Thursday, June 30, 2011

Playing Fair

from a Carolyn Hax column (Washington Post):
Seriously. It’s not that hard to play fair with other people, once you internalize the idea that speaking your mind about something “mean” is a lot less mean than imposing silent punishment for this thing you decided was too mean to mention.

I've always tried to be upfront about things, and this approach was further influenced by two things in my adult life: living in a fairly horrid marriage for 15 years, and listening to a tape by Lynn Scoresby, a family therapist.  Scoresby always noted that people who wouldn't talk about issues, things, problems probably didn't love the person they were at odds with as much as those who did figure out how to talk.  His reasoning?  Solving problems can only be done through discussion, and a marriage (or relationship) with lots of problems solved is a happy (and loving) marriage. Having had both kinds, I tend to agree with his observations.

Maintaining relationships can be difficult, especially if you want the person who is driving you crazy to take a break, maybe go to the moon for several years. (Of course, it's always them.) Building relationships can also be a challenge, requiring meeting the loved one in the middle (or not-loved one, esp. if you have teenagers!), talking through hard things, and yes--as Hax notes--not imposing the silent treatment.  But the hardest of all is repairing relationships, trying to foster harmony where two disparate people view each other with hostility and misunderstanding across a wide divide.

I'll be spending the rest of my life working through all three of these, I'm sure.  I can only hope that I'll get better at it with practice. It was sobering then, when my mother said that she found the list of things she hoped to be forgiven for growing, instead of shrinking.  I understood why on some levels, but when I asked her, she said that she was remembering experiences that she felt were left unresolved (my words, not hers) and could have been smoothed over.  It's tempting in our culture I think to use the models we see in television scripts and movies as templates for conducting human relationships, ofttimes not realizing that the artificial bonds and links of those fictional characters are not normal, but instead they are slaves to the plot and purposes of the film makers, and often do not apply to the person who is across from you at the table. Conflict is what makes a good story.  Resolving conflict is what makes a satisfying relationship.  I guess that's why I try to maintain relationships with frequent contact (mail, email, visits), taking an interest in the lives of those I love, and trying to see how life is from their side of the equation. 

Most of us fail at all noble goals with some frequency, I've discovered in my older life.  But since all we carry with us past the grave is our relationships, it imbues the building, maintaining and repairing with a much greater urgency, a sense of gravitas and importance.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Art with Christine

I was in Washington DC last week, and the first day there, my sister came in from where she lives via train to meet me for a day's adventure.  It was hot and muggy in DC, so we wisely decided to spend the day looking at art INSIDE museums.  But first, we headed to the Outdoor Sculpture Garden.

This is one of my favorites.
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X
, 1999 by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

Christine seated on one of the marble chairs in Six-Part Seating, by Scott Burton.  Although there are signs everywhere saying don't touch the art, this one said, sitting okay.  But only here.

Graft, by Roxy Paine.
The National Gallery of Art notes that this stainless steel sculpture was "Made from more than 8,000 components [. . . and] weighs approximately 16,000 pounds" along with the following observation: "Graft presents two fictive but distinct species of trees—one gnarled, twisting, and irregular, the other smooth, elegant, and rhythmic—joined to the same trunk. Among its rich associations, this sculpture evokes the persistent human desire to alter and recombine elements of nature, as well as the ever-present tension between order and chaos."

But when we rounded the corner and saw this. . . 
Four-sided Pyramid, by Sol LeWitt

. . . Christine recognized his work.  This idea, that artists have a recognizable pattern of working, of creating is not a new one, but for some reason it stuck in my head all day long.  Back at the hotel, I went to the website of the National Gallery of Art, where I found this: "Much of LeWitt's work explores permutations of the grid—the square and the cube—in both two and three dimensions, discarding, as he said, 'the figure, the word, and the symbol.' "

The key to LeWitt's work, the grid, helps me understand why my sister could recognize it, just like I can recognize Matisse's free-form paper cutting and shapes (above).

Christine was also able to pull these LeWitts out of the collection, whereas I had to look on the wall plaque to identify him again. 

Coupled with this experience was the one of the next day: visiting Lorton (D.C.) Workhouse, an old prison remade into an artists' colony. They had several buildings, with multiple artists in each one.  My friend Rhonda, who took me there, knew of one of the artists--Marni Maree, a watercolorist--and amazingly, Maree was there and showed us her art and her studio.  We talked also with Mary Gallagher Stout, who is an artist working in acrylic, chalk and charcoal, with stunning creations with lots of vibrancy. Her energy and infectious enthusiasm for her work was appealing, and I wished I could bottle some of that and keep it my workplace when all I want to do is sit and surf the web.  While I wouldn't be able to identify everything these women have done, I can see they have a consistency--with creative variation--to their work.  They know their skills and their strengths, and they figure out their avenues of exploration.

After doing a life's review of the medium in which I create art (quilts) I can't say I have an identifiable style.  Perhaps working in a series would help.  Or staying away from copying/making others' patterns, which may be difficult because it is probably in my creative DNA, given my entry into quilting from dressmaking.  My husband tells me that my quilts are my creative expression, and his belief in me has given me a new lens from which to view my creations.

I pointed to one painting on the wall when I was with Christine, and said "I'd love to make something like this." "Then, do!" she said, encouraging me.  But I have to say much of me resonated with something that Stout mentioned, after we complimented her on one of her creations: a rendition of the Washington Monument.  "Oh," she said.  "I almost painted over that one.  I did it and I liked it but it didn't seem to go anywhere or get sold, so I was about to paint over it, when someone from the government called and bought it."  She laughed.  "Can you believe it?  I almost painted right over it."

But she was in constant motion getting ready for a one-woman show, doing her art in a unique-to-her style.  I envied her vision, but wondered how to find one for myself.  What is my style?  Where is the heart of my work?  These questions are the same one that haunt me as a writer, as I suppose they would in any creative endeavor where I might try to get past technician, and arrive at artist.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


While Gina and Carrie were here, they introduced me to letterboxing, a variation of geo-caching: where one person leaves a cached box for another person to find, following clues from a website.  We went looking for a couple and found one.

This plastic container was hidden, and Gina, who apparently has a real knack for finding these, dug it up.

Inside is a small booklet, where people have left their stamp.  Yes, each letterboxer has a unique stamp (some hand-carved).

Carrie stamping hers.

Then, she signed and dated the entry.

Inside the box is the stamp that belongs to the site: a hand-carved tree.  It's not wood that these are carved from, but a kind of modeling material just for this sort of thing.

We went to the second site.

Even though we had my garden trowel, and looked everywhere, there was no letterbox.  Gina and Carrie tried to find others on their trip, but it was about the same percentage of success.  I asked her who did these sorts of things, and she believed it was home-schoolers.  Having had a few of those students in my college class, I imagined them designing a stamp, making a book, figuring out a location all as part of some curriculum that we, in The Olden Days, would have considered a great summer activity--when we were out of school. Whatever the reason why it came to be there, I had a terrific time with lots of laughter as we tried to find these cached treasures.  
Now I just need to make a stamp and buy me a little book.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Visit from a Pen Pal

I participate each March in a writing frenzy with other women and men; the challenge is to write once a day for thirty days.   I call it March Madness.  I've done this for three years now, and the first year, there seemed to be a handful of regulars who I got to know through their writings.  One woman in particular, Carrie, seemed to have a life that mirrored mine in some ways: we were both adjuncts, attended church, grappled with similar student issues among other things.  Carrie is a fine and insightful writer and I love reading her posts.

Carrie (on the left, in the chair below) sent me a note this year, saying that she was joining her friend Gina (on the right) who was traveling around the southern part of the country in her research on Japanese Internment camps, and did we want to meet?  Oh, yes!  Since Carrie is from the midwest, this was a chance I didn't want to pass up.

So, she and Gina came to Riverside, spending two nights with us.  I took them to the local fancy old hotel tour (they sit in the Taft Presidential chair, above)--both the official one (slightly boring and too long) and the unofficial one (we act like we are staying there and head right to the fourth floor and make our way down).

Carrie, on Author's Row--only really old (read: dead) authors should apply.

Her aunt has a tradition of going swimming in hotel pools, where she is NOT staying, so Carrie dipped her foot in the reflecting pond in solidarity.

We also went to our local folk art establishment: Tio's Tacos, where the owner has built a fantastic (the original meaning of the word) series of buildings, displays and vignettes.  Above is the beer/soda bottle chapel.

View from inside.

Two towering people, one made of Barbie dolls, the other of plastic toys imbedded in chicken wire.

Every Mexican restaurant needs an ET flying overhead.

They left me with this hostess gift: Carrie had made many cards, and added some fabric for me to create with, all in a cute little bag.  I've used quite of few of the cards already.

After a couple of really fun-filled Riversidian days, they left, driving to Manzanar, Zion's (and other) National Parks, finally arriving at Gina's place in Colorado.  A few days later, this delicious care package arrived, just in time for Dave and I to go on the road to visit Zion's.  

Come again, Gina and Carrie!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Recently I visited my dermatologist for various and sundry issues, and had taken Molly Peacock's latest book with me to read, while I waited (there's always a wait). The book tells the story of Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700-1788).  Delany is known for her "paper cuts" of flowers, pieces of ephemera that she began making at the age of seventy-two and that she called flower mosaick. According to Peacock, "in the next for ten years she completed nearly a thousand cut-paper botanicals so accurate that botanists still refer to them" (4).

Peacock says that Mrs. Delany offered her up "a blueprint for late-life flexibility," as he own mother had died much younger, and Peacock felt like she needed a mentor for how to do the next stage of life.  I met Molly Peacock when she came to UCR for Writers Week one year, and she encourage me to send in a couple of my poems to literary magazines.  I never did, but I did remember her.  So when this book came out, I was in the middle of my own search for a blueprint as well.  I have a fine one: my mother is vibrant and interesting and we have wonderful discussions about all sorts of things; she is a good friend as well.  But I was also interested in how others of my own generation are meeting the challenge of middle age.  Perhaps it was triggered by a reaction to some cholesterol medication I had been taking which I felt aged me 100 years in a very short time; I still have some difficulties. Yet I still feel I have much to contribute; even in my rickety physical state (which has improved some).  My mind still feels relatively sharp and I have the luxury of time to take stock and choose direction.

Surrounding me in the doctor's office were lots of botox ads like this one:

The contrast between Peacock's homage and the incessant calling out of wrinkle lines between the forehead--eliminate them now!--was not only stark, but amusing.  When the young nurse assistant took me in to the examination room, I gestured to the ad, observing that the 111-woman looks angry and she was trying to make her own lines.  She breezily commented that she used botox.  I asked her old she was: 30.  "But you're so young!" I exclaimed, surprised at this.  "Oh we all use botox in this office," she said.  "We love it."

The New York Times noted a recent study where "[w]omen with botox were significantly less accurate at decoding both positive and negative facial expression," in other words, the use of botox to freeze those 1 or 11 or 111 lines made them less able to mimic the emotions of others in their own faces.  This mimicry "generates a signal from the person’s face to his or her brain. Finally, the signal enables the listener to understand the other person’s meaning or intention."

I'm not, in principle, opposed to the use of plastic surgery to make an aging face--as Jane Fonda put it--look "less tired" as when she had her eyes done recently.  But the blueprint I'm leaning towards puts more focus on a life's work--a body of work--rather than work done on the body.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Jacaranda Trees

Dave told me about a line in an Los Angeles Times article the other day, which said that those who say that Southern California has no seasons just hasn't lived here during Jacaranda season.  Wikipedia notes that: "Jacaranda can be found throughout most of Southern California, where they were imported by the horticulturalist Kate Sessions."  Since that's my family's name, it made me smile.

These trees start to bloom at the end of May/first of June and we always hope the bluey-lavender blossoms will stay around until UCR's commencement, approximately the middle of June.

So last week while Dave was at commencement, I drove around and photographed some jacaranda trees.  They really are most lovely in the morning, but here they are in the afternoon.

This is a well-traveled street near our house, with a long line of jacaranda trees.  We have one specimen in our front yard, but it usually doesn't bloom very much, for some reason.  Maybe the fact that it has been transplanted three times may have something to do with that?

These last two trees are at the end of the long line of trees, above.
The jacarandas have nearly the same color blossom as the agapanthus flowers, above, which also bloom about this time.  I'm always sad to see these two flowering beauties drop their blossoms, as it means another of our "non-season" seasons is right on their heels: Scorching Hot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bullet, Dodged--Maybe

Now you don't see it.

Six hours and 85 bucks later, now you do.
Bullet dodged, as it was a malfunctioning partition drive.  Like that explains anything.
But maybe no bullets were dodged, as Gregg (our computer guy) said this problem can be a precursor to the hard drive dying.

Scene on the screen: Italian Church, taken 2007.
I'm there in spirit.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sun, Falling Into Sea

Sun, Falling Into Sea

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I happened on a book of Chinese Window Screen Designs.  A fan of anything repetitive or gridded, I was hooked.  But I wanted to make it into a quilt.  A Chinese window lattice, turned into a quilt?  Sun, Falling Into Sea is the result.  I drew the block in my Quilt Program, then played and played and tweaked and worked the darks, lights and lines into something I could cut out of fabric, piece and stitch.

I had forgotten about Sun, Falling Into Sea, made for a guild challenge ("Patches of Blue Water" hosted by the Orange County Quilt Guild), finding it again when I  decided to try and photograph all my quilts.  And that was prompted by a desire to have a written record of all my quilts, which was prompted by a set of art journals that my father has made to chronicle his path from the time he first picked up paintbrushes until this day.  He has four of these journals, and I was completely taken by their existence.  I mean, I know they existed, but I've come to understand the work and history and their significance only lately.  Since they have been promised to another one of my siblings, I decided that I should try and capture a little of his books by making onof my own.e

First thing to do was to sit down and make a list of the art output of my own.  Certainly it wouldn't be how many floors I've scrubbed or loads of dishes into the dishwasher, but something more tangible, something I could photograph.  I have done some tole painting, some crafting (remember that I am a child of the 1970s and, yes, I've even done macrame) but it was quilting that came to mind.  I made a list.  Even considering the ones I have given away, I have made 75 quilts, as of this counting. 

Somewhere in the early 1970s, I started quilting, and the quilt above, a whole cloth quilt with the little Holly Hobby girls outlined by thread, was where I began.  I didn't know even how to start or stop the stitching, so in some places, I simply did a few back stitches in place, the nub of thread hidden in the heel of one of the girls.  I finished the edges with frilly eyelet lace.  I would call it pathetic, but it's kind of endearing in its naivete.  My latest big effort was a quilt made of dotted fabrics with hundreds of pieces, chronicled on my quilty blog.

In the last two days I've put close to 50 quilts up on the wall, flipped them over, taken them down. Dave helped me for the huge ones, as I had to borrow a quilt stand to get the full view.  A few of the early ones I have never photographed, nor seen stretched up before me in all their glory.  It was enlightening, and rewarding to regard a life's work in cloth and thread.  I've sent the digital snapshots all to Costco to be printed, and will be taking the borrowed quilt stand to Arizona when I travel to see two of my children, to photograph the quilts I've made and given to them.

I don't quite know how to describe what I feel tonight, after this experience (besides tired).  It's not often that I take time to review my accomplishments, and to enjoy them.  Rewarding? Humbling? Satisfying?  Maybe.  But all of this was prompted by my father's books, of his journal built page by page, painting by painting, a few artful scrawls of information in his deft handwriting.  I look forward to building my own.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

I Should Be Making Dinner

I should be making dinner, but instead, I'm leaving you a poem.

Sunlight on Hallway Wall • May 30, 2011

We Never Notice--
by Rolf Jacobsen

We never notice when the dark comes on, the earth
emptied of light each evening, even
under the beds.
Silently, behind each speck of dust,
it lifts the light out through the windows.
So too, in the shoe-closet, between the laces
and slender eyelets,
the hours darken.  Glasses
are quietly drained to the bottom, you don't even
recognize your own face in the mirror.

Translated from the Norwegian by Robert Hedin