Posted in Life, Poetry

Pandemic Painting & A Better Year Ahead

This weekend I sat down and re-read my journal entries from March through July of 2020. I wanted to re-experience those first few months of the pandemic, to see it again from a little distance. (I stopped at August because I wasn’t ready to revisit the school year again.) It was so surreal reading my thoughts in those initial days of confusion and fear. I wrote every day at first and then about every other day for many weeks. Seeing those entries again made me shiver. Here are a few excerpts that gave me pause:

* March 30, 2020:

This morning I got up before 7AM, showered, and went to HEB. It wasn’t bad. I got there about 15 minutes before they opened and lined up outside (6 feet apart, per the orange lines) with a couple dozen other people. Inside, there were reminders to stay a safe distance from others and lots of signs limiting numbers of items (4 cereals, 4 cans of chili, etc) and parts of the store were blocked off to keep people moving in an orderly direction… We have enough food to last us another couple of weeks. Now it’s just stay-at-home-stay-safe. It looks like we’ll be in this mode until the end of April.

* April 2, 2020:

Headlines this morning include:
“US braces for ‘horrific’ weeks as deaths top 5,100”
“Cruises with sick, dead passengers awaiting approval to dock”
“Coronaviras pandemic alters life as we know it”

* May 10, 2020:

I want to remember this… When the world goes back to normal, I want to remember these long ambling walks through my neighborhood, how hours went by without me checking my watch or making a list in my head of all I needed to do when I got back home. I want to remember how my feet felt on the pavement, how I knew every sidewalk scratch and screech owl by heart and watched the chalk art evolve from fresh and bright to faded and rain-streaked. When I’m late to work, stopped at the light at Slaughter Lane, when I’m collapsing on the couch after school, when I’m standing in line at HEB looking at Facebook on my phone, I want to remember the sound my ball made as I bounced it lazily while listening to my audio book and strolling the same streets at 5AM, noon, 8PM, midnight– how it felt when the ball landed perfectly in my palm with a *smack*.

Reading these journals makes me want to reach back in time to that version of myself and give her a hug. But then I’d be tempted to give her the truth, too, about what else was coming and how long this was really going to last, and that just seems mean.

But good things came out of those months, as well. For instance, I found some new creative outlets.

In June of 2020, I randomly started painting. I already had some old acrylic paints and brushes. I ordered a few more and some small canvases online and made myself an “easel” by propping flattened cardboard boxes on the windowsill in my office. I grabbed a button-down tunic shirt that I’d never worn but couldn’t make myself give way and made that my painting frock. Then I tossed a pillow on the floor to sit on, got a paper plate for my palette, filled a Rudy’s Bar-B-Q plastic cup with water, turned on some music, and started painting.

On July 18, 2020, I wrote in my journal:

I’ve been painting. I’m not great. I’ve had no training except for a few “Painting with a Twist” sessions and watching my dad draw, but I find that I can make things look mostly how I want them to look, and I’m learning as I go along—how to mix paints for subtler shades and how to turn the brush on its edge for a finer stroke or use a thick bristly brush when I want more texture. Mostly though, I just like putting paint on a canvas. It’s so relaxing. Sometimes I sit for hours and paint, until my back aches and my legs are tingly from falling asleep.

I’m still at it, and I think my paintings are improving, but honestly, I don’t care that much. I just paint for fun. It’s something to play with, and the freedom of it is what makes it so enjoyable.

My dad’s cat, Spunkie. I almost forgot to paint her whiskers!

I also enjoy playing with words—collage art, found poetry, book title poems—and the pandemic offered more time for that, too. This pastime is even messier than painting and often encompasses much of the house. If I’m making collages, there are little bits of paper everywhere and no fans or pets allowed in the area. To make book title poems, I end up taking dozens of books off my shelves, stacking them and restacking them in precarious piles and rearranging them over and over again until I’m satisfied with the result.

Book title poems in progress

I love making book title poems and have shared several of them here over the years, but this summer I decided to create something more tangible with them. I chose twelve of my favorites and made 2022 calendars.

Most people agree that 2020 was, in general, a terrible year, and there are many who say 2021 isn’t much better. But I have high hopes for 2022 (don’t you?), so I’m getting ready early.

I made three sizes of calendars: an 8×4 desk calendar, an 8.5×11 wall calendar, and a 12×12 wall calendar, but they all include the same poems. I’m selling them on my Esty store, so if you know a book-lover or a poet who would enjoy having a unique calendar next year, consider getting your shopping done early and buy them one of these! If you order by July 31, you can get 10% off by using the coupon code: NEWYEARINJULY

For me, summer is a season of creativity because I’m off work and can indulge in my hobbies. This summer, I’m grateful to be vaccinated and feel comfortable enough to venture out into the world again. There isn’t any part of me that wants to be that confused, stressed woman of last summer who was stuck at home feeling trapped and scared, but I’m thankful that she used her shelter-at-home time to try some new things and make some art.

Posted in Life, Writing

A Father’s Gifts

I’m thankful that I have a father in my life, and I’m extremely thankful to have one as fun and unique and loving as my dad.

My dad has given me so many things: love, support, laughter, poetry books, one-of-a-kind Halloween-birthday parties, and road trips, to name a few. He gave me my nose (slightly crooked like his) and my ability to snore (thanks, Dad). He coached my softball team, attended all my band concerts, taught me to drive, and let me have the puppy I asked for without even checking with Mom first. (It’s ok, she loved the puppy too.)

My dad was the first person to read my whole novel. He stayed up most of the night to finish it. I woke up the next morning to find the manuscript sitting on the kitchen table with a sticky note that said, “Loved it.” You can bet that made me feel good.

While pets and sports and birthday parties are not unusual father/daughter activities, my dad has also given me a few gifts over the years that aren’t quite so common.

Made With Love

Some of the coolest things my dad has given me are his stories and his artwork, which are kind of the same thing. His stories paint vivid pictures and his artwork definitely tells tales, sometimes literally. I have four binders full of the mail he sent me in college, each letter inside an envelope covered with his ink and watercolor drawings, many depicting funny family moments. And I have a computer file full of his life stories, emailed to me in pieces over the past seven years.

To see some of his artwork envelopes and read one of his stories (about chickens), visit this Father’s Day post from four years ago.

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A snippet from one of his painted envelopes, depicting a classic dad moment

Dad also likes to make things. I have a beautiful and very sturdy (read “extremely heavy”) bookcase that he built for me in college and a walking stick that he carved and varnished with his own two hands. I also have several homemade Halloween decorations including this awesome haunted birdhouse he gave me for my birthday in 2014.

Build a nest if you DARE, little birdies!
Build a nest if you DARE, little birdies!

Stories and drawings and homemade crafts still aren’t too far outside the norm, when it comes to presents, but a few of my father’s gifts have been truly weird.

People Say I Have My Father’s Eyes… They’re Half Right

About fifteen years ago, my dad gave me a coin purse made out of a frog. You heard me.

FrogPurse

Several months ago, my dad gave me an Aztec figurine, found in Mexico decades ago and given to him by a friend. It resides in this plastic container because, three times when I’ve picked it up, it has shot an electric pain into my thumb for reasons I can’t explain. I’m not kidding.

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And recently, my dad gave me his glass eye. Well, not HIS glass eye. It’s the glass eye that he’s had since I was a kid, the one he took out of the lost and found at his work after it had been there for years. I’m assuming he washed it at some point. (Note: His real eyes, like mine, are hazel. This one is brown.) Anyway, now it’s mine.

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Weird? Yes. Totally. TOO weird? No. Not at all. You see, my dad knows me. He probably knew that I would keep that frog purse in my classroom and find delight in shocking my students with it. He probably knew that the cool (and also creepy) Aztec figurine would end up in one of my horror stories. (Draft still in progress.) He probably knew that every time I looked at the glass eye, I would think about how he sometimes used to clasp his hands over his face and stagger around, complaining that he had something in his eye before finally saying, “I think I got it,” and opening his fingers to reveal… the glass eye resting in his palm. And he knew that would make me smile.

I love my father’s gifts. All of them. And I love him.

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Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you! 🙂

 

Posted in Random

Mystery Solved! What’s Inside the Art Machine

A few months ago, I discovered a cool cigarette-machine-turned-art-machine at my local Whole Foods store and promptly broke it. (It was an accident, I promise.) Since it didn’t work, I didn’t get to find out what sorts of treasures awaited inside.

ArtMachine

 

This week, I went back and was delighted to find the sad little “out of order” sign gone. I decided to try my luck again, and this time it worked! (Which is a relief because I didn’t want to to tell the nice guys at Whole Foods that I broke their machine again.)

Which treasures did I choose?

ArtMachine2

Why, slug soap and monsters, naturally.

Monsters = no brainer. I like monsters. I also think slugs are pretty cool when I am not stepping on them or trying to keep my dog from eating them. The slug on this package reminds me of the large plastic slug that I found and made into a necklace for my good friend Emily. (Yes, of course she liked it. Why do you ask?) I couldn’t resist seeing it in soap form.

I was so excited to find out what was inside these cigarette-pack-shaped boxes that I opened them up in my car. The advertising did not lie. I got a monster and slug soap.

ArtTreasurePicMonkey Collage

The monster is a little weird. Ok, they’re both weird. But the monster is more weird because I’m not sure what to do with it. At first I thought it was a magnet, which would have been cool, but no. It’s just a tiny painting of a vampire (with a side of Dracula trivia). I think this one is destined to become a stocking stuffer. (Get ready, friends and family! Any one of you could be the lucky recipient!)

The slug soap is, in my opinion, much cooler and also quite practical. I look forward to washing my hands with this little guy and watching him melt away like he’s been salted. (Don’t do that to real slugs! It’s mean!)

So, mystery solved. What’s inside the weird art machine? Weird art. Its existence makes me happy.