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LJI Week 13: Looking for Quartz in Gravel

This is my entry for this week of LJ Idol Friends & Rivals (therealljidol). We got to choose from amongst a number of topics this week. I chose "Life is Art."

View from the passenger seat on I-76. #clouds #pennsylvania
A photo by me of dramatic white clouds in a blue sky above blurred
yellow-green fields, with a truck in the rear-view mirror

A cool gel pack on my aching forehead, cough drops on my tray table, I watch my boy smashing Play-Doh with a small plastic steam roller. Even on a day like this, I try to praise the small things. A daffodil, poking its yellow head through our neighbor's chain-link fence, its bloom the only hint of color in their bare wood-chipped lawn. My son pointed out to me some tiny violet blooms, so minuscule the camera could barely focus on them.

Focus on the bits of color, the gems in the dirt.

When your brain can barely function, when everything hurts, when your mind keeps circling the same dark thoughts, look for that burst of yellow. Or violet. Or a glint in the driveway, the way we used to look at gravel sideways, looking for quartz. A flash of light in the gray.

My Mom, the artist, could paint those glints. In watercolor and pastel, she studied the world, then drew what she saw. She loved when I gave her prints of my best photos, especially close-ups of flowers, or natural scenes. She drew them, flaws and all. A white speck on a rose leaf, a browned stem. Everything just as it is.

The way things are, for me and my family, we currently find it hard to spot those moments. How do you look for beauty when your mother dies suddenly, before a major family holiday? How do you notice the sparks of color when everything feels flat gray?

For several days, I've had headaches: partly from the cold I'm living through, and partly from trepidation. In a little more than a week, I will be working my way slowly through my Mom's house, wearing a mask as I search for the precious items she stowed away in dresser drawers and closets, away from the 15 cats who had free reign in her house. My sister has already told me about the glass lamp, now cracked and broken, I once would have wanted. I have already emotionally written off the 1871 upright grand piano I had always planned to claim, because a piano tuner told us years ago its condition was beyond repair without serious refurbishing.

Now that her partner has moved away, that weekend will offer me my first chance to explore the rooms alone. While I gird myself for tragedies of filth and disrepair, I hold out hope for treasures, stowed away in cat-safe nooks. Perhaps more writings, like the yellow notebook we already found, half-filled with poems from 20 years ago. Perhaps hundreds more pastels, watercolors and sketches. I stock up on archival bags and boxes in hope.

This week, my mother reappeared in a dream, after weeks of absence. We were holding a party for her, in a sun-soaked park with a brand-new wooden pavilion. At the center hung a celebratory banner: white ribbons and a purple heart. Mom, without the arthritic pain that crippled her final years, sat at a pic-nic table, the way we saw her do so often, with a pad and pastels laid out around her, taking everything in with her bright blue eyes.

Mom, even amidst the heartache, I will look for those glints, the colors. I will paint what I see.

A watercolor by my Mom, with a sunset in gold, pink, purple and aqua over a golden-brown farm field


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( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 12th, 2016 01:13 am (UTC)
This takes me back to aching hours spent with my mom at her mom and grandmother's homes. With her grandmother, the death wasn't even wholly unexpected, but we kept stopping among her things to cry. I was probably close to KFP's age at that time, too. It's a bittersweet memory now. I'm sure you will find diamonds in the cat-jungle.
Mar. 12th, 2016 01:20 am (UTC)
Thank you. My sister and I did the same thing at my Nana's house with my Mom. I remember her finding a pile of cards Mom had given her, secured with a ribbon, and bursting into tears. If we can preserve her artwork, that will be enough.
Mar. 12th, 2016 06:15 am (UTC)
This is a wonderful glimpse into a hard time for you, thank you for sharing it - and also thank you for sharing your mom's artwork, it's a lovely conclusion to the entry.
Mar. 13th, 2016 12:27 am (UTC)
Thank you. I really like that one. It reminds me of "The Grapes of Wrath."
Mar. 12th, 2016 06:56 am (UTC)
Your mom's watercolor is lovely. I hope you find those glints that you are looking for.
Mar. 13th, 2016 12:43 am (UTC)
I do, too. I will be taking my camera with me, as well.
Mar. 12th, 2016 07:52 am (UTC)
I can sure understand why even the anticipation of this is so hard. You're already grieving, and then you'll have emotions and memories to contend with.

But there is also the chance for something wonderful. Your love for your mother comes through here, but so does her love for her children, and it seems everything you find is simply more "her" even than you knew.
Mar. 13th, 2016 12:44 am (UTC)
She did love us so much, and she passed along to us wonderful gifts of how to see the world. She wanted us to be accepted and supported and to see the beautify around us.

I am dreading next weekend but also, oddly, looking forward to it.
Mar. 12th, 2016 03:37 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful painting! In art there is always one thing that strikes the individual in a unique way. For me it's the telephone poles--they have such character! I love that in your mom's painting every thing has a voice. Beautiful.

I hope that you find wonderful treasures to cherish as you go through your mother's things. This is one of the hardest things we have to do for our loved ones. I will be thinking of you, and sending you good thoughts.
Mar. 13th, 2016 12:48 am (UTC)
I love those telephone poles, too, and the fact that she left out the wires. She worked more with pastels than with watercolors, but I think her watercolors allowed her to be more abstract. The sweeps of colors are so zen.

Thanks for the support and the good thoughts.
Mar. 12th, 2016 06:23 pm (UTC)
I am so sorry to hear about your mother. It will be hard for you to go through her things, but I hope it ultimately helps with your grieving. On a much lesser note, I never thought of the damage having a lot of cats could do.
Mar. 13th, 2016 12:57 am (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words. I believe it will help us all with the grieving to have the material items sorted.

Having a lot of cats isn't so much the issue as not being able to keep up with the litter boxes. :( Plus, they would climb and scratch. Many of the antique furniture pieces have some sort of surface damage as a result. Fortunately, we have an auctioneer/antique dealer working with us who believes many of those pieces still have value.

My siblings and us got most of our personal items out of the house years ago, but there will be many things that we will remember from happier days that will be hard to see in their current state. I already found one of my mom's porcelain dolls with its head completely smashed. Looked like a crime scene at first. *shudder*
Mar. 13th, 2016 10:51 am (UTC)
I hope that you'll continue to write about your journey with grief for your mom, and dealing with her house. I know it's overwhelming.

You're in my thoughts.
Mar. 13th, 2016 04:19 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the kind words. There is every likelihood I will continue writing these sorts of pieces, because I am finding it very therapeutic.
Mar. 13th, 2016 04:46 pm (UTC)
That is quite the photo you've got there! I love the perspective of it! Hugs again on the loss of your Mom. She was talented, as evidenced by her watercolor. Peace and hug~~~D
Mar. 15th, 2016 12:24 am (UTC)
Thanks! The photo was something of a happy accident. We were returning from our Christmas visit to my hometown, which had been filled with grief and mixed feelings. And this golden sun fell over the highway, everything suddenly -- and briefly -- beautiful.

You can see why I hope to find more of my Mom's work. I'm especially keen to find the portraits she did of us as children, which I always loved.
Mar. 13th, 2016 06:14 pm (UTC)
I love how you begin with your photo and end with your mother's painting. I am so sorry you're having to cope with all this. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person, showing you all the beauty in the little things. I love that. Beautiful piece, I'm glad you shared this here. :)
Mar. 15th, 2016 12:25 am (UTC)
Thank you. I could have changed an example of one of my photos being turned into one of her art pieces, but I liked the parallelism of this better: showing our different views of similar material. Glad you liked it!
Mar. 13th, 2016 09:15 pm (UTC)
There's so much here with love and loss and dirt and diamonds and joy peeking out of sorrow. This put words to some things I'm struggling with, too.

Mar. 15th, 2016 12:28 am (UTC)
I can see that internal struggle in some of the things you've written of late. In a way, though, it's what life tends to be about. Maybe I'm just more sensitive to it now, but it seems that a lot of people I know are going through similar experiences.
Mar. 14th, 2016 06:48 pm (UTC)
Awww........ So heart-felt and honest. I get this. Hugs.....AW
Mar. 15th, 2016 12:34 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad to hear that. *hugs back*
Mar. 14th, 2016 07:29 pm (UTC)
This was beautiful. I'm sorry to hear about your mom. My mom was also an artist and had been an art teacher. I have a few of her oil paintings - still life's and a landscape - and I treasure them.
Mar. 15th, 2016 12:35 am (UTC)
It's great that you have those paintings by your mom. My sister has brought up to idea of trying to sell some of them, but I won't agree to that until I have a really good idea of what we have.
Mar. 14th, 2016 09:55 pm (UTC)
See what kind of person I am? My first thought here is "what happened to the cats?" This is why I can't have friends without fur.

After my beloved grandfather died, we all went through his stuff together. It was a bittersweet experience. I am sorry you have to do this alone - that sounds like an emotionally difficult thing. Love to you.

This is probably my favorite song by Radiohead. Something about the atmosphere of it and of your piece feel similar to me.

Mar. 15th, 2016 12:40 am (UTC)
Don't worry about the cats; they were our first priority. Thanks to the tireless efforts of my sister and several women from pet welfare organizations in Pennsylvania and New York, all 36 cats -- about half of which were living inside and half of which were feral but being fed daily -- have been place in homes, farms, and cat refuges (there are such things). We've also spent a portion of the money that Mom left behind in order to have them spayed and neutered, screened for FIV, given flea and tick preventative medicine, and other healthcare to start their new lives off right. It's a small price to pay to honor our mother's memory.

I didn't know this Radiohead song, but I agree that the feel of it matches what was in my head when I wrote this.

It's a lot to ask, but if you could recommend any songs to listen to while I'm alone in the house next weekend -- my sister won't get there until a couple days later -- I'd greatly appreciate it. Mom always played music when she did housework, and I know it will help me to have something to listen to.
(no subject) - prog_schlock - Mar. 15th, 2016 03:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 15th, 2016 12:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - prog_schlock - Mar. 17th, 2016 09:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 17th, 2016 10:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - prog_schlock - Mar. 18th, 2016 12:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 19th, 2016 01:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - prog_schlock - Mar. 19th, 2016 09:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - prog_schlock - Mar. 21st, 2016 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - alycewilson - Mar. 21st, 2016 10:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 14th, 2016 10:57 pm (UTC)
I admire the quiet bravery of this piece. Beautiful to see your use of color in the writing, and even more beautiful how you and the colors are woven into your mother's legacy. Thanks for another courageously vulnerable work.
Mar. 15th, 2016 12:42 am (UTC)
Thank you, teammate. I thought, rereading it a couple days later, that I should have provided even more detail, so I'm glad to hear that the colors stood out to you. Mom always used to tell me to really look at the colors of things, because they are not what we expect. A tree is never just brown: it is gray and charcoal, and tan and dusty rose, for example.
(no subject) - encrefloue - Mar. 16th, 2016 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 14th, 2016 11:19 pm (UTC)
*hugs* That painting!!! And your photo echoes your similar artistic pov of the world.

Brilliant and sad.
Mar. 15th, 2016 12:44 am (UTC)
That someone with such an appreciation for art likes my Mom's painting makes me feel really happy. She had a natural, almost zen feeling for just what to do to make a work speak for the moment she witnessed.
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