I could have titled this blog post on any of the past three days.
The gray pre-winter weather has settled in to Gyumri. Rain falls for a few hours, then the sun breaks through and you forget that is was wet and cold.
I set off on four walks yesterday, not minding the wet because before long, the sky clears. As you can see, weddings happen even in the rain.
Oh what to tell you?
How I wish I had packed more than two books? I finished Patricia McNair’s “And These Are the Good Times” last night. I am hopeful that my host here at Villa Kars has a book in English in his vast library, filled with books in Italian (Graham Greene, Charles Bukowski, Richard Wilbur, Walt Whitman.) Not so many in English.
Rain does not stop joy
How I really don’t mind the many hours I spend alone? My translators and I spend many hours shoulder to shoulder while I teach or navigate organizations in Gyurmi. But on a day off, which I am quite pleased for really scheduling and holding to, I spend hours alone. I can gather lunch and dinner well enough on my own. As long as I don’t need anything dramatic, I can traverse the daylight hours. Yesterday I wandered the market, which is a hub in this city of 120,000. There were many vendors selling pickled everything. I made myself look at all the buckets of animal parts for sale. If I am going to live among these people, I have to see what they are eating. The mounds of fresh spices endlessly fascinate me. Honestly though, I have not eaten much that is spiced with what I see. There is also a really scary looking cheese that they love. I have not found the courage to photograph it yet. I am not a thrill seeking photographer; more a documentarian of what delights me. I will keep you posted on that.
Rain means soup, right?
How I crave a home cooked meal? Yesterday I spent two hours at the foundation which will host me this coming Friday to teach a group of ten teen photographers for five days. KASA Foundation provides many valued services to this community, among them after-school programs for teens. The staff has lunch together every day that is cooked by the woman in charge of housekeeping, Hasmik. While I met with my contact over tea in the kitchen, Hasmik sautéed onion, chopped fresh greens and potatoes, stirred lentils in to the soup pot and let it simmer. When she invited me to join them for lunch I declined. BIG MISTAKE. Don’t decline an Armenian offer of hospitality. The look on Hasmik’s face was one of shock and a bit of disdain. How could I have said no? I immediately rescinded and pulled up to the lunch table set with steaming soup bowls and fresh salad. Okay. I cried. The soup and company were warming. We talked, the languages around the table varying from Armenian, to Russian, to French, and occasionally to English. I was happier than ever.
How I am, still, really happy here? Oh let me tell you, this past week’s workshop with beginning artists was more successful than I projected. I teach in many settings, I welcome new writers and book artists to my table everywhere I go. But this group seemed reluctant to dive in on day one. Ani and I were worried. But Ani also reminded me that Armenians could be shy in new settings. New Illuminations introduces them to an intimate group circle where we do breathing exercises, yoga, and write. This is new territory for all of them. Can I describe to you the joy I sense when after two writing sessions every day, on day four the sweet scribbling that goes on tells me, yes, this workshop has reached them. They are in the flow of energy that rises from consistently pressing in to creative practice. More and more I leave open time in circle for questions and discussion, in my classes in the US and here in Armenia. Holding space for what rises up is really worth including in my planning because those inquiries which are generated by the immediate content often bring forward teaching points for which I could not plan.
So yes, I am completely happy.
How I am once again, missing my daughter’s birthday by being away from her general vicinity?
When I plot this trip, fitting it in to the season before the holidays, but after the high season of travel in Armenia, several significant events have to be missed. I just cannot make every single thing work. If I am home by Thanksgiving, but also home for the mid-October long weekend when the kids come home from school, AND teach three workshops in Armenia over three weekends and give myself time to adapt to the 9 hour time change, that means I miss Catherine’s birthday on November 10. I know, what kind of mother misses her child’s 20th birthday? I am. That would be me. Cat and I discuss this during my planning stages and she says, “Oh Mom, it is okay. We will celebrate when you get home. And really, I want to be on campus anyway, so if you were home, we wouldn’t do anything on that day anyway.” So I make my plans. Then, as the date approaches, my heart gets achy and I get texts from her that read, “Mom, I have been thinking of you so much. I cannot wait to see you.” I just have to attend to the ache and be patient. But when Karina, one of the artists in the beginning workshop, walked in on Monday with her 3-year-old daughter Satenik, my eyes spewed tears. Yes, it is something Cat and I agreed upon. But my heart knows more.
There are some wonderful developments about this project which you can read about over on the New Illuminations blog. The space you are currently reading is my personal blog where I write about daily creative practice, about teaching, and where I am in the world. The New Illuminations blog is solely about that project. You can join that mailing list here.
I hope your days are filled with joy. I am struck by the continued flow of difficult news from the US, the shooting in Texas, the revelations about sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry–about which I have a few big questions. How come when something is revealed about a man’s indiscretions to another man, immediate action is taken, the accused is dropped by his television show and his talent agency and all hell breaks loose but when a woman makes a similar accusation about a man, there are prolonged investigations, legal proceedings and proving beyond any doubt?
That is a topic for another day.
For now, I look out on the rain in the golden apple tree outside my door and am grateful for time to write, to catch up with you from here.
I send you all my love from Gyumri,