Monday, October 29, 2012

Claudia Carlson, age 18, journal entry May 24, 1975, Brooklyn, NY

This old flesh and it’s hers. I see how wasted she is. He hair was once so black you could see blue (of reflected sky?) in it. It is gray now and wispy-sad. Her stomach protrudes like a pregnant woman’s. An odd melon, the frost of the vine is so thin its sap retreating. A vine just waiting for the last frost, or is it the first? The frost that all the farmers wait for, the frost that signals winter killing the crops. Snow. We used to play in the snow. She was ever so young then, her teeth and eyes were always wet and so white. And she was tall then with that marvelous beauty mothers always have. She throws snow at me, I laugh dodging the crisp wet. Giggling we fall down. All the snow the world, mother it is ours then, a moment of being. No other words can express it, our day.
Walking, we are walking to the car? Our little blue English Ford Anglia. I know it is cold out and night for as we cross the street I feel that brown of the night. But where we are it is light. I think that light must emanate from the bag of warm peanuts we carry. They were so good those peanuts. I have never again tasted any so good as those. Night, holding your hand as we walk to the car after the show. The bag of warm peanuts.
Today you threw-up when you ate a pretzel.
When you eat and work you carry that bewilderment Grandaddy had before he died, when he was so so old.
He would slowly wheeze over to his chair of 50 years and arthritically drop himself into it. He would be so lost then. Then he would start to read his New Yorker but always his eyes shut and his head lolled to the side. His mouth open (pitiful yellowed teeth) and a small bit of drool would slowly make its way to his shirt. He would sleep.
Fumbling awake, his eyes lost in the past, he never could understand what this world now was doing. As time went on he understood less and less. He began to look like an aged baboon. (He always called me his “little monkey”) After awhile those bones ceased to live. My grandfather died and there was no love for him in my heart.
Today I saw how slowly she sat down. I saw that her body was as old as my grandfathers. She seemed so lost but I knew there was a difference. She is alive now because her past holds no hopeful maybes.
Oh lord, how sentimental, it makes me sick. The nauseous outpouring. It is purge. No art in this pathetic pity.
I do not cry for you, I cry for myself watching you.
Soon, if you cannot eat they will send you to the hospital. You will not leave there until you die.
When you ate your potatoes and sour cream tonight you hardly seemed aware of the mess of food in and around your mouth. I was embarrassed. Sin of disdain. I was embarrassed. I hate myself for that.
When you inquired of me and my visiting friend Lisa [Lisa Berger] if you looked horrible, I was a traitor. I gave you the perfunctory answer, “No, no mother, you look fine.” Traitor. I should carry a sign pronouncing me guilty of nontruth in the face of cancer.
People die ugly. I am not expected to love the physical that is, I must love that which was. How lucky I am that her mind is still hers. Or unlucky. She remembers her distrust and lack of faith in me. I have earned such disappointment.
Why couldn’t I do what I should have? Why wasn’t I even part of what you wanted me to be? I am your Judas. Your daughter who does not keep the irritation out of her voice.
I hate you for being sick. How dare you be dying. Why were you so damn self-destructive? I will die believing that your 30 years of smoking were your suicide.
You are just as selfish as I am. But I am young—you have every excuse. I have no right to ask you to die like a saint. You die as you lived, intensely. Your life seeped with bitterness and a strange child-like hope. How can I ever explain all your complexities and simplicity to another person? The brilliancy and faith in the impossible. How could a mind like yours believe in astrology? Or is it that only your mind could justify such a thing?
Poor Lisa. I invited her here not knowing how sick mom had gotten. I think I shall have to send her home again. I don’t want to make her live through your death agonies. It is not right.
Perhaps you will just keep fading. I am glad Dad is coming tomorrow.
Tomorrow, later.


I had a journal I lost in the fire, that was much more detailed about my life at 18 and the final year of my mother’s life. I though I’d lost all the writing from that year. Then today, in one other journal I didn’t know I had, I found the entry above.
My mother went to the hospital a day later and died. My friend Lisa stayed with me the whole time as I waited at home, spared that trip and guilty I didn’t go. My grandmother and “Aunt” Shirley told me my mother essentially drowned, slipped into a coma, and only in death looked calm. My father and stepmother came and took me to Long Island. Neighbors broke in and stole anything of value including my mother’s lovely silver Mexican jewelry. There were three more funerals that spring. Around the time my mother died, my father’s brother had a heart attack in his sleep and Dad with the police found him in bed three days later. Awful time.
The only thing I changed was the spelling, I let spell check fix my mistakes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ability to catch a likeness & inherent facial recognition

I read an article in New Scientist about super-recognizers. People with a freakish ability to recognize faces. Useful in law enforcement, such as matching blurry survalence screencaptures to mug shots or recognizing persons of interest despite their wearing a Mets cap and purple lipstick.

While I am not a super-recognizers, I suspect I am closer to the top of that bell curve. When my husband and I attend events or watch TV I'm constantly recognizing people and he can't. But he frequently recognizes voices while I rarely can.

I've been drawing portraits a long time. I love looking at faces. People, including other artists, will  say it must have taken me years of practice to be able to capture a likeness. I nod in agreement, not wanting to hurt their feelings, but it just isn't so. Yes, it has taken time to get comfortable with the materials, such as watercolor, ink, pastels, and now digital. What I don't tell them is this, I was able to do it the first time I tried.

When I was nine years old my mother, at one time a dabbler in art, sat me down and put a pad of good charcoal paper in my lap and handed me a stick of charcoal. Up to this point I'd only drawn the usual princesses and horses with crayons in a style that would be universally recognized as uninfluenced by observation of reality.

"Draw me" she said.

I remember that first portrait so clearly, gauging the widths and planes, the way some parts of her face seem to repeat themselves in style—a signature pointiness in ears and nose wings...what I now think of as fractals of facial development. I am back in our den, in our fine small house in West Hartford, the scratch and slur of my lines echoing my mother's face.

20 minutes later she demanded to see what I'd done.
She looked startled and then pleased. It looked like her. After that, I got extra art lessons.

I don't know if this ability is a genetic gift or oddity of development, but my father, Elof Carlson, as a young man, before he pursued a career as a geneticist, was able to draw portraits that also captured a likeness.

Unlike the super recognizers I do forget faces and almost always names. I'll walk by someone and get a flash of recognition...if you see me on the street and I'm staring at you while alternately looking off to my left it isn't sleepwalking or lack of meds, I know I know you and cannot approach because your name is a blank. However, your nose or chin will stay with me, until next time then.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reading, poetry self-help column and diversions

Since I've been working too much and creating too little lately, I wanted to inspire myself now that the BIG freelance job is over (sounds of cheering).

I bought a paperback of Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual. So far, I like it. He explains clearly, based on a lifetime of writing and teaching. For instance Kooser says he may revise a poem up to 40 times "to revise toward clarity and freshness, and I hope that after I have labored over my poems for many hours they look as if they'd been dashed off in a few minutes, the way good watercolor paintings look." More to add when I finish the book.

I took out Mary Oliver's Rules for the Dance from the library. She covers prosody just perfectly and has a short but lovely collection of older classic poems to illustrate her points.
And just in case you think I've stopped reading my usual YA fantasy books, here are 3 quick reviews:

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen: first in a trilogy, a group of orphan boys are secretly trained to impersonate the lost prince. I found it totally engaging, the narrator Sage is clever and mischievous, and faced with awful choices if he wishes to survive, for only one boy can claim the throne. Engrossing, went on a bit too long in spots. The climax no surprise. I'd give this one an A-

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. Kindle has kept this fan waiting 10 years for her next book and this is a Jane Austen homage using a Pride and Prejudice meets Emma as an armature. It is funny, lively, and not very true to the historic period, but hey, it is a fine diversion. I loved the first person narrator Althea who must force herself to marry a wealthy man in order to literally keep the roof over her head. She is in fine form when it comes to manipulating her stingy and heartless step-sisters who jealously hold the purse-strings since they inherited all the wealth. At times the 21st century poked through too much, but it was amusing all the way. I laughed out loud. B+

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Cyborg Cinderella in a dystopia that faces plague and possible invasion from the nasty folks on the moon. I know it sounds nuts—in a Flash Gordon way—but this is a delightful revamping of the familiar fairy tale. The partially human heroine is a mechanic and must obey the whims of her stepmother in a society that disenfranchises cyborgs (and augmented humans). At times the plot seemed to take too long and some of the secondary characters are under developed. We feel for our plucky self-abasing Cinder. More books to follow and I am hopeful this author will improve, this was fun, original, and I look forward to the next installment. B+

Paintshop Pro, from iPad to iMac

I saw great reviews for the new Sketchbook Pro (version 6) drawing program for the computer. Introductory price of $29. Since I've been using the pared down version on my iPad, I knew I liked it. So, yes, I got the full version for a full computer. Sketchbook Pro is so much cheaper than the industry leader Corel Painter 12. I know Sketchbook has fewer features, but hey, at 1/15th the price... deal! I can bring the files into Photoshop for the things it can't do.

There is more you can do of course on a program designed for a full operating system and plenty of memory, and I also used my Wacom tablet and took advantage of pressure sensitivity. Two hours later I had done a self-portrait, graphic novel style, a tough as nails version of me (yes, a bit younger looking), influenced by watching the movie The Hunger Games the night before. The middle aged Catniss Carlson? Except for a bow and arrow, I'd have to cut contestants down with my number 11 blade X-Acto knife.

Jim suggested a great article at Lifehacker about practice, the kind that only helps a little (mindless or overly repetitive; such as how I did piano lessons: start at beginning, make a mistake, stop, start over and repeat--so only able to play beginning well!) and mindful (working out problems and trying multiple solutions).  With this study, I thought about how to balance line with color so that it didn't get too finished, I wanted to keep a sketchy loose feel. I have plans to illustrate a picture book and want to develop the level of skills to do it. I was also dealing with a light source that had no strong direction and wanted to see how much of the purple shirt I should reflect back into the face.

What should I do next? I am frightfully bad at doing whole scenes, if I take it piece by piece, try this, try that, I may finally get the level of abstraction I need to do a landscape with a narrative event, i.e., an illustration.

Self portrait Sept 3, 2012, 1st Sketchbook pro attempt.