Sunday, December 31, 2006

the want of a larger view

I can't remember what my New Year's resolutions were for 2006. Whatever they might have been, I'm certain I surpassed them. 2006 was a very good year for me.

Twenty years ago, I was a senior in high school. My resolutions probably involved passing Chemistry and getting that last science credit so I could graduate (something I still have nightmares about!), deciding on a college and a major, and then -- finding a way to afford it once I got there.

Ten years ago, as a single mother who'd just remarried and landed her dream job as a reporter for a newspaper, my resolutions were all about succeeding on that new path. I longed to win an award from the Associated Press in 1997 (and I did!). I also resolved to see my work published somewhere other than the newspaper. I aspired to be published in a magazine, or better yet, to finish my novel, and see that published (and I didn't).

Going into 2007 my resolutions are a little different.

New Year's Eve traditionally seems to be a holiday for taking inventory. I've never really been one to get up and go out, on New Year's. I did in college, but even then, while I was out, I always felt less of the celebratory and a little more of the pensive and reflective. Another year gone, a new one dawning; what will happen in it?

No one ever, really, knows.

But I do know this. Last night we went to the movies -- we saw Night at the Museum (it was much better than I expected). A teenage girl and her mother seemed to be having words in the parking lot; we walked past them blithely, pretending not to hear.

"I'm not going to wait outside for you forever," the teenager said smartly. Her very posture seemed tense with bitterness and resentment.

The mother sighed heavily, making a swatting motion toward her cheek that could have been meant for a strand of hair -- or an unchecked tear.

We paid for our tickets and popcorn. We found our seats. A few moments later, the angry teenage daughter and the blank-faced, resigned mother chose seats near us, across the aisle. The mother sat at the end, nearest me. The daughter stalked pointedly to the other end, taking the seat nearest the wall.

The mother rummaged in her purse, either feigning disinterest or looking for Kleenex. The daughter crossed her legs and held her right hand up to her face like some sort of shield, disassociating herself from her mother's acquaintance entirely.

As soon as the movie started, the stomachache that tormenting me all day intensified and I had to excuse myself to the restroom. I was splashing cool water on my face and washing my hands in the sink when the wan, battle-weary mother walked past, her red-rimmed eyes not seeing me.

My eyes followed her in the mirror as she slipped quietly into the middle stall and latched it behind her. I heard the telltale rattle of the toilet paper spindle. The sharp, subtractive barks of sniffles echoed in the tiled bathroom silence.

I seem to spend a lot of time observing other people -- the things they say, the things they do. In fact, when I was a reporter, that was my job.

Yet I listened to a crying woman in a bathroom stall as I went on lathering my hands with translucent pink liquid soap, absently. And though I wanted to say something, anything to her, I didn't know what exactly that would be. I honestly couldn't think of a single thing to say.

I looked at my reflection in the mirror and knew the want of a larger view.

So this year, no resolutions to lose ten pounds or get promoted or see my name published somewhere else. No goals to get ahead, or run a marathon, or learn another language.

Better I should stretch a little and learn how to hug someone when they're crying in public; to speak my compliments to others out loud instead of just thinking them; and to extend my hand, instead of looking away politely.

That's what I've been thinking.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas kid

9" x 12", watercolor pencils and watercolor, on cold press

The rug feels clumsy, I know Christmas is past, but I drew her anyway, and I really like this kid, the way she showed up.


9" x 12", watercolor and watercolor pencils on cold press

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

rose fairy

9" x 12" cold press, watercolors and watercolor pencil

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

dandelion dream

I got quite a lot of watercolor paper for Christmas. And watercolors, and watercolor pencils. So I did a wash in Pthalo Blue last night, and weeded out these dandelions from it.

Close up of the most finely detailed one: click on the image to see it magnified.

Outside the skies are grey; it might snow. I have to pick up my work from the gallery in an hour, since it's closing for the rest of the season.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

it's beginning to look a lot like...

The success of your own personal Christmas is incumbent upon many variant factors. One, the goodwill and cheer of those around you. Two, the number of responsibilities assigned to you in order to better orchestrate the parade which is our yuletide season. Three, the viability of your town's water and septic system.

You heard me.

The day before Christmas Eve is not a good day for the water to start coming out of your kitchen sink in a vaguely disturbing shade of tan.

This means:

1. No showers.
2. No running of the dishwasher.

3. No touching of the historical artifacts.

(No, that's only in The Chronicles of Narnia. Back up.)

3. You have to go out and buy lots and lots of distilled water.

This is after you go downstairs and root through the pantry and find that you do not actually have a great quantity of unflavored distilled water. You have a fair amount of strawberry-kiwi water, but that doesn't mean you'd want to wash your hands in it.

And you couldn't in good conscience give flavored distilled water to the dog, any more than you could give the new brown water coming out of the faucet to the dog, so you give the dog just plain old distilled water, which in its purity and refreshing coolness startles him so much that he regurgitates Kibbles and Bits all over the newly mopped kitchen flooring.

And the stupid beast can't just stand in one place and upchuck; he has to run away from you as you call frantically trying to herd him off at the pass, his flappy jowls hurling half-digested dog chow in a wide, swinging arc.

And, of course you're out of Swiffers, too, because the five-year-old child in the house just helpfully finished waxing two inches of the dining room floor with the last half of the box.

Not to mention that this unexpected reaction to the bottled water gives one pause to what immunities one might have acquired against the stuff we've been using and drinking without a care on a daily basis.

Okay...water and Swiffers. Maybe milk, too, but you can't buy too much, you remember, because the trunk of the car is already packed full with presents you've not had time to wrap yet. And though it may improve your posture, people tend to frown on it when you carry milk jugs home on your head.

Outside in the streets, as you drive to the supermarket, you observe a mighty river that flows in the gutters -- ah, a line has broken -- and the cars just drive around it. Hello. Irrigation at its best.

The supermarket is just crowded with the old people who sigh wearily and say, "I hate to say this, but when you get older Christmas just doesn't mean as much to you."

(If you hate to say it, why are you? What do I look like? Aversion therapy?)

"It's just another day, isn't it?"

Technically? Yes. Actually? No.

"Does it feel like Christmas to you?"

Is this the wrong answer?

Because if I grip my shopping cart more tightly and lean into the handle to deliver the rest of my stunningly forceful speech:

"Yes, it feels like Christmas! Why shouldn't it? My children have been sick all week, I've cleaned up puke and snotty tissues and played Parcheesi and Sorry and Boggle, everyone wants me to be somewhere right now and where am I? I'm at the supermarket buying bottled water because a water line broke somewhere and I started washing dishes in water that looked like coffee! Of course it feels like Christmas! Where in the hell have you been?"

...They're going to feel like they've missed out on something, and I wouldn't want to be responsible for that.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Southwest landscape

Because I like doing landscapes once in a while.

the chaos ensues

All week long I've been taking care of sick kids. Now it's Friday, the Christmas holiday is upon us, and I'm the one who's puny. That's what I've heard people say: "I've got a case of the punies."

I had delirious dreams all night long: I don't know what to blame them on -- the apple-cinnamon TheraFlu I drank before going to sleep, or the drill-shaped upper respiratory virus boring a tighter and tighter hole into the center of my skull. Maybe both.

I dreamed I was at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and this guy who blackmailed me, in the first grade, into giving him my Snoopy pencil eraser followed me around asking me questions. I felt so annoyed! All I wanted to do was paint, matching up sand tones with yellow ochre, cad white and a little bit of cad red.

I dreamed I was in high school again and I kept skipping the science and math classes (I have that dream a lot) and the principal told me I could make it up by taking an extra piano class. Only I couldn't play an actual piano (another recurring theme); I had to stand in front of a closet and slam coat hangers into a sort of xylophone attachment bolted horizontally across the back wall. It gave a whole new dimension to the idea of percussion.

I woke up sweating from both dreams. Sweating and shivering and pulling at my hair, which fortunately I'd braided tightly before going to sleep; so I couldn't tear much out.

Now I just shake. I feel all trembly, like I've got stage fright, only there's no stage; just the house and the kids to take care of, and a lot of laundry to finish before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dear Santa

Real letters to Santa from second-graders:

Dear Santa,

What I want for Christmas is Baby Alive. You get to feed her and she make a stinky.
You get to change her diper.

Your friend,

Dear Santa,

I love you.
I will not hate you.
You route.
I lick you.
You are a good friend.
Kole hates you.
But I don't will you bring me a Xbox 360 will you bring me a 360 troller


Dear Santa,

I wish Cristmas Eve would never stop. I wish for Cristmas Eve I get a happy family.


Dear Santa,

I'm into 12 dancing princess and 1 of the babys that poops and peas. and Drinks milk and eats for relay, and a rubber Mom 6 feet tall.

Your friend,

There were more in the paper, but those stood out the most for me. Funny what kids ask for: one kid asked for a door. It seems to me -- I don't know any of these kids, so I can't back it up -- that the ones who ask for a boatload of things probably have an abundance of possessions to begin with.

I think it's the ones who don't have much: who don't ask for much.

It's as if they've already learned to keep their expectations low. Or maybe it's because they'd just be content with so little.

That kid who just wants a happy family -- that breaks my heart.

paper bag bird

I sketched this on the front of a paper bag that came home with me from a greeting card store.

Monday, December 18, 2006

it was good

If I could make an amalgam of all the Christmas memories I ever had from childhood, it would be this: driving past someone else's house that's been strung with lights, a brilliant festive tree standing smugly dead center in a boastful, uncurtained living room window.

If I could point out one person who taught me the meaning of Christmas, it would be my fifth-grade teacher, the one who took me aside after I'd made my classmates cry when I told them with disgust: There's no Santa Claus; you're all a bunch of fools.

Just because you don't have Christmas, he said to me gently, doesn't mean you can't be tactful with those of us who do. This isn't about focusing on what it is you don't have, or what you believe and what other people don't. It's about giving people what you can, even if it's just kindness and respect.

I'd never seen it that way. I felt so ashamed of myself.

Come to think of it, that teacher helped me with my speech, too, because I used to lisp -- I couldn't say the "th" sound, like bath, Thursday, father. I used the "ff" sound instead. People found this no end of irritating. I really tried hard to avoid using any of those words. Unfortunately I wore a size three shoe, everyone always wanted to know what day it was on Thursday, I couldn't get away with taking a shower instead. The th sound is everywhere.

I couldn't get speech therapy. (It's a long story. Don't ask.) So this teacher coached me privately for I don't even know how long, helping me repeat sentences over and over until I captured the enunciation: "My father takes a bath on Thursdays." "The thimble thinks of things three times." The sentences were so ridiculous that they made me laugh, which also helped with my stuttering.

Did I mention I stuttered? But I doubt most people know that about me.

Since then I've spoken fairly fluently. I only lisp and/or stutter if I'm very upset (and when I'm very upset I'm more likely to clam up entirely lest I do either one). What I aim for (what I always aim for) is a smooth, modulated control.

I had no way, then, to say thank you -- until a few weeks ago when I tracked down an address.

I sat down and wrote that teacher a letter today.

The moment I pulled out a blank page the words tumbled out: you helped me at Christmas time and I always appreciated it --

I wrote the letter but there was no way to put this into words really -- what it meant to be able to say, Thank you. You changed my life. Christmas was always bearable, after that. Did you know? And so was speaking in public.

I couldn't wait to mail the letter. I had to wait until my husband came home from work to mail the letter because all three boys were home today, sick. And then I practically ran out the door with his dinner still on the table ("I'll be right back, it'll just take a minute," I called over my shoulder, hurrying away).

The post office, so bustling and lively during the day, is eerily quiet at night. I walked the letter inside and studied it again -- as if saying goodbye to a friend -- before dropping it in the OUT OF TOWN slot.

I got back in the car, put the key in the ignition, swung away from the curb. I should have circled the block and turned back toward home, but instead I went on driving, slowly, up and down every street in town, looking at all the houses with their Christmas lights, gliding smoothly past the bold twinkly fir trees in the windows and the bristly wreaths hanging on the doors.

For how it felt, I could have been nine years old again, looking out the car windows dreamily at everyone else's lives.

Some people hang clear lights only, and it looks so dressy. Others hang multicolored strings, or only blues. I always favored the blue ones. Not as flashy, not as bright, but calmly lovely -- that's what the blue lights are.

Our house has blue lights, and green lights, and a string or two of multicolored lights thrown in for fun. I had to admire them before I parked in the driveway.

I'd been crying, it seemed, while driving through town. I felt so peaceful, too. Like I'd just said a perfect sentence, without missing a single syllable, and it was kind, and it was...good.


I decided to separate the two fairies in this watercolor, finally. The smaller of the two is now matted and framed in a 5" x 7" space all its own.

I don't think I could ever sell her; she was so accidental. But once I found her I had to have her. And so she stays, pinned in mid-flight for ever.

Yet when I did this, everyone in the family asked the same thing: You didn't cut up the other fairy in the picture, did you?

As if I would. (Obviously, they're not certain.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

cyclamen fairy

I brought some cyclamen home from the grocery store -- the folds of the foliage (and the delicate teardrop petals) just implored to be drawn. I feel like I really captured the leaves, at least.

Afterward, I brushed in the flower fairy, though you can't really see her well unless you click on the image. I deliberately left the features blurry. I'd keep "fixing" her, but the piece already feels overworked.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

the sounds of other people's thoughts

We went shopping after our dinner in the Italian restaurant. We'd had an ounce of wine each (the house wine, complimentary). Neither of us had been to the mall in a while. I only wanted the mall for its bookstore. Nothing else is entirely worthwhile.

A little girl with impossibly curly light brown hair stood in the doorway of a clothing store, mouthing an urgent plea almost voicelessly: "Mommy, Mommy, I want my Mom." No one seemed to notice her. I stopped, studying her, and inclined my head in her direction, not stooping, anymore than I'd kneel to hear a short adult better; I always hated it when adults did that to me.

"Have you lost your Mom?"

She pointed past me, a quirky smile on her face and her eyes trained on someone behind me. I followed her gaze to a young bespectacled woman examining jewelry at a kiosk. The woman had seen us and had an embarrassed smile on her face. She spoke in a low, firm voice I recognize all too well.

"Madison, come over here right now."

"Can't," the girl said confidently, pointing one toe in delicately, hands behind her back. "There are all these people in the way."

My husband laughed, and we moved on, leaving them to it.

Being in a bookstore is a luxury for me. Always has been. The smell of printers' ink on new pages. You can hear the whispers of someone else's thoughts when a thumb turns a page: an audible rustle, a readjustment of thought. Ideas make noise. A shuffling noise; they must be listened for.

They soothe me.

I bought a 2007 day planner at the bookstore -- the kind with a full page for each day, only I have no use for the times printed faintly in the left hand margin (8:00, 9:00, 10:00....).

I want to get back to writing the kind of journal I wrote in college -- one observation a day, a page of descriptive writing -- one page only -- about one single event seen or experienced on that particular date in time. Not a diary, not He-said-this and I-did-that or even I-dreamed-I-could-fly; but instead, only glimpses of a passing view.

Two old men coughing into their steaming coffee at a back table in the diner. A white-haired crossing guard flinging her arms out in traffic, the crimson heart-shaped smear of lipstick across her mouth the bravest thing about her. That kind of writing.

Because people-watching is one of my favorite things. It makes me love them -- how they keep going and trying and doing. Even though they're scarred, or over-armored, and full of fear.

A coffee-table book of San Francisco: Aerial Views of the City by the Bay pulled me nearer. I had to pick it up and leaf through it, even though it filled me with a seeping kind of sadness, the kind of liquid sorrow that keeps filtering through like blood from a hasty scratch. All those pastel rowhouses. The Transamerica pyramid. I know it all too well.

I closed the book with a firm snap: what need have I of this? I was there. I can Google Map the 1700 block of Jackson Street any time I want and see it for myself.

I bought the day planner. The clerk behind the counter had olive green sort of cat-eye glasses that were popular back when my sister and I were little girls. "Find everything you needed?" she asked without looking up. "Yes," I said, waiting for her to make eye contact with me, but she never did. Eyes averted, head down, like a commuter in a crowd struggling to get somewhere else. It made me sorry for her. I can't explain why.

Friday, December 15, 2006

a day out

In the restaurant today over lunch, there were three couples seated to the right of us at a big round table in the corner: retired people, white-haired, well-dressed. On our left, two young mothers with children young enough to be carried around in those complicated-looking infant car seats that double as baby carriers.

I don't know which group made me sadder: the young mothers raptly discussing cereals and the safest kind of highchair, or the stiffly seated grandparents conversing about titanium knees and cholesterol levels.

The mother with the older baby clearly dominated the friendship. She sat very straight, sliding her eyes pridefully over to her child (whose plump dimpled hands kept waving gracefully in and out of the carrier seat as she spooned him something green from a jar), delivering firm -- I would say strident -- opinions on feeding and sleeping.

The newer mother would nod and swallow, listening hard, as if she longed to take notes.

Unexpectedly, I recalled a time twelve and a half years ago when I'd carried my infant son into a restaurant in San Francisco, gritting my teeth with self-consciousness any time he cried out or turned red in the face (signaling an impending bowel movement).

Really, I thought, I hadn't enjoyed my children's infancies much, especially with my oldest. It seemed there was always so much to worry about, then -- I had far too much anxiety over their infancies to find much joy in the actual experience.

This realization brings sorrow: as if something valuable has been carelessly squandered.

I studied the young women over my wine glass and envied them their aplomb, doubtless forgetting that I'd probably carried myself much the same way (how secure could they be, if all they can discuss is the children?).

My parents didn't come to California to visit. I brought the child back to them (my son squirming and angry, throwing his sippy cup in a fury at the back of another traveler's head. I was the harried parent no one wants to sit near on an airplane).

I felt so alone in the world, in my twenties. I felt blank and little, as if still absorbing knowledge from each person who came into my periphery. I'd wonder why other adults ignored me at parties, knowing all the while that I had nothing of value to offer anyway: I had no assurance or certification to make my insight valid. What does a twentysomething know?

"When we last visited the grandchildren, we stopped in Michigan," one of the older women at the other table said confidently, as if delivering a well-rehearsed speech. "We so enjoy traveling now. It's so easy to do."

Everyone else nodded, but I sensed a hollow ring to her voice -- a sort of false bravado. She wasn't saying, They don't come to us; we have to go to them, and it's so awkward being in their house and not wanting to offend them by asking too many questions or giving too much advice. But I heard it anyway.

I watched the new mothers. I listened to the grandparents. A woman across the room also having lunch with her husband caught my eye: she was looking down at the table between them, the corners of her mouth pulled down. She wore a white turtleneck with candy canes and Christmas trees patterned on it. It looked too prim and smug, somehow.

I always feel anxiety when I go out in public and realize how other people have dressed. It always seems that whatever it is I've chosen, it's just slightly wrong. (In this case, a powder blue sport shirt that my father in law used to wear when he painted the house. I just tucked it into my blue jeans to hide the paint smudges, thinking no one would notice. Now in the restaurant, I realized how arrogant and careless that was of me.)

For that matter, I barely recognized my reflection in the mirrored wall on the other side of the room: long, thin, flat hair, full round face. In fact, I reminded myself of the kind of mother I'd see around when I was growing up; the ones in their late thirties and early forties, identifiable by the quietly stunned expressions they'd wear in an unguarded moment -- the expression you have when you realize you've lost something.

(I've had a hysterectomy. I'll never have another infant of my own again.)

These girls with their first babies. Everything is monumental to them; because it's so new. There's this part of you that wants to lean over and say confidentially, if a little cruelly, "Oh, for Heaven's sake. Let the boy sleep through your meal; you can feed him later. You don't have to give him his peas before your own dinner just because you sat down. And it doesn't matter what highchair you get, or what kind of spoon you buy. They grow up no matter what you do." But then you don't say that, because it's kind of touching, in a way, their firm-jawed determination in doing it right (whatever that is).

"Personally," one of the grandmothers said, "I've been finding that dyeing your hair blond doesn't always work well. It's so easy to get that false color! And after a certain point dyeing your hair dark seems to age you more than anything else. I think it's wise to try tinting your hair a reddish color."

I didn't look up, but I could feel their gaze swiveling in my direction as I toyed with my salad.

I tried not to smile.

"Let's have a toast," my husband said suddenly, and I lifted my glass to his, obligingly.
"But what do we toast to?" he asked me.
"To getting better as we get older," I said very definitely.

We drank to it.
And I felt such gratitude.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

another figure study

no doctors please

If I ever decide to quit the day job and do stand-up instead, I don't want my audience to have any emergency room technicians in it. That would have to be the toughest crowd you could get. You can't shock them; they've seen everything. You can't make them laugh; they're too busy.

And no wonder they can't be shocked: the people you see in ER waiting rooms! Some guy wandered in off the street with a lab order in his hand and what looked like a duck feather swooping grandly out of his hand-knitted beanie hat. He wore dirty blue jeans rolled up to mid-calf and big slopping work boots that coughed when he walked.

The focal point, though, was that duck feather. You knew he had to have sewn it in there. What you didn't know was why. I thought feathers were only worn in caps at certain altitudes, i.e., the Matterhorn or similar. Apparently I'm wrong.

I got there first, so the duck-feather guy gave me a long, mean, go-to-Hell look when I got called back before him. Bluntly put, I was glad to be getting out of there.

The attending doctor was round and bespectacled, like Santa Claus but beardless and much younger. The triage nurse had already told everyone else my story ("This is the one who fell under a delivery truck!") and what they wanted to know was: Which was it, Fed Ex or Ups?

I felt a bit piqued by their priorities, but whatever.

I had to explain while laughing and telling jokes, because I felt entirely too ridiculous otherwise. Rule #1: When in doubt, use self-deprecation like so much social K-Y. (It works.)

They took X-rays of my right foot, and my right knee too. Nothing broken; just a hard wrench and a yukky sprain. That's a technical term. Feel free to use it.

The nurse wrapped the ankle in an Ace bandage and closed an air cast around it all to brace it up firmly. "This is great," I said admiringly. "Something for my children to respect."

(This is where everyone looks at me blankly. Don't they know this is what children do if you're not tagged like a deer? They jump on the injured limb and beg to bounced upon it until the limb falls off. It's a fact.)

"Is there anything I can prescribe for you to make you feel better?" The doctor asked me, pen poised over the prescription pad.

"A wife?" I said hopefully.

He rolled his eyes and made this long hissing exhalation in a manner that clearly stated, Lord, I do not suffer these fools gladly; why do You send them to me?

He made angry diagonal slashes across both open scripts instead.

So, no painkillers.
Doctors have such a keen interest in discipline. When will I learn?

He scrawled across the bottom:

Motrin, etc
use air cast while up on leg (as if I only have one leg. Now I have this image of myself as a flamingo)
right ankle sprain

I drove myself back home, of course. I felt like a football player with my ankle all taped up. Driving was an interesting experience. Try finding the brake with your left foot sometime. (No, don't. I was only kidding.) I found that the brake, when felt out with the left foot, isn't where you'd think it is. It's as if, in the subtle shift from right to left, space makes this massive readjustment and the brake disappears completely.

So I drove home like a hopped-up monkey who's too short to reach the pedals and just knows how to steer.

(Though that might be normal.)

illustration for a story I never wrote

Some time ago when two of my nieces were little they crawled up in my lap for a silly picture. I did this watercolor last night from the photograph. I was going to give us fairy wings, but then I liked it just the way it was. It reminds me of an illustration to a story.

I'm off now to go find someone who can X-ray my ankle. The top of my foot turned a pale green color -- the same color of that one potato chip at the bottom of the bag. And I still can't move it around much.

It's so much fun being me.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

a little guy

This little guy showed up out of nowhere. I sat up last night just doodling with pastels (I couldn't find my watercolor pencils, and my ankles hurt too much to go hunt them up) and he emerged onto the page.

I especially like how confident he looks -- like he's ready to take on anything.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

another exercise in brilliance

Maybe I shouldn't be left unsupervised.

The delivery person left a pretty large package on my porch this afternoon and rang the doorbell to let me know it was there. Like the prompt respondent that I am I ran outdoors and inspected it: I wasn't expecting anything, I hadn't made any orders recently.

A cursory glance at the shipping label informed me that indeed the package did not belong to me. It belonged at a similar address two streets over. The delivery girl had just gotten back into the company truck. I raced down the stairs, calling and waving frantically so as to avert her from driving away and leaving me with a largish parcel I'd doubtless have to re-deliver myself.

I got as far as the passenger side window. I hit it with the palm of my hand to get her attention.

Then I either tripped, or experienced that lovely lifting and tilting of the ground that I have from time to time when I've either been standing too long or changed positions far too quickly.*

I rolled and ended up underneath the delivery truck.

The driver slammed on the brakes and made an exclamation, a not very intelligible one, but a very loud one nonetheless.

She jumped out of the truck, leaving the door open, and came around to help me out. Because, I found, I couldn't get out on my own. I appeared to be somewhat stuck in a very awkward position between the front and back tires. My cheek was scraped roughly against the asphalt, I appeared to be dusted with minute but harsh particles of sand and pebble, and my right ankle had started to throb like anything.

She took me by the hand and pulled me to my feet.

"What?" she kept asking me, horrified. "What, what, what?"

I took a deep breath.

"You're at the wrong house."

"What!" Her mouth dropped open. "All that? For a package?"

"I'm not delivering it," I said, a bit sullenly. (I felt so foolish).

She helped me up the stairs back to the porch. I hobbled away from her still muttering ("Nothing like falling under a truck to make your day more interesting") and realized, when I got inside, that not just my right ankle hurts. My left ankle hurts too. And I have a long vertical scrape down my left leg. And now my shoulders and elbows don't feel so special, either.

Is my life just not interesting enough? Or what?

*Of course, this had nothing to do with the fact that I forgot to take my not-falling-down pills Florinef today. Nothing at all, nope, no indeedy.

art auction

Monday, December 11, 2006

in the garden

8" x 10",watercolor and watercolor pencil with ink on cold-pressed watercolor paper.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

a new day

I'm feeling much better today. These temporary lapses only season the course like so much salt.

My determination is renewed -- I can do this, and I am always learning how to do it better. Of course!

I have big plans for 2007.

This was a very good year.
Next year -- will be even better.

Friday, December 08, 2006

figure study


It is not always enjoyable being a studio artist. Sometimes, in fact, it is a grisly business. The part which involves actually interacting with other human beings. That is the part whereof I speak.

Time and again you even get rejection letters, to wit:

Dear Sharon,

Thank you for your recent submission.

[Though we didn't ask for it, so the girls and I had a good laugh over it when it came across the desk.]

At the moment, we are booked for quite some time.

[Possibly, into infinity. The homeless man down the block has a better chance than you of being hired, and all he has to do is stand there with his hand out in a dramatic expression of neo-con oppression.]

If you would like to submit more images, artist resume & statement, we would be happy to review it & keep on file.

[We need more material; that last thing you sent in was hysterical.]

There are a number of other quality galleries you might want to consider in the future.

[Just don't come back and bother us.]

Person in Charge

I'd really prefer it if they just said: "No."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

more ink washes

The woman unwrapping layers of herself and becoming more vulnerable.

Although what I thought of, when I did this, was the time in college when a classmate photographed me wearing a bikini as I wrapped myself in Christmas lights. My lifelong fascination with the twinkly-bright bulbs of color translated into slide photography (in elapsed motion, so the lights blurred in long, swerving streams behind me) of my interpretive dance across an otherwise empty studio.

She knew how much I loved the lights; it was her idea, that project. For a few hours, I got to be the lights. It was great (but a little warm, I must admit).

Then I wanted to do just a simple brown-and-white figure study. A woman, brushing her hair. Which I think always looks graceful and mysterious, unless I'm the one doing it (I brush my hair too fast and too hard, and pull great strands of it out in my merciless vigor).

Brown and white has a nice appeal all its own. I forgot how much I enjoy the brushwork of ink on paper.

ink and wash

Sometimes it's relaxing just to do an ink wash.

I didn't draw anything for her to sit on. She's just sort of floating. I'm not certain that she's even finished. But I like her anyway.

I bought a CD of Forties music at the dollar store. Marlene Dietrich sings "You Do Something to Me" and I melt. That era of music is so beautiful. Every time the tinny piano launches in I feel transported. The music was truer and purer then. I can't explain it.

It keeps trying to snow, outside. The wind slaps you bitterly in the face when you step outside. I've worn a knitted scarf all day, even inside the house. It's that kind of a day. The ordinary armor isn't enough.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

there's always manana

We all overslept this morning. I forgot to warm up the car before we left the house and we were running so behind that I didn't have time to let the windshield defrost properly. I scraped the ice off the front and back windows the best I could, then ran the wiper fluid over and over so I could drive and keep clearing a view for myself at the same time. (I know it's a stupid thing to do. I did it anyway. Hey, I was late.)

Then when I got back I could hear the phone ringing inside as I turned the key in the lock to the front door. I struggled with the catch (it has a tendency to stick) and hurried into the room to answer it.

"Hello." There's always a pause when I say hello into my phone, making me think I either spoke too softly or the person on the other end wasn't expecting me to reply. I repeat myself, as usual (I'm always saying hello, twice).


"What's the matter?" my mother's voice is rapidly attentive.
"I just... walked in... the door."
"I'm going to tell you something. You shouldn't be running around like that. You sound like you can't breathe."
"I'm okay." I'm shrugging off my coat, looking around making a mental inventory of the place. The Christmas tree is still standing; the dog didn't eat it while I was gone. Good.

"And here's another thing. When you wake up in the morning, don't jump out of bed like you do. Sit there and dangle your feet first. What's your hurry? You always rush around. The kids can wait! We had a next door neighbor when we lived in Freeport. Dorothy. You wouldn't remember -- you're too young. She jumped out of bed to turn off the alarm clock and died instantly of a heart attack. To turn off an alarm clock! You don't want to be like Dorothy."

I've heard this before.

"No, I don't. You're right, I know you're right."

What is my hurry? I don't really have one.

"Oh, you say that. But will you listen? You push yourself too hard. You do too much."

I'm laughing at that, quietly, to myself.
I don't do enough.

Yesterday was Picture Day for the youngest! Did I remember? No, I thought it was today. So I got him to the school -- and that's never an easy task -- and realized I'm, alas! the only parent unprepared for this occasion. I also forgot the kid's lunch. (The lunchbox was still sitting on the hutch, where I'd packed and left it, when I went back to the house to replace the slightly oversized, careworn San Francisco 49ers sweatshirt for a spotless white hooded sweatshirt, instead.)

And then when I took the lunchbox and the new shirt back to the preschool, I turned around and realized the sash to my overcoat was dragging behind me in the dirt. I looked like a schlepper.

Okay! I admit it. I seem to be having a hard time. Or, more to the point, everyone else seems to be doing this much more easily than I am.

(Last night: the teenager is telling me enthusiastically how his teacher claims Scrooge from Dickens' Christmas Carol is the most dynamic character in English literature.
I scowl: "Then your teacher needs to read more books."

"What's wrong with Dickens?" He's indignant.
"Wait till you get Great Expectations with old Pip and Miss Haversham and then we'll have this conversation again about how great Dickens is."

You'd think no one ever insulted Dickens before. The family rose up as one and accused me of having a psychotic episode. Hey, I had to read Great Expectations in the ninth grade. I thought it was creepy. That old woman going around in her selfsame wedding dress. I ask this: after all those years, how did she still get it to fit? My wedding dress would only fit on a garden rake.)

But never mind that. I digress.

I just can't seem to keep up.

I feel like the guy in the old Bob Hope joke: his roof is leaking, but he can't fix the roof when it's raining because it's raining out. And when it's sunny he doesn't need to fix the roof anymore, because it's not raining. There's always manana.

That's me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

opporknockity tunes in*

You know? I keep reading about these writers who say in interviews how they sit down to the blank page and certain characters just show up. I never understood that. What do they mean, show up? You mean they knock on the door and introduce themselves? And tell you what they want to do next?

What kind of mess is that?

But then every morning I get up and get the kids off to school, and then I have a cup of coffee and tape down a few sheets of watercolor paper to wet down and size. I lay in a few washes and then start working with the forms that appear. And certain images do have a way of just sort of materializing and then hanging out a while.

And I didn't plan that. But I enjoy it. It's like opening a window and letting serendipity skate around the page a little.

I finally get it -- what my art school teachers used to talk about. How I should jump into the picture and just let things happen. How not everything can be controlled and how you have to be ready to push the edge just a little bit further than you're ready for. That if you got this far once, you can get there again -- messing up is not really possible.

That there is no perfect state of being, in life or on paper. It's only ever just a sort of loose manipulation of what you've already got to work with. It's not ever irretrievably lost or absolutely perfect; it's just a matter of degrees in any given direction.

This imaginative realm is starting to get to me, though. I drove past a field with a white horse kneeling in it the other day and I could have sworn what I saw was a unicorn. No kidding. I had to look twice to make sure.

Whatever medicine I'm on, it's clear that I need more of it. Or, um, less.

And then this afternoon, I was out shopping and a woman in the next aisle turned to me and started to speak. "Do you think...." she said loudly. Then her voice faltered and broke off and she stood there, awkwardly.

She cleared her throat. "I thought you were my friend, see," she admitted. "But then I looked at you and realized you're not."

I smiled politely to ease her embarassment: "That's okay." But it felt slightly hurtful anyway. Run the sentence over in your head and you realize it's something you never want to hear someone say to you. I thought you were my friend, but now I realize you're not.

I left the store feeling thoughtful, a paragraph of text or two running in my head toward a story I might never write.


Monday, December 04, 2006

self portrait with small children

I had it in mind to use only red and blue and yellow ochre, but then the colors started blending and I ended up with this, instead.

The white flurry of wings/flowers/snowflakes on the left? That's from a sprinkle of salt.


It's a little different, I know.

What does it look like when a fairy dies?

This is just a pen and ink wash. But appropriately stark.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

washed up

I set this page up by pouring a cup of coffee over it. I have a dread fear of the blank white sheet of paper. But if I spill something on it, it's not blank anymore and I don't have to feel so intimidated.

The fins on the mermaid presented themselves immediately.

She feels so alone.

She washed up on the surf by herself. She didn't mean to. (The tides can carry you to the most unexpected places.)

my name is Darlene. get used to it.

Apparently my name is still Darlene. I can't stop answering to it because I still find it very amusing that my son has invented this new name for me. It fascinates me.

When my nephew was very young he used to call me Mimi. I loved this, but relatives discouraged it. "Make him call you by your real name, Sharon." Try as he would, he couldn't pronounce Sharon and called me Tin-tin.

I said it then, I'll say it now: I miss the days when I was Mimi.

What difference does it make? If a kid wants to make up a new name for you, what harm is in it? Who's to say their version isn't truer? Maybe I do look like a Darlene.

Maybe that's what it is: it's the different perspective that intrigues me. The worst thing about being a child myself was this adult insistence on their version being the right one. I promised myself that if I ever grew up (I had my doubts!) I'd remember what this felt like, this suffocating, claustrophobic littleness grown-up people always wanted to force you into. (What do you know about it? You're just a kid. This is just the way it is.)

It's true I can't live on imagination. But there's no reason I have to give up all of it.

So much is made up anyway, even in the grown up world. Blogging is a form of make believe.

But so what?

A grown up person would look at a watercolor wash I'd just done and see this:

I looked at it and saw this instead:

It doesn't matter if my name is Darlene or Mimi or Sharon. It just matters that I don't stop seeing the world with new eyes.

(matters to who?)
(matters to me.)

Friday, December 01, 2006