Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Paintings

Many years ago, I squatted in the pouring rain with my Nikkormat and my mother--who held an umbrella over my head--and snapped a photo of a yellow lady's slipper on the property of my botany professor, John L. Morrison. As a gift, he had the picture printed for me. It sat on the wall many long years and got all faded.

I was trying to learn Sketchbook Pro app on my new iPad and decided that I wanted to "finger paint" a picture of the Yellow Lady's slipper. It took me 3 1/2 weeks to complete it, in part because I was a newbie, and in part because I'm not that good. My friend Pam Perkins Frederick asked me to paint one on paper, which did--in gouache on green paper. I did it in three sessions.

The top picture is the new painting for Pam in gouache. The second picture is the same one 3rd draft, the third picture is the scan from the end of my first session working on it. I forgot to scan it at the end of my second session. The fourth picture is the iPad version which I made for Ballookey. I did not look at that while doing the new painting, I looked only at the original photograph. I did not draw either of these nor use a photograph in any way other than for reference. I painted them from scratch, both of them. The final picture is the original ancient photograph printed in 1971 but probably taken several years earlier.

I had considered doing one in water color and one in oils or acrylics, or both, but I'm tired of it for now and want to paint something new. (For some reason, I never get tired of painting Keith.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Excerpts from White Horses by Douglas Milliken


He always calls her at work. Like a faint insectile whine—while in the drafting room explaining a layout to a trainee or sorting out a plan, while in the cloakroom or walking down the hall to the bathroom—her name will drone over the PA. You’ve a call on Line 2. Then a pause, always a pause, implying the opinion of everyone listening. It’s your husband. Always needing to ask an irrelevant question. Always pulling her from her work. It’s embarrassing. If she’s on the road with her partner, viewing a site or just catching a bite to eat, her cell-phone will vibrate in her pocket or chirp like a lost bird from inside the hermetic confines of the truck, from where she’s left it behind.

He likes to know what she’s up to, he says. Little red pushpins on a map. He likes to know she’s okay. Meanwhile, April holds forth its war of attrition, floods the culverts with runoff and rain, chokes the gutters, makes a mess.

It’s not that he’s jealous, she thinks, suspicious or fearful of an imagined usurper. He’s just needy. Like a baby and its bottle. Never secure if too long apart. His voice is a hand on her shoulder. From her drafting table, she watches her co-workers as they come and go, protected from the elements by rain-lashed vaulting glass. She watches the way they move their legs, the way they flash their teeth, speaking in muscle and skin, and she wonders if this problem is pandemic. If men are always needy when they ought to be jealous. And if men are always jealous when they ought to be alone.

Sequence III: Night Country

The moon sets behind the silver hillside of your shoulder, spilling night over your heath and moor, your harbor and mountain range in slumber—knees drawn up and hands folded to your breast—as I lie in our bed beside you, reading the shadow map of your back-turned body’s keyhole silhouette. The tide of your breathing ribs. Clouds rising from your arctic lips. I lie beside you and yearn to sink into you. To ease my hand from the cool dark into the warm tangle of hair at the nape of your neck, to find and unbraid the stitching zipper woven along your spine. Pull you open and step inside as if into a labyrinth of root and stone, allowing your continents to draw me in and embrace me with their gravity. I press my feet through the inside of your feet. My hands through the inside of your hands. Feel my lungs inflate as your lungs inflate, your ocean engulfing the whole of my sea. Feel my eyes blending with what your sleeping eyes see. Feeling the distinction fade.

from A Broken Leg or Broken Wing

I found my cat in the hayloft above the horse stalls, above the snorts and knickers and hard clumping hooves. Above the lattice of girders and beams, the sweet smell of oats and cold manure, I found him: all narrow-ribbed and matted in the belly, striped in snow leopard grey. Over a foot of snow had worked its way in between the clapboards, sweeping in a single great drift over and among the heaps of loose straw, and on this drift my dying cat slept.

I trudged through the calf-bracing snow and knelt beside my cat. I wanted to touch him but did not want to wake him. I watched his belly slowly rise and slowly settle with cold breath, watched his twitching tail, watched his fur ripple with a chill as the needle pricked his skin. Watched the poison merge with and become his blood. Watched his twitching tail still.

Afterward, I didn’t know what to do with him. How can you bury a cat when the ground is frozen and buried in snow? So I did nothing. Left him where he lay. Curled in a cue in the misplaced snow of the loft. I told myself I’d come back in the first thaw, bury him then when the frost momentarily slipped away. But the truth was, I didn’t dare touch him. I was scared he might not feel alive.

Somehow I managed to avoid the loft for a week. The horses got oats and water and were fine with oats until the farmer found out and made me shuck down more straw. Wide-set eyes and chapped hands clutching a pitchfork, thrusting to pass it to my hands. The steps up were drifted over again, no trace of my last climb up or down, but in the loft my cat lay still uncovered. A curl of grey on the white. And before I shucked the frozen straw down through the empty center of the barn, I knelt again beside my cat and finally touched him, stroked him as I should have stroked him before the needle bit in—before I fed him to the pinprick—and when he looked up at me with cold black eyes, not angry but simply accusing, it was not horror I felt but regret. I shouldn’t have treated him that way. I should have treated better this small thing that I loved.

His name was Brick. Like in the play about the hurdle jumper.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


So far tonight, I started a new portrait of Keith, I wrote pages 132-137 in Disappearing, and saved chapter 2 to send to you.  Last night, I saved chapter 1, but forgot to send it.  :-(

I'm interested to see how this portrait will turn out with more work.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Balance--a novel excerpt from Disappearing


Travesty's third grade notebook was set up in a similar way to the
5th grade notebook Terry had been studying earlier. Faded blue mimeos
of the assignments were taped to the left side of the notebook pages
and the assignments were completed by Travesty on the right side, and
sometimes continued on to the next pages. Perhaps all the teachers at
her school had attended a conference or a school meeting and had been
taught or had agreed to do it that way.

In third grade, Travesty's writing had been larger and more awkward
than it was two years later, but at the same times, more care had been
taken with each letter. Terry found drafts in the notebook at the
back like the ones she'd discovered in the later notebook. Terry
couldn't believe how much effort Travesty had put into her work, for
such a young child. There were notes and vocabulary suggestions in
the drafts, which helped explain to some extent Travesty's seemingly
above average writing skills, but not entirely.

Terry flipped past the essay on summer vacation and the next couple,
eager though she was to read them. She knew she didn't have much time
before Travesty returned, and was looking for something a little
different, possibly with some fresh information about the girl.
She stopped flipping when she saw the 4th assignment, which read:
"Something New: Tell us about something you have just learned, not at
school, but at home or somewhere outside school. Use specific sensory
details from your five senses.

Yes, all the teachers must have gone to the same workshop, or they
were using some general system or something, or taking handout
material from the same books. Terry turned to the right to see what
Travesty had written. How old would she have been then? Maybe nine?

Look Ma, One Hand, by Travesty X Brown

Just last week, I learned to do headstands and handstands. I started
with headstands. They were hard at first. My mother showed me how to
put my forehead on the ground, then put my knees on my elbows, and
then slowly lift my legs over my head. At first, I would sometimes do
a somersault, which I'd only just learned to do last year. Or I'd get
partway up and lose my balance and crash down. Or my legs would
wobble all around and I would do a split if I didn't come down right
away. I practiced on the rug in the living room so I wouldn't get

After a few days or maybe a week, I got so I could do it. I was so
excited. Then my Mom said, "Okay, good, now, how about a handstand?"
We walked over to Balduck Park. First Mom demonstrated how to do it.
She put her hands down onto the ground and kicked her feet above her
head and wobbled around a moment and then got steady. She balanced up
there, put her legs together, arched her back, smiled at me and then
dropped down. When she came down, she landed on her feet. My mom is
pretty athletic. She used to do gymnastics before she had me.
She showed me two more times, and then told me to do it. When I tried
it, I started losing my balance. She grabbed my legs and held them up
in the air until I was able to balance by myself. It only took me
five times to get the hang of it. The first time she didn't catch my
feet, I did a nosedive into the grass, and the smell of grass and
greenness was in my nose all day long. I could even taste it, sort of
like spinach.

Now I can do it almost every time I try. I don't even hear my heart
banging in my ears any more. I've gotten used to the way the world
looks upside down. I can do it in the gymnasium--I showed the gym
teacher. I'm so excited about it I want to show everyone. I will do
a show and tell for class if you want me to. The best thing is that
once I get into a handstand with two hands, sometimes, I can lift one
hand up and balance on just one hand.

Terry laughed. The teacher had given her an A++. She wondered if
Travesty could still do headstands and handstands. She remembered
when she had learned to do a handstand. She was in 9th grade,
fourteen years old. She'd been able to do headstands since she was in
second or third grade, but handstands she thought she'd never get.
Hah! She had gotten it, finally, and the pictures to prove it. She
was so proud of herself and happy. The pictures were at her parent's
house in upstate NY. She could picture the cabinet where her
childhood the albums were stored, and was sure they were still there.
She hadn't tried a handstand on land in years. She wondered if she
could still do it. She probably could do in water, but that was
easier, water was thicker than air and helped one get balanced. And
if you fell, you fell more slowly and just floated back to the
surface. Handstands in the water were fun and easy. But then again,
when was the last time she'd even done one of those? Not for a while.

Terry thought about balance. It took balance to do handstands.
Balance was something she had in short supply. Oh, she could walk
along a fence or stand on one foot for ten minutes. But her life was
out of balance in a much deeper way, and Terry wondered briefly how
she could fix that. What would a balanced life look like? She didn't
have a clue.

Terry had a feeling Travesty's life was out of balance, too, no matter
how good she was at handstands.

She heard Travesty coming, running into the house and then up the stairs.
Terry remembered her mother saying, as a joke, "Wipe that smile off
your face, you can cry, if you try." Terry wiped clean the expression
of sadness she'd felt overtaking her face as she thought about her
life, and replaced it with a welcoming smile for Travesty, who burst
through the door grinning widely.