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Friday, June 24, 2011

"Midsummer Night"

Happy birthday to all of my Cancers! I have to admit that I’ve never been able to find your constellation in the night sky, but after finding the Big Dipper, all the other stars look like a jumbled mess to me. My mind wanders when I’m looking at the dark and I often end up watching lightning bugs instead.

I used to live at a place that was buried in 120 acres of woods. There was a pool in a clearing, and I floated around on my back looking at the sky. The crickets sang, the breeze rustled the grass and leaves, and the frogs chirped and bellowed in the distance. Bliss. That’s the kind of noisy quiet I love best, and there are so many more stars when we get away from city lights.

I think of all those childhood camping trips where the adults talked in low voices around the campfire while I was supposed to be sleeping inside the tent. The closeness and distance was a lullaby of things that had nothing to do with me while the parents sang, and drank beer and told each other stories. I could smell the dew dropping and the dampness of the tent and hear my siblings’ soft breathing while I snuggled inside my warm sleeping bag which was strategically placed over the sharpest rock in the forest.

I can also think of wild nights of underage drinking, dancing in city water fountains, parties in the alley, intimate moments, and stomping home in high heels after a particularly bad date. Not everything that happens at night is a good thing.

The world is different at night. There are different animals, different sounds, different smells, and everything seems closer and farther away at the same time. It’s a time for reflection and thinking and hoping. Our nighttime thoughts and dreams are what make our daytime realities come true.

I’m losing myself in a cloud of memories while trying to write something worth reading. My memories of good things bump against my tragic memories of people dying in the dark. Do people ever die in the daytime? Or do people just let go when the night brings the other side so close to our consciousness? If I get my pick, I’d like to die in my sleep in a gentle drifting from one world to the next.

I made this crab art this week when I was thinking bright, happy thoughts for my Cancer people, but “Midsummer Night” has sent me down an unexpected path of memories. Maybe I should let my mind wander to nights spent with Cancers Jennifer and Harry looking for melon heads? Or discussing fission with Phil? Or drinking wine coolers with Phyllis? Or debating politics with Jerry? Or, or, or… there are a lot of Cancer moments to choose from because I seem to have an unerring ability to find them. Slow learner or destiny? I’m feeling a desire to go looking for melon heads tonight :)

Friday, June 17, 2011


Aunt Linda is getting muzzled. This is as pitiful as putting an actual muzzle on a good dog, but I’m going to do my best when I visit my niece tonight. Since I’m not allowed to use her name here, let’s call her Taylor. I feel muzzled already at the thought of spending my very limited time with her with my mom and hers when what I really want is to listen to Taylor prattle about whatever interests her. She talked about plasma. I called Phil, my physics friend, for more information. She talked about ectoplasm too. I looked up stuff on the internet. We bought magnets at a garage sale, and Phil gave us experiments to do. We bake cookies when it’s raining. It’s not like I’m doing anything inappropriate, but…well, okay, this is where I could get in trouble…

She told me she didn’t believe in UFOs. I said “That’s interesting. Why not?” She said her mom said they don’t exist, which of course led to my completely logical query, “Why not?” Well, Taylor didn’t have a response to that, and had an expression of wonder that it hadn’t occurred to her to ask for a reason. So naturally I said, “There’s lots of opinions and information on UFOs. If you do some research, you can make up your own mind.”

Oops. And in case you can’t tell, I’m not entirely repentant about it either. Taylor went on a multi-year research campaign and knows more about it than I do. Her dad (my brother) laughed. My mom frowned. I have no idea how Taylor’s mom took it. Go ahead, question authority! For that matter, your mom doesn’t know everything!

Everybody who loves that child has a part to play in her development. My mom and hers are disciplinarians. Aunt Linda challenges her to think. Yes, there are real rules in life, and it’s usually best when you follow them, but what are the real rules? Do you really have to eat Brussels sprouts or is it more important to taste things before deciding if you like them? Or is the real rule that you have to eat vegetables with anticarcinogens to be healthy? Taylor and I have opted for broccoli.

Yeah, I’m probably going to get in trouble tonight. Best to stick to “safe” topics, but interesting conversations are seldom “safe”, and Taylor has probably stored up new controversial topics to discuss with me because she knows I’ll listen. She won a fishing trophy. Maybe we’ll just stick to fish?

Feeling muzzled is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while, and tonight’s adventure just makes it clearer. Because I want to spend time with my niece, I will play by the rules of the people in power, because I haven’t a say in this situation. The same holds true at work, or school, or church, or relationships. Somebody is always shutting us up because we’re trying to fit in or get approval. We lose a lot of ourselves in going along to get along, or by doing what we think other people expect us to do. Living our truth is hard to do when we try so hard to be “nice”.

Taylor is doing very well in school. Part of that credit goes to her mother’s discipline, but couldn’t part of her success be due to UFO conversations when we bake cookies? Taylor says something, I ask a question. She asks a question. When we have more questions than answers, we get on the internet or call Phil. He used to work at a science museum and has lots of kid-friendly answers and suggestions. How many other kids can claim private tutoring from a PhD in physics? He’ll have to take some of the blame if she ends up in the sciences.

In case it isn’t obvious what any of this has to do with “launch”, it’s because I’m trying to do my part in launching my niece into the world with as much of herself intact after enduring the socialization process. I can braid her hair to keep her neat in public, but her true nature will come out. She’ll yank out the braid or it will come undone while she runs in circles. I want her to see every color in the rainbow and feel the joy of the wind in her hair. But In the short term, I guess I can talk about fishing?

Friday, June 10, 2011


I hate housekeeping. There has to be better ways to use my energy than chasing dust bunnies and spiders around the room. I said this to a date once, and he said the sexiest words a man has ever said to a woman: “We’ll get a maid!” He had me in that moment.

Looking around my room, contemplating “swept”, and considering if I should pick up some piles and actually sweep makes me feel the stagnation of energy around me. I hauled out piles of linoleum blocks and tools a couple months ago with the best intentions of actually cutting the linoleum into masterpieces of art. That didn’t happen, but the linoleum is still on my table. It sits on top of the world map, so I guess I’ll never know the exact location of Estonia, Zimbabwe, or Kazakhstan, and the map is on top of cork, and I swear I had a great idea for the cork. I just don’t have the faintest idea what that idea was any more. There’s also a pile of sketches on that table, but in order to figure out what that was all about I’d really have to commit to cleaning off the whole table. Is it really worth the effort? And if I actually put away the linoleum, isn’t that guaranteeing there won’t be any masterful linocuts in my immediate future?

Heave sigh, get a new glass of iced tea, and pack up the linoleum… I had the right idea about where Estonia is, but I was way off on Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe. I also found a sketchbook with a broom in it of all things! Who knows what I was doing for Halloween, or why that was with a bunch of cut snowflakes, but I have successfully found something for “swept” without actually drawing another broom. Now I’m painfully aware of the composting piles of paper on my computer desk. Hmmm… This could take all day, which is undoubtedly why I’ve been avoiding it, and will undoubtedly involve my piles in other rooms, not the least of which are the frames scattered around the dining room.

The frames mess started by trying to rescue a pastel done by my great aunt which Mom had stored in her garage. I couldn’t save it. Please don’t store art in garages! Since I know my broom isn’t sufficiently interesting for an IF post, I’ve included some of my great aunt Ila Rhea (Lee) Little’s work for your enjoyment. I suspect it really is time to attack some piles and get rid of the stagnation around me!

BTW, I think the back of the landscape is interesting too. I’m glad we can buy stretcher bars or even pre-stretched canvas these days! The wood is nailed together, and then the canvas is nailed to the board on the sides. That took a lot of prep work for something most people would never see.

And just as an extra postscript, I’ll tell you about the first time I saw these paintings. Ila Rhea was a very old woman living in a retirement high rise apartment, and Mom and I went to Nashville to visit. When we went to the front desk to ask for her room number, she was calling the desk at the same time requesting a nurse. We rode up the elevator to find Ila Rhea on the floor with a broken hip. The excitement of our visit had caused her to scurry around cleaning up piles of stuff and she fell in the process. (There might be a lesson in this for me, but let’s stick with the story…)

Ila Rhea was the picture of the perfect Southern lady, even though she was laying on the floor in what I must assume was extreme pain. We had to wait a couple hours for the ambulance, and she gave me the grand tour of her art on the walls from the floor of her bedroom. These were her favorite pieces from college in the 20s, in an era when I doubt many women were going to college in the first place. She got married and worked as an art teacher, but her college paintings were her favorites. She had grace and class, even laying on the floor. I wouldn’t wish that kind of experience on anyone, but she became a role model for me that day. I hope I can be so kind and hospitable if I’m ever in that position!

Friday, June 3, 2011


I watched “Food Inc.” on PBS last night. Seeing various factory methods of killing and butchering livestock is almost enough to make me a vegetarian. Almost, but not quite, since our factory produced produce is also disgusting. Saying I “watched” the show isn’t exactly true though. I furiously doodled the night away in an attempt to avoid looking at unhappy animals knee deep in their own manure and worried looking chickens watching their compadres getting their heads cut off. I guess some good comes out of my random doodles and a too-graphic show. I randomly sketched shadows, and wouldn’t you know it, Illustration Friday’s Penelope chose “shadows” for the word for the week. Yay! I’m ahead of the game this Friday. I give Andrew Finnie credit for the inspiration since he made a comment about how difficult it is to make the right shadow for a girl’s head on a pig. He makes me laugh.

Here’s the thing about shadows: first identify where the light is coming from. If it’s outside, that means the sun. Is it morning, noon, twilight, or a moon? Not counting street lights and such, outside pictures usually only have one light source which is pretty easy to identify. Inside pictures can have multiple light sources which can make everything more complicated, but let’s stick with a single light source for this particular post, and assume the light is going to travel in straight lines. Multiple light sources are just variations on these themes.

The second important thing to remember about shadows is that they follow rules of perspective. Things are bigger the closer they are to you, smaller the farther away they are from you. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the light is going to line up perfectly with your buildings in a landscape. If you want things easy, then line things up like first cube. More likely, you’ll have to figure out how the shadow is cast by 2 sides of your cube. You’re the god of your art, so make the sun where you feel like having it. Just remember that even virtual worlds make more sense when your world has a logical system.

Another thing about light is that it can leak around like water. Maybe I’ll talk about reflected light in a later post, but for now, let’s just assume that the shadow will be darkest at the bottom of an object, and lighten the farther it gets away from that object. The stronger the light source, the stronger the shadow. A sunny day will have harder shadows than an overcast day where the light gets bounced around through the filtering clouds. Making the shadow strongest at the bottom helps “ground” the item in your picture.

Speaking of ground, I finally got enough sun to dry out my garden and I’m going to plant things today. I planned to do that anyway, but PBS has definitely motivated me to have some non-factory food this summer.

Completely unrelated to shadows or food, I’m doing a garage sale this weekend. On the list of things that are going to find new homes is a leather jacket my brother painted and abandoned at my house. I just don’t think it’s my style, but I do find it interesting enough to show you some pictures. If anybody knows how to read runes, what does this say? Brian’s not telling.