Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Dear Eleanor Oliphant,
Listen — you say you’re completely fine, but give me a break. On the third page of your book,  you tell us you hadn’t invited another human being, voluntarily, across the threshold of your Glasgow flat for all the years you’ve lived there. The meter reader doesn’t count.
At age 30, you’re “a self-contained entity.”  You drink way too much vodka every solitary weekend. Oh my, and you believe almost everyone you meet is rude or have “woefully inadequate” social skills. My dear, it’s easy to see that you’re the one with a huge deficit in the area of interpersonal relations.
But I did give you points for being a reliable office worker. And then there are the scars. When I learned one side of you face is disfigured, I began to feel some sympathy, knowing there was some history there we readers needed to learn in order to figure you out.
Well, it took some investment of time. But I’m glad I kept turning the pages.
Along came various chinks in your armor! First of all, you came down with a ridiculous and humongous crush on a rock star and start beautifying yourself. Then, along with a coworker named Raymond, you happen to come across an old gent who has fallen in the street, and together the two of you end up rescuing him. Later, you’re goaded into visiting him in the hospital.
Sweet, bumbling Raymond starts asking you out to lunch — and for the first time in what seems like forever, you realize you have a true friend. Slowly the story of your life with the most horrid mother on earth, a house fire she set, and your subsequent placement into foster care are revealed.
And that is where I’ll stop, as I do not want to totally expose your secrets. So even though at first, I didn’t take to your story, by mid-book, I was rooting for you. All the way.
Things that had been long roiling in your subconscious come to light and are even shared with other human beings. Congrats on meeting many challenges and telling us of your struggles. I closed the book feeling quite impressed with its author — you, as channeled by Scottish author Gail Honeyman.
Take care now and maybe later on, let us know more of how you are getting on in life.
Yours truly,
A most delighted reader
PS  Have you read the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend? There were droll, darkly comic bits of your tale that reminded me of Adrian Mole, high praise indeed!

This review also appears on LitLovers.com! Thanks to Molly Lundquist for a few finishing touches.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fall Fever Strikes

Though Fall officially arrived last month, in Houston it still felt like high summer. When a few days of more tolerable weather arrived this past week, I came down with fall fever. Three days in a row, I was able to get out in the yard and do some gardening. I also did some flagstone maintenance. It felt great to comingle with nature in my own backyard.
Here is one corner of the yard where a gremlin keeps watch on things. He had gotten overgrown with ruella, but now his view is clear again. Some species of ruella are now considered invasive in Texas, but I find them to be a pretty sturdy and reliable flowering plant.

This area got freshly mulched after I turned the soil to get rid of weeds.

 The southern side of the yard was crowded with a motley assortment of plants, but I wanted to highlight the lemon tree and be able to walk around it, so I did some digging and mulching, resulting in a cleaner look. Rewarding!


Buddha continues to sit under the fig tree and has gained an angel companion (actually part of a broken bird bath a friend gave me when she moved away). 

Here is one weed, some kind of shamrock, that I let grow in some areas of the yard.
It reminds me of Ireland!
I love agave plants and usually have several growing. This one started out tiny and has outgrown successive pots. It seems happy in this tin washbasin where it gets a lot of sun. A few volunteer flowers showed up alongside the agave over the summer.
Keeping the yard alive through out long hot summers is always a challenge. These last few years, I have been simplifying the foliage so that I won't resent my yard chores. To some extent, I have succeeded, but I am susceptible to impulse buying in nurseries come spring. There are always new flowers and herbs to try. One change that will help me going forward is that when out lawn mower broke, Tom and I hired a great yard guy to do the mowing and trimming. There are still lots of other chores to do in the yard and I appreciate some of that work as good exercise.
I am looking forward to the Herb Society's Annual Herb Fair on November 4th. It will be held at the Judson Robinson Community Center, 2020 Hermann Drive, Houston, 77004. I do have some room for more herbs, and the ones they sell are always healthy and affordable. Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Adroit Shenanigans

"Going gold" is the expression or title I kept thinking I would use for this month's post. But that sounded rather braggadocious, especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey when so many people are relatively homeless here in Houston. How so -- going gold? Not my credit card status... Not the app-modified golden photo of my cat Molly above.... Instead, it is related to collage...

This 4 x 4" collage on wood entitled Adroit Shenanigans is the piece of art that catapulted me into the Gold Signature membership status with the National Collage Society. Let me explain... I joined the NCS in 2010 and was extremely pleased to learn on of my collages had been accepted for that year's juried exhibit. Every year I entered these annual competitions and had success again in 2013. This year, because my collage above was accepted for the 33rd Annual Juried Exhibit and was my third such acceptance, I became eligible for "Gold Signature" status. This denotation gives me the privilege of including the NCS insignia on any collage I sign. It is a pat on the back I really appreciate and may come in handy in the future, especially should I start applying for solo shows. The show is being held at the Union Street Gallery in Chicago Heights, IL from September 27 - October 28, 2017 and will also be online at NCS soon.
The fact that this teeny-tiny piece of art was accepted and therefore was the road to "Gold" delights me. So may people in the art world tell aspiring artists to work BIG. I've only gotten as big as 16 x 20" thus far and most of my pieces are 8 x 8" or 9 x 12". I love working small. For one thing, my scanner is your typical desktop size and taking larger art to be scanned or professionally photographed is cost prohibitive. Most art shows today depend on digital entries, so the ability to scan my art is important. Secondly, because I often use Dover clip art books, I have to work within the smaller scale of my found images. My art has also appeared in Cloth, Paper Scissors magazine and their Reader Challenge size requirements run small.  I have also learned that many collectors have run out of wall space and are turning to smaller art. Think tiny houses and the trend towards simplicity! Many baby boomers are scaling down, so small art makes sense.
As for Horrible Harvey, the rainfall was quite scary. We sandbagged the front door and watched our street turn into a lake. The photo above shows our flooded street (no curb in sight and the water level risen to halfway up the Stop sign pole). And though the rain continued for days, our house never flooded. Several of my friends suffered major or minor flood damage. Heaps of hurricane debris still litter the front lawns of many homes nearby. We dodged the bullet, and in the days after the storm, helped others as best we could.

I took a long-planned girlfriend getaway trip to Sedona, AZ in early September. Hobby Airport was still affected by the hurricane, so I had to fly from Austin and back. Sedona was marvelous. Every day the scenery blew our minds. That said, I am more of a water person. I like to roam around ocean or lake shores. I am not a mountain climber, and so felt a bit removed from all the Sedona beauty, merely an observer, not a participant. Best tourist experience: visiting the Amitabha Stupa Peace Park, a place I believe almost anyone would experience as sacred.

Monday, August 14, 2017

GIMPing Towards Digital Collage Skills

GIMP is a (free!!!) Graphic Image Manipulation Program that I am currently studying. People tell me it is much like PhotoShop. I figure maybe I will have to do about 500 creations before I am anywhere near proficient. I am fortunate to have an artist friend who knows her way around GIMP and so I was able to take two classes with her at the start. I own one book about GIMP which I am very slowly reading. There is also good help online, thank goodness, because the mysteries of GIMP are many. But mostly I just play with the software and try out different tools. Here are a few of my experiments:
I loved learning how to use the bucket tool to pour paint onto this black and white postcard image of a ferris wheel. Then I added Da Vinci's Vitruvian man to finish the collage. A lot of my imagery comes from Dover Publications. I have been buying their books for years and using their images for collage.  Some of the books came with CDs, which I am now also putting into use.
This landscape-like collage experiment is made using scans of my Gelli prints. I have spent many hours scanning these prints into my PC. That way, I can create with them digitally even after they are cut up and pasted down into a "real world" collage.

These flowers were made learning how to use the Fuzzy Select and Color Select tools. The original flowers were photos I took in our backyard. I am by no means saying this is a finished piece of art! But who knows, maybe I will use a few of the flowers again later in a GIMP piece.

Star Babies, anyone? I used the Brush and Pencil tools to play with these black and white images. Starting out in GIMP, choosing black and white imagery against a white background almost feels like cheating since no one can see your clumsy cut lines! Herein I also learned to use the Rotate and Scale tools.
This image started out as a bunch of GIMP scribbles. I then turned to my Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI software to make a kaleidoscopic/mandala-like image from the scribbles, always a fun experiment.
Finally, here is an oddball constellation of mandalas, all of them made with some combination of GIMP and Paint Shop software. Playing herein, I had to do a lot of rotating and scaling to get the circle forms to work together. With this image, I am about 70 experiments into GIMP. I've got a long way to go (at least 500 experiments I should think...), but am determined not to put pressure on myself about it, not to overdo GIMPing to the point where I get a sore mouse finger or carpal tunnel syndrome, but rather to play and explore without giving up my printmaking and "offline" collage practices.
This month, I feel lucky to have two pieces of art in a Visual Arts Alliance show at the Silos on Sawyer here in Houston. I won't put the images up today since this is a GIMP-related post, but look for them in the future.
As printed on one of my favorite t-shirts: Make Art, Not War!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dogs Galore in Art & Life

This is our new Havanese puppy. We adopted him a few months ago, named him Dylan, and now of course, he is running the show. Dylan turned 1 year old at the end of June. I love taking him for walks in the morning, even though the summer heat is upon us. Dylan has a jaunty walk and a loving personality. We have enrolled in some dog obedience sessions at Petco and the trainer thinks Dylan is quite the brainy boy. He catches on quickly, especially when treats are involved. Now if only we could correctly apply all the commands we have learned at the appropriate times.
The biggest bugaboo about the dog is that he and the cat (Molly) have not yet made peace with each other. The dog just wants to play with the cat, but the cat hisses and sticks out her claws. Molly lives in fear of the dog and keeps high on the furniture. Yes, it's all a bit much, but my husband Tom really wanted a dog, so it makes me happy his wish has been granted before we get too much older. On Tom's side of the family, everyone owns dogs. When we all get together, as we did on the 4th of July, there are dogs galore, running around everywhere. Meeting this canine gang made Dylan giddy with delight. And when we put Dylan in the swimming pool, what do you know -- his doggy paddle was perfect! Dogs are a lot of work, but they steal your heart and so the deal is done.
This cloth and paper collage is one in a series I created in February. I think the poochie here resembles Dylan, although he has more white fur. So it is interesting that Dylan appeared a few months later. This collage and the one below were my entries in this year's show at the Jung Center. I called them Poochie Woochie 1 and 2. And guess what? Poochie Woochie 2 shown below sold to a couple from Mexico. My strategy in this series was to keeping it simple. Collage can easily get overly cluttered.

There have been a bunch of good things happening in my life as an artist. First was the use of one of my collages on the Jung Center Summer catalog. Then I entered a winter holiday greeting card into a Reader's Challenge at Cloth, Paper, Scissors magazine and made the cut as a finalist, so usually when that happens, your image appears in the magazine. So I look forward to that winter issue and will keep my fingers crossed. Then learning I sold a piece at the Jung Center show was wonderful. I did not get in the Archway juried show this summer. Never mind, I have been in it twice before. There is always a mix of rejection and acceptance in any artist's life.
This second life as an artist after a career in librarianship is invigorating. Yet I constantly battle with work/life balance. DIY home and yard maintenance take way too much of my time. Other diversions such as yoga, women's circles, church groups, book group, travel, etc. also interfere with my artistic intentions. I am also taking a few art classes here and there. I am bushwhacking my way into digital collage by learning GIMP, a time-consuming process. On a good day I get to work on my art for 4 or 5 hours, but often that is not the case. Life is too short! On that note, back to the drawing board...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gifted by John Daniel

Gifted by John Daniel is a first novel that feels like the polished work of an old master, bringing to my mind the likes of Ivan Doig and Wallace Stegner. Daniel has previously published nonfiction and poetry, so he has certainly put in plenty of time polishing his writing skills.. Here is my review of Gifted:

“Sunrise and sunset are made of the same light, and, like gladness and sadness, you can’t have one without the other.” These words arise in the mind of Henry Fielder at the age of 16. Think he might be an old soul? Yes, oh yes.

His beloved mother dies when he is 15. Then later his father kicks the bucket when a tree falls on their house in rural western Oregon. If that plot line sounds like a formulaic YA premise, don’t go there. This novel runs deep. Henry is one of those kids who doesn’t talk much, who walks the woods in wonder. Woodland creatures who usually bolt away from humans instead step closer to Henry and they share spirit. That is his gift and those are the moments Henry lives for.

But Henry is no saint. A horrific act of violence is at the center of this book. And that violence against Henry only begets more violence. Henry strikes back at the cruel world in ways that only get him deeper into trouble. Yet often he is able to channel wisdom from the native American stories so revered by his mother and from the array of books he hungrily consumes. Henry hates school. He wishes he could just have a tutor for his favorite subject: “biologycosmologyphilosophyreligion.”

Often Henry runs away to the woods, with both positive and negative results. At one point, he commits an act of ecoterrorism that could land him in jail for several years. Like many teenagers, he drinks, smokes and discovers sex. Luckily for him, there are many caring adults surrounding him, including neighbors who become his foster parents, a gay man who lives in a commune and various church members.

The story of Henry’s troubles is told in hindsight as he tries to write a memoir many years after all the drama of his adolescence. This novel hurt to read. It hurt deep. But for all that, Henry’s intuitive pull towards the wisdom of nature is wondrous to behold. Acts of communion are many.

Some readers may find the novel too dark. I like dark and yet, at times the novel was almost too dark for me. But there is pure poetry here. Those sublime moments rang true and thus, I was hooked. I will not forget Gifted. It left me itching to go for a walk in the woods. A quiet walk alone, listening deep….

The text of this review also appears on LitLovers.com and if needed, see also the discussion guide posted there.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Mashing for Five"

Mother's Day is around the corner and of course, I am thinking of my Mom, Dorothy Stanton Outlaw. We lost her in 2013. She lived to be 94. I wrote this poem in her honor years ago and gave it to her. She had it framed and hung it in her kitchen.

Mashing for Five

She stood at the sink with
the big pot of steaming hot potatoes
safely stowed there for mashing.
She used a common implement made of

curlicue metal attached to a worn wooden
handle, known as the potato masher.
The noise that Mom made
mashing the potatoes for dinner

was a predominant sound of
my childhood. Most nights,
some ten minutes before dinner,
we heard the mashing noise throughout

the house, a certain clackety-clack,
clackety-clack, clackety, clackety,
clackety-clack that comes back to me now
clear as a hymn or a heartbeat,

almost jazzy, our mother orchestrating
dinner, our mother so Irish and hard working,
mashing and fluffing, mashing and fluffing,
adding the milk and Blue Bonnet margarine

and giving the masher a final whack against
the rim of the pot before setting it aside
to tend to the meat and vegetables.
Only occasionally did I notice

the little sighs Mom made, those
sick-of-cooking-for-a-family-of-five sighs,
those this-must-be-my-three-thousandth-pot-
of-potatoes sighs, but I write this poem

to recognize them now, and to celebrate
the rhythm of her mashing so fondly recalled,
clackety-clack, clackety-clack,
clackety, clackety, clackety-clack......

- Keddy Ann Outlaw

The photo above shows Mom with me, her firstborn. To see her so young and happy, joyous in motherhood, is wonderful, a tonic for my spirits.

I have to tell you, despite the sighs I wrote about in the poem, mashed potatoes were one of her favorite foods up till the end... She once told me she would love to just eat a big bowl of them for dinner, especially if someone else made them, which I often did when I visited her in the last few years of her life. Love you, Mom! And I will say again what I often said to her over the phone on Mother's Day -- Mom, thank you for giving me life.