Photos


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Detail from an artist’s book created for a presentation on my growth through my doctoral studies.

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Well… That’s done! Phew! I have successfully defended my dissertation and can now officially be called Doctor Fulmer. It’s been a long and winding road and I can unequivocally say I am not who I was when I began.

And this is not where I thought I would be when I finished. But here, indeed, is where I am…

Tomorrow will bring a new challenge, something to change the course of my life… Sometimes it’s just a small thing… Or just a word or two. “Do you want to move in with me?”

You never know, really, how your life will shift ever so imperceptibly in a different direction. Not every change is brought on by the seismic shift of death. Sometimes… just sometimes…it is just one small thing you never really believed you would hear or say.

And then it’s over. And you’re sitting there thinking: “hmmm. That’s it. What next?”

In a way, life has been in a simultaneous holding pattern while I finished this doctoral degree, while at the same time rushing forward towards a future that was not entirely in my original plan.

Well, it’s not like I don’t have other things to do… Or want to do. Make art. Write more. Build a house. Move up in my career so I can put my skills to the test.

In a way, life has been in a simultaneous holding pattern while I finished this doctoral degree, while at the same time rushing forward towards a future that was not entirely in my original plan.

Let me explain. For the reader who is unfamiliar with my story, I offer a brief synopsis. Life was good. Really good. Daughter #1 had just gotten married to a wonderful man. Daughter #2 was graduating from university and had two jobs already lined up. I had finished my first year in a doctoral program while working full-time in a job I love. I had been awarded a short-term Fulbright to Russia. My husband of nearly 30 years and I had purchased our dream property where he could have his workshop, family art studios, gallery, and even a future new home. Life was good.

And then it wasn’t. (Read more about it In earlier posts going back to September 2012.) He had lost weight, been fighting a “cold” and feeling weaker. A month of tests led to a diagnosis of Stage 4 cancer, unknown primary (likely pancreatic), prognosis extremely poor. From diagnosis to death – less than 3 months. He made it just past his 54th birthday and our 30th anniversary. My life felt like it had completely crumbled.

Promises were made, though. He made me promise: Don’t sell the property, but finish it for the family to use for their studios as planned, and for my own uses. Finish the doctorate. He really wanted me to do that. He was upset that I had dropped out that summer to care for him. But, really, who can concentrate on Quantitative Research Methods while managing the care and emotional roller coaster of dealing with your dying spouse? But…then he was gone and I had to deal with the emotional crater that is grief.

First, I finished the renovations on the gallery house which contained daughter #1’s photo studio upstairs. Then a new fence, and retaining wall went in. The farmhouse is slowly being dismantled and parts saved for salvage. Steven, my companion in all of this, has tirelessly put his heart and soul into the work, along with any college students I can hire to assist.

Most recently, the large 4000 sq. ft. workshop space has been slated for renovations. Stacks of the 71 new windows fill the crowded shop in anticipation of being installed late fall, along with new insulation, siding, and steel roof. The emerging economy has slowed progress as the contractor I have worked with, an old friend of my late husband’s, is backed up from other work. But progress inches along and I have no doubt that it will all be done before Spring.

While all this was happening, I caught up. I finished all of my coursework, including the Quantitative Research course which I did by independent study with the original and very understanding instructor. I did all of this with a 4.0 GPA. At the commencement and hooding ceremony held last May, I was awarded the Faculty’s Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award for my thoughtful approach to the various studies, sometimes challenging my classmates to look at things from a different perspective.

And then, only five months after commencement, I have completed the dissertation defense, receiving high praise for intellectual standards for my work.

The meaning of pursuing these goals had changed. My life’s partner was gone… And my life had been designed for a partner.

I tell you all this not out of boastfulness. I tell you this because it was done in order to honor my promise. For if I had not made that promise, there were many times when it would have been easier to just walk away from it all. The meaning of pursuing these goals had changed. My life’s partner was gone… And my life had been designed for a partner. My new companion, however, was not going to let me give up on those promises.

And so how does one do it? It began with a simple gesture of sharing… Opening up one’s vulnerabilities and accepting that you might get hurt… But that you’d already felt the worst of pain. So what could it hurt if you shared a little of yourself with someone new who seemed to care and shared some vulnerabilities of his own?

It’s been a year and a half since I met Steven and he’s been the kindest and gentlest person that the spirits could have sent across my path at a time when his kind of personality was just what I needed. And since then, I have grown to respect and admire this self-described hillbilly for his creativity, innovation, and practical smarts. He is a good balance to my over-intellectualism. He wears his heart on his sleeve which reminds me to recognize my own capability to love someone again. And frankly, he’s always there with a good hug…just when I need it.

So I come back to where I began this brief story. I finished my doctoral studies. I am now Dr. Fulmer. I began as the wife of a loving husband of 30 years. I survived through my studies as a widow. I am now looking forward to building a new life with a new partner in a new home on the dream property from before.

The shape of the dream has shifted…just a little… I face a new challenge shared by many in the “sandwich generation” who are looking at caring for aging parents…mine who will join me in this new home I’ve designed. And I feel confident that, with Steven as my companion on this new journey, we will be able to meet whatever life’s challenges lay ahead. But I’m not naive. I know that, without warning, the road can shift beneath your feet. And life will never be the same again. You can’t live your life looking only in the rear view mirror as you try and move forward. And you can’t live your life paralyzed by the fear of a shifting road.

All you can do is take this long and winding path of life one step at a time. Look ahead to the dreams you continue to create. Scan side to side to see who is coming with you. And occasionally glance back to remind you how far you’ve come. Only in this way can you live your life moving forward.

Besides, I’m all good with the ghosts of those who still travel these roads with me around here.

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A good omen. Swans are visible through the branches along the pond’s edge as the sun sets behind my property where I’ll be building a new home.

It’s been nine months since the last entry. Not that I haven’t had anything to say, far from it. But life has been very full… And frankly, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to really share with the blog-reading public. So I will simply say that life has been mostly good, with many, many blessings to be grateful for, lessons learned, and dreams experienced.

First… The promises kept.

During the summer 2012 of my husband’s illness, when I dropped my classes for the doctoral program I was in, Keith made me promise him two things. First – that I would finish the doctorate, and second – that I wouldn’t sell the property at Perry Rd and would continue with the renovations to make it the studios and gallery we dreamed of, including a photo studio for older daughter Sarah, and a printmaking studio space for Anastassia.

Last month, on May 9, I participated in the commencement and hooding ceremony for my doctorate with highest honors (4.0 GPA) and was given the faculty’s Distinguished Scholar Practitioner Award. I still have some work left on the dissertation. So I am reluctant to duly embrace this achievement. But finish it I will, with an anticipated completion only months away.

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Above: Me with my award.
Below: My daughters, me, and Steve pose together with our Spider-Man masks on. One can’t take oneself too seriously, you know.


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And last fall, we launched the opening of the photography studio of S.E. Fulmer Photography, followed shortly by the opening of the downstairs gallery. All together, the building is called The Gallery House.

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Above: The Gallery House from last Fall.

This summer, with the incredibly dedicated help of my dear companion of the last 14 months, we are heading fully into the workshop renovations. We are starting with some much needed landscaping – fully fencing the space of about 1.25 acres. Then we’ll add some retaining walls, and finally, the building itself will get a thorough clean up. The workshop must be made ready for use in making the project that follows possible.

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Above: Looking uphill at the workshop which will be the focus of this summer’s renovations at Perry Rd.

New promises…

In late April, I read a book that I recommend to anyone wondering what kind of grief is normal. With apologies to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are more appropriately applied to those who are dying, not necessarily to the survivors. The book is called “Four Funerals and a Wedding” by Jill Smolowe. She experienced the loss of four dear loved ones, including her husband, within a short period of time. She addresses her own manner of dealing with those who offer help, with the potential concern for being judged, and most importantly, the resilience of recovery from loss. In no way does resiliency mean that one has stopped grieving for their loss. But resiliency means one is able to look forward and build a new life, in spite of their loss.

I was so moved by her book, about her ability to describe many of my own feelings and providing the permission one needs to move on, that I sent her an email message. We exchanged some very kind messages and I felt a kinship to the form of widowhood she has defined, where one is allowed to move onward, even find new relationships. She sent her encouraging best wishes, for both the relationship I now have, and for the completion of my degree. If you, too, are facing the potential loss of a loved one, or already have, this book may be for you. If you know someone who is facing this, and you want some insight into how to help, this book would be for you, too.

Another book I read was “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” by Roz Chast. A comic book artist, she writes and draws from the heart about her experience as the only child of two 90-something parents who she must deal with in their last few years. Her strong-willed mother faces serious health issues after a falling incident, while her father suffers from dementia. The reality, however, is that we just start falling apart the older we get.

This book also dealt with the feelings of guilt and frustration of the caregiver, Roz, who was an only child. Frustration because she couldn’t convince her parents to move out of their apartment until it was a critical situation, and guilt over issues of money… Would they outlive any money they’d saved? And what of the cost of their care and special living needs? The situation described by Chast was made even more real by the sudden decline in her health of my companion’s aging mother.

These issues have crossed my mind regarding my own parents recently, too, though I have been spared some frustrations. Shortly after my doctoral commencement, a road trip to Florida to see my parents led to discussions about a potential future with them living with me in Michigan. The trip included their first introductions to my companion, and my parents seemed to have really taken a liking to him, and he to them. As my brother (who flew in to help with the discussions) and I looked knowingly at each other, my dad regaled Steven with the stories we’d heard many times before. And my mother seemed to enjoy Steven’s chivalrous nature and good humor.

Though much younger than the situation in Roz Chast’s book, my parents are coming to terms with a future that includes being near me as they face their own health and aging issues. Rather than be a 20-hr drive away, we are now planning to build a multi-generational home to share.
So the workshop at Perry Rd will need to have the woodworking side fully functional.

Yes, a new home is in our future. Recognizing the fact that both my parents are artists, too, my daughter Sarah has already dubbed this future abode: “The House of the Aging Artists” complete with dripping paint for the logo style.

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Above: a great white heron, one of Keith’s animus, visits me on Sanibel Island during my visit to my parents last month.

Below: Me…on the beach at Sanibel Island.

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Ah well. I’ve come to the conclusion that we must embrace the life we’re given, go with the flow and be ready for the challenges that life brings. I’ve been through hell and back. Keith is still with me in spirit – I know this for certain. But I’m in this universe and I will be making the most that life offers. It’s the only way I know.

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Pumpkins grow in spite of my lack of attention.
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Last year, after my husband Keith’s passing, I made a few efforts to try and create normalcy, or at the very least offer the pretense of bringing it about. I bought a pumpkin and put it out by the front door. I bought some colorful gourds and put them in a bowl on my dining room table. And I tried to keep up with all the vegetables that were still coming in from the crop share I’d joined earlier in the year.

But as Autumn brought the chilled promise of winter, and the leaves began to change and pile up outside my door, the fact that I was facing the season alone became palpable. The pumpkin out front began to rot in place at the corner of the front garden, and I tossed a couple of the gourds into a hole Lenny had dug outside my backdoor when they began to mold. When a small baking pumpkin began to rot before I could cook it, I couldn’t be bothered taking it out to the trash in the cold dark winter. Instead, it joined the gourds in the hole out back.

Imagine my delight when Spring came and seedlings began to sprout. Little had I known that these would become magic seeds. Like a horizontal version of Jack in the Beanstalk, the plants began to grow – out in the front garden, and even more out my back door.

It took months before any fruit began to show on the plant out front, while the backyard began to look like a scene from Jurassic Park as the plants multiplied, sprouted fruit, and crept quickly across my patio and over my fence gate. It quickly became clear that it was more than one kind of plant. Lo and behold, several kinds of gourds became apparent, and two shapes of small pumpkins. The kids began to pay attention, teasing me on my gardening approach, and claiming their own pumpkin from the patch.

The whole situation was rather amusing, even as we would gently move the giant plants tendrils back and forth when mowing the lawn or trying to weed the overgrowth of morning glories tried to take over. But apparently my utility company was less than amused, especially when access to the meter became nearly impossible. A letter came in the mail indicating they had estimated my bill rather than do an actual reading due to lack of access from “overgrown weeds” around the meter.

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More abundance makes its way to my Jurassic Park garden.
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I kept the letter out so I could see it when I walked through the living room, shaking my head in amusement. But finally I relented and decided to take my cutters to the mass of weeds that had overtaken the fence gate, even the pumpkins. Then I took on the overgrown bushes around the airconditioning unit. In between, I took a break. But not to rest, but to refocus.

Inside the house was a similar tangle of overgrown brush, but in the form of files and papers. These created a palpable weight upon my heart and mind. They needed filing, put away. As I moved through this pile, I expanded my reach and took on files of Keith’s old business, then moved on to his final papers, the will, his death certificate, and finally adding to the pile… his birth certificate. There it was… all neatly put away in a file box ready for storage. I breathed a deep long sigh. Life in a box. Well, not really. But it seemed that way… full circle… life… death… birth.

Inside, as the piles inside were cleared away, I began to see space in the room, in my file cabinets, on the floor and the weight of their presence, and their meaning began to fade. Outside, as the piles of debris were packed into the yardwaste bags and dragged to the curb, the sun began to shine through the leaves and branches to reach the cool mossy ground. I was tired and sore, but it was the kind of feeling that came from a day of hard work and accomplishments.

I had succeeded in making room in my house by packing up some of the weight of the past… In my garden, I had cleaned out the overgrown brush around my fence gate making room for it to open more easily, for me to become more open to whatever may come into my life. And at the same time, I delightfully celebrated the gifts of abundance that had grown in spite of my lack of careful tending. It seems like an interesting metaphor for me…

Life goes on. You just have to make room and be open to letting it happen.

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My first fall harvest.

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I signed up for Social Dancing and took my first class on Wednesday. The kids encouraged me, too, saying it would get me out of the house. And besides, I needed the exercise. Yoga has been part of my routine every other day. But it’s nice to mix it up. So I was both excited and a little nervous about this new “mini” adventure.

It went very well. I found myself really enjoying myself. So it surprised me a little when the silver-haired instructor (probably around 70 yrs old) came up to me as I was getting my coat and asked if I was okay, was I crying? Oh, no, I’m just fine. But the kids say I wear my emotions on my face too clearly these days. So maybe Beverly, the masters ballroom dance champion, saw what I felt inside but hadn’t acknowledged yet.

My dance partner, a nice gentleman slim and well over 6 feet tall, almost had to lean to reach my shoulder of my 5’2″ frame. And rather than look up and crane my neck, I just stared ahead at the button on his shirt. Then, quite often, I would just close my eyes and count as I concentrated on where to put my feet.

1…2…3   1…2…3  1…2…3  1…2…3

In the space of an hour, we learned the Fox Trot, Waltz, Rumba and a few steps of East Coast Swing. It went by quickly and I found the steps easy to learn. I had an urge to push the dance further with the other moves I knew went with them. Feeling the beat, I channeled a little of the great Tamara Doriva, my grandmother, bell of Spanish Harlem, who made her fame as a folksinger/dancer, a femme fatale on the stages of NYC in the 1930s and 40s.

As I closed my eyes, I could easily forget where I was. Instead, I was transported back to a time not that long ago, when my dance partner was my dear Keith as we shared our utter joy at our daughter’s wedding.

“How did we get here?”

We asked each other in joyful laughter. But now I ask myself:

“How did I get here? alone?”

It has been less than 19 months since that joyful dance, when we saw the future as newlyweds ourselves, with children grown and still young and energetic enough to enjoy the next chapter with youthful-minded (if not youthful physically) abandon.

After my dance class, once I got home from picking up a few items, the kids were all there for a visit and I got to make dinner for more than just me. Laughter and bawdy humor filled the house, jokes flying here and there like old times. It felt good.

Later that night, I sat on the bed and looked at Keith’s photo, touched my lips with my finger and pressed it on his, turned the light off and cried myself to sleep.

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Therapeutic Arts and Conversation

I’ve done three book arts workshops in three weekends and now won’t have another until March when I go back and revisit letterpress printing. Each trip to Ann Arbor for the workshop is usually followed by a visit with Stassia, wandering around the used bookstores, maybe a little peek in the Ten Thousand Villages shop, of course after looking around the gallery where Stassia works.

While this activity has been very therapeutic, I’ve also found myself suffering waves of emotion that were entirely unanticipated, especially after I’ve had long periods of feeling fairly good. It became clear to me that it was time to revisit a grief counselor and so I arranged to set up semi-regular visits to a therapist who could guide me through this next phase. As strong as I may think I am sometimes, my very smart grown children have said “it’s okay” to ask for help. I think that for me, it is comforting just to have this touchstone meeting to look forward to, where I can let some of the emotional backlog slip over the dam.

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Exploring the Territory

In early January, I thought I’d turn over a new leaf. Mostly I think it was loneliness and lack of adult conversation. But I decided to check out one of the online dating sites for “older” adults. My profile clearly states that I am not interested in marriage or longterm commitments at this time. And I boldly express how I do not wish to be “saved” and hold very liberal views. I describe myself as an artist, educator, and writer, and a recent widow. So in spite of my frankness, it is amusing to see what the results are from this experiment. Stassia has been a great source of advice and between us we often share anecdotes over who has messaged us recently. A very odd mother-daughter bonding experience has resulted, even if no other of my online conversations have led to anything beyond an occasional entertaining message.

So while my girls insist that what I really need is a gay guy friend (anyone want to volunteer?), I am approaching this as a sociological experiment with an almost analytical observational technique. For one thing, this approach removes the potential vulnerabilities that might occur if I were to take it more personally. So far, my observations are as follows:

• dating sites are full of scammers attempting to draw the person off the website (cause for “blocking” in my experiment);

• a disproportionate number of men in my age range advertise themselves as being extremely athletic and toned (not always matching the posted photo), and want a partner who is the same. (cause for “deletions” in the list of “viewed profile”)

• a large number of very “conservative” men seem drawn to liberal women. (also cause for “deletions” and/or “block user” in my experiment)

In spite of all that, I have had some nice message exchanges with some educated intelligent people, including the occasional teacher. And, as my daughter has indicated, it’s nice to have that validation that I may still be attractive to others, in spite of my “curviness”.

But, in the end, I still go to bed curled up with Keith’s photo in front of me and ask myself two questions:

“Keith, where are you now?”

followed by

“And how did I get here?”

So I guess it will take a lot more time to work out the landscape of widowhood and all that it means to travel this road.

Photo was from 11/17/12 when we were loading lumber into a U-Haul. The windchimes on the left have an inscription to Keith. The moon seemed to be smiling on us as we worked.

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So the research by the likes of Kubler-Ross indicates that there are various stages of grief…Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. But these are not necessarily linear. They can slide you down like rocks dropping into valleys deep within the peaks of outward “normalcy”. I think I have gone through all of these at least once, like a car whose brakes are slipping a bit, losing their grip on the side of the steep hill of grief that I’m trying to ride.

“He’s not coming back.”

The words popped into my head as I was rushing home from a long day to pick up a birthday cake for my younger daughter from her favorite bakery. Why did those words suddenly appear in my mind? I wasn’t thinking of Keith before then, at least not consciously. But there they were… stopping me in my tracks. I gulped. Hard. And then looked up at the darkening sky ahead of me, a large full moon emerging on the horizon. He’s there. He’s watching me from there, that same full moon that shone on the night he died, lighting his path to that other place, that “beyond” which is out of my reach.

No, he’s not coming back. And there in lies the issue at hand. I go about my days, keeping busy with work, with doctoral studies, spending time with my grown children, shopping, or whatever. Working late into the night, I resist the urge to sleep, unsettled by the empty space on the bed. Yet I go about these things in a normal way, the same way I would if Keith were out of town. But he’s not out of town, and he’s never coming back.

So tonight it was the return of the “anger” stage of grief… Angry over this gap and my inability to leap over it, or fill it in. Angry at Keith for leaving, angry (or is it disappointment) at myself for not being able to find that stable emotional footing. You know… that footing built from 34 years of waking each day knowing there was a partner I shared life with, and all those factors involved with it.

And then there’s this other aspect that came to the fore of my thoughts…

“Till death do us part.”

Those ubiquitous words we say when we wed our loved one. Do we really think about what that means? “Till death do us part…” What the hell? Certainly, I don’t think the average newlyweds really think of this. Forever seems infinite when you’re standing before the alter, pledging your love to your soul mate.

But forever has an ending. That’s the part I’m coming to terms with. Forever has an ending.

So, like all those other widows and widowers out there who deal with this, or any others who have lost someone close – father, mother, child, close friend, I have some figuring out to do.

I have to figure out how to step over that threshold and leap across that giant gaping hole of “forever”. And once across, I’ll need to find my way through the dark forests of these stages without getting lost. I’m looking forward to getting to “acceptance”, with the changing phases of the moon as my flashlight.

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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