Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I walked into my father’s house yesterday and it hit me like a ton of bricks, she is not coming back. In February I wasn’t gob smacked with grief like I was (obviously) in October. Probably because I was too busy planning my father’s birthday party and had just a few days to focus on that. But yesterday, when I walked in there was something about the house; the smell, the feel of it that overwhelmed me with a wave of lose, sadness and--yes--self-pity. My mother was dead. All trace of her was gone in the house. I had no mother. Mother’s day was pretty much like this too. Had I known how I was going to react to the Hallmark holiday in May, I would have planned differently and worked or slept all day. But I couldn’t sleep through yesterday. Or maybe yesterday was more difficult than that day in February because TG couldn’t come with us and this is the first time since we have lived together we haven’t traveled together. That I missed her on top of missing my mother threatened to overwhelm me with grief.

Last night, while Dad was grilling after I sacrificed blood to the sacred mosquito we started talking about Sister’s trials and tribulations in the dating world. I made some offhand remark about spending a lot of time in therapy. He was incredulous I had spent two days a week for a year in therapy; that part of my decision to live in a terrible little rental house was so I could afford CBT and get off the antidepressants that were making me crazier. At first, I was miffed he had forgotten all of this. Then I realized: he probably never knew about it because I never told him and my mother thought it was a confidence and didn’t give it away. Until October fifteenth, I could count on one finger the number of times I chose to tell my father something important before I told my mother. Now he is the only parent I have to confide in and it hasn’t been all that bad, either. Once upon a time my father and I talked but we discussed the things I was comfortable with like my career and investments. Now I find myself engaging him in conversations about all the things my mom and I shared; family and friends of family news, travel plans, house plans…everything short of how erratic my periods are and the cute shoes I found on sale. What a gift to discover this relationship. Too bad it took losing one parent to discover the other.

I still expect to see my mother as I turn a corner in this house. Early this morning, Dad and The Beav went fishing and I had the house to myself for a few hours. It was so terrifically quiet and the first time I had been alone in the house in years. My grief felt unsettling and frankly a bit of an over reaction, it’s been over eight months since she diedwhy am I weepy about it now? Why did I feel the same emptiness I felt on October 16th when I walked into the house twenty four hours after she died. My father has a large picture of her prominately displayed, she’s standing near the water on Mikonos a few years ago, the last overseas trip she took. It’s not a very good picture of her, she looks tired and I can see the pain in her face, around her eyes, I sense her breathlessness as she tried to make a one last trip before admitted she needed oxygen 24/7 and was in unbearable pain due to her osteoporosis. I felt a buried well of loneliness for her open and then I realized living 800 plus miles away from home wasn’t helping my process. My sister and my father get to live everyday with reminders of my mother. Me? Because we saw each other just a few times a year, I have days every few months when I miss her tremendously. A one step forward three steps back approach to grief. But isn’t it part of my nature to make everything as difficult as I possibly can? I coped today by staying out of the house as much as I could when Dad and the boy were gone.

Once I was away from the house, I relaxed and was filled with the pure zen joy of being in the place I long to return to. I also realized how far I had come to be a person who is intrinsically happy. I am now a naturally happy person whether I live in a city where the Rockies meet the Midwest or in my home town or--God forbid--Lubbock Texas, I will be happy. (Lubbock is stretching it a bit, I don’t really want to try this theory out in with a return to West Texas) Because wherever you go, there you are. Despite doing things the hard way sometimes, being prone to “the glass is half full but dangerously close to falling off the edge of the table: I am deeply happy and content with my life. Once I realized this it was easier to step back into my mother’s house and own all my unaddressed grief.

Today was unspeakably hot with the gift of a sudden hard rain. Where I come from a rain like this cools things off. But here the humidity shot up to about 1100% and it felt as if we were in Houston or Florida or a Swedish sauna. After dinner, The Beav, mirroring my earlier restlessness, asked if we could go somewhere and “do“ something. I was feeling hemmed in after the rain and wanted to be outside in the sauna because it’s novel enough to experience my lungs adequately filled with oxygen but it’s a bonus to have hydrated skin. Besides that, I love the earthy cedar smell after the rain. I suggested we take a drive and see what had replaced a lovely old farm at the end of a road near the ‘rents house. When my parents built their little house it was in the last subdivision on the road. Now I jokingly refer to their neighborhood as the “ghetto” of one of the most expensive and exclusive bedroom communities in the state. Over the last thirty years, horse farms, old homesteads and densely wooded creek beds and a river bottom have been sacrificed for million dollar McMansions and McRanches. I am prone to sentimentality so you can only imagine the wistful feeling I have when I drive and remember the wild spaces. I’m such a sap, I can turn an errand to Walgreens into a trip down memory lane. Tonight wasn’t any different as we meandered down the roads, me lolling in how much I love this place despite the ridiculousness of the traffic, the heat and the Bubbas. The Beav didn’t even roll his eyes too much when I tried to explain DogMan to him and showed him the creek bottoms we would visit as kids trying to catchh a glimpse of the maniac who undoubtedly had a bloody hook and an appetite for teenaged girls. We drove down country roads which have blessedly missed the onslaught of nouvelle riche homes and marveled at the ground fog’s ethereal presence in the bottoms. Beautiful and eerie, I think we both expected to see the specter and Beav freely admitted it was “creepy“ at dusk with the fog hanging onto the dense canopy of trees. I wanted to walk along the creek but I’m very deathly afraid of snakes and boggy dusk is a recipe for copperheads and water snakes. So I stayed in the car on the road over the bridges, keeping the windows down so we could breath the rich air. I took us down roads I haven’t driven since I was 17. I felt a great sense of peace as I the curves and turns automatically not really sure where we were going after the DogMan Tour. But after we turned down a road partially closed due to the rain, I knew where we were going. A place I had forgotten about until tonight. The zebra at the horse farm. Why I had never taken the boys when we had visited is beyond me.

Back in the day there were several zebras at this horse farm and after we were bored with looking for Dog Man, we would stop at the side of the road, calling to them to lure them closer so we could take a good look at them. (Damn, meddling kids that we were, teasing the farm animals!) As I approached the fence I prayed tonight was NOT the night for charging and he would stay a safe distance. God agreed it would be undignified for my child to see me squealing like a girl as I flailed across the road to the car so the zebra stayed on his side of the pasture.
“Why’d you stop?“
“Wha--? Na Ah, there is NOT a zebra over there, what kind of zebra, a real zebra? Sure mom. . .“
After a minute of: “Not over there but there“ type directions he saw it, the zebra hanging out in the pasture, contemplating the grass as he munched it. Fascinated by this phenomenon in suburbia, Beav lost his teenaged veneer and composure for a few minutes as he marveled at the animal and tried to fathom how and why a rancher would keep a zebra on a horse farm a mile from his GrandDad‘s house. His enthusiasm was infectious and I became fascinated with the beast all over again. I got to catch a glimpse of my little boy tonight. For this alone, Gram would have loved sharing the zebra with him. But the boy was soon replaced by the young man texting his best friend as I pulled back onto the road and headed for home.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Art for Art's Sake

June got her culture and art on last week; between a friend of a friend’s art opening; scavenging tag sales for art and finally an annual open air art market downtown; I can safely say I have seen enough art...…at least until next week when I go to Next Town and make a quick tour of the local modern art museum. Sadly, my taste in art has been referred to as pedestrian and predictable despite my appreciation of the abstract over the representational. I grew up with really bad representational landscapes (sorry mom, your work was too safe) so I bristle a little when I see them. But when representational pieces reach out to me it is usually because the artist tells the truth of the object through color. She sees the glint of light off water as the color gray tipped with yellow and thereby makes it--creates if you will--a glint of light on water. This gift fills me with awe, wonder and envy. To be able to make color and paint hang together in such a way that I see what she saw in the moment she was painting, is genius. Abstract painters amaze me, too. They think and paint outside the lines. No safe vistas and bibulous skies for them! Their leaps of faith make me giddy. A few months ago the local posh university was offering an adult ed class in oil painting and overcoming fear: the colors will be layered and therefore muddy, I will hate it and therefore wasted $$ on a canvas and paint. It was like the instructor called me and asked me: “if you love color, texture and form so much why don’t you paint?“ Hopefully, the class will be offered again.

The theme of the opening last Thursday was so obscure and ridiculous but I am reluctant to blog about it because I feel mean-spirited: as if I am utterly clueless about the often difficult process of creating. The show revolved around a theme and featured four artists each representing a different medium. My limited art background is perhaps why I found the show to be--well frankly--an absurd and pointless exercise in deconstructing space. Because literature wasn’t enough now we must deconstruct space. I can grope my way through the murky waters of Deconstructionism and it’s tenants. In the beginning, I was fascinated with subtext and all the blah-blah theory but after my initial dewy-eyed fascination, I found it to be ludicrous and a waste of time and academic energy. My favorite description of the importance of deconstructing text was: “so we can read the pauses and spaces between the letters.” Oh. What. The. Fuck. Ever.

This is a snippet of the show‘s statement: “. . .an exhibition featuring works of art that non-representationally refer to human bodily figure. Whether a surviving mark or mere evidence of the former existence--blood stains, sweat, hair, footmarks--indexical signs create a narrative.” The statement continues to instruct this collection of work “delves more into semiotics with the dualistic role of artist humanistic vestiges; intact are the clues that link the imagery to its human origin.”

You lost me at “semiotics”. Is “indexical” even a word?

One of the artists spent the last year collecting her hair from the shower drain, lobbed the wad on the scanner bed and made a picture of it. Yes, they did look like dainty line drawings but that it was scanned hair made me snort in an unladylike fashion. Another of the quartet, made paintings as he stomped, jumped or walked across the canvas in different paint covered shoes. The paintings reminded me of Joan Mitchell’s work, the shapes were airy, loose and sometimes off to the sides of the field. These pieces grew on me because the artist freely admitted what a departure this was for him as a representational artist. He lost me with over thinking his work: “Man has no identity without a carbon foot print, a traceable identity that is erased over time. “ The third is a French chemist who photographically explored how a drop of blood devolves over a year. Scientifically, it was interesting to see the breakdown. He also photographed drops of blood moving through water as an exploration of the alchemy of blood. On an intellectual level, the idea of his work intrigues me. But to see the actual work made me physically recoil. In my reality, an intimate acquaintance with someone else's blood can be deadly and is never beautiful. Finally, the piece de resistance, a textile artist who looked like Joyce Carol Oates younger more intense baby sister working hard to outdo her sister in the oversized eye glasses department. She used the bits of worn thrift store garments featuring stitching, snaps, buttons or zippers on each square of a large quilt. I thought my eyes would spin out of my head when she confessed feeling the previous wearer’s essence in each piece of clothing. She confessed being delighted as she ironed how she could smell their bodies. . .well that’s just icky. Ickier than the hair and the blood. She relates in her artist statement: “. . .the traces of human action that remains on linens and clothing--the rips, holes and stains that mark them as used--become markers of domesticities, lives constellated by cycles and patterns.” Oh joy! Feminist Deconstructionism! Let’s dig up the decomposed corpse of scholarship past and revisit how women’s art is demarked by the cycles of “repetitive and tedious processes” of domestic labor. Let’s debate whether or not biology ultimately decides my creative process. Lee Krasner's "Portrait in Green" as case in point! I did stick my hand in the air and asked if she was still artistically exploring this dead mare. (for the record, I was polite and didn’t say dead horse or dead mare but did assert this had been done to death) Many greater than she had beaten the cycle and drudgery of domestic labor to a bloody pulp back in the 80’s. For the love of the Goddess and womyn everywhere, give it a rest Ms. Oates Jr. And please, girl! The 80‘s are done! (now I’m being BitchyJuneCleaver)

I think I shall pitch a show: I can cart around an empty portfolio, and when I open it up I will do a dramatic hand flourish with a staccato “Viola!” I present to you: The Deconstruction of Space!” But there aren’t any pieces. Not even blank canvases. How ironic, how navel staring, how PoMo of me. Excuse me while I light my Gitan; adjust my gigantic and flowing scarf whilst contemplating my art.

Seriously, I thought the images were either absurd or repulsive. I found their intimacy grotesque. (I can hear Ms A’s man--R--with his laconic English accent: “June, art isn’t always about the beautiful, sometimes it’s about the profane”) But the intimacy evoked wasn’t the a sad piquant intimacy of Goldberg’s photos; or the brutish and jarring intimacy of Mapplethorpe’s finger in a penis. Goldberg and Mapplethorpe rivet me but these pieces made me want to turn away and wash my hands. Perhaps my boundaries are too hard and fast but I felt as if I had violated the artist‘s, and in one case, ultimately the subjects’ personal space. Much of my life’s work revolves around strangers most private functions and becoming intrinsically involved with their bodies. My companions at the show were surprised by my disgust and took note: “But you are a nurse!“ After a week of contemplating all of this it boils down to I would rather art not cross that line. I prefer to be entertained by art. But really, what the Hell do I know? The nice girl that lives in about 2% of my soul is appalled by my distain for these artist’ efforts and one’s complete body of work. What I do know and completely understand how difficult creating art can be.

The art market was a mindless pleasure after the intellectual contortions a few days before. Some of it was boring and predictable but other pieces were surprising and inspired smiles. Like this piece at the student show. I must admit to gasping with pleasure when I saw how well he photographed against the stormy sky.

It’s a deconstructed notion of Mr. Stay Puff as interpreted in Ghost Busters, don’t you think? oh my god! Make it stop! Make the Derrida and Smith voices go away! But you gave them the power of the text by typing their names. Their influences are now the subtext of your life. Ahem…sorry little moment with the voices in my head.

Despite my bitching about the show, I had a great time with Ms. A, R and his friends. The garage sale art and the market a few days later was cosmic payback for the head scratching, belly gazing experience last Thursday night. I did see things I would love to own at the market. I returned with cards and websites for the future when I can acquire a canvas and maybe a tea pot. Art makes a splendid gift. A picture of my hair would be just the thing for TG next Christmas! Better yet, I will allow our strands to intermingle as one continuous line. . . The supreme romantic gesture. Do you think she would like a Kleenex from the bottom of my purse? Because, that too contextualizes traces of my existence. My existence is too important to not be contextualized.

I slay myself, truly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

And all this time, I just thought I was lazy!

Isn't this the most awesome book cover ever? Mommy and Daddy are having cocktails their little darling has thoughtfully prepared for them. My kind of kid, this one! Such a prodigy, mixing martis at the tender age of three. Shoot, I was the ripe old age of 14 when my parents taught me to tend bar for their bridge parties.

Did you hear the collective sigh a couple of weeks ago?? It's the sigh of a million parents realizing the age of "Child-centered Parenting" is over. And I am feeling especially edgy because as a member of the prenatal Mozart therapy-family bed-four or more activities after school-generation of parents I refused to participate. I'll never forget the tsks and pearl clutching because my kids didn't have any after school activities aside from playing with their friends. The horror! Call CPS! In fact, I'm such a maverick when everyone was rolling around in acres of money even if I had wanted to take the effort to shepard two kids between six activities, I couldn't afford them! Like the parents today! W00t!

The pendulum has swung back to the middle. I can freely admit I thought piping Mozart to my fetus was an incredibly stupid waste of time and breastfeeding was boring and a pain in the neck.

The real pioneer in all of this is one of my heroes: Marion Winik. What a sage when she confessed way back in the 1990's she was exhausted by the process of mothering and everything she had to worry about when our mother's had martini'd and Marlboro'd their way to the delivery table.

So let's have a cocktail, let's have several! In fact, Jr can mix 'em up for us and keep 'em coming because it is now the era of the hands off parent! Mothers every where now have permission to let go of the guilt, wooden toys, enrichment classes and organic bananas. Bring on the cardboard box forts, impromptu games and Pop Tarts!

My laissez faire parenting style is now the rage. Boundaries are in.

It's about damn time, don't you think?