Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Blog About a Blog About a Book

Once in awhile you just nail it right smack on the ol' noggin.  These moments are rare and wonderful and they must be savored.

Today, that happened for me.  It's possible that Jisun Lee is a lot more savvy than I am, and probably better at self-expression, and that might be why it seems to me as so miraculous.  But there is perhaps no greater satisfaction than knowing your message has been heard and understood.

So, okay, in a nutshell: Jisun writes this wonderful blog called, "Kimche Latkes" about life with four small children, the youngest of whom has Down syndrome.  It's not that her life isn't already full and chronically busy, but she also manages to maintain this eloquent, funny and friendly blog in the meantime.

Before I was aware that she had FOUR children, I approached her about reviewing THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN.  The reason I approached her was because I adored her style and thought she would be jokey enough to appreciate mine.  Had I known about the four kids, I may have taken pity on her and gone somewhere else.

Lucky for me, I landed in the right spot.  Jisun not only read my story, but she digested it and came back with some meaningful conversation, some empathic statements, and she really reached out to me.  I feel like I've made a new friend.

Meanwhile, it took her some time to come up with a review.  I actually didn't care; I figured she would get to it one day, and even if she didn't, she was so delightful that it would have not mattered.

Well, the review appeared today:  A masterpiece; ten long paragraphs in which she agonized over our story and gave real thought to how it might apply to her own life.   "I found the book resonated personally with me at every turn," she wrote.  "I know that until I read the book, my main concerns were of the outside world, strangers who may not respect or understand my son, but now I realize that I may be missing something crucial that is right under my nose."

This is exactly the reason for telling our story: To raise awareness of what 'might' happen, right under your nose.  It is so gratifying to be heard, to feel as if you might be able to make a difference.  Even just a little.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Breakfast Plates, and Slates

My boyfriend made me this special pancake this morning. He claims it just appeared.
"It's a sign!" I screeched, running for the phone.
"Hurry up!" he yelled. "It's gonna burn!"
Native Americans believed that eating the heart of something would transmit its spirit to you.
I didn't know what it meant to have a Pancake Spirit....
So I ate it surreptitiously.

He not only provided breakfast, but then went out and cut all these slates for me, and drilled the holes for them to hang from.  This is a little bit lighter colored than our last batch. The photo was taken right after I had scrubbed them, and they were still pretty wet.  To me, they are delicious to look at -- the grain, the chipped edges, each one like an empty canvas with its own quirks.

Any day that you feel loved, is a good day.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter Wolf

Someone posted a photo of a black wolf crossing the ice near my hometown yesterday in Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula.  It inspired this painting.  The canvas is small, only 9x12", so the wolf is done in very tiny detail.  Wolves are considered a threat to livestock and house pets, but they mean so many good things for the environment.  I've heard them at night, but have never actually seen one this close to home.
This painting is really all about the sky and the burgeoning snowstorm.  The Eastern UP has its own definition of wild beauty, even in the depths of winter.  I wanted to show the flat landscape, the cold, the icy shore, the moody sky. 
The camera didn't negotiate with yellow very well -- they are blended better in reality.  I may touch it up some more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Prior Lake Priorities - On Bullying

I know everyone likes to see nice and sunny, funny stories about my sister Amanda, who despite (or maybe partially due to) having Down syndrome, has an offbeat, self-deprecating sense of humor and a characteristic bluntness.  Her one-liners quickly became a hit when I started publishing them on my FB page.

For instance: Amanda is obsessed with past relationships.  I was married twice; once in a prior lifetime, back in the early eighties.  Even now, all these years later, she still occasionally brings that up -- an ancient history that I would just as soon forget.  Now Amanda and I both are drifting into *gasp* middle age, complete with the side effects of wrinkled brows and curly blonde chin hairs.  But she still loves to ask people about their exes, and to my chagrin, she has extended this inquisition to various men that I've dated.  She queried one guy about his ex wife's appearance and he replied, "She's four feet tall and has a beard and a mustache."

"Oh," Amanda said.  "She looks like me."

Unfortunately, with these light-hearted moments come an occasional darker one.  It's especially sad that for us, the darker ones are usually dealt by family members.  It was my normal MO to ignore other people's bad behavior, and focus on the positive side of life.  But now I am finding that ignoring bad behavior doesn't make it go away.  The book I co-authored with Amanda has raised a number of eyebrows, with or without the chin whiskers. 

The bottom line is, bullies don't like being called out. 

Today the trend on Facebook is all about the video of one Bradley Knudson, from Prior Lake Minnesota, whose daughter is the victim of bullying.  Mr. Knudson is calling them out by name, in a YouTube video now thankfully going viral.  I say, "thankfully" because shedding light on this problem is the best way to solve it.  I applaud him.

People who don't have enough conscience or personal integrity to self-monitor should be stripped of their cloaking devices.  My siblings have threatened Amanda, her guardian and me with lawsuits and who knows what else, because we have exposed their bad behavior in THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN.  We've even lost one of our five-star Amazon reviews, which our reader apparently deleted after the threats went public.

The funny thing is, in reading these reviews, one sees that they don't focus on the bad behavior of siblings. They focus on Amanda's strength, her inherent wisdom, her bravery.  This tells me that our message is ringing true loud and clear:  Get your affairs in order.  Be kind.  Stay strong.  Follow the love.  No matter who you are, what your disability, age, color, gender, chromosome or DNA, you have a voice.  Don't let anyone force you into silence.

Horse and Sleight

I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of more slates!  Just last year I started doing more slate paintings and am going full throttle now.  One of the challenges lies in the inherent grain of the slate. This has been especially interesting when painting on the smaller pieces. I have enjoyed solving each one as it comes. Especially apparent in this group is the elephant, where you will see the chips along the edges, which worked nicely into the top of his head, and in his ear on the left side, and the tusk on the left, which has turned out to be a broken tusk.  Each piece of slate has its own personality, and sometimes I set one aside until inspiration strikes.  Right now, I am slate-less.  Ready for more.
Elephant, 6x8"

Bluebird Bath, about 4x4"

Sleigh Slate, about 6x16"

Horses in Snow, about 8x10"

Bunny and Trillium, 6x8"

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Evolution of a Dolphin Painting

Despite being a movie buff, I have never seen, "The Cove," and that is by my choice.  I think I would find the imagery too disturbing. I've been enamored of dolphins since I was about 12 years old, and had recurring dreams wherein I am swimming with them amid shafts of sunlight that filter down through the water. I admit to romanticizing them somewhat just like everyone else does, although Karen Pryor's operant conditioning training methods have changed my life.

I'm currently recovering from an artistic slump, and what better way to do it than turn to my lifelong inspiration.  Here's the progress of my newest painting, in photographs.  This is 9x12" acrylic.

Laying the foundation for the painting; blues and purples.

Adding some darker areas for detail.

Now the contrast -- yellows and oranges to brighten the image.

Final highlights

Friday, January 9, 2015

For Those Who Try to Shut Me Up

It's a little bit ironic that yesterday, of all days, I got the phone call. The whole world was reeling from the sight  of three hooded terrorists, screaming about Muhammed, their spattered gunfire echoing through the streets of Paris.  How much nerve does it take to run into an office building and gun down a bunch of artists?  I am sure I was not the only one visualizing a "bullseye" on the heads of those criminals while I watched that video.

I have a bit more of an insider perspective  than most, being an artist myself and having worked with a bunch of animators and cartoonists.  Cartoonists, for the most part, are just dorks.  They are the most innocuous people you will find.  Some of them come from horrific dysfunctional backgrounds, and so they draw happy pictures in order to simplify  the world in their minds eye.  They are rarely violent, often internalizing  their anger, letting it come out on the page.  They are often wistful and usually kind.

My heart aches for the families of these victims, who, as far as I can tell, have been nothing short of heroic in their response.  I think it was the editor's daughter who posted a photo of his empty desk; a poignant reminder of his simple occupation...  "Armed" with pencils.

So yesterday, as I was enraged like the rest of the world over the murders of the Charlie Hebdo artists, the phone rang. It was my sister, Amanda. 

"Hey girl!" she used her customary greeting.  "I've got something to tell  you.  I'm going into the bedroom so they don't overhear me."

I could hear her thunking gait and then the door click as she closed it.  "There now.  Did you know that (R3) is threatening to file a lawsuit over our book?"

She was talking about THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, our story about how Amanda, who  has Down syndrome, was abused by some of our family members and pulled into a guardianship dispute right after our dad's death.

The irony of the timing, of course, was not lost on me.

"How do you know this?"

"She sent an email.  She threatened to sue me, my guardian, and you."

"Don't worry.  Our lawyer said she's got nothing."

"I thought so.  But my guardian is very upset about it."

"Tell him not to worry.  We will handle it.  Did you see your face on the front page of the newspaper?"

"YES!" she squealed.

"YOU'RE FAMOUS!" I roared.

She laughed and we shouted together about this wonderful experience of being co-authors, partners, and having our own book. 

"We tell it like it is!" she added.

"Yes we do!  And hopefully it will help someone else."

"I hope so, too," she said.

After our talk, I gave my attorney a heads-up about the lawsuit threats.  We know there is no case.

I was irritated, though not surprised, that Amanda is having to go through this after all she has already endured.  Terrorism, I realized, comes in many forms.  The narcissistic need for control surpasses all rational thought and will usurp an otherwise peaceful existence.  The answer, of course, is in changing nothing.  Stay the course.  Keep writing, or drawing, or whatever it is you do.  Film is forever.  Pictures are forever.  Stories are forever. 

If you don't want to be remembered as a jerk, then don't be one.  Terrorism will be exposed for what it is, even when the victims are artists, or animals or people with disabilities.   Expression is life.  As Amanda said, "We tell it like it is."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Swimming Down Syndrome

      Let's face it: the Special Olympics has been a boon to the fitness regimen for many disabled folks who would never otherwise get out of the house.  Amanda is no exception.  Over the years, getting her to exercise has taken a considerable amount of coaxing, begging, and strategic thinking on my part.

     But one thing she loves to do is swim.  She actually won several gold medals while competing in Mt Pleasant years ago.  She didn't always fancy the beach, but if given an opportunity, she would rarely turn down a chance to go in a pool.  So when I found out an excerpt from our story, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, would be featured in the BookDaily "Health and Fitness" ezine, this chapter immediately sprang to mind:

      Physical activity was demanding for Amanda.  She didn’t want to take walks with me.  I figured if I weighed over 200 pounds, with bad knees and tiny, flat feet, I wouldn’t want to walk, either.  But she could swim.  Our cousin Denny had a pool at his hotel, and so as summer heated up, that became our ritual.  Best of all, on days when she went swimming, I didn’t make her take a shower.  If the chlorine was heavy, she could just hose off at the pool.  She didn’t have any hair to wash.  I did insist that she shave her armpits.  When I wasn’t around, she had a tendency to let the hair grow.  That was easy enough for me to fix.  If she happened to lift her arm for any reason, exposing armpit hair, I would make the motion of pulling the cord on a lawn mower.           

“Rrrrummm…  Rummm rum rum rum!” I would grab the invisible handle and jounce like I was pushing it.
            She glared at me.  “Knock it off!” 
            But it always worked.  She would shave her armpits.
            She hated the whole shower effort.  “It’s always the same old thing.”
            On our first swim day, she came out of the bathroom wearing her shorts and tank top over a leopard print one-piece. 
            “I had to wrestle my swimming suit to get it on,” she said, sitting down and reaching for her shoes.
            “Okay, I’ll be ready in a sec.” I went in the bathroom and glanced into the bathtub.  On the curve of rusty porcelain near the drain there was a creature about the size of a quarter, with eight tentacles.  I believe the scientific name for it is Lupus Arachnis Horribilis. Being an animal lover, I had no fear of spiders, regardless of their size, but this was a good opportunity to stir things up with Amanda.

The lens case is for size comparison, although I later claimed I had, "dropped my lens case when I realized the brown blob wasn't my false eyelashes!"
            "Amanda!" I screeched. "You've got to see this!"
            She must have known what I was yelling about, because she came hobbling in armed with a fly swatter. "I'm gonna swoosh him.”
            I jumped up and down screaming while she swooshed and Lupus ran down the drain. She turned on the faucet. "It's okay Nancy. He's gone. Pull yourself together."
            As we got in the car, I said, “Jeesh, after all that I am gonna need a cola.  Let’s head over to the Northwood.  You can tell Celia’s mom about your conquest.”
            “Celia's mother doesn't own the restaurant anymore,” Amanda said. 
            “She doesn’t?”
            “No.  She said she misses working there.”
            “Who owns it now?”
            “The other owner.”
            We drove on down through the woods to Pins restaurant, turning down the cracked ribbon of pavement to the resort area where the big wooden fence surrounded Denny’s pool.  Til was panting in the back seat.  He jumped out when I opened the door and ran into the woods with his nose down, his plumy white tail waving.  “Hurry up!” I yelled. “Go potty! Hurry up!”
            “Jeesh. Pressure, Nancy. Pressure!”  Amanda said.
            “Well, you don’t want any accidents in the pool, do you?” 
            “Don’t be gross!”
            Til performed his duty and came blasting back, and we walked up to the big, creaky gate and stepped inside.  As I had expected, we were the only ones there.  As Amanda rolled and played in the water, tossing a ball for the elated dog, I watched from the poolside. 
            “Here,” I took a couple of quarters from my pocket and dropped them in, watching as they glinted and flipped to the bottom.  “See if you can find these!”
            She dove, slippery as a seal, her little flat feet pointing and waving up at the wrinkled water’s surface, her hand patting the pool floor all around the quarters.  She was so buoyant that it was taking hard scissor kicks to keep her inverted.  I was thinking I could probably get some muscle tone on her just by dropping things into the pool a few days a week.
            Finally, she came up gasping for breath. 
            “You missed!” I shouted.
            “I know,” she said.
            “Can’t you open your eyes?”
            “I don’t like getting them in the chlorine.  I don’t have my goggles.  Hey, you should come in with me!”
            “Not gonna happen.  You know I don’t swim.”
            “Chicken.  Bawk, bawk buk buk.”
            “That’s right.  And if the ferry ever sinks, you’re under contract to save my sorry cement block ass.”
            “It’s a deal.”  She dove again, patting the bottom and this time I saw her fist close over a quarter.  She surfaced.  “I got it!”
            She swam to the poolside, putting the quarter up by my foot.  “Here’s your change, Nancy.”
            As I bent over to pick it up, I was hit in the side of the face and head with a blast of cold water.  “Hey!”
            I looked up and caught a glimpse of the squirt gun she was aiming at me, just before another shot of water hit me right between the eyes.  “You’re gonna get wet, one way or the other, you rat!” She was roaring laughter, dousing me with rapid bursts of cold spray as I screamed and ducked away.
            “How did you…” I shouted, and then choked as she caught me with another shot square in the mouth.  I had never heard her laugh so hard. 
            “Let me introduce my secret weapon, Nancy!” she shouted.  She was floating upright, bobbing gently in the water like a buoy, her bald head gleaming in the bright sun, pointing the lime green plastic gun at me.

By Nancy J. Bailey and Amanda Bailey
Copyright 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How To Say Goodbye - With Cats

My best friend is dying. We met in 1989, and became daily companions. But after 8 years I had moved away, and we had seen each other sporadically thereafter.  Now that the cancer is taking its toll, of course, I wish I had put more energy into calling her.  Whenever I did call, she would fire questions at me.  How did my gallery show go?  What is happening with the baby horse?  How is the writing coming? 
I am learning the sad fact that the current trend is to resent this type of inquisition.  It's been labeled, "Interviewing." This stems from the habit of questioning for information to use as an arsenal.
But we were never like that.  The quick exchange of information is a treasured thing.  My friend Rita is an excellent listener, with a razor-sharp mind and ravenous curiosity.  She is a great lover of animals, especially cats.  She had established a cat rescue in Ann Arbor, called Mosaic Feline Refuge, which she kept open for 22 years.  They finally closed this spring.  They couldn't keep up the time, energy, and the vast expense of caring for and surgically altering and then homing hoards of roaming house cats and kittens.  "I just felt like I never did enough," she told me.
"That's because you see the bigger picture," I said.  "But what are the numbers?  I mean, how many cats did you save?"
"I don't know.  I'm sure they're logged somewhere."  She sighed, a futile huff acknowledging the vastness of an unending problem.  I thought the numbers might make her feel better.  After all, one saved cat can prevent literally thousands of unwanted kittens.  And Rita had saved, certainly, thousands of cats.
I had called her a week before Christmas, because I needed a name for my own rescued kitty.  Rita was the first one that came to mind.  She is endlessly creative and names all her cats and dogs after food.  Over the years she's had some real classics -- Toast and Trifle, Lamb Chop and Wafer.  But her husband returned the call and told my voicemail that she was in hospice and hopefully coming home in a few days.  He didn't know if she would want company.
I called back, thinking I would be able to maintain composure, and then left a sobbing mess of a message on his answering machine.  I didn't know what to say.  I stammered that I wanted a name for my kitty.  "He likes his belly rubbed!"  I wailed.
I was able to finally talk to Rita yesterday.  She was home.  "Chuckles," she said immediately.  "You know, those candies that come in all the colors?  They stick -- and your guy has stuck."
The moment she said it, I knew, of course, that this was indeed his name.  I had found this silly ornament on Christmas Eve, a tiny handmade kitty that looked like my kitty, but it was wearing a clown hat.  I brought it home and put it on the window sill next to the wooden chicken.  Rita, with her uncanny insight, had called out the name "Chuckles", and that ornament says it.  Chuckles.  Chuckie.  Chuck Chuck.  A final gift from someone who has already given so much.
When she answered the phone, she sounded down, but the more we talked, the more she seemed like her old self.  We laughed and talked about cats and dogs, and Clifford and Trudy, and their new little brother.  She asked if I was riding him yet.  "No!" I said.  "I don't bounce like I used to!"
"I understand that," she said.
She asked about my new book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN.  "Any way you can send it to me?"
She is a voracious reader.  She has devoured everything I've ever written.  She said, "Everyone's been sending me books!  You wouldn't believe the stacks of them around here.  I've been telling people it's the only thing I can still do."
I was so anxious for her to read this, because she knows Amanda, and she has her own history with family dysfunction.  Her opinion is so important.  I'm working on getting a copy to her ASAP.  I know at this time in life, every day is precious.  While we talked, I kept wondering if this would be our last conversation.
I wish she wasn't going.  But at least, this time, I had a chance to tell her she was dear to me; she was like a sister.  No, better than a sister.  She just laughed and said, "Yeah, you're family."
Through the whole conversation I worried that she might be getting tired.  But she rattled on and on, laughing and chatting.  I was driving to a friend's house and when I finally reached my destination and regrettably had to hang up, we both said, "Bye!" quickly, just like always.
There comes a point when there is nothing more to say, and yet so many things to say.  If I could have a friend like this for the rest of my life, we would never run out of things to talk about, or run out of questions.  I hope I can help her though whatever remains of her lifetime.  But the irony is, in reality, she is helping me.