Learning to Langlauf

The first time I went X-country skiing was with the first-X. Our marriage was over, but we hadn’t divorced each other or even faced the reality. He was a terrible husband who hit and kicked me from time to time, but we got married young and never sought the help we needed. I was in graduate school in Denver and he, believing I would use his money to get my MA in English and then leave him (because an MA in English leads to SO MANY lucrative careers), left me for grad school in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Up in that wild and woolly world, he started X-country skiing. When I went up to spend a weekend, he rented me skis and took me to the Medicine Bows west of Laramie.

I hated it like I’d never hated any sport before. I don’t know if it was just that I didn’t know how or the company I was with, but I ended up soaked to the skin (back then long johns were cotton waffle weave = sponge).

I vowed never to do it again.

A few years later I read about “skinny skis” in Outside Magazine and it struck a spark. I decided it might be fun if I had lessons. I found lessons in the flyer for Denver Free University and signed up. I bought skis from the LLBean Catalog (Karhu Bear Claws fish-scale skis) poles, boots and the bindings — 3 pin bindings — came with the whole thing. Strangely, the day they arrived, my X showed up at my apartment. His new wife was visiting friends and he decided to visit me. We had three or four such visits over the years and I saw — and he saw — that it probably should have worked. We just didn’t know how. I’ve known him since the 9th grade.

The first class met in a classroom and the teacher was great. He was friendly, passionate about X-country skiing. When the actual DAY came, we all got in a big Chevy Suburban and headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch over Berthoud pass and more or less across the street from Winter Park Ski Area. Devils Thumb Ranch is pretty fancy now, but back in the late 1970s it was a big one story wood and log building with a few motel rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Out the back was a deck, a “bunny slope” where little kids could learn to downhill ski and a rental area. Behind it were miles of X-country trails, none of which were groomed trails (I never saw groomed trails until I moved here in 2014) but all of which were well marked. The trails wound around meadows, through aspen groves and pine clusters.

It was a crystalline clear Colorado mountain winter day with ice crystals in the sky and virgin snow everywhere. The teacher took us through exercises so we got used to the skis. We played tag running with those boards on our feet, falling, laughing and learning. Best class of my LIFE. Then we skied. We learned to kick and glide, how to do a stem turn and even had the chance to try the beautiful and classic telemark turn.

My dreams started there. The next class was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area where I loved to hike in summer. That was the day I met the Good-X, but that’s not what this post is about. The snow was front range snow which isn’t really easy for me to describe other than to say it had been through more changes than the holy snow at Devils Thumb Ranch had been. It was a wonderful day.

I wanted to go all the time, and began experiencing the reality that most people I knew didn’t want to go all the time and NONE of them wanted to X-country ski. It wasn’t “cool” and it wasn’t fast. Most people thought Nordic skiing was just walking around in snow, but it’s so much more than that and it CAN be fast. Most of all, it can take a person into the “real” mountains away from the crowds. I’d been reading A Moveable Feast in which Hemingway decries ski lifts and lauds the times when people were strong skiers because they had to make their way up the mountain under their own power. I thought getting up the mountain under my own power was the definition of cool.

So, one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my 1970 VW bug with its low-tech ski rack (basically giant rubber bands stretched against a frame that held onto the car with hooks that went inside the doors) and thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to ski to *Lost Lake.” I got dressed (I had learned about wool long johns by then), put my precious Karhu skis in the rack and headed to Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, to the Fourth of July Campground and parked as far up the road as it was safe to park. VW bugs had very high clearance. I took my skis off the roof, put them on and headed up the mountain.

I’d hiked this trail dozens of times. I knew it well. At first it’s essentially a gravel road that turns into a stream in spring. It goes past a ghost town and an old campground. After the road, there’s a trail head and soon the trail goes up very quickly, does a little turn and then a person is on the main trail which is a steady climb, part of it up an old corduroy mining road. It runs beside then crosses a stream over a small waterfall. A little while later, there’s a fork — go straight to several glacial lakes or up to Devils Thumb. Turn left, Lost Lake, the lowest of this cluster of glacial lakes.

I made my turn and skied the sweet flat trail to the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. The mountains that held the lake as a cup holds tea were too steep to hold any snow themselves and the tracks of small avalanches were apparent on the eastern slopes.

There wasn’t much to do up there when it came to it. The main event was getting there. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, considered my adventure and turned around. The only challenge of the experience was getting down the steep little bit at the beginning of the trail, but I did it. I loaded my skis back on the top of my VW Bug and headed home to Denver.

It was my fourth time on X-country skis.

That winter there were more experiences on my skinny skis. My neighbor (guy in the photo above) and I headed up to Devils Thumb ranch one Saturday and had a blast that included me falling forward into four feet of snow and burying my arms. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up. My friend came whizzing by, saw me, cracked up and nearly hit a tree before he crashed. BUT it also happened that day that in the stillness of the snowy forest a jay ate a bit of granola from my hand. I lived in momentary hope that this neighbor — newly moved into the apartment across the hall — would want to go ALL THE TIME but he didn’t. It was the first lesson I had that guys will do stuff with you not because they like what you’re doing but because they have a condom in their wallet. Dark times. πŸ˜‰

My Karhu skis were not back-country skis. They were just simple and cheap waxless skis. I would own more appropriate skis as time wore on and ski some other dramatic places, but never that adventure again.

I’m not that girl any more — not physically, obviously, but in more profound ways. I understand where she wanted to go back in 1979/1980 and I’ve been there. That’s enormous. When I think of how long it has taken me to learn what anything actually IS I’m dumbfounded.

And maybe I still don’t know.

*There are at least three lakes named “Lost Lake” in Colorado which could explain how they got lost. This is the Lost Lake I’m referring to here. It was once fairly remote but a lot more people live in the towns around it now, so the trails are now sometimes closed due to over use.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/01/23/rdp-saturday-spark/

“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. β€œGetting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.

~~~

In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/11/rdp-monday-thingamajig/

Teen Daze

“Honey, I’m not hemming this skirt way up there. It won’t even cover your behind. People will get the wrong idea.”

“What’s the ‘wrong idea’?”

“That you’re cheap.”

“What does that mean?”

“No man wants used merchandise.”

Elizabeth shook her head. That didn’t make sense either.

The usual fight with mom over fashion. Elizabeth was petite. Any dress or skirt she bought at the store had to be shortened. On top of that, she made a lot of her own skirts and dresses. Mom HAD to mark the hems. There was no way out. Elizabeth shrugged. They’d reached a compromise; the middle of Elizabeth’s knee. Elizabeth wasn’t exactly happy about it, but the option was somewhere below the knee and seriously?

Elizabeth had found a way around mom’s puritanical totalitarianism.

By 7 am every morning she was out the door, books in hand. She raced down the short cut through the yards to Kathy’s — Kat’s — house. They had 20 minutes to get to school, a daily adventure that took them over an old trestle, across an open field, sideswiped the new mall, down two neighborhood streets, into the high school’s back door.

It was cold. February was fusty and ambivalent as ever, shooting them sharp snowflakes one minute, gusts of cold aggression the next, and blessing them with sun the next. Halfway through the field they looked around to see if anyone was looking. But who would? They lived in the furthest reaches of the city in a brand new neighborhood with brand new schools. They set their books on the ground and put one foot on their book pile in case the wind came up. They heisted up their coats, grabbed the waistband of their skirts and carefully rolled them. “Is it straight?” asked Kat, turning so Elizabeth could see her back.

“Yeah. Mine?”

“Looks good.”

They were set. The only danger was if they happened to sit on their skirts during some class or another, unrolling the back.

It was years before they understood why the boys liked sitting in discussion circles so much or why they were so clumsy with their pencils, always dropping them on the floor.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/rdp-monday-skimpy/

T-N-T Boxes

Wooden boxes with T-N-T stenciled on the ends. I wish I could tell you what my dad was doing exactly. I can’t. I was just a very little kid, but I THINK they were using balloon bound radio receivers to determine how far into the atmosphere sound waves traveled. All I really KNOW about it is that the by-product of this research were these boxes which formerly held high explosives. My dad thought they were GREAT.

What’s also great, is that I wrote about them three years ago. It’s a good story. And here it is. T-N-T boxes.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/06/rdp-thursday-explosive/

My Lives as a Famous Artist

OK, first of all, we all know I’m writing “tongue in cheek” when I describe myself with the word “famous”…

There have been a few times when I’ve been completely absorbed in making visual art. One of them I was working for the Denver YWCA and being paid in art supplies. I could go to Meiningers in Denver and buy anything I needed and keep whatever I didn’t use. Everyone knew I was buying extra; I had a quiet mandate from the YWCA director to do just that. Five sheets of watercolor paper for posters and five sheets in case I failed.

It was great. I did illustrations for brochures and posters for events. I couldn’t afford art supplies at all on my graduate student stipend but working for the Y, I ended up with nice watercolors and silk-screen equipment. For an art table, I used the dining room table. As part of this, I got to go to a lot of fancy parties.

A few years later, after the visual art thing had gone underground (as it does) and I was being a “famous” writer, I met a guy named Wes Kennedy who looked uncannily like my brother, Kirk Kennedy. It was a little creepy, but we got to be very close friends. He was determined to become a legit artist. Working in the mailroom of the Denver law firm where I was a paralegal was just a way to eat. He reawakened my sleeping visual artist and we spent most Monday nights in the life drawing sessions that were held at the historic Muddy Waters of the Platte.

Wes was very determined to “get a show.” “I gotta’ get a gallery show, Martha,” he said over and over, like not getting one meant he was a failure, traipsing around town with his work, all done on paper, most in gouache, some in pastel. Finally he got a show and we both lugged his work — now mounted with glass — to the gallery that was showing his work.

Then I, with suddenly a LOT of artwork in my apartment, decided to see if I could get a show. I didn’t have any particular drive to get a show in a gallery. I just wanted to hang it up somewhere. I lugged some of my stuff to a coffee house, Nepenthes, and they said, “Sure.” That pissed off Wes to the point where he didn’t talk to me for a month or so after saying, “I try for a YEAR to get a show, and you just go to Nepenthes?” and he slammed the door behind him, not thinking of the difference between a show in a coffee house and a show in a gallery but OH WELL. But he showed up the night before my show and said, “You can’t carry your shit in your Bug. I’ll take your stuff in the morning and help you hang it,” and he did.

I take myself seriously as a writer, but have never taken myself seriously as a visual artist. As I’ve been working on these little Christmas tree decoration paintings which teeter the line between “craft” and “art,” I thought about that. My mom was the opposite of supportive of my brother’s and my “forays” (Kirk did somewhat more than make forays) into the life of an artist. She was objectively nasty about it. “Art’s a dirty word in this house!” she would proclaim. She really hated it, and since I lived to please her, I kind of knuckled under.

I’m grateful for her attitude as I sit here typing a blog post at the “end of the day.” As I’ve been painting pretty much all day every day for the past week or so I’ve had a blast. It’s fun discovering what a period of dormancy has nurtured and what the Valley has taught me in the interval. I did some good watercolors last winter and a good oil, and then, nothing. Painting these little landscapes as been so much fun — and I realized that many artists do small “studies” of something they might hope to paint “for real.” One of the little paintings is just that. At 2 x 3 inches it could emerge quickly and naturally, an idea that’s been incubating for nearly 2 years. If my mom had been supportive, I don’t think this would have been half as much fun over the years. I would have been driven to make a living from it and 1) I’m not that good, 2) it would have eliminated visual art from my life as a source of joy.

As I drove to Del Norte yesterday — only to find the museum closed — and looked at the various edges of a storm front reaching and receding over the San Juans here and there, I was, as always, captivated by the light and colors. Winter is incredibly beautiful (to me) here. All shades of white, gold, silver, gray and cerulean. All in motion, changing all the time. As I drove these beautiful scenes seemed to go straight into my heart, skipping my eyes and mind completely. And I thought, “I’ve lived here long enough now that this is part of me. It come into my heart through my eyes and comes out again, transformed, through my hands.”

(Featured photo is Wes hanging one of my paintings at Cafe Nepenthes)

Memories…

Twenty years ago yesterday, Molly, my Malamute/Aussie mix, and I took off from San Diego to go to Denver to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Martha. We got to Cedar City, to a Super 8 I think. It was dark, cold, beginning to snow. We were BLISSFUL. We both loved snow and we liked traveling.

We also liked Colonel Chicken (only on road trips) so we went through the drive thru and shared it in our room. Molly got some white meat, no skin. After eating, we both wanted a walk in the snow, so we wandered around town, finding Southern Utah University with its Old Globe style theater and a little monument to great thinkers, statues, of philosophers, scientists and poets.

The snow continued to fall in wet, fat flakes and we were happy. We walked back to the motel, went to sleep and the next morning learned that the Eisenhower Tunnel — which is on I-70 between us and Denver — was closed due to an immense dump of snow. No idea when it would be opened. We had planned — well, I had planned since Molly was a dog — to get to Denver that day, Tuesday, turning south at Frisco/Dillon Lake, going over the mountains on the 24, and stopping in Colorado Springs to see my brother. That wasn’t going to happen.

We headed south through Zion then dropped down through Monument Valley and hit the 40 toward Albuquerque. It was a breathtaking, beautiful drive. We spent the night at Albuquerque then headed to Denver the next day. I stopped to see my brother, my niece and her grandmother with whom my brother was then living. Then I got to Denver.

My Aunt Martha and I had the most wonderful time together. When I got to her place, she was all ready to cook her favorite dinner — T-bone steaks, fried potatoes and onions, and salad. We ate and stayed up late talking. It was a conversation I feel privileged to have aged into. My aunt talked candidly about her life as a single professional woman, not about work, but about her life. That conversation was a huge gift to me. The next day she sent me shopping with $50 (why?) and I bought a sweater I never liked but kept because she bought it for me. We had Thanksgiving dinner in a Swiss restaurant. I don’t know why but that’s what we did. It was good, but most of all, we enjoyed ourselves; we enjoyed each other.

My aunt had a beautiful cat named Amiga, and I had brought this big dog. We didn’t know what would happen when we were gone, but we were sure Amiga would take care of herself, even if it meant climbing to the top of a closet. When we got home, Amiga was sleeping on my bed with one paw hanging over the side, resting on Molly who slept on the floor beside her.

Molly sleeping in my Aunt Martha’s garden a couple of years earlier…

The next day I went back to the Springs to spend a little time with my brother, but returned to Denver for the night. When I left on Friday I didn’t imagine that would be the last time I visited my Aunt Martha at her house, a house we’d picked out together.

I also never imagined that in the ten years between 1999 and 2010 when I next returned to Colorado that Colorado would have changed so dramatically, that Denver would have grown like a MF. In 1999, I drove home on I-70. It was still the relatively uncrowded four-lane highway I’d always known with the large, friendly rest stops with their hiking trails along the rivers and shady spots for picnics. Molly and I probably hiked three miles at rest-stops that trip, still made good time, and spent the night in St. George

All this hit me today when I was driving to the museum in Del Norte. We’re not always conscious of the passing of time and at first I thought, “It’s been ten years!” and then my brain said, “No, idiot. It’s been TWENTY years. Aunt Martha died eleven years ago.”

On my way to Denver from Albuquerque on that journey, dropping down the hill from Trinidad, this song came on Mohammed’s Radio. It’s amazing how resonant it is tonight. I am so grateful for every moment of that journey. I’d relive it if that were possible, but the important thing is that I DID live it.

The featured photo is my Aunt Martha and me Christmas Eve 1964

P.S. I guess a blogging break means you get three at one time. πŸ˜€

Inspiration vs. Love

After getting punched by a dirt road yesterday, I seem to have awoken to this shining day not much worse for wear. Roads appear to be, overall, inert, passive, and mostly helpful, but you never know when you might suddenly find yourself road wrestling. All you can do is hope for the best. I suggest you think twice before sending someone that famous Irish blessing about the road rising to meet you. It might not work out like you want it to. My poor judgment yesterday seems to have left me none the worse for wear.

A couple of nights ago I dreamed about a man who was in my life back in 1981/82. It might have been meant to be a great love story, but the timing was wrong. In a vague way, I was looking for something. I didn’t really know what, but it wasn’t love. I thought I was looking for the world, for adventure, for a reason for my life. He, having had the world and having had adventure, in which he’d found the reason for his life, was looking for a wife and family.

Then, too, like most of the men who’ve been in my life, he was pretty inarticulate. Of course, at the time, I thought I was articulate, but I wasn’t. I was at least as inarticulate as any of them. We groped toward each other, but I think we knew (partly from the words we actually managed to exchange) that we were ships passing in the night. He was a wonderful man, really everything I could have wanted if I’d wanted a life partner. But I felt that my horrible first marriage had stolen 6 years of my life. I was focused on what I’d missed out on, even without knowing what that was. And, I was always ambivalent (to say the least) about having children.

It seemed that the dream was about making amends. Sometimes we hurt people inadvertently in our rush to get on with our lives. Because the dream was filled with a very broken house we’d bought (??? don’t ask me. It was a dream) and various other dream-driven quotidian crises, the opportunity to talk never arose. I woke up thinking I should tell him things.

But what? I thought about that yesterday. I doubt I’m going to hunt him down for the purpose of telling him whatever things my dream told me I should, but I realized how much I got from knowing him. At the time we met, I was recently divorced, an escape from an abusive marriage that left me afraid of men. I was also nearing the end of a relationship with a gay guy who was also my best friend and, possibly, my life’s great love. My life was interesting, but it didn’t feel real; it didn’t feel like it belonged to me. Something about it was off but I had no idea what. I was lost. I was struggling to make my life right, but I didn’t know how.

I’d heard of this man — he was a college friend of my boss — and even read one of his letters, sent from India. In the letter he wrote about how he’d finished his expedition up Annapurna II on which he was a support climber. He was wandering through northern India and probably on his way back to the US soon. He sent my boss a breathtaking photo (he was a professional photographer and filmmaker) of a snowy high mountain trail with a single line of footprints. It evoked a dream I’d had and, for that reason, was kind of eerie.

A few months later he showed up in the office. No man had ever affected me like he did. From our first meeting, I’d have followed him anywhere. He was beautiful, graceful as a cat, soft-spoken. We began a correspondence and, months later, I went to visit him in Albuquerque. It was a strange visit — but during that trip, he showed me photos and books of the places he’d traveled, snowy mountains, long walks, trails, far away towns filled with faces that usually looked out at me from National Geographic Magazine. He was in the process of applying for med school and when I asked him why, he actually thought about the question then, answered, “Inspiration, I guess.”

I doubt it was his intention, but he confirmed and intensified my wanderlust, turning it from mere yearning into determination. He’d also decided from the (innumerable) letters I’d written him (a pile that he called “the archive”) that I was a writer. He was the first person (other than my dad) who said to me, “You’re a writer.” When I left his house the next day (yeah) after we had gone to the balloon festival, I was a lot less lost. I knew I was a writer, and, the next morning I immediately sat down and began writing seriously. I also knew that without mountains and trails, some kind of exploration, my life was empty.

Not all that long ago a former student (10 years younger and a friend) wrote me some long, passionate, love letters. Where they came from I had no idea. I found them confusing, but lately I’ve realized that he means that our time together (hiking, talking) inspired him to do most of the things he’s done in his life. He, too, is a world-class mountaineer. He’s written three books about his life and adventures. I’ve read bits and pieces of them (it’s difficult reading Italian). He put the credit for all his adventures on me, on the things we did together long ago, on the fact that we’re still in contact. Then I came to understand that what he meant was not “I love you,” but “You inspired me.” I wonder if our lives are not a chain of that, if we’re lucky, we are inspired by others and inspire others in turn?

More about the man who inspired me here: https://marthakennedy.blog/2018/02/09/minimalism/

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/11/09/rdp-saturday-punch/

Tins of New Zealand Butter

As soon as you go out into the world after a semi-sheltered life in the homeland, you’ll start seeing things you’ve never imagined.

Of course, that’s WHY you go out into the world. You expect to see different people, different buildings, different customs, different food, all the stuff in National Geographic and all that, but you don’t expect the changes in the ordinary stuff of your life. Butter for example.

Butter comes from cows, OK, we know that. But otherwise it comes from a refrigerated shelf at the supermarket. It’s wrapped in waxed paper in an 8 oz sticks marked off with 1/4 and 1/2 and 3/4 cup lines making it easy to measure. It sits next to three others of its ilk in a cardboard package until someone buys it and does something with it. Cookies, maybe or just to spread on bread and jam in the morning. Who knows?

But out there in the world you have to go questing for it. You take a train, then a subway, and find yourself in a little supermarket on a Hong Kong street where you know they have good Havarti straight from Denmark. But butter? Where is it? There must be some here. This is Hong Kong, where everything is available even mango milkshakes at McDonalds.

Finally, not far from the canned tuna (which you also need) you see large, golden cans of — butter. “New Zealand?” you think, looking at mysterious can, “What about cows in New Zealand?” You know nothing about New Zealand, but you’re about to find out something rather intimate about the cattle who roam New Zealand’s pastures. You know that, whatever the fodder on which these cattle feast, French toast cooked in the resultant butter will be better than French toast cooked in peanut oil and you’ll be able to use that biscuit recipe your mom sent you. You load up your shopping basket with the necessaries — this mysterious antipodal butter, several cans of tuna, a jar of mayonnaise, five pounds of Danish Havarit, a can of cocoa.

When you’re finished you have a several pounds of food that will go into your backpack for the return trip. Two nights in Hong Kong and the main purpose is a hot shower and the grocery store. You laugh, thinking that for some this is an exotic destination and you do your share of sight-seeing, too, wandering the labyrinth of streets that circle the mountain on Hong Kong, but you stay in deep in Chinese Tsimtsatsui where hotel prices are lower. You love the Star Ferry, the sight of ocean-going junks with their butterfly sails on the bay, the enormous freight ships with their containers and the cranes lifting them so easily onto the wharf.

The next morning, you hoist up your backpack, get on the subway and head for the hovercraft landing. It’s a wondrous journey on this “boat” that floats above the Pearl River for 75 miles. Along the way — all green hills, rice fields and an occasional old pagoda, perhaps once a lighthouse — are memories, not your memories, but memories belonging to the land, memories of opium pirates and war. All this you expect but a tin of butter? That’s the big surprise.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/rdp-tuesday-butter/

Red Paper

One of the days I was in China we rode our bikes to the (then small and pretty) town of Sha Hu  (ζ²™ζΉ– Sand Lake) which was a little north and some other direction of our university. I don’t know for sure what time of year it was, but I suspect it was around New Years because there were many street artists or street calligraphers writing big black characters on sheets of thin paper that had been painted red. After the paper was painted red, bits of gold paint had been splattered on the surface. It was BEAUTIFUL. I watched the artists work for a while, enchanted by all of it.

Example… I don’t know what this says 😦

Then I came back to Denver and tried to adjust to the weirdness of a bad marriage, a brother in trouble, and a place I didn’t want to be. My ex gave me a big, red toolbox for my art supplies. I decided to splatter it with gold paint and asked my brother if I could borrow his gold spray paint (he did air-brush type paintings with spray paint in the trunk of the car my ex had given him). Instead of saying “Yes” or “No” he began arguing artistic theory with me. Polemical people are prone to not listening and he wasn’t listening when I said, “They do it in China. It’s beautiful.”

“China, China, China, I’m sick of hearing about China. Red and gold don’t go together.”

Since I was feeding and housing him, I didn’t think this was really “the thing.” It wasn’t something to argue anyway, but my brother had a way of just getting in your face when he wanted to prove a point, especially if he had been drinking. I didn’t know (because he’d promised NOT to drink while he lived with us) that he was drinking secretly. Finally I just went out the back door, got into my car, and headed down the alley.

Before long, a dark form jumped out of the bushes onto the hood of my car and clung to the windshield. Think about that. Clinging to glass is no small feat. I stopped, hoping he’d be knocked off, but if my brother had a point to prove, he was relentless. He opened the passenger door and got in.

“I’m sorry Martha Ann. It’s your toolbox.”

“Whatever. It doesn’t really matter to you what I do with it, does it?”

“No. I’m sorry. Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. I just wanted to get away from you.”

“I’m sorry.”

I didn’t want to go home, besides, there was no way to turn around in the alley. I thought, “OK, so now I’m trapped in a small space with a firecracker. Let the party begin,” but it turned out well. We drove out of town, up to Lookout Mountain west of Golden. I am sure we did some looking out. We ended up talking and laughing and being sister and brother together.

Yesterday I began working on the Sistine Poster for the Baby Duck book launch. The big thing was the RIGHT background. It had to cover the foam core — 36 x 24 a kind of slick white that sucks light and energy out of any room it’s in. It BEGS to be behind something as it should. That’s its purpose though now it can be bought in various colors. I bought red tissue paper when I went to the store figuring “This’ll work somewhere.” When I got home from a short shopping trip (and the longest walk I’ve taken since I surrendered to the injury) I saw exactly what should happen.

I scored the foam core down the middle so I could fold it, enabling it to stand up.

I spray glued the surface of the foam core and spread the tissue paper on the surface. I didn’t try to make it perfectly smooth. It seemed that a little texture would be a good thing. After all, in China, these sheets of red paper were glued to doors and door jams and were NEVER smooth. Once both sides of the foam core were covered, I thought, “What now?”

It was clear. But HOW???? I hoped I had the little bottle of gold ink I thought I bought sometime, and maybe did, but no longer have. I have sheets of gold leaf, but you can’t splatter sheets of gold leaf. I have a tube of Gamblin’s Rich Gold oil paint but that seemed, seemed, seemed what? All I had to do was thin that down and splatter it from a brush just as I’d seen done by the street artists of Sha Hu.

Oil paint? I was doubtful, but it was my only option. I wasn’t sure if if the paint would dry overnight, or two days, or what, thinned though it was. I wouldn’t even know until morning how it looked since there’s no real light in my studio other than sunlight. But it was my moment and I took it. When I was done, my face, hair, hands, jeans, sweatshirt and glasses were covered with gold flecks. I felt so happy as I worked even though…

The whole time I worked, I thought of my brother.

Speaking of forgetful — I posted this thing without the pingback. πŸ™‚

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/20/rdp-sunday-forgetful/

Artists in the Family

“You have to do like this,” my brother holds up John Gnagy’s book, Learn to Draw that we’d gotten for Christmas. It was part of a kit with pencils, charcoal, a blender (a paper pencil like thing pointed at the end), a eraser, a sandpaper pencil sharpener, a plastic pencil sharpener and some paper.

Gnagy was on TV, too, but we didn’t watch much TV. Parental controls were parents saying, “No, God dammit.”

I looked at the cone my brother was copying from the book, the early pages where Gnagy was teaching about shading.

“You have to see where the light comes from. That’s how you get three dimensions.”

My brother was always able to talk about art in this kind of way, theoretically, abstractly. I couldn’t, can’t, don’t and am seriously frightened by it. I don’t know what kind of artist I am, but not the theory to reality type.

The kit ended up my brother’s. At that point I saw myself as a future designer of women’s clothing and that’s what I was drawing. I also got a Barbie doll that year (1964) and had discovered sewing clothes for her was a lot of fun. I was also painting in oils, landscapes from my mind.

The interesting thing is that my brother was a cartoonist from the very beginning, but he understood how “real” art was important to cartooning. Somewhere inside he wanted to be a “real” artist and he did some amazing “real” paintings, but there was always something missing from them. At heart he was a story teller but needed a page of squares to tell the story. His painting hero was Howard Pyle whose paintings definitely tell stories.

Years later, when we were both in our late twenties, walking on a snowy Denver street near my mom’s house, I got some useful advice from my brother. I had just taken down my one-woman show at Cafe Nepenthes in Denver. My brother didn’t seem to think much of the show — it wasn’t his “thing,” or, maybe, he was jealous. I don’t know. Artists in a family that doesn’t support art? Well, friction is inevitable. He said I was an “abstract expressionist” (which I had to look up, later, in my book, The Shock of the New) and he said my paintings were flat, lacking depth (that damned shadow thing again). I’d sold $1000+ which I don’t think my brother ever did.

Here’s one of the paintings from that show — not really a Modigliani knock-off.

At that point, I was taking a break from painting and was doing linoleum cuts having seen Picasso’s in the National Gallery earlier that month. I was talking to my brother about them and what I was trying to do. I explained how I felt making art was responding to a divine impulse. I told him how I was having a little trouble with the knives I used to carve my linoleum. “It’s easier if the linoleum is warm,” I said.

His response, “Well, Martha Ann, if you want to talk to God you have to play Black Sabbath backwards at 78 and you need some emery paper, honey.”

Fast-forward 20 some years to San Diego. My brother and his then wife came to visit from Northern California. On my wall was a “thing” I’d spent the whole summer making. It was the dark summer of my mental breakdown, but the products were pretty nice.

“Did you do that?” my brother asked.

“How I spent my summer vacation, Kirk.”

“Dammit, Martha Ann. You ARE an artist.”

He wasn’t entirely happy about that, either.

Hippy Fords of July

One of my favorite cartoons done by my brother depicts me, Aunt Martha and him in the backseat of our car. It’s supposed to be an afternoon we all — and my mom — went up on the Gold Camp Road near Colorado Springs to look at the golden aspen. In real life, my Aunt Martha was driving. She kept looking in the rearview mirror and saw my brother reading a comic book instead of looking out the window. She would then yell at him to “Look at the aspen!!!” My brother might not have put my Aunt Martha in the driver’s seat, but he accurately depicted the sense of the day and each of our personalities.

A cartoon my brother did for my Aunt Martha’s 80th birthday

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/12/rdp-saturday-shadows/