Design


Woman in Mexican dress with hat sits in the shade of the carved pillars of the Pyramid of the Moon

Visiting the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. ©2018 Mara Jevera Fulmer

I was feeling nostalgic, and even a bit unsettled. In early 2012, just as I was preparing to go on a Fulbright scholarship trip to Russia, and was making the circuit of presentations for my doctoral work, Apple computer was making a serious update to their MobileMe platform. They were going to be shifting to iCloud and eliminating the iWeb software that had made it so easy to produce websites and blogs.

In the midsts of the swirl of activities in the late Winter/early Spring, I managed to have the presence of mind to archive five years of blog posts and podcasts to a corner of my computer for future attention. Unfortunately, events in life took a serious twist. In summary: I went to Russia, returned early due to my husband’s preliminary Stage IV cancer diagnosis, he died on 9/1/12 and I found myself redefined as a young(ish) widow at the age of 51, I finished my doctorate (10/2014), remarried in to my second husband (12/2014), welcomed a new grandson (12/2015), and built a new home (2015-present).

Needless to say, life has not stood still.

But for some reason, a trigger happened. I felt the need to reread these old posts, pull them over my head like a warm, cozy and familiar blanket. To close my eyes and step back a bit, remind myself where I was back then. The posts generally run from early 2006 to 2011 and cover the gamut, from art exhibitions and creative musings, to reflections on travel, being present, and just some funny thoughts. Overall, I enjoyed the time spent rereading and listening to these. They simultaneously gave me a sense of wunderlust and a firm grounding, a sense of being…where I am supposed to be.

Feel free to enjoy them at your leisure. – Old Blogs & Podcasts Revisited

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Perry Road workshop after a spontaneous sleigh ride down the hill, a week ago. The sun was quickly melting a new fallen snow.
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It was fortuitous that the workmen would come today (Friday, 3/1/13), the six-month anniversary of Keith’s passing. They moved up their starting day to remodel the master bathroom at home. The room had been a running joke in our lives, but also a sore spot Keith would ignore in favor of taking on other projects, commitments, or just going for a ride on the motorcycles. I admit that I enabled this. I much preferred to ignore it myself and go have fun, then to fight over it= and cause unrest in the house.

Yet there it was, in all it’s ugliness, the focus of which was the freezing shower with the cracked tiles, the shower door falling off its hinges, the moldy ceilings, etc. When I had packed up many of Keith’s things, I came across a drawing and notes he had made for remodeling this room. My own drawings were not too far off. The difference was the custom cabinet which I could not supply. And so other solutions would be needed. In the end, though, I was forced to make a last minute change, bumping the wall out into the bedroom about a foot so that the cabinet I ordered wouldn’t block the doorway. This was the part Keith would have customized, creating a slant to ease the entry while still allowing for the larger cabinet. But mine was 20 inches deep, and the wall next to the door was only 16. I could not put it tucked into the corner as planned. And I couldn’t move it over due to the toilet space needed. So the wall would be moved.

I listened as the guys smashed and cut away old fixtures and floors, while I worked on a paper in the cozy little cocoon I made of my bedroom behind plastic sheeting hanging from the ceiling.

It was exciting to start this project. Nearly 16 years after moving to Michigan, and about 15 years after moving into this house, that bathroom was always the target of my disgust. Cracked tiles, continuously moldy grout, shivering cold, a tiny vanity, all added up to a room that I just wanted to smash. It became a running joke (and point of terror) that when the kids misbehaved, they’d be threatened with scrubbing the shower tile in mom and dad’s bathroom.

A need to break something…
So when the guys showed up this morning and started the demolition, I asked them to give me a chance to smash something, just one thing to get out my frustration. I took aim at the soap dish, broken for the last three years where the mold had seeped into the crack and degraded the already cracked and ugly ceramic dish now hanging jagged out of the wall.

SMACK!! and crash, I swung the hammer at it with my eyes closed tight, the guys behind me cackling at the sound of the pieces hitting the tile floor of the shower. I was anything but satisfied. I was angry. Angry that it took 15 years and the death of my husband to get to this point. Angry that I was doing this on the 6 month anniversary of his passing. Angry at Keith for abandoning me. Angry at myself for feeling guilty about wanting the embrace of another man in Keith’s absence. Just plain angry at the world.

I handed the hammer back to Joe who shook his head still laughing at my overly dramatic swing, and so I managed to summon a smile in return. My last big assignment for a doctoral course was calling me. So I slipped through the plastic sheathing that hung between the work area and the rest of my bedroom, climbed back onto my bed where my iPad and reading sat waiting for my attention.

Counting down to the other side
Later that evening, after the workmen left, i let out a sob. Pent up emotion that needed a release. It lasted only a moment and then I went back to my work. But as the hour drew near, I had to stop and write in my diary… a countdown of sorts:

The countdown weighs heavily on my heart, 55 minutes, 54, 53, 52, 51… Keith died at 7:55 pm on September 1st, exactly 6 months earlier. Just a few days ago, visible in the pre-storm night sky, the nearly full moon loomed overhead, stars sparkling and taunting me in a bittersweet reminder of the date to come. But tonight, this last hour has been painful.

The other part of the remodel project ws to replace the vanity in the kids bathroom. Keith had made it and painted it with analine dyes a scene of seaweed and deep blue waters. Unfortunately, he hadn’t accounted for the doorframe trim and the kids were never able to pull the drawers out as far as intended on one side. I feared that any new owner of this house would simply pull the cabinet out and toss it. So I ordered an inexpensive white cabinet the same size and had the guys swap it out.

From my diary…

It’s 7:45 pm. 10 minutes before that moment when we knew Keith made his last breath… 6 months ago. Stassia is busy texting me about how much money she’s losing from her free trip to Florida. I try and restrain my impatience and simply remind her that it will all work out, I had planned to help her out anyway, knowing there would be some impact on her missing work. She has already been stressed due to a cutback of hours so I try not to feed her anxieties. I have enough of my own.

Four minutes now. I’m beginning to feel a little better. Time is passing quickly and I focus on the passage of this sad milestone which will put me on the other side of the hump between the first half of a year after he died, and the second half when looking forward should become more common than looking back.

I moved a photo I have of Keith that sat on my side of the bed. It was the one where he has that silly smirk on his face. But more often recently, that smirk has looked more like disapproval, and even hurt. I couldn’t face it any longer, at least not every moment when I sat on my side of the bed we used to share. I moved it over to “his” former side, the side where I keep my powder puff from crabtree and evelyn, and my button jar, the side where I moved my flickering lamp when I swapped it for his working lamp.

It’s 7:55 pm now. My heart sinks a bit. I have already shed some tears in exasperation. But the moment has passed. It’s time to move forward. I love you Keith. I will always love you. But I cannot live with the pain of your loss. I must live with the hope for a new future. Otherwise, my grief will consume me, a feeling I have occasionally faced in a depressive moment, ready to give up on going forward.

Moving forward…
Yes, the moment has passed, an inauspicious milestone. Six months to the minute since Keith died. I breathed deeply and tried to go back to my work, knowing I am not alone on this road. And that there are angels – or ghosts – who watch over me, too. My dreams, and those of a good friend, make that clear.

So now looking forward, I thank goodness for many things. For the friendships I have, my children who remind me why I cannot sink into despair. And the touchstone of a good counselor. And for a fulfilling career surrounded by interesting, supportive people…

And oddly enough, more recently, I am also thankful that, even if it does not grow into anything further (or I refuse to let it), there’s a little guy up north who is willing to talk to me, listens to my tears, and even then still calls me cutie, and offers me a virtual hug. We have never met, but I have grown more fond of him. Maybe it’s because at this point it is still fantasy. But, at the moment, I can live with that.
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And the demolition begins, at home on Jerome Lane.

20121109-042017.jpgPhoto above: Etched into freshly poured concrete at the Perry Rd project – “In memory of Keith E. Fulmer, 9/1/12, The Dream lives on in us.”

Time marches on and I find the days go well as long as I keep busy. The election this week set me off on a cycle of late nights once again, and sleep eludes me until I can no longer hold my eyelids open. But, while I await the sandman’s arrival, I see Keith’s smile in the photo across from me, a little smirk that made dimples in his cheeks, a twinkle in his eyes that spoke a bit of mischief, a challenge. Of course these were mostly photos taken by others. For when I was the photographer, Keith would often challenge me with a bit more rebellion, and sometimes a crude gesture, all in fun. Or, I would have to work a bit harder to capture those moments when he had his guard down, was a bit more contemplative, unaffected by the camera. It made my role as family photographer a little more challenging, working around the self-consciousness that was sometimes awkwardly expressed.

My role as photographer shifted a little when we traveled, even more so when I traveled alone. As much as Keith traveled in the South Pacific – living in Fiji, working on the dive boat, or flying to Tonga or Vanuatu – he was still much more of a homebody. When we moved back stateside to Michigan, he would be willing to drive long distances, though often complained of pain in his shoulders from doing so. But as weird as it may sound from a guy who had his pilot’s license, he hated flying commercially. Can’t say as I blamed him. If I could avoid it, I would. But I had yet to find a way to beam myself to a conference destination. More than a few times Keith and the kids would join me when I went to a conference, or we would join Keith for one of his symposium destinations. It was great fun, though a little stressful at times. And I admit a little envy for having to miss out on the family fun while I sat inside at a conference event. Still, we managed to work in some quality time together when we drove to these places, using it as an opportunity to “see America”.

But during the times when either of us would travel alone, we would always come back with pictures to share with the other. In my case, I was fairly prolific looking at these photos as an opportunity to add to my photo library of memories and resources for future art projects.

When Keith’s diagnosis was nearly confirmed in early June this year, we sat down on the big leather sofa in the living room and, page by page, photo by photo, we revisited our lives together. It was during those early reminiscences that Keith expressed for the first time his thoughts about his life. The odds were not good, he knew that. Yet he was not giving up. But he was coming to terms with the reality of his foreshortened future.

So, as he looked back through those albums filled with the iconic images that defined our lives, I heard him say it. “I have no regrets. I have no regrets for how I have lived my life.” That didn’t negate that he was deeply saddened, depressed, or even angry at times about this turn of events. But it became the anthem upon which the rest of the family would rally. No regrets. Seqa ni rarawa.

We had often talked about certain travels we wanted to do together. St. Petersburg, Russia was one of those places we had agreed would be a place we wanted to see. When the possibility came about, and an invitation for a Fulbright to Ekaterinburg, Russia came in September 2011, my mouth dropped. Here was our chance to do this. But it soon became clear that there would be too many obstacles to overcome to have us both travel at this time. Keith’s work making custom furniture was growing, and he had several shows the following May (2012) and too many other things to prepare for. Besides, spending three weeks in Ekaterinburg while I was teaching, before heading to St. Petersburg, just seemed too daunting for Keith to overcome. So the plan evolved to where I would go alone, become acquainted with travel in Russia, even visit St. Petersburg on my own, and then in the future, we would go back there together.

I never made it to St. Petersburg, canceling that part of the trip when Keith’s illness turned into something more ominous than the flu we thought he couldn’t shake. But this summer I continued to take photos often to share with Keith the progress on Perry Road, or to show him something I needed to ask him about, or a special moment that I wanted to share with him. The photos continued to be part of the archive of our lives together.

But as the summer faded, and the progression of Keith’s cancer moved relentlessly towards its ultimate end, I began to question myself. Eleven days before Keith passed away, I contemplated this issue in my diary.

Diary Question….
8/21/12, 4:47 am

Who will the photos be for now?

Over the years, when Keith was unable (or unwilling) to travel, especially if the flights were long, I would take many photos to share with him. Before, they were film-based and thus I would get them hurriedly developed and printed upon my return. More recently, I used a blog and photos – with their basic descriptions – uploaded for him to see almost in real time.

I wonder, though, how much energy he had to look when I kept a blog up with photos on my recent Fulbright to Russia.

Now I wonder as I travel … who are the photos really for? My guess….the child yet unborn.

Why do I continue to take photos of the Perry Road project’s progress? Is it just to document a process of renovation?

Who are they for? Are they to fulfill some personal need to continue to chronicle what was begun before Keith died?

Do I continue to photograph it and the nature around it out of some sort of habit I cannot break?

That is what led me to write that question in my diary. Who are the photos for? What purpose do they serve?

I contemplate some potential answers…

Icons of life, artifacts of an experience, an effort to freeze time, or hold a moment completely still for perpetuity. Do they sadden me when I see them? Sometimes. For when I look at them, I can feel myself being transported to that moment, or an illusive memory of that moment in time, seen from the context of decades past.

They are the stories that should continue to be told to the next generation. They are part of my personal history, my own story, Keith’s stories. They speak volumes, without the details of a formal narrative. And since Keith is not here to tell his stories, then they will have to speak more for him, too. They will be part of a family’s history, told around the campfires of future cool autumn nights.

Here is another entry I found where I was contemplating the meaning of all those photos gathering on the shelf:

on a shelf…

…the photos all fit on the shelf down in the basement. Albums representing an entire family’s history fit under the coffee table. A few select photos, framed, hang on the walls, icons of a family life.

How do these tell our story? Is it how we wish to build our history? who will retell it to the next generation? or will the stories be lost?

The photos, all boxed up and mostly labeled, fit on a shelf in the basement, to become archaeological relics of a lifetime gone by. How will the new story be told? What new roads will we travel? and who will travel them? Who will join us? and who will leave us?

The photos, selected and still loose, sit stuffed into an album yet to be created, an album that captures snapshot moments of a life gone by, memories still fresh as the morning dew, 34 years in the making… a worn-out coffee table shelf holds a family’s history, ready to be retold during quiet moments of reflection, or when the urge to cry overcomes me and I desire to re-enter memories of a life gone by, a life well-lived, well-built of love, creativity, beauty, caring, family…

What life shall I build now?

— mjf, 9/19/12

Photo below: Large fungi grow off an old tree stump behind the workshop at Perry Road. I felt like Alice coming across this giant, waiting for a pipe-smoking caterpiller to show up.

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So this will be my last post from Russia as I head home about a week earlier than planned due to a family emergency. This was decided last Friday, where I would finish my work for this Fulbright but cancel the “holiday” planned for St. Petersburg.

The last few days have been tremendously challenging. It is amazing how we have bonded and built new friendships, with students, new colleagues, heck even the wait staff at a little restaurant around the block recognized me (and think I’d only been in there twice before) as the American who sat over there with some friends. Guess lively conversations in English can be noteworthy in a city where few Americans have visited.

On Tuesday, my last meeting with my students was a celebration and also a little tearful. They are really sweet and kind and I truly have enjoyed getting to know each of their quirky personalities and a glimpse into their very bright minds. Each presenter was awarded with a Mott drawstring backpack. Most had already received t-shirts on the second day as a reward for meeting the first big deadline.

[note: any errors in identifying the students is all mine… my notes are packed and I’m working with a sleep-deprived brain. izvinyete]

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Natalia Deryabina (I called “the happy one” but who is also a very talented writer)

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Elena Filinkova (the “shy” one for her English was not as good as most of her classmates, but she made up for it with persistence!)

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Sofia Nasyrova (my “intellectual” young lady, quiet but intense, great writing and a lovely smile)

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Yana Yaskevich (my tall, shy late bloomer)

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Alex Demyanenko (the only male, and my emcee for the reception entertainment)

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Aleka Molokova (a very intelligent and gregarious young lady whose educator parents work in Boston)

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Maria Kozlachkova (one of the youngest but very brave, talented and promising, she also sang for the reception)

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Elena Mikryukova (a lovely young lady who shows a lot of promise)

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Dasha Malova (a very talented writer and hardworking young woman who also helped translate and became the official photographer)

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Olga Obvintseva (a mature and sophisticated writer who was a leader among my hardworking students)

The students also presented me with some special gifts… a two-volume set of Russian poetry passed on by the wife of the author, and some additional goodies that came straight from their heart to mine. I’ve asked the students to post their writings to their blogs. Some already have. You can find links to their blogs by visiting the new page I’ve added here.

A Papparazzi kind of day

Today, I finished my meetings with faculty and the department head and have promised to forward more curriculum resources… But my tired brain was fading after two hours of meetings and no sleep. So I turned in my grades, signed letters and headed back to the hotel for a rest, chauffered by Olga and also Julia (from my Ganina Yama and fireworks experiences). After a little rest, I enjoyed a lovely dinner with Natasha Chernyaeva, Sergey Krepotov (her husband), and their son Maxim, a lovely young man who was also a pleasure to meet. We ate in one of Ekaterinburg’s more upscale restaurants called, appropriately enough, Papparazzi.

I have many more stories to share than I have hours left before my flight. And it might be good to catch at least a little shut-eye before facing the clerks at the Aeroflot check-in. I will add more to this blog as time allows over the coming weeks, more as reflections upon my experience here.

In the meantime, as Ekaterinburg is still energized by the Russian hockey team’s tied game against Sweden tonight with cars driving round and round Lenin Prospekt with flags waving to drunken shouts, I leave you with a photo in the same spirit as I started.

This morning I had my first cultural experience attempting to exchange a few dollars for Roubles at the bank next to the hotel, you know the one featuring Bruce Willis on their posters out front. After negotiating their system whereby they rejected bills that showed any kind of mild wear (I was told that Russians returning from abroad will often iron their bills before exchanging them because the banks prefer “new”), we stepped out of the tiny secure room into the lobby where a nearly life size cut out of dear Bruce stood watch.

So here I am, saying goodbye to Bruce, and Dasvidanya (until we meet again) to Ekaterinburg.

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There was a wonderful reception on Monday night (5/14/12) hosted at the Ekaterinburg History Museum in honor of the two Americans visiting the Ekaterinburg Academy of Contemporary Arts. In addition to myself teaching in Cultural Journalism, another American scholar, Constance DeVereaux arrived here last weekend from Northern Arizona University and who will teach cultural management.

It was a very exciting event as Constance and I were feted as guests of honor. The US Consul General, Michael Reinert, who gave a speech on the importance of this cultural exchange, and two of his staff, including the Deputy Press Attaché Zsofia Budai, were in attendance.

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D. Michael Reinert, US Consul General (left) and Professor Sergey Krepotov, EACA Rector (head of the institution) give presentations at the reception.

Also scheduled to be there, but absent, was the city mayor for Ekaterinburg. It was explained – and any inaccuracies are mine alone – that there had been an emergency in the mayor’s office due to the apparent firing of the governor of the Sverdlovsk Oblast (state/region) by the newly sworn in president Putin. A certificate of welcome was presented on behalf of the mayor by the academy recot, Professor Sergey Krepotov. So I can honestly say that Putin has had a direct impact on my experience here in Ekaterinburg.

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While I’m not entirely certain of everything it says, I can definitely see that it says my name in Cyrillic, and under that it says “professor Mott College” in Russian. In addition to the certificate, we received several books and also a few EACA souvenirs.

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But probably the best part of the reception for me was seeing nearly all of my students there and seeing how enthusiastically they put together their own presentation. One of my students, Aleksy, served as a very competent Master of Ceremonies, and another of my students, Maria Kozlachkova did her own fearless rendition of Chuck Berry’s hit “I Feel Good”. When I asked if she’d heard of Motown and Aretha Franklin, she shook her head. So I returned the treat the next day in class by playing Aretha’s classic “RESPECT”.

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Two other students, not from my class, also gave wonderful performances one playing the saxophone, and another young lady sang a lovely ballad. All in all, I think they were the highlight of the evening’s reception.

Here is a group photo with all of the students, me, and Constance.

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Pipe Organs in Grecian Concert Hall

So… As if the evening were not already full, I continued the night with another concert at the Ekaterinburg Philharmonic Hall for an organ concert featuring Bach on a pipe organ. Unfortunately I couldn’t make out the other composer.

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The concern hall was just gorgeous, an interesting mix of ornate Grecian columns and ornamentation and Soviet era images and symbolism. My host for the evening was Olga Balueva, an English faculty at the academy and the same lovely lady who hosted me at her sister-in-law’s dacha on Victory Day the week before. It was wonderful to share this with her this evening and I prayed for forgiveness when the occasional coughing fit left me scrambling for a cough drop from a mild cold I’d developed over the weekend.

A few photos of the hall are shared here.

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All in all, the evening was a good one and took my mind off things back home. But the next day would be my last class, and I had grading to do before heading to bed. This cinderella would soon be turning into a pumpkin for the night.

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