Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Painting

Spent an evening doing some slapdash, make-a-mess&have-fun-with-it painting....Here are the results:

O Christmas Tree (Christmas-y abstract)

Sad Girl after the Rain
(Another Blue Person Portrait)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Disturbing Shakespeare

I finally, at long last, stood in front of my poor neglected easel last night and worked on something.  I pulled out an old painting from the forgotten Shakespeare series, and made Lady Macbeth a good deal more disturbing. I still need to fix a few things, but I find I'm weirdly pleased with the new gory approach.
Lady Macbeth

Of course, the Ophelias that preceded her weren't exactly happy-go-lucky either:

Ophelia (No. 1)

Ophelia (No 2)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

That Day in the Yard

More old writing from grad school below... This piece came out of a prompt for class to write about "regret of a small incident" which I always thought evoked interesting elements.  As a short story, I am not sure it hangs entirely together. Someone somewhere along the line told that switching point of view in a short piece is a no-no. But I'm not much crazy about rules, and I still feel OK about the multiple voices; that is, for me, the absorbing element of the story, that different narrators tell different stories. I am likely more interested in the subjectivity of reality than most though.

That Day in the Yard
Fenced View
          Maddy’s father never hired that tree company again, although perhaps that was because there were so few trees left in the backyard by then that he could trim the remaining bedraggled twigs himself.  After the big elm came down, killed by a local resurgence of Dutch Elm disease, the backyard hosted only small squat trees, angry trolls.  Still, for months afterward, Maddy found herself looking for the Collins Brothers Tree Care's white van around the neighborhood.  Shortly after they dragged away the stump of the elm, she heard her father complaining at a barbecue, and she wondered if he’d put a word-of-mouth hex on the Collins’ business.  One rainy day ten years later, she looked for Collins Brothers in the telephone book under Gardeners, Trees, Trimming, everything she could think of, but the company was gone by then. 
            On that day in the yard, she watched the expression on Tim Collins' face as her father berated him.  From her view on the kitchen steps of the house, she couldn’t see her father’s face, only the reddish tint of a flush that had crept up the back of his neck, and his hands rising and falling as he illustrated his case.  He pointed once, and she saw Tim Collins’ eyes as they followed the path of her father’s bony hand to two broken panes on window of the garage.  As his eyes swept back from garage, they paused and stayed on Maddy standing in the shadow of the house.  He tilted his head ever so slightly to the left, and squinted his eyes. She understood then that Tim knew, and also that he wouldn’t argue with her father. 
            The only person who witnessed the breaking of the windows was Maddy, when she methodically put her fist through first the bottom right, and then bottom left pane of the window, an unsuccessful experiment in self harm.  Tim must have assumed that Maddy would lie to her father if he accused her, and her father would likely believe his daughter over a stranger.  There was nothing that directly linked her to the broken windows, although there was plenty that would have or could have or should have exonerated the Collins brothers. 
The windows had been broken for over a week by the time the Collins Brothers Tree Care first came to take down the elm tree.  After breaking the windows, she had taped cardboard over the empty spaces, and put a Band-Aid on the one small cut across the back of her right hand.  She hadn’t even known the tree trimmers were coming the following week.  She did know the breakage would be discovered eventually, but why rush it? She’d already spent the week arguing with her parents about SATs and college applications.  She decided if she were confronted, she’d say yes; by then, perhaps the dark burning feeling might have lifted.  She thought she could confess under examination, but her father never asked.  Instead, he made assumptions on the Collins brothers’ carelessness.  And she stood and watched her father yell – or not yell, as Davies only “politely discussed” – at Tim Collins.   She just stood there and did nothing. 
            Her father had theorized that the Collins brothers had backed a ladder into the window, and then covered it with cardboard and tape.  But why would the Collins brothers have gone into the garage to tape the windows? Opening the gaping carport door would have called attention to the invasion, and the side door was (however pointlessly) kept locked.  Had they broken the windows from the outside, they would have scattered glass inside the garage, where it would rain down behind the garden hoses and piles of scrap wood, not settle in the dirt outside.  Maddy had assumed her father would recognize the inconsistencies. 
            She watched as her father gesticulated at Tim Collins, who finally got a word in and they both nodded, an agreement reached.  The next day, she would see Tim out there, replacing the glass panes himself.  He worked efficiently, completing the task in an hour, but it was still time away from his business and supplies and labor she was sure her father would not be billed for.  Tim Collins paid the cost for her inability to confess. 
On that day in the yard, Tim followed Mr. Davies' hand to look at the broken windows, and as he turned his gaze back, his eyes met those of a scrawny teenage girl with messy hair hovering by the back door of the house.  When he saw her, looking so scared, he continued to half-listen to condescending tripe the father was laying on him, and he knew what had actually happened.  The panicked look on her face, the way she couldn’t quite look at him but also couldn't look away, well, he couldn’t help but feel bad for her.  He’d break some windows too if this guy were his father, the way he counted out every error and never missed an opportunity for indignation.  What a pain in the ass these suburbanites were, with that river of crap rippling under all those private school educations.  Now he’d have to spend an hour fixing the window, all because the dim old man couldn’t tell his perfect little daughter, standing there with one arm wrapped in against her chest like a rook harboring a busted wing, was so hung up or strung out or just plain clumsy that she broke windows.  Scratch clumsy, it couldn’t be that.  No one accidentally breaks two windows - unless, as Mr. Davies was taking pains to point out in detail, he were carrying a ladder to put against an elm tree. 
Tim couldn’t prove otherwise.  And even if he could, he wouldn’t, because cripes, just look at her.  Like he wanted to add to that.  He would fix the windows early tomorrow, and she would see the repair, and then maybe she would relax because clearly, this girl needed to relax.  From his peripheral vision, Tim saw Mr. Davies turning to see what Tim was staring at, and so Tim pulled his eyes away from hers and faced him.  The shift created a pause in Mr. Davies’ monologue of complaints. 
“I’ll fix the windows tomorrow,” Tim said to him.  And Mr. Davies nodded his approval, although Tim could tell, his reputation was sunk here.  Good thing most of the other elms in the area had already been pulled.  He’d had enough of this neighborhood. 
Tim did have one more job a few blocks away, just a few weeks later, and he admitted to himself, as he detoured to drive down the Davies' street, he wondered what happened to that girl.  He never even spoke to her, but every once in a while, her face would pop up, nervous and pinched, and he’d wonder if she’d made out okay.  Later on, after he got married, and his wife was pregnant, he hoped for a boy.  Fathers and daughters, it was too hard.  He remembered that from his own sister, when she’d slammed out of the house at seventeen.  Monica, his wife, had a boy, but after that, they had a girl, Abigail, and he and Mitch sold the business, moved into carpentry instead, more artistry, more reliable work, more money.  He didn’t want his girl breaking windows one day, but of course, he didn’t know how things would go.  He hoped for good days ahead. 
On that day in the yard, George Davies thought, if the kid just showed some remorse, he’d feel better about the whole thing.  Instead, what was that tree kid doing but staring toward the house, looking so intently that George felt obligated to turn and look as well, and what did he see? – his daughter.  This tree-trimming window-breaking boy was making goo-goo eyes at his daughter.  For god sakes, what kind of a fool idiot was he? And Maddy just stood there in her baggy clothes and that strange crumpled stance she’d adopted over the last few years.  What did this kid, who was much too old for her anyway, what was he thinking? George took a deep breath, and the kid must have remembered himself, and turned back to face him, and met his eyes calmly, politely.  And that shifted something for George, slowed his thinking down and he remembered.  He was like this kid once, checking out every girl, practically out of reflex.  He remembered the raging hormones.  Some days, he still felt that way about a stranger next to him in the elevator, like a chemical explosion roiling right over him.  Not that he didn’t love his wife, just that, after so many years, the terrain was so familiar.  Maybe this kid broke the windows on purpose, just to spend more time at the house.  Maybe his Maddy was a little Juliet.  Maybe this kid wasn’t careless, but smitten. 
And good luck to him.  God knows, getting Maddy out of the house was a chore.  He had had to practically set her on fire to get her to take the SATs again, and she should have known, after that last dismal performance, that she couldn’t let those scores stand.  She was smarter than that.  He didn’t know why she didn’t try harder sometimes, why she couldn’t apply her talents.  Sure, she wasn’t as smart as Cory, but she was a girl; she didn’t need to be.  What she needed was to perform to her ability, and sometimes, he wondered if she was lazy like her little brother Miles.  At least she stayed out of trouble.  But then, she’d mostly stayed away from boys too, boys like this nincompoop tree trimmer, staring at her like she was a six-layer cake and he had a big fork.  George opened his mouth to continue his speech to the lovelorn little sicko, but the boy started speaking before he could say anything. 
“I’ll fix the windows tomorrow,” the kid said.  And George nodded to himself, thinking, just the window.  Stay away from my daughter. 

Later on, he’d think of that boy, whatever his name was, Don Juan or Romeo or whoever he was.  And as the years passed, and there was Maddy, getting older and older, just making do, coasting, he wondered if maybe he’d sheltered her too much.  She never ended up accomplishing much, job, career, awards.  No marriage either, no grandkids.  He couldn’t quite figure out where things went wrong.  Of course, he was careful to say to himself that it wasn’t that he didn’t love her – his flesh, his blood, his child.  He’d cut off his right arm for her.  But sometimes, she was a mystery to him, a code he couldn’t decipher.  Sometimes, for no reason he could think of, he thought maybe he should have done something different that day out by the tree, asked Romeo in for lemonade, made something easier for her.  But then, it wouldn’t have made any difference.  It was just a day in the backyard with two broken window panes, the glass shining in the dirt near the remains of that dead tree.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

In Other Words

A conversation about languages made me think about this poem, written some time in 2004 or so, well before the deaths of my brother and mother.  I've fallen away from poetry, writing or even reading it, but it may be time to correct that.  Poetry recommendations welcome.  

In Other Words

My first word: “Dada” --
not at all referencing
Dada or Dadaism, a movement
based on deliberate irrationality, anarchy, and cynicism --
the rejection of laws of ordered beauty
the organization of social language.

Tower of Babble
My brief rule over language:
drop initial consonants
Red Pinto
becomes Ed Into
Collie Pop
Ollie Up
Irregular declensions:
My sister Susie -- Zusie and
Horses: Drop H, add W,
Worses. Tommy, noun, brother,
informally, Tom Tom
from the drum, silent except
when played, sound without words. 

Spanish Fly
In eighth grade love with Señora
Ramos, seagulls are gaviotas,
not the bloated scavengers that lumber
toward me at la playaGaviotas fly, float
weightless over water like lazy curls in
black hair, soaring fuschia lipstick.
French Kissing
Ninth grade, Johnny Bouche in Paris
Hearts penned on the bottom of my shoes
oozing scented Valentines with every step.
Love, squish, squish. 
I stole a picture of him waving
all American Knight in front of the Eiffel Tower,
pinned him inside my locker.
Dadaism: French, from dada, a child's word
for a horse.
A decade.  Johnny is at the A&P,
buying brie and wine with his lover,
I say, Bonjour and keep pushing
my cart full of ripening pomegranates. 

Back in the USSR
Mariama Akimnova taught us to
toast properly with vodka.  We
memorized a Pushkin poem, so if we
were ever arrested by Soviets
They would recognize our
Ya vas luboul
I loved you.
They would whisper along
Я вас любил.

Last Words
Michelle, standing in line for
chemotherapy, swarmed by
paper bees.
So what are you in for?
K- k –k - she said, learning
a new meaning for an old word,
stung, allergic.   

Persian Love Song
Two phrases in Farsi:
The first
man toe ra doost daram
means I like you.
The second
gaeedamet means something close to
fuck you.
I learned to write I like you

I found meaning in squiggles and dots and
read right to left. 
I used man to ra doost daram
to mean not just I like you
but I love you. I couldn’t
pronounce the word for love, couldn’t form the
’ ’click in the back of my throat.
I didn’t know how to love
in Farsi. 

First  Love
Words from my brother
picked out letter by letter
assisted by facilitated communication 
assisted by Oijii board, experts say.
We ignore them.
Words took a 30 year wait.
My brother’s finger lands on a letter. 
An arm, not his arm, pulls his hand back. 
My brother’s finger lands on a letter.  Drip drip
the faucet leaks, no torrent, but steady. 
he says. 

In yoga class, bald bandanaed Michelle
teaches me that in Sanskrit
satya means truth.  I move my body in sequence. 
I see my brother stroke his throat, using
the sign for thirst. Mariama toasts him
with vodka. Señora Ramos dances with Johnny,
flying birdlike across the floor. A drum sounds, and
my tongue flits over the roof of my mouth, mining for sounds
hidden between my teeth and caught in my hair, succulent
words singing: Dada, man toe ra doost daram

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rainbow Springs, a Florida Natural Treasure

Canoes and kayaks waiting to be rented. Stand-up paddleboarders can also
be seen gliding over the water. 
Rainbow Springs almost disappeared into development. In 1974, despite being the 4th largest spring in Florida with 490 million gallons of water pouring out each day, the faltering attraction closed. While benefiting from being close to Route 41 when the area first opened an amusement park in the 30s, by the 70s it was located too far off the new tourist routes on Interstate 75 to stay afloat.

Not until 1990 did the state of Florida, under pressure from locals, buy the land to add to the state park system. But given budget crunches, the state couldn't afford to do more, so the park sat for a couple of more years until volunteers gathered together to form a nonprofit to help to run the park. In 1992, the park opened for weekends and by 1995, daily access, allowing the springs to be preserved and enjoyed by all again.
Hiking trail  

A few days ago, I spent the day driving up to Dunnellon to visit Rainbow Springs, dangle my feet off the dock into the cool water, and explore the hiking trails through tall trees as well as take several zillion pictures. I can't tell you how delighted I am that public access remains, that Rainbow Springs wasn't swallowed up by condos, and that the state is now committed to returning the springs to its natural state -- with a few nods to its history. The man-made waterfalls still run, but the zoo enclosures are being allowed to crumble and only a sign marks the area near the butterfly garden that used to be a rodeo ring. The monorail has since long disappeared.  The timeless and startlingly clear turquoise water continues to enchant generations of swimmers, canoers, kayakers and lovers of nature.

Support your state park system!

Clouds reflecting in the blue green waters. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mindful Writing

Pondering life's mysteries
Keep St. Pete Lit offers free (yes, free!) writing classes (, so on Saturday, I hustled down to the Morean and spent a couple of hours on the 2nd floor in the library talking about writing and doing a few exercises. Anda Peterson did a lovely job of being both encouraging and practical, and I was reminded of some good advice, from Annie Lamott's instruction from Bird by Bird to write a "shitty first draft"  to Faulkner's counsel to "kill your darlings" in writing (that is, to edit out those bits that are overly precious to you because they are, well, precious in an annoying, eye-crossing way to your readers).  Largely, however, we talked about writing as it relates to paying attention. Being mindful of the details and the senses, employing that specificity, and withholding judgment can and often does lead to richer work.  As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones (and as read to us in class),
We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.
It felt good to do a little writing, easy throw-away exercises simply for the fun of it.  For the prompt to describe my morning (a semi-dangerous prompt, as it can lend itself to pointless list-iness - but that can lead to good insight on editing down), I focused on the morning cat feeding ritual.  There wasn't anything earth shattering, but I ended with, "I drink my water and look at my favorite carnivores with bleary and affection-laden eyes" because you know, I'm a cat lady.  My description of the ceiling fixture while mostly dull did have, "the thin, flat metal bars covering the bulb are tooth-like, reminiscent of a small farming combine about the plow the ceiling."

Perhaps most illuminating was the exercise in writing down what, exactly, my nasty little inner critic says to me.  That crabby little voice sounds something like this: "Other people will read these things! How can you talk about these things in public? It will embarrass us. What will the neighbors say? Polite people don't talk about those things. You're wrong - that's not how it happened at all. You're too sensitive and you are the crazy one, not us. Never us. Certainly not me. We won't love you if you tell."  My inner critic is about as sophisticated as an eight year old on a playground, but is still surprisingly effective in shutting me up.  To which I say: fuck that.  That reminds me of one of my favorite Alice Walker poem that starts saying:

Because women are expected to keep silent about
their close escapes I will not keep silent
and if I am destroyed (naked tree!) someone will
mark the spot
where I fall and know I could not live
silent in my own lies
hearing their 'how nice she is!'
whose adoration of the retouched image
I so despise.

Read the rest here:

Write on, people.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Welcome Wonder Words: Poetry at the Dali

Peter Meinke and Denise Duhamel answering questions
after their poetry reading at the Dali Museum
Helen Pruitt Wallace (Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg) hosted a poetry reading of Denise Duhamel and Peter Meinke (Poet Laureate of Florida) at the Dali last Thursday.  I'm happy to report wonderful moments of remembering for me such as: Oh yeah! Feminism isn't dead! And poets are often really freaking funny! And words can be hysterical or heartbreaking or both.  In short, although I didn't know it, I needed a poetry infusion.

Denise Duhamel started out reading some collaborative pieces she wrote with Maureen Seaton. Since Maureen was one of my favorite professors in graduate school - not only a phenomenal poet, but also a unbelievably kind, supportive and insightful teacher - it felt like a literary reunion for a minute there.  Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton have been writing collaborative pieces for decades.  As Denise noted, they started out in a time before texting, cell phones, before email really; they would call each other and leave lines on each other's answering machines. This is what I'd loved about the poets I knew in graduate school - the playfulness, the humor, the just-messing-around that can sometimes end up being gorgeous (and sometimes not - I'm not any of our exquisite corpse poetry exercises featuring chicken testicles ever evolved into high art, although they did inspire some snorting laughter and a running joke).  One poem of Duhamel and Seaton's poems took on gender by adding it into pop culture references, e.g., "The hills are alive with the sound of gender," which ended up creating one of the funniest list poems I've heard in a while. You can find gender in the darnedest places.

Denise moved on to reading some poems from Blowout, her latest collection.  Many of them centered around life post divorce, and the awkwardness of reentering the dating world after a long absence.  As someone long single, the piece about the guy who worked on her kitchen asking her out hit some familiar mental acrobatics.  You know it's a totally bad idea - and yet, hey, he would be handy around the house, at least during those moments when he was sober.  Many of her poems had a funny-but-ill-fated theme running underneath -- for instance, the poem that featured the narrator and her (at the time) husband watching a young couple at the beach argue.  The older couple add in lines for the young couple, circling around their own marital discord, only to become disconcerted in the end as the distant young lovers reconcile, something clearly not in the cards for those who were providing them with dialogue.

The other poet of the evening, Peter Meinke, won my heart over early by starting by saying, "Well, after that, I'm sure hearing from an old white guy is just what you want." The theme of the evening was Memory & Desire, and he too wrote about yearning.  The poem of his that particularly stuck for me was about long married tennis players, and the empty space when one players is no longer there to send the ball over the net. He also read a section about children disappearing into the fog while sledding, a haunting image. His later book is a children's book, with illustrations by his wife Jeanne Clark.  Jeanne was in the audience, and when after the reading, the poets took questions, including on collaboration given Duhamel's long experience with it, Meinke noted that he did not collaborate; Jeanne piped in with "We collaborate in different rooms."  Each is in charge of their own art in their own way, which was perhaps the theme overall.  Collaborative or not, the words find voice through sharp and dedicated minds.

I left the theater with that good glow knowing that there are people out there creating, laughing, and transforming the painful into the sublime.  I love what words used well can do, the access they give to our messy little souls.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Bling

Wizard at Springfest
Spring in Florida explodes less obviously than elsewhere, but we locals have noticed that at last the crepe myrtles are leafing up, and we too rejoice (although perhaps with less manic fervor than those snowed-in up north for months). Spring in St. Petersburg also means high season for festivals and events. I managed to hit two this weekend: Springfest in Gulfport, where faeries and lawn art abounded; and, Art in Bloom at my former place of employ, the Museum of Fine Arts - St. Petersburg.  

Springfest involves a lot of wings and glitter and is great for creatures large and small, particularly those that like costumes. I attended with friends, including a toddler, who was thrilled by all the shiny stuff.  Bubbles and beads and friendly dogs went over big, even if a few of the (very kind and friendly) faeries were a wee bit overwhelming for a sometimes shy small person.  As for the grownups, we enjoyed the costumed crowd, music in the bandstand, the costume contest, and variety of stalls selling everything from plants and wings to floating clothing and geranium oil. We missed the Maypole dance, alas. But there was a wizard that was, as a friend said, straight out of central casting, a Gandalf doppelganger.

Faeries chatting
On an only vaguely related note, I was happy to see sidewalk chalk available; Saturday was the anniversary of Brendan's death, and sidewalk chalk (of all things) continues to remind me of him, since the day we met, we played with chalk on the back patio of a bar. So I got to scribble out his name and a trademark sun under the sculpture by Tom Pitzen of a winged woman  named "Nec mortem effugere quisquam nec amorem potest," which, I found out when I googled the Latin back home, means "No one is able to flee from death or love." Sometimes the universe conspires with you to find perspective. On Saturday, mostly I was happy to spend a sunny day in good company watching a child explore with delight.

On Sunday, I caught one of the last days of Art in Bloom, where floral artists find inspiration from
Art in Bloom floral response to Theo Wujcik's Canto II
pieces in the MFA collection.  The yearly event is beloved by museum regulars with good reason, as the floral art alongside sturdier artworks provides a lovely intersection of types of creation, those more wilting and ephemeral and those ebbing away at a much slower rate. I'm always impressed by the vision of the floral designers and the way shape and/or color are echoed and transformed from the original painting to the floral response. Floral designers often bring in inorganic elements to go with the flowers, and I am often struck by the incorporated sculptural elements, particularly those that evolve from a 2D painting to a 3D floral arrangement.  

Shiva as Lord of the Dance and floral response
While motivated to be there for the more substantially time-limited flowers, I did also finally get around to exploring the Contemplating Character: Drawings and Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud exhibit. Given my particular interest in portraiture and the endless expressions of human complexity they can express, I suspected it would be an involving exhibit for me, and indeed it was.  Not every piece spoke to me, but I was delighted by the breadth of pieces, from 18th century sketches to R. Crumb's work on place mats. As usual, I gravitated more toward more modern work, but not exclusively. Portraiture, as the exhibit makes clear, is so much about the relationship between the artist and subject (even when the piece is a self-portrait), and that emotion is what brings pieces to life. Happily, I also ran into a few former coworkers, which always makes the MFA feel like my special and personal museum; I know the folks working behind the curtain that bring the magic together. I look forward to returning for future exhibits, and other adventures out in my adopted hometown.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tourist Visits in Brief

In more exploring of my local area (part of my tourist at home plan), I revisited two local spots: The Ringling in Sarasota, and Sunken Gardens here in St. Petersburg.  Not surprisingly, Sunken Gardens remains my favorite; lush nature is hard to best.

Ca d'Zan
At the Ringling (free! with my MFA-St Pete SERM reciprocal membership), I toured the museum, wandering by the enormous gold-gilt frames in the regular collection, but that day, there was little with which I truly connected; some days, even I'm not feeling arty. Plus, given my general leanings toward more modern and abstract work, while, for example, the panting of Biblical decapitation was arresting, it wasn't for me. I was looking for the newly-built Asian wing, but must have missed it in my ambling, instead getting caught up in my fondness for the grounds - the rose garden and the enormous Banyan trees remain favorites. For the first time, I ventured into the Circus museum. I understand that they are pushing the idea of the greatest show on earth, the magical wonder of childhood and that they are obligated to present the Ringling family as snappy positive businessmen, but the truth is, I associate the circus more with caged animals and lawsuits on the the treatment of elephants. The greatest show had a viciousness underneath that, as an adult, is difficult to ignore. It did, however, certainly make the Ringlings a good deal of money, as further evidenced by Ca d'Zan, John and Mable Ringling's spectacularly ornate home overlooking the water.  Built before the crash, it's a peek into the opulence of an era.

Sunken Gardens
Sunken Gardens, meanwhile, feels to be less of a sanitized homage to vast wealth, despite its history as a privately-run Florida attraction. The 4-acre botanic garden originally started in 1903 as a private garden, which led to selling fruit from the trees, which led to nickel tours, which led to more extensive tours.  It's now owned by the City of St. Petersburg, and is one of the oldest attractions in the state.  On a breezy Florida afternoon, there are few places more lovely, with soaring palm trees, multitudes of blooming plants, and the largest wall of bougainvillea I've ever seen. Of course, Sunken Gardens too has its caged animals - a variety of birds squawk hello.  They are housed in large and spacious cages, and the birds, as well as I can tell, are happy, healthy and content. Still, some part of me wishes those birds were still soaring through some tropical jungle; to not have enough space to fly when you have wings seems a punishment no matter how much birdseed is available.  I suspect that is my thinking more than the birds though, or at least, I hope so.  We humans do so love the complex safety of our cages, be they fancy houses or metal bars.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Peter Pan: Time to Grow Up to 2016

I had the opportunity to see a friend's children on stage recently, as their school put on a production of Peter Pan, the 1954 musical version.  The children -- my friend's, and all the children participating -- put on a truly fantastic show, from the sets and costumes to Peter and the Darling children flying about the stage, singing and dancing.  They created and performed the full musical theater experience.  The senior that played Captain Hook turned in a particularly impressive performance, infusing his character with the perfect balance of venom, cowardice, and campy humor.  The singing across the cast impressed me with their range, confidence and emotion.  I loved to see the smallest cast members from the lower school earnestly playing their parts. Overall, I would not be surprised to see some of these kids go on to livelihoods in the theater. But I left the theater uncomfortable all the same. My discomfort with the show stems not from the performance of the kids in any way; they were excellent, and their hard work displayed professional results.  My unease instead comes more from the choice of Peter Pan itself, the choice to use the 1954 stage version without updating that could have made it more palatable to a more racially sensitive climate of 2016.

In the, oh, 30 or 40 years since I've seen any rendition of Peter Pan, most of its details had evaporated from my memory. There was Neverland, and Peter and the Lost Boys and never growing up, and, of course, the ticking of the crocodile, but that was about all I had retained. What I had forgotten is that when the Darling children leave London and arrive in Neverland, the Lost Boys are avoiding not just Hook's Pirates, but also Tiger Lily and her Indians. And that's where I felt pulled into the creepiness of 1954: crowds of kids, mostly white but some of color, were dressed up in faux warpaint and feathers. Tiger Lily and Peter Pan's big song, when they agree to be allies, is Ugg-A-Wugg; as you might guess, it's not exactly an homage to the complexity of any Native American language or culture. As much as I wanted to support the young thespians, the representation of Native Americans made me cringe.  

White privilege often comes with a portion of obliviousness, and here I'll guess it is that blindness at work, a failure to see, rather than a more direct hostility and dismissal of concerns. Perhaps those that decided on the choice of this musical simply didn't see the problems. Peter Pan was a raving success in 1954, a classic, so why not run with it? But it seems odd to me that they didn't research the production history at all, and see that, in fact, people had noted the racist issues interlaced in the musical, and made changes.  In 1994, a school production was canceled because of concerns (see NYTimes article here). Just recently, in the 2014 NBC production on television, they decided to re-write "Ugg-A-Wugg" and changed the title to "True Blood Brothers" (an interesting discussion with the Chickasaw composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate, the adviser on changes to "Ugg-a-Wugg," is available here). As the article "The Racist History of Peter Pan's Indian Tribe" by Sarah Laskow notes, "There's no real reason for a tribe of Native live on Neverland, where they are impossible to excise from the story. But it's almost as impossible to depict them in a way that's not offensive."

As a former resident of Washington, DC, a town whose football team is still called the Washington Redskins, it's not as if I am not completely unaware of the casual racism applied to Native Americans, or, in some contexts, virtually any other non straight-white-male-Christian group.  Much of the time, if I say anything, I'm viewed as that humorless liberal that takes things too seriously.  We are after all in the era of Trump, where it is unpopular to be sensitive to political correctness (or indeed, apparently, basic human decency -- but I digress). Here's the thing though: if you say nothing, if you don't note the language and presentation, if you let "tradition" stand, then all the -isms keep on going unchallenged, and nothing changes. So in my quiet writerly way, I am trying to say more when I can, even when its socially awkward.

More than musical success, more than acting accolades, what I want most for the children that were on that stage -- particularly the girls and young women and people of color, or any kids with any hint of "otherness" -- I want them to feel that every voice matters. Part of their responsibility as they grow into adulthood is to acknowledge the ways in which their choices can help, and can hinder, the progress of society as a whole toward a more true equality.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Being a Tourist at Home

You know how you when you have guests in town, you get around to doing all the things that you've been meaning to do in your hometown because you want to entertain folks?  And in that process, you fall in love with your little world all over again?  My latest resolution is to become a tourist of the Tampa Bay area.

On that note, I (finally) took my borrowed bike down to Fort De Soto and inexpertly but enthusiastically pedaled my way over ten miles of bike paths.  Along the way I saw leggy birds, odd blooming cacti, palm trees galore, spectacular clouds, the ferry to Egmont key, a few other happy tourists/locals (my thanks to the people that offered help when I was fussing with my brakes), sand, shells, and the wonder of the Gulf reflecting dappled light. I breathed salt air, almost ran into a parked car when my foot slid off of a pedal creating an impressive wobble, and took a few photographs.

Where the trail ends, East Beach, Fort De Soto Park

So far, I'm loving this staycation.  More explorations to come.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Texture Experiments

At long last, I returned to my easel today.  I did not, at first, start with paint though.  I had an old painting that was a little flat and stormy green and rusty orange strange colors that I decided to renovate by adding some texture.  So I glued on some swatches of material and parts of a vinyl window shade. I then changed the color scheme to something much more upbeat, with oranges, pinks, magentas, and lilacs.  As a final addition, I added a bit of sand from the garden and let a gentle rain fall on it for a minute or so.

I'm not sure if it's all the experimenting with texture options, or simply dancing around the kitchen during a happy painting pause, but I like this version much better.

Texture Experiments
acrylic, fabric, vinyl, and sand on canvas
16" x 20"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Kitty Character Sketches

Simon very politely arranged himself  to nap on the (not flattering) cartoon of himself. He may have a career ahead as a kitty model.

Friday, January 8, 2016

On Meditation: The View of Rage Mountain

For the last month, I've been dedicating anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes a day to meditation practice. Sometimes I follow a recorded guided meditation; sometimes I sit on my own. Sometimes I sit with my eyes open, but more often with my eyes closed. Sometimes my left foot falls asleep and sometimes I can work with that without moving and sometimes I quietly shift position and spend some time noticing the blood rushing back into that foot. Sometimes the cats rub against me or sit with me in solidarity.  Sometimes, I almost fall asleep and come back to myself as my posture is collapsing. Sometimes I can focus on my breath comfortably for long chunks of times, counting my breaths from one to five over and over. Other times I realize that my autopilot counting has misfired and I'm on six or seven; once I drifted so far off course that I didn't realize until I hit seventeen, so busy was I with the other thoughts I was simultaneously exploring, the bass line forgotten because of a temporarily more absorbing treble clef.

As a writer with interests in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, character, art, creativity, and social, environmental and biological sciences, mediation crosses over into most of my fields of interests. You could make a fair argument that many of my hobbies over the years have elements of meditation, from obvious choices like yoga and distance running to the long open highway of road trips or a particular mind flow while painting. If, like me, you have a busy brain, finding ways to let it settle and turn down the excess noise is a welcome respite.  And yet this is the first time I've been consistent about meditating.  In our world of productivity, sitting around and doing, well, nothing, seemed like something I already did too much of.  Despite all the numerous well-publicized benefits, and my own positive experiences, on some level it felt counter-intuitive.

acrylic on canvas board
The brain is always wandering from thought to thought, reviewing the past, experiencing and sorting emotions, planning the future, wrestling with problems from the personal to the professional.
Stepping back and stopping to watch the parade of activity can be illuminating.

Recently, I had the experience of becoming overly impatient for the meditation to end.  As it turned out, there was cause for this, as I'd set my alarm incorrectly and so it hadn't gone off. It wasn't just that it felt like I was sitting for a longer time; I actually had been.  But behind my closed eyes, I didn't know that, and I just assumed it was my busy brain being uncomfortable with the extra space. I became more anxious for it to be over, to get back to my usual living. Soon enough, it became clear just why I wanted out: I could see a nasty storm of self-loathing coming down the pike to get me. The thoughts that I had an increasingly hard time of letting go of, of just letting them pass through, were mostly of myself screaming at myself on how I couldn't do anything right (starting with meditation) and I should just suck it up and learn to deal with discomfort and if I couldn't even meditate, cascaded into a longer and excruciatingly detailed listing of every possible wrong move in my history and projected on into a future riddled with failure. As I described it to my sister in an email, it was Rage Mountain, with accompanying visuals not unlike the Bald Mountain scenes of Disney's Fantasia.

Rage Mountain was a view unexpected.  Knowing intellectually that you sometimes do something (awareness of my overly loud inner critic is not news) is different from sitting ringside and watching it in action with such explosive venom, of feeling both sides of the equation, the vicious anger and the crippling shame. It became easier to see them, that is, myself, with compassion, something I was not as aware that I needed more of from myself.

Starting meditation, I thought it would be a way to calm my mind and find more focus and balance. And in even such a short period of time, I am finding that the case. A center calm feels more available than it has in other times in my life, tied as it is to the consistent necessity of breathing.  I didn't anticipate the arising of harder moments of emotions -- rage, grief -- and yet, there is relief in seeing them clearly, letting them be heard and scream themselves out until the quiet metronome of the breath returns.

Free Guided Meditations (UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center)

Free Intro to Meditation: