It's just before 6am on a Monday morning. I'm having my coffee and my son is still with his dad for the long weekend. I will be heading to the cafe soon.
Yesterday I completed the first self portrait that I have attempted since my undergrad days as a drawing major at MIAD. That was in the 90's. I convinced myself during those days, that I was a failure at drawing the human figure. Yes, even after weekly 6 hour figure drawing classes with some of the greatest teachers out there. I'm still not convinced I can pull it off. But I'm at the point in my life now that I'm finally starting to realize how powerful that negative voice in my head is, and I'm trying really hard to shut it off.
The self portrait has always been a tricky thing for me. I was amazed at all the baggage it carried when I began this experiment. As *most* girls do, I had horrible self-esteem as a teenager, and as much as I tried to hide that in college, it followed me there. And wow, did it ever show up in the self-portraits. I could never look myself in the mirror and not portray myself as some boyish, ugly, angry, way older than my time....girl. Even though I was small, I still struggled with body issues and I (gasp) never saw myself as a beautiful woman.
I took this baggage into my first relationship at age 19 and we stayed together for 15 years. We were babies and looking back, we didn't have the tools to understand the loads we each carried. My ex-husband, who was also a drawing major, is an amazing portrait artist. So, for 15 years, that was not my space. Humans (in the made-up rule book of my brain) were off limits to me. Until grad school. But that's another story...
My beautiful, artistic, and smart Aunt Cindy, with whom I have looked up to my entire life, sent me a text message last night as I was going to bed. She expressed that I did not capture my "warm" expression and my "radiant" smile. She says "You look angry in the painting. Perhaps you are angry. Maybe you are struggling with the painting and not happy with it." It's this message that has me typing away this morning, trying to understand this a little better.
I feel very vulnerable to criticism with this painting. I mean, just making it and sharing it made me feel naked to the world. I know it's not my best work, but it's an attempt to try something different. I have been expressing emotion through wild animals for the past few years. My approach to this painting was to begin as if I was doing a wild animal portrait. I prefer a serious face. No tongue hanging out. Straight ahead. So I did the same. But her message has me questioning my anger and my intentions. I suppose, yes, I could say I am angry. I am not an "angry person" in general. I giggle a lot when I'm nervous and I am little in size. I'm often called cute.
I'm digging here for this little gem of insight about self image, culture and self-esteem, but I keep watching the clock because I have to go to work. Yes, I am angry, because our world is an angry place. I miss my family and I wish a lot of things were different. We are all feeling trapped inside a culture that we have collectively formed, but feel as though we are all victims of it. We are struggling so hard to be free, happy, healthy humans. I can't look myself in the mirror or the camera and giggle. I guess when it's just me and I'm looking into my own eyes, for hours, I begin to frown. The voice that says I can't make this painting is always there, so perhaps it's that voice I am frowning at.
I am happy to announce that the local online magazine Tone Madison that covers art & culture in the Madison and surrounding area, has published a piece about me, written by Sarah Witman. Please take a moment and have a read!
After graduating High School and spending 6 weeks in NYC at the pre-college program at Parsons, I knew I wanted to go to school in the city. My plan was to spend my freshman year at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and then transfer (as a Fashion Design Major) to Parsons, my sophomore year. And that's what I did. After a month in the program, I realized the Fashion Design life was not for me. I couldn't connect with any of the teachers. I couldn't find a common thread. I missed the big open spaces of MIAD and I missed my laid back mid-west friends. So one day (with deep concern of disappointing my friends and family...it took A LOT of work to get there!), I changed my major to Illustration, so I could transfer back to MIAD as a Drawing major.
This allowed me to take a Poetry class at The New School of Social Research. My teacher was William Packard. He would show up to class with his leather bound books of poetry, held tight with rubber bands. He wore a leather jacket and walked with a cane. His long finger nails would make a clicking sound as he unwrapped the rubber bands from his books. He would take out his comb and comb back his long, grey, greasy hair. Push his thick black glasses up his nose and begin reading.
Our big assignment of the semester was to write a biography of a poet. Naturally, I chose Kenneth Patchen, the poet my Uncle Fred turned me onto at a very young age. Uncle Fred gave me the phone number to call Miriam Patchen to interview her for the paper. She was in her 80's. When my professor learned I had chose to write about Patchen, he was beside himself. When he found out I would be talking with Miriam over the phone, he said to me "Tell her I'm doing well...".
You see, William Packard was a student at Stanford, in Palo Alto, in the 1950's. That's when Kenneth and Miriam moved into their home and Packard helped them move.
I did my biography, hand written (of course) and mailed the original copy to Miriam in Palo Alto. A few years later, I would take the train from Chicago to Los Angeles and my dad and Uncle Fred and I drove up the coast to spend 2 nights with Miriam in her home. I slept next to Miriam in her rock hard bed. Actually, I'm not sure I slept. I might have been a little star struck. I AM IN HER BED.
We spent 3 days together, the 4 of us, listening to Kenneth Patchen (on vinyl), chatting about life. My hand-written biography of Kenneth sitting on the coffee table. She asked me to move in with her, but at the time I was eager to move in with my boyfriend. Ha!!!!! Oh, how love can cloud our vision.
6 months later, Miriam passed away in her reading chair.
Back to NYC a few years prior, William Packard gave me a copy of his New York Quarterly, which he was the Editor of for over 30 years. The front cover, Kenneth Patchen. Packard and I wrote a few letters back and forth in the late 90's and I learned of his passing in 2002.
I'm not sure if I'm clearly expressing this, but there was a lot of magic happening there for this 19 year old girl from a small town in Illinois. I cherish these memories so much. The experience of Packard's classroom, the connection Uncle Fred gave me to The Patchen's. "Tell her I'm doing well..."
*picture top left going clockwise / that's me in my NYC dorm circa 1996!/ The New York Quarterly featuring Kenneth Patchen from 1972 / My Freshman year english notebook / Packard's signature on the gifted NYQ
It's been a busy and exciting few months. If you are in the Madison area, please pick up a copy of the March issue of Brava Magazine! There is a little write-up about yours truly!
I am still busy getting settled into my new shop and I have been adding some new PRINTS of the original large-scale paintings. I now have 4 prints available and more will be added in the next few months. I can have full-size prints made of the originals (38"x50") as well as smaller (9x12) prints. My favorite is the 20x24 print. My shop is new and I'm still working on some kinks. If you have any questions (shipping charges, print sizes, etc...) please don't hesitate to shoot me an email! And don't forget, if you live in the Madison area, you can skip the shipping charges and arrange to pick up your prints. Use coupon code FREESHIPPING when ordering :)
I am now having my t-shirt orders fulfilled through the company called Printful in California. It's perfect for a small business like mine where I cannot afford to have blank shirts in stock, ready to print. This way, you order a shirt from my shop and Printful does the printing and is shipped from California. So far I am very happy with the quality and it's opened up a few doors for me to explore some shirt designs I've had tucked away for quite some time. All my shirts are printed on either American Apparel, Alternative or Bella + Canvas. I am still offering the So It Goes shirt hand-printed on an Alternative Apparel women's burn-out t, because I love that shirt so much.
Always inspired by music, my latest t-shirt design is inspired by the Neil Young song Pocahontas, on the Rust Never Sleep album. And still in the oven, but coming very soon you will see some classic Metallica, Megadeath, Slayer and GNR inspired shirts. I have a lot of this in my arsenal, so stay tuned!
I will also be hanging work at TWO new locations in the Madison area within the next month. New paintings, new shirts, new locations....
In the meantime, you can always see my work at Johnson Public House in Madison as well as Wendigo Tavern in Stoughton. Thanks for checking in! Please drop me an email with any questions or if you just wanna say hi!
This is the third buffalo painting in the body of work that I have created in the past 2 years. The process of painting these animals is, of course, deeply personal. I have gone through a lot of transitions in these 2-3 years and through this work I am able to tap into that personal journey on a spiritual level. I have been given the opportunity to keep working, which is a huge gift. I know very little about Shamanism, but the beautiful and inspiring woman @pixielighthorse knows plenty. Her online course from 2015, centering around Buffalo, is all about *Manifestation of Visions* and the words *clarity, abundance, and prosperity* are used to describe her class. This resonates with me and helps to clarify my attraction to this mysterious and powerful animal. I have been learning to paint with honesty and to cultivate my own strong voice, as a painter, a mother, a woman. I know this is an endless journey and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to keep creating new work. (38"x50" acrylic on paper.)
To lose myself in the work. That is the ultimate goal. It's selfish. It's just for me. It's a high. It's meditation. I'm lost in the rhythm of the loud music in my studio and the dance back and forth from my painting. Pearl Jam usually does it for me, music from my youth. At least that's what it was today. I haven't reached this place in a while, where I'm just lost, in the flow, somewhat undistracted. I realize I've been listening to too many podcasts. Too much chatter. Back to the music. Thank god for that. I move quickly in a dance with the music and the painting. Up close putting paint down, back away, make choices, dance back to the work, put more paint down. Scream along to the music. I look over at the youtube video of Pearl Jam performing live in 1992 and swoon over young Eddie Vedder and feel a little sad, but grateful. I look at the clock and resist the urge to document my second mug of tea on instagram. The dance, back and forth, back and forth. The flow is so fragile and so seemingly impossible to obtain. When it is caught, it's like magic, like you are holding the secrets of the universe, something ancient and impossible to comprehend, and at any second it will disappear. I look at the clock and think about how much time I have left in the studio and that I need to clean the kitchen and do laundry.
I don't (yet) have the privilege of being in my studio every day, so it's challenging for me to create a flow when I feel like I'm constantly being interrupted. Every time I get back in the studio, it takes time for me to get back into a piece. It feels IMPOSSIBLE at first. I think to myself, this piece is never going to work...I'm done...I don't know why I'm doing this. But I know that's just chatter. Pointless. It has no meaning. The magic will only come if I pick up the brush. Embrace my solitude. Turn the music up and lose myself in the work.
Winter is finally here!!!! I'm one of those odd people that looks forward to winter. When the holiday madness is over and the quiet calm settles in. I feel like I've been going going going since July. Now I can slow down, hear my thoughts, layer up my flannels and drink endless amounts of tea and coffee....and *maybe* get some new work done!
On Christmas day this year, Jim and I visited The Wright Brothers and my grandparents. I've always meant to go have a sit, drink a beer, just hang out. The day was warm and the sun was absolutely amazing. I miss all of them so much. I've been so lucky, my entire life, to be encouraged by my family. I recognize that not everyone has that. Not every family encourages their children to do what they love, especially if that means struggling to make ends meet. But I think they have always known that it's not exactly a choice. To be an artist. At least that's not my experience. I don't remember deciding I would be one, but that's just who I am. How I see the world. How I operate inside it. And I might be a little bit stubborn, which helps.
Hopefully starting as early as next week, I am going to have some of my landscape photographsavailable for purchase at The Firefly Coffeehouse (where I am a barista 3 days a week!). I've been taking photos all these years and was recently encouraged to print them for sale. (by my mom...I should add...you know...still my biggest fan) The photographs are 5"x5" and come wrapped in a little cellophane bag. I will also have a few in frames.
The photographs have been taken over the past few years between Edgerton, Stoughton and Madison. When my son was a baby, I used to drive around in the country while he napped. Then, for a few years, my commute to work involved a route through the country. Now I just make it a point to take the long way, whenever possible. I love being in the country and I love to capture it with photos. One day, while our friend Taylor was with us on one of our country drives, I pulled over to take a photo and Oscar says to her "She does this...". I laughed, thinking about what Oscar's memories will be of all our drives in the country, going slow, pulling over to take pictures. He received a Fisher Price film camera (dead stock from 1984!) for Christmas this year...so I *may* be encouraging him to do the same ;)
Yesterday I received news that an old friend who had been fighting cancer for over 20 years took his own life. He was the first person I ever fell in love with. Teenage love. The kind you feel when you are immortal. The days were long and belonged only to us and all the trouble we could find, which was usually plenty.
I met Corby at my first job. He was the baler and I helped run the conveyor belt at the recycling end of the garbage dump. I was 15 and obsessed with anything 1960's. Corby was tall and had long beautiful brown hair that he would nervously tuck behind his ears when he talked. I was head over heels.
Teenage love must make a very specific mark on your psyche. I think my brain was permanently tattooed. Occasionally it would uncover itself, coming up in conversation with new friends or triggered by senses. One time, walking through a department store with an old girlfriend, we were approaching a display of the fragrance Sunflowers (remember that?!) and she said "Oh....watch out.......", because she knew I would be flooded with memories. Like Bunny says in Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume, "Fragrance is a conduit for our earliest memories, on the one hand; on the other, it may accompany us as we enter the next life. In between, it creates mood, stimulates fantasy, shapes thought, and modifies behavior. It is our strongest link to the past, our closest fellow traveler to the future … Fragrance may well be the signature of eternity."
And music, of course. Mark Joseph Stern describes its effects in a Slate Magazine article: "The period between 12 and 22...is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.
At the end of our relationship, Corby rejected me. First love, first rejection. I insisted we remain friends and I would heartbreakingly hang out with him and his new girlfriend. All smiles. Life goes on. Then I moved away. Corby was diagnosed with Leukemia. I went to college, traveled, got married, had a child, got a divorce, became the artist I had imagined I would become. When I was in college I would have reoccurring dreams with Corby in them. I thought of him often, and always on his birthday. I found him on Myspace, but didn't connect. His hair had turned white from the cancer treatments his body was thin and frail. We finally reunited on Facebook last year and I cherish the conversation we had on messenger. He said to me "Thank you for the pep talk and making me feel better, I could always count on that from you, always a glass half-full woman."
I had always imagined we would eventually hang out again one day. He could meet my son and we could have a few laughs about when we were young.
This morning I sit alone in my studio. It's been snowing all night and it continues to snow. I hear my neighbor outside shoveling. Scrape...scrape...scrape... The heat kicks on. I'm surrounded by bills that need paid, paintings that need completed. Yesterday, before the news of Corby's death, I painted and listened to NPR. Politics. War. Love and Hate.
My friend Jake, after losing another of his close friends way too soon, wrote something on Facebook less than 2 weeks ago that is exactly what I want to say.
" Hug each other. Take care of each other."
My deepest condolences go out to Corby's friends and family.
Last weekend Jim and I drove by a property that really spoke to us. Although we are not currently in a position to make an immediate purchase, the estate made such an impression, we wanted to know more. Perhaps just seeing the place would help us to visualize our needs as makers and start the process of building our lives together. I toured the home yesterday and I'm so glad I did. Now it feels like we are moving toward a very real and possible dream. We are now in the depths of "How do we make something like this happen?" It can feel overwhelming when you have such a solid and strong vision and you *know* you can make something great, but the funding just isn't there. It's a tumultuous path of doing what we love and feeling confident that our hard work will pay off. Sleeves rolled up, hands getting dirty. It's a good life we have.
A few weeks back I updated the Johnson Public House walls with a few new woodland creatures that I'm really happy about! If you are in the Madison area, please stop in for some good eats and drinks. I'm not feeling very ready for the holiday season, but I *did* manage to restock the small prints up at the shop.
I also started an instagram account @nataliewrighthome // Please follow me if you haven't already! Pics of my work and my world and a few tbt for good measure.
Also, check out Jim's updated website/ www.lumberingbehemoth.com and follow his instagram under the same name! He might be just the maker you are looking for!!
The locusts are buzzing, the tobacco fields are harvested and the queen anne's lace is curling up. My son started Kindergarten on the 1st. We moved to a new home at the end of July, and I am looking forward to the earth slowing down a bit. It's a bittersweet time of year as we all brace ourselves for the long Wisconsin winter. But I need some quiet and winter is good for that.
I'm as nostalgic as they come and lately I've really been missing life without all the electronics. I'm happy to have lived during a time when we didn't have Netflix and "smart" phones. I hear myself saying to my son "when I was a kid, we didn't have cell phones that could play movies, music and games." My child, much to my dismay, has seen SO MANY MOVIES in his FIVE years on this planet. Five years. I can hardly pick up a chapter book without him saying he has seen the movie.
I am overwhelmed at how much there is to *know* about our earth, and how very little time we sit and listen to it and learn from it. Our world, a meadow at sunset...if we stop and pay attention, is very entertaining. But that's a hard sell to a five year old who is mesmerized by the screen.
15 years ago, in another life, my ex and I spent time on an organic farm/ apple orchard in Vermont, as apprentices. We lived in their barn for 6 months. No running water. An outhouse. (They are dear friends and our son is named after them) I look back to that time and compare it to now. No cell phones. No internet. I had a stack of books I read that summer and I filled up a few journals. I used the landline to call my family. I took photos with film. I think about how different my experience would be now. With my cell phone camera and my instagram. I just think about how it has all changed me. I think it's more difficult now to truly be alone.
Anyway. I'm thinking out loud. Just sitting in my studio, listening to the locusts, the whirring of the ceiling fan, the sound of my fingers on the keyboard. I just finished a new painting and I'm thinking about where I want to be in the next 5 years and how I can be the best influence possible on my son's life.
That's a good place to be.
"The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there." - Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The other night Oscar and I walked to the park after supper. It was unseasonably 72 degrees at 5:30pm. At the park there were two moms sitting on the bench and 4 kids playing and running in a pack. Oscar ran right up to them and asked to join them. They broke off into teams and made all kinds of strategic plans behind bushes and shrubs. I stood next to a small tree, Oscar's bike under my feet, the sun on my face, the warm breeze on my skin. I was within ear shot of the two women and I caught myself listening to them pretty intently. They discussed their homes and one was about to move into a new home, with a three car garage and lots of closet space. I shifted my weight, listened to the kids play and smiled at Oscar's extroverted ways which are so foreign to me. It occurred to me that these women are my age; two kids, a husband, big homes with lots of closets and room for more than one car and I had one of those "how did I get here?" moments.
I've always been one to have a vision. I knew what I wanted when I was young and I set out to get it. I wanted to live a life full of art and travels and I wanted a life partner. I was 19 when I met my ex-husband and for a good 12 years we did live a life full of art and travel. The only thing missing in our relationship was love. But like all dysfunctional relationships, you keep going through the motions. You don't talk about what is wrong. You hold in your anger. You don't fight. You just keep going. And like a leaky faucet eating away the enamel; drip. drip. drip. Corrosion. You don't even realize it is happening until the damage is already done. Until 13 years later, the earth stops spinning for a few seconds while your husband is saying "I never really loved you" when you are holding your two week old child and you are sick from mastitis. Then you scramble like hell to fix it because you've spent your entire life building it. It's all you've ever known. But it's over. The lies and anger have all come unraveled and the life you were living is over.
I stood in the park, oversimplifying the women on the bench. What-ifs rush at me and I just wish I could start over. Hit reset. All those choices. I want to go back. Go back to the day 15 years ago when Miriam Patchen and I ate Sara Lee cheesecake in her kitchen and she asked me to move in with her, but I told her I couldn't because I was moving in with my boyfriend.
I yelled for Oscar that it was time to go. He surprisingly said Okay and ran up to me and got on his bike. We headed home to begin our nighttime routine of bath and story time. The sun made everything glow. We listened to the birds and motorcycles and chirping squirrels.
Now. Supermoon Solar Eclipse Equinox. Oscar and I spent the day celebrating this amazing line-up by working in the garden, cleaning up and prepping it for new growth. A few days ago, Pixie Lighthorse posted the following questions on her Instagram page. "Who are you becoming as a result of what you're willing to release? How can you illuminate your divine path on this earth?"
This is exactly where I am. Letting go of things that no longer serve me, so that I may grab onto things that give me strength. I am a mother and an artist. How can I be better at both? Patience with myself and patience with my son. Lots of deep breaths and confidence that things will get better.
The other day at the breakfast table, Oscar asked me "Mom, are we dreaming?" I just smiled and said "I think it's quite possible, because sometimes, things are not what they seem.."
We are approaching the end of February and hopefully experiencing our last below freezing wind chills. I have not done much writing here in the past year. Looking back, loosing my dad, my uncle, being in a car crash, I could safely write about these experiences. Post divorce issues; not getting along with my ex, loosing a family because of divorce, loosing my home because of divorce, these are not easy topics for me to address. Attorney's and court rooms and obligations not met. SO MUCH emotion and anger and past regrets. So many times in the past year, driving through these beautiful country roads, I ask myself "How did I get here?" There is so much of this that I don't want. I just want things to be simple and they are not, and never will be.
My parents divorced when I was 3, the same age my son was when his dad and I "officially" got divorced. Although it was well over much before I was pregnant, 10 years of co-dependency and bad habits. When I was growing up my families lived in the same small town. My mom got along with my dad's parents, and would often be invited in for pie and coffee. There was never any negative energy. My families spoke fondly of one another. And the best part, I had both my families. Everyone lived in the same place. I spent every other weekend with my dad. My parents didn't hang out, but they also didn't avoid one another. Of course, there was no facebook, no cell phones. If you wanted to contact someone, you called, and left a message on the answering machine. And then they called you back.
I live in Wisconsin. This is where my ex is from and where his family lives and that's why I am here. This is where our child was born. So this is where we live. I'm lucky to have good friends here. This world can be a mean place. I'm damn lucky to have good friends, a powerfully supportive mom, a strong, honest man who loves me, and a few paintings to finish. One of the best joys I have right now, is when I bring my son home after he has been away with his dad, and he says "Did you make a new painting while I was gone?" as he walks over to my painting spot to see for himself. I think he is my biggest fan.
It's going to be a big year. My son and I will move to a small apartment. He will begin kindergarden. I will continue to paint, drink too much tea and probably spend too much time wishing things were just a *little* different.
Spring is finally here in Wisconsin. After such a long winter I don't even mind the cold. It's raining and there are thunderstorms and the grass is turning green. I hear whispers of possible snow on Friday...but I don't care. I'm not going to let that make me grumpy. The birds are chirping. They are optimists and I'll stick with them on this one.
Starting next week I will have my giclee prints on display at the wonderfulMacha Tea House on Monroe Street in Madison. If you are in the area, please stop in for a pot of tea and some amazing food.
Spring is a great season for drinking tea. I enjoyed 4 pots of tea today. Let it rain all day and let me drink my tea. Re-birth, Re-newel, sewing seeds, all the amazing metaphors of Spring give us reasons to celebrate. The energy of thunderstorms, the electricity, the BOOM!
I dreamt of Uncle Fred a few weeks ago. He had his long white hair and beard, but his body was much younger. He gave me one of his amazing hugs and we both cried. I woke myself up crying. It was definitely a dream of letting go. I had another dream that my Uncle Larry, who passed away 16 years ago, suddenly came back to life. A dream of re-newel.
Oscar's Great Grandma Floeter passed away in March this year. She was an amazing, intelligent and generous woman. We let go, we embrace. We search for balance in a world of chaos. We seek quiet in a world of constant chatter. We live and we die.
This Spring I am planning a trip down south to Mattoon, where I grew up. My granddad was "Charlie the Coke-Man" and my mom's parents owned a furniture store for 50 years. Sometimes I have dreams that I'm exploring the dark familiar corners of the store. My secret hiding place wasn't in a forest, but in a 170 year old building, up-stairs, the storage room with creaky wood floors, back behind the bunk beds and recliners. Soon my mom will be selling the house her parents built in 1969 to move to warmer weather and to embrace a new adventure. My Aunt is doing the same. Friends of my mom's who I know as family, they sold their house in March, packed up their Airstream for new horizons.
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." - Lao Tzu
A few weeks back I was picking Oscar up from his amazing daycare. (seriously, we are VERY lucky) He is getting in the car and talking to the cat balancing on the fence. He says "mom, it's the Cheshire cat!" We had been reading Alice in Wonderland, so I didn't think much of it. But then as we were taking off in the car, he kept telling me "mom, it's the Cheshire cat!!!" He was clearly very excited, and I'm like "yeah!" Then suddenly I see it out of the corner of my eye. He is talking about the MOON! THE MOON IS the CHESHIRE CAT!!!!! YES! OF COURSE!!!! DUH!!!!! (Can you sense my enthusiasm??! It was seriously an amazing discovery)
When we arrive at home, Oscar is super excited to get out of the car and look up at the "Cheshire Cat". We are standing at the end of our driveway looking up at the moon and we hear a little bell ringing. Ding Ding Ding, up pitter patters a little orange cat with a bell around its neck. She hugs our legs, Oscar gives her a pat on the back, and she runs off.
Magic. Pure Magic.
As for me, I know nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under the trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love,
Or sleep in bed at night with any one I love,
Or watch honey bees busy around the hive of summer forenoon,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown,
Or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring...
What stranger miracles are there?
Tonight I meet myself at the writing desk with a glass of wine and a delicious chocolate walnut brownie. Honey rolls are on their first rise and in a few hours I will roll out the dough for tomorrows brunch with good friends. I haven't been here in what seems like weeks. Here, meaning the writing desk, the creative space, the studio, the mat, whatever you want to call it. The Holidays knocked me down hard and I'll admit I've been in a bit of a rut. I've been falling asleep snuggled up next to Oscar at 7:30 and waking up at Midnight only to shut off the lights and crawl back into my bed. January is feeling like the longest month in the history of the Universe. The days are long, the air is dry and I'm baking enough cookies, muffins, biscuits and brownies to feed the entire town. I, like everyone else around me, am dreaming of Spring, the bright green promising re-birth, rhubarb, muddy boots and birds chirping and celebrating the sunrise.
Last weekend I received three very big gifts; a new iPhone, a vintage Canon F-1 camera with multiple lenses and filters, and my Uncle's record album collection with well over 200 albums. As soon as I got the heavy boxes of vinyl into the house I opened the box closest to me, pulled out a record, announced the title to my mom and her husband who were visiting for the weekend. I pull out another album and I jump up with it in my hands. ACROSS THE ALLEY FROM THE ALAMO! I don't notice how dirty the album is and rush to put it on the turn table. I'm singing along while Oscar and I dance to Bob Wills Greatest Hits and my mom is explaining to Dennis my enthusiasm for the song. Out of ALL the albums in the collection, that was the second one I pulled out? It was the album that Uncle Fred played for my dad, years before I was born. It's my dad's deep voice, his slower more drawn out version of Across the alley from the Alamo that I wish I had recorded somewhere else besides my memory. When the song is over and my triumph has mellowed, I finally notice how filthy the album is. For the most part, the albums are in good shape, but they are filthy. If you knew Freddie, you are simply nodding your head. Yup. The best part about that is that every single album is properly placed in the sleeve. I remember him teaching me the proper way to put albums away, the same way he showed me how to read a book without bending the spine.
I spend the weekend with my mom and her husband, affectionately known to Oscar as Nana and Papa Dennis. Dennis picked me up some record cleaner in Madison on Saturday and I got right to work cleaning; Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Steely Dan, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Arlo Guthrie, CCR. Sunday morning at 7am, Oscar and I are dancing to Tom Waits, Rain Dogs. I am hit with the powerful emotion that only music and perfume can unleash. My dad and Uncle Fred would have LOVED this very moment. While I'm dancing, an image is forming quite clearly in my mind of a photograph that I took of my dad and Uncle dancing with the neighbors daughter when she was around 5 years old. Tears are in my eyes and out of nowhere Oscar asks me "Mama, hold my hands and dance!" Call me crazy, but I'm pretty sure Freddie and "Brother David" were in the room.
I've been yearning for those GE summer baseball games, dance contests and cherry cokes at the American Legion on Friday nights, snow cones and long country drives leading to nowhere with nowhere in particular in mind. I wouldn't even mind one more endless afternoon with my dad and Uncle Fred at the picnic table outside Uncle Fred's trailer. Too many beers and the stories are on repeat and the Wright Brothers are starting to "debate". I'd sit through a few more of those if I could. I've been lost in my memories the past few days. Remembering small meaningless moments that are like precious gems now. I'm collecting them and shining them up and putting them in safe places. Oscar will soon be creating memories and I wonder what they will be.
I sit here typing onto the glowing background of my computer screen and looking at an old photograph of Uncle Fred at his typewriter. I miss just knowing that him and my dad are just a phone call away. I find myself reading comments on Uncle Fred's facebook wall over and over as a comfort. Every "like" equals a hug.
The morning I found out my grandad Charlie passed away I had a dream that will forever be with me. My gramma and grandad were together (gramma passed away a few years before) and moving into a new apartment. Ben and I were visiting and helping them unpack their things. They both looked at us and reminded us that we could come visit anytime. They reminded me that they will always be here when I need them. When my dad passed away, for the first year I kept having dreams that he faked his death and he was actually still alive. A few felt so incredibly real that I would wake up thinking that maybe he was indeed still here, on the road between here and California.
Uncle Fred and I once thought up a name for our dream bookstore. It would be called Tangents. I’ve always thought that would be a perfect name. We would model our bookstore after the one in Hermosa Beach that is no longer there…where he bought all his paperbacks in the early 60’s; Either Or Bookstore. I love finding an old faded construction paper bookmark from Either Or tucked in one of Uncle Fred’s books. It always brings me “back” to a time I only experienced through countless stories. That already makes me want to go off on a tangent. I’ve heard lots of stories about “those days”. Anyway, Tangents. Yes. Very fitting, for the Wright’s are capable of telling some long stories with lots of country roads that eventually circle back around to the beginning. We call that “trickle down” in our family. Telling long stories with plenty of meandering here and there, I’m pretty sure that’s in my DNA. Good spelling and grammar is not.
Uncle Fred stole my “b” (blanket) when I was still sucking my thumb. He was a prankster and at a young age he had my attention. When I was 11 he gave me an assignment to write him a story and we traded stories in the mail. Snail mail; hand written letters stuck in envelopes that you lick and stamps that cost 24 cents. Remember that? When I was 14 and started showing an interest in all things 1960’s, the floodgates were opened and I soon realized how lucky I was to be F.N. Wright’s niece. He called me “nappy joe”. My first trip to California to see him, I was 16. At the time he was dating “Too Tall Tina” and she was living with him. His place was spotless and organized. For those of you that know him, this was a deceptive first visit! I can remember sitting in his yellow chair in the corner and reading the entire “On The Road” in one night. He fed me Patchen, Brautigan, Miller, Ken Kesey and the Pranksters. This was magical stuff and I was hooked.
I would end up going to art school for college. During a semester in New York City I took a poetry class with William Packard at The New School. We had to do a biography on a poet so naturally I chose Kenneth Patchen. Uncle Fred gave me Miriam’s phone number and I got to interview THE Miriam Patchen for my paper. The magic!!!!! You can only imagine how this made me feel. I mailed my final (hand written) copy to Miriam in Palo Alto.
My first year in college I took the train from Chicago to Los Angeles for another visit. I traveled with garbage bags for luggage. My clothes had paint on them. I kept a journal and I felt like a poet, a true artist. I was young, free, and on my way to see my dad (Brother David) and Uncle Fred in sunny California. This was the first of a few train rides I would take to spend time out west.
For my 21st birthday I received a box in the mail from my dad and Uncle Fred. Inside the box there were instructions that I MUST follow. Uncle Fred insisted that 1) purchase a rose and put it in my hair2) open the package next the river and 3) take pictures. When I opened the gift, down by the river, with a rose in my hair, I opened the box to find an original copy of Kenneth Patchen’s Panels for the Walls of Heaven. The note said to “turn to panel 27 and read aloud”. This is what I read:
Right now I insist that
Right now some
Where a beautiful girl is
Sitting on the bank of a river
With a copy of
And right now she has a
Rose in her hair oh
When I graduated from college I got a tattoo of one of Patchen’s drawings on my back. The painting from the poem that reads All at once is what eternity is. Soon after I was tattooed, I took another trip out west. During this visit we took a road trip to Palo Alto to visit Miriam Patchen. Sitting in the living room, listening to Kenneth Patchen’s voice on the record player, with my dad and Uncle Fred and Miriam… If I could have stopped time I would have. On the coffee table sat my copy of the paper I wrote for poetry class, and the pictures of me with a rose in my hair, down by the river. That night I slept next to Miriam in the peaceable kingdom itself. We fed the black squirrels in the back yard. We ate Sara Lee cheesecake. We laughed and we cried. Miriam passed away 6 months after our visit, in her reading chair in her golden living room surrounded by books and art. It’s strange to think that all three of them, Miriam, my dad, and now Uncle Fred, have all passed away.
In 2001, just after 911, Ben and I found our selves living in a tent for 6 months outside Uncle Fred’s trailer. At the time Fred had a roommate named Ted. That was fun. He loved Ted and loved to pick on him. Those were some crazy times. Ben and I officially moved to Santa Monica in 2004 and stayed for three years. I feel so happy to have had the time I did with Uncle Fred. I’m not going to lie. It wasn’t always easy! He and my dad could be so stubborn and it wasn’t always easy to get Uncle Fred out of the house. For all the difficult and stressful times, I would do anything for one more hug. One more visit to The Rock Store. One more ride in the El Camino. One more evening of sitting on the sofa, listening to the Blues and the long repetitive stories with tangents that make your head spin.
Uncle Fred influenced me as an artist more than I could possibly express. I’ve got a magical family. I don’t know how else to put it. These are some special people and now it’s my responsibility to carry on that magic through my writing and my art. It’s time to step it up a notch. It’s hard right now to look back at the past few years, especially since my dad passed and since my son Oscar has been born. I feel myself regretting not calling enough. Why didn’t I call once a week? Once a month? Life is so precious and we get so caught up in the “every day” of it. I just assumed I would see him in May when he returned home to Mattoon. I am still trying to process his sudden departure. He just slipped right out the back door, just like my dad. But now they are having a hell-of-a-party somewhere in the heavens. Oh you can bet on that! I wouldn’t be surprised if him and Grandad Charlie are tossin a baseball. With all the sadness that comes with loosing Uncle Fred, I am so inspired by him and all of the friendships he has made. All of the lives he has touched because he was who he was; a storyteller with a heart of gold. It’s been so exciting to read all the comments on facebook and see all the creative lives he has influenced. I can only hope that I will be able to pass on even just a hint of that spark.
Right now I’m slowly going though boxes, searching for all those handmade cards, the handwritten letters, the postcards. I keep everything, every little sentimental piece of paper, and yes, that is “trickle down” thru and thru. Uncle Fred always used to say over the phone “I miss you whole bunches” and now I hear him saying that and it brings a tear to my eye. Right now I can only hope that I can even begin to be as prolific as him. He always looked ahead to the future, the new work, the new poems, the new paintings. He always had a project going. Thank you Uncle Fred for sharing your life with me. I’m gonna miss you whole bunches, UF without an O.
*the picture above starting at the left: One of Uncle Fred's handmade cards/Uncle Fred and I @ The Rock Store during my first visit when I was 16/ my "art" studio in college covered in WORDS! Trickle down :)