Thursday, May 26, 2011

Present Tense

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

Looking Back

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.


  1. so feminine and strong post ...
    loved this,

  2. Caio, you make me smile - were you waiting and watching over my shoulder when I pressed the "PUBLISH" button so you could have the honored place of the first comment? It is yours!

    Thank you for using the words "strong" and "feminine" in the same sentence. These two are not always considered together, and not always associated with me! I appreciate it. All the best to you, my dear friend.

  3. Recognition: I too cross bridges in my mind before I am certain that there is a river, and view it as an essential preparation for the mightbes, and maybes. And yes, sometimes it is painful but it is a part of me and in the long run beneficial.
    I will have everything crossed for you so that the artist can continue to emerge and soar above the mundane. And I am so so happy that you were able to resurrect and share the prints in this post - as always beautiful and thought provoking.

  4. Fabulous post G - it resonates strongly. I love that you 'rehearsed' /prepared for the death of your beloved cat - and I'm glad to hear that it helped and worked. I do a lot of anticipating in the same way and am ever hopeful that when the big bad times hit I will at least be partly prepared because I have thought about them and rehearsed a bit. I admire your sense of knowing; of anticipating intuitively the shifts that will arrive. I think we often sense things well before they realise themselves in our lives.
    I think you are strong and on the right path; asking the right questions and considering all the possibilities. And I LOVE your images - stunning!

    Go well, enjoy your w/e - we are off to an opening tonight!

    I totally get your desire to be ahead of yourself, to be ther before youa rrive nad think it will serve you well.

  5. ... waht for a great post gabriella, so beautifull works you have introduced to us, and you poem and your fotos from the sculpture are really great,
    and I like the self shot, you are a photographer...

    :-) big hug my dear
    see you

  6. Dear Gabriella, it is as you say, looking back one always see it makes perfect sense. There is beauty in that and a valuable thought in uncertain times.
    Times that are not always easy, because to know where you are going feels more comfortable, even if there is never a certainty you will reach your goal.New things will come on your way and choices will have to be made. I can only wish for you that it are enjoyable and valuable new things ,but whatever it is i'm sure you will make the best of it, X
    Loved how you illustrated this post, the selfpotrait (with one big eye on the future, one hidden) is very beautiful. Sending you my love.

  7. stay in the now dear gabriella, the future will sort itself out.


  8. EC - I'm glad the inner workings described were familiar to you - I too believe they are ultimately beneficial, and not unnecessary worrying as some might believe. I would always rather be ready for something that ends up not happening or not as bad as I thought, than be knocked off my feet by something I refused to think about ahead of time! Many thanks for your comment and I hope all is well in your household!

  9. Fiona, I had a feeling this would resonate with you! No irony intended there! Like so many things, my heightened sense of things used to feel more like Cassandra's curse, and now as I grow older I've learned to make use of it so that it is more of a benefit than a burden. Information is always better than ignorance, whatever the source - at least I have more to work with, and even reject if I so choose, when the time comes to take decisions and actions! Enjoy the weekend - an opening! What fun for you!

  10. Laura my dear, thank you for your comment, it makes me happy to know you enjoyed this post. I love taking photos of sculptures - they sometimes have more life to them than human subjects!

  11. Renilde, thank you for understanding and adding your positive outlook to these serious ponderings! Funny thing about the photos - I pulled out random negatives from the chaos of the file box, all from different years and locations, before I began writing, or even had the idea for this post, and when it came time to find images to illustrate it, the ones I had scanned only two days ago all suited the subject perfectly! Another example of "looking ahead?" All the best to you, my dear, sent with love.

  12. T - I probably do live more in the moment than I give myself credit for. The now makes its demands, one cannot but live in it, because one is in it, undeniably. Part of me knows that I have little control over what lies ahead, and that so much exists in the present to be enjoyed to the fullest, so I never do let my daydreaming blind me to what is around me, but in those times when there are no other distractions, lying on the couch for a quiet hour, for instance, my mind naturally opens itself to envisionings of the future, all its potential, good and bad. All will be well, I am just not yet sure how I will get there! Have a great weekend, my friend.

  13. Dear Gabriella....sisters under the skin....I'm there with you in the way you anticipate and rehearse, trying to make mental preparations for the future. I too find myself continually looking back at one year anniversaries and anticipating the future ones...what will I be doing and who will I be one year from now. I'm sure you know how many friends you now have posted throughout the world, cheering you on and encouraging all your efforts. We are standing by, in the wings and with wings, should you need them! This is a wonderful post...but then, they all are! Cheers to you!

  14. Dear Patti - I am ever mindful that the friends I have made in this past year are one of its unquestionable unqualified gains! Whatever happens next, I cannot claim that no one understands or cares about my inner or outer struggles as an artist and a human being. I am so grateful for so much support and sympathy, and in your case, empathy! Having it does make all the difference when I am in the kind of mood that can drag me down deeper or simply become the launching point for a new plan of action! All the best to you, sister mine!

  15. Great post...Thanks for posting such greats pics ..loved them all they are awesome. I have had the same thoughts running in my mind of probably having to look for a steady source of income...with no sales happening...but not giving up on hope as yet.I would say with the kind of talent that you have your dreams of being a successful artist are not very far away. Take care and have a great weekend!

  16. Narayan, my friend - I'm glad you liked these photos! It is a difficult life, trying to open up the necessary time and space for creativity and also bring in enough money to live! But I am not giving up hope, and neither should you, anytime soon - we are both in it to win it! I am just getting myself used to the reality of future sacrifices necessary to bring in some steady income, so I can get over the shock now and be able to attend to this new challenge with a clear head and cool emotions later when there's no loner any spare time to mope and feel sorry for myself! You have a great weekend too. I wish you all the success you so greatly deserve!

  17. TT- very thoughtful and challenging post. Being in the moment does not mean that we don't look forward or back but as you know we do all three but the ones we can do most about are the now and the then. I think a lot of us do the what if, an if this then rehearsing - some do it a bit more than others but just as much as we need to. I really admire that you accepted the challenge to do the full-time art thing - though the year is coming to an end does not mean it has failed it means that you succeeded in that year and its experiences. In the future there may be a different combination - not quite going back to where you were and not quite having what you desired - but a balance of between.Whatever you choose may it offer you both a sense of creation to nuture your soul and enough cash to pay the bills and buy cheap but good red wine. Go well. B

  18. Barry, thanks for your wise and kind comment, you're right, just because this ideal artist's existence is ending, does not mean I am going to simply resume the same old intolerable workaday life where I left off. I am so accustomed to those being the two choices, I have not fully grasped that there can be another way, a new way, one I will create with all the new knowledge, courage and connections now at my disposal. I have always known wage-earning as something in direct opposition to doing what I love; they have never happily coexisted and one must always swallow up the other until the roles are reversed out of desperate necessity. Perhaps this time I can find paid work that does NOT render me unable to pursue my artistic passions, but rather enriches and sustains that side of me? I know some people do find or make this rare and beautiful balance. Why can't I be one of them? So that's my new project - make that happen. Wine included! All the best to you, B!

  19. I am much moved by this post, Gabriella. You have given us such privileged access to your state of mind at the existential turning point in your life.

    I feel for your circumstance acutely. Were i Donald Trump i would gladly provide that grant (though i suspect that were i Donald Trump i would find a way to take from you even that which you still have which is how i became Donald Trump in the first place).

    Seems to me that your prescience stems from the same root as your creativity – they are both the fruits of a highly sensitized nervous system. The imaginative faculty that unbidden projects you into impending scenarios is also the same faculty that feeds your writing and photography. You make emotionally present to yourself that which is likely to come just as you make emotionally present to us that which has already come and gone.

    I make this point because Cassandra may have rued her gift – it often made life so uncomfortable. It left her feeling at times that she was out of step with a sightless humanity swirling round her. But who would remember the name Cassandra without her gift? She WAS her gift.

    So just in case you wish your antennae didn’t stretch quite so far ahead or were quite so sensitized, be reconciled. Wear the nights of worry, the floating anxiety, the pre-grieving as your stigmata and badge of office.

    What a liberated and soul-expanding year this has been for you. You will look back and see it a golden time, a wonderful gift to yourself to carry safe into the future.

    I wish all the best with finding work that recognizes and rewards your creative powers, and that you find fulfilling. And who knows, when the economy turns around, there may be another studio waiting. It’s maybe being painted out even as we speak.

  20. Harry, thank you so much for this warm and wise response to my post! As I said before, one of the undisputed boons of this past year is the friends I have made through this blog, yourself being high on the list!

    Being out of step with humanity does seem to me more blessing than curse. As you have recently discovered, good works do not emerge from smug blind acceptance, and sometimes to see clearly what others would rather ignore, and then have the audacity to portray and display these images, can be quite unpopular. But you and I are not in this to produce pretty adornments or empty amusements for the masses, are we? That would not satisfy the urge in us to express not only what we hold within us, but what is going on around us, however hard these truths might be to pull out of the darkness into the light. I for one am happy to know you are busy at this important work every day, and to know you. Many thanks, my friend!

  21. Gabriella!
    I can understand you so perfectly!
    Aren’t most of us going through this thoughts in our life?
    Our life is a scenery and we are the puppets…
    There is no hide away from what the future will bring.
    My hugs and love

  22. Monica dearest! Of course you understand, living in the land where tragedy was born! Sometimes I really do believe we are still the playthings of the gods and that we cannot alter our destiny, only change how we feel about it and face it without fear. And love each other -- that makes everything better!

  23. Dear Gabriella, I have been thinking a lot about you and this post. I read it when you posted it and was truly unable to write anything. It is a wonderful post, again it is moving as many of yours have been. It is intimate as you always are but most of all it is real. On one hand I am glad you are being practical about everything and somehow just moving along. I tend to think that we need to not only live the present but live it in a way that will allow our dreams to come true. I know you are doing the right thing. Everything in life has a "precise time". Thanks for your beautiful words and your everyday teachings.

  24. Oh, Luis, what a wonderful comment! I like how you put it - to live in the present but in such a way that will allow dreams to come true. I've always believed that a certain amount of worry is a beneficial thing. It is the tiny grain of sand in the oyster that will eventually turn into a pearl. It might be a more peaceful life without that irritant, but what to show in the end? Thank you for understanding, my friend, and have a great weekend!