Thursday, November 30, 2006

fairy at night

And I especially like this little person:

Because when I put down the very loose wet-on-wet washes, this was just a serendipitous blob that intrigued me. I went back into it and started sketching in shapes with sepia ink, fleshing out what would become a tiny fairy of a particular shape.

With these wet-on-wet washes, what I enjoy the most is the happenstance nature of composition. It's almost impossible to mess it up because of this. I've told my students, if this process seems daunting, to look at it like they're seeking out forms in clouds in the sky.

In such a manner can a story be told. Almost without trying.

It makes a strange arrangement on the page -- one minute fairy flying away; the other, larger (older?) fairy gazing pensively in another direction. There were enough ambiguous spaces left that I could have drawn in more fairies to join them, but I chose not to. I liked the dynamic just as it was -- each apparently unaware of the other.

Most importantly, keep in mind I painted most of this while being shackled in toy handcuffs by a belligerent five-year-old who kept insisting I was 1) under arrest and 2) that my name is really Darlene. This might sound amusing. (It wasn't really.)


The fairy calendar has been redone. And it's on sale until 12/03.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

where I've been

Hard to say where I've been lately.

When I get up in the morning to get the kids ready for school, my attention is totally focused on that.

Then after they're all out the door, I just sort of do this collapse thing for an hour.

Or two.
Or three.

It's as if I need this space, this margin, this comfortable cushion of time in which no one asks me for anything and I speak to no one whatsoever. Because before I know it, it will be 2:00 p.m. again and I'll have to be in Function Mode once more. It will be, "What's for snacks?", and "What's for dinner?" and "Did you wash my jeans for school tomorrow?" and, "Can you sign this paper?" or "Can you help me make a 2' x 4' papier mache pinata tonight for my class, because I said you would?"

I tell myself that the zone-out time in the weekday morning is another form of working. That while I'm productive and diligent the rest of the day, this is my time to just regroup and refocus. In rest there is a recharging of energies. Bla, bla, bla.

But when you're sitting there all morning with a robe over your day clothes, wearing your son's socks because you can't find a matching pair of your own, wrapped up in an old white coverlet on the couch watching Superman Returns on DVD for the third time instead of folding laundry and planning dinner, all those claims seem like a sorry self-justification for slothfulness.

Then I got up and put a few washes over this drawing I did last week or so, and felt a little more productive.

But a household can't run on art alone. So I went out around one to pick up the mail and get some groceries for dinner. Just because. People still need to eat. Etc., etc.

I returned the Superman Returns DVD, too, before I got hooked into watching it just one more time.

I stood in line at the video return counter next to some old man with mussy long white hair, in a greyed camo jacket. He smelled. I mean he really smelled -- it drifted downward to me, the smell of stale cigarettes and unbrushed teeth and unwashed hair and sleeping in your day clothes and then not changing them the next day. That kind of smell. There wasn't a clerk in sight.

"They're hiding," he said to me, with a sidelong glance.

I can see why, I almost said meanly. Because I'm not feeling very tolerant today. But I bit that back and just smiled instead.

"What day is it?" he asked. He had a check out and his hand poised over it.

"The 29th," I muttered.
"What's that you say?"
"The 29th."
"No, it's not," he contradicted loudly. "It's the 28th."
"Okay," I said. (What do I care? I don't need to be right. I've got problems of my own right now.)
"It is."

People are always asking you questions they don't really want you to answer. What did he ask me for, if he wanted it to be the 28th all along?

He wrote down November 28 with a flourish and then said, like he was conceding a point, "Well, it's close to the 28th, anyway. It's somewhere around there."

I want to scream, Buddy, would you drop it already! A miss is as good as a mile, except in horseshoes and....something else. How does that saying go?

Oh, well. I just return the video and shuffle away, mumbling to myself about what I can't leave the store without (sandwich bags; a gallon of milk).

I push through the days and the blog sits somewhat neglected.
The truth: I'd rather draw than write these days.

I still watch what's going on around me, taking mental notes. I just feel less like writing about it. As if, in writing it down and sharing it, I dilute it somehow, however accidentally.

Or maybe it's a natural evolution of blogging that, after a while, you start feeling like no matter what you do people are still going to trod upon it, and you start reverting back into a shell again, where it's safe.

And I fight that, but still.
That's where I've been.

she seems to be saying, "I lost one of my contact lens"

Monday, November 27, 2006


watercolor and India ink, on cold-press 11" x 14" watercolor paper.
double-click to enlarge image.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Saturday, November 25, 2006

pixie dust

watercolor and India ink on 11" x 14" watercolor paper.

I tried a different technique with this one. I did a series of washes and laid down some color, then brushed in more water and let it blend where it may. I made the wings by blotting the paint back out with triangles of tissue.

Then, after all that dried, I went in with India ink and stippled in various values.

I liked the washes. They brought in a rich depth of color I haven't seen yet in the watercolors. When I went back in with the India ink, I tried creating new shapes out of the white spaces (like the flower petals, and the opening to the mound on the left). It forced me to think more openly. I liked that.

On a completely separate note, I picked up the Beatles' Love CD this afternoon. It's fantastic. So many of the songs are intertwined, sparsely at first then meshing gears and running in an almost-discordant countermelody until the sound becomes this polyphonic, three-dimensional experience. I've truly never heard anything like it. And track 25 (after "Hey, Jude") is definitely the best. Very good music to work by.

Friday, November 24, 2006

waiting for something wonderful

Every year at Thanksgiving time I get sort of morose. I never really know why it happens. I enjoy Thanksgiving. In fact, it's even one of my favorite holidays. But then I also get this dark, foreboding feeling too. Somewhere between after the Thanksgiving dinner and before the 5 a.m. Friday shopping spree it hits me. An anticipatory, closed-in kind of mood bearing down on me, an actual weight that reminds me, however subtly, of some very old, unspoken sadness.

You'd have to really know me, would have had to be me, in fact, to get why it is I associate after-Thanksgiving with everything that's glum. And I know I'm 37, and it's high time I get over it, but the fact is, I didn't have the Christmas experience that everyone else seemed to have.

Whatever that was, which from my viewpoint is: a string of blue lights hung out on your porch. A great green tree poking every which way in green and red and orange and yellow in your living room. Singing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs in school choir. That's Christmas.

From where I'd seen it, this is what Christmas, as a truly devout and religious person, should be: abstention from all worldly celebration of a wildly erroneous, even randomly chosen, birth date. A refusal to participate in school functions honoring or even making mention of the same. A complete withdrawal from all the usual traditional festivities: especially the giving or sending of cards and/or gifts.

When asked by well-meaning adults: What do you want for Christmas? I was well instructed to reply formally: I do not want anything for Christmas. Christmas is a crass, merchant-driven, man-made holiday that in no way honors the sanctity of our Almighty God.

My grandfather faithfully sent us a check every year at Christmastime, funds parceled out for each child individually to spend as he or she saw fit. Some discussion always arose over this -- what to do with the money (usually, ten dollars each).

Ordinarily were someone to proffer us a gift we would be compelled to refuse it; yet in this circumstance, that would hardly be polite. After some discussion my parents would decide it would not be sinning to simply save the money, set aside and spend it for an occasion not at all related to Christmas. In such a manner was this minute ethical dilemma settled.

For me this was especially easy to do, since my birthday three months later in March would also guarantee a similar sum. Coupled with the Christmas money one could indulge almost unimaginable whims at the Toys section of the department store. Of course, I wasn't really supposed to celebrate birthdays either, but on birthdays we tended to fudge a bit (if quietly).

Most of the time I managed to scrape through Christmas without an excess of resentment. I could forego the coloring of Santa Claus mimeographs after the reading lessons, or the writing of letters to Santa Claus to be published in the weekly newspaper, with a feeling of carefully built-up virtuousness. I walked up to the neighbors' house on Christmas morning and watched them opening their presents with my hands in my lap, quietly absorbing their exuberance and delight and making myself not ask to play with their new toys for fear of offending them and causing them to send me back home. These pagans, I'd think wistfully, they really know how to have a good time.

But then there was this one memorable year when I looked through the newspaper ads and saw a Crayola Caddy for $9.97. It was a color advertisement for a collection of crayons and markers and various other sundry creative delights, on a stand that was circular and could spin around to accomodate the feverishly busy artist. This one thing, I wanted it more than anything I'd ever seen or imagined (except for a piano, but that's another story).

I went to my parents and told them to keep my yearly check; I didn't want to save it, I said. If they could just cash it and buy me this Crayola Caddy, I'd never ask for anything again, not ever.

And of course they frowned, but I plunged ahead in a rush before they could tell me this was wrong: It's not for Christmas. I promise it's not for Christmas. It's just on sale now before Christmas; but it's not a toy, it's not a Christmas thing. It's just the handiest thing I've ever seen in my life, and I could make so many pictures with it. Please, buy me this Crayola Caddy. If you don't buy it for me now I'll buy it in January after Christmas, and it won't be as cheap then as it is now and I won't be able to afford it; so please, won't you?

The Almighty Father, they said reprovingly, and His Love far exceeds anything this carnal world could offer you, and His Rewards are so much greater. He gives you Everlasting Life! And you want ...a Crayola Caddy? For this you'd sacrifice our principles? ...For art supplies?

Yes, I said in a little little voice. I would. And I felt overwhelmed with guilt. But it was the truth. I knew it was truth.

The truth -- that I was a carnal, crass lover of Christmas, and I would not only hang blue lights on our house, but I'd festoon myself in them and belt out "Frosty the Snowman" at the top of my lungs if only I could suddenly, mysteriously get abducted by aliens and be the only one to teach them how to sing it. And there would be joy in my heart while I was doing it, too. I wanted to be a celebrater and a gift giver and a present-opener and basically just a greedy, selfish, loud-mouthed, sinner of a kid more than anything. It's all true. I admit it. I am so imperfect as to be almost beyond all hope. I have never been able to live up to the ideal. Not ever.

My father took the money with a sigh. He promised he'd go to the pharmacy and buy me the Crayola Caddy, yes, the selfsame one. Even though I felt like he was humoring me and nursing a deep disappointment in me, all at once, I ripped the ad out and pushed it onto him, just so he could recognize it on sight and not bring home the wrong thing. I didn't really believe he'd do it, but when he pulled out of the driveway and headed toward town I felt almost sick with euphoria and heady anticipation. Oh yes! I could have this.

And when we all came back to school in January I had serious ambitions to mention it, oh so casually. Not the usual flat "I didn't get anything" when the other kids asked it carelessly: "What'd you get for Christmas?" No! I could say, "I got the Crayola Caddy with markers and crayons in a dozen different colors on a circular base that rotates as you go along." It was going to be really, really great.

I could hardly even sit still. I went upstairs and cleaned my room and moved the furniture around, just so. I knew exactly where the caddy would go. I knew exactly what I would draw, too. Feverishly I envisioned the interminable hours of Christmas vacation very pleasantly engaged.

I watched from the window as he returned, emerging empty-handed from the pickup truck. I told myself it was just a tease -- that he'd left the caddy in the truck, for me to carry out myself.

"They didn't have any more," he'd say, and I'd protest: "No, come on, really! Where is it?" And he'd give in with an indulgent laugh and say, "Go on, now, it's somewhere in the truck. I just forget where I put it." Because he'd be moved by my earnestness, instead of being so serious and diligent all the time -- I'd have jollied him into giving in.

And I'd run past him squealing and ferret it out from wherever he'd hidden it, under the seat or wherever (how did I know how big it really was? It was just a little picture in an advertisement). Isn't that what always happened on the TV shows? Where the world is a different place, not quite recognizable, and children always, somehow, end up getting what they want.

Only it wasn't in the truck. And he didn't tell me to go to look for it. "They just sold the last one, it was all they had, and they're not getting any more," he said, and I knew from the final tone of his voice that he meant it; I wasn't going to be getting a Crayola Caddy, not for Christmas, not ever.

And I would have to accept that, because anyway, the rules are the rules.

Of course it's a little thing. On such things the fate of the world does not depend. Still, it was a little thing that, nonetheless, crushed something down hard in my much-too-longing, nine-year-old soul.

"I'm sorry, Sharon. But you should consider that maybe God is trying to tell you that this is something you shouldn't have and don't really need."

My eyes were big with tears and I blinked them to keep from spilling. I could feel my mouth stretching tautly like a trampoline pulling downward with some invisible weight. If I spoke, I'd cry. So I ran upstairs instead and faced down my room -- a room, it seemed now, pathetically braced for something that would never come. I thought my heart would break with self-pity. One thing. I only wanted one thing, God, and all the other kids get so many every single year and all I wanted my whole life was just this one thing. Why not? Why? How do they get to be so lucky and all I get to do is wait for something wonderful?

I told my husband this over breakfast this morning.

I was making pancakes and it just spilled out because he asked me why I looked so pensive. "I don't know..." I said, waving the spatula in the air languidly. "I just feel so....I don't feel like hurrying into the day. I don't even feel like making a plan. Everyone's out there shopping and I just...I feel kind of fragile, you know? Like if I'm going to be in a good mood I'll have to really cultivate it to get there."

And then I launched into this memory. He didn't say anything much. Just went on eating, and listening.

After breakfast, we put the kids in the car and drove into town. He went a different route this time, parking in front of the art gallery that shows my work, and took the kids inside it, holding their hands. "See if you can find Mommy's work," he told them quietly, and they dashed toward it, looking up and sighing raptly, "Oh, that's you."

Then he walked us down the street, to a store that sells office and art supplies, and guided me to the back where they sell china markers and sketch pads and Berol turquoise pencils and other items I haven't seen since my college days. All I could do was mutter these barely audible oohs.

"I could seriously go nuts here," I said, trying to laugh. "There's so much to look at."
"Go ahead," he said. "Don't just look. Pick some out."
"No, not really," I protested. I picked up one black china marker out of a display of a dozen different colors. I waved it at him, questioningly, as if to say: This one?

"More than that," he insisted. "Get one of each."
"I can't," I said. "I --"
"Do it," he said, and he started handing them to me one by one. And going down the row, piling up more stuff in my hands.

I realized. "I didn't tell you about the caddy so you'd feel like you had to do this. I'm okay. Really. It's what's inside that matters."
"But you love this stuff," he said. "You should get it."

"Now I know it -- why it is I had to wait for something wonderful," I found myself murmuring.

And I could tell, from the look in his eyes, that he knew what I meant.

a butterfly girl

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

more sketches, same process

...And it's easy to see which stage I'm at in each drawing, just by looking.

The middle sketch, that's me and my sister. It's taken from a photograph from 1974, with some details deleted, like my sister's cat-eye glasses and our foster sister in pink hair rollers and our cousin in a halter top and burgundy bell bottom jeans, or how the four of us looked like a ragtag gang of Irish orphans. I even had my arms crossed like Robert DeNiro ("You talkin' to me?")

The scene I drew out is much more serene.

But I'm baking right now. Isn't everybody? Homemade noodles and raisin cream pies and, in the morning, I'll make two or three batches of rolls. Breads and pastries seem to be my specialty, every year.

Everywhere I've gone today people have been saying to me, "You have a happy holiday, now," like this is the first Thanksgiving the country's ever celebrated. I don't remember people saying that to me so pointedly in years past. I just nod and say, "Thanks. You too," with nowhere near enough reciprocal enthusiasm.

I don't know why I feel so tired this time, this year. I just feel unusually exhausted. This whole day it's been all I could do just to stay awake.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

trying a new process

I read about a technique last night for drawing fairies: it involved drawing family members and making them into fairies. That isn't something I'd have thought of on my own.

The process suggested drawing with a very fine, hard lead pencil from a photograph: in this case, a picture of myself holding my youngest son not long after he was born. I elaborated quite a bit on the hair, obviously. And also the thighs, since when you're the one wielding the image it's better than Photoshop. Believe me when I admit I'm not this hot in real life. (In real life I was wearing an oversized V-neck top and grey sweatpants.)

Using subjects from life and flowers from imagination,
I chose freesias, because freesia is one of my favorite flowers.

...And then building the drawing ever so slowly up with delicate, gentle layers of colored pencil:

Erasing some of the color back out for highlights if at any point any part of the image starts to overshadow another. Which, of course, happened.

Then inking in, very carefully, the contours and subtle shadings.

After that, using a sepia wash in watercolor to build up the tone.

Then I built in some blues and greens to make it more three-dimensional. I also added some white blobs on wet to give the appearance of stardust.


happy feet

I took the kids to see Happy Feet yesterday.

Let it be said first that the computer-animated movie thing has been glutted into the ground. Toy Story was neat. Toy Story 2 was also neat. Now every kids' movie is an improvisation on Toy Story. Come on!! An entire population of child actors is starving in Hollywood, here. Feed the children. Give a couple of them a paycheck and some face time in front of the camera again.

The studio mommies will thank you.

And also, I've seen so many kids' movies in the past seven years that I feel utterly exhausted of them. So much so that last week I actually blurted out at the preschool queue, "I'm tired of kids' movies! Why can't I ever get to see some adult films?" and everyone looked at me like I'm some kind of pervert.

No, not adult adult! Just...real people, in regular clothes, doing exciting and impossible things like running across a spray of gunfire without ever getting hit! People with unfathomable credit limits jumping planes to fly to other countries for no apparent reason!

Is it too much to ask?

I probably wouldn't have taken the kids to see Happy Feet were it not for the knowledge that Robin Williams is (somewhere) in it. And I love Robin Williams. Anything he's in I'll pay to see. And he does add everything that's vital to the movie. Were he not in it, my consideration of the movie would be far lower.

Happy Feet is a charming if tiresome eco-musical about individuality and the cessation of marine harvesting, as told through the whimsical bright blue eyes of an irrepressibly optimistic (and slightly birth-injured) penguin.

I love music, I always have music playing somewhere in the background where ever I happen to be if I can help it, and even I got nauseated by the endless SINGING. (I guess I won't be invited to any showings of "Singin' In the Rain" soon.) I didn't get the whole "find your heartsong" thing. I really didn't. Lost me on that one.

But the kids loved it. They kept talking about it on the drive home, even while I almost hit a deer and had to slam on the brakes and come to a complete stop on the highway while the deer blinked and looked at me in a long, fractious moment before turning and running the other way.

Which, by the way -- the kids are out of school, all this week. I didn't mention it?

Maybe I just need a nap.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

a day outside myself

Thanks to my secret sister Melonie I had a photography gig yesterday on-campus. A state college hosted a carnival for kids and it was my job to take pictures that would later be shown in a slideshow during lunchtime.

Was I daunted? A little. I don't know that I've ever worked in that capacity before -- I remain dubious of my photography skills. I'm not Heidi, or Rick Lee -- two people I consider to be experts in the field.

Humble shoeshine girl shuffled off with a very nice (borrowed) Canon PowerShot A610 to do her level best.

I couldn't do it alone. I brought my tech support, Don, who transferred my shots (I think I took around 40) to his laptop and then burned onto a CD for Melonie. Because the really technical stuff is still way beyond me. I just point and shoot. Again, I'm not the expert.

Photography was one of those classes in art school that everyone said, If you're going to take it, be ready to spend some serious money -- it's expensive. And I didn't have serious money. I didn't even have frivolous money. I had imaginary money, which is a horse of a different color altogether. Anyway, though I've always been interested in it I've always operated at the periphery. I worked for a year in a graphics office, taking slides for art history classes. Mounting negatives. Et cetera.

But that's it.

To my surprise everyone seemed to really like the pictures. That's good -- I did too. I enjoyed swooping in from one booth to the next, randomly collecting the more sparkly fragments of a moment and moving on again.

I've thought, more than once, that part of the skill in being a photographer is knowing how to douse for light and color. The same apt timing of the fisherman as he plunges the net into the ocean and pulls up a bountiful catch. I don't have that quicksilver talent -- it's why I paint and draw, instead.

I do know that despite my strictly amateur status I enjoyed myself tremendously. The kids were great and they had a wonderful time. Melonie was there and working, so we didn't get to talk much, but she did a terrific job with the kids and I can tell she'll be an excellent teacher in the very near future.

It felt funny to be introducing myself all day as, "I'm the photographer," but at the same time, I really liked it. I almost wished I could do something like this all the time. But of course, I'm not qualified.

So this weekend I'll go back to writing lesson plans and working up new drawings -- I just wanted to thank Melonie, before I forget how it felt, for giving me the chance to stand outside myself, for a day, and letting me try out something new.

It was sublime.

p.s. Melonie writes about the day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I started goofing around with oil pastels on a 16" x 20" canvas. I read somewhere I could use oil pastels, then blend them with linseed oil. So I tried it. (It works).

nature drawings

I have butcher paper rolled out on the dining room table. I left it out after Monday's drawing lesson, along with a box of pencils.

Throughout the week I've doodled upon it: alas, here presents the rainbow trout.

Here, an owl at night. Stereotypical, not an imaginative composition, but nonetheless.

And a three-legged bear, because those are always fun.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

a rainy morning

I drove my mom to the hospital this morning for a CAT scan. She asked me a week ago if I'd do it and I'd said I would. Then my middle child asked me to sit in on his classroom this morning as part of American Education Week, and I couldn't because I'd already said I'd do this first. So right away the day starts with a shift in the line: first this, then that if there's time for it.

This time my son missed out. My mother and I were in the hospital most of the morning.

The radiologist wouldn't let me come along when they called my mother's name. We had been sitting there in the tiny waiting area, she and I, sandwiched in with twelve other people waiting for more or less the same thing. I didn't even have a chair; I was sort of squatting on the floor next to my mother, having acquiesced so she could have the last available seat.

An old man with an oxygen tube clipped into his nose saw my cell phone and asked me nervously if I'd turned it off. "It'll mess up their computers," he said fretfully. I took the phone out of its case and showed him the blank screen: "No worries. I turned it off when we walked in here."

He nodded. The oxygen tube made a brief gasp every few minutes as we went on waiting. I tried to act like I didn't notice it.

When my mother was led away I followed anyway, as far as the X-ray tech would allow. "It won't take long, right?" I asked, more for my mother's benefit than my own (I had a feeling my mother wouldn't ask, for once). "No, not long," the lady said. Then they rounded a corner and disappeared.

I turned around. A man in an electric blue sport shirt wearing flip-flop sandals with thick hunting socks was lolling in the doorway, smiling and laughing and nodding his head in my direction like he knew me. I frowned a little: there's nothing funny about what I just said.

A nurse walked past and announced: "Those of you here for the drug testing, come with me." Two young men slouching against the wall stood up straight and followed her out. Good luck with your whiz quiz, I wanted to say. But I didn't.

Then I walked out into the hallway too, not wanting to hang around another minute in the crowded little room with pink pinstripe wallpaper. I could feel a claustrophobic episode coming on. I studied a bulletin board under glass that displayed instructions for using the time clock on the right. While I stood there reading another old man tottered past and said loudly, "Can I brush that pretty long hair of yours?" I jumped.

He grinned at me broadly. Some of his teeth were missing and his eyeglasses were the very thick-lensed kind with heavy black frames.

I changed my mind about avoiding the lobby. I went back into the waiting area and took a seat. The man in the electric blue shirt kept looking over at me and grinning. I decided he was probably a drinker.

The wife of the man with the oxygen tube was telling someone how she'd always wanted to be a dancer. "I have a sequined dress at home in the closet," I heard her say. "All these years, I've never worn it. Never had a place to wear it to."

I looked over at her, this white-haired lady wearing a red and green Christmas sweatshirt. She even had a little gold Christmas bell pinned to the lapel of her coat, so unexpectedly festive that it made her look brave, somehow. Or determined, in a cheerful kind of way.

"Thought they said it wouldn't take long," the man in the blue sport shirt said. I looked up. Apparently, he was talking to me.

I smiled politely. This is a phenomenon I've observed more than once in a waiting room. It's like being at the beginning of a high school dance, that stage where no one wants to be the first one to venture out onto the dance floor. At first, everyone is courteously silent, pointedly pretending casual disinterest. Then, as time yawns on, small chit-chat starts bubbling up and before long everyone in the room is engaged in animated conversation. No one escapes it.

"They stuck me pretty good," he said, holding out his arms to show gauze wads taped to the insides of his elbows. "They couldn't get a vein, I guess. Now I'm getting chest X-rays so I can see what twenty years of smoking has done to my lungs."

"Quite a bit, I'd say," I said.

"Oh, I don't smoke that much," he said.
The man with the oxygen tube rolled his eyes.

When my mother re-emerged ("Look at my hair, Sharon! Look what lying on that thing did to my hair. I look wild," she said, exasperated) I told her about the old man wanting to brush my hair, to make her laugh. She did laugh. She, too, showed me the insides of her arms, both of which were taped with awkward mounds of gauze.
They had trouble finding a vein, she said. I nodded (they have the same trouble with me).

"So they gave you a contrast dye," I said. (She'd been worried about having to drink barium.)
"Yes," she said. "I think that's what's making me feel so lightheaded right now."

"Well, you'll know something by Friday," I said. "I asked the nurse when you were dressing."

Something about the whole morning was starting to remind me of that book I used to read to my oldest when he was little -- Love You Forever by Robert Munsch: how the son grows up and comes back to his mother when she's older and rocks her in his arms, instead of the other way around, the way it used to be.

Outside in the parking lot, the skies were grey and gloomy, spitting rain that -- you could tell -- wanted to turn into snow, but couldn't quite do it. I could have said something reassuring -- I wanted to -- but instead I just drove with extra care, as if we can all be soothed just by knowing and not knowing, some nameless lullaby that goes along to the tune of windshield wipers beating time in the rain, some Circadian rhythm.

Mother, daughter. Round and round.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


for example

...This is a sample of what someone sent me after reading my art lesson yesterday:

This is one of my favorite things -- looking at what other people have drawn. There are some really interesting sections in this doodle. I especially like this part:

This could be a separate artwork in and of itself. It has a lot of energy and intensity.

I'd like to write more lesson plans that anyone would feel ready to tackle. It's funny to me what comments I've gotten already: "I think I could try that." Good -- that was my intention. I think a lot of people shut down to art and music early on when they imagine they haven't an aptitude for it.

I think everyone has a creative side. When people protest, "I can't draw a straight line," "I'm not creative at all," I always think of being in second grade when the main objective was to color inside the lines. That was paramount -- if you could direct the crayon within the thick black parameters, follow the rules, fill in the spaces properly, it implied a certain virtuousness. That you were obedient and dutiful and good.

And there has always been a part of me that has defiantly wanted to not be good. If good means: always following the rules. Rules to me were like concrete poured over a beautiful lawn of grass. We had a neighbor, growing up, who had a beautiful lawn in both texture and color. She had the lawn seeded specially to make it look that way. She told me it was called Kentucky Bluegrass. It was a pleasure to me just to walk barefoot over it. It felt like the most beautiful, velvety carpet under my feet.

To color in a picture perfectly, without a spill of errant color in any direction, would have been like putting in a basketball court over that lawn of Kentucky Bluegrass.

I bought a drawing book by Ed Emberley for my sons last week when they had the day off from school and it was rainy outside. My teenager hesitated: "Is this art?" I answered: Of course it is.

"But...isn't it sort of cheating to just make symbols for things? Isn't it kind of cartoony?"
"So what if it is?"
"Is that art?"
"Who decides what's art and what isn't?" I really wanted to know.

He thought about it.

"God, I guess."

I showed him the cave paintings, like the Lascaux in France. Is that art? Yes? So, then, isn't what you're doing here art? Where is the difference?

Why do we draw? Do we draw to make things real? Or to draw things that we've imagined? Both, isn't that so?

Now more than ever, in fact, could art be considered a valid means of expression. In this modern world of cyberspace and hyper-reality, where time and space take on an added dimension. You email me, I hit reply and send an answer back (in an ideal world, anyway): it's not on paper anywhere, it's just conceptual, paperless, an illusion. Yet still valid, and still real. Just like the creative impulse.

Draw what you want to. Make it real. The chapel ceilings have been painted; Michelangelo removed that burden. We can draw what we like; if you like it, it's good.

It's also art.

Monday, November 13, 2006

drawing lesson

I started teaching today about line as one of the most basic elements of design. I encouraged the students to just spend half an hour doodling on a page, then filling in the various shapes with dots, dashes, hatching and cross-hatching. The idea was: experiment with as many different kinds of line as possible.

The students' work turned out beautifully.

Here's what mine looked like.

I'm also setting up another site where I'll be posting my lesson plans and resources.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

random update or: what you've been missing while I've been away

I got carded when I tried to buy The Passion of the Christ last week. I'd never seen the movie, I couldn't find it to rent, and I felt it would tie in with my reading right now. So I took it to the counter to pay for it and the clerk said she had to ask me if I was over the age of 18. I just stared at her, because -- come on. It's The Passion of the Christ. It's not like I was buying Mad Dog and a pack of smokes.

Roundabout Thursday I woke up with the worst kind of pain in my left lower side. The kind of pain that makes you wonder if your appendix is falling out, if in fact appendixes are located just above your left leg, which they're not. And what that means is: I'm having a flare-up of The Unmentionable Colitis again.

Unmentionable because colitis is synonmous with various unpleasantries of the intestinal tract. Not to be discussed in polite society. Put it this way: when they play the Beatles' "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds" and people are singing along: "A girl with colitis walks by," I'm the one most definitely not laughing.

I do have ulcerations, and they do bleed from time to time.
This would be one of those times.

I grimaced and winced when the doctor examined me Friday. Yes, my abdomen is tender to the touch. Yes, I have a fever. No, I'm not bleeding now. The bleeding stopped when I started taking my dicyclomine again. Which is good; that's what it's there for.

"I think the dicyclomine saved you this time," my doctor said. "But you're having a flare-up. You have the weekend to get through. If you start bleeding again, you'll be coming back to the ER right away. Right?"


So I've been eating baby food, and taking my medicine, and waiting for the tenderness to go away.

It's also why I've been quiet.

p.s. On an even lighter note, I got the flu shot Friday afternoon even though I was running a fever. Now I feel like I have a mild case of the flu. It just keeps getting better and better ;)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

the difference between a little water and none

Dear Diary,

I miss you so.

We never talk anymore. What's up with that?

Dearest diary, please understand that reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. You must not imagine that I'm looking at the ringing telephone and laughing at it as it peals insistently on into defeated silence. Rumors may abound to this effect. But turn your ears aside; it is not so.

It's much more likely that I'm curled up in the fetal position, watching a Harry Potter movie on my DVD player and suffering in advance (which is something at which I excel) under the weight of real and/or imagined assignments. That may or may not include the laundry.

The laundry must be one of the darkest evils of good housekeeping that no one ever tells you about in home ec class. They taught us how to thread an automatic sewing machine and make peanut butter, but no one ever said, You will be in laundry up to your tear ducts and half of it will be either socks worn without shoes in the lawn full of unraked leaves; or outfits your children wore for five minutes and then discarded for something else in the enthusiasm of the moment. It will be your sole (and occasionally manky) responsibility to sort the difference between the two.

No one ever tells you that motherhood requires deep wisdom. That this profound store of knowledge is built on such sound truths as these:
  • Sunkist and Skittles do not a sound dinner make.
  • If your brother is playing happily by himself, there is no reason to rile him up and make him cry.
  • Food is for eating, not playing with.
  • The time to tell me this was last night, not this morning. (Applicable for homework, parental consent forms, and classroom cookies requests).
(I did learn how to make peanut butter in home ec. I used a blender to save time and sprained the blender instead. The kitchen filled with the unpleasant aroma of burnt engine oil and overheated machinery. People stood around and gawked. It's bad news when a tow truck is required to remove your domestic science efforts.)

I did learn something from that fiasco. I learned to buy peanut butter in a jar.

And now I've turned off the comments. I know I shouldn't have, but it seemed I wanted to check them far too often. I'd feel a great discouragement when I'd look and find none. I'd experience the worst kind of egomaniacal thoughts: Am I not interesting? Thought-provoking? Come on, that was genius! Now you tell me so. Don't hurt yourself. Just do it.

In short, every hedonistic impulse leaps to the footlights and, losing balance, falls over into them (much as I did in seventh grade during the middle school choir's production of the H.M.S. Pinafore. Let us not discuss it). So I took the comments away. This is my own penance, mine alone. I'm selfish, vain and incapable of making peanut butter. What more could one expect of me?

I hope to be a better correspondent in the future. I also hope to improve my posture, learn to play the guitar and speak fluently in a language other than English. I would like to travel to Europe before I die, dye my hair blonde and star in a B movie to celebrate Bastille Day. It's not so much to ask.

I must begin writing something every day, lest my fingers atrophy and fall off from lack of water. Sort of what's going on with those cacti I bought last month at the Harvest Festival. They swear at me each morning upon my waking: We may be cactus, but there's a difference between a little water and none, Sharon. You might want to look into it.

Thanks for your understanding, and for channeling a camel in this my time of deep and profound inarticulation.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

a gnome

Monday, November 06, 2006

the stolen child

Excerpt from The Stolen Child, William Butler Yeats:

Where dips the rocky highland

Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you
can understand...

(One of my favorite poems. I just need to go back and draw in a heron and the picture will be finished.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

mother and child

I'm working on a new line of Christmas cards with this.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

the sketches

...bearing in mind, they're unfinished.

Friday, November 03, 2006

the cath is clear or: on a clear cath I can see forever.

Everything turned out fine.

The cath is clear: the doc just increased the dosage on one of my meds by another 25 mg. It all went pretty much like I'd predicted: the volunteers had a little squabble over who'd given out which beeper during registration, another volunteer walked us to the cath lab, they made my husband wait somewhere else for a half hour or so while I changed clothes and got into the gown and put on the (teal) hospital socks.

The cath nurses had trouble with the IV. "Do you have any veins for me?" is how the one nurse put it. I extended my arms dutifully and then both nurses examined them with a critical eye, alternating between smacking my hand sharply and then stroking it kindly, as a cat. Neither method induced an air of cooperation in said veins.

Finally they just combed my left wrist over for the telltale pockmarks of past IV sticks, found one, and mined it with grim determination (and success).

A student aide wheeled me over to radiology for a chest X-ray, parked me in a hallway and said cheerfully, "Let me know if you get cold." Then she walked away from me, round the corner and out of sight. I stared at the wall counting the little white tiles to pass the time.

They took the X-Ray. Profile, turn around, hug the box, take a deep breath, hold it. SNAP, flash. You can breathe now.

The X-Ray tech wheeled me back into the hallway. Not before he wheeled me into the doorway, first. I put my right hand -- the one without the IV -- up and pushed the wheelchair back a little to help correct his aim. Then he parked me facing the other direction. I sat there a while watching people walk past. Then another tech picked me up and took me back to the cath holding area. He hummed atonally while he pushed, walking very fast. It almost sounded like he was a little boy pushing a Hot Wheels car: Vrrrrrrrrooooooooom. Vrrrrrooom-vrroooooom.

"She goes to Curtain #3," the cath nurse called out, and I said: "Sounds like a game show, doesn't it?" The guy pushing the wheelchair just did this grimace-smile. He glanced out the window and said, "Beautiful day out there."

"And here we are inside," I said dramatically.
"I know," he lamented. He sounded pretty sad about it.

Every bed in the holding area has a little TV on a swiveling arm. The husband and I watched Alien on the FX channel while we waited. It's a good movie to watch before going in for a cath. I'd actually never seen it before. (If I did, I don't remember it.) I couldn't figure out why Sigourney Weaver kept dragging the cat along when she's trying to board the shuttle. She even thinks to put it in the pod while she jettisons the alien from the shuttle. That would require, I contend, amazing presence of mind.

Once they wheeled me into the actual cath lab and helped me onto the table, one of the nurses marveled over my arms. "Look at that hyperextension. You must be double-jointed. Not everyone can extend their arms like that." I told them how I play this game with my sons where I "pretend" to stretch my arms out; I just figured everyone can do it. Nope, they said. You're unusually flexible.

The procedure was about what you'd expect.

They used a seal this time, which shortened the recovery period by half. After they got the seal in, the sedatives finally started to take effect. I got quite sleepy and relaxed. I think someone showed me my X Ray with the pacemaker showing and said: "Look! Someone put a radio in you!" I might have smiled. I can't really remember.

The only available bed they had for me upstairs was on the oncology floor. My nurse was extremely attentive and nice; she even walked down with me and sat next to me on the couch in the main lobby while my husband brought the car around. I'd never seen her before yesterday, of course, but she was so friendly she felt like family. She even helped me into the car and said, "Take care of yourself, now."

I'd had a cocktail of sedatives, so I slept most of the way home in the car, which I never do, even when I'm not driving. Then when we got home my husband walked me to the back door (which was locked) and when he instructed me to walk with him around to the side door I just leaned against the wall and slurred, "Can't I just stay here?"

No, he said patiently, because if I leave you here you'll fall into the bush. Walk.

I walked.

I slept really well.

I'm still stained in iodine but I can't shower until tonight. No lifting, straining or strenuous activity for five days; resume activity as tolerated. So, all is well, the cath is clear. I'll be seeing my doc in a couple of weeks for follow up. And I'm drawing a lot, so I'll post some of those sketches....tomorrow.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


You eat a light meal the night before a heart cath. In the morning, even less. I always think it's their way of breaking your spirit before you check into the hospital. It reminds me of my childhood, fasting for Jewish holidays. I get the feeling of atoning for my sins, even if I'm not entirely sure what they are (which is also familiar).

When everyone else in the house is eating but you, every individual aroma declares itself in startling bloom. Fragrance very nearly equates flavor. Somewhere someone pours out buttery maple syrup for waffles and upstairs sorting out the children's socks, I'm salivating.

I sprinkle flake food in the aquarium while I'm thinking about food. The goldfish nibble at it, interested. I watch them eat, then go back to work. I make the kids' beds while I'm upstairs. Lay their pajamas out for later.

I open my own closet and pull out a patchwork prairie skirt that I loved when I bought it, but I've worn it to so many hospital procedures that now I sort of hate it and can't wear it for anything else. It swirls around my ankles. It's also easy to change into after taking off a hospital gown, clumsy with anesthesia and various bandages. I already know that in the car, coming home, I'll curl up in its generous folds as if it's a great, swaddling blanket. That's what it's there for. Utility, economy, conveinence.

Last night I shaved my legs carefully, shaved the top of my right thigh with careful attention so the cath nurse won't have to do anything to me this morning. I felt dutiful, responsible: like the way I do when I put all our plates in the center of the table, when we out together, and wipe up the errant crumbs with my napkin and put the napkin on top of the plates so the waitress will have less to clean up when we leave.

I make the children's lunches, wearing the patchwork skirt and a thin, soft tan cardigan I bought at Goodwill two weeks ago for a dollar. I have No Nonsense white footies on my feet (hospitals are cold; operating rooms are even colder). When I zip up my first-grader's coat I remind him that I won't be home tonight when he gets off the bus; he'll be going to his grandparents', instead. He nods, soberly, letting me know he's paid attention. "I already know this," he tells me. "I know you may not be home until tomorrow. It's okay." He kisses my cheek. "I love you."

"I love you too," I say. He goes out the door with a little smile and a wave. He's fine.

My teenager is already gone, having left the house the night before. The youngest is still coloring pictures in a magazine, on his lap, swinging his feet idly as he waits on the couch for me to take him to school, next. After I take him to school I'll come back for the dog and take the dog to the kennel, to be boarded.

Then we'll leave, after checking that the coffeepot is off and the dishwasher's finished running and that everything is locked up and that it's all, really, taken care of.

And I already know that when we get there, I'll have to check in with some elderly volunteer and wait while she finds my name on the list (her hand trembling over each line, peering to see) and they'll give me a beeper to wait while they put me in the queue. I'll pretend to read a magazine while I wait for some harried woman in an overtiny cubicle to call me back and ask me: am I allergic to latex? any religious preference? if someone calls and asks for you while you're here, can we tell them about you?

Go down the hall, take a left, take another left then a right, give your papers to this person, they'll take you from there. Good luck.

And I already know that the cath lab is professional and efficient and friendly. That they'll be cheerful and do their best to make me feel comfortable and at home, even though I'm going to be nearly naked in limp much-washed hospital linen with my hair in a paper scrunchie cap, stripped of my eyeglasses and whatever jewelry I brought with me, and an IV taped into one or the other of my arms with nothing but my No Nonsense footies to remind me of whatever life I had outside of this one.

You go into the hospital for one of these procedures and the more you feel exposed and drawn out the more you sort of go into yourself more. I retreat further into my head and imagine that if tens of thousands get on airplanes every day all day long, traveling from one place to another with seemingly little effort, couldn't it be possible that tens of millions of us travel somewhere else in our minds and meet, talk, exchange ideas, all in the realm of thought and energy? That communication could be entirely abstract, a whole other realm somewhere slightly above us? And if I could go anywhere, right now, wouldn't it be there? Where I know everyone, and everyone knows me, and we just sit and chat for hours on end with no thought to the time or the place?

Not here, on a narrow table with a blue sheet draped over my stomach so I can't see it when they pierce the femoral artery, and a doctor making jokes to keep me relaxed and at ease, and a nurse watching my face the whole time to make sure I'm OK.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

now it's the first of November

It rained on the trick or treaters last night. The added impedence of the rain (slogging through puddles on the sidewalk, tottering underneath umbrellas) gave everyone a sort of stumbling appearance, but also a determined, purposeful one -- we will enjoy this, or else.

And after some time the trick-or-treaters (slicked and dampened down with raindrops, their costumes gleaming in the porch black lights) even seemed to take on an extra layer of gloss -- brilliant, reveling, indomitable.

"Happy Halloween, Mrs. Dude," a round-faced boy in a football uniform shouted out joyfully, pocketing three pieces of candy. I laughed and laughed. Mrs. Dude. That's a new one.

The teenager handed out candy and I sat beside the big tin bucket, just watching (and eating bite-size Almond Joys out of it as he scolded: "Don't! Those are for the kids!").

I watched him distribute the candy to each trick or treater. It was, in a way, like we'd just met. I can't explain why -- he's just gotten so much older, somehow. It sounds so cliche, but it really was just like yesterday when he was an infant in my arms. Sometimes it's like a trick of light -- you look again and the child's grown. I don't know how it happens. I really don't.

He caught me looking at him. "What? What?"

"Nothing...." I paused, hesitant to elaborate (anticipating his embarassed response). "I was just thinking about when you were a baby."

"Oh, great." He rolled his eyes and exhaled upward, all at the same time. "Another one of your mom stories."

"No...." I looked away. "I'll spare you, just this once. Because it's a holiday," I tried to joke.

"Good," I heard him say under his breath, digging into the bucket for a Hershey's bar and a Kit Kat (at least he listened to me when I told him not to give M & M's or Milk Duds to the smaller children, because they might choke on it).

This morning no one wanted to get up for school. Too much trick or treating the night before; too much fun and excitement. They all protested: "Five more minutes!" It seemed they all left the house more or less crossly, without looking backward. I was sitting at the kitchen table, immersed in my own thoughts: last night after the children went to bed, I'd gotten out my New Living translation of the Bible and read the different accounts by the apostles of Jesus' crucifixion. Just to compare and contrast.

I don't know why, really. It just seemed to me, all of a sudden, like I always skip over those chapters and it would be a good time to really read them all the way through. I felt struck by the way everyone denied him at the end: how they insisted, when Jesus told them he'd be betrayed, that they wouldn't deny him, especially Peter, and then in the next verse, Peter does it almost instantly. You'd think, after witnessing all the miracles they'd seen him perform, the faith and the loyalty would be unshakable. Yet when questioned, he was so easily surrendered. And yet, how magnificently Jesus surrendered to the persecution: how he said only, "Forgive them; they know not what they do." It made me want to weep.

I sat there at the table over my mug of decaf coffee. My teenager kissed me on the cheek and went out the door. I think I said, "Have a good day, honey," and "Try hard; do your best" ; what I always say. Then I went back to my thoughts until the dog barked and I realized I hadn't really said goodbye properly; I should have said what I wanted to say last night: "I love you," or "I'm so glad you're my son; I'm so proud of you" and I didn't.

Daydreamer! Where is my head? I got up from the table and rushed out the door to catch him before he got on the bus, but outside the porch and the street and the bus stop were all empty, silent, painfully vacant: he'd long gone.

I stood there alone, looking around feeling foolish, and noticed the already-dated Halloween decorations dangling in the wind. And once again, I'd somehow managed to miss it.