Still Life


My friend, Mary Jane, sent these flowers the other day as a thank you for talking to her book group.  They’ve been sitting on my living room table, filling the air with the faint fragrance of spring.  Earlier this afternoon, I passed through the living room and noticed that the blossoms had begun wilt, the stems to droop.  I’m not sure what compelled me, but I sat on the sofa and took a few minutes to ponder how quickly the last few weeks have come and gone.

This time last week my book party had just ended and I had a few precious hours left with some of my Louisiana pals.  We’d had an action-packed seven days–the party and brunch the next day, dinners here to welcome them to San Francisco and to celebrate my oldest’s birthday, walking tours, wine tasting and orchard exploring in Napa; we’d hunted for antiques in Petaluma, and even managed to squeeze in an afternoon visit to Muir Woods–all with hardly a moment’s rest.  I’d spent years dreaming of that special week, and I’d not been disappointed. Those seven days were everything I’d imagined, everything I’d hoped for. But all of a sudden, we were down the final hours. How had the time passed so quickly?  Happy as I was, it was hard not to feel a little weepy.

I’m embarrassed to admit that until last year when I attended an exhibition of Flemish paintings at the De Young Museum, I’d never paid much attention to still lifes. Landscapes, portraits and abstracts always commanded my attention.  But at the museum, I learned that the beauty of a still life comes not only in its celebration of life and the living, but also in its acknowledgement that time is passing. A vibrant bouquet usually includes a few dying petals; a bowl of ripe fruit is often positioned beside something browning or half-eaten.  A pocket watch, a skull, a candle burning are all reminders of life’s impermanence.

Juan Sanches Cotan's (Spain, 1560 - 1627) "Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber"

Juan Sanches Cotan’s (Spain, 1560 – 1627) “Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber”

Impermanence.  It’s a central tenet of Bhuddist teaching and yet, I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to the idea.  I find myself wishing things could always stay as they are; that a special moment will last forever; that the people I love and care for will always be with me; that life will stretch out endlessly. I’ve been more keenly aware of this desire and its folly since my dad died. How could someone with such a big personality, such a bold and imposing presence not endure? And yet . . .  My dad’s passing made me aware that I need to wring ever ounce of joy from this life while I have it to live, even if it’s accompanied, on occasion, by discomfort; that I’m a fool not love and feel as deeply as I can; that I’m wasting my time if I only exist around the edges and not try to fashion what my friend Laura calls, “a memoir-worthy life.” And while it’s true that I’ve been more aware of this need since 2011, the fact is, I’ve been in pursuit of a passionate life since I left Baszile Metals in 1999.  I spent too many years taking the safer path.  I wasted too much time muddling through, telling myself that my life would begin sometime in the future.  What was I waiting for?

Just today, I was in a store here in New York, and saw a card that said, “Your Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone.”  Exactly.

Still life: Impermanence. Imperfection. Time’s passing.

Because it’s later than you think.


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