Mom Never Did Drywall
The first eight eggs of the new season are washed and tucked away in the fridge; I collected two of those eight this morning after driving the trash down to the bin at the end of our driveway. On the way back I let out the layers, and checked the fluffed-up pine shavings in the far corner of their coop—two light brown unfertilized ova encased in smooth hard shells were resting in a chicken belly-shaped nest. I scooped them up and put them in the right side pocket of my hooded flannel jacket, with some encouraging words for the other layers to match or surpass their co-workers’ morning donation to our breakfast menu. I climbed back in the front seat of the truck (no easy trick with two fresh eggs in that pocket), and finished the short trip up to the house. We’re well on our way to quiche and scrambled season, a stretch of time that lasts through November. Another reason to love spring.
The mud room renovation continues to chug along, with setbacks that include but are not limited to old house bones and the previous owners’ attempts to fix them, and our own old bones that aren’t used to 10-hour physical labor jobs. I’ve renewed my ability to mud and tape, using that necessary feathering technique with the joint compound 6” knife blade, and am noticing that my wrists hurt more than they did when I was doing this in my 20’s. Go figure. Patrick and I have both remarked this past week how nice it will be to go back to our day jobs where we can sit for a few hours at a time, and nothing we put our hands to will require feathering or ladders or a three-Advil slam dunk as our after-dinner cocktail. I’m not looking forward to all the emails that await me at the office, but my desk chair? It has all the anticipation of a first date with Sting.
During this whole renovation, whenever I could catch a few 15-minute breaks, I’d wander into the downstairs guestroom which doubles as an art studio, and put my hands to gentler work that had guaranteed faster results. The projects awaiting me there involved colorful cardstock and book board, permanent double-sided tape, decorative-edged scissors, old bits of sparkly vintage costume jewelry, and unlimited imagination. I went easy on myself this week, nothing as elaborate as a full-size Lakota star quilt, and found great delight making little jackets for sticky note pads (a volunteer at a recent training made some and gave them as gifts to all the participants and us trainers too). I embellished them with the appropriate bauble from my stash and sat back to admire the growing pile of accomplishment. It’s an easy craft, and a great excuse to visit both the office supplies store AND the closest Michael’s, a rare nirvanic treat I don’t experience that often in one day. So now I have twelve newly-encased sticky note pads, and am deciding what I’ll do with them.
That seems to be the way with the art I create—what next, after the production line stops and the factory lights are turned off for the day? I tend to give my creations away rather than arrange a scheme to sell them (though I have no values-based objections to doing so. It’s a selling setup and maintenance issue; having an online store is work, as eBay has taught us these past two years), and enjoy amassing a tidy supply of hostess and birthday gifts to have on hand when the occasion arises. But even without that as an outcome, I would still make sticky note covers, handmade journals, bed quilts and table runners, and small canvas paintings to rest on small wooden easels because I get lost in the process of creating. It’s neat to turn an idea into something tangible albeit frivolous or without practical purpose. I have Frasier or Downton Abbey reruns going in the background, or an 80’s playlist with me on vocals, and I know that heaven is real and the mud room can wait another fifteen minutes. Call it economical therapy, or meditation, or your other favorite nurturing word. The outcome drinks from the same river of possibility and satisfaction.
I grew up with the arts within arm’s reach. My mom was a music teacher before she had the first of her five children, dad loved listening to classical music and opera while he paid the bills in his den, and my siblings and I can all sing. On key. Between us, we can play the guitar, drums, mandolin, piano, and if pushed, a rather dicey-sounding harmonica. Almost Ohio’s answer to the von Trapps (almost). Dad was also a huge PBS fan, and mom would sketch in the margins of her crossword puzzle books while her mind wandered around hoping to find that six letter word for “stays away from” (it’s “avoids”, in case you’re working that same puzzle). Mom never claimed her sketches as art, or even talent, and it made no sense to me, as I needed tracing paper most of my childhood to get my version of a horse to actually look like a horse (you should also know that I can’t read a note of music. I learned everything I know on the guitar by ear and hand position observation and copying).
But mom was special and other-worldly, guided by muses I have yet to meet. She could draw on demand or from boredom with equally-stunning results. Once, during one of his many rebellious streaks to vex his more conservative father, Patrick asked mom to create a tattoo template that captured his high school nickname “Running Fish” (don’t ask), and she delivered in spades. In fact, one entire crossword puzzle book seemed to be a study of the many variations of “Running Fish”, with a range of detail from coloring book-simple to stained glass window complexity (Patrick never did get that tattoo, but how nice to know that we have the sketches if he ever changes his mind). What joy it was to find a stack of her artwork after she passed, drawn randomly and with gorgeous precision on the back of an old phone book, or on a scrap of grocery list paper, or an envelope containing a birthday card. On the latter, she would take the first letter of our names and morph them into the most fantastical creatures, then finish the rest of our names with a flourish. We saved the envelopes in addition to the cards; we knew what treasures they were. As I grew older, I spent more time looking at the envelope than what it contained. I think she was fine with that.
Looking back, I realize that creativity was the fertile soil in which I was raised and coached through life. The hand-held lessons were just as meaningful as the more abstract ones (dad was a brilliant psychologist and employed his creative juices toward the rebuilding of someone’s confidence or emotional agility), and there wasn’t much, if any, focus on perfect results. We got the occasional parental lecture on “hard work = satisfaction”, but my folks were just as comfortable with art as play for its own sake. On those occasions when I wanted perfection, I’m sure I was frustrated by my limitations, but thankfully, no one raising me let me dwell in that place for long. It was “climb up and sit next to me at the piano while we go through the Reader’s Digest book of songs”, or watching through the cracked open den door as dad conducted his own private symphony using his check-writing pen as a baton. Those are the memories that fortify my creative impulses, and pull me into the downstairs guestroom/art studio in between snapping scored drywall sections and sanding down the edges.
I’ve honed my mud-and-tape feathering skills this week, and I feel good about that.
And I have an impressive stack of jazzed-up sticky notes if you’re interested.