Sunday, November 16


There are very few brief, flashes of brilliance and opportunity that come along setting the average person apart from the mundane. Occasionally there are opportunities that make head-lines almost ~

Like the time the kids and I attended a public service at the Colonnade Mall. We joined about 3,000 other volunteers to pack relief boxes for our troops during Desert Storm. Local T.V. channel 3 hosted the event and soon realized they were completely overwhelmed by it, too. They had planned for a few hundred volunteers. Crowds of people waited patiently for hours on end for their 10 minute stint on an assembly line packing boxes Gulf Region bound. The waiting was unremarkable; lowered, random conversation or none at all, avoidance of eye-contact, much shifting weight from one foot to the other. Crammed as we were shoulder to shoulder with patriotic citizens of every description, age and color on all sides in an extremely wide line that progressed barely an inch or two every so often, I smelled a golden opportunity for song.

On my signal, Bi ("Bee"), James and I opened our mouths and began singing, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "America" and "The Star Spangled Banner". All the while we prodded a little girl scout troop in uniform that stood right in front of us - "C'mon!" we urged, "Sing with us! You can do it!" They refused and did not join in until we had bravely carried on for an entire song and most of the next selection. However, response from our captive audience was just like those cheesy Hollywood moments when silence prevails, until one person begins clapping slowly and deliberately. Then 2 more people clap, then 5 more, until at last everyone is clapping in unison steadily faster until a final eruption of total jubilation. Except replace the clapping with singing.

After the awkward silence while only our voices were lifting up over the surprised and hushed throng, our first singing companions were a group of retired people about 35 feet away. They came in timidly on about the 3rd line, almost the end of the verse. Our second selection began with just us again, but was immediately joined by many more voices once they knew what we were singing. By the time we launched into the National Anthem, hats came off and it appeared everyone in the place was singing, open-mouthed and full voice.

We tried "Yankee Doodle Dandee", "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and "God Bless America". I think we even offered "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean". It was by now a literal song-fest; we looked around and everyone was singing, even the people who were far back in the line that curved out of the cavernous building and deep into the parking lot.

Encouraged, Robin and James and I began singing some of the military signature songs
"The Caissons Go Rolling Along" and "The Marine's Hymn". This was the truly thrilling part of our group singing experience; we began bravely - not sure of all the words - but almost as soon as we began, hearty, deep voices in little pockets here and there full of vibrato rose up and stole the moment. The veterans were singing! We could spot them standing straighter and taller, their white hair or shining hairless pates distinguishing them from the younger and oh so less experienced crowd. Once the military songs began, we listened joyfully as each branch was represented in turn. The old men shouted and raised their hands in the air when they were done, their wives smiled admiringly at them, the young vets shouted "Semper Fi!" and the rest of us cheered long and loud for all of them.

I don't remember how many songs we did, and some we even repeated, but after a while, the magical moment wore off as we were all a little closer to the head of the line. About this time a news crew approached the head of the group. The girl scouts now in front and easily accessed by the reporter, microphone in hand. Heavy makeup impeccably applied, she told the girls someone had identified them as the ones who started the singing. "Is that true?" she asked brightly, thrusting the mike their direction. And right there, illuminated in the blazing t.v. camera glare, the girls and their adult troop leader all nodded "yes" and eagerly piped up about their inspiration to begin singing while waiting in line.

Seven year old James was spitting indignant. I had to literally hold him back from sucker-punching a pig-tailed girl scout. Robin seethed in 12 year old dignity, articulating the injustice under her breath while the t.v. interview continued to laud a precious and exempelary group of young girls. They both looked up at me to right the wrong. But, I declined. I let the brilliant flash of recognition pass us by.

I quietly explained to two very disappointed children that we didn't sing for the notoriety - we had done it simply to express our love of country, and our love of song. Soon enough we were finally ushered into the warehouse and busy with packing soap, shampoo, toothpaste, chewing gum, stationery and other useful things into endless rows of clean, empty boxes on a conveyor belt. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Recently I fired-off a letter to V8 Vegetable Juice. Tired of a ridiculously long-running, sexist and truly insulting advertising theme that featured men being physically assaulted first by their wives and then by total strangers simply for their choice to not buy their product - I spelled it out in an e-mail to their 'promotion feedback' department. I asked V8 if they really wanted their product associated with corporal punishment? Getting smacked on the forehead was not clever, it was not funny, it was not effectively representing the benefits of their product. I concluded with a zinger about the 'sucking vacuum' of their board room 'devoid of any really worthwhile, positive promotional ideas'. A couple days later I received a nice form letter e-mail thanking me for my valuable input to V8. I kind of expected a complimentary coupon, but was disappointed in that regard.

The very next week (plus a few days) - no kidding: a brand new V8 advertising theme with 2 totally new commercials. Have you noticed? They both feature people with amazingly active lives attributing their healthy success to a regular dose of tasty V8 vegetable juice products.

I have no proof, of course - however, after what? - a 9 month to year-long campaign of nothing but the head-thumping theme (not counting the years-long focus on individuals hitting themselves on the forehead preceding), now we suddenly have total abandonment of what they obviously considered an effective angle?

Seems I have been passed up once again for my brief flash of brilliance. Only, this time I am more willing to take the credit.

You're welcome, V8.

Wednesday, November 5

Performance Anxiety

The blank page is not what it used to be.

As a child, I relished with exaggerated delight the delicious feel of cool, smooth blank paper at my finger tips. My fingernail-bitten fingers lingered on the surface, smoothing it slow-motion from the center out. It was beautiful. It was enormously energizing and existed only for me to draw on it. I believed that paper - no matter its source (cardstock, butcher, notebook, papa's business stationery, reverse sides of junk mail, etc.), was meant for me. The blankness of it was a personal invitation. It was a comfortable relationship. I hoarded stacks of blank paper of all types, and prized them for their destined potential. People knew this about me, and sometimes old ladies at church would bring me a box of old paper or yellowing packets of blank greeting cards. The quality of the paper was a non-issue; I had no concept of real art paper. I was easily satisfied.

Now everything is different. The blank paper is a specific make of hot-press watercolor paper, and still holds great appeal ~ yet my ability to respond to it has changed. I am lost and hesitating to the point of rejecting my lovely blank paper. It requires an exhausting reaching deep inside myself gently asking my self-confidence to please come out, if I don't mind . . .

I resent the effort. It is stupid. I feel stupid. I miss my younger self; mostly sweaty from galloping outside in my beloved acre California yard and breathless with anticipation of one of multiple daily drawings I would execute with fearless conviction and absolute confidence. It didn't matter that 99% of my subject matter was equine; variety was not important. Everything was about my freshly sharpened number 2 pencil ~ and the paper.

I am too impatient to do studies. I pencil, then I paint. This time, nervous about my brand new collection of amazing Daniel Smith watercolors ~ (a true milestone for me since the 30 year old pallet of student-grade watercolors has been retired) I forced myself to do a preliminary study. My goal was the Church-wide art competition. I think the theme was, "Remembering the Great Things of God". This is study # 1:

Two Chipping Sparrows, a Forget-me-not and some kind of frothy thing, Queen Anne's Lace I think. The snail shell was just for fun. The masking agent I tried was a colossal waste of time, and the birds turned out too fat; I made note of it.

Study # 2 resulted in a much more successful drawing, but when I attempted painting the stormy sky - disaster: (image darkened to make pencil visible)
Final piece: the grand juxtaposition of nature's glory in concert with classic evidence of man . . . (scanned in sections since the paper is too large)

I struggled with plausible proportions of Anasazi petroglyphs and the diminutive Chipping Sparrow. Having never seen either up close and certainly not together for comparison, this was tricky.
The nest, eggs and Hedgehog blooms were O.K., but the dry grass turned out to just be a mess. Much like the foreground before the foothills. This was not what was in my head. Oh well.
Globemallow hopelessly lost in a flat, one-dimensional world. Again, the grass mess ~ now coupled with a truly hideous, busy sunset. One saving grace however, is that today I saw real, live Chipping Sparrows on my walk with Ellie in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve! The down-side of this lucky observation is that they are much smaller than I have depicted. I need specimens like Audubon, but it's probably illegal.

After disciplining myself for the first time to actually complete 1 full study, a second partial study and then the final piece in a fit of constant self-talk and a frustrating middle-age vision handicap, I discovered it was all a melodramatic mistake. I missed the entry dead-line by remembering the wrong date. This merited a go-to-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-day moment.

Following an appropriate grieving period, next I explored heretofore untried subject matter. I added the mudcloth hanging on the wall, took out other people milling around in the background and exchanged the man in my reference photo for a woman in a print dress. I was forced to guess about the larger foreground continuation of the plastered wall to the right not shown here.
The colors did not scan true on any of these examples. They are much brighter in person. This last piece surprised me. The paint spread easily across the paper. It smelled good. It felt good. And, I finally felt a small sense of the 9 year old me transporting myself into what came off the end of my pencil, and of course, paint brush. I very badly want to take these 2 little boys home with me. But their pretend mom would miss them, I suppose.

Too bad.