I’m sickened by today’s events in Charlottesville. I’m sickened by the tableau of nazi and white supremacist history being writ large and live in this day and age. I am sickened that the ideologies of hate and bigotry are so freely, loudly, and angrily shouted on the streets of America where so many years before, and even so recently, we believed this diseased torrid flesh-eating curse had finally been permanently banished. Yet this hate led to someone dying and others seriously hurt.

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Here’s another blogger’s response to the weekend’s events title My Fellow White Americans. And, sadly, I couldn’t agree more.

As I prepared to publish this, I came across a draft of an entry that I’d failed to publish shortly after the election. Yet as I re-read it now, I am deeply saddened that my fears have unfortunately been substantiated. Here it is, my previously unpublished post from last November.

Wrapping my head around a vote

written November 14, 2016

I just left a college-wide meeting where about 120 members of the campus community came together to talk about the election of Donald J. Trump and results of the most divisive election in modern history. Since that outcome of November 8th, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the disconnect and compartmentalization that describes how many people I know and care about – including colleagues, neighbors, and others – could vote for a candidate who spent 16 months spewing ever more vile rhetoric of hate, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. Even more so, this same candidate chose not to demonstrate any scorn for those who perpetuated and even advanced this hate speech into action. Rather, he seemed to encourage it.

The kinder people I speak of are not racist. And I believe them. But then I’m left with a question of judgement. Did they hate Hillary so much more that they were willing to look past the comments of a person whose word-vomit and narcissism was decorated with the lacy fabric of… let’s just call it “crap”… the words are there and yet to repeat them gives them legs.

A consummate con, Trump is a showman whose singular goal is to get more views, more news coverage, more attention, regardless of how that happens. And somehow, nearly half the voters were able to swallow their own pride, set aside their own dearly-held values, and select a candidate whose con is only out-sized by his list of vile statements which emboldened a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic underbelly of America to come out of the woodwork. When is the last time a President was openly supported by the KKK or other white nationalist groups?

So I sat among colleagues who I hold great respect for, and even fondness, for we are, after all, a family of people committed to the common goal of changing the world through the success of our students. Yet, as I heard my well-intentioned co-workers from counseling offer ways of coping with anxiety – mostly intended for students in the room – I heard one of them, a kind-hearted white gentleman, finish his list of tips interspersed with the statement “because life will go on.” He had been doing so well… but then he went…there.

Life will go on? I guess. But in that one statement, he succeeded in diminishing the very real fears of many of the people in the room. Another colleague who I have often tapped to talk about cross-cultural dialogue and understanding took note of this statement. As a well-educated African American man, he knew the counseling and psychology phraseology. But he also knew what his own fears felt like. And he feared that life was not going to “go on” the same way for a long time. His pain was palpable and I felt a lump in my throat.

Sitting nearby was another colleague who I know to be gay, but he did not speak up. From his body language in response to an LGBT student’s expression of fear and concern countered with a defiant statement of hope, I could feel his pain, as well.

But then another colleague, an African American woman asked a variation of what I had already expressed via the microphone being passed around. How do I wrap my head around the fact that there are people I know who voted for this man in spite of the banner of hate that he waived? How do I resolve this conflict with people who accepted his hate, but then want to work with me? An unfulfilling answer came from a white male in the room who acknowledged his privilege but missed the point. He said we needed to just move past this and go on.

There it was again. Just move on.

Yep. Accept the fact that someone who has emboldened his most extreme followers to openly spew anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Hispanic, anti-Black crude, cruel, hate speech of the most deplorable kind, should be welcomed with open arms into the leadership of not only this country, but the free world? Accept that? Nope. Not at all.

I know that my male white colleague, and many people who voted for “the Don,” didn’t mean to vote for the vile crap that came along with his nonsensical campaign “speeches” and hyperbolic “big” promises. They may have been focused on only a few issues, one of them likely a palpable dislike for Hillary. I get it. She wasn’t my first choice, either. But she is highly experienced and well qualified for the job, regardless of the “email scandal” non-scandal that swirled around her campaign. I know that the people I call my friends, neighbors, and others I care about are caring people, too. And believe me, I hope above hope that I am wrong, that all the terrible things that the Don has unleashed will fizzle without doing permanent damage.

In the meantime, I don’t think “moving on” is quite the right term for what I – and many others – will be doing. Instead, we too, will become more emboldened to reach out to each other for support, for healing, to promote and hang tight to the values we hold dear, for love, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, celebration of differences, and…a brighter future. We will stand up to bullying, stand by our friends, step forward towards a more inclusive community.

 

Perhaps…maybe someday… we’ll even “move on.” Maybe after we have somehow managed to overcome this Pandora’s box of evil hate that I think we can all (mostly) agree is antithetical to the values of this nation, and close that horrid loathsome box shut again.


 

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Charlottesville, Virginia 8/12/17

8/12/17 – Unfortunately, far from “moving on,” it seems that the only way to fight evil is to face it head on, relentlessly, and without deviation. The opposite of evil is love. But today, evil is my enemy, and love for my fellow compassionate humans is my weapon of choice. – mjf

 

 

It’s been nine months since the last entry. Not that I haven’t had anything to say, far from it. But life has been very full… And frankly, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to really share with the blog-reading public. So I will simply say that life has been mostly good, with many, many blessings to be grateful for, lessons learned, and dreams experienced.

First… The promises kept.

During the summer 2012 of my husband’s illness, when I dropped my classes for the doctoral program I was in, Keith made me promise him two things. First – that I would finish the doctorate, and second – that I wouldn’t sell the property at Perry Rd and would continue with the renovations to make it the studios and gallery we dreamed of, including a photo studio for older daughter Sarah, and a printmaking studio space for Anastassia.

Last month, on May 9, I participated in the commencement and hooding ceremony for my doctorate with highest honors (4.0 GPA) and was given the faculty’s Distinguished Scholar Practitioner Award. I still have some work left on the dissertation. So I am reluctant to duly embrace this achievement. But finish it I will, with an anticipated completion only months away.

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Above: Me with my award.
Below: My daughters, me, and Steve pose together with our Spider-Man masks on. One can’t take oneself too seriously, you know.


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And last fall, we launched the opening of the photography studio of S.E. Fulmer Photography, followed shortly by the opening of the downstairs gallery. All together, the building is called The Gallery House.

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Above: The Gallery House from last Fall.

This summer, with the incredibly dedicated help of my dear companion of the last 14 months, we are heading fully into the workshop renovations. We are starting with some much needed landscaping – fully fencing the space of about 1.25 acres. Then we’ll add some retaining walls, and finally, the building itself will get a thorough clean up. The workshop must be made ready for use in making the project that follows possible.

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Above: Looking uphill at the workshop which will be the focus of this summer’s renovations at Perry Rd.

New promises…

In late April, I read a book that I recommend to anyone wondering what kind of grief is normal. With apologies to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are more appropriately applied to those who are dying, not necessarily to the survivors. The book is called “Four Funerals and a Wedding” by Jill Smolowe. She experienced the loss of four dear loved ones, including her husband, within a short period of time. She addresses her own manner of dealing with those who offer help, with the potential concern for being judged, and most importantly, the resilience of recovery from loss. In no way does resiliency mean that one has stopped grieving for their loss. But resiliency means one is able to look forward and build a new life, in spite of their loss.

I was so moved by her book, about her ability to describe many of my own feelings and providing the permission one needs to move on, that I sent her an email message. We exchanged some very kind messages and I felt a kinship to the form of widowhood she has defined, where one is allowed to move onward, even find new relationships. She sent her encouraging best wishes, for both the relationship I now have, and for the completion of my degree. If you, too, are facing the potential loss of a loved one, or already have, this book may be for you. If you know someone who is facing this, and you want some insight into how to help, this book would be for you, too.

Another book I read was “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” by Roz Chast. A comic book artist, she writes and draws from the heart about her experience as the only child of two 90-something parents who she must deal with in their last few years. Her strong-willed mother faces serious health issues after a falling incident, while her father suffers from dementia. The reality, however, is that we just start falling apart the older we get.

This book also dealt with the feelings of guilt and frustration of the caregiver, Roz, who was an only child. Frustration because she couldn’t convince her parents to move out of their apartment until it was a critical situation, and guilt over issues of money… Would they outlive any money they’d saved? And what of the cost of their care and special living needs? The situation described by Chast was made even more real by the sudden decline in her health of my companion’s aging mother.

These issues have crossed my mind regarding my own parents recently, too, though I have been spared some frustrations. Shortly after my doctoral commencement, a road trip to Florida to see my parents led to discussions about a potential future with them living with me in Michigan. The trip included their first introductions to my companion, and my parents seemed to have really taken a liking to him, and he to them. As my brother (who flew in to help with the discussions) and I looked knowingly at each other, my dad regaled Steven with the stories we’d heard many times before. And my mother seemed to enjoy Steven’s chivalrous nature and good humor.

Though much younger than the situation in Roz Chast’s book, my parents are coming to terms with a future that includes being near me as they face their own health and aging issues. Rather than be a 20-hr drive away, we are now planning to build a multi-generational home to share.
So the workshop at Perry Rd will need to have the woodworking side fully functional.

Yes, a new home is in our future. Recognizing the fact that both my parents are artists, too, my daughter Sarah has already dubbed this future abode: “The House of the Aging Artists” complete with dripping paint for the logo style.

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Above: a great white heron, one of Keith’s animus, visits me on Sanibel Island during my visit to my parents last month.

Below: Me…on the beach at Sanibel Island.

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Ah well. I’ve come to the conclusion that we must embrace the life we’re given, go with the flow and be ready for the challenges that life brings. I’ve been through hell and back. Keith is still with me in spirit – I know this for certain. But I’m in this universe and I will be making the most that life offers. It’s the only way I know.

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Photo: Family Christmas 1989, our first as a foursome after our youngest daughter was born. She recently graduated from university in April 2012.

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Adaptation Fight or Flight

A fellow who worked for the Peace Corp in the South Pacific office in Fiji once told me that they had done studies that showed a volunteer would have their toughest time at about the four-month mark. It was at that stage in their adaptation to their new situation in a foreign place where they were truly reaching the depths of homesickness. The strongest would endure, powering through it in spite of their emotional turmoil, forever changed by their new lives outside of their full control. While the weaker ones would give up and return home, soaking in their traumatized perceptions, refusing to accept life that isn’t fully predictable.

So here I find myself in a parallel space. That four month mark since Keith’s death where I am reaching that first major turning point in my adaptation to life without him. In thinking about this, I was struck by another parallel from our past. It was on September 1st, 1991 that Keith and I arrived with two very young daughters in Fiji. And it was in December 1991 where I found us on that pivotal moment where I would either run back to the states in tears and frustration, or tough it out and find a way to adapt. Back then, in Fiji, the holidays were an amusing attempt to create normalcy on the other side of the looking glass. In the end, we stayed six years, choosing to adapt, and even thrive. But it wasn’t easy.

And I find it just a little too synchronistic that Keith would die on September 1st, 2012, 21 years later. Five years before our arrival in Fiji, our first daughter was born two weeks late. She was due on September 1st but chose to wait a couple of weeks longer in the womb. Apparently an Emerson Lake & Palmer concert was finally enough to coax her out.

It’s funny (not haha funny) that I am only thinking of this now, that September 1st would be such a day of note in our family history. But then again, I was always amused by numbers and patterns. To this day (for at least the last decade or more), I find myself looking at a clock at just the moment where it reads 9:11. It’s almost as if life is not in balance if I do not see this time upon my glance at the clock. So when the World Trade Center was struck on 9/11/01, the date more than seemed significant. When Keith died, it was 9/01/12. Another dear friend and mentor died on 01/09/10, bit since he was overseas, it would have been written 09/01/10. So maybe there’s a pattern. Or maybe I just like playing with numbers. No meanings inferred here. It’s just interesting.

Now here we are on 12/21/12, or even as 12/21/2012.. Interesting rhythm to it. Not quite a palindrome, but a nice pattern nonetheless. Some believe it is the end of the world on the Mayan calendar. But anthropologists say it is what the Mayans say is the end of an “era”, a 13-round cycle of 52 years each.

For me, it is just another day. But the end of an era is already here for me. I feel it in my body, physically aching each night as I fight sleep. Days are long, but nights are longer still. Each night, after keeping myself busy with work, school, laundry, family, etc., I come to bed and Keith looks back at me from his photographic perch. In one picture he can look almost stern, mocking my lack of attention to him and my heart sinks. Reality hits me again, like a repeating torturous blow. I kiss my finger and place it on his lips on the photo. “I miss you,” I whisper as I sigh deeply with watery eyes before turning away.

And then I face the truth. No, he’s not coming back. No, he’s not out of town. No, he’s not going to walk into the room. No, you will never hold him again while you curl up in this bed.

It hurts.

And as another holiday looms, I know that when I come back from our annual service at the soup kitchen where we’ve been cheerfully taking photos of children on Santa’s lap on Christmas Day for 8 years, my home will be quiet except for the two dogs curled up asleep. Keith will not be sitting there with them asking how the event went. He will not be there, ready to open a few presents with the kids, or sit down with us for a meal of whatever we’ve decided to experiment with that year.

I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. And what’s worse… there’s not a damned thing I can do to change it. So, unlike the homesick peace corp volunteer who still has the option of running back to the familiar, I’m going to have to push through it until I get to the other side of this holiday.

Grief sucks.

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The woodworking shop(s)

My husband was a woodworker. And a very talented one at that. I’m beginning to realize that more and more. I guess I took it for granted that others were as meticulous as he when it came to work they were hired to do. Granted he had his off days. But he knew it and more than once he would take a mistake and toss it out starting over again when something didn’t come out exactly as he wanted it to.

And, like any talented and meticulous woodworker, he had his tools… LOTS of them, admired by others for the over all completeness of his shop. What makes my role harder as his widow, however, is that not only have I inherited HIS very modern shop. But I also have the project of dealing with the shop and lifetime of items left behind by another woodworker, Mr. Maurice Reid, at Perry Road, the property Keith and I had purchased a year before Keith’s death. Mr. Reid left behind more than 100 years of accumulated tools, supplies, and various pieces-parts of furniture, etc. There were also albums, notes, letters, assorted artifacts going back to the mid-1800s left behind in the 1840s era farmhouse on the property. Fortunately, Keith and I had already gone through much of that, with arrangements made to donate these to a university museum. But the 4000-sq-ft workshop was still chock full of vintage machinery, tools, and supplies.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have begun to sell some items, if only to make way for the art studio that Keith wanted me to arrange for the girls and myself. I even wrote about the first round of sales in a previous post where it felt like a very positive experience.

But the more recent effort left me emotionally drained. And after they left, I went to my bed and cried. It didn’t feel right this time. And so, after talking to my daughters, I’ve decided to hold off with any future sales. Both shops are closed to any sales now, especially the kind where people wonder through as if at a garage sale in search of unrecognized treasures.

Frankly, it was one thing to see people going through stuff at Perry Road where Keith had only begun to play with the big giant vintage machines to make them his own. But it was quite another to see people I didn’t know touching and talking about equipment in the shop here at home. It was just too painful seeing them playing with knobs, etc. on Keith’s machinery, commenting here and there about it’s failings. I know there was no disrespect intended. And under other circumstances, I probably would have been just fine about it, maybe would have even cracked a joke about it.

But this time, as I watched and overheard their murmurings, it took every bit of strength I could muster not to break down in front of them. In the end, after thinking about it for a couple of days, I cancelled the sale of the last two items that would have been picked up in January. I couldn’t go through with it. And the girls convinced me that it was okay to just leave things where they were, even saying that they wanted to use these machines themselves.

This last part amazes me. For I often forget how much time Keith had with them working in the shop. They’re much more knowledgeable than I am about the operation of some of these tools. That’s a beautiful gift that Keith gave them… the confidence to handle these tools and make things with their hands.

Such are the precious gifts of memories and meaning that are the comfort I seek to get me through this holiday season.

20121203-001739.jpgPhoto above: Keith and me on my college graduation day in 1982 and also the day of my bridal shower. I was 21 and he was 24 years old, both so young and at the start of a beautiful 30-year marriage.
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I haven’t dreamed in such a vivid way in quite some time. But as I awoke this morning after a brief sleep, I lay there stunned that my reality upon awakening didn’t match the dream I had abruptly left. I lay in bed nearly 20 minutes grasping at the threads of memory in an effort to return to the dream.

This morning’s dream occurs just 3 months after Keith’s death and must have occurred during that brief hour between 8:30-9:30 am this morning. I know it was not from during the night because I had gotten up earlier after being awakened by Lenny, my husband’s 18-month-old Silken Windhound, who makes it known that he needs to go out to relieve his small bladder by whimpering relentlessly next to my ear.

Although some things are fuzzy about the dream, some things are quite clear. I’ll do my best to relay these details here:

The Dream, 3 month anniversary

In my dream, there was me, Keith, Sarah and Anastassia, with the girls both grown as they are today. We were preparing for long road trip. It was AFTER Keith’s death… yet he was there, speaking to me. It seemed that the trip was as much for him as it was for the rest of us. The girls were there, too, but not so much talking, just along, watching Keith and I as we busied ourselves getting things ready. Keith was wearing a yellow polo t-shirt with wide white stripes and thin blue stripes and a breast pocket. The shirt would have been one of his nicer ones, though he always preferred ones with the pocket.

During the dream, we were loading up a station wagon – probably my old Volvo, but it could have been Keith’s truck. It seemed more like the bed of a truck. Maybe like an El Camino if it had a back seat. An El Camino might be significant only because it was the car Keith had when we first met. But the car in this dream was somewhat ambiguous.

We were piling things on top of each other into the bed of the truck/back of station wagon. Not boxes, but lots of tools, metal, wood and other awkward-shaped items that didn’t really fit together so there were lots of open spots between the pieces. Gaps that seemed ready to fill with smaller pieces but lay empty now.

Then we were at a gas station, and it seemed important that I had to put air in the tires of my bicycle. Keith was telling me it was important to do this now and helped me by providing instructions. That was when a young female attendant with curly auburn hair asked me about Keith and brought to my attention that this trip was happening with him after his death. I know this because I recall the conversation in the dream where I say to her:

“Yes, this will be hard to explain to my mother. But it’s simple really. It’s like that DNA thing…”

I can’t recall explaining much more than that. But it made complete sense… in the dream. It was natural for Keith to be there, for him to be a part of the activity and conversations.

And then – as I had done all summer – I was driving us all, Keith in the seat beside me and the girls in the backseat watching. I remember at the end of my dream, just before I awoke, I drove up over the bump of a curb before pulling out of the gas station onto the road.

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Now for the analysis:

I like dreams for they are a place where the imagination and reality can collide, where nonsense makes sense, and where time is irrelevant. So when my dreams have been this vivid, I have tried to write them down.

This is not the first time I have dreamed of Keith. But it has been awhile. The last time was only a few weeks after he died. But I’ll save that one for another day.

A close friend who also has a strong interest in dreams and has been studying their potential meanings encouraged me to share this latest one. And I think his analysis is spot on:

Very interesting dream… The idea of taking a long journey is like moving to a new place or leaving a current state… The fact that the packing was not neat and organized, things won’t fit together well on this journey moving forward… Putting air in bicycle tires suggests the importance of managing pressure and maintaining balance… And finally, the curb is so suggestive that it will be a bumpy ride moving forward but you are not alone, with Keith by your side on the journey, and the girls close by. And no one is flustered.

Some might say that your animus has chosen the persona of Keith and is helping you to pack up and move forward.

It’s interesting to see the connections with my dream, my friend’s analysis, and some recent events. This week I was with another friend who turned a little close to a curb and bumped over it. I also took on moving the trailer with Keith’s truck for the first time on my own. Although I had checked and re-checked the trailer, it only took a half mile before I hit a bump and the trailer popped off the hitch, left dragging by the chains. Fortunately, nothing was damaged and I was able to get my daughter to come and help me get the trailer back onto the hitch. It was stressful, yes. So was backing the damned thing with that giant crewcab diesel truck. But I managed. Then I turned it over to others. That is the privilege I’m taking… choosing when I need to step back and let others take it on. I am trying to muster courage to do these things that I always took for granted that Keith did. But I am also mindful of my limitations, emotional and physical. It’s a self-preservation technique I am beginning to cultivate more intentionally.

So maybe the dream was a culmination of these various adventures from the week. And maybe it was, as my friend suggests, a psychic effort to bring Keith beside me as I journey forward. And yes, maybe there will be bumps in the road, and my daughters will be nearby to help. But I also do need to put some air in my bicycle tires. The bike sits upon a stationary stand but the tires are flat, making it unusable for picking up for a ride outdoors. But I guess it’s not a bad thing since the weather now turns to the cold winter with its long dark nights.

As for the young woman with the auburn curls, I know who that is. It is me as a young woman, the girl I was when I first met Keith. I’d even worked at a gas station when I was 17, earning money that winter pumping gas and checking oil at a full service gas station in order to pay for a new exhaust system for my first car. Hmmmm…. so the young me was attempting to give the old me a bit of a reality check.

But each day, I try and make some headway on this journey. I visit our Perry Road project, wander around to check the progress, check the locks, and listen to Keith’s wind chimes in their Himalayan harmony as they echo over the hillside facing the setting sun. I think about what I can build new here, a sanctuary that seems remote facing down the hillside, yet part of the family’s journey with my daughters and yes, even Keith… in spirit. With that in mind, I know I’ll find ways to fill the gaps while bracing myself for those bumps in the road ahead.