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

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.
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."
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.