Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writing, Symphonies, and an Old Man

"Ernie" 8x10 glass

I have often thought that I should have been a writer instead of an artist.  In college, I loved being given a topic to defend or analyze, or a book to try to derive further meaning. It made me feel smart.  One of my proudest moments was when I received my first graded essay back from my English Composition II professor. Mr. C, (I cannot remember his name for the life of me)(yes, that's a cliche followed by a contraction, both unheard of in formal writing, but cut me some slack, it's a blog ;)

 Anyway, Mr. C proclaimed on the first day of class that he does not give A+ grades and rarely will even give an "A".  I was ok with that. I expected nothing greater than a B anyway, based on my lackluster high school performance in writing. As he handed back the papers, I asked if we could re-write our paper for a better grade.  He ignored my question and continued to hand out the papers.  When he finally returned mine to me, I was shaking in fear that I had failed.  Flipping to the last page,  I was shocked to see the scrawled red  A+ on the last page and lavish words of praise that I did not expect.  After my initial bit of pride and self admiration, I admit I was actually a little disappointed. That was it. A+.  The best there was to earn, to achieve. But it did not sit well with me.   It meant I had nothing else to do; nothing to fix, and worse, nothing to strive for.

 My nature was always to strive to be the the best I could be, whether it be in track, the Navy, art, parenting.  I loved a challenge.   However, a top grade on my first paper of the semester was a bit of a conundrum for me.  I had exceeded my professors expectations right out of the blocks.  How could anything I wrote from that day forward ever compare to the highest grade this professor had ever given in his career and had made very clear that there was no such thing as a perfect paper?

 Confused, and more than a bit intimidated, I approached his desk after class and asked him why did I get a perfect grade when he had been adamant that no such thing existed.  He thought for minute before he spoke: "How could I give anything less to a paper that did not have a single grammatical error but also read like a symphony?" Insecure and very shy back then, I simply nodded and turned away, even more confused. Symphony? I couldn't play chopsticks on the piano, words like symphony were not in my vocabulary.  No grammatical errors? I guarantee a grammar check of this blog post would turn up more than several.

Why do I share this story now?  To be honest, I am not sure.  My intention is certainly not to brag about my high grade achievement in English composition two decades ago at a local college.  I am certain that I have something relevant to share here, but perhaps that is for you to figure out, I simply don't know.  However, here is what prompted this post:

I was inspired to write this when an artist friend posted on her blog her experience this past year as a full time artist after quitting her stable job in the corporate world.  She talked about how grateful she is to be doing what she loves, despite what others said to discourage her from it.  Reading her post, I remembered my love for writing, and questioned myself as to why I never pursued it.    There are many answers I suppose, perhaps you readers might be able to untangle the mystery for me, but for now I am happy pursuing my art.   As I go through the long days in the studio,  I compare each firing of a piece of glass, or each wipe of the canvas to the numerous times I would read and re-read and edit a simple essay to make it perfect.  I realize now that my writing back then was not much different than the paintings I paint, or the glass art I create.  I was perfecting my craft, trying to make a masterpiece.  Writing was easy for me, I suppose that's why I rejected it.  If it wasn't hard work it wasn't worth doing.  When I first started selling my paintings years ago on Ebay( the first year ebay was on the internet), I couldn't keep up with the demand, yet I was uncomfortable with the prices the paintings were selling for, even though the market was dictating the price.  I stopped selling my paintings online to go back to college to be a "real" artist.   I never wanted to be perceived as talented but rather as a hard worker.  It is all I know.  What I didn't know back then was that I was working hard, and had worked very hard to get to the point where I could paint the paintings that seemed to come so easily to me.  I guess I was looking at the sales of my paintings like the A+ on the essay.  I needed a bigger challenge, it was too easy.  (Side note:  If I could go back in time and re do this, I would keep painting and selling and would probably not be typing this blog now.  such is life)

I remember distinctly every paper I wrote for each book we read in that class.  There were 5 of them, the final one being Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.   A short novel, with simple words, it was by far my favorite book to write about.  It is about a young boy who sees an old washed out fisherman struggle to keep doing what he loves even at the very end of his life, and he wants to help him.  The old man resists the boys help, but the boy does not give up trying to help, nor does the old man give up his dream of the "big fish".  Many people see the book as the struggle with man and age, or the relationship with him and the boy,  but I looked at it with the perspective of leaving a legacy.  At the end of his life, the old man wanted to leave his mark, his legacy. Ultimately, his legacy was his impact on the boy, not so much the battle with the fish.   Isn't that what we all want?  To leave a permanent impression or impact on the world when we are gone?  This is why I paint.  I want to leave a legacy, not just in spirit for those who share this brief journey with me, but for generations to come.   So while my art my not speak of social injustice, inequality, current events, gender issues, etc...my art reflects my life, what I love, my family, where I come from, and where I am going. I do not need to paint pictures of worlds not my own, I paint what is within reach and relevent to me.  This is not to say I condemn those that do, because often times it is easier to paint that which we do not know.  I too will paint a subject foriegn to me.  But my body of work, my proudest pieces, will be obvious, and come from the story that is my life.  My art friend commented on a piece that I created that is based on my memories as a young girl growing up in Concord NH.  She asked: "how could you ever part with this piece?"  Referring to : "A Street Called Home", which is a glass collage of all my favorite things, memories, and mental glimpses of the days I spent downtown, I responded: " I have the important memories permanently etched in my brain, I need nothing more that that.  Besides, I can make more art, memories are priceless"  I hope to create more in this series in the months to come.

Thank you Nancy Medina, for your post that reminded me of why I create, and to just keep painting what I love, the rest will follow.  

p.s.I know the time will come that I will realize that I have to write.  I have many stories to tell, but no time to tell them now, I have stories to paint and create.  For now, here is a short one:

"Ernie" is a fused glass piece from a photo I took a few years ago.  I attended a family reunion with a friend where I knew no one else at the picnic.  Feeling a bit awkward, I busied myself with my camera and snapped many photos of people just being people.  Uncle Ernie was the only one at the reunion who tried to get to know me.  He was a truly sincere gentleman, with a smile an acre wide, and the most clear blue eyes I've ever seen.  I've wanted to paint this image of him since the day I took it, and this is my first attempt.  The painting above is in powdered glass, a very difficult medium to control.  There will likely be several more in other media.  This  painting is part of Ernie's legacy, though it is  likely he will never know.  I don't even know if he is still alive, but I hope so. He impacted my life one hot summer day just by being kind to a stranger.  That's legacy enough for me.

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