Saturday, May 10, 2008

Domestic paleontology

I'm at the home of a friend's mother, cleaning. The mom is a wonderful woman who, in her later years, has filled her house with everything she could possibly want - something I can certainly understand, we all want what we want. She has built the life she always craved, is able to be whoever she wants and has all the accoutrement she needs to be that person. The problem arose when she truly filled the house and it became a place with narrow passageways, canyons with walls built of boxes filled with her treasures.

Not too long ago it became clear she needed to live somewhere else, someplace where she could get help if she needed it. Living alone into your 80s is a wonderful and risky thing. The ads we all mock ("I've fallen, and I can't get up") are a frightening reality for older people. While she was loathe to give up her independence, it was apparent that she needed greater care than her family could provide as they had dispersed to different parts of the country. So now she's living safely with her daughter. Which leaves the house.

I'm helping my friend sort through years of accumulation and treasures, strata of a life. Each time we clear something - a pile of old newspapers that hides a box full of old letters, for example - there is something else to be found - a drawer full of china they used when my friend was a child, in the back are old photos, receipts, mismatched kid gloves and the odd pair of baby shoes. And all of this comes with stories attached.

Some are stories my friend can tell. "Wow! When I was kid we used this when we...." So I listen. Honestly, I think that's a big part of why I'm here, to act as witness. But many of the stories are only implied, hinted at by the physical objects, but lost. Who was Maisie and why did she write a letter to my friend's long dead great-great aunt? The letter is just a friendly social missive, but it's an intimate note, gossiping about people no one in the family now knows.

It's these lost stories that get my mind whirling. I will never know the details, but I can and do imagine them. Endlessly.

It's hard to do the work we have to do when we keep finding treasures like that. Of course, there are still the piles and piles of magazines, styrofoam plates, old shoes and more to sort through. But I don't know what I'll find next, what will lead me to the next suggested story.

It's work that is at once heartbreaking, exhausting and endlessly fascinating, a deep reminder of the interconnectedness and fragility of all our lives; these lost family stories could be mine, the photos could be my lost relatives, the letters could have been written to me or to you. Each story may be lost, but it leaves a trace, a fossil footprint just waiting to be found. This is paleontology of the spirit.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

p.s. My friend read this story and said it was okay to publish. So there.
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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Whoa - hello!

What happened? All of a sudden my visitor count is soaring (for me - multiple hundreds, instead of tens). I don't know why. I'm curious - did this blog get commented upon somewhere? If so, I hope it's not someplace like "suckiest blogs ever." Or am I being poked at my some kind of robot? What's up?

Let me know. I'm wondering. Creative Commons License

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Waiting time

I'm on my way back from the Art of Storytelling festival in Miami. It was a lovely experience, lots of good stories told and heard, as well as some teaching time. There were two things in particular that marked this experience for me.

1. It feels like another step towards being a "real" artist. This is silly, of course. I already am an artist, I've been an artist forever and expect I will continue to be an artist for the rest of my life unless something changes drastically. But this was another example of truly being in the world as an artist. It felt really good. And it felt like real work. Which also felt good. Though I am now very tired.

2. And there was a lot of waiting around. Right now I'm in the Miami Airport (it's 5:30 in the morning, so if I'm more rambly than usual, forgive me) waiting for my plane home. I waited for rides, waited for events, waited for this or that. In between the waiting there were short, intense bursts of activity, but the waiting was a real, necessary part of the event. So I got to thinking about waiting time.

Here in the US when we wait we get really impatient. Two minutes in line and we're complaining, twitchy and whining. It's rarely an opportunity to get to know the people around us, nor a chance to just rest in the moment. Our lives are so busy we can't afford the wait.

But waiting is part of life, it's part of what we need to do. Not everything runs on the same schedule we do - and frankly, often enough we make others wait, it's only fair that it happens to us from time to time. It's an opportunity to cultivate patience, to have a meditative moment, read that book you cart around, to observe or even connect with those around you. Our lives are so hectic, just waiting offers a chance to stop and be, even when we don't want to.

I certainly don't manage to live with that zen in-the-moment mindset all the time or even often. But on this trip, with these moments of waiting, I've been able to take deep breaths and just be calm. Even when I've not had a book to lose myself in. It's felt pretty good. Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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