“But being alone is a different situation completely. Being alone is a state of being; loneliness is a state of mind. When you’re alone you’re forced to realize all the things you don’t have, sure, but you’re also forced to realize all the things about yourself that you couldn’t when you spent your days memorizing someone else. ” —Adrea Cope
My therapist told me that I should be journalling again. I’ve written some things down that I’m not ready to share publicly this stage of the game…but it is helping me process. Writing is like squeezing the toxins out the muscles, its a real work out. It’s also like swimming, stretching out at last, suspended. I’m out of practice, but just in time, I’ll be starting up with a new writer’s group next month. I miss writing.
I miss writing, but I don’t know what to type here most of the time. When Vernon was with us, writing every night or morning was a part of my survival routine. But now I realize that taking care of him, dropping everything to rush up with every emergency, fussing over who would pick up and watch the kids if I was home late…that kind of saved me too. There was a great purpose to my life, more intense than any purpose I’d been called into before. It was awful, but it all kept me going…the rollercoaster, the unknowns, the familiar, the faith and lack thereof.
And then early grief was another stage, and in that, I gave myself a new purpose: I’d take care of the kids, make sure they got some psychological healing, pursue the dreams and path I’d been given. There is something to that…I’m happy about the way I handled that time. But now…we are in the second year, and though there is no official timeline, I have to say I’ve been shocked by how hard it’s been. What was I thinking…that having a plan, keeping myself busy was going to keep loneliness at bay? Because I’ve felt so lonely. I’m struggling with the common elements of grief that people usually feel in the early days (but again, there is no official timeline.) I wake up in the night, I struggle to fall asleep in the first place, I cry a lot. I miss him.
But these days, I don’t miss Vernon Version .02 so much as before. I’m starting to acutely remember and miss the Version I married and had children with. The great thing about doing life with him, the thing that underscored our relationship even when we disagreed or if life felt boring, was that we were a team. One could never fall too far, one could never get too sad or crazy without the other being there to lift one up and back into modern life. We could make decisions about parenting together—we could make decisions about what we were doing on the weekend, for that matter. We could encourage each other’s dreams for the future. Mostly…it was good to know you always had someone on your side, someone that knew and accepted you as completely as they could and still loved you.
He was so handsome. And so kind, generous, intelligent. Such an oddball (that was probably my favorite.) My therapist says this is a normal stage with normal feelings. Maybe I haven’t grieved this version of him yet. Or maybe this is just a part of the healing, no labels necessary.
My widow-mentor and friend, Sandy Hazen, sent me this link about the difference of being lonely or just alone, which is very good.Truthfully, I quite enjoy being alone, but the loneliness is an unwelcome house guest that hasn’t quite left yet. Other widowed people I’ve heard from say it takes several years to feel normal again…not just one, as society sort of leads us to believe. (Where do we get that, anyway?)
As my therapist says: “Maybe this is normal. It takes time….no telling how long.” And that’s not a bad thing, though uncomfortable. But I have faith.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak about Vernon to a class of Design students at Chapman University in Orange, CA. The professor, Rachelle Chuang is also an artist who showed near my mother at the Laguna Art Festival this summer. She incorporates a lot of lettering into her collage work (you can see her work here) so when my mother told her about Vernon, whose work she was already familiar with, she invited me to speak to her Typography class about ‘the man behind the design.’
I brought a lot of his antique sourcebooks, some photos, and a notebook of type sketches. I think the sketches impressed the students more than the 51 fonts he made for Google between 2010-2013. One was impressed that there were Pokemon drawings mixed in with all the lettering. Another couple of students poured over how straight his lines were: “It doesn’t look like he used a ruler. I can’t make that straight of a line WITH a ruler!” (I’ll share some of his sketchbook pages at the end.)
Of course I couldn’t tell the class how he made his designs. I never understood the workings of his font-design software. In fact, when he worked, he was such a multitasker, that it was hard to tell if he was actually designing or just plucking away at the keys, listening to loud music or some British comedian or even a news channel. It seems he was doing all of them. He had the kind of mind that could handle a lot of things at once, and yet he was able to hone into the tiny details that ensured that the weights and the kerning were even, printing out page after page of a single letter, comparing them at different sizes to look for differences only a type-designer’s eye could see.
But I could talk to the class about the philosophy behind his work. He was involved in the Open Source community, which allows users to collaborate, share and change the software codes freely (as opposed to Closed Source, whose codes closely guarded by a commercial company.) Vernon loved the idea of sharing information on the internet and being able to get his fonts into the hands of the people, so that they could custom make their own websites and publish their own materials as they chose and not be beholden to the few companies that seemed to hold the keys at the time. When Google began to pay him for his work, which would be made free for anyone to download, he was attacked by the powers-that-were. In his mind, I think he was a bit of a modern day Design Robin Hood. At the time there were only a handful of fonts that one could use on the internet…but now Google shows almost 850, and many of the traditional font foundries are happy to get on board. It was the way the future was going, and Vernon just happened to be on the spear’s head. He was also generous in other ways: happy to teach others to make their own fonts, and would guide anyone who emailed him questions to an answer.
The other thing I could share to the class was my own feelings about being a creative maker. When I look at Vernon’s body of work online (only what was published in a few short years) I am amazed by the fact he was able to work so fast and put so much out there. We had no idea that he would be struck down and die young. None of us do. But we all have a chance to contribute and leave a legacy. It’s so easy to focus on getting things perfect (in our eyes) and hoarding our gifts because we don’t think someone is willing to pay enough for them. Van Gogh never allegedly sold one painting in his lifetime, but there were 900 more waiting to be discovered (and sold for a high price) after he died. If he hadn’t made the work, that wouldn’t be the case. His legacy became more important than his life. I encourage creative people not to wait: make more work, share your work, let it take on a life of its own, free it up to find the people who WILL appreciate it. When Vernon died, we didn’t care about the things he owned, we cared about the things he made. I barely remember the infuriating moments or his weaknesses, but I remember his generosity, his kindness. And after speaking about his work, I realized his brain damage and years of disability were just a season in a greater life. I remembered his brilliance. Thankfully we have these fonts speaking out to our family (and still being used around the world) to remind us of his contribution.
Life is short, some are shorter than others. We are all uniquely gifted. This is your time to share yourself…who knows what legacy you will leave.
(A meme I discovered from one of Vernon’s font’s, Amatic.)
Anyway, Rachelle (the professor) suggested the possibility of curating a small exhibition of his work, perhaps in the university library…we do still have a lot of his old sourcebooks to show his inspiration. We’ll see…to be continued. 🙂
Thursday was tough, I’ll admit it. The 24th was a sad day, but I had some wonderful friends come over for coffee as soon as I had dropped off the kids at their schools. One brought me roses from her garden and another took a walk with me on the beach. Though most days I quite enjoy my pockets of solitude, it was a good to get out, to move in the world of the living. I didn’t do any office work, but I did dabble on a painting —I needed to let the day leave a mark somehow before it was all over. Later, my parents took the kids and I out to dinner, and we spent the evening enjoying each other’s company, talking about everything but Vernon. I don’t know how that happened—perhaps we were too sad to want to talk about him anymore. It’s been a long Vernon-saturated year.
But I don’t know if it was just sadness for missing him. It was momentous enough to realize we had hit a year. We’d finished the year of firsts. There was a feeling somehow that we had officially reached the end of the official mourning period or something. If I were a Victorian, I would be free to stop wearing a black veil on my black hat. Even Maki, when we got home from dinner that night didn’t want the day to end. He asked a friend from school to come over and take a walk with him. I don’t know what they talked about, if anything…but I appreciated that he still needed to mark the day on his own, and he figured out how to do it and who to call. Again and again, the cream that rises from this whole journey is our wonderful friendships. That day, my bent-up heart filled with gratitude anew.
By the following day, some palpable weight had lifted (not that the future waves of grief won’t come when they will) and there was something invigorating about having a whole year behind us. We’d survived a year without him, after all. Now we know we can do this. A few days later, as planned, we got together with the tribe of friends who knit the closest during Vernon’s death…and the period after. These are the ones we mark our biggest holidays with now. We’ve become a strange sort of family, bonded by the pain of walking someone out of this world, and now we celebrate each others victories and worries with extra interest and care. Vernon left a lot of legacy around us. We raised a glass to his first year in Heaven and put candles on two cakes for two recent earthly birthdays. There was so much joy, so much connection. I could almost feel his presence there again with us. But this time it was his whole presence, nothing broken or confused. Just a gentle washing of knowing and loving. And of course there was music. There will always be music.
…and oh hey, I just now found a font message from Vernon. He knows these things.
I’ve continued to use the practice of painting as a healing balm, which has been especially helpful in these August weeks so close to the year mark of Vernon’s death ( the date is tomorrow, in fact!) You may not be able to know without being told that all of the following paintings are based on bones—at least that is where they started. I had this idea of going back to some of Vernon’s original fractures by looking at images of x-rays, then abstracting them in order to create something new. Of course, with this kind of painting in particular, the artist has very little say in where the painting will go, how it will emerge, or if she’ll even like the thing when it’s finished. There are often a lot of layers and a lot of covering up, a lot of frustration—but also, a lot of freedom and joy. Ultimately, I hoped to make something beautiful out of something broken and painful. And if not always beautiful, at least colorful.
Why bones? It was the starting place for us after Vernon’s accident—the parts that were supposed to heal most quickly. But even though they healed, they never held him up again. But bones…what are they? They are the scaffolds of our bodies on which the rest rests. Hidden from view all our lives, these are the parts of our earthly bodies that remain the longest when the rest has passed away. Bone marrow produces the blood and stem cells that keep us alive…and can help give life to others! All this thinking about our bones made me wonder: can they hold our memories too, can they hold our trauma? It sure feels like it sometimes, even if it’s merely poetic, rather than scientific association. People talk about feeling things deep in their bones, so I know I’m not alone. This series for me has been about exploring some of these things and releasing some of this pain and turning it into something else. I couldn’t fix Vernon’s broken body, but I can attempt to take this kind of healing work into my own hands, with the brush as my scalpel.
I’m leaving the working titles off as I share them because I don’t want to influence the viewing. All are oil paint.
in closing here is a poem for thought by the always wonderful Mary Oliver, called Bone.
through the pale-pink morning light.
The memories continue to resurface from last year. I hope people don’t mind my sharing so many of them. I wonder if I’ll do the same next year. Maybe. Why not? I don’t want to forget. As I’ve said before, its a lot like childbirth…such a significant thing that it seems a waste to simply forget it. And for me, talking about things helps me validate them, helps them seem real even after the events are over. I don’t know if I’m honoring his life this way because he was so much more than this for his nearly-50 years, but I am certainly trying to honor his death (which was one of the most significant parts of it.)
Here was a delightful, yet sad, memory that showed up today on Facebook. Do you remember this? He’s eating chocolate ice cream.
He hadn’t been officially allowed to eat anything for years (although we did sneak him milkshakes and chocolate when no one was looking, things he could safely swallow without breaking into a choking fit) but when I finally signed off on his Advanced Directive, the nursing home allowed him to have whatever he wanted from the cafeteria. And all he wanted was chocolate ice cream…ambrosia of the gods. It was such a gift to be able to give him some small pleasure. I love remembering how he enjoyed it.
Today, I got a letter in the mail from the hospice company. They send check up letters every so often, just to show they still care, but I haven’t taken them up on any of their offers of support. (I should, I just get so busy.) Anyway, today’s letter included a lovely poem by Margaret Mead. This stood out to me especially as she was one of my early paintings this year in my Groundbreaking Girls series, and also one of my favorites.
Here is the beautiful poem:
To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated,
But to the happy, I am at peace,
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea – remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty – remember me.
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity – remember me.
Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved,
the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.