Monday, November 13, 2017

notes from sabbatical

September was red in the garden with dahlias and 'empress of india' nasturtium. Overripe tomatoes hanging on the vine stabbed at by chickens. Elsewhere in my life a latent red simmering. The color of tongues and the backs of throats, making words. Courage, perhaps. 

I watch red now, months later. It is softer and faded, my favorite abandoned train car. Bittersweet vine cracks its shell on cue...November...gaggles of tangled red beaded necklaces of it, cheap and plenty, strewn up in trees up and down the Taconic State parkway. Our own mardi gras in the Berkshires. I suddenly remember to breathe at a red light coming home from picking up laundry. 

I am living in Hudson. I wake up here at 5 or so. When it starts to get light out, I go walking. I’m writing a lot,  collecting information and resting. I practice my cello and watch myself struggle with the frustration of fretwork but also how achingly beautiful the sound is and how it coaxes me away from my thinking brain. The best gift for myself right now. Stripped of most of my identity, gone here are many of my familiar tricks. A lot can happen in this space. I wait tables on weekends downstairs at my friends Monica and Leisah’s new restaurant

My first introduction to melancholy occurred in autumn as a little girl, hustling (always?) to collect maple seed pods, fine twigs and clumps of moss around the yard. The last bits separated into disposable tin pie pans stashed in my hideout under the rhododendron. I built myself an easy bake oven with discarded patio bricks and made pies with mud and acorns. Always building, making, always with a sense of urgency. Someone had to prepare for a hard winter in the suburbs.

Red is the opposite color of loons. A family of four paddling silently in mid July in Acadia; another time altogether. Tourists traipsing by on a raised waterside wood walkway, too fast to notice. The birds opened their throats and sang to those in earshot of their own loon-ness. This color is cloudy blue. It is taught between a great weight and the air. I wanted to watch them forever, follow them out of the frame that was fixing itself in my permanent memory. I wanted to be a loon. How can a moment be so sad and happy? The ineffable tension that natures asks us to notice. 

You mix red and blue and you get purple like pokeweed stains on my cheeks for a long battle of beauty and various betrayals, my bed sheets at the castle where I camped out for a year and half. Everything is different now. It is the season, mine - autumn, always - for consideration and finally I took the time. A two month sabbatical. October was a whirlwind, half spent in England. Fifteen hundred miles in a ridiculous black jaguar loaned to me on a whim late one night in a email to their corporate headquarters. Typed out weeks before when I might have already known that things would unravel and the woman-child in me would need to speed across the moors and immerse myself in dying gardens, gothic myth and endless tea and cigarettes. 

On the second day standing at the edge of the moat at Bodiam Castle, dark eyed and cloaked, alone and again avoiding tourists, I thought that perhaps I would become a witch. I encountered a white horse days later, on the top of Dorset’s highest moor, I talked to him to get answers. He whinnied. All year I’ve waited for some sort of  radical shift - I half expected it to drop out of the sky at dawn or in the gloaming. I wanted to crack the code on art and commerce - it always seemed just around the corner. I was frantic, dancing like in the myth of the red shoes, depleting myself. I started fantasizing about being tied by the ankles and dragged behind a pickup truck along a dirt road. Bruised, plummeted. When you are black and blue you really are purple. I know this color well. 

I meet a wise woman one morning at the brunch counter, we sit down a few days later and I tell her my story. She observes that Saipua is intended to nourish people with beauty and yet all it does is deplete those at its core. She also mentioned that I don’t breathe. How can you tell? I asked her. 
She replied; ‘Because I’m having a hard time breathing sitting here with you.’

I look back on this last phase of my work at Saipua and see a large hole. A big sadness. I built it too big without thinking about what I wanted from it or what made me happiest in it. All of my desires for building community or my love for all my employees --instead of nurturing these things, I strained them. They became frantic with me, working 70 hour weeks, their lives also bruised and battered in the process. I was miserable and I just kept working harder, building more programs -frantically to avoid my own dissatisfaction. I don't have any regrets; I learned so much. Invaluable information collected, noted and stored up in tin pie pans. Here on sabbatical, with so much free time, I wander back through all of it. And see that it's all ok. 

In September a giant snake appeared one day in the pond at Worlds End. Five feet long. Two inches at her thickest. It ended everyone swimming for a while. I was so sad because I loved swimming there. One night I had a dream that I was in the water and the snake came up and gently coiled herself around me and took me down to the mud at the bottom. In the dream this occurred in a soft way -quiet, like a nice journey. After this dream,  I swam again.  The last week of September in the freezing mornings through the mist on the surface, the water still warm from summer. And in the evenings. I was by myself on the farm, and I wanted the snake now. But of course you can't rush these things. Everything with it's own timing. 
It was the edge before the beginning.

This morning I woke up and realized I don’t want to be a business woman. That is the purple, the radical. Instead, I really only want to make the most beautiful flowers in the world and share them. I want to let myself go back to the place where ecstasy and aching are knit together - a creative place that fills me up so much that it overflows - then only can I really begin.

I think as success oriented women, we so easily slide away from knowing or listening to what is really calling us, what we really want. We turn our creativity into commodity - make an armor of personal dogma and sell the shit out of it. Sacrifice our essence for the sterile image of perfection as so easily witnessed on social media these days.  I’m thinking so much lately about how to earn a living doing what I love and staying close to what I really want. Excuses about money or fear of failure sort of fade when you are living at the bottom of a pond. I remind myself to stay present with what matters most. I can, after all, always wait tables. 

There is a certain relief that comes in realizing I had a lot of it all wrong. I don’t have to fight for it anymore. Perhaps, I can just be it. Me and my pickup truck again? What I’ve secretly wanted for a long time. I’m smiling as I write this. How uncanny to stand here and look back and laugh gently with myself. The frantic tap dancing Sarah. I say with full conviction: I love her so dearly. 

In a few weeks I go back the castle, and trust I will know how to begin.