Sunday, January 31, 2010

Things Done; Love Reclaimed

I was telling Joanna my story about how I have a history of not finishing things, and she was having none of it.
"What about your blog posts?" she said. "Almost every one is a completed piece."

"Well, yeah," I said,"...but I don't finish larger projects."

"What about those old artists books and visual journals of yours you've posted?
"What about your geography books?
"What about your movies?"

She was really annoying me.
My annoyance made me wonder, Why am I so attached to this story?

I suppose because it was the things I didn't finish that drew scorn, when I was young.
My favorite--because clearest--example is the Christmas my WASP grandmother sent my sister $100 and me $50, saying my hardworking, ambitious sister had "earned" more.

I resisted that judgement, but I felt ashamed, and shame is like tooth pain:
it may only be a small part of your being, but its red-hot pulsations take over everything.

After talking to Joanna, I started to think about things I have finished, and they are many.
They were often outside the system of recognition and praise, however--not class assignments or work tasks. They tended to be things I did for fun.
(I put that in the past tense, but that's often still the case.)

For instance, when I was an eleven/twelve-year-old horse-crazy girl, I wrote, illustrated, and published (on construction paper) three issues of a horse magazine.
I probably felt ashamed I'd only done three.

As an adult, I think three is a triumph, working in isolation as I was.
We were living in Copenhagen, where the sun appeared dimly for maybe six hours a day. My parents' marriage was falling apart, as was my beloved mother's mental state. I spent a lot of time after school sitting in the dark afternoons holding her hand as she lay on the couch.

I'm surprised these magazines even survived, but I found them a few years ago. I should get a scanner, maybe...these'd read better, but anyway, here's a sample.

The Horsemans Monthly, February, March, and April, 1973

Of course I could fill in the blanks of the Points of a Horse (below) when I was twelve. Looking at the answer key fills me with nostalgia. These were words of love: mane, fetlock, chestnut, hock, withers.
We were in Denmark for a semester while my professor father taught political science for a term. Sometimes on Sundays we went to the Charlottelund racetrack, to watch trotting races, which I wrote about here.
The next month, below, I had to print a correction ("Mistake," lower left) because I had mistakenly copied out the steps of a pacer, not a trotter. (I have some dim recollection that there is a difference between pacing and trotting; but what it is, I have no idea.)I can't fill in the crossword puzzle I made up either.
Q: "The ____ and the Arabian are the main ancestors of the Thoroughbred."
A: The Barb.

This was the spring that Princess Anne of the UK was engaged to Mark Phillips, and since Anne is an equestrian (she competed in the 1976 Olympics!), I collected articles about her (below, left) and her horse life--as well as anything else remotely horse related.
Three years after I made these, in the midst of my parents' divorce, my father told me he was disappointed in me because I wasn't a genius.
No doubt he wasn't at his best when he said it, but I wonder what he had in mind. And why I took it to heart.

When I look at these magazines, I see I haven't changed. The wonderful mishmash approach is exactly how I still approach my passions.
Would I have ever loved the Internet when I was a kid.
I could have had a fantastic horse blog.
On the other hand, I love that these are handmade, right down to their Scotch-tape bindings, so I'm grateful I've lived with both technologies.

I'm going to be fifty next year.
I am entirely ready to perceive myself more clearly.
The condemnation of my long-dead grandmother (godblessher) and all the other shaming voices turn into the powdery whispers of powerless ghosts.

So, thanks, Joanna, for seeing through my story. I may not be the sort of detail-oriented person you'd hire as a bookkeeper, but I'm certainly capable of finishing things I care about.
You can annoy me with the truth anytime.


ArtSparker said...

Would be fun to compare childhood productions some time - we put on puppet dramas and a couple of plays (my sister scrunched into a red wagon or something like that, pretending to be Madeleine Usher, on one occasion).

Fresca said...

What a great idea for a group project!

We probably all have these treasures like these (or memories of them). Weren't we all creative geniuses when we were 9?
For instance, a friend showed me marionettes of goats she made out of cotton balls when she was eight, and honestly, they're as good as anything she ever made. Which is to say, pretty wonderful!

ArtSparker said...

Been thinking about your father, wondering if he was one of those people who thought he was a genius...a dear friend has such a Dad, who is always requesting my friend to read and make suggestions on his fantasy opus.

I mean, aside from that he and your grandmother behaved appallingly. There's some literary validation...I think you join Jo March in Little Women in being monetarily disapproved of by a senior relative - Amy got to go to France with her cranky Aunt instead of Jo, as I recall.

Ginga Squid said...

How amazing to have kept all of those works from your childhood!

Don't take it to heart what your father said, I believe that men say things which they mean to be taken in an entirely different way than we, as women, actually take them.

I find that if I mainly disregard what the men in my life have ever said, I am quite happy!

femminismo said...

Great comments and I have a book on my shelf (of poetry and such ... and football ... all things I was trying to understand) that I compiled also. You have touched on a tender subject that many of us can't give up: the story of "unfinished" projects. I had the same idea ArtSparker did. I'm going to take pics of my book and link to this blog post of yours.

Fresca said...

ARTS: I've never read "Little Women," but somehow figured out that Jo was the cool one to be... So thanks for that!

As for my father, actually it's sort of the reverse of your friend's dad: I believe mine always saw the things he didn't like in himself in me.
He and I could have used the same sort of loving support and help from our fathers, which neither of us got. (His was far worse, in fact.)
I understand that now, but I didn't at fifteen.

GINGA: I think my mother saved those magazines. I don't save very much, but I sure am glad to have them.

Your advice made me laugh because that was pretty much my sister's advice to me when we were teenagers too:
"Don't take it so seriously."
It took me a couple decades longer to learn how to practice that kind of discernment and detachment.
Still, my father's comment takes a distant second to "I'm proud of you," which would have been nice... : )

FMISMO: Cool! I look forward to seeing your book! Football?

momo said...

Oh, those cruel voices from our childhood make me want to defend our tender childhood selves! I'm so glad you still have those magazines! For about 3 years, 6-9, I WAS a horse, or at least I tried to be one every waking minute with my best friend Vicky Duea.

Yes, sometimes other people point to our stuff and say "what about that? doesn't that count?" the way my dissertation director did when I said I had written nothing, and she pointed out that I had written about 60 pages worth of stuff.

Fresca said...

MOMO: I didn't know you were a horse too!
My best friend in 4th and 5th grade and I were too. We used to canter around the playground at recess---as horses, of course, not as riders.

I suppose everyone heard some cruel voices in childhood, and probably the adults who said them rarely knew their power..

It really helps to have other people see us, doesn't it? Thanks for your insight.

deanna said...

This post is beautiful. You holding your mother's hand in darkness chokes me up. Then there's your wonder and joy in creating, and I relate as other people do. My brother and I produced "The Kook Tribune," influenced, I'm sure, by Monty Python episodes. I found our issues in the attic once, will have to search again for them.

I appreciate your wisdom in trying to understand your dad from today's viewpoint, but oh, how much better to have been given encouraging words back then! I ache for your 15-year-old self.

bink said...

I always have loved these books. They are just amazing... and talk about finishing things! As a child I started such things, but never got more than one finished, let alone three!

I was never a horse as a kid. However, my little brother wanted to be one... and since I wanted to be a cowboy, it worked out just dandy.

iloveyoumauralynch said...

These are just BRILL f-cheska---so completely you! You are just in this continual process of returning to your true self!
You're inspiring me to pull out some things I did as a kid---I think it's mostly a few poems my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Hill compiled (of course(!) my thing was more words, not visual artistic ability)
I too was a horse---I remember galloping around on all fours in the side yard of my next-door neighbor Carolyn McCalla's house. Now there was a horse girl---she actually collected plastic horse statue-thingies---you know---whatever they're called---the kind girls collected. Never understood why you would want to collect them, though, when you could just go out into the thick cool grass of the north side of their yard and just BE one 'til your knees hurt too much!

The Crow said...

See?! You have any number of books in you!

Fresca said...

Thank you all.
Im sorry I'm not keeping up with my comments so well the past few days---feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything, but I LOVE reading them.

Would love to see everyone's early efforts!