Wednesday, November 6, 2013
The National Collage Society holds an annual online juried show, and when I first entered the competition in 2010, I felt quite lucky to have a collage accepted. Next two years, not so lucky. But this year my luck changed. "Reconstituted" appears in this year's show! It is one in series I think of as my "panoramic" collages, long and narrow.
When you enter a show, you just never really know if the judges will find your work favorable. It's really a matter of each judge's individual taste. They might favor realistic, abstract or minimal compositions, etc. Achieving my goal of placing in the show feels like such a blessing, especially coming on the heels of my mother's death in May. It took quite a while to get back to my collage practice. But then, along came this new series, and I was able to hit my stride again.
The printed catalog for the 2013 29th Annual Juried Exhibit is available for $19.00, digital version for $10.
Thank you for looking at my art and/or the online show!
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Brooklyn is in my blood. Yes, I was born there, but shortly thereafter my parents moved to the suburbs. Especially on my 100% Irish Catholic mother's side, our family has a long history there. So it was natural I would reach for Someone by Alice McDermott. Within a few pages, I knew not only that this was a book I would enjoy, but also that I would want to read it more than once. The book felt near-sacramental. Someone seemed to recreate my mother's milieu during the World War II years. Every detail of neighborhood life rings true and thus I was swept away into that time and place. Both Mom and I were big fans of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and Someone bears comparison to that beloved classic.
Marie Commeford, Brooklyn stoop-sitter, is unprepossessing young girl who often lacks confidence. In many ways, she balks at growing up. She does not want to learn how to bake the Irish soda bread her mother has always made on Saturday mornings (a much-loved and often-baked bread in our house too). When Marie graduates from high school, she rules out working in Manhattan. She is a Brooklyn girl through and through. Of all things, she ends up working in a local funeral home, where she matures into the role of comforting angel for the bereaved. Her brother, Gabe, becomes a priest, though after his first year, he backs out of the profession. Marie's loving but alcoholic father dies young, and her mother stays on in their longtime apartment while the old neighborhood crumbles apart around her.
Marie has her heart broken at the age of seventeen. "Who's going to love me?" she asks her brother. Herein lies the book's title. "Someone," her brother answers, such a simple but profound reply. And without giving too much away, yes, Marie does find a man who very much loves her. It takes awhile.... The book is not a straightforward chronologically, an arrangement I sometimes find jarring, but not in McDermott's sure hands. Very impressionistic and yet also realistically detailed, the effect is rather like opening a jumbled box of personal treasures. In sorting through them, I felt very much inside of Marie's roving memory, looking back through her life. There are times for all of us when yesterday seems close at hand and of course other times when the reverse is true. This is a slim novel, rich in both the sacred and profane.
Many of the reviews I skimmed before reading this book made much of the fact that Marie is very ordinary. I take some umbrage with that. There are time Marie shines. There are times she fails. She is an Everywoman for me, wonderfully familiar. She loves, loses love, loves again and again, especially when her children are born. And all of this calls to mind a Raymond Carver poem, one which is inscribed on his tombstone in Port Angeles, Washington:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
What I Did and Didn't Say in my Speech on the Occasion of West University Library's 50th Anniversary
Mind you, giving speeches is not my thing. But when asked to plan a short speech on the occasion of an event planned to celebrate West University Branch Library's 50th Anniversary, of course I agreed. After all, I worked there from 1981 - 2009. As I told the people in the audience, I came to librarianship as an introvert, but became, if not an extrovert, at least an extroverted introvert. I learned plenty about management, customer service and leadership due to HCPL's commitment to continuing education and training. In the branch, day by day, I learned so much about both books and people.
When public librarians gather amongst themselves, they are likely to comment that at times, they feel like bartenders. Instead of booze, we pour out information and resources in many formats. We listen to our customers' stories. This is a sacred, confidential privilege. We are asked about bankruptcy, divorce, addictions, health issues, just all sorts of problems. Often we are among the first to know that a woman is pregnant when she checks out a stack of books on pregnancy. So in some ways, in addition to feeling like bartenders, we feel like social workers. Librarians like to help out however we can. We are also extremely subject to school assignments that hit like tidal waves. Texas wildflowers, famous Canadians, animal skeletons, you name it, we hustle to find materials for the kids. In so many ways, librarians become woven into the fabric of their communities. From the customers' point of view, I'd like to think the public library is a Great American Watering Hole. Of course, having been a librarian, I am library-centric, but surely the public library is among the finest if not THE finest feature of our democracy. I know it was an Army slogan, but it also suits libraries: "Be all you can be." Libraries hold plenty of potential for all of us.
Okay, that was the first part of my speech. Then I offered some anecdotes of library interactions. I will share some of them here.
One day I was in the Children's area of our library. I observed a mother with two children as she parked her about three-year-old daughter in the picture book section and then led her older school-aged child to the nonfiction area, where the preceded to hunt down some books for a homework assignment. When the Mom returned to the picture book area, she saw that her daughter had accumulated quite a tall pile of picture books. "Honey, you've got too many books," she said. The little girl answered, "But Mommy, I want too many books!" (Precious, and this story got a big laugh.)
The West University Fire Station just two short blocks from the Library. One day Fireman Steve ran in and said "Keddy, please -- I need a book on diamonds. I am about to buy a ring and propose to my girlfriend." Sure enough, we had something and he went away a happy customer. Within time, I met his wife and then, along came two daughters. Sometimes I got to help them with school assignments. That is an example of how wonderful it is to stay put in one community and see many of life's cycles unfolding.
West University Library is cheek by jowl next to a the city's Senior Services building. So we had lots of interactions with older adults. One retired teacher often came in asking for "good clean murder books". As time went on, she was no longer able to drive to the Library. We collaborated with Senior Services to offer a service named "Words on Wheels" wherein books could be delivered to the homebound. Thus, our retired teacher could still keep reading her mystery books. Later, when she went into assisted living in another state, she wrote to me, bless her heart -- and told me if I ever came to visit her, she could procure a cot if I wanted to sleep over!
For a couple of years, I facilitated a Senior poetry group at the library. We enjoyed reading and writing poetry. Senior Services planned a lovely Poetry Reading Luncheon for us. This was an exciting occasion! But by this time, one of the most prolific senior poets had lost most of her vision to macular degeneration. She told me she would try and memorize some of her poems but bring along her niece to sit nearby and cue her should she forget her words. Well, no cues were necessary. She spoke her poems clear and true, and they were marvel to hear. I will never forget that day or the white-haired poet with so much gumption.
Looking back, I see how very rich my library career was. I have hundreds of library stories tucked away in my memory. I concluded my speech by telling the audience it was a real privilege to be a librarian at West University Library, and I meant that.
Now, what about all the not so warm and fuzzy memories? These are the things I did not speak of, for it was not the time or place. To name just a few: times of short staffed-ness, AC malfunctions, hurricanes, floods, technology meltdowns, budget woes, incidents of vandalism, afterschool problems with mischievous kids, etc. Enough said. Big exhalation -- none of those really matter if you consider the Big Picture. Libraries matter. Libraries are essential. Libraries are not just about books, databases, newspapers or movies. Libraries are about people! May it always be so......
photo: READ poster featuring West University Library customers, the Borrecas
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The subject of loss is so prevalent in literary fiction, yet Gail Godwin makes it seem fresh and new in Flora: a Novel (Bloomsbury, 2013). We first meet ten year-old Helen in the summer days following the loss of her much beloved paternal grandmother, known as Nonie. World War II is on. Helen's father, a high school principal, will be gone for the summer to do important war work at Oak Ridge. Helen's mother died when she was three, so Nonie has been the girl's maternal mainstay. In comes Flora, a cousin who grew up with Helen's mother. Helen sets her mind and heart against Flora, a sentimental, gullible country girl. Flora is in her early twenties, looking forward to a career in teaching.
Their summer together seems to take place in a bell jar, largely due to an outbreak of polio. Helen's father instructs them to stay home all the time. They even have their groceries delivered. And so, they meet Finn when he makes his way up a rutted road on his motorcycle to their rundown house at the top of a steep hill. Finn had been a soldier, but is awaiting discharge following medical and psychiatric problems. Soon Finn becomes their lifeline, a frequent dinner guest, fixer of drains and voila -- an artist as well. Helen immediately starts having fantasies that Finn will move in with she and her Dad once the summer is over and Flora is well gone. Since Nonie's old house has a history of being a place where those with TB and other problems can recover, Helen feels sure such an arrangement will be perfect.
Flora is the soul of kindness, but Helen only resents her. Helen moves into her grandmother's room and hears her voice in her head, uncannily calling up her grandmother's wisdom as needed. Helen absolutely hates the fact that Flora and Nonie had a long history of correspondence by mail. She sneaks into Flora's room and reads their letters. Flora is also full of tales about Helen's mother. Helen feels so overshadowed by Flora, but does have moments when she gives the woman credit for her bumbling acts of kindness. They even play school together so Flora can practice being a teacher.
Godwin gives us just a hint or two that something will go wrong by summer's end. Something will happen to Flora. And so the author admirably builds an atmosphere of dread and forthcoming doom. Poor Helen looks forward to her 11th birthday, hoping her father will come home for a visit. And that is the point in this enormously affecting novel where I will leave off describing plot details. Truly a masterpiece of characterization, Flora: a Novel will haunt you. Each major and minor character is sharply drawn. Helen has control issues; of course she does. She is trying to reorder her world and make sense of all she has lost. Your heart will ache for her, but you will also want to give her a good talking to. I would go so far as to compare it favorably with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Read it and see if you agree with my comparison!
Saturday, August 17, 2013
I as amazed by this, my first okra flower! I grew the plant from some seeds a friend gave me after seeing how ornamental an okra plant looked in her yard last summer.
You can see how lovely the leaves are, large and almost umbrella-like.
Here are some of the first okra pods. I later learned I'd left them on the plant too long. They got too woody and now I am drying them for ornamental use. You should pick the pods when they are only 2 inches long.
I have yet to eat any of the okra from the 4 or 5 plants in the yard. For one thing, I have never been a fan of okra. But my husband loves it, so when we get enough pods, I will trying roasting them with olive oil in the oven. One of my yoga pals told me okra looses its slime when roasted. Or we may just boil some okra slices with stewed tomatoes.
I learned that okra is a member of the mallow family and is related to cocoa, cotton and hibiscus. Very few edibles can take the heat like okra does; in fact it seems to thrive during these humid dog days of summer in Houston. Apparently there is great debate about whether okra originated in West Africa or South Asia. It is said to be drought-tolerant, but if I didn't water my plants every day, they started to droop. Having a sky-high water bill during the last three rain-starved summers has been the price I pay for being a hobby gardener. In fact, for me, it doesn't matter if I ever eat the okra, since I enjoy growing it simply as a tropical curiosity.
Last but not least, who knew there was a town called Okra in Texas? In Eastland County, near Abilene, it is said to have a dwindling population of twenty or less. Not many other details available, even from the Handbook of Texas....
Friday, July 26, 2013
Napping cat Ms. Abigail doesn't even wink when the paper cutter slams down!
My desk neatened up after a collage session.
Some art supplies and tools to the right of my desk.
Boxes of pre-cut scraps, usually kept in drawers and on shelves. If I have them all out and about, I get too distracted. I pull out certain boxes depending what I think I might need.
After my mother's illness, death and memorial service and a time of travel, I was slow to return to collage. As an ice-breaker, I made a few collage cards. I am back to more complicated projects now and feel like I am hitting my stride, aiming for a couple of masterpieces to submit to the upcoming annual National Collage Society show.
Some of my rulers. You can't have enough rulers! I use the little Coca-Cola polar bear ruler all the time.
A few of my favorite scissors.
Inspirational "pretties" and keepsakes!
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Yes, the characters in this chunky novel, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, were well -- interesting! For some of the gang of kids who meet at a summer camp for the arts when they are teenagers, those summers define them. Relationships are formed, alliances made, secrets shared. The character we come to know best is Jules Jacobson, an awkward girl with a bad perm who feels she is talentless until her new friends find her funny. And so for many years Jules aspires towards becoming a comic actress. Feeling her own family background is banal, she is much impressed by the moneyed cultural Manhattan milieu of the Wolf family, who invite her in as if she was one of their own after that first summer of meeting Ash and Goodman Wolf. Also in the inner circle: Ethan, a toadlike boy whose talent for animation will eventually make him very rich, Jonah, the son of a famous folksinger with a crippling secret from his past, and Cathy, a beautiful, bountifully curvy girl who very much wants to be a dancer.
The story is expertly laid out in that wherever we land on the lifelong fabric of these friendships, we know what we need to know in order to understand what's going on. The flashbacks are never distracting. Success, or the lack of success affects each character, as does love. Jules becomes a therapist and Ash, a feminist theater director. They become best friends for life. Unlikely as it is, beautiful Ash and ugly Ethan marry and have children. That first summer, Ethan fell in love with Jules. They became more like soulmates than young lovers, and their friendship never dies, although it is very much impacted by Ethan's financial success. Jules often feels like a church mouse compared to wealthy Ethan and Ash. But Jules finds a good husband and has a child too. As for Ash's brother, Goodman -- therein lies a tragedy I won't try and explain, one that gives the book much ethical gravitas. And on and on it goes, the fascinating lifelong stories of a scraggly bunch of talented kids who all land on their feet in New York City, strengthened and challenged by their sometimes unlikely connections to each other.Here is one excerpt from page 21 of the novel that I will also be copying into my one of my Quote collection notebooks: (Ash speaking to Jules that first summer they meet) "I've always sort of felt that you prepare yourself for over the course of your whole life for the big moments, you know? But when they happen, you sometimes feel totally unready for them, or even that they're not what you thought. And that's what makes them strange. The reality is different from the fantasy."
Out of the mouths of teens, but entirely believable in the context of Wolitzer's wonderful novel. That's what I loved about this novel: these characters were so real to me. I cried near the book's end, and loved every minute of time I spent amongst "the Interestings" -- they became MY gang of best, best friends, and I'm sure there's a world of readers out there that will feel much the same. Bravo, Meg Wolitzer!