Things Seen and Unseen

I know I’ve talked here before about how easy it is to stop seeing what’s right in front of me because, well, it’s always right there in front of me. The ubiquitous becoming invisible, and all of that. But lately I’ve been thinking, too, about how often what I haven’t seen before gets automatically dismissed by my brain as non-essential because I relied on the part of thinking that makes instantaneous generalizations and assumptions and chooses to categorize things, as soon as it decides the new thing doesn’t pose a threat.
Digital illustration: Friendly Little Insect

While this rarely makes, in real life, the stuff of horror stories, as much as I like a rollicking scary tale at times, I am more concerned when I begin to wonder just how many things this autopilot state of mine makes me miss. Have I bypassed grand opportunities through lack of attention? Undoubtedly. Has my life been different than it could have been had I been more deliberate and thoughtful and thorough? Certainly. Are there people I’ve met whom I never got to know as well as I should have done, never appreciated as deeply as they deserved, never enjoyed the benefits of learning from them or being made better by a real relationship with them? That is unquestionably the hard truth.

Will I be smarter, moving forward, because I paused to ask myself these questions? That, my friends, definitely remains to be seen. I like to think that I’m teachable, but I know I’m also drawn to the easy path in life and often distracted by non-essentials when I should at least be watching where I step, so I’ll make no promises. If I do, however, happen upon any new and delightful things or, especially, people and recognize greater value than a passing glance would have registered, then I won’t consider myself beyond rescue in this regard. Plus, I might find in them the material for some fantastic fiction later on, if I’m lucky.

Tell Me Not What Lies Ahead

digital illustration from a photoEven if I could I would rather not see the future. If it’s not to my liking, then I’ll despair and give up all attempts to improve upon it; if appealing, it will tempt me to live in constant yearning and not invest my heart and hands in my own present.

That doesn’t stop me from persistently trying to scry any hints of what’s to come in whatever handy crystal ball I can conjure. We’re curious creatures, we humans, and impatient at that. I wish and want and hope and dream, along with all of my fellow mortals, thinking that if I just knew what lay around the next bend of the road, surely I would be content, or at least if not content then prepared. But few who have access to dates and deadlines, foresight and certainties actually prepare in full, and once the approaching events are known they so often become the sole focus of the journey, not a point along the way, in fact distracting us from all of the possibly meaningful points that do exist en route.

I would rather not give myself any excuses for being even less attentive than I already am, and to be honest, I think it would take a fair measure of the charm out of discovering my life with a degree of surprise as it happens. Do I hope that what comes will be pleasurable and kind and fulfilling? Naturally. But whatever it is, I will let it keep its secrets for now; there is a lot to be seen and felt and done long before I get there, wherever there is and whatever it holds.

Put a Little Mustard on It

digital illustrationDespite my admiration for—nay, adoration of—color, I can be a little timid about being bold and colorful myself. Whether it stems from any inner quirk or flaw or simply is, I can’t begin to guess, but when I become aware of my fearful nature beginning to stifle other aspects of my personality I get a little irritated with my sheepish side and want to jump up on the table and do a dazzling tap-dance that ends with a spectacular back flip, splashing adrenaline into the hearts of all others present.

I don’t know how to tap dance. That kind of throws a monkey wrench into Plan A, even if I did have the remotest idea of how to do a back flip of any kind other than the I-just-got-pushed-off-a-cliff kind, and since that one ends fairly inevitably in messy death, the whole of the plan quickly loses its appeal.

But I can make artworks, and colorful ones at that, so as an acceptable Plan B I am quite often glad to whip out the spicier colors and wilder strokes of a bold design to assuage my spirits and reassure myself that I’m not entirely straightjacketed by my timidity. It’s good and wholesome to kick my own self in the pants occasionally (as well as less gymnastic, no matter how it sounds, than back-flips and tap dancing) and remember that I may be mild-mannered in general but even the quietest soul can sometimes have a momentary outburst and not only survive it but kind of relish the shock that it gives those around me who have also forgotten the possibility of my doing any such thing.

Raised Eyebrows

There have been many times when people looked upon me with raised eyebrows, if not utter disbelief. I am, of course, not only accustomed to it but somewhat proud of it, being an artist. If I never surprised or seemed a little off-kilter to anyone I would think it called into question my credibility as an inventive person altogether. So I’m happy to report that my assessment by others has been heavily salted and peppered with expressions of doubt, disdain or possibly, diagnoses of delirium.oil pastel drawing 1988The artwork above (four feet high, for your contextual reference) came from a period in my artistic development wherein I might have been forgiven for thinking there was a form of communicable facial paralysis among my contacts that left them all perpetually wearing masks of such disbelief. I had meandered through the three years following my undergraduate commencement, while working for my uncle’s construction company, barely producing a discernible body of small artworks the while, and still had opted to go off to graduate art studies. I had made a pitiful showing in my first quarter of work there, simply extending the slow, unproductive approach I’d had during the previous three years to cough up a tiny handful of pleasant but utterly unimpressive artworks without any particular evidence of having been changed or challenged by my reentry to the educational environment. But after the embarrassingly lackluster critique session that closed that quarter, I was perhaps uncharacteristically motivated to break out of the doldrums and sail in a new and more daring path, in hopes of visiting uncharted territories of worth.

Changing my approaches to media, techniques, subject matter, scale and speed, I found, all contributed to my discovering new sides of my artistic self. I became in some ways quite the opposite of the person I’d been previously in the studio, and while I never lost my love for the various characteristic media, techniques, etc, etc, that had defined my former self, I certainly never regretted having broken the mold I’d set that self in so firmly. An inordinate number of options and opportunities previously hidden from me by my insular fear and ignorance and self-imposed narrowness of intent and expectation suddenly seemed both possible and appealing, and I have continued to gallop around after them with abandon, sometimes with a hint of obsession and often quite tangentially, so I’ve grown to simply expect the raised eyebrows around me and relish the thought that they mean I’ve not settled too far into my former predictably fixed self again.

That, I think, is encouragement enough to keep me moving forward.

Anachronisms

There are advantages to being out of sync with the known, the planned and the expected. Nothing new, of course, can ever happen if someone or something doesn’t step out of line. Creativity and growth can only take wing if we allow anomalies and anachronisms. Learning doesn’t happen without forward movement and its inevitable mistakes.

So once in a while there has to be the duckling hatched in autumn or the crazy idea hatched at three a.m.

Great things are timely no matter when they occur.digital illustration

Just Another Tall Tale

I May be Texan 2

I never thought to come to Texas, even for a visit,

But serendipity is not predictable, now, is it?

And if I might not so have planned—don’t have a longhorn cow—

Turns out it was a fine surprise to land here anyhow.

graphite drawing

Does this make me a second-hand cowhand?

Signs of a Good Trip Ahead

That wonderful invention the GPS is generally a generous gift to a diva of disorientation like me. With my myriad forms of dyslexia all interlocking magically to make it virtually impossible for me to find my way practically anywhere past my own mailbox, it’s nice to have a personal assistant, albeit a computerized one, telling me how to get from Point A to Point B and beyond. And I do love a good road trip, when the opportunity arises.

photo

You are Here, but There’s No Here Here

But even our GPS (sometimes fondly called Peggy Sue after the lady who first helped us find our way around our new home, town and state) in all her digital wisdom can’t find everything. Sometimes, as on the above-pictured occasion, she has no more clue where her driver and passengers are than they do. And you know, it’s kind of amusing to me. Not only does it amuse me to look at the GPS screen and see it telling me that I am a little red arrow flying through the air in the vastness of uncharted space, but it’s weirdly reassuring to me that my lack of omniscience is far from unique in this world. All the same, I do appreciate Peggy Sue’s selfless assistance when it’s needed and available.photoOn the other hand, there’s plenty to be said for going forward without knowing what comes next. In life, it’s just plain inevitable–prescience of any sort is in mighty short supply. On holiday, going with the flow is often the perfect way to have a rich and full adventure, and even the occasional mishaps stand a chance of being fodder for both present delight and reminiscent hilarity. On the pictured ‘flight’ across uncharted Texas territory, my spouse and I were so happily absorbed in relishing the sights along the unknown way that we both failed to notice one of our other digital auto-assistants signaling us that the supply of petrol was diminishing, until it was seriously questionable whether we’d make it to a gas station before the tank ran dry. We knew we were in the vicinity of Seguin (a place we’d been through a few weeks ago) and crossed our fingers that following the intermittent signs to town would get us to a refilled tank in time. Not only did we make it in time, we had a trip in a time machine on the strength of that refueling. The little bit we’ve seen of Seguin has a remarkably somnolent sense of being stuck in time, and not even strictly one single point in time but rather as though everyone in the whole town has dragged his or her weathered boots every step of the way through its history, and everyone in turn has stopped off at a different spot in the past before picking up speed and rejoining the flow of time. Past and present meander in and out of each other and the buildings and land around Seguin and beckon us, in our turn, to slow down and enjoy the oddity of being off the map and off the tow rope of time simultaneously.

photoWe didn’t stop quite long enough to buy wrestling tickets, mind you, but the lure of the unique and the mystery of moving ahead without any inkling of what might lie ahead kept us rolling along all the happier when we were securely back on a full tank (once we found one of those vintage petrol pumps that was fully functional and deciphered the toothless ramblings of the guy sitting in his lawn chair ‘instructing’ us through our transaction from across the lot). If we hadn’t been to Seguin, we’d never have experienced its time-capsule marvels, potted around wondering how on earth a town that size could survive with so few gas stations, or gotten to see the World’s Largest Pecan, a sculpture on the lawn of City Hall that is probably really about the second or third largest representation of said nut in the US and possibly about the second or third least decorative sculpture (sorry, Seguin!) upon which any town proudly bases a promotional motto. Strange? A tad. Stuff I could easily have lived a long and healthy life without seeing or experiencing? Perhaps. But I’ve no regrets that our particular turns in the road took us there and led us to all of that fun, plenty entertaining even without wrestling tickets.

A Little Texas Secret

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Have you heard?

When people say Everything in Texas is Bigger it’s true–up to a point. Texans in general are happy to point out the vast number of marvels, from natural resources to business and entertainment, culture and personalities, that are bigger than life in this part of the world. Is Texas full of tall grass and longhorn cattle and bluebonnets and armadillos, sizzling days and stormy nights, oil wells and roughnecks and rodeo riders? You bet.photoBut there are amazing and unexpected and even–gasp!–tiny details that also sparkle throughout the Lone Star State and help to make it far more varied and unpredictable than the image Texas has beyond its borders might lead anyone to believe. A spectacular water-lily park? Why, yes, that’s here. Masses of beautiful, delicate butterflies? Oh, yes, those too. I think it’s safe to say that not many people are likely to think of French food when Texas is mentioned, but not only does la cuisine Française exist in Texas, it’s even featured in an eatery in the also seemingly non-very-Texas named town of Humble. I mean it: Texas is full of surprises, and not all of them even Texas-big.photoSee, that’s the thing about stereotypes, archetypes, assumptions and expectations. Generalizing about any place or culture may give us a handy entré to allow us the chance of learning to know it better, but it skims the surface of reality far too much to be dependable as a gauge for the whole of the thing. On my first trip overseas I was immediately struck by the odd conversations I overheard between the locals here and there and the American travelers. It’s not uncommon for natives to ask visitors what things are like where they live; what I found out is that it’s also pretty common for said visitors to pontificate as though their limited experience of life were the standard for all and sundry where they come from–not just all the folk in their house but all in their town, county, state, region–heck, I heard fellow US citizens abroad telling foreign nationals with utter nonchalance what ‘America’ was like. Just as though every part of America were completely homogenous, every US denizen interchangeable.photoI’m perfectly happy to state that not only is that a ridiculous barrel of hogwash but I have seen evidence very much to the contrary in places all over this country. Not to mention in the great state of Texas, in our county, in our town. Yes, in our own household. Texans do like their BBQ and their tall tales, their football and pecan pie and yes, their guns. The real secret, if you must know, is that no place is precisely, and only, like its image. No matter how small or grand that image happens to be.

Mirage sur la Mer

P&I drawingSummer Phantasy

One day in my car when I was a-glide

and watching the highway (mostly),

I stopped for a fellow who thumbed a ride

to go farther west, more coast-ly–

After all, the sun was high in the sky

and the temperature creeping northward,

so it seemed a mercy to take the guy

and deliver him farther forth-ward–

He was pleasant, and smiled, and tipped his hat,

but I’d hardly call him talkative,

which I took as caused by the reason that

in the heat he’d been too walk-ative–

So we rode along, Silent Sam and I,

toward the coast and the broad blue sea,

’til I blinked in the glare of the sun to spy

his hat lying next to me–

No sign of the smiling, silent bloke;

what a startled twitch I made!

My sunglasses flew right off and broke

as if put to shame by a shade–

Well, I got to the shore soon after that,

keeping watch on the highway (mostly),

and was glad for the shade of the shade’s broad hat,

if a shadowy gift, and ghostly.P&I drawing