Attention to Detail in All Things

digital illustrationI’m far from being the world’s best gardener. I may have the perfect skill set as a lazy dilettante, loving the design process and having a tremendous appreciation for all of the non-laborious joys of a garden, whether it’s well tended or not. A bark-boring beetle or a sculptural skeletonized leaf can be as beautiful as any spectacular, pristine lily or a lilac’s heady bloom. A moss-choked stone path is as glorious as a graceful fountain encircled by perfect tea roses and rosemary. And I have had quite the aversion to trench digging, rock picking and weeding ever since I was old enough to be conscripted by my parents for the purpose.

But I also know that if a garden is to have any hope of continuity and flourishing in flower, it needs occasional attention to such details, at the least, from Nature’s seemingly random hand. The gusts and waterings, composting and tillage performed by her weather and her handyman crew of creatures all do their parts in keeping the landscape in beautiful form. Even better chance of thriving if I do my part, too, having noticed what details might better prosper under my attentions, however slight they might be.

I was reminded of it recently as I watched a family make their valiant attempt at getting a group portrait. Flanked by grandparents, the parents stood holding their two little boys: Dad, in back, held the eight month old and Mom, ahead, wrangled the three-year-old. No one seemed able to get the normally placid toddler in front to hold still for even one quick photo, or to understand why he was so unusually squirmy, until someone finally noticed what I could see better from my side angle: that the baby was cheerily leaning forward at intervals and yanking his big brother’s hair. Detail noticed, problem solved. Had that adorable little scalawag been able to keep up the practice, I have little doubt there would’ve been need, eventually, for an expulsion from that particular little Eden.

I, meanwhile, must try to keep after my own gardens, the real and the metaphorical, and make sure the little buzzing creatures and weeds don’t get too far out of illustration


photo montageOne of the things I enjoy most as an artist–as those of you who frequent this joint know–is playing with all of the commonalities I find in the visual world. I am very much an analogous thinker; what I see is tested, examined, recognized and theorized on the basis of what it reminds me of at first glance. I suppose it’s the virtual equivalent of judging a book by its cover, but what it allows me when I’m thinking in strictly visual terms is the opportunity to fiddle with the ideas of what I imagine to be the links between one subject and another and as patterns emerge from it, use that for creative fodder, learn something about these pet subjects of mine, build images based on them, and in turn, learn something about myself along the way if I make even a little effort.

It’s very easy to become a collector. We all have our idiosyncratic passions and interests, to the degree that when we’re not actively gathering objects and concrete stuff that reflects them we are still busy building our internal storage of ideas and images related to them, and we end up with personalities shaped by, and like, them. People associate us with our sets of tastes and ways of thinking. Me, I am addicted to patterns and repetition and all of those other characteristics that seem to me to express the wholeness of the world. I like the unique iterations that make each part of the larger network have its own personality or meaning yet remain subservient in one way or another to the more visible and outspoken qualities that are held in common.

I strongly suspect that this simply showcases my longing for a wider world wherein the beauty of each individual is respected and nurtured yet the things we know we have in common are celebrated above all else because we treasure our place in a bigger picture. That’s a work of art that we shouldn’t have to take art classes to appreciate.

Mothering Sunday


So there we were with a couple of bashful vergers posted with their baskets full of lovely handmade nosegays meant to recognize mothers, whether present among us or not. This is the pretty little presentation the Bishop's wife kindly took out and handed to me to honor my two mothers and their mothers, too, as well I would.

If you have any affiliation with things or persons British, you likely know that today is Mothering Sunday. As the Bishop informed the attendees this morning at the Anglican parish where my husband choir-conducts, it matters not that there is an American counterpart holiday–by the time that President Woodrow Wilson got around to declaring such a thing official in 1914, this congregation had already been celebrating Mothering Sunday for a good 35 years thanks to its British roots, and Texas-located or not, they sure as shootin’ weren’t going to stop recognizing mothers on this official day right along with the president’s little add-on festivity.

Anglophilic as I am, I’m hardly one to balk at keeping the faith with the old holiday myself, whether for stubbornness’ sake or for tradition, or for the beautiful British-ness of it all–though it originated as a Christian holiday, surprisingly, falling on the Sunday when one of the traditional texts began with a paean to Jerusalem, the ‘mother of us all’. But better than that, I happen to think that there are excellent reasons for celebrating mothers and motherhood as often and as publicly and resolutely as possible–two supremely excellent reasons to begin with: Elisabeth, who gave birth to me, and Joyce, who gave birth to my husband. I have two of the best mothers in the whole wide world. You can look it up; in any sensible encyclopedia or dictionary it will have a picture of the two of them in the entry explicating the heart and soul of the concept known as ‘Mom‘.

photo       photoYou could be forgiven if you thought from the accompanying photos of them that they had their work cut out for them with these two little melancholy looking shrimps of theirs but I assure you we, and our respective siblings, were all a supernal joy to raise from first to last. Okay, that part is pure baloney and bilge-water–but the point of course is how outstanding our moms were at mothering, and that part is utterly true. We were and are two incredibly fortunate humans, and we know it. No amount of roses and posies could possibly reflect the full spectrum of gifts that Joyce and Elisabeth have brought to both of our lives. But a sweet little nosegay with a brilliant deep pink rose is hardly amiss in the attempt.photoI made my own little corsage, of course, as a drawing of exotic (i.e., nonexistent inventions representing) flowers, because mere effusions in prose can never say how deeply grateful I am to have two such dear and devoted mothers to love. I am particularly and acutely aware of this when both, who have had their own adventures of survival and not just in spouse-training and child-raising over the years, are currently recovering from surgeries. Nothing like having one’s mom undergo surgery, especially as both are doing, surgeries that are not their first, to remind us of how fragile life and wholeness can be and how desperately we hope for our chance of having them back ‘better than new’ and with long and healthy and happy years ahead of them. The signs are good, despite the inevitable miseries of recovering bit by bit, with the expected setbacks, that our hopes will be fulfilled. The only medicine I can offer is love, and that I do send them in unspeakable abundance, but since my mother had spinal surgery I’m pretty sure a big hug is not the most desired form of cure even if I were 2000 miles closer to her, and since my other mom is probably still bandaged up here and there a bit herself, the same 2000 miles nearer-my-mom-to-thee might just prove a little too abrasive as well. So from this safe distance I send e-hugs, ethereal kisses and two-dimensional bouquets and eagerly hope to see both of our mothers springing with good health in June.

graphite drawing

I wish and hope that both of our beloved mothers will last even longer than a little drawing of a bouquet can before it fades like live flowers.

If you are a mother yourself–biologically or by adoption–or act as a nurturer and sheltering presence for anyone, I wish you endless bouquets as well. Without all of you, none of us would be here. Literally, of course. But in the wider sense, we owe an immense debt to the caregiving and protective and human-betterment instincts so often attributed to mothers and grandmothers and godmothers and aunts, and rightly so, but also gracefully and beautifully practiced by teachers and community builders and cooks and nurses and companions and shelter-builders of every age and nature who have the desire to make the world better for those who might not be able to make it sufficiently so for themselves. Thank you. Especially you, Elisabeth and Joyce. You are treasures beyond invention. I can think of no higher aspiration than that others should take their example from