My heart is broken. Broken again, for the 3477th time this life.
“Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time,” wrote E. B. White, to a despairing Mr. Nadeau. The actual first paragraph of White’s letter said:
“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.”
I must say, on this journey, I have met some extraordinary people. Amazing, wonderful people. They hail from disparate walks of life, different races, different cultural backgrounds. Some are immigrants, no two from the same country of origin.
They share a love for Freedom.
They are passionate. They are quirky. They are independent. They tend to be wildly intelligent and creative and brimming with life.
They tend to be honest.
Right now some feel inconsolable.
I feel fortunate to have encountered these souls, who are all, as I am, beset with difficult feelings.
People I considered friends have shown their true colors. I know now who really has my back. It’s painful and it’s good.
I counseled some lovely friends: “We must think of ourselves as the Londoners during the War. They thought God had forgotten them. God-Goddess-All-that-Is hadn’t forgotten them then, and hasn’t forgotten us now.”
But E.B. White that masterful wordsmith said it better:
It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
So tomorrow I will rise too early, as always. Luminate coffee with coconut creamer and coconut sugar, beguiling and delicious. I will wind the clock.
I wrote it to share–to celebrate–a milestone: Sabin and his stalwart team have finished principal sculpture on the first grouping of eleven figures from A Soldier’s Journey.
I’m so proud of our sculptors Sabin, Charlie, and “Raymond.” They’ve worked with focus and dedication through long hours and difficult situations.
I’m also terribly proud of our good-spirited models. They also worked hard over the last year, especially during the quarantine months. Everyone has made sacrifices and accommodations for the good of the project.
This achievement is hard-won. It’s sweet for us.
It makes it worthwhile, almost, to have to deal with the belligerence and incompetence of outside parties. They’re a necessary evil. Doesn’t make them easy to handle. I brace myself before every phone call, conference, meeting, and visit. I’m always relieved when contact concludes.
It’s true that I have a particular failing in not tolerating fools gladly. My shrink has been yelling at me for a decade about that. Regarding my lack of patience for a**holes and idiots: it’s not exactly ego syntonic, it’s just not exactly ego dystonic, either.
But back to the trolls. What’s the point of being an aggressive jerk with people who are working hard, in good faith, toward a mutual goal? It mystifies me.
We were actually threatened with a “bloody fistfight” because the global pandemic posed challenges for our shipping plans. Do you believe that? HELLO: THERE’S A GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
And we were threatened after we had formed a quarantine pod, lived together, and worked together, all toward this end: meeting our deadlines.
The “bloody fistfight” folks are petty and unhelpful. Then there are the incompetent folks: “Thank you for your patience while we slowly and belatedly attend to an important matter that you told us about two months ago and then again last week. That matter we assured you was well in hand a month ago.”
And there’s the guy who actually tried to tell me what to write. I thought I managed that situation well. I explained that my diction could have been worse. I didn’t tell him to go f**k himself.
It’s frustrating. I’m frustrated. I surmise that everyone living within a 75 mile radius of Washington DC is some species of awful. People far from the Beltway incorrectly assume that one political party is awful and the other is okay, depending on their personal predilections, and which media they allow to them what to think. It’s actually far more widespread than that. The whole DC area is toxic. Political party doesn’t matter.
The sole exception is our brilliant attorney. But he’s from the heartland and he lived in Germany for a while. He hasn’t been spoiled with the DC power-lust.
And so this is difficult for me. And yet, and yet… Sabin and the team have completed the first 28% of A Soldier’s Journey, and it’s beautiful. Uplifting, gripping. My husband’s skill is amazing. I’m so proud of him and so proud to have served the process in my way.
Since August 26, I’ve been ensconced in an office in my husband’s new studio. Sabin and his team are sculpting the National WWI Memorial.
I have a life in the studio.
I’m the project manager. I’m also Human Resources and CFO of Sabin Howard Sculpture LLC.
There are plenty of non-glamorous, essential tasks in this job for which I roll up my sleeves and apply the grease of my elbows. I’m not just talking about sweeping the floor, emptying trash, and lugging around bronze sculptures, though I’ve done that, too.
I mean things like running payroll, signing checks, tracking hours spent on each figure… Project management is a first cousin to juggling. You know, 1000 balls in the air, and they’d all better stay afloat.
Along the way, I engage in more pleasurable activities–like writing articles. Here’s my latest on Medium, entitled, “The Many Faces of Sabin Howard’s National WWI Memorial.”
Given our interest in WWI, a friend took me to the DGA to see 1917 when it came out. Great movie! Highly recommended! I wrote a review.
I take photographs almost every day; our daughter put together a video for us. Her YouTube video shows us getting back to work after the holiday break.
And here’s a video that I put together. It’s a little rough but fun–it shows Sabin and his crew taking the memorial relief outside into daylight to see it out doors, the way visitors will see it once it’s installed in Pershing Park, Washington DC.
So I do find ways to exercise my own creativity on this journey alongside my husband.
On a recent Saturday, my husband and I enjoyed date night at the Paris Theater. We watched the film Colette.
I’m a novelist and so the film held a special resonance for me. It’s always intriguing for me to see how other women do it–how other women wrestle with the great fanged beast of their need to write–how other women embrace the struggle of creativity and storytelling alongside the demands of partnership and self-actualization.
For me, there is no self without writing. If I’m not writing, it’s because I’m in a no-self space. That’s not a wholesome place for me.
Colette is turned on to writing by her husband Willy, who calls himself, in the film, a “writing entrepreneur.” He cheats on her and tells her to pen her thoughts and then proclaims her work to be worthless. Then he re-reads it and loves it. He pores over her prose with her and teaches her to edit and revise. At least in the film, he is instrumental to her discovering her talent.
Willy publishes her book under his own name. When it becomes successful beyond his wildest dreams, he locks her in a room to write another book.
Colette slowly wakes up to her own worth. Her self-awareness grows as she uncovers her individual sexuality. Her husband cheats but she begins to sleep with women–which he permits, as long as she doesn’t sleep with other men.
It’s comical when the husband beds her paramour and they both carry on with the libidinous lady in question.
There’s a kind of leftist-liberal-proselytizing fabric to this movie; the husband is an exploitative patriarchal scumbag and noble, victimized Colette naturally finds a supportive woman partner/lover. So many films these days are taken over by the need to preach leftist liberal values. I wish more films would focus on good storytelling and leave preaching propaganda to the politicians. It’s boring.
When a story delves deeply into the human condition, the spectrum of left-right, liberal-conservative falls away. What is left is meaning. That meaning is far more moving, far more convincing, than even the best propaganda.
In this case, the film transcends the current Hollywood piety. After all, Colette was a French novelist. She’s an archetypal French woman novelist. She actually lived the life and she did so before it was appropriated by a certain tiresome sector of post-modernist feminists–as if being a traveling mime with a woman lover is the only way to be a woman novelist.
I admire Colette but her choices wouldn’t work for me. I would never have been happy or fulfilled without children and a husband. Being a mother and wife contributes to, and enhances, my fruitfulness.
As painful as my situation is with one of my beloved daughters and with a dearly loved husband who took off for the antipodes, putting his own art before the family who needs him–despite everything–I was always supposed to be a wife and mother. And a novelist. And lately a screenwriter.
Willy exceeds his role, too, I think. Yes, he’s selfish, self-indulgent, egotistical, and riddled with vices. He’s also the fulcrum on which Colette’s own writing turns. He’s a catalyst for her. I find that real life is like this, that people are like this: marbled through with light and dark. Variegated. Bittersweet.
People are complex. They enter our lives bearing gifts, some laced with poison, some with nectar. Often the most difficult characters in our stories are our best teachers.
And beyond the propaganda is the story of a woman coming to own her own voice.
This is the essential struggle for a woman novelist: owning her own voice. Even for women who come across as strong, as I seem to, there’s vulnerability at the root. How do we embrace, own, and integrate that vulnerability with our creative talent?
My husband Sabin Howard can sculpt. Think Carpeaux, Canova, or Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Think Michelangelo. He says, “Art represents us. How do we want to be represented?”
It’s a fair question, and answering it leads me to all the reasons I’m not a post-modernist. Boiling it down, I believe in transcendence and immanence, meaning and responsibility, the integrity of the individual, and free and unfettered thinking. Ultimately, I believe in beauty, excellence, and the artist’s skill.
So it is with both humility and amusement that I behold Sabin’s Bust of Ceres, for which I posed. It was hours and hours of sitting on a step ladder in our bedroom at night, working to hold my head at the right angle. Sabin is a tough taskmaster. Such demands are placed on the wife of an artist!
She is beautiful. She is me, and she isn’t me. She’s me on Mt. Olympus, an idealized plane of existence. She’s a form of representation that alludes to an aesthetic philosophy that is beyond me, in my day to day life, as I sit at my keyboard, wearing stinky yoga clothes and tapping out the latest novel.
I see the transpersonal in Ceres. She’s soulful, she’s elevated and elevating. I feel fondly toward my husband for naming a portrait of me after a Goddess. My ego is gratified, despite knowing that Sabin chose the Goddess out of his own artistic vision, with little to no concern for the model’s vanity.
On the personal level, I see a woman of a certain age, with more lines on her face than she wishes were there.
My husband and I had a rude and rough couple of years.
Sabin was briefly ensconced at the antipodes with people who thought they knew him better after 12 minutes than I did after 18 years, and they brought out his worst self. They encouraged him to forget his family–to lose sight of his integrity. I frittered away our months apart with people and pastimes that took me away from my mission in life. I wasn’t my best self, either.
Love brought us back together and our union needed repair.
There were tools that aided us. I’ve blogged about those before. I read several books and used an excellent program developed by a California-based marriage counselor.
In particular, and with some mirth because he’s funny, we watched videos of Dr. John Gottman talking about what makes a marriage work. I bought Gottman’s books and googled The Gottman Institute.
After one fierce fight that ended with me in tears and Sabin apoplectic with hurt and anger, I said, “Enough. We’re going to a Gottman workshop.”
Sabin agreed, if skeptically. He was more amenable when I assured him that there was no public disclosure.
The time came and we flew to Seattle a few days early so we could hike Mt. Rainier. I figured two days of exercise on the mountain would exorcise Sabin’s physical restlessness.
We arrived early at the Seattle Sheraton on the morning of the workshop to secure good seats, close to the front. And there began two days of extraordinary learning.
The first day focused on building the ground of being of love through Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s research-based techniques. We listened to lectures on love maps, fondness and admiration, and bids for connection, and then we practiced the skills through carefully thought out exercises. The exercises were good fun as well as good practicum for a marriage. They deepened the friendship, connection, and trust that are so essential in the union.
It was fun to tell Sabin all the good things I think about him–and even more fun to hear him describe my strengths!
We also practiced a “stress reducing conversation” according to a Gottman script. It was an effective tool. When Sabin spoke about the stresses of his life, he was able to feel my empathy; when it was my turn to confide, I felt his empathy. We finished the exercise feeling heard and cared for. Our hearts opened and we felt close to each other.
But it wasn’t just the exercises and lectures that taught us and moved us. Equally eloquent was the way John and Julie Gottman related to each other. They were at turns playful and somber and they were always palpably connected. They teased each other, finished each other’s sentences, demoed exercises together with zest and relish, touched each other affectionately, listened respectfully when the other was saying something of heightened import, admitted to fighting, owned their own parts in their conflict, apologized for hurting each other, and praised the other.
Julie and John were modeling something critical: a real marriage, hugs and warts and tears and laughs and all. A marriage wherein both spouses are deeply committed and deeply engaged in the ongoing work of building a strong and joyful shared sense of “we.”
This was most evident the second day of the workshop, when the Gottmans addressed conflict.
Around 10 am of the second day, I witnessed one of the most profound human interactions I’ve ever seen–and I attended a 4 years hands-on healing school which included a great deal of deep personal process work. But this was astonishing: Julie and John demonstrated their script for repair after a regrettable incident.
I’ve never seen two people be more real, more vulnerable, more honest, and more sensitive with each other. It was deeply soulful. It showed the power of being real, being vulnerable, being honest, and being sensitive with your mate.
Julie and John worked through an actual fight from a few years earlier, following one of the scripts they’d written. Julie dissolved into tears, remembering early life traumas that had played a part in her responses. I was in tears watching her. With candor and grace, John also talked about his triggers. I marveled at his insight into himself.
The goal was to understand each other better. It achieved that and so much more. It was a marvelous process.
In class, Sabin and I did the exercise around a recent fight. Since returning home, we’ve done the exercise around the painful episodes from the last two years.
The Gottman Institute weekend ended with presentations and exercises around shared meaning and helping each other attain life dreams. In a real way, Sabin and I are already strong in that area, because we both feel so strongly about arts and letters. He’s been the strongest supporter of my writing, and I’ve always supported his art.
For me, the best part of the weekend was being in the field of the relationship between Julie and John Gottman. So that’s what a good relationship is, I thought. Perhaps the Gottman tools could even have helped my difficult first marriage. It’s possible. It’s for certain they’re a great blessing for Sabin and me.
In his thoughtful way, Sabin voiced the most beautiful, most telling comment about the weekend. “I never before understood about the sacredness of marriage,” he told me. “Now I do.”