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Confessions of an Itinerant Batik Artist

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POSTSCRIPT or Life is a Hand Grenade



My story has a postscript, for an itinerant’s tale is never completely told.

A couple of weeks before Christmas 1993, when the semester ended and she had turned in her last paper, Catherine suddenly told me that she’d been having an affair with a fellow student for the past several months. She wanted to end our relationship. I’ve always been fond of saying that life is like walking around with a live grenade in your hand, waiting for it to blow up in your face at any moment. How many times I’ve said that so glibly!

The news was a complete shock to me and my life broke into tiny pieces. I’ve found it hard to write about my feelings of pain and loss for all my words come out as cliches. It felt as if someone had smashed me in the face with a hammer or if I had fallen without warning off a high mountain with no one waiting at the bottom to catch me. It felt as if a part of me suddenly and irrevocably died with the end of that relationship. I felt terribly betrayed by the person I loved most in my life. Perhaps the worst part of it all was the fact that Catherine was presenting me with a complete fait accompli.

There was nothing I could say or do to mend our broken relationship. Strangely I found that I couldn’t care less about sexual infidelity, about Victor, her lover, or about the lies that she must have told me. The only thing that I cared about was losing Catherine. She was an exceptional woman who would certainly go on to do exceptional things. There would always be plenty of work for her in a world, which seemed to be blowing apart and more in conflict than ever before. I was heartbroken to think that I would not be at her side when she did her work.

Catherine was tearfully sorry, upset and guilty but totally adamant. She wanted out of our partnership. She loved me but was not in love with me, wanted me for a best friend but not for a lover.

The first couple of weeks were a nightmare that I Couldn’t wake up from. I went around with my pain and horror clutched tightly to me. For several days, I Couldn’t speak about it to anyone for fear of making it real. I stayed in bed with a bad cold and cried for days. It was hard to talk to Catherine at all but she did say that she had felt that she and I had been going down different paths for a long time now. She thought that we would be happier apart. To me it sounded like a massive rationale to justify her passion for another man, for we had always been walking down different paths. Catherine was an intellectual and a social activist while I am an artist who serves his own muse. One of our strengths had always seemed to be our differences, for between us, I thought that we managed to cover all the bases. At the same time, we had each always been the other’s greatest fan. Our twenty-two year age difference had never seemed to be a problem before but all these issues were raised by Catherine. In the end, I kept coming back to the fact that she was involved with another man and wanted out of her relationship with me. Perhaps she was a woman on a mission and in the end, I would only get in her way.

I think that this was the worst time of my life. Nobody had ever really hurt me like this before and I had never imagined that Catherine would do this to me. I had always loved her for her kindness and honesty and she had never made me feel insecure or jealous for an instant. But then she had only been twenty-two when we had met six years before and was obviously still growing. And people do change. Perhaps I was too old for her. When I looked in the mirror, I saw that I had clearly aged five years in those first two weeks.

It was too painful to stay in Alexandria and to have any close dealings with Catherine and I decided to leave town for awhile. I finished off my last Smithsonian class in a complete daze, afraid that I was going to break down in front of my students. I canceled all the upcoming Lightshow gigs, which was really a pity because I'd just started to get work through my on-line computer "Rave" connections. The latest Fraudulent Production, "Kaspar", fell through for lack of funding and I was suddenly completely free. I called Jeffrey and Simma in California and told them what had happened. They invited me to come and stay with them for as long as I wanted. My Bali friends, Cliff and Jocelyn were in Berkeley too and I knew that I would not lack places to stay.

So once again I was in transit. I packed everything that I could think of for survival of the species into two bags. It was if I was loading up a raft to leave a sinking ship, I realized. I was embarking on a new life and a new adventure and I wanted to be able to get by wherever I landed. I packed as if I wouldn’t be coming back to Alexandria but could go with any option that presented itself to me. Just before Christmas, I flew to San Francisco. I was fast asleep before my take-off from National Airport and only woke up to land in Chicago, where I had to change planes. Feeling very unhappy and confused, I caught the Marin Airporter bus and was picked up by Simma in Mill Valley.

Simma and Jeffrey have picked me up off the floor on several occasions now, I realize and I hope that I never have to do the same for them. As always, they were absolutely fabulous and told me to make their living room my own. I’ve never much liked the suburban world of Marin County with its lack of focus, its endless motorway commuting and its Malls. But that suburban living room with its open-up sofa and nightly television sports was a haven for six weeks. I was able to use my Internet account and software to go back on line in Novato and to stay in touch with all my computer friends which was great. In fact a computer seemed to be the only constant in my life at that point. My old friend Jeffrey had never seemed to be in a better or mellower head and I think that we spent our very best time together ever. I even signed on to do volunteer work in a nearby Sunday food kitchen, which I loved to do. There but for the grace... was always the message. Sometimes it has seemed that all that has lain between complete disaster, the bread line and myself have been my good friends.

I took long bus and train rides back and forth between Marin County and Berkeley, changing living rooms whenever one became too claustrophobic. Being around Philippine Jocelyn, English Cliff and their very volatile relationship served to distract me from my own problems. I soon realized that far from being helped in my personal problems, I was helping that pair stay together. They obviously did better when someone else was around, perhaps to help communication between them or to act as a buffer when they started to argue. Jocelyn and I took a few days off and drove down to Los Angeles on a jewelry-selling jaunt. It was good fun, we saw some old friends and managed to leave town the day before an earthquake wrecked the area we’d driven through. Maybe the Powers that Be were still keeping an eye on me.

Back in Berkeley, we all went to the Cool World Rave where we set up a booth and sold jewelry. It was a long night, the lightshows were very Sixties retro and I wished that I'd been able to perform with the Retinal Blowjob. Maybe I should have it shipped to San Francisco? But it was already getting to be time to move on. Bruce’s older sister Lynne and her family invited me to come and stay with them in Colorado and I decided to pay them a visit.

Lynne had been trying to get me to come to Crested Butte for fifteen years and I knew that if I didn’t go there this time, I probably never would. I had other friends there too. Coincidentally, Betsy, our friend from Bali, lived there with her new husband Aron. I bought a round trip ticket to Gunnison and soon found myself high in the Rocky Mountains at ten thousand feet, just in time to celebrate my Fiftieth birthday at the end of January.

It's been a very pleasant visit to Crested Butte and although I haven’t become a ski bum in my next incarnation, I love the look of the high snow peaked mountains all around, the faithfully preserved Victorian-styled houses and the land-that-time-forgot atmosphere of this little town. I was immediately conscripted to teach batik courses at the local school and even to give a public batik slide show for the community. I’ve been kept busy here for it would be hard to stay very idle around such a dynamic and hardworking family as Lynne and Charlie’s. Between them, they seem to just about own the town and are deeply involved in the local community. Their two sons have been a pleasure to be around. It's very refreshing to meet teenagers who like to spend time with adults.

I’ve been feeling better too. The passage of time seems to heal all or at least numbs the pain. Catherine and I have recently been in contact both by computer e-mail and by telephone. Although the situation hasn’t altered, our relationship is very loving and friendly and we are talking again. She seems very confused when we talk and I gather that things are not going very well with her lover. I’m not really surprised. I really believe that my omnipresent instinct to pack up and take off when I’m under extreme stress is the best thing that I could have done in these circumstances. I’m feeling much more solid and centered again and Catherine has had time and space to check out her feelings. I don’t really have any hopes of putting our relationship back together again at this stage but I’m flying back to Virginia in a week and will no doubt stay in Alexandria. I hope to be able to have a satisfactory closure with Catherine and to be able to stay as a close friend with her. You can never have too many best friends.

This week I got a very early morning collect call from my Indian friend Tara in Almora. Without telling him what had happened between Catherine and I, I told him that I planned to go back to India in a month or so. I also wrote to Mukti asking her if I could come to Binsar and work with her on her cottage industry project there. She is organizing carpet weaving amongst the women in the villages of the India-Tibet Interzone region and plans on selling the carpets throughout the world. Perhaps I can be of use to her there and find new meaning in the world of arts and crafts. I'm looking forward to putting my creativity, energy and skills into some kind of service or community-oriented work. Perhaps this is what I’ve been wanting and waiting to do for so long. I guess I won't know until I try.

At the very least, traveling again sounds like the best way to mend a broken heart and Asia can certainly be a distraction. Ever since we first went to Kasar Devi in Northern India, I’ve had a vision of those snow peaks in my head. Its about time to go back there to look for whatever it is that I’m looking for. I can hardly wait, truth be told.


February 1994


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