Thursday, July 28, 2011

What the HELL, technology?

Okay, after finally finishing a new painting, I am TOTALLY unable to upload it to my Facebook gallery. This after I spent TWO AND A HALF HOURS LAST WEEK, just PAINTING ON A GREYHOUND'S PAWS. And only the TWO FRONT PAWS.


Yes, some things happen slowly in my painting world. But after all the work that goes into getting the painting right, it really sucks to be thwarted by Facebook.

What the HELL, multi-BILLION dollar Facebook technology?

This just shows me that I REALLY need to bag Facebook and get my actual webpage ( updated. (And do not go there at this point in time unless you want to think of it as some sort of artistic archeological dig, where you see all my old junk. Because it is full of whimsical children's illustrations and corporate logo designs and has NONE of my recent work.)

Which means I need to find account passwords and website design programs and re-learn how to USE them and...ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...

Really, all I want to do is paint.
Anyhow, this is my latest painting, of an elderly greyhound. It's called "Master Runner" and is 12" x 36." And it is for sale.

In competitive running, there's a Masters Division--usually for runners over forty. And NO, I do NOT know this because I am some competitive runner. I can run pretty fast, but mainly when there is chocolate or a Starbucks in the vicinity. I know it because my elementary school PE teacher and high school Cross-Country coach, Mr. Howell, was a regular winner of the Masters Mile.

Unfortunately the Masters Division is ONLY for humans. There isn't any such thing for greyhounds.

I found out that old and slow greyhounds are typically killed, with estimates ranging between 2,000 and 12,000 dogs killed per year, just in the United States. This is down from more than 20,000 dogs killed a year, which was the estimate prior to greyhound rescue groups coming along. But still...that's an awful lot of dogs. Dogs that, according to every greyhound owner I've spoken with, tend to be calm, sweet couch potatoes and lovely pets.

So, if you get a chance, support your local greyhound rescue group!

And...if you are a website designer and would like an EXCELLENT portrait of your pet in exchange for re-vamping my old website, PLEASE CONTACT ME!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I like words...Part Deux

I saw this sign up in Vail last month and I'm still a bit flabbergasted about how DANGEROUS dog waste can be! Who knew? I can't figure out how I survived my childhood. Or how all the small towns in France are NOT TOTALLY DEGRADED and disease-ridden.

Perhaps the words here are a bit poorly-chosen.

In case you can't tell, I’m still thinking of my post of yesterday. (You should probably read it first if you haven't already, because the whole middle-school dance metaphor is going to be verrry confusing to you otherwise!)

So yes, I LIKE WORDS and this whole matchmaking process between words and ideas. But I like some words and phrases better than others. Just like I like some ideas better than others.

I am sure there are a lot of bleeding hearts out there who are going to take issue with this next statement, but here goes.

Some ideas SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN BORN. At birth, they should have been taken out and thrown into the ocean or left on a mountainside for wolves to eat. Or they should have been aborted before they ever came out into the world because they are not ideas that help survival in any sense of the word.

(And, just to reiterate, I am talking about IDEAS here, not about actual PEOPLE. I want to make it clear that the whole PEOPLE thing IS A METAPHOR. In case you are either EXTREMELY LITERAL or you are some sort of political “pundit” whose job is to systematically misinterpret or lie about things that people say and spin it in the best possible light to build your constituency, whatever that is.

I’ll be addressing YOU pundits/spin doctors briefly but directly in this post later.)

Here's an example of an idea that REALLY should have been aborted:

"Hey, why don't we go out and systematically KILL everybody who doesn't look or act or think like us? Like Jews or Armenians or Hutus...etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum"

So, while I wish that particular idea was banned from my little gymnasium dance class, the reality is that it ISN'T. There it is, braless and squeezed into a Laura Ashley dress that is two sizes too small, chain-smoking and probably selling heroin and blow jobs in the bathroom. That is an idea that exists. I’m stuck with it.

So what I CAN do, as the sadistic but highly ETHICAL French dance instructor, is to ASSIGN that idea its appropriate partner. And make it dance in a way that everyone can see its true ugly nature.

Here’s where my preference for words and phrases come in. Say you have two candidates for matching up with this idea. The first is about 7 feet tall and looks like a real-life version of Snake Jailbird from the Simpsons, except that his teeth have been filed into points, he has tattoos all over his body, including his face, and he is carrying an Uzi and wearing multiple bandoliers. Over a neon-orange Speedo, his sole item of clothing, except for the stiletto heels.

The second candidate is clean-cut, wearing a three-piece suit and tie. His face is smooth, he has a fantastic set of teeth that probably represent thousands of dollars of orthodontic debt, a Rolex, a wide smile, and he’s holding an ORCHID corsage. And his diploma from an Ivy-League University.

So who do you pick, word or phrase-wise?

Genocide, who’s shifting his Uzi from hand to hand and looking like he wishes he has more clothes on now that he’s actually facing that scary idea? I tell you, you sure would not want your OWN daughter going out with him.

Or Ethnic Cleansing, with his soothing and semi-professional demeanor? It’s a hard choice. I can see his appeal. After all, his last name is Cleansing. He comes from a good family—hard to object to, usually associated with soap.

If you had a daughter, well, you might approve of her going out with him. And it would be like sending her out with Ted Bundy, who was also clean-cut and well-groomed, at least BEFORE he murdered all those women.

But in this case, you’re not matching either of these guys up with your DAUGHTER. (THANK GOD.) You’re matching them up with some horrific idea.

So my point is that I appreciate HONEST words. In this case, you have an ugly idea. You need to match it up with the word that reflects it—good old “genocide, bandoliers, Speedo and all. After all, it’s what she deserves.

You can’t use those Ted Bundy words like “ethnic cleansing” or his siblings “collateral damage,” “friendly fire,” and “right-sizing” to hide an ugly misbegotten idea, or make it APPEAR more graceful and acceptable.

Once you do that, people will start to think that it’s NORMAL. That people have been overreacting about the Holocaust all these years and they REALLY WERE just “work camps,” not “death camps” at all. Or that somehow the “Shock and Awe” initiative in Iraq was fundamentally DIFFERENT from an idea called, more plainly, “terrorism.”

Mismatching words and ideas is the job of pundits and political commentators and the other professional liars who spin-doctor things away from the truth.

It is not the job of an ethical dance teacher.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I like words...

My entries have seemed very long, lately. So I checked up on optimal word counts for blogs this morning. The general consensus is that you should write more than 250 words, and, typically, less than 1,000, if you are writing for search engine optimization.

(And aren't we ALL? I mean, what the hell does that really MEAN?)

Authors of the optimal word count articles, however, after saying this, typically backpedal and say that THERE ARE NO HARD AND FAST RULES--that some people like long blog lengths, and others won't bother reading if you have more than 5 sentences and use words of 4 syllables or more. And, if you're writing a personality-driven blog, what matters isn't the word count but the personality.

But they usually say this in fewer than 1,000 words. And they say it at about a fourth-grade reading level.

Obviously, following the rules is not my strong point.


I really like making words dance with ideas. Here's how I think of it.

On one side of the gymnasium are the floaty ideas in their chiffon dresses. They're milling about like fireflies by the punchbowl (which is probably spiked--a lot of ideas are rebellious that way). They're probably gossiping about someone who's still in the locker room, someone who just got her first period, or whose pantyhose have a big run in them -- heavy stuff like that.

Ideas are flighty, sneaky things. Their feet barely touch the floor, and you have to match them up with the right words, or they could float away from you forever. Every once in awhile, you can ALMOST perceive that one is glancing shyly across the room. Not because you SEE the glance, no, she's too quick and devious for that; it's mainly because you catch the reflection of light off of her braces. And it was NOT a random reflection from the mirrorball. (Yes, OBVIOUSLY I was in middle school during the disco era.)

Hugging the wall on the other side, you have an unruly pack of surly words and phrases. Some of them max out at 3 feet tall and 60 pounds; others are hulking seven-foot trolls with facial hair and prison tattoos. But almost every one has dabs of zit cream on their faces, and they're all reluctant to be there. It has been a challenge even getting them into the gymnasium at all. Until 5 minutes ago, they were outside, starting fist fights and fires in the parking lot and probably sniffing glue (or other things) as well.

And I am the sadistic little French dance teacher who slaps my palm with a baton (or, as the case may be, an electric cattle prod), and herds them together into the center of the room and ASSIGNS them partners. Then I FORCE them all to dance, or try to dance, to whatever music I want. Some nights it's polka music; others it's screamo or all Elton John/Bernie Taupin. My call.

Like I said, sadistic.

Sometimes my pairings are terrible. Some of the words, cute and well-meaning though they may be, have clammy hands that feel like dead refrigerated trout. When they come into contact with an idea, the idea shrieks and evaporates up through the ceiling, leaving nothing behind but a pile of empty clothes and a lingering trace of Charlie perfume. That's a bust.

Other times, I match up a delicate graceful idea with the biggest, thuggiest word EVER--just for the hell of it. And, thanks to his size 16 feet tromping all over hers, they both become leaden. If I let that go too long, they'll both crash through the floor and into the boiler room and probably beyond and we could have a Sunnydale Hellmouth situation all over again.

But when I get it right, it's a thing of pure unexpected beauty. And I'm the choreographer.

Which means I'm going to use as many words as I need, to say something the way I feel I need to say it. I guess I could have said it that way, huh?

Somehow I like the dance better.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Everyday magic...

Well, the last Harry Potter movie premiere was YESTERDAY. And I missed it. Not only did I MISS it, but I entirely failed to re-read the complete series, which had been my homework plan over the past two weeks.


Unfortunately, I remember VERRRY little of the first half of this last Harry Potter movie. I'm not sure if all that Tom Riddle business was in this one or the previous movie/book. (WARNING--POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOLLOW, with the operative word being POSSIBLE).

I DO remember Hedwig biting the dust. And Dobby...I THINK. And a vague impression of snakes. Or just one BIG snake, I'm not sure. And snow and graveyards. And lots of camping in a tent that was bigger inside than out. No Hogwarts/moving staircases/Nearly Headless Nick.

And what's worse, no Neville. (I'm sure this was so he could develop his bad-assness economically off-camera, to be revealed in THIS movie. Which I loved so much, I had to include his poster AGAIN.)


As a writer/storyteller, I found this especially offensive since they had cut out all the House Elves Union action from the 5th movie, just in time for J.K. Rowling to release the last book, which RELIED HEAVILY ON THE HOUSE ELF UNION FOR THE RESOLUTION. And I would expect them to have to spend SOME time on backfilling that plot hole...but NO...but maybe it was intended as built-in time for the audience to use the bathroom, go to the lobby and get a snack, check their emails and work messages, etc.


Since I am temporarily unprepared for this last movie and therefore, voluntarily Harry-less, I've been thinking a lot about magic. But mainly about the kind that surrounds us, and which we may or may not notice, depending on whether or not we're paying attention to our surroundings or we're instead focusing on something else (say, for example, how cute the checkout boy is at Ralphs, or how much our mother pisses us off, or how much we're BECOMING JUST LIKE OUR MOTHER, or the terrible editing in the last Harry Potter movie).

For instance, last week, I drove past a VW van. It was the middle of the afternoon, and the driver looked tired and like he wanted to get home. Behind him, an animal was sticking its head and neck out the window, apparently wanting to taste a little of that neighborhood's industrial-flavored air and let his tongue hang out in the wind and his ears flap.

Seen it a million times, right?

I had driven all the way past the van before I realized that it was a LLAMA sticking its head out of the window, long prehensile neck and all. People transport llamas in the backs of VW vans. Who knew?

Okay...maybe not so magic. But DEFINITELY not an everyday occurence. Unless you're in my world.

My friend, Ann, told me that, years ago, she and her husband were visited by an old friend who was one of the top tiger-trainers in the world. He was driving through the U.S. in his Winnebago with a tiger, and he stopped in Denver to stay with them.

Yes. HE KEPT THE TIGER IN A WINNEBAGO. Sure, it was reinforced with steel bars, but STILL.

I guess, at one point, he took the tiger out for a walk (on a leash, which sounded like a mere technicality). People in their cars stopped at the intersection by the house, staring for a moment, then shaking their heads and moving on. Ann said, "I'm sure they did NOT believe their eyes. And they probably forgot all about it."

I know this happens all the time--something that, for lack of a better word, is MAGIC. Maybe it's a llama in a passenger van. Maybe it is just very advanced technology. But it's so ODD, so unbelievable, that when you witness it, the operative brain, the one that gets you up for work and focuses you on "reality", says NO. THIS DID NOT HAPPEN.

So you just forget. After all, it's easier than trying to reconcile everyday "reality" with this thing that just happened. Everyday reality has a way of steamrolling actual magic.

So here's another example--one that does NOT involve circus animals.

Years ago, in New Orleans, Jon and I saw a ghost (for lack of a better word). It was late at night, we were walking down Royal Street, behind the cathedral in Jackson Square.

Just to get the caveats out of the way first:
  • Yes, we had just gone on a "Magick Tour" with a practicing Wiccan who then invited us to witness some other Wiccans "calling the quarters" in some back French Quarter courtyard. And the wind DID spring up when they finished the ceremony, (but we did not have any weird Fairuza Balk/"The Craft" float-y action, which was a great relief to me since Fairuza freaked me out in that movie).
  • Yes, we had also had a beer at Marie Laveau's bar AND a Dixie cup of Andre pink champagne and a butter cookie (which was WAY more interesting than the grape juice and stale bread cubes they put out for Communion in my church back home) after the Wiccan ceremony. But we were NOT drunk.
  • Yes, the back of the cathedral is kind of spooky, with a big marble statue of Jesus with his arms spread, and a low spotlight that shines up on him so he leaves a big Christian Bat-Signal silhouetted on the cathedral's back wall.


Here are the facts.

The entire back lot of the cathedral is enclosed by a 12-foot wrought-iron fence. Nobody can duck in or out of that lot without being EXTREMELY NOTICEABLE.

Jon and I were walking side by side. In the middle of the block, SOMEBODY WANTED TO GET PAST US. We BOTH agreed on that. So Jon fell back and walked behind me. And whoever it was passed us, stepping briefly off the sidewalk and then back up.

Seen it a million times, right?

Except that, 20 seconds later, Jon shook his head, and asked, "Hey, didn't somebody just pass us?" And when I agreed, he asked, "Well, WHERE ARE THEY?"

The street was deserted. NOBODY was around.

So, somewhat freaked out, we went back to the Monteleone, where we were staying, and, courtesy of a bunch of drunk people coming back late from Bourbon Street, I woke up at about 2:30 AM and lay awake all night THINKING ABOUT THIS.

Even though it was NOT really very freaky. I mean, somebody passing you on the sidewalk--how many times a day does this happen? A LOT, right? It wasn't like somebody all green and rotting floated up over my bed and tried to choke me, or a giant Sta-Puf man started tromping through the streets. Those things are NOTICEABLE.

I mainly wondered how many times things like this had happened to me, and I hadn't been paying attention.

All this time, Jon slept like a baby. And the next day at lunch, HE HAD FORGOTTEN ALL ABOUT IT.


Anyhow, my point is that magic surrounds us every day, as long as we're paying attention.

After all, check out that awesome Harry Potter cast! Something about British culture seems to be VERY helpful to those young actors. I have not heard about even ONE of those people having substance issues (except for possibly Robert Pattinson and THAT I blame on Hollywood and "Twilight") or going out without their underwear (except for Daniel Radcliffe and that was for ART! ART! Even Kathleen Turner stripped for art!).

Now THAT's magic!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Persistence...I haz it!

I broke what seemed like a tremendous losing streak yesterday.

You see, I finished a HUGE painting.


It was the first painting I had finished in a week and a half of solid work. You can see it here, outside in my driveway, where I photographed it to get the best natural light. And you can also see my neighbor's cat, Princess, trying to decide whether she likes it or not.

(Verdict: since she did NOT try to pee on it, I assume that she likes it, but Princess has ulterior motives. She seems to want to suck up to me, take over my house and evict my OWN cats. So I'm not sure her judgement is totally based on the painting’s merits.)

It's called "Shown actual size," because the Great Dane I painted WAS actually about that size. And it IS for sale! But I should warn you--you need a pretty good-sized wall to carry something of that size and...ooomph!

So I LOVE this painting, but after the previous week, to be honest with you, I would have been happy to finish ANYTHING. I had been working like crazy and it seemed like NOTHING was getting done.

First of all, I’d thought I’d finished a commissioned painting, but the client wanted a little more work. Which is fine, but…you know how you feel when you THOUGHT you’d finished something and you STILL have to do it again? Perhaps going back all those many miles back to the drawing board?

That was the way I felt!

Then I had this experience where most people seemed TOTALLY OBLIVIOUS to my art. While approval is not THAT important to me, it’s kind of sobering when there’s almost a total lack of acknowledgement that there’s even anything on the WALL.

Here’s how it happened. I put six pieces into a gallery show for a First Friday Artwalk on Santa Fe Drive (YES--it is HERE in Denver and NOT in Santa Fe itself, although I can see how you could make that mistake). It was a last-minute decision, and I was not anticipating selling anything because I had worked other First Fridays and had a realistic sense of the crowds (In case you are wondering, the people who live in the neighborhood call First Fridays "Drunk Fridays").

To demonstrate, most of the gallery-goers look like they are about middle-school age, and seem mainly interested in the availability of free alcohol. But it was a chance to get my work out beyond Facebook and Paint Club and my horrendously out-of-date website. So...I was in.

I think I wrote about zombie apocalypse nightmares a week or so back.


At least in your zombie apocalypse nightmares, the zombies PAY ATTENTION TO YOU. Sure, they have ulterior motives (e.g., brains, entrails), but at least they know you exist. A few high-functioning ones might even notice your art.

This was NOT the case, by and large, with the Drunk Friday crowd. They'd come in, check out the refreshment table, register that there was no wine, and then they'd ricochet briefly around the room and leave. And if you tried to talk to them, SOME of them would respond, but a BUNCH wanted NO interaction at all.

Honestly, I know HAMSTERS with longer attention spans and better social skills than some of these people. Definitely a number of puppies. And a few cats (but not very many—the attention spans are better, but the social skills…not so much).

I think the First Friday crowd would have been happier and more comfortable if THEY HAD JUST RENTED A DVD AND STAYED HOME. At least then they wouldn’t have to bother getting dressed or sucking in their stomachs or talking to strangers or pretending to care about...whatever they might pretend to care about.

On the upside, despite all the time I spent getting things framed and hanging the show, I just KEPT PAINTING. I kind of felt like Sisyphus with that damn rock sometimes, especially since I didn’t finish anything. But this week—voila—one of those huge monsters I’ve been working on is finished! And I finished ANOTHER painting last night, with substantial progress on two more!

At least Princess notices. And she approves.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Training the eye...

This is Addison. She's an adoptable dog at MaxFund. Or at least she was, as of the Lucky Mutt Strut on June 26. Maybe she's found a forever home by now. I hope so!

After all, look at that coy glance! That smile! That incredibly admirable TONGUE! It must be the size of a dinner napkin. And not a junky little paper fast-food napkin that you have to take FIVE of just to get by. A REAL linen napkin, the type that you get at extremely overpriced restaurants that could also double as a face towel.

That is a SPECTACULAR tongue.

She's absolutely BEAUTIFUL, isn't she?

I don't know that Addison could be called the Iman of dogs--that would probably be a greyhound, like Dash, whom I met last weekend. Or the Mary-Kate Olsen of dogs--that's definitely the King Charles Spaniel.

(Although my friend, Hillary, who is deeply in love with her King Charles, Kirby, HATES that comparison. It could be Mary-Kate's bulbous eyes and vaguely fetus-like facial composition that Hillary objects to, although I would argue that carries across to the spaniel. Not that it makes Kirby any less beautiful, but once I floated that theory, a LOT of people have come up to me and told me that they find the Olsen Twins' looks somewhat disturbing. Not sure why.)

But there's something beautiful about Addison, regardless.

Or maybe it's me.

I've realized that, since I've been working more in the field of the arts, that beauty is MUCH MORE APPARENT to me than, say, when I was working in research. Or in politics, where what I saw was almost always a small glimpse of a beautiful idea, which was quickly gobbled up by ugliness, corruption, and stupidity.

There's a lot to be said for the whole "eye of the beholder" thing. At an artist's convention last spring, I attended a photography workshop by Michael Doven. Michael had given the attendees some basics of framing and composition and then sent us out for 15 minutes to take photos. I remember when we came back, a friend of mine, a lovely actress, said, "Wow! I can see beauty in EVERYTHING now because I'M ACTUALLY LOOKING!"

I think I realized then that we don't look at things BECAUSE they're beautiful.

Things are beautiful because WE'RE LOOKING AT THEM. REALLY looking.

It's similar to that situation in Men in Black II where Tommy Lee Jones tells Rosario Dawson (who is really the Light of Zartha--and I know my fangirl geekiness is showing--just go with it) "When you get sad, it rains." She says, "Lots of people get sad when it rains."

To which he replies, "It rains BECAUSE you're sad, baby."

Maybe it's kind of silly to think that Men in Black II contributed much to our knowledge bank, but those lines always resonated with me.

Plus the whole thing about pug dogs actually being space aliens...

But back to what I was thinking about--Cause and effect--that's the difference. That's what's great about working creatively. I can actually PERCEIVE the beauty of life, because it's my focus. It's what I'm trying to communicate.

But everybody CAN see this beauty. It's there, despite what the "news" and courtTV may say to the contrary. And it can bring you a lot of joy. All you have to do is look.

So do yourself a favor this weekend.

Stop looking at the television.

The hourly updates on ratings-driven followups to the Casey Anthony trial ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE YOU ANY HAPPIER OR PRODUCTIVE OR ABLE. Neither is the latest celebrity meltdown or manufactured political scandal. So turn it off.

And just LOOK at the real life around you.

Look at your children. Or your grandchildren. Go to a farmer's market and check out the absolute radiance of the red peppers.Look at the beauty of your garden. Go to the park and look at dogs--other peoples' dogs, even. Whatever. It may help to take a camera with you, with the self-imposed assignment of capturing something, some sense of beauty. Doesn't matter what you get--no flunking this test.


And have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The overlord does not approve...

Smokey is not impressed.

My portrait of Tripod, the three-legged Australian Shepherd who blasted past me at the Lucky Mutt Strut last week, is MUCH LESS IMPORTANT than, oh just about anything else she can think of, including spiders and the lint ball that's under the desk.

It doesn't matter that it's still in the ugly underpainting phase. Even if it were finished, it would lack her approval. It's just missing something...interesting in the way of subject matter, I suppose. Like a CAT.

Which got me to thinking about artists and approval of our work. I used to think I needed EVERYONE ELSE'S approval, OR I WASN'T AN ARTIST. This wasn't just when I was a kid or a teenager. It lasted well into my forties. I am AMAZED I got as much done as I did, given that I felt I was sneaking one over on everybody every time I touched a pencil or a paintbrush.

What a load of garbage.

So I wonder how many other artists have put off producing because they either a) didn't get the recognition they felt they deserved for their art, so they invalidated themselves (Geez, those drunken frat boys didn't notice the brilliance of the dialogue in my play, so I guess I'm not REALLY a writer) or b) had their art invalidated by somebody (Don't quit your day job.), somebody who probably considered themSELVES once a potential artist of some sort, but then gave up to become that most talentless of all professions, a CRITIC. I know that, for YEARS, I was UNBELIEVABLY critical of artists who actually had the COURAGE to be artists. All because I was pissed off at myself for being such a COWARD.

You recognize this, don't you? We've all been on the giving end or the receiving end of this at different points in time.

Somehow I got to the point where the only approval that really matters to me is my OWN. Sure, I WANT people to like my work--it's only possible to have a viable art business when your work communicates to people and they like it enough to buy it. But really, whether somebody approves of my work matters only to THAT extent. And if somebody else doesn't like it, fine. Everybody's entitled to an opinion; just don't expect me to agree with you. No matter WHO you are.