PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.

Unnaturally Lightfooted

We’ve long since established that I can’t dance. I couldn’t dance well enough to stay in a second-grade dance class; heck, I couldn’t even be trusted to remember whether we were supposed to show up wearing tights with our tutus or not, for the class picture before the big recital. Though it’s only fair to give myself credit for having been obsessed with the ugliness of our getups to such an extent that I forgot the part about the stockings, and I promise you, they were hideous costumes.

But you also know that I am enamored of beautiful dancing of nearly any kind, if allowed to watch it from a safe distance. So I think I can be forgiven for letting others take to the floor in real life and only doing so in my imagination and, occasionally, in my poems. I think any creature, real or imagined, that can dance beautifully deserves my attention and admiration (as long as it wears the correct tights with its tutu).Graphite drawing: Swinging Dragonflies

 

Text: Waltzing

Get Me Some Book-Larnin’

Drawing: Samuel ClemensJust because I have had the benefit of a decent education doesn’t mean I am smart. We all know that it’s entirely possible to have any number of degrees and diplomas, plaques and endorsements, letters and titles decorating your name and still be a complete fool. Idiocy is a far less rare condition than the number of high school and university graduates would have us believe.

Indeed, I have read a great quantity of writings during the course of my life, but I would never go so far as to say that I am well read. Among other contradictions to that claim would be my incredible slowness as a reader, both in speed and in comprehension: as a multifaceted dyslexic, able to turn words, letters, numbers, directions and relative spatial placements all inside out and upside down without even trying, I can easily spend four times the amount of energy and hours reading that any decent reader would need to get through the same amount of text. And of course that doesn’t guarantee that I will actually understand what I read in precisely the way the authors intended.

A more important reason that I don’t consider myself well read is that I have managed to conquer only a relatively small segment of the library most scholarly and literate persons would consider to be well written, informative, accurately researched and defended, or just plain must-read, important stuff among books. Long before I knew why it took me so long and so many tries to read a mere paragraph, let alone a book, I was required to tackle a handful of the so-called Classics of literature, and a bit of contemporary contenders for the title as well. It’s just as well I didn’t imagine I had such an anomalous reading style or that it was considered a disability by others, because I might have had yet more frustrations and difficulties in trying to fit the mold of how one was expected to overcome such things, instead of finding that by plodding through in my own backward way, I became attached to some of the books and stories to an equally unexpected depth. Whom should I, as a struggling reader, admire most among authors but those champions of the dense and complicated, say, Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies.

On the other hand, it’s probably less surprising that I also favor the purveyors of the most outlandish and appalling and ridiculous, from Ogden Nash, Evelyn Waugh, and Edgar Allan Poe to Mark Twain, S.J. Perelman and Franz Kafka. This part at least makes some sense, if you tend to believe I’d read writers who reflect something of my own mind’s workings or the weird ways in which I see the world. In any event, this latter crew might explain a little more about my tending to choose the least arduous paths in life, since I find a certain sort of familiarity in the strangest of their inventions and so can perhaps navigate their writings with a surer strength than otherwise.

So while I may not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer or the most edified of readers, I have at least a few pieces of proclamatory paper in my coffers to prove that I did my homework somewhat dutifully if not doggedly. My degrees don’t confer any special wisdom upon me, but they at least excuse my curmudgeonly attitude about how long it takes me to read my own posts, let alone anyone else’s books and articles and poems and proposals, no matter how brilliant and scintillating and clever and beautiful they are. I’m still trying, but give me plenty of time!

The Miniaturist’s Challenge

When my family and friends were conscripted to help install the artwork for my master’s thesis exhibition, they could not help but note that it would have been a kindness on my part to specialize in something a little more manageable, say, postage stamp illustration. Hanging murals of up to nine by thirty feet in dimensions is admittedly more unwieldy than mounting a bunch of tidy little framed life-sized insect portraits or installing a series of elfin sculptures made from shirt buttons and walnut shells. Alas, though I did segue into much more portable forms in later years, it was not soon enough for my loved ones’ sakes.

My verbosity is a similar burden on my circle of acquaintance, as I am not famous for knowing when to shut up any more than I am known for limiting my opinion to those who have actually asked for it. But just as I have learned to appreciate and work at smaller and less physically demanding visual media along with my enjoyment of massive and messy kinds of art, I have a fondness for smaller and less epic essays and poems, too, and have been known to craft these with similar avidity. While scale in no way guarantees quality or lack thereof in any medium I know, it is sometimes a relief to me as much as to my friendly audiences when I get my kicks by producing petite expressions of my inventive urges.Graphite drawing + text: Movements in Miniature

Desire! & Creature Comforts

I got to cuddle a couple of babies lately. I’m a sucker for cute babies and even when they’re a little weepy or unhappy, I’m generally glad to get to play grandma for a little while in exchange for the warmth of a wriggly tiny person’s presence in my arms. I didn’t have either the instinct or the timing to be a mother myself, but I’ve been gifted with siblings, in-laws, and friends whose babies have been the delight of my Auntie and pseudo-Granny life. In the last couple of weeks, I got to hold and cherish one of my great-nieces for the first time. What a joy!

Of course, I admit I can’t help but feel a teensy bit of envy when I hold a sweet, curled up baby, whether she’s awake or asleep. The brief part of life when you’re still consistently the most adorable person in the room, even when you’ve just spewed copious quantities of used milk on everyone in the vicinity, is surpassed only by the preceding months of cushy luxury spent doing the backstroke in the protective amniotic pool, and I think it would be lovely if I could just get hooked up to that kind of spa service on a longer-term basis.Drawing + text: Umbilical

Little Things

The tiniest detail can determine the depth and intensity of a memory. It’s that faint fragrance wafting from the corner of the flowerbed at my first home that I remember most about playing in its front yard, and that in turn, reminds me—every time I get a whiff of the same scent—of living in that cozy brick house with its backyard apple trees to climb, the slope from fence to sidewalk where we slid down the grass on a cardboard magic carpet, and the narrow muddy track behind the back wall where we played at exploration.

My grandmother gave me a little locket, once, that had been her father’s watch fob, and I made a little drawing of the monogram on its front, HDB for Hans Daniel Bolstad. When I look at the drawing now, the locket itself long gone somewhere else after multiple moves of residence, I remember the small weight of it in my hand, the warm burnished shine of its pale yellow metal, and the feel of the engraved curves in the monogram bitten well into the gold-plated finish on it. I also remember, thanks to the tiny little hole where the drawing is black at the bottom center of the drawing, hearing the story of how the space between the engraved lines there were caved in by a different kind of bite, that of Great-Grandpa’s tiny daughter when she teethed on the locket a little fiercely.Drawing: Memento

What will I remember when my memory is further faded by time and age? Impossible to know. But my guess is that it’ll be seemingly insignificant, minute motes, and not the grand arc of history, that’ll remain intact and prod me to recall unexpected things from time to time. I may not hang onto much of importance, but some dust-sized fleck of a sensory clue that will likely trigger a cascade of reminiscence when the moment comes.

Better Put the Best Face I Can on It

Acrylic on paper: Silliness as Substitute BeautyComing up empty? Never! Well, okay: sometimes. That’s closer to the truth. I’ve managed to put up three years’ worth of daily blog posts thus far without missing too many beats, but do I have the occasional day of blanking on what I think would be of interest for me to write about, draw or photograph, and post. Outright brilliance would be a stretch for me on the best of days, and on many, it’s just good old showing-up-and-working that gets the job done.

Pretty much the way life works everywhere, isn’t it.

I get up and brush my teeth and take a shower and get dressed, and there’s no guarantee I’ll look less like a goofy, sleepy person than I did a half hour earlier. Some days, it’s flat-out worse, especially if I have to be up before about 9:30 in the morning. But I’m still me. I’m still going on to have a day, to do my writing and picture-making, do my household tasks, go to events, whatever the calendar demands. I’m always planning to have a really good day, if at all possible.

So whatever the agenda, I choose to give it my best, pretend (if I have to) that all is swell in the world, and see if I can’t do something myself to make it as good a day as I’m wanting. We can’t all be pretty all of the time, so I like to let my imagination offer me some fun alternatives to perfection and prettiness, and then the day has a better chance of hitting the happy mark.Acrylic on paper: Sneaking Up on Greatness