A Persistent Joy


My husband and I just spent the night with friends at their Forest Service Cabin near Kyburz, California. It’s a beautiful, rustic place, on the edge of the South Fork of the American River, which was in full voice. We were there for Alan’s 60th birthday, which he’s celebrating by spending 60 days at the cabin.

Alan is also a hand builder of amazing clay vessels, and he laid out an assortment of pots for his visiting friends to choose from. We brought home a deeply contoured, cobalt blue, straight-sided bowl, which I filled with lemons.

I met Alan 35 years ago, at a dark and confusing time, just after I flung myself out of law school, not knowing what would come next. Alan hired me as a paralegal, and we worked together until my husband and I moved to the country, 5 years later. By then we had formed a deep friendship. It was not the typical work relationship, if there is such a thing. But Alan is an unusual person—a superb professional, a playful artist, and a grounded, practical man.

After we established our working relationship, we moved into deeper territory, exploring our mutual love of art. On lunch breaks, we’d wander over to the art museum on Van Ness. I don’t remember who thought of it first, but we soon developed a game. In a gallery, one of us would keep eyes shut, while the other kept eyes open and described a painting. The speaker strove to convey the essence of the painting: its colors, mood, textures, composition—everything but the obvious narrative; i.e you could not say, “It’s a windmill.” Then the other would open eyes and try to find the painting. It was an exhilarating game, both as listener and as speaker. Try it some time.

Once we held a talent show, nominally in honor of everyone’s birthday. We remembered the event with great delight last weekend, more than 30 years after it had taken place. The talent show was held at Alan’s house. The talent he offered to us was cooking, and he made a feast. I recited poetry I’d written. Alan’s devoted secretary (Yep, we called her a secretary back then) taught us snazzy tap dancing moves. The receptionist told jokes, and her husband, a graduate of an art school, brought an inflatable sculpture, which was met with gasps of surprise and delight. My husband showed slides of his geological adventures in the Arctic. I’m sure we all drank plenty, but the real inebriant was joy—a joy that has persisted.

You can see some of Alan’s ceramics here.

See The World As Garden, a poem I wrote 15 years ago celebrating my friendship with Alan.