Impermanence and Nonattachment

Impermanence and Nonattachment

"How long 'til my soul gets it right?Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?" - Indigo Girls, Galileo

It has been the summer of impermanence, or, as I said in an online video I did earlier in the season, "the summer of seeing some shit."

I have let go of, been forced to let go of, or am contemplating letting go of, so many people and things this summer that I feel as though I am experiencing a crash course in impermanence and its close corollary, nonattachment. 

I am not a Buddhist nor do I have any meaningful training in Buddhism, so this will not be a treatise on impermanence and nonattachment in an orthodox or educated Buddhist context. Instead, this is going to be a very personal, independent take on how these things are manifesting in my own existence in a way so rapid-fire and pervasive that I don't think I'll ever be the same.

Here in Maine, this was the summer that wasn't. I am not exaggerating when I say that up until just a few days ago it had been raining almost without breaks for four months. I have lived in Maine for over twenty-three years and I have never seen anything like it. I lost June to relentless, torrential rain at our lake cottage, one of only two months out of the year it is not rented to vacationers and a time when we usually do much needed painting and outdoor maintenance. But I also lost faith that summers in Maine will ever not be like this again. Perhaps our Earth has turned a corner in climate change that will forever change what I've known as "summer in Maine" since I was a toddler. Man-made climate change is wreaking havoc on Maine's rugged looking, yet delicate, ecosystem in ways that are now extremely noticeable and impactful to residents and visitors alike. If there was anything that, as a young person, I thought was unalterable it was the magical seasonality of Maine. It has turned out to be impermanent. 

I lost two friends this summer. On June 25th, Susan Ferraro of Bailey Island, Maine, a wildly gifted fiber artist who had been a sweet friend and a generous mentor to me for some time, died unexpectedly. I was left to mourn not only the impact on my own life, but the enormous hole left in the fiber art and rug hooking community. Susan's love for the Maine coast was expressed in her art in a style that was absolutely unique and will never be seen again. I never got the chance to say goodbye to Susan, to tell her how much her words had meant to me at critical times in my journey, my tentative wading into, becoming an artist. The last time I saw her in person was at Rug Hooking Week at Sauder Village in Ohio in 2022. We had breakfast together and she was a fount of creative wisdom and encouragement. We then saw one another around the rest of the time I was there; I saw her with her featured exhibit, showing the world the soul of the Maine coast through her art. In the time after that show, we spoke on the phone several times. She was upbeat, giving, positive; she was everything we need right now, but she is gone. 

On September 9th, someone even closer to me left this Earth, or at least left his mortal coil as they say, or, "took the leap into hyperspace" as he would have said. Charles Wilder Oakes of Port Clyde, Maine, friend of angels - and I do mean this literally - and Maine artist without peer, succumbed to cancer. Fuck cancer, by the way. Just fuck cancer. Anyone who follows my social media for North Atlantic Fiber Arts or Parris House Wool Works will have seen the tributes I left for him on my pages. I will never, ever not miss this man. He was a source of support and unconditional love to many, including me. He was a true Mainer with a dry and quick wit and a laugh, sometimes pretty mischievous, that made me feel good to be alive and alive with him. Although he was nine years older than I am, for some reason I had never allowed myself to imagine a world or a life without him. I still can't, to be completely real here. I find myself still thinking, "Oh, I should send this to Wilder," or "Wilder would love this," or "I should talk this over with Wilder." But Wilder went to the same angel he saw in a near death experience as a child, the angel he painted over and over in different contexts and meanings in his art, the angel he knew would take him home. I am absolutely positive I will see him again, but not like it was. I did get a chance to say goodbye to Wilder. The last words we said to one another were "I love you" and, if impermanence has to make itself big and loud in your life, these are the words you want to surrender to it with.

In the loss of my friends, I can not practice nonattachment. I just can not. I will be attached to these people for as long as I live, in part because they gave pieces of themselves to me that now live here, in me, integrated, and hopefully ready to be spun back out in love, encouragement, and mentorship to others. They say we die the last day anyone utters our names (or something of the sort), but it's not true. Even without names we can pass along the love, even without anyone knowing its provenance.

I can, however, practice nonattachment to things, even things that are important to me. As friends know, my husband and I are in the process of giving up both the Parris House and our lake cottage, Sunset Haven. We do not have a specific timeline, but we know that if we want to move on to the next chapter of our lives we can not keep these two homes where we raised our precious sons, made so many family memories, and that are simply beautiful spaces. These places are part of who we are and we also know that they are vulnerable, terribly impermanent. As a 200+ year old historic home, the Parris House is vulnerable to insensitive and entitled treatment by new owners who might put their own weak needs for endless creature comfort in front of maintaining the historic integrity of the house. Our lake cottage, Sunset Haven, is extremely vulnerable to demolition. It's a sweet, century old traditional Maine "camp," solid and rustic. But the trend here in Maine is that wealthy, entitled, weak buyers come in, often from out of state with zero knowledge or appreciation of lake culture here, and demolish these antique cottages to put up something that offers the luxury they seem to need to survive. Both of these properties could meet heartbreaking ends, but our time stewarding them is coming to a close and I have to embrace nonattachment and walk away.

This summer I have also put away Parris House Wool Works as it was previously operating. Once a full time online retail store for other rug hookers, selling all manner of patterns, kits, supplies, and peripheral products from our homestead, it is now in transition to a container for my classes and workshops, content creation, and a limited selection of items most useful to beginners in the art. The truth is, there are endless hours to be worked in the traditional rug hooking studio model and not a lot of pay, and when I say "not a lot of pay," sometimes that means straight up financial loss. It is often unsustainable. Here in the United States, customers are trained to look for the lowest price, the "best deal," the discount, not thinking about how in businesses where that deep discount is possible, someone or something is being exploited. They are used to shopping in anonymous big box stores where they never have to encounter the humanity, if there is any, behind the sign. While small creative businesses do get a small core following of people who have resisted that programming, the critical mass of customers needed to keep that business thriving can often not be attained. 

I won't leave this journal entry having just considered the losses, though. Sometimes, while the loss of friends can never be redeemed, the material world losses make room for something new. This summer has also brought me new work as the Operations Manager of the Schooner J&E Riggin, a boat so beloved to me that I am thrilled to be able to share that love every time the office phone rings. I have established a sunny, new art studio space in Rockland, Maine that has become a safe haven for me personally and professionally and which I have dedicated strictly to making art and writing. I have been accepted into a boat building apprenticeship in the fall of 2024 with The Apprenticeshop, also in Rockland, Maine. None of these things would be possible, nor would this next chapter I'm moving into be possible, without a sizeable letting-go on my part.

I recently heard a quote that resonates with this time in my life: "It's ok to grieve the right decisions."  I will be grieving some right decisions as I also grieve the lessons in impermanence over which I had no control. I will celebrate what arrives in the place of the material losses I'm navigating. I will try to make myself worthy of the pieces of themselves my friends and mentors left with me before they had to move on. I will live with a difficult surrender to impermanence so that I can live to honor them. I will live with nonattachment to things as I learn and relearn, over and over, that things are impermanent, people and love are forever, just changed. 


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1 comment

Once upon a time, no one would have convinced me I would never not exist in this [motioning vaguely at everything]. Now at age 55, I kinda don’t want to be here any longer than I am required to be. There are also certain aspects of my life I wish were more impermanent than they’re turning out to be.

Robert Geise

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