Off the Wall: Reflections on the Old Year

Moby Dick (beach glass on glass) by the Madwoman's Father, Welman "Lindy" Lindemann.

Moby-Dick (beach glass on glass) by the Madwoman’s Father, Welman “Lindy” Lindemann.

I was reaching sleepily for the second or third sip of coffee this morning when a loud thud out on the porch interrupted my efforts to fortify myself for the last day of 2013. The Woman Formerly Known as Goose was a sip or three ahead of me, and so she joined me out on the porch to investigate the source of the noise. To my considerable consternation, we discovered that the family masterpiece of recycled art, Moby-Dick, had fallen from the wall on which it had hung, proudly and without incident, for nearly ten years. Careful inspection revealed no damage to the painstakingly assembled pieces of Lake Michigan beach glass that make up the jaunty white whale, but a sawtooth hanger on the back of the frame had given way, causing the fall. Whether the culprit is rusty nails or weakness in the decaying frame I cannot at the moment say. WFKG and I will figure it out, though, fix it up, and get the picture back on the wall where it belongs. That’s a good project for the approaching new year: small, doable, but satisfying.

Things fall. Things fall apart. That they should do so on the last day of a year that has seemed so damaged and damaging is convenient for a lazy writer in search of an easy metaphor but not surprising. Things happen. Shit happens. Timing is meaningful only to those who believe in patterns and portents. There are no coincidences. It all fits together. See? I told you everything is getting terrible.

I don’t believe in patterns and portents, but every picture tells a story. My father, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, was not an artist. He was a department-store accountant, a mild-mannered guy who kept his head down and smoked a lot of cigarettes to get through the days on his tedious job. He played the piano, beautifully and by ear, but his taste was more Broadway than Bach, middlebrow all the way. Moby-Dick was his only foray into visual art. He produced it in the early 1980s, because my mother ordered him to do something with the piles of beach glass he kept bringing in to their home on Lake Michigan. He would walk the beach for hours, head down, Baggie in hand, scanning the ground for the rare bits of lavender and red scattered among the truckloads of green and brown glass that seemed to gather at the water’s edge. He would come home and show off his findings, brimming with the excitement of all the world’s treasure hunters. My mother and I were partial to the striking pieces of cobalt blue that would turn up from time to time. We theorized, as the poet Amy Clampitt did, that such beauty could only have been produced by Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia bottles that somehow ended up on the beach and then got broken and polished by the water into delicate chunks of loveliness that would catch my father’s eye.

The glass piled up and up in the ever larger jars my mother would buy to contain them. I wasn’t there when some of the jars got emptied out and turned into Moby-Dick, but I’m sure it was a winter project, perhaps undertaken on one of the many New Year’s Eves my parents spent at the lake. Did they collaborate in its making? I doubt it. I see my father, hunched over the kitchen table, carefully considering the placement of each piece of green glass comprising the piece’s sparkling foundation, wrestling with where and how to place the boundary between water and sky. My mother comes in from time to time and leans over the table, chatty, trying to be helpful, asking why he’s put that odd pale patch between the green and the brown in the lower right and suggesting that the small tail is out of proportion with the massive body. Also: It’s a lake, Lindy. There are no whales here. He is too absorbed in the work to offer anything but a grumble by way of reply. Get me another cup of coffee, Patsy. This is going to take awhile. The moment when he glues the triangle of red into place as the whale’s delighted eye is, I am confident, one of the happiest of his life. A Midwestern Lily Briscoe, he had had his vision and executed it to the best of his abilities.

I don’t recall how or why I came to possess Moby-Dick by the mid-80s, but he graced a wall in the first home WFKG and I ever shared, a funky little cottage on Barnegat Bay that we took because it comported with our fantasy of where writers and scholars would live and was, somehow, affordable for a couple of non-trust funded grad students. Kitschy as he is, he is one of my most cherished objects, a constant, visible reminder of things I learned from and loved about my dad: whimsy, patience, discernment, a willingness to try something new. He taught me to trust silence and my own instincts. He taught me to love a soft yet genial smile. He taught me that a strategically placed spot of red might be just the thing to bring a composition together. (What did I learn from my mother? Find out here.)

All years are a mix of good and bad, hard and easy, delightful and disheartening. By the numbers, 2013 seems to have been a fairly awful year. For me it has been a year of challenge and uncertainty on the professional front (nothing you need to worry about, I assure you) and sadness and anxiety on some personal fronts, as the chatty woman referred to two paragraphs ago slips further and further into the twilight of dementia. Will 2014 be “better”? Oh, it’s pretty to think so, isn’t it, darling, and we cling to that hope as fiercely as Robert Redford clung to his pathetic little sailboat in that great big storm. I don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Meantime, I practice that other skill I learned from my father of keeping my head down and carrying on, without the cigarettes. If there are battles raging in the blogosphere, I am avoiding them, because I don’t have the time, the energy, or the inclination to hurl myself into them right now. That doesn’t mean I don’t care, though it might mean I have begun to have doubts about whether these little first-amendment machines are worth having in our laps after all. Mostly, though, it just means I am tired and expending my limited energies where they are most needed.

Here’s one thing I do know for sure, though, so I’ll offer it up as an out with the old year/in with the new year observation: Kindness might not save the world, but unkindness will surely damage it. If you have a choice, choose kindness, not because it will magically resolve conflicts and turn hell into paradise but because it stands the best chance of not increasing the world’s or your own soul’s supply of misery. Simple, right?

And on that not entirely upbeat note, I bid you a fond farewell for 2013. My minimal hope for 2014 is that nothing will fall off the walls. Happy fricking new year, Madpeople at Your Laptops. I raise my glass to each and all.

champagne & flowers

Comments

  1. Lapdog (formerly known as Dog-Eared Book) says:

    Thanks for this, Madwoman! Here’s to some happiness in 2014. Or, in the spirit of your post, which I share, less unhappiness? With you on the kindness front. Hope the world shows you some in the coming year.

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  2. Same to you and yours, Lapdog. A new moniker for a new year — Gotta love that! Take care, friend, and see you in SF soon!

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  3. professorsusan says:

    Maybe your kindness maxim is all we need. Happy new year. We all need to distribute our strength to where it’s most needed.

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  4. contingentcassandra says:

    I, too, like the kindness maxim — modest, yes, but/and effective.

    And I also like the keeping-things-from-falling-off-the-wall resolution (to which end I have ordered a masonry drill bit from Amazon, to make sure the hook for a hanging plant is well and truly screwed into the wall).

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  5. Here’s wishing you a happy new year, Madwoman! And more blogging :)

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  6. I really needed to read this; “kindness” is the word I’ve been looking for lately. That, and “limited energies” — there are things I just can’t engage with right now, if I want to maintain energy for other, important things. I wish you much kindness and happiness/less unhappiness in the coming year.

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  7. Did you notice that, according to the Washington Post, Madwomen (in the Attic) are in this year? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/artsandliving/features/2013/year-in-review/the-list.html). I’m not sure why; more and more, I need an annotated version (which I see the online one partly is, but there’s no link attached to this one).

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  8. Gee, I feel so cutting edge, but that is a little weird, isn’t it? Why are Madwomen in the Attic “in” for 2014, and why is there no link there to explain the reference? Of course, any list that starts off by declaring “Hillary 2016″ out is dubious in my book. Screw you, WaPo.

    Love & happy new year to the kindest bunch of readers in cyberspace. Y’all rock.

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  9. Moby Dick is my favorite book of all time!

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  10. I love your quote on Kindness…..so true!

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  11. fromstreetwithlove says:

    This is great !
    If you fancy take a look 😜

    http://fromstreetwithlove.com

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  12. I keep telling my eighteen year old son anything man made will fail at some time or the other. The best attitude is to somewhat expect it and have a plan about how to deal with it.

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  13. :)

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  14. Heartafire says:

    cheers!!!

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  15. “Kindness may not save the world, but unkindness will surely damage it.” Amen.

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  16. Happy New Year and good luck with your frame repair.

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  17. This is so great!! So unique I love it!

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  18. nice :P

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  19. I couldn’t agree with you more! Positivity is key. Have a great 2014, and love your writing style, btw!

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  20. Beautifully penned. Much worldly wisdom is conveyed in the modesty of your wishes for the New Year.

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  21. Republicou isso em VIVIMETALIUN.

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  22. I’ve been nosing through you blog, I like your writing style :)
    I love your quote …Kindness might not save the world, but unkindness will surely damage it.
    Good luck for 2014!

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  23. Well I wish this year brings happiness and peace for you!!
    And you write awesome articles lady :) Keep up the good work..

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  24. orthodoxchristian2 says:

    Awesome article! By the way, I love the mosaic of the whale.

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  25. I’m heartened to see this inventive use of Milk of Magnesia bottles. They are a very distinctive shade of blue and MofM is a fond remainder of my childhood. And of my dad too. Wishing you all the best for 2014, a year surely filled with kindness.

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  26. love this. I’m new on here. Check me out if ya want. http://arrowsshooting.wordpress.com/

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  27. Thank you for the quote on kindness!

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  28. Great piece. I’m also new, so new I have yet to write, but your work is inspiring. Love the Amy Clampitt reference. For her tribute of sorts to her own father, see the poem “Beethoven, Opus III,” published in The New Yorker’s May 25, 1981, issue and the 4th edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Sorry I couldn’t find a direct link to it anywhere, but maybe you have the poem if you’re already a fan. It’s one of my favorites.

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  29. Madwoman with a laptop, I like that name! Well, I may be odd, but I do believe in patterns and omens. Brilliant the way you began this post with the picture falling off the wall, reminiscing about your father and the loving way he composed his Moby Dick. Your father wanted you to know he is with you, or the nail was rusty. Either way, it’s okay.

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  30. Beautifully written. Thank you. I’ve started off 2014 by taking a complete break from facebook and focussing on other forms of contact with people I care about. It’s helped.

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  31. Happy New Year to you too – loved the pictures

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  32. Thanks and welcome to all the new readers who came to visit by way of WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed.” I appreciate your kind words. This post is a little more personal than what I typically offer here, but I hope you’ll enjoy my thoughts on books, social media, pop culture, higher education, and whatever else happens to capture my restless attention when I return to regular blogging soon. Meantime, I hope 2014 is off to a smooth and happy start for each and all.

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