A teacher once pointed out that the young woman in Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World, was a real person who couldn’t walk and whose entire world was the house in the distance and the field surrounding it. Christina Baker Kline’s A Piece of the World expands my appreciation of this famous painting by letting Christina Olson tell her own story in a first-person, present-tense narrative that immersed me deeply into her life.
Christina is stricken as a child by an unknown illness that leaves her unable to walk without stumbling awkwardly. She recovers but becomes more and more disabled as time goes by. As an adult, she rarely leaves her chair on the ground floor of her three-story house. She defiantly refuses a wheel chair, preferring to scrape her wooden chair around the kitchen to prepare meals for her parents and brothers. She crawls on her elbows when she wishes to go elsewhere, even to the home a friend a mile away.
“I wonder, not for the first time, if shame and pride are merely two sides of the same coin.”
“To me using a wheelchair would mean I’ve given up, resigned myself to a small existence inside the house… I see it as a cage…I am willing to risk injury and humiliation to move about as I choose…”
She cuts herself off from many well-meaning neighbors in the nearby town of Cushing, Maine.
“These neighbors leach pity the way a canteen of cold water sweats in the heat. The slightest inquiry is freighted with words unsaid. Worried about you…feel sorry for you…so glad I’m not you.”
When a young Andrew Wyeth appears at her door, she reluctantly lets him take over a room upstairs as a summer studio. He returns every summer to paint the fields, the farm, the house, the rooms, her brother, and her. He alone seems to see her beyond her infirmity and her crankiness.
Wyeth tells Christina…
“…I think you’re used to being observed but not really…seen. People are always concerned about you, worried about you, watching to see how you’re getting on. Well-meaning, of course, but–intrusive. And I think you’ve figured out how to deflect their concern, or pity, or whatever it is, by carrying yourself in this ‘–he raises his arm as if holding an orb–‘ dignified, aloof way….Like the Queen of Sweden…Ruling over all of Cushing from your chair in the kitchen.”
Kline researched the very real people and places depicted to create a sensitive, insightful, and thought-provoking exploration of a familiar image. Recommend.
We’ve been home from that long cruise for a few weeks now. The unpacking and reacquainting ourselves with real life has taken more time than I thought. Hence the long gap between posts here. Why has it taken so long to slip back into everyday life?
I think part of the reason cruising is so hard to come home from may be the same reason it’s so popular. Cruising is like the best summer camp ever. For adults.
For one thing, your meals are prepared and you don’t have to bus your own dishes. In fact, you have no chores at all. No making beds, no washing dishes, no scooping litter boxes. I remember my mother complaining that she had to retrain me every time I returned from camp.
There is at least one pool. I don’t remember my summer camp having hot tubs though. Or an indoor pool for inclement weather.
And, just like at camp, you can meet people from all over. On a cruise that means the world. Literally. Australia, Portugal, the Ukraine, Indonesia, the Philippines.
All the cool kids wear a lanyard with their ID badge–your Sea Pass. You carry no cash. All financial transactions are handled by swiping that card. That bucket of Coronas you had delivered to you at the pool every afternoon? The pricey massage? The candy bar at the gift shop? At the end of camp, your parents settled up. Sadly, on a cruise, settling up is your responsibility.
Camp counselors (your Cruise Director’s staff) lead tons of indoor and outdoor activities. You get to try activities you’ve never tried before. Every day the long list of events included trivia contests, bingo, bridge, belly dancing, knitting, yoga, rock climbing, gambling, a chorus, a flash mob, sushi making, and more.
Of course, the major difference on a cruise is that you are free not to participate. Want to lie in your bunk and read all day? Or drink yourself silly? Or nap beside the pool? Or just hang out and smoke with your friends? Totally your choice. No one will bug you, except maybe your traveling companion.
And there is no “lights out” or “reveille.” You set your own schedule.
Pretty nice. I’m now wondering if an Assisted Living apartment might be similar. Meals prepared. Helpful staff. Scheduled outings to malls or museums. Like a cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere, you know? It certainly makes the possibility more appealing. I’m now beginning to consider a long cruise as a transition to such an arrangement when/if the time comes. Costs are comparable, I imagine. Getting rid of everything and cruising for a month or so before moving into Happy Acres would certainly soften the blow of giving up my independence.
For now though, I enjoy sitting here, drinking my coffee, and waiting for the stateroom attendant. The bed needs to be made and we need some fresh towels. Then I remember I am home. Crap.
Real life is overrated. I want to go back to camp.
While being interviewed a few days ago, one of the ship’s food and beverage managers said that passengers gain an average of one to two pounds per day on a cruise. Per day! Not bad if this were only a weeklong cruise. But this one lasts eighteen days.
Could I actually gain thirty-six pounds? Not that I don’t like a challenge, but that’s how much I lost fifteen years ago and promised myself I’d NEVER have to lose again. Besides, I gave away all my fat clothes.
So this is one area in which I am determined to stay well BELOW average.
I do expect the scale to be up a bit. After all, I’m on vacation and the food is delicious and plentiful. The dining room offers modest portions of delectable dishes, appetizers, and desserts, all included in what you already paid for the cruise. So, it’s practically free.
Or one can choose to eat at the buffet. It’s a more casual atmosphere and there are more choices. Besides, you don’t have to share your table with eight strangers as you do in the dining room. That’s helpful if, like me, your traveling companion resides at the extreme end of introvert spectrum.
Trouble is, at a buffet you can take as much as you like of anything and go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or— you get the idea.
And then there is room service. Food, drinks, whatever you want, brought to you. Day or night.
To counteract this increase in intake there is a well-equipped gym, a running/walking track, fitness classes, and stairs. So many stairs. Yoga, spin, belly dancing, and boot camp give passengers plenty of opportunities to burn off a few of the extra desserts and cocktails.
However, I’ve learned you can’t out exercise a bad diet. I can eat way faster than I can run.
I just have to make good food choices and move my lady-like keester. You know, that motivation thing. Overcoming excuses–too hot, too cold, ooh look, ice cream! And setting priorities– I really ought to finish reading that book, or work on my novel, or check my email… You know, that stuff.
That being said, I’m at the gym the other morning, using the elliptical when I notice a middle-aged Asian gentleman on a stationary bike. He finishes, reaches for his collapsible cane and feels his way to the towel rack and the next machine in his circuit. Yes, he was blind. By himself. On vacation. On a boat. And did I mention he was blind?
My excuses paled in comparison. I hung my head and powered through a few more sweaty minutes and a 30-minute stretch class before climbing the stairs to breakfast. Then I strolled right past the sweet rolls and pancakes, the biscuits and gravy, and the explicably ever-present baked beans on toast. I selected poached eggs, wheat toast, and as much fresh pineapple and melon as I could fit on my plate.
Day 15 and I can still zip and button my capris. I’ll take that as a win.