Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

Confession about acquisition…

February 28, 2010

Let me begin by stating I have few needs and wants. This does not mean that I am without desire, or prone toward acquiring objects which have little usefulness in my life. This afternoon Martha and I attended the opening of the “Out of the Ombu” exhibition which Looking For Beauty and I did installation last Thursday. I am such a sucker for quiet, tactile beauty, and should have realized I was in trouble when the first area of concern for exhibition to me was for six examples of Shino ware. While the curator was explaining the need to display 6 sculptural pieces against the main wall, I was ruminating about where to display these gems. In less than three minutes, I had dragged over the display plinths and placed the beautiful, quiet-as-a-whisper pieces – two tall slab bottles with diagonal carved stripes, two small bottles, beautiful examples of Tobigana with subtle blue soda glaze, and two Tobigana bowls with Shino slip decoration.
One of the pleasures and privileges of mounting an exhibition is the opportunity to closely look at and handle art objects – on a more intimate level than is available to the gallery goer. When I upended the Tobigana bowls and happened to see the accidental glazing due to the vagaries of wood firing on the surface of the chattered ware and the subtle beauty of the foot finish, I should have realized that the demon of acqusitiveness that lurks in my otherwise modest person would set up a persistent chant in my unconscious – “these are meant to be for you!”
Barely one minute into the opening, my feet took me to this part of the exhibition, and immediately to the curator to beg for a red dot to place by the two Shino Tobinaga bowls. I did not care whether these items were of collectible value, nor that the potter was a relative unknown. That doesn’t figure in my estimation of the desirability of these beautiful bowls. What did was their quiet insistence that existence is very much dependent on the vagaries of chance acting on material, and that these items had been blessed by the character of heat and fire carefully tended by the potters, and the happenstance of these objects’ position inside the ombu and the introduction of soda ash at a particular time during the firing. Nothing is guaranteed! That is of what these bowls speak to me – and of unexpected gorgeousness.
Now, I have put myself in the position of bringing these items into my home. How do I explain this compulsion to Rumpole? Me, who prides herself on wanting little. But, by gum! I can hardly wait to bring these beauties home. I know I was meant to have them. Earlier this week, as I was dusting the mantle I picked up the beautiful Tobigana decorated vase I had picked up a couple of months ago from the Sally Ann. It has a gorgeous salt glaze, a simple form and a subtle chatter decoration around the shoulder. It cost $1. I googled the decorative practice and did some reading on the technique this week. And, behold, this opportunity has occurred.
I feel very fortunate to be able to afford such an act of whim. Maybe Rumpole will understand.
But I have plans. I talked with the potter at the opening – an older Japanese lady. She was pleased I so wanted these two bowls. As I was gazing at them and lifted them up to run my greedy fingers over the surface, I decided to paint them as a still life from many aspects when I get them home. What a challenge to paint using earth colours to approximate the feelings which these objects yield to me. I can hardly wait for the six weeks of the exhibition to be over.

The Conference Workshop with the three amigas…

January 23, 2010

We were as ready to lead the workshop for teachers as any oveprepared presenters might be. In fact, we were so nervous in anticipation we thought we should arrive at the conference venue two hours before our stint was to begin. Then, we found out we could only arrive just an hour prior to star time.
The evening before we went over our materials and equipment checklists, trial ran CDRs on the laptop we were to use and almost added to our burgeoning boxes items we deemed essential for workshop participants to have.
Lee conjectured, “Should we take pencils and pens for the people?”
“Are you kidding me?” I snapped back. “We are not dealing with high school students here. Surely to God no self-respecting teacher would dare turn out to a workshop sans writing equipment!”
I did think having rice-powder on hand for the participants to try out making Kolams and Rangoli was essential, so I busied myself with the trusty Braun coffee grinder and ground up a whack of rancid rice that was about to be heaved into garbage. The jar of rancid rice-powder was large enough to provide coverage of Kolams over a large area of pavement. I didn’t think people would be overwhelmed by the smell of it. Besides which, “waste not, want not” is my motto. Rice Powder, check!
Meanwhile Louise was pasting labels on all items to remain in the teaching kits, and double checking contents. Lee was reorganizing the workshop handouts and making sure all was in order. We did this in the kitchen. Rumpole came home to find the place a disaster zone and kicked his way to the bedroom to change into his grubbies. We finished our labours, drank one more cup of cold tea, loaded our stuff into two cars and parted company with plans to meet up at the Conference place with all our stuff the following morning at 7am. Lee was to pick me up at quarter of seven, practically the crack of dawn.
The morning of, I scrambled around half-asleep after a largely sleepless night, washed, dressed, got the kinks out of my hair and bolted back a couple of cups of coffee. Waited beside Rumpole’s snoozing Hyundai as I waited for Lee to arrive in her red Mustang. Bless that youngster, she had brought me a Starbucks latte. As we drove toward the Conference place Dawn broke over the horizon in a milky iridescent pearl-grey band. The day promised to be mild and dry.
When we arrived at the parking lot, Lee nipped into the building to find a dolly to haul our gear, leaving me to call Louise and let her know exactly where we were parked. Louise arrived just as I was unloading the stuff from the Mustang’s trunk. Soon, Lee returned with the dolly in tow and we loaded the containers on to it and went to find our workshop room.
Luck was on our side. We were booked into a science lab with many electric outlets, a big screen and gererous white-boards as well as two sinks. Perfect for an art workshop.
Lee proceeded to set up the electronic equipment, and much to our relief it all promised to work as required. Louise set out the handout material and placed printed visuals onto the whiteboard with stick-um. I set out art materials into stations adequate for a large group to work at without a hitch. We were so organized we had a half- hour to spare before deadline for start. We went in search of muffins to feed on. These two gals were an absolute joy to work alongside!
When teachers straggled in, with no one late ( they are so conditioned to time dictates) I was surprised to note there were no men in the group. All women, mostly young ones who looked so very young. Just three retirement-age ladies in a group of 19 souls. I suddenly felt like a creaky antique.

Lee opened up the workshop with having everyone introduce themselves. She looked glamorous in her Punjabi suit outfit of Royal blue with gold embroidery.. On her wrists she wore Indian bangles with bells attached – so whenever she needed to call people to attention she only had to shake her arms. Louise overlooked proceedings like a fond aunt. I sat by the side as grannie types are wont to.
I had prepared the lesson plans on Kolams and Rangoli and figured if someone else could present and lead the lesson, any teacher attending the workshop could also follow the information for successful presentation. The workshop participants got right down to work, experimented, made permanent examples with chalk on black paper for themselves and experimented with rice-powder Kolams on the floor. They got so involved that they worked right through the half-hour rest period. I helped with making Kolams on the floor, showing how to hold the powder in the palm and trickle it to the ground and make gestures whilst doing so. Participants made amazing patterns and expressed eagerness to show the process to students. Lee glowed with pleasure. Louise went around the room documenting people at work, so much so she went through two sets of batteries. We all had great fun, largely in silence.
We were all so occupied with making Kolams we ran out of time for the presentation of the second half of the workshop. The keeners wanted us to carry on, so we showed CDRs on Navajo sandpainting, discussed similarities and differences for those two types of imagemaking, emphasizing the ritual differences, showed the sand which to use in making sandpaintings and discussed techniques for making permanent examples with students. It helped to have two permanent sandpaintings Lee had brought back at Christmastime from Arizona. The principle of Symmetry exemplified in both types of images was a huge topic of discussion, as was the abstraction inherent in both. The teachers expressed that they could use both to teach mathematical concepts, and also to have students use symmetry in their expressions of beauty and story telling.
They also stated that since we had made teaching kits using the internet for much of our research, they could further have students continue to research and compare information found on the net.
Overall the workshop was a success. We packed up our supplies and headed back to my kitchen to decompress over a couple of pots of tea. Louise planned to take out one of the kits for high schools and use the information for teaching art during the next semester. She also decided to extend the scope of the kit by designing further lesson plans and units. She has much to work with from the kit – on Contemporary Ephemeral Art and its practitioners – with DVDs added to explore in depth the work and its underlying concepts.
Lee called me this afternoon while I had my head down for a nap. She had begun to teach the unit on Kolams and Rangoli and reported her kids were tremedously excited by the potential for making ephemeral art in public spaces. Maybe the future grafitti taggers ( taggers give such pain to the maintenance crews in our town) will make practice of leaving their mark using ephemeral materials which disappear in short time.
It feels terrific to have brough this project of ours to such a succesful conclusion. I am anticipating seeing concrete results from our project by school year’s end. The project has been a form of therapy for me, useful, encouraging, engaging. Being part of it reassured me that I still have the “stuffing” left in me with which to contribute in my small way to my community, vision problems be damned.

Typing (ugh)… not writing…

December 11, 2009

I have neglected my blog for the last couple of months. It seems the project I have undertaken in September has taken precedence over most of my activities. It is an educational project for the Local art gallery’s educational arm, worked on with two teachers from our local school district and funded by two public bodies – the school District and the Art Gallery.

Initially we were to come up with a kit of lesson plans on Environmental Art – a topic of huge scope. In my usual capacity of “loose cannon”, I interpreted this topic as exploring Ephemeral Arts. My rationale for this was, “Does the world need to document and compile more examples of art in a museum, when art -making can be a largely personal, communal and ephemoral activity which can be passed on through common practice repeated over and over again, and allowed to be replaced and extended by future practices?”

So, I thought and thought – about works made only for a temporary purpose, of importance in the culture within which they were made and which gave expressive colour to to lives and belief systems. Enter the notion of Kolams as made in India’s Tamil Nadu, mandalas as made by Buddhist monks as a form of contemplative practice, and of Navajo sand-painting as ritual practice in one of North America’s larges indigenous tribes. Much research followed on the heels of this notion.

And, of course, there are contemporary practitioners of the ephemeral arts – Andy Goldsworthy, Rikrit Taravanija, Diana Lynn Thompson, Alan Sonfist and others who place process above product and life cycle above permanence. How to relate contemporary practice with historic practices? There is a relationship. As always no contemporary practice is without historical antecedents. How to relate the continuum?

Three of us sat down over wine and dinner and hashed out the congruities and continuities. It is good to have several good minds working together. One of us, a young High School art teacher worked out the mechanics of relating contemporary to historical practices. man, I envy her her energy, and her ability to directly narrow down relationships. Also her ability to negotiate the, to me, complexities of computer programs and mechanisms. I have been relegated to being typist, a task to which I am definitely not well suited, and to the work of coming up with lesson plans appropriate to grades K to 7.

So I have been typing up background information as well, collated from a variety of sources. Have also played with materials to see about their suitability to the various grade groups. Lots of typing; lots of frustration with my brand new Windows program. To take a break today, I ground up a bunch of rice in my Braun grinder and made a Kolam on the threshold to my studio.

This afternoon, two of us are to make a presentation of the kits we have prepared for K – 3, Gr. 4 -7, Gr. 8 – 12 – complete with visuals and CDRs and DVDs. I have sets of dominoes, side-walk chalks, rice flour and coloured sand packed with binders full of lesson plans and visuals. We also have beautiful reproductions of a Tibetan Thangka to share with the people coming to the unveiling meeting.

Mu forefingers have grown calluses from all the typing over the past two+ months. The bound documents need layout help – I am beyond incompetent at this. My two cohorts have heavy vocational committments. WE NEED HELP! Yes, we are going to beg for help.

Now mind – we are doing this as volunteers – and as such have racked up a respectable 30+ hours on this project – and that is a conservative estimate. But if all goes well, and we get the clerical help we so desperately need, we shalll have a really fine program to lend out to busy public school teachers.

Still typing, not writing, in suburbia….G

Writers retreat…

August 20, 2009

S, H, D and I, members of a writing group comprised only of our four selves, decided to spend last weekend, hole up in luxurious comfort and write, work on manuscripts, share meals and leisure in the late evening hours.

It was the most revivifying getaway; just what I needed to get down to polishing a piece of creative non-fiction weighing on me for the last several months. Rumpole bought us a new to us laptop. He felt I should have ease in editing my work. I decided to wing the process long-hand; a way which always helps me attain the meditative focus I need when working.

We stayed at D’s Mom’s waterfront Belcarra home. It perched up-hill from a rocky shore. The vista from my room was of Deep Cove across the inlet and of the tip of Belcarra at the end of the little bay where the house was situated. Ravens called; water lapped the shore with hypnotic regularity. The resident cats perched on lawnchairs next to me where I wrote at a patio table overlooking a delightful garden.
My writer friends were tremendous companions for a weekend of self-imposed silence and labour.

After dinner, we gathered in the comfortable lounge, shared progress reports and played “dictionary”. Inventive wordsmiths come up with some truly hilarious word definitions. “lanuginous” was one word for which invented definitions caused us to laugh hysterically and for me, to roll on the floor in helpless abandon. Some of the definitions cannot be told in decorous company, they were so risque.

I feel rather pleased with my progress last weekend. I rewrote and edited for submission an @1500 word non-fiction piece. It took about 12 or so rewrites, edits and continuous polishing. I received some excellent advice from my retreat companions and acted on them to arrive at a (for now) finished bit of writing I am not ashamed of submitting. It is as clean and spare as I could make it. And I feel more confident of the editing process.

All in all, it was a great weekend!

Not another sweater…

November 26, 2008

Anyu always held close to the belief that appropriate Christmas presents for men in the family were either a sweater, an LP of music beloved by the recipient or a book of some esoteric character that was to edify the recipient.. She really looked askance when I gifted Renaissance man on his 18th Christmas with a stuffed ‘Bill the Cat’. Rumpole has long disabused me of the gifted sweater. So for these two men in my life, Christmas gifting has proved to be an adventure, of sorts.

A couple of years ago I gave Renaissance Man a fold out huge cultural history of the world. It opened up the length of his living room, and he seemed to enjoy reading esoteric bits of information from among the ages. The gift that both he and Rumpole took particular delight in was when they received guitar lessons for 4 months. This was 18 years ago, and I must say, it has been a gift that has kept giving. They joined a band, and have played together for 12 years now, and entertain us at home with musicales regularly.

This Christmas seemed particularly problematic. What does one gift a grown man who has alost everything his heart could desire? I stewed and fretted about this for months now. I want him to enjoy life, to keep learning while he can and to model that learning and enjoyment for his young daughter.

Last weekend, he and Glasgow Girl brought Mousey over for a visit. Here was the perfect occasion to put the query to him. I had cleverly and casually placed the new second-hand recorder I had bought at the thrift store, as an inducement to pique Mousey’s curiosity. True to form, as soon as she spied it, she picked it up and asked, “What is this?”

“Blow in the end,” suggested Rumpole, “It’s a recorder.”

She picked it up and tooted away with it in great delight. “Here, Mouse, ” said RM, “I’ll show you how to put your fingers.” He played the scale for her, but she couldn’t when she tried; her hands were much too small.

She marched about the kitchen and tooted away, experimenting with blowing through breaths.

“Mom, you’re such a trouble maker,” said RM. “Every time you introduce her to new things, she keeps bugging us to keep playing with them.”

Heh, heeh, that’s the plan – I thought to myself. it’s never too early.

“You know, R.M., you have a really good singing voice,” said Rumpole.

“Yeah,” I agreed, ” you have perfect pitch. Every time you sing with the band I have to pinch myself. You nail the songs so perfectly. But you lack confidence.”

“How would you like to receive singing lessons as a Christmas present, this year?” asked Rumpole.

Renaissance Man looked at each of us in turn. “You know,” he said, “it might be kind of fun. Only I don’t want to go to someone’s house for lessons.”

“Okay,” I said, ” I have the perfect place to order up lessons for you, the local music school. See if you like what they have on offer.”

So, that was that. Renaissance Man is intrigued by the possibility of voice lessons. My job was to do the research on this possibility.

So this week’s job for me was to find the singing teacher, which I did, and to order up lessons, which Rumpole and I did, this evening after having dinner with Lookingforbeauty. We drove to the music school in the dark of evening, and made arrangements with the pleasant director of the school. In January, Renaissance Man is to start his weekly lessons on Tuesday nights. I think he will be well pleased.

While at the music studio, I asked about replacement strings for my cheapo violin. They had them, and Rumpole bought a set for me. We drove home in the dark, well delighted with the possibility of making more music, en famille. I can hardly wait for Christmas – a book of songs for Renaissance Man to go with his singing lessons, and perhaps my newly strung violin along for Christmas dinner to play some reels. Of course, I shall have to practice during the coming weeks. I know for sure that Jessica, our Scottish Terrier will accompany me on the violin. She hates my music, or my singing, and joins in a chorale accompanyment appropriate to my level of playing.

It promises to be a musical New Year for us all. I can hardly wait to hear Renaissance Man let loose with his wonderful voice.

A tag from Nita…

May 10, 2008

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor – Das Land des Lächelns

Nita – http://nitawriter.wordpress.com – has tagged me with a writing tag… to select a song which compels one to entre into a state where writing (or making images) is stimulated. While I rarely work with music in the background, preferring silence or ambient sound, certain pieces of music cause me to disconnect from mundane preoccupations and let my spirit soar into regions where imagination, or “what if”, lives.

This beautiful aria is one I fortuitously found on a record from an obscure little record store, back in 1973. It was a recording of Fritz Wunderlich’s great arias. A heartachingly beautiful tenor, this song is one I always listen to in the springtime. Especially when looking at my apple tree in bloom, which, this year it has not done in April, but rather late right now in May – I hum along in an atrocious alto with glee and intense pleasure.

“Die apfelbluete ist einen kranz…” (The apple tree is a crown…)

I hope you enjoy this lovely song, by someone who was one of the finest lyric tenors in the 20th century, one whose sad, abbreviated life, yielded so much musical pleasure for us all.

 

Flash Fiction…Postcard Story…

December 4, 2007

The prompt is to use – George, Venice, bee, catastrophe, sweater – for a written piece that fits a postcard.

I, George Obbligato, otherwise called Giorgio in my hometown, Venice, am lying on the terrace on my chaise longue and recalling what happened between Orazio and me in the reataurant last night.

As you know, Orazio is the chef at my restaurant “Le Falerne alla Fiamma”. Last night, all of a sudden Orazio felt chilly. He put on his moth-eaten sweater, the one that trails loose threads from holes in the elbows. I was quite irritated to see him dangling some of these in the “zabaglione” he was whisking with vigorous strokes. I yelled at him. “If you are dressed so warm against imagined cold, I, myself am sweating from all the steam generated by the cooking pasta.”

I threw open the door leading to the alley, and went on separating radicchio leaves, washed these carefully, quite comfortable and busy, when suddenly Orazio starts yelling at the top of his lungs. “What a catastrophe, there’s a bee in my Zabaglione.”

This was a list of words given to my writing workshop to use in a ten-minute exercise. This is what I came up with from off the top of my head.

My sculpture commission…

October 9, 2007

Last Fall, Rumpole and I attended a presentation on “Developing a Public Art Policy” organized by our municipal leaders. The presenter was a sculptor who has, for many years, developed and installed numerous Public Art projects. He treated the assembled audience to visuals covering a range of examples of Public Art, from Jonathan Borofsky’s “Hammering Man” installed in front of the Seattle Art Museum to projects installed in Scottsdale, Arizona, his own projects in Vancouver, North Vancouver and Victoria, however he left out showing images of some local installations that have met with controversy. Rumpole and I paid rapt attention during this presentation. In its aftermath we engaged in a number of lively discussions on the subject of Public Art.

“Remember, dear, how you tried your hand at making Public Art?” he mentioned with an uncharacteristic smirk on his  usually stern visage.

“Must you bring that up, now?” I grumbled. “Why must you torture me with stuff I have done that I ‘d rather forget?”

Of course, this exchange, brought up a memory which in hindsight is full of odd twists. I am sure that my sculpture teacher back in art school 42 years ago, would wince that his careful grooming of my sculptural abilities had led to my creation of such an embarrasing work. This is the story of my “OTL Beaver”.

Twenty-seven years ago, we had just moved up north. Rumpole began practising Law, I continued to teach high school art, and Renaissance Man entered the fifth grade at school. We lived in splendid isolation on acreage in the bush, in a log house.

One day near the end of October, the vice-principal of my school, a really good egg, a man who was much involved in the community, nabbed me in the copier room after classes. “I belong to the ‘Over the Line Softball League’. We play softball in the snow all winter, and raise money for charity.” he mentioned casually. “We need a mascot for our float for the Christmas Parade. Can you help us?”

This request was a real head scratcher. Did he mean for me to devise a project for one of my unruly Grade 9 classes.  It was bit too short notice to drop what we were doing in class and go tooth and nail trying to pull this off with kids I didn’t know very well. I said this to him.

“Well, do you think you can do this at home?  We will pay you. But it has to be ready by the first week of December.” he persisted. “We want to have a bang-up float this year.”

Ever a sucker for a challenge and given my silly tendency to want to help people using whatever limited skills allotted to me, I agreed to design a 3-D mascot for the OTL League. It had to be a beaver (that Great Canadian Symbol also coincidentally co-opted by the OTL guys), funny, eight feet tall, made of cheap materials, be able to last for at least a week and be marginally weather-proof. So in consultation with the commissioner of this “chef d’oeuvre” we decided on a large papier mache beaver. It was to have a goofy expression on its face,  exaggerated front incisors, oversize feet in sneakers and a large catcher’s mitt in it’s paw toting a huge snowball. I made a number of preliminary studies on paper and the vice-principal happily picked a design he found hilarious.

Now, in our bourgeois household, over a number of years of living with Rumpole, I had chipped away at his conservative notion that a living – room was for calm pursuits of life such as reading, conversation, watching the boob-tube and listening to music. Still, I had to gently break it to him that for the next month our living and dining room was to be a construction zone. (Just as “Rumpole of the Bailey” had “She Who Must Be Obeyed”, so did my dear Rumpole have me, Stepford Wife, to determine just what all could transpire in our domestic spaces.) He was less than thrilled, groaned, ran his hand over his bald head and grumbled a “Whatever…, but you are on your own, completely, in this endeavour.”

So, off I went like an independent gal and bought the requisite lumber, chicken wire and gallon of Rhoplex. These supplies gathered, I had the smarts to construct the needed heavy base and armature of “the Beaver” in our basement. Always curious and seeking to correct my construction methods and awkward wood-working technique, Rumpole visited the construction site and made pointed comments about my ineptitude, while I  sawed, hammered and uttered colourful epiteths.

“You’ll never get that sucker to stand correctly,” he goaded.

Eager to prove him wrong, I beavered away assembling the understructure. It managed to stay upright.  The next phase of cutting out the chicken-wire and buiding the final forms was quite a challenge, and this had to be done on-site in the dining room near the French  doors.  The French doors were the only opening large enough to take out this 8 foot monstosity!

As Rumpole lounged on the sofa in the adjoining living-room and Renaissance Man reluctantly applied himself to his grade 5 homework at the dining-room table, I sweated and cursed through cutting the roll of chicken-wire on the dining room floor. The beaver began to take shape.

“Why are its feet so large?” asked Renaissance Man.

“The better to stand up with, my dear,” I replied.

Rumpole delivered critical one-liners from the safety of the sofa. His sarcastic comments about Michelangelo not having to worry about comparisons of “the Beaver” to his “David” I duly tucked into my memory bank of Rumpole insults and criticisms.

A happy family is one that shares activities and labours. So, we spent some fun times ripping newspapers into long strips with which to weave a surface of papier mache onto the Beaver. Rumpole and RM announced that they were not willing to get their hands sticky and wet, they wanted no part of the messier aspects of the next construction phase.

So enjoying the process of organizing groups, I inveigled visiting friends and neighbours into helping with the mache application. They had little choice, as there was to be no tea, coffee and goodies presented to them as a neighbourly refreshment until they had applied a sufficient amount of Rhoplexed newspaper strips to the sculpture. I invited unsuspecting teacher cohorts to a dinner party, luring them with a potential Hungarian dining experience. Unknown to them, the chief entertainment for the evening was to be direct opportunity to partake of the sticky pleasures of papier mache construction.

One clever guy, as he immersed several stips into his bucket of Rhoplex, quipped “This is way more fun than a ‘key party’ “.

“Oh, shut up!” I retorted. “You need to build up the arm with a few more layers.”

In hardly any time at all, the Beaver took satisfactory, if ghostly grey, shape. I organized a “Paint the Beaver” Saturday night soiree. Rumpole’s law partner was thrilled for a chance to paint the final pattern on the Beaver’s  tail. His wife tackled the chore of painting the Beaver’s oversize running shoes. A teacher friend, Jack, put the finishing touches of a loopy expression on the Beaver’s mug. His wife, Jane, sat nearby with Rumpole.  They suggested needed further touch-ups. They were the “quality control” team. Naturally, this group effort needed alcoholic lubrication, and we polished off several bottles of good red wine before high-fiving and congratulating each other for a job well done. I rather doubt if Michelangelo’s sculpture assistants had more fun at their final party after completion of “the David”.

Heady with pride, I told my vice-principal at school the following Monday that the Beaver was finished and he and some friends could come by the coming weekend to take it to the warehouse where the float was being readied. That week, a major snowstorm hit our region. The snow kept piling up. Getting to and from from to our place in the bush took some tricky winter driving skills.

The Beaver movers arranged to come on Friday evening.  Our road was becoming impassable due to the heavy snowfall. I waited and waited for the pick-up truck to slip-slide up our road. And waited, as the snowfall evolved to white-out condition. Rumpole went out to snow-blow our long driveway, so the truck could drive close to the house without getting stuck. I shovelled off the back deck and stairs leading up to it to give the movers clear access to the French doors  for Beaver removal. And waited some more.

Just as I was about to give up waiting, ready to get my pajamas and housecoat on, RM who was on watch for the truck called out, “Here they come!” Out we all went to greet the movers.  Three strangers piled out of the truck, drunker than lords.

“We got lost on these back roads, got stuck several times. Where’s the beaver?” the inebriated driver yelled.

Rumpole led them around to the back of the house, to the French doors. I fretted as I went back inside to supervise the Beaver removal.  There was much discussion amongst us all on how best to lift my magnum opus without damaging it.  The drunken removal-team managed to get it out through the doors, unscathed, but one guy slipped on the stairs going off the deck and tore the Beaver’s tail. Choking back an unladylike string of oscenities, I anxiously followed these lurching, inept fellows to the truck. There, they hoisted the Beaver into the truck’s box and festooned it with windings of plypropylene rope to secure it for the long drive to the warehouse. They draped it with a tarp to keep the snow off, hopped into the cab and slid back down the driveway, yelling cheery, drunken thanks and goodbyes out the window as they went.

I feared for the Beaver.  Would it arrive in one piece, to be installed on its float? Oh, well, the matter was out of my hands, Thank God!

The following Saturday, Rumpole, RM and I were lined up with a crowd on the main drag of our town to watch the Christmas Parade. We satched Santa go by, waving for all he was worth, surrounded by miserable looking freezing elves. Miss Winter, perched resplendent and blue-lipped in her white fur-coat, tiara and woolen mitts, sailed by.

Renaissance Man spotted the float with the Beaver, the OTL float. “Look, Mom! There comes your Beaver!” he yelled with enthusiasm. People gathered around us tittered, snorted and looked around for the source of this unexpected levity.

With red face (not entirely due to the extreme cold) I watched as the Beaver and its crew materialized and advanced toward us in the thickly falling snow. As it slowly floated by our viewpoint, I spotted the tear in its tail.  A bunch of happy, winterized and baseball-glove-toting guys surrounded the Beaver and manically waved at the crowd. As we watched, the Beaver slowly disappeared into the distance.

Boy, was I ever glad to see the last of it!

As a good bourgeois family, we resumed our boring quotidian lives.  The dining room reverted back to its proper use. Life went on, and the Beaver tale has taken on iconic status as a “family story”.

“Only in Canada? A pity! Eh?”

“Piles…”

October 4, 2007

This coming Thanksgiving weekend, Renaissance Man and his friend, Pete, are going surfing on the west coast of Vancouver Island, leaving behind wives, children and family, home and work obligations, to play in the water and sand. They don’t care whether the forecast is for sun or rain.  They just hope for good waves.

I have seen pictures of numbers of these young men of varied ages dragging and piling beach refuse into huge piles behind which to take refuge from the westerly winds punishing this shore. Their multicoloured surf-boards are erected like menhirs in Brittany, aligned, waiting for the perfect waves, the magic condition for their deployment. These worshippers of the surf are all garbed in severe black neoprene skin-suits, huddled, waiting behind their windbreak.

When he first announced his intention to go surfing in this inclement weather, my gut reaction was instant fear for his safety.  I greeted his announcement in frozen silence. Holding back from uttering a motherly caution, I wondered if this fear for my child, who is no longer a child, but a man with a family and good common sense, would ever cease in my lifetime. I marvelled at how even as a young child he was fascinated by contrasting elements; water acting on sand and gravel, piles of different things disarranged by an applied force acting on them.

At first, when he was about 16 months old, Renaissance Man was partial to outings to the sand-pit in the park across the street from our basement apartment. He didn’t particularly like the feel of sand after he had a faceful flung at him by another young child. Yet, he liked to slog through the sand on his sturdy little legs. He studied the marks behind him made by his feet as he laboured along making parallel v-shaped grooves behind him.

A year later, we were living up north where great snowfalls reigned in the wintertime. Bundled up like a spaceman in his winter gear, he waddled around in the snow, whenever he was not ensconced in his little sled with me pulling him like a plow horse. Whenever I had to dig out the car from drifts, he stayed near, patting the piles created by digging into a semblance of order with  his mittened hands.

Indoors, during the spring before he turned three, he played with his Christmas present, a yellow Tonka dump-truck. I bought a good supply of cube sugar which was his to play with, to load, dump and reload. He made piles of sugar cubes, built strange lines of several rows  meandering on the green indoor-outdoor carpet of the living room. He shrieked with frustration when he attempted to create discrete piles out of these white granular squares. They did not make tidy mounds. As they gradually lost sharp corners and edges, became rounded, they rolled down the incline of the pile in unpredictable ways.

One day we went to the central depot for our bulk provisions of flour, granular sugar, oat flakes, nuts, beans and wheat germ. He watched in earnest as I ladelled my allotted quantities of consumables into separate old cotton pillowcases. Once home with this bounty, he carefully observed transfer of these goods into large jars, cans and cartons. He ran his hands through each type of substance, feeling textures. I wondered what was going through his young mind as he did this.

A couple of days later, the results of his thought processes manifested itself, in a quite surprising way. In the middle of the night, truck-sound splutterings and roars filtered into my unconscious.  I lay in bed, disoriented, until the nature of the sounds registered on my sleepy brain.  It was Renaissance Man, playing and making noises in the kitchen. I stumbled out of the bedroom to find lights on in the kitchen. RM was crawling along, operating his yellow dump truck and spilling dark brown mounds onto the carpeted floor. He was one with his machine, providing the sound-effects of growling diesel engines. There were shallow ribbons of road-ways connecting these mounds. These had a hard glistening surface like fresh ashphalt. He had created the miniature world of a construction materials depot.

“Mom, look!” he gleefully waved muck-encrusted little hands at me.

I looked. There were separate mounds of coffee grounds, wheat germ, beans and oatmeal joined by roads composed of jam, peanut butter and brown sugar. These roads snaked around the whole kitchen floor. RM looked extremely proud of what he had made.

I grabbed him up and took him into the bathroom to clean him of sticky and gritty substances. Although he had used up food supplies so carefully laid in with what little money we had, I didn’t have the heart to chide him.

“You know, that is all stuff we eat that you used to make your construction yard,” I muttered, wiping crud from his hands. ” but we will have to clean all the roads up from the floor before they harden.”

“Can we sleep first?” he asked as he yawned.

“Yes, we’ll clean up in the morning,” I replied, carting him, now clean, to his bedroom.

Back in my own bed, I resolved to make him his own sand-box in the back-yard as soon as the spring melt ended.

Came Spring –  sunny, windy days, aspens broke into their tender green. The muddy ground dried and we cleared an area in the background of grass, and dug down to provide a pit to contain sand. We went off in the car to one of the local lakes which was our sandy swimmming hole in summertime. There we shovelled sand into garbage can, and buckets and took them home to deposit into our sand pit. We made several trips to get enough sand to make a decent play area. RM enjoyed having a part in creating his play space. He collected rocks and pebbles, and built up a supply of various sized gravel mountains that he carefully separated by size of unit components. He spent time in this outdoor play zone and built himself a complex world where he moved stuff about, constructing, dismantling and reconstructing as his imagination prompted. He collected twigs and sticks to augment his little world.

One dinner-time as we were feasting on broccoli, his little face lit up with a realization of discovery. Of a new idea.

“Mom, we are really eating trees right now,” he announced, brandishing a broccoli spear in his hand. “Can I have some fresh ones to plant in my city?”

“You are right, these do look like trees. But this is food, hard to come by. Maybe we can go and look for stuff in the yard that might make good trees,” I told him.

The following summer, we travelled to Vancouver to visit family and friends, go to the beach, hike in the woods and visit parks. A university friend had an installation showing at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Also being exhibited was an American Minimalist’s work, labelled “PILES”. Renaissance Man was my gallery companion to this exposition. I figured it was never too early to introduce him to gallery experiences, and model some appropriate gallery behaviours. His questions about new experiences he encountered were pointed, and his reactions fresh and surprising.

So, on a sunny afternoon, before hitting the sands of Second Beach to play and frolic in the sea and sand, we took a brief side-trip to see this exhibition. The main gallery held “PILES”. Grabbing Renaissance Man firmly by the hand, I hefted the heavy gallery door open. He swiftly squeezed through ahead of me, disengaged his hand from mine and simply stood there in silence taking in the various piles of gravel, gravel drawings in the floor.

“Oh, Wow!  Piles!” he chirped, took off at a run before I could grab him, made a bee-line for the nearest gravel mound and flung himself on top of it. He lay there, working his little hands in the gravel. He was grinning with pleasure. I grabbed him up, just as the irate gallery guard materialized from his station somewhere in the gallery.

“Madam, you have to have better control of your child.” he ordered in a stentorian voice. “Look, he has wrecked an exhibit!”

What did Renaissance Man care about the fact that the various piles were examples of the concept of “The angle of repose”? Or of possible methodology of placing precised edged drawings  composed of gravel lines on the gallery’s floor? He simply reacted, directly and honestly from his particular experience and appreciation of the materials thus displayed. To him, these piles of different quality of gravels represented a potential to manipulate and create with of an imagined end that he had in his own mind. These piles called to him with an irresistible and unheard siren call of “handle me, use me, make a world with me!!!”

With red face, I clung firmly to his hand and we walked around the exhibit, talking about where the piles of stuff came from, how they were brought into this place, and how possibly they had been created.

He expressed surprise that a grown man had made this display of stuff he himself was so familiar moving about.

“Dads really do this? They still play with gravel and sand?” he asked, mystified.

So, I wonder, will he, perhaps, remember his early play with earthen materials, as he plants his surf-board in the sand, shifts logs and beach debris to make a shelter from the winds, dig his toes into the sand and watch the water shift the shoreline as he waits for the perfect waves to form?

Palimpsest…

August 11, 2007

The blackboard hangs on the wall, one half smeared with the white dust of last day’s markings: equations erased sweeps of chalk, conjugated verbs yesterday’s faint powder tracery or, perhaps, listed assignments an obscured scrawl.

I have been out of the class room for the past twenty-two years. Yet, every August about half-way through the month, my thoughts return, like migrating geese to their winter home, to the class-rooms of my fourteen year career as a teacher.

The other day I was in Staples looking for a mechanical pencil, of the type I like to keep in my purse and with which to make scratchy diagrams and drawings to illustrate points of discussion whenever I am having coffee with friends. Down one aisle of the store were cork bulletin boards and small blackboards that could be hung on a kitchen or office wall. It occurred to me that a medium sized blackboard would come in handy for my at-home-studio teaching of drawing and painting.

When I taught high-school art classes, I loved to go into school early in the morning and lay out with white and coloured chalks notes and drawings of ideas we were involved in exploring. The previous afternoon, before leaving the class room my last  act would be to sweep aside that day’s scrawled and drawn information. Often, I would pause and study the cryptic comments made by students in the margins of my own marks – these were signs of their engagement, or not, in our mutual mind activity of the day. Sometimes, I would be careful to preserve little islands of student scrawls and leave them on the board for days; this mystified the kids.

I always loved the immediacy and casual nature of the black-board – its impermanence, its vast empty space for mind-markings, its pentimentos of coloured chalk echoing through newly printed and drawn information.

I think I’ll go to the lumber yard and buy a 4ft by 4ft slab of masonite, buy some chalkboard paint and make my own blackboard for my studio.  On it I can then rehearse ideas, work out images, play and elaborate to my heart’s content, have a space for students to also work out their own concepts and carry forward in the present this fondness for that matte-surfaced, valuable palimpsest.