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Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Pocketful Of Change




I was channel surfing and landed ten minutes into a movie on HBO, "Being Flynn". The page synopsis: Based on a true story of the life of writer Nick Flynn. We met, Nick and I, as he stood behind the barred window in the intake area of a homeless shelter. A dreary scene, and I looked away, eager to shut it out, but the narration pulled me back in. The story is dense, dark and demanding of your attention. It is not easy on the eye, nor restful to the psyche. It is, however, powerful and straightforward. The cratered journey of a young writer, struggling to find his voice, amid the chaos of a family shattered and spent. Putting his first words to paper, an unfinished manuscript, read too soon, thus misread, and the guilt and responsibility of a loss that was not his to bear. Guilt that would shadow him, inflicted by another writer, his own father.

   While the closing credits rolled, I flipped open my computer to Google Nick Flynn. An interview with the writer and the director outlining the genesis and exodus from real life to cinema. The author, Nick Flynn, outlined his atlas, his map to his written word, from one poem to a book of poetry to his novel, to the film and his subsequent work, The Reenactments: A Memoir, which includes his commentary on another father and son, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, the designers of an exhibit in the Museum of Natural History at Harvard University. Fifty decades of life's work dedicated to perfect reproductions of flowers, ferns, glass.

   My next search, the Botanical Gardens, Museum Of Natural History at Harvard and what appeared...the images, the "glass flowers". I do not have the words to describe them. They describe themselves. (Google Search: The Glass Flowers Images)

   It is difficult to imagine two men so focused and obsessed with perfection. Flowers and foliage frozen in time. Every detail researched and delicately reproduced. Fossilized in glass. Like footprints or insects, locked in amber. They accomplished the extraordinary. They overlooked the ordinary. Air and Time.

   Museums maintain obsessively perfectly controlled atmospheres to house ancient artifacts. Without this control, fluctuating air temperatures, humidity, chemicals and pollutants slowly devour what safekeeping has preserved.

   The Glass Flowers are crumbling. An effort is being made to limit the damage, but once the process begins, it is impossible to reverse.

   I think this must be true for anything we try to fix forever in permanence. For the writer, Mr. Flynn, his memories, his very real life, is now preserved on film. But the truth of it is, he has moved beyond it, to a different place, and as in most film making, the story is amended to make it more satisfying to the audience. What is vastly more important is the story we tell to ourselves, with the kindness of forgiveness and the knowledge that everything changes, no matter what we do.

   The Glass Flowers and "Being Flynn" are works of art. But Nick Flynn, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, you and I, are works of life. Extraordinary and mindful that what separates us from permanence is every breath we take.

   What does connect us are the stories and the intersection of our lives unbeknownst one to the other. That I would meet Nick Flynn by way of his life story on HBO, because of a headache and a handful of remote, and that my searching for Mr. Flynn would lead me to his book, The Reenactment: A Memoir, to Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, the wonder of the Glass Flowers housed in the Museum of Natural History at Harvard University, takes me full circle to a day when I walked beside my son, on our way to his wedding in Harvard Church, the Museum nearby.

   The fact that Nick Flynn writes at all, is testament to his need to write, as natural as his need to breathe.

   The Glass Flowers are a testament to a true love and devotion to detail, but the living garden is as natural as our need to breathe and a less desperate effort to hold onto what does not and never will belong to anyone.

   Just about the time I think I am in control of all I survey, I take a deep breath and am very glad that in truth, I am not. Life will and should be, full of surprises and unexpected guests.

   I have a butterfly encased in glass on a shelf in my studio. I love to hold it close and to marvel at the intricate patterns on its wings.

   But I have to admit, that seeing a Monarch, perched on the edge of the yellow columbine in my garden, in the early morning light, stirs a deeper feeling in me.

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