Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter


EEEEEEEG!!!
electrode_headdress

What? No Frontal Lobe activity????

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that measures and records the electrical activity of your brain. Special sensors (electrodes camera.gif) are attached to your head and hooked by wires to a computer. The computer records your brain‘s electrical activity on the screen or on paper as wavy lines. Certain conditions, such as seizures, can be seen by the changes in the normal pattern of the brain’s electrical activity.

 Yesterday I had an EEG test.  It took about 30 minutes of setup-time – including malfunctions of the wiring and electrodes. Using the sticky gel, the electrodes were placed all over my head, in my hair, on my ears and my cheeks. For some reason, the computer was not reading the electrical impulses from the electrodes on my forehead. After some minutes went by and the two technicians were still trying to solve the problem, I dropped a hint: I said, maybe that means the frontal lobe of my brain was dead, flat, nada? They laughed.

I asked if they could read my mind by looking at the brain waves. Unfortunately, Nah, they said. What a relief!

I asked if they could tell I had been dreaming, they said no. Which is good. They wouldn’t like my nightmares.

So what can they see? Or learn?

Basically, they see wavy lines indicating specific patterns of Alpha and Beta, Delta, Theta. They’re looking to see if both sides of the brain are the same;  looking for bursts of activity in parts or all of the brain; looking for the signs of epilepsy, brain tumor, stroke, infection, and injuries and the non-functioning indications of a flat line. My neurologist is looking to see what damage occurred during my experience this year of several TIAs.

So what did they find with my brain?  I don’t know…yet. Will find out when I see the neurologist again.

The whole process took 2 hours, and during that time I had to sleep. They call it a sleep-deprived test because they want you to get less sleep the night before so you can sleep in the Sleep Center for an hour. I managed to accomplish that because I was extremely tired, and my eyelids wanted to close. What they don’t know is that I never get a good night’s sleep. Yet, for the test, I couldn’t fall a sleep.

He soon set up the strobe light facing directly in my eyes. Many kaleidoscopic bright colors moving towards my closed eyes, swirling around on the inside of my eyelids, like an abstract expressionist painting from the 1950s…and just then that dreaded sensation began that I needed to run to the loo…quickly, or else. I could feel my bladder filling. No way I’m going to sleep if I’m worried about peeing in my pants!

 The technician let me get up with all the electrodes and wires still attached to my head, but no longer attached to the machine. That might have been interesting – what was my brain doing when in the loo? if anything?

 I saw myself in the mirror of horrors. I had transformed into a  female Frankenstein. I only wish I had had my little camera – would have made a great selfie shot. I’m still finding little bits and pieces of that sticky gel on my head, stuck to my hair, my earlobes and my cheeks!

 After my trip to the loo, he set the strobe light up again and I managed to fall asleep very quickly. Or it seemed quickly because before I knew it, I heard him calling my name, shaking me out of a bad dream. I didn’t want to wake up. I became combative. He had to hold my arms down to keep me from hitting him and/or falling off the bed. A wild one-hour night of sleep? You betcha.

So I’m thinking as I write this, sixty-eight years ago born from my mother’s womb it must have been a slippery combative struggle into the world, and that feisty fighting spirit has stuck with me! My way of making entrance to the real world, and into each waking day with my heart thumping painfully fast and furious in my chest.



Escape from the Night

This is how I defer cleaning my apartment for the coming inspection. The year of this story was 1997.  A small coastal town north of Mendocino, Calif. called Fort Bragg.

 Rooftops behind my Apartment

Rooftops behind my Apartment

With an oblique view from my bedroom window overlooking the parking lot behind Paul Bunyan’s thrift store, I stood just out of sight, watching the parade of night people coming and going. Some came to drop off donations; many came to pilfer. A sense of desperation and greed and wrong-doing pervaded the scene with people scurrying about in the dark under cover of dark clothing and hoodies. They didn’t want to be seen. They didn’t want to be recognized.

The thrift store provided employment and financial support for developmentally challenged and disabled people. After a night of thievery, it’s a wonder the worker volunteers find anything left in the morning that is worth selling. But the night people didn’t care that it was a community nonprofit organization created to help people, even those people who were stealing from the organization. For them it was a first-come first-serve help-themselves-buffet-of-goodies game. It was free and up for grabs, and that’s what counted.

People used the parking lot to dump their trash to avoid paying their own refuse fees.

After a night of pilfering and damage, the thrift store had to pay to clean up the area. They had to pay to haul damaged goods to the refuse site. As a consequence, they had few good donations left to sell for profit. All in all, it cost them precious monies used to help community people.

Every night, one by one, all through the night, people crept into the parking lot searching for the better donations—clothing, children’s clothes and toys, stuffed animals, a large stuffed purple Barney, electronic equipment, furniture, bicycles, exercise equipment, televisions, bed frames and old mattresses, and even stoves and refrigerators.

Dressed in big coats with hoods and carrying tiny flashlights, they scurried around in the dark. They tossed items from one spot to another, good items to good piles and the rest, just tossed. When they were all done it looked like a tornado had ripped through the parking lot – the concrete floor littered with junk, clothing, old toys, everything now dirty, wet from rain, or broken and unusable. Worthless. Profits for the thrift store transformed into scattered bits and pieces.

Some people tossed their own garbage in the bin behind the building. PB’s eventually put a lock on their dumpster, but even that wasn’t fool-proof. It only served to intrigue. The first night, two wily hooded gentlemen hammered for an hour to break the lock. Perhaps in their minds the padlock meant the bin was full of jewels. When they got it open, I heard them say, Shit, it’s nothing but garbage!

From my bedroom window every night, I spied a one-legged man waiting across the alley behind my apartment in his black Volvo with its darkened windows. When a person dropped off a donation, he moved his car the short ride from one parking lot to the other, got out, hopped on one leg around to the trunk, pulled out a wheel chair in which he sat and wheeled around while rummaging through the piles and boxes of donations. He found and took all the electronic equipment – radios, cassette players, TVs, stereos – and stuffed it all in the trunk of his Volvo, stuffed his wheel chair behind the front seat, and hopped back into the driver’s seat. He drove back to the other parking lot to wait again, waiting, night after night after night, sitting like a spider on the edge of his web ready to catch the next fly that flew into his sticky trap.

At the time I assumed he had an electronics repair business and was gathering material from the donations, making an illicit profit from items that might well have brought money to the organization. It dawns on me only now as I write this that maybe his purpose was altruistic, to collect the valuable equipment, clean it up and repair it for Paul Bunyan’s so they could sell it for a tidy profit. Maybe, just maybe he was a good spider, if there is such a critter!

Awakened bright and early one morning by a loud screeching sound, I got up to see a young man dragging a refrigerator down the alley. He was alone. All he could do was drag it, the metal scraping and screeching in protest. Someone called the police. They came, talked to the man, and left. They may have called the director of Paul Bunyan’s and received permission to help the guy move the refrigerator, for very soon they returned with a dolly and a truck. They loaded the fridge and the young man into the truck and took off. I thought it was the most kind and generous act of compassion I saw on that alley the whole two years I lived there. Kind to him, and kind to my ears and my night’s sleep. And the benefit to Paul Bunyan? They didn’t have to haul it to the dump or worry about little kids getting trapped inside an abandoned fridge.

Just in that moment’s musing of the good things we humans do for each other, a man teetered in a drunken stupor into my vision and urinated on a wall below my window. Damn! Why doesn’t he just go home to pee? Or find a gas station? He may have been homeless, or more likely, too drunk to know he had a home. At that time I wasn’t feeling too compassionate. Just don’t pee on my building! Oh, the indignation.

The alley was a convenient place for all kinds of odd and nefarious human and animal activities. It was dark and hidden, not patrolled by the cops, a no-man’s land on the baby-scale of no-man’s lands. And, as always looking for cheap rentals, I had landed in the middle of it.

I had moved to Fort Bragg on the California coast to find peace and quiet after my mother died. After having lived in hot valley towns like Chico, where it was often over 110 degrees in the summer,  and San Jose for eight years while I was a student, I longed for cool light and the majesty and power of the ocean. I wanted to paint the ocean and beaches and bridges in all their grandeur.

I soon discovered I had rented an apartment smack-dab in the middle of the movie Escape From New York, starring Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef. Although Fort Bragg was not a city prison as was New York in the movie, the events of the movie take place in the future and that future was 1997, exactly the year I had moved to Fort Bragg and discovered my nightmare neighborhood.

In the movie, the prisoner scavengers and rival gangs scurried about like rats during the day in the sewers and subways, living underground in the great maze of New York’s underbelly that WW III had left almost in tact. By night, they were above, out in full force, lawless, pillaging, killing, raping and torturing. It was a raging battle for survival and political power among the inmates. They controlled the night.

Like in the movie, the Fort Bragg night people came alive under the shroud of darkness and their hoodies, while I stood at my window watching it unfold, the light of flashlights flickering on the dark screen in the dark places of my mind. During the day, I looked out that same window, gazing over the rooftops into the distance to the ocean’s white light, the glare almost too much to bear as it returned me to sanity.

I must leave this place, I remember thinking.



Bridge Bones (1)

The act of imagination is the opening of the system so that it shows new connections. Every act of imagination is the discovery of likenesses between two things which were thought unlike. (Jacob Bronowski)

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Bridge Bones, Acrylic on Canvas, 30×40

I like the above quote and believe it applies to much of my work. I look for connections, not while I am painting, but after, when I am sitting and looking and wondering what it’s all about. Why is this painting important to me? Why did I want to paint it? And should it matter to the viewer, or just to me?

Okay, I have to admit it. Man-made constructions set against a natural environments fascinate me. In my mind, what we build isn’t always ugly, and it isn’t necessarily unnatural, for after all we humans are a part of a natural system. We are alive. We live the natural world all around us.

I enjoy juxtaposing the natural with the man-made in my paintings. I find the contrast exciting, even though I don’t always like what we do to our landscape and not all buildings are beautiful, not all changes, natural or man-made, in our landscape are beautiful, but the two things work in conjunction with each other, creating a foil for composition and concept. The contrast of man-made and natural environments provides a built-in subtext to my landscape painting—it is more than just a landscape.  I admit, this is a subjective view.

Bridge Bones is a painting of a small part of the Siuslaw River Bridge overhead structure (in Florence, Oregon). It is a span from one arch to the other of crisscrossed beams that create triangle and parallelogram shapes, allowing the sky to fall through. Structure is important because it holds the bridge up, and in that sense this painting reminds me of a spine, the part that gives it strength to survive since its completion in 1936. Seventy-eight years and more to come, most likely. More than I will ever see. Born ten years later than the completion date for this bridge, I am now sixty-eight years old, and though my spine has crumpled and hunched a bit, I am still held upright by it. It gives me the strength to move around on my feet, to bend over and pick up items that I’ve dropped on the floor in my new-found clumsiness since my chemo treatments. Items like spoons, forks, paint brushes, pots and pans and really big sharp knives just seem to fly out of my hands these days. Considering all that danger of sharp things flying around, not of my purposeful volition, the bridge will certainly outlive me!

Besides holding us up and giving us physical strength, the spine is also a metaphor for emotional and mental strength. I learned during my cancer experience that I am emotionally strong. And I had a great support structure of friends which gave me more strength. They had my back the whole time. I had spine.

I also like that once I am crossing a bridge, I see more. I see more of the beauty I may not see behind the roadside trees and mountainsides, and behind the buildings. A new world opens up, like when you are traveling by train or boat, suddenly great vistas are open to you. Riverbanks reveal pastures,  farm lands spotted with sheep, cattle, horses, barns and fences, and urban interiors. Mountains divide and open up their deep canyons and rivers. Mountains you’ve never seen, appear before your eyes. Have you ever walked or driven across a bridge and expressed awe at the sight of a magnificent view suddenly opened up? First there is light, then the sea and crashing waves on one side, then steep gullies and canyons, reaching deep to the river beds. I’ve seen it. And there’s no better experience that brings a reverence for our natural world than crossing that bridge, being one with that bridge, and feeling as if there are no boundaries between me and the rest of the world.

Looking through the railings, posts and beams of a bridge defines humankind and nature in a whole new perspective. We are not opposed. We are nature, and in that sense, we are beaver builders, bees building beehives and spiders spinning webs. What we build is just as much a part of nature as that which the wild creatures build. (Maybe that’s why spiders, shiver, haunt me so often!)

The simplicity of it for me is that I enjoy the geometric designs and patterns of bridge structures. Set against the backdrop of a clear dome of blue sky, or shroud of dense fog, or floating cumulus clouds high above, or distant muted rocky mountainsides, or crashing ocean waves, the bridge bones make my experience more intense. It’s the bridge juxtaposed with the natural. You can’t have one without the other.



Walking a Cat Walk

Copyright 2013 – By Susan Canavarro

When you are not writing, you are a writer too. It doesn’t leave you. Walk with an animal walk and take in everything around you as prey. Use your senses as an animal does. Watch a cat when he sees something moving in the room. He is perfectly still, and at the same time, his every sense is alive, watching, listening, smelling. This is how you should be when you are in the streets. The cat’s mind is not thinking about how much money he needs, or whom to write a postcard to when he visits Florence: he is watching the mouse or the marble rolling across the floor or light reflecting in crystal. He is ready with all of him to pounce. Now, you don’t have to get down on all fours and twitch your tail. Only be still – some part of you, at least – and know where you are, no matter how busy you are.
– Be An Animal, From Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, p. 90 ——-© 2005 (Shambhala, Boston and London)

I am reading Writing Down the Bones in a coffee shop called Mon Ami. Mon Ami sells antiques and estate sale items. Cindy, the owner, also serves delectable deli and bakery items, espresso coffees and teas. Her employees cook up fresh wicked apple-cinnamon and/or cherry turnovers daily. Her cappuccinos are deep and rich and soothing for my soul.

It is steamy outside. Sweat is beading up in my every nook and cranny and my bra, chaffing. I can feel my skin glowing red with rash. I have a headache. This is not your average Florence weather. This day I choose to drink iced tea at Mon Ami’s.

When I read the above paragraph by Natalie Goldberg, I sat staring off across the ocean with a grin spreading across my fat cheeks. Cindy waved her hand in front of my face to see if I was okay. Mustn’t stare too hard and too long when in a coffee-house. I smiled, nodded my head, yes. In fact, I was better than usual. Across the ocean across from my table was an antique soft creamy white dining buffet with ornate filigree decorating each cabinet-door edge. One door damaged and detached, leaned against the front of the cabinet. On the buffet top stood a large showcase trophy sailboat, two tall masts in full sail. This day, the ship, gripped in the stall of its display stand, was unable to fulfill its purpose–adventure on the open seas.

At one end of the ship was a small table-clock made to look like a ship’s helm, also an old gimbaled compass in its original box and two kerosene lanterns filled with red liquid. At the other end, a selection of three books leaning up against the base of a lamp: a first edition copy of Victor Canning’s novel The Chasm a story about adventure in the Italian Apennines; a first edition by Oregon writer Elizabeth Lambert Wood writing about the magnificent forests, ocean and lakes in her home state; and a 1931 edition of Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia Vol. IV of people and places, only the “B” list included. A set of very old binoculars with its original leather carrying case lies next to the books. And on the floor a small white, red & blue Route 66 sign, ticking time. A display of adventure signs, sailing the oceans and rivers, crossing a gorge in the Apennines, learning about new worlds and old times. Details observed.

A small table sculpture of two black Scottish Terriers standing on their hind legs holding up two interlocked rings declares an eternal cycle of loyalty, love, life, death and rebirth.

And here I sit in Florence, Oregon, not Italy as in Goldberg’s quote, living a life nearer to its ending than its beginning, yet dreaming of a desire to write, to publish, to create passable if not stunning paintings, to travel the world and sail down the canals of Europe, and to have the love, acceptance and tolerance of good friends.

I smiled at Goldberg’s words because I recognized that I had just experienced one of my Dad’s favorite synchronistic moments. Reading her book for the second time, wondering how to write about my animals while vicariously traveling to Lyon, France thru the email and picture journals from my friends just seemed to come together to bring more meaning to what I was writing. Dad believed that when you experience a coincidence such as this and it relates meaningfully to something happening in your life, it is a moment of Grace; one to which we should give our attention. And what’s happening in my life this moment is writing and armchair traveling and learning to walk like an animal. So it all fits.

Natalie Goldberg said writers should walk like an animal, with your senses alert like an animal’s senses are alert to every nuance of sound, smell and movement. As a pet sitter, I walk a cat walk. My senses are alive to what my special charges are doing and feeling every moment of the day. If they had been my cat or dog living at home with me, I would not have been so focused. Their daily adventures and idiosyncrasies would become uninteresting to me and I would have ignored them. I would have said, Oh you’re hungry again? You eat like a bull, Taurus. What is your problem? It’s not time yet. Bootsie, why the heck are you biting my legs? What is your problem? Leave me alone.

But, as pet sitter, I watch. I become a peeping-tom, a stalker. I follow them around. I walk like an animal. I check to see what they are up to, to see if they are okay. I annoy them to no end, especially Trina and Simon. I look for details. And they follow me. Even the cats follow me like a dog as if they were afraid I, too, would leave them. I remember thinking in the beginning, Why don’t these creatures let me have a moment of peace? But secretly, I love it. I know they are feeling insecure without their people and I become their only source of comfort when they are home alone. They eventually get it. I am it! I have the hand that feeds them, that gives them a rub-down. I glean a small bit of satisfaction that my presence makes them feel better.

I’m learning a lot about pets and about myself. I’ve learned that I like to ascribe human emotions to them. I know when they are happy. I see a cat tail extend straight up when he or she walks into a room and I say Hello Simon or Hello Tai or Hello Bessie! I watch whiskers turn up or down, knowing sadness, irritation, anger or contentment; I know eyes half-opened is an expression of love and contentment and trust; eyes large and round with dark pupils in full-moon is an autonomic response to fear or anger, and preparation for an attack. Often, I’ve experienced that glare. In fact, I have been the feared one too many times, the recipient of those big, dark alert angry eyes. Scary. Suddenly I am their prey and I want to hide under the covers.

I see the young kitten-energy return over and over after they do their daily job in the cat box. They burst into the living room wanting to play, wanting attention and affection, as if they know they’ve done a good job and they want me to know…so I can scoop it out for them. Cat sluggishness goes with cat constipation; and cat energy and happiness comes after a good bowel movement! The emotional and physical behavior of animals is amazingly familiar. Language of the animal world is as it is for us humans, too.

Dog tails swish back and forth and I know they are happy campers. Tails wagging. Jumping up and down barking. Barking in embarrassment, barking to warn, barking in excitement. Running in circles. Dog whimpering. Each whimper and bark a language to be deciphered. Each look a look of desire or love or need. Each rump-wagging, tail-wagging, a sign of love and excitement. The white lab lifts her head and looks at me, a sad questioning look in her eyes. What is it this time, Belle? I know she is asking me something but I don’t know what. Are you sad, hungry, do you need to go out? I prefer to think she is sad, but her owner says she is hungry. Just hungry.

I become a cat watching them like a cat watches a bird, chattering, waiting to see what would happen next, my body quivering with tension and excitement over what I might see, what indiscretion, what new sign I can read and learn, what might become a good story to tell their owners, thus Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter is in the works.

Writing. Watching animals. In Florence, Oregon. Traveling from my computer chair from cat house to cat house while reading emails from Bonnie and Ralph in Lyon and Avignon, France. A synchronistic moment. Just maybe I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.



Treasure Trysts

This week I received a meaningful and thoughtful gift from my stepmother Lois. The treasure box was full of old photos of my father’s paintings, a few 8×10 photos of me, a 1972 letter to the editor written by Dad concerning the construction of a nuclear power plant in Point Arena on the California Coast, and a small booklet of pen and ink and watercolor sketches by my sister Veneé. After discovering the gifts inside this box, tears rolled down my blotchy-rosacea cheeks for thirty minutes or more.

You may ask why this gift moved me so strongly, but perhaps first, before telling the story of the package and its contents, I need to tell you a bit about my life prior to this point—specifically, my kinetic life after my marriage dissolved.

In the summer of 1987 I packed my car with as many of my “things” as I could stuff into it, said a tearful goodbye to my husband and drove off. Caught the ferry to Anacortes and drove all the way to Monterey. This break-up was not the first. I had left several times before but always came back. Ultimately, I felt like I was going crazy and that leaving was the only solution. If I were on my own, I could finally be myself, not a wife and not an emotionally distraught step-mother. To some degree, that came about when I left this last time, especially after I reentered college.

With only what I could carry in my car, I left everything behind. I had to start anew. Get an apartment, get a job, and buy all new bed and blankets, and chairs and kitchen equipment. I virtually lived on the floor of my apartment in Monterey for months.

Along the way, after leaving my husband and after a half-assed attempt to get back together again, I moved several times, each time having to give up more of my belongings. I moved to Chico to go to school, from there to San Jose for graduate school, then on the Monterey to be close to my demented mother who died one week after I moved, and then I moved north to Fort Bragg. From Fort Bragg I moved east to Sacramento, and then finally on up to Florence, Oregon. With each move I gave away more of my possessions and wound up buying more items, like beds and chairs and computers, etc., only to have to give them away too. Here in Florence I had to move out of my first good apartment and into a small, narrow, cold, and moldy old travel trailer. Out of necessity, I got rid of more things and bought lots of plastic to cover all the non-thermal-pane windows. Finally after 3 years in the funky trailer, I was old enough to get into low-income senior housing, where I’ve been since early 2010, with only one move to a downstairs unit, and in the process of that last move and all its attending frustrations, I tossed many more things into the dumpster.

Before moving to Florence, planning for the very real possibility that I might actually become homeless and have to live in my car behind some lonely and/or isolated gas station, I gave my brand new bed and other furnishings to Salvation Army; I gave several framed paintings and a Futon sofa/bed to my good friends in Merced—I should say they were gracious to take my paintings off my hands. I gave away my top-notch stereo system to the son of a friend who had done some work repairing my PC. I gave my desktop PC to him also. I gave away my smaller portable record player used for folk dancing sessions. All of my precious art books, collected and well-used for over 27 years, I donated to the Sacramento Fine Arts Center to do with what they pleased. I gave away my drawing table and stool, purchased when I had finally gotten my first dedicated artist studio in our 2500 square foot house on Orcas Island, which helped to relieve my migraine headaches. I gave away all the large and heavy items I knew I could not carry in my car and then hauled what I could in three car-loads to Florence, Oregon.

I entrusted into the care of my sister our family photo album, consisting of pictures of our childhood years with photos representing us through all the grades on into high school and in all the front yards of our many lived-in houses; photos of our parents when they were younger and celebrating their marriage with a photo taken at a Hollywood lounge; pictures of our automobiles, pictures of grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and pictures of our family dogs and cats and chickens and roosters and ducks and nasty angry geese that we had cared for over the years; images of my mother’s garden before it and she became ravaged by dementia. Images, each representing a miniscule part of who I was and who I’ve become, given away when I gave custody of those items to my sister in 2003 just before my final trip north. I also entrusted to her my wedding album which not only included pictures of our wedding in one of Dad’s unfinished houses, but also pictures of the husband’s family, all our Christmases spent with his brothers and sisters, his mother, pictures of our stepson, and his growing years; Christmases on Carmel beach at the mouth of the Carmel River on cool, blue-sky sunny days.

I knew Veneé would take care of these photo albums. She had done an extensive genealogical study of our family and had been tacitly elected as the family archivist. Memories come flooding back to me. Little did I know at the time that she would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. Dreams gone, lost, dead, buried in the dark depths of my sister’s subsequent struggle with Alzheimer’s. I have no idea what happened to all of her things, to the family albums and to the book she had created about our family history.

I loaded my car up with a new laptop so I could stay in touch with people, my clothing, a few kitchen items, a small TV, paintings and art supplies, and drove to Florence. I shipped six boxes of books via UPS, so they could haul them up the stairs for me! I made three trips with my car loaded with small items. Again, I lived off the floor in my new Oregon apartment. I slept on an air mattress, ate and worked at my simple portable table. I bought an unfinished door and placed it across two plastic light-weight saw horses and this became my new painting table with an art stool.

Along each step of the way, with each looming move, I gave up more of my precious belongings. It was just stuff you might say. You can buy more stuff when you get settled somewhere, you might say. That might true, but only if one had the extra money to do so. But you cannot replace all those old photos if they disappear into a black hole. Due to financial necessity, I had adjusted to living light, to living without my old belongings and without much new stuff, but I felt the loss. I not only lost my husband to his errant ways, but I lost the stuff of my life. At each step of the way I gave away a bit of my self, never to be found again, except in memories, and those were fading fast.

When Lois’ package arrived this week filled with old photos of Dad’s paintings and sketches, photos of me learning how to throw a pot on the potter’s wheel, and of my sister’s wonderful watercolor sketches, and the insightful and revealing letter to the editor written by my father in 1972, it opened a flood gate letting loose the waters—I was awash with memories and emotions. I remembered who I was when I was 17, 18 and 19— that trusting, fresh, young spirit—and it reminded me of long losses of time between then and now at age 66, but I am so pleased to have these old images filling in my memory gaps.

Rapunzel, Save Me! Save Me! Real photo by Scrib.

In the old brown portfolio were several 8×10 black and white photos of me. One, an image of my face as I leaned against the upstairs window sash looking out of an old abandoned building in Mendocino. My eyes, shielded by lowered eyelids and dark lashes, looked down at Scrib the garbage collector as he pointed his camera at me. He was a professional photographer who supported his family by collecting garbage and hauling it off to the bluffs and dumping the trash into the ocean and on to the rocks. For decades that’s how the northern coast folks got rid of their garbage.

rapunzel2_for_blog2I wrote about Scrib in my memoir Fragments: Growing Up Bohemian Poor in Dementia’s House:

Rapunzel’s Save me! Save me!

There I was in 1964, not yet 18, in Mendocino at my father’s place, insecure and on the brink of a breakdown for fear of being unlovable. So what do I do? I fall in love with the married garbage man. I had a thing about falling in love with unavailable men—married, gay or just plain emotionally, physically or intellectually unavailable.

Charismatic, intelligent and witty, Scrib drove a large green garbage truck. In those days detritus was garbage and recycling non-existent, but for dumping it all back into the sea from whence we all came. Scrib backed the old rusty truck up to the edge of the bluffs just off Main Street and tipped the bucket, spilling garbage on to the rocks and sand 100 feet below. Ultimately, all of it dispersed by the ocean’s crashing waves.

Even though I knew he was married and had two kids, I flirted with him. He didn’t seem to mind. When he was not acting the garbage man, he was a fine art photographer, a writer and poet. We had trysts in the derelict buildings that dotted Mendocino. He shot many photographs of me standing in front of open doors and windows in the streaking dust-filled sunlight. With long brown hair and hazel-green eyes, I was his Rapunzel, flaunting my sexuality, enticing my prince of a trash collector to climb the blackberry vines and pick me. Choose me, my heart called out. Save me! Save me!

After I moved to Santa Rosa to attend Junior College, Scrib surprised me by showing up at the motel where I was staying. My roommates were a bit surprised that the quiet and shy Susan had an older boyfriend. However it appeared, though, ours was only a brief summer platonic encounter. My romance with Scrib was seemingly innocent and safe. We were sexually attracted to each other, but no sex beyond kissing. I trusted him implicitly. He was married. I didn’t have to make a commitment, nor did he. We both knew this and we both knew it was morally wrong.

I missed seeing Scrib, I missed his attentions and pined for him after he left that day, but I very quickly fell in love with another unavailable man—oh so cool Dan, a Santa Rosa guitar player/folk singer.

Our relationship remained platonic probably because at age 17, I knew nothing about sexual matters.

I thought Scrib’s photos of me were lost. To see one of them again was a sweet treat. It brings back my carefree summer salad days as a young adult in 1964 -1966 Mendocino. Whether I want to or not, I recall all the young men I flirted with and dreamed about, and over whom I pined and suffered countless hurts: Scrib the garbage man and a photographer who took many photos of me on our secret trysts; Philip the writer and poet who once wrote me a love poem that I carried in my wallet for over 25 years; Dan the coffee-house singer and guitarist I stalked at the Santa Rosa Coffee house and as fate would have it, whom I sat next to on the bus to San Francisco and thus began our brief encounter; the fishermen boys from UC Berkeley, John a pianist and Gil a classical guitarist, both students wigged out on pot and other drugs and the Beatles, and now gone; then on to beautiful and handsome Peter, a counselor at a youth camp near Philo and stealing away together in the middle of the night to climb down the bluffs on the Bodega coast; and Russell the intellectual with his blond hair falling in his eyes, his rough pock-marked face oh so serious yet smiling at me in the Caffe Mediterraneum living in his tiny purple Berkeley apartment with the orange kitchen, and who cared for me when I needed caring; and Lee the blonde film student from San Francisco State who created a short film of me and a young man running through the sunlit dappled forest to a romantic tryst—after all these years, I now see this was a proverbial love scene with film students and commercial movies. Not too original.

Then, in 1968 another John showed up in my life in Pacific Grove who enlisted and went to fight in Vietnam soon after we met and came home married to a Vietnamese woman; and finally the man I married, Antonio who played classical guitar and with whom I had secret liaisons at the Monterey Peninsula Cemetery…because at the time he was married, and his wife was wont to show up on campus! I knew all along that if he would liaison with me while he was married to someone, he would eventually liaison with others while we were married, but in my bliss, I ignored all the signs!

It’s a long tragic list for which I do have a few fond memories and many unpleasant and embarrassing moments. I was cute, flirtatious and alluring and I easily became infatuated with every man who crossed my path.  A romantic addict, I wanted to be loved and to be in love. I often wonder how I survived. What strength I must have had to survive that time of hippies and drugs, innocence and ignorance without becoming a drug or alcohol addict? How did I survive falling in love so many times yet remain so naïve and trusting? Or was it that I was too frightened to get drawn into all that free love and sex, and the reckless lifestyle of drugs? I often think all of my neurotic fears saved me. They kept me out of serious trouble!

Next week’s post will consist of another cherished artifact found in my father’s old brown portfolio.

© All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.



RED anyone?
August 6, 2012, 4:32 PM
Filed under: art, fragments, Paintings -Inspiration | Tags: , , ,

This is my latest painting effort after a near two-year hiatus ( normally known as painter’s block) from painting. It is a 36″ square, 1 and .25″ deep stretcher bar. Acrylic on canvas.

The idea derived from a memoir fragment I wrote called Frozen Like a Block of Blood-ice. It only started with that thought and quickly took off on its own and turned into a geometric abstract. You’ll notice the squares/blocks are not precise squares, nor are the smaller ones centered in the larger squares. I don’t live in a precise world – physically or mentally!  The beginning of my dream-story is handwritten in the wide wine-red border, but it is not easily read. The text is more texture than story although the story is relevant. I did not intend for people to spend time reading the painting.  One couldn’t read my handwriting, anyway. Sometimes even I can’t read it! The paint itself provides areas of raised surface texture as well as areas of smooth layers of transparent washes of reds and greens.

One thing I didn’t remember is that red is a middle value color. On the grayscale red, in its various ranges of colors, will be of the middle to dark gray.  In color, visually our eyes see light reds and dark reds, but in the grayscale, it is all mid to dark gray. I proved this to be true when I changed the image to grayscale on my computer. 

Feedback is welcome if you feel like hurting my feelings! LOL

© 2012 All Rights Reserved. Susan Canavarro.



The Asphyxiation of Christmas

Soon after I settled in Fort Bragg in 1997, I had the great luck of witnessing the town’s annual Christmas Lighted-Truck Parade. I walked two blocks over to Main Street (a.k.a. the Shoreline Highway, a.k.a. Highway One) and stood with the crowd on the sidewalk waiting for the parade to begin. It was cold, just after dusk, but excitement vibrated the brisk air as kids and adults waited for the first semi logging truck to roll by.

I remember thinking as I stood and felt the palpable excitement what a great thing it was to live in a small town where everybody showed up to enjoy all the town’s special events, from the Paul Bunyan Days Celebration to the Lighted Truck Parade and several other festivals—small towns celebrating themselves and special holidays, always a bit quirky and bizarre.

It made sense, the lighted trucks, because lumber and logging were Fort Bragg’s biggest and only industry for many decades. The Union Lumber Company was a big name in Fort Bragg. Residents were loggers, mill workers, and train and truck operators. Plaid shirts abound, with baby-shit brown Carhartt pants and jackets, and rugged leather boots with steel toes. It was a rough and ready place, alive with the smell of wood and sawdust and exhaust fumes and a few dozen quarts of lager. Logging was rough and dangerous work.

When the logging industry died out due to environmental issues, the town and shop owners learned the benefits of tourism. Fort Bragg gentrified itself into a budding art community. It was a long haul competing against the well established art mecca of Mendocino, but it had one thing going for it, it was a less expensive place to live in those days. Their new gentrified town included the Headlands Coffee place with great music and coffee. The Headlands was where I read Bell Hooks and Anne Proulx and where in 1998 I began writing my memoir. A new artist co-operative opened on Main Street and grew into a successful business, along with other art shops and galleries, one failed visual arts center where I volunteered my time and where the Director made faces at people behind their backs, an art supply store that had been there for years, and other necessary shops. Restaurants were beginning to serve upscale California cuisine. And an ordinary hole in the wall breakfast place on Main soon gained a reputation for the finest breakfasts on the Northern California coast… and boasted waiting lines to get in the door. Fort Bragg was a brief stop on the way to somewhere else, but had become a destination in its own right by the late 1980’s.

That night at my first lighted-truck parade I waited in the cold. The big logging semis rumbled into town from the north as if they were coming with a load of logs on their backs, only this time they were hauling Christmas lights and decorations. As they rolled past us, they pulled their deep-throated horns and everybody yelled and hollered. The loud smog-belting diesel trucks an incongruous sight decked out with colorful Christmas lights captured everybody’s fantasies. Trucks of all types and sizes, fancy and plain, sponsored by various businesses, groups and organizations,  rolled between the big semis all lit up in a blaze.

Back then, simple lights outlined the shape of the vehicles and their flatbed trailers. Today, the lights define more intricate and sophisticated holiday related themes and designs, reindeer, santa, trees, elves, like every other contemporary Christmas parade. The lighted-trucks have become more like colorful Rose Bowl floats, which removes the charm of the small town event.

As the line of sparkle and music snaked its way south on the coast highway it turned left on a side street, rolled one block east, and turned left again onto Franklin and north to Laurel. A two-way street with two lanes, the trucks rolled up each lane and came to a halt just beyond the Laurel Street intersection. They filled up three or four blocks.

When they parked, they left their engines idling to generate the lights. The parade-goers wandered in and around all the trucks for a close-up view of everything, visited with friends, and their kids scrambled for Christmas candy. I too wandered among the rumble. The roar of all the big semi engines in close quarters was like the deep-throated rumble of motorcycles as they cross the Siuslaw River Bridge during Rhody Days in Florence, Oregon. Hundreds of bikers cruising into town, black bikes line up with riders wearing black leathers and chains sitting atop their bikes like black crows on a telephone wire. The vibrations rumbled through my body from head to toe, then and now.

While wandering among the trucks, I began to feel weird, like I was suffocating. The engines were spitting out powerful noxious diesel exhaust. The fumes, trapped on these two lanes between tall buildings had nowhere else to go. An inversion layer of smog hovered over Fort Bragg for a few hours. Among the idling engines, the air got dirtier and thicker and heavier and more blue and warmer as the minutes ticked by. I became nauseous and developed a headache. As I walked among the lighted trucks, the carbon monoxide spewing from their tall blackened pipes was asphyxiating, starving our lungs and bodies of much-needed oxygen.  

I had to get out. I walked the two blocks back to my small apartment behind Paul Bunyan’s Thrift Store. I thought it was funny at the time, one of those odd and bizarre funny things that happen at small town events, but now I see it as ironic. Those beautiful lighted semi trucks, as toxic and asphyxiating as is the commercialism of Christmas today snuffing out the meaning of Christmas. Instead of the simple beauty of tiny lights twinkling against a dark sky, instead of being a celebration, the big diesel trucks with their exhaust were a harbinger of things to come.




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