Sing Us A Song, I’m the Painter Man…

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I was a little unnerved yesterday afternoon when I noticed a man standing on the shingled overhang adjacent my living room window, right next to the chair where I was reading.  The sun was shining, I figured I could escape out my front door, and since it has been promised for many years that my porch would be painted, I thought, “Well, ooohkaaay….”  But, it is a second story window, so you know…people out there are just unexpected.  A full grown human walking around on a tiny patch of roof that, as far as I know, has no more structural integrity than a wet newspaper, just seemed unsafe.    All in all, I figured he was in greater peril than me.  Not wanting to startle him off his perch, I moved quietly away from the window, and stayed away until he left.

This morning I hear the rumble of metal dragging across the asphalt driveway below my apartment.  My painter has returned, and here comes his ladder between my porch and my window.  I go outside to say hello.  A skinny kid with 3 Musketeer-ey facial hair looks up at me cheerfully, whistling as he leans the ladder on the building.  He is keeping his wool, Irish cap on despite the heat, thus preserving the dignity of his artistic nature as he labors.  “Hi!”  I say.  “Hi!” he replies, “Is it ok if I paint your porch?” “Sure, why not?”  I explain my concerns about startling him yesterday, and he laughs.  “No worries,” he says.  I go inside, and the painter promptly climbs onto my little overhang and forgets that he is not alone.

For, accompanying thuds of paint slapping into place, mostly, my friends – mostly – the painter outside my window is talking to himself and humming as if no one else can hear.  “In the land of a thousand suns!”  he has just bellowed, twice in a row, rehearsing perhaps, an embellished version of his work day to regale his friends when it is Local Brew time.  “Thunder Man!”  he has chimed out, tunefully trumpeting the arrival of a superhero in his imagination.  I thought he might be chatting on a phone embedded in his ear, but his outbursts of sung and spoken fanfare interrrupt the one sided conversation so abruptly and enthusiastically, only the most besotted of lovers could endure it.  Every so often, he whistles (much better than he sings), and once or twice has cracked himself up hilariously.  God help me, he has just undertaken a solo rendition of “Piano Man…”  Ladadadadeeedaaaaaahaaaa……

And there it stands – I have been unexpectedly gifted by a porch-eye view into the nature of private human happiness.  The story for today has come to me.  It is about time for lunch.  Should I offer Piano Thunder Man a little snack or drink?  It seems risky – I do not want to disturb his reverie, startling him away from the Land of a Thousand Suns, back to the side of my little building, where there is really nothing to do but paint, and keep your feet on the ground.

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Rosey Thoughtfuls

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On my birthday this year, friend Amy and I went to our diner, where the upholstered backs of clam shell shaped booths re-cast us into the Birth of Venus, with the obvious advantage that we can still order Greek Salad from our regal surroundings  (no onions on Amy’s, please).  In honor of the day, we had a serious talk about my hopes for the upcoming year, and I told Amy that all that really mattered to me was to keep making pictures I loved for my blog.  “You know, Brenna, have you ever thought of showing your pictures at an art fair?  Because I love it – it feels so great to have people come by who want to look at art and talk about it.”

I think I set my fork down in mid bite.  At least,  I hope I did, because Amy’s comment had stopped my mind so thoroughly, I surely would have stabbed myself in the lip if I kept trying to aim lettuce at my mouth.   “Amy, you know, it never occurred to me to show at an art fair just for the fun of having people see my pictures.  I only ever think of it as a way to sell something, and you know, that’s just too depressing.”

“Brenna, its really fun.  You should do it!”  Amy said, and right then, she invited me to share her exhibition space at the Riverwest Art Association Walk in October.   Maybe it was the muted pink of our circa 1990 surroundings, but I swear a rosy glow began seeping into some awfully tenacious shadows, ignited that day by my friend’s heartfelt gift of encouragement.

So here we go, folks.  Little by little, I am getting ready with new images and old – picking sternly from among the self-indulgently crowded field of “darlings,” trying my hand at cutting mats and scrounging frames, facing the scariest dragon of all, ordering prints.  I surely will appreciate your feedback, if you notice one or two pictures you really like.  If this blog is evidence of anything, it is how often my judgement is impaired where my own work is concerned.

Wish me luck!  (I hope I don’t screw this up….)

Collective Unconscious

Even though their salaries cost each of us just few dollars a year, many of my friends will soon be forced to refund (essentially) in one lump sum, wages they thought they earned over years of work, because it turns out the State of Wisconsin was (essentially) floating checks.  But this misfortune is not enough punishment for having foolishly sought and held a good, steady job with excellent benefits.  They must also surrender their natural human instinct to seek their own best interests, through collective bargaining, because giving up your self-interest is, after all, what The American Dream is all about.

Thank Goodness

Thank goodness I found this nest today.

Thank goodness my friend told me to turn my clock back tonight.  No, I really didn’t know.

Thank goodness there are 7 years of archived radio episodes of To the Best of Our Knowledge.

Thank goodness my hamburger came with a huge pile of the most delicious bacon I’ve ever eaten.

Thank goodness I bought my camera.

Thank goodness there’s good coffee, every morning, just a flight of stairs away.

Thank goodness I like eggs for dinner.

Thank goodness I am good at finding vintage fabric.

Thank goodness on this chilly night, everyone I love is cozy and warm.

Mysterious Toad Formations

How did you find your way onto my second story porch, mysterious toad?  Were you uncomfortable, squished between the bottom of the plastic pot and the soil, or did you mean to hole up there?

I found you, impersonating a wet kleenex; I poked you, and unlike a wet kleenex, you recoiled.  Then you were still as a stone (or a wet kleenex), unblinking.  I suspected the worst, but thought it only fair to give you a chance, since it was me who destroyed your little house.  The pot went back over your home, this time bottom up, so that if you were just cold, you could escape when you recovered.

Today, you are gone!  Bye-bye, mysterious toad!

The Hungry, Hungry Knitapillar

My appetite for knitting is currently ravenous.  You can have the Ben & Jerry’s, but I swear I will bite your finger off if you try to take away the seemingly infinite $1 cone of yarn I found at St Vinnie’s a few years ago.  Good yarn is expensive, and next to my jar of instant coffee from Trader Joe’s, the several thousand yards on this cone are the biggest bargain in my house.  You don’t want this yarn anyway, believe me.  It is skinny, skinny yarn, that takes forever to knit up.  But when you need to knit a lot, on a budget, there is nothing wrong with yarn that takes a long time to go anywhere.

Recently someone sympathetically suggested that, given the year I have had, research proving knitting and meditation use the same parts of the brain, could explain my need – and it is a need – to knit an hour or more every day.  Google reveals lots of variations on this possibility in popular media.  Surrounded daily by a boisterous and irreverent cast of knitting characters in the building where I live, I have an alternate theory.

The real volume knitters I know talk while they knit, an activity usually considered incompatible with meditation practice, even Tantric (oh, baby, say my name, say my name).  Granted, even for experts, talking and knitting don’t mix when counting long sequences that change unpredictably; but this is virtuoso stuff.  The history of knitting includes more socializing and multi-tasking than contemplation and solitude.   The more you knit, the less you need to attend to what your hands are doing.  Illuminating manuscripts, it ain’t.

For my money, knitting is less like focusing on the breath, and more like chewing gum – basically unproductive, but it feels good.  Knitting takes fidgeting and transmutes it into a scarf, the way a hamster wheel could make enough electricity to charge your cell phone if only we had the technology.  I knit to knit, and the fact that the needles spit out something I can wear or give away is nearly coincidental.  Plenty of knitters might argue, but how else do you explain knitting and re-knitting the same project to correct a mistake only you know is there, when you could just as easily be, you know, napping?

The possibility that knitting is good for people with ADD or even ADHD does ring true to me.  Although learning to knit is tedious, once it clicks,  you can literally knit forever without frustrating yourself (unless you choose to), or paying much attention.  Knitting and talking also provide a rare instance where it is both acceptable and possible to simultaneously ignore and pay attention to the people you are with.  This combination of parallel activities is like heaven for the easily distracted – a blissful union where everything can happen all at once, and no one will yell at me.

So, if you want to make me really, really happy for Christmas, you can give me a reason to knit you something and the budget for doing it.  But I get to pick the yarn.  And the project.  Fine.  I’ll just stick with my bottomless cone.  I hope you like aqua.

Ruminations on Greyhounds & Pre-Schoolers, or “What Do You Have in Your Mouth?!”

Being un-childrened is an outsider status, and no matter how compassionately observant your comments may be, it has been my experience that some parents feel entitled to object unkindly to any comparisons you may make between raising children and gaining the cooperation of dogs.  (You can easily guess how I came by this insight.)  I take it for granted that no one will mind if I compare myself to both young children and my greyhounds, and so here goes.

Whether slicing the world into clickable bites, or re-translating the expectation “Put Your Lunch Box Away” into its component actions, I have personally found it a tremendous relief to realize that I am no less perplexed than my dog, or some of the 3 year olds I have lately met, by the higher order expectations which have loomed over my life these 46 years.

The phantoms of storms, the smells that don’t smell right…don’t I feel equally helpless when faced with sudden events that, in the moment, seem to threaten my survival?  Bigger brain, indeed.

Pre-schoolers set no less high a standard for understanding what you want from them than any dog I have met.  Unless you know that cleaning up the sand box starts with putting down the shovel, or that the time for sharing is NOW,  how can the task come to anything but tears?  Thus have I, too, misunderstood the signals of social realities, distracted by shiny gum wrappers while everyone else was putting away their toys.

Anxiety and shyness may be displayed in obvious ways by both dogs and human anklebiters, but natural programming to please the bigger dogs/humans, and fit in with the equal dogs/humans often masks uncertainty with subtler behaviors (or non-behaviors as the case may be).  Faced with a world that is largely meant for another species, young children and dogs can only hope for true communication between themselves and the People in Charge.  On both sides of the fence, guess work is rampant.

Recognizing the anxiety that lies just beneath the surface does no harm, although it seems to bother a lot of people to acknowledge its influence.  As children, my dear parents never had any such indulgence of their anxieties.  Indeed, it is clear that one of the bonds they shared was to have learned at a very young age that they could show no vulnerability, lest they run afoul of the needy adults who dominated their homes.

It is true, the world is full of Jack London dogs who bound into the wilderness with eager self assurance, and Lassies who, I will acknowledge, should be allowed to vote.  But the charming ability to please is no guarantee that the heart is full of confidence, and the knowledge, conferred by my dogs, that this secret lives in my own heart, has blessed my life in countless ways.  And if their shy, dignified reticence has made me a better listener to your mouthy toddler, then that is just too damn bad.

surrender, chuck

my favorite way to fix pot roast:

arise at least 12 hours before dinner time.

place 3 or 4 pounds of the greasiest chuck roast cut you can find in the crock pot.

flick some salt on it; smear with grainy mustard.

put on the lid and – now this is important – turn the crock pot ON to LOW.

go about your business.  come back in 12 hours. the meat looks sinister and black.  this is a sign that it has surrendered, and become as meek as room temperature butter.  it is now safe to eat.

p.s.  if your crock pot is less than 10 years old, the recipe reads this way:  take your crock pot.  put it in your car.  drive to your favorite thrift store.  place your crock pot in the donation bin; you won’t be needing it anymore.  (the lowest cooking temperature on slow cookers been raised to placate the attorneys, and is now useless to deliver the lazy death pot roast requires.)  go to the small appliances aisle in the thrift store.  pick out a crock pot that looks like your mom’s – any shade of burnt orange, avocado, gold or ducks with ribbons around their necks will do.  purchase it for not more than $10.  drive home.  proceed as directed above.

p.p.s.  after completing step one, it is acceptable to go back to sleep for as long as you can get away with it.