Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Still Scratch My Head and Wonder

When I was growing up, a longhaired, mangy white Tomcat terrorized many an innocent housecat in our neighborhood; consequently, it had a price on its head. We called him the Ten-Buck Cat. Whenever our pure white mama cat went into heat, she and the Ten-Buck Cat produced a litter of pure white, long-haired balls of fluff. Around the time that I turned fourteen, two of these kittens found a home with a gracious neighbor lady who taught ballet in a nearby town. Out of gratitude, Mrs. Fink offered to give one of us kids free ballet lessons. None of my three sisters volunteered, but I thought, Well, why not?

At the first class, I stood in front of large mirrors and a handrail in my borrowed slippers, tights that crept down my thigh with each attempted move, and my polyester blouse because I had no leotard. I liked the idea of learning ballet, especially since I had been tagged the family spaz, and understandably so—I have always had poor large motor skills and even poorer sense of rhythm (I can scarcely make it to the top of the staircase without tripping, and I can’t tell you how many line dances I have been banned from).

Shy as I was, I had great ambitions of improving myself. I braved the gawking stares of advanced students, with all their grace and poise, in leotards that fit and flaunted their feminine curves while I wore a Triple-A bra that caved in on itself beneath my loose-fitting blouse. With encouragement from Mrs. Fink, I tried to improve my moves every week, but in all honesty, I was pretty awful. I couldn’t seem to control one, let alone coordinate all, of my body parts.

Then, Mrs. Fink announced The Recital. I had not bargained for that! And then I found out I had to dance the ‘Icicle’ with the ‘little’ girls. I assumed it was because I hadn’t progressed enough to perform with the more advanced students. But no, it was a matter of costuming. Because of my flat chest, I had to wear a stretchy, ‘little girl’ leotard, rather than the satin, princess-seamed outfit of the developed girls.

I wonder now why I didn’t simply quit. Did I feel some sense of group responsibility? I knew I didn’t have the drive to be a real ballerina, and I knew my instructor could see that. So why put myself through such humiliation? Did I simply lack the courage to tell her, ‘No, I don’t want to participate?” Why not admit to her and myself that I was much happier on my own, writing and drawing? Perhaps, if I simply didn’t think about the outcome, I could go out on center stage and prance about like a gangly winter icicle, and no one would notice that I was a good two feet taller than the other little breastless icicles.

Even now, I often wonder at the forces that have driven me, that allow me to take on challenges that I don’t feel equal to. As a little girl, I never had aspirations of being a ballerina, but when I saw an opportunity, I was eager to embrace the possibility. I suppose I still like the ‘idea’ of an endeavor, and I might set out on a journey simply because I want to know and understand the process and possibilities. Often, it leads me to places I had not calculated—hadn’t even thought to calculate. Sometimes, I stumble upon wonderful experiences, and sometimes, I feel utterly paralyzed at the prospect of public humiliation, but I can’t seem to bring myself to the point of backing down. I also wonder at other writers’ and artists’ journeys, and what drives them to forge ahead. Did you start out with a specific goal? or has the journey been your focal point?

By the way, after weeks of making myself ill in anticipation of The Recital, Mrs. Fink called and informed me it had been canceled. Apparently, the recital building burned to the ground. I can honestly say I had never been so relieved...I went back to my drawing and writing, and never looked back.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I just can't seem to get my head into writing these past couple weeks. I don't know, maybe it has something to do with the fact that we are just about to put our house on the market--I mean for real--like we need to be ready to up an move, cross country, really soon...Then again, it could take months and months, but the last time we listed a house in a down market, we had a buyer in a matter of days, and then life took on a rythm of another pace altogether.

So, anyone know of anyone who wants to buy a gentleman's farm and an arsty house?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Inner Critic

As writers and artists, we have one. I never realized whose voice it was—telling me that my work wasn’t good enough, that I needed to stretch beyond my comfort zone. She actually sprung out of my subconscious and took form in one of my novels, though I didn’t recognize her as such at the time. She hovers over me, whether I’m painting or writing…

Let me introduce you to Marvelle, by way of an excerpt…

Leila hunched over her work, sitting before the garden’s centerpiece, a Grecian maiden perched in a dried-up fountain. Spanish moss grazed the greenish patina of her shoulders, glowing in the gradient light of late afternoon. She loomed as guardian over Leila. Her watchful eye seemed to alert the artist to unwanted attention approaching from behind.
Sensing an intrusion, Leila arched her aching back and quit with her paintbrush. She pulled the paper block to her chest. Cocking her head, she met an old woman’s piercing eyes.
The matron frowned, folding her arms and taking an abrupt suck from her cigarette. Standing less than five foot, the well-into-her-eighties matron swept a strand of white hair up and poked it into the knot crowning her head. She drew a long drag from the cigarette that doubled as a gesturing baton, leaving a thin trail of smoke. “Well?”
Leila wondered if this might be Marvelle. She clutched her work even tighter.
The old woman flicked her butt to the grass. Grinding it under foot, she thrust out her hand with all the authority of God.
“Don’t be ridiculous, child! Let me see!” Her smoker’s voice chopped with a Bostonian inflection.
Taken aback, Leila glowered at the encroachment while sizing up her opponent. A long, loose-fitting tunic hung from a buttoned neckline and square shoulders, covering most of her shapeless trousers. She looked well on her way to the grave, and yet Leila hesitated to disobey.
Crooked fingers snatched the tablet and held it at a distance, then brought it closer to her spectacles. “You’re overworking it, child.”
“Yeah?” Leila stated, regarding what had always been obvious to her.
“And you’re including too much detail.”
“I like detail.”
“That’s fine, da’ling, but until you can make your point with a few strokes you have no business with detail. You haven’t earned the right.”
Leila’s attention darted from fierce wrinkles to her own disappointing efforts. Was this feisty and officious bit-of-a-woman the ‘dear old soul’ of whom her had grandmother spoken?
“Your perspective, however, and proportions are impeccable. Perhaps you ought to stick with sketching, and not waste your time with paint.”
“I like to paint.”
“Could have fooled me. You look as uncomfortable as a cat in a shoebox, and your work is as passionless as a peck on the cheek.” She wielded the pad as though swatting mosquitoes, and then shoved it back at Leila. “You can’t tell me you’re happy with this.”
“I wasn’t expecting a great work of art. It’s just a pastime.”
“Rubbish! What prevents you from greatness?”
“What?” Wide-eyed, and then with a squint, Leila sat erect.
“Fear—that’s what! When you’re ready to own up to it, come and see me, da’ling.” With that old woman spun on her heal and jauntily headed back toward the house, belying any readiness for the grave.

For all intents and purposes, Marvelle could be standing over my shoulder as I type, trying to form a story. She always sees the flaw, but I think she also sees the potential.

Is your inner critic ‘cruel…but fair?’ Does she ever allow you any peace or gratification?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Notes from Underground Anthology

The Literary Lab presents Notes from Underground Anthology!

This is particularly exciting for me because it contains my first published work, entitled Four Words, and puts me in very good company with 23 other accomplished writers.

Four Words is a short story based upon a scene from one of my novels.

Thanks LitLab for this opportunity, and all the hard work that went into putting together such a beautiful publication!

 Purchase a printed copy through CreateSpace or Amazon, or for your Kindle through Amazon.