There is a first photograph and a last. The first hung in his office: a lair stuffed with books and objects which begged the visitor to hear their stories. Despite the usual distractions of youth, she noticed him. Hard not to. Physically and in personality he had presence. Tall, dark and vital he was the most attractive man she had seen.
The connection to each other spanned years: from teenage days to adulthood and its attending obligations. In recent times they lost touch and a year to the day that he died she discovered he was gone. Prior to this knowing she had a dream; the details are lost but she was in his cabin in Vermont.
A cabin deep in the woods — not even on a dirt road. Took some finding. The back land held a vista of fields, forest and rolling mountains. The cabin was handbuilt by his great-grandfather and its interior was a oaken harmony of striated wood from ceiling to walls to floor. A beauty. Not much else did she remember of the dream, but it was the dream that prompted her to look him up and learn his end.
But was it an end? Not really. The end of the era to reach out to him and he would be there, yet during her grief she knew it was the burgeoning of the legacy he left her. Not things — not at all, rather the beauty of soul, what is true and good, what is elemental. Such treasured gifts of magnitude.
The last photograph she saw in a tribute to him. He is older, reading a book. Reclined between the Maine Coast’s beach rocks, he holds the book Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. How perfect she thought. She too likes Stegner though they had never discussed his work. She always misread this title as Angel in Repose. How apt. Books, nature, joy, the forest, solitude, heart — that was he. He too was social, witty, slightly dangerous, and just underneath the skin, definitely male and fulsome Eros.
It was a heady feeling being the focus of his attention and it was also baffling. He was talking with her and as he finished he said, “Now consider yourself intellectually seduced.” It was a season of elegant ardent words and fantasies, and that time — especially at an impressionable age — he changed her. For good she now understood.
She loved him. She carried him with her over miles and people. The tributes to him were legion; it was stunning how many people he had touched and how beloved by all. He gave from the heart and was not depleted for doing so. He remained intact.
One rainy afternoon he told her of a scene he imagined: both of them racing through a woodland of birch trees. Then he said, “I come back to the moment and see I’m washing the dishes or something like that.”
He folded her into himself and she sustained that within her. Now as she washes dishes and looks out her window onto the early spring sunset, she thinks that the not knowing where she ended and he began had not changed; it shifted. She sensed in the days after learning he died that she was immersed in him completely, swimming in the deep temperature-less soft liquid of primeval waters.
Now he has entered her again but more completely — the membrane is thinner — to live her own measure of that which he entrusted to her. He is everywhere.
Someone once said he was foppish. She remembered that remark, intrigued by the antique word and the observation. Not readily dismissed since there was a hint of precision to it — it leaned into his lynx anima.
That was during the time that they existed in a snow globe where within their perfect stillness all sundry matter whirled around them. One spring she wore her hair in braids wrapped around her head.
The first photograph is of a train station house on a summer day. He gave her a print of it which she held onto. She can see that moment in time through his eyes: an old fashioned country depot stop. The photo is taken from the opposite track looking onto the people waiting outside the station house. She feels the heat of the August day, hears the cicadas, smells the industry of the railroad tracks. The windows and doors are open and there are three people on the bench: a man who is turned away from the camera, and a young couple in love. They are two teenagers laughing over a private joke. The girl is in profile kissing the boy’s temple and smiling. His head is down, buried in her neck and shoulder but she can tell he is smiling too. Barefoot they are. Where are those two people now, she wonders.
“On a certain day in the blue-moon month of September
Beneath a young plum tree, quietly
I held her there, my quiet, pale beloved
In my arms just like a graceful dream.
And over us in the beautiful summer sky
There was a cloud on which my gaze rested
It was very white and so immensely high
And when I looked up, it had disappeared.”
Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956
Requiem: Angle of Repose, Clare Irwin, 18 March 2022
From Chihuahua to Connecticut, by M.A.M., Guest Contributor
Growing up in Latin America is an underrated life-hack. Nothing is easy, nothing is given. Latin American people, like me, grow up in places where challenges force them to wake up every morning wishing things were different. I come from a place where a history of submission has been transformed into kindness and hospitality. I consider being born and raised in Mexico a blessing like no other. It is a land that sustains itself thanks to the thousands of hands of honest hard-working people who give their all for their families every single day. A country that demands people to reinvent themselves because of instability and creates kind and solid communities that are willing to unify to keep each other afloat. After all, we need to learn how to jump into the obstacle course of life.
I learned that I had to constantly reinvent myself at a very young age. Since I was a little girl, I knew what it was like to look for an anchor to sustain me. I was born and raised in Chihuahua, a small city in the north of Mexico, with my parents and my two younger siblings. For many years we tried to survive the economic limitations that were more difficult for a family as dysfunctional as ours. During my elementary school years, waking up in the middle of the night and running to my sibling’s room was almost a daily routine. I remember cuddling with Ernesto and Cesar to shield them from my parents’ loud arguing across the hall. Ernesto was seven when he started having, what I did not know then, was anxiety, which I tried to appease by rubbing his back and keeping his head close to my chest.
At some point, we went from hiding under the covers to being the only physical barrier that would stop my fathers’ arm from beating my mother. It was heartbreaking to see my mother brought to her knees, and a terrified expression on her face trying to fake a smile and saying: “I am OK,” to calm our fear.
Fortunately, the three of us found positive ways to build our emotional protective armor. My siblings found their refuge in music and sports, and my grandmother’s love sheltered me everyday.
Despite the adversities of my childhood, I also had great experiences. At sixteen I had a full-time job at a coffee shop after school. During the time I worked there, I learned some important lessons. I learned to connect with people, to listen, to observe and to be patient.
I liked memorizing the orders of regular customers to try to make their day a bit better. I knew Rogelio did not like to wait and that Julia was allergic to cinnamon. Seeing their appreciative faces when I made them feel memorable was my way of making a difference. I learned that we always get something in return for the good things we do, even if it is not monetary.
What I enjoyed most about working there was getting to know myself. My job taught me that there is always room for improvement. The coffee shop showed me that even by doing small things we can achieve great things. It also taught me how to deal with frustration and disappointment.
My skin thickened just in time and prepared me for the day my father decided to leave. Without a warning and without a goodbye, my father had decided that the family he had formed with us was not what he wanted for his life anymore. Coming home to my mother crying in front of the closet my father had emptied changed the perspective I always had. The day my father left was the day I realized that my upbringing had prepared me for that moment.
I understood that I didn’t want situations like that to define me and that I wanted to do something remarkable with my life. I focused on school, my job, and being my mother’s greatest emotional support. I put on my shoulders a responsibility that I could not carry, but had to assume for my family’s well-being. My mom and I always say that we formed a team of two without realizing it. We made an unspoken agreement to build a new foundation to support a family that was falling apart.
Sometimes I look back to those times and I cannot believe that the woman I once saw lamenting the loss of her marriage became the strong and determined mother I so admire. A woman who raised three children by herself and who used everything in her power to make them good people. After my father left, my mother not only knew how to deal wisely with the anguish of an uncertain future for her now single parent family, but also she knew how to anticipate all of our needs.
After graduating high school I intended to apply to medical school, however, I ended up enrolling in dentistry school at my local public university. It was my mother who motivated me to continue learning, growing and working on myself, but coming from a conservative culture, she suggested dentistry, not medicine, would be the career that allowed me to have time for a family.
During my studies, I began to learn how fascinating the human body is and everything that we still need to learn from it. Nonetheless, the fatigue caught up with me. I needed more hours in the day to be able to work full-time while attending a school as demanding as dentistry. Even though I was passionate about my studies, I understood that what I was doing was not sustainable.
I ventured to enroll in the Au Pair program. It was the perfect way to combine my love for children and my desire to travel. In less time than I thought possible, I had filled out the necessary paperwork and was being interviewed by families from all over the United States. The Stevensfamily opened their home to me, and they trusted me to take care of what is most precious to them: their children.
I moved to a different country by myself, to live with a family that I only knew through a screen. Moving abroad brought out the brave woman that I didn’t know I had inside me. I moved to a place where English was not, at least then, my dominant language and the traditions and customs were considerably different. The moment I stepped off the plane and heard people speaking English, I realized what a huge step I had taken. I adjusted to living with three wonderful kids, and eating frozen food for dinner. I grew to enjoy the tranquility of the suburbs and realized how much I liked eating bagels with cream cheese on the weekends.
Living in the US sparked my ambition and reignited the desire to move forward. Coming from Mexico where there are so many shortcomings made me appreciate how the US offers opportunity everywhere. I never dreamed of moving to the United States, however my time here transformed me. Being away from everything I knew helped me to see that although many of the events in my past were not up to me, there was a point where I could decide where I wanted to go. My experience here also demonstrated to me how fortunate I am, after I volunteered at Person-to-Person. I had the chance to help P2P organize clothing donations. Many people who went there were Spanish-speaking immigrants who did not know a word of English.
It was gratifying to allow them to feel heard in their own language while having someone guide them through the process of acquiring items. I could see myself in the eyes of the people I helped, because I always thought that it could be me who needed a hand. I saw the relief on their faces when they heard me speaking Spanish, because that meant that at least for a moment they would not have to feel so vulnerable being in an unknown place. What they did not know is that they also made me feel closer to home.
At the end of my au pair program, after a year and a half in the United States, I returned to Mexico with the intention of finishing dentistry school. Returning to Chihuahua after having traveled to many big cities and towns in America had altered me. One Mary Ann left but a new Mary Ann, who now lived day-to-day much more consciously, had returned. After living in a place where children read, enjoy art and play tons of sports, where people respect traffic signals and do not try to bribe the police, my vision evolved. It was heartbreaking to return and realize that although I will always love Mexico, what I am looking for is not there. Although I felt renewed, full of life, and ready to continue with my journey, neither my school, nor my family, nor any situation around me had changed. I was different but the circumstances that welcomed me home were the same.
I never expected to return to find a closed door. I ran into barriers in obtaining an education. I tried a thousand ways to secure aid from my educational institution, the government, and private funds, but nothing was available. In Mexico, not enough funds are allocated to students. Mexico does not invest in the education of its inhabitants and that is why people who believe they have potential seek support in other countries. I also ran into the barrier of the customs and traditions of a conservative country, where it is thought that there is a certain age you are too old to go back to school, and where as a woman you should be focusing on finding a husband and starting a family. I decided to fight against the social pressure of following a traditional path, and did not hesitate when the Stevens family offered to sponsor me to return to the United States as a student.
I enrolled in community college and registered for classes in the Allied Health Department. There, I have had an enriching experience which continued feeding my interest in the health sciences. An undergraduate degree will pave the way to broaden my knowledge in areas inside and outside of my major, and prepare me for my next academic steps. I wish to enter Smith College to continue my pursuit of scholarship and realize my ambition of forging a career in medicine. I am particularly interested in the summer research programs Smith offers, where I will improve upon my skills obtained assisting research in the microbiology laboratory the few years I attended dentistry school.
Smith will give me the opportunity to be part of a diverse community that values knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I wish to be part of Smith College because of its challenging academic standards and the sense of community that it promotes. It excites me that the Ada Comstock program will allow me to be fully immersed in a scholarly environment, and where I will meet students from other colleges and universities. I want to attend Smith because it will establish a solid foundation as I advance in my career.
The course I charted transformed the girl who once hid under the covers with her brothers into a better version of herself, which then led her to choose her life’s path. Growing up in Mexico and moving to the United States in my 20’s showed me that determination and resilience, along with kindness and honesty, ease the way through life’s uncertainties. The underrated life hack of a Latin American childhood has served me well, and I know that my will to move myself forward, my desire for knowledge and my community-based engagement will contribute to SmithCollege.
Yet another beautiful journey begins.
UPDATE!!!! M.A.M. informed us last week that she was accepted to both Smith College and Mt. Holyoke on a full ride! M.A.M. has decided on Smith. How great is that?
Some images courtesy of Flemming Madsen, fashion photographs by Louise Dahl-Wolfe.
Greetings! I have had several ideas for essays orbiting around my skull, but nothing has taken sufficient shape to pen. I was telling a friend about this and she advised, “Title your post: I don’t have any words!” I thought, okay, how about: “I got nothing!” and then I remembered the Gershwin song from Porgy and Bess (title above).
So that’s where we are. I created the new header image last week with the divine feminine in mind. To be sure, the DF is so much more than photos of beautiful women, but there are some worthy ancient archetypes represented. The DF is also not the exclusive property of females.
I reread the lyrics to the song and they are wonderful true and wise.
Yup! “And nuttin’s plenty for me…”
I think what I may do is let the divine feminine speak through others until I come up with…something….!
There’s an old monastery near me where I hike. The friars are long gone, but the acres are still there to enjoy. It’s a lovely tract of land and it has…wait for it…silence.
Last week we had a spectacular spring day. Off I went, and since it was a weekday no one was there. Only rabbits, turtles, geese and other sweet creatures. While I was on a remote wooded trail, two huge dogs came running towards me. Massive exquisite animals about 100lbs. or more.
Good thing I’m not afraid of dogs. I said, “Hi guys!” and their tails wagged and we were good. I think they had Great Dane, Rottweiler…maybe Doberman in them — I couldn’t identify the breed exactly. Both were dark-colored and one was brindled. They hung around with me as we enjoyed the woods, my new friends moving beautifully in tandem. After a while it occurred to me that there was no owner in sight. Unaccompanied minors!
I’m going to try and keep this short because it’s taken me several days to get this done. I saw the dogs a couple more times and I wound up my jaunt. As I was getting into my car, a Mercedes station wagon pulled up near me. A pleasant upper middle lady of a certain age got out and smiled at me (and I to her). She took two suburban-pampered-rescue-virtue-signaling-whatever Greyhounds out of the back. We exchanged inconsequential polite noises and I thought to alert her to the two dogs running around unattended. She was nice, thanked me, and then she irately said, “You know, I saw two intact males on Kimball Road!” Per usual, I had no idea what she meant; I think I was distracted because I was registering that she just had a close encounter with her inner Karen.
We wrapped it up; she went for her dog walk and I got into the car. It was then that it dawned on me what she meant. Intact males! She meant the dogs — maybe! I burst out laughing.
My family always had dogs, large ones and male. We never “fixed” them — interesting term. They had a lot of land to roam on and they were perfectly happy and healthy and lived to ripe old ages. Our last dog was a little more “humpy” than the others, so my mother suggested that we have him neutered. My father absolutely forbade it; he was pretty upset over the thought of it. I’m wondering if his primary concern was that he didn’t want my mother getting any ideas. My father had his way and the dog kept his testicles. The end.
What has happened? Where did we go? Hypoallergenic dogs, countless unspoken rules, the suburbanization of all viewpoints, make things “safe,” controlling every aspect of our lives so that no one draws outside the lines. WTF?
Good tidings to all! I thought I would change up the collage (above). I really like how the other one turned out, but the weather has been bleak, and I think we all needed some color and hints of spring. At least I did.
While I was gathering images, the poem “Spring and All…” by William Carlos Williams came to mind to accompany the theme. I haven’t read it since college, and was pleasantly surprised at the full title which I did not recollect — on the road to the contagious hospital. I did, in fact, remember that Williams was a doctor. Seems fitting for the current whatever.
I think I will put the full poem below for your pleasure. Sir Philip Sidney, the Elizabethan poet, lent the title for this post; we are in agreement about the necessity of poetry. I, perhaps, take a more hedonistic view than Sydney’s solid Protestant one. That’s what makes a horse race my father would say. I think we would both agree that when all else fails, turn to poetry…or song lyrics. They are, essentially, the same thing. Or close kin. So here goes:
Spring and All [By the road to the contagious hospital]
By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines—
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches—
They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind—
Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined— It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of entrance—Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken
Salve all! I thought I would put up a few lovely and tranquil images as a respite — at least temporarily — to the heavier tone of things. The winter has been relentless with frigid cold and snow; it’s the leg of winter that for me, at least, seems to drag on.
These are some photos of my friend’s family orange farm near the Burmese border in Thailand. Provides a pleasant anodyne, don’t you agree?
I have two essays in the works and I’m looking forward to get cracking on them.
In the meanwhile, enjoy!
“somewhere i have never travelled” poem by E.E. Cummings.
Quite a different image and tone from past months, but I felt then it was necessary to get into the spirit of things. I want to wish everyone a good 2021 — I think this year will be both a true test our mettle and one that is full of glittering possibilities. It’s up to us.
I have hardly written this year — maybe ten posts and most of them short. Fairly meager, I admit. I, like most everyone, have been working online (my day job) since March and by the end of the day I’ve had enough of the screen and battling technology. And, if the day is fine, I get out in nature. That’s my excuse. This is my apology.
The wisest thing I did in 2020 was get rid of cable entirely. Communicating with the local cable company is probably worthy of its own post, and the level of dumb makes you wonder how anyone can manage a vaccine when customer service can’t even mail you a shipping label after three endless phone calls. On the upside of the cancellation has shut out the rubbish — the never-ending sappy commercials, doom and gloom and Debbie Downer chitter chatter. Somedays it’s even possible to forget what is going on. I believe it is a healthier approach.
I do think something is afoot — aside from a new virus — that we are being played to some degree. I waiver from joining the tin foil hat brigade to believing that we are at a juncture which could really make for a better life — emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Again, we have to work together: not TikToks with nurses dancing, but to stop fighting each other and focus our sights on who is really screwing us over. Divide and rule — anyone remember that age-old stratagem?
Isn’t it great that the billionaires are getting richer? I’m so happy for them. I don’t trust them and I don’t think anyone should. Musk, Bezos and Gates et al., the idea of downloading our brains and transhumanism is an abomination in the full sense of the word. Look up the etymology! I keep wondering how long all of us have to pay for the fact that these ghouls weren’t popular in high school. Enough! Go live on Mars!
I’m probably get into trouble for writing, you know, my current opinion. When I posted “Just the Facts, Ma’am” in May the site went down at least five times after publishing. This is rather amusing considering how paltry my viewership is; it is also alarming how good the algorithms are.
I would encourage people to explore other voices and not just rely on the conventional sources for information. There’s plenty of smart people out there saying reasonable things. Alternative sites to YouTube do offer a spectrum of viewpoints which one does not have to agree with, but it is refreshing to hear and maybe learn new things. Why not? I’ll post a few suggestions below.
My two cents worth of advice: keep your agency, think for yourself, do not bend your neck to the yoke, and be kind. People are afraid. Fear isn’t helpful and it is highly contagious, so it must be fought against.
We don’t know what’s coming. It may be beautiful and at times, not pretty. Messy. Remember the Japanese proverb, “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.” Something like that.
Recommendations: Dr. Vernon Coleman, Dr. Colin Barron, Dr. Heiko Schöning, Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, The Crowhouse, The Last American Vagabond, Catherine Austin Fitts, Fr. Richard Rohr, UK Column News, and many more. It’s fun to discover the road yourself. And if you really want to go into the wild: Stranger Fiction, Nicholson 1968, Illuminati Watcher, David Icke, Memory Hold, Robert David Steele, Amazing Polly, Sacha Stone, Jeff Berwick at Dollar Vigilante, Jason Christoff, et. al.
Yesterday was four years since I started Phantom Noise in Ordinary Time. It been a great ride and I am so thankful to everyone who stops by and reads. And, I want to thank my friends who help me keep the site looking pretty. I will write more later. I must go to work, but I didn’t want to wait longer to post our milestone. Full gallop onward: braver, louder, bolder!