Thursday, November 09, 2006

Glassworking People I Have Known

(to see the one that started it all, click here)

A memory, triggered by having seen her face many times, and yet not at all. The most recent time was yesterday. On driving my son home from school, I spied her on Magazine Street, in overalls with a young baby in a pack on her back. I had such the impulse to go around the block once again and make sure it was really her, since it had been too late for me to roll down a window and call to her. My son's impatience to get home and play with his toy construction equipment ruled that out, however, and it left me to speculate, once again, on where she is, whether I really saw her on that local street, and what she's doing.

Okay, so I have some idea. Her last known whereabouts are in New York, as an interactive technology student/instructor and Pedicab driver. The last time I actually saw her was in San Francisco, when I was in the first few months of my engagement to Dan. But it doesn't stop me from glimpsing her in so many different places. Maybe because I recognize something in her that I finally saw in myself only a few years ago - the need to move beyond boundaries in one way or another.

Ava jumped into the glass department my second year of college, and my first year as a glass major. She was one of the people who brought the average age of the entire department up - Ava had to be in her mid-thirties when I had reached twenty. She carried around with her a certain fount of optimism, though her life could certainly be chaotic. She taught beginning glassworkers in her first couple of years as a glass major with a great deal of patience, something she must have brought to her job at a local psychiatric hospital as well. I got the idea that the job was wearing on her some, but she couldn't really give it up because the money was good and the hours allowed her to head to school.

I should have gotten some hints from the way she took up smoking to deal with the stress every time finals came around. From her love for first a motorcycle, then a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van as her primary transportation. From the observation she made once that as artists went, I was an order person attracted to chaos, whereas she was a chaos person attracted to order. Initially, I had seen her as one of the saner people at work and play in the glass department, but her restlessness got the better of her. Her ability to focus, barely there to begin with, went off to someplace else.

Maybe if a real multimedia major existed on campus, Ava would have found a home there. As it was, she barely graduated with a BFA in glass, and I couldn't help thinking what a waste it was that she didn't put more into it than she had. She had had such great ideas concerning glass as a medium when her heart was into it, but her heart had been led astray. What I was really tsk-ing at, though, was what her story seems to be telling me now.

She was leading the life that, in some ways, I wished I had had the courage to lead. She was following her bliss, and it didn't involve drugs in any way (with the exception of the nicotine at finals time), just a pursuit of ideas. I didn't have admiration for her general blurriness with regards to her ideas and their development, but I did have a faint wish that with my ability to focus on things and a good dose of her disregard for certain boundaries, the sky would be the limit. I was on track at the time for my degree and for graduate school, and, in all probability, a career teaching art at the university level. What my window on Ava's life planted in me was a seed that had the potential to blow that seemingly set plan out of the water. And at the time, that scared me some.

Eventually, however, that seed began to sprout. And now my life is very different than what I thought it would be. Once in a long while, I see Ava in a restaurant, on a street corner, at a museum... and I want to share that with her, and see what direction her life has taken. And I want to drink in her optimism and savor it like I never did.

I never did truly appreciate her smile and her outlook until it was out of my life for over a decade. As I embark on some adventures teaching young children, I find I need that outlook more than ever. But when I least expect it, and possibly when I most need it, Ava will be close by. Of that I can be sure.

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