Friday, July 30, 2010

The Empress' Clothing

My writing fell by the wayside this week as I spent my time saying goodbye to a friend.

It wasn't as 'cut and dried' as the goodbye one would spit out at the end of a casual phone conversation but that final kind...the one that takes days to pour out and pulls your thoughts from the here and now into the " I remember when..."

I was twelve when I attended my first funeral. I skipped school with my best friend at the time, Jessie, and we attended the service held for Mrs. Poon.

Mrs. Poon, together with her husband, ran the neighbourhood corner store and any of us kids who spent more time than money hovering over the candy section would soon realize she had eyes in the back of her head.

We had difficulty understanding everything Mrs. Poon said at times because she came from somewhere else. There wasn't a day (until the end) that we didn't see her sitting high on her stool behind the confection counter. She always greeted us; she would smile, and we liked her.

My last memory of Mrs. Poon never seems right. I am looking down at her instead of the other way around. She isn't wearing the indiscriminate relaxed clothing we came to associate her with. Instead she wears a formal, iridescent turquoise gown. It is the most beautiful blue-green I can ever recall seeing and the way it shimmers reminds me of the way sunlight must sparkle on faraway oceans, in tropical lands - lands that remind me that Mrs. Poon comes from somewhere very far away, somewhere picturesque and serene, lands in stunning contrast to the neighbourhood where the two of us have come to spend some brief time together.

When I think of Mrs. Poon to this day (and I do still think of her), I think of her dressed as a queen. I think of her embarking on a majestic voyage, returning home perhaps, to family and friends who have been eager to embrace her and to know all there is to know about the foreign land she visited.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Silence

Today I want to leave you with a quote from Rita McKeough, an artist whom I admire.

"As soon as you stop the chaos, you experience the subversive power of silence. Dialogue and listening are politically and socially the most powerful tools for change."

I invite response, as always.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

(Im)Pulse - A Workshop in Performance Art

(Im)Pulse is a 3-hour workshop designed for individuals interested in knowing more about aspects of Performance Art and learning to think about the body in art as 'the medium'.

Through experiential activity, gesture, play, and interpretation, participants will consider the practice of art-making within a public setting and the presence of both artist and viewer as vital elements of the work.

July 22nd, 2010 from 6 to 9 PM (Registration Required) Profiles Public Art Gallery, 19 Perron Street, St. Albert, AB. Phone (780) 460-9537 for further details.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

West - Monday through Friday

The photographs were based on the plight of a western prairie woman who finds herself in an unfamiliar landscape of banal and seemingly endless days and spends a lifetime trying to forge out an identity, silently praying her daughters don't follow a similar path.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Following Subject Matter May Not Be Suitable for all Viewers

Mother, may I go out to swim?

Yes, my darling daughter.

Hang your clothes on a hickory limb

But don't go near the water.

This of all verses sums up best the inconsistency of messages I received as a youngster. It also makes me wonder about the countless other 'mixed messages' that as an adult I feel bombarded with daily.

It's true that a number of cities and municipalities have bylaws outlawing the use of outdoor clotheslines. Many of these same communities urge us to be responsible citizens by being conscientious consumers of energy and resources.

Although using a clothesline saves money, energy, and helps our laundry to smell fresher, keeps our whites whiter (thereby eliminating the need to use harsh detergents and bleaches), and helps our clothes to last longer and show less wear, aesthetically it doesn't have the same appeal as an architecturally manicured backyard consisting of 2.5 trees, a barbecue and a patio umbrella.

One of my neighbours has three vehicles parked in back that he has ignominiously stripped for parts but somehow that doesn't offend the bylaw officers as much as my hanging laundry on a clothesline does.

To get around the bylaw, I've just done away with the clothesline entirely. I counted four houses on my block today that still have Christmas lights hanging from eaves and trees, and one even has a sadly deflated Santa mercilessly slumped over a fence, so I see no problem hanging my delicate unmentionables from the branches of my caragana hedge. In my opinion, it's a welcome sight to see the fruits of my labour and know that the fresh outdoor air is a far healthier alternative to chemically-scented drier sheets (another entirely unnecessary 'item for consumption' conceived by business magnates seeking higher market shares).

I'm sure if Miss Amy Vanderbilt was alive today she would agree, "It certainly has our attention."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little Secrets - Big Lessons

Some years ago I confided in a dear older friend, "Here I am thirty-nine years old and I'm still scared!"

As an artist I often feared: what if no one understands the work I put out in the world? What if I make something that causes people to react, offends, makes people angry or think less of me, or worse yet, what if they laugh or dismiss what I am doing as irrelevant or meaningless?" I was struggling with what I felt I had to do to please others and with what my soul begged to do.

My fear had immobilized me from trying so many things. It controlled my creativity and restricted my ability to approach my art with the total commitment and enthusiasm required to reach my full potential. It kept me from embarking on adventures, from meeting new people, and closed doors even before I reached them. It limited my opportunities and prevented me from fully embracing the life I had been given.

My dear friend closed the distance between us, held his hand out to hold mine and whispered, "I'll let you in on a little secret. We are all scared."

I looked at him in total shock and surprise. "What? You're all of what...fifty? And you're telling me you're still scared?" The most confident and capable person I knew was standing right before me telling me, in all seriousness, that he was scared too.

That encounter caused me to re-examine what it was I was truly afraid of. I realized that it wasn't so much that I would fall flat on my face but that there would be no one there to pick me up when I did.

The secret that my friend shared gave me faith that if I took the risk of extending my honest, inner-most self to others, there might be someone, either through their counsel or by example, there to assist and guide me through the scary times. The biggest revelation of my life came in the form of comfort in the knowledge that I wasn't alone, that everyone faces fears in life - fears that far outweigh the mere inadequacy and frustration that I was feeling by trying to lead a life of little consequence.

Making art got a whole lot easier.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Monday Wash Day - Everybody Happy?

There was a platform built near the back door with steps on one side that we would climb and Mother would set down her laundry basket of wet clothing and pull the line towards her. A bleach bottle with a large hole cut from the top of it containing numerous wooden clothes pegs hung from the line. As her work progressed and corners of pillowcases and bath towels were fastened to the strong cord, I could see other women in the distance performing similar actions with similar household items. Often the women would wave or call out greetings. Sometimes they would invite us over for tea.

It was the 'lines of communication', though, that conveyed vast amounts of information, far greater than what the spoken words said. The day of the week laundry was hung was significant. It told whether there was order in the household. The dungarees and faded shirts told whether work was plentiful. A predominance of women's undergarments signified the time of the month. A sea of diapers heralded a baby's arrival in the world and black on the line meant a sympathy card was in order.

Some people learn to read by following the words in a book with their eyes and enunciating each syllable until the sounds and rhythm of their spoken voice makes sense to them. Standing on a large wooden box in the middle of a rural setting was how I learned to 'read.'