Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Choosing blur

Todd took Marcus shopping with him the other evening, and I hurried to set up the easel and pulled out a magazine page I’ve been saving with the intention of reinterpretation. Hence the image you see here, completed in under two hours.

I used to be drawn only to impressionists, because their work was just so pretty and pleasant to behold. I began to have more appreciation for realists once I’d actually picked up a brush and tried my own hand at painting—frankly, I don’t know how they do it. I’ve seen and admired many works of art that are almost photographic in their trueness to life, pieces that are stunning and amazingly impressive. I yearned to be that type of artist for awhile, and I tried to steer away from impressionism, suspecting that it was merely my lazy nature and inattention to detail that made me gravitate to a more fuzzy, forgiving style…

But I’ve come to realize that it’s a losing battle. Yes, I am lazy, uneducated in the finer points of art, too impatient to take my time; but I also gauge every single work of art on the same premises: would I hang it in my home? Would I like to see it each day? Does it invite me to enter into whatever is being depicted? Because really, that’s how I define art—those are its calling cards in my book.

So, I will unapologetically paint pictures that do not capture every intimate detail, that are unclear in places, that encourage (even demand) the eye to mix shapes and colors to create the final image that one sees. I have come to realize that, after years of stark clarity, I am ready to embrace the beauty of vague. Just as the Christmas tree looks more magical with my glasses off, so the painting looks more pleasing to me when I don’t quite finish it, when I embrace the imperfect.

In many ways I am a realist, but in the world of painting, I can toss realism aside, squint a bit, and step happily into the vision.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can you do me a favor?

“Oh man—who’s gonna feed the cat?”

It never occurred to me until the night before we departed for our little weekend away. I think this is probably caused by two factors. 1) I’m simply out of practice because I have not been away from home for the night since I was pregnant, and that’s been about four years (yeah, I know, how pathetic); and 2) the cat requires a more refined feeding and care system nowadays than he did four years ago. Wet food, distributed in small portions twice daily, is not so easy to administer when one is absent. Wet food twice each day requires on-time feeding, a semi-clean dish in which to serve it…and wet food tends to get mixed into the water bowl much more often than dry food does, thus requiring frequent water changes.

But the cat needs wet food for health reasons. So, the hubby and I toss around different options the next morning when I present him with this little hiccup in our plans. Which unfortunate neighbor or friend will we ask to check in on Sam?

Well, there are natural choices, close neighbors who wouldn’t need to drive to get here. There’s the elderly guy whom we both like so much but whom we are hesitant to bother. There’s the lady who loves animals but works lots of odd hours and likely won’t be around; the fellow next door was already packing his car yesterday to go away for the weekend, so he’s out. And those other folks who are close by? Well, I do not want to ask them for any favors; they asked us for a doozy of one just after we moved in, and if I ask for something back, they might feel comfortable returning the request and continuing the “favor” cycle—and their idea of a favor doesn’t jive with my idea of one. Nix that thought.

There are a couple of friends who live nearby, but nearby is 5 or 10 minutes by car, which is hardly convenient. Plus, both of them are getting kids ready to go to school (one to college for the first time, another to high school for the first time) and I’ll bet they’ve already got plenty on their minds and plates.

We decide on a different neighbor, a super-nice couple who also has pets. We wait like harpies for one of them to emerge from the house (to walk their dogs, ironically) and when one of them does, recon (me) calls for front man (Todd) to hurry over and strike up an innocent conversation, so as to mask our true purpose and get the fellow’s guard down… I’m teasing, it wasn’t nearly so surreptitious and conniving. The guy agreed, as we both expected him to, and we promptly gave him quick instructions and a house key and the matter was settled. Whew. Our departure was delayed by only a few minutes, and our minds were at ease.

But it made me think about favors, how really, in many cases they are burdens—and we’re so careful to ask the right person because we have to think about whom we’d like to burden. With whom are we so comfortable that we’d be at ease handing them a burden to carry for us? And the bigger the favor, the more trust is assumed, the weightier the burden can be.

Todd and I ended up talking recently with another couple about how difficult it is to write a will once you have a child. The hours that most parents spend agonizing about that decision—whom would get my child or children?—is telltale in illustrating the seriousness of such a favor. A burden. A very flattering one to the recipient of said child[ren], yes, but a burden in many ways. If I perish, will you raise my kid? Will you tell him or her all about me? Will you do the same things I would have done? Will you support them with the likely insubstantial amount of help you receive for such a favor? Will you be me, sort of, in addition to being you and maybe taking care of your own family? And will my kid[s] be part of your family, will you make them feel welcome and comfortable, will you help them feel like they belong?

All big favors require much of both the one asking and the one granting. I pray that if I am ever asked for a really monumental favor, I make the right decision about whether to grant it. And I pray that when I ask those favors of others, it’s done with respect to the seriousness of the request. Really, what we’re saying when we ask is this: I trust you to carry my burden. And that, my friends, is a bold statement and not to be taken lightly—nor granted lightly.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Unbearable sweetness

I continue to be plagued by nightmares about losing my son. It’s especially bad in the hours between 4am and 6am; I am awakened, sometimes by coughing child (caused by allergies) and other times by puking cat (caused by sheer catness). Once awakened, I have trouble falling back asleep—and when I’ve finally achieved a sleeping state once again, I inevitably find myself dreaming that my child is missing in some form or fashion.

Sometimes, he’s in a crowd of children and I can’t visually locate him. Other times, I’ve entrusted him to someone else’s care and they’ve let me down by allowing him to wander, or giving him permission to go with someone else I don’t know. Each time, I am frantic in the dream, searching, calling, running around like a crazy woman, and there are always other people in the dream who think I’m a worrywart and tell me I’m over-reacting…kind of like my waking life.

Where does this come from? I wonder if it’s normal, or if I am, indeed, obsessed.

And the dreams are so terrible because he is so innocent. In each unwaking scenario, he trusts the people he’s with, he has naively gone with strangers, he never ponders whether someone means him harm or doesn’t plan to protect him adequately. He has simply followed whomever because he can’t conceive of a person who wouldn’t be kind or mean him well—because he is usually that way. Isn’t everyone? (Sadly, no.)

I was bemoaning recently how I’d love to go shopping and blow some money, and we just didn’t have it to blow… and my sweet boy said, “Mommy, you can have the money from my piggy bank. Go shopping with that money.” Now, that amount of change is not likely to take me far, but how sweet that he offered—it’s all he had. Like the widow in the Bible parable, he was willing to give his all. Just so I could splurge on something.

And he is delighted by the simplest things. I was stringing beads on a rawhide string, and the kiddo saw me and wanted to participate. I gave him his own leather string and some beads, and he went to town, stringing away, carefully picking out the perfect piece each time, taking some off and replacing them, until finally, the work of art was completed and we tied it ‘round his neck. As if that wasn’t darling by itself, I offered to open the closet door so he could look into the full-length mirror inside and admire his handiwork. He was so pleased at his own reflection sporting the beads that he grinned, put his hands on his head, and scurried away laughing with glee.

This is the little boy that I must eventually send into the world. How can I do it? How can I not do it? I shudder at the thought of how the world will scar him. Applying a germ philosophy, he must be first exposed in order to earn immunity. I know that’s true; I know he must be exposed. I’d even like to hope that perhaps, just perhaps, his innocence can counter some of the evil floating around out there. But I know how vulnerable he is, how hungry “they” are to strip away that childlike nature and sense of wonder.

This watching-him-grow thing is going to be tougher than I thought.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Uneasy thoughts

So, did you catch any of the opening ceremonies at the Olympics? Yes, it was grand, and impressive, and amazing. And holy cow, did it give me the creeps.

Has anyone else read the children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time? And if so, do you remember the part about the planet where all the kids bounced the ball in perfect unison, except for the one boy who couldn’t keep the rhythm and was hidden inside his house? Does that seem a tad familiar? Honestly, how many people running around in light-up green suits are really necessary to impress? How many Tai Chi masters do we need to see performing in unison? How many beautiful, swaying, charming women in identical skirts? How many cute children singing together? Can you imagine the rehearsals for such a show? The mere thought of that choreography's preparations makes my head spin.

And speaking of cute children, the story about the pretty little girl who lip-synced a song in place of a less beautiful child is heating up the online world (,2933,402093,00.html), as it should. I’m irritated that such a thing would happen, outraged for the sake of the girls involved in the cover-up. (I’m also a tad uneasy because I’m not certain the same thing wouldn’t happen if the games were hosted here…)

Some weird “sports” are surfacing, too: we tuned in a couple of nights ago hoping to see some diving (Marcus is fascinated by diving in general, even at the local public pool), and boy did we get diving—synchronized diving. Huh?! What the—? Is this real? Apparently, yes. Two divers perform the same dive in perfect unison. I wouldn’t have believed it if someone told me. As if the amazing and difficult dives are no longer impressive enough, now they must be completed simultaneously with another diver. It was absolutely absurd. And need I say that the Chinese divers were impeccable? I joked to Todd that they had to be the best or they’d be quietly murdered in the showers and replaced with more master divers—and a part of me wondered, honestly, what some of those athletes have been put through to achieve these physical milestones. I know they're often culled from small childhood to be intensively trained. Makes you wonder.

When a leadership is so bent on perfection, just what is it capable of doing to achieve it? They can whitewash Tiananmen Square as many times as they like, they can cover up the protests going on outside the stadium, they can try to bury the inhumanities that occur to their own citizens, but this is a country with some serious competitive and control issues—and enough physical bodies to do some serious damage, to their own people (since everyone is replaceable) and to others beyond their borders (because there are so darned many of them inside those borders).

The good thing about all this nonsense is that it takes the focus off of stories about how the makeup of our country is changing dramatically, and much faster than expected (,2933,403441,00.html,2933,403441,00.html). That kind of worries me, not because the face of America is changing (as the majority, I’ve been kind of spoiled, I suspect), but because most stories attribute the changing face to immigration and births among immigrants…and most of those immigrants are willing to work for a lot less money than the typical American. That’s not good news for our job market.

Unless, of course, you’re really pretty; then maybe you can get paid to look like you’re working—while some less attractive mug shoulders the actual responsibility and breaks a sweat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Stream of consciousness

(Note: I know that when I began this blog, I promised it would not be a “rant” journal. Please forgive me when I occasionally stray into that realm. Today’s post might fall into that category.)

So, I finally plowed through a giant history of Lewis and Clark (the long book I mentioned a few posts back) and it was quite informative. I learned, for example, that some Native American tribes did not treat their elders with respect; some of them actually left the oldsters behind with a day’s rations and well wishes for their trip to the afterlife. This is not the admirable picture that had been painted for me in school… And I also learned that often, tribesmen would offer up their wives for the visiting white men’s entertainment, as a means of trying to lay hold of the white men’s power, or something like that. (Stephen Ambrose explained it much better than I.) Anyway, all the time those men were traipsing across the country, bravely hunting and camping and building boats and foraging and that sort of thing, they also were often living it up with the Indians’ wives. End result? Many of them, most of them even, suffered from VD which they’d contracted from Indian women. (Which, oddly enough, Lewis treated with mercury…but that’s fodder for another post.)

Again, this is not the picture that was painted for me in history class.

One particularly striking image that Ambrose shared was of a Pacific Northwestern tribe; because of the warm but wet climate and their reliance on canoes for transport (is it possible to climb into and out of one without getting at least a little bit wet?), these folks simply went without clothes from the waist down. I suppose it must have been a losing battle to keep such duds dry and clean, and they probably gave up after a few days of waddling around in heavy, sodden pants and skirts. The downside was that Lewis was able by simple visual examination to determine which tribe members had VD and approximately what stage of the disease they were in.


And this got me thinking about how nasty diseases have always been part of any culture where “modern” man has trod (the Europeans were likely the initial carriers of the infections, which they happily passed to Native Americans) and how many people of every culture will philander if given opportunities—especially when those opportunities are encouraged by other people who are around.

And that, for some reason, got me thinking about how people can be hiding all sorts of secrets inside about their bodies, but can still be quite obsessed about their cleanliness. This seems to be especially true for Americans. They have less than admirable sexual habits, if the stats are to be believed—even the kids are misbehaving more—and to top that off, most of them eat like pigs, greasy nasty processed stuff that does not do a human body good… but by golly, they’ll never miss a shower in the morning. I don’t get it. Why are Americans so worried about smelling like a living being instead of a bar of soap? Or worse yet, a bottle of cologne? And why aren’t they more worried about their insides?

And that thought, for an even more obscure reason that eludes me, reminded me of women who choose to squat in public bathrooms, and then leave their drippings on the seat for the next hapless restroom visitor. Why? Now, some toilet seats are scary, nasty things, I know—I can see why you would choose not to sit on bare porcelain. But most toilets are pretty harmless. Lay down some TP, or use one of those fancy paper seat covers, or whatever, but don’t fret: well-respected doctors all over the world have explained that nasty diseases don’t live on toilet seats. They can’t. Unless, perhaps, people leave wetness on the seat and give the nasties a good place to hang on and breed. So, I hope that if there are any squatters out there reading this, they’re also responsible enough to do a quick wipe-clean when they’re finished.

And where can you pick up nasties? Where do they actually thrive? In warm, wet places—like the public jacuzzis at that fancy club or expensive hotel. Now THAT scene is a hotbed of nasty microscopic activity.

Since that is such a nice, happy thought, I think I’ll end this post.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Glimpse of my young, silly self

So, the little guy and I are driving along, and I’m listening to BOB-FM; it’s one of several stations that we flip among as we drive, stations with everything from oldies and rock to independent and classical. Anyway, we’re driving and an old song comes on: “Sunglasses at Night” is the title, I believe, by some one-hit wonder named Corey Hart. (I just double-checked it online—that’s his name.) And I say aloud, “I remember this song, I used to really like it.” I tell my son things like this all the time, not because he cares but mostly because I am accustomed to talking to him a lot, the poor kid. And I am listening to the song unfold, and singing along with the lyrics I can recall (not many, but it’s coming back to me) and the song arrives at its chorus section—which sounds like this the first time around:

Don't switch the blade on the guy in shades, oh-no
Don't masquerade with the guy in shades, oh-no
I can't believe it
‘Cause you got it made with the guy in shades, oh-no

I had one of those moments—perhaps you’ve had them too?—a moment where suddenly, with unkind clarity, you glimpse yourself as a stupid kid, prancing around, thinking you’re all that, singing these incredibly shallow songs and being so proud you know the words… I was literally laughing out loud as I listened to the song, not just at the embarrassing memory of myself, or the ridiculous lyrics, but also at the drama with which this Corey character sings them. If you’re familiar with the song, then you know of what I speak; it’s quite comical.

But when I was in high school, there was nothing comical about it. I was quite serious about how cool it was.

This happens to me more and more; I am momentarily reacquainted with something from my distant past, and I am struck by how foolish it truly is and how foolish I must have seemed as I embraced whatever it was in my earnest attempts to be cool—sometimes I was even convinced that I’d succeeded.

Coolness, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. A good thing about these glimpses of my young self is that most of the time, they reaffirm my stand that you couldn’t pay me to go back to those teen years. This is definitely one of those times—and I got to have a good chuckle to boot.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A costly indulgence

I used to read a lot—because I loved to, because I had to (for schooling and then for my job), because it was a great way to learn and be entertained and pass the time. I’d frequently read more than one book at a time, and had no trouble keeping up with multiple plot lines, a variety of characters, etc. It was lovely.

Then I became a mother. There was still time for reading at first, but often it was material related to babies, lots of nonfiction and instructional volumes, and very rarely was anything consumed in a cover-to-cover manner. Most free time was spent catching up on sleep. And after sleep was no longer at such a premium, then I was no longer in the habit of reading for fun, and I just sort of forgot to pick it up again. The child eventually became mobile, which meant there were alarmingly few opportunities to really do anything other than pick up messes, childproof the house, set up safety gates, and the like. Even when the boy napped, I fell into my typical OCD patterns and frittered away the time with de-cluttering and tidying tasks. Or promptly fell asleep.

Now, he’s 3. He no longer naps, at least not on most days. And I’ve tried really hard thus far not to park him in front of the TV too much. And I’m his playmate. He wants to play, to imagine scenarios, to act out silly stories, to tell and read stories, to tell me about what he saw in the woods with Daddy. He’s alternately frustrating and maddening, and then so sweet and dear that I am tearful. And he wants my time. And I already leave him to entertain himself while I do laundry, or unload dishes, or get dinner ready, or make stupid but necessary phone calls.

I’ve tried to read books a few times recently. And each time, I’ve completed the book in question and have retained most of what was in it. But it causes problems: if the book is good, then I want to read it until it’s done. Even if the kiddo wants to play. Even if it’s late and I should be sleeping. Even if the kitchen is a mess and food is drying on the plates and the cat hasn’t been fed and it’s bath night…I still want to read that #!*@&$ book. So I get snappy and short-tempered with my child, and we eat hot dogs for supper, and dirty clothes pile up and I end up swatting at the cat because he’s meowing too much for his food, the beast.

It just louses up everything, having a good book to read. I’m trying like mad to finish one now, a really great, LONG book about Lewis and Clark that my dad lent me, and it’s not something I’d ever pick out but it’s really interesting and enriching and thought-provoking and by golly I have got to finish it because it’s making me crazy. And then I hurry through to get it finished, to get my normal boring life back with my happier kid and cleaner house and balanced meals, and then I keep thinking that I missed a lot because I read it so fast… and then I want to read the thing again.

You see, don’t you, that I just can’t read books yet. So, think twice before recommending anything to me. You see now how it seriously disturbs my groove. ; )