Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Going Deeper in Decorah - Part II

Go to Part ! to begin our journey 

The following morning, we set out for Effigy Mounds, near the Mississippi. We learned of several hiking routes from the ranger and opted for a two-mile circuit, the first portion a rather steep upward climb. The route was shaded, and a cedar path wound around hills and through forest. Sunlight dappled the ground and fallen limbs created sculptural forms. Small rises in the ground suggested bear-like forms. The mounds in this area are of bears and birds and were created between 850-1400 years ago. Their meaning is a mystery, but the Indians ceased to create new mounds when they moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture. The route reached overlooks at the Mississippi where we watched a train chug through the landscape as boats cut through the water nearby. With perfect weather, we were invigorated by starting our day in this place of beauty.

We had a short lunch stop in the town of McGregor, yet another small town with traces of a colorful history still found in the buildings of its downtown. In the 1870s it was the largest shipping port west of Chicago as rail cars were ferried across the Mississippi. Those boom years came to an end when a bridge was constructed to connect Iowa and Wisconsin and the business of ferrying train cars became obsolete.

Our final stop for the day was Spillville, Iowa, a town settled by Czechs.  A few missed turns and we found ourselves traveling in clouds of dust on country roads, arriving at the museum just 45 minutes before its closing time.

 There we visited the Bily’s Clock Museum where intricate clocks were carved from wood, often figures moved across the front and disappeared into the casing as music played. Our guide told us that they set them for different times, so they don’t all chime at the same time as the cacophony would be deafening. With white gloves and hands gesturing she displayed each clock and its moving mechanism with enthusiasm. Two bachelor farmers, the Bily brothers, created the clocks, one designing them and the other doing most of the carving. At one time Henry Ford sought to purchase one for $1 million and was declined. At that point their entrepreneurial sister began to charge ten cents for visitors who wanted to see that million dollar clock. They had as many as 1000 visitors each day. 

As our 45 minutes ticked by, we moved upstairs to the music of Dvorak where we found an exhibit on his visit during the summer of 1893. It was in this space that he finished composing the New World Symphony finding comfort in this very Czech town where he wrote of his delight in birds singing and the sound of the Czech language. Our visit concluded with a brief stop at St Wenceslaus Church, the oldest Czech Catholic Church in the US dating back to 1860. Dvorak composed several of his pieces at their organ. As we entered the church I too could hear the birds singing.

Our last day! Time to begin our drive back to the Twin Cities, but we had a few last things to do. We parted ways to explore shops and regrouped at the Porter House. Remember the house with the unusual rock fence? We were greeted by a guide who we learned was the director. She served as our guide and storyteller as we explored the house and learned its story, both a love story and an adventure story. Adelbert (Bert) Porter lived across the street from Grace Young. When they married, they lived with Grace’s parents in what became known as the Porter House. From there he could look from the porch over the stone wall to his childhood home. Bert and Grace didn’t have children and were financially independent allowing them to pursue a life of artistic interests and adventure. Bert was a naturalist, a photographer and a collector and that extended to butterflies, stamps and objects from his extensive travels in South America and Asia. Grace, a suffragette, painted china and accompanied Bert on portions of his trips. Pictures illustrated that she shared his adventurous spirit. Bert did more than collect butterflies, he created stunning artwork from their iridescent wings which is found throughout the home. He also had curiosity cabinets of his many collected objects. I felt as if I would have enjoyed knowing this adventurous and creative couple. 

As our trip came to a close, I considered what we had discovered. Traveling with others requires a myriad of decisions and some negotiation, where to go, what to do, who will drive, where to stay? Most of us are accustom to such decisions with a partner where we have well established roles, less so with others. There were also elements of travel that were less familiar. I am a city girl and spend most of my travels in big cities and art museums. This called for an openness to a different kind of travel, going deeper in a more circumscribed area rather than skimming the surface of a large city. My hope was for surprise and delight and this trip cleared that bar easily. Both of my travel companions confessed to being pleasantly surprised by small-town Iowa, coming away charmed with our encounters and the places we visited. 

One of the most delightful parts of our trip were the people that we encountered as they performed the duties of their daily life, Waitresses and museum guides added an unexpected richness to our travels as we engaged them in conversation.  Museum guides projected a very real enthusiasm for their subject and we often peppered our waitresses with questions about the town and what it was like to live in that area. Everyone was friendly and helpful and added to the fondness we felt for the areas we visited.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Going Deeper in Decorah - Part I

One of my annual traditions is a road trip with two friends from the Artists’ Lab. We settle on two to three days and pick a location to explore. It is a small-town trip, quite different than a big-city trip where you can skim the surface of a broad expanse. A small town is narrower in scope and you must go deeper to find the gems. That requires an open mind and a spirit of exploration.

Our more memorable trips have taken us to Jeffers Petroglyphs, then on to the Pipestone National Monument, a pipestone quarry that is a sacred site for Native Americans. On another trip we traveled across Wisconsin viewing outsider (and outside) art, often grottoes and sculptures created by early German immigrants. This time we pointed south towards Iowa.

We began by considering a number of interesting stops, then narrowed them to a smaller circuit. I always want to do more than is realistic and suggest complex trips. Those invariably get trimmed as they are, I admit, overly ambitious. I had visions of singing one of my favorite hobo songs (The Hobo’s Lullaby) on the way to the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa or traveling the Grant Wood scenic byway from Cedar Rapids onward. Alas, they fell on the cutting room floor when weighed against the driving.

Still what was left was intriguing. Our plan was to go to Decorah, a charming town in Northeast Iowa and then on to Effigy Mounds Monument, an area of 200 raised mounds of animal forms created by Indian tribes in the first millennium. The best trips include some outdoor component to balance the driving. There are a number of small towns along the Mississippi that we planned to visit along the way. Nearby was Spillville, a Czech town that was the site of a three-month visit from composer Antonin Dvorak in the late 1800s. There he completed his work on the New World Symphony, one of my favorite pieces of classical music. In the building that housed him, there is a small exhibit about his visit and a rather renowned clock museum.

Decorah is a two-and-a-half-hour drive and we began on a day with perfect weather, sunny,
warm, but not uncomfortably so. Harmony, Minnesota is in route. It is a small Amish community and horse drawn buggies are likely to pass you on the road. We stopped at Estelle’s Eatery for what turned into a leisurely and pleasant lunch. Time runs slowly in Amish country, especially at a popular restaurant. 

When we arrived in Decorah we pulled up in front of the Vesterheim, the National Norwegian-American Museum, housed in an attractive old building. It has the most extensive collection of Norwegian-American artifacts in the world. Who knew!


by Fred Cogelow, one of my favorite pieces
Now I don't have a Norwegian bone in my body, but one of the rules of road trips is you explore what the area offers, the more unlike your typical explorations the better. When we entered we were greeted with the National Norwegian-American Folk Art exhibit with rosemaling, weaving and woodworking. As I enjoyed the contemporary response to Norwegian traditional arts, it began to arouse a curiosity in me about the genesis of those arts. That was soon to be satisfied by rooms that represented the typical living space decorated by Norwegian home crafts. The museum presented many of the original artifacts that represented the Norwegian artistic tradition. One of my favorite parts was a 
The model on right, carving on left
photography exhibit of Knud Knudsen, one of Norway’s most famous early photographers. He lived from 1832-1915 and began his photography business in the 1860s. While his landscapes are lovely, it was the photographs of people in their daily life that bridged both time and geography.

As we left the building we noticed a number of historic buildings located behind the museum
representing the life of Norwegian immigrants. We found ourselves imagining what life was like for a couple who lived with six children in one room. 

We then went in search of our Airbnb, a home within walking distance of the Main Street and near the historic district. A welcoming front porch greeted us, something we observed throughout the neighborhood. We found the location convenient as we walked to La Rana, a small and satisfying restaurant. On the walk back, we passed an imposing home, but what caught our attention was the intriguing rock wall that surrounded it, set with glittering geodes and colorful forms. We learned that it was known as the Porter House and was now a museum, yet another gem, quite literally, for exploration.

Read Part 2 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Not an Elevator Speech

The gallery was filled with people when we entered the Jewish Artists' Lab exhibition. The theme is Crossing the Threshold, a topic that resonates deeply with me. I believe much of life is about our journey across new thresholds as we explore new aspects of the world and of ourselves. As I milled around the room, I was posed a question by a fellow artist. “What do you do when you aren’t painting?” 

Most of the time painting takes up a very small segment of my overall time. Even if I count all my time at the studio, I probably spend a big chunk of that time contemplating what and how I am going to paint. Or painting over my first attempts. Often I am working on other projects. Then I paint a bit and study it from across the room as I contemplate the next step. Hmm, not much to talk about in my painting life right now so I switch directions. 

“I am presenting on my book and beginning to work on a new book,” I replied. Much of my time this year has been focused on talks on immigration that relate to my book.

“Oh, what is the new book about,” I was asked. In that moment I realized I had stepped into a quagmire. I had no elevator speech. I am still discovering what it is about. Writing, at least the kind I do, is about discovery, not too unlike painting. That’s why it is hard to talk about at this stage. I need to allow myself the room to find my way and sometimes I need to be patient with my bumbling around in the dark. I've found that is a part of the process of artwork of any form. That's why they call it creating. We start without knowing where we are going. For most of us that is a bit scary and we need to learn to trust that we'll find our way. Sometimes it is a direction we never anticipated and we need to be patient with the process. It is very much about crossing thresholds into the unknown.

The truth is I’m still weeding through my lived experience to discover if there is a book in it or a series of essays. We live, we experience, we distill and we shape it into a form to share with others. I use both artwork and writing to do that. It is a long process. Sometimes someone asks me how long a painting takes. Do I start my count with the experience that underlies it?

I continued to contemplate that original question. What is it about? Later I started to write a series of sentences beginning with what it is or is not about.  I actually found that very useful in considering my topic (s).  Some may form whole chapters while others are sub-points, but all were important parts of the experience.  Here's what I came up with:

It is about my relationship with my sister, a relationship that bloomed late in life around a shared purpose.
It is about working together with her and accommodating our different personalities and skills.
It is about how amazingly different siblings can be, even in the same family.
It is about my love for my mother in all its iterations. 
It is about how different people know different parts of the same person, each with a unique relationship.
It is about the way relationships change and adapt as circumstances change.
It is about being present in the moment.
It is about finding the meaning in an experience.
It is about finding the essence of a person despite the guise.
It is about partnering.
It is about ceding control.
It is about taking control.
It is about stepping up.
It is about living, dying, letting go and cherishing.
It is about living so we don’t have regrets.
It is about finding another person housed within us.
It is about seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
It is about loving the whole, but also the parts.
It is not about Alzheimer’s, although that is part of the lived experience, but it doesn't overshadow the person.
It may be in part about my father, but I’m not sure yet.
It is about finding and loving the person trapped in the fog.
It is about the human experience.
It is about discovering who you are as you learn about who your parents were. 
It is about understanding the world through story.
It is about a book that I would want to read.

Not exactly an elevator speech, is it? Or perhaps it requires a very long elevator ride.

And if you are in Minneapolis, stop by the Tychman-Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC to see the exhibition. It is up through August 23, 2018.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

View from the Late Bloomer Seats

Since my book came out in October, I’ve been talking pretty nonstop. Like most people, I once started out petrified to speak publicly, but have come to really enjoy it. I’ve turned into a bit of a performer. I even can fool people into thinking I’m a natural at this. There are people like that, but I most assuredly am not one of them. Put me on the spot without time to prepare and I can still freeze. I am resigned to my lot in life as the one who does her homework.

You know the type. We’ve got skills and talents, but they require a bit of mining and polishing. It’s not surface glitz. We’ve got to find ourselves and are often late bloomers as a result. My bet is that we are often middle children who learn to work hard as we lack the prize positions of eldest or youngest.

Speaking from the late bloomer seats which I’ve finally secured, it is not a bad way to go through life. It is quite satisfying to continue to discover new capabilities, to surprise yourself later in life with new talents. Who knew I could hold a crowd? Who knew I’d enjoy doing it?

Last evening, I had the unusual pleasure of going first before a crowd of 250 people. That doesn’t happen often for those of us with names that begin with W. In fact, I don’t think it has ever happened without me volunteering. The event was a benefit for the arts and I was one of eight artists selected to tell about my work through 18 images with 18 seconds per image. I’ve attended before and often marveled at how skilled the performers were in carrying it off. It is very much a performance. 

I’ve been intrigued with the format and must confess that when I did a project with the organization, it occurred to me that I might be asked to participate. I wondered if I could do it and roughed out 18 vignettes that flowed together to satisfy my own curiosity.   Yes, I do my homework even before it is assigned. When subsequently asked to present, I confidently could agree. It is an odd format, tightly scripted, telling a succinct story with no time for ad libs, but it worked well and I had the unexpected pleasure of getting to relax through the remainder of the event after a reassuring “You nailed it!”

The week before I had been in NY to present to the Jewish Book Council on my book, another tightly scripted event. Authors flew in from around the country to present to an auditorium of Jewish organizations who might bring them in to speak and sell books. For that event we got two minutes to present with about 45 authors in each group, some who I’ve read and admired, others who I hope to read. Somehow that felt a bit more daunting, even navigating the city to get there was part of the journey. And of course, that was alphabetical as I waited patiently through forty authors. When I stood before the mike and surveyed the auditorium, I waited a minute for the introducer to sit down. As the room quieted and they looked at me expectantly, I felt in control of the room. And when I posed a question, It rang out into the silent room with authority and I took that control. A new trick to remember for that next talk.

Now these were unusual formats, and in some ways much harder than scripting an hour-talk where I can relax into myself and bring an audience into my story. For those I’ve worked out a variety of talks because I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over. In the process, I’ve learned how to bring my book to life. That has been another learning. The book becomes a jumping off point for more in-depth stories and I continue to expand on its contents. It is a living thing and the talking and sharing becomes as important as the writing. Because many of the people I interviewed had an immigration story, I weave their story into talks on immigration history in the US, using their video clips to illuminate the actual experiences across the last century juxtaposed with the laws and the environment that birthed them. I share the stories we often don’t know. Other times I may tell a Holocaust story of those seeking safety juxtaposed with our policies and laws before, during and after WWII.  I find that the public speaking enriches the book and engages me in unexpected ways in a deeper exploration of the material. Sometimes I do an artistic exploration, talking of my process in moving from story to artwork. Along the way I’ve come to think of the book as a vehicle for unfolding stories with my active intervention. What I find most satisfying is that it is a continual learning experience, for  me as well as my audience.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Crossing the "Dalet"

For the past six years I have been participating in the Jewish Artists' Lab. Each year we choose a topic and explore it from a Jewish perspective. Then we create artwork and/or a performance piece that relates to the theme. This year our theme is Crossing the Threshold. That can mean many things, but for me it means how we venture into new territory throughout our life as we expand both our self and our universe. It is like adding rooms onto a house. We enlarge our world with each threshold we cross.

It is a topic that intrigues me in large part because I have reinvented myself quite a bit, especially since I left my career to do things that have meaning for me. The first time I said, "I am an artist" or  "I am a writer," were major steps across thresholds. Similarly, I had flown beneath the radar of the Jewish community for many years and yet now seem to be involved in many segments of that community in ways that seem consistent with who I am.That too was a threshold.  I crossed that threshold through doorways of interests rather than religion; drawn in through art, genealogy and history coupled with a curious nature. I became a public person, presenting frequently and I’m told with passion. That was a huge threshold for a person who used to feel she could fade away quietly without anyone noticing. Being public opened additional doorways that I could never have imagined. It is a big part of reinventing oneself. I like this new life even though it is often stressful, at odds with my private self that needs to retreat periodically for sustenance.

I am intrigued with process and love to make sense of how things work. As an artist who is also quite analytic, there are two components. There is the subconscious process of creating and then there is the rational connecting of dots to create a cohesive understanding. So, let me tell you about my work for the lab on both of those levels.

First, I have to confess that I proposed this topic and apparently wrote a convincing proposal as the artists in six labs around the Midwest voted for it. Then of course I discovered I was stuck on what to do with my own theme! I like to find interesting ideas to develop and no idea was coming to me. When I’m stuck I sometimes find that painting anything gets me unstuck. It doesn’t have to go anywhere, just the act of creating opens doorways in my subconscious.

I had used eggshells in my last artwork and had a container of broken eggshells sitting in my studio. One day I found myself studying them and thinking about the different hues of white within them. I prepared a canvas and began to paint them. Sweeping oval shapes, delicately shadowed at the points where they butted up against each other. They were harder to paint than I had imagined. I had an idea in my head that wasn’t taking shape on canvas. 

One day I looked at that canvas deciding whether I should paint over it, when it occurred to me that eggshells bear some relationship to thresholds. Thresholds often feel perilous, fragile, filled with the unknown. We leave our familiar shell behind as we venture forward. With that thought, I decided to address this theme on this canvas. I like the idea of building new imagery on top of prior images. Life experiences build in much the same way, preparing us to step into new experiences. Nothing is wasted.

I began to paint as I meditated on thresholds. I pictured a row of doors opening into each other into infinity. But no, that wasn’t true of my experience. My doors were more like a Rube Goldberg contraption. Step through one and fall fifty feet, hitting another and sliding down it into yet another that topples more like dominos. I began to paint doors at odd angles, even adding a diving board-like door as that is often how I enter change, holding my breath and jumping.  In looking for a Jewish angle, I did a search on the word for doors in Hebrew only to learn that it was “dalet”, the fourth letter in Hebrew. With that I created a door shaped Dalet.

I began to create shadows, thinking of the fear that often accompanies the unknown. Once I break through that fear there is often a sense of satisfaction, mastery. I added a golden glow to represent that. I don’t always go through doors in the traditional way. If I was just starting out, I suppose I would, but when you come at things later in life, you often do it in a more unorthodox manner.  Sometimes I go around them or over them. It is a fluid environment and I am most successful in it when I can be fluid, not an easy lesson for me to learn. When I feel that I am in sync with the universe, surprising things often happen. We call it Beshert, fate, those things that seem mysterious, but important, things we can’t predict, but somehow feel like they were meant to be.

I studied my doors and felt I needed a presence connoting movement. I tried a figure, but one figure didn’t convey the movement I wanted to represent. It turned into a flow of water moving through the image.  But what is a painting without actual eggshells. I added a sweep of crumpled eggshells culminating in a question mark, the uncertainty we faced. And voila, a very abstracted piece, not at all typical of my work.

Recently a friend who consults with people navigating career changes sent a woman to talk to me who was following a path similar to my own. She was interested in leaving her financial career for something more creative and was interested in whether my experience might inform her own. As we spoke, I looked over at this painting and began to draw on it to share my experience. "Don't let traditional credentials hang you up," I said. You can go over or around doorways. And don't forget to be fluid, leave room for the unknown. That's when the best things happen."

Monday, April 23, 2018

Inspiration in an Eggshell

I am sometimes asked what artist inspires me. I usually sit for a moment in silence as I contemplate all the artists whose work I’ve enjoyed. It is not that I don’t have one, but rather that I have many and their influence may not always be conscious. I don’t try to imitate a specific artist. I would rather find my own path, but what we view does have an impact, even one of which we may be unaware.

I often go through museums and in the ones that permit photographs, take photos of the work that speaks to me. Sometimes I pick a theme, such as portraits, and photograph only work within that category. What I like about this exercise is that it forces my responses to consciousness, rather than just letting them wash over me and then be forgotten.

When I return home, I take those photos and put them in an electronic file by museum and country or state. I have over 2100 images of artwork from 20 museums in the United States and another 20 overseas. I must confess that I seldom go back to them. What matters is the act of selection, curating my own gallery of sorts and identifying the work to which I respond.

Sometimes I am influenced by artists who I experience in different environments. When I spent a month in Lithuania in 2009, I rented the apartment of an artist,  Vytenis Lingys. Large canvases filled the walls, their dominant color a serene white, with bold color and iconography within that white stillness. When I returned home, I found myself missing those canvases, especially his use of white. I often think of his work when I use white in a painting and remind myself not to shy away from its use. Often, I use it in an entirely different way, washing it over a first attempt and letting suggestions of imagery emerge, but it was from his canvases that I learned to appreciate the emotional power of the space evoked by white.

from Papersource.com
Inspiration often comes from very unexpected sources and I am often intrigued by ideas that imagery symbolizes. I once was captivated by a bamboo bowl with eggshells embedded in its gold surface. I had given it as a gift to a family member who was going through a difficult time and in my note I wrote about the idea of brokenness and its role in our journey through life. It is no small coincidence that Leonard Cohen had died around then, and I recalled his writing Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in.

It took a year for that inspiration to bear fruit. We had returned from Yellowstone, a place of amazing texture and color, and I decided to do some small paintings to get myself painting again. As I considered the textural elements of the landscape I decided to experiment with eggshells. I gathered them from our breakfast and soaked them to remove the yolk. Later I put them in a plastic bag and crushed them into pieces. I used medium to attach them to the wooden surface on which I worked and then painted portions of them. I was surprised at how they often clumped together, appreciating the difficulty of creating that beautiful bowl with each separate piece so delicately laid out. Still the clumping meant I could build interesting structures. I  later delighted in the way they interacted with paint. Thus began my first foray into painting with eggshells.

Six months later I was working on a project for the 70th birthday of Israel. I've written about that in Walking on Eggshells. I was thinking of newness, birthdays, but also the fact that the State of Israel came to be in part out of the Holocaust, a time of brokenness and destruction. I noticed the bag of eggshells on my paint table, left over from that first attempt. I began to think about the significance of egg shells in conveying those concepts and particularly the fact that brokenness preceded the birth of Israel. I ended up incorporating the egg shells into the painting, not just as surface, but as symbolism.

More recently I have been working on a  painting for the Jewish Artists' Lab on the theme of Crossing the Threshold. I began to think of how we enter a threshold and imagined us leaving a trail of eggshells behind as we enter a place of newness, abandoning the familiar. It is a time when we are fragile ourselves, often fearful of the unknown.This time that trail led to a question mark of eggshells as we face uncertainty. I'll write more on this piece when I declare it finished.

Perhaps next time I am asked about inspiration, I should reply with a much more layered response - a bowl, Leonard Cohen and my breakfast all served as inspiration.

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Tale of Two Sisters

“I’m glad you’re taking it easier on the goals,” my sister commented on our lengthy phone call last night. "I think you push yourself too hard." Now that is a little amusing when you consider that one of the purposes of my call was to get us moving on a book we’ve talked of writing jointly. I had just finished a workshop on storyboarding a book and wanted to share what I had learned. 

You may recall, I had written of abandoning my reading and blog goals and descending into laziness and sloth. Now perhaps the laziness and sloth is a bit tongue in cheek, but it speaks to an inner fear of exactly that. Part of what makes life satisfying for me is in the doing and there is an underlying fear of losing the discipline that keeps me in motion. My sister proposed that I pushed myself for my late father who valued drive and achievement. I think it is more that I am similar to my late father. I got the “drive” gene.

Andee (7), me (10) with our grandfather
How do we take a positive quality and keep it from taking over our life? How do we manage our innate qualities so they don't run amok? It takes a while to learn who we are and what is unique to us. It helps to have a sister to do so, someone of the same gender who grew up with the same parents, but somehow turned into a different person. I shared a room with my sister as a child, yet somehow failed to really know her. Oh, I knew her idiosyncrasies. She was scared of thunderstorms as a child. She couldn’t fall asleep without the radio. I couldn’t fall asleep with it. I needed silence, she needed white noise. She used to pile her clothes on a chair and I thought longingly of the day when I would live on my own with an empty chair. Now I pile my clothes on a chair.

Those were the years when we were busy learning who we were. We had the myopia of childhood, a time when we were the center of our own universe. Later when I married, my sister was single. After she married and began to raise a family, I divorced. When I remarried, she divorced. Always out of sync with our lives and living different lives in terms of family. We communicated at the crisis points, always able to talk when lives were in upheaval, but living in our separate worlds and separated by geography.

A Shared November Birthday in the 1980s
We came together when our mother needed support. Our father had died, and our mother was living on her own in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. As is often the case, the daughters are the parental support system. We needed to learn to work together. Much to my surprise, my little sister proved to be a competent person. Who knew? No longer the kid who was afraid of thunderstorms, now capable and thoughtful about how best to support our mother. We bounced ideas off of each other and put together a plan with each of us playing a role, but also drawing on outside support. 

Our differences proved to be complementary. We were both good problem solvers, but she was better with the warm fuzzy stuff. I was better with organizing the facts.  I dealt with finances, she dealt with health matters. Our mother had always associated me with doing things. We had traveled together overseas, and I took her on adventures. My sister had the grandchildren and spent more relaxed family time with my parents. We easily fell into those roles again. As I lived further away, I came in for longer visits. My mother and I explored the city together and even took a trip to Israel. My sister shared more relaxed time with her on shorter weekly visits.  

We both trusted each other to deal with our respective spheres with my mother’s best interests always paramount. When we had different opinions, we worked it through. Along the way we developed a new relationship between us. So now we are talking about jointly writing a book on this shared experience, supporting parents as they go through a series of losses, from memory to life. We join them on that journey, losing them gradually until they leave this world and we then integrate who they were into our daily life. That latter stage especially intrigues me, how we make sense of these important relationships. Along the way our relationship with siblings takes on a new form. If we are fortunate, dealing with those losses together brings us closer. It is an often challenging, but rich experience, if we give ourselves over to it.

I have been going through my email correspondence with my sister, reassembling the history and reliving the ups and downs of those years where our focus was on our mother. The differences between us also emerge. I sent long lists after each visit of what I did from dealing with household problems to taking my mother on outings. The longer the list, the more successful the visit. Perhaps it was my way to exert control over an essentially uncontrollable situation. My sister responds that she is exhausted just reading my lists. Then there is the day to day. I spoke to my mother in the morning, my sister spoke to her in the evening. In between we traded information on conversations with our mother, insights into her and needs we identified. The teamwork is evident. When our mother passed away, I felt all the loss that went with it, but also a desire not to lose this new-found relationship with my sister. Perhaps the book is a way to continue it.

 I'm pretty sure it won't be easy.We are different people but working through and respecting those differences may make this a rich experience also. We have two voices and we will try to let each tell their story, weaving them together at times to let our shared story emerge. As to that question of how we manage our innate qualities, perhaps we do so by making room for someone who brings different qualities, tempering and augmenting our energy in new and different ways.