Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You missed a spot

"Piss Yellow."

"Piss Yellow." That's the paint color my brother deemed my childhood room to be -- a glowing, glaring shade that kept you up at night and jolted you awake in the day.

But seeing as I hadn't lived in that room for four years -- and seeing how the rest of the family couldn't walk by it without having seizures -- my mother decided to repaint the room a calmer, softer, more grown-up hue. So I went home this past weekend to help.

We took down the shades. We pushed the furniture together. We laid out the dropcloths. We taped the edges. We covered up the nail holes from my artwork, the nicks from my bed frame, the scuff marks and drips and water damage.

The industrious paint manager.

As the new paint color ("Adobe Straw") went up, I was surprised by my non-nostalgia. My old yellow had a good run. It saw me through my high school, college, and young adult years. And in those years my art on my walls and my conversations near the window evolved.

But it was time to start fresh, to reflect the current reality. The room needed a second chance and a healthy dose of reinvention. It was, at its core, the same room -- same windows, doors, layout -- just renewed.

It took two solid coats to make that obstinate yellow disappear. Mostly. If you look closely in certain hard-to-reach corners, you'll see it around the trim or behind my imprecise brushwork. I like that imperfection, though, especially contrasted with the room's new vitality. The juxtaposition will help me remember where I came from and what the room once meant. It will remind me that as paint goes, so does life: one stroke at a time.

Paint freckles.

Prayer #201: Paint Chip

What do I look like in every light? What flatters me? What flattens me? Do I change shades? Appear darker or brighter? Am I warm or cool? Am I what you expected me to be?

God, add me to your cosmic palette. Throw me in gulping globs over dull man-made walls and fling me Pollack-like toward the sunset -- a magnificent, impermanent, firmament streak.

Treat me as a rough canvas, a sketch worth revising and repainting. I will never look the same way twice, but that is precisely Your vision.

Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tales of an eighth-grade something


A rebellious young pencil didn't like his owner Sally, so he decided to eraser.

So begins the entry dated 9/11/1996 in the flowered notebook I found yesterday in my nightstand drawer. Written in pencil, smudged from the years, it kicks off a writing journal I kept as part of my eighth-grade English class with Mrs. Marzola.

The prompts aren't recorded, only my responses. Oh, for want of a reframed sentence ... now I'll never know what I was referring to when I said, "I think that this shows that everyone is now paranoid and suspicious of everyone, including 6-yr-olds."

I don't remember sitting in class writing this journal, and I didn't remember holding onto it. Thus, finding it warranted a good 45 minutes of re-reading, during which several things struck me:
  1. My cursive was admirable for a 13-year-old.
  2. I was not yet a fan of the Oxford comma.
  3. When faced with evidence, I now believe I've inflated my supposed adolescent brilliance.
  4. My brother was REALLY irking me at the time. He features prominently in a few entries, like in a list of "Things I Fear (At Times)" and in this sweet sentiment: "My first resolution is to be more patient and understanding with my little brother, especially when I'm ready to maim him."
But what stood out the most was how much me was already present. Take, for example, this spurt of introspection-slash-seed for future therapy:
When all is said and done, I guess I motivate me. I have a deep desire for achievement and recognition and pride in the eyes of my peers and parents. I don't like to disappoint people, and since people say I have much potential, I shouldn't disappoint them.
Or my fervent, totally realistic goal to become a god-like writer/philanthropist:
1. to have so much wealth I could lavishly give it away and not be a whit the worse
2. to be famous in the writing world and be loved/liked by every person I meet
3. everyone to be educated, well-off and happy
Or my assured definition of success:
Success, in my eyes, has 3 parts. One, you're successful if you're loved, respected and have true friends. Two, you're successful if you've reached your highest point of achievement. Three, you're successful if you're happy with your thoughts, your feelings and you.
Or my analysis of fear:
Fear is deep. Fear is a mix of hatred and loathing, anxiousness and pain. Everything people fear involves one or more of these feelings. Fear is when something you dread finally occurs and you can do nothing to help.
Or my first hint of life's fragility:
Some things I take for granted are that my family will always be there, we'll stay here forever, I will always be well-provided for, my grandparents are around, I'm going to college, and that tomorrow will always be there.
I take for granted that tomorrow will always be there? I'm surprised I didn't start drinking that summer.

Seriously, I was a pimply kid with big hips and Sally Jesse Raphael glasses when I wrote these lines. What did I know about fear? About success? About not having everything stay the way it was forever and ever, amen?

Yet I 'knew' something nonetheless. Somewhere in the core of my being -- somewhere in the universal knot we each host -- life in all its pain and promise was emerging. Some people never get it. But I was fortunate to get at least an inkling at age 13, and I was thinking about it hard enough to write it down.

My smudged journal, incomplete as it is, reminds me my soul was changing as much as my body at that time. I was doing the real work of childhood: I was growing up.

Today, in all my presumed 'adult' wisdom, I contribute only a wider vocabulary, this blog, and more questions -- certainly no answers. Instead, I'm still stumbling along, feeling the ghost of my glasses on the bridge of my nose, wondering what my next entry will read.

And if there's a merciful and humorous Being above, I'm hoping that entry goes something like this:

Suddenly, Billy Joe the pencil realized he had to do #2.

Prayer #200: The Answer

Excuse me. Excuse me, Moderator? The exam question is legible, but the answer choices appear to be smudged. Can you please clarify?
...

Well, then do you mind I just fill in the blank?
...

Oh. Sorry, didn't realize that was your expectation. Do you want a short answer or an essay?
...

I really would appreciate a little more direction.
...

Seriously, are you ready for this? Are you ready for a free-form, free-agent, free-will response? Because I swear I'll give it to you.
...

Ok then. If that's your preference. Here goes.

...
...
...

"Yes.(?)"

Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"I know what love is." (You do?)

Photo by damselfly58

Dydd Santes Dwynwen just passed. Dia dos Namorados isn't until June 25. But in the meantime you get to celebrate Alla Hjärtans Dag, Ystävänpäivä, and of course, Valentine's Day.

Ah love. It's always in the air, and this time of year, it's also in the stores, in the mail, and in chocolate. I'm not a fan of the day's over-commercialization (aside from handwritten notes), but I am a fan of thinking about love in all its forms. Which raises the central question: what is love, exactly? Well, depends on who you are.

If you're a five-year-old, love is kind of by your trachea. If you're learning English, love is a lesson plan. And if you're the famous photographer Ansel Adams, love is a thundercloud (via Letters of Note):

June 19, 1937

Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that related to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh and blood — children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptance of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.

I wish the thundercloud had moved up over Tahoe and let loose on you; I could wish you nothing finer.

Ansel

CHILLS. If I had added emphasis throughout, the whole thing would be bolded. Because what form of love doesn't the guy hit on? He gets:

  • Love as wisdom. ["Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone ..."]
  • Love as soul. ["... flashing another kind of light from within."]
  • Love as others. ["Friendship is another form of love ...]
  • Love as artful action. ["...the desire to give..."]

(Note that he says nothing about roses, Hallmark cards, and chocolates.)

Adams is talking about love as relationship, not relationships -- in this case, that "both the taking and the giving of beauty" completes an act of love. It's not accounted; it's accumulative. It's not transactional; it's transformative.

I too want thundercloud love -- love that rolls through me, love that casts shadows, love that never loses the sun glow within it. Adams found this love in the stillness of Yosemite. I want to find it in the stillness of my heart.

Prayer #199: Wish Me Nothing Finer

If You meant love to be solitary
You would not have bothered creating us.

You would not have given us thoughts.
You would not have given us voices.
You would not have given us a world to wander through,
companions to encounter,
or any knowledge of You.

But You did give us all these things
free of charge
with a simple expectation:

That we send the gifts back out in iridescent rays,
filtered through our inevitable imperfection,
and live for the hopeful moments
when the thunderclouds split
and we quick shield our eyes
and remember what it feels like to be warm.

Amen.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Senior year, adult-style. (Also known as year 4 in DC.)

I'd like to start this annual time marker with a long-overdue pronouncement:


They are in frames, with mattes, on the wall, in artful arrangements, and -- most important -- no longer on my floor. It only took four years (head::desk). And not a moment too soon, because I am hitting a senior slide to end all slides.

I know I'm not actually in school. But my time here thus far has schooled me to such a degree (see what I did there? School? Degree? Good, right?) that I feel I deserve a diploma. Or at least a celebratory bottle glass of Chianti. Let's look back ...

  • Year 1 was all, "I'm so grown up! What freedom! What responsibility! Oh wait ..."
  • Year 2 was like, "In the groove, cruising along, thinking about the big next step ..."
  • Year 3 went, "Curve ball! Shit got real, gotta deal ... no really. Deal."

Which brings us to year 4. 'Senior' year. The year where I went on road trips with my friends, worried in my spare time, and looked at the big decisions looming ahead of me through my peripheral vision to make them appear less imminent.

Except this time around I'm older and wiser. I know that peripheral vision doesn't deliver the full picture. I also know I'm made of tough enough stuff that I can look the oncoming year straight in the eye and say, "I have scant idea what you're bringing, but bring it anyway." And I know that I'll mean it.

So thanks, DC, for another year of making me walk the talk. In the coming months give me roommate adventures and improv classes and tennis II lessons and a heavy library bag and video chats with Fella and weekends for writing and gorgeous weather for the 100th anniversary of the Cherry Blossoms. Because you know how I feel about anniversaries. And you know how I feel about you.

In honor of hanging my pictures this year, I present myself as ... a hanging picture.