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Friday, May 13, 2022

Good and Exciting Things Still Happen

Sunny Juliet post-paddle

The puppy and I are home. SJ loves the yard at the farm, and she had her first dog paddle in Lake Leelanau. We are still adjusting, but in time what I call her “good girl potential” is going to come shining through, and we will be fine. Meanwhile, the world has gone on turning – and besides all the bad news and my personal grief, there are some wonderful and exciting things happening, too.


A Pulitzer Winner


For instance? Well, someone I know won a Pulitzer Prize. And she’s a Michigan poet, too. 


Originally from Niles, Diane Seuss (cousin of a friend so dear he and his wife and kids are like family) first appeared on Grath radar when she was one of a number of women poets (the event was billed as “women poets”) reading their work in a classroom setting at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. (Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo, but there is only one.) It was a small event that the Artist and I attended together, at the suggestion of our friend, Michael, the poet’s cousin.


Diane, as I recall her on that long-ago day, was young, barefoot, and wore a long cotton hippie sort of skirt. Instead of standing behind the desk and reading from the small lectern, she sat on the desk, bare feet swinging. I remember being somewhat dubious and not expecting much. 


Then she read.


At the end of her first poem, the Artist and I looked at each other in amazement. Had we really heard what we thought we heard? I wish now that I had made notes (and kept them) of the pieces that made our hair stand on end that day. I do remember going to see our friend, her cousin, Michael, soon afterward to tell him that I would be more than happy to type Diane’s manuscript for free if she needed a typist, so that her work could be published with the least possible delay. 


But her career did all right without my help. A Guggenheim Fellow in 2020, she received the John Updike Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021. And now, for her frank: sonnets, she has won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The Pulitzer committee said of this book that it is “a virtuosic collection that inventively expands the sonnet form….” Wow. I mean -- wow! A Pulitzer!!!



Coming From Way Behind


Then there was another winner, the long shot, come-from-behind winner of the 2022 the Kentucky Derby, which I was unable to watch as I was on the road that day, traveling the last stretch of my cross-country odyssey home to Michigan from Arizona. I had no idea of the horses running that day, and the names would have meant nothing to me, but someone posted a link on Facebook, I watched it a couple days later, and -- Oh my God, I have never seen such a race! Has there ever been such a race? The announcer himself, focused on the front runners, never saw the upset coming, even as Rich Strike was coming up through the field, passing every horse in sight.


What a horse! What a race! Nunca te rindas! Never give up! 80 to 1 odds! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! It is an exciting race every time I re-watch it!



Life Is Hard, Driving Is Easy


How many of my friends offered to fly out to Tucson and drive back with me across the country to Michigan? I lost count. There were a lot, and quite honestly, not to sound churlish or ungrateful, I had a few moments of annoyance at all the concern. Did my husband’s death render me suddenly incompetent and/or foolish? And how could I even begin to imagine making that long, familiar, cross-country drive David and I had made together so many times with anyone who wasn’t David? The very idea, so popular among my friends, I found unthinkable. 


I wrote recently, “This trip was, for me, a kind of pilgrimage but not to one particular destination: the entire length of the journey was its point.” It was, if you will, a kind of secular-marital Camino de Santiago, driven rather than walked, and I had to do it alone. We walked around the square in this little town. It was on this stretch of country two-lane road that we saw the armadillo. My memories would mean nothing to anyone else.


The other thing is that since the Artist died, missing him so terribly, I do a lot of crying in the car. A second person would have constrained that tearful freedom, conversation would have impinged on my memories, pushing them aside, and silence would not have been the comfortable kind that comes about in a marriage after decades of crazy passion, sturm und drang, quiet, mundane happiness, and all the rest, whereas alone on the road, I had no need to respond except to my puppy, and while Sunny Juliet occasionally makes demands (she is both vocal and physical in making her needs known), she never asks questions. 


“But who will help you with the driving?” people frequently asked. At the end of my odyssey, I was able to put into words what I had known intuitively from the beginning, which is, as the heading of this section of my post puts succinctly, “Life is hard (well, it can be), but driving is easy.” Driving for days requires focus on the task at hand, but except for puppy needs I had no other responsibilities. All I had to do was cover miles. I could take the roads I wanted to take – roads the Artist and I had traveled before – and stop when I wanted to or keep going if I didn’t need or want to stop, consulting only Sunny’s requirements and my own inclination. The hardest part of the odyssey had nothing to do with driving. It was that Sunny slept so much in the car that she wasn’t tired at the end of the day, and I had to amuse and entertain her for three or four hours in the motel when all I really wanted to do was fall asleep over a book or in front of a movie.

One ear up and one ear down

But, as I said up there at the beginning today, we made it, and now we go on from here, day by day. Thanks to David’s gift of a puppy and Sunny Juliet’s presence, I am not alone. Then, too, there are all our friends! 

I'm not alone

So feel free to quote me: "Life is hard, driving is easy."

And then, the other evening in Leland –


Summer art classes in Leland, Michigan, began in 1922, a century ago, thanks to Allie Mae Best. Fifty years ago Michigan State University began offering six-week, for-credit art classes every summer in Leland. My late husband, David Grath, a.k.a. “the Artist” here on Books in Northport, came to Leland to study as a master’s student from MSU (having discovered Leland somewhat earlier, but that’s another story), and so for the 100th anniversary celebration I was asked to loan one of his paintings for the show, which opened Thursday evening, May 12, and runs through May 18 (open 11-3 daily). The show included works by students and instructors from as long ago as the 1960s.


I wasn’t sure I was up for a big public event. What would it feel like to be there, in the building where the Artist had so many one-man shows over the years and where so many friends and acquaintances would be gathered? Could I handle it? I just didn’t know, but a friend said she and her husband would meet me outside and we could go in together. 


It was a lovely, lovely evening! I was so, so glad to be there and was so glad in retrospect that I didn’t miss it that I had to stop by again to photograph a couple things I missed on Thursday evening. Here, then, are a few of the images that touched my heart. 


"Every Day You're Getting Prettier and Prettier"
by David Grath

Paul Welch

"Painting of Portrait," by Paul Welch

"Vanitas," by Paul Welch

"Gauntlet," by Janine Germaine

"Cat? What Cat?" (from the Monster series), by Janine Germaine

screen by Jane McChesney

"Eden," by Cliff McChesney (typical large work of his)

"Soul Catcher," by Cliff McChesney (atypically small for Cliff)

You must forgive me some sentimentality in these choices. I was never a student in the summer art classes but fell under the spell of Cliff and Jane McChesney (as had all their summer art students) when I met them at a dinner party at the home of Jim and Linda Harrison. They were truly lovely people. So while I have no personal memories of the summer art classes, I have my own set of memories, and many of the names invoked on Thursday evening were names I recognized, calling up fond thoughts of years past. 


Dawn said...

How exciting about the Pulitzer! Now I feel like I need to read her winning work.

AND...I know EXACTLY what you mean about the drive back, the reason you needed to do it on your own, the healing of sorts some of it provided. The reminiscing you needed to do. The tears. When my folks died (not the same I know) I cried on the way to and from work daily. It was a safe place to let some of the emotion go. At work and at home during those times I was overwhelmed by other people's stuff. Driving I could explore how I felt about everything that had happened. You had a lot happen.

And I love the art class celebration. How wonderful that you found you were OK to attend, to celebrate a bit yourself.

Karen Casebeer said...

So great to have you back and I'm happy Sunny is liking her new yard. I loved the Diane Seuss memory. She is certainly a Kalamazoo legend, and now with the Pulizer, a worldwide one too. Very happy for her.