06 September 2006

summer vacation

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Finished.  I’m finally finished.  

I was hired to photograph a wedding earlier this summer, a wedding that seems to have taken place what seems like anywhere between four and seventeen years ago.  At the time I accepted the request I hadn’t the first clue what chaos would break out beginning that very day.

It was the call from one of my sisters that started the ball rolling.  Her manfriend who cannot hold his liquor had pushed beyond the pale this time, battering her and ripping his own home apart.  It was time to get out permanently, for real, no going back.  Time stopped for the following three days while we worked out where she and my niece would go to live temporarily, while she drove back to the place where their final argument began to try to recover her purse and cell phone (which she did eventually recover from between branches of a tree).  During those three days I obtained boxes, newsprint paper and packing tape; we figured out during phone calls between five or six numbers when and where to rent a moving truck and how to pay for it, and between the two of us we divvied up the rooms of his house (for which there was a restraining order preventing him from entering) to hastily pack their material lives away in search of a safer refuge.  

My sister made arrangements during those three days with our other family members; if nothing else she wanted to have her five year old looked lovingly after and help her life stay as close to normal as possible.  Enlisting the help of our brother-in-law, we had her life packed into a seventeen foot U-Haul trailer and a Toyota Camry wagon.  The stuff headed for storage in a garage; the loved ones headed for our sister and brother-in-law’s up north, and we moved all her plants and flowers into my garden.  And it was during those three days when I began to understand a little more about myself and just how deeply I love my so beautiful so strong so frail siblings.

Well, yeah, so that was three days – where’d the rest of the summer go?  There were sibs + family living with sibs + family, which inevitably leads to one sort of misunderstanding or another for which a good deal of time is spent listening, hearing, sharing.  There was my own child who was working and socializing who, yet without his drivers license, needed the services of the momtaxi.  And when my child got around to getting serious about getting his license that began a rash of activity that took on its own life (he got it).  There was my partner being her pretty great self, trying to figure out how this weird collection of related people relate (well, and tick), attempting to be patient and trying to get more time alone with me than she probably preferred.  There was my partner’s mother’s 10-day visit, which I ashamedly admit I skirted through as much as possible, but not because my someday mother-out-law is a beast, no!  She’s a lovely woman!  It was because there were ‘personal stuff’ things that had been bothering me but I hadn’t raised the issues with those whom I probably should have.  I think it was because I distance myself in anger out of respect, some kind of warped exercise in self-discipline, and perhaps out of some fear of what I may say or do if I get within biting distance.  At any rate, some of that time was spent frustrated by, or to, others.

Some of the time was spent trying to relax from being tense from worry for my family, worry for my personal relationships, and worry that my kid will never be responsible for himself.  I found the best therapy with J&L – specifically, in their garden.  J. is the gardener while L. is the appreciator of all-things-J.-grows and I hired on as Official Weed Puller.  J&L live out in the country (as in soybean field in the backyard, looking out on a cornfield from the front yard country) and their lot is actually two house lots.  They have gradually filled the empty half with fruit-bearing trees and vines: three or four different raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries (I think that’s what they are), kiwi, cherry, plum, apple.    The front and side yards are filled with perennials and barrels for flowery annuals.  They constructed raised beds (three very very long parallel beds, five triangles arranged in a pie shape and two rectangles for strawberries) in their backyard, into which, with the exception of the strawberry rectangles, go all the garden vegetables and herbs.  There are MANY areas that required weeding.

When the conditions are perfect, when the soil is just moist enough, when the weed is healthy but not too healthy, when the sun is present but not beating me into a gelatinous puddle, when the wind is freeform dancing around me stopping every few seconds to pause and kiss me, when my head is not exploding but just nearly too full of noise and information – when all of those conditions exist and I get a good handhold on a weed beginning with my index finger, coiling my thumb around it softly, the rest of my fingers digesting the tall or leggy bits – and then I give the TUG and the entire mass of webby root system comes grudgingly from the ground with a rrrrripping.  Oh, if that’s not ecstasy!

It was while in the garden with J. this summer when I lit upon the ugly explanation behind why I get such a thrill from weeding.  Really, it’s not pretty so you might want to plug your ears if you don’t want to hear a potentially nasty secret about me.  Fine.  Don’t blame me if you can’t sleep tonight; it’s your nightmare.  

While I have pulled my own hair hard enough to do it, I do not recall ever having pulled another person’s hair hard enough to tear any out by the roots.  From my own experience (on my own head) I know the following:

  1. It takes some strength to accomplish.

  2. One must hold on tightly.

  3. One must mean to rip hair out.  There’s nothing accidental about it.

  4. It hurts.

  5. There is a ripping noise as the hair shaft is yanked from the scalp.

After considering various options I settled on the one that felt most accurate:  I like weed pulling because of the force, the sound, and that analogous hair-ripping thing.  I get to channel my energetic negativity into weed pulling.  I can essentially rip people’s hair out without harming (ha, quite literally) one hair on anyone’s head and do it in a garden-responsible, socially sanctioned way.  There you go.  Happy now?  Sleep well (with your head well covered under a babushka and two stocking caps.  For good measure).

And when I wasn’t seeking refuge in the Garden of Violence I was attending concerts and weddings, making sorry attempts at decluttering my home, trying to maintain regular correspondence with friends near and far, trying to do the regular things one does in everyday life and doing a ‘hey, can you help us out?’ week-long photo shoot for a friend who was filming a movie in town.   I produced well over 1500 shots from that gig in addition to the ~800 from the wedding.  That’s a lot.  And given that the film was shot during nighttimes only and the backyard wedding was held under a yellowish-white tent (and with two cameras) that meant a lot of digital images in need of work.

In addition to learning this summer that I have a penchant for indirect violence, I reinforced my suspicion that – not counting the times I’m manic – I cannot multitask.  I can’t multitask and I can’t work with frequent interruptions.  Man, I’ve got a lot to update on my resume. Given a four hour window of time after my son is dropped at work I’d take two or three phone calls, do the dishes, feed the cats, growl at the pile of laundry, smoke, work on two or three photos, grab a bite, take another call, take a pee break, work on another photo, put the laundry in the machine … and it was time to pick up the kid from work.  I guess I need more time to focus and concentrate than I previously thought.  I got little done that I really wanted to accomplish, not unlike taking a squirt gun to a house fire then wondering why the flames feel so hot and look so large.

My partner, bless her heart, tried to help me.  In part because her reputation is important to her (she had taken some of the wedding photos and had been part of making the connection for the job) and in part because she just likes to help, she began asking how the photos were coming because the days were beginning to drag on yet I had nothing in absolutely completed form to give the bride and groom.  I read her question as doubt in my ability and responded in a Garden of Violence way.  She wanted to help but there really wasn’t a way she could without some knowledge of PS-CS2.  My snarky suggestion was that she sit and watch if she wanted to help.  Yeah, nice move McBrainiac.  Then one day a magical fire got lit.

I don’t know why, I don’t know from where it came, I don’t have any way of explaining it but finally I put nearly everything but the photo work indefinitely on the back burner.  I told my child that he would have to really work on asking me for rides more than ten minutes in advance of when he wanted one and I explained why.  I told my friends about the fire so when they called to ask me over to play we were much more careful about talking about what kind of time I actually could afford to spend playing (or if I could).  I bowed out of potential activities and cancelled some which had already been scheduled.  I resisted many of my partner’s requests for time together (though I’m not sure if this choice was for the better yet), staying at my home instead of hers so as to have constant PS-CS2 access and digital file time.  I significantly reduced the amount of time spent talking on the telephone with sibs too.  Finally left with only myself, the monitor flicker and a coffee pot I started ripping through the digital images like nobody’s business.  Even after sister and niece came to live with me for a couple of weeks (upon my insistence, after I learned that they’d spent a night at the manfriend’s home) I still miraculously managed to go go go.  The five year old resented me for getting dibbs on the computer but as long as she was also given computer time to play games at Cbeebies, Cartoon Network, PBSkids, and NickJr., it was all good.

Having my sister living with us was a gift.  It was the kind of gift that comes unexpectedly, all wrapped and boxed so you don’t know until you read the fine print that the new toy requires batteries which are available but not until tomorrow because who’s gonna pay $5.42 for a 2-pak of double-As at 11:20 at night?  My niece, perhaps imbuing the tension in everyone else through the surface of her skin, misbehaved for her mother, who was smack dab in the middle of obtaining:

  • a job

  • permanent housing

  • borrowed funds to support herself for just a little while longer

  • another U-Haul

  • all things required to enroll the child in kindergarten within weeks, like

  • official copy of her birth certificate

  • appointment for and subsequent doctor visit

  • school supplies

  • clothing

  • after-school child care arrangements

  • their possessions back from two different locations

  • d├ętente with the child’s immature and selfish father

My sister and I sat outside late at nights, smoking too much and talking smart.  We laughed into breathlessness about things so inappropriate I will not mention them here.  You’re already headed for a rough night with the hair pulling revelation, why push it further by knowing the terrible things two parents fantasize about doing to their own young?  There’s some truth to that old chestnut ‘misery loves company’, there really is.  I mean, if one misery at least has a sense of humor and identifies another misery with a funny bone it’s totally true.  But if one misery is a dried-up apricot and the other is an orange left in the fruit bin too long?  I don’t have much hope for either of them.  We guffawed over the heiress life of my jobless homeless sister who, at one point, was buying the groceries for us because she had more cash than did I.  After my niece got to know my neighbor’s three visiting granddaughters (who called her ‘that girl’ and whom were addressed as ‘the girls’… so much for those formal introductions we made) and had rolled her entire self in a mud puddle so the Mud Monster could be terrorizing the People of the Village, my sister and I pretreated and laundered niece’s dress three times before sis decided it had simply become a “play dress”.  We jeered back at all the rotten dogs yapping at our heels.  

My parents always moved one or several of us kids out of our beds when company came to visit during the years of my childhood.  I did learn respect because of this choice, but I also felt an awful lot like my needs didn’t matter so much as the old people who smelled funny and who I didn’t know who were putting their funny smells and noises all over my stuff.  So as a gesture of understanding and good will to my own child (who undoubtedly doesn’t even know to appreciate it) I give up my bed before I consider asking him to give his up.  For the past few weeks this has meant that my sister and my niece have been sleeping in my bed and I’ve been collapsing in a heap on the couch in the living room each night.  My sister would try to argue me into a swap almost every night but considering all the things I have been unable to give her, if there was one thing I did have to give her it was a soft comfy place to sleep and I wasn’t going to be swayed if it took stapling myself to the couch to ensure that exactly that would happen.

During each of the little battles my sister waged against each item on her ‘to do’ list I noticed that she started seeming more like herself, more like the old feisty sister I knew the years before she’d moved into the Barbie Country Dream House, quit her previous job and had begun relying on the iffy temperament and wallet of her ex.  Yay, she’s coming back! She’s coming back!, I’d think to myself.  She got the cooking job she’d sought – a good one, with benefits and everything.  She found a townhouse apartment within blocks of her daughter’s new school and within a five minute drive of the new job.  Last Friday my son, my brother, my sister, my niece and I U-Hauled their possessions into the new place, sister took niece to her first partial day of kindergarten.  Meanwhile I drove the rental truck back to the lot with a full tank and a wish that none of us have to see the inside of another orange and white cab for a long time.

And the wedding photos are finished.  The bride and groom have been generous and extremely laid-back, not audibly worried about ‘where are my pictures?!’ in the face of my rather rubbery and extended deadline.  I figured the least I could do was to get 4x6 reprints for them of the finals so they have some small additional ‘thank you’ for their patience.  I’m heading out to pick the prints up now and I’m very much looking forward to handing over my work.

And that is what I did on my summer vacation.

03 September 2006


“Courageous risks are life-giving, they help you grow, make you brave, and better than you think you are.”

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