Word of Adam West’s death came pinging to my cell phone in the form of Breaking News from the Seattle Times Saturday morning, which seemed odd compared to other breaking news of my week: the House vote to repeal Dodd-Frank bank and lending safeguards, former FBI Director Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the daily texts, calls, and emails from my husband reporting on his hospitalized mother who, plagued with congestive heart failure and a severe infection, has skirted back from the brink of death once again.
I wondered if somehow the Seattle Times knew about my childhood infatuation with Adam West. I was barely in elementary school when Batman ran on network television from 1966-68, and as he zipped around in the Batmobile making Gotham safe from the likes of The Joker, The Riddler, and Catwoman, my father drove a patrol car through South Central Los Angeles through the night.
My father was a deputy with a badge and gun, tall, strong, and even more handsome than Batman; but it was Adam West, the man behind the mask, who I wanted to rescue me.
He might still be wearing his Batman costume, or might just be dressed like Bruce Wayne—either way he’d slow at the sight of my pink stucco house with its bougainvillea covered roof, and see me there, a skinny seven-year-old with swimming-pool-bleached hair, cinnamon candy in my mouth, and wave. At his signal, I would leap from the porch, hop into his convertible, and we’d be off down Pacific Coast Highway headed for the Batcave.
My fantasy never went so far as marriage to Adam West, Bruce Wayne, or Batman, and I never dreamed of booting Robin to become a sidekick. It was enough simply to speed away from home.
Though there were a dozen kids in my neighborhood and we invented nearly as many group games, I performed my Adam West ritual solo. No one but me seemed interested in being saved.
At six my life was calm and happy. The bougainvillea that damaged our roof and wept through our ceiling with each rain had yet to be chopped down to an ugly stump. My father had yet to leave our family. And I had yet to become a latchkey kid left alone too many nights, afraid and bickering with my little sister.
But maybe trouble was already lurking and maybe I was going to need help when it finally came into view. I hadn’t been to church enough to know there was a well-known savior I could call on, so I turned to pop culture. I could’ve wished for Batman himself, or even Bruce Wayne, who could drive into the Batcave a rich do-gooder and come out a superhero.
Instead, I wished for an actor in a company car.
My grappling hooks have never been flung around anything larger than emotional crises (often of my own making), and my archenemies, once I’ve unmasked them, have never been more dangerous than my own fears and doubts, so it seems to me now, fifty years later, that maybe I was onto something, waiting for an actor to cruise by.
For all his fame, Adam West was an ordinary and flawed man, a man who in 1966, I would learn from Wikipedia, was between a short-lived second marriage and a third that would last the rest of his life, just like my father, who rose to the top rank in law enforcement before retiring, and has been married now for 40 years. He and my stepmother have battled half-a-dozen cancers between them, each episode diminishing their bodies but strengthening their love and commitment.
“Beloved father, husband, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” the West family wrote without mention of Mr. West’s Batman role in their announcement of his death. “There are no words to describe how much we’ll miss him…. Hug your loved ones today.”
My husband, a former high-tech exec, has kept vigil in his mother’s hospital room for over a week now, holding her hand, easing her panic when breath eludes, checking on her throughout the night, prodding the doctors and nurses for better care until her recovery, for now, seems assured.
Another riddle solved, another crisis averted.
I haven’t always valued doing and fixing, especially when it felt as though my feelings were trampled in the process. But I’ve come to understand the necessity of these gifts of action, and their place alongside—rather than instead of—the gifts of contemplation.
And as Father’s Day approaches, I embrace those energetic get-it-done gifts, and their givers:
Adam West, my father, my husband.
Each of these men has taught me something about choosing fluidity over static identity in the course of a lifetime, about how the essential self exists apart from circumstances, career, or accomplishments. They’ve demonstrated doing what you love even in anonymity, remembering, but not longing for the days when the spotlight shone bright upon them. They’ve shown me the rightness of fighting for another’s dignity, even more than for your own desires, and about keeping your sense of humor when life turns out differently from the script you thought you were supposed to follow.
So let us love and laugh, learn and grow, fail and succeed together. When we're in trouble, let's come to our own rescue when we can, and accept help from others when we can't, becoming, either way, real-life heroes in our own small stories.
My prayer partner and I have been praying together for over 20 years. We've prayed in Sunday school classrooms, churches, on our couches, while walking on trails, seated on park benches, over the phone. Almost always our prayers have been in the daylight (or early evening), our prayer time a pause in the steady stream of our days, our to-dos, a welcome interruption from routine, the opportunity to recenter and reframe the rest of our waking hours.
Saturday night I had the rare opportunity to spend the night at my prayer partner's home and the equally rare gift to close the end of a long day in prayer together, seated on her couch, holding hands, the only sound in her house the ticking of the clock.
There is something about praying in community (where two or more are gathered), about joining in intention with another that for me deepens and strengthens the connection to spirit, to the realm that seems to exist just beyond our grasp and comprehension, but is sensed. And in that sensing, there comes a surrender of ego, an ease in letting go of thinking, and floating into simply being.
What a gift it was to end the day in blessed rest. So often, when I end the day and lay my head on my pillow, rest and sleep elude me. I'm flooded with thoughts: reviewing the day, forming a list of what I must do the next day. Rarely do I take the time to surrender all that thinking before I attempt to sleep.
But last night with my prayer partner, I was emptied of worry, and filled with gratitude, as well as this poem:
Night Prayer, June 3, 2017
you and I
Last night I had the privilege of participating in the final reading of this year's Ars Poetica . As I mentioned in my post last month, poets submit to a jury that selects poems for presentation to local artists who choose one or more poems to interpret in their chosen media. The art and poems are displayed at various locations, culminating in author-artist events.
"What If People Dropped Like Leaves" came to me last fall as I was raking up after this beautiful Japanese maple in my yard.
What if people dropped like leaves
What if people dropped like leaves
our last months and days a dazzling display
brilliant reds, yellows, oranges flaming
bodies, a glorious glow
that draws others from miles around
to gaze in amazement eyes wide in wonder--
remembering how we began so plain
young, green, ordinary, unremarkable
and near our end—blazing beauty
stunning shimmering shadows in the sun’s
low arc across autumn skies
This should be how one dies--
a grand metamorphosis
until with one simple move
we let go of everything
that binds us
and leaf-thin float free
in silent descent, graceful and spent
released from achievements
and attachments, family trees and branches
until we come to rest at last
in the loam of the gloaming
I was privileged to have Michelle Van Berkom choose to interpret my poem. I haven't met Michelle in person, but the artist statement from her website certainly struck a chord with me:
I have painted all of my life. When I walk into my studio, an altered state of consciousness falls over me like a mantle. I have worked in many different media, but over the years watercolor has become primary.
The unpredictable nature of the controlled accident, the required immediacy and freshness, the challenge of having to get it right the first time, make watercolor my ideal medium. I feel as if the paint itself has a personality with which I work in harmony. There is resistance, there is a very distinct nature that must be understood and respected. Everything is not under my control, but by being sensitive to the nature of the paint, controlled accidents can become invited miracles.
Water is an archetypal symbol for consciousness, emotion, and for spirituality. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to watercolor as a medium, why I find it to be a pathway into my own soul.
I believe that our souls can meet and communicate through art, and so I feel that a part of me speaks through my art on a spiritual level.
This is Michelle's lovely watercolor also titled "What If People Dropped Like Leaves":
Here's what Michelle says about creating her painting:
I have always loved autumn leaves and collect them each fall and often do "portraits" of them. I am fascinated by their beauty and variety, and the underlying symbolism of death and regeneration. For me, this poem captured everything they meant to me. I regretted that the opportunity came in the spring when there were no fresh specimens, but I did have some photos. The imagery of the poem is intense and moving. I spent a lot of time pondering how to portray the message. I wanted to fit in the idea of moving from this plane into another, and the descriptions of metamorphosis and letting go...but set it in a scene that is at once ordinary and mystical. So I pushed the colors a bit beyond reality, and left the people blank, as if they are holes in the fabric of space and time, or shadows left behind...
"A scene that is at once ordinary and mystical"—life is filled with opportunities to perceive the ordinary and extraordinary, and I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity to share in the creative expression of those moments with others.
Last Saturday I had the privilege of participating in the sixth annual Ars Poetica on the west side of Puget Sound.
Art and poetry begin their meeting each January as poets submit to a jury that selects poems for presentation to local artists. The artists choose one or more poems to interpret in their chosen media. When complete, the art is displayed at local galleries and other locations, culminating in author-artist events, where poets read their poems alongside the accompanying artwork, and the artists then speak about their process.
Here is my poem:
As Time and Tides Converge
The stars in the sky shimmer
like oyster shells beneath your feet
the sharp, cold, stings of home
ebb as you walk the beach
feet crunching against
the rocky expanse at low tide
reflected light exposing starfish
and urchins that usually sleep
You keep watch for them
vulnerable as they are
treading round them with care
patient as the moon
who wanes and waxes
in ancient rhythms
who conjures a flood tide
in this sea that birthed
and claims you.
And here is the beautiful image “As Time and Tides Converge” rendered by Michelle Purdue—who interpreted my poem with digital media.
Michelle wasn’t able to attend the reading, but sent this message to be read at the event:
This poem felt like fate when it cropped up amongst all the other poems. I had completed a painting last year that really spoke to me, but for some reason when I’d finished still felt like it was missing something. One of the things that I love about digital art is its flexibility. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you don’t have to scrape off all the layers of paint in order to try again. On this piece, it was as if the poet had been sitting over my shoulder as I created that painting the first time, and had just forgotten to whisper the final instructions before walking away. Once I had these beautiful, lyrical lines in my hands, I went back to my digital “easel” and the whole thing just came together.
The eerie part? When I’d first worked on this painting last year I’d originally named it—“Time and Tides.”
I was really touched by Michelle’s words, and she and I exchanged emails this week, sharing more about ourselves and our creative process.
In her words:
I never feel truly fulfilled unless I have a creative project of some kind brewing, whether that's painting, writing, figuring out which part of the house we need to tear apart and improve, or rescuing some old piece of furniture that needs a new lease on life! It's always refreshing to connect with other folks in whom that creative vein runs wide and rich.
Your piece was just beautiful, and it really spoke to me on so many levels…for the artist, there's always the fear that you've not done the words justice, or that the poet will be disappointed that you missed their vision. But for the lucky, there's that moment when you…feel that spark of art meeting art, bouncing off in new and exciting ways, and you're able to take a piece of it, like fireflies in a jar, to ignite the next piece of work.
I hope you enjoyed the painting, and were able to take something away from it. If that happens, I've been successful.
My first glimpse of Michelle’s “As Time and Tides Converge” came from a Facebook post advertising the reading.
I was struck by the image in the lower right corner, and when I looked closely and saw the title, realized it was the response to my poem, and was thrilled. And it just so happened that her art was hanging above the booth I slid into at the Toro Lounge just before the reading began. What a lovely surprise to look up and see this ethereal scene overhead.
I wrote to Michelle about my inspiration for the poem and how fitting her interpretation was:
In February 2016 I had the opportunity to convene a small group at a 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation, and wrote the poem for a woman in my group, a retired second-career Episcopal priest who’d grown up in an oyster farming family and lived as a child in a house above the oyster business on the Purdy Spit—which is less than a mile from where I live now. Her home life was difficult and she’d slip out of the house alone in the night and walk the Spit under the moonlight. On that beach, she felt safe and loved, and felt the first spiritual longings of her soul.
When I saw the woman rising in your piece, I thought how perfect and powerful that image was, how true and fitting to the story I wanted to the poem to tell.
I also loved the synchronicity of the titles…
You can find more stunning images of women in both fantastic and realistic settings at Michelle’s website: Michelleperdueart.weebly.com.
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.