The Beauty of Bread Crumbs

The Beauty of Bread Crumbs

I can’t think of many things more essential to me than friends. And in this stage of my life, I’m referring to girlfriends. Which is odd, because I spent many of my adult years undervaluing their importance. I thought I enjoyed men friends more. They like to be silly, be outdoors, and most have little interest in gossip or shopping; they just felt like a better fit with me. Oh, how wrong I was, and my repentance is sincere and bone deep.

 

When I moved to Floridee about nine years ago and started my new life here, it took a while to really build meaningful relationships. As artists, we worked at home and left our community most weekends to take to the road for art shows. Made some fun friends on the road, a few who have become deeply significant to us, but most often they are people from all over and we see them in short weekend spurts, when our paths come together on the art show circuit. Making friends here at home would take a while longer.

 

And it’s funny how I first met Julie. I was invited by an older couple whom I adored to come to their home one night with a few others to see about being a part of their small group, a weekly gathering, back in my oh so distant church days. We told them we were spending the summer in Jerzey, and were in fact leaving the next day for about 5 months. It’s what we did the first few years down here, we still went back to our house in Jerz to do shows and visit family for the summer. But Vito said no worries, no commitments, just come see what it’s about. Out of nothing but sheer respect and politeness we agreed to attend, expecting to merely meet a few new people and be on our way.

 

Got to their house, saying my hellos, when I heard loud laughter coming in the door. LOUD laughter, and there is no better way to get my attention. My first Julie sighting, and I had no idea what kind of blessing was coming into my life. I was distracted, we all were, by the schedules Vito handed us, listing our upcoming times to host…. in the small group that we had no idea we were joining. However, I’m a big believer in following the path of cookie crumbs the Universe sets out before me. We liked Vito so much, we just thought we’d go along with it.

 

Fast forward to next fall, we return to St Augustine and take our place in the schedule. Turns out to be a good thing, as we enjoyed these new people and started meeting weekly, 8 of us. All of it part of my schooling from the Universe; it’s been a good thing for me to start over, to be less insistent on my own way. Earlier I would not have allowed myself to get embroiled in any regular hang with people until I made sure it was a good flow (for ME, it goes without saying. Yes, I was a jerk in that way, and others, I’m sure). I liked things the way I liked them. But Vito’s ways were Vito’s ways all the way, and I learned from that surrender.

 

I quickly came to enjoy so many things about Julie. I thought I was queen of letting it all hang out, but the crown was mine no longer. I didn’t even realize what a gift her straightforwardness was at that time, because it took me a few years to really find my way through the southern culture. Bless my heart. Her truthfulness was a care package from home, in a land where it is sometimes considered impolite to tell the truth. I would come to rely on Julie’s honesty again and again, and for a while, in my craziest sad days, she was like a compass to me, pointing the way to safety… to truth. Being real has always been the safe zone for me; I’m not great at reading subtle signals, at playing the games of manners, especially with females, ironically. But Julie was as real as they come; I never had to wonder where I stood with her.

 

The Universe was SO behind that involuntary gathering. A year after we started meeting one couple split up, completely shocking us all. This is what I’m saying. We met with them weekly, supposedly sharing our hearts and lives with one another, and to us it seemed to stop on a dime. Of course it didn’t, but this is the thing about southern culture. It’s sometimes hard to know what’s really happening, for me anyway. I’ve since been in another group and experienced this phenomenon for a second time. Believe me, folks, if my marriage falls apart, it shall be no secret or shock to anyone lol. Probably somewhere between my oversharing and their locked lips lies a healthy balance. And when Julie’s marriage struggled she trusted us to know it and be a part of working with them and for them to help, if possible. Sadly, it wasn’t possible, and my friend who had become so dear to me was hurting, openly. It was hard to leave her that spring when we headed to Jersey, and I had no idea that we too were heading for the worst hurting of our lives. Within five days of arriving our hearts were also broken.

 

My phone rang many times that summer, calls and texts from friends offering support. But I could never bring myself to respond, I just didn’t have it in me. The only calls I took were Julie’s. When your heart is broken there is a rest in sitting with another broken-hearted person; perhaps that’s the power of support groups. We were each other’s support group, and we made it through, carried by the kindnesses of many and of each other.

 

One of my favorite things about Julie is her capacity for dreaming. The first night I got back we drove down to the Hammock area, sat by the inlet and watched the sun set with a bucket of clams and a bottle of wine or two. She had lost her beautiful home by the water and yet she told me that night that one day she’d have a home in the woods, on the water again. After enough wine, we actually drove around and walked some of the nearby properties, out on their decks and lawns, imagining what Jul’s future home might look like. She had a passion for farm markets too, and shared with me her vision to start a local market to serve both the community and local farmers. Over the next few years I can’t say that I saw much forward movement in either of those dreams but that never discouraged Julie. She talked of those things as if they already were, and in her mind it was done.  She never stopped believing, in herself or her dreams, and that was huge for me to watch. Like me, she is an extremist. Her personality, her vision, her belief in herself… they are rock solid. I felt for a while that I was almost translucent, wispy enough psychically to blow away in a strong breeze, and being around Julie did much to ground me. She is confident without being obnoxious about it, she is sure of who she is, and I had begun to really wonder in my lostness…The Universe knows what it’s doing when it puts out those bread crumbs, it is best to pay attention. Julie was a touchstone for me, and I hope I served a similar purpose for her.

 

I don’t want to embarrass her by going on and on, but suffice it to say that Julie has been running the Salt Air Farmer’s Market near Marineland for almost 5 years, and since the fall she and her friend and business partner Sloan have been directing the Wednesday Pier Market as well. She’s also bought herself a beautiful home in the woods, right on a spring that leads to Lake George. Dreamer Extraordinaire, she knows how to make things happen. Painful losses and sorrows can hurt us for sure, but they can also strengthen us if we allow them room to do so. I have been lucky in my life, far more lucky than I deserve or ever hoped to be. I know this because of gifts like Julie, and I know that you have similar stories in your own life. Wouldn’t it be great if we recognized and acknowledged them while we have the chance? Thank you, Universe, for unwanted small groups and surprise friendships. May they ever continue.

 

 

 

 

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School Daze

School Daze

So here’s a Lovely and Unexpected Gift that has found its way to me. A little over a year ago I wanted to give myself a birthday treat. I’d been wanting to learn some mixed media techniques for the longest time, and those YouTube tutorials refuse to stay in my dainty little head. I did however keep seeing popups about Flow Art Studio in Jax Beach, offering some great classes, and when one mentioned a free art journaling class on the very day of my birth, it was clearly a sign of favor and I was all in. It meant a two hour drive but it seemed too right to ignore.

 

I kind of enjoy going to new places where I’ll know no one, and since it was a free event I wasn’t sure what to expect. Certainly nothing as delightful as what I found. I met a warm friendly group of about a half dozen women, who welcomed me eagerly, slapped a folder in my hand to contain that day’s and all future projects (again all free!), and settled in to get to know me. We painted, glued and played for a few hours, all the while sharing skills and ideas, and my initial impression was that I could learn quite a bit there if I were to keep attending. Well, yesssssss, but…. not the things I thought I was going for, only everything else in the cosmos.

 

You see, I had been wanting for the longest time to see some changes in myself. I gave myself space to grieve and grow, but let’s face it, I wasn’t crazy about all the places my journey had taken me. Grief can be, by its very nature, a bit self-consuming. And there’s nothing wrong with that; any and all parts of that process are, well, whatever they are. It is its own journey; no rules, no parameters, a bit of a perverse funhouse: all warped mirrors and little fun. It just goes where it goes, or that was my experience anyway. I was coming out of it with no self-condemnation, but that didn’t mean I wanted to stay in that condition either. Self absorption is exactly what I wanted to lose.

 

So while I debate over whether or not I’m willing to drive two hours each week to learn mixed media techniques, the Universe has a happy little chuckle at my silliness, and sets me up to get to know women who excel in giving… in serving… in global caring, seeing beyond themselves, in being amazing humans. In short, being the complete opposite of self-absorbed. And just to personalize it to the nth degree, one of them had also lost a son. All of them, in fact, were well acquainted with sorrow and struggle. Yes, dear readers, you can hear the Universe cackling now, can’t you?

 

There is much, so much, I don’t understand about how things work, but I do believe that the sincere desire for growth stimulates the process. Years ago I came up with a title for a short story I wanted to write called “Gentle by Thursday,” because I caught myself wondering if I could become a gentler, kinder person for some event happening that Thursday. The idiocy of my thinking seemed like the seeds of a funny story, and I never forgot that title. Because it is in our nature to want to change by this time next week; in other words, quickly and painlessly. If only. There goes that mad cackle again.

 

But on some level the Universe does recognize the sustained yearning of our hearts for growth… and sends us to Jacksonville for art classes. My group eventually settled out to include three or four fantastic women, sisters of the soul and so much more. My teacher guides. Robin actually runs the studio and a more generous, giving person I do not know. But Mother Teresa she is not; she’s way too much fun and quick to laugh. Not that the Mother was not; I just haven’t heard of her jokester side. Robin’s is front and center, just the way I like it. As an artist she is fine with sharing her skills and secret methods, and that alone makes her stand out in the crowd. Some artists can be the teensiest bit paranoid and overly protective….shhhh. She is brave enough to walk into the studio some weeks with no plan and just the slimmest idea of a direction, that never fails to inspire and take us all somewhere new. Her bravery extends to her business side as well, and it would have to, wouldn’t it? Giving free classes to whomever shows up, supplying all materials, just because she wants to provide people an entry into the creative world. She also offers a wide variety of paid classes, check out Flow Studio, now in Neptune Beach. If you’re lucky enough to hang out with her, be prepared to laugh while learning. She has become dear to my heart, and for obvious reasons she is known as Comet Girl.

 

Teri was probably the one I felt the most instant connection with, which is kinda funny because each week that we worked side by side, my work was always an explosion of overwrought colliding colors while Teri’s was… an ordered, well thought out triumph of calm, soothing beauty. Always significant, always speaking to me. I began to take note of our processes, our differences… and eventually our similar conclusions. We always talked as we worked and I noticed that Teri’s stories were often about serving… caring for pets at the shelters, doing early morning turtle duty during egg-laying season on the beaches… her passion for caring for the planet. She wasn’t sharing them to impress; she didn’t need to. Teri was just talking about her days, her priorities, how she chose to spend the days she’s been given. I just happened to be sitting next to her while it poured out of her. And I knew pretty quickly that her perspective was fresh and new, to me. The kindness just flowed. I’d been wanting to splash in that river for a loooooong time.

 

Jen always had her baby with her, and I think when I first met them he was maybe 6 months old, mostly sleeping in his little seat. I was just getting back to where I could be with kids again without it hurting too much, and Jen and James were the perfect reentry. I right away picked up a vibe from her that we had similar stories. I’m always drawn to those who have traveled the rougher roads; they are my people. Jen was only with us for maybe another 9 months before she moved to TN but before she left we had connected on a deep level, I think maybe because she also was looking to grow and move forward. We all were but those of us who first go backwards for a while have a deep appreciation for every step, and I loved that about her. I so love celebrating life with those drinking deeply at its cistern.

 

And Christy, well, Christy was the capper. Listening to Christy was when I first realized I was being schooled. She talked often of her work at the Mayo Clinic and another area hospital, of the hours she spent developing occupational and art therapy programs, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Some of the other women mentioned joining her and helping her serve the patients there, and I was impressed by their willingness to volunteer their time. No, I wasn’t impressed; I was more blown away. They talked about it often enough that it began to dawn on me that we were talking about regular, weekly time. It probably says something about me that it took me months to realize that Christy herself was volunteering all of this time. Hours spent developing the programs, and then tweaking them to fit the needs of each hospital and its patients, and then faithfully offering them each week to patients and hospital staff. She is not retired. She is a middle-aged, beautiful newlywed in fact, who has a story that I can’t wait to hear more of. For she, and Robin, and Teri, and Jen, is teaching me by osmosis how to live… how to give… how to wake up to generosity as a life style. I’m from jerzey; that does not come naturally to me. No offense, jerz.

 

Oddly, today is Robin’s birthday and 4 of us will gather to celebrate the wonders of this beautiful sister, who has assembled a thirsty group of artists, seemingly to learn about paint and color and creating art. It’s never that simple, is it? Her kindness and open heart has birthed so much more. We’ve kinda come full circle, birthday to birthday, and that seems like more than a coincidence to me. I am being righteously schooled, joyously recognizing the gift of transformation from the Universe. My sisters would say the same, I’m guessing. And you too…. it’s probably happening to you too, if you’re hungry enough. Happy birthday to us all, right? Would love to hear your school tales too, if you’d like to share. Funny, that school bell has a cackling sound to it….