Friday, February 25, 2011

Standing One's Ground in the Face of 'Cruelty'

My husband is an artist who likes to study and then ‘reproduce’ paintings by American Impressionist, John Singer Sargent**. He often takes liberties with the subject, though I knew Lady Playfair (ironic name) would require a whole lot of liberties. It's also worth mentioning that if Todd doesn’t care for the face, he substitutes one he likes.
Lady Playfair
Since we are both artists, he expects me to provide honest feedback as he goes along—as I expect from him when I’m painting. Although he selected this subject for the color and contrast, I was not fond of his choice—it reminded me too much of Halloween. I didn’t say anything because I wanted to see how he would address the dowdy matron’s figure. And address it he did—or shall I say, re-dress, starting with her foundation-wear…

As he often does when he copies a painting, he works the body first and leaves the face blank. In this case, that was good, but bad at the same time—I had nothing to focus on but her torso; specifically, the arms that hung from said torso. (Though the body itself did provided some animated discussion and amusement.)
Faceless Jackie
We stood in front of his easel, sipping pinot noir. In a calm rational manner, I said, “Oh! My! Gosh! Look at the length of that arm! What’s the matter with her? Are you trying to make her look like the result of interbreeding? Oh, that simply won’t do—you need to fix that right away!”

“The arm is fine!” Todd insisted, though I think even he could see that the original looked long. He justified his stance. “Singer Sargent tends to elongate.” He refused to change the glaring problem, and all I could focus on was “Jack-O-Lantern Woman's” freakishly long arm.

Yes, it’s true, every time I looked at her, I brought the offending arm to Todd’s attention. “Well, leave it that way if you must, but you are surely not going to hang that freak on our wall!”

Yes, I was ‘cruel…But fair,’* as he and I often say….

Then, one night, he didn’t come to bed for hours and hours…He must be doing that ‘cosmetic surgery’, I thought, feeling all smug and satisfied. When I woke the next morning, I didn’t even notice the arm—he had painted a face on Jackie-Lantern… "Oh. My. Goodness!—she’s perfect!”

Yes, I still see the arm, but when I look at the painting, all I really notice is her beautiful face. She’s amazing to me!

Jackie Lantern
Moral of the story: Even under the most brutal of criticism, keep forging ahead—something wonderful may happen!

Sometimes, the whole can make up for even a glaring flaw... 

*Monty Python, The Piranha Brothers

**There are some nice prints of John Singer Sargent's work here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I was 'Tagged' by Yat-Yee Chong to answer these 19 questions, and then tag 4 other bloggers, so, here goes...

1) If you have pets, do you see them as animals, or are they members of the family? Pets. Too many of them have ‘joined the circus.’ We named out last pet Expendable—and he was!

2) If you can have a dream come true, what would it be? To feel as energized at 1pm as I do at 7am—Oh, and there is that publishing thing…

3) What is the one thing most hated by you? The way this whole world system is set up

4) What would you do with a billion dollars? I don’t like to think of that much money. I sure wouldn’t keep it and I sure wouldn’t tell anyone about it.

5) What helps to pull you out of a bad mood? Sleep, music and time to myself.

6) Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone? Well, more happiness in giving than receiving, right?

7) What is your bedtime routine? Nothing out of the ordinary

8) If you are currently in a relationship, how did you meet your partner? I saw him around for a long time—I guess after his brother married my sister we finally met.

9) If you could watch a creative person in the act of the creative process, who would it be? A fellow watercolorist

10) What kinds of books do you read? Non-fiction, literary fiction, the Bible, Bible-based publications

11) How would you see yourself in ten years time? Busy taking care of parents and grandbabies

12) What's your fear? Is that assuming I have only one?

13) Would you give up all the junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to visit space? I’m not all that crazy about junk food, and space fascinates me, so, Heck Yeah!

14) Would you rather be single and rich, or married and poor? The later, for sure!

15) What's the first thing you do when you wake up? Go downstairs and make coffee

16) If you could change one thing about your spouse/partner, what would it be? He wishes he had more hair—I’d give him a full head of the great hair he’s already got! (I’m actually quite fond of him as is)

17) If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be? When I switched school systems in 9th grade, I also switched to the name I was called at home—it was very confusing to many people. From now on, I think I’d just stick to the one I’ve got

18) Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done? That all depends upon how that special person feels about it.

19) If you could only eat one thing for the next six months, what would it be? Ciabatta Bread!

And now, I tag...
PJ Lincoln at PJ Writes
Jerry at Gently Said

Nate at Sometimes The Wheel Is On Fire
Glenn at Differences with the Same Likeness

...and maybe I'll pick others, later...

...and here's question for anyone that cares to answer: Which of the above questions would you find most difficult to answer?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Some Regency Prose

Some of my readers here, who also follow my Unsupervised & at Large* blog, may recognize this image, Spring Orchard. It is my watercolor rendition of Michelle Davidson Argyle’s lovely (and inspiring) photograph. It begs Regency prose! Unfortunately, I don't even begin to know how to write that, but Anne Gallagher, at Piedmont Writer does—and rather well, I might add. Anne has been ever so kind as to indulge me with a story to go along with Spring Orchard, lending characters from her own work in progress, MisMATCHED.

In His Arms
by Anne Gallagher

Violet lay back on the chaise letting the breeze tickle her skin. The warmth from the sun soaked into her weary bones and she breathed in the scent from the apple blossoms.

Oh, last night seemed too much like Heaven. Lilly had the right of it. There was nothing so pleasurable as a ball. Dancing with Haverlane had been glorious, and Violet had not wanted it to end. Unfortunately, as with Cinderella, her night ended at the stroke of twelve.

Nevertheless, the memory of Haverlane’s hand on her back as he guided her across Lady Penny’s ballroom lingered. His warmth and gentle guidance as he turned her through the steps had almost made her swoon. She smiled now, as she remembered his words.

“You are lovely tonight, Violet,” he whispered.

She faltered in her step.

“I thank you, my lord.” Afraid he would see how much she loved him, she dared not look him in the eye.

“Are you having fun?”

“I am now,” she said. In his arms, there was no other felicity in the world to compare.

He chuckled. “And you were not before?”

“No, my lord. I had the misfortune of meeting Captain Winsbarren on the terrace and he is all enthusiasm of somehow becoming attached to me. I do hold him in high regard. Yet, I feel it would better serve his affections with another lady.”

Haverlane drew her closer. She breathed in his delicious scent.

“Forgive me, does your mother know of Winsbarren’s consideration?” He asked.

“No. And I pray nightly that he does not tell her. I have nothing against the Army personally, however, being engaged to such a man would only have my nerves on end wondering if he were in danger every hour of every day. I believe that would be an intolerable way to live.”

“You are quite right, my dear,” he said and twirled her through the crowd. “I am sure his disappointment will not be long lasting.” He nodded over her shoulder.

Violet turned and found Winsbarren dancing with a lovely young lady in a handsome yellow gown. She glanced up, found Haverlane’s countenance had relaxed, and he was smiling broadly. A rare sight.

“Pray, my lord, do you find the dance is taking overlong?” Violet asked. The music seemed endless.

“Do you wish to stop?”

“No,” she blurted. “It is just, I am wondering why this dance has gone through three movements. I have found the orchestra has only played two for every other dance.”

“I believe this is one of George’s favorite tunes and he has asked the orchestra to play the song through twice,” Haverlane said.

Violet looked up, bemused. “I shall have to thank His Highness then, as this is my favorite as well.”

She was not overly fond of this particular composer. Yet, as it kept her in Haverlane’s arms, she could not find fault with it.

Unfortunately, the song did end and Violet was led from the dance floor and brought back to her mother. Haverlane bowed and kissed her hand, nodded to her mother and was gone.

Watching him covertly throughout the night, she found he watched her as well and would nod or smile when he caught her eye. She trembled at the memory. Violet knew she would have to be content with that, as she had also watched him with Lady Baxter. Lady Georgiana made it perfectly clear Haverlane belonged to her and no one would stand in her stead.

Violet heaved a sigh. Tonight was Lady Berringbourne’s ball and she wondered if Haverlane would dance with her again.
Anne Gallagher © 2011

*where I present my watercoloring process, from drawing to the finished work.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

True Words

I have enjoyed painting this subject so much, that I've done it four times.  You can view several others of her on my watercolor Website. It's not hard to imagine what's going through her mind, but to put it in a bit of flash fiction was a challenge.

True Words

I don’t remember exactly when he came to live with us, but do I remember he taught me to ride his bicycle on my sixth birthday, when I did the math and figured out he was half again as old as me.

He didn’t use watered-down adult euphemisms like, "Joined the circus" or "Went to the Funny Farm." He spoke words that shaved away mystery, like "death" and "mental illness" as if my young mind could carve a likeness of his loss and fear.

For a year, we ran wild in the fields and through the woods. Breathlessly, I tried to see through his eyes as we ventured into places dark and untamed. On my seventh birthday, he kissed my cheek and gifted me a book of poetry. “She’s better now,” he said, “and I’ll be leaving.”

With eyes like hers, he sat beside his mother as they pulled away from the curb. “I’ll never forget you,” he said, his promise hanging in the air, dissipating as the distance grew. Even now, I wait for his words to come true.

I read the verses and wonder if they are the only truth I will ever know.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Experimenting & Bravery

Today, Domey Malasarn at the Lit Lab is following through on an experiment for which I have volunteered to participate. I have offered up Daydreams, the piece I wrote last week, to be critiqued--Tiger Mother style. I wrote this bit of fiction quickly and then, over the course of several days revised it. I considered it polished enough to post and put my name to, without overly vesting myself emotionally.

Domey's experiment coincides with a post that The Lit Lab's guest blogger, C.N. Nevets wrote about writing bravely, and his subsequent post on his own blog which develops the theme, but differentiates between bravery and recklessness--very thoughtful. These are issues I have grappled with for some time. I am not brave by nature, but neither am I complacent. That said, I am often given to moments of impulsiveness which I indulge because, although I am fraught with fears, I fear stagnation even more. I want to grow as a writer and a person, and so I put myself and my writing out there.

While I believe it took some bravery on my part to put Daydreams out there for a rigorous public critique, I think it was equally brave for Domey to conduct such an experiment, accepting the first three volunteers, not knowing just how brutal he might have to be...

Having read his critique, I have to say, it didn't sting as much as I anticipated--perhaps because I trust Domey, perhaps because I am so aware of my own weaknesses and assume everyone else can already see them. What stood out to me, and made me grin, was his assessment that my work was "too safe" and 'lacking originality'. There is actually some comfort in knowing that someone concurs with what you already know about your own work, and that the principles for improvement can be applied across the board. Thanks for the critique, Domey!

I hope my next post on my continuing watercolor prompted series is an improvement...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kitties in Tutus

Kitties in Tutus
We know what he’s dreaming about—it’s the same whisker-twitching scenario we’ve seen a dozen times. The visions begin shortly after we’ve had one neutered, and not because we’ve robbed Junior of the most fun he’ll never have, but because we just sunk sixty dollars into another stray.

I don’t know where they find the posters—perhaps in the neighbor’s barn. They think we’ll never stumble upon them, all dog-eared, rolled-up and tucked out of sight under the back steps where they sleep at night. Pictures of tabbies in tutus, their lips painted bright red under the big top. Pussies perched upon unicycles, making it look so easy. And oh my! those calicos doing the can-can.

It’s only a matter of time, once the adventure of circus life has gripped his imagination. Really, who can blame him? The allure of amazed audiences, throwing kibbles in adoration. Mousies overhead on trapeze. Swooning house cats, smelling of old lady perfume and canned tuna.

We wake to the sound of coyotes in the cornfields. Have they lured him off? their call, like the whistle of a distant circus train …All aboard…

Sadly, our kitties never send postcards.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Now for something completely different...

I painted this when we lived near Kansas City, where it seemed the humidity was as thick as chiggers in August. I titled it August Afternoon, and here's a little story I wrote for it, though I must give Glenn, at Differences with the Same Likeness, credit for the last line.


She sure doesn’t look the way she did last summer, when everyone was at the water hole and all she did was sit there with her knees to her chest. Yeah, I used to tease her, but everyone did. She made it so easy, being that odd sort of quiet. Always to herself at the edge of the group, or her face in a book or drawing something. I didn’t mean to make her cry, with that bucket of frogs, and I sure didn’t think it would take a whole ‘nother year before she’d even talk to me again.

When Mickey Pritchard called her the boobless wonder, I should have punched his lights out. And I should have whispered her the right answer when Miss Whimbley called on her in front of everyone in math. Maybe I should’ve left a note with the valentine candy I put in her desk, or signed the picture I drew of her, with her pretty, long hair—the one she folded and stuck in her book.

I think she smiled at me during lunch, today, even though she wouldn’t show me what she was reading when I asked. Maybe if I happen to be hanging around the old hickory tree she always walks past on her way home, she won’t mind if I ride my bike beside her…

“Boy! Stop day dreaming, and get out and open the gate.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Chair Ajar

Most people focus on the copper kettle, polished to perfection. The first thing I always notice is the Hitchcock chair, ajar, not as if someone just climbed out of it—no—it would be farther away from the table if that were the case.

I don’t remember how long his coat hung there—I know it was weeks and weeks, perhaps months before she removed it. Like his pillowcase. Like his distinguished silk ties in the closet, most of them keepsakes purchased in England on ‘business’ trips that everyone knew were romantic getaways.

I remember standing in front of their fireplace in April. Peach roses on the mantle. Chocolate dipped strawberries on the kitchen table. Fine champagne in Edinburgh Crystal. ‘I do’ in front of two witnesses.

The chair ajar. I know it hung on a chair in the kitchen. I know I saw it, but did my memory paint it over that chair when it might have hung over another? It’s coming up on fourteen years, and it’s hard to remember. But the boyish grin, sanctioning new love, I will never forget.

This piece doesn’t actually qualify as flash fiction, inasmuch as it’s true…

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Getting Through February

I've come up with a homegrown remedy to get me through February, and keep me writing at the same time. I have a bunch of watercolors I painted—each one I chose because I found it evocative in some way. So, I’m going to brave it and write a piece of flash fiction to go with a few, and try to keep it up for the next few weeks. If you’ve visited my Website,, and there is a painting in particular that you’d like me to use, leave a comment or e-mail me. Or, if you’d like to write your own, I’d love to hear it! I’m not saying there will be prizes involved, like a free print (on really nice 140lb Arches Infinity watercolor paper), but I’m not saying there won’t, either.

Tomorrow, I shall start with a popular painting that I’ve posted here before: Deb’s Kitchen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Banana Seat and Skinned Knees

It's snowing like crazy outside and I feel, I thought I'd post an excerpt from something I started and haven't had the gumption to continue. The setting is 1969. A grown man's recollection of a pivotal summer...a coming of age story...

I skid out of our driveway, carefully calculating the lean of my stingray bike with its brand new banana seat. It was truly impressive. Back in the ticky-tacky development where we lived, it was the coolest bike on the block. And the best feature was the caliper brakes. I installed them myself. Everyone knew me as the go-to bike man—okay, boy, but the fact was, I could take any piece-of-crap bike and give it a complete makeover. Paint job, included. Since there weren’t any real hills in our neighborhood, only a square grid of asphalt, I couldn’t wait to give it a spin on the inclines and declines of the dirt roads around the lake.
Taking a left turn onto the road, I peddled the easy slope downward. I think I’d probably grown too big for the bike which made the whole contraption top-heavy and sent me reeling side to side with each pedal thrust. Before the steep drop-off, I locked up the back brake, shooting a gravel fishtail behind as I ‘J’ skidded to a halt. To my best calculation, I had a quarter mile of gradual ascent until the road peaked-out in front of our camp. If I gained enough speed, I could get a little air as I headed into the hairpin curve beyond our driveway, and then down toward Whispering Narrows. Sure it was risky, but I had been imagining that moment of triumph for months, envisioning myself as Evel Knievel.
I’m sure it would have been just as I imagined, except as I breached the curve, (and I did indeed gain some air) then landed and righted myself, Doc’s Land Rover came out of nowhere. I hit both brakes, skidding into his front tire. It was more of a scrape than a collision, but it disabled my chain as I careened off to the side of the road. We both came to a halt.
His head lunged from the window as his voice thundered, “Jeeze, kid, you all right?”
I brushed gravel from my leg with one skinned hand, and gripped the handle bar with the other. I panted, “Yeah, I’m fine—no biggy.”
“You ought to take it easy on that curve, you know.” His bushy white brows furrowed as his fingers raked a shock of silver hair.
Awaiting his rebuke, I quickly replied, “Yes, sir, I’ll be more careful. I didn’t hurt your car, did I?”
He cocked his head and exhaled a chuckle. “I’d be more concerned with your bike, if I were you.”
I glanced at it and nudged the slack chain with my sneaker. “I think that’s the worst of it—I can fix it easy.”
“You sure?”
I didn’t know if I should read his squint as disbelief or approval.
“Oh yeah—” my voice pitched a curve. “I fix all sorts of stuff.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah, bikes and all kinds of other mechanical crap—I mean, stuff, sir.”
“Mechanical, eh? Like what?”
“Lawn mowers,” I said, and then thought of something even more impressive. “And I fixed a clock that I bought at a yard sale—with gears, and everything.”
“A clock, did you?”
This time I detected a distinct glint of approval. “Yes sir.”
“You’re the lad from the camp on the crest, aren’t you.”
“Yes sir.”
“You have a name, don’t you?”
“Yes sir.” I tried to keep my face from cracking a too-eager smile. “I’m Benjamin Hughes.”
He extended his meaty hand from inside his truck and enveloped mine like a baseball mitt. I squeezed back with all I had; a tiny mouse in a steel trap.
One corner of his mouth curled. “That’s quite a grip you’ve got.”
My ears flashed hot, and I nodded my modest best.
“I’m Doc Burns.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, suddenly aware of how often I had uttered the word ‘sir’ in the past two minutes. “I know.”
He winked. “You come on by my house tomorrow morning. I’ve got an old clock that my brother-in-law gave me, years ago—never liked the thing. Piece of junk as far as I’m concerned. But if you can fix it, you can have it.”
I could feel my jaw drop, but nothing came out. I needed to reply with something clever—something memorable, something that didn’t include the word sir, but all I could come up with was, “Gosh, sir, I don’t know what to say, sir.”
“Don’t say a thing, just come by before noon, ‘cause I’ve got an appointment after that.”
Again, my ears flamed. “Yes sir.”
“Will that be okay with your parents?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” I lied.
“Okay, then. You sure you’re okay?”
Gravel still clung to my bloody knee. “Yeah—I get these all the time. Thank you sir.”
As he drove away, I knew that I had just met the most formidable man alive.