I like obstacles. They tell on me. Study your obstacles – what tale do they tell about your thinking? Elephantine obstacles require a great force of self to move, but many are completely mind made up.
In this totem, the elephant balances on a lavender egg. The elephant, remover of obstacles – is at once young and old – timeless leathered skin defined by burls in the underlying wood.
In motion. Maybe she was laid off – again. Maybe he holds divorce papers – again. Maybe she heads a faltering company or he’s losing a major client. These two-ton obstacles to happiness force us into motion. This elephant puts one uneasy foot in front of the other and though vulnerable, balances between hope and despair. She will make this egg take her where she wants to go. Perhaps finding (while plodding) a new direction. We don’t know how, but she will.
The bird, however, is stuck. Staring down a small black egg entirely avian made. Some dark ritualized judgement grounds her from flying free. A perceived tragic flaw, “I’m unlovable,” or “I’ll never reach my goals.” “I’ll always be _________. “I’m the worst ________.” Her wings pinned back. Cawing complaint.
But I see potential in this obstacle egg. Potential to find the thinking flaw. Black egg thoughts have a shady “all-or-nothing” ultimatum-ish type character – a dead give away. Hold on! I’m not the *worst* parent in the world. I messed up this time, but next time I’ll handle it differently. (deep breath)
Now we flex our wings. Now a dark egg cracks. Opens up to new and brightly life.
Allow me a moment to comment on this confounding binarism I find sandwiched between my toes.
It’s often called “black and white” thinking – the penchant of some people (me) to frame solutions in “either/or” scenarios. Do you want the pink one or the blue? This is either good or it’s bad. It’s the best thing that ever happened, or the worst. Whitman or Dickinson? Male or Female?
I have a major problem with binarism – it’s FALSE. The word “or” should be the warning light – the wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee someone is boxing up the choices. I don’t want cream or sugar – I want both, or stevia, maybe tea. A nice cup of lapsang souchong, perhaps? If we can generate multiple choice in our drinks, what about for other life challenges.
OR limits creativity to generate multiple solutions. I regularly pick up an everyday object (a mug) and think, “what could this be other than mug?” (vase, penny jar, pencil stand, plant pot, light fixture, toad house, soup or cereal bowl, jewelry holder, baling bucket, soil scoop, bug catcher, metaphysical mood meter (is glass half empty/half full?), inspiration piece, homing beacon)
I can see dividing imagined best case/worst case scenarios into a tidy binarism. To envision yourself toward a goal (sometimes frustrating) or to prepare yourself for the worst. Possibly helpful.
What about in-betweens? Hello! options not mentioned. Consider your job, done in a different way, in a different place. What’s the yellow solution, the blue idea, the green daydream? What if your choosing were colors, we wouldn’t settle for just black or white.
Yes there’s something called option anxiety – so we distill choices down to two. To short cut an otherwise too lengthy decision making process. Point taken. But.
Do you want limits or unlimited ? I’m kicking OR to the curb.
Vivian is Averly Township’s secret miracle-worker. She doesn’t trumpet her talent to the whole community of course, just to her close friends. You see Vivian thinks it’s not gossip, its background information.
You’ll meet her at the front desk of Sage Creek Middle School – she’s been the secretary there for 23 years. “You’d be amazed at the things kids say.” Occasionally, she adds them to the “prayer chain,” so everyone in town knows “to pray” for Jenny Randall’s (Junie Randall’s older sister) underage drinking or Sam Caldwin’s shoplifting habit.
She’s the first to put two and two together. Which makes her quite the miracle worker.
Like the time when casseroles started appearing unannounced at Lynn Weir’s home. She hadn’t told anyone she’d been diagnosed with cancer, but Vivian knew. Through Alice Beth who found out from little Beth (her niece at the pharmacy) when Lynn filled a prescription for a cancer medicine. This new texting has been a godsend.
Vivian remembered the school nurse giving Bradley Weir new pills – probably antidepressants. Vivian’s husband, (also church finance committee member) told her over oatmeal that the Weir’s had recently stopped their tithing.
It turns out that Lynn picked up the medicine for her mother-in-law (Gwendolyn but also goes by Lynn) to treat her degenerative arthritis, Lynn’s husband’s recently laid off and Bradley’s freshly diagnosed with ADHD. No cancer. But I’m sure they appreciated the casseroles.
Or the time she conspired to match-make Jane Gregg and Rick Basutos. When they started dating, Vivian prodded the fledgling love at every turn and on the wedding day she congratulated herself with a second slice of cake. They moved away two years ago and Vivian got a Christmas card from Jane mentioning she was now divorced from Rick.
He sat solid, on a stump near the porch. Bare-hand paws tugging at fishing line. Restringing a pole, the net at his feet collapsed in a gnarled rope heap. A cable sweater, slightly yellow, stretched over his shoulders, wide hunched. His mother’s hands knitted the sweater for him last year, the same year he laid her to rest on the upper hill. On the ridge where the pines laced the sky through their fingers.
The rough planes of his face fell placid as he worked. The sweet-brine smell of the morning water pressed his lips. Now soundless, a wash of waves pulled and pushed at the gravel shore.
He caught women like he caught fish although he wouldn’t admit to such. He put on his charm like he strung a night-crawler. They saw the power in his body, even now at sixty-two. His fourth wife left several months ago, and the calendar on a nail was just passing pictures. She wasn’t a sailor and he was too like this sea, same tides, both changeable and stubborn-constant. Whittling her away a little at a time. She tired of tacking back and forth through each bluster gust.
His fingers knotted the way his mind used to. But lately his thoughts lay blank as his fingers worked. He liked that, not thinking much. He feared getting stuck down at the dead-end of his reason. Alone.
He turned, the whisper ping of his cell phone surprising the silence. Only lately did he remember to plug it in when the battery died. Probably his daughter texting to wish him a ” Happy Father’s Day.”
“I don’t text,” he scolds the brightening sky. He couldn’t be bothered now. Not till this was finished at least.
Look dear, the dog’s name is Bonnard. What a darling puppy! Is it a poodle?
(If paintings could speak…)
No, no that’s the artist’s name. French, impressionist, part of the Nabis group…
And don’t you love her gingham dress. What a cheery polka dot scarf.
Yes the dress is interesting for its sheer flatness, the way it starts a dialog of pattern that circles around the painting…
And her sister’s curly hair. Lord, I’ve spent hours ironing my sister’s kinky hair to get it straight. Back before they had flat irons that is. We actually used an iron.
Mmmhmm. See how her curly hair pulls out the whorl of the dog’s coat, similar colors even, and then talks to the shaggy flowers and rattan chair at the left. Yellow playing at the perimeter of the painting.
And the men, just setting there like bumps on a log, watching while the women help the poor puppy, probably has something in its paw. Well, that’s just like a man.
Wait… the contrast of yellows on blue, the patterns and the shifting perspective, the delightful textures, the floating narrative…
Maybe I can buy a card for my niece for her birthday, do you think they have this puppy on a card? She loves dogs.
Probably in the gift shop, next to the needless mousepads.
Oh Patty, just look over there, at that wretched yellow Gauguin! It is Gauguin isn’t ? I so dislike him.
Lepton decay, said Mr. Quantum Mechanics. He leans toward me, eyes bright, clearlya result of lepton decay. Big, surreal words about itty-bitty things. Little things that control our universe. Leptons and quarks, anti-neutrinos. Quarks have imaginative scientist names like “up” and “down,” “top” and “bottom,” “charm” and “strange”. These invisible particles have colors, habits, flavors and doomed-to-failure relationships. Ask any quantum theorist, they’ll tell you all about it.
Peer through the microscope with me, fall into the wormhole, descend into nanosphere beyond. Alice Oh paints big about the small things that make and break us. Cells, molecules, atoms, quarks, shrinking abysmal into theoretical, only observed in a hadron collider at infinite speeds. Exploding the secrets of origin and starfire futures.
The angular momentum of particles. The expansion of the universe due to Einstein’s Cosmological Constant. Incomprehensible beauty to most of us. Strings of theories extricating out biology into pattern, charting the behavior of molecules, of DNA, of cells, of organs, of people. Electricity coursing up and down our DNA ladders. Unbroken flow, now broken here and there. Causing Alzheimer’s, cancer, my wrinkles now folding.
Hypothesize my blue-mood Mondays. Graph my lucky-break Tuesday. Equation-solve with your titillating calculitis the chartreuse-green glow of madness. Circumscribe the absolute whiteness of fear. Should I shudder as the world spins round on the backs of infinitesimal particles? That when leptons decay, my lips move? Thank god I now have an explanation for that.
Susan Jane Walp, Blueberries in a Black Etruscan Cup…
Stillness. Easy to overlook. In fact, I usually pass right on by without a thought. Some could call them boring, but a still life is a meditation whispering a secret. A trade secret to most of the all time greats.
Meditation, like this painting, offers keys and hinges. Quiets the banging on our obstacle doors. A key, unlocking. A hinge-supported swinging. I hold this idea that if I am still, I can find the key and fashion a hinge that swings my problemdoor open.
The key is usually an observation, finding the root cause, the heart of the matter. If I take the time to un-ego myself enough to finally see it. The hinge is working with the structures of things, of organizations, of people. Finding out how they swing.
The structure of this still life reveals a beautiful hinge. A circular center holds roundripe berries. Forms a circular mass filling a cup of layered circles. In motion but still — the hinge around which all the other shapes turn. A series of squares radiate out, overlapping. Each piece receiving motion from its texture or position. Your eye follows the outside objects, starting at the knife, swinging around to the cork to the orange brick back and around to the knife. A slow revolution.
This work is more than structure, it is also a speaking key. Speaking not of berries or of brick, but of foundness. Of deeply touching the those things around you. A tender word embraced, a heartfelt thanks given, time to understand offered. Finding the keys at your fingertips.
I got happy this weekend. Which is quite a feat for a gal prone to existential crises erupting every hour, on the hour. Like Old Faithful. Shop at the mall, existential crisis. Clean a corner of the garage, existential crisis. Devour all that chinese take out. You guessed it, existential crisis. Go ahead, set your watch by me.
But not this weekend. A happy velocity overtook me. Stopped the ticking annoying my pocket. And all by chance… I didn’t know about it, didn’t plan it. Had no idea it was coming.
Like this painting. The colors fly across the canvas with laughing velocity. The colors, so immediate, overlapping, joyriding. You feel their delight in your body. A wave of color splashing onto your skin. Giddy.
This is light in all its Technicolor, charging towards us. Busting through the little chains of worry that snap the universal pocket watch to our belt loop. It’s rainbow-split light that ball bounces through our remote souls. Smashing that sulky radar — its constant pinging and greenglowing anxiety graphing.
Spin me around, you Hallelujah color. I’m coming with you.
I’m a mom in the middle. I’m the between generation. My fingers touch both the hem of my mother’s skirt and the collar of my children’s shirt. This painting reminds me of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and of motherhood.
At the temple wall, you’ll watch people writing little white prayers, rolling them up like cigarettes, and stuffing them into the chinks between the rocks. (for God to smoke, I suppose)
The blocks here are memory stones in a relationship wall, a Facebook timeline of our evolving experiences of “mother.” Inside these memories we are five, we are fifty, we are thirteen. Often in the course of one telephone conversation with her. Or in the way our patchworked hands reach for our kids.
A boundary-marking wall, a door-opening wall. Each block, a bit different in its materiality. Some are fading, some are strong and demanding. A bright turquoise shines from behind, a flexing light-giving life.
The mistakes she made with me pop up now on the backs of my hands, in the lines of my mouth. I sometimes find them in my bones. My reflection in the mirror dissolves into mystery, translucent overlays of my mother and her mother. Am I conflicted? Absolutely. I’m a card carrying member of the “deeply conflicted moms club.”
Go ahead and search the shelves of Target or Walmart for that perfect card. Find a Hallmark card that says, “I love you Mom, for all your cawing red blocks and the ones of whispering lavender. I love you for your brilliant turquoise soul. The one whose fingers now lift me.”
My kids will visit their checkered-past wall, and roll up their own prayers there. Prayers that they can someday be like me, prayers that they can be better.