Sweet Day

When I was teaching, I had almost no social life. I taught literally all the time. I taught writing which means hundreds of essays to read, correct and respond to. And, I taught seven classes. A full load for a tenured faculty member is four classes one semester, three the next. This means in a whole YEAR that person teaches as many classes as I taught in a semester. Usually they had grading assistants to help with their load. I had grading assistants two semesters in my entire 35+ year career. Seven classes means I normally taught three classes a day. My seventh class was usually on Saturday morning. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to get to know anyone.

When I moved away from California, I left virtually no friends behind except the one who, a year or two later, moved to Colorado Springs, and my wonderful neighbors who’d already moved to work and live on a ranch in Northern California.

Moving to Monte Vista changed my life in almost every way, but the desire to know people has been one of the best. I moved into a neighborhood and, in my neighborhood, I found friends.

Yesterday we got together for one of our infamous tea parties (but we had coffee). This was kind of special because it was on St. Lucia’s Day which, in my family, was always the first day of Christmas. It was the day we put up our tree. Sometimes my mother invited guests for dinner and she cooked Lutefisk of song and legend. She wasn’t Swedish, but my dad’s mom was. It was a huge event if that’s what happened.

Lutefisk is dried, salted whitefish that’s been preserved in lye. (Cue Viking music.) Lutefisk wasn’t easy to find, but my mom always managed to find it. It had to soak over night, transforming from a whiteish, silverish, grayish boardlike thing to a gelatinous mass. It was then boiled, served on boiled potatoes with a creamy white sauce that my grandmother made with real butter, my mom with margarine. Along with it we had lingonberries and potato sausage (yum). Sometimes Swedish rye bread.

My neighbor, K, is Swedish and last year we talked of a tea party on St. Lucia’s day, but I was very sick last year and it didn’t happen.

But it happened yesterday. My neighbor, E, made traditional Swedish saffron buns and I made Swedish fruit soup. Remembering that no Swede in my life EVER drank tea, I made coffee.

Our conversation went from cooking to memories to family to the future in the hands of upcoming generations (none-to-soon, IMO) to the sudden preponderance of complaints by women of sexual harassment. It’s a hot-button topic for me, not the most congenial subject, but there we were. Having been — most of the time — a single, working woman — I have had WAY too many experiences with it. When I complained to bosses, supervisors, I was NEVER believed. “He didn’t mean that,” was one response I got from a boss when a fellow teacher stood behind me while I was working on the shared computer in our office and said, “You know you want to stick your hand down my pants. Why don’t you?” He harassed another woman, too, and rather being reprimanded, he was told to get psychiatric help. Another case involved a fellow teacher who was on the tenure review committee when I was going for a tenured position. He made it very clear to me that if I didn’t “do him” I could forget tenure. I didn’t “do him” and I didn’t get tenure. When I complained, a supervising colleague believed me, but the Dean did not. These are just two stories of a long litany that left me thinking that some men (most men? all men?) will demonstrate dominance in whatever way they can whether it’s sexually or, as in the case of a boss at SDSU, by verbally abusing me in front of staff.

E seemed to think the “Me Too” movement would have an effect on changing the society. My take is that it’s human nature and that’s pretty hard to change, but maybe it would make people think twice. We didn’t reach a conclusion.

I don’t know. I am just grateful not to be on the road any more. Not to be walking into classrooms or called in by some boss who doesn’t understand what I do because he’s a system’s analyst and I’m a writing teacher. I love this valley with all my heart and soul. I like my neighbors very much and I’m grateful to have been dropped into this little nexus of kindness and old-fashioned values and manners. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems, but I suspect more Swedish saffron buns, more fruit soup, more congenial conversations, more good neighbors, more generosity of heart and soul could fix a lot of things.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/legend/

Don’t Beat Up My Friends

Yesterday I read an article from The New York Review of Books, “Super Goethe” by Ferdinand Mount.

More or less it is a review of a recent biography of Goethe by Rudiger Safranski, Goethe: Life as a Work of Art. I made it most of the way through this book until I realized that having read Goethe’s autobiographies (with a grain of salt and a grin) this book was, for me, gratuitous. I didn’t finish it. Goethe wrote a LOT about himself and I felt OK having let him tell his tale. I don’t take issue with Safranski’s book. This review, however?

I have a huge problem with retroactive judgements of historical figures and this review concludes with the intimation that, in another time and another place, Goethe would have been a Nazi.

Maybe that’s true, maybe that’s false. No way to know that because Goethe did not live in another time and another place and just because Weimar is near Buchenwald doesn’t mean Goethe would have been a prison guard, or worse, but Mount concludes his piece with, “I am not the first to note that included among the sights of Weimar in the Michelin Green Guide is Buchenwald.”

I happen to love Goethe, but that doesn’t mean I “know” him. I can’t. But when I look at the past I try to see past the hazy fog of intervening historical events to what had NOT yet happened.

  • In Goethe’s time, there were only the beginnings of what would be the Industrial Revolution. Marx was born when Goethe was 69.
  • When Goethe was a young man and made a journey to Switzerland, the United States of America was three years old and did not yet have a constitution.
  • Voltaire was alive; the Age of Enlightenment was in full force.
  • Goethe lived during the French Revolution. What he saw of it, what he knew of it, would have been FAR different than what we know of it. From Goethe’s perspective it was wanton death on the streets and the destabilization of life for millions of ordinary people.
  • Goethe was the son of a lawyer. Education in his family was extremely important, but it was not the common lot of most people to have the chance to go to school.
  • There was no “Germany.” That geographical blob on the map was a very loose assemblage of small duchies, principalities, etc. Imagine a big hunk of land broken up into hundreds of very vulnerable Liechtensteins and Monacos. When Goethe — or anyone at that time — wrote about “German cultural identity” they were writing about something that didn’t exist.
  • Goethe -SAW war. He was sent to be a correspondent about fighting in the Alsace. His descriptions of this are harrowing. He was never the same person afterward, either. He wrote about refugees from war, too, and problems they had becoming part of the culture to which they had refugeed.
  • Mount has written that Goethe admired Napoleon, a statement that is — miraculously — both true and false. They met. Napoleon could speak of Goethe’s novel, Sorrows of Young Werther but apparently had no directly knowledge of Faust. Goethe admired Napoleon, but only up to a point. Because Goethe was ALIVE at the Napoleonic moment, he would NOT have seen Napoleon the way I do or the author of this article does.
  • Science — as we understand it — was new. The scientific method was being, at that time, defined. Goethe was a contemporary of Newton. Goethe was himself a good scientist and far more influential than most of us are aware.

I will never know who Goethe really was. I like that he wrote very direct erotic poetry. I like that he was irreverent and reverent with life and language, both, at the same time. I appreciate his intellectual curiosity. I like that he believed a person needed to constantly learn, to explore, to nurture curiosity. In the time in which Goethe lived, there was no big push to specialize, and he didn’t. I like that he asked, “What if?” I appreciate his willingness — desire — to learn. I admire his resilient sense of wonder. I know he was misogynistic and thought people who wore glasses were trying to be something they’re not. I don’t know if he would have liked me; I even kind of doubt it. But, that’s OK. I probably wouldn’t have known him if I had been alive during his lifetime. But I’m not. I’m here, now, and I have been able to reap the fruits of his long lifetime of work. I like that he composed poetry such as this:

From fall to fall a thousand streams are flowing
A thousand more are plunging, effervescent,
And high up in the air the spray is glowing,
Out of this thunder rises, iridescent,
Enduring through all change the motley bow,
Now painted clearly, and now evanescent,
Spreading a fragrant, cooling spray below.
The rainbow mirrors human love and strife;
Consider it and you will better know:
In many-hued reflection we have life.

(Faust Part II, Act I, trans. Walter Kaufmann)

Featured image: The Rhinefalls, ink sketch by Goethe

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/inheritance/

Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog’s Scientific Method

Bear loves snow and we haven’t gotten any to speak of since October 9. Crazy? Yeah. It’s very dry here in Heaven, so dry that they haven’t covered the greens on the golf course.

In fact, they’re watering the greens.

Yesterday we took a small jaunt out into the gorgeous December light and I saw “drifts” of white stuff where snow should be. I told Bear, “When we come back, I have something nice for you, but right now, let’s GO!!!!”

Walking hurts at first and then gets better. I got a new cane yesterday and I’m eager to “try ‘er out” but the UPS hadn’t come when we took our walk, so I used my old trekking pole. It works fine.

So we walk into the dry pasture that is the driving range and we walked on the dusty dirt road beyond.

We tried to see “our” horses, but tank trucks being stored on the train tracks blocked our view. There’s a big dark bay mare who now comes to her fence to greet us — she’s still almost 1/4 mile away in a fenced pasture across the tracks, but it’s pretty clear to me she’s LIKE to say hello. Dusty and Bear now automatically stop at the Horse Viewing Area and they did yesterday. “Sorry, guys,” I say, peering as hard as my dogs do trying to see through the tank cars.

Bear has steadily checked her messages and some of them seem to have been very interesting and quite long. She left one. I don’t know who for; I don’t know which correspondent merits her pee, but he/she must be something.

We go back a different way and cross the golf course. Earlier, an anarchistic golfer had disobeyed the large sign, “Golf Course Closed. No Play or Practice” and was buzzing around from hole to hole on a golf cart, but now he was gone. We crossed the golf course, past the small grove of tall spruce, and headed toward what I think is hole 6 (don’t know for sure). There in the shade of the small hill below the green — and on the green itself — was something large, white and gleaming in the sun.

“I dunno’, Bear,” I said. “Maybe.” I was hoping it was a little melted, a little slushy. She caught the scent of the ice and moved quickly toward it. She experimented. She started with a theory, “This is snow? Maybe. Maybe not.” She threw herself down on the hard crust. She dug her nose into it, hoping that it was just a crust, and maybe, maybe, maybe? It had happened before, an icy crust like this and then SNOW below.

She took a few bites. No, well, maybe over here… She got up and moved to a sunnier patch. Smart dog. She’s learned a lot about how snow behaves during her short life. She flopped down a bit more gingerly and rolled. It really wasn’t better, maybe a little. She sighed, maybe thinking, “It’s what I have. Better make the best of it.” She dug, rolled, bit the snow, and rolled some more.

When she was finished she came to me and leaned, ice crystals melting quickly on her fur. I am pretty sure she was saying, “Thanks, human. You did the best you could.”

And we went home. Here’s the video 🙂 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/theory/

The Messiah

Yesterday my friend, E, invited my friend K and I to go with her to hear The Messiah which was being performed at the catholic church in Alamosa by the Valley Community Chorus and the San Luis Valley Symphony.

Remember. The “community” is as large as Connecticut and has fewer than 50,000 people in it.

The sanctuary was PACKED. We were a little late because of me. I had some problems with the dogs while I was getting “gussied up” (elegance? not quite) and ultimately forgot to close the back door and we had to turn around, but we still got seats.

The first singer was a young man with an amazing tenor voice.

I listened to the music and its story and thought of Jesus.

I think a lot about Jesus. People’s belief in Jesus is about all I write about. And, it’s a big thing for people. When I bought my new table, the very nice people from whom I bought it asked me about my church. It’s a normal thing here. I am also OK telling the truth which is that I’m good with God, I don’t want to join a team.

Some atheist friends of mine in San Diego who were using a Christ based curriculum to homeschool their kids got around it by calling it the “Jesus story.” I think it’s a lot more than that. I think it’s a very important story beyond the boundaries of any organized religion. It’s humanity’s story. I was conscious of it again listening to the Messiah.

This little baby is born — a birth that is miraculous because we can’t have an ordinary birth or an ordinary baby if we’re going to make this an important story.

In The Messiah (and in the Christmas story) my favorite part is where the angels appear to the terrified shepherds and say, “Be not afraid…”

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2

Compassion, in the sky.

When they got to “…peace, good will toward men” I wanted to cry.  I saw the whole thing.  Thousands of generations people at war with someone, mothers and fathers mourning the deaths of their children, cultures destroyed. I saw acrimony and anger everywhere FOREVER. Me in an argument on Facebook about whether my “remote” valley “deserves” tax money from the good people of Denver to keep operating our tiny, rural, life-saving airport.

And all the while, people are yearning for peace, including me, but I also want to punch the guy’s face in for not getting it.

Why is it so hard? Jesus — and others — have laid it out very clearly. “Love God and love your neighbor.” It’s totally possible to do those two things whether God’s name is Yaweh or Lamont. It doesn’t matter. And if there IS no God, you can still love your neighbor.

And I thought — not for the first time — “Poor Jesus.”

The story spun itself out climaxing in Jesus resurrection in the “Hallelujah Chorus” for which everyone stood and some sang along. It was a beautiful moment observing the people who live in ‘my” valley.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/elegance/

Flawed

Yesterday, not long after my blog post went up, I got a text from one of my neighbors who’s currently a “snow bird.” “I want to read your hiking book.” She’s originally from San Diego and her grandson lives within sight of the main locale of the stories.

I texted her back, “It’s not happening,” with a little explanation, then I went about my morning. In the back of my mind was the book, of course.

The book is flawed. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. Its flaws are, in their way, reflections of MY flaws. I fixed the two new typos I’d found and closed the file.

Then I did my chores, thinking the book was a done deal, a closed subject.

I looked at Bear’s blue eyes, which are very beautiful but they are also, probably, the reason I have her.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Whoever bred Bear thought they were a flaw. Thought they indicated deafness or blindness or?” Then I thought of Dusty T. Dog. He was so flawed the shelter didn’t think he was adoptable. He’s STILL flawed, but WOW. For nearly 12 years he’s been my loyal, loving companion no matter WHAT.

Then I thought of Mission Trails Regional Park itself — the location of most of the stories in my book. It’s not perfect. It was never where I WANTED to be. It was simply what I had, the only place I could hike with my dogs during a long and VERY flawed time in my life. And it ITSELF was barely snatched from development and freeways — by whom? A group of San Diego citizens INCLUDING me! I, with all my flaws, was one small agent in the protection of 5800 acres of chaparral for future generations to see, know, enjoy.

BEYOND that, the place itself has seen a lot of life (and destruction) before it became a park — dirt bikes, ATVS, and people four-wheeling up the steep slopes. Stolen cars dumped in the stream and over the embankments. When I first started hiking there, a Ford pickup from the 40s rusted away in the stream leading to Oak Canyon. During WW II it was a military training base, including exploding shells (some unexploded shells have been found in recent years). There had been developer dreams of cutting across the hillside with a four lane freeway on the bed of a road that had been used by the water department. Neither it nor I are a pristine perfect flawless wilderness. I began to wonder if maybe it was a BETTER book because it’s not perfect.

And more… My father’s flaws, his MS, inspired me to propose, design, and raise the money for the building of a wheelchair accessible guided walkway to one of the most interesting historical features in California, Old Mission Dam.

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Walkway to Old Mission Dam, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Late yesterday, I decided to write a note for the readers of my book explaining its flaws, that Createspace COULDN’T print the cover right no matter what and directing readers to the website where they could see the actual photo (including the featured image for this blog), apologizing for my weak proofreading skills and the relentless and (to me) invisible typos (just now found another one 😦 ) and explaining that it all reflects my flaws and the flaws of the world as it is.

“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” M. Teresa

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/jolly/

As for “jolly” the word of the day, it’s one of those Christmas words. I never use it. Sorry WP.

360 Degrees

Last night, I gave up on the hiking book. I’ve published five OTHER books using Createspace, and they did NOT fuck up those covers, but EVERY cover I’ve put on the hiking book, Createspace has defiled. I’ve complained, tried different designs, done everything I could think of since it’s the inside that matters most, but in this case…

And the inside. I thumbed through one of the ten horrifically ugly copies I had ordered as Christmas presents for people, and found two mistakes, just at random.

As I went to sleep last night I decided it was just fucking hopeless and maybe the book is not meant to be a slender paper back volume. Maybe it’s supposed to be something else or maybe it’s not supposed to be at all.

cover My Everest 12:8.001

RIP Hiking Book

***

IN OTHER NEWS, the temperatures have arrived at their early winter manic state; 2 F degrees at night, 45 F in the day. It’s gorgeous if the wind isn’t blowing. My professional trainers (Dusty T and Polar Bear Yeti T Dog) took me out yesterday for a long walk. They were determined to test my abilities and we went farther than we have been going.

“You’re not going to get anywhere if you always do the same thing!” said Dusty T. Dog who hates change. I was completely startled by that; first, talking dogs don’t exist, and second, Dusty would never say that.

“It’s the voices,” I say to myself in one of those voices. Still, sometimes we give ourselves good advice.

The trail is a rough dirt road on which only BLM vehicles are allowed. It’s in one section of the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area. Dusty wears his hunting vest like a magic cloak although there is no one there in the middle of the day in hunting season. The slough, a marshy collection of lakes coming off the big ditch and the river, is a nesting area for geese in spring and it is closed to people from early March to my dad’s birthday in July. I watch the ground. It’s uneven enough that I could trip on something. There are some HUGE human footprints, but not many.

There’s a north wind and I wear the Hellnarian Icelandic wool cap I bought in Bogarnes at the supermarket after going to the Settlement Center to see the exhibit of Egil’s Saga. Those must have been the days. Little Egil, six years old, in trouble with his dad for getting drunk at a party.

Truth be told, the walk is boring. It’s flat. There is nothing but dried cattails, tall grass and distant bare cottonwoods to look at. And, I have to pay attention. BUT, the light this time of year is exquisite and mysterious. It lies almost flat against the ground. A herd of Angus cattle in the pasture to the south are silhouetted against it, but they’d be cattle of color anyway. A hawk flies low over the pasture. A couple of magpies fly past against the wind. I think the cranes have finally left the valley.

At .75 miles, I turn around. My goal is 1.5. Nothing, but not that easy with arthritis all over the damned place. My NEXT goal is FARTHER. I’m aiming for 3 mile walks two or three times a week.

In every respect, I have a ways to go.

Rio Grande State Wildlife Area

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/degree/

Have I Got a Gorgeous Gorge!!!!

Rio Grande Gorge, outside Taos, New Mexico surprised me. I have been through Taos many times in my life but NEVER on the road that crosses this bridge. On both sides are vendors of all kinds — mostly Native Americans selling silver jewelry. And then the bridge and then the view. Since my trips to Taos are usually NOT tourist jaunts, I have yet to get out of the car and walk across the bridge. That’s kind of all right with me. I’m more than a little acrophobic. But, I have a plan to visit Taos on my own sometime after Christmas when all the hub-bub has died down, and Taos returns to the sleepy town of 1930 paintings. I’ll stop and cross the bridge then.

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I love the geologic song of the river here as it chisels its way through the slowly uplifting layers of the east edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s a view into time.

IMG_7327

“My” Rio Grande as it passes Monte Vista

I love this river. Yesterday walking beside it, listening to it, looking through the clear water, enjoying the promise of ice on the sides, already growing, I thought again of how lucky I am to have moved here more-or-less accidentally.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/gorge/

Winter has Returned…

Six degrees F this morning. I’m watching the sun rise slowly (everything moves more slowly in the cold). I invariably get sick when it first gets cold and here I am, following my personal tradition. Getting a cold when you have asthma is like overloading an exotic sundae. Too much of a good thing. So, I got up at 6, sucked on the albuterol (which I very seldom use), and shocked the dogs by letting them out in the dark.

Mindy stood at the back door looking bewildered.

I was driven by the thought of hot bitter coffee flowing down my esophagus, opening my chest.

Long, long ago in the sainted land of the Helvetians, which I have been privileged to visit many times, I had a family. How that came to be, and what the family was, isn’t important now. But one year I was given a genuine American WW II B3 bomber jacket. The father of the family — who was like a brother to me — sold furs. He was also afraid I would be cold in Switzerland, coming as I did from California.

image

Zürich, January 1997 on the Lindenhof

Not only was this jacket warm, it was companionable. Those were very hard times in my life, and I remember flying back to the US on a crowded jet after the Christmas season, cuddling my jacket and wishing I hadn’t had to come “home.”

image

In St. Gallen under the statue of St. Gall, the Irish patron Saint of Switzerland

Ultimately it stayed in Switzerland for a while (it’s colder there than in California and the jacket is fur, after all) then it moved to Italy with the mother of the family who was like a mother to me. Last year she died and her son — who’s like a son to me — brought it to Colorado for me.

I was so happy to have it.

The curly depths of its sheepskin hold my Swiss Christmases, the love shared between us all and its own intrinsic warmth. Perhaps that’s why it is so heavy.

If I had worn it to the parade Saturday, I might not be sick now. 😦

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/saintly/

Relocation Blues

“Brian, dude, what’s wrong?”

“Tammy. Her job’s relocating her to the Florida office.”

“Relocate?”

“Move.”

“What’s wrong with the word ‘move’?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. What’s the point of anything if Tammy isn’t here to share it with me?”

“I’ve told you a million times. Love’s a sucker’s bet. Here. Have a cerveza.”

“No. I don’t want a cerveza. I want Tammy!”

“There’s nothing holding you here, dude.”

“Whoa, that’s a good point. There’s ocean in Florida.”

“Is that your phone, dude?”

“It’s Tammy. Hey, babe. What? We need to talk? What do you mean there’s nothing in my life that matters to me more than surfing? What does that have to do with anything? You what? Wow. That’s… I can’t believe it. No. I’m… No. Don’t worry. Why would I follow you back there? The waves in Florida aren’t good enough to entice me out there, you Ho.”

“Good god, what was that?”

“She’s been two-timing me with her boss. She’s not being relocated to Florida for work. She’s marrying him. She wanted to tell me so I wouldn’t follow her out there. Bitch.”

“You want that cerveza now?”

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/relocate/

Personal Art History — Suffering for Art

The first time I heard the word “patina” was in a high school art class. We’d just done clay sculptures and fired them. The next step was to paint them, but we didn’t call it painting them. We called it putting on a patina. The goal was to make the clay look like bronze.

My teacher did not like me or my work and made no bones about it. He often asked me what I was doing in the art room since I had no talent and I just bothered people.

I don’t know what he saw when he saw me. I don’t know what my behavior was like, but probably very obnoxious. No idea. I wanted attention from my teacher, but all I got was negative attention. “You have no talent,” he said. “I don’t know why you hang around here.”

We had open scheduling so we could just GO to the art room at any time there was no class in session. I did that, but I also went to class. I had a lot of projects in my mind. I did all the assignments — but probably NOT like he wanted me to. He was very, very nurturing and helpful to those he believed had talent, but he hated my work and disliked me.

His own work? In my opinion (even then) everything he painted looked the same. He was of the Western Impressionist school and the colors he used were out of nature’s paintbox for the most part. Yellow ochre figured prominently Yellow ochre is a GREAT color, but not the only one… He, naturally, used large brush strokes, painted directly, and so on, but he encouraged my brother and his friends who were cartoonists. Clearly the man was NOT invested in teaching everyone to paint just like he did.

So…I soon donned the patina of the high school graduate and went to college. I was determined to major in art. I wanted to be a sculptor.

My sculpture teacher told me I had no talent for sculpture, and he said I should stick to drawing which (he said) I was good at. He was explaining this to me as we talked about a drawing I’d done that was taped to the wall in the hallway of the art building next to the soda machine.

“Professor,” said one of my classmates who HAD talent, “I’m so sorry, but I tried to buy a soda and the machine exploded all over some chick’s picture that’s taped to the wall in the hallway.”

The picture was drawn in pencil which isn’t all that water soluble, and was actually improved by the patina of Pepsi.

My drawing teacher, on the other hand, was a real teacher. She watched me drawing one  afternoon in class and assessed the problem instantly. Fear. I’d been brow-beaten into a kind of secret artistic existence. This emerged when I attempted to make art. Our work says a lot and our working process maybe says even more. I was going at a piece of paper with a #3 pencil from 9 inches away. Way too close, way too light, way to tentative. I was a conundrum. I wanted to draw, I wanted to be an artist, but…

“Put that down,” she said of my pencil. “Wait here.”

She returned with a small can of black tempera and a small can of white tempera and a 2 inch brush. “Draw,” she said. “Stand back here where you can see something. And you need to get some better paper.”

She set me free.

Over the years I’ve confronted this over and over. Other artists sometimes have strong feelings about my work. I don’t know why. First, whether a person has talent or not they should make art if they want to. There’s no law that says a piece of work anyone does — even Leonardo — is going to be any good. Second, there are a lot of artists out there whose work I absolutely hate. Yet, they are considered to be great artists (Frida Kahlo tops that list). Is my opinion important in any way? There are other artist whose work moved me at one point in my life and now I think it’s “Meh” (Georgia O’Keefe for example).

This weekend my friend L painted rocks with me. She was trepidatious. She might get it wrong. I got a rock ready and sketched the reindeer, just an outline, with the nose. She sat down and grabbed an acrylic pen. I’ve learned they don’t work that well on rocks. “Use this,” I said, handing her a brush and some tan paint. The paint flowed perfectly into the shape on the rock in seconds. Then she wanted darker brown for the antlers and was going to mix black with the tan. “I’ll mix you some darker brown,” I said. “That black is a higher quality paint than that tan and will just be black.” So I mixed some brown. She painted and began to relax, finally putting an evergreen wreath on his head. 🙂

Then she wanted to do a wreath, but she just had a white rock. “I think you can handle that,” I said. “It’s just a wreath.”

“Yeah, I think I can draw a circle.” She picked up my drawing pencil and drew a circle, very tentatively. I pointed out that the rock was a long oval so maybe she wanted to leave room at the bottom for a bow.

She went at it and was suddenly INTO it. “I’m going to make a peace wreath,” she said — and did! Then she wanted to put leaves on the wreath. She dipped the brush in green and started to “draw” leaves. It wasn’t working.

“Here, let the brush do the work,” and I showed her how to use the side of the brush to make leaf-like blobs.

Then I thought about all that is involved in learning to paint.

How to mix colors, how to use colors, what a brush can and cannot do, what things ACTUALLY look like vs how you KNOW them to be (a tree doesn’t look like myriad leaves attached to branches. It looks like a blob of colors). There’s so much more, and it all takes time and practice.

I’ve had a hell of a time in my life selling a story. My life as a writer (everyone has always said, “Martha Ann, you’re a writer not an artist”) has never “taken off” but I’ve sold a lot of paintings. As I told my friend this weekend, “Just have fun. It is the least important thing in the world.”

Except to the person who loves it and we never know who that is, who that will be.

My friend’s rocks were found by a little girl during the Christmas parade… I think my friend is now a VERY successful artist!!!

Lois Rocks 1

Lois Rocks 2

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