Saturday, October 31, 2009

Make Room for You Know Who

My teenage daughter goes to Alabama School of Fine Arts, a very competitive magnate school in Birmingham. All the students are hand-picked gifted children with very artsy leanings, and I sometimes worry that her exposure to different types of people is way too limited. An opportunity came up in which a certain boy from a local "regular" public school wanted to ask her to the homecoming dance. I informed her of this fact, and even though she likes the boy, she replied, "Well, I don't know."

Keep in mind that ASFA dances are notoriously wild and crazy. There is a high population of gay and lesbian students so everyone dances with everyone. The place resembles a crazy free-for-all with loud outrageous music, strobe lights and disco balls, kids in wacky get-ups, and teachers hiding and cringing in the corners.

Annabelle explained her reluctance to go to the "normal" dance. "Mom! At those dances if you get too close to your dance partner the teacher runs over and pulls you apart. She puts her arms between the two of you and says, 'Make room for Jesus!'"

Now I know what Alabama is like, but I wasn't convinced a public school would go this far. She claims it is so, but she is 14 and is an expert at dramatic exaggeration. The amazing thing is, I've lived in Bama long enough that I wouldn't be one bit surprised if it was true. And I love it. That's why I moved here. There is room for Jesus and crazy gay dancers and gullible Moms like me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

So Last Year

I just asked my kid's art class about popularity at school.

1.) Preel Patel says that you're popular if you play softball. Also if you're a smarty pants. And if you wear brand name clothes like Abercrombie and Hollister. Popular people say, "I'm rich, you're not. You're weird, I'm not."

2.) Gerard Doyle says you're popular if you can throw, catch, add, and subtract. You know, do stuff.

3.) Emily Toole says popular kids are really stuck up. They say, "You are so last year." You have to look good. All popular girls have to have boyfriends or have a crush.

Things haven't changed much. Modern popular kids are "so last century."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Silence is Golden?

I went on a silent retreat at a monastery this past weekend. I do it every spring and fall. For 48 hours I don’t talk, read, write or hear a word. It is one of the happiest things I do. I go to the Benedictine Sisters Retreat Center at the Sacred Heart Monastery, and it isn’t just for Catholics. People of many different faiths attend the silent weekend—Buddhists, yogis, Jews, and plenty of Protestants.

The most asked question I get concerning the silent weekend is, “What do you do?” The answer is, “mostly, nothing.” I take walks around the beautiful grounds, sit in the sunshine or stand in the rain, take a nap, do yoga and meditate, eat the three meals prepared by the sisters, but no matter how many simple activities I come up with, there is still plenty of time for “nothing.” That means lying and looking at the texture on the ceiling, picking a blade of grass and playing with it, closing your eyes and listening to the complete silence in one of the few places you can find it these days. It’s not nothing at all, but it’s sure different from our everyday lives.

Most people I tell about the silent retreat say, “I would go crazy!” Well, there is some truth to that. The sisters require a bit of psychological screening for participants, to make sure he or she hasn’t had any recent nervous breakdowns and what not. Silence ain’t for sissies. Take away every single distraction, and the mind gets to have a heyday. I’ve heard few silent weekend participants say that it’s always a joyride. People’s minds race uncontrollably and memories arise that haven’t surfaced for decades. Some people feel terrible loneliness, and others have nightmares. I’ve experienced a few of these things myself at past retreats. The sisters are there to help. Participants know that at any time they can have a private session to talk things out if they need it. Most folks that sign up for a silent weekend are aware of all this, and know that facing the mind’s dark places can be a part of the experience.

So what’s the benefit it it’s so unpredictable and challenging? Among many things, you learn a lot about yourself. I find myself during and after the retreat saying, “So that’s what’s been going on!” or “Hmmm. I never thought about it that way before.” The elimination of mental clutter reveals clarity of thought I can’t get any other way. The retreat is also a very luxurious vacation, even though the accommodations are spare. No responsibilities, nobody to answer to (literally), no schedule, no requirements. It is a vacation in the truest sense of the word. Then there are the spiritual benefits, the real reason most people go. And I don’t think I can put those into words. It’s probably different for everyone. I can only say for myself that I feel intensely happy while I’m there, and come away with a deeper, more hopeful outlook on the world. I don’t know who I’m quoting here, but it’s been said that we don’t go into the silence to escape the world, we go to embrace it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Deep Fried Kudzu

I'm a little late in reporting this, but the blog "Deep Fried Kudzu" had a nice post with pictures of Red Dot Gallery's Sierra Club Alabama Wild and Rural exhibit. Check out the October 8 entry at

For those of you Yankees who don't know what Kudzu is: it is an invasive vine from Asia that basically covers big areas of the South now. It grows super fast and destroys whole forests if not stopped. At one time it was revered as an amazing erosion controller, but once people became aware its unstoppability they realized they had propagated a big mistake in the American South.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Accidental Art Thieves

Last weekend Scott and I went to Troy, Alabama for the opening reception of "The Nature of Being Southern: Celebrating Contemporary Art in Alabama." The exhibit highlights some of the artists who have received an Alabama Council for the Arts fellowship over the years. I've got a few pieces in the show. Apparently I'm an official southerner now, since I am considered worthy to present visual commentary on the nature of being such. Here's the link:

In the morning after the show, we took a walk around the Troy University campus. Our first tourist sight was encountered next to a non-descript parking lot by the football stadium. A very official historical marker (the kind you only see next to something George Washington touched, or on the site of a battle that happened 150 years ago) was a tribute to the guy who introduced football game tailgating to Troy in the early 1990s. I guess since it happened before my daughter was born it's history.

Farther down the road on our adventure we saw, front and center, regally looking over a picturesque part of campus, a huge sculpture replica of Rodin's "The Thinker." But it was attributed to a Chinese artist. A great riddle.

Our main mission on the walk was to check out the university's visual arts department. After scouring what we thought was every inch of the place, we eventually discovered the unassuming VAD tucked away behind the student union building. Because it was Sunday, the place was deserted, and we tucked our heads into a few studios to see their facilities. To our surprise, the administration building door was unlocked. We walked into the building and checked out a few art displays in the hallway, wondering where we could find the university gallery. An official looking door with a combination entry peaked my curiosity, and a tested the door. It was unlocked, too! I opened it slowly, until a gentle buzzing alerted me that I'd tripped the alarm. Oops. We scooted out of the building, only to find a loud, air-raid siren blaring all over campus. "Don't run," I told Scott. "But walk quickly."

We got away. We were slightly nervous on our trek back to our car, but mostly smiling. The few people we passed on the way looked alert and gazed around, wondering what emergency had befallen the world. Later that day we attended a picnic for the exhibiting artists, and told someone about our caper. He turned out to be the guy who had to go turn off the alarm. Oops again.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Birds That Get Eaten

In art class yesterday my 7 year old student, Madison, was doing a rubbing of a reproduction of Egyptian heiroglyphics.

"Do you know how to read ancient texts?" she said.
"Well, not really, but I think if you see a picture of a bird, it might mean something like 'I killed a bird and ate it today'," I said.
She thought for a moment and said, "Did a cat write it?"
I tried not to laugh, and said, "Well, humans kill and eat birds, too. Haven't you ever eaten chicken?"
She was quiet for a good minute and then asked, "Is popcorn shrimp a bird?"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

For the World to See

I just posted the cover of My Steamboat on Facebook. Each step of the process that gets closer to the release of the book feels a little more tingly--scary and exciting. I have a sense of dread that comes and goes. All the work of promotion is ahead of me, and the criticism, and the feeling that it's out there now. No taking it back. It's at this time in the book process that I say, "I'm never writing a book again." I'm sick and tired of edits, re-writes, thinking up ways to market it, explaining it to everyone instead of handing them a copy. Then, a day later, an idea for a new book comes into my head. Later, much later, I tell myself. For now, this one big day is good enough. It's on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Author I Like

If you haven't read any books by Bill Bryson, you should. He is funny, a fantastic writer, and always throws in a little social commentary. I'm reading Notes From a Small Island, a travel memoir about England, his adopted country. (He's originally from the U.S.) I haven't read a book by him that I didn't like, but my favorite is probably The Adventures of the Thunderbolt Kid, another memoir, about growing up in Iowa in the 1950s. He could write about masking tape and make it fascinating and hilarious.

Red Dot is 5

September 11 of this year marks the 5th anniversary of the opening of Red Dot Gallery. (The date is also remembered for an infamous event of great proportions: the birthdate of my husband, Scott.) We didn't celebrate our big day then, but we are planning a holiday exhibition called "Red Dot is 5" to open on November 20, 2009. Mary Kay Culpepper, longtime editor of Cooking Light magazine, is helping with the preparations, and her vast connections and expertise at, well, just about everything, will be of great help to us bedraggled Red Dot owners. Our classes are overflowing, my book comes out in December, and (more challenging than all of that put together) I have a teenage daughter.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cover of My Steamboat Done!

The cover of My Steamboat is completed. Scott and I did it ourselves, using Buddy Bair’s wonderful photo. We did a mock-up and I held it in my hand. After 8 years of working on this book, I am really ready to see it in print. I’ve made a lot of paintings in my day, and seeing them finished feels good, but my books take many years, and finally having a product to show for it is something to celebrate. But not yet…