Sunday, March 24, 2013

creating: a poem and four paintings

It seems that my best efforts produce only about one painting and one poem per year. Not what you'd call prolific, but given that the vast majority of my time is spent juggling work, family, chores, and other (mostly happy) obligations, I'm pleased that I've produced anything at all. 

I've slowly been teaching myself to paint and write poetry for the past few years and I never feel more challenged, more discouraged, or more elated than when I am painting or writing. I began my first recent painting with acrylics and a complex subject in 2009. With helpful feed back from a few friends and many hours of practice, I have arduously worked my way into oils and more refined subjects, with (I hope) a more nuanced treatment of light and a better grasp of the medium. Each painting has been such a learning experience. As much as I cringe to look at some of the beginner's mistakes in my earlier work, I get such a kick out of seeing progress from one work to the next. No doubt I will employ everything I'm dissatisfied with in my most recent painting as fuel for the next.

Writing poetry is much the same process. I really have no formal idea of what I'm doing and I actually know very little about poetry, except for very early poems I studied in college and more recent poets I enjoy reading now. Nonetheless, experiences, impressions, words, and phrases tumble around in my head for years until it is time—suddenly—to make a poem. Perhaps that's why I dislike having too many obligations—you never know when it will be time to write a poem.

I want to post some of my work here because I think it is important to share your attempts, whether they are triumphs or not. I love the product of creativity, but I relish the process. That's what I crave—the act of creation—the getting it out of my system—the adventure of not knowing whether your next move will destroy the whole thing. If the end result lives up to your expectations, which it rarely does, the thrill is indescribable. If your creation falls short of your hopes, it still gives you a starting place for the next one, as well as something to put on your wall that is, at the very least, more original than a print from the mall.

With all that said, here is a poem I wrote last night (the actual writing took three hours, but it took about nine years to germinate). I won't apologize for the graphic nature of the beginning. That is life and this is art, and that's what it's all about. Three of the four paintings are of places near the house where I grew up in central Wisconsin. I hope they will become part of a larger project (please see "paintings: past, present, and future" on the sidebar for more about that idea). The fourth painting is a still life I imagined in a previous post (see "next painting?" on Oct 25, 2010). I posted them in order of creation—I think the evolution is kind of fun to see. Disclaimer: I took the pictures of my paintings with my iPhone, so they are kind of blurry and overblown (especially Roadside Shrine), but you get the idea. So without further ado...


love song

one more push
they said
and I screamed
as you left my body
you cried just once
then you looked around
and began
to breathe

our first separation

and now you are running
through the rain and into a waiting car

I stand back
not wanting to embarrass you
with my love

as you pull away
you turn and wave
to the empty window
and lunging forward I am there
waving back to you
to you, to you

my love


Zinda's Farm
Acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16"
Completed November 2009

Roadside shrine, Polonia
Acrylic on canvas, 12" x 16"
Completed June 2010

Still life: Crepe myrtle seed pods before bursting
Acrylic on canvas, 10" x 8"
Completed January 2011

Building near Emil's house, late June
Oil on canvas, 12" x 9"
Completed March 2013

Saturday, October 6, 2012


I was looking through my bookshelves this afternoon in search of a misplaced manuscript and found instead a little notebook I kept in college. I'd filled it with movie titles, interesting words, quotations, authors' names, recipes, observations, and even a Christmas card list. It was classic college stuff--a little over the top, a little dreamy, rather over-excited. Part of me smiled today at my younger self, as I'm sure my older self will someday smile at the 37-year-old me, just as she should. But part of me was so delighted to find a record of me before I became now-me. It reminded me that then-me is still in here and I still like her. Here are then-me's observations of a family get-together. Not my family. It was the family of an elderly woman from whom I rented a room one summer during college. I really liked her. Her family had come to celebrate her birthday or some such occasion. I remember thinking that they weren't too good to her. Or at least not as good to her as they might have been. She's gone now, but I still remember her and that summer with great fondness.

Cigarettes, semi-dirty jokes--short, stout, beer-belly, short bristly hair, beer--sweet perfumes & cologne mixed with smoke--women--thin, layered, stringy hair--halter-top with jungle print--low-cut--thin, cheap, large white blazer with black pants & black high heels--no nylons--no make-up thin eyelashes--clothing--cheap, riskless imitations--a vest--obviously designed based on a potentially classy garment--yet falls short in shape and fabric--K-Mart stylish--chugging beer--vodka out on counter--kids--tight spandex shorts & ribbed tank top--hot pink--denim skirt set & red patent leather Mary Janes--kids wander--ask questions--are finally allowed to eat a piece of confetti cake with pink frosting--they start school tomorrow--mother in white blazer explains to hot pink spandex daughter that she will use her old backpack from last year--the little pink one--daughter objects, but no option--mother explains school $ to others--her own tuition at tech is $131--too much to pay for now--they will have to wait--says Tia's school needs require her to pay another $6-10--every dollar counts--when money brought up father becomes serious--asks questions--not afraid, just careful--must be careful--grandmother keeps mulling over her embarrassing fall in restaurant--others add comments--voices are loud, speech-pronunciation is rough & rounded--teasing each other--they ask me my major--"English"--"oh, I speak dat" they say--I am careful not to appear haughty or to put them down, yet I'm not sure what to say or how to react--they seem to expect me to look down on them--which makes me a little sad.
(Summer 1996)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

too much haiku

Too much wine. I think
I drink a little too much
Wine sometimes at night.

Monday, November 7, 2011

hall study

I am sitting outside of Liam's karate classroom, where all the parents watch and wait for the lesson to be over. It's not so much a waiting room as a hallway with some chairs and benches and blinding florescent lights. One wall is a long two-way mirror so that we in the hall can watch the class on the other side, and the class can watch itself. Liam was so full of piss and vinegar after school that I insisted we go to the early karate class in hopes of jarring him into another emotional universe. I figure it's our best shot for surviving the rest of the evening. As I watch and wait for my son's glorious transition, I think I'll make a few notes.

A short distance from me there sits a woman wearing a white sweatshirt with appliqué maple leaves over a black turtleneck decorated with little orange pumpkins. She is seasonally festive. She is also seasonally ill. She keeps coughing in a wet duck-call sort of way and her cough drop clicks against her teeth as she moves it around with her tongue. I wish she'd cover her mouth.

Friendly Biology Professor is on the next bench over. She's working on her laptop, as she always does, with her turbulent mass of salt-and-pepper hair in a loose bun, and cat socks and purple Crocs on her feet. I suspect she's a Mormon, but I can't confirm that yet.

To my right the Floor Sitter is sitting on the floor. It's a little unusual for an adult to sit on the floor, but he must be more comfortable that way because he and his t-shirt and sweatpants are lodged in the same spot every week. Maybe he has trouble with his back. Floor Sitter plays games on his smartphone while he's waiting for class to be over. He has the same smartphone case as I do: orange and pink. I wonder why he's ok with pink. Maybe it's not really his phone.

On the farthest bench is a lady I've never seen before. She looks to be in her 70s and she has brought her entire sewing kit with her. She stores her needles and pins in one of those amber-colored pill bottles you get from the pharmacy and she's taking up her grandson's pants while she waits. She just smiled at me. I wonder if she noticed that I'm watching her.

Coughing Lady has finally stopped coughing and is now filing her fingernails. I wish she'd stop doing all of these things, including the sweatshirt.

Floor Sitter is just getting up toddler-style, with his butt in the air and his hands pushing off from the floor. Wow. He's big. He looks around, leans on a folding chair, then sits down again. I wonder what he's looking for.

Blond Karate Lady just walked in. Her son is a brown belt and so is she. She's a manager of the facilities department at some Maryland school district, but she wanted to do something for herself for once, so she signed up for karate a few years ago. Floor Sitter just asked her if she could see his son anywhere in the classroom. She looks through the classroom windows from her chair while he pretends to look from his spot on the floor. Neither of them can see Son. Floor Sitter says "huh" and goes back to playing solitaire on his smartphone. She opens a book.

Man in Black, who is sharing a bench with Sewing Lady, has just tried to point out Floor Sitter's son, who is talking with a teacher down the hall. I can hear Son explaining that he accidentally locked himself in the bathroom stall for a few minutes because the lock was rusty. But Floor Sitter isn't listening to Man in Black, so Man in Black gives up and turns back to his own smartphone.

A little while ago Coughing Lady got up and left with her purse, which really got my hopes up. But now she's back and hard at work again with that damn nail file. A few minutes have passed. At last she's put the nail file back in her purse and let out a big wet cough. Maybe that was the grand finale.

Man in Black is explaining smartphones to Sewing Lady while she hems. He's telling her about Facebook and how he can even be friends with his relatives in Canada. When she responds to him her voice sounds like a little girl's and I turn to look at her again. It doesn't match her face at all.

There are ten minutes left of class. Liam is practicing a new kata. It's really beautiful. Students begin arriving for the late session and heading for the changing rooms. All of us waiting in the hallway have gone quiet. Everyone is tired. Coughing Lady hacks out another wet one and then falls mercifully silent. The kids in the classroom sway back and forth like trees in a storm—grace with lethal intent, if not yet lethal force. They chant the closing creed, bow, and pour out of the classroom into the waiting hall.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Today I went to the computer store, the pet store, the grocery store, and the drug store. By the time I got to the grocery store I was regretting the cup of tea and two glasses of water I'd consumed before setting out and I just couldn't wait any longer. Through the "Employees Only" swinging doors I went, past the produce crates, up the stairs, and through the break room to "LAdiES." As it turns out, the self-proclaimed Bathroom Bandit had gotten there first and had left behind her a string of platitudes. And because I'm a modern woman with modern technology in my pocket, I took some pictures of her work. Upon returning to the produce section (thoughtful and forever changed) I noticed a display of strawberry glaze that just took my breath away in its resemblance to my aforementioned bag of Shiraz, or maybe something poisonous, so I took a picture of that too. Red things in bags are always interesting, don't you think?

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I went to the mall today. I found myself thinking, "I'm so glad I'm not one of those people who goes to the mall." When I got home I realized that I didn't purchase the correct item on my first trip, so I had to go again. But at least I'm not one of those people.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Was picking up the house tonight. Another installment in an unending cycle. I'm going to write a book about it someday. I will call it A Million Little Pieces of Crap. Subtitled Nearly All Plastic. In parens (Nearly None Mine).

Though most little pieces in my house seem to be made of plastic, I will devote one chapter to items made of organic material (or at least not obviously made of plastic). In that chapter I will address socks and underwear, which fall under the sub-category Fabric Crap on the Floor. I will also comment on blue toothpaste and semi-evaporated urine in the sub-category Sticky Crap in the Bathroom. Peanut butter, jelly, and matter resting between the garbage bag and bottom of the can will be explored in the sub-category Sticky Crap in the Kitchen. And finally, I will comment on matters pertaining to litter boxes, which, along with birthday party favors, fall under Crap Made of Shit.

Publication date pending.