Monthly Archives: March 2014

Maharani Barbara…

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So, I’ve been online shopping the past two weeks since moving to the city.

My husband made me. I threw a temper tantrum, sulked, and may have mumbled something about trying one more new thing, but he made me bring him my computer. And-

-I love it!

In San Francisco there is this amazing thing called Google shopping express. And between that and my Safeway delivery I did not have to leave the apartment this morning. That means, everyone made their naps, breakfast (almost) got cleaned up, we did school, and now the afternoon is ours.

And if there were any questions in the delivery guy’s mind as to why I possibly needed to have my purchases laid at my doorstep as if I was the maharani of an exotic principality they were all answered when I opened the door-

-still in my pajamas-

-with a baby crying-

-my breath smelling like our tuna sandwich and chipotle hummus lunch-

-hand full of half masticated cheese and cheerios I’d just picked from the carpet-

-my son throwing his sister to the ground and knocking her head against the closet door with resultant screams-

Yeah.

Oh, you don’t want to finish explaining to me how the invoice works?

Yeah.

Did I mention there’s a full on raging thunder storm outside today?

Yeah. That’s why.

My husband was right. He usually is. You heard it here first, folks, and now it’s in print.

Cliff Jumping…

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At one point during my high school career cliff jumping was all the fashion.

With full parental approval, of course, my little group used to drive up to the mountains on sunny weekends feeling particularly dangerous and alive.

And at one point during one of those outings I found myself climbing the rocky cliff face between two boys.

The one below me was constantly checking in, “Are you sure you got it? We can go back down if you want.”

The one above would look back only occasionally, his eye on the top of that cliff, “C’mon, Barb. You can do it.”

The one made me feel frail. The other made me feel capable.

It was a little thing. But for years after that I prayed that God would give me a man to follow, one climbing hard with his own vision.

A year and a half ago my husband reimagined life for our family. He sold our house and most of our furniture. He pooled our savings and moved us into my Mom’s. He turned his back on his established network of business in Sacramento and traded it in for the bigger dream of living and working in San Francisco.

And now we’ve been here for two weeks.

Tonight we held hands.

“I’m proud of you, baby,” I said, “You dreamt it. And you did it. We’re here. Thanks for bringing me along for the ride.”

“Thanks for keeping up,” he said.

“I’m trying,” I said.

He squeezed my hand.

So here we go, another week of catching my footing, another day up the cliff.

The Day My Dad Began Painting…

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If anyone asked me when I was younger what my father did, I knew to say, “He works for a billboard company.”

I knew he left for work every day in a tie. I knew his title was “manager”. I found out he had a secretary, which validated his importance as nothing else had so far. And I knew he brought home reams of letterhead for me to write on, which corporate theft I appreciated greatly.

One day I went to work with him.

I was little; my memories, therefore, are tinged more with impressions than details. We got to his office through that of his secretary. It was a close little room, made closer still by the filing cabinets against the walls. The flyaway papers that lined the room in stacks and racks were white, like everything else under the fluorescent glare, and gave the general sensation that the room was peeling, a symptom of a slow, weary degeneration. I remember my father’s tie and his brown hair the only color floating in the room.

And then there was a subtle lift in mood. He took hold of a small door in the wall behind his desk and gave me a sort of anticipatory smile. I approached with much the same motivations as Alice at the looking-glass and followed him through.

We stepped out of the bright and into the soothing dim of an industrial warehouse. It had the cool feeling of old concrete and held a popping bombardment of color. Behold, what magic! It was as if some merry giant had plucked up every billboard in the county and hidden them away here in his cave. And an army of little men on mechanical lifts had been left to work on them with their brushes. How startling to realize that the signs I saw every day were not photographs at all, but paintings.

Billboards are huge enough, but even more so to a little girl looking up from the ground. These men painting silver cars and womens’ slick lips eating yogurt seemed like so many commercial Michelangelos suspended in front of their individual Sistine Chapels. It was awesome to me. And my Dad knew all of them. And they all knew my Dad.

This was to be the day I learned that artists were ordinary people and that genius had names like Mark and Jerry. They were balding, overweight, wearing splattered sweats, and jonesing for cigarettes. Yet they were painting that great thing, from only a tiny photograph.

My Dad then took me to the paint mixing room, which was equally industrial and unromantic. Quarts of oil paint in hues like jewels being mixed to stern exactness were then slopped into whichever old tin cans or plastic tubs were available.

Dad could talk in detail about the process of mixing paints. Driving around town he could point out who had done which boards by the way the eye highlights were done. What I did understand of his job was enough for me to doubt his need to be so well acquainted with these artists. I just thought he liked it there. Who wouldn’t, in the cavern, outside the white box?

Now, let me say, I never saw my Dad draw. I never saw him sketch. He didn’t have an unusual attraction to museums or galleries. In my mind his identity was firm and unchanging.

But one day, years later, he came home with an air of victory. Under one arm he carried a plastic wrapped canvas and under the other he carried a small cardboard box. The box was filled with some of those old tin cans and plastic tubs half filled and crusted over with dried paint.

I remember watching my Dad sit down in the garage and prop the canvas up on a box, the plastic wrap thrown to the ground. I remember him cutting through the crust of dried paint to get at the wet underneath.

He painted a tree against a blue sky. I remember being surprised that he knew how to do this. He was absorbed. He was dissatisfied with his attempt. He was glorious. He got impatient at how long it was taking to fill the canvas and took a narrow paint scraper and began scraping black like an obsidian cliff below his tree. He used the paint recklessly.

No one cuts black paint over a canvas like that on a whim. One cuts black paint over a canvas like that to memorialize a fight. There was something there all these years, underneath, like his crusted tubs. He just had to decide to dig, to cut through and get at that malleable inside.

I was in junior high when he started to paint. I hold that up as a reminder to myself that there is time; that it’s never too late to knife through resistance. He worked through the remnant cans of used paint until the industry switched to digital printing. Then he started to buy it, but he never stopped using it recklessly. His canvases got bigger and bigger so I think he would’ve loved the chance to paint on one of those huge billboards. He sketched on slips of paper and while watching TV. He was prolific. He was a painter.

It was so much of who he was. How could anyone have missed it?

Blind Date…

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I was walking down the street a few days ago and San Francisco was above me. We were eyeing each other occasionally, trying to do so without notice. I’m not sure what we decided.

But I figured it out. I feel like I’ve been set up on this blind date. San Francisco and I have been thrust together and we’re sitting across the table from each other trying desperately to be polite. Every now and then one or the other of us makes a comment.

“I like art.”

“Oh, yeah? Me, too.”

Silence and a slow glance around the room.

“I have beaches.”

“Great. I love beaches.”

Awkward sip of water.

I mean, we really have a lot in common. We’re both attractive people. I’m pretty sure we’re going to hit it off. But right now I’m still at the beginning portion of the evening where I’m not sure I wouldn’t be having more fun at home in my sweats in front of the TV.

It’s just going to take us a little while to get to know each other.

And maybe that’s how she likes it, being a mystery. There’s something temperamental in the way she poured rain this morning, changed her mind and favored us all with sunshine before a mood took her again and the fog came in like a many furrowed brow.

I can dig it. I was a little volatile myself today.

You see, I’m pinging slowly off the walls of my apartment back and forth without an anchor. I have no table. There’s no place to sit and write, put my tea, or lay my sketchbook open where I can come back to it periodically. I’m here, but my art supplies are still in boxes. I’m still in boxes.

As we walked today there were open garages. In one, a man was brushing a dark stain over three beautiful handmade wooden benches. In another, a man was feeding giant fish in a tank. Talents and passions consigned there, to the space below where life happens. Is that how it’s going to have to be, living my largeness in the crannies of a garage, in the corners of a two bedroom apartment?

How much beauty like this does San Francisco have secreted away in cracks and crevices? How much lies waiting beneath me, under all this day-to-day living? Perhaps I’ll stop daydreaming about my comfy socks and DVR recordings and give this blind date a try, maybe order another drink.

Squares…

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Baker Beach

Baker Beach

It took me a week to feel at home enough to hang paintings. I have a friend who understands these things.

I texted her, “Hanging paintings…”

She texted back, “I imagine you beginning to breathe…”

And so I am, beginning to breathe. And so must you, imagine me taking a deep breath. Imagine me sketching a picture at Baker Beach, folding the laundry, finding the post office on Geary, making toast of the rye bread from the Russian bakery around the corner. And you can imagine me hanging paintings.

This was the first one I hung up.

Squares

It’s one of my Dad’s. Later this week, perhaps, I’ll tell you the story of the day my Dad began painting, but for right now all you need to know is that my Dad loved paint. And he loved black.

I never use black. I like to deepen my shadows with blues and purples. He tried it once it humor me. But it was a failed experiment.

I wasn’t living in the house when he painted “Squares” but I can see him in the shed on the old shower stool, choosing colors, and one by one scraping them thick onto the canvas. Laying new colors over others too gregarious, perhaps, in their hue, he would finish by frosting the edges with black.

I like how it seems to be glowing out of the middle. And that’s where I put it, in the middle.  I need a little glow coming from the middle of my apartment.