Friday, January 25, 2008

Sleep

As I opened the door to check on Pierre as I do every morning, I heard the sound of a gentle snore coming from his bed. Kitties bounded for the open door. I couldn't help but feel a sense of relief knowing that he is finally getting some sleep. I think it's been at least a week since he's gotten any serious sleep. Many months of erratic rest patterns have left him frayed and too tired to function effectively.

I've had more time to think about what to do for him, and the more I think about it, the more it seems reasonable to ask him to try and go back to school. Of course, I have ideas about what he should take and why, but these ideas, like many before that I have needlessly imposed on him, are best left unsaid, and, for that matter, even unanticipated, since it is far more likely that he'll find his way without my self-interested guidance. I have hope that he'll actually get some measure of an education in the actual classroom, since so much of what he's learned so far has been on the streets, so to speak. It's been good for him, I guess, in the way that all experience, if it doesn't kill you, is good because it makes you stronger and wiser or both.

Of course, the danger remains that he'll want to party like most students do, but this danger will always be present for him, and by living in our house, he would be inclined to moderate that behavior in the interest of getting along with us, I hope. And, if some serious partying is called for, he can always go hang out at one of his friends' place till he sobers up enough to return home.

At this point, I think I can do the most good for him, Valery and Maddie by providing a safe, non-threatening environment that is free from the kind of expectations and resulting guilt I have imposed on him in the past. Sadly, it seems as if I'm doing no different or better than I was when he was an infant; essentially making it up as I go along.

I do have the benefit of hindsight, now, however, and if I'm paying attention, I think I can do better, or, at least, differently. In this case, I think that reduced expectations for employment will result in reduced anxiety and therefore give him the room he needs to grow. It's a gamble of sort; allowing him the freedom to plan his life without the artificial demands on his time that work will impose might just also give him the ability to see how he can contribute, not just to our household, but to society itself. And that would be the first real step towards his independence.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Coming Home

After spending a couple of days on his own in the outdoors with his friend Brenden, Pierre came home last night exhausted and very down. He said it is the lowest he's ever been, and I do believe him, based on nothing more than his appearance, which was beaten down to say the least. He said he was exhausted because he had been up for two days fighting off mountain lions in the woods behind Brenden's parents' lake house.

Although it sounds incredible, it seems likely that he had very much the experience that he related. The lack of sleep and anxiety he was feeling when he went out to Brenden's may well have contributed to the surreality of this tale, but I don't doubt that he encountered something threating. Though incredulous, seeing his saucer-like eyes and imminent physical breakdown, I accepted his story at face value. I told him to take a warm shower and crawl into bed, but this wasn't what he expected to do. It has been so long since he's slept well, I'm afraid--and so is he--that he doesn't expect to ever sleep well again. It is true, he is suffering from exhaustion due to the lack of sleep, but there are some physical forces from which he is not immune. Of course, the problem is deeper than than the absence of sleep.

This deeper problem is really not about drug use or abuse either, though this has been a frequent lightning rod for our common difficulties, principally because the anxiety he experiences predates his drug use by many years. The 'alone-ness' that he fears so much just closes in on him when the lights are out and he's alone in bed. This happens--and has happened since he was an infant--no matter how close I am because I'm still not 'there' in his head, and, of course, can't really be much closer than the next room. But simply knowing this is not enough to render the fear inert, so it remains his fate to struggle with it after I leave, and mine to wish I could, for even a moment, alleviate his fears and doubts.

Doubts are something else I am not able to address adequately for him, nor should I really, since all I can do is reassure him as to my own feelings of confidence, and these, alas, he does not share. He is, after all, so very much like my father in this regard; he said yesterday he'd never heard the term 'inferiority complex' before, and it occurs to me that he likely has not heard it from me, as I have never wanted to reinforce that stereotype as a description for his condition. Yet this is, after all, an adequate descriptor, and if it helps him come to terms with the anxiety and depression that are the principal symptoms of it then it is good. What isn't good, of course, is the fact that he suffers so, and I am still struggling with ways to help him cope.

This is especially hard for the two of us as I am the source of so much of his anxiety and perhaps the self doubt as well. Certainly I realize now that it is too much to ask him to go find work right now, at his age and in his condition. Most people his age and of his background are in college right now, and it seems to me that this would be the best place for him after all.

He was unsuccessful in his first two semesters, but there are plenty of students, including me, who have struggled in this very way before finding their feet, so to speak, and it is time to give Pierre another chance to pursue this path. After all, it is more than a day care; going to college will expose him to the ideas and history he needs to fashion his own philosophy and help him establish the underpinnings of knowledge that will lead, hopefully, to a sense of self-worth. At the very least, he'll be more qualified to get meaningful work as he progresses, and when he finishes he may well have decided what to do next.

His confusion is certainly understandable at this point, and I clearly haven't given him enough moral support to overcome it by demanding that he go to work. It's time for me to rescind that demand, and in it's place I will put a request that he try again to go to school. Certainly, if he will promise not to hurt himself and do his best to get along with us at home while going to school, he can and should live at home. Effectively, classes don't begin again till the fall, so he can use the intervening months to rest, heal and try to regain sufficient composure to make the best of it when it comes around.

For my part, I will withdraw from the constant oversight, and allow him the privacy of his physical and mental spaces. I also resolve to be more understanding, or, barring that since I cannot 'really' understand the tribulations of his mind and see only the outward manifestations of those often menacing thoughts, I will allow him to talk about those demons without predisposition, interruption or self-relation, since these terms are either unnecessary or irrelevant. Like Maddie's dreamtime, the feelings that he experiences are not only real, but personally significant, and deserve to be treated with respect. His pain is real, and ironically, my inability to help him resolve it is only exacerbated by my love for him and desire to help. a, then, that those efforts have only made things worse of late, but it isn't irreversible.

Better, really, that he seek help from Valery, whose demeanor has remained calm of late when my has boiled; whose love has remained constant and whose support has been unwavering through these many years. It seems cliche, but I think that the kind of healing he requires now is that of a mother. He needs to be fed and clothed and taken care of now, more than ever, when he is so very vulnerable and Valery is just the person to do that. She understands how to be caring without being overbearing; how to be kind with being soft; how to be sensible without being demanding. It is a delicate balance, one that I can only admire and hope to keep from upsetting by simply staying out of the way!

Change is Coming



This past week I put in motion my plan to move to part-time at Hudson's, doing just the wine on the weekends so I can work full time at the the University and maximize my benefits here in the years before I retire. I told Sara first, since the reality of the change will affect her first and foremost. Her reaction was calm, but I do think the news was upsetting.

I'm sure that it can't help but have been upsetting to her, especially because after I've just gotten settled in as the manager at Hudson's with two years under my belt, here I am leaving. For a minute or two there, and admittedly in many moments since, it sure didn't seem right to do this to her, but honestly I've thought it through so many times that I know I'm doing the right thing. Sara, after all, now has Jeff, and the two of them are so well suited to each other and running the restaurant that I am not needed, certainly not in the sense I was when I took the job. 6needed; it means that the definition of the job has changed and so have I, and now it's time for a re-alignment of my work and my life. I want to stay at Hudson's and this is what I told Sara, then Jeff, that I have to think about my life in long terms, and part of that means preparing my retirement benefits after so long at UT. It seems selfish but it's really self-serving, which in this case is more than a semantic difference.

Over time, I have served many people in many capacities, not the least of which is in the preparation and delivery of food, which seems to be my special place in this world. But I have also served people in a much different way at the University, and I also have a passion for information technology. It's been an interesting balancing act, but I have always managed to keep them both in my life, or at least for the past fifteen years or so. But now I may be coming to a parting of the two. I've made my case to Jeff; I think I've served him and his business well; I feel that I really do add value to his restaurant as the wine steward, and I don't think he needs another assistant manger to do the kinds of tasks I've been doing for the past two years. The only question is, whether or not he'll find my services valuable enough to retain despite my part-time status. He said that he may need to offer the incentive of the wine income to attract an assistant manager to do the job, and if this the case, he'll have to let me go.

"Let's put a hook in the water," he said, which I took to mean that he'll see if he can find someone who'll fill in the gaps I'd leave if I was allowed to do the wine only on Friday and Saturdays nights. The unsaid but understood subtext to this comment is that if someone of sufficient quality nibbles at the hook, but requires the wine as bait to bite, then the income will be offered, and I'll be out of a job if it looks good enough to reel someone in (just to make this sophomoric fishing metaphor complete).

We agreed that he would think about it during his two-week vacation to Aspen, though I hope he doesn't spend a lot of time thinking or talking about me. Not that I wouldn't like to be thought of, especially kindly, my situation isn't something he need dwell on, nor is he likely to, I imagine, since it is a relatively simply matter to find a replacement for me. After all, as he pointed out, this being the number one restaurant means that he is able to choose from among the best in the business. Doubtless there are actual sommeliers out there who would love the prestige that Hudson's would bring to their resume, though it remains to be seen if they could be enticed not only to work out at the lake, but in the often peculiar Hudson's environment.

In other words, they'd have to get past Sara, and that's not easy. Now, if she could be convinced that a particular individual could/would be right for the job, then she would do just what I expect and serve the best interests of the restaurant by letting me go. I don't think this is likely, but it is possible. In any case, I expect that the best outcome will be what happens. No sense trying to predict, just let it come to me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Back to Work

Well, I am clean-shaven and my clothes are laid out like it was the first day I ever went to work. Just a week off and really only 'half off' like some post-xmas sale, and yet I am eager to get back to work full time. It is difficult to explain to people like Pierre, who cannot fathom why I'd waste my time on the endless cycle of getting up and going to work, but this makes me feel better than any drug I've ever known. I've craved the experience of working since, well, before I ever knew what it was/is. It's sort of like sex that way. I knew I wanted it, just not why or how at first. I'm still not too sure on the why part, but I got the how figured out a long time ago.

In the interaction between the philosophical the practical, it seems to me that the latter is obviously preventing Pierre from getting a job right now, but I suspect there is more difficulties with the former, since motivation seems to be distinctly lacking. I am partially to blame for this, for not putting more pressure on him to get up and seek work every day. Today, for example, he has just gotten up at 10:50 and is in the shower. I leave for work at 11:20, so it is likely that he'll not be particularly diligent in his search because he knows I won't be back till late.

Parental pressure notwithstanding, it is difficult for me to impart the sense of need that accompanies my desire to work. I have hope that it will, in time, emerge as he seeks independence and decides to do what it takes to achieve that goal, no matter how antithetical it may be to the underlying principle he holds. Further, it is relevant that he would have a different position than mine, for this is growth itself, and I am here to support the development however I can. We will have to have moments of compromise and consideration, but I think eventually he'll find a path that is self-sustaining and, hopefully, fulfilling in some way as well.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Vacation



As I reach the end of my first 'vacation' in more than two years, it occurs to me that I really haven't taken enough time 'for me' in the that span, and the term 'long overdue' is simply an understatement. In fact, I am starting to think that I've spent way too much time at work my whole life, and that my sense of obligation to my family is now being challenged by my desire to take care of myself, mentally as well as physically.

Though it still seems like an outrageous idea, I am beginning to think more and more about 'retirement' or at least quitting one of my jobs so that I can have some free time in addition to earning that all important living. Now that Valery is working, it is less urgent for me to maintain my income level, and this may allow me to make some changes. Interestingly, I haven't really done anything significant during this time off from the restaurant, mostly because it hasn't been a 'complete' vacation, that is, I haven't had off from UT during this time so there really hasn't been time to work on anything significant.

Nonetheless, it has been good not to have to work doubles three days a week, and this alone has made it worthwhile. I have managed to get a few things done, small chores though they were, it is significant that I was able to anything at all. Quite a change from the past year!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Coming Back

It is hard to read yesterday's entry without wondering how I get away with feeling sorry for myself like that. It was indeed a dark day but I am disturbed by the ease with which it seems I gave in to those oppressive forces.

Today certainly a different day, and though perhaps no better, it is really an indication that the claims of yesterday were into the realm of hyperbole. I will try to reserve those passages for my private journal and save the reader from the burden of material made heavy for it's own sake.

Not that this will become an absolute beacon of light and happiness, for I am only in a slightly better mood today, which means that the words will only creep up to that point and retreat before it gets out of hand. I began this move toward the light just after writing yesterday, when Valery and I went to see a matinee showing of No Country for Old Men.

This is not the place for a film review, but I must say that it affected me deeply. For one thing, it is a movie about Texas, which came as a pleasant surprise because although it was a violent story it was not the usual lampoon of the Texas culture, but rather an introspective visit to the landscape and language that I recall as a child. The way people talk in the film has such variance and similitude all at the same time, it is easy to see why the Texas culture has formed the kernel of a national fascination while at the same time leaving itself open to ridicule. We do look and sound pretty folksy while being brutish and cruel, but this is no accident. The need to wrap the unceasingly violent nature of frontier culture in clever aphorisms delivered in a rhythmic clipped cadence is necessary to make sense of it. Intellectual posturing has no place in that country, and should you grow nostalgic as you grow older, it will kill you.

The film made me aware in my moment of darkness, however, and in this small movement I found myself on the other side of the looking glass. Looking for reason and hope in death is a futile task, and I will not pursue it any longer. There is too much to be gained by looking forward and too much to be lost by looking back. In those moments when it seems that I cannot escape the heavy blanket of despair, I will recall what a waste of time to linger under it's weight and resolve to cast it off as the vain self-pity that it is.

I had a chance to talk with Valery last night for the first time in a long time and this too is what helped me find my center. With her clear common sense and unwavering support for me even when I'm in the throes of self-flagellation, she is the inspiration I need to find my new purpose in the coming days and months. She invariably holds up the mirror for me in such facility that I am amazed I didn't see it before, but then, such is the nature of her skill that I should expect it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Curator

Well, re-reading Lynda's statement after I posted it below, it occurred to me that I am now the owner of all that she discarded, the result of the life-long process of creation that she cultivated. It is essentially a waste product, what is left after the creative energy of a living person has been charged with the act of rearranging the world on some miniscule level, and I am now the curator of the same.

The word 'curator' sounds so much better than 'collector', but after acknowledging that there is some responsibility for preservation associated with curating art as opposed to simply storing objects, I conclude that the two roles are in essence the same. Would that I had inherited some of that energy, but it seems clear that I not a creator but a 'keeper of things', or a curator. It is becoming clear to me that in this world, my role is not to add to the inventiveness of the human condition, but to preserve it, in the hopes that some other creative soul will see and resonate with it. The two roles of curator and creator are inextricably linked, in much the same way dung beetles are linked to excrement.

But so far all I've managed to do is get the things together and store them crudely. This is hardly the effort required to preserve them and much more deserving of the term collector. It remains to be seen whether or not I will have even the energy required to store these object properly, let alone catalogue and record them, but for now I will stay with my long-stated intent to preserve Lynda's works so that her life-long efforts will not have been in vain. Seeing her struggle for so many years with identity and recognition issues, I had hoped to be a part of the solution, but now that she is dead, I am not so sure that I can live up to the promise made. How and where I will find the time and energy to complete the task is beyond me.

It is a dark day today, but it is not the only day.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Lynda's Statement

While as a painter I feel I have in my possession the means of moving others in the direction in which I myself am driven, I doubt whether I can give the same sure lead by the use of words alone.

Paul Klee
From On Modern Art

This quote from Paul Klee illustrates quite clearly my feelings about my ability to communicate my feelings on the subject of art using only the written word. To put it more plainly, I think painters ought to paint and not talk. This does not mean that I have not given much time and thought as well as many hours of reading to the subject of art. This craving for a small piece of insight that will fit into the human mosaic has been with me the whole of my intellectual life. And yet, I ask myself while reading about chaos, heresy or the history of myth: What has this to do with painting and drawing? Well it has everything to do with the chase for the nuances in my art.

Klee says it more eloquently when he observes that, "The deeper [the painter] looks [into the world], the more readily he can extend his views from the present to the past, and the more deeply he is impressed by the one essential image of creation itself, as genesis, rather than by the image of nature, the finished product."

How does an artist trace the roots of creativity? From whence comes the impulse to take up the brush, pen or chisel? I speak for myself alone. I feel as if I have never spoken of this or even allowed myself to reflect on it. But I have. This need and the longing to take up brush and pen was such a strong impulse, almost beyond my control, that I must acknowledge that I have been talking about these feelings for more than twenty years on canvas and paper.

Often I am asked, as I am sure most artists are: What does it mean? Do you just splash a bit of color about at random? What were you thinking about at the time of creation? Well, I answer this differently at different times, but essentially I answer the question with a question (or two or three): What does it say to you? What do you see? Can you enter into a dialog with the painting? With the person who can answer these question, I can discuss the feelings we might share. To the person who feels that the work violates the natural order of things and is offended by it, I say: Examine your reaction. If my work suggests to you more than you need or if it touches a delicate nerve, then look closer. You may see yourself all too clearly in the drawing from which you seek to escape.

I believe that my task as an artist is not to hold up a mirror that will be a slavish imitation of nature's forms and gestures. I believe that my art will reveal new forms born of the ancient tension between order and chaos. Listen if you can. Read my language in my art.Though all the years, deep inside, I have known that this is who I am and that this is what I want to do with my life. It is my first thought in the morning and my last at night. I dream ideas to fill the paper. As I look at the world with all its color, the nuances of a shadow on a tree, the clouds, the faces of children, all these images are stored in my memory bank to be recalled when needed.

I cannot here express the sheer pleasure of color that flows on paper or the shapes that fill the space. What happens to the piece after I am finished is of less significance to me than was the act of making it. This piece may be sold, stored, painted over or even destroyed. Nothing slows the pace. I go on to a new canvas and the process begins again.

Lynda Dubov
February 1999

Ups and Downs

Of course I never expected that my thoughts and feelings about Lynda's death would go away, but I had some anticipation of a steadily diminishing sense of both the relief and grief that I have been feeling, but I find this is not the case. Instead, it comes and goes, sometimes in the most overwhelming way.

Yesterday I found myself almost paralyzed by the thoughts of Mom and the last few months of her life. Of course it doesn't help that I continue to follow the same paths to work that take me by her old house, but following an old (convenient) routine can't be the cause of the sickeningly rapid descents into depression I have felt in the last couple of days. These emotional spikes are no more than that--fleeting feelings--and while they do not (and cannot) deserve to be ignored, it certainly does me no advantage to experience them. I am not used to feelings of futility or despair. These are not only unfamiliar, they are antithetical to me. I have no use for despair! There is too much to be done!

Indeed. 'Get up, make your bed and go to work' That way Lynda's mantra, if you will, and it has long also been mine. My goal for the next two months will be to compile the materials for the book about Lynda that I want to publish. This will be part of the preparations for the memorial we plan to hold for her friends and family in April or May so that will mean writing more and more often, and certainly about less morose and depressing subject than my feelings. The point of this journal is to purge the feelings and thoughts, of course, but more importantly it helps me to keep focused on the life ahead, not that left behind.