Art 280: Winding Down

Hi, Everyone.  I decided to add one more post while toying with keeping this blog going or closing it down; a decision for another day.  But in the time between now and then,  if anyone stops by and wonders at the meanings behind anything here: this is the me, behind the images of me… excerpted from my essays that followed our required presentations.

Who Am I?

When I first looked at the idea of self-portraits, I had to first look at “who am I?” and what things define me: the “individual,” versus me: “the mom, ‘gramma’, caregiver, sister, daughter, student…” all the roles I fill in any given day.   I have many things surrounding me that would make for informative photographs, and that would answer those questions regarding roles, but they still don’t say much about who I am, what do I see in myself, and what I want others to understand about me.  I wanted to look at my innermost self and convey that persona to my classmates.  That was when the camera came out and I started with a recent picture of myself with my dog, Baby.  While I did not take this picture this month (it was from a couple of months ago for another project defining “who am I”), I knew it was the perfect lead-in to me.Unit 1

Baby was the first animal I adopted on my own after the loss of my husband of over twenty years; she was also the first animal I adopted after the loss of my other two dogs (close together and both to serious age-related health issues).  I thought I did not want any other animals (after all, I still had a cat, three parrots, and a tank of tropical fish), but Baby filled a void I did not realize I felt until after about a year of working out in my yard listening to the neighbors behind me playing with their little dog.  That longing turned into a long car ride and a little three-month-old fuzz ball in my lap.  Now, as seen in this picture, she is not so little but is an old woman like me, and we understand each other.

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Unit 1 One of the deepest hurts in my life and the most pivotal in defining the new “me” was the loss of my husband, Wayne.  The picture of his memorial table next to his ashes urn shows each of the elements that are interconnected to the “us” that turned into the “me”.  The flag was given to me during his memorial service; the shadow box holds a photo of him looking over at our wedding kiss in a smaller frame and next to it are the new Valentines Day wedding bands we barely wore a year, nestled side by side and surrounded by some of the rose petals from the single red rose he gave to me on our first date.  Next to the shadow box sets an empty bottle of wine… one of the things I learned to do was figure out what one I loved the most based on my own changing tastes… and in the middle of the display sets a pair of wine glasses: one upright for me, and one fallen, showing that my glass can always be filled, while his forever remains empty.  The red silk rose next to the goblets represents the memory of those first rose petals and the unfading love we shared.  The letter in front is an anniversary note I wrote to him saying, “I know why the widows wear black…” which is the title of my manuscript that sets under the music box (a gift from an earlier Valentine’s Day).

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I started journaling as a way of looking at my new life and the directions ahead of me; and the resulting collection of journals (seen in one of the other photos, with my hand holding my favorite mechanical pencil) has become the seeds to this eventual book.  The photo of the journals defines me, the writer… the poet… and helped me rediscover me, the woman versus me, the wife.  In the process of writing this essay, I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted to accomplish that was not related to any of my other roles.  One of those roles was caregiver to Wayne’s father, Denny, who lived with me during his final year and a half.  After ushering yet another person to the other side of life, I used a gift he left me to pursue another ages-old dream.

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Unit 1That dream was to unleash the hidden “seeker” in me… combined with a desire to test my own courage, determination, strength, poise, and grace… a control of body and mind.  I had always been curious about the martial arts, and especially Tai Chi, so I went to the martial arts school where one of my older granddaughters had been taking Kung Fu lessons and signed up for their trial lessons to see how I liked it.  After that first thirty-minute lesson I was hooked and am still practicing it today.  The photos of the certificate and fringes show the levels I have Unit 1graduated from so far, and the two second-place medals are ones I won at my first competition between the school’s three studios.  The sash resting upon my formal uniform top sports the green fringe that shows my current level earned, while the sword on the wall is part of the level I am learning now and will (hopefully) be tested on by the end of this year.  The sword also reminds me that I am capable of more than I ever dreamed possible as long as I am willing to try… this new-found inner strength is coming from one who used to be painfully shy, especially in gym class while growing up.Unit 1

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Unit 1The photo of the recorder with the music book shows another side of me I started to explore years ago, but had to pass by for many reasons.  So, one of my birthday treats to myself was this recorder and book, combined with my younger daughter’s promise to teach me how to play right along side her youngest daughter (age nine), who has the same model recorder I do. This is one more reminder that I am never too old to try following an old dream…. although this new purchase made me realize I now have to get an adaptive one geared for folks with arthritis in the fingers.  The one in the photo will go to my other nine-year-old granddaughter and we will all learn together!  Onward!

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The final two photos show my love of gardening, edible and decorative, as seen by this cross-section of my gardening book collection and the seed file box, a gift from my kids.  The last photo shows the love doesn’t stop at the books: my gloves are dirty and the tools are old, and the garden nurtures me, body and sole.  The red wire basket was re-purposed from one of the kitchen play-sets my grandkids outgrew, Unit 1and the small tree next to the basket is one of the bonsai trees from my first husband’s estate… my daughters let me keep it when they settled his affairs.  It serves as a reminder that our friendship did not end when the marriage ended….

Without him, I would not have my two beautiful daughters.

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While the nuances of each of the details in these nine photos may be less significant to the outsiders’ eye, the message is still the same: this is a woman who has lost the love of her life, but has found ways to nurture the essence of who she is and what she holds dear.  She has challenged herself and continues to learn and grow, and that age and setbacks don’t have to slow a person down.  One final aside is my selection of elements used to set the tone:  The background colors of deep blue flowing into the colors of sunrise are from the WordPress theme templates, this one titled “Dusk to Dawn”.  I loved this one for the metaphor to my own life as I transitioned from the darkness of loss to the dawn of the new me.   As for the colorful spread of roses at the top of my blog; it is a snapshot of my own roses… one of the 60 +/- rose bushes trimming my yards; my home is on a corner lot and most of the roses are on the street-side of the fence that surrounds my secret garden along one side of my house.  The rest are in the secret garden and in the back yard.  Eventually there will be 100 assorted rose bushes as I continue the theme around to the front of my house.

I have named my home Castle Rose, because a woman’s home is her castle and because life is like a rose… beautiful and colorful… sweet smelling, but covered in thorns.  Castle Rose is my “very-first-bought-on-my-own” home; I knew it was meant to be my home the first moment I walked into its not-quite-finished raw state with about three weeks of post-construction interior work still needed.  I bought it because I needed a change following Wayne’s passing…. I needed to re-define “home” while re-defining me… and I knew then that this was the place to do both.  This was the home that marked the acceptance of my new life.