Monday, July 30, 2012

MY GREYHOUND, MY SON

We've adopted a greyhound from Virginia Greyhound Adoption.  His racing name was Atom Adam but Ben and I have shortened that to Adam.  He was placed with us after a series of screenings and a home visit with two other greyhounds.  They wanted to find a good fit for our dachshund Basil - and that was part of the plan.  We needed a friend for Basil, another dog to fit the family dynamic. The dogs in the family should be more than our dogs. They should be each other's dogs.

Ever since Hannah the Labrador died, Basil has been a little too devoted to me.  I didn't want that kind of life for him. There had to be more to life than me.  He needed a canine companion, and more dimension to his doggy life.

And so we were placed with Adam. Or rather, Adam was placed with us.  What an adorable creature!  He's small for a male, and a beta male at that.  And he likes you to hold his paw. Then when you put it down after shaking, he lifts up his other paw.

He's curious and calming, and there's something very soothing about his presence. Perhaps it is his beauty and thinness, and his big doe like eyes.  It's like having a deer in the home.  He moves so gracefully. His nature is silent, curious and sweet.

Basil really likes him.  We go on walks and they sniff the same things. One is tall the other short. But they're a team.

When Adam goes into the garden and trots around the borders, sometimes he gets the notion to run. And when he does, you better look out.  Suddenly he's eating up the ground.  Our garden contracts beneath his feet, so that he's reached the door before you've even realized he was half way across the lawn.

Yesterday morning when I let him outside, there was a deer in the yard.  They looked at each other for one split second. Then there was a chase! What a picture to start off my day.

Learning the stairs was difficult.  As Ben says, Adam is like the man who fell to earth. Everything is new to him.  But the stairs were a particular challenge. He stood on them, like a terrified faun, as we lifted one hind leg, then moved a front leg forward, speaking soothingly all along - and as Basil waited at the top of the stairs, wagging his tail encouragingly.  It was like teaching someone to dive into the deep end of a swimming pool.  I understood him perfectly.  Because I still can't dive into the deep end of a swimming pool.

The other morning, as I was taking my customary walk around the neighborhood, I passed my Lebanese friend.  Her house is set up like a pre-school - with children's primary colored buckets hanging on her white picket fence - and little playhouses set on the front patio.   There's also a dog bowl of water for passing dogs - like mine.  That's her way of being part of the neighborhood.

"Oh!" she cried, when she caught sight of Adam. "You have a saluki!"

"A greyhound," I told her.

"Same family,"  she said.  She had once been in the Saudi desert, she told me, during Ramadan - in a place where they trained salukis.  All they had in the middle of the desert was Bedouin tents, sand and salukis. "It was one of those pictures you carry in your heart for the rest of your life," she reflected.

I told her I wondered if I might have a thing about legs.  Why was it, I asked her, that I had one dog, the dachshund, with very short legs indeed, and another dog, Adam, with extremely long legs?  What did that say about me?

She laughed.

"As I told my husband," she said. "When you pick a dog, you must chose very wisely. Because sooner or later, you morph!"

As I continued my walk down Tulip and onto Fisher - I thought about what she had said. It was true that people often looked like their pets. But there was absolutely no way on earth I could ever resemble a greyhound.

Then I thought about the photograph I'd taken the first day we brought Adam home.  It was a picture of Elliot holding Adam's leash, and both of them were smiling.  Now that I have an empty nest, it was clear I had subconsciously chosen a dog that resembled my sons.  I had got a dog who was tall, thin and leggy, with pointy features but a very gentle expression!  Yes. That was it.  I'd replicated my sons in the addition of this dog.

See if you agree~

Friday, July 20, 2012

THE ELOQUENCE OF WORDLESSNESS

Some of the most eloquent people I know ~ okay, I'm referring to those I was with this morning ~ are absolutely silent.  They are sculptors. They say things wordlessly.

 Speaking as a writer, this is hard to admit.  But the work in my figurative sculpture class speaks volumes. It says more in a glance than most could say in several pages of text.

 We worked today on a standing pose. Livia had a hat on, and stood contaposto, with arms folded across her chest.  You can keep your hat on:  That might be the title of this pose.

Cindy worked, as usual, with clay that had more grog in it - and only used skewers in a Styrofoam base to keep her work steady. "Look over here," Chuck called me from his wheelchair. "Cindy doesn't need any fancy equipment."

He meant the comment as a rebuke, since I was working with an armature for the very first time, and having trouble.  My clay sank down on its frame, and the legs, no matter how much length I tried to give them, kept moving down on themselves like a collapsed blancmange.  They were shorter every minute.

When you haul out those beautiful cubes of fresh new clay at the beginning of a week, it's very tempting to use them in your work. But it's much better to use the left over dried out clay, because it keeps its shape.

In the end I opted not to articulate the legs, but to jam in a block of clay at the base, as a kind of space saver, and work on the torso first.  I'll worry about the legs when the clay has dried out, in a week or two.

Trish left her station and came across the room to help me.  "Do you want some drier clay?" she asked, leaving a massive sausage clump in my hands.  I thanked her.  Trish's work is always good.  She is a pro at abstracts and exhibits them across town.

Another sculptor, working quietly across the room, also managed to do everything I couldn't.  How did she get the legs and the body, with its particular angled posture, to stand up so lyrically? Her work was almost finished by the end of one session, while mine was an undefined blob.

Barry had wisely opted to work only on  the torso and he had captured the angle of the hip and the swell of the buttocks off to one side. He was feeling pleased.  "That will sell," said Chuck.

I tore my effort to pieces and started again from scratch.  "Concentrate on the torso,"  Chuck advised. "Don't articulate the legs.  Work on the upper section."

Meanwhile Charles, our elder statesman, sat beside me on his chair. His work stand was a pile of inarticulated nothingness. "I can't do a thing," he told me. How he wished we were working on a reclining figure! He laughed at his lack of progress,  shrugged his shoulders and tossed away his morning's work.  This was the process.

At the end of our class, Susan had almost finished her piece, in only three hours. She'd captured Livia wearing her hat, with just the right sway and movement to the torso.

Oh, the eloquence of wordlessness! It's a very good reminder to those of us determined to work in the medium of words.  Less is often more. You can say things in silence you'd never be able to communicate verbally.  As I revise my novel this week,  I'll ponder the implications.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

HOW DOES THE IMPULSE TO WRITE SOMETHING BEGIN?

The title of this post comes from John Berger's quirky and wonderful new book  Bento's Sketchbook: How Does The Impulse to Draw Something Begin?  I realized this evening that I've been asking myself a similar question over the last several weeks.  Why do I write about some things, but not about others?

Why did I not have the impulse to document my Midsummer Night's Dream party - where the rain came down and all our guests had to help set up after it had passed, and how that involvement united us;  how Anjali tossed a salad and Elliot and his friends hung lanterns in the trees, and how Felix and Jussara came from New York, and Felix performed a scene from the play, as Snout, 'The Wall'.

Why didn't I write about Charlie Cooke and Elliot performing Demetrius and Lysander underneath the fairy lights - or how at the end of the party, Helen and I lazed in the hammock which we had dubbed 'Titania's bower'.  Or how we set off Stephanie's lanterns, to fly into the night sky like tiny hot air balloons, and one got caught in our neighbor's tree and I thought it might catch fire. And how then Louise begged to know where I'd got them, and left the party in her fairy wings and the evening ended with me and Helen and Elliot's friends at 2 in the morning, passing a bottle of scotch round the kitchen, and telling Kelly how beautiful she was.

I had no impulse to record those things. Until now.

Nor did I record our visit to Williamstown, Massachusetts to see Lucy's play "The Blue Deep" - and all that wonderful family interaction - the Noel Coward moments round the breakfast table reading reviews, and the two trips up Mount Greylock...

Or the boat ride several days later down the North River in Hanover Mass with Peter Moll, where we saw nothing but blue water, reeds and trees and a Constable sky - and boys on a rope swing sailing across the river and dropping like dolls into the water below; or the record breaking heat in Washington DC, and how Helen stayed like a saint to look after Basil the dachshund?

Written in a stream like this, these subjects invite exploration, and yet I had no impulse to explore them in my blog at the time. Why not?

Was I too busy to record them?

In fact,  I did have time.  And as you see, there are colorful anecdotes here that might be embellished and formed into several stories.

Perhaps the impulse to write has to do with your relationship to those anecdotes.  If there is nothing within them that jars you, or you feel you have thought about them sufficiently, you don't much care to write about them.  It is said that conflict is the necessary ingredient to every good story.  Does this mean I haven't had my share of conflict over the last several weeks?

Not true. And yet my recent conflicts do not interest me sufficiently to explore them in a story.  Maybe they feel too pedestrian, or too forced.  The impulse to write doesn't begin (for me) with the journalist's mandate to record things. Nor does it come out of ranting.

Perhaps it begins with something rubbing against my mind. Something that puts me at odds with the material in hand. An image plus an irritation.  It's like with the oyster, irritated by something in his shell, and then spinning a yarn that transforms itself into a pearl. The impulse to write begins with a question - or a thought that demands contemplation.  When you've stopped thinking about it, you find you've finished your story.

There again, maybe I was just too busy writing a book review and revising my novel.  But where did the impulse to revise my novel come from, I might ask?  From the recognition that there is more to explore, and that I could say it better, I suppose. With questions that remain to be answered. Irritations that demand a salve.