Thursday, August 31, 2006

yellow flowers redux

I've got three paintings going today. Three because three is a sufficient number to juggle the distraction from the glaring and obvious fact that my report from the heart clinic is still held up in the U.S. Mail.

A nurse from the Clinic called me yesterday evening, around six, to let me know the report is on its way.

Please, I begged. Give me a brief synopsis. I'm dying inside, here.

She began speaking in tongues. I struggled valiantly to keep up but could not. I scrabbled for a pencil and jotted down phrases in a memo pad roughly the size of my ear.

You'll have to follow up with your referring doctor, she said.

My referring doctor is out of town until next Tuesday for the Labor Day holiday, because people who make two hundred dollars an hour can pretty much work whenever they want. Not to inject any kind of class-biased cynicism into the dialogue, but you know.

The report will probably arrive in your mailbox tomorrow, she said.

And yet tomorrow has come; it's not here. And I really wanted it, these scrolls in Hebrew that will clarify the meaning of my suffering, even if I don't comprehend it (the meaning, or the suffering, either one).

I called the clinic back. Have you got the right address? Did you, perhaps, mistakenly send the report to my doppleganger in Greenland? No?

Sometimes it takes three days for mail just to leave the building, the guy answering the phone said. He sounded a little weary. Probably contemplating picking up another degree so he can advance out of the switchboard and get out of the mainstream, where the irritating public is. I can read his mind. No really. I can.

Wow, three days, I said. That's impressive. I envisioned a very elderly man, shuffling along in manner of Tim Conway from The Carol Burnett Show, holding my report and muttering to himself softly.

He's not the only one.

I called the other doctor's office back. I know I already called you guys, but I know you already have the report because they told me they already faxed it to you and so, is anyone there sober enough yet to interpret some Aramaic for me? Think you could see your way clear to do that? Maybe? Even if only because you're a human being and I'm a human being and we're all in this together, somehow? Huh?

"I can't tell you anything that the other nurse hasn't already told you."

Okay I say sadly, and hang up. I hope they can hear the shoulders drooping in my voice. I want them to feel good and guilty about their reluctance to help me.

Then the doctor's office calls me back. We don't have the report, they say. It was never faxed to us. This may all be a psychotic episode on your part, this report of which you speak. Don't have it. Not looking at it. Nothing here, nada.

(Any time the phone calls and it's a doctor, my children's antennae perk alertly and they begin to screech. This is because the call of a doctor is more painful than a regular kind of phone call. It hurts their ears. I have no other explanation, rational or otherwise. I get up and leave the room to get away from the screeching and filter out the noise pollution and the children get up and follow me. They stand outside the door I've closed myself behind and continue screeching. At times they even bang on the door to punctuate the yelps, creating the unwelcome ambiance on the phone that I'm entertaining a gang of bongo players.)

But am I deterred? I am not. I call the clinic back and report my findings like the good scout that I am ("they say they never got their fax yesterday. Can you resend it?"). And they refer me to a secretary whose first name is the same as a large country and when they tell me that they're connecting me there I almost believe, in my disoriented state, that I am being patched through to some other continent. Transatlantic calls! This is service.

Who names a child after a country? I ask you. I didn't name my children America. I could have named them Captain, Major and Sargeant so they'd automatically get the proper respect they seem to demand, but I wasn't savvy enough at the time. My bad.

The Large Country tells me she was given the wrong fax number.
I give her the right one. Like I know what I'm talking about. Like I didn't just misplace my caffeine-free Coke and write myself a note to remind myself I DID take my beta blocker this morning, yes ma'am, so don't take it twice.

I feel like a messenger boy. Like I should be wearing knickers and one of those golf berets, maybe with the requisite scabby knees and Buster Brown loafers.

If I were a patient person, or an indolent one, these trials would be but paltry trifles, an errant fly in an otherwise silent room.

They've pinpointed a problem -- two, to my knowledge -- and I want to blitz it now that I've honed in on it. It's like finding the field wide open and making the touchdown play and getting almost to the end zone when you realize you haven't got the ball. Where is it?

No clue. Think it might have unraveled somewhere along the fifty-yard line.

So I paint, instead.

more abstractions from the original

I did these ink drawings from the painting(s). The cross-hatching and stippling techniques build up gradations in shade delicately, which I found appropriate to express the fragility of the flower(s).

Or, something like that.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

phase three

Same painting, different look. Why can't I ever leave anything in the preliminary stages and then stop, instead of fussing over it until it's completely overworked. The entire mood of this piece has changed dramatically. Dark, elegant, somewhat formal.

Now I've have had to paint the first image again, on another canvas:

Just so I can get that innocence and pure intensity of color back.

I can't decide which one I like better. That's what is really bothering me.

a caterpillar's morning

My first-grader found a Woolly Bear caterpillar on the sidewalk this morning. I picked it up for him and it curled, predictably, into a fat spiky ball. I examined its bristles closely: all black means a hard winter; black and orange, mostly mild. Or so I'd always been told. (There are many opinions on the subject.)

I carried the caterpillar in the curve of my palm down to the bus stop, where the other elementary school students peered at it a bit squeamishly. "Put it on the curb so I can squish it," a second-grade boy said with some relish.

"Noooo!" I turned away from him a little bit. "You can't squish these! They don't hurt anything."

"At least it's black. The red ones bite," a little girl further back in the line said softly.

"They bite?" I pretended to recoil a bit. "I've never heard that. Geez, I'd better be careful."

She grinned at me.

"I've seen a lot of those lately," another mom said. "They were all black."
"They're liars," said another heatedly (doubtless thinking of the high heating bills that come with a hard winter).

I grinned at the caterpillar as it stretched upward in my palm, as if in mid-yawn.

"You're a liar," I told it. Then I put the little black caterpillar (as it sensed motion and instinctively balled up again) ever so gently into the branches of a lilac tree.

Thus was the caterpillar's morning blessed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

the next phase

A very rough draft of the painting I'm making from the aforementioned collage. Nowhere near finished.

This is what I mean by manipulating the images until they're abstracted entirely from the original idea.

lovely secrets

My first year in college, I had a fascination with collages. I showed one to my drawing professor and he then Xeroxed it, without my knowledge, quietly tacking up the anonymous photocopies all over campus. I'd leave my English I class and see my own (unsigned) collage pinned up on a bulletin board in the hallway. I loved that.
I loved overhearing people say, "What is that? Whose is it? What does it mean?"

As I'd walk on, humming a little under my breath.

I didn't want to claim the work; I never did. I just wanted to see everyone else react to it, and cull their exclamations to turn over and examine later. A lovely secret, just for me. What a luxury.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Friday, August 25, 2006

I'm back

After being injected with a radioactive agent that won't pass out of my system until Thanksgiving, I like to leave town for a day or two.

We went to Cincinnati, Ohio.

The pictures first:

Paramount's Kings Island is gorgeous. They pipe in theme music from various Paramount pictures on International Street. I didn't recognize the theme from the first Star Trek movie and my husband called me a barbarian.

Part of the view from the park's scaled-down Eiffel Tower. You ride a glass and steel elevator to the observation area at the top. A woman standing next to me had a panic attack before the doors opened up on the top level. I found this intriguing, since it's not the ascent that disturbs me, it's the landing.

The walk-up view of the tower.

It's funny what people wear when they're out and about. I saw a family dressed entirely in identical clothes from The Gap, recognizable by the GAP logo emblazoned across their chests. They had two little boys in Gap clothes too, complete with matching Gap ball caps. Economics students: can you say conspicuous consumption? But the youngest boy took off his ball cap and threw it in the trash while we waited in line at the train station, which delighted me no end.

The coupling between two cars, because I'm weird and like to examine things like that. You'd have to understand my childhood. I was raised on railroads and pipe organs and steamboats.

Speaking of which:

I love carosuels. This one, from the Twenties, evoked every childhood memory of my grandparents. Oh, it was lovely. The lights, the colors.

It's not like I could really ride anything at Kings Island (except for the merry-go-round) but I so enjoyed watching the kids and taking in the sights.

Later in the afternoon, right after my husband decided to take the older two boys on a roller coaster, the youngest and I walked hand-in-hand behind them on our way toward the Nickelodeon Universe to meet Scooby Doo when a very small boy staggered past us howling, "Mom! Moooooom!" His cry was so piteous that I stopped cold; is he lost?

I watched him wander in and out of threads of people, looking upward and sobbing helplessly. I watched the people glance down at him and keep going, uneasily. No one claimed this kid. No one was stopping to help.

It's funny, the mood you get in when you're at an amusement park. Maybe it's such a hedonistic, insular pleasure that you start to forget about everyone else. I don't know. I know for a split second I actually hesitated. I did! I didn't know what to do about that kid. (Suppose I try to help him and then the mom comes up and asks me what the hell I'm doing talking to her child.)

I think when you're out in public you see so many things that you can't comment on --people slapping their kids around, blowing cigarette smoke in their faces, unconcernedly letting them run about unsupervised (because it isn't polite and people will tell you to mind your own business, and not very kindly either) you get...inured, almost, so that when you see a small child walk past obviously lost you almost have to think about it before you respond. And I don't like that.

Come on, Sharon. He's just a kid; kids trump everything.

I wheeled around and went back after him.

The kid moved so quickly. It was warm, I was already tired and perspiring. I could see his little blond head bobbing in the crowd ahead; I knew I'd never catch up. Just then a park employee jogged past importantly (not making eye contact) and I grabbed his arm and made him stop.

"Are you a park employee?"
"Yes, I am."
"That little boy is lost and crying for his mother. He's over there, in the blue and white shirt. Please get him and help him."

He turned and followed the kid, instantly. Man, could that guy move fast. I felt envious.

I lagged behind, still holding my own child's hand, to observe from afar. Just to make sure. You never know about people.

He got to the little boy in about two seconds. The child had sat down on a bench, wiping his eyes and sobbing almost hysterically. I watched the employee talk to him; a crowd gathered. People started calling: "He's lost! A little boy is lost." The employee guided the child inside a Fifties Diner, where he appeared to be radioing more assistance.

Well, then. The kid will be all right.

As my child and I retraced our steps back toward Scooby-Doo, a woman ran past us calling ahead: "We found the mom! We've got the mom." And then I felt okay about going ahead and leaving.

I looked over my shoulder: a crowd had gathered around the kid and people were telling each other, with some excitement, what had transpired, looking around for the mom to arrive. I felt a pinch of irritation -- just a pinch -- because I couldn't be the one to talk to the child myself and let him know everything will really be all right. My heart went out to him, sitting there all alone on the bench crying like that.

Everyone else got to help him while I stood back at a distance anonymously and watched. But isn't that the way it is? Even when all appearances are to the contrary, there are still good people out there looking out for you, even if you can't see them (and you usually can't). And maybe that's all we ever need know.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sharon will be back soon, I promise. I spoke to her today. I think she was either:
  1. Dogsledding across Antarctica
  2. Parasailing in Mexico
  3. Backpacking across Europe, or
  4. Sleeping on her couch
I dunno. You decide.

I love Sharon's work. It's whimsical and beautiful. She's told me before that she always tries to paint from a happy place inside her heart. She says she wouldn't want to hang or sell a picture that makes her stomach hurt to look at it. She wants her work to make people feel good. I think Sharon has a way of painting and drawing that is uniquely her. I posted one of her drawings on my blog once and a commenter said, "I knew that was an Adventures of a Domestic Engineer drawing even before I read the post." I consider that to be a high compliment. To be able to take in her surroundings and render an image onto a canvas that is so distinct that it is obvious she is the artist; well, it's just amazing.

I love this painting that she posted the other day.

It started out like this:

I'll be glad when Sharon starts posting again so that we can all appreciate both her exquisite artistic talent and her remarkable ability to invoke emotion with her writing. I know you all miss her too.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

It's me again, Heather. And don't worry, I'm not going to write a sugary-sweet, mushy, best friends post again. I worry that some of you might go into a diabetic coma reading my guest posts. Besides, Melonie's Rule Number Five is: No emotional, hand-holding posts!

One of the things Sharon and I have in common is that we have only male children. She has three sons and I have two. So, I can tell her my parenting laments and she gets it. Like when I tell her that I have to wash the shower curtain and rug in the kids' bathroom often because they don't aim when they pee and they end up spraying every surface in the bathroom. Like when I tell her that I fail to see how a book on How To Raise Well-Mannered Boys will be helpful in my situation unless I use it to beat the children about the head every time they fart at the dinner table. She gets it.

My youngest son is particularly willful and stubborn. He's also very smart. He keeps me on my toes, I tell ya. Like me, he is not a morning person and thus we are more likely to clash in the mornings when I help him get ready for school (he is in kindergarten). This morning, I said, "Come into my bathroom so I can brush your hair." He replied, "I don't want to brush my hair."

"Too bad. Come into the bathroom"

He drug his feet and slowly started down the hallway and then stopped halfway and said, "I'm not going any further than this."

"Get. In. The. Bathroom."

He walked as far as my bedroom when he once again rooted himself to the floor and proclaimed, "Fine then. This is as far as I'm going."

"Get your rear in the bathroom!" Except I am Texan and my accent is more pronounced when I am upset and it sounded like, "Git yer reer in the bathroom!"

He said, "Nope. I'm not going. I'm not."

"One! . . . Two! . . ."

"Okay! I'm going!" and he very slowly made his way to the bathroom as I stood there with nostrils flaring and pulse racing and thinking that, for winning that battle, I sure felt like I was the loser.

After school, we had to take our puppies to the vet for their booster shots. We had to wait nearly an hour and, understandably, the five year old was a little cranky. But one thing I do not tolerate is bad behavior in public. My son asked me if I would buy him some candy on the way home. I told him, no, I'd be cooking dinner as soon as we got home.

"Can we get a snowcone then?"


"Ice cream?"


At which point the foolish child began wailing. I was mortified. I growled under my breath, "Stop that crying. Right. Now."

He negotiated: "I'll only stop crying if you buy me some candy."

It was then that my head popped off of my neck from the sheer increase in my blood pressure.

I promised the child a time out and promised to lengthen it, and actually did lengthen it, before he finally shut his pie-hole. We got home, I sent him to his room and set the stove timer to the appropriate length of his sentence, and went about the task of cooking dinner.

Ten minutes later? The boy walked out of his room, smiling and cheerful, and gave me not a single problem the rest of the evening. He even gave me several kisses for seemingly no reason at all. He was the very picture of compliance.

At least my life is always interesting.

I'm not dangerous. Really.

Guess what? I ended up not having the tilt table test. They scrapped it once I got there and moved on to Phase Two of the evaluation instead: hemodynamics.

Hemodynamics is where they measure my blood volume by taking all of it out and then putting it back in again. (No, not really, but it did feel like that at some points.)

They took draws every four minutes for, oh, twenty minutes or so. I had an IV in the inside of my right arm, so it's not like it was a traumatic experience each time, but I still feel it because I have that hypersensitivity to giving. (It's my blood. It's not like I have any extra.)

Then they pumped radioactive tracers back in and took pictures with a very large collimator (camera). The camera is very wide, bigger than a manhole cover, and they had me pressed up against it so closely that I felt it should really be buying me dinner after all this was over. The camera took intravascular pictures of my heart to measure how my heart pumps the blood out; too strong, not enough? And so on, and so forth.

It takes about a week for the results.

On my way out the door, the nurse slipped me a card with a list of the radioactive agents I'd been given, which I took to mean as a somewhat bizarre memento of the experience. It was only until the ride home that I turned the card over and read it:

The Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies have installed ultra-sensitive radiation detectors across the country. These devices are designed to detect a nuclear terrorist. The radioactive material you received could trigger an alarm. Should this occur, show this document to the Law Enforcement Official.

I died.

So when I get busted trying to buy a burrito because I've set off an alarm somewhere and a Law Enforcement Official has me face down on the pavement with his boot at the back of my neck, y'all are going to see me on CNN, is that it? The headlines! West Virginia woman discovered trying to blow up Taco Bell. I shrunk back in my seat and moaned. I'm not a nuclear terrorist. Look, see here? I have a card.

What has my life come to? I have to carry documentation to prove I'm not dangerous.

And now I am going to hide for a few days and take cover while I rest and recuperate. Heather may post for me (I haven't asked her yet).

I'll be back when I'm not radioactive.

Update: Sharon asked me to share with y'all that she just read the card more closely and, apparently, she will be radioactive until November 21st! I promise she'll be back long before then. --Heather

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sharon's heart

It's me, Heather.

Sharon's at Cleveland Clinic today. She's dreading the day because she has to have another tilt table test. The whole purpose of a tilt table test is to induce fainting. I am a heart nurse and I've always disliked administering tilts because it goes against my nature to stand back and watch as someone gets sick and dizzy. My impulse is to press a cool cloth to their neck and face, not watch with fascination as their heart rate slows and blood pressure drops and then they pass out cold.

Sharon's doctors would have you believe that there is something wrong with her heart. I'm here to tell you otherwise.

I cleaned my house from top to bottom today. As I cleaned my dresser, I had to move aside a drawing of an angel carrying a puppy into Heaven. Sharon drew it for me and my son as I cried the morning after our much loved puppy was killed by a car. When I organized my jewelry, I came across a black pair of earrings, a blue bracelet, and a green toe ring given to me by Sharon for no reason at all, except that she said they made her think of me. There's the ankle bracelet that I wore at Cedar Point which she deftly fixed by threading the raggedy jute ends through a tee-ninsy eye when it fell apart one morning. In my bedside table, there is a box of cards and correspondence, mostly from Sharon, nestled next to a little stuffed Teddy bear inside a box that smells of roses from the rose bath petals that she sent me along with a handmade Valentine back in February.

In my youngest son's room, there is a framed print of a lion drawn by Sharon and sent to us simply because my son asked me to draw him a lion and I confessed I had no clue how to draw anything, much less a lion. Also in his room, there hangs a painting of the stuffed puppy he has carried around and tucked into bed beside him since he was a toddler. I commissioned Sharon to paint it for his fifth birthday and she poured her heart and soul into it.

In the kitchen, there is a framed print of some colorful apples and a wall hanging painted with one of my favorites of her work given to me for my birthday. In the family room, there is a print of "Watchful Child" sent to me because she said it reminded her of me once she finished it (and because I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it).

In my back yard, there is a sculpture of an angel that sits on the grave of our puppy which soaks up sunlight all day and emits a beautiful light all night.

Of course, one can't measure the goodness of a person's heart merely by the material gifts given by them. I can honestly say that I would still be here writing about Sharon's beautiful heart even if she'd never given me a single gift. The gift of her friendship is invaluable. She spends so much time talking to me. We've exchanged so many e-mails, so many cards and letters, chatted so many times, and whispered secrets to one another over the telephone. We've shared so much of our lives with one another. The trust she's placed in me has been the greatest gift she's ever given me.

So, she may have some rogue myocardial cells misfiring now and again. She may have arteries that are so laid back that they forget to constrict when necessary, having the unpleasant effect of landing her face first on the rug.

But I am here to tell you that I know her; I know her heart, and it is working just fine.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Manipulated photograph on scrapbook paper.

A photograph from my childhood. I'm the redheaded kid on the right, the one with the skinny arms. I had a Buster Brown haircut. My elbows were the widest parts of my body.

It's as if I am a Beatles song.

all my body fat was gone away.
now it looks as though it's here to stay.
oh, i believe

Tomorrow I'm going to be elsewhere, off in a big heart clinic doing my best impression of a lab rat.

Today I'm pretending tomorrow isn't, well, tomorrow.

I do this by sorting and filing and generally cleaning areas of the house that needed no immediate attention whatsoever. I actually threw out three quarters of my files from my newspaper reporter days. These were court and criminal files, nothing of interest, very depressing. I am happy to report, for my own records at least, that I have expunged everyone. Congratulations.

I had a terrible dream last night about protecting my children from a pride of lions in the yard. The lions were at the door and I told the children to go upstairs and lock the door behind them; then I leaned against the outside door as hard as I could, convinced I could be strong enough to keep all of them out.

I have no idea what that means.

Friday, August 18, 2006

it's not my car.

Reading over Heather's hilarious post about my botched blog design efforts, I realized I haven't written anything funny in a while.

I think, if the press about me is to be believed, that once upon a time I used to be funny, too. The mirth and the irrepressible wit once flowed like a new mother's milk from the teats of my long-curing sorrow.

Because the personally depressing things usually end up being funny, eventually (and yes, for me a picture of someone's perfectly tiny little hiney is depressing) there is hope for me yet.

But I'm being facetious. I'm not depressed! I'm not even sad. I'm not!

I'm harassed, is what I am! My kids are turning feral on me over here in the outbacks of summer. School looms two weeks away in the offing and the children are growing fangs. And people wonder why it is I'm walking faster. You would too.

It's not just the kids. Is everyone grumpy now? I'm sitting in a packed doctor's office this afternoon and a frantic-looking woman storms in and announces (looking only me directly in the eyes; I don't know why): "I'M BLOCKED!"

Me too, I almost volunteered, it's been really hard to write anything down lately. Then I remember not everything is about the blog and shut my mouth again.

"Do you," she continues, again with the steel-eyed gaze of a prosecuting attorney, "Drive a black four-wheel drive pickup truck?" She waits, expectantly, as if she's just produced a royal flush.

I shake my head. Nope. I got a sort of sand-colored sedan with a ding in the left side that's so generic I keep losing it after I park. I lose my car more than I lose the keys to it, and that's truly sad.

"I'm blocked," she says again, in a smaller voice, kind of pleadingly, as if, despite lack of ownership, I can still raise my hand and make the vehicle move asunder for said damsel.

I shrug, because I'm heartless, but it's not my car.

Then I send Heather an email from my cell phone, because I just figured out how to text people and now I can't get enough:

I hate the public.

She seems to understand this in her lightning-empathy way and then answers with a total change-of-subject:

Why does Leighton put nipples in all of his paintings?

I text back:

Two words: oral fixation.

Then I think about it and text again:

I'm still waiting for the doctor.

She replies:

You should have packed a lunch.
Yell: "Fire!"

I laugh and laugh. Maniacally, really. Because it's so funny to me, the very thought of it. In fact, the other people in the lobby look very alarmed. But they do take me back to the exam room a lot sooner, I notice. The doctor is very kind and proceeds to beat me about the head two or three more times for getting on an amusement park ride.

"You're not an amusement park kind of girl," she chides.
"I never was," I say meekly. (My mother told me if I rode roller coasters my arms would fall off. Where's the fairness in life?)
"You're a water park girl now," she goes on.
"Water park," she repeats, with extra emphasis. "Because one ride alone could put you into a-fib, and we don't want that!"
I nod. (Yes, yes, I know all this.)

"And even with those big signs that say NO HEART PROBLEMS! You still went on!"
Whack, whack, whack. I know, I know. I'm astonishingly ignorant. It's been documented.

She wishes me luck in Cleveland, next week. (I'm going to Cleveland Clinic for tests, next week. What, I didn't mention that? Because I am.)

I listen to "Dare" by Gorillaz on the way home. It's a nice drive. For that twenty minutes between here and there, I'm listening to what I want to and nothing is my fault. I'm not thinking about how clamorous the kids will be when I get home, or how the dog will jump up on me because no one remembered to give it food or water while I was gone, or how I'll have to throw dinner together quick because I waited so long in the office.

The music is fun and I'm perfectly calm. I even do that kind of head-nodding dance thing that I do when I'm driving and listening to music I like. As if I'm disco dancing, instead of going sixty miles an hour through a cornfield. As if I'm me; but someone else, someone people don't look to for blame when their own car gets blocked in a parking lot.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


I'm really happy with how this finally turned out.

a sunny afternoon

There is a palpable yawn on a small town street at 4:30 in the afternoon. The lunch hour is long over and restaurant employees are well inside laying out forks and stirring pots for the dinner menu. Storekeepers wander out on the sidewalks and look about idly, as if making sure the rest of the world is firmly tethered after industriously pinning down their own shops for another day.

Inside the dentist's office on the corner, the teenager got a shot of anesthetic. We got lucky; the receptionist worked us in at the last minute. It may be a while, my mother said, working her way through the Word Power quizzes in the stack of Reader's Digests on the waiting room table. Why don't you two go out and get some air. I'll stay here.

The youngest child took my hand hopefully, and we picked our way carefully down the stairs (the child holding on to the rail with his other hand, edging the points of his feet carefully before each step down).

I had to push with unusual force to open the tall, heavy glass-fronted doors of the office. Once outside, we squinted in the sudden warm light that reminded me vaguely of melted yellow wax. Small towns close up early. No one walked up or down the sidewalks. Just us, me and my youngest son. It felt like a luxury, but also, maybe, a little bit sad.

We crossed the street hand in hand, and then crossed another up the block to stand outside a newspaper office I once worked at -- back when my teenager was younger than the four-year-old child holding my hand now. I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and walked in.

A woman behind a desk had a phone to her ear, but she smiled big at me and raised her eyebrows in such a way as to indicate she was on hold, but could still talk to me.

I bought a newspaper (paying her a dollar, so she had to rummage in her desk for fifty cents to give back as change) and asked if anyone else was in. She assured me, no, everyone's gone for the day. I sighed as I pocketed the change, not wanting to leave just yet.

"I used to work here," I said, and she smiled wider (probably wishing I'd leave before the person on the other end of the phone picked up). "A long time ago." I paused. "A long time ago," I repeated with more emphasis, looking down at my child.

She went on smiling. I thanked her and we walked back out again, my child and I. I folded the paper and tucked it in my purse for later.

Outside on the sidewalk again. Two men sat on a park bench in front of the bookstore, chatting. I recognized the man on the left as the owner and asked if the store was still open. He said Sure, go ahead, gesturing graciously before resuming his conversation.

I started to feel like everyone had someone else to talk to just then, except me.

The bookstore is the kind with shelves that go all the way to the ceiling. The art books (I know from experience) are in the room cordoned off with a big gold theater-style chain. My child hurried immediately to the chain and made a show of hooking and unhooking it from the doorway. "This way, this way," he called out importantly as I rifled through a set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I don't want the books, but the teenager does.
It would be a good purchase, I reasoned. It's literature.

There's a Michelangelo volume in the art section that I've been wanting since Christmas, when I discovered this used bookstore in the first place. The only reason I haven't bought it is because it costs $35, and I can't justify that kind of extravagance yet. I'm still getting started with my artwork, and $35 could buy more art supplies instead. But I like flipping through the book, especially the huge color prints in the back. The details are so much easier to see in this volume. I could spend hours marveling over the reds and the blues in the prints.

I decided on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and peeped outside the doorway to let the owner know I was ready to buy. He jumped up alertly and followed me inside. I felt like apologizing for the interruption: "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to end your conversation." He didn't answer, but resumed his position behind the counter and looked inside the covers of the books soberly.

He looked downward at the floor, mulling something over, and then, decisively, told me the total. It seemed cheaper than the sum I'd added in my head. I frowned, but he was firm. That's what you owe me; that's all I want. I sighed and gave him the money. I felt he'd been too kind to someone who'd interrupted his chat.

I assured him I'd be back for the Michelangelo book and thanked him for waiting on me. He said You're welcome; you have a nice afternoon, now.

Outside the old man he'd been talking to; had vanished. The street was still sunny and empty, save for an older couple holding hands at the corner. I realized they were watching us, me and my child, as we crossed the street together (looking both ways, the child holding my hand, my other hand holding the plastic sack of Tolkien books). The man and the woman, they stood there smiling fondly at us both, as if they knew us, or we knew them (we don't).

Such a suprising discovery, to come across a small pocket of happiness like that; even if not knowing anyone around you in the moment, or understanding their kindnesses, but feeling so....grateful, and contented, all the same. It's been such a hard week. And yet, people are still so good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Bejewelled Hiney Header

It's me, Heather.

Why do I do this? Why do I offer with alacrity to post on ADE and then freeze up? I ask Sharon, "What do you want me to write about?" and she always says, "You could write about the phone book and it would be interesting." She's so nice to me. And call me crazy but I have a soft spot for people who are nice to me. Thus I find myself in the position of posting to ADE as a favor. Except really, it's more like a favor to me to let me post here. I am like a kid in a candy store.

Mostly, I like to post for Sharon because she is far too hard on herself and, if I don't write nice things about her, some of you might never realize what an amazing woman the enigma we call Sharon is. Oh, you may think you know. But you don't, really.

The story that repeatedly flies from my fingers today (no matter how many times I backspace and resolve to tell a nicer story) is the one about how Sharon revamped her blog one day and, when I clicked over, I noticed a bare hiney in the header bejewelled with stick-on rhinestones in the shape of a thong panty. I turned my head this way and that, thinking that I must not be seeing correctly. But no matter how I looked at it, it was obviously a bare bum.

I tried to call Sharon, immediately. She didn't answer. So, I called Melonie. She answered right away and I blurted, "Why does Sharon have a bare arse in her header?"

Melonie's response? "Whaaaaaa?"

"Go look, seriously. There is an arse in the header!"

Melonie, just like me, tilted her head this way and that, squinted, looked from up close and far away and came to the conclusion that arse was the theme of the day on Adventures of A Domestic Engineer.

She told me, "She can't possibly realize what that is. I will call her."

Sharon answered (she'd been outside with the boys when I called) and Melonie gave her the news. Sharon protested, "No, it's a veil. A beautiful veil floating lightly upward." Melonie keeps telling her it's not a veil, it's bare butt-ocks. Sharon exclaims, "Well, it's not an arse when I view it on my computer!" To which Melonie replied, "So what? My computer automatically makes pictures dirty? "

Finally, with someone pointing out for her the curve of the rear end, Sharon conceded that it was, indeed, a hiney. A very pretty hiney but, nonetheless, a hiney. And then? With a burning face, she furiously uploaded template after template and refreshed the page until she was certain the scandalous header in question wouldn't end up cached.

What did Melonie and I do? We laughed. And laughed. And laughed. It reminded me of how Melonie once said to Sharon, when she had said something a little bit dingy, "You have an IQ of 168, Sharon, and this is what we get?"

It took Sharon a little longer to fully appreciate the humor. She had to work past the embarrassment first. But she is a good sport. She was laughing the next day.

I have included the image from the header in question so you can see that it really was kind of hard to tell what the picture really was. And, even if it is a rhinestone studded bott-bott (as Jellyhead says), it is a beautiful rhinestone studded bott-bott.

I really did want to say lovely things about Sharon. I wanted to tell you that she is so much more beautiful in person than she is in her pictures -- and that's sayin' something! I wanted to tell you that she is so tender-hearted and empathetic that I have to be careful when I tell her that I've had an asthma attack because she worries herself sick to know that I've had trouble breathing. I wanted to tell you that I nodded my head in agreement as I read this quote from Oprah Winfrey:
"Something about this relationship feels otherworldly to me, like it was designed by a power and a hand greater than my own. Whatever this friendship is, it's been a very fun ride."
I nodded in agreement because that is exactly how I feel about this friendship. I am blessed to have a friend like her in my life.

So, I really did want to say lovely things about Sharon but you shall have to settle instead for the story of The Bejewelled Hiney Header. Sorry 'bout that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

status quo

Astrologically it's a puzzling day ahead, if I accept the predictions forecast in My Yahoo! The Moon is trining taciturn Saturn, which makes for intriguing opportunities but checkered communications. (People will chance upon my site in droves, yet pay no attention to it whatsoever.)

Oh goody!

I love it when that happens.

Really I do. It's very relaxing.

After the day I had yesterday, I just feel inclined to duck and cover. I very much dislike arguing with people. I don't want any more checkered communications. I don't even want checkers.

It would be great if I could write what I really want to write about. But I can't, so I won't, and I'll just go on being positive and optimistic because that's one thing I do know how to do, even in the face of all opposition.

Eventually I'll catch up on all my work, the house will be spotless, everyone will like me and the weather will be sunny. But then I'll die from the shock, so for now I'll just be happy with the status quo and let that be enough.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A work in progress

Moving on to somewhat Impressionist brushwork. It's a work in progress. I'd like to make the girl's face a bit happier. She looks a bit pinched and anxious at the moment. Also (now that I'm looking at it closely) that hat looks a bit goofy.

I got flamed a bit, recently, about my artwork. The five W's aren't important (who, what, when, where, why) but it does bring up a very salient point for me:

"Your work is incomplete. It doesn't look...full, or finished. And you can't just stop painting for a long time like that and then suddenly decide to get back into it, because it won't be the same."

I have an allergy to that one tiny contraction crouched in there in the middle.


Can't I?

Because it may not have appeared readily apparent, but you know, I am doing it.

I would politely offer this conjecture: When is anything finished? How do you know?

Perhaps my stroke is not incomplete but rather, as one of my artist friends has pointed out, bold and confident.

Bold and confident! I like the sound of that.

Also, if one ceases to paint and chooses to simply observe and analyze for a time, be it a month or a decade, could that not be construed as yet another phase in the painter's relationship with the canvas?

I've found that when you try to order creativity with rules, you lose it:

there's no protection in your longing
no distance in your loneness
as you search for reason
in your world of absolutes.

....Which is one reason I didn't enjoy art school. Where they throw your work on the floor and trample your spirit and tell you everything you dream of belongs under their boot.

So I smile gently. I do.

Because I've found that there are two kinds of criticism.
  1. The constructive kind, where the other person genuinely wants to see you improve and hone your skills to a high polish.
  2. The controlling kind, where the other person genuinely wants to see you fall back into line and modify your skills accordingly until your work resembles what they would prefer.
And it's possible that the reason I disappeared from the art world for over a decade is because it took me about that long to tell the difference between the second kind and the first.

The second kind is crushing until you realize what's happening; then you're freed from it always, and that's where I'm at.

And the view is beautiful.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

gallery work

I'm staying in today. Last week's schedule took its toll: this morning I woke up at nine a.m. feeling too exhausted to even speak. I'm going to be lying low for a few days maybe.

After a while I got up and started working on this painting, because I'm getting some works ready to go into a new gallery this week. I took a photograph, but in no way does it show just how much texture I built up into the paint.

When I paint, I put music on the stereo and dance around while I'm working. I usually work barefoot, with my hair pulled up in a loose bun. The more I work the more relaxed I get.

Sometimes I even put the brushes in a cup of soapy water and paint with my fingers here and there.

A close-up:

I was supposed to have three paintings to proffer at the gallery and at this point I only have two. It may end up being only two. I'm finding it difficult to balance work and family right now, and family always trumps for me. So what I'm telling everyone is that I'll catch up on my work once the kids get back in school at the end of the month. Anything I get done between here and then will be catch-as-catch-can.

It will take a while for all that impasto to dry, so now I let it sit and go back to lying on the couch and watching Small Soldiers with the kids.


Sometimes it seemed to take a lot out of me, volunteering in my kindergartener's classroom once a week reading stories and giving art lessons. I'd even wonder if it was good for me to work with my son's class; maybe he'd start feeling upstaged all the time, the way I used to. (Last night at the Fair I walked past the karaoke stage and still had to look twice to make sure it wasn't my dad up there singing "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrows". I was born to a family of highly entertaining people and one can never be quite sure.)

Yet so many parents have commented to me this summer about how interested their children have become in art. There's no art program here at the grade school level save for what the teachers can incorporate into the curriculum themselves. (They do try.) Even if I finished my college education and became certified to teach, the chances are probably slim to nil the Board could hire an art teacher.

There's a need, though. Whether it's me or someone else doing the teaching (and there are many more qualified people than me), there is a need. That much I can see.

At the end of the last school year I ended up talking to parents who said their children took the art lessons very seriously and spent a lot of time at home on their drawing skills. This week I started thinking about the kids in the kindergarten class who entered something in the Fair's art exhibit. Some of the parents have even asked me if I'm going to be able to volunteer with the art lessons again this year.

...I will, if they let me. It's a different classroom, different grade, different circumstances. Part of me feels afraid to approach the teacher or the school with the request, and the rest of me is hoping against hope anyway that they'll let me do it again, this year.

Even if it was exhausting sometimes, I can see that it was well worth it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

10:42 p.m. Saturday night

It's 10:42 p.m. Saturday night. This qualifies as up-late for me. Generally these days at 9:30 I'm completely out. Hard to believe that when I was a teenager, at this time of night I'd just be getting home from the roller skating rink. I spent every Saturday night of my life at the roller rink until I left home at 18 for college.

I'd come home, skates over my shoulder, pleasantly relaxed and tired. I'd make popcorn (the old-fashioned way: over the stove with a covered skillet and loose popcorn and a couple of Tablespoons of butter-flavored Crisco) and then I'd watch Dr. Who on PBS. Tom Baker was my favorite Dr. Who. I loved that scarf.

I'd sleep in Sunday mornings until at least 10 a.m.

That, for me, was sheer happiness. (In some aspects, I led a pretty sheltered life.)

I remember this time of night, what it feels like. The keen quality of the air, insects chirping steadily by the creek, the cooler temperature of this time of evening, the way cars pass by in very individual, clearly defined swoops of motion.

Somehow I've always connected 10:42 p.m. Saturday with something both comfortable and very precisely defined. I just forgot about how it feels, until right this very minute -- it makes me feel as if I could always be that young.

I laid awake tonight after the boys went to sleep listening to the night and puzzling as the crickets keened outdoors: what does this remind me of?

Then I couldn't sleep until I went downstairs and wrote it out -- oh, the power of association! To extract the juice from a memory, as one taps a cactus for aloe, finding a balm that replenishes for ever.

Friday, August 11, 2006

faux stained glass window

Gallery Glass paint on plexiglass.

got it!

Okay! So amusement park rides are out. So are stun guns, radio towers and assisting old ladies by the side of the road with their broken-down cars when the hood is open and the engine is still running (how a car can be broken down and yet still running is a detail we'll explore at another time).

I wore myself out, is all.

No arrhythmias were reported, which is excellent. As they explained it to me yesterday, my heart has the annoying (and yet, if you know me, somewhat predictable) tendency to be going along and along and then, suddenly, forget what to do. At which point it falls into Method Acting and begins imitating a spleen or an appendix. This is where the pacemaker steps in like a Hollywood director and holds up a big sign:


So, no biggie; my heart is motivationally challenged, but we already knew that.

I'm fine.

Last night we even went back to the Fair after spending the afternoon in the doctor's office, if only so everyone could show me the ride I'd been on and rub my nose in it and beat me about the head two or three times. I felt like a badly housetrained dog.

Got it. :)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

this is a serious post. no humor whatsoever. in fact, not even readable.

By all accounts I've been pushing myself too hard lately. First it was the arts fair last weekend, and then the teenager came home and naturally we had to take him out to dinner to celebrate, and from there we sailed right on in to the week with our usual flurry of excitement, entering our exhibits in the county fair and et cetera, etc. I had to go to the Fair Monday night to see how our entries fared; of course. And then I had to go back Tuesday night to see how the middle child's entry (the only one that got overlooked the first day) placed. Of course.

I enjoy seeing my children have fun. I try to keep up with everything it is that they get involved in, and do. I have this fear they'll remember me later as someone fragile, someone they had to constantly worry about, so I downplay my health as much as possible. (What, I'm great! C'mon, let's go see what there is to look at over here.)

I shouldn't have taken the younger two children on a ride Monday night. I really shouldn't have done it. Even my mother is accusing me now of having a death wish. But truthfully the four-year-old wanted to so badly, and the lines were so long, that I really believed my husband would have enough time to take the teenager on Zero Gravity and then come back and escort the younger two through Dizzy Dragons. I can be a sort of... placeholder until he gets back, I reasoned. No problem.

As we neared the entrance gate it dawned on me, a little bit uneasily, that I'd maybe placed a little too much faith in the rhythm of things. Since my husband was still nowhere to be found and I was edging uncomfortably toward a big black and white sign which read:



But. (Now that everyone's angry with me for getting on it anyway.) What was I supposed to do? The kids wanted to ride and I wanted to be able to ride it with them. The whole thing when you have a pacemaker or a defibrillator or whatever; is you want to be able to live your life still. Isn't that the point? You can't stay inside your house and never go out because something might happen. It's not like I was going bungee jumping. I just wanted to keep up with my kids.

Still: "I have a bad feeling about this," I murmured, very much like Obi-Wan Kenobi in any of the Star Wars movies, and a lady ahead of me in line turned and reassured me: "Oh, it doesn't really spin that fast. You get to control it once it starts -- you can spin the wheel or leave it alone. It's really not as bad as it looks."

Seemed reasonable.

So somehow I ended up with a six-year-old and a suddenly petulant four-year-old on a great big purple dragon hollowed out to accomodate three or four people around a giant metal disc coming up out of the center of the floor, the four-year-old standing rigid and screaming: I WANT THE GREEN DRAGON! THE GREEN ONE!

So of course naturally the other Dragons had already filled up and no one is going to voluntarily get off the rides again and switch me for the Green one just because a four-year-old deems it should be so. So I had to hiss through smiling teeth that clearly indicate I'm-annoyed-but-you-aren't-winning: "Okay! We're riding! Wave to everybody! WE'RE RIDING THE DIZZY DRAGONS! GOSH BUT WE'RE HAVING SO MUCH FUN!"

Then the ride lurched into action and the four-year-old went flying across the bow like a mess of badly thrown slip on a pottery wheel. I caught him just in time, but his sandals fell off and he was clearly upset with the way things were working out. He wasn't the only one, but my main objectives at the time were:
  1. Keep child from flying out opening of dragon's belly
  2. Delay myocardial infarction until after ride has stopped, as instantaenous death would interfere greatly with objective #1.
The four-year-old is kicking and screaming, literally, and I was shouting to the six-year-old, "Don't, honey, please don't spin the wheel! I'll pay you a dollar, I'll pay you five dollars, just DON'T TOUCH THE WHEEL! PLEASE!" (kick-kick-kick from four-year-old).

The six-year-old shouted back: "You don't look so good!"

I shouted back: "You're very perceptive! BUT OH MY GOSH, ISN'T THIS SO MUCH FUN!"

The six-year-old shouted at his little brother: "STOP! YOU'RE KILLING YOUR MOTHER! HAVE SOME DECENCY!"

Finally the ride ended. Finally, finally, finally. I was bent over looking for my brains or the kid's shoes, whichever materialized first. And the youngest kid was still screaming. The child who had to get on the Dizzy Dragon at all costs and had to ride in the Green one and hated the Purple one and wanted off because he couldn't get the Purple one suddenly, miraculously, switched allegiances and vowed he was never parting with the Purple one.

I had to drag him off the ride. I admit it. Then I couldn't find the Out gate because everyone else had vacated the ride long before us and the crowd in general seemed more or less paralyzed by the intensity of this child's tantrum. Then I found the Out gate and pushed through it with eyeballs blazing laser beams, jaw jutting out prominently in manner of Cro-Magnon man, carrying child as if through a towering inferno, and proceeded to crumple slowly into the grass because standing vertical was no longer an option.

I was sitting there slumped over thinking, I don't even care if the ground is wet (it was) or people have spit on it or how dirty I get; I just can't move, now or ever. My hair and my blouse were completely drenched in thick, slimy sweat. I felt cold, clammy, breathless and generally somewhat electrocuted.

That was Monday night.

Tuesday I didn't feel so swell, but I paced myself slowly and even took a nap in the mid-afternoon. I agreed to go back to the Fair only on the condition I ride no rides and drink many liquids of a hydrating nature and be allowed to stop and sit as often as need be. Because the Fair is a yearly tradition, and the kids love it, and I would hate to not be a part of it. Of course.

And that went fine, or so I thought.

Then last night I was having this dream where I'd been lying in a bed and couldn't get warm. Then it emerged I was lying on cold marble and shivering intensely. I woke up completely pooled in the same kind of clammy sweat; it was as if someone had thrown a bucket of water at me. I could barely breathe; I felt so limp and shaken and I had starch in my mouth, like I'd just run a marathon, and the starch was everywhere; I was too weak to get up and go to the bathroom for a towel and literally just mopped myself with my quilt.

I've had very fast heartbeats before -- what they call transient atrial flutter with a 2:1 conduction. But it's always come on with a fairly predictable trigger. I was standing too long. Or I exerted myself too much. Or I may even have blown up in a rage at someone and sent my pulse through the roof.

But it's not happened to me, to my knowledge, in the middle of the night as I slept. So I had to lay there alarmed, wondering what -- if anything-- is going on.

There's this about having any kind of difficulty with the heart. Sometimes symptoms could be nothing and sometimes they can be something. It's just hard to tell. Anxiety can camoflauge as a heart attack. For that matter, so could indigestion. If you're thinking about it already, it's easy to start reacting to something that may or may not really be there.

And if you've ever ended up in the ER with chest pains that ended up to be not only paroxsymal but harmless, then you start thinking that somehow, you should really have known better. As if being a heart patient is akin to being a veteran; and therefore you should be able to recognize combat when you see it.

In this case it would seem sensible and logical to me that I've simply worn myself out with a lot of going and doing, and any kind of big event (and going on an outing like visiting the Fair or an amusement park) is going to be somewhat exhausting for me. That when the doctors say take it easy, they really mean take it easy.

But just to be on the safe side, I have to get my pacemaker checked tomorrow so the doctors can see what if anything was recorded last night when I woke up weak and breathless covered in sweat. If it was just sinus tachycardia, or what. And part of me even feels ridiculous for going ahead and letting them check it out; like I should be tougher than that, or at least slightly more invulnerable.

But truthfully, it has to be done. No matter what, the rest of the week will have to be at a much, much slower pace.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The middle child, we have learned, also won first place for his sculptured fish!


Again, I didn't bring my camera tonight. Somehow it gets eclipsed in the flurry of getting everyone out the door.

We had a leisurely evening at the county Fair tonight. After eating dinner on the Fairgrounds from one of the fine vendors serving food from a camper (you haven't lived till you've sampled a chocolate-covered banana), the teenager and I sat down at the Bingo stand and played a round or two, because it's never too soon to learn what old people look like when they swear. Very important life lesson this.

I also played Skee Ball for the first time in my life. I got a score of 140, which isn't bad, considering. I have decided, now that pinball seems passe, that Skee Ball could be my new enthusiasm. It's so much fun. Though I did get carried away once (er...yes, only once.) and pitched too hard and made the wooden ball ricochet back off the metal grate into the crowd. No injuries were reported.

The Skee Ball attendant was a nineteen-year-old girl who kept making out with her Slavic boyfriend while I played the game. She'd come up for air long enough to give me another token, and then they'd resume the clinch. I had so much total concentration into beating my top score of 140 that I really didn't care. The wistful enchantment of their first love was totally lost on me. They could have gone ahead and conceived their first child on one of the vacant Skee Ball alleys and I wouldn't even have looked over. Just as long as they left me enough tokens to keep playing.

If not, I would have had to interrupt them rudely and demand they take it elsewhere. Because, you know, first things first.

I bet I could go back tomorrow and get 170. I was so close. I really, really was.

It's great about my middle kid, though, isn't it? And he was the one who was resolute that he'd never win anything, that he has no more to offer, that the art world is thriving well without him and he could pull up stakes and go home; nary a critic would blink.

So melodramatic. I have no idea where he gets that from.

the art show

...As some of you already know, we've made the county fair's art show a part of our family tradition. I want my children to be well versed in the mechanics of exhibiting in juried shows; maybe by the time they're grown they'll have lost their taste for it completely and then I'll finally be able to sleep, nights.

I got first place in Photography for this shot I snapped at a Civil War re-enactment this spring:

The registrar just titled it "Battlefield" and put it in the Landscapes division. I would have put it in the Historical division with a different title.

(Not a big fan of the Confederate flag. Sorry.)

I also got second place for a drawing of a lady in profile, and third place for a tiny sculpture of a fairy.

The teenager, a.k.a. Robotdrone, won first place in the "Special Effects" division of Photography for his pixellated photograph of a toy robot.

He says it's up for sale once the show is over.

The youngest child drew "Best of Show" -- again -- for another of his paintings. He's four. He paints; he uses beautiful colors. Maybe he keeps getting Best of Show because he's so little. I don't know. I do know the person in charge of writing out the admission tickets surveyed the painting critically and then asked for the title by saying to my youngest, very formally, "What do you call this?"

My very literal youngest child frowned at the man and answered, as if to say -- do I have to explain everything to you people? -- "Mine."

The man nodded soberly and wrote "MINE" in the title blank of the admission slip.

My art students from this past spring entered quite a few of our projects from my lessons, and I'm pleased to notice that they placed well, too. While I walked around the exhibit, a few kids from the middle child's kindergarten class -- recognizing me from when I used to come in and give them art lessons on Wednesdays -- ran up and showed me, eagerly, the projects they'd made over the summer, and submitted.

I felt so proud of all the kids.

enchanting the ordinary

The county fair is here.

Try not to be overwhelmed.

Actually it's a big deal, here. It always has been. Back in the day, it was the highlight of my summer. I remember riding with the neighbors in their station wagon for Youth Day, and when we got there the mom opened up the back of the car and spread out a blanket and we ate ham salad sandwiches and drank Kool-Aid in a styrofoam cup before hitting the fairgrounds.

We'd look at the chickens and the cows and the horses and pigs like we'd never seen such animals before. The amusement rides were rickety and the games of chance flashily seductive. I couldn't say how neon lights and canopies in primary colors can make a stretch of farmland so exciting.

There's something about a carnival that whispers of transformative powers: that enviable gift of enchanting the ordinary.

Monday, August 07, 2006

he's back

My teenager came home yesterday. It's been a whole month since I saw him last! Such dreams I had while he was gone! I have so much anxiety over that child. He's my responsibility, see? They all are, I know, but he is my first.

Because he is my first he takes me back, without even trying, to the days when I was young and stupid and didn't know anything (hence, the definition of "stupid") and believed he'd die of malaria if a mosquito bit him. When I rushed him to the Chinese pediatrician over every little thing and I worried when he slept and then worried if he slept too much and then worried, once he was awake, that he'd never go back to sleep again (some days, it really seemed a possibility).

All morning he'd be a tiny Tasmanian Devil and I'd follow him about picking up the toys in his wake, thinking about the things I'd do once he succumbed to a nap. And then, if he did take a nap, I wouldn't do any of those things but just sit somewhere close to him, as if in all my ministrations I'd been cleverly tethered without my noticing.

Think any of that changes when they grow up and away from you and take separate vacations? Hmmm? No one ever prepares you adequately, in pregnancy, for how sewed up and torn out you'll be for the rest of your life.

He gets out of the car and he looks bigger to me, taller and bigger and his skin is a shade or two darker. He has new eyeglasses and new shoes. His brothers get to him first, their hands outstretched and their arms wide. Even the dog is standing up on his hind legs trying to high-five the kid.

I'm bringing up the rear, as usual. We hug. We stand apart and grin. We hug again.

Mom, I got you something when I was in Chinatown, my kid says.

This touches me, in and of itself. That he would bring me anything at all from San Francisco's Chinatown. Significant chapters of my life were written in Chinatown. Most of which, he'd have no way of knowing about. He could have brought me a phone book and I'd have oohed and aahed over that appreciatively.

[Oh, look, here's the help lines where you can call and get pre-recorded information on any subject. Let's call a number and listen, even if it is long distance from here; it'll be just like the old days, when I was a new mother with no friends in a strange land, two thousand miles from home, and I'd lie on the new carpet of the new apartment and punch in selections to listen to while the baby slept, just to hear someone else's voice instead of my own.]

He was in Chinatown, he said, and he saw a silk robe in a shop window that he thought I'd really love; you don't have anything silk, do you, Mom? But then he decided a silk robe isn't practical, and bought me navy blue slippers with silver embroidery across the toes, and an emerald green billfold, and a painted wooden fan, instead.

Ohhh, thank you. But the money I gave you for the trip, that was for you, I protest. Not to buy something for me.

But I wanted to, he protested back. You deserve something nice, Mom, really.

I have tears in my throat. I can't talk.

My son, he shows me how to unfold the wooden fan and I flutter it coquettishly, pretending to be a Southern belle.

You know what else we did? my son asks me. We ate at Yu Lee's. We even got the lemon chicken, your favorite.

My mouth waters. It was good, wasn't it? I ask, in a way that is not exactly interrogative.

It was, he says, it was really good. I can see why you liked it so much.

[The lemon chicken at Yu Lee's is one of their specialties. Everyone who goes to San Francisco, I send them to Yu Lee's for the lemon chicken, even though it is (or, it was; I haven't been there in over a decade) a small somewhat out-of-the-way restaurant. The food is scrumptious, you'd want to eat there before you die, really you would.]

I know the San Francisco trips are important to him. I know that part of it is about exploring a past he never had, or might have dreamed -- a time when his parents lived under the same ceiling and took care of him together. He was too young to remember it when it was happening. The trips piece together memories borrowed from other people -- friends, family, people who knew us when. One uncle has my abandoned artwork; another, the drinking glasses from our old apartment. The only missing piece of the puzzle is his mother, herself.

Why did she leave? Why?

He's showing me pictures now. Pictures of him at the ocean. Pictures of the fish he caught. Pictures of Chinatown. I nod and sigh. It's lovely, it's all very lovely. Yes, there's the city with the fog rolling in. (It must be two in the afternoon in that picture.)

"But it's good to be home," he says, somewhat anxiously, as if to reassure me. He wants to know: Do I really like the fan? The slippers? The billfold? Should he have brought me something else? Something less practical, or more?

I love it, I assure him. I love it all. I put on the slippers even though it's midday, and turn my ankles this way in that, preening and admiring them. I transfer my checks and my ID to the new billfold. I put the fan in my purse so I can summon it at will, like a magic wand.

You went to the city I left behind
, I'm thinking, and you brought back the part of it I loved the most: yourself.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

after the art fair

Ah, I'm home. That was absolutely great.

Okay, first the unsolicited advice for anyone considering putting their work in an arts and crafts fair:

  1. Invest in a canopy.
  2. Take at least two tables.
  3. Bring a lot of stuff.
I mean a lot, a lot, a lot. I must admit, I was a little dismayed to see how extraordinarily well prepared some of the artisans were for the event. Big beautiful circus-type tents, portable fans, elaborate displays of gems and polished woodworking items, lions jumping through hoops of fire, etc., etc.

My one table and homemade sign looked pretty meager in comparison. I felt like a five-year-old with a lemonade stand.

And the thing is -- it seemed like such a lot, in my living room. What happened between here and there?

There's also no accounting for what people are going to gravitate toward. My prints and engravings and notecards -- nothing. Crickets chirping distantly in the background.

My Model Magic fish and the Gallery Glass window art -- standing ovations.

People crossed the street just to touch the art. Mothers scolded their children immediately upon crossing the parameters: "Don't touch, DON'T TOUCH!"

This is the window art everyone seemed to love:

This one woman came up with her kids and looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it some more, and finally her friend urged: "Why don't you buy it? Go ahead. You know you want to."

"I have to think about it," she said, and they walked away. I could sense her interest in the piece; it was palpable, hanging in the air over her head like a cartoon balloon.

But while she was gone (and of course I had no way of knowing she'd come back!) that very piece got bought. I had to inform her, sadly, when she returned looking about anxiously for it, that it had been appropriated.

"Figures," she said darkly.
"I'm sorry," I said, and I meant it. I was sorry.

So she bought the other butterfly piece: this one.

She handed me her money, saying to her I-told-you-so friend:

"I have to buy this, because if I don't, I'll always regret it."

I took the money and forgot to say thank you, so stunned was I by this compliment. How sweet the sound! Off she walked, holding the art proudly aloft like a vivid billboard. I watched my butterflies take flight with her with a catch in my throat.

Then I started thinking that I used to have a music box that always tripped on the eighth or ninth note; the song would just be launching when the needle would skip over some imperceptible warp in the brailled spool and the next note would warble out sort of scratchily, a little hesitant; it always made the song seem a bit more feeling, even though it invariably faltered in the same place every time.

That was the way I felt, just then. A bit more feeling, in a very familiar sort of way.*

I put the money away, smiling, making myself record everything about this particular moment in time for a mental snapshot to fix upon later. Further on down the block, a group of harmony singers crooned, "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." Across the (blocked-off) street a group of girls practiced swishing pastel Hula Hoops in front of an ice cream shop. A small boy drew the letter "t" in orange chalk. A priest buying candles at a kiosk threw his head back and laughed out loud at something the salesgirl said.

I felt infected by his good humor; I looked up at the sky too.

When people like your work, say, so much as to actually buy it and take it home with them, you still rarely get to know why. What it was that reached in and affected them so much. To get that glimpse, to be afforded that luxury and realize you've brought joy or at least a feeling of contentment to someone else with your work alone; is, dare I say it, a truly amazing feeling.

*(This is where I stop to thank BVRNDWDS, Melonie and Laura for their kind support and patronage in making the long trek to the arts and crafts fair this afternoon and suffering the slightly hyper locutions of this very, very happy artist.)

art fair

I'm getting ready for the art fair today. It begins at noon.

A few of the items at my table:

Model Magic sculptures: one praying angel and a bunch of fish.

Vinyl paint on plexiglass for window hanging.

Not to mention greeting cards, postcards, framed prints, and various other rickrack I've made and then shelved somewhere for an occasion just like this.

Friday, August 04, 2006


This is nearly finished; I've been working on it the past few days while waiting for the heat wave to break. (Acrylic on canvas, about 18 x 24, I suppose).

summer rainstorm

It rained, finally, last night after dinner. The sky congealed into grey and blue bruises and the wind coiled up, as a snake, and hissed through the leaves in the trees. Slowly I realized motion was afoot; I turned off the air conditioners and opened the windows and invited the storm inside.

Then I leashed up the dog and sat out on the front porch, as if to demonstrate how welcome the storm would be. The cat crawled under a covered plant stand and spat at the dog from time to time, making high-pitched, unfriendly snarling sounds from under the tablecloth.

The dog just grinned and pounced about the covered table with jocular feints, oblivious.

The rain, when it came, pattered mildly, even half-heartedly, as if disappointed by our warm reception. Still, there comes a time when a body can't be baked any further, and the water disappeared almost immediately into the hard earth. Only the lightest mist simmered back to me. I breathed it in, anyway.

Come on, I thought. You can't intimidate me. Is this all you've got? Pound harder. But it didn't. It trailed away almost forgetfully, as if losing track of its original purpose. Well, then, I thought with something close to disappointment (the anticipation is always worse than the moment!) and went back inside, closing the door behind me with a firm click.

listening to: R.E.M. "You are the Everything"

Thursday, August 03, 2006

bugs and heatstroke and a raging electric bill; what's not to love?

Since I've been trapped inside the house until the relentless sun, well, relents, I've embarked on a new personal mission to not only clean the house but emancipate it from the toys and clutter that impede local foot traffic.

There are those cheerful realists who actually believe houses stand on foundations. I am here to pronounce: Not at all. Ours stands on Fisher-Price airports, outgrown clothes no one bothered to take to Goodwill, tricycles and big cardboard boxes labeled X-MAS DECORATIONS. (How "X" came to be shorthand for "Christ" I'm not certain. These are mysteries we can explore later.)

Here is the crux of the problem, the reason this arduous quest for order is never quite finished: when I start sorting through the drawers and the papers I find things I'd forgotten entirely about. The six-year-old's school pictures. A crayoned paper cup from my teenager's kindergarten with a teabag inside that says, in a handwritten scrawl, HAVE A DRINK AND THINK OF ME. (Gladly, I'm still thinking wryly.) I ooh and I ahh and I laugh and I sigh and then
  1. Nothing gets sorted and
  2. I put it all back where I found it.
Not very productive, this. I know. But it takes my mind off the ridiculous heat.

Never been much of one for scrapbooking, which would be a pretty constructive receptacle for this kind of sentimental miscellania. Heather makes beautiful scrapbooks. It's an art form, scrapbooking. Family outings and vacations and holidays documented with lovely backgrounds and elaborate designs and even a small inset script explaining the occasion.

I would be the Tim Burton of scrapbooking, I fear.

So, I'm doing the best I can.

Oh! And I've been putting off taking my pills in the morning because I have come to enjoy this little grace period in which I pretend that I don't really need them. I delay going into the bathroom and opening up the medicine cabinet and counting out the tablets as I shake them out of their individual green or orangeish-brown bottles. Because that makes so much sense, really it does. But it's a ritual that makes me feel so practiced and old, like a junkie, or a 95-year-old woman with a quilted face.

When I do venture outdoors I am swiftly punished. The other night after it cooled off about two degrees or so I walked outside into the yard and immediately something bit me. I don't know what. Something. I couldn't see it, so it must have been very small. Very small and very toxic, because by the time I'd gotten back inside the house I had a metallic taste in my mouth, my heart was racing and I started swelling up. (I have the same reaction when someone criticizes my work, so it was very difficult to pinpoint.)

I took two Benadryl and lived, but now I am...disturbingly dotted. Yes, I said dotted. Mostly about the knees. It's as if a flood of tsetse flies ate my legs. Very attractive.

I hate summer. I do. I really hate it. Bugs, heatstroke, tsetse flies. I may as well be living in the flipping Congo.
Well, okay! That was my short story. Actually I have a series of short stories that I was thinking about uploading into a book and selling through my CafePress store.

I liked that particular one because of the layers in it. It wasn't supposed to be just about a little girl getting eyeglasses after her parents quarrel. But because I prefer to imply rather than just say, after I finish writing something like this I have to quiz myself with the kind of little questions that I used to see in my high school literature texts. Just to make sure I haven't skipped over anything.
  • What kind of marriage do Katy's parents seem to have?
  • Why would the opthamologist accuse Katy, at first, of lying in order to get her glasses? Does it seem to you that Katy is the kind of little girl who wants to get more attention?
  • How would the story have been changed if Katy came home and the remnants of the quarrel were still visible? How do you think Katy would have reacted? Do you get the feeling that Katy enjoys being the one responsible for making peace?
I've come to the decision that it's better to put together the short stories I've got, as is, without trying to weave them further into one cohesive plot.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

the silk scarf*

*the aforementioned fiction -- one of my short stories. (Shhh.)

"Be patient," her mother called over her shoulder at Katy. "You're the older child. I expect more from you."

Katy's mother wore a silk scarf over her hair when she drove. She was making some kind of picky adjustment to the curling tendrils at her temples as she issued this edict. In the back seat, next to Katy, a small blond boy with what her mother called a peaches-and-cream complexion smirked, twisting his beautiful face up at his big sister in an ugly mocking grimace.

"Ha," he mouthed noiselessly, and nudged her leg cruelly, shaking with silent mirth.

Her mother drove carefully, back straight, hands clenching the steering wheel with inflexible determination. Because she knew her mother hated driving Katy clamped her mouth shut and said no more. The air in the car was close and too warm, pressing down on them all in an unfriendly, pushy way. Rich people, she knew, had cars with air conditioning. They didn't have to roll down the windows, the way their father liked to do, and smell the rude gust of air rushing in over cow pastures and dwindling creek beds, a scent that tousled the hair and abraded the skin somehow, leaving a body feeling sort of sandblasted and tired.

Her mother, however, drove with one window rolled down just a crack so as not to dislodge the silk scarf. Most of the time, Katy realized, her mother's hair remained shrouded or pinned or otherwise tortured into some unnatural shape, like the embalmed butterflies her one aunt collected and kept under glass.

At home her mother wore the scarf over fat pink plastic rollers. How Katy hated those rollers: unfriendly toothed spindles clamped with bobby pins waiting expectantly to be unrolled for some glamorous outing that somehow never seemed to materialize.

Two hours ago her mother had asked their father to drive them to the doctor's office for Katy's appointment. You've been looking for work for two weeks now, she'd pleaded. Can't you stay home today and help me? You know I hate to drive. Why won't you?

They'd exchanged words. He'd thrown her home hair dryer, the kind with the plastic cap and hose attachment like the kind they have in salons, to the floor in a fury; he'd picked up her big green box of pink rollers and thrown them across the room with such force that the box split open and the baby-pink plastic shells tumbled out in a torrent like so much ammunition. They rolled and clattered and spun over the floor in all directions, spilling out into the hallway and down the stairs.

"Look what you've done," her mother breathed in that even, measured tone she only used when furious. Her calm unnerved even Katy, more than her father's temper. It made her mother seem the more dangerous of the two, though Katy couldn't exactly explain why.

Katy sat rigid in her room, listening as her father pounded heavily away from all of them. She thought she heard him stumble on a stray curler, but he must have recovered himself.

The front door slammed behind him.

Katy crept out into the hallway and carefully, delicately, began plucking up the errant pink plastic rollers scattered like marbles across the floor. Her mother, brushing her hair in the mirror this way and that, ordered calmly without turning:

"Leave them be."

"But they're everywhere," Katy protested. "You'll trip on them. It's messy."

"He threw them," her mother said, unperturbed, "So he can be the one to pick them up. And not one of us will help him! Not one! If these curlers stay here until you're twenty, you'll just have to live with it! Do you understand me?"

Katy nodded meekly. There was so much she would never understand, not even the smallest bit.

Look at her mother now: humming along with something on the radio, signalling carefully, circling the block twice to find a parking space that wouldn't require her to put the car in reverse. You would think such drama had never occured. You would surely never imagine her home hair salon was lying in pieces on the bathroom floor.

The opthamologist said Katy needed eyeglasses. He'd suspected her of lying, of deliberately claiming not to see; as if eyeglasses were all anyone needed to see clearly, Katy thought sulkily. She very much disliked the opthamologist. He smiled too much, as if he were wise and tolerant and understood everything of temper tantrums and broken hair dryers and little girls who obviously don't get enough attention.

She deliberately lingered over choosing the frames -- rainbow-speckled octagonal frames that, she reasoned, would match anything and everything she chose to wear, because matching is important. The receptionist gave her a case for the glasses with a cartoon of a little girl in a pouffy dress on it. The girl had her hands behind her back, looking down at the ground and smiling shyly. The caption read, YOU DON'T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND ME -- JUST LOVE ME.

When they got home again, her father's car was in the driveway. He'd made spaghetti; the pleasant smell of Ragu and garlic bread filled the kitchen as they walked into it. Katy watched as her mother leaned forward to kiss her husband on the cheek; his hand stayed at the small of her back in a confiding, comfortable way that made Katy avert her eyes uneasily. It made her feel a little sick to see her parents so chummy again -- as if she'd wasted something expensive with all her (she could see now) needless worrying.

She ran upstairs to throw her Minnie Mouse purse on the bed and saw, with an odd mixture of disappointment and relief, that every trace of the morning's quarrel had been erased. The big green box had been painstakingly glued; the pink plastic curlers stacked carefully inside it like firewood. The tan hair dryer with the hose attachment and cap lay neatly inside the bathroom vanity, a benign, insipid sort of dragon once more.

Katy checked her steps coming back to the kitchen: it was important not to appear too anxious, too ready to appease by informing her mother of the transformation. Her mother seemed to have forgotten about it anyway; she was still smiling, seated at the table like an honored guest, removing the scarf and spreading it across her lap like a napkin, patting it in a fond kind of way, as if it were a kitten or a very small child.

Katy got a pair of glasses, she said. Show Daddy your glasses, Katy.

So this was the glamour the scarf had been holding all this time in reserve for -- the overly sentimental, crushingly emotional reunion of husband and wife. Katy felt something bitter choke her throat in a mean, selfish, not-very-grateful way.

Rebelliously -- and she'd been so good all day! -- she had the wildest urge to break the rainbow-speckled glasses that matched everything and anything, break them beyond repair and make them all understand some things can't be apologized away later, no matter how hard they'd try.

But she didn't. She produced the glasses, and tried them on, and pirouetted prettily as her father applauded and called her his Katydid, which ordinarily would have pleased her.

Her only revenge -- she hadn't her father's courage for acts of decision -- would be to refuse to wear them at every turn. It was a satisfaction, somehow, to watch them frown and ask her, in great puzzlement, why she'd insist on walking around half-blind instead.

And she couldn't exactly explain that, either.