As the salt water gushes into our ship’s holes,
Don’t you dare jump without me
I’m no good on my own.
'The Wreck' · Frightened Rabbit
On this night in 1912, Mother Nature took the life of the Titanic in a death scene that lasted less than three hours. Like so many, this story captivates me and is subject to prints like this:
What hold does this have on my psyche? Two reasons come to mind. The first is my fear of water and the claustrophobic feeling I encounter when up to my neck in it. This mistrust led to successfully enjoying the last 20 years sans bathing suit, a record broken at the insistence of my 9-year-old mermaid.
The second is the loss of this floating monument to Craft that took countless skilled hands three years to build. I wonder if the plasterers, the carpenters, the riveters, the woodworkers mourned not only the loss of life that day but the loss of what may have been the finest work of their hands. It reminds me that all craft is ephemeral and part of a bigger story, not the story. I create and let the creations go, to soar or fall flat, and I am grown up enough accept both scenarios.
On the other hand, a friend moving to Nashville lamented the loss of feeling grounded, of not having a large body of water nearby. Water reminds us exactly how small and inconsequential we probably are. We celebrate this humble moment the last day before school starts in September every year, heading to Lake Michigan at sunrise with friends to give our city kids their last taste of the beach.
Everything I love is on the table.
Everything I love is out to sea.
'Don't Swallow the Cap' · The National
These days our house is swimming in a rainbow of drugs as Mr. Starshaped navigates cancerous waters. Got nausea? There's a drug for that! Got anxiety? There's a drug for that! Got pain? Lots of drugs for that! Got a rare fibroblastic reticulum cell sarcoma the docs only see every 4-5 years? Sorry. You're F'd.
My cheap and easy drug of choice is music that enhances the therapeutic studio hours. And I am apparently not the only one to use it as such:
In the studio I find every drug I need. Focus issues? Debussy's Preludes. Exorcise demons? Daughter. Unrequited passion for Mr. Starshaped? Puccini (mostly the 3rd act of Tosca). Every other emotion? Ida.
Oh, this water is making my death
Every season stealing my man from my bed
And if this winter should carry him through to the next
All I can offer is yours to take
'This Water' · Ida
As a stagehand his entire adult life, Mr. S's craft is quite literally an entertaining one. I have watched him explain to Jo the principles of automation, hydraulics, rigging and conductor cameras. But she sees father-as-magician: 'Daddy made it snow!' 'Daddy made the stairs appear in the wall!' 'Daddy made the furniture move with no one touching it!'
On Christmas Eve, 2015, we watched Gotta Dance from the front of house, the only seat available to Mr. S this time around, due to the deleterious effects of cancer on his ability to work. Rounding out Jerry Mitchell's trifecta of populist musicals, (Mr. S worked the first two), we laughed through it until Mae, an elderly woman losing her husband to Alzheimer's, sings The Waters Rise. It was then I realized the fear of losing my husband was the same as my fear of drowning. Was Jo oblivious, parked in between us? No. The second time she and I saw the show she anticipated the song, looked to me and reached for my hand. At that moment she understood metaphor while I understood we'd keep each other afloat.
Let the water rise,
Let the ground crack.
Come out, come out, to the sea my love...
and just... drown with me...
'Shallow' · Daughter
'A song about the Last Day' explained Elena at the February 2016 Chicago show
This is the wave of grief that came after learning our experiments with chemo had come to an end. It resolutely failed in every way. The daily dichotomy of vibrantly pushing past memories to the forefront while not knowing what's actually on the road ahead, especially given the lack of signage, is a dance we perform.
Seeing Mr. S in pain and helpless to do anything about it? Another all-consuming wave.
The musical b-roll in my brain put this on constant replay:
When I hear you saying
That we stood no chance
I'll dive for your memory
We stood that chance
'Dive for your Memory' · The Go-Betweens
I can't think of anything worse than actually, not metaphorically, diving into something over my head. But if there was a cure for Mr. S on the other end of that dive, like when those kids on The Twilight Zone dive into the pool through a metaphysical hole that leads them to a happy place without horrid, bickering parents, then I'd do it.
But there isn't, so I bend my metal rules to do what they don't want to do, because it's the only thing I can control.
All together, the forms became this.
We sought another expert opinion this week but the second verse was the same as the first. I carved, carved away at this linoleum, wishing I could cut out the malignancies creeping through Mr. S's chest. My hands guide me through uncharted waters, laying down new, coping graphs, and when they are distracted this way, my eyes forget to cry for a while.
Together these elements formed a print in serious blues on muted gray cotton paper that absorbs the waves. It reminds me to practice diving, to make sure I return to the surface with poignant, silly or sublime memories and the best day's work, the common ground the three of us share.
I thank The Go-Betweens for their words that gave this print legs and the ornaments that played along. When I sit in my 'crying spot' on the studio floor, the vantage point is of the vast ornament collection, and I yield to their siren call. Tears released and then shut off, I reach my hands up and outward and towards their little metal bodies and the typesetting therapy session begins.
Can I make peace with water? With the metaphor? Yes, because of my village of friends that give me a sense of place:
I will continue to make things, then sell the things, and if no one wants the things and they all end up at the bottom of Lake Michigan, I am fine with that. I inherently understand the ephemeral, our place in the world and that we've already built everything we truly need.
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
'Eternal Father, Strong to Save'
'Dive for your Memory' was printed in an edition of 75, which is available here. And thanks for thinking it doesn't belong at the bottom of the lake.
Of course there's a playlist to accompany this post. It's available here. Note choice of Irish Guards cover of 'Eternal Father' as a nod to the Irish hands that built the Titanic. Bonus point for anyone guessing my superimposed, though historic, link between 'California' and the ship.