Any Old Palace will Do

As self-crowned, self-proclaimed Empress of Everything (mistress of none), I have always enjoyed the ease and luxury due my supposed station. I eat well, travel relatively often, and keep the finest of company. It’s only appropriate that I should also live in the palace of my own choosing, or better yet, in various fantastic palaces in different fabulous parts of the world whenever I happen to be there. Of course, the locales and the company I keep in them determine my level of happiness far more than the buildings and their furnishings do themselves. Isn’t that always the way? No matter how plush it is, a glamorous structure is only a gilded cage if it allows no light of love and adventure into it and no correspondingly venturesome, happy soul out of it.
Photo: S:kt Jakobs

So far I’ve managed to establish my string of palaces remarkably well, along with fulfilling my many other requirements of that life of luxury I don’t necessarily deserve but am quite capable of desiring. I’ve stayed in, lived in, visited, and wandered through many a grand, gorgeous, impressive place. I’ve designed many on paper and in my mind that would knock the socks off of any person who saw them. Yet I still can’t understand the people who look at glorious, showy homes and think only of whether the places would genuinely suit as their own dwellings. If your energies are devoted solely to thinking that “this master bedroom is too small,” all I can think is that your imagination is too small, your life too tightly fitted around what you perceive as Impressive Enough, to allow you to find your palace in whatever motel room or suburban house with one bathroom your life lets you land in at the moment.
Photo: Davenport, Spokane

Many of the palaces I’ve inhabited I have done only as a passerby, a visitor, a tourist. And I have nothing against that at all. After all, wherever I close my eyes to sleep, even the most cramped bedroom with a creaky, narrow, deeply bowed bed where the very middle of the mattress is the only almost-level spot to rest, I can turn it into any one of the palatial places I’ve visited, or continue to invent my own. The roof I am under is irrelevant in determining the luxury of my existence, so long as it’s safe and not lacking a place to lie down without breaking anything (furniture or me; I prefer to keep both intact) and not hideously cold or hot or wet. In my dreams, I remain Empress, and there I can build and inhabit the most astounding of palaces if I choose to do it.

As such, I am also constantly grateful for the many wonderful places I’ve visited, stayed,  and/or lived, and especially for the extensive ranks of friends and family and acquaintances who have through their immense kindness consistently supported my ability to live—and feel—like royalty.

You can Dress Me Up but You can’t Take Me Anywhere

I’m one of those people whose life has put me in circumstances and company well beyond my training and capabilities, let alone deserts. Meaning, I get to hang with the Cool Kids despite being a doofus, dork and/or nerd. Yes, I do know I’m out of my depth 99% of the time. I’m just incredibly lucky that others don’t seem to begrudge me the privilege. It’s amazing, really.digital illustrationI’ve gotten to taste recipes being beta-tested for an international cooking publisher’s latest cookbook, go bass fishing on a Texas ranch that predates statehood, been coached by a team from the US Secret Service, stage-managed the live broadcast of a major political figure’s keynote speech at a national convention, and had a photograph I shot featured on the cover of a multinational European magazine. I’ve spent a few days on a fully rigged tall ship, written thousands of poems, designed theatrical sets and costumes, and played on a cathedral carillon. Ice skated on a lake, dined with royalty, and sung in a quartet. Did I do all of this because I was specially qualified? Don’t be silly! What utter nonsense.

We all know that most of us Ordinary Folk find our way into any sort of distinguished company or notable situations only by stumbling into them or having them handed to (if not thrust upon) us. The truly remarkable thing is if and when we manage to rise to the occasion–or at least not fall down all over ourselves and our betters in the attempt. Me, I seem to find that quite often I’ve genuinely tried to prepare for the event so that I could almost fool some people that I look prepared, so perhaps it’s not entirely shocking that someone might tap me for the honor while under the misapprehension that I am prepared. Of course, there remains that delicately sad moment of revelation when I prove that it was in fact strictly an appearance and I am completely and absolutely not capable of anything spectacular, but fortunately for me that nearly always happens too late and I’ve already sneaked in on the honor.

I don’t know why I’m admitting all of this in front of you except that I’m not naturally a big liar, only incapable of recognizing my own limitations fully until I’m standing in that spotlight revealing them to all the world at the same second. Just consider yourselves politely forewarned that, no matter how well I might have polished up for the occasion, underneath it all still lurks the same cheerful incompetent, secretly knowing that I will be outed as such yet again but happy to be allowed into polite company in the meantime. Pipe down, Your Majesty, I’m enjoying my moment.

Hot Flash Fiction 5

The Duchess was inordinately fond of animals. Though her courtiers would never dare say so to her face, they imagined she ought to have been born a zookeeper, or at the very least a farmer. This idea was strengthened, especially, by the fact that it always fell to the housekeepers and servants to make the palace tidy enough for Her Ladyship’s dainty passage through life and to freshen the air when the royal menagerie had pranced, prowled or otherwise paraded through its rooms and left unseemly gifts along the way. The Duke, who was as allergic to all things animal as the Duchess was attracted, considered for some time whether he oughtn’t to have a team of expert taxidermists and artisans solve this problem once and for all, creating a large display of preserved zoological beauty that might be both lower maintenance and less powerfully scented than the living creatures populating his estate indoors and out, day and night.digital collageUnfortunately, the Duchess’s sisters who lived in the east wing of the palace did not support the Duke’s enthusiasm for the design, making noises of disapprobation at least as loud as the Duchess’s favorite dogs’ barking or donkeys’ braying. Perhaps, the Duke thought, he had been a little incautious in discussing this artistic concept with his secretary while within earshot of the sisterly ladies-in-waiting, for they both appeared quite ready to dash off squealing with rage to their unsuspecting sibling, or at the least, to imitate the household fauna in some other impolite fashion.digital collageAs it fell out, the Duke, however incautious he may have been in heat of the moment, was not without the wit born of hard experience. Working swiftly with his retainers, was able to resolve the situation quickly and suitably merely by shifting the subject of the new art to a slightly different one featuring the Duchess and her sisters. As an added benison of this resolution, it was discovered that he wasn’t allergic to winged or four-legged pets after all. The palace staff found maintaining the menagerie surprisingly less onerous afterward as well, even with the added curatorial duties of dusting off the Duchess and polishing her sisters from time to time.

The Center of Attention

When I am making artworks I am the ruler of all I survey. I get to invent my reality and decide how much of it I want to reveal to you, and even (to a certain extent) how I want you to experience this particular reality. I do know that you will bring your own point of view and that my art, this Empress having invented it or not, will tell you a story that exists in its own unique way within your personal context.graphite drawingHowever, like all storytellers visual or otherwise, I still control how much I’m willing to reveal to you of the whole project in the end. Do I give you the ‘whole story’ or choose to share a scene, a snippet, and then let you extrapolate from that to decide what the storyline is in the image, not to mention all of the possible storylines extending beyond the image in every direction? I choose the window; you interpret what you see through it.

In the case of this drawing of a lady with her fat pony, I’d say that a cropped version of the picture gives plenty of information about both characters and their relationship but mercifully deletes some of the evidence of my horribly sloppy parody of equine physiology, something that’s far more painfully exposed in the larger version of the piece. Yes, there I go, showing you my ‘underwear’ again. But don’t you agree that the image is improved, its focus stronger and its flaws somewhat mitigated, by the cropping?

graphite drawingUltimately, of course, I’m still Empress around here. I get to choose whether I’ll show you my process and share my behind-the-scenes action like this, let alone whether an image is finished or not, whether I’m going to use it for a post or not, and whether I’m going to tell a whole large story or a tiny bit of one. It’s good to be the Empress.

Apparently I Executed the Secret Handshake Wrong or Something

digital artwork

Cinderella Opts Out

From your assessment of my deportment,

I must ask what the statement “of a sort” meant–

Oh, was I, I wonder, a shade improper,

Not brass perhaps, but a hint of copper?

Did I stand out from the regal crowd

By being a decibel too loud?

When I met the Queen, did I rudely greet her

With a curtsey too small by a millimeter?

Did I jostle the King, or step on his toes,

Or remark on the magnitude of his nose?

Have I shocked the royal entourage

With an unplanned glimpse of décolletage?

Say, what have I done in these latter days

To occasion such backward, lukewarm praise?

Do tell me where this prejudice starts

That substitutes etiquette for hearts!

I’ll not be one of the prince’s bijoux

Knowing I can’t have the wit to please you–

I’m off for home, where they make no sport

If my manners are only “of a sort”.digital artwork

You’re not the Boss of Me! Well, Yeah, You Probably are.

Lest I, as a mere human sort of creature, forget my place in the universal power structure, a few days communing with my sister’s four-legged family members swiftly reminds me that I can have all of the ingenious ideas and deeply meaningful thoughts I want in my pretty little head and they won’t change the reality of how the day will go for, and with, Ruffian, Mercer and Tristan.photo

Ruffian is well aware that all of creation was designed for the sole purpose of serving her and meeting her Needs (often mistaken by others as wants or Whining Points) and keeping out of her way in general so as not to disturb her beauty sleep. Being a large and well-rounded woman-cat, she prefers not to exhaust herself with any sort of excessive or unseemly activity if it does not culminate in being fed something. If there’s really no thrilling edible stuff involved, her time is far better spent in her semi-comatose repose, and most pleasantly of all, that in a place which is capable of creating maximum inconvenience for anyone who might wish to go through the door she is blocking, sit on the chair or window seat she is luxuriating upon, or sidle down the hallway she has carpeted with her soft and well-cushioned form. Yes, I suppose you are all by now sensing a bit of similarity between her and yours truly, perhaps?photo

Mercer, her fellow shelter adoptee, dresses formally for all occasions, preferring the classic tradition of the black suit and white button down shirt because he is much too dignified to be associated with frivolity and self-indulgence like his ‘sister’s’. If he should happen to take an interest in a cat toy and even deign to frolic after it a bit, it’s best for all others in the room to pretend not to have noticed, lest he take umbrage over this imagining of his being anything other than the most sober and staid member of the household. Despite his being strictly aware of his handsome panache and savoir-faire, he generally dislikes having his portrait taken, a trait I have assumed has to do with his being in the Witness Protection program and not wishing to be ‘outed’ inadvertently. I do suspect he might have some Scottish heritage because, although he doesn’t speak about this past of his, he still wears a fuzzy white sporran that swings jauntily under his belly when he’s patrolling his fiefdom.

While Ruffian and Mercer rule the house, Tristan lives exclusively outdoors. This arrangement seems to suit all three to the degree that each is able to maintain his or her sense of being the center of the solar system and ruler of all he/she surveys, since the two cats pay attention to each other primarily when needing someone to compete with over food, beat up or otherwise annoy.photo

Tristan was rescued from a neglectful owner after the people of the household split up and Tristan’s longtime canine companion died. He’s now twelve years old and, age and arthritis notwithstanding, maintains a cheerful demeanor, particularly if there happens to be a massive ham sandwich anywhere in sniffing distance. And he does have prodigious sniff powers, undiminished by the years. So when he goes for his three walks a day, nary a leaf or blade of grass goes unexamined, yet he keeps up a steady pace and chooses which of his favorite routes is preferable for the moment’s expedition, tugging all of his people-pack insistently if gently until we all acquiesce, recognize his prerogative, and follow orders. I’m just glad I smell acceptable to him, never mind whether any of our human companions find me tolerable or not.

After all, we are all just passing through, aren’t we? These three clearly know it’s all about the quality of the journey and that the destination will take care of itself soon enough. Say, toss me a treat, won’t you–I’m feeling a little peaked from not having napped enough yet today and can’t reach over that far.

Rants in My Pants

Yeah, yeah. I get that itch and I just gotta scratch it. Clearly, I’m not much on keeping my feelings to myself. Secretive? Uh-uh. Obviously I’m not paranoid about my privacy. Got nothing worth stealing but the loves of my life, and they are all masters of their own destinies thankyouverymuch. The skeletons, if any, in my closet would likely bore the socks off of any self-respecting archaeologist, and any idiot that puts in the effort to sneak a peek into my nekkidness, physical or spiritual, will get the severe eye-poke he she or it deserves without requiring any action on my part beyond existing in my infinite beauty.

Then again . . .

photo collage of blue/white images + text

The unmapped life is full of wonderful surprises . . .

What I could never have designed for myself or expected as a reward for my humble personal resources is a life history marked by the remarkable and filled with the fabulous. To take inventory of the amazing things I have experienced and the outstanding people whose paths I have been privileged to cross is to stand in awe of my incredible good fortune and all of the odd and pleasing presents it’s tossed in my circuitous life’s wanderings. Here’s a little inventory of some of that funny life o’mine in the form of a list, in no particular order, of things I have or have not done, for good or ill. I guess we all do this sort of self-inventory from time to time because such reflection is an intriguing way of finding out surprising things about each other and, more than that, about ourselves.

Here goes.

Things I Have Done:

*   Been bitten by a pony
*   Exposed a thief by revising a public swimming pool’s accounting system
*   Captured a bird by using a veiled antique hat
*   Canoed the Kickapoo River
*   Designed/sewn a ball gown out of plastic trash bags for a special party
*   Used an arc welder—very briefly and ineptly, to be sure
*   Seen celebrities at airports and discussed tuna sandwiches with one TV star
*   Forgotten very nearly as many things as I’ve learned
*   Grown vegetables
*   Been president of a theatrical organization
*   Helped rebuild an old toilet by custom manufacturing obsolete parts for it
*   Changed tires
*   Been the pianist for a wedding and for a theatrical production
*   Attended a formal banquet in a foreign palace
*   Told lame jokes
*   Been served coffee by a famous symphony conductor
*   Gotten stitches for a hockey injury
*   Drawn pictures
*   Drawn a crowd
*   Drawn butter
*   Drawn a blank
*   Slept with my hairdresser (okay, my husband cuts my hair)
*   Won a Best Actress award
*   Won a safety-orange knit dickey
*   Fallen through a ceiling and hung by my armpits from the joists
*   Rooted plants from cuttings
*   Grilled shark
*   Had an allergic reaction
*   Taught university courses in art, English (writing) and learning strategies
*   Ice skated on a frozen lake
*   Stage-managed a national convention
*   Practiced archery
*   Delivered a homily to a chapel full of theologians and religion professors
*   Darned socks
*   Made dinner for an internationally famous cookbook author-editor
*   Carved alabaster
*   Run lighting for a professional ballet performance
*   Created a computer cataloguing system for a library
*   Disassembled and reassembled an ellipsoidal reflector lamp
*   Played guitar
*   Fried eggs
*   Worked as a temp in a software company
*   Served on a jury
*   Danced onstage at the Opera House
*   Photographed dead flies
*   Shaken hands and exchanged greetings with a reigning King and Queen
*   Driven a shuttle van
*   Attempted Bikram yoga
*   Written and produced a one-act melodrama on commission
*   Taken Chinese calligraphy lessons
*   Slept on a tall ship                                                                                                         *   Glazed a window
*   Been the subject of a midnight police raid on the wrong house
*   Won a baseball trivia contest without knowing a thing about baseball
*   Composed a song about a pony (not the one that bit me)
*   Gone snowshoeing
*   Seen a Blue-crowned Motmot in the wild
*   Fallen in love

Then there are all of the Things I Haven’t Done (yet, anyway):

*   Won a cash lottery
*   Had a dental cavity
*   Owned a four-legged pet
*   Broken a bone in my body
*   Been to Asia, Australia/NZ, or Antarctica
*   Learned a second language (some will say I’ve not yet mastered a first)
*   Eaten escargot
*   Written a bestseller
*   Visited all of the states in America
*   Cured cancer
*   Gotten skillful at any sport
*   Truffle hunted
*   Been able to understand and/or believe what politicians are talking about
*   Milked a cow
*   Danced gracefully

*   Lived overseas longer than a few weeks at a time
*   Mastered the marketing skills to sell my artwork and writing well
*   Been chased by a badger
*   Looked attractive in yellow or orange clothes
*   Died
*   Played golf
*   Decided to have children
*   Swung on a trapeze
*   Competed willingly
*   Overcome all my fears and anxieties and inhibitions
*   Made glass artworks
*   Had an audience with the Pope
*   Been arrested
*   Successfully raised Himalayan blue poppies for more than one season
*   Figured out how to get square pegs OUT of round holes once in
*   Knitted (except my brow)
*   Gotten irrevocably bored
*   Hybridized a plant
*   Studied marine biology
*   Piloted an aircraft or any boat larger than a rowboat

If I were to do even a tiny portion of the latter list, imagine where the remainder of life will take me. Oh, yeah–you can’t, nor can I. It’s the whole wacky and delightful point, isn’t it. There’s just no way to guess where the next turn in the road will lead. That’s how an ordinary broad like me managed to get to this point in life. Coo-wull.