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Beyond the Blue Horizon

I once leaned my head on a public restroom wall. The wool/poly blend of a New Era cap acted as a shield, but still. I had been standing over a urinal in the men’s restroom of the Piccadilly Pub in Franklin, and as the reality of the 19-8 defeat at the hands of the Yankees tumbled over me like so many bricks, I kind of slowly leaned forward and my forehead gently met the wall in front of me. I think it was plaster, not tile, but don’t hold me to that.

This is just not meant to be, I told myself. Probably because of something I did.

Because it was personal, of course. How could it be any other way? The Sox, they had my name. They knew who I was. My Social Security number was on file somewhere in the bowels of their offices, a microchip had been implanted in the skin under my forearm, surely all of this was One Big Middle Finger to me and my existence, some sort of moral judgment on my activities to this point. I had not led a good enough life yet. I didn’t deserve any sort of baseball happiness. All their postseason foibles were an attack on me, nobody else. Red Sox Nation? Pfft, what do they know? This is all on me. They’re doing this to screw with ME. For my sins, my failings, my decayed humanity. Me.

So I leaned my head on a public restroom wall. Not something I’d advise doing, generally, even at a place as genteel as a suburban Piccadilly Pub.

It was just not meant to be.

Going into the evening the Yanks were up 2 games to none, but the Sox were back at Fenway and a win would make it a series again. It was a see-saw battle for 3 innings, then the Yankees became extremely rude guests and ran away with things, to the point where one might find themselves leaning against a filmy bathroom wall and wondering what was the point of it all was.

Grady Little had horrifically botched things the year before, clutching defeat from the jaws of victory against these very Yankees at the most crucial moment possible, a rug-pull played on those Sox fans who truly believed the team’s accursed past was simply due to random bad luck. Or bad management. Or personnel failings.

This indignity, this Grady, this Boone, piled on top of Buckner and Dent and Jim Burton and Armbrister and Ruhle and Aparicio and Jack Hamilton and Enos Slaughter. There were generations of men from the corners of New England and all points in between who were sick to their stomachs and looking at themselves in bathroom mirrors wondering why it ever had to be this way. Why? Why?

The Yankees had beaten the Red Sox 19-8, taking a 3-0 lead in the 2004 American League Championship Series. There would be no World Series for the Sox that year, no redemption for those left prostrate by Grady Little’s idiocy the year before. Baseball does not do karma. The game is its own reward, win or lose. A harsh but needed lesson, brutal in its finality.

I separated my forehead from the wall, exited the bathroom, and left the restaurant sometime after midnight on Sunday, October 17, 2004.

Sabbatical

On Saturday I noticed my drawing table had gathered cobwebs. That’s not metaphorical, nor an embellishment. It was real enough that I got a vacuum cleaner and waved at them half-heartedly. There were even some rogue strands that had made the leap to my chair.

I’ve been struggling to determine how or why activities or hobbies get back-burnered or mothballed. It’s not unique, or even unexpected. People garden, and then they don’t. Needlepoint sits idle in a drawer, golf clubs slowly rust in a darkened corner of the garage. Hell, I didn’t so much as pick up a humble pencil with any artistic purpose for almost all of the ’90s. I’ve been there before.

I think it’s like having kids. You love them and are proud of them, but sometimes you’d just like to abdicate your parental responsibilities and simply forget they exist, even as they woozily cry for their insulin.

Three Six Five

I was going to go running tonight when I got home from work, but my wife and kids were sitting out on the porch starting their dinner, and that was just enough to push my lazy self into a chair to settle down with them. That and the fact that if I went running, it would be time for the kids to go to bed by the time I came back and showered. Meaning I’d have barely seen them all day.

That happens sometimes. I’m not going to fool anyone into thinking I can get up early enough to go running in the morning before I go to work, so if I want to maintain even the slightest pretense of trying to stay under 195 pounds, I’ve got to go running at night. And that’s basically a whole day of not seeing the kids. Which is collateral damage, but sometimes it happens. The burden of being a fatass.

But I didn’t want it to happen tonight.

The days bleed into weeks and most of the time we can’t wait for whatever moment we’re in to pass, to be gone and tick over onto the next moment… as if there’s some Great Thing out there just over the horizon that would arrive if only this stupid Present we occupy would get out of the way.

Sit down. Look around. Appreciate the smile you see, the beginning of a laugh. Take note of the tactile things: the squirmy toddler as you throw him into the air, or the smack of you high-fiving your oldest child.  Close your eyes… sniff the faint scent of soap on your wife’s neck. The summer evening. Steaks on the grill.

I remember the smell of the sea at Old Orchard Beach as Danny and I stood on the cold sand one June evening many years ago, looking out into the foggy blackness that was the Gulf of Maine. Taking it in, I was astonished that plowing through that kind of unknown was part of his job description. He was in the Coast Guard, and he had told me of stories of sneaking up on unsuspecting drug-running boats as he skimmed across the night water in some kind of motorized stealth dinghy, adrenaline pumping, his hand ready to draw his weapon.

Behind us were the gaudy lights of OOB’s Strip, to our left was the Pier. Danny and I had been bar-hopping, taking full advantage of the 75-cent drafts and quarter-per-play games of pool that were so common among the OOB dives. It was the first summer we were 21, and we were Butch and Sundance. Luke and Han.

I remember the cold sand under my feet once we walked out onto the beach. I had taken off my socks and shoes. The water lured us away from the promise of drinking; there was something about the infinite and dark vastness of the ocean that spoke louder than beer.

The space Dan occupied, it was like that of a brother. This simplest of things. He was at my shoulder, and we talked about a lot, squinting out into that hazy space. Looking down at my toes hidden in the sand; I had burrowed them in there. Dan next to me with his slightly hunched posture, that half-smile he often wore, as if the very idea of life amused him. The short sentences. His laugh. He loved to laugh.

My daughter cut in, asking me, “What are you thinking?”

I looked at her. I was sitting on my deck, the light in the sky fading. I took her in my arms, the scent of her shampoo in my nostrils.

“I was thinking of your Uncle Dan.”

Evolution

I’ve often lamented in these blog pages about how long the artistic process is. How draining it can be.

And it’s true, it’s true. But it’s changing somewhat, and whether that’s due to my own perception/attitude or the simple fact that I’m getting better and the typical stuff that I do has become easier for me, I can’t say. Some of both, although I’m leaning more toward the latter, I suspect.

The two pieces of art posted above represent my output for the past two days. Henrik Larsson on Thursday, Wayne Rooney on Friday. An acrylic painting and a color pastel,  media which take longer than a charcoal drawing, no less. Two months ago (hell, even two weeks ago) this would have been unheard of for me.

And neither of them was commissioned. The Larsson is something I did for myself… I’m a Celtic FC fan, and I wish I could see more of their games, and I was working out that withdrawal through art. The Rooney is for a friend who’s a big ManU fan, but it was something we talked about drunkenly a while ago, and I offered to do it for no profit, just to break into doing soccer art. And I’m glad I made that choice.

The night prior to beginning each of these pieces it seemed as if I barely got any sleep because I was dreaming about drawing and painting these subjects, and it was so intense I felt like I was awake, even if I really wasn’t (I honestly couldn’t tell). And now I’m no longer the guy on the high dive board above an Olympic pool, wondering how I’m going to get down without killing myself, which was how I always felt. Now? Now I’m looking to slice through that water like a knife and fracture the pool bottom with my fist. I attacked that Larsson painting; I just slapped on the paint, and by the end of the day, it was done. I abandoned the calculated and reserved approach I usually take because I felt like I knew what I wanted to do with it in my gut. Every thing else came from that. And I finished a painting. In a day. For me, that’s a feat.

The Rooney drawing was even more interesting because I wanted to do a few slightly weird things from the get-go. I had a vision that was a wee bit different than representational; I wanted to screw with the colors and properties to make Rooney more ominous, like he was some looming beast or alien from a different dimension. Purple sky, greenish hue, liquid shirt. Making his slightly reddish hair orange. I’m not quite sure if I achieved the effect I was going for, but there’s some subjective quality about the piece, which is enough for me.

I’m going to outgrow this genre someday, and I don’t say it out of disrespect, but it’s obviously the natural progression that every artist takes. I think I’ll always be involved with it, because I enjoy the work and it pays well, but on my own time there will be a day when I start goofing around with something else. And I guess I always knew that time would come.

Bottle 2 Tha Face, Yo

A very wise man and I were once having a conversation about the nature of arguments, and our musings led us to realize that the ultimate answer in any heated debate would be to smash a beer bottle against your opponent’s face. What kind of comeback could top that, really?

Him: “You see, I think that if the United States had simply learned the lesson the French were given at Dien Bien Phu–”
You: *SMASH*

Argument over, you’ve won.

Sometimes I need the musical equivalent of a bottle to the face. Usually I listen to music as a mood enhancer (the aural equivalent to having a beer on your porch), not a mood alterer. But when I draw or paint, for some reason I need songs that push buttons, not ones that hold hands. And of course I have a playlist for this (creatively entitled The Art Mix, wordsmith that I am), and it’s chockablock full of a lot of crappy heavy metal that I’d rarely admit listening to. But it seems OK because I can say, “Hey, it’s not like I listen to this stuff on its own, it’s just when I use this playlist!”

Some of it is great for the Memory Lane factor (any of the dozens of 80s hair band songs on there), and some of it is the best of what the genre has to offer, such as early Metallica. But the bulk of the list, the songs that seem to work the best for me, fall into basically three other categories: Tool/A Perfect Circle, Ice Cube, and techno.

I alluded to why I might need this kind of music in a post I made on Sons of Sam Horn in a “Helmet vs. Tool” thread (we don’t only talk about baseball):

I couldn’t begin to try to explain why without sounding like a bumbling and pretentious asshole, especially since music criticism ain’t my bag, but I will say that I often listen to Tool when I’m drawing or painting, as if it were the music itself that was ripping aside some repressed lid off of my id and facilitating the process. Puts me where I need to be.


I have to attack when I create art, and that’s just generally not in my nature. Instead I’m inclined to observe and synthesize and maybe talk about it after the fact, and in the meantime, would anyone like another beer? But this more aggressive music is like the full moon to a werewolf for me. And it’s needed.

Because the piece of paper or the canvas is the enemy. And art takes a long, long time to make. Picture the painting surface not as stretched linen, but as a slab of cement, and I literally have to punch a piece of art out of it. And each power jab, each haymaker, it only creates the smallest hairline fissure with each blow, and it’s the cumulative effect of hundreds and thousands of these punches that slowly reveals the painting as the pulverized cement crumbles away.

Dan Fogelberg is not going to assist with that process.

But Vicarious will. Endangered Species will. Keep Hope Alive will. Never Gonna Come Back Down will. The music is the bottle to the face, no doubt, but am I the one swinging it or the one getting smashed across the bridge of the nose? Either way, it works, so I’m not complaining, but it’s an interesting question.