dad and how much he had changed after the accident, I know it was a big deal. (I don’t want to comment on that more here as I’m not sure who reads this.) Justine, who I’d thought would be full of words, got a little shyer in her “first adult meeting,” simply said: “I just want an apology.” They nodded tearfully, and apologized, mentioning that they too had a little boy about her age. She squirmed on my lap for a few seconds, and then looked back up at them: “I forgive you.”
So here we are. Finished with the hour long meeting we barely got to have. No money on the table, no sudden windfall. But it was never about that…I knew very early on in the case that there was no money to be had. But we got what we wanted out of the meeting, in the end. It took a few days to even be able to talk about it with my close friends. It still feels surreal. But something good happened. I could feel space for breath inside my body that hadn’t been there for a long time, maybe ever. I was less angry at the world (still sad and concerned, let it be known.) And even Maki said he felt good that it happened, he felt better. So I guess that could be a kind of “closure” in itself. I don’t know what happens next, I’ll chat with my attorney. But in the meantime, there are no more ghosts around the accident. That in itself,is a spiritual breakthrough.
Incidentally, in the room we met, there was a framed photo of an eagle’s head. That was the bird Vernon used to say was his special animal that had showed up at significant times in his life. When I got home and opened the internet, this image came up—a meme with Vernon’s Amatic font. I’m taking it as a message from him. 🙂