Not Being Funny and the History of Roberta Guthrie

So it was a bitter Winter and Spring of loss this year.  In a little over six months I was debilitated by the death (in order) of my sister (December 22), dog Bonny (January 23), dear friend John (May 23), and my bird of 18 years Cole (July 29).

I see myself to a fault as a “doer.”  I keep busy and am one that fills in my time with many people and activities I deem important as an artist and teacher.  For a seasonRobertasCoverITunes here I have been recalibrating to new realities without pets, family and friends.  The things that have been important have been simple, like eating and connecting with others and “living.”  I have also been struck that I feel at least for a season here I lost my ability to create humor.  The podcast “Roberta’s Pearls” has gone silent since last October.  When I made the time to do so I was lovingly putting this podcast out there simply because it’s goofy and I have a good time creating it. Consider it an odd gift of sorts.

Roberta Guthrie is an aunt of mine (well, sort of) that came to life my sophomore year of high school. In Phoenix Arizona where I grew up I was on Sunnyslope High School’s speech team.  My speech teacher one afternoon handed me the script for the old play and movie Arsenic and Old Lace to perhaps compete with in an upcoming speech tournament.  In the story a nephew Mortimer (played by Cary Grant in the movie) is staying with his two dear old elderly aunts and discovers they have been knocking off old men because their victims look so peaceful and happy when they do so. I had to come up with two elderly women’s voices, and Roberta Guthrie was born in the voice of Abby one of the Aunts. The other aunt Martha, is actually the voice now of Roberta’s best friend Gay Franks.

Annex - Grant, Cary (Arsenic and Old Lace)_03

An image from the 1944 production of Arsenic and Old lace with Mortimer (Cary Grant), Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha  (Jean Adair)

While I competed with Arsenic and Old Lace back in the early 80’s, I did quite well.  One competition particularly I achieved what is called a “picket fence” in that I was ranked first (out of six competitors) in all the rounds that I competed in from the preliminary to  final rounds of the competition.  Let’s just say my little high school ego which was pretty low, thought maybe I was onto something with this old woman’s voice.

And so, Roberta Guthrie (as I would call the voice) became a part of my life.  I would fool friends and their parents when calling, asking to borrow ingredients for a recipe or inquiring if they knew what so-and-so was up to.  My mother who was always up for a good joke loved Roberta. So when receiving a call from a telemarketer she would inevitably say, “let me have you talk to my mother-in-law,” and then hand the phone to me.  Laughing with delight she would get on another phone to listen in as I tried to keep the unsuspecting agent on the phone as long as possible.  I remember one such call where they were selling lightbulbs of which Roberta kept asking if they sell other things like tin foil, “because there are just so many things you can do with tin foil….” She was hung up on by a very exasperated voice shortly thereafter, with my mother laughing in another room.

At the time I was also dear friends with a buddy name Mark who as a “little person” was just around three feet tall.  Although a teen like myself Mark could speak if he chose to do so in a voice that sounded convincingly like a child, and so our crank call endeavors began.  Roberta would call a number and simply say “Hello dear, I really need to talk to…” and then the doorbell would ring.  Roberta would remark, “Oh my that is the door and I think is my grandson.  You know dear can I get that?  I’ll be right back.”  If the caller said “Yes,” the game would begin.  Mark would then “come in” as my grandson Jonathan who just got dropped off by his mother.  Roberta would say she forgot what she was doing and it was important… hmmm… and would he like some cookies?  Jonathan would say yes and then say “Your phone is off the hook grandma!” of which then Roberta would reply, “What? I’m getting your cookies sweetheart!”  Mark would get on the phone and say “Hello” and the fun would ensue as they often would say “Your grandmother has just called me; can you get her back on the phone?”  From there we had a number of avenues we would go down all in the hopes of keeping the caller on as long as possible.

There are more stories that I could tell about my dear Aunt Roberta that perhaps I will return to at some point here, but for now let’s just say Roberta will find her way to make another “pod-casty” sometime soon.  Heaven knows I’m sure she’ll have something to say to all of us.

You know I never had a living grandmother and even in High School I thought that Roberta came out of that absence.  Who wouldn’t want a dear Christian, somewhat naïve and shortsighted quirky grandmother?  So with all the losses as of late, maybe the space that remains makes room for new things, perhaps even a space to laugh.   We’ll see now wont we?

Robertaheader

 

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The Cardinal Feature of Dreams & Creativity

So I had a dream last night, similar to so many others I’ve had over the past 20 years.  A familiar pair of folks again bubbling to the surface of my subconscious, familiar reminders of loss and longing.  These family members that has been gone for so many years can re-appear with such present life in the wee hours of the morning.  With all the processing I’ve done in my daily life over the past two decades it amazes me that this pair can be so vividly alive and present in my subconscious, still a haunting of sorts.

The-body-that-keeps-score-coverIn the midst of the record heat of our summer in Oregon I finished the amazing book, The Body Keeps the Score, Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk.  This researched, smart, and healing book filled me with awe and hope.  Exhaustively thorough with data and story Dr. Van der Kolk breaks down how trauma is processed and stored, but moreover points to helpful methods of redeeming and reconciling the broken pieces of those traumatic events.

One methodology that has proved helpful is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which mimics the rapid eye movement that we all go through when we are in REM and dreaming.  Dr. Van Der Kolk points out that our unconscious is often working through our day-to-day lives in our dreaming, making connections and working to resolve problems.  The process EMDR with a therapist mimics that dreaming process in ones waking life.

When reading the book I pulled out my sketchbook and wrote down in my turquoise micron pen these passages that caught my eye, “Today we know that both deep sleep and REM sleep play an important role in how memories change over time.  The sleeping brain reshapes memory by increasing the imprint of emotionally relevant information while helping irrelevant material fade away.  In a series of elegant studies Stickgold and his colleagues showed that the sleeping brain can even make sense out of information whose relevance is unclear while we are awake and integrate it into the larger memory system.”

Perhaps I always felt like I had to be totally aware of what is going on in my head in order to figure something out.  I find it very hopeful in the bigger scheme of things to think that my soul and mind are making connections and sense of things even when I am in my deepest state of rest.  There is something quite wonderful about that.  Irrelevant information is worn away, while what is worth remembering becomes more sturdy and durable.

The book also points out that since dreaming is about activating distant associations, this could explain why dreams are so bizarre.  Aha! So that explains the bathroom that was also an elevator in my dream last night.  This bathroomevator also had two large stuffed wingback chairs in it, a fireplace, and seemed more like a very small 19th century parlor.

Dr. Van der Kolk also writes, “Stickgold, Hobson and their colleagues thus discovered that dreams help force new relationships between apparently unrelated memories seeing novel connections is the cardinal feature of creativity; as we’ve seen it is also essential to healing.” 

Novel connection is what creativity is about and it is also essential to healing.  Can I get an “Amen” to that?  Maybe that is what I and many others artists connect the threads of different fabrics to weave something that points to a bigger and better whole, a place where things make even more sense because we see really how connected it all is.  A recent mixed media work I created could reveal that a Lion and what it means connects to what roses mean, to what it is to be in front a microphone etc.., all in the hopes of a revelation, an “Aha” moment, or perhaps even the crazy notion of healing.

TimTimSorry

“Sorry” 5″x7″ gouache, watercolor, micron pen, and collage on paper. 8/17

 

I guess I can take this all with me back to my own dream last night can’t I, as I talk with family members gone as if time has never passed in an Edwardian elevator bathroom?  The intuitive part of me is working on a resolution and perhaps bringing them back (now in the dream one has a full head of dark hair, the other wrecks a monstrous vehicle but comes out unscathed), in hopes of further growth and movement.

Can I hold onto the hope that this creative collision, association, connection, and reminder perhaps is simply to salve and make right past pain? In the connective fibers of dreams and art can healing happen?  I believe my friend Bessel would say so.

(Text from book taken from pages 262 & 263.)

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Whatever is True…Telling the End of the Story in Song

Jonatha Brooke

Jonatha Brooke performing in New York “My Mother Has 4 Noses,” (photo Sadrine Lee NYTimes)

Now that I’m in my mid-life I find as I listen to an album of an artist I followed vehemently in the 90’s or 00’s I think, “What are they doing now?” Just as my creative practice is still going strong, isn’t theirs?

Some have faded and yet I have found a stalwart set of very good musician friends (whose work has inspired me for many years) still in the game if not perhaps making some of their best work; artists such as Over the Rhine, Jackson Brown, Buddy and Julie Miller, Patty Griffin and Emmy Lou Harris keep going strong.

Recently I began listening again to the album “Angel in the House” by the Story.   Jonatha Brooke one of the artists in that duo broke out on her own soon after that album’s release in 1993 and I faithfully purchased her CDs in the subsequent years. Her songs stood sure footed with hard won lyrics, a sincere voice, and were embodied in a singer songwriter and jazz inspired creation that I found striking (Check out the album “Plumb”). Many of her songs I can still quote by heart.

Jonatha Brooke

Jonatha Brooke performing. (photo Sandrine Lee NYTimes)

I discovered in the last weeks that her most recent project was a one woman musical in which she recounts taking care of her mother through stages of dementia. I bought the CD “My Mother Has 4 Noses” initially (yes I still buy CDs) because I simply like her music, unaware that it was a musical. Listening to it, there were several songs, one of which “Time” I found arresting.

Reading the liner notes (those come with actual CDs you know) I discovered the song was written when she put her mother in hospice and Jonatha knew it was the end of her mothers life. Knowing the content now, her song struck an even greater cord in me for over seven years ago I followed my own mother down that same path. The song was like a punch in the gut.  It was then when the album was playing recently in the kitchen when making dinner I stopped it when the song “Time” came on.  I didn’t want to go where it would take me, as I began to remember that moment in my own life and my mothers with clarity.  I gave myself a few minutes and then sat down, took a deep breath, pressed play, and let the song do its work.

I was awestruck when I found that the one clip on-line from the musical is the song “Time.”   It packs a emotional chord even more so in her performance. Tolstoy in his essay “What is Art?” relates that good art is infectious in its clear transmission of emotion. Jonatha’s song does that in spades.

Here is a link to a good article on the show in the NY Times, and here is the website for her or actual show.

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Language and Losing God

511Z3iQ5NwL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_While traveling in May I had a book situated in my bedside stand for some time that I finally got around to.  Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel L. Everett is one part sociology text, one part linguistics text, and one part personal memoir.

Moving with his family to be missionaries to the Pirahã (pronounced pee-da-HAN) Indians in the Amazon in the late 70’s, Everett would begin a 30-year journey. He would discover a people whose language was daunting, and completely “other” to Western thinking. Not only tonal he encountered that Pirahã language had no words for color, past or future tense and other anomalies. He discovered a communal community that lives entirely in the moment who loves to joke and that is resilient in having no desire to “modernize” in any sense of the word. In the process of living and learning from the Pirahã Everett became an atheist.

The book captivated me in part because it communicated that language is very much a product of ones culture. One can’t communicate outside the “language box.” When reflecting upon thoughts of Worf (one of the first linguists) and Sapir (a founder of American linguistics) Everett writes:

Daniel L. Everett and the Pidahan people.

Daniel L. Everett and the Piraha people.

According to Sapir, our language affects how we perceive things. In his view, what we see and hear in our day-to-day existence results from the way we talk about the world… Sapir even goes so far as to claim that our view of the world is constructed by our languages, and there is no “real world” that we can actually perceive without the filter of language telling us what we are seeing and what it means.

 If Sapir and Whorf are correct, the implications for philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, and psychology, among other fields of study, are vast. Worf went so far as to claim that Western science is largely the result of the grammatical limitations of Western language. (pages 218-219)

As I reflect upon topics like friendship and brotherhood that have run like veins through my own work, when reading I couldn’t help but think of the lack of value we put on such things in our culture, and how our language (or lack thereof) reflects that. Yes we value the word “marriage” in our culture, but other relationships (friendships and the like) clearly have been regarded in our language and understanding as second, third or fourth class across the board. Terms of old such as wedded friendships, covenant brotherhoods and the like are as extinct as the passenger pigeon, or simply misunderstood. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down ones life for ones …marriage…?”

Everett looses his faith in the process of working with the Pirahã, which honestly reading his account seems very reasonable. The Pirahã don’t want or need to be “saved” from anything. They are entirely about present experiences. Everett points out with a clear eye the good he sees Christians do as when they save his wife and child’s life “I have never known kinder people in all my life. I suspect I never will.” And he points out the ill Christians do as when talking about the Colarios, ostensibly evangelical Christians of the Assembly of God denomination who would cheat the Pirahãs in trading. Makes me think of the C.S. Lewis quote that Christians are the best and worst witness for Christ.

A detail of my piece

A detail of my piece “Fear and the Blind Girl” ink, watercolor, and gouache,

In my heart, Everett story came across as painful as clearly he lost his family in the process, and his lack of words on the topic seemed to reflect that those wounds may be tender. It was then too I noticed that there are no photos of them in the book. I would like to hear his wife Keren and his children’s perspective and story as they lived with the same people but seem to have come to a different conclusion.

Soon after reading Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes, I came across the Liturgists podcast called Lost and Found Part One, and Part two which follows Mike Gungor and Mike McHargue’s very moving and sincere stories of loosing their faith, and then not so much them finding it again, but being found. I found it a hopeful nod that God may be working way out of bounds of language or any limitations we may put on Him. I hope… I hope…

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Acquiescence & Mystery; Jonah


“Acquiescence & Mystery; Jonah” 48″x48″ Oil on Wood, 12/14

Veronese's Allegory of Love III, Respect.  About 6'x6', National Gallery London

Veronese’s Allegory of Love III, Respect. About 6’x6′, National Gallery London (You can see the liberties I took with this composition, especially when constructing what would become the whale.)

It is quite an endeavor to spend a whole semester on one work of art, but in the Fall of 2014, any moment I had for studio time was poured into Acquiescence and Mystery; Jonah. Continuing on the body of four pieces I am doing riffing off of the allegories of love by Veronese, this painting proved to be an exceptional challenge. From the metallic whale I chose to create, to the several attempts it took to figure out how I wanted to create ribbons of water, I felt the painting kept me on my artistic toes. I learned a variety of things from never save the lead character in a work until the last, to letting a painting simply do what it wants to do no matter what your original objectives were. I was very happy with the results but it took a while to get there.

Here is process shot for the piece.  I used a variety of reference material to get what I needed even referencing a Copley painting I love in the background of the painting.

Here is process shot for the piece. I used a variety of reference material to get what I needed even giving a nod to a Copley painting I love for the background. There are some fun little things that happen in retrospect with these pictures.  For example in the 9th painting ribbon drips appear only to be gone in the 10th, and being so disgusted with them I didn’t attempt them again until the 13th painting.  Creating is always a learning experience.

I created a model of the whale out of clay to help me to figure out perspective and lighting.

I created a model of the whale out of clay to help me to figure out perspective and lighting.

Here is an image of the piece as it was displayed at Willamette University at the Rogers W. Rogers gallery in the Spring.

Here is an image of the piece as it was displayed at Willamette University at the Rogers W. Rogers Gallery in the Spring of 2015.

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Quiet Paris, Quiet London

A 360 view of The Dove, Hammersmith, this quiet beautiful pub next

A 360 view of The Dove, Hammersmith in London, this quiet beautiful pub boasts of being one of the oldest in London.   It’s practically next door to the humble home of William Morris (Kelmscott House Museum) that Siobhan Wall also suggested.  Adventuring to the two together was well worth the endeavor.

Quiet London lists the Tate, and unlike the Tate Modern this one is absent the crowds.  It's also full of a room of William Morris statues, and rooms of delightful British painters like Stanley Spencer.

Quiet London lists the Tate, and unlike the Tate Modern this museum is absent the crowds. It’s also bursting with gigantic  Henry Moore statues, and rooms of delightful British painters like Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, and Walter Richard Stickett.

I’ll confess that I’d be happy to avoid big cities when traveling.  Smaller towns to me so often feel more humane, easily manageable and connected to the people of the community.  With that said listening to a Rick Steve’s Program two weeks prior to running amock in France and England with 20 students in May I was introduced to Siobhan Wall and her books Quiet Paris and Quiet London.  I had them shipped to me ASAP before leaving.  What a relief her suggestions were in the hubbub of these gigantic urban centers of 2.2 and 8.3 million respectively.

Listing places of worship, bookshops, museums, gardens, cafes, pubs, galleries, shops, libraries and restaurants.  Her suggested locations came across as authentic, local and sincere. Siobhan’s recommended shops were absent of trinkets of the Eiffel tower or Big Ben, and the restaurants she advised one to visit had good and interesting food without large televisions blaring on the wall.  I never felt she steered me wrong.  The only thing I wish she had was maps her books so I could of easily found what suggested places were close to other locations.

Greensmiths in London was just a treat for lunch with fresh sandwiches, quiche, salads, and the like.

Greensmiths in London was just a treat for lunch with fresh sandwiches, quiche, salads, and the like.

Deyrolle, a taxidermy shop for over 180 years in Paris was on her list, unfortunately when I swung by it was closed.

Deyrolle, a taxidermy shop for over 180 years in Paris was on her list, unfortunately I was only able to drop by when it was closed. The window still was well worth the peek!

In Paris I had a very adventurous group of students with me that traipsed all over the map to Siobhan Wall’s suggestions:  a bustling ramshackle bookstore (Shakespeare and Co), a great store of vintage tchotchkes in a hoot of a neighborhood (Au Petit Bonheur La Chance), a shop where all the goods were made by nuns and monks (Artisanat Monastique), a delightful hand made ceramic studio in a beautiful neighborhood (La Tuile a Loup), and an extraordinary stationary store (Ecritore).  We attempted to end our adventurous day with a restaurant Siobhan suggested, L’Estaminet des Enfants Rouges.

Roaming the streets looking for the address the students saw a brasserie ending in “Enfants Rouges” and dove in saying, “This is it!” our feet weary from our day of walking ten miles all over Paris.  As I looked around at  the T.V.s and drone of blaring music, I said “This can’t be it, Siobhan would never list a place like this!”  I darted outside but still couldn’t find the placed she listed, and desperate for food we simply ate.  Once done, I told the students, “There is a really interesting indoor farmers market next door, we should go over and check that out.”  We did, only to find it closing and the pub of our longings in the back corner.  Darn it…. Well, next time I’m in Paris I’ll know where I’m going.

Found in Montparnasse, Musee Bourdelle, was one of my favorite finds.  Likely the only non-French person there, I found Antonine Bourdelle's (1861-1929) studio, work and home to be inspiring.

Found in Montparnasse, Musee Bourdelle, was one of my favorite finds she suggested. Likely the only non-French person there, I found the French sculptor Antonine Bourdelle’s (1861-1929) studio, work and home to be inspiring.

Pick up the books – they’re a wonderful breath of fresh air.  She also has one for Amsterdam and New York, let’s just say if going to those locations two books will be added to my library.

My

Near Luxembourg gardens and open since 1845 Polidor was a haunt of Victor Hugo and Hemingway and the like.  In this photo, my colleague Caitlin, her mother and our friend Elizabeth wait for a table.  A French man wanting to grab a seat but seeing the line that formed about ten minutes later left abruptly muttering loudly, “Tourists!”  Well, if you lived there after awhile Paris likely would be a bit of a love/hate relationship I am sure.

A shelf of vintage characters of old, I had a hard time pulling students and myself out of the Paris shop Au Petit Bonheur La Chance.

A shelf of vintage characters of old, I had a hard time pulling students and myself out of the Paris shop Au Petit Bonheur La Chance.  Let’s just say I bought a little someone that likely will appear in a piece in the future.

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Puppy Butt Leaves the Portland Airport

PDX airport show in action.

PDX airport show (Greta Blalock the director of the Portland Art Program with some of my students).

a1dlN3D5yEeC2-q3nOme0Gl3e674LIRP3jZge3ARCckNDouL5KFC4WAed9mx3Gtdrn1SozSWtfOEVF-KtiGGlDogfEpQ-HkgrpJCLqNhMrNDh1wRY6GFbzNVFPMGJ0vf79brf2jLLrY3dXq_1Yt5RqAigqxqw5346Rb00dAIDx5BLpUjlSUh9l9uRX-A4F7knNPayeRxcj3oO2vYYjEpgTrQlx7Nothing like having 14 cases of artwork up in Terminal A at the Portland Airport for six months to get some eyes on the work. I pick up all the art Monday. It has been a blessing to receive so many kind comments about all the art (almost making one woman miss her plane), and assuring to know as an artist that the work is out there doing the job it was made to do.

Thanks for the many kind comments from colleagues old acquaintances and friends alike who have been a bit surprised to run onto some familiar characters while trying to catch a flight (and yes Becky Ankeny I did get your note).

I can now say I have been tweeted by an actor in a soap opera, and had work become part of an inside joke. I had a very fine fellow Patrick send me a note that he and his girlfriend were debating if a packing peanut was supposed to be part of one of my shadow boxes (damn packing peanut –although it did give me an idea for a piece), and Patrick also wrote:

Mr. Murphy front side.

Mr. Murphy front side.

The one with the puppy backside has created a new inside joke between us – “puppy butt.” For example, after a long plane ride you rise from the airplane seat stiffly, and the other asks… “Oh, do you have puppy butt?”

Mr Murphy the piece he’s referring to (named after my fourth grade teacher), has a dog puzzle piece attached to his back side simply because I thought he needed a loyal companion with him. Lookie there, art on its own begins telling its own story…

Thanks to Greta Blalock the director of the PDX art program and the Portland Airport for a great experience!

Thoughtful artist with art.

Thoughtful artist with art.

A new piece

A new piece “Town Crier” can be seen in this case along with “Traveler” that was one of the most inquired about pieces in the show.

Art in action.  Janitorial staff and all....

Art in action. Janitorial staff and all….

puppybutt

Mr. Murphy’s “puppy butt” revealed…

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