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. 


another runaway said...

These words have brought me to a standstill. Life is constant rebirths and realisations and starting overs. What a mad lark.

Cassandra said...

Extraordinary. As Diana Vreeland said “There is only one very good life and that’s the life you know you want and make it yourself’.

Good Luck.

Robin said...

Beautiful writing and thinking on this winter day in the halved last get. Thank you for sharing.

LBS said...

fully supportive of this message

CocoRosie said...


Emma said...

Part of the reason I took your flower school course in sydney (years ago now) was because I have always identified with this part of you. Your eloquence in sharing it always hits home with me. Thank you and I’m glad to read and soak up your words.

Whimrose said...

What a beautiful reflection with so many magical moments you know you are on the path

Wendy said...

You are waiting to exhale. You had your white horse, I had my great horned owl screaming at me the night of the full moon from the top of the tallest spruce tree. Our times are changing. Love your writing.

tmd75 said...

Gives me the same feeling as the first time I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek ~ magic! Keep it coming.

Nature, stretching for new heights, taking the time to really think - all intricate to the creative process. Thanks for sharing.

Sarahbeth said...

My "comment" is more a letter thanks and encouragement & a: damn, I see you, thank you for sharing. And YES.
You've had the ability to make heartbreak and beauty hold hands visually since I first starting reading your blog way back when in the befores. Before it seemed like the entire world was a fan of yours, before the farm, before the newspaper & magazine articles, before the wee shop facelift never mind the big shop - I read your words and felt like you shot straight at it. You eloquently type out the pain of the human condition, and not just any condition, the raw ache that is that certain breed of sensitive artist.
For over a decade I worked on my own wee line of women's apparel, but I wanted to do it ALL, designers are like that right? But I had this constant unrest warring in me. I hated the "brand" of it. The bullshit. The struggle to "get" somewhere & the hustle once I did. I wanted to make fairy frocks. I wanted to fit them on women over coffee and deep conversations whilst simultaneously reforming the fiber industry that works of the backs of people in poor countries breathing fumes and working their fingers to the bone & polluting their drinking supply with dye. I wanted to stop that - educate people and also uplift them in pretty gowns, all while paying the light bill. All that fire & angst & ambition burned me up. I had anxiety every waking minute. I lost my marriage for years, I lost my inner calm, & my inner compass. I pretty much lost my mind. My sabbatical was a fall from the tower & it took years. I moved away, I moved back in with my mother, yes I did. Then, I took it all down.

We just had a wedding for dear locally famous artist friends at our farm. We worked our asses off - and I got to design & make Everything. Flowers, dress, barn, pole barn - wedding site at the pond, hell I even officiated. After the wedding two old aunties came up to me & said, after you get done doing this silly side job in town that you're doing: What are you going to DO with all that talent & fire? People came up to me & said, Go into politics, Go become an inspirational speaker, Go run the world!
I felt ancient. I felt grizzled and wise.
I looked at them all. I knew I couldn't explain to them that I'd reached it, that they were seeing it. I'd found my breath again. I rise in the mornings and go to work as a secretary for folks fighting the good fight. I have a day off when I mend the barn and sew on a project or two that takes me a millennia to finish. In the summer, I'm covered in dirt from the garden and I look like a lost boy from neverland. I look into the eyes of my wife. I'm present with my family & friends. I'm home in myself. I give a damn good eulogy and beautiful wedding rites. Sometimes I burn myself up and out once a year on a big project for people I dearly love. And then I take it all down again and re-meet myself.

What am I going to DO with my great talent, voice, and fire? I'm going to live my most joyful life. The one that brings me closer to calm and closer to joy and closer to the ability to leave it all when my time's up. So my thoughts as a damn big fan of yours & what you've created are: you are not beholden to anyone or anything. You are not in this world to win the hustle or to fix all the pain. What you share is a gift, what you make is incredible AND you don't have to do any of it. My deep desire for you is that you keep finding a way to meet your peace.
Thank you for all you share with us. Your are immensely appreciated.

LPC said...

The snakes and the horses are reaching out.

Sarah it doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can probably find a way to have a business, with someone else doing a lot of the business part, and also touch beautiful flowers, and also even write a book. But you are going to have to breathe, unquestionably.

Also people take vacations. Even brilliant people. Even astonishingly talented and inspirational people. Especially people who like their time alone.

I wish I could bake you some malted milk brownies and bring them to you. Or make a pot of vegetarian chili in my proletariat Instant Pot. But I am sure too that this will all be OK. xoxo.

Anonymous said...

I remember the first store on vanbrunt that I think is now the bike shop? I bought some lovely dried hydrangeas from you just before you moved down the street. Always wondered if you were happy with the glorious empire you have built or if you missed those simpler days. So beautifully written and inspiring as always.

Carrie Snow said...

I loved the van brunt store too... sweet days.

Anonymous said...

hi Sarah,
thank you for your beautiful writing. i think i found you bc i was helping out a brooklyn florist with some biz stuff last year and she sent me to other sites.
in any case, your blog popped up today- and it sounds like much has changed for you. it's gorgeous- your stories, writing, the images. after reading it, i thought you might vibe with

she's a delightful woman making her way in the business world with grace and space and thoughtfulness. she's been my #1 inspiration and mentor in living with intention and crafting the rhythms for my life... i've been a customer of hers for years :)

be well and enjoy those red berries! i didn't know what they were but will be snagging some from nearby trees to decorate some upstate swags of greenery.