Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Moleskine One

I bought a moleskine a while ago, based on all the buzz. Famous authors, artists, bloggers, daily sketchers, I lived over 40 years without ever hearing about these magical little books, but now they're everywhere.

So in Ashland, KY (see January posts) in the early morning, with snow falling outside my hotel room window, I was struck by the arrangement of my keys, comb, and pen on the desk. I wish I hadn't cartooned the left portion of the comb, but I'm pleased with this sketch. I have not been one who doodled or sketched all the time, but this could be habit forming.

A few weeks later the cats and sun posed. Actually the male (Tamlin, on the right) moved midway through drawing him, so his pose combines several moments. And he left completely before I could finish. I really like to draw them, and I'm mesmerized by their movements, particularly Tamlin's - the muscles and bones moving beneath his ginger striped fur. So alive and languid, like an athlete after a massage and a hot soak.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Columbia Museum of Art

A good friend in Columbia, SC (corporate office for my day job) has been trying to arrange a visit to the Columbia Museum of Art. We finally managed to work out a long lunch yesterday, and we went.

It's in downtown Columbia, which is full of beautiful old houses and unusual buildings. I need to go back with a camera and take some shots for paintings. On rthe light warm day we had, it was great to park and walk. The museum is in a good location, and has an interesting urban setting. It's small, well laid out, and has a nice collection - light on big names, but quality pieces by the artists represented.

We moved through relatively quickly past many of the traditional paintings from the eraly renaissance, the romatic period, etc. - religious paintings, portraits, a few landscapes, and a small side gallery with collages that were the paper equivalent of field painting. We finally slowed when we got to the several rooms with work from the 20th century. I've always been drawn to the work of the early and mid 20th.

One of the pieces my friend particularly wanted to show me was the bizarre, fantastic dessert of a chandelier made in Italy in the Victorian era. It was over eight feet of cascading glass, curled blue leaves, colorful pastel flowers, and large bowled sconces for candles. This photo does not capture the light primary triad (pink, yellow, and electric blue) that pervade the piece. Like frosting on some spring themed, many tiered Venetian cake. Amazing. Note the big acorn shape on the bottom - which was about ten inches high.

Through a doorway we first spotted a sculpture I knew was of Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon. The piece is Hunt by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth. The photo here does not do it justice, as Diana is a magnificent warm bronze, with a finish like glass. Meanwhile, the hounds are left rough, with the light areas just turning copper oxide green, the high points bronze as if hand rubbed. The coldness of the hounds (in face, demeanor, and color) contrasted with the goddess' rich glowing heat was striking. And the sculpture, about 18 inches high, is full of echoes. Diana's form (extended arm and leg) repeats the curves of the bow, as do the dogs' Russian wolf-hound backs. In person you can feel the massive furnace of the big rib cages and hearts of these tireless animal companions, as wild and alien as the goddess.

In the lobby area, while my friend was in the museum store, I found some hand blown glass vessels by Brent Kee Young. The one in the photo here is amazingly detailed, and the curled shell shape in the lower right is actually in relief, like the cavity left by a fossil, an imprint, but filled in with the clear glass. I have no idea how that effect can be achieved.

And there was one more large bronze, of a young woman, nude, playfully on all fours facing a young goat. The kid was reared up on it's hind hooves, head down, back arched, bouncing up in the opening leap, charging to butt heads with the young woman. The piece was life sized, on a rectangular base, with the two figures framing a pregnant space of less than three feet. The play and tension and impending collision were all captured forever, the most interesting instant possible. The shape of the kid's back was so achingly beautiful, so full of energy and glee and immature male force.

I was surprised that my two favorite pieces in the museum would end up sculptures. I usually fall in love with paintings, caught on the colors.

My friend bought me a poster of one of her favorite paintings, one which was not hanging in the galleries, unfortunately. It's great fun, full of light, and has some stories for her, which she shared with me. I will hang it in my office and it will remind me of her and of our spring trip, a hiatus from the day crammed with exciting meetings and hot debates about software design and company vision.

Friday, February 23, 2007

All Trees are Hollow

Sometimes I try to imagine the shape of the living parts of trees. Since trees grow outward (those rings you see in a cross-section), and leave the old layers behind as dead structure, the living part is a thin green skin, stretched over the whole trunk and branches, just under the bark. If you removed the bark, and all the wood, and filled what was left with air, a tree would resemble some green thing made from those balloons tied into animals and headgear at childrens' birthday parties. Another way to think about trees is that they contain, inside each other, all of their former selves. An old oak might contain within itself the shape it had two hundred years ago.

A tree is like matryoshka, those Russian nesting dolls (photo credit to RedKen on Flickr). If you could peel it, like an onion, you could take it's shape back through time, year by year, except for lost limbs. Each layer is the petrified former living tree.

And the tree in leaf is hollow and layered in another way. Leaves grow mostly on the very outside of the leafy crown, in order to catch the sunlight. What any tree climbing child discovers is that the hearts of trees are wonderfuly open, and I recall as a child feeling like I was climbing up into the globe of a hot air balloon when I pulled myself up the sugar maple where our bird feeder hung.

I would sit in one spot in the branches and dream. Through gaps in the leafy sphere I would look over the old house, over the Roelof Jansen Kill, towards Turkey Hill. I used to take a box of Sunmaid raisins up there after school, and I would sit high in the leafy ball and eat them. The taste of raisins can still remind me of the hard round pressure of tree limbs under my hands and feet. I think of all those decades of layers of wooden images of the tree as it grew, holding me up in my lofty perch, a wood filled living balloon inside a leafy balloon, and myself in between.

Painting above is from my art website - more images here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

John Rosenthal and Composition

In one of those weird tumbling chains of ideas, my mind was led this evening from a pre-mythic community of the ancient world to the modern community of New York City. I read the latest on-line posted chapter of Healing Knowledge and from there went to the author's blog. There he had a post about Sean Overbeeke and a link to a "mockumentary" called "Skip Rogerson Extreme Walker" which was great fun. But while watching I was distracted by the narrator's voice, because I've met him and heard him on NPR. It was John Rosenthal. My eldest and I spent an important and deeply satisfying half hour in his Chapel Hill home on the latest Orange County Artist Guild Studio Tour, looking at many of his terrific black and white photos and talking with him about the situations, his work, and (most satisfying) about the compositions.

I often feel, when I am painting, like I am speaking this bizarre foreign language that most people don't hear. Even artists don't always speak it - their work might not be about composition; there are many other preoccupations in art that are just as absorbing.
Sometimes I see a painting and I'm caught up breathless because it's like finding a message scrawled on a wall. They have said something clear and wonderfully personal in that language I love. I sometimes look around at others near me, wondering if they are reading it or not. Do they see the language there?

I've learned to speak about composition in English, but it's odd to translate. Composition scratches some very deep itch inside me, pushes buttons as deep and primeval as hunger, fear, sex. But to give you maybe a glimpse of the start of this fascination and obsession, this way of seeing EVERYTHING, this constant play and editing of reality, rearranging every scene two dimensionally in my mind's eye, looking for the next visual epiphany... I'm going to talk about some of the beautiful rightness of Mr. Rosenthal's photos. I hope he won't mind.

Most of reality is arranged randomly or by laws of nature or physics. There is a rightness to that, too, but it's different than the deliberate arrangement that says, "A mind came this way." Just as you can learn to tell writing in the sand from any other kind of random markings (like seagull footprints), even if the characters are unfamiliar, and just as you can learn to tell arabic script from Cyrillic, you can learn to see composition and recognize individual artists' styles.

So let's start with one of the first photos that caused me to open the conversation with my son and then with Mr. Rosenthal. After reading this post, he suggested I copy the photos here, which I appreciate. The links or the photos will open larger images if you need them.

This first photo is called Tomkins Square 1976. Let's start nice and easy. The rightness in this photo is made of many complex things, but you can put your finger on just about all of it by asking yourself just one question. Look at the photo for a while - explore it with your eyes - and then ask yourself, "Would it be as wonderful if I moved the dog's form ANYWHERE else in the photo?" I stood very still that afternoon and looked for several timeless seconds asking myself that question. It was deeply satisfying to ask because I knew at first glance that the answer would be, "No!" I played the game and moved it all over. The most fun was moving it just a tiny bit to one side, or up or down just a little bit. You might get away with that, but you can't really improve this photo that way. I smiled from ear to ear and sighed. And the miracle here is that this isn't a manufactured piece - the dog was serendipitously in that spot at that moment, the camera was ready, and the artist understood the moment and caught it. No editing or arranging were done. I asked Mr. Rosenthal about this photo and the perfect placement of the dog, and he smiled and said he actually had several shots as the dog ran along that path. This was the best one. Oh yes.

Then look at Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. Here there are layers and layers of intentional artistic arrangement. First there is the beauty and composition of the sculpture. Then there is the deliberate placement of the statue in the architectural world around it. The white of the statue contrasting with the darker forms of EVERYTHING else. Look at all the squares and circles repeated in playful and regimented ways, from the squares in the pedestal to the square tiles of the floor. Next we have the placement of the chairs, perfectly aligned with the square floor tiles, and not just for neatness - another human message without words, waiting for us to notice. Then serendipity and the photographer add the next layer of intentional human meaning. The elderly man ignoring the youthful and bashful pose of the nude marble and the photographer capturing it. Finally there is the editing of the photo, either in the photographer's position in the room, in the view finder, in the darkroom, or likely all three, to arrive at this final image, where, again, you can't move things aroung because they are already all in the best spots. All of this unravels and tells it's separate layered tales to me when I see this photo. It's triggered by the composition, a hint that there is MEANING here.

Please check out more of Mr. Rosenthal's wonderful photos and perspective on his website.

Brinegar Cabin

This is the first acrylic painting I've finished in many years (it sold after only two days in our repainted gallery in Hillsborough - a nice feeling). I took the photo for this before any of my kids were born - so it's been a LONG time coming. I deliverately took it to paint the scene. Brinegar Cabin is in Doughton Park, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, maybe an hour's leisurely drive SW of Fancy Gap (up route 52 from Winston-Salem). This piece is about the fences, and the beautiful way everything is set in the landscape. I also love the winter hues of this shot, and I tried to capture that in the paint. The tan/gold of broom sedge, the pale silver/brown of chestnut rails. I edited out a tree that grows in front of the cabin, which would have split the piece in half, interupted the cabin's roofline, and distracted from the play of lazy diagonals. Easiest piece of logging I ever did.

This is just a 16x20 clayboard (basically masonite with a baked white surface - smooth or gritty, your choice), but to me the big deal was returning to these confusing pigments. I have a larger canvas started, as well - 30 x 30 - and I find I have to be in just the right mood to get out the paint and get going. With time and experience I hope that changes. I have a lot of loosening up to do - this was more of an exercise, proving to myself that I can handle this kind of paint.

For me acrylics are harder than watercolors right now for three reasons.
1. When you start you get out a lot of paint and you're committed. When acrylic paint is dry on your pallette, it's dead. With watercolor I can paint a bit now, splash some water on the pigments to take a break, come back hours later or even the next day, and water makes the pigments ready to go again. Some become grainy with repeated rewetting, and must be replaced, but most good watercolors behave beautifully. Since my life has so many other responsibilities and pleasures, it's hard to block out an uninterrpted couple of hours to make acrylics worth doing. Twenty minutes of watercolors is possible many evenings.
2. When you lay on acrylics, they are opaque. So to use the underlying color requires particular brushwork or conscious decision to leave an area uncovered. When I work with watercolors I can layer transparent colors on top of each other repeatedly, until I get the effect I want. So I'm unfamiliar with the level of immediate commitment acrylics require. You can paint over them, and being opaque they are more forgiving than watercolors, but you don't build your final hue or value gradually. You put it on your brush and lay it on. Commitment - that's what I lack.
3. Acrylic hues are chemicals - and they interact in ways that don't follow the simple color wheel we all learned in grade school. It is amazing the browns and olive greens you get when you mix what seem to be pure hues of intense colors. Acrylics force you to learn each pigment's qualities and mixing abilities, and more than anything, to focus on the visual coolness or heat of the color. Cadmium Yellow and Naples Yellow will not make similar greens.

I hope to do a lot more of this, and to get loosened up and let the paint be paint, as well as animals, skies, trees, and all the other things I'm loving to do.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Nanci Griffith

I wish I had a shot of last night's marquee on the old Carolina Theater in Greensboro (photo credit to STAYFLY on Flickr).

It would show "NANCI GRIFFITH - SAT 8:00." It's a grand old building in the town with the nation's most famous Woolworth store (where the sit-ins started in 1960 - a fact Nanci alluded to before singing "Love at the Five and Dime" and again when she gave us her final goodbye). It was a fitting and lovely place for her and the Blue Moon Orchestra to play. She hadn't been to this venue in twenty two years, back when she was a rising star. Three hundred people had attended then; last night she had a sold out house. The theater was nearly torn down about thirty years ago; the town rallied to save and restore it. It was built in 1927, probably around the same time as the old Woolworth's, which is also being preserved and turned gradually into a museum on Civil Rights. Nanci is all about this kind of thing - not just the preservation (for which Nanci congratulated GSO, commenting that it was more than Nashville was doing) but more importantly the message the history teaches.

Nanci is a "child of the sixties," as she sings in "It's a Hard Life," (which she performed for us) and she still carries that rebel attitude lightly and naturally, with maybe one song in four having a message. She has worked for decades now with the group recently renamed the Veterans for America Foundation, travelling to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo to see their work firsthand. This group does many things for vets, but Nanci focused on how the vets reach out where Americans have fought and inadvertently harmed noncombatants. She mentioned providing medical care and prosthetics to people maimed by land mines in coutries like Vietnam and Korea, where most of those mines were placed (and not entirely removed) by Americans. The work of this group resonates with her, and her voice is perfect for the message.

She also has a rich warm Texas pride and it comes out in her spoken sound, in her singing, and in her stories. She's never far from Texas, even when she is singing about Saigon or Belfast. She carries the place and its colorful, strong minded people, around in her heart.

And in the end that's what you feel from Nanci Griffith, in her albums and even more from a live performance: her heart. It's hurt and lonely ("Working in Corners"), it's ever full of hope for the future ("Love Conquers All"), it's angry about injustice of any kind ("It's a Hard Life"), it's proud of her past and her state and the causes she supports. It's got the tenderest spot for the people in our armed forces whether in harm's way now or veterans. There are countless references to military people and military service in her stories and songs. Her politics may be to the left of many in the military, and she loudly questions the motivation for military action and its methods, but in Nanci the soldiers and their loved ones have a "True Companion" and a "True Believer."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Abstract 15

Abstract 15 is complete (I just need to sign it). This one went through several phases, most of them boring. It leaned against my work table for a long time, with a blank look on its face - a pale face with no eyebrows or eyelashes. At one point I thought it would never resolve itself into anything interesting enough, and I was preparing to just pull it off the board and start another. That's when I let go and had more fun. Most of the color in the lower half was the result.

While I love the subtle colors and grays at the beach, part of me is hunting for more colors. My sweet tooth. I'm imagining the tropics - yet even photos of the beaches in the south seas seem disappointingly short of the full spectrum. I want more than blue and gold. So this painting didn't surprise me, especially this time of year.

It is sub-titled "The Starfish."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Three Occasions

Twenty six years ago today I stood numb with anticipation and anxiety as the first notes played from a movement of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." (Oddly prophetic choice, now that I think about it.) My future bride was coming down the aisle. I was nervous about the wedding, but I had no doubts at all about the marriage.

Our wedding broke just about every rule of wedding etiquette. We had a justice of the peace instead of a priest or pastor. We had the ceremony and reception in my in-law's formal parlor/dining room. There was no recessional at all; we went from ceremony to everyone crowding up to congratulate us to photos with various groups. A college friend and family took all the pictures, which don't quite fill a very small wedding album. I think the guests (especially friends and several uncles on my side) helped move out the chairs and set up the tables for the luncheon. The flowers were mostly potted azaleas that ended up in my father-in-law's gardens. After the meal we all sat around in a big circle (there were about 30 people, I think) and we opened the presents, ooohed and aaahed, and passed them around for everyone to see. We hadn't had a registry or any other way for guests to know what to get us - they had to use their imagination and many of the gifts are still some of our favorite things.

Guests have said, years later, that it was one of their favorite weddings, and they had thought it very sweet. We just did whatever we felt like, and I am amazed looking back that no one told us we were "breaking the rules." No one did anything but help as we put the whole thing together and made it up as we went along.

Years later our only wedding regrets are that more of my wife's relatives could not come, and that we got married on Valentine's Day. It's hard to go out to dinner without a lot of fuss - don't try to find flowers other than roses (neither's favorite) - and people say, "Oh how sweet!" when they find out. We had just picked it as the earliest Saturday we could make it work. Nothing to do with Valentine's day - even if that WAS the same day my sweetheart started the whole thing by sending me a singing Valentinogram in highschool. Yes, we were highschool sweethearts, and just 19 and 20 in that wedding photo above.

Then our daughter was born on 2/14 and solved the Valentine's Day problem for us. We celebrate our anniversary some day later, and think of the 14th as her birthday. What a terrific anniversary present (though a delivery room isn't the best place to spend it). While my love was sleeping from the exhausting effort and the drugs, I was in a chair, with a warmed blanket over my head, holding my 30-minute-old daughter up to my face so I could warm her up and calm her down. She was so upset at the cold and the toweling off the nurses had given her.

As I fell in love with the second most important girl in my adult life, and she finally fell asleep, I couldn't help but think a lot about the most important girl in my life. The angel who still looks to me like this photo, and who, even when she's not smiling, is still my angel.

Happy birthday, dear sweet daughter, now 15. You are so smart, sassy, beautiful, and loving. I look at you and I'm breathless thinking how lucky someone is going to be when you have your own wedding. I hope you feel as free as we were to make it any way you want. There ARE no rules.

Happy anniversary, my love. 26 years ago I got my lasting good luck when I married a smart, sassy, beautiful, loving girl.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Top Ten (Books)

OK - with two mentions of John Crowley's Little Big in two days (here and here) I will capitulate and do my Top Ten list. That particular fantasy swept me away. The concept is huge, the writing begs to be read aloud...

I'm going to possibly bend the rules, though, to include poems/prayers that have had huge impact on my life.

Putting these in order is impossible. I don't think I can - so I'm not going to number these.

The Book of Psalms - I have had several pocket versions of this ancient prayer book, illustrated in one case, that got bent and dog-eared from being carried and prayed with the rest of the Catholic world at the eight "hours" of the day - times with magnificant names like vespers, lauds, and matins. Some changed my life, like the short and exquisite 133 (Catholic numbering) "How good, how delightful it is to live as brothers all together..." which I used at age 16 as the chaplain of Boys' State in NY, to the approval of the group of rowdies there with me.

The Book of Isaiah which somehow, even more than the Gospels, commands my faith in Jesus and the revelation of Christianity (whatever damage churches may do to it). How did the author(s) of this prophetic book get it so right, hundreds of years before, and in such language? Only God knows. Yep, must be a God.

Little Big by John Crowley - Terrific story containing all stories somehow. Layers and layers of worlds within worlds within houses within books... This fantasy is larger and more intimate than any other I've read.

Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand - part of me climbed inside this play at age 17. I read it amazed that someone had created a character that captured and ordered so much of the emotional chaos of my late teen years.

Aeneid by Virgil. Reading this in Latin at UNC-CH seemed to be the reward for my college education, and where it had been headed all along. The book that depicts the fall of Troy itself, and particularly the actual fall of Priam's house, tears your heart out. I recall being hypnotized by the poetic devices Virgil used, lost in English but so obvious to his Roman audience, like the way the Latin word for doors was deliberately broken around the word bipenibus, the huge destroying double bladed axe. The one line that I recall (correctly or not) is from the book with Queen Dido: "stat sonipes ac frena ferox spumantia mandit." Potent metaphor for sexual anticipation, the density of this line still thrills me, and how can anyone have the heart to try to translate "sonipes."

Anima Christi a short prayer I say silently in Latin while my family all hold hands after Eucharist. This prayer, even more than the Lord's Prayer, though I've said that and the Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox many more times, seems to cover all my cosmic needs and wishes. "Intra Tua vulnera absconde me / Ne permitas me separare a te." And the use of the Latin "second person familiar" for God makes me quiver every time I write these words...

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame - of which A. A. Milne wrote that it was a book you read to your lady and if she did not like it you asked her to return your letters. The friendship of Mole and Rat, the follies of Toad, the way some paragraphs work in the mouth. This book makes good use of the "cold iron ring of the English tongue" (Auden, I think), and many of England's other singular graces, as well.

The two Pooh books, which I insist are one work in two volumes. There is so much wisdom about all of us in these stories - we ARE these creatures. We have spent many a campfire or hearthfire with children sprawled on pillows reading aloud each child's pick of story from these books. My wife and I read them to each other before we had children. We all play Pooh Sticks on the high bridge over the Linville River off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We have all tried to find our way home, "But Rabbit would talk."

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery (what a magnificent name) - I never get tired of the section about the fox. "You are forever responsible for what you have tamed."

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein - this more than The Lord of the Rings would get my vote because of the great pleasure I've taken in reading it to each of my children. Where Bilbo ends up by the end, compared to where he starts... It's a lesson I wish I could take to heart far more often. And the chapter where you meet Smaug is one of my favorite dragon dialogues to read aloud (along with chapter 5 of A Wizard of Earthsea).

And I already regret others I'm not including, like the Bunny Planet trilogy by Rosemary Wells, which I have read and prescribed to co-workers as medicine for stress. Or like The Way of the Pilgrim which changed my prayer life drastically when I was 15. I'm sure I'll be adding other omissions to this in future posts...

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Zero Bar Club, or "Why Can't This Be Love"

Photo thanks to cybele-la and Flickr.

Tonight I took three teenagers rollerskating. We went in the Kittywink, listening to my Drive Tape 6, which features songs by Van Halen, Molly Hatchet, Def Leppard, Boston, Heart, Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, etc.

We went to Wheels, an old rink in Durham, where we started out in a light crowd of twenty or so, mostly adults teaching small kids to skate and one group of Latino teens who were shy, giggly, and hardly dared to stand wobbling on their skates. The music was familar, loud, mostly African American (as were most of the other skaters), and even included a few songs we hadn't heard in the years since the last time we skated. They did not play "Mambo #5," that hit with Santana, or the one we call "I Want a Hot Girl." This is music we don't play, but it's great to skate.

With an hour to closing we were the only four left, and the DJ changed the music to funky and cheesey hits from the seventies and eighties, like, "Play that Funky Music," "Bad to the Bone," "Love Shack," and "Kung Fu Fighting." We skated backwards, forwards, finally all over with no direction, and had a great time. I loved watching the three of them dance the Macarena, the girls in the middle of the rink and my son doing it while still skating around them. The DJ turned down the lights and turned on the sparkle balls. She later mentioned to my daughter that she had seen us out there and thought, "If I were here like that, with just my family, what would I want to hear?" Knowing nothing of that conversation, I had smiled some encouragement at her after the first couple of crazy choices and at the end of the evening I tipped her.

We were all tired and sore, but were in such high spirits and so warmed up that we didn't feel the thirty degree breeze as we returned to our coats, which we had left in the Kittywink. My two kids and I are already founding members of the Zero Bar Club - and we told our guest (a friend from up the street in our neighborhood) that we were going to initiate her. "I'm scared," she said, and I replied in a deep theatrical voice, "And you should be." We drove over dark Old North Durham roads (Hoover, Cheek, Junction, Geer, Red Mill) to an Exxon station up on North I-85, getting Drive Tape 6 into the right position. Then we went in and bought four Zero Bars. Our guest had no idea what they were. We returned to the Winkycat and ate the bars to Van Halen (cranked up) playing, "Why Can't This Be Love." We all rocked in our seats to move the whole car to the opening guitar beat. It's the Zero Bar Club's theme song, because it's what came around on a tape (it's on three of my Drive Tapes) the first time we did this. Our guest did not finish her Zero Bar - they are a bit much, actually (white chocolate, nougat, caramel, and nuts - the marzipan of candybars) but we now consider her a member. We'll let her get something else next time.

She commented on the way home, as we sang to "The Boxer" and "Penny Lane," that "This has been the best time I've had in a while. Roller skating, music, and candy!" My daughter later commented that she used to only like three or four songs on this Drive Tape, "But now I like almost all of them!" "Then I've succeeded in ruining you," I replied.

Once home, after seeing our guest in her front door, and after stretching my sore body, I read the bedtime chapter to our youngest (age 8): "The Dragon of Pendor" from "A Wizard of Earthsea." It's my favorite chapter of that book, which I got as a teen after a NYC friend of our family got me books two and three of the trilogy. She confessed at the time that she had no idea what they were, but thought they looked interesting. Those two books started a rush of fantasy reading that lasted decades, and now I'm reading it aloud for the third time, to my third child.

That Zero Bar was not the richest thing in my evening - not by a long shot - and I know this CAN be love.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Breakfast with Pandora

I dropped out of blog reading for about a year while I reconnected my artistic roots. While I carefully grew back from kites to watercolors to graphite and now to acrylics... From pictures of things, to pictures with things, to pictures that have no things, I cut way back on reading.

Lately, though, as my own confidence as a creative person is reaching a new place, I have begun this blog of my own and started reaching out again to blogs I read in the past.

Breakfast with Pandora is one of those. I greatly admire its author's commitment to youth, and his daily work with teenagers. They're a tough crowd because there is so much energy, and I don't just mean hormones. Think of the power of the waters of Niagara, just as they roar out into the gorgeous arc of freefall... This is youth, poised to tackle adulthood.

I left DF (Breakfast's creator) a comment today, on his Cassandra Kubinski post. I quote the comment here, too.

Go read this guy's work - it will change your view of life, of youth, of our ancient roots in Greece and myth.

And he has started a novel which he will post on-line for comment, as well. You should read his post about the novel first.

OK - I'm seeing a strong pattern here as I read more of your aesthetic impressions and your own creative work. The way so many of Cassandra's pieces start with lovely simple piano and then her voice, lovely, young, vulnerable, present - all characteristics that are best set simply... Your comparison of Paris and Greece... There are two things that emerge to me.
First, you have a fascination for the essential, like earthy smells and tastes, life & death, eating, blood and pain, love, the feel of the ground under our feet.
It was my impression as a student of ancient Greek philosphy (at UNC-CH) that not only were Greek philosophers fascinated with the root ideas, but their very language was all tangled up with the most basic of things, and sounded like life itself. Hebrew strikes me in a similar way, as a language that is created from the sounds of earth and life and death, but both Hebrew and Greek go on to have enough superstructure to build religions, cosmologies, and metaphysics.
When I studied Latin I was overwhelmed with the cleverness, the intricate weave of the language, and particularly of the poetry, like the Aeneid. The same, it seems to me, could be said of French or Arabic. But Greek and Hebrew have gradually come into my view, like hills emerging across the valley as the mist clears later in this day that is my life, as the older and more essential places.
So I'm not surprised to see you spend so much creative energy on things Greek and Proto-Greek - regardless of your abiding love of Latin, and your daily work with it.
Second, your passion and compassion for youth. Cassandra's sound, face, themes, are all young. It's not innocence that draws you, though, I think - because it's not children you seem primarily drawn to, but the transition to adult awareness while the possibilities and desires still remain boundless. The conviction that power is limitless. The Israeli's are purported to draw their fighter pilots (the most daring in the world) solely from adolescents because so many 17 year olds believe they are immortal.
So it's not innocence, but something else that is still intact in youth. Infinite horizons. The same sort of view of the world and life that makes us godlike, creative, confident, open. Of course we inevitably discover our limitations and must overcome that realization - that is one way of defining coming of age... There is an intoxicating beauty in the young man or young woman poised on the brink of that journey, and your daily work and your creative work are planted on that edge, where you can watch, listen, and help.
I plan to order her CD. Adult artists (Paul Klee and Alexander Calder, among others) sometimes remark that their art is an attempt to learn again how to draw as children. My artistic journey is like that, too. And from that place on the road, it is possible to look backwards and forwards to the lovely work of artists like Cassandra.

Opening with Kites

When I first began to be unblocked again about my art, I couldn't deal with a blank page. The idea of doing a painting or a drawing - even a sketch - was too much. Too serious. For that annoying litle voice inside of me, artwork comes with the expectation of a certain level of success or ability, and I was not ready to listen to my own censor on that level.

So I started daydreaming about kites. I first thought of a bright orange fantail goldfish. That kite went on to show up in some of my first recent paintings, once I get that far, but I haven't made an actual kite of a goldfish, yet. Then I bought some beautiful bright yellow wrapping paper, and some sticks and string, and I made the first kite in yellow. Before I stretched it on the frame I drew a cat on it, and then painted the background with white acrylic house paint.

For the kite's tail I decided to make a mouse. On one side the mouse is unaware of the cat - but on the flip side of the mouse medalion the mouse will see the cat. When we flew this kite, on a frigid windy day last March, the mouse spun quickly under the cat and it looked like a flip-book movie. Beneath the mouse was a cheese, mentally continuing the storybook foodchain.

I made a bighorn sheep kite, later, but was never as pleased with him. He's on my website's "silly" page, along with these photos of the cat and mouse.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Snow Snow Go Away

It snowed today. I still drove to work...

I remember being only about three feet tall and following my mother with a washtub in my mittened hands. She was shoveling a path, taking the top foot or so of snow off and leaving the bottom four or five inches for my brother and I to scoop up and toss. It seemed a long way up to pitch the snow over the edge. I recall Jim having a harder time than I did (he was a year and half younger) and having some of his snow tumble back down into the ditch at his feet. It was bright, clear, cold, and we were excited to be helping Mom to surprise Dad by having some of the shoveling done before he got home from work. This was probably before Dad had gotten the snowblower.

And I recall years later using that snowblower in the semi-dusk of a late winter evening to clear our long roadside pull-off. I can hear the roar of the motor and the grind of the rotors chopping up the icy chunks created by the snow ploughs that had doubled the height and density of the snow I had to move. I was proud to be old enough to handle the monster and do a man's work, but bone weary when the job was done.

Even more worn out than when I would come home from shoveling the snowy walk of Mr. Deitz next door. I would have to strip out of my clothes just inside our door and go straight to the shower, because no one could stand the smell of chain smoking I brought back from their kitchen, where, after shoveling and being paid, Mr. Deitz and I would play some game of skill or chance and I would lose my wage and then win it back again. He was an 80+ year old son of German immigrants who had made a living as a tin smith and loved to joke and laugh. He had trained his fantailed goldfish to sit in his cupped hand placed in the tank, and he had patience enough to teach chickadees to take sunflower seeds from his lips. I liked him. He and his wife lived alone now, and he looked forward to the snow, when "Clemens" (as he called me - he was hard of hearing and I don't know if he ever caught my name correctly) would come to shovel, play, and retrieve two big brown bottles of Genesee beer from his garage before heading home.

And I suppose I had my fill of snow in New York, because I really don't care if it never snows here. I like to see my children excited by it, and it's pretty when it falls and lines all the branches of the trees, but otherwise I could happily never shovel it or drive in it again.