Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Louise Bourgeois: A small sample of so many dimensions

“I always had the fear of being separated and abandoned. The sewing is my attempt to keep things together and make things whole.” Louise Bourgeois
 

Louise Bourgeois
CINQUE 2005
5 panel piece, fabric and stitching
18 x 14 inches, per panel
45.7 x 35.6 centimeters, per panel
CR# BO.11749
One of her better known textile works is a fabric book created in 2004, called Ode â l’Oubli (Ode to Forgetfulness). The book was constructed of fabrics she had collected over a lifetime and it incorporates a variety of textile techniques, including appliqué, embroidery, tufting, rolling quilting, weaving and layering. Read more about it in an excellent article in the New York Times by Amy Newman.  More to be seen here.
Louise Bourgeois, Untitled, 1996, Fabric, lace and thread, Courtesy Cheim & Read, Galerie Karsten Greve, and Galerie Hauser& Wirth, © Louise Bourgeois Photo: Peter Bellamy.  Resource: here.http://arttattler.com/archivebourgeois.html
An exercise currently making the rounds on Facebook involves leaving a "like" in exchange for being assigned the name of an artist whom one is to research, to whatever extent, and share, along with an example of the artist's work.    It is not a meaningless FB distraction.  In a scant few hours (so far) gathering  remnants, a word I use intentionally, of Louise Bourgeois, whose name and some work were familiar to me, I have been expanded.  Thank you to long-time friend Natalie Douglas, who may be found here, among other sites, for the perfect assignment.

I have included multiple links to those who share what they know of the life and work of Louise Bourgeois for I could not distill such richness after so brief an acquaintance.  Even the used copies of books by and about her are fairly pricey on Amazon.  How fortunate that my son has ties with an art school library.

Because fabric and sewing have always spoken to me, that is the aspect of her art which felt the most accessible.  Also, reading of how in her final 10 years she began to exhibit a lifetime of saved clothing and linens, either in as-is states or reworked into other objects and forms, resonated for me particularly since earlier this month, in the good beginning of a massive de-cluttering, I donated 4 30-gallon bags of clothing, shoes and purses to a local thrift store.  I could not, in my 60s, imagine the energy, the vision, necessary to reconfigure them into art.  She was in her 80s and 90s when she produced these works.

The past, how it can seem a sentient other that seduces us away from the present, has been very much in my thoughts.  Louise Bourgeouis' use of its pieces to create a new whole suggests a variant on that reality.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gloria contemplates

As a teenager, Gloria worked part-time in an office.  The staff was all women.  The room had eastern-facing windows that caught the morning sun around 9 a.m. and on one of the sills was a red clay pot with an African violet.  One of Gloria's assignments was to heat water in an elderly electric percolator for tea or instant coffee and before she refilled the pot each morning, she'd been instructed to use the residue left from the previous day to water the plant.  In spite of everything, the violet bloomed and kept blooming, at least a long as Gloria was there.
Violet photo credit.
She thought of lime deposits from the hard tap water, leached metals from the aluminum pot and who knows what other wayward and life-crushing compounds were dumped around the plant's velvety leaves every weekday morning.  Still the purple blossoms thrived.

With memories of long-ago moments pleasantly crowding her head, Gloria wondered if she, if any or all of us, was a finite vessel.  Not finite in time, years, but in capacity.  What she wondered specifically was if one contained too much of the past, did that leave too little room for the present and the future.  She was aware that pieces of her own story seemed to travel with her like a chaperone, a duenna who feigned drowsiness with lowered lids, chin resting on her black bodice, yet missed nothing.  Since meeting The Reading Man, Gloria preferred to feel unaccompanied by a history that seemed to have less and less to do with this, whatever this was.

It was not ghosts she was dodging, traumas she sought to defuse.  It was simply that yesterday was beginning to take up too much space in the small, free, allowable carry-on bag in which she toted her essential self from place to place.  Her best guess was to consider it real estate of the mind or the opening night preview of a long-anticipated movie for which they'd oversold the tickets but let pleading patrons sit on the floor, throwing caution and fire laws to the winds.  Such a notion was new to her, as she'd always been so comfortable with the past, hers and that exemplified by the objects which delighted her, the linens, china, silver, enduring beauty.

Letting her body move about the kitchen, allowing her hands and arms and back to begin the familiar preparations for a jolly, toothsome day at the shop, her mind held itself apart.  This was her first encounter with the thought that she was being given an opportunity to create change, subtle yet significant and entirely internal.  She knew this thought, this messenger, would turn up again and again as she grew to know it better.  Even in this violet-sparked awareness, Gloria knew there was truth to be learned, possibilities to be entertained.  She was not sure where one put the past when it had overstayed its welcome.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The adaptive life meets Christmas

Today my heart is with a long-time friend whose father died this morning, with a blogging writer who has new reasons to be hopeful, with all who do and do not find what seems to be missing from the hollow place within as Christmas charges straight at us.
Sees Candy
A measure of my relative comfort/discomfort level is how much I crave sweets.  I would have said that tranquility had the upper hand.  One of my addictions says otherwise.  How fortunate no one sent us a two-pound, or even a one-pound box of Sees Candy, the Christmas-Easter-Valentine favorite of yore.  The gourmet, mammoth malted milk balls that arrived at the perfect moment last week are long gone.  I have made considerable peace with Christmas as it exists around me, as it existed in the past.  As a treaty, it is respected and understood.  As an emotional state, there is room for, shall we say, growth, awareness.

I do believe everything is a process and this is simply another example.  I am the pop-up card that has not been unfolded.  I remain flat, inhabiting the territory between subdued happiness and just subdued.   I have been places so much worse.  Here, it is what it is, filled with clearly identifiable reasons for joy and gratitude, no reasons for discomfort.  Nothing is wrong.  I have learned not to overextend, learned to keeps the lights low, the voices muted.  This year I could listen to Judy Garland singing, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and not think, for the first time since I understood the words, that I would be waiting another year to have troubles banished.  For the first time, THIS is the year that when troubles are out of sight, a miracle and I'm not kidding.

Here is what I think:  we spent so many  years, a lot of us, especially of my generation and middle-class circumstances, being engulfed by Christmas everything from Thanksgiving onward that to have negotiated a truce in which the tone is low-key feels unnatural, at least unfamiliar.  I have not yet adjusted to the fit, the itch, the look of this quiet celebration and in amnesiac moments panic temporarily, thinking something is missing.  It is not.  It is all here, all is well.  If it takes a last-minute trip to Trader Joe's for dark chocolate covered cherries to sedate nagging doubt, I won't be too critical.  And I will spend far more energy in love and wishes and hope for all who need it most, managing to remember this year I am not on the disabled list, if I ever really was.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beauty and happiness, according to Gloria

Examples of embroidery on vintage kimonos.
With thanks for the photo to Ruby Lane Vintage.
Another Ruby Lane treasure.
The list of things which caused Gloria happiness was long.  She did not edit or attempt to shorten it.  Beauty in its uncountable forms was a sufficient theme, as it could indicate something for the eye to behold, something to taste, smell, feel, hear.  A nourishment for the senses, as she offered at the shop, a nourishment that had become more substantial for all those present when The Reading Man arrived with his Noel Coward, then Dickens.  She would not be at all surprised to learn that he sang well, too.  Singing might, however, turn the shop into a cabaret.  She would need an additional license, one for entertainment.  She could see the progression - strolling violinists, close-up magic, scenes from Shakespeare, cocktails, a neon sign.

In rare moments when stress threatened her equilibrium, Gloria felt herself lean back into what was beautiful, its firm, gentle embrace cushioning any fall.  We are all tortoises, she thought, whom circumstance would see flipped over onto our shells.  Beauty is the handy rock by which we can, with effort, maneuver our limbs and engineer an escape from peril.  Beauty is the secret weapon in our bag of tricks.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Reading Man counts the days in wonder

Mr. Apotienne had not been that long in Billington's Cove.  The open-ended lease on his cottage had scarcely begun, the season had not changed, could it be possible he was only in his second month?  So much had happened.  His time sharing tea, cinema and a clothing adventure with Jack Guscott could be counted in days.  He needed to check his calendar to see when life's pointy stick had encouraged him to read out loud at Gloria's that first day.  Was time expanding or contracting, was he living a Rip Van Winkle experience, had he somehow pivoted into another dimension, what did he do before all this and, if he could remember, did he have any intention of going back?
He would not call it a muddle exactly, or, if so, a happy one.  If questioned in that moment, he would have said that clarity of thought is over-rated, that all is enhanced by mystery.  He likened it to falling asleep on the train you'd boarded for Chicago, only to wake up on the outskirts of Istanbul.  Good fortune does not take well to close questioning.  Accept it, say thank you, wonder about it when you're old.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Seriously Vintage Rubbermoon Samples and some envelopes

These are ancient samples, from the 1990s, before so many of the classic images - and additional designers - became part of the family.  I was in the catacombs over the weekend and found these.  Not King Tut's tomb, yet still pleasing.  (all coloring and  backgrounds by me, stamps, unless otherwise stated, are from Rubbermoon - Dave Brethauer, Jane Cather, Joanna Taylor, Marylinn Kelly.)
And some envelopes.
With carved erasers.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Teacup tower, Gloria and patience

The round-about road, from Emily Dimov-Gottshall's Pin and tinywhitedaisies.tumblr.com, with thanks for a perfect photo.
You wonder just how many of the cups you can stack before they fall.  Handles of all shapes at all angles, cups of generous capacity and circumference, others deep and flared of lip, nothing to form an orderly nesting the way bowls would do.  Is it a balancing act, dependent on luck or determined practice with failure as part of the learning curve?  Or is it trust, knowing when the limit has been reached but pressing on until that exact moment?  Life tells us what it will be.  We can argue or surrender.  Patience makes what might have been impossible into something that could work.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An autograph for Gloria


Houdini skills, fashioned out of necessity from no more than, as his grandfather might have said, spit and baling wire, had long ago seen Mr. Apotienne through some near-misses.  For decades now that segment of his life seemed to belong to someone else.  As one of the volumes shelved in his interior library, it took on the aura of a family fable, the truth of which had become so embellished, so overworked with satin stitches and French knots of conjecture and pure fiction, that invention was accepted as fact for it was all that remained.   He had no wish to liken himself or a slice of his past to a character introduced by Graham Greene.

It wasn't often that he felt even distantly connected to certain aspects of who and where he'd been.  Holding the book again, reciting a portion of the review, took him to the room where he he wrote it.   A folding metal typing table, too narrow and low for his legs to fit beneath it, his Royal portable, a still-useful window air conditioner moved from a previous house, fluorescent lights - not a favorite - and the shallow wooden drawers of typing paper and carbons, it was a familiar lair.  He couldn't remember why or for how long he put up with that impossible gray typing stand.  After the flight from Australia, he needed sleep.  As soon as he awoke, all he could think of was Maura, distilling her unique embodiment of wonder if the right words could find him.

At the Sagging Shelf, he bought the book and gave it to Gloria.  She asked if he would sign it, date the signature and any note he cared to add, and describe, briefly, the circumstances of their outing.  He showed her the lifted eyebrow, she laughed, he began to fill the slightly aged end paper with foolishness that almost masked his feeling that if he just kept writing, the moment would not  have to end.

"For Gloria," he wrote, "whose best efforts to see me wearing fisherman's pants have been thwarted by brisk and rigorous striding in fair weather and foul."  He went on to add that day's date, then rhapsodized about the countryside between Billington's Cove and the shop in which they stood, assigning the characters about whom he wrote the names LeMar and Valencia and making them pre-adolescent children who were somehow permitted to drive a car. He thought the driving could be explained by letting them be badgers or foxes but figured he had started down an absurd road and he might as well stay the course.

Gloria watched him write, not exactly hovering and not reading over his shoulder.  She stood next to the shelves on the other side of the aisle with Dan.  When Mr. Apotienne's exaggerated description required the back side of the end paper, she smiled at the shop owner.  At last Robert handed Gloria the book, unsure whether he wanted to watch her face as she read the two pages or not.  For the time being, he stayed put.  She looked up once, said "LeMar and Valencia?" then resumed reading  and turned the page.  "This will do nicely," she told him.  "Thank you."

Tim Hardin, "Reason to Believe"

A life much too short, an enduring discography.  Tim Hardin's version of his own "Reason to Believe" has always been my favorite.



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Oh, pioneers

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be...
  This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
Isaac Asimov, Asimov on Science Fiction 

Yes, I AM currently reading Isaac Asimov.
An astrolabe.
Each morning I, and I suspect most of us, awake to a new planet, as though we've traveled through a night made of years, suspended.  In so many ways the world begins afresh every day.

What was true yesterday may no longer be so.  How I felt yesterday may have pivoted, spun like the arrow on a wheel of fortune, aiming now at peace and optimism when yesterday's forecast spoke of overwhelming dither, borderline hysteria based on nothing other than my thoughts.  The mercurial qualities of human emotions, beliefs and apprehensions keep me off balance more often than is comfortable.  Stability is gained through plain hard work

Gravity shifts, don't let them tell you it doesn't.  What was solid beneath my feet 30 seconds ago could become quicksand due to some slight adjustment of the earth's plates or a reversal of circumstance.  What we have is this moment and, if we are very lucky, the next and the next without expectation but also without fear.  Try and make those pieces fit together.

I become disappointed in myself when I find I am being too critical, too judgmental of actions chosen by others.  I forget what they do is mostly not my business.  Any time I spend looking too hard at their questionable, often troubling antics is time I no longer have for cleaning out my own disturbingly over-filled closets.

Consistency doesn't just elude me, it avoids me, dodging behind the hibiscus when it sees me on the sidewalk.  That hasn't yet stopped me from trying to find it, somehow enticing it to my uncertain embrace.   It may be that not all of us are intended to be steadfast, though I can't imagine why.  Reliability is such a virtue.  But then, is any of us intended to be anything other than human.  Some of the variables are far beyond our control.

That each day is its own separate entity demands flexibility, improvisation.  What worked on the planet we left as we fell asleep may have no value or possibility in this new location.  What adjustments we make to glide or lurch through today with as little damage as possible may serve no purpose tomorrow.

It is change that is our constant, not only as a society but in our small, day-to-day lives.  I envision a well-trained boxer, light of foot, quick to dodge surprising blows, ready for anything.  I think, too, of ships setting forth with hope but not absolute certainty of a round planet, oceans which would eventually lead them home.  We forget that we are still conquistadors, Vikings, pioneers, Lewis and Clark.  We forget that, each day, we find a new path through uncharted lands, somehow traverse uncrossable waters.  If we are occasionally weary of such adventure, it is fitting.  We have never been here, right here, before.




Monday, November 25, 2013

Passion is the answer. You know the question.

Illustration by Gianni de Conno, with more information here.  Again, thanks to Alice Vegrova.
I have an unnatural affection for the balloons in Macy's Thanksgiving parade.  Not necessarily the characters, though they are frequently dreamy, especially the vintage models, but the fact of them.  Great green frogs hovering over Manhattan streets, blimp-like creatures afloat on wintery currents, reluctant, airborne, marginally domesticated life forms out for a walk with a master who is in it way over his head, so to speak.

When I saw Gianni de Conno's illustration of the wizard and the tethered fish, I declared love.  From the stoop of his back, we know the wizard is not an apprentice.  He is venerable, possibly ancient, the real deal.  Who else would be involved in such an audacious stunt?

In the nicest thing he ever said to or about us, my father dedicated one of his books to my brother, sister and me, labeling us as practicing magicians.  My wizardly longings are less about spells than about knowing the secrets, which may be where writers and wizards intersect.  The magnitude of simply knowing, of seeing, ingesting, interpreting, translating, being the instrument of metamorphosis in order to do the job well demands brass I never really expected of myself.  In the middle of the night my waking and sleeping dreams allow me to soar.  Some mornings I retain the sense of possibility, some mornings my gold has reverted to lead before I've written a word.

This weekend the CBS Sunday Morning show was their "Eat, Drink and Be Merry" edition, all about food and foodish matters.  I arrived in time to see Lidia Bastianich: Food is what connects us, and be ignited by her passion.  It was one of those moments when the mystery dissolves and the now wide-awake mind realizes that passion is the only cure for all that ails us.  To see her caress the pasta, hear her speak of how she must touch food, was to feel in my cells that any response to life which blazes less brightly than a comet's tail is not going to suffice.

Living passionately requires energy, even madness of a sort.  There is no room for ambivalence and depression, even if only occasional, is a classic passion extinguisher.  I see it as riding a horse, full gallop but having to stop every half-mile or so to move an obstruction off the path.  It is not momentum anyone else would recognize, yet if every delay or interruption is followed by a fresh and undiscouraged forward hurtle, well, I have to assume passion can be kept glowing if not aflame by sips rather than gulps.

What Lidia Bastianich said to me in the secret language I've decided we share is that the heat of loving something or everything is what has always saved me, that it will continue to save me, even on days when I have egg beater hair and vision that looks mostly to the rear with tear-inducing regret and spasms of paralyzing shame.   These are my issues, or as Monty Python would say, "amongst" my issues which does not mean they are real.  Wizard wisdom could tell the difference, horse sense could tell the difference.

Grab selfishly at every bright-burning image, thought, gesture.  Throw your arms around all that speaks to your heart.  A friend of my son reported finding a story on-line the other day of a woman who married a ferris wheel.  I imagine an ordained wizard performed the ceremony.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Writing and trance

 al·che·my[al-kuh-mee] noun, plural al·che·mies
 

1.
a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
 
2.
any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
  
----------
Distillation is a process I think I've identified as the unifying factor in prose or poetry I wish I'd written.  It is alchemy, as described in either definition 1 or 2 above.  It is a writer finding the one thing, the thread, the particle, the essence of anything and running while it streams behind like a heraldic banner.

The dream of evolving as a writer, finding how to be a better writer, seems to require ecstatic dancing or any act that induces an altered state of consciousness.  The gears need to disengage so as not to grind fragile associations into dust.  Dream-thought, symbols and substitutes,  elusive in ordinary reality, need the air generated by trance to come alive. 
 
 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gloria in the kitchen, a vision in the dough

Painting by Osip (or Josip) Falica.  Shared by Alice Vegrova.
In an uncharacteristically moony state, Gloria played with the pie crust, sculpting it into rolling hills topped by a curving track that looked better suited to a horse cart than a contemporary vehicle.  She  took cloves from the spice shelf to simulate curious growing tufts of vegetation, then reached across the counter for berry stems and cilantro sprigs, pushing them all into the pale, soft dough in an orderly fashion, the way a child might draw a farm.  A naif, wishful world in miniature, a vista preserved as though from a dream.  The road she and The Reading Man had driven yesterday in light not too different than that now striking the kitchen windows, gliding without fuss across the tiled floor.
The connection from head and heart to hand was the puzzle she would unravel, she vowed, or at least find the first loose thread, the way she worked the smallest knots in a fine though jumbled necklace or undid decades, perhaps a century, of fairy-sized stitches to deconstruct a vintage garment.  She was patient, possessed of the ability to be still almost to the point of suspended animation.  It had unnerved her parents who were used to noisy, twitchy children, children only able to remain quiet in sleep.  Gloria, in daydreams, hoped they would never be set upon by marauders who would stuff them in sacks and trade them to pirate ships as galley slaves.  When the marauders came, Gloria knew she could remain hidden indefinitely.  She would not sneeze or clear her throat, she would not squirm or squeak.  Her brothers, however, were doomed by their restless limbs, their smart-alecky stage whispers of insults or advice to each other, their snapping gum and a way of bumping and jarring anything in the vicinity.  She hoped in those times that they would protect her, then she could go for help.

When Fiona looked into the kitchen, she saw Gloria sitting at the counter on the red-legged stool.  Her right hand hovered over the landscape she'd created, her expression was soft and indulgent and peaceful, seeing the story before, behind, within the sculpture, letting, for that moment, her dreams run away with her.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shrink and shrink again with borrowed tutorial

My arty,  film noir photography, ominous shadows and all.  Glazed shrink.

Jointed shrink doll to wear as necklace, knotted heavy thread for hair.  Bad lighting, what can I say.  I drew the body parts on paper then, as even the pre-sanded shrink plastic is translucent, traced them.  Plastic shrinks about 2/3 in heating process.

Here is a brief (less than 7 minutes) very beginning tutorial from Joanna Sheen to show some of the shrink art process.  There are many additional videos on YouTube that illuminate different approaches and projects in the shrink world.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shrinky Dink-esque

This dolly was waiting for me in a jewelry box as I searched for a pair of earrings to interrupt the predictable sameness of small gold hoops. 

She is shrink art, created as I remember by transferring (with a Xylene marker?) a photocopied illustration to the white opaque shrink plastic, cutting the image out with scissors,  punching tiny holes to attach the beaded drops, then shrinking it, probably in my regular oven of that time.
More recent, as in the last few years, samples, drawn freehand with a very fine Sharpie on pre-sanded Rough and Ready shrink plastic, colored with color pencils, cut out and heated.  I made shrink art for years, starting sometime in the 90s, each piece original, hand-drawn, and showcased by Joan Bunte, owner of Stamp Your Heart Out in her annual trunk show just before the holidays.  The photos I have of those elaborate early pieces don's translate to digital and all the pins are gone, scattered among wonderful customers around the country.  Finding the transfer sample reminded me (I seem to need a lot of that lately and thank goodness it shows up) this was and very well could be again a thing.  If only the list of things weren't so long.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Flea market finds for Gloria and TRM

Souvenir spoon photo, appreciation to this site.
With thanks for Curtis's spoon to this collector.
Hands on, picking up, rubbing the worn and polished surfaces with a thumb, testing the weight by balance, for Gloria selecting her vintage silverware was part visual, part tactile.  It was possible, perhaps likely, that over the years some customers' integrity had stepped outside to inhale the salt air while they pocketed an irresistible spoon.  There had been those of higher standards who asked if they might purchase one of the antiques.  In that case, an agreeable deal could usually be struck.  If a piece was too treasured, it was never shared.  Why put temptation where it doesn't need to go.

More on pen nibs here.
The Reading Man fell under the spell of vintage office products.  It was a small booth, really just one table, with some antique cabinets to hold fountain pens and similar oddments.  There were rolling date stamps, of which he chose two that bridged different years, advertising pencils, six-inch rulers for businesses extinct and very far away and he needed five of those, all from building supply companies.  Then came the box of pen nibs.  The drawer-like red container, faded and displaying the enterprise's founder in a not-too-discreet oval, rattled with its cargo of pristine silvery nibs.  Mr. Apotienne shook the box next to his ear before he opened it, his expression starting out alert, anticipatory, then becoming almost dreamy.  It must have been one of the unspoken ties between them, a sort of amateur psychometry, as both used their senses to read a portion, maybe more, of the stories their desired objects told.  Each was quiet and satisfied with what they'd found, did not press on to see more booths, establish contact with more histories.  Later they would speak, as neither had done before, of the way they were soon overwhelmed in the presence of, as Mr. Apotienne called it, old stuff.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Beauty heals

It doesn't take anything large or costly to set my child/geek/fanatic/dreamer heart singing, my cloud-watching mind racing.  A strip of washi tape can do it.  Or a carved rubber stamp, a nicely-shaped mailing label, simple watercolor illustrations for a children's book, flowered china, Japanese paper crafts, and the people who write about all of them.
These are from the Bengt+Lotta Washi Tape Collection for Wishy Washi.  And that's just on the first page.

My mind has an ancient habit of dragging out the Scrapbooks of Shame and Disaster, pointing to this photo or that, then clucking and shaking its head in disappointment.  It paints primitive but recognizable murals of potential bad outcomes down the road or suggests various unpleasant scenarios.  I have caught on to its tricks and have begun to take evasive action.  This require vigilance, probably more energy than I would prefer to spend, but learning any new skill is a process.

What is most helpful in pulling me away from worry, unwelcome thoughts or fear is beauty.  Modern medical science can carry us just so far.  Then we need to call upon our own resources.  As mobility issues keep me from having the access to nature I once did, I've developed other avenues.   As I am falling asleep at night and old demons try to slip through the closing door in their stocking feet, I recall something uplifting I've seen during the day.  This may be a trick the rest of you have been practicing for years but it is new to me.  Or I think of what images I will develop in my next art project, of what medium I will use, of how I will begin.  So much more productive to think about not having sketch lines show through a watercolor than wondering about paying the bills in January.

Once I began writing episodic fiction, I could wait for the characters' voices to let me know what will happen next, a far more engaging prospect to muse than what a friend calls "awfulizing," at which my mind had become so adept.

Today I found through the joy-filled activity of hopping from art blog to art blog new-to-me artists such as Kim Parker and her lavish floral household goods and color-filled books.  I became reacquainted with illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger.  Her illustrations for THE WIZARD OF OZ reshape the classic.
Among the poppies by Lisbeth Zwerger.
We have, as I have been told by much wiser souls for decades, more of our experiences of the world in our hands (or head) than we allow ourselves to know.  There was a time, perhaps 20 years ago, when I described myself as Eeyore on Prozac.  I prefer to be the Woman Who Talks to Imaginary Friends or A Flower Fool Who Traded Angst for Beauty.  This is what I have for today, this is what I can invent for myself as an antidote for all that is too ghastly to contemplate and which, the great blessing, is not here.  The past is back there somewhere, the future is the same unknown quantity it has always been.  Beauty makes me less fearful, stills human churnings, gives me hope.  That and the simplicity of love, which we can talk about another day.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Nothing new, just LOVE YOU, every corner, every crumb

Falling asleep imagining vintage neckties for the fictional Mr. Apotienne.  I believe he might have been drawn to this Klimt-inspired fabric.
The Klimt pattern, called Apple Tree, encourages, perhaps urges me to do what has been calling so annoyingly, like neighbor boys when I was four years old, screaming over the fence for my mother to give them cookies.  The older one, soon after we moved the next year, climbed into his father's oil tanker truck, released the brake and crashed through fencing, foliage, pasture and what-all to collide with the dairy at the end of the block.  We all assumed his life trajectory had just begun.

Paying attention to the hectoring, I did some watercoloring the other day and a disturbingly primitive effort it seemed to be.  A conversation with a sister artist about how her work did not match the expectation either let us soften toward our output.  In my best moments, I am able to see my work, whatever form it takes, as an unclassified rogue beast with a very pointy head, bald, of course, upon which I give it kisses and gentle pats.  The work, for better or worse, is ours, is us.  We will, if we persevere, become better at it and if we don't become better, we will have the virtue of consistency about which we may feel pride.

Such a response is not at all the same as assuming anything we do is wonderful, extraordinary, worth lots of money and why aren't the publishers and gallery owners calling?  The response is the very one we, for I assume I am not alone in this, wish to embrace about all the aspects of ourselves, that of unconditional - yes, I believe it exists - love for all our pointy-headed and warty parts.  We are not intended to demean ourselves, nor our work, both of which are in process, both of which are continually becoming.  We are our most exalted moments and our weakest links, soaring inspiration and the shame-riddled slacking on our exercises.  We love the genius and the backslider equally.  And we love our work, either privately and quietly or openly and with noisy hoo-rah, the same way.  To reject any part of the whole being is punishing, mean and probably familiar. 

We are not witless, we know what work hits the mark and what doesn't.  Love it anyway.  Love it and celebrate it and let it worm its way into your heart where it belongs.  No one ever told me this was a continuum, that each thing was a gateway to the next.  I assumed there was an end we reached where we stopped and accepted this was how it would be for the time we had left.  Nay, nay, I've discovered that it, we, evolve, expand, alter and persist, if we are lucky and willing, growing to fill the impossible largeness of  our pointy-headed selves.

(Very likely I've said all this before, which means I will likely say it again.  I repeat what I need to remember.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A revelation at The Sagging Shelf - Gloria and TRM on the town

In the unlikely event that Gloria or The Reading Man ever viewed life as a competition, they had long since abandoned any inclination to participate in such folly.  They had each separately and unbeknownst to the other, for you will recall they only recently met, grown into the perfectly suited belief that the voyage of their days was intended to be, in the words of the old song, "...a slow boat to China."* 
With occasional and momentary bouts of internal debate, they chose to avoid struggle, expectation and the resulting disappointment, hurry, the need to be right, residing in any moment other than this one, being unforgiving with others and themselves, feeling anything other than a piece (a valuable, necessary piece) of a much greater whole, resentment and jealousy in any form, melancholy that lingered, and fault-finding.  They were not exceptional creatures.   They were ordinary, with the essential difference of being mostly peaceful and appreciative.  They were not perfect, for there is no such thing.  They were humans who had managed, mostly, to keep humanness from spoiling their days.  To learn these lessons had taken each of them a lifetime and it seemed time well spent.

Reaching San Luis after the blissful quiet and dappled sun of their drive, Robert and Gloria prepared a list - written, with pencil, on the back of an envelope from her purse - of what each wanted to see, do or achieve that day.  Mr. Apotienne was most keen to spend time at The Sagging Shelf, the wryly named used bookstore, and to accompany Gloria on her flea market expedition.  As she sought the china, linens and silverware which enhanced the charm of her shop, he was open to anything that might cross his path.  Though he seldom wore them anymore, he did appreciate a swell vintage necktie, the definition of vintage remaining unspecific.

Playing hostess to an out-of-towner, Gloria insisted on the bookstore first.  Its inventory, and undisputedly sagging shelves, nearly overwhelmed The veteran Reading Man. At first it seemed a hopeless jumble of genres with no hint of order immediately observable.  Closer investigation revealed a unique arrangement which, once described by Dan, the owner, actually made sense.

As his self-labeled secret had been much on his mind, Mr. Apotienne was alert to how children's books were displayed.  Why he had decided that his authorship many years earlier of a book for young readers could be considered a secret since the discussion of it had never come up can be attributed to his over-developed sense of extreme honesty.  Fortunately that particular virtue was generally dormant, honesty partnering with diplomacy on most occasions.  We have seen how he gets.

He was not surprised to find a lone copy of his one book right at eye-level in the first place he looked.  It was dedicated to the then-young daughter of his son's friends, a girl in whom he had seen such brilliant otherness, a rare light he hoped would never fade.  "Maura's Magic" had been published decades earlier.  He felt he'd done his best to paint with words the child's distinct gifts.  He drew on a memory of reading W. H. Hudson's "Green Mansions" as a teen.  Rima the Bird Girl remained with him since.  Sales had been predictable, boosted by a praise-filled review - to his own amazement and that of almost everyone he knew - in The New Yorker.  Because of its brevity, he memorized it, not so much by intention but from frequent readings. He was deeply pleased.

Gloria walked up as he opened the book, noting that it was not one he had autographed at any of his rare signings.  She saw at once his name as author and only looked the question at him, not saying anything.  "I can quote the review," he told her.  "I won't do the whole thing."

"The tale is slight, but it is written in a language of such memorable tranquility ('One night, when the washing wind had died and the warm damp from the bendy river settled over the place and the fireflies sat so still in the air that you could catch one in your hand, Little Sara tasted her summer mouth and decided that she would like a glass of lemonade') that it is hoped Mr. Apotienne will be prolific and that his next work will again be embellished by the dreamy, misty, silky drawings of J. R."

"And you've kept this a secret for how long?" Gloria finally asked.  "Forever," he told her.  "For no real reason."
-----------
*Background: 
Frank Loesser's daughter, Susan Loesser, authored a biography of her father, A Most Remarkable Fella (1993), in which she writes:
"I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China" was a well-known phrase among poker players, referring to a person who lost steadily and handsomely. My father turned it into a romantic song, placing the title in the mainstream of catch-phrases in 1947.
The idea being that a "slow boat to China" was the longest trip one could imagine. Loesser moved the phrase to a more romantic setting, yet it eventually entered general parlance to mean anything that takes an extremely long time.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Gloria and TRM take to the road

Truth in blogging:  As this is a work of fiction, Billington's Cove is and can be located on the East and West Coasts as suits the author's whim.   Wherever it is is just where it needs to be.
Welcoming photo, thanks to this vendor in Manitoba.
Rose Creek Road was not the shortest route from Billington's Cove to the almost-urban bustle of San Luis but it was the most graceful, the one most likely to calm a racing pulse, quiet a chattering mind.  As it wound past fields where horses leaned over the fence hoping for a car to stop, apples already sliced for generous sharing, the air warmed and the scent of wild dill, oak dust and agriculture replaced salt-tinged mist.  Gloria told The Reading Man who owned the farms they passed.  It was a short list.  Land in the valley did not change hands often and holdings never decreased in size.  It was as though well-being was among the crops that flourished there.

There was to a newcomer the sense of being held in a warm embrace, safely placed out of the rasping wind where all was softness and comfort, benevolence beaming through branches that overhung the two-lane tarmac.  He likened it to being one of Gloria's muffins, popped out of the oven and into quilted mitts, at last enfolded in the napkin-lined basket.  So different from the feeling of home he encountered at the Cove where hypnosis was induced by a thrashing or tranquil sea.  He found the opposing elements provided balance.

(This is only half or a third of a post, but it felt so long since our friends made an appearance .  Episodes are episodes.  Some are more complete than others.  The bookstore will play a role in the next act.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Resilence

Matt W. Moore fund-raising poster for RESILIENCE JAPAN 2011.
Awake briefly for CBS Sunday Morning, I saw part of a segment on resilience.  The report offered neurological (it appeared) components of this particular strength.  It is a strength.   At times it seems like a super power.  The ability not to be overcome by the defeating potential of circumstance, known to us all.   Challenge finds everyone.  The word optimism was used to describe the state of mind necessary for resilience.

Illness, accident, nature run amok, reversal of fortune, abuse, neglect.  The human condition, life, has built-in pitfalls, opportunities to abandon ourselves as we have, perhaps, been abandoned.  That we prevail by any definition is remarkable.  This is not to compare trauma or pain.  Bad things are bad things.  We have grown up with examples of how uneven the portions seem to be.  New ones emerge almost daily, if we pay attention.  The point is, we are still here.  Even if there have been months, years, when just getting out of bed in the morning seemed overwhelming, eventually we got up.  Sometimes we got dressed, combed our hair, got to a 12-step meeting, got in the car and drove away from a life that would have killed us if we let it.

I am writing this because I think we underestimate our strength.  Or, should I say, I think I underestimate mine.  There are so many fronts for which I feel ill-equipped, failing to take into account the fact that I am still here.  I allow unsorted piles (of valuable resource material shuffled in with useless rubbish) and frightening deposits of dust to outrank the fact that I do not actively seek to make the world a worse place.  I have an old habit of magnifying what I will call shortcomings and undervaluing the fact that I reside on the planet in a state of frequent humor, kindness, joy and hope.  The journey to this place may seem, seen from the outside, to be one of comfort and privilege, ease. The peril has certainly been greater for some than others.  That does not make our own unique resilience of any less value.  Does it matter whether the heart of our security has been taken by a hurricane or undermined over time by termites of addiction and terror?

If you have ever survived anything that you thought would sink you but didn't you are a member of the club.  We all understand I am not talking about the day your hair didn't turn out in the back.  If you managed to escape with a portion of your soul or body intact,  surviving attacks that would have robbed you of either or both, you may need to see yourself anew.  Some are heroic in public. Their models give us courage.  Some of us are brave in more private ways,  our stories untold, unacknowledged even to ourselves.  This seems as good a day as any to claim, to embrace strength we have downplayed for too long.  At least promise me you'll think about it.  I'll do the same. 



Thursday, October 17, 2013

The barbecue awaits Gloria and TRM

Gloria sliced the Thompson grapes in half to stud the tops of her custard tarts, alternating the green of the grapes with red raspberries.  The miniature pies and their adornments spoke to her of bounty, fruit of the land, and an over-arching abundance that left nothing untouched.

Answering a knock at the kitchen door, she greeted Mr. Apotienne.  Having seen him so recently in the front room, it made her think of the way Dopey, among the seven dwarfs, got in line again to receive another goodbye kiss on the top of his head from Snow White before heading to the mine.  This dignified man of adult height did not arrive hat-in-hand, there was nothing visibly shuffling that she could pinpoint and he was not dopey in the least.  Still.  The sight of The Reading Man and the association made her happy in a way that she wished could be thumbtacked in place right there on the door or the jamb.  No matter how time might fade it, that the moment once happened could not be disputed.

He asked if she'd like to go with him to the barbecue that night, the first since he'd arrived in the region.  She said, "What a good idea.  Could we go early for the markets?  I think you'd enjoy them."  They arranged a time when he'd pick her up, agreed that his car could accommodate any produce and second-hand goods they might find.  He had considered handing her a note earlier, something more direct, less "aw, shucks" appearing but hadn't quite gotten to it. His walk had not quieted the internal chatter as he'd hoped.  In fact, when it stilled at all, he had the feeling he had somehow gotten himself caught in the rip current of his rare but not unknown over-thinking and what was called for was genuine quiet and reliable intuition.  Mentally, he was hyper-ventilating.

Before he'd reached the paved walk, Gloria called to him, his first name, "Robert," and came down the steps with a fresh tart, wrapped for take-out.  They nodded to one another, see-you-soon, thanks, why don't we just stand here and act daffy because it makes me think I'm about 10 years old, but managed to collect themselves and turn in the appropriate directions. 

As he sloped along toward his cottage, the fog began to thin.  It should be a fine afternoon drive over the hill, he thought.  With no warning, TRM's intuition yanked him by the ear and told him he did not have a secret, to stop thinking about that silly and small business and return to the moment, or he'd miss all the good parts. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gloria, Season Two: The Reading Man decides

Mr. Apotienne knew Mongolian wrestling, at least as an observer.  He had seen it, had taken part in the festivities that surrounded it.  Where he once thought of his inner struggles as Greco-Roman matches, he came to know they were full-on Mongolian, one of The Three Manly Skills.  When he had a dispute to resolve with himself, he now pictured the open field, the crowds, the deep hues of traditional wrestling attire, ferocity and strength.  He knew the better man would win.
So he presented both sides of his mostly logical argument as to whether or not something was truly a secret if it was just information that had not been shared.  As he debated the intention, which was not to hide anything shameful but more to maintain a comfortable, low profile, he grew aware that the facts gnawed at him like a secret, which let him know it was one.  With a solid thump, wrestler A dropped to his left knee, which in the Mongolian interpretation meant losing.  Wrestler B stood in triumph and Mr. Apotienne sighed, preparing to tell Gloria he was somewhat, however slightly, other than as he appeared.

For a creature with even a pin-dot less integrity, this would not have been an issue.  No manly men would have needed to suit up, no massed locals collected to watch.  It would have been a non-thing, a factoid dropped in casual conversation.  There were occasions, not many, for which he and all who knew him were grateful, when Mr. Apotienne over-thought matters. 

Before arriving at the tea shop, The Reading Man had decided to ask Gloria to dinner that evening.  He was comfortable with any answer she gave.  It was short notice but it was also spontaneous.  Inland, one of the towns held a monthly barbecue during the summer, late spring and early fall, and fluffed it out with a farmers' market, swap meet and shops staying open longer than usual.  TRM had seen a flyer or poster somewhere the day before, reminding him of the event.  His plan was to knock at the kitchen door after his walk and extend the invitation.  Having wrestled his way to an answer already, he anticipated a peaceful time up and down the shore, time to empty his mind, let go of doubt or debate and allow inspiration to visit, if it cared to.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Repost: Still trying to loofah the past

It has been said that although we seem to find ourselves living life in circles, revisiting the same situations - and feelings - again and again, the shape is actually a spiral.  We have managed to ascend, to reach a different level.  It is not the same place, we are not the same people.
 Photo borrowed from here.
Three years ago, in this post about surrender, I must have thought I'd achieved some epiphany.  Perhaps I did.  What I know now, and probably knew then, is there will always be more to jettison.  Another box left at the curb, another vigorous exfoliation, another match set to piles of rubbish.  Today's secret word:  patience.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Well, THAT happened.

Today's headline is a quote from the David Mamet film, State and Main. It is truly a line for all seasons, it fits all sizes, all occasions.

Much as I indulge myself in thoughts of the impossible, even I acknowledge that when a thing has happened, it cannot un-happen.

Surrendering to life as the ultimate big shot who makes the rules is a process. You're not the boss of me. Oh, but I am.

THAT gives us two choices: remain caught by the wrongness, the unfairness, the awfulness, the horror, the grief, the guilt and shame, rage and resentment, like banana slices in a Jello mold or give it to the past. If option two was the easy, natural choice, history and all fiction would tell very different stories.

In thinking about this essay, I drew up a sketchy, mental list of incidents where the less savory option one was my pick. As a theory, I've understood letting go for a few decades. As a practice, it is much newer business. It is the result of the desire, the intention, to become more conscious, more compassionate. It comes from the wish to lead a life less fraught.

Too much stress, a response over which I have some measure of control, produces too much cortisol which goes on to interfere with and upend healthy physiological activity when it hangs around too long. Every issue, or crumbs of issues, that we continue to push around on our plates overloads us with stuff that will stop our engines.

Every time I thought about an event or outcome that should have gone differently, I embezzled a bit of vitality, perhaps longevity, from myself, by raising my blood pressure, messing with my blood sugar, creating inflammation and undermining my immune system. Even doing a little research while writing makes me queasy and, oh ho, stressed by thinking about how long I've resisted letting the bad stuff roll off my back.

I know I've written about all this before in various forms and I know I'm not done. It is the heart of my struggle. Awareness helps the process. Reminders can be beneficial, like Jake Gittes' being told, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown," by one of his old pals from the LAPD. If you're not ready to let the injustices go, reminders probably don't change things.

To find and maintain a mostly peaceful response where peace is not the norm can cut us away from the herd. But then I've never been one to run with the pack. Solitary is not unknown terrain.

In the simplest language I can find, I want to stop poisoning myself. We are cautioned of - and frequently alarmed by - threats from outside. We are in danger at least as great, I believe, from how we react to the world, to the models we are shown...endlessly.

THAT is going to keep happening. I choose to think we are capable of finding a different way to view all the THATs which have lined up, awaiting their spotlight moments.

They are the grifters who linger along our daily paths, not panhandlers or the truly needy, but slick types whose patter makes them semi-believable. Say no and keep walking, walk faster - exercise is good - don't make eye contact, don't get sucked in...to discord, debate, blame, outrage. Remain calm (Keep Calm and Carry On!) and if action is required, take it from a still and centered place. Robert Towne's dialogue had it right, too. On a metaphoric level, it's all Chinatown. Forget it. It happened. Let it go.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Juan Romero (1932-1996)

Unsure where I've been not to have known the work of Juan Romero before this morning, I will simply express my joy at the discovery.  The timing is perfect, for word came early today and over the weekend of friends in whose lives serious road accidents have played too prominent a part.  Both have survived and will heal but in the meantime, pain and fear and uncertainty.  We know beauty can help relieve those.  Then the oft-mentioned Alice Vegrova shared three of Romero's works.  Quickly Googling, I acknowledge the result:  this seems to be love.   See for yourselves.
All paintings by Juan Romero.
I wish I knew my way around a Blogger template better, for these need to be seen BIG or BIGGER.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A poetry angel

A Moment

I'm walking on the slope of a hill newly green.
Grass, small flowers in the grass,
just as in a children's book.
Hazy sky, already turning blue.
A view of other hills spreads out in silence.
As if there had been no Cambrians or Siluries here,
rocks growling at one another,
upthrust abysses,
no fiery nights
nor days in clouds of darkness.
As if no plains had moved through here
in feverish delirium,
in icy shivers.
As if only elsewhere had the seas been churning,
tearing apart the edges of the horizon.
It is nine-thirty local time.
Everything is in its place and in genial accord.
In the valley, the small stream as a small stream.
The path as a path from always to ever.
Woods in the guise of woods world without end amen,
and on high, birds in flight as birds in flight.
As far as the eye can see a moment reigns here.
One of those earthly moments
implored to linger.

WISŁAWA SZYMBORSKA
translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak


For well more than a year, my friend and poet Melissa emailed me a poem a day.  I awoke one morning craving poetry, to know more about it, to discover more of its practitioners.  While poetry was discussed and read in a fiction workshop in the 1980s and I used my lunch hours from work to haunt the poetry alcoves of used bookstores in North Hollywood, I had nearly lost forever the heart for this extraordinary form in a junior college class that required us to deconstruct everything.  It began with Yeats in a way that felt he had been exhumed and eviscerated and I along with him.  For that and so many other reasons, formal education and I decided we were not a good match.

Melissa and I met through our blogs and she fashioned a pillowy nest for me in the poets corner, sent a box of books from her own shelves and began to free me from the long-clinging disappointment of that dreadful class, circa 1963.  While I have wished to be a poet for no other reason than to be called one, I knew that was not me.  I've surrendered those delusions but to write more poetically seemed possible.  There are days when I think it happens, many when it does not.
A story on the radio yesterday morning reported that the Juno spacecraft would fly past Earth "...for a gravity assist that will slingshot the probe onward toward Jupiter."  By whatever metaphor seems apt, we are all, at the moments we need them most, sent what could well be called angels to aid and lift, to move us forward.  I think of booster rockets which fall back to Earth when the craft is well on its way, free of pesky gravity.  Add that smooth slingshot maneuver and I consider myself  not only grateful for all Melissa's gifts, I feel amply launched in the direction of my destiny, files full of words  dancing in ways I would not have thought to use them, inspirations for my work, insights for ordinary human life.

Without poets and poetry, we are leaden, too dense of spirit to lift our feet high enough to reach the next step.  We grow dull and unresponsive.  Without the poets' saying, "look there...and there" we miss the beauty and the truth, magic eludes us.  Poetry freshens the air in a stifling  room, pulleys open the blackout curtains and unbolts the door.  Fill you lungs and run now.  You've kept her waiting long enough. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fly away, just fly away

Original art by Steve Cieslawski.
If I thought about it longer, I might interpret this differently.  Upon first sight, I thought of all those whom we carry,  pull along behind us,  somehow never manage to escape fully.  As a visual, it becomes much easier to imagine simply cutting the strings.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

This is why...

In the world of eyebrows and so much more, Frida Kahlo is an icon.  Even in finger-puppet form, as created by Abbey Christine, shared here, that steady, sturdy line bisecting her face speaks.
Every day I wear my Angela Smyth "Anything is Possible" badge, for I believe it to be true.
Today, I noticed that my long-missing left eyebrow had returned.  Alas, its companion, the right, has only partially materialized but as I shall keep wearing my badge, I am optimistic.  The disappearance of both seemed the result of a fluctuating thyroid and heaven only knows what else that can befall a woman of a certain age and temperment.  And kind of like the line from Leonard Cohen's song, Famous Blue Raincoat,  "...I thought it (obvious eyebrow absence) was there for good so I never really tried,"  I adjusted my expectations downward.  But after a few years of not worrying at the poor depleted things (even the most feathered drawing-in attempts looked like bad stage make-up), hey, presto,  the seemingly impossible reappearance.  This is why we never give up.