I never thought of
The ocean as tapestry
A blanket of moving surf
Until you mentioned
My blue-green fibers
Pattern and strong weave
But I’d always known waves
Were the key, a curve
To ride upon. That somehow
I’d be a sailor. And you,
All of you, would be
My seafaring companions
© Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2021
I am always delighted by conversational surprises, when a superficial conversation prompt takes an unexpected turn into deeper territory. This morning, I had the pleasure of talking about gender with some older women in the locker room, following an otherwise neutral query about Thanksgiving. I’m sure it helped prime the conversational pump that one of the women knew of my professional background. “You’ll appreciate this,” she began, “One of the kids coming is a girl who has decided she is a boy.”
Interestingly, a version of this transgender conversation has been coming up quite a bit in my world lately. Maybe it’s that I seem like someone who is open to hearing about it. True. But I suspect it’s also because gender exploration is more acceptable for the current generation of young people and the older people in their lives are having to figure out how they want to respond. Cool!
After noticing my locker room friend’s obvious struggle to know what pronouns to use for this newly transitioning young person, I said, “I have some transgender people in my life and I know from experience that he will really appreciate your efforts to get the pronouns right. He’ll feel really cared about by your willingness to use he/him when you refer to him. If you say the wrong pronoun, it’s no big deal. Just correct yourself without a fuss and move on.” This seemed to ease the anxiety of this former nurse, her need to be a caretaker answered. Could I have corrected her on the “girl who has decided she is a boy” thing? Yes. But I generally find support to be more effective than correction. Maybe we’ll talk more at some point.
“I just don’t understand how this is different from being a tomboy. That’s what we called this in my day,” the conversation continued. “Yeah, it’s interesting,” I said, briefly noting my still wet bathing suit and the towel covering my body. “I was a tomboy…probably I still am in a lot of ways. Although I don’t especially have a need to define my gender one way or another at this point in my life, I’ve wondered how my gender identity and decisions about gender expression might have been different if I was growing up now.”
I’m well aware that this is sometimes the place in conversation when I get the sense I’ve gone too deep for other people’s comfort. That isn’t so unusual for me – ha! – but I’ve learned to tolerate awkward silences and to tread back to the superficial, as needed. This time I didn’t need to.
“That’s so interesting,” the other woman chimed in, “We were just talking about this after a lot of wine around the fire pit…and I think it was freeing for these 60 something year old guys to see they weren’t alone in having a feminine side. And how it was permissible for a girl to be a tomboy, but not whatever the opposite would be for a guy…how that’s changing now.”
“Yeah, totally,” I said. “I think this younger generation is really showing the way…because binary thinking is kind of limiting, right? I mean, most of us fall on a spectrum in lots of dimensions of our lives don’t we?” (Yes, I really talk this way…for better or worse – LOL!)
Now, I understand not everyone agrees. I’ve had a version of this dialogue go other, less satisfying ways. There are also a lot of nuances I didn’t pursue with my locker room friends. But I love that these conversations are happening – in locker rooms, around fire pits, and dinner tables – if imperfectly. Because they are the way of progress.
To all who are pushing the envelope of self-expression, being true to yourself however that shows up, I see you and am rooting for you!
This painting – like many of us on a personal and collective level – has been in a state of transformation over the last several years. It began with a limited palette of latex house paint, which laid down a lot of the initial texture and made for an interesting surface on which to work. Over several sessions and years, I added acrylic paint, more color, and changed the composition fairly dramatically. This painting seemed “finished” several times, was re-seen in potential, and ultimately became a springboard for something new. As a metaphor, this feels right.
I like the relatively abstract quality of the current version of this painting, the sense that it may still be in the process of revealing itself (becoming), much like a partially developed photograph. I’m noticing the burst of light near the top of the canvas, more striking in the actual painting which shows more extremes of light and dark than this photograph of the painting does. May this bring you a sense of hope, as it does me.
Light and love to all 💛
Will transformation. Oh be inspired for the flame
in which a Thing disappears and bursts into something
the spirit of re-creation which masters this earthly form
loves most the pivoting point where you are no longer
yourself.Rainer Maria Rilke (Sonnets To Orpheus)
John Lennon reminded us that life happens when we’re busy making other plans. Today, I was similarly reminded that life continues, even when we’re busy grieving the loss of it; that love is both the foundation of grief and the way through it.
Lisa and I agreed to meet at a beach halfway between where we each live. I’d walked the same stretch of beach countless times and thought I knew roughly what to expect, anticipation stacked loosely by experience. I was right to predict the easy rhythm of conversation with an old friend, the gentle acknowledgement of Lisa’s past and pending losses, my own healing grief. But I could not have imagined the surprise to come, or the feelings evoked.
After walking, talking, and letting the low-tide expanse fill our hollow places, we were greeted by a yellow lab and two women sitting on a bench near the parking lot. The dog calmly approached and honored me with several mature dog kisses, deliberate and measured. She then turned to Lisa, offering her a similar greeting. “What a sweetie,” I called to the women on the bench. “I recently lost my dog.” They smiled, understanding.
We briefly chatted about some related details – how old my dog was when she died, how old their dog is now, where we all live – before one of the women added that this was originally her son’s dog. She pointed to the memory plaque behind her on the bench, “This bench is in memory of my son.” We could see he died from melanoma when he was only 37 years old. “Wear sunscreen,” she added.
Turning back to the dog, the woman smiled and said, “This is Chapin.” Lisa and I looked at each other, mouths open, before I explained, “That was my dog’s name too! She was also a yellow lab.” What are the chances?
Now, I believe in coincidence. I don’t think EVERYthing is a sign or filled with special meaning. As Freud famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” But some things feel like signs. Or at least feel bigger than what is immediately apparent, which is sometimes pretty big already. This was one of those times. Not only because I felt my Chapin’s love in the other Chapin’s kisses, even before I knew they shared a name. But because the random meeting of mostly unrelated humans revealed an otherwise hidden connection – shared loss and deep love. And what’s bigger? Except to recognize and share in the vulnerability of being present to it.
Lisa had earlier said she was due to get home where her mother, awaiting another cancer treatment, was taking care of Lisa’s nearly blind dog. Still, we lingered in the parking lot, first with our new friends, then with each other. I’d brought Lisa a painting to borrow, a painting I hoped would offer soothing energy for her and her family during a challenging time. We looked at it together for a bit, then hugged goodbye.
It was only after we parted that I felt overcome, washed through by a feeling hard to name. My eyes filled as I pulled away from Chapin Beach and remained so as I drove along the beach access road, but my vision was sharp enough to notice the other Chapin and her two companions walking along the beach in the distance. I stopped briefly to take a picture, a visual reminder of the threads that had briefly connected us: grief, love, dogs, and the beach they were named after. I was newly overwhelmed by another wave of feeling, more expansive than the low tide beach, something like the inhalation of clouds, lifting my grief like a helium filled balloon.
So many of the best things are difficult to explain and seem reduced by the telling. Such moments of gnosis are rare, or at least they have been for me, even as I am aware I’ve been long searching for that very thing – the palpable awareness of something bigger that lives in and connects everything, the invisible strings made visible.
Though I miss my dear Chapin. And Lisa grieves the loss of her baby, just as the woman on the bench still cries for her lost son. Although I wonder, as we all do, how to go on after losing and whether love is worth the price. I feel the tug of so many seen and unseen connections, and know I am held in their braided net. And that is enough to keep me daring, heart open, to love again and deeper still.
There is a story about this painting, but I’m not quite ready to tell it. Or maybe I just don’t know how to tell it well, so I’ll let the image stand as it is. I’m also aware that the story about this painting is unfinished, perhaps the reason it can’t yet be shared. Which got me thinking about our stories more generally. When and with whom we choose to tell them. And how we manage the ending…
I welcome your thoughts ❤
I’ve toyed with the idea of increasing the color saturation in parts of this painting, particularly in the middle section. I may ultimately do that, if for no other reason than to push the growth-edge of my technical painting development. On the other hand, separate from my visual preferences for contrast and color, this painting – exactly as it is now – captures something about my experience. Maybe yours too? For me, the colorful, muted light of sunrise reflects both the joy of possibility (hope) and the tentative pause (fear) that often coexists as we begin a new day.
This winter has been more challenging for so many of us in different and similar ways. Personally, I can see the value in periods of relative isolation and dormancy, but I am also celebrating the change of seasons, balancing my wish to appreciate the present with my intentions to create and welcome the new. The metaphors are rich, but so too are the simple pleasures of being warmed by the sun and noticing the scent and feel of the sea breeze.
Wishing you all well and grateful for the connections here!