The Mural

The mural joined us in the fall of 2006. It was painted in acrylics over the space of a few weeks. The finishing touches emerged, swirling into corners and bleeding occasionally onto the ceiling and spattering, no matter how much I scolded, onto the floor tiles we had chosen deliberately for our oldest child’s room.

He was the firstborn of five offspring and it took us that many attempts at reproduction before it was apparent that none of the little versions of ourselves in any way resembled each other or danced to any drum but their own. He drew his first lizard at two years old, with a crayon, on the back of his granddad’s giant sheet of unwanted street plans; a purple curvy amphibian basking across the black and white, straight and narrow, professionally engineered road map.

During grade school, what began with a proper mother’s encouragement grew into a secret mother’s certainty that her eldest child was a creative genius. It was as quickly quenched when all parties concerned were summoned into the middle school office. No one could understand how a sullen, doodling pre-teen could sit in the back row ignoring the teacher until called out for it; said pre-teen answered the questions correctly, aced the test, and doodled his way back out the door. No one could decide whether this was an academic or an attitude problem.

But my son’s art got better.

In high school, he enrolled in an art class and dropped it again after one week. It took three more semesters before he came to an understanding with the teacher and stayed in the class to play with different mediums. One day I went to pick him up from water polo practice and found the team huddled around a player, intently watching my eldest. He had dared the player to shave his head and in return, my son, using a black sharpie, drew an intricate Maori design on it that completely covered the scalp. With neither a beginning nor an ending, the design was both a prank and a masterpiece.

And my son’s art got better.

Meanwhile, our small home underwent a third and final renovation. The baby was almost ready for kindergarten, and bursting the seams, we added a new garage, den, laundry room, bedroom, and bathroom. While it was under construction, our eldest decided to live in the rafters of the new garage. He laid a plywood floor, moved crates of clothes up to it and wired some lights. He had no use for a ladder. He swung himself up like a gymnast and enjoyed his privacy. In this aerie, his art advanced to include nudes, interlaced fingers, fantasy-scapes, cyclops.

And during the last semesters of high school, he graced his brand new bedroom with a singular mural. It developed like a polaroid, integrating shapes from his night terrors, from our garden, from a place deep in his mind that sparked colors and vivid imagery that he interpreted in paint.

Always spontaneous, always unexpected, his art got better.

After he graduated and moved out, when it was time to repurpose his room, the mural was painted over in comforting soft pale green. A cover that, in hindsight, I think I wanted to caress the mural with, and preserve it along with the painful period of growth it represented. To plant it, perhaps, beneath moss and clover and allow it to become humus – eventually, fertile ground that attracts roots.

I mothered the mural because I could not mother the man-child.

His art is always getting better. No matter the medium, his signature style is stamped into it. He wanders the world, collecting no moss, pushing straight lines into flowing curves and painting them brilliant purple.

Paint By Number

Good morning everyone, and welcome to Jolie’s first and last ever painting class. Grab your apron and let’s get started!

Choose your seat wisely. It’s probably not a grand plan to sit next to a sister-in-law who can paint like Michelangelo. You want to focus on the lady to your right, who is wearing more paint on her face than you will use on your canvas. She knows what’s up.

For this session, you will need a blank canvas, three paintbrushes and several random puddles of paint on a paper plate. We did not name the colors because art cannot be restrained by labels.

I’m gonna need a bigger glass…….

In honor of our adulting activity, here is your wine. Keep that vino flowing and don’t mix up your wine glass with your paintbrush cleaning glass or you will have a VERY interesting painting at the end of this hour.

I know what you’re saying: “But Jolie, I have the artistic abilities of a rhino with a cottonball on the end of his snout. I can’t even paint my living room walls…with only one color to choose from!”

I’m here for you. Buckle up.

Let’s do this.

  1. Choose your large brush and dip it into the tidy hot pink paint puddle. Then double-dip it into the tidy cobalt puddle. Mix these two colors and form a little Secret Sauce, then smear it across the top of your canvas.
  2. Lower your bar. Set your expectations to kindergarten refrigerator art level, and we don’t mean kid #1 level, we mean kid #4 level.
  3. Don’t panic. We all make happy little accidents. To paint an orange streak across a purple sky, you must allow the sky to dry first. You must keep the orange streak thick enough to not let the purple show through. You must blend, blend, blend the orange into the red next to it, and the red must still be wet enough to be friendly at the border but not abdicate entirely and – horse pucky! – don’t let the purple show through the red; now look what you’ve done.
  4. Drink more whine wine.
  5. Use a hairdryer to speed-dry your sky and begin again by painting over the whole muck with a fresh layer of Secret Sauce. Move on to your grass.
  6. Choose your medium brush and wonder why we don’t just skip straight into finger-painting as you boldly wipe your hand onto your apron because this is someone else’s laundry.
  7. Using the citron and cerulean paint puddles, create a shade of green that you will never be able to replicate. Start spreading Pesto with wild abandon over the middle of the canvas. Moving quickly, blend the shades of green until you run out of cerulean (is the sky dry YET?) and tell yourself that grass can be Lemony if it wants to.
  8. The lady to your right is enjoying her third glass of wine. She has painted a rocket ship.
  9. Go back to your sky. Your sunset looks like a nuclear blast that stopped just shy of due north and we are not going to argue with it. Choose your small brush and let’s add some far-away cloudlets for depth. (Note to self: these are not little sheep floating in the Gamma rays. Do not give them legs.)
  10. Go back to your grass. All of the puddles on your paper plate palette have become a single quagmire of uncertain hue. Swipe that nasty across the bottom of your canvas. Call it “Ominous Shadow”.
  11. Make Ominous trees at the horizon; drop some Ominous blobs into your grass.
  12. Ask for fresh paint.
  13. Ask for fresh wine.
  14. Ask the art teacher to stop rolling her eyes behind your back.
  15. Make bluebonnets. Or blue pinecones. Blue hand grenades? Whatever. Mutter something about thumbprints.
This one’s going on my Mom’s fridge. She has to. It’s the rules.

Use a hairdryer to dry your sweaty bangs set the paint. Sign and date your canvas so that your great-grandvarmints can laugh at their ancestor’s artwork sell it for millions when you’re famous.

If Grandma Moses can do it, so can you.

I hope you enjoyed your artistic venture as much as I did! Be sure to hang your painting in a prominent place in your home, like over the commode, or perhaps in the garage next to the mounted bass that sings Christmas carols.

Join us next week as my sister-in-law drags us once again, where we have no business going.

Dusting Off the Imagination

When I was a child, imagination was my biggest and best toy.

That’s because before Tiger Moms and internet, there was The Backyard.

All the cool kids had one.

I climbed up the rickety stairs over our garage and could just make out Dead Man’s Island off the San Diego coast. Its hills form the perfect outline of a body floating face up.

In my mind it was full of cannibals or wild animals or pirates. Someday I was going to go there in a rowboat and dig for treasure.

I would lie on the floor in the living room and pretend gravity had reversed. I ‘walked’ around on the ceilings from room to room trying to decide how I would make lunch or avoid light fixtures, and stepping over the doorways. You couldn’t go outside of course, unless you were swinging along the fence top.

Once outer space got you, you were doomed.

If you look at a door and can imagine a hundred ways that door could be different, your imagination is working, too.

Frame a black car with color wash…

Will you look forward or backward?

Doorway to inner worlds…

Every door leads to another door…which will you open next?

A person with a wild imagination and the ability to express it is a person living a very rich life. Whether in words or fabric or gymnastics or music, with flowers or a blowtorch, the release of the thing within his heart creates beauty.

In all fairness, an imagination is not easily harnessed and can, on occasion, take you on journeys unexpected. If it frightens you, you could be tempted to close the door on it before understanding what it was trying to say. If it fascinates, you could be pulled into its vortex never to be heard from again, endlessly wandering among the paint pots.

If your child enjoys the wrapping paper as much as what it contained, her imagination has doubled your gift.

Watch this child. She sees the infinite possibility in things.

Or, you know, she could just be weird.

I may be the only child who ever sat and played with dust motes, but I doubt it.

Perhaps I am the only one who will admit it. (There’s always the comment box below if you feel inclined to share.)

On a completely empty, uneventful, and deliciously boring summer morning I sat on the living room floor, staring through a sunbeam.

It came slanting in through the window and wasn’t going to stay long. For whatever reason, I slapped my hand onto the carpet and watched a large puff of dust swirl up into the air.

You could only see it in the sunbeam. Beyond it, the air appeared perfectly clear.

I watched them swirl as my hands passed around them, riding air currents. Another slap to the floor, and the sunbeam was thick with dancing specks.

The first thought was simple enough: snowflakes. This must be what it looks like when snow falls. At least, it did in my swirly snow globe. I did not see snow actually falling until my 30s.

The next thought wasn’t nearly as nice: Whoa! I’m breathing that! Every inhale is putting these little guys in my nose, down my throat and into my lungs! I can’t even see them and they’re getting into my mouth!

Eeeww!

I dashed outside, deep breathing the fresh air and wiping at my eyes and face.

I gave a little cough, just to clear things out.

That was a close call! I practically suffocated on the living room floor!

The next morning, I gathered my two little sisters around the sunbeam.

They watched as I made the specks float in patterns.

And then I fulfilled the eldest sisters’ duty by carefully explaining that this was what formed all of the boogers in their nose.

Instant respect.

Also, we played in The Backyard for the rest of that summer.

Release your dazzle.

Made With Love

You can feel it in the air!

Spring will be springing soon, triggering mass hysteria in the form of fabric sacrifices and smoking hot glue guns.

I would like to reminisce about my “Martha Stewart Days”: a restless nesting time in every woman’s life when you are certain that watercolors, cake decorating – or maybe a little light carpentry – is the only thing between you and that one thing that will make your heart sing.

Admit it with me! There was the rubber stamp phase, the quilting phase, the wallpaper borders phase, the scrapbooking phase… I even had a cookie cutter phase.

Thanks to my mile-a-minute lifestyle, I went through them all in rapid succession looking for that song. In the process, I surrounded myself with boxes of unfinished flights of fancy.

I learned several things about myself over the course of the years.

I am not an artist.

I appreciate arts, crafts, music, and gorgeously turned out homes, but I will never be able to do it myself.

Also (and probably because) I have the attention span of a gnat.

And the patience of a charging rhino.

This does not lend itself to the “making of beautiful things”.

I am missing a key chromosome that most females use when they walk into IKEA or Home Goods, and proceed to pick out coordinating and tasteful objects that transform their living rooms into magazine photo shoots.

All of my taste is in my mouth.

I stand in front of a thousand color swatches and my eyes cross.

My limited skill set is my girlfriends’ delight.

I pull one into my bedroom and say, “There are eight shades of green on this wall. Pick the one I will love.”

They always know.

I have just enough DNA to feel the urge to create and not enough to pull off the job.

I once sewed myself a dress. The arm holes didn’t actually match where my arms were. But the dress fiasco helped to purge my sewing machine compulsion before I drowned in fabric.

Not in my wildest dreams will I be able to compete with my foodie friends in the kitchen, but I could watch them cook for hours on end. I passed them all my odd spices and random ingredients that made a unique meal that no one here would eat.

I am not a musician.

I taught music lessons with PTA for many years. I learned along with the kids how to read notes and play the recorder and sing in rounds. I taught myself piano.

Yes, I can play it. No, not for you.

I play piano the way I dance which is also the way I snorkel: tense and waiting for the barracuda to arrive.

Awkward at best.

I am delighted with symphonies and things operatic. I enjoy theater and dance and museums. I don’t care what you’ve collected, I would love to see it.

But I’ve stopped saying, “Hey, I could do that!”

Thank you, Martha, for showing me what I’m made of.

And what I’m not made of. Money is one. Time is another.

Her little secret to success lies in her trick of keeping a “staff”.

I’m on my own as the butler, the baker and the candlestick maker. (It’s safe to say you’ll never read a post about my having a candle making phase. That one was third grade.)

“Keep it Simple Sweetheart” reminds me to focus on the project I was actually meant to create: my family.

They make my heart sing every day.