The Quiet Lives of Old Photographs

The photographs of my life huddle together in the darkness, secure in a bedroom cabinet. They now lead quiet lives, disturbed only occasionally. They once brought only pleasure to me and upon inspection, wonder. Now going through them brings a quotient of sadness too. The scale began to tip about 10 or 15 years ago. Their nearby presence exerts an energy that often tempts me to pay them a visit, but one that I usually resist. It’s a bottomless journey, that once begun leads down a road that’s too nostalgic. It invariably leads to sad emotions that I’d prefer to not indulge. It does show a rich lifetime of family times, travel, holidays and joyful events. The photos allow me to visit people who were once an important part of my life, now no longer available for one reason or another or sometimes for no reason I can state.  They just faded away.

Were my eyebrows really once that full and dark? Gazing at a photo of myself holding my infant children in my arms, I can still feel my daughter’s softness and inhale her sweet baby scent. Those sacred pleasures vanished too quickly. Pangs of times passed too quickly and unconsciously.  Another photo yields a glance of smiling faces at a school graduation. That was long ago, when there were more beginnings and a door closed meant that another door would soon be opening.

home from college, visiting my Dad

Yesterday, I uncovered a long-lost photo of my mother in her 20’s with a man other than my father. She and her gentleman friend looked very happy. I remembered her telling me many years ago that this man was her boyfriend before she met my father. They were close to engagement. And then they weren’t. The road not taken, but still present in my stash of snapshots. Does the gentleman still have a photo of my mom that his children puzzle over?

There are so many photos! My short-term attempts at organization have always run out of steam. I can never throw out enough of them to even make a small dent in their number.  Now they lay, slightly deteriorating by the day, in boxes, albums, and stacks. They give testament to a life and youth gone by. They recall young children, departed relatives, exciting trips to Europe and Japan, important birthdays, a long-lost pet. I want to bring them to life, if only for a brief visit.

The gang in Brooklyn on Halloween Eve, many moons ago!
DSC00501
A gorgeous early summer day near Stockholm.

I almost gasp when looking at photos of a long-ago party at my house, celebrating the visit of Doug Elkins Dance Company in 1998. Everyone was sooo young and so drunk.

Just Married, saying goodbye to parents as we head out for the honeymoon.  1963!

IMG_7535

ranch 2000
New Year’s Eve 1999

I found a photo of my mother with her arms around two of my daughters, probably taken 40 years ago. They all looked relaxed and happy. This photo brought me joy because my mother hated to have her picture taken, consequently, I have few photos of her where she seems happy and looks the way I want to remember her. She died of Alzheimer’s so my last memories of her are painful to recall. This photo helped me make her real and healthy again. The image is now on my desk and in my heart.

P9090289.JPG
My favorite look (for many years)

Thousands of digital photos sit right under my fingertips at my computer’s keyboard. They’re so easily accessible, and visited more frequently. They’re available for immediate recall and better organized.  I imagine that my grandchildren will have no boxes of photos to store.

Once again there came the time to put these memory capsules back in their cupboard.  After writing about them this time, I lovingly put them away, and even managed to feel happy.

IMG_0209
meeting the final grandchild!

Coming Home

Maya Angelou

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
― Maya AngelouAll God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

 

I’ve been thinking about the word “home” lately.  Not as in I’m goin’ home, Lord, but as in where or what is home for me now? What does coming  “home” mean?  At the moment, I spend time in several disparate places, each of which is “home” while I’m there.  Maybe not home home in the idealized sense of the word, but home enough, if you get my drift.

 

Alain de Botton

“We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.”
― Alain de BottonThe Architecture of Happiness

 

We think about home all through our lives, I believe.  It’s meaning changes as our experiences do and as our sense of belonging to a place waxes or wanes.  I’ve lived in places with houses that provided me with shelter, but they never got under my skin enough to feel attached.  they were just places to live.  When I walked away, it was as if I’d never lived there.  Those spaces bored me but didn’t challenge, welcome or change me.  They were not what I consider home, even though I lived there with family.

What do I mean when I say I feel at home?  comfort?  familiarity? People I know and love?  Most definitely. But there’s more.  For me, add birdsong on a spring morning. Anytime, anywhere= home.  Ditto crickets on a late summer evening. The sound of wind in the trees.  The scent of jasmine or lilacs.  The crunch of snow. A New England lobster. A small grocery store.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
― Gary Snyder

Recently we were in Key West, Florida.  The turquoise ocean, sky, sun on my back and the tropical vibe remind me of my years at college in Miami.  Although it’s been decades since I’ve spent time in Florida, it took little adjustment to feel “at home.”

athens ga
MIddle home was ours in Athens, GA in the 1970’s

The front porch of the house we were in reminded me of the front porch of the 1920’s home we lived in during the 70’s in  Athens, Ga. I’ve concluded every house should have a front porch.  It’s so damn neighborly. People biked or walked past our house frequently, helping to make me feel connected to my surroundings.  Instant gratification.

Knowing people where you are can help to feel as if you belong.  Anonymity goes just so far. Initially, it feels liberating, but can quickly lead directly to loneliness, in my experience.

Santa Barbara has become home for over 20 years.  I happily call myself a Californian and a Santa Barbarian. There’s a strong sense of place in Santa Barbara that I enjoy.  It’s home enough too, meaning that I’m not pining to live elsewhere.Maybe that’s all we get once we leave our childhood home. I realize no place is perfect at least not in the long run!

All pundits make it clear that you can’t go home again.  I can no longer return to the home of my parents.  I hold those early images within me, always available to access if I feel the desire. Luckily,  I have no desire to go back to my old hometown.  Once my parents passed away there was no longer a reason to return. Most of my friends moved elsewhere and there was really not much to return to.

 

yale st
My childhood home

 

If I’m honest with myself, I still have a deep longing to revisit rural parts of New England that were a part of my earlier life.  Give me a rambling river or stream.  Throw in a  perfectly proportioned village built in earlier centuries. Arrange the white colonial clapboard houses around a village green.  Call me nostalgic, but there’s no more pleasing look to me anywhere.  Maybe I’d find living in such a place stifling.  I guess I’ll never know. Now, with advancing age, it’s unlikely that I’ll have a chance to try it out.

New York City is a stopping point for me, but I’ve determined it cannot be home.  It’s just too intense on many levels for me to find the level of comfort I need.  However, friends and family continue to keep it on my must visit soon list. The saying it’s A great place to visit, but not to live (especially if you’re over 40) holds true for me.

Strangely enough, I can feel deeply at home in Japan.  The aesthetics of the ancient country resonate as do the temples and landscapes which are such a vital part of it.  Japan has nothing to do with the look of an earlier time in my life, but rather connects to something more mysterious within me, something deeper that I pay attention to, but don’t necessarily understand.

“Beautiful places are not just a joy for the moment, while you’re there. They will become homes for you, spaces of solace and comfort, where you can close your eyes and go to. Nothing you experience will ever go away. It belongs to you now. Just feel.”  Charlotte Eriksson

 

In our era of rampant homelessness and with millions of refugees roaming the earth without a country or a home, I realize just considering the issue of what a “home” is from my vantage point, is a privilege as well as an indulgence.  Ask a homeless person or a refugee and their responses and thinking about it will undoubtedly be quite different from mine.

Ultimately, I think coming home means recognizing love.  There’s not a moment in my life that has been more wonderful and fulfilling than the photo of me with my newborn granddaughter., witnessing and experiencing the miracle of new life and connection.  Truly coming “home.”

Guess who? inexperienced, bombastic, moron, #@%*#@g moron, impulsive, mentally ill, narcissist, bully, undignified, etc.

 

Watching the take-over of our country by the politicians currently in power is a bit like watching someone you’ve known and respected all your life suddenly become stinking drunk, unrecognizable and out of control.tchi You might watch in disbelief.  You might leave the room.  Both are choices.  There’s a litany of words written daily to describe the madman, now becoming all too familiar.  They do not inspire confidence:   inexperienced, bombastic, moron, #@%*#@g moron, impulsive, narcissist, bully, undignified.  And so it goes, month following month, week following week, day following day.  At the moment I’ve mostly chosen to look away,  or have left the room.  It’s just too painful and causes too much distress.

A few days ago, I thought my husband had a peculiar look on his face.  When I inquired what was the matter, his  voice was flat as he related the awful news of the Las Vegas massacre. I felt frozen in place.

Early on in our new dangerous political game, I found myself slightly amused by #45.  He just seemed like a bad joke, who would soon be forgotten.  Now, he’s toxic. Nothing remotely funny here.

Trump’s in person response to hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico? Toss them a roll of paper towels.  How to deal with this disgusting behavior NOW as a responsible citizen?  The mid terms feel decades away right now.

I was numb when I learned of  the recent massacre  in Las Vegas.  I’ve been beaten down by the daily outrages.  Numbness is not a helpful response to a friggin’ massacre.   It’s come because I know too well we probably haven’t reached the ultimate low point that might cause enough outrage to get significant gun control legislation passed. It’s come because I no longer recognize what tries to pass for leadership in my country of birth.   What’s happened to our country? Are we past the point of no return?  Is the only answer at the moment to give the stage to the lunatics and hope at some point they’ll wear themselves out?  Can they ever recognize that their votes and support for Trump et al have raised a threatening tide for everyone?

I cringe when I read about our president lying with impunity, annointing himself daily with the gold dust he requires to polish his egomania.

I’ve started to live in fear that we might be on the edge of a nuclear war with Korea.

Our environment, so dependent on humanity to set it right, is at the tipping point.

Whales are dying.  Just read that two days ago.

North Korea is flying rockets over Japan, my much-loved second home.

China is filling in the blanks at the openings our loss of leadership has provided.

I don’t want to listen to the smug talking heads on cable news assess the crisis du jour, although, when I do tune in, I foolishly hope that I might learn something from one of them. Hasn’t happened yet.

It might be time to stick my head in the sand, cover my ears and scream loudly to block out the all-pervasive irritants.  It might be time to make more art.  It might be time to plant a garden, read a book, or write a more positive blog.

Forgive me, if I’ve brought you down.

I remind myself that I’ve lived through challenging times at other points in my life, but previous experience did not prepare me for today’s threatening reality. I am capable of focusing on the good and the hopeful. I can breathe deeply. The man is just too dangerous to try to ignore, I’m afraid.

“This too shall pass,” I tell myself a little too often.

May it pass quickly!  and peacefully.  May I learn some new coping skills.

 

 

 

RIP, My Friend Betsy

 

Several years ago I joined a tour group to see a part of Japan that’s relatively hard to get to as a foreigner.  I’d requested a single room when I traveled because I’d learned from taking other tours I needed “time off” from the rest of the group when the day was done.

At our second stop I was told by the group leader there were no single rooms in the inn we were staying, so they teamed me up with another woman, Betsy Raymond, who was a solitary traveler too.  Little did either of us know that by the end of the trip we’d become fast friends.  Betsy was the only person I’d met who seemed as crazy or maybe crazier than I am about Japan.  She’d traveled to Japan for years, taught herself to read and speak Japanese quite well, and had discovered places in Japan I’d never heard of.  Her enthusiasm for the country equaled or surpassed mine.  Her knowledge of the country definitely surpassed mine.  I was impressed by her intellect and warmed by her humor.  She also was a bit subversive which fit me perfectly.  She was definitely eccentric, which I respected and lived life on her own terms.

I quickly discovered that when Betsy traveled, she was ready for any eventuality. Whatever a traveler might need on the road, Betsy had thought of and brought along. Be it a nail file, drugs, scissors, etc., she packed stuff I’d never dream of carrying with me.  It was as if she’d been asked to supply Noah’s ark with one of everything that was needed for daily life.

Betsy was also a whiz on computers.  A few times when we’d be given single rooms at new destinations, Betsy would cheerfully respond to my calls for help to get online. She also was a fount of valuable information about photography and cameras.  She’d attempt to share her wealth of knowledge with me, but I’d quickly get overwhelmed by the technical information she had at her fingertips.  She never lost patience with my slowness.

We quickly discovered that we both found the same things funny.  One morning we were told to gather outside the inn before sunrise before walking together to attend a morning service at a nearby temple.  Everyone in our tour was there except for Betsy.  I’d left our room before she was ready.  What’s taking Betsy so long? The group started growing impatient in the morning chill. Before long, I heard a voice call out loudly and accusingly from an upstairs room, “Dianne Vapnek, are you wearing my shoes?”

Knowing that I was capable of doing something like that, I quickly looked down at my feet and just as quickly realized that the shoes I’d slipped into in the morning darkness were not mine.  Betsy had to spend about 10 minutes looking for her shoes before she realized that I must have put them on. In the morning,  both pairs were neatly lined up outside our room as required in Japanese tatami rooms.  We both wore the same size, both shoes were black slip- ons and at 5:30 AM, that was enough for me.

She and I broke out laughing immediately.  Our hilarity increased when the other group members just looked in disgust at us both.  In the evenings, we’d chat long into the night sharing and laughing at the day’s adventures and misadventures.

Betsy was also a hilarious drunk.  We both hit the sake pretty hard one night at dinner, and by the meals’ end she had me doubled over laughing at her antics which were way beyond what is generally considered appropriate female behavior in Japan.  But we were both past the point of no return.  We spent far too much time amusing each other, but of course, that just made it funnier.

Sadly, I learned yesterday that my dear travel partner died a few days ago.  Several months earlier she informed me rather matter of factly that she’d just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She was methodical about planning her care and had decided to be treated by a Japanese doctor who believed he might have a better way of treatment for her deadly cancer.  I’d been told she was in hospice.  As I was making plans to visit her, I learned it was too late.

In addition to being the best travel companion a woman could have, Betsy was an accomplished book artist.  She rescued animals.  By herself.  She waited in local parks after Easter to capture the Easter bunnies who’d been released into the wild and provide them with a home.   She’d found dozens of bunnies who lived a happy life in a house with her, occupying a vacant upstairs bedroom.

A cat followed her down the street in Japan several years ago and she decided that she was meant to take it home, i.e. back to CA.  An almost impossible task, but she did it.  She stayed several weeks longer than she’d planned to get approval for this action because she wouldn’t take no for an answer and finally boarded the plane with the cat.  She still suffered from guilt because the cat died soon after she’d transported it.  She still felt responsible for its death.

This year, more friends of mine are falling off the wheel of life, or riding it precariously.

I will miss Betsy.  I just learned she wanted no words spoken at her internment.  She did things her own way until the very end.  Thank you Bets for being such a dear friend in the short time we had together.  Thank you for doing your best to help those who have no voice.  Thanks for laughs and most of all thanks for loaning me your shoes.

 

All the Way

This morning, I listened to a recording of Frank Sinatra singing All the Way.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard it.  I was immediately flooded with the romantic memories of listening to this song as I drove in a car with my boyfriend on a balmy, moonlit Miami night.  At that time, I felt adventurous, a deliciously just a bit out of control been but it was within understood boundaries that were rarely crossed.  My sexual life was a balancing act of exercising  self-determination while hearing my mother’s stark irritating, but unforgettable warnings, in my head

The title of the song, All the Way, was also a euphemism for avoiding the starker implications of sexual intimacy so long warned about to “nice girls.”  Only among close friends at college, would we talk skittishly about going all the way with a boyfriend.  Usually a long term boyfriend.  Remember this was before the pill liberated young people from the concerns of an unwanted pregnancy.  Sexual liberation for women was just a few short years away but it might as well have been a century away because the double standard and the risks involved in going all the way were intense and required a devil may care attitude that few of us could sustain without ingesting large amounts of alcohol. Continue reading “All the Way”