Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A View of the Sight Line

A tribute to my cousin Richard on his birthday.

When you look at me,
perhaps you see a man
of quiet, calm demeanor.
A wit that’s quick.
Wisdom that’s plain and simple.

But I hope that you see,
when you look closer at me
43 years of a story that has at its heart
a love of the art of the oil,
the canvas and the brush.

A love of charcoal and pencil that glide across
paper with all the skill I can muster.
Of watercolor and ink,
every type, every color,
a conduit for me
to tell you the stories
I want you to see when you

Look at me.

If you only see what’s on the surface,
then you miss the crux of my story.
The strength of my father, who let nothing;
not the hatred that came with the struggle for integration,
nor the tyranny of a gradually immobile body,
keep him from moving, striving, creating.
That pride he lovingly passed along to me,
and I pass on to you
when you look at my canvas.

Look closer. There it is.
The knowledge I glean from the voices of
The faith nurtured in me by
Nomine Patris, Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
The visual representation of the melodies of
My interpretation of the gifts of
The eloquence of Baldwin.
The flow of Fassbinder.
A lyricism rivaling the story of Panchali.

I know you see green when you look at me.
Not envy, but in my roots.
Planted by the nurturing hands of Cecilia and C.T.
Blossomed in the greenhouse of creativity on Kirby,
Made whole in the ivy that surrounds me
(which, by the way sports a vivid red, black and green
in the midst of all that blue).
Growing in the park that thrives in the heart
of the Empire State clear through to my soul in Motown.

Don’t look past all this when you look at me.
If you do, then you’re looking at,
but don’t really see
My pride.
My knowledge.
My struggle.
My love.
It’s right here.
It’s me on the canvas.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

A View of Paralysis

"Real Life Adventures" is a strip that captures the humor in all manner of awkward situations.
Click on the comic to see more adventures and learn more about the artists.

"I love how you feel. You don't know how long I've been waiting for this."

Whispered in my ear in a tone as soft as gossamer, he pulled me closer - a caress as firm as it was gentle. We'd been in my living room doorway for almost 15 minutes. One kiss hello had led to several kisses. I wanted to say something witty and clever in return, give a response that was equal parts flirty, funny, and full of the attraction I was feeling. Instead, all I could manage to say was a barely audible "thank you" that was more blush than burn.

It scarcely seemed to matter to him. He smiled and leaned in for another kiss, pulling me just a touch closer towards him, and ever so subtly grinding into me to show that no, it wasn't some object in his pocket and yes, he was quite happy to see me. And as good as it felt to be touched, desired, wanted, I could scarcely move. The intimacy of the moment clashed with the sudden realization that this man was as attracted to me as I was to him had paralyzed me.

We were going to dinner, my date and I. We'd met for coffee a couple of times before, quick dates lasting an hour or so, just long enough to decide whether or not we wanted to see each other again. Each meeting ended with a lingering kiss good night that felt good but a bit perfunctory. This time, he told me he wanted to pick me up at home, open doors for me, give me a good night kiss at my front door at the end of the evening.

"I can't wait to see you again," he said. "It's going to feel so good to kiss you."

I didn't believe him - rather I didn't want to believe him. Being open to that feeling of desire also meant being open to the possibility of being hurt again, and I'm not ready to go there again.

When he arrived at my door, I had no choice except to believe. He greeted me with the long, lingering kiss he promised. Then another. And yet another. It was my first date in months, and I looked forward to seeing him again. When he kissed me, it was so easy to respond in kind. My date was an attractive, desirable man and it felt good to desired by someone like him.

Still, I could feel myself holding back out of...what? Fear? Definitely, but of what kind? Moving too quickly? Rejection? The possibility that perhaps the attraction he said he had for me was a lie? It was hard to say, especially since his kiss and his embrace was so convincing, so real.

I had to pull back after a moment to catch my breath and gather my feelings. I tried to look at him, but could barely make eye contact. What was I seeing on his face? Part of me saw the look of a man enjoying an intimate moment with a woman he wanted to get to know better. Another part saw the leer of a man who simply wanted a somewhat easy lay and had the perfect opportunity right in front of him in an emotionally conflicted date. Which one was right?

I didn't know. I reached out and caressed his cheek with a hesitant smile, as though I'd be able to read his thoughts with a simple touch. He didn't let go. Returning my hesitant smile with a brighter, more confident one he leaned in for yet another kiss.

"If we keep this up, we're never going to go to dinner," I said.

"Don't worry," he replied. "We have plenty of time." I could barely make out the end of the sentence, the words blurring into a tender kiss.

I relaxed a little more, doing all I could to enjoy the moment and let go.

More later, because learning to move past the fear is a series of small, incremental steps.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

A View of Appearances

Chantay Savage - I Will Survive

The day seemed picture perfect.

I was out on the water, taking in the sun and enjoying the view of the lake and all the posh homes along the lakefront from a pontoon boat. Invited to an appreciation luncheon with other assistants, it was a rare midday treat. A chance to kick back, relax, enjoy a tasty beverage, and have fun with some of my colleagues from work.

And it was nice. The sky was as blue as the water, bright and clear - as though it had been painted. Looking out on the water, the rays of the sun almost looked like diamonds bouncing off the soft waves. Lily pads dotted the surface of the water, and tall pond grass swayed softly in the light breeze. There we sat, about 20 of us, enjoying the warmth of the sun, and the camraderie of the day. All manner of people were along the shore - grilling burgers and corn, taking a quick swim, sitting on chaise lounges to catch some rays, working on their homes, or watching a boat load of laughing women sipping from plastic disposable cups watch them. Almost on cue, a swan glided across the water, its feathers so white it was almost invisible in the light of the sun.

"The turtles eat them, you know. We've got snapping turtles in the lake, and they just pop up and pull the swans under the water and eat them. It's sad sometimes, watching a mama look for her babies and they've just been pulled under."

The woman driving the boat said this matter of factly, catching all of us off guard. A flurry of "No way!" and "You're kidding!" rushed from our mouths like a quick gust of air. A couple of us looked down at the water, as though we expected a turtle to leap out of the lake and pull one of us in as easily as our captain said one grabs a swan. How can something that seemed so benign and harmless be suddenly so threatening?

Just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving.

Much like our hostess, the captain of the pontoon boat who seemed so happy and together as she greeted her guests. Every year, the group of us gets together for an appreciation lunch thrown by our bosses. This year, the hostess offered her home on the lakeshore as an ideal location. A tent was erected on the backyard lawn next to her tiki bar. A buffet lunch was set up in the garage that was so organized and clean, it seemed as though it had never held a car. Her home was beautifully appointed - floor to ceiling windows that provided a view of the lake made for a magazine spread, perfectly coordinated furnishings, decorations lovingly selected to highlight and enhance the newly renovated home. A photo album dedicated to chronicling the work done to transform the house from a timeworn one story ranch to a three story modern showplace sat on the granite island in the kitchen. It seemed perfect - a reflection of a couple's love, hard work, and dedication to each other.

Appearances can be deceiving. Our hostess showed us the photo album and took us on a tour of the house fighting back tears the entire time.

"I thought we were building a life together," she said, choking up. "I don't understand how all of this happened. I don't know how much longer I'll be here."

Her story came out in unexpected quick bursts during lunch as the guests arrived. If you asked her for a drink, to use the restroom, or the name of the caterer, you were as likely to get the expected answer ("Sure, the tiki bar is to the right...just go up the stairs and it's the first door on the know, I can't remember, let me get you a card...."), as you were a sudden rushed confessional:

Ithrewhimouthow'boutadrink'causetodayisallabouthavingfun," followed by a self conscious laugh and an abrupt change of subject to the weather or the week at work. The life she'd been building with her husband had been snapped up and pulled under with the discovery of his infidelity and deception. He'd been cheating on her with other men and women the entire time they'd been together. When caught, he offered no apology, no explanation, nothing. What seemed like the perfect relationship had all been a lie.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Just like that, a lunch that usually about the usual conversations - demanding bosses, challenging workloads, the upcoming busy season, and promises to keep in touch - turned into fellowship and sisterhood. We shared our stories about relationships gone wrong, how we healed, said it was okay to cry, and really got to know each other. We offered names of lawyers ("Girl, he helped me out and I know he'll help you...."), books to read, invitations to girl's night out whenever she needed, shoulders to cry on, whatever she needed to get through, get by, get past the hurt and shock. Our hostess was grateful and seemed surprised by the support she received. The end of her marriage is still new - the confrontation she shared in a sudden stream of consciousness confession had only taken place a couple of months earlier - but we were all old friends, willing to talk when she couldn't, listen when she could, hug and laugh to make the pain go away.

As we sat on that boat, floating through the water, I looked at the homes and families along the shore. It all looked so picture perfect, houses that anyone would covet, parents and children playing in the yards, boats in slips ready for a sail, swans swimming past proudly displaying their grace and beauty. I looked at my hostess, trying her best to stay cheerful as she pointed out homes, telling the stories of her neighbors and the lakeshore. She was smiling, punctuating her stories with a quick laugh or an off the cuff joke.

Appearances can be deceiving though, because every once in a while she'd quickly wipe away a tear or her voice would crack just a little - her heartbreak peeking through ever so slightly, like one of those unseen turtles in the lake taking a quick peek out of its shell to grab the little bit of happiness she occasionally set free.

More later, but not before I say to my friend that this hurt will pass and everything will work out. Stay strong, hang on, don't let this hurt steal your joy. You will survive.

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