October 21st, 2007
I SING the Body electric;
The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul. — Walt Whitman
Under different circumstances, I believe my mother might have become an interior designer to Liberace or the Shah of Iran. Her colorful palette extended to nearly every room in our house on Valmar Place. Our kitchen was a brighter-than-found-in-nature, high-gloss orange, accented with dark walnut cupboards and avocado appliances. Our bathroom had silver foil wallpaper with bright pink flowers, pink shag carpeting, and a ceiling covered in silver-veined mirror tiles. The bedroom I shared with my sister had an avocado shag floor; pink, green, orange and white striped wallpaper; and brightly colored geometric sheets covered by a flowered bedspread.
Whether sparked by this 1970’s-era hodgepodge of color or some inherent defect in my vision, I grew up color-stunted and decorating impaired. Wall and furniture colors never look right to me in my own house unless they are in the stunningly diverse beige family: eggshell, sand, off-white, or some other variation of barely-there color.
Yet, when I can, I love watching HGTV. I love watching Candice Olsen, Vern Yip, or some other talented designer turn chaos into sanctuary, or boring into beautiful. I love the sneak peak into other people’s colorful worlds offered by magazines like Southern Living, and often find myself inspired to try something new by photographs, the decorating efforts of friends, or even furniture showrooms.
I can’t count the number of couches or pails of paint I’ve tried on and then discarded. The foray into primary colors left my living room looking like a kindergarten. The striped teal couch with a teal accent wall left me feeling cheap. The black-and-white design was not only too stark, but a double nightmare to keep clean. Burgundy left me feeling anxious, and a muted flowered couch looked like an sad and unwanted guest.
My most recent purchase of an olive-colored couch and chair looks gloomy to me, and even more so when dressed up with red pillows – like a bag lady wearing a bright corsage.
There’s an artistic gene in my family that bypassed me. My grandfather Eugene took up painting after he retired and by the time he died, he was creating some very detailed and beautiful pictures of birds and scenery. My daughter has a natural drawing ability, and a passion for photography. My son, as a teen, freehanded comic book figures. I cannot draw a proportionate A-frame house, and anything crafty eludes me. As a child, I once sent my very sweet Ukranian granny into a fit of frustration after she tried to teach me to crochet. I’m not, I learned, capable of counting and moving my fingers at the same time.
Still, I’m always driven to broaden my horizons and try new things, especially when they promise to be an outlet of sorts – a way to expend excess creative energy and relax. Writing sometimes does that, but more often, especially when I’m focused on a novel or an all-consuming story, I’m left with residual energy and emotions that can’t be expressed in 12-point Arial font. It’s the type of energy that wants to break chains, throw caution into space, and wordlessly tilt the axis towards relief and understanding. It’s a raw and naked energy that cannot be tempered by words, no matter how honest or deeply felt.
So, inspired by my recent online introduction to the Art Army, and intrigued by the idea that a journal can also be a piece of art – and in no small way desiring some outlet that won’t necessitate the buying of new furniture – I am once again dipping my clumsy hands into the world of artistic expression. $89 at Michael’s buys an entire bag of glue sticks, paints, brushes, charcoal pencils and colored oil crayons, which is about 90% less than I spent on the woebegone-looking chair that has taken up squatter’s residence in a corner of my living room.
Admittedly, my first effort was a copycat. Linda Woods, who co-authored Journal Revolution with her sister Karen Dinino, (the entire family is freakishly gifted with writers and artists) sells her own work through Etsy. I particularly enjoyed this piece by Linda, likely because I’m a coffee afficiando and the next cup is pretty much always on my mind. Linda’s rendition of coffee looked inviting – it had a artistic, sit awhile, let me pour you a cup feel to it. My attempt, though, turned out looking anything but tempting. It looked, in fact, like a painted turd.
Linda shares her belief that art is “easy”, and that the color-block I have can be overcome. She encourages me to keep trying, and to read her book which should be on my door step Wednesday. I am reminded, though, of years ago, when I took singing lessons.
Inspired by an infomercial selling taped lessons, and promising that anybody could sing –proclaiming that the voice was like any instrument and one only needed to learn to play it – I contacted one of Reno’s most recommended vocal coaches and was pleasantly surprised when she agreed with the instrument analogy.
Lessons one and two were all about scales and exercises, which I proudly, loudly, and non-stopped practiced whenever their wasn’t a crowd around. During lesson three, I was to sing my first song as Tawny accompanied me on the piano. A few notes in, Tawny stopped playing and took my hand. Looking me in the eyes with care and warmth, I thought perhaps she was going to congratulate me for my dedication – and tell me that those hours in the shower and car had really paid off. Instead, Tawny looked me in the eyes, all empathy and compassion and said, “Jane, some people are musicians and other people are fans. . .you are going to make a great fan.” I was crushed.
Likewise, a year of guitar lessons never resulted in more than my being able to competently play the first few chords of Down in the Valley. Tawny was right, though, I am a great fan of all sorts of musical talent, from old school rock ‘n roll to Lloyd & Weber musicals to Mike Oldfield’s soul-stirring Celtic instrumentals.
Whether my experience with visual arts will parallel my experience with music, or whether I’ll eventually find my color voice remains to be seen. I’ve put the endeavor on hold until I can absorb the information in Journal Revolution. Until then, I’ve put creme-colored throws over the tormented olive furniture and hidden the wilted red pillows in the closet.
*Header art by Shawn McNulty. Children’s art available at Artsonia.