PAT CONROY AND MY LITTLE FAMILY

You have heard that he has died.  He had been, in the last years, doing so well fighting his personal devils.  He had lost weight, stopped drinking I think, toned up.  They were blindsided by this cancer as everyone who experiences it is, and poof.  The truest lover and best promoter of our eccentric little state is no more.

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I always say this. South Carolina is so small that you can know everyone you need to. We have all had experiences with Pat Conroy.  Many people I know went to school with him at the Citadel.  His descriptions of Columbia in the sixties were my people’s lives.  My ex-husband knew that tiger in the cage on Gervais Street and fed him chicken bones.

Glenn and I last saw him when he was awarded a life achievement award at our annual O’Neil Verner Award ceremony several years ago.  He was looking frail indeed.  This may have been just before his late resurgence to a kind of health.  His wife, Cassandra King, was very protective over him  (I heard her once on a local NPR show.  Herself a writer of southern stories, she spoke at book shops and libraries.  She said that one woman in attendance heard that she was married to a writer and commented to her that she loved her husband’s stories of contemporary horror and fantasy!).

When my kids were young, there was always a tug of war over what they wanted to do and what it might be good if they DID do.  I was always alone on my side.  But Pat Conroy was on my side, twice, and I think now my family might admit that my ideas were worth doing.  Not sure about that however.

We were meeting my mother and stepfather in DC for a long weekend.  We drove.  It was the early nineties, so the kids were about 10 and 8.  I got the hairbrained idea that we would listen to one of Pat Conroy’s books on our nine hour drive because it involved places that the kids knew, Bob knew, and had compelling family stories (to say the least).  I presented the idea.  Everyone was aghast.  Below, we enter DC in our Ford Aerostar.

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But we listened to the book, and it became a part of family lore.  The best book Braxton had ever read (the only book Braxton had ever read and he listened to it)!  It is difficult to remember details now, but it seems it was a good experience.

I got more demanding.  The University of South Carolina used to  have a fine book festival every spring for a week.  Now it is only a shadow of its former self.  One year, Kurt Vonnegut was to be the keynote speaker.  It was the year his home in Manhattan burned down, he was indisposed, Pat Conroy stepped in.  I wanted the four of us to go for my birthday.  A LECTURE, WHAT?  But it was my birthday.  They wanted to refuse, but did not, so we went.

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Always wanting to teach the kids that the world is indeed small and you can see things and know people by simply participating in it, I wanted them to have read a book and then hear the author talk about it.  It demystifies books. And writers. Makes them more real. This parallel is especially poignant with Pat Conroy.  He was a totally honest speaker about his life in these books.

And really not a very good one.  His spoken sentences were kind of like dry bullets.  Maybe he was an average speaker, dunno.  But compared to the lyrical love story to South Carolina that blazes from every page of his books,  his speech simply could not compare to his calculated art.  But I remember this also as being a positive experience for the family, perhaps there was an admission that participating in this kind of thing was not as bad as they had imagined.

Pat Conroy looked at the eccentricities and strangeness of our state, which abound (Strom Thurmond had a black child?), and smooths its landscape with a kind of understanding love.  Knowing what we know about his life, his writing was an attempt to save his.  And it was a generous everlasting gift to the rest of us.

 

 

I LIVE WITH A LIAR

Undependable.  Exaggerates and embellishes.  Bossy.  Rather than using the ugly characteristic of “liar”as our reference, let’s just use the initial  “G”.

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A gift really, at first, I have become a bit callous to G’s reality.  Pushy on one side, and when I aim to fulfill direction, overcompensation is the result.  It is like having a relationship with a chameleon.  For me, anyway.  There is no anchor, no fact. How can one have a true relationship with an ever changing partner?

I can feel in my bones that I am being prodded.  And judged.  Am I sleeping too many hours?  Too lazy?  It is my overwhelming desire to keep G happy.  But can G really be so or is it just manipulation?  Where is the truth here?

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G’s bigger footprint, interacting with 21st century tools is just not that great either.  Creating our conversation was just such a chore.  Things are not changing in this venue, and I get false feedback.

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Above is an image of my new Garmin.  A minimal millennial.  Less is supposed to be more.  On average, on some measurements it is a pretty consistent 20 percent more. I know my run is four miles, and it measures the same five miles every day.  With stair climbing, who knows?  Sometimes when I am actively climbing to the second floor of the barn just to make Garmin happy, it refuses to record my work.  What does it use, barometric pressure?

I love that when in the proximity of my phone, I can read email on the watch.  And know the weather.  It could do more than I ask of it in this way, music, for one.

Is it worth having?  Yes.  Does it work well?   Kind of, if you know your own statistics.  It DOES tell the time.  I think devices like this are why some are saying that people are starting to wear watches again.

 

 

 

DEALING WITH THE COLD

Finally, it is cold in South Carolina.  It has not been for long, and the length of the good weather at the end of last year was remarkable and unsettling.  Now over, we have to face the normal chill for a little while.

Our big chill is all my fault, not Glenn’s.  When living here alone, building this house, I chose not to include central heating.  The system I could have bought, it was the monthly bills that scared me.  And it is so moderate here,  I wondered about getting by with a gas log in one of the two huge fireplaces we have.   So that is what I did.

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It really has not affected us much.  There have been really only about four cold days where we did not care to go outside.  But outside is where all the appealing stuff exists, including our art work.  Creating my work is a pathway to feeling OK, and I need to do it.  Running will do that too, but running is tough in the cold weather as well.

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What work I have accomplished is changing.  Getting simpler.  Keep thinking about poetry and editing writing.  An image should contain only what it needs.  Nothing else.

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This piece is called  “Impulse”.  It is pretty spare, but the relationships between the lines are interesting.  I am using three legs in this series, lifting the window off the ground, and importing colors only through objects used.

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Chair legs, spindles and a child’s wooden block are the only recognizable images in the piece.  Other shapes are just odd pieces of wood we have around here. Yes, the piece leans in.  It seems to move.

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Other side.  This window has been several colors in its life time, and that is where the patterning is coming from on the right and bottom of the window.  It is so easy for me to reveal color; to apply it, the worst.

The piece above is entitled “Gravity 2.11.16” for the obvious reasons.  It is woozy in its stanze as well.  Space and time.  Unpredictable?  Maybe not, thanks to Einstein.

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Not a very flattering angle, but this image shows the depth of the piece.  You can see it is a visual cousin to “Impulse” as spindles and legs from the same chairs are used. Work tends to flow in this way.  If work is truly expressive of a temperament at a given time, examples will have common denominators.  Unless you are doing commission work.

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Above is a detail from a current commission.  Only thing in common with my work is the “waste” part.

THE TROUBLE WITH AVOCADOS

Just the fact that avocados have fairly doubled in price recently is trouble enough.  We as Americans have become quite addicted to this healthy but fatty food.  When I first came to South Carolina in the early 80s at my local grocery store, they would go on sale when finally soft enough to use.  Somebody was confused or on such a diet that the avocado never entered the picture.  This was back in the days when the only bagel you could buy was a frozen one, in stores that even thought to order such a thing.  Hell, not six years ago, inquiring at the local Piggly Wiggly about refrigerated quiche mixture, the stock man (and he was old) had me repeat the word three times.  Never heard of such a thing.

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But I have personal problems with avocados.  I cannot see them.  I lose them.  And with their prices these days, it does not pay to lose.  The Piggly Wiggly tricked me.  The sign said, “4 for $5” and I read it “5 for $4”.  Not bad, I thought.  Less than a dollar apiece.  Took two.  When we got to the checkout, the girl rang up @2.50.  Then I realized mistakes had been made.  By me.

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When we got home, only one avocado made it to the refrigerator.  I shuffled things around in there for a while, and figured the problem would fix itself.  Windshield wipers will do that once in a while.  Making salad last night, we revisited the issue.  Reorganized the fridge, nothing.  Glenn went out to the car and there it was under the driver’s seat.  For two days, the temperature over 100 outside each day. Who knows how hot it was in the car?

You see avocados simply do not like to be contained.  Unlike my Painted Japanese Fern, which loves to clutch onto the side of a pot for dear life, avocados are made of different stuff.  They are travelers.  You never know what their agenda is.

Usually we go to Aldi, and of course there, you have to pack your own groceries.  This is where the avocados see their chance.  Our mesh grocery bags are dark.  We pack the groceries under the hatchback of the car, also dark.  We get them in the bags, but they hide and we do not get them out on the other side of the trip.  This has happened more times than I would like to admit.  Same thing happens if I put one in a cooler bag.  Little devils.

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LIVE TRUE

Glenn has done a lot of work for Brad and Tracy.  Actually we both have been involved in their recent home renovation.  At a counterpoint in their professions, time and effort outside of that work is finely paired, and their home is a unique expression of their movement in the world.  This is the way you are supposed to live.  Feather your nest with stuff that helps define you as a person.  Act on the stage of that theater; you will feel harmony.

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As their boy worked through scouting, they earned “advanced degrees” as well.  Their personal universe is built around the natural world, pulling symbolism from old Indian ways, to which of course the Boy Scouts is more than a little indebted.  Arrows, spirals, rays of sun play in their personal iconography.  The three images above show details of a mosaic “frieze” I did for their sun room utilizing symbols from the Boy Scouts and Indians of the Northwest.  The third detail features an abstracted portrait of the family.  The mosaic is just under the 10 foot ceiling on three walls, and little china bird collectibles found at the flea market are used in several places (I think there is one in the middle of the triangle of arrows in the third image, and top and center in the first image).

The materials used in the house as you might imagine are floor stone, lots of it, fine woods, light and dark, both as structure and as object.  Look at nature and wonder how we think we can improve upon it!  Maybe we can simply organize these wonderful raw materials to do specific jobs.   Glenn has fabricated a limb with branches to help deter rainwater from puddling in the wrong place.

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This steel limb has maple leaves that can be twisted to usher the rainwater into a better spot.

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Above is another steel sculpture Glenn did for Brad and Tracy’s home.  It is a life sized fox and bird, with the fox heated to a reddish color and the bird towards blue.

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Recently they acquired a huge ancient pot.  More than a thousand years old, they needed a display device to secure it in a home environment.  Tracy bought a deer skin to use for cushioning material. The structure incorporates symbols of the sun and arrows used by Indians.  The arrows will contain the pot.

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Arrows keep the pot from moving sideways, and embrace its middle.  The triangular base lends stability.

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The hide covers parts of the armature that nobody wanted to see in addition to its cushioning of the pot.

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All these natural materials present a lovely almost monochrome composition which contains amazing textural variety.  They are happy, Glenn is happy.  But know what?  I am not going anywhere near that pot!

 

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

Changes are happening in our part of the county; a little lesson in local government working for the people.  And it was pretty easy to accomplish, this relatively inexpensive project.  The dirt road which intersects our long drive is being paved.  Our neighbor has wanted this for years as the sand on the road finds its way to his pond with rain.  Asphalt will stop this, and probably keep the pond water higher all year.

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Glenn wants the improvement too, and gathered signatures.  Heavy rains cut waterways around the mouth of our drive and around the mailbox.  To me, the paving represents unwanted growth, but I relented.

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We will lose our elaeagnus bushes at the left of this picture.  It is OK.  Planted at the very beginning of my gardening career, they really make no sense where they are.  They do not match on either side of the drive as a car drove over and pruned one set one late night.  Happily, the construction guys will dig them up, root ball included, and lift them on a waiting trailer for us.  We are going to plant them at the very back of our acreage and let them do their fast growing best.

Another local resident has a crop of Loblolly pines growing in harvestable rows at the back of our acreage.  Since I have been here the trees have been thinned twice.  It won’t be long until they are sold and the whole process will start again.  It will mean big changes to the back of our property and we want those ten elaeagnus to be as large as possible to muffle sound and block vision.  It is a noble job for those bushes and we are sure glad we have them for this use.

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What else was positive about this road construction?  Well the way the bigger trees were cut down was interesting, and we got an example that will be the new mantle for the fireplace in the kitchen.  The old one was the victim of an accident.  It is difficult to imagine what kind of huge machine fairly took bites out of the trunk of this tree!

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We are going to try and save the bark, while planing about a three inch flat plane across the top of this.

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MARCH WORK

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Why do this?  To see if it could be done.  The origin of my work is always with the materials.  They inspire new ideas whether it was back in the day when I stitched reacting to a wonderful new pattern, or whether, in this case, when my husband gave me a fine set of wooden casters.  Who knows why he rejected them, but they gave me all kinds of ideas.  This piece stands around 34 inches tall.  The wooden high chair within the system of windows is for a doll.

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The wooden windows are screwed together in a “Z” conformation to a depth of about 24 inches.  An old toy wooden hammer and toy ladder make up the rest of the elements that serve to embed the chair within the windows.  Initially the chair was purchased for its wooden parts, but the more interesting question became the merging of the two compositions together.

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The seat of the doll chair has luminous single digit numbers and bits of paper under layers of varnish.

The former chair then inspired the next chair, which made itself into a gift for the baby of my baby, Benjamin.  It started as a reaction to the first chair, and then became HIS chair as the universe presented elements to me, over and over again, which represent his first trip around the sun.

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I bought the little chair without a back years ago.  It became a plant stand.  I loved the peeling paint, and for this piece it has been preserved with layers of varnish.  The bit of brownish paper on the right front leg came with it; as the chair began to form and use so many warm browns, I added the rest of the newspaper bits, from an old St. Louis paper.  Have to get his heritage into the work!  One bit just says “boy”.

Glenn has lots of rusty metal farm parts for his work around.  I love the hay rakes and the way he stretches and curls them in his work but here one is used intact, minus the handle.  The bird couples had all been secured at the flea market at one time or another.  Interestingly when looking for dowels to use there was the little wooden plane at the bottom of the dowel box.  Perfect for a little boy’s circle of the sun in his first year.  All the circles used in the composition refer to this trip as well.

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The arms constructed for this chair are fairly complex using a mismatched pair of wooden swans, same with wooden birds (mismatched), and a  spoon and a fork.  They are finished with the inside and outside of an embroidery hoop with a nod to his grandmama, the former stitcher.  The tail of the little plane moves, as well as the rotor.  We shall see how he feels about this (un)toy.