COLORFUL WISHES ON THE TREE BY THE GATE: #WRITEPHOTO Marilyn Armstrong

Thursday photo prompt: Colorful Wishes #writephoto


Charlene was delighted with her tree. Everywhere else, when someone had a statement to make, it was always stupid toilet paper. All over the tree and then it would drizzle or rain and for weeks, the tree looked like it had some kind of hideous fungus on it.

She had done a much better job. Bright, colorful. It was a cheerful, happy tree and what started with anger, ended in art. She barely remembered why she started “fixing” the tree. She thought something had made her angry and she wanted to show the world, but before she was even a quarter of the way through it, the project had morphed into Art.

Brianna was going to be really surprised when she stepped out of the house that morning. Not a single sheet of toilet paper. Just bright colors swinging gaily from the little tree by the gate.

Charlene giggled all the way home. Surprise!

ART VERSUS LIFE? TRUTH? FICTION?

“For God’s Sake,” I shout at the giant naked bronze guy loping around my garden. “Put something on! You can’t go running around like that!”the thinker

It’s already too late. I can hear the sirens getting closer and I know those evil neighbors are getting me back for all the nights when my dogs barked and wouldn’t shut up. I glare at Bonnie. She grins.

“Quick, hurry,” I urge him. “Here, take this shirt. It should fit you.”

It doesn’t. The bronze guy is huge. The pants are hopelessly small for him, even though they are big enough for me and a couple of good friends. Finally, in near despair, I throw him a blanket. He harrumphs and plunks his butt down on the big rock by the garage.

“Just stay very still,” I tell him. “Pretend you’re a statue. Even better? Pretend you are thinking. I’ll deal with the cops.”

It turns out he is very good at thinking. He had many previous years of experience. He likes it so much, he is still there as I write. Sitting on the big rock.

Thinking.

THE WOODSTOVE – A BIT OF ECOLOGICAL FICTION

The woodstove had been in the family a long time. No one really knew how long, but a few of generations for sure. It had heated the family home for years.

Now the house had real central heating, so the woodstove had been relegated to a corner in the basement for a dozen years or more. It was unclear exactly when it was originally consigned to that odd dusty corner where unused but valued things end up.  The goodfers. Too good to throw away but maybe someday they’d have a new purpose.

For a while the family figured they’d put the stove in the parlor. Or maybe they’d get around to finishing the basement. It turned out the woodstove was too efficient to use like a fireplace. The amount of heat it pushed out its fat little belly was impressive. Log by log, it turned anything but a very large, open area into a sauna. It was much more efficient than oil heat and cheaper too, but oil heat was easy. No one had to split endless piles of logs, stack them in the woodshed, haul them into the house to feed the stove. It cost more money to heat with oil, but no one’s back got broken to keep the house warm.MaineCabinTXT

The woodshed still contained some wood. Enough to enjoy bright fires on cold evenings and keep the wood chopping skills of the men in the family up to snuff. But they didn’t need dozens of cords. It had taken a lot of wood to keep a family cozy through the long, bitter winter of northern Maine.

The year that Hank built the cabin, the woodstove found a new home and a purpose.

Hank built the cabin entirely by hand. It was to be a retreat, a place to get away from everything modern, from televisions and alarm clocks. Hank didn’t own the land, but the lumber company that owned it was willing to lease plots to families who wanted to build cabins by the lake. After the trees grew to maturity, the lumber companies would come and cut the trees, but it would be years before the trees were ready for harvesting.

The cabin was intended to be a warm weather retreat, just for the summer. It turned out to be so pleasant, despite it having no electricity or running water, family members and their friends liked going to it from early spring into the late autumn, sometimes even after the first snows had fallen.

The woodstove was ready and willing to keep the cabin toasty. It gave more than heat. The smell of the woodstove was friendly, familiar. The tang of smoke in the air reminded everyone how their houses used to smell of wood smoke. They recalled choosing wood for its scent. Apple, maple, sassafras, oak, even pine … each had special qualities.

It turned out you could cook on the stove too, though the technique of cooking on a woodstove was sufficiently different that each person who used it had to reinvent the process.

Over many years, many springs, summers and autumns spent by the lake, listening to the loons calling across the water, the woodstove came to symbolize a simple and peaceful life. It was the heart of a cabin deep in the woods, far from a paved road. Drinking water came directly from the lake, along with a goodly number of fresh water bass and trout, caught from the canoe and consumed with corn harvested from local farms, blueberries picked on nearby burns.

Even in cool weather, you could bathe in the lake, then warm your chilled body by the stove. It was where you hung your clothes to dry them after washing. The same place around which everyone gathered in the evening to tell stories. Once upon a special time, a quiet time, telling stories and laughing around a fire or an old woodstove was enough entertainment for any man or woman. Rowing on a crystal lake was fine. No one needed a speed boat. Friends were enough.

As the years rolled on, many people with cabins on the lake bought generators so they could have electricity. They installed washing machines. The lake water was no longer safe to drink. They brought televisions and at night, you couldn’t hear the calling loons. There were telephones, water pumps and plumbing.

It wasn’t the same and after a while, no one came to the little cabin. Hank passed away, the kids moved away. The cabin began to collapse.  Finally, it was gone, its contents including the woodstove, junk, rotting and rusting in the woods. It was as if it had never been.

It didn’t matter anyway, because enough years had passed. The trees were mature. The lumber companies came and clear-cut the woods. The rubble from the cutting washed into the lake and the fish died.  With the fish gone, the loons  didn’t have enough to eat and they flew off to nest on other lakes.

That world went away. Memories linger. I have pictures.

MIGHTY PRETTY

THAT’S A MIGHTY PRETTY PIECE OF ART YOU HAVE HANGING THERE, FELLA


Let’s talk about art and why a “paint by number” kit you bought at a hobby shop is not art, even though it’s “mighty pretty.”

Many things are pretty. Wallpaper, printed by the ream is pretty. Remember all those paintings you could buy in the “art department” of department stores? You could get a blue one, a green one, or a red one. Each “hand-painted” picture was perfectly designed to match your furniture and could often be bought as part of your living room set.

Each picture was “hand painted” because someone’s hand was employed to paint it. Even then, no one said “an artist painted it” because the hand that painted it wasn’t an artist.

Now, with Artificial Intelligence, it won’t even be hand-painted. I’m sure it will be technically far superior to anything a human artist could achieve. Human art is imperfect — intentionally imperfect as often as not. There won’t be a stroke out-of-place and everyone will absolutely agree that it is “mighty pretty,” uh huh, yup, absolutely mighty pretty hanging on your wall there.

Things made by machine can be beautiful, but they aren’t art. Art is wrung from the soul of an artist. Even so, there is good art, better art, great art — and awful art. None of which has anything to do with the mechanical ability of the artist. Art — music, painting, sculpture and so much else — connects feelings, meaning, depth, breadth, vision. The big and the little, the achievements and the broken little pieces. It shows the value of life, the meaning of death, the reason we live, the sadness of loss. It isn’t only something mighty pretty to hang on a wall or pump through your speakers.

If A.I. can totally master the technique of Rembrandt and the “style” of Dali, it still won’t be art because it is without passion. No soul, no heart, no meaning, no depth. The style will not keep changing as the artist’s sensibilities change. It will never evolve into something unique, new, and refreshing because machines don’t evolve or grow.

For those of you who think “art” is a technique of brush strokes on canvas and that any “style” can be reproduced — even improved on — by a more “accurate” mechanical application … or you think if something  sounds like Chopin, it IS Chopin, you don’t understand anything. Not only do you not get it, you will never get it.

Since “fake art” is pretty much always “old or classic art,” consider buying originals from a living artist — the person who actually painted or wrote it. It will be the real deal.

The good news? An A.I. world will be perfect for you. You will be happy in your A.I. world with reproductions that look MIGHTY NICE on your walls. I bet all your furniture will match, too.

PHOTOS YESTERDAY AND TODAY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Photographs have been a big part of my adult life. I’ve always had lots of framed blow-ups of family members, including pets, decorating my house. I also loved making large, artistic photo montages of major family events, like weddings , Bar Mitzvahs, a 90th birthday party, and special trips. These are also scattered through my home.

My daughter’s Bat Mitzvah Montage, January, 1998

In addition, I made giant family photo albums documenting everyone’s lives – my mother’s, mine before kids, and my children’s up to 2002. I even made one for my ex-husband after he died. I wanted my kids to have a photographic biography of his life, and of theirs with him. I have separate albums for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, my second wedding, to Tom, and one for two special canal boat trips we took through the English countryside.

Photos are a different kind of commodity today. My relationship to photos changed when I started using my phone as my primary camera. Now photos are more about sharing something I‘m seeing or doing with friends and family. Something to text or email to say, “Hey! Look at this!” I can shop with my daughter in LA when we send each other photos of items we’re thinking about buying. I can often get real time advice from her while she’s 3000 miles away.

This is wonderful. You can share photos of your trip with friends the minute you get home. You don’t have to wait to get photos back from the printer and then make a slide show or a photo album. On the other hand, I took so many photos on our last big trip (three weeks in France, including one week in Paris), that only a few people have actually seen them all. I printed a few artsy photos for my wall, but I’ve never culled them all down into a manageable unit for showing. So, in a way, that trip has been lost to me. I can’t readily access specific memories or highlights of the trip. And it has never been fully shared.

Montage of Canal Boat Trip in England With Tom

I used to carry mini photo albums in my purse. That way I could easily show people my favorite recent pictures of my kids, my husband, my dogs or a favorite trip. And in the order I want to show them. Now, sharing photos can be an awkward ordeal. You have to flip through massive numbers of photos, frantically trying to remember where to find the ones you want. It can be embarrassing to keep someone waiting patiently as you go through the “Now, where is that damned photo” dance.

It’s also hard to show different photos that didn’t happen to be taken at the same time. Because they are in a totally different place. You have to find one group and then search again for the other. Nowadays, a photographic memory means being able to remember where all your photos are in your phone!

photos wedd montage
Montage of Tom & Ellin’s Wedding. November 2002.

Basically, I have more photos now but less access to the ones I want at any given time. I’m drowning in photos, but they’re much less a part of my daily life. I’ve only added one framed photo to my house in the last several years. And the task of organizing my photos into subject albums seems overwhelming.

So I’m left longing for the good old days, when I didn’t have thousands of pictures with me, on my phone, 24/7. But I had more meaningful pictures in my home and in my life, 24/7.

SOMETHING WENT BUMP IN THE NIGHT

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!
– Traditional Scottish Prayer

Never met a ghoul and I have various issues with long-legged beasties, but I can speak from personal experience about “Things That Go Bump in the Night.” Long ago in a house far away, we had our ghosts. Friendly ghosts or at least, friendly to us.

Ghosts have been part of human mythology as long as tales have been told around campfires. Maybe before campfires. I don’t think if any religion excludes the possibility of ghosts. There seems to be a general agreement that ghosts and wraiths are spirits of the dead who linger on Earth after they have slipped that mortal coil. Some are malevolent, others benevolent or merely curious. Ghosts vary by mythology, religion and era. Even today, there are rumors and stories.

I cannot claim to have seen a ghost, but I lived in a house where everyone could hear our ghosts. It was 1965 when for $20,300, we were able to buy a tidy little brick house built in 1932. On the first floor were two bedrooms and a bathroom. There was a big bedroom on the partially finished second floor. The house was small but solid, walking distance from the college where my husband worked and I was finishing my degree.

The ambiance of the house from the moment we walked into it was overtly friendly. It welcomed everyone and made them feel at home. The little house had been built by a couple who had lived, raised children, and then died in it. They were not murdered or anything sordid. They merely grew old and passed on in the home they loved.

We loved it too. My son wouldn’t come onto the scene for 4 more years, but it was a good house to raise babies. I could feel it.

The house was a bit neglected. Not falling down but in need of paint and some modernization of its infrastructure. It still had its original heating system, converted from a coal burner to an oil furnace. Not very efficient and the radiators were huge, old and iron. Oil was cheap; we didn’t worry about it. We’d get to it eventually.

 

Initially we lived on the first floor since the bathroom was there. The upstairs had been an attic, but half had been turned into a big bedroom. We wanted to move up there. It was much bigger and had wonderful light, but we wanted to fix it up first. Before anything else, we wanted to paint. The entire house was painted pale salmon pink. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t any color we’d have chosen. Worse, it was high gloss paint, like one would use in a kitchen or bath.

We painted the downstairs first. Every night, we heard our ghosts walking. You could hear the sound of heavy, loud footsteps upstairs, sharp, like the soles of hard leather shoes or boots. Everyone on the lower floor heard it. The walking started around eight in the evening, continued for a few minutes. Then the footsteps would pause and restart randomly until around midnight. The footsteps always stopped by midnight and never began before eight at night.

We called them “The Old Man” and “The Old Woman.” They wore different shoes. Her shoes had a sharp sound, like high heels on a hardwood floor. His were clunkier, like maybe work boots. Both of them had died in the house, so they were prime candidates for ghosthood, especially since no one else ever in the house we moved in.

At first, we also heard them on the steps, but after we painted the stairway, the footsteps retreated and we only heard them in the attic and bedroom. After we began painting the bedroom, we continued to hear them for a while in the attic and then, one day, they were gone, never to return.

Were they watching to see if we properly cared for and loved their home? I thought so. Were we all hallucinating? It was the 1960s, so anything is possible, but I think it was the couple who had lived there before us, watching to make sure we did right by the house. We did indeed. I guess they felt it was okay to depart.

Life is full of strangeness. Panicked might be too strong a word, but it was definitely weird. Meanwhile, if anyone has bumped into a long-legged beastie, please tell me about it. I’m dying to know.

WORLD SHARING – IN THE HEAT OF APRIL

Share Your World – April 10, 2017


Have you ever participated in a distance walking, swimming, running, or biking event? Tell your story.

I was going to say “no” … but then I realized that actually, I did. Sort of. It was 54 years ago. That was so long ago, it’s as if it were another lifetime.

All photos: Garry Armstrong

When I and my friends were in final summer between high school and college, we got serious about bicycle riding. For that last summer, we rode between 10 and 30 miles every day unless it was raining. We rode out to another county, and deep into New York city. We didn’t have fancy bicycles, either. None of those 10-speed racers. We had whatever was available, ranging from my friend Carol’s bike which had been her mother’s bike, to Mary’s Schwinn . It wasn’t a race or a marathon. The only prize was we could say “we did it.”

At the end of that summer, I was in the best physical shape I have been in. Ever. It turns out it isn’t just a rumor: serious exercise gives you serious muscles.

Name one thing not many people know about you.

My official college major, after I dropped music, was Speech. To this day, I’m fascinated by the way people talk.

What is your favorite flower?

Lilac. It’s the scent.

Things I want to have in my home (paintings, hot tubs, book cases, big screen tv etc)

Art is probably the most important. I need beautiful and interesting things near me. Art makes my world sane. If you don’t love art, you won’t understand.

Otherwise, housewares make me happy. New pots and pans. Dishes. Flatware. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Having things that work well but are also beautiful give me a sense of satisfaction I can’t entirely explain.