The Space Between

I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. – TS Eliot. J Afred Proofrock

 I am in the space between.

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

My mother has never lived more than a mile from where she lives now. She has been part of the lives of her compatriots and their children and their children’s children. She has witnessed the transformation of our lower middle class neighborhood of immigrants to the most sought after housing in the city of Portland, Maine.

For every house we walk by, she can recall the names of former owners and those of their children who darted in and out of our house when we were young. It was a time when you shared news while hanging out the laundry. Shared troubles over a cup of tea. Doors were left unlocked so you could borrow an egg, the proverbial cup of sugar and even an article of clothing.

My mom loves to tell the story of finding a young woman she had never seen rooting through my closet. She was looking for a skirt to borrow for a concert. She became one of my closest friends. And another daughter to my mom.

For the past several years, my mom has needed increasing levels of help. Her daily walks to the coffee shop have stopped. She learns news only from television and depends on others to fill her days. At 84, after a series of falls and a broken pelvis, hip replacement and now a broken arm – my Mom’s ability to care for herself is being questioned.

I am visiting assisted living facilities and nursing homes and talking with friends who have faced this same conundrum – how to preserve the dignity and independence of someone and insure their safety at the same time.

The conversation has begun in earnest. She is at a rehab facility now.

She is in the space between:

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

I Can’t Keep From Singing (sometimes)

I’ve decided to learn to read music. I sang in my junior high school choir and in a really bad rock band in high school. While sculpting my dad’s memorial on Peaks Island 7 years ago, I sang with the Peaks Island Chorale directed by Faith York.

My PI Chorale audition consisted of singing Happy Birthday while waiting in line for the ferry. Trust me – it wasn’t very professional or pretty and certainly, not on key. Faith York maintains it was not an audition, but “a recruiting effort.” Because I could not read music, Faith made audiotapes of my parts so I could memorize them.

For me, when I sing that first note, all current cares fall away. I let go of family responsibilities, financial worries, medical concerns, war weariness and political differences. More importantly, when you take the first breath, you are completely in the moment. You listen with an intensity usually reserved for intimate conversations. Your voice blends with the voices emanating from those on either side of you. We act as one entity – trying to bring to life a phrase, an experience or feeling contained within the piece.

While at the Northfield Conference (Read blog entry: Lying Fallow), I participated in a workshop let by Kate Munger: Intro to Threshold Singing. Kate, like her east coast dopple ganger Faith, embodies music. She sings, plays a variety of instruments, composes music, and conducts chorale groups. She is able to take a disparate group of people of varying skill levels and create community through music.

Kate writes:

The seed for the Threshold Choir was planted in June of 1990 when I sang for my friend Larry as he lay in a coma, dying of HIV/AIDS. I did housework all morning and was terrified when the time came to sit by his bedside.  I did what I always did when I was afraid; I sang the song that gave me courage.  I sang it for 2 ½ hours.  It comforted me, which comforted him.  The contrast between the morning and the afternoon was profound. I felt as if I had given generously of my essence to my dear friend while I sang to him. I also found that I felt deeply comforted myself, which in turn was comforting to him.

Two to four singers are invited to sing at the bedside of a person who is dying. Many of the songs are composed by members of the choir and are “ to communicate ease, comfort, and presence.” It was a remarkable workshop because the simplicity of the notes and words released emotions I did not realize I was holding.

There is a threshold choir starting in Maryland. Because the songs are sung a cappella, I need to learn to read music. My first lesson is about the “family relationships” within music. The spaces between white keys and black keys; the space between Bass clef and Treble clef.

Faith asks:

What do you know about music?

My response:

What I recall from Fourth grade music class is the following mnemonic:


EGBDF  (lines on the staff) – Every Good Boy Deserves Fun – seemed sexist in the 4th grade and still does , oh well-


FACE – (spaces on the staff)


A friend’s music teacher explained that this notation system originated from European monks. With no formal way to share music sung at one monastery with another, they designed a system based on the hand.  Fingers represented the EGBDF notes and the spaces between fingers signified the FACE notes. Using a hand like a recording device, they memorized the music and taught others using their hands (There are many theories about the beginnings of musical notation that have been thoroughly researched  I can’t verify the monk theory – but it is a great explanation.)

Growing Old is Not for Sissies (Paul Newman)

Everyone dies.

Most everyone I talk with is not afraid of death. They are afraid of the space between – losing the ability to care for themselves, losing their memory, losing connections to others, losing who they were.

Everyone wants to die with dignity.

When I visit the nursing home, I am acutely aware of how we are all in The Space Between:

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

I am hoping during this space between that I will be able to read and sing the music that accompanies these words:

Walking Each Other Home: Lyrics Ram Dass

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home

We are all walking each other home



Lying Fallow

lie fallow  Lit. [for farmland] to exist unplanted for a period of time.

I am the empty cup.

While attending a workshop on Creating One’s Own Sabbath Experience with Tom Bassarear and Yvette Yeager, I was asked to select from a table of items the object that represented myself – in that moment. I chose the empty cup.

Long-term projects – raising children or maintaining a house or recovering from an illness or caring for a parent or making public art – consume personal, physical and spiritual resources. Juggling 2 or more of those activities at the same time can deplete us.

 I am the empty cup.

 Nature Abhors a Vacuum

According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

 I am the empty cup.

At my core, I am a maker: I make sculpture. I make movies. I make food. I make time for others. I make plans. I make decisions. In this moment, I want to make time to ” fill my cup” with whatever comes along.

What if that involves picking up a friend at the airport and then taking a 10-hour drive? What if that is living with 100+ people I have never met? What if that is honest and authentic sharing – with strangers. And what if that is a week of really good food someone else has prepared?

Indra’s Net in Massachusetts

I was invited to be a Conference Speaker at the 2013 Northfield Conference. The Northfield Conference is an annual week-long event that has taken place in western Massachusetts since 1893.

It’s difficult to explain a place that is an intentional multi-generational community for individuals and families. It takes place on a small private school campus along the Connecticut River. The conference is all-volunteer.  The program originates from the participants and throughout the year planning meetings take place.  I was invited to speak about my art work – specifically the Invisible Legacy Series

The theme was Indra’s Net  – a metaphor that demonstrates the principles of Interdependent Origination.’s_ net. Indra’s net is conceived as a net, or web.

•     at each juncture there lies a jewel;

•     each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix;

•     every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness;

•     each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;

•     thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

My friends think of me as a consummate networker. Whenever they need to find specific help, borrow something, know something, or find someone, they come to me. I am often less than 6 degrees of separation from anyone I meet – no matter where I am. I am the Kevin Bacon of my circle of friends and associates.

I decided to “disconnect” for the week- no cell phones or internet. I wanted to be fully present at the event.  (My friends took bets on how long I could stay unplugged. I lasted the week but the first 3 days of withdrawal were tough.)

We now have the ability to be connected and interconnected with friends, family, even strangers. We believe that we have more intimacy in our lives. We believe that being accessible 24/7 make us less lonely. There is a Toyota car commercial featuring a young woman sitting behind a computer worried that her parents only have 19 “friends.” Her parents are shown going off on a bicycle adventure. She is depicted sitting alone, inside, accompanied by her laptop.

In his article: Is Facebook Making Us Lonely, Stephen Marche writes:

Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits     of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.

Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy.

For an hour each morning at the Northfield Conference, a conference attendee is invited to give a scheduled talk that pertains to the theme. The talk is intensely personal and allows listeners a glimpse into the lives of others. Sometimes speakers reveal secrets; sometimes a life- altering event; sometimes a struggle in the moment.

Whatever is shared during this special hour is held in deep respect and provides the topic for small group discussions following the presentation.  Invisible Legacy examined the lives of my great grandmother and grandmother who lived most of their lives in the Augusta Mental Health Institute in Maine. (AMHI)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI never had a conversation or a connection with either. I learned about their lives in the papers of the AMHI archives. I learned my grandmother was an entrepreneur, consummate salesperson and seamstress. My great grandmother was self-reliant. She raised 9 children while her husband sold surplus goods from a wagon.  I learned about how their lives were reflected in mine in ways I could not have predicted.

pcfront Invisible Legacy is an installation of antique furniture reupholstered in canvas upon which images, stories, medical reports, interviews, photographs, drawings related to the lives of women I never knew are printed. The work creates a conversation about, not only their lives, but the lives of others like them.

The invisible legacy continues even in death. It is estimated that there are 300,000 unmarked graves on the grounds of former and even current psychiatric hospitals throughout the US.

In shutting down an upstate New York institution thousands of empty suitcases from patients were discovered in the attic. Each suitcase was a testament to a life restrained – disconnected.

For several days after my talk, many Northfield participants would talk to me about a mother – a father – a sibling – who suffered from mental illness. More often, they would reveal their personal struggles with this ‘invisible’ disease.

These were conversations about anger and sadness – loss and change – hope and survival. Each conversation was a reflection of another. “A change in one gem creates a change in another…”  I was changed – by the depth of interactions – and the forging of new connections.

Indra’s Net in Maine

I walk across the island to the ferry, take the 20-minute boat ride across Casco Bay and then walk the mile+ to my mom’s apartment on Munjoy Hill.

There have been many changes along the street that leads to the ‘Hill.’ Dark bars have given way to upscale coffee shops and organic bakeries; used furniture stores to high end yarn shops and strip dives to a pizza place with so many topping options it makes decision making almost impossible.

At the corner of North and Congress – in the window of a former bakery – hangs a very large stained glass mosaic made of jewels and silver wire. It is a physical manifestation of an Indra’s Net.

I opened the door to the shop and felt genuinely welcomed from the moment I entered. Laura Fuller has been working with glass for seventeen years. She began putting three-dimensional objects in her stained glass panels while still in school. Although discouraged by her instructors from pursuing this innovative technique, she continued to incorporate found objects into her complex glass reliefs.DSC_0005

There is a pixie-like gentleness combined with a deep intensity that emanates from Laura when you are in conversation. That combination of lightness and strength belies, or maybe reflects, the loss of her child to a rare disease.

Each unique piece expresses not only her story, but also that of the objects incorporated within. For Laura, each object is a reflection of the complex narrative of life — past, present and future:

Objects are our representatives. ‘Living’ solid, fruitful, domestic, useful lives: independently functional. These objects, having given 2 to 200 years of faithful service, became hidden. In drawers, closets, dumps, underground, and in the ocean – waiting.

I will send Laura objects to use in a piece that will reflect my interconnectedness with others and myself. I am the empty cup that is now being filled with intimate and heartfelt conversations with strangers.

I am part of Indra’s Net.