30 April 2009

Poetry is rumored to be dead again this year*


Today is the last day of National Poetry Month, and I’ve read once again this year that poetry is dying. But it’s not. I’ll tell you why.

The old-fashioned, iambic, rhyming poetry can be a big part of a good childhood. It is satisfying to a human brain in its playful state. We know that children are affected by rhythm. Healthy children rock and swing, and unhealthy children knock their heads against the walls. Nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and Edward Leary and every song lyric you’ve ever heard have rhythm and rhyme.

There was an old woman lived under the hill,

And if she's not gone she lives there still.

You see a large number of noses turn up when you mention poetry, but I’d venture to say that a majority of ordinary folks enjoy the universal wisdom in the simple kind of poetry, and they don’t buy poetry journals or get interviewed by Newsweek or read bare modern poetry. But they know you don’t fall asleep under a haystack while you’re supposed to be watching sheep and that you have to let your light shine, as well as

Righty tighty

lefty loosey

Thirty days has September,

April, June, and November.

I before E except after C

and when it says A

as in “neighbor” and “weigh.”

I studied contemporary American poetry as a master’s candidate. I like poetry that doesn’t rhyme, poetry that is hard to figure out, poetry that is translated from other languages, and poetry that emphasizes concision and intellect and symbol. But I really like the pleasure of a good rhyming poem, especially the fun of saying it aloud. Think about what happens when you hear the first bars of a song you haven’t heard for years: You start singing, without thinking, because your brain has stored the lyrics away in stanzas, with a chorus, a tune, and a beat. As poetry.


Fats and Skinny sleeping in the bed.

Fats rolled over, and Skinny was dead.

Some of the best moments I have ever spent in this life involved the energy and clarity of a good rhyming poem. When I was small, my mother would read to me. She was a good reader with a variety of voices and the timing of a dramatic actress, and I felt completely cheated if I had to go to bed without a private performance.

We’re three little kittens.

We’ve lost our mittens.

Birds in a pie, cows over the moon, highwaymen, ghosts, nightmare horses, dragons and fairies and porridge. I learned to make that magic for myself when I had to, because the poetry that my mother read to me stuck in my mind without effort. The words kept me calm and slowed my breathing and occupied the time until sleep came for me.

When I was a little boy, I lived by myself,

And all the bread and cheese I got I put upon a shelf;

A few years later, I read to my sister, speaking the voices as my mother had, pausing for effect, stretching a rhyme here and there to add to the drama. I enjoyed playing my mother’s role, especially if I was wearing her high heels while I read. I passed the rhythms and rhymes to my sister, and she would eventually carry them to her brood of children. I hope she did. Our favorite was the poem in the big red book in which a little girl entreats her doll to explain why she ignores her:

Matilda Jane, you never look

at any toys or picture books.

I show you pretty things in vain,

You must be blind, Matilda Jane.

I read to my youngest sister and my little brother too. I went to college where I wrote and read my own poetry. My son and I spent hours and days reading together. I had a much larger repertoire of voices by then, and I delighted in the fact that I could mesmerize him with the same old tales that were magical to me.

The time has come, the walrus said,

To speak of many things.

Even now someone in my family will recite a line from a poem we used to read together:

Did I ever tell you about Mrs. McCabe?

and someone else will answer with the next line:

She had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave.

and so on…

Our first poems are the best. They contain lessons and mysteries and history. They tickle the brain and worm in deep and stay a long time and disappear last. Poetry is not dying. It’s not even ill.

*My apologies to any poet I misquoted. I thought it would be fun to see how accurate my memory is. Okay. I was too lazy to look things up.

28 April 2009

My fifteen minutes in the sun

The first memory I am sure I remember is of a day at the beach with my parents. My dad swung my little sister in her carrier, which had its own awning to keep the sun off of her. She wore that little blue hat tied to her bald head, her little wrinkled face screwed up, always squinting as if an answer was about to come to her.

My mother wore her modest black bathing suit with a white terry cloth robe over it and a new pair of black flip-flops. She had a bright print scarf tied around her big black hair. She shook out a horse-hair navy-issue blanket and arranged herself on it with her freckled legs out in front of her, teetering a little from side to side, catching herself on her elbows. My dad always teased her that she never really tanned, just became one big freckle. I had a half a cup of my mom's freckles poured across my nose, but I was rosy and fair (flushed and pale?) with light pinky blonde hair, and I burned to a crisp in half an hour.

My dad loved to take photos and movie film. He pointed the camera at my mother, and she threw her hand up to her collarbone and turned her head as though she didn't want her picture taken. Later she would send out three copies: one to each of her sisters and one to Grandma. We had one in our album too.

I stood in front of my mom while she rubbed sun cream on my back. She spun me around and greased up my front side too. As my dad put the baby down his shadow fell across us. My mom looked up, and her husband was reflected in the lenses of her big black sun glasses. She looked like a minor movie star with her big white teeth glittering in the sun, her shiny black hair tumbling down her back. “Go on,” she said to me. “You can only spend fifteen minutes in the sun.”

“But I want to build a castle–”

“You’d better get going, then. You’ve already wasted a minute. Go with your dad and get in the water.”

My mom took sunburn seriously. The first year they were married, she and my dad had been attracted to the beaches as only two young newlyweds from Illinois could be. They'd awake early on Saturdays, pack some snacks and drinks, and drive to the beach. The world was Technicolor, and they were wholesome young adults in a salty, vivid land.

Everybody hears the warnings; they are all over the place. But the sun on a tropical island is not the same as the sun that ripens corn and beans on the Midwest prairies, and even if a man has sported a farmer’s tan for twenty-four years he can’t lie out in the island rays and expect not to cook like a chicken thigh.

So one time my dad didn’t turn over when my mom told him to but said instead that he’d turn over when he damn well pleased. He thought the heat was clearing up the acne on his back. He didn’t really start to smell like frying bacon until they were on their way home.

He was so sick that a couple of times he said he wished he’d turned over when she told him to. He slept at the kitchen table the first night. He moaned and roared when he tried to move. A fan oscillated across his skin and my mom kept slathering on handsful of Noxema.

Mom said he was so sick she wanted to call the doctor. He was vomiting from the heat and dehydration, and his skin was as red as a hot dog. His body temperature was high, and his mood was hot as hell. He slept at the kitchen table the next night. The skin on his back curled up like pork rinds and fell to the floor like husks. He was in so much pain that he began to converse with my mother. “I could be court martialed for this,” he told her.

“For a sunburn?”

“For damaging government property.”

She put that piece of information away in her little mental tote, filed under “court martial” and cross-referenced to “sunburn”. By the time I was born her fear of the sun had gelled into a standard operating procedure, and I was always subjected to a lecture and a creamy rub before I went outside in the sun.

“Go on, go on,” she said as she shooed me toward my dad. “Dwain, take her into the water,” she directed. She lit a cigarette and blew the first drag up into the sparkly air. She checked my sister with one eye only, the other one squinted up from the smoke. She rubbed cream into her thighs with the palms of her hands, keeping her fingers splayed back so the Coppertone would not collect under her red-lacquered nails.

My mother never went into the water. Part of it was that she didn’t want to muss her hair. She did have a beautiful head of hair. The other part was that she couldn’t swim a lick, and my dad was a trickster. She might have enjoyed a lazy bob in the waves, but she didn't trust her husband not to turn her weakness into a nasty practical joke. Our outings nearly always ended with someone crying.

I couldn't swim either, but I took hold of my father's hand, and he led me along the sand to where the wetness began, squeezing my knuckles together until the bones rolled against each other and hurt. I didn't say a word because complaints usually caused him to decide to play rougher, squeezing my pinkie finger into a little white swirl and rolling it into a knot until I began to cry and he began to laugh. Being good meant no whining, and that was not always easy to achieve with my parents.

So we dug our toes into the sand and waited as the waves approached. I stood in the little oval spot of my dad's shadow. The water tumbled over our feet and backed away again, seeming to suck the sand from under our feet. Each time a wave retreated, I felt as though I was flying backward toward the blanket and I laughed.

“Watch this,” my dad said. He picked me up and tossed me about three feet away into the water.


The whole world slowed almost to a stop. The water twirled me around and I saw shells and crabs and sticks and silt spinning around with me. I was jerked out to sea as the wave receded. I felt as if I traveled a hundred miles from the beach. I had not known that you could see under water. My ears echoed with a rhythmic sound that I didn’t recognize as my own heartbeat.

Finally, my dad grabbed me by the arm and lifted me up out of the water. I heard myself choking and gagging and spitting, before I lay still in the hot sand. This afternoon was the first time I felt that hot anger that drove me through my twenties, thirties, and forties before I gradually learned to loosen its hold. The first time I let myself feel anything but afraid.

"She's drowning," my mother said to my dad.

"She is not. It was only a foot of water." My dad poked at me with his foot as if I were driftwood that had washed up on the beach. "Hush up," he said, “or we'll just go home."

I lay on my belly in the hot sand, my father's bad toe with its thick yellow horn of a nail an inch away from my nose. I didn’t make a sound while I tried to calm my breath and stop sucking in great gulps of air.

"It's your own fault," my dad said. "The sea hates whiney sailors. Get up. I'm not going to tell you again.”

I lay there hiccupping and burping up sea water, feeling the skin on my back grow crinkled, as my fifteen minutes in the sun burned away.

20 April 2009

A Hawai'ian Dream

My father was a sailor, and he and his sixteen-year-old bride had set out on an adventure that landed them in Honolulu, thousands of miles from the Illinois prairie where they grew up. Two years later I was born, and they raised me until the age of eight not knowing that there were places cold and colorless and dull.

My dad told me that he wanted to name me Sugar and my sister Candy. Since our last name is Cain, my mother wouldn't let him do that. I don't know if that story is true or not. Once I said to him, "My last name would be Payne (my mother's maiden name) if it weren't for you." He said, "If it weren't for me, your name would be Mudd." I had to wonder about that one a long time before I learned about Dr. Mudd.


Plumeria plant at GriffithGardens.

Even though my father’s academic career ended a few months short of high-school graduation when he threw a basketball at the coach’s head and stormed out of the gym, he was smart. Perhaps the fact that he rarely spoke and did not waste too many words on feelings or tales of the past (or the present, for that matter) made him seem smarter than he was. He usually spoke for practical reasons: Hand me that hammer. Get me some coffee. Where’s the twine?

When I was about six years old, my father came home from working in what he called Uncle Sam’s engine room and said he was going to become a millionaire. He had a plan. He would be rich by the time he was forty years old. He was getting in on the ground floor of an opportunity to strike it big. Everyone in the house had drawn near and grown still just to hear him talk. My mom stood by the stove with a wooden spoon in her hand, letting the white chicken gravy drip while she stared at him.

Tropical Floral Barkcloth at The Rockpile

“Mutual funds,” he said.

What my father was proposing was no more imaginable than me flying to the moon on a clothesline. My mother did not entertain the thought of my father becoming a salesman. She simply turned back to the stove and continued stirring as though he had not spoken.

Wikimedia.

For two weeks after that, my dad sat around in his spare time reading looseleaf notebooks and writing up worksheets for fictional clients. He even practiced his sales pitch on my mom while she was peeling potatoes.

I could not picture my father coming into someone’s house the way the carpet sweeper man had come to ours, making small talk and then turning the topic to what he had to sell. And he didn’t get the least bit upset when it became clear that my parents were not going to buy, even though he was obliged to leave the free gift he had promised (four steak knives, I think). I couldn’t imagine my dad nodding politely, listening politely to potential clients. Spit it out, he’d tell them. I haven’t got all day. If they couldn’t spit it out, he’d say. Yak, yak, yak.

Wikimedia.

Then my dad announced that we were going to a fancy fake luau at the home of a couple who came from Boston but now owned a three-story glass house with a lake and a waterfall, wild birds and a tame monkey, all from selling mutual funds. This was even stranger to us than the fact that my father had found himself a second job.

Sears catalogue 1939.

With the exception of a few friends, my dad did not visit people: He visited car shows and zoos and Sears, places you didn’t dress up or worry about manners. Right away my mom went into a frenzy of planning. She feared that we wouldn’t know how to behave in a nice place, as if our house was the pig sty she was always telling me it wasn’t. Get those toys picked up! You don’t live in a pig sty! Apparently even my dad was too ignorant to be allowed in public without coaching, because she kept giving him etiquette tips until he said, “Who made you the goddamn queen?”

www.fashionera.com

My mom was a slave to women’s magazines that told her how to make a gracious home on a shoe string, and that servitude was going to serve her now. She was twenty-four years old, cute and coltish, but her family… well, she had a lot of work to do. For the four days remaining before the visit, she discussed our wardrobes with herself. She tried to make us the smart, young family on the go. I was going to wear a turquoise dress with a white sash that made me look plump. Nearly every time she grabbed me at the last minute and started to improve me she ended up embarrassing us both, and I feared that. In her nervousness she began to cut my hair, and each day the bangs of my pixie cut grew shorter as she tried to match up the sides.

Hawaiian dress at UpscaleVintage

My sister Lissa, who was two years old at this time, looked like a little old man. She had no hair and a squinched up suspicious little face, and my mom always stuck a bow to her head so she was identifiable as a girl. Lissa was going to wear a blue dress with matching ruffled panties and ridiculously useless sandals. She was to sit on my mom’s lap, and she was not to snot, to cry, or to throw up. And I was not to do any of my nervous habits: harumping or clearing my throat or biting my fingers. “Just try me and see,” Mom said. “I’ll blister your butt in front of everybody.” But she wouldn’t. I knew that. She would never call attention to herself.
(I hope my sister sees this.)

As we drove on the narrow twisted lava roads lined with trees and plants I've never seen the equal of even yet, my parents sparred half-heartedly, my mom describing my dad’s shoes in unflattering terms and my dad calling her a fat ass. All the time my mom sat in the middle of the bench seat with her hand on my dad’s knee while he drove.

The party was not a success for the young family on the go. There weren't any other children there except a snotty teenage girl with a dog under her arm. I stayed a little behind my mom and said nothing. I thought the guests looked at me as though they were holding little pieces of poop on the tips of their tongues. Just like a sitcom, everyone was wearing casual luau clothes except us. My mom took the belt off my turquoise dress and let me remove my shoes and socks in hopes that I would look billowy and in a luau mood, but instead I was sweaty and graceless, starting to burn.

My little sister fell asleep on my mom’s lap and saved her from having to mix. She sat silently and soaked up the uncomfortable smiles as if she didn’t notice. When her feelings were hurt, you’d never know it. Later she’d unleash a streak of venom and clean the house furiously as she ranted and eventually run down to a headache and a nap. I sat on the grass next to her chair with my big old feet politely stuck up under my dress so I wouldn’t look like I came from Dogpatch, as my mom described it.

And do you know what we got from all of this? We were invited to attend the hosts’ church home, and my parents, now fired with the idea that they could have a mansion and a fake luau, accepted.

Honolulu, Hawai'i, taken by Steve and Pam Paulson from Amos Griffith's Giffin and Hoxie.

I don't remember even once going to church before this time, though my mom would talk about the church ladies who helped her through pregnancy, stillbirth, and tumor, so I must have. We had a big book of Old Testament stories that had colored drawings my mother deemed too active for us to read before bed. I believed that God made the world out of clay and it thundered when he was bowling and rained was when he was crying. Lightening, he was sharpening his sword. He put a rainbow in the sky to say I'm watching you. He lived in the sky in a country called Heaven, but we couldn’t see him because of the clouds. When someone died it was because God needed them for something up there. Sometimes I got God mixed up with Aesop, but these were the tenants of my secret religion, a collection of lore I had gleaned from many sources.

So, we went to church for a month. The Sunday school teachers taught us songs that I can still remember. I’m in the Lord’s Army and Zachias Was a Wee Little Man. I sang without emitting a sound and never recited an answer when my name was called. I felt proud of the stars they put up on the wall chart next to my name, though I had done nothing to deserve them but show up. One week we sang Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain in front of the church before the sermon, all of us making the motions like little mimes, the teachers standing in front of us singing with exaggerated cheerfulness and drawing big smiles in the air with their hands as we sang faces all aglow.

After a few weeks of scuttling to church once a week, making Sunday as stressful as a school day, or any other day you had to get ready to go somewhere with my mom, I learned what a revival was: a chance to go to church every night for a week and all day on the concluding Sunday. My heart sank into my shoe. It was one thing to tolerate a once a week visit, sing a few songs, make a craft, listen to stories that were not as good as the ones my mom read to me before bed. I didn't like other kids. I didn't like strange adults urging me to participate and speaking to me like I was an idiot because I wouldn't. About this time I was developing my habit of fuzzing my eyes up so I couldn't see clearly and staring off into space as though I was deaf.

But now I had to go to church in a hurry every night after my dad got home from work and cleaned up. My parents both were oddly enthusiastic and talked excitedly about the future in the car on the way. Mom carried a dish for the fellowship dinner in the church basement. I’d get a shaky stomach from eating other people’s food and having my mom whispering directions and threatening punishment. I had to go to bed at seven o’clock in the evening when we were home, so by the time the congregation was gathered, I was falling asleep, and my sister was sacked out on a pew, sleeping like a baby.

The church was packed and we all sat looking toward the front, where we expected our minister to appear. The sanctuary was hung with banners about our lord and they were twirling slowly from the big fans in the ceiling. Music came out of the huge speakers on the walls, instrumentals that sounded familiar and inspirational. We were in back of the sanctuary, which was built like a plush coliseum, the seats staggered upwards so that everyone could see. Throughout the room heads were turning and people were mouthing words that could not be heard over the vibrations of the speakers.


Suddenly the whole room went quiet and our special musical guests appeared. They were identical twins, The Good Twins, who sang in perfect harmony and witnessed for the lord with their music. The minister’s wife introduced them and made them sound like someone famous that we had somehow missed hearing about. Their hairlines were receding identically and they were dressed exactly alike. They introduced their beautiful wives, who were also twins, who smiled and sang a number with them.

They put on a heck of a show, my dad said. Several times my mother stilled my little sister’s feet because she was kicking the back of the seat in time to the music. During an intermission my parents shelled out for one of their albums, Good News, so either they really wanted to impress the guy with the glass house or they really liked the music. I was pretty fond of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” because it swelled to a dramatic moment at the end.

As the minister began to speak, my mom motioned me to take my sister to the restroom. It took me a minute to realize what she meant because she never trusted either one of us out of her sight for a moment, and usually she would rather keep shushing Lissa than take her downstairs before she whined with desperation. My only guess is that my mom was so touched by the holy spirit that she forgot that she didn’t trust us any farther than she could throw us, which she didn’t do back then. Or The Good Twins had stirred her in a way she hadn’t been stirred before.

(I still have the albums.)


So I took my sister down the stairs, holding her hand and the banister. I was a clumsy child, and steps terrified me; I had fallen down them so often. We got into the roomy one-room bathroom without a calamity.

“Hurry up and go,” I told Lissa. My mom always locked us in, so I turned and fiddled with the lock on the door. I heard the little click and felt a stab of maturity before I heard Lissa let out a shrill scream that filled me with a greasy-stomach dread.

She was standing there with her ruffled blue pants around her ankles, her underpants nested in them. She pointed at the toilet as she let out another siren. Something was splashing in the bowl. I crept forward and stretched my neck out like Pippy Longstocking.

“It’s a mongoose,” I said. “Look. He’s taking a bath.”

Lissa was bent over at the waist, her rosy butt cheeks pointed toward the door, staring into the commode, her hands thrown up at the sides of her head, her little white church gloves reminding me of a clown. We looked like someone should paint us: two homely urchins and a mongoose in the toilet.

The mongoose pulled himself up by the elbows and hung on the toilet ring. He opened his pointy little mouth and made a rude noise at us. Lissa screamed again before I could grab her and try to keep her quiet. I put my hand across her mouth and said, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” She just bobbed her head around trying to get away.

I talked to her in a sing-songy voice. “He’s taking a bath, then he’ll go home. See? He’s taking a bath in the toilet.” I didn’t think a mongoose was any more dangerous than a rat, and we saw them all the time. Rats are a part of living in the tropics. They would run off with a kitten if you didn’t watch them.


Giant rat. BBC news.

Pretty soon Lissa was repeating after me, “There’s a mongoose in the toilet.” She was wrestling her panties up, and I helped her, my gloves clamped under my arm, forgetting all about the original purpose of our visit to the restroom. The mongoose leaped out of the toilet and started moving around the edges of the room looking for an escape. This set my sister off again. She was loud, and we were not allowed to be loud, especially not in church. The mongoose ran behind a carton of toilet paper, and she stopped--

Dwarf Mongooses at linohype

A commotion arose at the door, pounding, shouting, stomping, pounding. Open the door! What's the matter! Is someone hurt? Open the door!

The door would not open. Now the yelling crowd outside the door had frightened us more than the mongoose, and Lissa started wailing. We were breaking my mom's cardinal rule: Don't call attention to yourself. I kept trying to shush my little sister, but I was so scared that I had to bend over and clear my throat of the nervousness before I tried to unlock the door. The little button that had so easily slid to the right wouldn't budge back toward the left. I fumbled. Break it open! Unlock the door! What's the matter? Get back! I'm coming in!

Click. I swung the door open and there stood my parents, frowning, glowering, surrounded by the congregation, all with eager, concerned looks on their faces. Even The Good Twins were peering into the bathroom. I squinched my nose. I leaned over and hurumphed a few times. I think my mother thought I was going to throw up, because she put her gloved hand on my back and tried to lead me away from the crowd. I thought she wanted to get me alone so she could lecture, pinch, and smack me, so I stood there doubled over in the midst of the churchgoers knowing that for one brief moment she could not touch me except gently.

My dad squatted down and put his arm around Lissa's legs and lifted her up so she was sitting on his forearm, her favorite seat. "What was going on in there?" he asked her.

He never expected her to answer. She never spoke except in her special Lissa babble that no one could understand but me. My mom always said that Lissa was too lazy to talk because I talked for her.

"There’s a mongoose in the toilet," she said, plain as day. Then she wet her ruffled blue panties, my dad’s sleeve, and part of his pant leg.

Mom would not leave me alone on the way home. Never had she been so mortified, she said. Her own children screaming and playing grab-ass in the church! In the church! She grilled me about the mongoose.

“It was probably a rat,” she said.

“It wasn’t a rat,” I told her.

“There’s a mongoose in the toilet,” Lissa said.

“You,” my mom said to her, “lie down and go to sleep.”

“Because a mongoose doesn’t look like a rat,” I said.

“Well, then, Miss Smarty Pants, what does a mongoose look like?”

“A little like a weasel,” I said. "A little like a cat."

“Dwain?” she said to my dad. “Dwain! Is that what a mongoose looks like?”

“It looks something like a weasel,” my dad said. "They kill snakes and birds."

“Weasel or no weasel,” my mom said, “if you ever scream in church again I’ll whip you into next week. You hear me?”

"I didn't scream," I said.

She turned to my father and said, “We can’t go back there. I’m absolutely mortified."


16 April 2009

A ghostly apparition

I can only take decent photos in the sun. I've read a hundred tips, but I still do a crappy job if I'm trying to light an object. I know that photos sell your work, but I don't know if I'm ever going to learn to take those clear, clean shots I so admire.

So I sculpted a tiny little bunny girl 3.5 inches tall. She has a poseable body and I think she will wear a pair of bloomers and a pinafore. I tried to photograph her to show you, but I just couldn't do it. Unfortunately I forgot those camera lessons my sister gave me (she's a photographer) when I discovered that the sun covers a multitude of ineptitude.

But what do I do after dark? Here's the ghostly rabbit girl of Lexington. You'll see more of her soon. In the sun.

I'm in two treasuries at once--whew

Because I'm being exceptionally creative today, I thought I'd just post the two treasuries I find myself in. That way, when they go away in a little while, I can still come back and see them here. I'm baking a few babies and hope to have something impressive to show you soon. If not, I'll show you something a strange and interesting to make up for my lapse.
PattiBacker's "Peculiar Prints" treasury.

I don't know why I like it so much when people think I'm odd. It's always been a point of pride with me. Good thing, too, or I would have hurt feelings.
Deadpan Alley's "Strange Brew" treasury.

This is one of those "Treasury West" pages, and no one I know seems to understand how they came about or why they are likely to disappear at any time, as the note below the treasuries in the west reads. I kind of imagine myself and my art standing out in the desert with 11 compatriots. Where are we? I don't know. Do you think anyone will see us?

15 April 2009

What's on the work table and imaginary friends

I've finished all the little papergirls I'm going to make for now. They are for sale in the SugarCain Etsy shop. Any one of them would make a nice little inexpensive gift or the start of a collection. Here's my favorite so far:

Batgirl in the bleeding hearts ACEO by angelique, SugarCain

I've been busy sorting through my half-made dolls. I have a hundred ideas, and about 20 of them are sitting around in various stages of disarray. I'm glad I got my work room arranged enough to put them all in there. That way I can't hear them at night: Paint me a faaaaaace. Sew me a dresssssss. Give me arrrrrrmmmmssss. They have suffered long enough. I took some photos of them quickly in my laundry room so you can see where I'm starting.

Here's one little devil. Woodsman named her Licorice. I've made her some shapely little legs, which will be loosely joined to make her particularly poseable. I have some special mohair, dark brown with purplish tips, for her hair. But what shall she wear? I have sketched several outfits but they just aren't right. And I always like each doll to have a prop, something that stands as a clue to her personality. I am thinking that she may be accompanied by a raven in a plaid vest and perhaps even boots.

I love bunny dolls. I had this little skinny bunny girl when I was growing up. She was made of silk and the softest velvet and was moth-eaten in a gentle and endearing way. The wire of her armature had to be reconcealed every time she was handled. Until just a couple of months ago, I thought she was dead, as I had not seen her since high school (many decades ago).

But apparently my little sister Kelly rescued and preserved her, and she emailed to say that I could reclaim her next time we meet. I hate to admit how much I'm looking forward to it. All she ever did was sit on my dresser. It's not like I told her secrets or cuddled her, or let her sleep under my covers at night. But I remember her long face and her long socks and her big shoes and the tactile pleasures I got from the velvet and silk. I am curious to see if she lives up to my memories.

So here is a pair of little bunny sisters. I hand-stitched their bodies of muslin and painted them with artist acrylics. This is the the thing that I think is clever about them: They can be displayed barefoot (with their cute little painted toenails) or in a stand (that consists of little boots attached to tiny scraps of checkered floor). They need dresses, arms, and perhaps a toy or two. Like all my bunny dolls, they will come with removeable hats. There will, of course, be some details that I haven't thought of yet.

I had an imaginary friend: a rabbit named Duffy who stood about four feet tall and wore overalls with no shirt and a pair of old muddy workboots. He was sly and a bit of a smart aleck. He was Bugs Bunny meets Bunny from Captain Kangaroo. The most unusual fact about Duffy was that he carried a hoe and worked upright like a little man in my mother's garden. He said his job was to keep the rabbits from eating the spinach and the roses. (But he was a rabbit. I know.) He was as real to me at the age of four as this dog sitting here in my lap right now.*

Pixie (left) and Taz. Today is Pixie's birthday, and she got lots of special treatment.

So I have not managed to explain why I so love bunny dolls. Instead I've just wandered around in the forest and come back to the place I started. I appreciate you following my footprints and breadcrumbs. Maybe telling you about the girls on the work table will spark some ideas in my sleep tonight. I often wake up with great ideas, don't you?

*I'm fascinated by imaginary friends. Did you have one? My son, an only child, did: "Lou the worker man." Woodsman says he didn't have one, poor thing. It's like hearing that some people dream in black and greys.

13 April 2009

An Interview with Beatrix the Hinny and her hot, hot knees

Beatrix and Her Knees by Liese Martin, Deadpan Alley.

Congratulations to my Internet friend Liese Martin, who just made her hundreth sale in her Etsy shop this weekend. Stroll down to Deadpan Alley and check out the wares. You can get originals for the price of prints and free artwork with every purchase. In the honor of Liese's milestone, I have interviewed Deadpan Alley creation Beatrix (and her knees).

I was fascinated by Beatrix from the first moment I saw her. When I finally had the priviledge of meeting her, I asked her whatever came to mind, and she was gracious enough to answer all of my questions. We had tea together in my studio, and our conversation went something like this:

a: Your clothes are quite stylish. Do you have a favorite designer?

B: All my clothes were designed by Charles Fredrick Worth, but since he perished in 1895, I must take great pains to keep my frocks from getting tea splashed on them...watch your cup now...

a: ARE you looking at your knees--or something else?

B: Darling, I'm looking at YOUR knees. And lovely knees they are! *wink*

a: Do you have trouble finding clothing that fits?

B: I don't have any trouble with the dresses, but I love a nice bonnet to match, and that is just something I'd rather not talk about...*sniffle*

a: I once knew a beautiful mule who looked a lot like you. Are you a donkey or a mule?

B: Actually, my breeding is much rarer than your average ass! I am a hinny, you see. My father was a horse and my mother a beautiful donkey...

a: How do you occupy your time when you are not posing for artwork?

B: I lead rather a life of leisure, I'm afraid. You know, a bit of gardening, reading up on quantum mechanics, reveling in the fact that I have opposable thumbs... that sort of thing.

a: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

B: Well, since I seem to have dodged the knacker with all my human attributes, I just might find time to write that book I've been knocking around, "My Life, My Knees".

a: What sort of exercise do you do to keep your beautiful legs in shape?

B: Outrunning all my suitors and curious scientists has kept me fairly well toned, I think.

a: What is your favorite movie?

B: That's an easy one. "Au Hasard Balthatzar" Bresson's brief, elliptical tale about the life and death of a donkey. Really, you should watch it, you won't be sorry. It's a masterpiece. *shakes head sadly*

a: Do you have a partner?

B: That question is so VAGUE. Partner in crime? Business partner? Is it some sort of tool? I'm confused...

a: What sort of advice can you give to others who want to become artwork?

B: It's just something you're born with, my dear. Either people are compelled to immortalize you or they're not. You just can't TEACH something like that.

a: How much time do you spend on your mane?

B: This old thing? I just keep it trimmed and brushed. I'm a simple girl/hinny despite the fancy clothes... Blue silk feather rosette boudoir mules for sale at 1860-1960

a: What is your philosophy of art?

B: It should be relevant and immediate, not overworked. It should be beautiful, and you know... it should have my knees in it whenever possible.

a: Did you ever dream that you'd become an original for the price of a print?

B: Actually, I'm an inexpensive print right now, since my artist painted me in a watercolor sketchbook her husband made and is unwilling to free me from its pages as of yet.

a: Do you follow politics?

B: No, I live in sort of an idealistic bubble, you see. I find delving into politics makes me feel lied to and always one step behind. No one likes a depressed hinny/girl. I prefer gardening to television.

a: Where did you grow up?

B: I grew down, actually. I was born with my feet 5 feet off the ground, and I knew I was fully grown when my feet touched the floor. Isn't that how it works for everyone?

a: Are you close to your family?

B: Not really. I think you full-humans are overly attached to your parents and siblings. I mean, we're not dogs. We'd recognize one of our own if we passed them in the street, but we don't carry on moving back home all the time either.

a: What is your next project?

B: I was hoping my toes would make it into the next piece, it seems that the artist ran out of room before she ran out of me...

a: Would you call yourself a pessimist or an optimist?

B: Why, Darling, I am an irrepressible optimist. That's what going around with a human body and the head of an ass teaches you. You can't let yourself be glum, it's a HUGE waste of beautiful soup! erm.... I mean life.

a: If you could be any animal you want, what would that be?

B: What do you mean? Animals and humans alike want to be ME! I am IT, darling!

a: What sort of music do you enjoy?

B: I prefer Cab Calloway (that fella could SWING!), Billie Holiday, Louis Prima, things in that vein. Soothes the savage beast in all of us, you know...

a: What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

B: Well, my being "different" has made me stronger than most, but I will admit to a certain "stubbornness"...

She chuckled and let me know that she wasn't at all convinced that her stubborness was a weakness. I thanked Beatrix for her time and for being a good sport. She inclined her head toward me slightly and said, "I am honored that you thought of my knees when you decided to do an interview."
Unknown clown with mule

(Thanks to Liese for Beatrix's answers.)

Where are my manners?

I'm over the naughty heart thing now. That really made me cranky.
Velvet Heart Destash Necklace and Earring Set by artistamuerta, Etsy Dark Team.

I don't like situations I can't do anything about. Someone named Jen from Etsy said that they would ask the buyer to consider changing her name. But that was never my problem. I don't care what she calls herself; I just don't want her heart on my page.

Filigree Heart Choker with Locket by aranwen, Etsy Dark Team.

I like the world when people use their best manners. When women wear slips and no one picks their noses when I'm looking. When people don't say what they think if it's not nice. Where people don't make up obscene names for themselves and then involve me in it.

Who am I trying to kid? I still feel cranky about it. I'll try to let it go, but I'm no good at that either.

08 April 2009

An obscene heart

Taming the Shrill - a Victorian Whistle Necklace by BellaLili, Etsy Dark Team

My grandma used to keep a large plastic whistle hanging from her wall phone. We all knew that if some old man called and started talking dirty we were to blow the whistle as loudly as we could and then hang up. I never did get to do that, although my cousin Gail Dean claimed to have done it numerous times. I was always jealous of that. After all, I was the oldest of all the cousins. Why shouldn't I get to blow what we called the obscene whistle?


Last night I received an obscene heart on Etsy. I won't link to it because I don't want to acknowledge in polite company that I know what this word means. (And my mom pretends to read this blog.) This morning I opened up Heartomatic to see if I had any new fans--you know how good that feels--and I thought I did. Upon closer inspection (kind of like deciphering a license plate on the car in front of me) I realized that the name of the "shop" said something not very nice to me. Heart Held Captive by DreadfulDesigns, Etsy Dark Team

I stared at that little bitty avatar photo wondering if one of my friends was playing a joke on me, but the face didn't look familiar. I followed the link to a bio that read, "english, dutch, music/animal/nature/art freak, musician, artist, independant thinker, riot grrrl, vegan, freegan, individualist, HSP, culture, diy, independant media, zines..." Sounds like an interesting person. If so, why did she pick an Etsy ID that she wouldn't want on a moo card?

Cinnabar Heart Earrings by dbvictoria, Etsy Dark Team

I tried to blow the obscene whistle by contacting Etsy according to their instructions. I got back a form letter that listed the most common reasons for writing and what I could do about those. Obscene hearts were not listed. I don't want this naughty little heart on my page, but I don't know any way to delete it. I've heard Etsy's kind of slow when you want assistance, so I guess it might be there to stay a while.

What a slap in the face. You think you're in for some lovin' and then it's just a big joke. Kind of like that time in high school when we drove up beside some little freshman and asked, "Do you want a ride?" Then when he started walking toward the car, someone said, "Maybe somebody will give you one." We drove away laughing.

Uh-oh... I so deserve an obscene heart.

BTW, the hearts I have used to illustrate this post, none of which are obscene, come from the talented members of Etsy's Dark Side Street Team.

A few new offerings and my old friend

Just a quick post to show you what I finished and listed last night. I'll be back later with my usual post. I am completing a whole pile of ACEOs and papergirls before I get back to making clay and fabric dolls.

Diego Rivera ACEO. Original ink, watercolor, and paper collage by angelique

Frida Kahlo ACEO. Original ink, watercolor, and paper collage by angelique

Sweet Demongirl. Original ink, watercolor, and paper collage by angelique

I like the third one best myself. She looks very sweet and gentle. I can't imagine that she has a very demonic job to do. She might cause itchy noses in the spring, or a blister on your heel after a hike.

I spent a long time this morning catching up by email with my friend Wells, who moved down to the wilds of Florida a few years ago. Don't you love it when that happens? I'm invited down for a vacation, and although I hate a long drive, it sounds good after the snow flurries here yesterday.

06 April 2009

Tristan Robin Blakeman and his enchanted revelry

I regularly read more than sixty blogs, and I know a good one when I come across it. If a blog doesn't please me, it's not long until I delete it from my list and move on. My reading is discerning because I don't have much time, and diverse because I have a huge vat of curiosity in the middle of my spirit. I read theraputic blogs, craft blogs, science blogs, and yoga blogs. Art, horror, classic Hollywood, dolls, fashion, AC/DC, and a few young people who remind me of former selves. I have discovered that the blogs that call me back post after post are the ones that are hung on the scaffold of a strong and interesting personality. That brings me to Tristan Robin Blakeman and his blog called Enchanted Revelry.

Tristan shares his work and the details of his life, but he is never self-absorbed. He knows who he is, has a distinctive voice, and knows his readers. He has a mannerly old-world attitude that takes you back further than you've been alive and makes you feel charming and charmed. This guy is a writer, readers. I always feel a little jolt of joy when I see that he has a new post. I feel good when I visit his spot.

He gives the best tours of any blogger I know. I feel like I'm right there and he's whisking me from room to elegant room, showing me what he likes and doesn't like, loaning me a little bit of his impeccable taste. My very favorite posts are on Beverly's Pink Saturdays. He finds an amazing collection of pink items and then offers his elbow and escorts the reader through it with clever and insightful banter. He's always generous with photos, like a fine magazine. If you enjoy style, wit, and, as Tristan describes it, "the ghosts of sparkle and the rich dignity of decayed splendor," don't delay.
Just in the past few days he has written two of my favorite posts. In the first, he takes us on a tour of silent film actress Colleen Moore's "nothing-short-of-incredible miniature fairy castle." Take the tour with Tristan in his Feeling a Bit Royal This Evening? In the second, The One and Only Original All New and Improved Real Pink Saturday Post, he takes us to the house across the street, describing the beauty of the building, pointing out the details, building suspense and excitement, only to dash us with disappointment equal to what he felt when he learned that inside the house is mistreated and drab, stripped of its most distinctive features.
Tristan Robin Blakeman, Enchanted Revelry

I feel good when I read this blog. I can't say it enough times. Afterward, I feel as though I've been to a fancy ball where I was extremely and charmingly welcome.

There's one more reason I like this blog, but I can't give Tristan credit for it. The rhythm of his language, the confident and confidential tone, the musical musings, remind me of my old friend Wells, and that makes me feel good too.
Don't let me forget that my original reason for writing this post was to tell you that Tristan is having a celebration of his 100th post. He's giving away a copy of Lisa Kettell's Altered Art Circus. I have a copy and, believe me, you'll page through it a hundred times, your mind whirling with ideas. Click on the bunny button and you'll be magically whisked to Enchanted Revelry, where Tristan lays out the rules of the game.

Congratulations on your one-hundreth blog post, Tristan.