Tag Archiv: art

An Open Letter to My Mother-in-Law

Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.

Self portrait in a straw hat, by Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun, 1782.

My in-laws had us over for American Thanksgiving. They cooked the turkey, mashed the potatoes, made the dessert and set the table. We ate enthusiastically. Somehow the conversation turned to refrigerators and freezers. My mother-in-law and I do not share views about how to keep them, a point I felt compelled to share (in the spirit of Thanksgiving?). On the drive home a letter began writing itself in my head.

Dear Mother of my husband (who has loved me full and well these seventeen years and then some),

Having shared so generously my thoughts about your freezers, it seems a fuller picture is in order. After lo these many years, perhaps the time has come to clarify.

Over all the years, almost without a moment of exception, I have found you a warm, generous, and open person. To a fault I find you hard working, dedicated and faithful. Do I find you a practical person?  Not particularly, but practicality is overrated for the artistic temperament. I think it hinders mine and I envy your approach to all things art. I love your art. I love that all the arts are you, from poetry to paint to music.

There are moments when we are so different on a small thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around it. (Possibly this happens to you as well when the germ paranoia’s invade my psyche.) There are also moments when I think you understand my own attempts at art better than anyone I know. That in the places mostly without words we share a common core, our insides inhabited by unruly but not unpleasant muses.

You can keep buying freezers, and I’ll keep panicking about controlling contagious disease. Regardless, the years past of being family with you have been nothing but a privilege for me. I look forward to enjoying your company, conversation, insights, ideas, and inspirations for many years to come. Thanks for a wonderful Thanksgiving, take 2.

With love much more than I say,


Needles (Or The Story of a Sewing Kit)

Luckily, hers isn't this big.

Luckily, hers isn’t this big.

Act 1:

Girl one leaves a note with doodles on it lying around. It is summer. Still more than four months until her birthday. It says:

Dear Birthday Fairy,

I would really, REALLY like a sewing kit for my birthday.

Thank you.


Her Nana finds the note. Charmed, she buys a small sewing kit. Thread, scissors, measuring tape, tracing paper, thimble, a pin cushion, needles. The early unexpected gift is a hit. I gently discuss needles, their dangers, merits, and again, their dangers. I push the information through into the floating dreaminess of Girl one’s aura and hope for the best.

Act 2:

I find a needle on the floor, review danger speech, and offer warning.

I sit on a couch at night and find needle with my hand. I review speeches on danger and offer a stern warning. In the next 24 hours, I find more needles but it is sworn with impassioned oaths that these are a result of previous sins . . . which although not remembered or intentional were clearly committed prior to the stern warning.

Three days later, I have found more than ten needles. Entire kit is removed to my room for a time out.

Act 3:

Kit is returned. Speeches reinforced. Shortly thereafter more needles are found. Later, lying in her bed sobbing softly, she is the poster child for broken hearts.

I know others are partly to blame. And truthfully, the needle dispenser is a lousy design intended for vigilant adults with long bony fingers, not enthusiastic kids passing it around for a home grown sewing circle. I make adjustments on the dispenser and impose new rules about sharing.

Act 4:

The sewing kit lives in Girl one’s room, but the needle dispenser lives in mine. I think things are going better. Then I find a needle. An hour later, Girl one finds another one, then another.  This time the tears are a torrent.

I’m not responsible enough to have a sewing kit, she whispers. Take it. I love it so much, but I am not a responsible person. I’m not old enough to have it. (Extreme weeping) I am just not a responsible person.

Although I had been thinking all of those things, I didn’t want to say them anymore. In a moment of insanity, I said I wasn’t taking her sewing kit away.

In the world, I said, there are people who love beautiful things and people who are very practical. Mostly they are not the same people. Without the practical people, we would be hungry. We wouldn’t remember where the food was or when to buy it. But without the people who show us the beauty in the world, we would be a different kind of hungry.  Without the beautiful people, why even bother getting up for breakfast?

Girl one gave me a very grateful hug and told me that she was tired and needed to go to sleep now.

I hope the family does not soon resemble Swiss cheese. But if that’s the cost of art these days, I guess I’m in. As a nod to the practical people, the dispenser doesn’t get dispensed anymore. Just one needle to one child. At kitchen table only.

Irrelevant torpedoes



My son cannot stop creating. I don’t remember all the things he has made, although I wish someone would. Stuffed animal clothes, blankets, weapons, endless Lego worlds, transportation devices,guns, catapults, and duct tape dresses for his sister’s barbies. A week ago he spent half an hour cutting letters out of maple leaves so he could write “Happy Father’s Day/Birthday,” across the seat of the rocking chair.

He is taken again with sewing and his eye for re-purposing is very keen. We had a chicken dinner. The next morning, I found a needle made out of chicken bone. A few days ago he was carefully stitching navy thread around the edges of a Kleenex. Frustrated, I demanded the needle. My admiration for his creativity did not dent my irritation at having my needle borrowed. It had only been the night before that another ill begotten needle stolen by Girl one had greeted my shoulder as I leaned back against a couch.

Needle in hand, I proceeded to mend more wrongs on the path toward tidy and well disciplined. Half an hour later I passed by Boy two, still pouring over his Kleenex. The thought that he had retrieved yet another needle incensed me, but closer inspection revealed that he was sewing this time with thread and a nail. Gently, he would poke a hole, then set the nail aside and jimmy the thread through. Repeat. Painstakingly repeat. If anything, he was taking more joy from his nail sewing than from the needle sewing before.

Why is a good question. I had made it clear that I thought sewing a Kleenex was a waste of time, why didn’t he quit then? Why didn’t he quit when I took away the needle? We don’t own a museum, so most of what Boy two labors over is not saved. He is usually too busy creating the next thing to care. He gives away Lego masterpiece creations to people who own ten or twenty times more Lego than he does. He doesn’t care. He makes things because that is who he is and he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think. When he’s tires of making things, he reads or plays.

Recently he brought home some pictures from art class. He showed me a picture with a B+ on the back. “I don’t know why I got that – it looked good to me,” he said and shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever.” But that was the end of it. He went unimpeded to work on his current creation because that is what he does.

Boy two needs me to make him brush his teeth and change his underwear. I need him to remind me that worrying if you’re good enough to do what you were made to do is silly. When you’re born to do something, you do it.

I am in negotiation to acquire the Kleenex with nail and the chicken needle. I want them framed. To me, they say: Be who you are to the very best that you can – the rest is chaff in the wind.

Seeing Art

Girl in a Field. 1920. painted by Alberto Plá Rubio (1867 - 1937)

Girl in a Field. 1920. painted by Alberto Plá Rubio (1867 – 1937)

We went to the National Gallery in Ottawa, recently, compliments of my mother-in-law, an avid lover of art. I like THE arts. I like artists. I like the idea of liking art. But I do not fall over myself very often about art. More than one tear has been shed in my house over a masterpiece (fed by me) to the woodstove. I don’t feel about art museums the way I feel about fabric stores. (Fabric stores give me a headache in thirty seconds and make me want to lock all the crafty people in cupboards with their bead collections.) But visual arts are . . . far away.

I learned two things at the art museum last week. First, were I able to view art without having myself so thoroughly viewed as I viewed it, if there were say two, instead of thirty guards hovering and trailing us from room to room, I might be evolved enough to enjoy art. (If the guards were behind a glass and viewing them was part of an exhibit, set against different colors and fabrics perhaps, I would definitely enjoy that.) Not all of it. Not even fifty percent, but ten percent of what was there called art, would honestly interest me, ask questions of me and even provoke delight.

The second thing I learned was about my children. Three of them were on the excursion. Girl two’s relationship with art is not yet clear. For the other two, art is poetry. Obscure and accessible only to the erudite poetry does not particularly interest me. With instruction, I am appreciative of its intricacies. But poetry that sings. Or cries. Poetry that you can understand with your heart, no preparation required. Poetry that moves down, down in the deepest corners. I drink that poetry as water. I go months without it, then stumble headlong, desperate for its taste. It refreshes and restores like no other.

To be kept from poetry would leave a part of me stunted. Poetry is a private sunshine, an old and faithful well. Whatever the metaphor, I am more me with it than without.

Art is like that for Boy two, even more so it seemed, for Girl one. I saw some paintings at the museum I liked, but the most remarkable thing I saw were my children, walking from room to room, oblivious to glaring guards, or ticking time, caught up in a magic I couldn’t see. Or if I saw it, it was in their eyes.

I learned that despite my lack of vision, they need to see art because it’s a place where they see poetry. We’ll need to go back, and we’ll need to find other places to do art. It might not be my perfect cup of tea, but we’re not tall enough in this family to chance having a few inches of anybody stunted.

Songs from tiny town

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

Winterfrost by Missy Friedl-Shipley

I am a blip on the screen in the only place I could ever say I came from, not a hometown girl. We lived there six years. A little space in the grand scheme of things, but the time it takes to go from age 12 to 18 is a whole lot longer than that.

At graduation, I was all about leaving. (I didn’t know how the place where you say goodbye to childhood sticks to you.) The town was an ailing general store and a post office, a railroad track down the middle, and ten or so houses, maybe fifteen. A mile up the road was a church. The school bus was an education in chewing tobacco, sibling beatings, pregnancy, and girl fights.

I don’t belong here, I used to tell myself. Yet if I wanted some  place to claim me now, it’s the only place that even might.

In grade ten, we had a writing class led by an eccentric teacher in her sixties, a writer herself. Outside of music, it was the only creative water I was offered to drink during those years. The rest I had to find myself.

In the fall I reconnected with an old friend. I lived in the preacher’s house at the top of the hill twenty-five years ago. She lived closer to the general store. We rode the same bus and took some of the same classes. We sang together in choir, but otherwise, we had different circles of friends. We were friendly acquaintances with a similar appreciation for humor.

We both hurt, but we never talked about it. I cried myself to sleep at the top of the hill, too self absorbed to note the torrents and rivers of tears washing from her soul down at the bottom. We are talking now as we didn’t then. I am a writer. She is a painter, a photographer, and who knows what else. I’m not convinced she’s finished becoming all that she is.

The name of her site is a good enough introduction to her humor. If want to see art that is beautiful, thought provoking, sometimes funny, and sometimes sad, check out Wigglebutt Studios on Facebook. I recommend it whether or not you’re an art person, and especially if you are.

How we two came from the barren soil of that place, I have no idea, but we did. Maybe seeds from tiny town aren’t so unlikely. Maybe they’re lucky. I’m from the same place as Missy Friedl-Shipley, for heaven’s sake.