Sunday, June 24, 2012

In the strawberry patch with Luciana

Photo by Erica Kerwien

Luciana met Gerard on the Internet and he came to collect her and bring her back to his country, to be his wife.  She was the saddest person I had ever met.  When she arrived she discovered he had cancer, something he had neglected to tell her, and she spent the first year, while he was in the hospital, and afterwards, taking care of him.  He recovered but because he could not work she became the sole "breadwinner", picking blueberries in the fields under a hot sun, working in downtown restaurant kitchens or cooking and housecleaning for other people.  She cried often, was homesick, for her son, family, friends and house back in her country.  She had an opportunity, when they visited there some time ago, to simply stay and not return with the new husband she claimed to be unhappy with.  And yet she did, return, and slip back into the same routine.

I ran into her the other day, biking back from the community garden.  I had not seen her in a year.  Once a vibrant, attractive, laughing spirit, she seemed a shell of her former self.  She'd lost a lot of weight, had all her teeth replaced, looked years older. I almost didn't recognize her.  She gave me a tour of her garden at the back of their apartment, gave me a container full of fresh strawberries, told me about her new job, which she liked, because it was easy and got her away from the house.  We were to meet the following morning for coffee but when I arrived at her door at the agreed-upon time, she was not there.  Gerard, lying on a couch watching TV (who didn't bother to get up to come to the door), called out through the screen door that she'd gone somewhere - that she'd had "something to do" and couldn't join me.

This was typical - we'd make plans, she and I, only to find out it was not, apparently, convenient for Gerard.  Or maybe she just changed her mind, or forgot.  That, too, was typical.   Enthusiastic at the prospect of time to chat with new friends, when you'd show up, Luciana would be nowhere to be found.    A mutual friend, concerned about Luciana's situation ("she's become a slave") finally concluded:  "She had an opportunity to leave.  She did not take it.  She's made her choice."

But perhaps it's not so simple as that.  I know many people in life-crushing situations who want to "get out" or "get away, start over"  but because of finances (lack thereof),  pressing commitments, or just plain fear, they stick with what they know, rather than do whatever it takes to take a desired, but essentially unpredictable leap into the unknown.  That, I think, is what's happening with Luciana.   (She did say that things had changed in her country since she'd last been there.  She wasn't sure, even if it were possible, that she could now go back--certainly the life she'd known when she had left, was no longer possible.)

Torn between two worlds--the former, a place you no longer feel you belong to; and the present: a place you've been transplanted to but don't particularly feel "at home" in.  Reminds me of some of the characters in Erich Maria Remarque's novels.

And it could happen that you never leave a place (or situation), spend your whole life dreaming of an "other" life you never manage to access or create.

I thought of this today (Luciana, etc.) after reading Caio Fern's essay this morning on his blog.  He had me at "I love winter ... God!!! I love winter."  ha ha.  How many people do you find (who don't ski) who say they LOVE winter!.  He equates the feeling winter inspires in him with being able to breathe, with "being alive."  Exactly how I feel.

 I was thinking about that just yesterday, at the close of a brutal, three-day heat wave, 83 F degrees at 6 a.m., 79% humidity, no relief, the temperature climbing even higher by evening, along with an arrival of mosquitoes.  We have no air conditioning (by choice--the truly unbearable heatwaves are infrequent, and two fans help), and though I love all the things summer represents for me:  fresh veggies from the garden, fast-drying clothes on the clothesline, SWIMMING!, early morning or late evening bike rides through quiet, unpeopled streets with the wind blowing gently against you--by the end of August I am more than ready for Autumn, for that first welcoming hint of 'chill'.  I can only take so much of hot, direct, blazing sun, till I start getting dizzy, or turn into a complete vegetable, unable to think, much less move.  I only truly come alive, so to speak, in winter.  Not just physically but creatively as well.

Caio's essay is worth reading for the comments he makes on creative art-making (in this case, painting--but it could apply to writing as well).  So much of it resonated, I found myself nodding my head. 

But painting is tough and makes you tougher. What in life can scare a painter? What can the art world do with a painter that will make him/her give up? Nothing. Real painters are so used to try hard and never give up that there is absolute any evil this world can offer strong enough to make us stop. One single painter, with all its wide opened fragility and solitude is stronger than the entire world together. Don't you see it? The world with all its cruelty and long time can't stop a painter, we always carry on with our burdens and think it is glorious. 

Exactly the way I feel about writing.  Caio thanks God for

all the time you allowed me to dedicate for painting . . . for talent . . . for being able to get art supplies when I didn't have money for food . . . for the inspiration . . . for not making me a mediocre bastard that follows trends and kiss art world people's ass. Thank you for have called me."  

Oddly, I was in that position recently as well, doing some silent thanking of my own, but to the universe, for sending my way not only the hardships which turned my life around, made me wake up, so to speak, but for the gift of appreciating creativity (the 'beyond the mediocre'), finding parallels, seeing the power of metaphors, being drawn ("invited"?), from the age of seven onwards, into the world of words, that can be played, like notes on a piano keyboard, to bring out the melodies assembling in my head.  Or something like that.  A peculiar way to put it, I suppose.  (The word machine needs recharged perhaps.)

A delightful Sunday morning, Quebec's national holiday today, St. Jean-Baptiste Day, the fleur de lys flags flying everywhere.  A neighbor's voice sails through an open door singing along to some radio tune; "Guy" the red-brown dog in the back near the woods, barking at some cat; the sky a brilliant blue.  What better than a breakfast of yogurt & fresh strawberries from Luciana's garden?