Saturday, November 21, 2009

Herding the Munchkins

#234, Draw Something That Doesn't Belong To You; #153, Draw Something Under Plastic; #152, Draw a Nut

Like so many others, our state is experiencing a financial meltdown. Now the government, local labor unions, and the Board of Education are involved in a power struggle, understandable from several points of view (i.e., perspective, which as an artist I completely get) but the outcome is really, really sad. Our public schools have closed for one day a week. This would be tragic anywhere, but here in Hawaii, we already have one of the shortest school years and woefully inadequate educational systems in the nation. We cannot afford to rob children of classtime. I'd get on a soapbox but I don't have one -- or a solution, either.

So I got involved, on a whim, really. I volunteered to "help" with this program that offers art education on "Furlough Fridays." I'm not a teacher, I don't have children of my own, or much experience with the little critters. I just thought that I could pitch in somehow -- office work, I thought, or preparing lunch. I didn't think I'd be thrown into the front lines! Now it's my job to keep the 7 to 9 year olds together, and move them through four class periods per day, one day a week. It's been trippy! I don't want to get into stories, because there are so many (kids are so cute!! Whodda thunk?) and I'm afraid once I start relating the stories I couldn't stop, but I will share one pet peeve. Why the HECK do they show up each morning carrying snacks and trinkets that I ultimately have to be responsible for?

Last Friday I came home, emptied my purse, and found these: a plastic, robotic sort of toy that three little boys were fighting over. Once I confiscated him, "Tron" immediately got lost in the depths of my purse. The sand filled crocheted ball is meant to be bounced off of feet in a show of agility, but instead it was getting thrown, hard, at other kids. The bag of smoked almonds has been in and out of my purse several times now. A teacher takes it away during a drawing class, I carry it back to the breakroom and return it to its owner's lunchbox, until it shows up once more in the next class and the cycle starts over. I try to return all of these 'purse treasures' at the end of the day, but since the parents show up whenever they feel like it to take their kids home I often miss the opportunity. So I have to keep these objects safe, until next Friday, when no doubt I'll inadvertently bring another haul home with me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Send Out the Clowns!

#247 - Draw Something Creepy

Maybe I'm perverse, but I just never found them cute, or the least bit entertaining. In fact, they sort of creeped me out. An adult, decked out in Kabuki face paint with grotesquely exaggerated expressions, communicating only in mime, perhaps punctuated with blasts from an 'aruuugah-horn,' and this is supposed to represent happiness? Joy? It simply didn't work for me when I was a child, still doesn't. My stereotype is more Stephen King's Pennywise than Bozo or Clarabelle!
I thought I was alone in this opinion until I met my future husband, and he told me his clown story. When he was 7 or 8 the circus came to town. The neighborhood boys were told that if they helped with setting up the tents, they would be given free tickets to the show. For a whole day they hauled lines, hoisted bales and ran errands. But then, when all was finished, the tired, hopeful little boys outnumbered the proffered tickets and those not quick or big enough to push to the front of the line were sent home, crushed and empty handed. He was part of this group.

At showtime he bravely marched back and told the ticketbooth lady what had happened, politely requesting admission in the name of fairness. She refused. He slipped away to the side of the tent, found a gap near the ground and rolled himself into the Big Top. Unfortunately he tumbled right on to a giant floppy shoe. A clown -- one not the least jolly -- roughly grabbed him by the shoulders and marched him out the back entrance, threatening police intervention and peppering him with foul language all the while.

"I hate clowns!" my husband says. And he means it. We are reasonable people, somewhat sociable; we've both been described as having a good sense of humor. But we share one dark secret -- we discriminate against clowns.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Have We Met In A Past Life?

#185 - Draw a Cat

Meet Squirt, the sole feline member of our little household. He is a recycled feral creature, which means he has lots of quirks, issues and attitude. His typical day starts with breakfast on the lanai. Here he allows us the honor of giving him some food, so long as we don't linger to watch him eat it. We might be so bold as to touch him on a good day, but if we do he stays shock-still until the ordeal is over. Later he will mosey over to his nap spot outside the bedroom door and lay down on the doormat after pummelling it into a lumpy wad. While on the lanai he tolerates our presence so long as no petting or prolonged eye contact is involved. If he catches sight of us down in the yard, however, he runs as if from death itself and hides. The same thing happens if he sees us exit the house from the back door instead of the front. Out the back door, we are monsters! From the front, we might feed him. (At least I guess that's his reasoning.)

Then comes bedtime. Around eleven, he scratches at the door and my husband lets him in. He jumps into bed with us, and now is a different animal. He demands touching, cuddling, petting. His purring is so loud it's hard to sleep! Should we ignore him, he launches himself against our bodies and performs a weird somersaulting movement, pulling himself against us to simulate the sensation of stroking. Sometimes he will even wake us with tentative pawing, in the early morning hours, to experience more touch and attention. But come daylight we are again treated with great suspicion and reserve.

"He is so bizarre!" my husband and I declare. "Have you ever seen such behavior?" we ask each other. Well, actually, I must admit that the behavior isn't totally unknown to me. I just realized recently that when I was a single lady (years ago!!) I met, or heard from my girlfriends about, many such males. If I were to believe in karmic reincarnation, then maybe my Squirt was once a commitment phobic Lothario!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Miracle Babies

#245 - Draw Something

I have pickleworm, a.k.a. Diaphama nitidalis Cramer. Now, don't panic, it isn't contagious (at least not by Cyberspace contact) but it prevents me from growing certain cucurbits; cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and the like.

When I first moved to this island in 1991 I attempted to grow a kitchen garden, and one of my favorite vegetables was a variety of winter squash the locals commonly but erroneously call "pumpkin." This plant was terrific - place it on fallow land and it choked out invasive weeds. It grew and grew and grew, and produced lots of fruit that was not only tasty, but a really good subject for still life renderings. Then, when I reached the point of readiness to paint my produce, pickleworm arrived!

Pickleworm is a nondescript grey moth which lays its eggs on a blossom. The hatchling caterpillars eat out the center of the flower, preventing the formation of fruit. Last year I planted some squash seed, and though I had scores of blossoms, the squash never formed. Then a miracle occurred. I say it's because I got sloppy. I stopped weeding the perimeters, and false staghorn fern and other viney unwanteds swallowed up a portion of the garden margin. My squash vines were able to hide a few of their blossoms under cover of the weeds. Fruit actually formed and thrived, and I was able to harvest three lovely "pumpkins." I don't know what was more rewarding, the soups and casseroles I made for consumption, or the photo I captured to turn into this drawing.

Lesson learned? Sloth isn't always a bad thing. If I hadn't let a few weeds into my garden, I would not have these lovely squash. Now I am looking for a similar reason to find saving grace in a lapse of housekeeping -- say, laundry piles, or dirty dishes? I know, Penicillin has already been discovered, but maybe there is something else out there for me to find. One can always hope!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

For Sheila P. Where'er She Be

#4 - Draw a Mug or Cup

My personal experience with pottery ended in the eighth grade, which not coincidentally was the end of art instruction in our local public school. We were allowed to play with fired and glazed clay only once a year, and I considered my seventh grade project (a lumpy maroon bowl I'd propped up on a stem and daringly christened a "wineglass") to be a huge success. I immediately began planning for next year's ceramic opportunity. It would be a trinket box, a horse's head on the lid, the neck in low relief, but the poll-to-nose surface turned high toward the viewer, cunningly forming a handle. It would be the envy of Unit District 226, teachers and students alike -- Oh, it would be grand!

A year passed and we filed down to the art room. As the slabs were passed out, an assignment was given. It must have been near Halloween because we were told to make (oh, horrors!!) a monster face. I begged for my own artistic vision, but was denied. I reluctantly made one scary face, then I quickly and surreptitiously did another because my friend Kathy, sporting a new mood ring and fresh nail polish, didn't want to sully her fingers. Unfortunately this second piece was so sloppily made that it blew up in the kiln. Miss Doty was livid. She had carefully instructed us to beware of the possibility of air bubbles expanding in the intense heat. When the next class came about she made Kathy stand in front of the class and apologize for "her" carelessness, to the two other students whose work had been ruined. That had been myself and a stolid farm boy named Jeff. Apology given, we were told to respond. I said as far as I was concerned, the accident had only improved my work. With nasty shards sticking out of its face, my monster was only scarier, right? Jeff said he didn't care, because he thought the monster face was babyish and stupid and he had been planning to use his for target practice, anyway. Most of the class must have agreed with Jeff, as he went home with several other faces donated to his cause.

This story of thwarted creative ambition may explain why I collect discarded school projects from other people's kids. This cup, for instance, is one favorite. While it doesn't function very well to hold coffee (it's both unnaturally shallow and wide; the brew would cool too quickly. And the ornate "S" curve of the handle, while esthetically pleasing to the taste of prepubescents, makes the cup hard to pick up and balance) I love the craftsmanship and thought that went into the making. I also love that the artist etched her name, Sheila P., boldly across the front instead of discreetly on the bottom with the notation "Gr. 8." She also figured out how to make three colors from one glaze, by leaving funky geometric motifs bare, and utilizing a double coats of glaze in wide stripes, making both a deep blue-green and a soft moss green in the final firing. I like to think of the unknown eighth grader feeling the same jolt of pride in all these little ideas and touches that I would, had my equine geegaw been finished.

So now this cup resides near my drafting table holding odds and ends that I would loose track of if I put them away. I see it every day, and sometimes I take the time to think, "Hey, Sheila -- ya done good, kid!"