Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Time to art

Beginnings of an early morning effort at City Park

I wanted to be an artist growing up. I waited impatiently in school for art classes, and I can still remember projects from elementary school - the excitement of plying scissors to yellow and red and pink construction paper, letting glue dry on my hands and peeling it off (well, maybe that was less about art, but let's call it part of the process), the smell of big plastic jars of bright poster paint. Outside of school, I was in an art class with several other, much older students that was held in a local woman's garage. There, I was able to experiment with the sorts of supplies that were too expensive to be had in public schools, and the scent of turpentine still takes me back to that space with its unfinished wooden walls and its cluster of easels, shelves of motor oil and mason jars of bolts.

High school was where I realized that I probably wasn't cut out to be a real artist despite the loving care of a wonderful and very encouraging art teacher. I took a few pieces to a juried exhibition for a summer program, and walking down the aisles of art, spread out on a basketball court in Raleigh, I realized that I simply was not inspired. I knew without any sense of regret or sadness that I just wasn't an artist the way that some of these kids were artists. While I'd spend years of my childhood learning, I didn't have that natural thing that inspires remarkable art.

It wasn't a traumatic experience. I accepted it and turned to language arts, my second love, as my chosen path in college, and I wrote a lot of horrible but inspired poetry in college along with some not terrible but not particularly fantastic short stories.

But I never made any art again, not even bad art.

To be honest, I barely noticed. I enjoyed the art that other people created, and that was enough.

And then I had Fain.

I have to think that it was being part of the most natural creative act in the world that re-ignited my early impulse towards making art. Then, as a single mother on a teacher's salary, some of the motivation was a restricted budget. Art was a cheap way to spend quality time with Fain. Art was also a cheap way to make a comfortable, happy home.

And before I knew it, I was happily making things often as a single mother can find time to make things.

So I had my muse in Fain, and now I have Jack, my patron, who encourages me to try everything and take time to sit down and sketch lop-sided houses or learn embroider in wonky, uneven stitches or plant a garden thick with Pride of Barbados and shrimp plants, which really is layering thick, breathing paint on a dark brown canvas.

What I really have to work on now is making the time to make art or my personal imitation of it, which is not a simple task. Not simply because I have a lot of other things to do still (though not nearly as much as I had to do as a single mother, which is a whole other post), but also because a girl has to convince herself that art just for the sake of it is worth making time for. I believe it is when other people do it, but there's a part of me that still feels like it's a frivolous waste of time that could be put to something more pragmatic when I do it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Growing up

I haven't been writing lately for a very good reason. There's too much to write about. Really. I'm so overwhelmed by changes and adventures and wonders and amazement that I'm not really sure where to even start.

I married an amazing man who has been one of my dearest friends for over a decade. Elvis was our officiant, and the whole ceremony was in haiku. We crashed a corner of Audubon Park early in the morning with Bloody Marys and a bottle of champagne, red Solo cups (because we're classy if nothing else), and a few friends and family members. I yanked my bouquet from beneath an old oak tree, and Jack found a flower in someone's yard. I lost the ring in the tall grass, and Elvis found it. It was an exciting day.

We've been working on this house that Jack has called the Shanty of Solitude for years but that is now anything but solitary with Jack and Fain and me and Scout and Squeaky and Dante all piled into one bed or another playing video games or watching Mr. Bean. But it's still a bit of a shanty, a little forlorn and in need of lots of TLC. We've been shifting possessions from one room to another trying to make room for one another and room to work. Room for cats to dodge dogs and vice versa. Room for bicycles and boxes of stuff that may or may not be junk depending on who you ask.

Jack's my own personal patron of the arts, encouraging me to join the Master Gardeners program, train with the docent program at NOMA, paint or embroider, plant things, take a part time job as an after school enrichment teacher at Akili Academy across town, so there's so much to keep me busy.

But there's something really special that I want to write about, even special amongst a whole world full of special new things, and that's dropping Fain off for his first day of school. Yes, he's in the fourth grade, and so dropping him off perhaps should be old hat, but I've never had to drop him off on his first day. His grandma took him to school during Kindergarten and first grade because I had to be at work early, and during second and third grade, we were at the same school, so I never really had to leave him.

It was painful. Agonizing. I felt like a horrible mother standing there at the tall, chain link fence watching him make his way to class all alone. And it wasn't all in my head. He's gotten used to having good, ol' mom around all the time, so he was wary of leaving me behind, and we both did our fair share of crying about it. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

But finally we started running late. It only takes a few days. So I didn't have time to walk with him from the parked car. I had to let him hop out and run to the gate alone. And something about that, watching him brave the sidewalk alone, walk that block by himself, filled my heart up with pride and excitement for him. It's good that he's becoming this independent person. It makes me look at him differently, as a really cool separate person as opposed to a really cool extension of myself.

I have an awesome kid, and I'm glad that I get to let him go a little even though I still get a weepy about it. He's like my own personal Mars Rover, exploring strange new worlds and reporting back to me over ice cream in the afternoon.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Not so different

I'm finally in New Orleans for good. It's a completely different experience than I had the first time I arrived when I was much younger. In some ways.

For one thing, I am older. That translates to: I'm more of a chicken. Having a kid made me more cautious than I was when I was in my twenties. That's normal. I worry more. Panic more. I am not the care-free girl I used to be. I've spent a few afternoons in tears feeling completely overwhelmed and out of place.

On the other hand, that girl still has a pretty firm grip on the reins or I wouldn't be here at all. A year ago, I would've laughed if someone had told me I'd be marrying my old buddy Jack and packing everything up to move to New Orleans. In fact, I'm pretty sure I told Jack he could forget it. I wasn't going anywhere. I was perfectly happy where I was. So there.

But he's so darn cute.

Enough gushing. I guess the only way I'm really different after all is that I'm older and more cautious, but clearly not that much more cautious.

And maybe for all that the experience isn't so different either. I still feel giddy when I'm walking in the shade of live oaks and peeking into walled in gardens. I still salivate over the smells of percolating coffee and French bread fresh out of a bakery oven and roast beef marinating in garlic...mmmmm. I still get excited when I hear someone walking down the street blowing into a horn or strumming a guitar or setting up a keyboard and sitting down to play a tune. I still feel inspired to get out paint brushes and paints when I pass all the art on the streets.

It just took a week or so to start to feel at home again. To get through that spell that felt like the current reality may or may not be actually real.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Love and Video Games

It's that time of year again. Spring is in the air, and sixth graders are turning into seventh graders, and then it is that their thoughts turn to thoughts of love. It also happens to be the time of year when I teach the elements of poetry.

Each year, I force (er, challenge) my sixth graders to participate in a contest wherein they must come up with the most original, never-before-used simile for love. The project begins with moans and groans, but in general the kids are completely immersed in the task within a few minutes, and I've had some truly glorious similes in the past.

My personal favorite remains:

That's a sixth grader for you.

They have to provide ten supporting arguments for how the two things are similar, and I've learned a good deal about love by reading some of their arguments. (It also makes me speculate, sometimes, on the nature of their parents' love lives.)

I always provide my own example, which is video games, because, well, video games are cool and so is love, and I know some kid would choose it if I didn't, and frankly, it's not original because Lana Del Rey's already used it.

So here it is, and it may cause you to speculate on my own love life, but nonetheless:
  1. In both love and video games, there are rules, but you generally have to play to figure out what they are and sometimes you never do.
  2. In either case, you can win even if you don't know the rules, and you can lose even if you know them very well.
  3. Whether playing video games or playing the field, you don't have to follow the rules to play, but if you break the rules too often, you might run out of people to play with.
  4. Some people become so obsessed with video games, it's all they think about. I don't think I need to explain that: stalker.  
  5. If you don't go outside and get a breath of fresh air every once in a while, both can give you a headache.   
  6. Video games have epic wins and epic fails. Love can be pretty epic, too. 
  7. You can buy video games new or used, they come in all kinds of conditions, but you can play them in most any condition (unless they've been used so roughly that they don't work anymore). First love is new, but usually people have other loves that follow that aren't new but still work out anyway. And some people have been hurt so badly that they don't know how to love anymore. 
  8. There's always another challenge in video games (but you keep playing because it's worth it when you win). Ditto, love. 
  9. Video games are built by other people before the player can use them, and those builders were influenced by video games that they've played. Of all the things that have changed about humans throughout our history, love has tended to stay pretty much the same; we've learned it by watching those who've loved before us. 
  10. There are many different types of video games: some are for thinkers, some are for adventurers, some are for fighters, but the best probably have many different facets. The greatest loves, the ones that you come back to over and over, are those that challenge and engage all of the parts of who you are.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Batman at the yard sale.

Last weekend I had a yard sale.

It took over a week to prepare for it. To rummage through all the stuff I've accumulated over the last seven years and decide what's worth taking and what's ok to give up.

Throughout the process, I marveled at my lack of nostalgia. I ruthlessly threw stuff into the reject pile, feeling a sense of liberation from things, which I am, in general, a big fan of.

However, on the day of the yard sale, as people pawed at what was once mine, deciding whether it might have any value to them, I did get a little heartsick.

Not over the dishes that I've served friends and neighbors on for years or over the gaudy jewelry that I've impressed countless third graders with, but over Fain's stupid toys that I've been tripping over and cursing for years. The Batcave with its real moving elevator and garage for the Batmobile. The dozen Batman action figures, cars, villains, weapons, the list goes on.

Fain didn't have any remorse over selling them to the highest bidder. In fact, he told me I could sell everything in his room except for his computer and a few of his baby toys that he wanted to keep for sentimental purposes. (I didn't sell everything, but he did get a big haul that day.)

But as I watched child after child ooh and ahh over the Batcave (and corresponding Joker toy factory/lair), I got a twist in my stomach. I wanted to yank them all back and shove them back in his room where I would, no doubt, spend the last month of our stay in this little house tripping over them and cursing them, just like in the old days.

I don't know what it is. It just got to me.

Then a young woman came and asked about the Batman assembly gathered on the tablecloth under the tree in my front yard. She told me her daughter loves Batman, and her birthday was coming up, and the young mother was practically buzzing with excitement over the find. She asked the price, and after a moment of hesitation, I sold it cheap...cave, toy factory, heroes, villains, the whole lot...because ultimately I liked the idea that there's a little girl who loves Batman. I can relate to that.

And, honestly, she'll probably get a lot more satisfaction playing with it than I'd get cursing it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This is where I change topics.

So this is where the posts start to shift from my obsessive yammering on about education to an obsessive yammering on about THE MOVE. (I considered referring to this integral time in my life as THE CHANGE, but since that's also an old-fashioned euphemism for menopause, which I'm not undergoing currently, I felt I should stick with the more specific description.) I'm referring to the move from a small town in rural North Carolina to New Orleans. From being a single mother for seven years to being a married lady.

The move is only a month away. The months from Thanksgiving to Spring Break - those were the months between visits with Jack - seemed to drag by. But the months from Spring Break until June 15th are flying - Back-to-the-Future-burning-tire-marks-in-the-road-flying. They're going so fast that I hardly have time to be nervous. So fast that I really don't even have time to think about it anymore. I'm on auto-pilot...

Except for a few moments every now and then. Like watching a BBC detective drama at night in the quiet of the house after I've locked the child and the cats away, when it occurred to me that all the things that have become familiar to little house, my little routines...are about to change drastically. (But then someone else was murdered in Badger's Drift, so my musings were cut short. Thank you, BBC.)

But wow. I mean. Big change, right? So much change that I don't even think my brain can process it.

So I'm going to shift right now into using-composition-to-attempt-to-process-change-mode.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lucky Mother

I read an article in The Atlantic recently called I Refuse to be a Grown-up that described one woman's refusal to be a grown-up-stick-in-the-mud. She equates a liberal, exciting, fun, youthful life with a life unencumbered by the attachments that drag a person into the mire of adulthood, namely marriage and parenting.

I totally get where she's coming from. I used to feel the same way. I vowed I'd never get married and have kids because I didn't want to grow up. Vast stretches of my twenties were spent daydreaming about trips that I never took, adventures that I never had, novels that I never wrote. I was completely free and unfettered, and yet I never did anything with that freedom. 

Conversely, Austin Leon, author of Steal Like an Artist, wrote a post on his blog about how having a child affected his creativity. He writes about a mother who tells him (before his son is born) that he clearly didn't have children because, presumably, people with children don't have the time or energy to be creative. After his child is born, he has to make adjustments, but he vows never to use his child as an excuse to fail at "The Thing" that he needed to do.

I like that.

I'm 38. Just turned 38 yesterday. I'm glad I'm 38. I don't have a single regret about it. It's just a number after all. I don't feel like I'm a different person than I was at 28, even though I know I am. I'm not less fun. In fact, I personally think I'm way more fun than I was then. True, I don't spend every night dancing on tables in bars (and I didn't spend every night dancing on tables in my twenties, thank you very much), but in retrospect, dancing on tables is only fun the first ten times you do it. After that, it just becomes blasé.

I'm 38 and I have one of those pesky little things called a kid (dozens of them if you count my students), but I'm hardly a grown up by any conventional standards, and it's actually age and the kid(s) that have slowed my descent into the stereotypical drudgery of adulthood. I'm able to sing Christmas songs in July loudly in crowded parking lots now without having had a drop of eggnog, and it's because of my kid. What better way to embarrass him? I can spend hours playing video games or watching cartoons, and I can discuss the relative merits of Ben 10 over Generator X with any fourth grader. I start dinner with ice cream and breakfast with cake (not every time), and the perfect meal is still hot dogs and mac n cheese. I wear skirts that look like tutus to my job, and I have the approval of third graders to credit for that.

I'm sure there are parents who got gray hairs over their kids, who gave up on childhood dreams to care for their kids, and I'm sure that there are old people who still look young and dance on tables because they didn't have kids. I needed the kid though. The kid was my howling, spastic, ever-chattering muse. 

I didn't finish a novel until I had my son, and I started and finished it in a month of naps when he was just over a year old. I didn't start making art again until he was old enough to tell me he wanted a pirate ship, and then that experience of making one out of old cardboard boxes and a legless Barbie doll reminded me of how amazing it is to create something just for the fun of it. I've been on more road trips and had more dumb but interesting ideas since I had him. In fact, it's the very thing that some people equate with aging - the responsibility of raising a child - that has really freed me from the whole aging process. I get to be a kid again with him.

Never in my life have I felt younger than I do now. Not that sort of young that I felt in my teens and twenties when I had to be more cynical and apathetic and stubborn than everyone around me, but the kind of young that I see in my kids, able to enjoy things that don't cost money or give me a hang over, able to imagine adventures and then make them happen, able to have silly, un-self-conscious fun.