Tag Archives: daddy

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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Left Undone…

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“Is that why you do it?” my husband asked.

I had gotten a large envelope from a friend who had found a few things of my fathers in a work file. His large handwriting looped smaller where he had run out of space. There was also a script and a program from a play he had done when we had been living in Florida. I had said something under my breath about wishing he were here to ask him about the school play.

I considered my husband’s question. Do I do drama because my Dad would be proud, because he would do it, because he’s not here to do it anymore?

I remembered after he died how I tried for a month or two to get on top of all the marketing for his self-published book, how I vacillated about painting the last bits of his painting. Something in me was a-flurry to finish what he had left undone. I still struggle with the idea of leaving things undone; but shouldn’t an artist, if they’re doing it right, be still working on something when they die? I had to stop. I didn’t have the heart necessary for the marketing. I left his painting to the few base layers of hue that makes it still, to this day, rather, a misty suggestion of a landscpe.

I decided I wouldn’t have been able to continue with drama fueled solely on the love my father had for it. But it was a healthy process to realize where some of the credit is due. My love of drama is my own but the habit of drama is something that has been built into me.

As I told the students in rehearsal, “A successful painting is interesting to look at. A successful sculpture is interesting to look at from every angle all the way around. A successful play is interesting to look at from every angle all the way around throughout the entire play, a sculptural collaboration of artists existing in a single moment of time.” I doubt the elementary students quite appreciated the image, but it explains what I love best about theatre.

I have never known a time when my Dad wasn’t rehearsing some production, when there weren’t curtains and call times to be planned for. My early years are marked by my sneaking backstage and begging to be onstage. My later years are marked by productions of my own and the productions I missed (My brother’s Nathan Detroit and his narrator from Our Town! It still stings a little bit to think about today.)

It feels natural to be on the roller coaster again. I do it because I love it. I do it because it’s a gift to give others. I do it because it’s a habit of creation that was built in me by my father. And I do it because it’s a habit I want to build in my own children, his grandchildren.

I miss him so much. But new things, even piddly little things like elementary school plays, are still coming out of his life.

And as far as actors go, my little one is showing promise… 😉

An Old Story Again…

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This post was originally written in March of last year. So, I guess I’ve been blogging for over a year! I was sharing this with someone today and thought I would post it again. It will always be one of my favorite stories about my Dad.

 

The Day My Dad Began Painting

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?