Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fire and Rain

What to say about my sister? Much, too much, but so much of it radiating from the central fact that she was one of the most intensely, ceaselessly, effortlessly creative people I have ever known.

She was always making things, from the time of my earliest memory.

To recall and describe all the different things she turned her hands to - always done with beauty and flair and originality, and always to completion, not for her the over-reached, unfinished fragments in cupboards and attics - in the vivid, associative detail in which it has been returning to since last week, would fill a year's worth of posts here: paints and pens and pencils ('sit down, I need to draw you...') , scraperboard and ink, Conte pencils and oil pastels, charcoal and cowgum and drymount; books of fonts - she was a graphic designer for much of her working life and had a good degree in typography with history of art - a film SLR with which she took lovely portraits, for people were another thing she was good at; stained glass - there is a school chapel somewhere in Leicestershire which has a set of windows she made; pictures and the forms of letters; things knitted and patched and woven and stitched; a sweater in finest four-ply covered with rows of tiny, exquisite three dimensional bunches of purple grapes and dark red cherry bobs; remnants of fabric from drawers and boxes turned into original clothes - in New Zealand she had the leading costume hire shop on the bustling main town of their area (Kiwis like to party and they like to dress up), some stock came with the business, some accessories she ordered, but much of it she made herself. As well as the shop she also provided costumes for the various plays and drama projects she and my brother-in-law, a drama teacher, were involved in producing all over the country; sometimes she put one on herself and became a mean Macbeth witch or an impressive Lady Capulet, since whe was no slouch at that either.

She liked to be out there, and she liked to be doing. Sometimes in her adolescence, my childhood, constraint goaded and frustrated her; she could be stormy and distant, though never unkind. She was not necessarily motherly or even always a confidant to me, but she was a fine, fine friend. She handed me down art materials,curiosities, clothes and records, she took me to places and showed me things. She taught me to draw, the rules of perspective ( I wasn't quite cognitively ready, I did the house smaller than the person, but put them both on the horizon...) and the conventions of the human face ('your people will have noses like pigs if you draw them like that, I know that's how you see them, but...'), and to sew - I remember pushing the painfully threaded needle in and out of the scraps of slightly glazed green and yellow 1960s print, and, 'look, the two pieces are joined together!' Such creativity as I have was, in its early stages and after, largely fostered by her.

She blazed with creative energy; time and again as we have been speaking of her this past couple of weeks the word 'bright' has come to us. And she was fearless, or so it seemed to me. No doubt she wasn't always - who is? - but fear never stopped her. Though we have always been different characters, in my later life, if I needed to become brisk, competent, extrovert, I found myself using her internalised voice and manner, which pleased and surprised me.

I have been thinking about making this video for a week or so. Since the day after the morning when I put down my tea and ran downstairs to catch the ringing 'phone, and clattered up them again a few minutes later, giddy with grief and disbelief. The song came into my head then and it has stayed there as a recurring theme throughout. When I was sixteen, after my 'O' levels, my sister and brother-in-law (who called me on last Monday morning), married just a year, took off to Italy for a while, to soak up art and history, and savour a period of freedom before taking on new home and career responsibilities. They left me a tiny stereo and their combined record collection. As well as the Beatles records I'd persistently tried to beg, steal or borrow for years were a number of Bob Dylan albums (bliss), and many more things many of which I have forgotten or perhaps didn't take a lot of notice of, and also some James Taylor. I gather he's a bit looked down on now as MoR, or whatever, I don't know, music is an area where I've often been happy to be led by others anyway. But, despite the naming of the 'you' in the first lines, and other references to his own personal circumstances, and a million cover versions later, 'Fire and Rain' remains for me the song of heartbreaking, unexpected, untimely loss of someone dear at a distance, and that remorseful, remorseless lament that cannot be put away: that I thought, assumed, mistakenly, that we had more time.

Yet to me it seems more than that. It carries also the sense that time, the creative flame, love, cannot be taken for granted, must not be wasted. That to be fixed on one's own failure and disappointments, the things that fell to earth or never got off the ground, is wrong, a squandering of potential, that dishonours the ones we have loved and who have loved and cared for us. And that in the dark times, when we feel all done-in and cry out in despair, grief can be the crack that lets the light in, that out of darkness and pain can come a renewed force of generative energy. Not a bland and anodyne happiness, not getting over it or getting back to normal, but a knowledge of blessing at what has been given.

The video is one small attempt at a memorial, but it won't be the only one. I shall always miss my sister. At so many turns of the memory she is there. Her loss is the first that has really hit me like this, with such a weight of shock and outrage, so close to home. It hurts terribly to think that her husband and children must go on without her warm, bright, steady physical presence in their lives. Of all the beautiful things she made, her three children were the most beautiful of all.

But she has left me with a heap of treasure, and I am beholden to use it. I shall write and speak, and make more things about her, but even when I don't do so directly, each time I step up and claim my own creativity, each time I see and act on the possibility of colour and form and texture, the vivid or the subtle image, each time I succeed in seeing the human clothed in something wondrous or funny or transforming, each time I face down my doubts and demons, fears and apathy, or I see someone else shining out brightly, or doing something with excellence, and aspire to emulate them rather than simply falling back discouraged and bitter, each time I stop agonising and just do, I'll be living her legacy. I'll think of her and I'll thank her. It'll be a work in progress, always, and it won't always be easy, but it will be my way of remembering. She deserves nothing less.


I downloaded the Windows Movie Maker to make this, for which tip I must thank Zephyr, I wanted to do a better job than the scratchy jumpy Picasa things I've done before. And I'm using Vimeo instead of Youtube because they are an altogether nicer outfit.  As well as the older scans - in the early black and whites, the first baby and toddler are me, the curly chap is my youngest brother, between Alison and myself in age, the other youngsters are her children - I have used some pictures from our trip to New Zealand three years ago, and a couple that my niece - my brother Chris's girl - sent of a trip that their family and my other sister Helen took to meet up with Alison, her husband and son in Santiago in northern Spain last year. Sadly, I seem to have few photos of her and her husband together, except for the daft one of them dressed as a Christmas cracker and Santa's elf, which I include in the necessity of wholeness .

Thanks to everyone for the kind words and comments, thoughts, prayers, e-mails, marks of respect, expressions of fellow-feeling and concern, 'phone calls, walks on the beach etc.  Not everyone chooses to air private grief in what is essentially a public place, I know, but I think we know each other well enough now, and I value the friendship that I find here.

We're going away for a couple of days now, to the Bay of Morlaix, whose wide blue tranquillity I have held in my mind's eye since we drove around it on the way back from Finistere a couple of years ago. It's a spur-of-the-moment trip; I felt the need of a hiatus before going back to work next week, and within a short time of searching an inexpensive dog-friendly B&B with a sea view and vacancies presented itself. I have a strong wish to be by the sea at the moment.

Bye for now, and thanks again.

30 comments:

julie said...

She's beautiful, Lucy. Thanks for giving us a chance to know her, just a little, through your eyes and heart.

HLiza said...

I didn't know this..and thanks for sharing her with us in this video..it made me cry. I feel the strong love between both of you and I can sense what a special person she is.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Thinking of you.

rb said...

Yes, it made me cry too. So beautiful. It makes life feel so hopelessly short when you see the young child, young woman and then know the person is gone.

Oh I am not making sense. But it was the kind of wish to go back to the black and white child photos and start again that made me cry. All too quick.

Big hugs. Hope your time away proves therapeutic
x

PurestGreen said...

I can't imagine how hard it was for you to make this video. Thank you so much for sharing it.

When my first love died I got in in my mind/heart that everything I tasted, I would taste twice - once for him. Everything I heard I would listen twice - once for him. Everything I touched, everything I saw - everything twice. I feel this same energy from grief in you. This, and time, will help you to heal.

Sending you much love. Sophia xx

marja-leena said...

Such a beautiful creation, these words and the video, inspired by love and loss. I've always thought of you as very creative too, Lucy, obviously something you shared with your sister. Thank you so very much for sharing this here so publicly, I cried too. Hope your getaway break to the sea is healing and restorative. Hugs from the other side of the world!

herhimnbryn said...

A beautiful tribute to your lovely sister. Dear Lucy, your video brought tears here too.

She is just in the next room...

Catalyst said...

That's a beautiful tribute to your lovely sister, Lucy. I, too, have just suffered a loss. A friend, only a few years older than your sister, left us less than a week ago. It is difficult but worth remembering the good things about the departed ones. May the sea help heal your pain.

Dale said...

Oh, I'm sorry, Lucy. xoxo

Barrett Bonden said...

Hotspur:

The mark and glass, copy and book
That fashion'd others


as she fashioned you. The family resemblance was shocking making it doubly painful for outsiders. Thanks for the necessary detail about knitting and crayons - the warp and woof, in effect. And for tying her memory to the song, a combination which will remain forever.

One personal plea, unless there's some reason you can't. We've been to NZ three times and know the place back to front. Where did she live?

Jean said...

The video is lovely, thank you for that. I'm close to your sister in age and James Taylor was central to the development of my musical taste from when I left home at 18. I love him still and the video therefore touched my heart particularly with this as soundtrack. It, and everything you say, also touches my heart particularly because since a close friend of mine died in January, also only in her fifties. I too have experienced that 'out of darkness can come a renewed force of generative energy'. Since then I've had a fierce, painful, necessary urge to do the creative things I want to do. Hard to live with the grief and hard too to live with the energy, but necessary and important.

I'm glad to know you've gone to the sea and hope it helps, puts some space and light around the dark.

The Crow said...

I got only halfway through this, Lucy. When the tears have dried and my heart doesn't hurt so for all of you, I'll be back.

You - both - were fortunate to have each other.

with much love,
Martha

Nimble said...

I was thinking of you going to the sea. I hope the open views and quiet roar are nourishing. Whether the conditions are a little bit stormy, or quiet and misty, or calm and bright.

I will look at the video when I can sniffle privately. It's a wonderful song.

Plutarch said...

Something happened to my earlier comment. Maybe tears got in the way. Your tribute to a fine woman endures. Love to you and yours.

zephyr said...

Thank you, Lucy, for sharing this with us. Those black and white photos moved me especially...and the ones by the sea. May you find solace and balm while you are there.
xoxo

Laureline said...

Oh, Lucy. Love, love, love to you and deepest condolences.

Setu said...

Receive all my sympathy in such a sad time of loss. I'm sure you could connect with your dearest sister when looking at the sea and the blue sky along the shore of the Bay of Morlaix. Bon courage.

Rouchswalwe said...

Creativity and Nature. Balm for the ones who grieve. I am glad to know that Tom and Mol are with you. Though we have not met face to face, you have a friend here, sweet Lucy!

Lucas said...

I have always loved that song by James Taylor, painful yet direct, head on, yet gentle as if sharing something painful yet shamelessly and fearlessly sharing it. Your selection of lovely images of your sister match the song phrase by phrase beautifully. Thanks.

A Write Life said...

What a beautiful tribute.

liebesreime said...

the smell of the sea, a sighting of a seagull, and your sister will be sending you a greeting

Dick said...

How very fortunate you both were in each other. And how gratifying that she fitted so much being and doing into, albeit, too short a life. I must borrow Jean's perfect phrasing and hope that the sea 'puts some space and light around the dark.'

Love and thoughts across the briny, Lucy.

Isabelle said...

Lovely words and pictures which have me in tears too. So sorry.

Lucy said...

Thanks again everyone. Yes, it was quite weepy and demanding work making the video; the new software gives better results but they need more careful and repetetive putting together. But it was satisfying and felt needful.

Finistere was wonderful, I'll put something up soon, and start getting round all yours again slowly.

I am deeply touched by all the things you have shared and offered here. Thanks again.

YourFireAnt said...

Beautiful. I'm in tears. Thanks.

T.

tristan said...

few things can be more therapeutic than allowing the rhythm of the waves along the shore to soothe one's agitation and slow down one's thoughts ... a loss such as yours is the hardest thing to endure and the business of paying tribute to those who go before us is the source of much greatness in human endeavour ... i sometimes think that we must live on behalf of those who cannot ... love and best wishes to you and your loved ones from tristan

Jean said...

It sounds like just what you needed - I'm so glad.

Your new banner works incredibly well; quietly beautiful and with such depth - it contains and transforms the page.

Rosie said...

hope the trip did you good

Bee said...

I can't think of any good words, Lucy, but I feel so much sympathy for you and your sister's family. What a hard, hard loss.

Have you ever written about how your family came to be such a creative lot? Where did those instincts and talents come from?

Sarah Standalone said...

What a lovely tribute