Cassandra by Max Klinger
from Cassandra in Love by Gabriella Mirollo
Knowing what I know,
I can’t catch up with me.
I’m there when I arrive;
I’m gone before I leave.
How can I bide my time?
I have no present tense,
just urgency, suspense.
Many years ago I wrote a poem called “Cassandra in Love,” based on the unfortunate prophetess of Greek myth whose particular curse was for her predictions to go unheeded in spite of always proving true. It occurred to me that she must have been very uncomfortable as an occupant of the present, with her mind full of tragic visions of the future no sooner realized than displaced by the next ones. What was going on inside her was likely always more immediate, compelling and demanding than anything going on around her. To a certain degree I think we all suffer from the tendency to spend far too much of our precious time worrying about what lies ahead instead of enjoying what is happening in the here and now. There are those who would argue that if something bad is due to happen tomorrow, all the more reason to live in the moment today, and those who would call this behavior desperate or denial and suggest making preparations for the inevitable is a much better use of time and energy.
Try as I might, I have never been a live-in-the-moment kind of girl. While I have fully enjoyed many pleasant moments in my life in the here and now, like Cassandra, I have probably already been anticipating and envisioning them for so long, by the time they arrive they seem almost redundant and often quite anti-climactic. This goes for the unpleasant events too. The way some people get headaches from the barometric changes in the air caused by a storm still hundreds of miles away, I have often felt the grief of an approaching situation days, weeks, even months ahead of time. Sometimes it is a nameless vague emotion that grabs me from inside or crushes me from above, with no apparent provocation in my present circumstances. Sometimes it is my own mind running ahead like a scout on a dangerous mission, to see what the territory ahead will be like and thus prepare the rest of the team for what they will soon encounter.
Last year around this time my inner scout was getting a real workout. Departmental reorganizations and reassignments had rendered my job almost unrecognizable and completely intolerable. My beloved cat Marlowe had been diagnosed with advanced kidney disease, and as I did not know at the time, but already sensed was coming, had less than three weeks left to live. While some encouraged me to think positively, I found myself making mental and emotional preparations for his end, rehearsing the worst imaginable outcomes so that when the time came, I would be able to be strong and capable and ease his departure from this world. Meantime, in the present, I was performing my job responsibilities with about ten percent of my brain activity, while the other ninety was engaged in plotting what life could, should and would be like when I no longer had to be in that office for the majority of my waking hours.
Roses For Marlowe (1996-2010)
On June 8th at 7am, at home on the bed he spent so many happy hours on and in, Marlowe, calmed by firm and gentle hands, took his last breath. He spent four days in intensive care in the hospital and when he recovered enough strength they sent him home for the final brief week of his life. His last morning was the most difficult of my life, but I knew exactly what to do, because I had played it in my mind a dozen times until the unthinkable became not only possible, but practical. Seven weeks later, I walked out of the doors of my former workplace for the last time and have not returned. Many people worried about what seemed to be an abrupt and radical change to an entirely new life as a full-time artist, but what they didn’t understand was that I was already living that life in my mind for weeks, and that nothing going on around me at the time was as real as that ongoing inner drama. When the time came to begin it in earnest, I knew exactly what to do.
Some Things Never Change (self-portrait ca. 1982)
Why these musings, you may ask? In order to contextualize myself and my life, I often play a little mind game called “where was I this time last year?” It’s interesting and instructive for me to examine how I have made progress or gone off track, what I have gained and lost in the span of 12 months, whether I am any closer to becoming the person I believe myself capable of being at my best, and if not, what course corrections need to be made. In many ways, the life I am now leading is very much as I imagined and hoped it would be. But from the beginning I knew this year of living the life of an artist was stamped with an expiration date, which is now soon to come due. Like Cassandra, I have been preoccupied with what lies ahead, and finding it hard to enjoy my last weeks of freedom, as if I have vanished already from my present scenes to attend to my activities in the future. I’m gone before I leave. Like Gabriella, I felt an inexplicable crushing fatigue and despair yesterday; today I received notice that my application for an artist’s grant, which would have re-filled my coffers and extended my state of unassailed unemployment a few more precious months, was rejected. This news would have been more upsetting if I hadn’t already felt the shock before it even happened! I’m there when I arrive.
Waiting for the Winds of Change
My visions of the future are impossible to ignore and yet remain unclear at the moment. It is certain that I vacate my current studio space on June 30th and that this room will no longer be a part of my daily routine or landscape. It is also certain that new regular reliable and lasting sources of income need to be established over the next few months as the last of my private resources dwindle. What I cannot see is the sort of life I will be leading as a result of these changes, where will I spend my days and with whom? How will I balance my creative pursuits with the earning of a living? You may wonder why I am so far ahead of myself, worrying about an inevitability still months away. I wish I could shut it out, but already I can feel the change in the air. It may be nearer than I think, or further away, bigger or smaller, for better or worse. Urgency, suspense. All I can say for sure is that when I look back to this time from this same date next year, it will all make perfect sense.
All of the images in this post are from old negatives dating from the 1980s to 2003, some of whose original prints have faded and wrinkled beyond recognition with the passage of time. They were recently rescued from an old filebox and scanned on the new scanner I have finally learned how to use, giving these images a second chance at life.