Sparked by Words

Archive for the ‘writer’s life’ Category

Trespass

The soles of my feet, my bared knees and forehead

Bend to the earth as do the strands of my hair

Trailing over my cheeks

 

The one good thing about being brought so low

Is not my humility, proofed by drops of my blood

Pooling in the dirt

 

But that I am left only one direction for movement

May the One Who abides in the High Heavens

Help me to rise

 

If I am unseen, ignored, or even abandoned

Perhaps I will be lifted by atonement of my sins

The flood of my tears

 

Sighted by bugs and spiders in their native land

No others will witness my remorse or their toil

More holy than mine

 

Just a thought 77

 

Painting Africa Landscape courtesy Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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A Certain Artwork

My college journey detoured a few weeks into my freshman year. (Read A Certain Word, May 30, 2019.) The day after the Marat/Sade theater fiasco, I enrolled as an art major. Majoring in art seemed a natural choice as I’d been winning art awards since I was a kid.

As the University of California at Irvine was such a new campus, only a few buildings served classroom needs, and almost none could be spared for singular departments. Art classes met in a room that in two hours would be a philosophy or Latin or trigonometry class.

Still trying to get its flag posted on the university map, the college did what most schools did: invite preeminent scholars to teach for a year. In other schools, these plum seats would be open to students in advanced programs, but Irvine only had a few dozen upper classmen. None were in art, so classes taught by master artists were open to anyone quick enough to register.

That’s how I found myself in the humanities building, ready to produce ART, along with twenty or so of my favorite strangers.

Into the room strode the visiting artist, a well known sculptor whose name I cannot remember. I do recall that he admired the work of Mark Di Suvero and David Smith, two abstract expressionist sculptors whose monumental works defied gravity and altered perceptions of what modern art should be. He wasn’t my father’s Michelangelo.

Our first assignment was to go home (all art assignments began with, “Go home and make,” because there was no studio where we could work.) I still lived with my parents, and this was the only project I created at home because it used clean supplies. All other projects were crafted on campus wherever I could find a space to spread a mess.

We were to choose a geometric shape, draw it many times to fill a sheet of paper, then color the drawing. I picked an octagon, drew about eight or ten, colored some in warm shades, alternating with others in cool tones. Each octagon exhibited a graduating range of color values within its predominant hue, the overall effect visually appealing.

At the critique for the first assignment, each of us set out our drawings so the instructor could walk around and evaluate them. He reviewed with a discerning eye, finding little merit in anything. Except somehow mine stood out. He said it was the only piece that approached art.

I had created something worthy of being called approached-art? This was a better outcome than my failed theater attempt.

The next assignment was a bit of a blow. We were to use our geometric shapes to make a sculpture of toothpicks. I sensed the wisdom of the other students who’d chosen squares and triangles.

Over the trimester, my octagon was built into increasingly complex structures of cardboard, tongue depressors, wire, aluminum foil. Fragile geometric sculptures whose parts were carefully measured, cut, balanced, and glued, then brought to class for critique.

The instructor lectured about negative and positive space, shape, form, mass, line – an entire foundational art curriculum on the elements of art and principles of composition. Somehow, lesson after lesson, my work continued to shine.

Then the final assignment. We got to jettison the geometric shapes and create a sculpture of our choice, any media, any size, any shape.

Some people do well with restrictions as they help to define their focus – I was one of those. Do anything and I was at loss, especially since I had no experience of working with classic sculpture materials. I’d never carved stone, sawn wood, turned clay, welded metal, or assembled more than paper and cardboard constructions. I was a Scotch tape and Elmer’s glue artist.

This was the late 60s, hippies were half our student population, handmade candles a popular craft. I admired their fanciful wax castles of spires, turrets, and suspended bridges in riotous colors. I figured I’d build a castle – how hard could it be? A campus Deadhead gave me verbal directions. He was a bit stoned. I was not.

First thing was to procure a place to build the castle of my dreams, my parents’ home forbidden territory. Violet volunteered her campus apartment. Next I needed supplies: blocks of paraffin, a pot to melt the wax, a pie pan to pour the hot melted wax, a giant trashcan to dip the wax, and crayons in my choice of colors.

I was able to get most of these items at a grocery. Violet dragged the apartment complex trash can into her kitchen. The time was inching towards 11:00 PM as we set to work. We yanked a garden hose through the window and filled the can. Violet begged ice cubes from every nearby student and we added them to cool the water.

Now I knew nothing about wax, like how flammable it is. Nor that you should heat it over a double boiler, not in an enamel pan directly on the burner. I guess Violet didn’t know either.

Once my paraffin melted, (lucky us we hadn’t burned down the building) I tossed in my crayons of choice – two sticks of red, two of yellow. I planned to swirl them to get a marble effect. Wasn’t planning on instant blending. My red and yellow marble instantly became the single shade of a human organ – maybe a sick liver.

Remember that in the late 60s there was no such thing as an all night grocery. I couldn’t buy more supplies to start over. I was stuck with a sick color.

Next I poured the hot – and I do mean HOT – wax into the pie pan. The red metal handle of the enamel pan was nearly as hot as the wax itself. Lifting the pot without a potholder scorched my palm. I poured the wax into the pie pan, then, still without potholders, picked up the pan. Ten fingers on the edge of the pan. HOT HOT.

I plunged the hot pie pan into the trash can of cold water, hoping to witness the birth of my architectural wonder.

A significant amount of the melted wax floated to the surface, the surface being my arms. HOT HOT HOT up both my arms above my elbows. Bright red burns as good as you get after eight hours tanning on the sands of Newport Beach without the cachet of having had a really fun afternoon in a bikini. Screech-when-bending-my-elbows kind of burn.

As for my castle? No spires, no turrets, no suspended bridges. It was an amorphous clump simulating a rotting cantaloupe.  A sick-liver colored blob. Violet pulled wax off my arms.

Next morning we submitted our sculptures. How those idiots who couldn’t make anything-approaching-art for the last nine weeks came up with their final projects, I have no idea. But they had. They’d carved stone, sawn wood, turned clay, welded metal, and assembled plaster.

Our visiting preeminent sculptor walked among the artworks and talked about appreciation for modernity, an eye for whimsy, an exuberance of sinuous curve, an intuition for culture. He raved, he swooned, he praised. He nearly smiled.

Then he got to mine. My sick-liver colored wax amorphous blob. He walked around, clipboard in the crook of his arm, me looking on with my burned arms. He scowled and declared, in a solemn and dignified voice:

“There is a place in art for the truly ugly.”

The next day, I dropped out of the art department. I had to write with arms so sore I could barely hold a pen.

I couldn’t act. I couldn’t create art.

I changed my major to English

At least I could read a damn book.

 

Sculpture Despair courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Certain Word

This article isn’t exactly X-rated but it’s a little blue in the face, if you know what I mean. A bit off-color, but just a bit. You might not want Grandma to read this, and definitely should turn on the TV for the kids. Let them watch some murder show or The Bachelor.

If I’d had a lot of friends in high school, if I’d been part of any group – the soches, the athletes, the brains, the goofusses, the ASBers, even the kids one hop short of a bunk bed at juvie – I probably would have known better.

But it was not belonging, not knowing, that makes this incident possible. I was a loner and belonged nowhere. Plenty of teenage angst loomed in my corner but an absence of other teens to inform me about secret adolescent passageways kept me in the dark. I didn’t know the references, the lingo, the flippant signs of kids slipping and sliding their way to adulthood. I lacked a map, a key, a password. My fault as much as anyone’s.

There are words you learn backstage, under the bleachers, at the street corner late at night. But only if you hang with someone who will teach you. Me – I hung out in my bedroom, pretending to do homework but mostly daydreaming about when I could get out of there. Out of the bedroom, out of my parents’ home, out of high school, out of Tulieville.

College was my operative escape route and though I planned little other than landing in those academic halls, I expected to blossom into something. Anything other than the painfully shy, unattractive nobody who looked back at me from the mirror, remarking, “You ain’t nobody, kid.”

First attempt to recast my fate: I declared my major in Theater.

The university was only one year out of the mint. The administration had begged for a few willing pioneers to defect from their first colleges to attend ours, the promise of the very first undergraduate diplomas ever to be given their carrot stick reward.

I entered as a raw freshman, raw being an operative word. I’d been a thespian at my high school where we’d mounted such theatrical productions as Little Women, Ben Hur, The Night of January 16th, and George Washington Slept Here. I’d only had character parts in a few of those plays, mostly doing backstage work. You could safely bring Grandma to our plays and she wouldn’t raise a chaste eyebrow. As I said, I had little social life, not even the usual backstage fun.

At the university I intended to try out for a part in the fall play, The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, written by Peter Weiss. Sure, I knew Marat/Sade, the leader of the French Revolution, the turbaned dead guy hanging out of the bathtub in Jacques-Louis David’s painting.

I didn’t know much about the play, nor about how much a brand new university would do to get itself on the academic map. Crap, I was barely 18 and hadn’t been to my first rock and roll concert, to my first anti-war protest. I’d never smoked a cigarette and hadn’t yet had s— maybe TMI here.

So I went to the tryouts. Hell, I could act, right?

This brand new university featured so few buildings that the history, science, math, and literature departments shared the two lecture halls. Barely room for French and calculus classes, but we had a theater, by gum, we had a theater, complete with backstage, ascending/descending audience tiers, a polished stage draped with velvet curtains, and an orchestra pit.

Try-out day. We pining, thirsting young actors sat in the rows. Across the stage strode our young director. He was not only a god, being the man who would select actors for the parts. He was a GOD. Young, handsome, confident, he looked as if he’d be at home on a warhorse or a surfboard, but there he stood on the stage where our fledgling Broadway careers would be launched.

Clutched in the crook of his arm was a clipboard. The uni must have handed out free clipboards to all the instructors as every professor on campus flouted their own. Mark of the chosen perhaps.

At center stage our director, clip board firmly grasped, stared into all our yellow eyes. (Yes, Mr. Sendak, mine were yellow with anticipation, at least that day.)  Then our director god made his announcement.

Were we fortunate enough to be selected for a part in this play, we would be expected to do something on stage. Something specific. Very specific.

The act is a word that begins with an M, ends with ate, and in between I’ll let you figure it out.

The actor wannabes remained quiet. At least that’s how I remember the moment. Something about that word…

I went home and looked up that three-syllable word in the dictionary and thank heaven it was an inclusive dictionary, not the elementary school tome. No, I did not yet know that word, (few friends, remember?) and yes, I had the intelligence at least to consult a dictionary rather than ask my mom.

My eyes might have remained yellow but on reading the definition, I could feel my face turn shades of red. Crimson, scarlet, burgundy, ruby, beet – what other color best describes embarrassment than red? My cheeks burned hot enough to toast s’mores.

And no, I could not do that on stage. Could barely do it … TMI.

So I went back to the university next day and changed my major.

Never saw the play.

Gotta laugh.

 

Painting The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David courtesy Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Employment Opportunity

Doughy, dumpy, and droopy but dauntless and otherwise technically inept woman seeks readers willing to look beyond her physical features and miserable mechanical skills to read her words.

 

Are you willing to consider the qualities that make you look beyond surface rubble for the luminous interior?

 

Apply within your own counsel.

 

 

Just a Thought 74

 

 

Painting Old Woman Reading by Yehuda Pen courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Once a Thief

 

Amazing how many thieves there are, in all enterprises. So many politicians in fields so far from politics. So much dishonesty though the claim for integrity tops a company’s mission statement. We pride ourselves on the highest standards of ethical behavior in the industry. Sure you do. Don’t sit – your pants are burning.

I used to design artwork that became fabric bolts that were made into active wear, a lengthy process involving many companies and several countries. Think bathing suits, bikinis, Hawaiian-style shirts, all directed toward teenagers and college students. Also the usual hangers-on who acted cool and hip, ignoring their aging thighs and bellies.

As an artist, the prima ballerina position in the company, I was supposed to get back any of my original work that was produced by a manufacturer. There was no monetary gain, just a phantom badge of honor for having created the artwork that had been purchased for production. An artist’s coup, the feather in our cap. Look, that kid over there is wearing my art on his tush! You’re familiar with the companies but I can’t name them here.

Over the years, none of my original art was ever returned to me, and I questioned Boss Lady, the art department lead. She insisted my work hadn’t been used by the manufacturers. My artwork must not have been returned to our company – lost in the mail, eaten by mermaids, something like that. It wasn’t true but I had no proof. You can always tell when someone is lying. She couldn’t look me in the eye, she fidgeted with desk doodads, her voice dropped to her lowest register so none of the other artists in the studio could hear.

One day I sorted older fabric samples and there I found my art printed on cotton, proof of purchase and manufacture – except Boss Lady had manipulated my original work. She’d changed just enough that she could claim it wasn’t mine – but hers. Where I’d painted turtles, she’d changed them to fish. Where I’d used one color way, an orange-purple-lime combo, she’d switched to another – orange-purple-turquoise. She’d assigned me the wrong information to intentionally force me to paint something incorrectly, then made the “corrections” herself, and called the “new” designs her own.

I’d been hired by a previous department head and had no formal art training. (I had a degree in English but had done free lance art commissions.) Boss Lady constantly flouted her art degree. She hated that I had a gift for art that hadn’t been university trained.

Boss Lady was talented and accomplished. Once she became the department head she had little reason to fire me as my work was excellent, but she fabricated a work place that was palpably unwelcome and emotionally toxic. But why would she do this? Basic jealousy. Arrogant disdain. Pure nastiness. She probably considered it eminent domain.

It’s always about power in the end. No matter how altruistic one may appear before their whiskers grow in, no matter how much talent and passion may have directed first forays into a field, eventually the corporate ladder and the wallet’s bottom line take over. Laying claim over others’ successes, denying culpability for all failures becomes modus operandi for managers. They call it delegating authority, a catchphrase for dishonesty.

I resigned the fabric converter company after three years of their soul scorching routine and launched the career that defined me. That fulfilled me. I taught art through a city recreation program, then in several schools, developing curricula for kindergarten through twelfth grades.

And I always remembered, throughout those decades of teaching kids, of watching them flourish and delight in their creations, that their mastery was not mine to claim. They trusted me to teach, not to take credit for their work.

No one trusts a thief.

 

Photo of Hawaiian fabric courtesy Pixabay

 

Popcorn Bowl

I filled the dog’s water bowl with my popcorn.

She won’t drink water from anything but my popcorn bowl and I’ve grown weary of arguing in barks and growls.

The popcorn tastes of salt. I can’t be sure if it’s the spice of the bowl, the popcorn, or my tears.

 

Just a thought 72

 

Popcorn image courtesy of Max Pixel

 

Struggles on the Ground

No matter the struggles on the ground

The fire or earthquake or flood or revolution

You still awake to the baby’s cries and rush

To quiet her, diaper her, lift her to your breast

 

Rain descends, rivers run to oceans, wind rises

Dust settles on the white linens, grit mars the table

Boys and girls beg for a story and pencils

Babies turn in the womb, mouths reach for a kiss

 

No matter how weary your back bent to task

Your spirit slashed by fever, worry, conflict

The electric bill must be paid, bread bought

The children need breakfast before school

 

Surgeons raise their knives over ill flesh and cut

Farmers plough fields and force seeds into earth

Fishermen drop nets so deep in the sea they vanish

Some get well, some harvest, some eat, some drown

 

No matter the guns in the street, rockets overhead

The body bows to its insistent daily needs

Before you stand, work, march, weep, shout, fall

You must park outhouses along the battlefield

 

An old woman reads documents and diaries

An old man sorts certificates and photographs

They write their letters to their grandchildren

Wishing them fewer struggles on the ground

 

Just a thought 71

 

Homeward, painted 1881, Georges Inness, courtesy Wikimedia Commons