It's my birthday so I am allowed to post a 14-year-old photo of myself and Darby at my 30th birthday party if I want to. What strikes me about this Hollywood girl who thought 30 felt just right, comfortable in an adult way, who could still pull off a cool look with a $5 dress and and a faux gemstone ring, is how little she knew about herself.
Back then, I aspired to an ocean view, a produced script, awards (ok, I'll say it, an Oscar), and a contemporary house to throw more birthday parties for all my LA friends. Later that night, I broke my nose on the dance floor. It was the beginning of health issues that would undo me for years, and still do. The unraveling of many of my dreams was brutal. But at least I still had my vision of a beachy cosmopolitan life I would have someday. How, I didn't know. But I knew what I didn't like: mountains, pine trees, winter, Victorian anything, old tyme kitsch -- oil lamps, wood burning stoves, country design, chipped paint, farm animals.
If you read this blog you know I am a country girl now. Many things conspired to get me to this place. I liken my journey to The Mists of Avalon, when I was ready, the mists cleared and events happened quickly to propell me past my narrow ambitions that don't seem that interesting to me any more. Now, when I collect pine cones for my wood burning stove, or watch the horse roam the vineyard across the street, or spot a mountain lion near my neighbor's chicken coop, or read craigslist ads for dwarf goats, I sometimes flash,"Who are you?!" And realize, I have no idea. And that is thrilling.
I recently posted that my new favorite book is The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. One of my readers sent me a note asking me why? Well, I loved it because Cather includes details of her 19th century life that I want to know: the prickliness of just-washed red flannel long underwear, bringing a wrapped hot brick to bed, soot blowing in train windows on a hot transcontinental trip. But, she also beautifully handles big ideas. The two that stuck with me from this book have to do with art and pop culture and I think about them as I compare my life in Los Angeles to my life in Grass Valley.
The first idea is living in the "fourth dimension." Here is the passage where Dr. Archie, from a small Colorado town, discusses with worldly Fred Ottenberg the difference between his town and New York City in the 1880's:
"To go back," said Dr. Archie; "I insist that people do look happier here. I've noticed it even on the street, and especially in the hotels."
Fred turned to him cheerfully. "New York people live a good deal in the fourth dimension, Dr. Archie. It's that you notice in their faces."
The doctor was interested. "The fourth dimension," he repeated slowly; "and is that slang, too?"
"No,"--Fred shook his head,--"that's merely a figure. I mean that life is not quite so personal here as it is in your part of the world. People are more taken up by hobbies, interests that are less subject to reverses than their personal affairs. If you're interested in Thea's voice, for instance, or in voices in general, that interest is just the same, even if your mining stocks go down."
The doctor looked at him narrowly. "You think that's about the principal difference between country people and city people, don't you?"
Fred was a little disconcerted at being followed up so resolutely, and he attempted to dismiss it with a pleasantry. "I've never thought much about it, doctor. But I should say, on the spur of the moment, that that is one of the principal differences between people anywhere. It's the consolation of fellows like me who don't accomplish much. The fourth dimension is not good for business, but we think we have a better time."
Here's the thing, I didn't think there was anything except the fourth dimension in modern America. I didn't think we had a choice. But being connected to neighbors and seasons and animals is another dimension. And it's a trip.
The other idea that has stayed with me is Cather's take on art and nature. I've been struggling with both as I've delved back into creating. I look at a snail's spiral or the graphic pattern of Mulberry leaves and I feel defeated by nature's perfection. When I hear city-folk talk about the chaos of nature, I know they are wrong. Nature is elegant and exact. And Cather knows that too when she writes, "What was any art but a mold to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself-- life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose."
And that brings me back to my birthday photo of Darby and me, and all the dogs you as artists try to capture, to "imprison for a moment." I love that you try. I love that now I have the time and space to try too. Most of all, I love that Darby is here 14 years after that picture was taken, still "too strong to stop, too sweet to lose."