Tuesday, August 6, 2013


I've been so busy making things that I haven't been posting! I have a backlog of scarves, a finished painting, a cake recipe (that is three recipes in one, really), and more to post here. And instead, I'm sharing a picture of an unfinished project.

It's Herb.


Or maybe not so obviously, if you don't know him.

This is how I think of him: eyes fixed, with that absolute certainty, that hard crystalline intensity, on the vision, the idea, that thing (the thing itself!), mouth open as he enunciates, elucidates. The consummate teacher, he would listen and hear you. But it wouldn't be Herb if he didn't have something to say.

I realized I wanted to paint him at the end of the school year. I hesitated.

I don't, as a rule, paint people I know. I find that knowing people, having an emotional connection to them, disrupts the process of observation necessary to make a painting. I have a tendency to paint the person whom I think I KNOW, rather than to really look and discover.

But this itch, it kept gnawing at me. In early July,  I asked Cassidy about painting Herb. He thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to do it. I worried that I would be too emotional, that the canvas would get swamped by maudlin emotion. He said it wouldn't.

The first day I started painting, I remembered a dream I had five days after Herb passed. I dreamed of him so many nights, in so many permutations of anxiety, worry, loss and aching. This was the only happy one. We sat together at the long wood table in the seminar room in the Simpson Center on the UW campus, discussing and debating the best words, phrases, quotations to use to craft a proper farewell. We never said whose farewell, but I knew. It was my farewell.

And we couldn't settle on something. Eliot, Woolf, Donne, Moore - my brain raided that metaphysical poetry seminar like nobody's business. But we couldn't find the words.

As I painted I realized, ah, yes. Because my goodbye needed to be an image, not words.

A friend of mine, one of my "sisters" devoted to Herb, has asked me how I manage to do it without weeping. Today I realized the answer is: this is an act of devotion, like laying flowers at the feet of a holy idol. This is an offering. Small wonder I feel he's there while I work on this; this is me working with him (his memory, his image) to make an offering to that essence.

I already knew what the title would be before I began

The Immortal. Because it wasn't until Herb died that I realized that, yes, in some inexplicable way, I do actually believe he will live forever, just as he always joked he would.

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