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Published by jordan ariel
Story of a woman's 'dark night of the soul, or conflicted midlife career and longing for her roots as a visual artist.
Story of a woman's 'dark night of the soul, or conflicted midlife career and longing for her roots as a visual artist.

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Published by: jordan ariel on Nov 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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by Jordan Ariel © 1999
Six a.m, six-thirty, seven, seven-thirty. The lighted red reminders toll patiently next to my half-open eyelids as I hide under the deep and layered covers of my big, wooden spindle bed. Black and white photographs of beach dunes punctuate thewarm charcoal wall above my head. The remaining, largely empty, butter yellow walls of my bedroom surround me on a Tuesday morning. I am avoiding my job. I know I have tocall the office – there are staff waiting, deadlines to meet, even a meeting I am supposedto chair. I sit up straight, smooth my hair and clear my voice. I reach for the cordless phone perched next to the alarm clock on the bedside table. Once the long-dreaded callwas complete, I slump back into bed again and turn into the covers to breathe deeply,letting in the guilt and shame that accompanies a lie. The window at the foot of my bedframes a dark sky and the bare limbs of the old, twisted magnolia tree in the backyard.The heater kicks on again to remind me of the long winter months coming.The night before, I finished a novel that took me far away from this place,to the Appalachias and one woman’s courage and discipline, to the power of life seen inits simplest botanical form, to reflections on devotion and contemplation. But now, my body aches with aloneness and the monthly reminder of my gender in a house rumblingwith the sound of an old heater. The previous summer I'd had my forty-seventh birthdayand for some time now, life seemed to be moving without depth or contribution. Mycorporate position and incumbent responsibilities keeps me afloat, washing over my lifeuntil, like a bad wave, it is now throwing me against the harsh sand of my own longingfor authenticity and meaning.It is also the holiday season and all I can see is gluttony, the rampant andmisdirected capitalism of a selfish and unconscious population. A population thatwatches too much TV, eats too much food, has too many babies, and slowly grows alonging for too many things that don’t really matter. In my late night musings, I amconvinced the apocalypse is coming but few will recognize it when it comes. It will slink into our lives in the shape of corporate caroles sung for brand name items we don’t need,or disguised as an overstressed workforce that substitutes for meaningful community,
where intimate conversation would include stock prices, office gossip, and the bestshopping sales. Eight a.m. I cover my head with the duvet and close my eyes.On an early winter evening in Southern California twentysome yearsearlier, just after sunset, the scent in the air was eucalyptus, lavender and wood fires.There was a night sky clarity that brought a heightened illumination to the tiny Christmaslights hung with abundance in the wild manzanita bushes that fronted the entry to thehouse a half mile from the beach. I hurriedly groomed herself in the rearview mirror  before stacking my small handmade and artfully wrapped gifts retrieved from the bed of my pickup into my free arm and then making my way into my mother’s holiday party.I lived on a commune up north and had decided to come home for Christmas Eve. It was 1976 and I wanted to see my uncle who was coming back toCalifornia to live. As I passed through the wooden gate, Christmas flooded my senses:the large brick patio next to the house had a roaring fire in the circular, sunken brick pitlocated at the heart of conversation. Glass windows the height and length of the front of the house created one space out of inside and out. Lit candles were everywhere -- in talland short candlebras, groupings on the dining room table, on the fireplace mantle, and in paper bags, filled with sand, leading out to the small orchard in the back. Terra cotta potsof lavender dotted with silver stars were huddled on the bar outside and on the large, oldwooden coffee table in the living room. Old jazz and R+B holiday music filled the space.The dozen or so guests were enjoying the relaxed spirit of the season unique to beachtowns: dressed in a mix of festive beachwear and casual dinner attire adorned with nativefolk art and winter tans. Always impressed with my mother’s ability to blendsophisticated, artful holiday entertaining with the simple intimacy of a family gathering, Ihug and kiss relatives and old friends as I make my way into the house, looking over their shoulders for my mom.Wearing sandals and a full, calf-length, colorful handmade skirt, a white peasant blouse and antique Mexican silver jewelry, she was in the kitchen tidying up before joining her guests on the patio. We kissed, laughed, whispered and passed in thedoorway like two ships in a tight harbor -- with a lot of practice and very little effort. Myeyes scanned the groups of guests for my uncle.
Uncle Dick wasn’t a tall man but his carriage was confident, hismustached-smile warm and full of humor and charisma. His laugh was loud and hardy.He was an actor and a poet, and had been living in New York for as long as I couldremember. Recently, my mother told me that he had decided to quit acting because of anincreasing and disabling stage fright. Anxiety and depression plagued our whole family but I had always prayed Uncle Dick would conquer his demons. It had given me hope for my own.He was standing by the fireplace in the living room leaning into the lightof the fire with a piece of paper in his hands, his reading glasses tilted on the edge of hisnose. His pressed, dark, minimalist clothes contrasted with the light and Southwesterncolor of the rest of the guests. When he looked up and saw me, his smile and bright, dark eyes lit up his aging face. Setting the paper down, he gave me a big hug that lasted for longer than I am comfortable. He told me that he had situated himself next to the fireinside to practice reciting a poem he wrote for my mother, his younger sister. He wouldread it later as part of the evening’s festivities. I asked him to read it for me, now.As they both stood leaning with opposite shoulders against the white-washed brick fireplace mantle and wall that went to the ceiling, Uncle Dick read his poem. Words of shame, beauty and love melted off the page. Uncontrollable tears cameup from deep inside me, and I shivered. He had chosen a story about a river. It was in hisyouth, and he almost lost his little sister in that river. It was about how he was moved toreach for her, to risk his life to save her and ultimately himself, in the realization of thecommunity that we call family. I took a deep breath. In that moment, his artistry lay onmy body like healing hands and I was transported. Later, when he would read it aroundthe fire, I basked in my uncle’s deep voice thrown out to the audience, his handsgesturing for added effect. I watched as my mother’s tears welled in her eyes. An older great-aunt and my grandparents would offer a toast to the family.But still at the fireplace, Uncle Dick asked me about me life. I was quiet. Ihad been experiencing periods of depression that I didn't know how to handle. I wastwenty-three and didn’t know how to describe the waves of nearly unmanageableemotion and longing that were coupled with darker valleys of inertia, sleep and lack of 

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