Tuesday, October 30, 2007


One of my very favorite smells is of the first drops on hot pavement in the summer. One of my favorite Van Gogh paintings is an attempt to capture rain in oils (it succeeds, in my opinion - he tried to paint everything and in all conditions). I love to fall asleep to the sound of it on a roof above me, especially a tin roof, such as we had when we lived in the little house in Bynum, NC.

But that same sound often makes we wake in a sweat wondering what I've left outdoors uncovered, like my father's tools, when I was young. And I can't abide the feel of it falling on my head when it's cold, or any part of my skin, most days.

Several summers ago we had another drought, and I recall we treated approaching thunder storms like shows. We would move the cars out of the way of the garage, set up chairs just inside the open door, open a bottle of white wine, and sit and watch the patterns of the rain washing in waves from the west, and the trees bending amazingly in the wind. During this year's drought the storms have been so scarce that an all-day rain feels apocalyptic, somehow, in it's dark strangeness. It makes me shiver with delight.

On the other hand, I can vividly recall several miserable drives in pouring rain, hands numb from clenching the wheel, eyes desperately dry in long spells between blinks, wipers providing only blips of vision, like the clarity of air traffic control radar between long sweeps of life and death ignorance.

But I also remember running downhill in blinding wind and rain, practically taking wing on the force of the weather, determined to at least put my boot in Camp Alice Creek before the long uphill journey back to the car. I shouted with triumph in the creek and ran back up to where my love was waiting to get out of there.

A "Stepping Stones" depth consciousness exercise recently shocked me with a forgotten memory of a long bike ride, during which it rained and then cleared up into one of the most intoxicating treks of my life. Soaked to the skin and far away, I was dry by the time I got home. The vignette is so strong, I can remember the feel of my wet clothes, the light on a particular stretch of road, but I can't recall my age or even what state the memory is in. New York? North Carolina? The rain had been sweet, but the aftermath was so clear and even sweeter.

Never mind clear, thunder makes me want to dance and shout. Close lightning, and booms that rattle the windows, make my heart sing. Once, I was running through the woods of my adolescence, racing a storm home, when a simultaneous flash and explosion knocked me flat. Days later I found that the big black walnut, only a hundred feet or so from where I fell, had scattered it's bark fifty feet in all directions and had a black streak, like the mark of Cain, down it's entire trunk. I love the heart of the storm - the louder the better.

But only if I'm dry. Like a cat, I hate to have my skin or fur wet. I detest bringing groceries in from the car in the rain. Even worse is rushing a full grocery cart to my car and loading them into the trunk in a downpour. I break out all over in a vile rash of swearwords.

But one of my favorite memories of Winston-Salem was the day I decided to walk home from work (Wachovia's headquarters, downtown) to our apartment (the absolute end of Northwest Boulevard, past Hanes Park) in a gentle spring rain. I had no umbrella and I was amazed at how long it actually took to get wet to the skin, and how the back of me, as long as I kept moving, remained bone dry. My thick, long hair (this was 1981, and I was twenty) didn't start dripping into my eyes until I was two miles into the journey.

And how I loved rainy afternoons when I was a teen, because none of the neighbors' lawns could be mowed. Incandescent, I would lay on my bed and read books in the gloom, like a man reprieved from a sentence of penal servitude, allowed one more day and one more book. Even now I can derive the same lovely, guilty pleasure in a day when chores are canceled due to weather, and the house falls quiet beneath miles and hours of falling rain. Sometimes we light the fireplace and lay on pillows on the floor and read Pooh stories aloud, the sight of the flames and the sound of the water lending magic to the delightful words.

"The Piglet was sitting on the ground at the door of his house blowing happily at a dandelion, and wondering whether it would be this year, next year, some time or never. He had just discovered that it would be never, and was trying to remember what "it" was, and hoping it wasn't anything nice, when Pooh came up."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Self Portraits - Do I Have To?

In a quiet moment recently (while doing my Morning Pages) I heard pretty loud and clear a call to do self portraits. I was not happy to hear this. I hated that exercise in art school, and I tended to shy away from drawing faces, partly as a result.

Well I broke down and did the first, in my moleskine (using a Staedtler pigment liner, 0.5), and I sort-of got into it by the end. I'm not quite satisfied with the drawing, and you can see how much I loved the experience from my expression.

I'm curious to see how my face evolves as I continue this. Yes, I heard the beatings will continue until morale improves.

To me this is a fair likeness - but to other family members it's not. I don't think we tune into the same things about faces - and when someone draws a face you get the filtered version, only the things they tune into. So, in a way, a drawing of a face reveals how the artist sees that face. I'm not talking about some deliberate artistic license - I mean the artist can do his or her best to capture exactly what she or he sees, and the results will puzzle some people who see different things.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Myers-Briggs - What Works for Me

With the exception of our youngest, who is eight, my entire household has gotten into Myers-Briggs tests and scores. There has been a lot of laughter as well as serious conversation about the tests, the scores, the parts of the score that won't come out the same when we take different tests, etc. We have looked at a lot of material online, such as the fun and informative Greek Mythology meets Myers-Briggs posts (I, II, III, and last) on Breakfast with Pandora, and the Brutally Honest Personality Test.

Today, though, my various impressions started to gel. Here's how it's shaping up.

This post discusses what works for me. A later post will discuss where the Myers-Briggs typology doesn't work so well, in my view.

1. How I behave or feel at any particular moment is my weather, while the MB typology is my climate.

So I can continue to adapt to the weather, and minimize the effects, but I have quit trying to raise cacti in my rain forest climate. I'm an INFP, and I have long been angry at my deep seated need to have everyone around me feeling good and doing OK. I have to struggle to make decisions based on what's best instead of what will please everyone. I hate buying from certain types of sales people, because my need to fulfill them impairs my judgment. I hate to tell people no. It's almost impossible to deliver bad news or criticism.

I can steer using reason, tell people no, and make tough decisions, but it's a struggle, and I have always felt I should be able to change that. No more. The Myers-Briggs map helped me separate the weather from the climate.

I've long realized these same tendencies of mine are also strengths, and I have put them to great use making a living and a family, so my big gain from the MB typology is this separation of what I can change, and what I can't.

2. I'm not alone, but it's OK if it seems like it, because I'm rare.

I have always had the impression I was some weird rain forest creature trying to run in a herd of wildebeest. INFP males are one of the two or three smallest Myers-Briggs groups. Knowing it's a group means I'm not a freak, just an unusual species. Knowing I'm a rare species (at least in our society) means I have unique abilities to offer. So I'll stop wondering why I can't run like the rest, and why the dust makes me cough when it doesn't bother most others, and I'll enjoy doing what I do.

3. The dynamics of my most important relationships are like the boundaries between climates, and the weather there has recognizable patterns.

Some of the dynamics in my relationships, particularly with my true love of nearly 28 years, have been hard for me. For instance, when she gets withdrawn (often because I'm being pushy or a dope) and I don't get signals about her feelings, I tend to fill in the worst and either fret or get angry. As an INFP I now know why I need to constantly test the waters around me, and why absence of emotional info freaks me out. Knowing what I'm doing (and why) means it doesn't have to rule me. And knowing she is a very different type helps, as well.

4. I'm a natural pollyanna.

I'm gullible and likely to believe the best about everyone. I have always thought this meant I was immature or stupid in some way - but now I see this is just another aspect of my climate. I will be hurt and taken advantage of, but I'm not going to make a complete change in my trust and positive view of people and life without doing major damage to my whole system.

5. I don't like crowds and parties for TWO reasons.

I have always had trouble with parties, and rightly assumed it was because I'm an introvert, and so parties drain my emotional batteries. This was confirmed. But I now realize that groups of people, especially when emotions are flowing more freely, are like hurricanes for me, because I am monitoring all the winds in order to help maintain balance. So in the future I'll cut myself more slack about parties and family gatherings; I might still go, but I won't feel guilty if I'd rather not.

I will post again later about shortcomings of Myers-Briggs, and their effect on me and my family.

(All artwork are original watercolors I painted in the last few years. All but one have found good homes. They are "Storm," "Singing the Catfish's Song," "Cliffs," "Virgil's
Escape" (which is a sort of self portrait), and "Carnival of Venice.")

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Frog Gardening

Frog Gardening
(previously posted at Gardener's Corner)
Copyright - Steve Emery - all rights reserved.

When we were in early grade school, my brother and sisters and I used to spend every spring afternoon after school at the "frogstream." This was in reality a drainage ditch by the side of the road, but since it was fed by a spring, it ran continuously. One day we had found a frog in it, and were so excited. We dammed the ditch to make a pool for the frog.

Lo, there were two frogs in the pool the next day. We made more pools further "downstream." We grew quite adept at cutting the bank clay into living strips, with grass and violets growing on the tops, and rearranging them in tiers of dams and pools. Eventually we had quite a troop of frogs, all of which had names. There was Biggy1 and Biggy2. There was the greenheaded one named (of course) Greeny. Later we would find a large bullfrog and, due to it's gold tympanum, name it Goldie. (The pool in which we found "her" was called "Goldie's Place.")

This play went on for weeks, and finally months. Nearly every day we went down to the "frogstream" to take census, repair the dams on our water terraces, catch all the frogs and put them in one pool, name the new arrivals, and reroute the runoff. Wildflowers took their turns on the shores. Violets, Blue-eyed Grass, Henbit, Cresses, Celandine, Wild Strawberries (oh, far too few), Daisies, Queen Anne's Lace. Soon it would be summer vacation and we could play there all day.

Then one tragic day we came home from school and found the "frogstream" gone. The water trickled over newly exposed bedrock. It seems the county had noticed the ditch which never drained, and they had come and scooped up the entire thing and hauled it away in a dump truck. We thought of the frogs and wept. We raged about this for days. We never returned to the spot after that, avoiding it.

But it remains in my memory as a deliciously cooperative type of farming practiced by four small children ranging in age from myself, about nine, to my youngest sister, about two. In its heyday the "frogstream" was home to nearly a dozen frogs, of several species. Once we even found a Leopard Frog, a prince of his kind. (He deigned to stay with us only one day. The other hoteliers were far too common. Or perhaps it was our overwhelming childish love - we ALL had to catch and hold him at least once...)

When I think of my early childhood, the "frogstream" runs through it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Tree Shadows

This is another passion of mine. I love trees casting shadows over a bank or hill. If the shadows go over freshly mown grass, I like it even better.

And, of course, it's fine with me if the shadows fall on another favorite thing, a dirt road. They add to that, "far away and day is nearly done" atmosphere that makes me feel so alive.

Trees and their shadows get into my paintings, too. This is "Water's Edge" - my first acrylic canvas in years.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October Ode to Orange

My favorite month and my favorite color

1. Bumble bee in cosmos
2. Terracotta rabbit - first yard item we place each spring
3. Noodles of summer, waiting to be put away
4. Autumn leaves at the Cone Manor, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
5. French marigolds
6. Pumpkin gourd
7. Nasturtiums
8. Tamlin Cat
9. Lina Kitty
10. A favorite dish towel
11. Rubber tugboats
12. Sunset off the Blue Ridge Parkway
13. Leaves over the Bass Lake, Cone Manor
14. From the puzzle youngest son and I completed this week - a favorite of mine
15. Monarch I drew over twenty years ago
16. Miniature rose

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Something REALLY Different - Urinals

I'm not sure what led to this post. Perhaps too much travel in recent months, and too many unfamiliar restrooms all over the country. At any rate, you ladies will now have an opportunity to consider something you probably never thought about - the aesthetics and etiquette of that uniquely mens room item, the urinal.

Above is the all too typical bank of urinals. At least this mens room has a view, and probably fresher air, too. The photo above shows the usual configuration, with one urinal lower than the others, for little guys. There are many shapes, from rectangular ones, to ones that look more like porcelain scoops (see next photo). Sometimes there are little demi-walls between, more often not.

The next photo gives you a closer view of the plumbing. The vast majority of the urinal plumbing in the East, anyway, seems to be manufactured by Sloan, and comes in either Regal or Royal models. I have whiled away moments here and there trying to tell the difference between Royal Sloan and Regal Sloan, to no avail. Is it about the width of the pipes? Quality and sound of the flush? Shine of the chrome? No pattern seems to hold over large samples of mens rooms. See how the mind can keep occupied even in the most boring circumstances? If your mind is never off, it will find things to do all the time.

Personally I sigh and smile if I enter a mens room and encounter what Gee Kay on Flickr calls "old skool urinals." The point is that the drain is at or below floor level. The very best are man-high porcelain affairs, recessed slightly into the wall and surrounded by lovely tile work. My pleasure in seeing this old style of urinal is complex. It includes the aesthetics, but it is mostly made, I think, of relief from the usual claustrophobic feeling I get crowding up against a rim. Maybe it's closer to the natural state to just go against the wall, instead of into a scoop. Definitely.

Finally, here we get into some of the etiquette. There is nothing graphic in this shot, but do observe a few items. Stance varies. Head up or down? Hands engaged, or hands on hips (none of the latter, slightly rare style here)? Most men prefer to hold all conversation until they reach the sink - this is what Emily Post would propose, I feel certain. Most men unzip after they reach the semi-privacy of the urinal, but some don't wait. The finer point this photo illustrates is that someone may not have followed the placement rules. Normally there would be no vacant end urinal - space is what everyone craves here. Some even go so far as to use the stall if there is no urinal with no immediate neighbor, and many prefer new arrivals to honor this, as well. In other words, with a bank of four urinals, with men already at numbers 1 and 3, the best choice for the next guy is a stall, and if that's not available, urinal 4 (because it at least has no neighbor on one side, and leaves at least one guy's space intact).

Betcha never knew there was so much to this... Do men teach their sons this stuff, or is it picked up like tribal wisdom? Am I making all of this up? You guys know - you ladies are welcome to guess.

Photos with permission from the Flickr pages of:
Gee Kay
phil dokas

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


When I was about 12 I once wandered through a red maple thicket near our house. I had cut several smaller trees the year before, to make walking sticks. The resulting gap let in one golden shaft of sunshine. In that incandescent space, in the middle of the green gloom of mid-summer, was a tall plant with pink mop-topped flowers. I later looked it up and found it was wild bergamot. The pink glowed in the sunlight. I was drawn towards it from across the thicket. As I approached I saw that the flowers were full of bees. Then a hummingbird-like creature flew up and began to hover in the blossoms. I stood transfixed, hardly daring to breathe. It was coal black with rusty wings and a yellow underside. It was soon joined by another, which was salmon pink, with black and yellow wings. On other visits I would find red ones, brown ones, silvery cream colored specimens.

They reminded me of the variety of colors I found, as a very small child, on fallen white oak galls. I used to search the lawn every morning for the little velvety balls and line them up in the cracks of our picnic table. (At one point I had over a hundred - a tough counting job for a 5 year old.) They were every warm furry hue imaginable, from umbers through reds and oranges to cream.

I looked the creatures up, eventually. They were hawk moths, a type of sphynx moth. We plant flowers for hummingbirds here in NC, and we get a profusion of these sphingids, as well. I'm amazed that two creatures arrived at this same bizarre form of flight, starting from branches of the evolutionary tree that split over 200 million years ago (vertebrates and insects). Different means of moving the wings, different materials, different mouth and tongue structures, one warm blooded and the other cold blooded, one with skeleton inside and the other outside... In the flower beds we see them come and go, ignoring each other completely. Both captivate me.
Photo above is from Wikipedia article (link above). The flower in this photo is lavendar. Here is a photo of bergamot.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Walking with My Sweetheart

Ever since my cholesterol and blood pressure results came out a little high, and the doctor mentioned that a little more exercise per week might lower them without the need for drugs, my sweetheart has been getting me out for a lot of walks...

Actually she had been getting me to walk more even before that. I think it started with my being away so much for business meetings and conferences...

Actually, it started before that, when we found that early Saturday and Sunday walks in our neighborhood were the best thing for catching up with each other, having a long talk, and letting the conversation sometimes extend the exercise, if it wasn't too hot, or there wasn't an aerobics class for her to get to. (Being married to an aerobics instructor means I get individual coaching on stretching out after the walk.)

We have the routine down, now. She walks on the outside, and I walk on the inside (closer to the middle of the road). That way she can look at neighbor's flowers and yards without trying to see over or around me. I have no trouble looking over her, since I'm nearly eleven inches taller. We will walk on the wrong side of the road in the summer, if that's where the shade is.

We often see the same other regular walkers, many pushing strollers, or walking dogs. Neighbors drive by, sometimes wearing a certain kind of smile. We're probably cute - a middle-aged couple, of such different heights, so busy talking and gesturing to each other, and out there so regularly.