Art is the reason for every season of our lives. My grandmothers were both artists in their own way. One loved to paint and write. She made ceramics, too. I just found this deep blue sugar and creamer set she made for me when I got married a million years ago and had picked out a pattern of stoneware called "Sea Spray." The blue glaze my grandmother chose was a perfect match. As was she.
Getting pregnant at 17 changed my life. Marrying at a young age was a choice I made because I had a family--not because it was something I had always wanted. If my late teens were more traditional, I may not have ever gotten married. I wasn't one of those little girls who planned her wedding. Never dreamt of anything but using a sword and/or a pen. But, I was happy to have had the chance to create life. And, never once felt even an inkling of resentment. My son is absolutely the best "art" I've ever made--that sense of awe, wonder and deep-love was reflected through sacrifice so my son could have EVERY opportunity to pursue anything he wanted. My kid's biggest complaint is that I did too much. Only children who have good parents imagine that to be a bad thing.
There's an art to being a good parent--LL Bean turtlenecks and all! I never showed any cleavage and wore these oversized sack-like dresses, only "updating" my look when I went on tour as the #PopCultureProfessor; my son was 24 at that point. And, no, he wasn't terribly happy to see me make the transition from mom-jeans to low-riders, but, I lived my life exclusively for him for a quarter of a century. It was literally my turn. The thing is, I'm always my son's mother. He comes before me, even today. Changing my clothes or my hair doesn't change who I am, it only changes how people see me--which was something I needed. For many reasons.
Speaking of which, neither of my grandmothers lived to see me on tour. That's something I regret. Both would have been so proud. I simultaneously loved and hated being on the road. The crowds at Comic Con are fun...at first. Maybe a year or so in, I was haplessly caught, and subsequently crushed, by a throng. Luckily, I walk with this diamond willow cane--it's great at getting things off of the high shelves in grocery stores, but it's also good for defending yourself--which I had to do when I realized the crowd wasn't moving, and neither were my lungs. Living in airports (and on-stage) began to lose its luster after that.
I lived with one of my grandmothers, Eva--even marrying from her home. She did exquisite copper-tooling, needlework, quilting, knitting...she made my clothes until I was 12. That's why I love textiles today and always follow fashion, even attending a Gucci event for their resort collection. But my grandmother was more than just a designer/seamstress. She also used silk threads and glass beads to create portraiture. It's called Japanese Bunka embroidery and it looked almost like water colors on canvas. I wish I had more of her work, but her things were quickly divided after she passed. Even though I lived with her, and even though I hosted five days of "shiva" at our house (where well-meaning people would ring the door bell as early as 10am and leave close to midnight--and, no, that's not typical), I wasn't allowed to touch anything or take anything. Maybe a year after she passed, I was given a box of old glassware--basically, the things no one else wanted. But I cherish it all, like my other grandmother's rosary. I'm not a Catholic, but it still hangs next to my bedside, another in my car. All made of Connemara marble--native to my grandmother's homeland.
My grandfather was also an artist. He could draw, and pretty much fix anything with his talented hands. For a turn, he was a photographer, too. I have a portrait of my grandmother painted by my grandfather over an original photograph he took of her. She was pregnant with my father at the time. I remember when she told me about that...her hands quickly moving to work the needle as her skin, like crepe paper, made great efforts to stretch over her arthritic bones and protruding veins. She wore the same coral lipstick every day. And, white face powder. Lots of it. I have the same ethnic hair that she did. She would put unheated curlers in her hair for five minutes and it would hold it's shape--like steely wires wrapped around tubes the size of a soda can. My Irish grandmother, "Ma," was a ginger with big blue eyes that I still see in her children and grandchildren. She always got perms, but I believe her hair was naturally curly--the perm was just something that carried over from her childhood and became as common as breathing for her. She never colored her hair and still had red in it well into her 90's.
I miss them both. So much.
Ma never cooked; she just drank Sanka and once in a while, might have had a nibble of brown bread or headcheese. And, Reese's peanut butter cups! How could I forget. On a special occasion, she might have a scoop of coffee ice cream, or a root beer float. Never drank any alcohol though. According to Ma, there were no pubs in Ireland. She hated the stereotype about the Irish being fond of things like whiskey. Of course, the irony is that my Ma was from County Cork...in and around Midleton. Guess where Jameson comes from? Midleton. It was quite interesting to me to learn in Ireland that gin is more popular than whiskey, and, that lager beats Guinness in bar tabs, too. Meanwhile, I drank a glass (or three) of whiskey every day while there. And, sharing a pint of Guinness with a friend was equally welcome. The pub culture in Ireland is so different from the bar-scene in the States. I miss it. As well as all my friends there. Ma never got to go back to Ireland, so I made the trip for her. I never felt so comfortable anywhere in my life.
I also traveled on behalf of Grandma-Eva; her baby-brother fought in World War II with Patton. He died in Germany before the Battle of the Bulge trying to save a fallen soldier. He's still there, buried in the Netherlands. Outside of a second cousin visiting, no one from my side had ever been to Uncle Nady's grave. A wonderful Dutch family takes care of it now. I owe them a debt of gratitude (and a package) for volunteering after my visit. Funny how the nature of each trip affected me. I lost two pant sizes while in Germany and Eastern Europe, yet felt heavier upon my return. And, though I gained weight in Ireland, I felt lighter, happier...the happiest I've been in the last three years.
Ma was abandoned by the man she loved. And, after that relationship came to its abrupt end, she never married again. She never dated either. One-man woman. I've been abandoned, too. It's interesting how our souls seem to share karma with the people we come from. Ma never really talked about what happened. She was incredibly strong that way. Steely, even. Meanwhile, I cry nearly every day. But her fierceness is in me. Somewhere. I'm sure of it....
Grandma-Eva was happily married for nearly fifty years and after I left her house, married a second time (at 77 years young!) to a man who had been a paratrooper in World War II. Boy, did he love her. He was really good looking, if not a little rough-around-the edges. He was a trucker after he came home from the war. The way he looked at my grandmother was as if he had finally found Heaven. She was quite beautiful, too--even into her 90's. A polyglot, she spoke multiple languages, was a genius with numbers and could cook a pot-roast like nobody's business! And, no one was better at throwing a party than my grandmother. Infamous for her hearty laughter and big, welcoming smile, she was always holding court--the life of every gathering, big or small.
I resemble that side. The ageless skin. The ample assets...all up front! The shapely legs. Hourglass figure. And, I definitely inherited the personality. As well as the affinity for languages--I'm fluent in many and can actually read in nearly every language (even the dead ones). It doesn't mean I have an extensive vocabulary, but I know the letters and sounds, the syllabaries and symbols. I remember the day I realized that I could read in nearly every language. It felt as if I were cracking the code on the world. In many ways, that has turned out to be very true. I've yet to study languages like Mandarin and Japanese, but my brother has. Between the two of us, we could travel anywhere in the world. And I think between the two of us, we have.
Art isn't just a pencil on a sketchpad, or hands on clay. It's in how we recognize ourselves within our families. I've never heard either of my grandmothers described as "artists," but both were. Truly. They lived opposite lives in many ways, yet both came together in me, the way I blend colors on a canvas. They decorated me and my life, and, continue to, even though both died within three months of each other eight years ago. No wonder I'm so lonely. I've found there's an art to that, too. And, sadness. Or rather, the execution of it.
Thanksgiving happens this week in the States. It's a holiday about home, family and the art of not just cooking, but eating as well. Most of my family is 500-1,000 miles away. I literally have one blood-relative nearby at the moment. That's the problem with being brave...you are able to go on amazing adventures, take risks, and do things others may never get to do in their lifetimes, and yet, having courage also means you often find yourself far afield. I'm not sure I've found "home" yet, but there is definitely an art to looking for it.
Living is an art, too. Some never stray more than 20 miles from "home," tethered there like a falcon wearing blinders on a perch. I may wander around the globe, but I'm just as tethered, nearly as blind. Perhaps that is why I usually travel alone. It's the only time I have opportunity to really see outside of myself and the people and places that at least feel like home. Painting is like that for me, too. So is photography. My camera is always in my hand--even if just walking to the little Mexican place in the village. I see art everywhere I go. In everything. And nearly every person I meet.
Faces! I love faces. Perhaps that is why I am a good teacher. I see individuals as such. Recognize their faces. See art reflected in the smiles deep within their pupils. My pupils.
Art saves me from myself. You do, too, dearest readers. And that, that is why I smile. For art. For you.