Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Writing is both masking and unveiling."  ~  E.B. White


I've got a pimple on my elbow! My ELBOW! WHO gets a pimple on her elbow?

Now, pimples on my FACE, I had! Every time I looked into a mirror, there they were.  All I saw on this face of mine were those alien bumps, sprouting everywhere on my face. They were all I didn't ever see on anybody else, it seemed. Why me???

And they didn't go away even when I wasn't a teenager anymore. They kept busy like popcorn in the popper. Oh, eventually they would go away, one by one, but they'd leave pits in my skin as remembrances, and then there'd be more popping up. … never-ending… always there…  I had dates with some wonderful guys in high school and college, and they didn't seem to notice. Didn't matter, though. I saw every one of those nightmare bumps and their going-away gifts - perfect pits.

Now, when you study art, you study light, too. You must know where the light source is coming from to understand shadows and highlights when you draw or paint. For me, there was another reason to study light, and I still do it today. It's a fact that very few people look good sitting directly underneath an over-head light bulb. It creates strange shadows on every face under it. It also highlights things that shouldn't be in the spotlight. So, I've always checked the ceiling light fixtures before I sit down, wherever I sit down. Still do. Soft, quiet light, like moonlight, is best for hiding a pitted face, but for me sun light, or any other overhead light, is taboo!

Terry! You sound like an egomaniac! Maybe so, but I'm also telling the low-down, utter truth, as I've lived it.

Cosmetics are the answer, Terry, you twit! Maybe so, but cosmetics don't help when you're afraid to walk up to the cosmetic counter, itself, where those ladies with perfect skin are going to look closely at YOUR skin and try to match your skin color with some foundation they are selling. I think that's called a "double-bind," or something like that.

After years and years of living with that selfish fear, and even after getting married to a wonderful husband, I still tried to hide my face as best I could. But one day, somehow, someway, I realized that there are doctors who can "sand-paper" your face so the pits aren't so deep. Well, off I went to the office of a plastic surgeon who was recommended by my G.P.

I sat down in the darkest corner of the waiting room, after carefully studying the lay of the ceiling lights system, dreading the relentless eyes of a trained skin examiner. I nearly walked out of the office many times during that 30-minute wait for my examination.

The doctor was professional, curtly pleasant, with a discerning eye. He said, "This is going to be fun! Now, you can't expect a clear, smooth skin with what you're bringing me! I CAN smooth it somewhat, though. Boy, you have a face-full!" It was hard to believe he could say that to me, or even see me. You see, by this time I was crouched underneath the examining chair in his office!

"Your head will be fully bandaged for a week, of course."

"Ask the nurse for an appointment time. Now, don't expect a miracle, for heaven's sakes!" And off I went, expecting no miralces, and not much help, either.

The day came, finally. I was "sanded" and it was finally finished. My entire head was encased in bandages that wrapped around my head, up and over my head, and under my chin, too. It looked like he'd had to do a labotomy, not just a carpenter's sanding job.

Then the day came for the "unveiling." He unwrapped me, and my face was as red as a roasted beet! "I want you to come back in 4 days so I can see the healing."

"OK."

That day came. I slithered into the office, looking for the least light, but there was a brilliant flourescent tube on the ceiling with the only chair left in the waiting room underneath it. I sat my red-face down right under it. As I sneaked peeks at the others in the waiting room, I saw her…

She was younger than I was, still a teen-ager. Her skin was white, absolutely white like the sheet of paper I'm writing on right now! That thin white skin on her face was transparent, so thin that I could see the pattern of her blood veins, clearly blue, like a map all over that face. I looked at her hands. Her fingers had melted away so each one had only one knuckle left. These half-fingers tapered to soft curved points.

But it was the smoothness of her hands that I couldn't understand, either. The skin of each knuckle was stretched so tightly that none of her knuckles had wrinkles. It looked like those fingers might not even bend.

"Mrs. Waldron! Mrs. Waldron, the doctor is ready for you," said the nurse at the admittance door.

When I sat down and the doctor took a look at his handy-work, I got the courage up to ask him, "Doctor, I know you can't talk about your other patients, but that teen-aged girl in the waiting room… What happened to her?"

"She was lighting some fireworks in her hands, cherry bombs I think, and they all went off at once. She's had 11 surgeries, so far. It takes a while to get all that scar tissue off. Now let's look at you…"

ME? Yeah, me, and all my self-pity and the rest of it. That poor young girl, you mean!

And I'm ashamed to admit that it took me many more years to understand that the best thing your face can have on it is a smile… a REAL smile… a genuine smile that has no guile.

A simple upturn of your lips does not a smile make. That's called a sneer, and I've seen lots of those. What good are they? You can see right through them. In fact, have you ever seen a chimpanzee "smile?" They turn back their lips until their teeth all show and they "smile." It's a sign of fear and nervousness. I see more of those "chimpanzee smiles" today than ever the real deal.

I've learned one thing about real smiles. They start in the very heart of you, and then shine out through your eyes… that is IF they are REAL. Finally, they might spill out onto your mouth, but they don't have to. Those smiling eyes have already let the world know what you're feeling inside, you see.

And guess what? I make friends with cosmetic-counter ladies, now. They don't scream and run away when they see me. In fact, they are sooo happy to see another customer ready to buy their new mineral powder, guaranteed to hide all skin flaws.  And I just smile right back at 'em!

Friday, September 19, 2014

"With the pride of an artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists, the small trumpet of your defiance."  ~ Norman Mailer


I HATE coloring books! HATE them! 

I learned to HATE them when I was in 2nd grade in San Antonio, Texas. Now, don't think we lived in the San Antonio of today with its River Walk and its elegant homes… NO! We lived in the dry, dusty, old-time San Antonio with "talking" wind and dust in your eyes and the little bitty Alamo in the middle of town. We lived there because my Dad was an instructor in the Air Force back then, and the city had not gone through its metamorphosis, yet.

I'd loved coloring books up until then. And I especially LOVED it when Mom would buy me a new box of crayons every so often. The first time she bought me that 3-tiered box of 64 crayons was the day I nearly swooned! It wasn't just the colors, themselves, either. Their names were exotic, too. I took a piece of paper and scribbled every color on that page just to see them altogether in riot-mode.

In the house next-door there lived a girl with a coloring book. I still can see her naturally-curly blonde hair that fluffed her head… maybe addled her brain inside, too… don't know, for sure. We met, we talked, like little girls do, and then she asked me to come over to her front porch and "color" with her. I started to trot over to her house, but she yelled out, "Let me see YOUR coloring book first!"

I LOVED coloring, and I was happy to show it off to my new friend. I raced into the house, found my coloring book, and raced over to her porch. She snatched it out of my hands, and, beginning with the first page, she examined each colored design like a detective looking for clues. Mothers and teachers were the only people I'd ever seen do that in my whole life… never another kid!

After she studied the last page, she looked at me and said, "I guess it's OK if you color in MY book. BUT, YOU HAVE TO OUTLINE EVERYTHING ON THE PAGE FIRST! THEN YOU CAN COLOR IT IN! BUT YOU HAVE TO COLOR IT IN LIGHTLY, SO THE LINE IS THE DARKEST PART!" 

That settled it! I feared for my life! I would do exactly as I was told for the very honor of coloring in that sacred book of hers. Especially after she said, "You're the only one on this whole block I'm letting color in this book, Terry!" (She was a year older than I was, and she talked in that elevated fashion… or was it my fear of her that made me think she did? Shhhhh, don't talk loudly… She doesn't like others to talk loudly! She 's the only one who can do that. And remember, coloring book lines are sacred to her!)

"TERRY! What are you DOING?"

"I'm coloring a giraffe."

"You're using a PURPLE crayon! Everyone knows that giraffes are brown and yellow, NOT PURPLE!"

Purple is pretty, I thought… "OK," I said, and grabbed the stupid mud-brown crayon, carefully coloring INSIDE the poopy brown lines I'd drawn.

That was summer in San Antonio, Texas for me, until one day when a new girl moved in across the street. She was even more timid than I was, and she was shorter, too. She was nice, and I liked that. It was a wonderful change from my next-door "friend."

"Do you like to color?" I asked her.

"Yeaaah."

"Well, come next-door with me. That girl has a coloring book and colors… Come on and color with us," I said to the short, nameless little girl.

"OK," and she did.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING!" That wasn't a question. It was a royal oral beating from the Queen of Coloring Book Land.

"I'm coloring…" said the new kid.

"NO! YOU'RE NOT! GO HOME! YOU CAN NEVER, EVER, COLOR IN MY COLORING BOOK AGAIN! Come on, Terry… let's turn the page."

"But I'm not finished coloring the grass…"

"I said, 'Let's turn the page. NOW!'"

I didn't cry. But I didn't obey. I guess I just crouched there, looking at her more clearly, as we sat on that summer-hot cement porch in San Antonio, Texas.

Then I stood up, and I walked back over to my house. The little girl followed me, but I guess when the door slammed in her face, she didn't know what to do, so she just cried there on my porch.

I was back within a minute or two, MY coloring book in hand, and a box of crayons, too. No, not what you think… The crayon box I brought out to the porch had 16 colors in it. I wasn't going to let anyone else touch my 64 glorious colors, not even a crying little new friend! I was no angel, just ask my little brother!

We laid down on that porch and spread open two pages full of animals. We picked any color that wasn't the "right" color, and we scribbled and laughed and made a mess of all the animals, not staying in any lines for love nor money! And we made polka-dotted lions and striped bears and tangerine horses with green manes and tails made up of 16 different-colored hairs! It had been a long time that summer since I'd had that much fun.

Later, much later… so much later that I'd been through art classes at the university and graduated, taught high school art for 11 years, and moved with my husband to California. I'd substitute-taught for 6 months, and I was applying for a permanent teaching position at a junior high school near our house. The interview was going pretty well, and I was trying to be genteel, while answering his questions truthfully. I wanted that job. 

"Now, Mrs. Waldron… your credentials are in order. You've taught before… good. We're looking for an art teacher to replace the one who's leaving, as we said. But we need someone who can keep the kids' hands busy, busy, busy… you know… like coloring books… stuff like tha-"

"Coloring books? COLORING BOOKS! Keep their hands busy? KEEP THEIR HANDS BUSY!!! Mr. I-Forget-Your-Name! Art is NOT "keeping their hands busy"!!! Art is decision-making at its highest level! When you face an empty page, you have to make your first and most crucial decision. That first decision informs your second decision, and that second one then informs the next one, and that one the NEXT o… 

"OK, OK, Mrs. Waldron!!! You've GOT the job! Go to the District Office and sign the papers today. But will you PLEASE STOP POUNDING ON MY DESK?" 

   

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them." ~ Andre Gide

Have you ever seen two turkey buzzards up-close and personally? I have! They are huge, HUGE! And suddenly, both those buzzards jumped off that delapidated fence post they were sitting on, looked me straight in the eye, both of them, and began hop-stepping toward me.

I shouldn't have gotten out of my car to get a closer look, but I'd only ever seen them in cowboy movies. I was driving down a kind-of country road with huge gorgeous houses complete with horse stables just beyond, and right there under the big eucalyptus trees on that rotting fence sat those two enormous birds. 

I pulled over, parked my car near them, and stared. Their heads were griseled red skin, inset with beady black eyes, and their enormous hooked beaks looked like they could crunch just about anything. Their hunched shoulders covered in long black feathers helped them look old, worn-out, like funeral directors. And those feet… those feet had done lots of clawing and tearing and walking.

Why did I get out of the car to have a closer look? Idiot! 

In every movie about the Old West, or those about Africa where buzzards circled, waiting for the lions to finish eating, the dinner was already dead. I was alive. What's the problem? I was sure those two would let me have a look. I mean, all the ones I'd seen in zoos sat there and let a person stare at them. I'd done it many times.

I walked toward them across that dusty ground, and they looked at me, then to each other, then back at me, as they kept hop-stepping towards me… a little faster, maybe, than before…

Suddenly, I was scared, really frightened. I ran back to my car, jumped in, took off, and never looked back! Do vultures actually do their own killing of active, snoopy things that dare to confront them?  I've wondered about that since.

I saw another monster in the middle of one night when I was young, staying at my cousins' house during our annual 2-week trip to Nebraska to see our relatives. I loved my aunt and uncle's old two-story white wood house there in Columbus, Nebraska with its long, straight staircase leading up to the 3 bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs. I loved the front porch that was big enough to have two chairs to sit in and watch the trees grow. Across the street was the junior high school, and next to it was the high school. Two blocks away was my grandparents' little house, and about five blocks from there was the Catholic Church that my aunt and uncle and cousins belonged to.

That one summer, while we were in Nebraska, their aunt, my uncle's sister, came for a visit. I had only met her one other time, and it was before she'd become a nun. I could never remember to call her "Sister Cecilia" because, not being Catholic, I didn't really understand the re-naming of nuns. (I just researched the meaning of her name and it stands for "dim-sighted," and it really was a perfect name for her.) Sister Cecilia had bad eyesight, and, of course, she wore glasses to help… very thick glasses… glasses that magnified the size of her eyes to everyone who looked at her. It seemed to me that she might be close to being blind, but I was just 13 years old, and you don't know much about anything at that age.

Sister Cecilia wore her nun's habit, of course, and I'd never seen a nun up close before. Her habit seemed starched and stiff and the hood on her head prevented her from seeing to the side of her, so she'd have to turn her head to talk to us. Well, it seemed to me a kindness not to talk to her at all. The absolute truth was she scared me! I figured she had a direct line to God, and, since she never smiled, I assumed that everytime she left the room, she was "on the horn" to him about how bad my cousin Kathy and I were. 

Sleeping arrangements were changed that night because Sister Cecelia was staying for two days. I always shared the bedroom with Kathy and Susan. Billy, my 14-year-old cousin slept in the small bedroom across the hall. Aunt Wilma and Uncle Art slept in the biggest bedroom, where Unce Art snored each and every night with no stops!

It was a hot night in Columbus, a steamy, humid, hot night, and the windows were opened all the way. Billy had to give up his bedroom to Sister Cecelia, so he got the twin bed next to the window in the girls' room. Susan, Kathy and I were all squashed into the double bed next to the door. 

Kathy had just received a new rosary, and it was very special. If you held it up to the lightbulb over the bed long enough, it would actually glow in the dark. I wasn't even sure what a rosary was, but I knew Kathy always had it with her, and it was fun that night turning the lights out and seeing it glowing there on the bed. Sadly, for me, I'm scared of snakes, and it looked "snakey" to me, but we were all four talking and laughing and turning the lights on and off, and just being four cousins who hadn't seen each other for a year. 

Then Billy told us a ghost story, like he always did, and we three girls screamed, like all girls that age are supposed to, just before Uncle Art yelled up the stairs, " YOU KIDS, BE QUIET AND GO TO SLEEP!"

So we did.

Eventually, everyone in the house was asleep, but I was still listening to Uncle Art's snoring, wondering how they could stand hearing that raspy noise every single night of their lives. Now, I'm a light sleeper, especially when my uncle in the next room is "sawing logs." NO, I don't mean just snoring! He REALLY DID sound like he was sawing huge Giant Sequoia logs with his adnoids!

As I was laying there, I thought I heard Billy's bedroom door across the hall slowly squeak open… Then, for sure, I heard a bump in the night, and then a thump, and then shuffling slippered-footsteps. Our bedroom door gave a gasp and slowly, slowly seemed to open itself, slowly, slowly… When I saw the fingers on the door's edge, I froze. 

I never saw a door open more slowly than that one that night. It quivered, more than opened. Finally, hours later, a complete figure stood there in the doorway… and it looked like a man! 

But no! This apparition had a tight fabric cap tied in a bow under its chin, covering all the hair on its head, if it had hair! It had on flannel pajamas, a top and a bottom, but the top was was securely stuffed into the pajama bottoms, and the bottoms were pulled up close under its armpits. It had a huge, thick book in its hands with a long string of beads wafting in some breeze that I couldn't feel.

It was, of course, Sister Cecelia. Glasses-less, she bumped into the bed, and stood next to me, looking down, way down at me, never uttering a sound. She stood there for hours… well, at least several minutes, sightlessly staring down at me. Then she turned and drifted away, noiselessly closing our door behind her.

I hadn't moved the whole time, and I didn't until it was light outside. 

When we went down to breakfast that morning, Aunt Wilma said, "Terry, what's wrong? You look like you haven't slept a wink!"

"Mom, can we have extra bacon with our eggs this morning? C'mon… Terry's here, ya know…" begged Billy. 

"As soon as you finish your rhubarb, Terry, I'll fry some more bacon," promised Aunt Wilma. 

Rhubarb?! Really?! Rhubarb on top of no sleep and seeing a ghost? Rhubarb? Yuck! 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"When you've got it, you've got it. When you haven't, you begin again. The rest is humbug."  ~ Edouard Manet


Since writing that little incident at university, and since Larry was part of it, I think you ought to meet the real Larry Shineman (rhymes with cinnamon) and see some of his paintings. They are brilliant… beyond anything I could ever do.  

Larry Shineman, Art Professor Emeritus at Ohio State University, has a new showing of his most recent work. "The Art of Larry Shineman" will hang in the Springfield Museum of Art from Sept. 20 - November 23, 2014. He will give a talk about his work there, as well, but I love what they say about him and his work:  "Larry Shineman's work draws upon his childhood in Nebraska, his experiences in New Mexico, and his many years in Ohio. His paintings and drawings are both mysterious and calming, drawing you into his composition." They are very large paintings, by the way, and you can truly get lost in them.

You can see Larry's newest work on his new site:    www.larryshineman.com

Heeeeere's Larry!  Please keep scrolling down to see 5 of Larry's paintings.  Bet you like 'em...

Monday, September 1, 2014

"I do not know if you bridle your pen, but when my pencil moves, it is necessary to let it go, or - crash!  … nothing more.  ~ Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


Looking is the artist's constant practice for drawing… simple as that. Your eye has to look for a looong time before your pencil can make an accurate mark. In fact, you have to look for years and years, and at everything, and silently. Touch helps, too. But looking is the key. It's the homework that many people, people who want to be called "artists," overlook.

But, there had been no warning before that particular day in Advanced Drawing class, and I'll always be thankful that Larry was sitting in the drawing bench next to me. Those drawing benches… It was like climbing on a horse's back and straddling a wooden saddle. Straddling wasn't a problem because all female art students wore "the outfit" ~ a pair of "grubbies," a sweatshirt, and sneakers on our feet. Those "grubbies" - a pair of cut-off, rolled-up, worn-out jeans. I loved them, and I still wear jeans to this day. There must be something sewn into those seams that stirs up creativity… I don't know… but "the outfit" works!

The front of the drawing bench was a vertical piece of wood that you would lean your drawing board against. It was important to have your drawing on this perpendicular easel-like contraption because how else can you draw? NOT on a flat table top, of course! That perspective is distorted and makes for seriously wonky work. 

All the class sat on their drawing board "horses", circling the platform where the still life would be mounted. But this day there was no still life. The platform was empty except for a stool and a blanket on the floor. Well, it wasn't my place to question our drawing professor. He was mightier than the sword. He had a pen that graded our work!

The professor climbed onto the platform, escorting a very, very large lady wrapped in a white towel-ish robe. She was disheveled and it looked to me like she had just been rousted out of her nice warm bed!

"Today," said the little professor with the big pen who never smiled, "you will be drawing the human form… the nude human form… the form that all great artists…" But I didn't hear anymore of his words…

"Larry! Larry!" I hissed. "Is she going to take off that robe… here… in front of us? Is she going to have no clothes on? Larry.."

"Yes, she's going to be naked, Terry!" Larry grinned. 

"Completely naked?" I whispered.

"Yeah, Terry! No clothes… nuthin' on her…" Larry's eyes were wide open, very wide open. 

"Larry, I can't do this! I can't look at a naked lady! I can't..."

"Then you'll have to fail, Terry. Now be quiet… I got work to do…" 

There was this strange grin on Larry's face. His voice even sounded different than I'd ever heard him sound.

Larry and I had been in every art class together since we entered university, and we'd even had a couple of dates that first semester. But Larry and I had become friends, close friends, and finally best friends. He was a brother to me, and we were truly "kindred souls." Larry was an amazing person, one that I was so comfortable with, the sort of person that I never had to watch my words with, a person I could depend on anytime and anywhere. We both decided that we were "best friends."

Larry, like nearly every art student, was short of money. Do you know how much paint and paint brushes cost for art students? I had to sell my deeply-loved literature books every single semester to buy more books and more paint and more of everything "art." Larry took a job at a hospital, working the midnight to 6AM shift every single night! Yup, paint and brushes will do that to you…

"Psst… Larry!"

"Terry, shhhhhhush!!! I'm working," he grinned. I looked at his drawing paper and there wasn't a pencil stroke anywhere. The paper was as pristine as it had been before the subject matter was announced! Then Larry looked over at my paper, and there was nothing there, either. I still hadn't found the nerve to look at this naked lady.

"Terry, you're going to fail this class if you don't start drawing… For cripe's sakes, DRAW!" he hissed.

And I finally looked up at our model. She was splayed out on the blanket in a casual pose, but one of her legs was folded at just the right angle to hide the part I was sure that I just shouldn't be seeing! I grabbed my drawing pencil and started in. My face was glowing red for at least 10 minutes, and then, gradually I forgot she was human. It's true! I was lost in the curves and folds of her flab, the angles of her limbs, the strings of her hair…  Oh, the lines, the shadows, the rhythm of her! 

Suddenly, it seemed, the professor walked onto the platform and said, "It's break time! You have 20 minutes to go over to 'Swede's.' But be back in 20 minutes!" And the model stood up and reached for her robe. 

She climbed down off the platform and asked a bunch of us if she could come along to get some coffee at "Swede's." Larry smiled, "Sure!" 

But for me, she had changed. I couldn't look her in the eye! I was embarrassed. I was shy! She had turned back into a live human being, and I couldn't face her. 

Thank God "Swede's" was as crowded as usual, and there was nowhere to sit. The law students had been given their break about 5 minutes earlier than ours, and they were sprawled all over the booths in their spiffy suits and ties. We were art students. We were "grubs!" I suppose they thought the floor would be good enough for us to sit on!

Many models came and posed for our advanced drawing classes, and, of course, each was uniquely different from every other one… tall, short, skinny, rounded, with glasses, without glasses… all kinds of people were models. But it was the personal rhythm of each person that I studied in my looking and my drawing. Each person seemed to me to be like an original piece of music. I finally understood that drawing the human body was critical to understanding all art. That might have been where my love of art history began, I don't know. After all, I was doing the same kind of studying as all artists had done before me. The greatest artists the world has ever produced all studied the human body. And, by the time the 3rd or 4th model came to class, I could even smile at them and say, "Hi!"