My date is a great listener and attentive to every shadow and highlight of our first conversation. It’s white gessoed surface showers me with endless possibilities. I am monopolizing the conversation but there is no judgment about my nervous chatter and awkwardness. Only I seem to notice how out of sync and incompatible we are. I stab at idea after idea, each time hoping it will take wings but instead falls silent.
Am I a fraud? Who am I to think I can paint? An endless stream of questions rise up from nowhere and chatter spews the familiar language of self-doubt. Can I take that back? Can I white that out? Can I go back to the beginning?
Lost in my own world, tearing up the Sunday comics into little 1/2” pieces and gluing them to a white board in the shape of a horse rearing on hind legs. An image created a half century ago — lost long before the grammar of genealogy and methodology. Was it similar to Laura Owens horse print she made at Crown Point Press? Snapped down to earth by screams firing back and forth coming from the dining room. My big sister Denise isn't home to protect me. I wish I had a stash of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so I could run away. The dining chair is thrown to the ground and I hear the sound of wood splitting against the tile floor.
Denise stared at herself in the mirror admiring her strong jawline while I, her audience, sat attentively tracing her features on the cool glass. I did not want to be like her — I wanted to be her. Older and confident. Singing in talent shows. Carrying her guitar on her back. She was 16 and our group would circle around her at the Griffith Park Lov Ins while she sang “The Times They are a Changin’”, “Eve of Destruction” and other songs to show our solidarity against the Vietnam war. Denise was fierce like a lion — born under the astrological sign of Leo. I hear her voice through my sons', who coincidentally will be singing the folk song “The Water is Wide” in an off-Broadway production next month. Should I leave this out or expand on it? Would these old folk song lyrics sound like rap today?
As the new sun rises I awake excited and hopeful — filled with new ideas and better topics of conversation. The stains and marks left from our first encounter remain behind it's thin white veil and make today's conversation easier — looser and less restrained. We are still awkward but some of what’s being said is interesting and optimistic. We are going somewhere. I listen attentively to the surface and we begin a telepathic discussion about negative space and color theory.
My brush is loaded with color and I push and pull the logical and illogical — fulfilling it’s demands for my attention to be given fiercely. We are finally bodiless and timeless — lost in the same intense conversation. Complements intensify each hue, contrasting large and small, pale and brilliant, crowds and open space. Only a shadow of our early awkwardness and hesitant stabs remain.
A loud sigh from the next room jolts my feet to the floor — grounding me back to my physical self with the sudden desire for coffee, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the house all to myself.
I worked for my dad in high school. I was as he put it “low man on the totem pole” and tasked to answer the phone, make blueprints and write the engineering specs 3/32” high in pencil on the large vellum drawing plans. I apprenticed under his assistant who was deaf and used sign language to communicate. I thought a deaf assistant engineer would make things difficult but I never said anything. They worked together in silence for two decades. My dad loved silence — time in his head spent to engineer a better world — his legacy.
I am not certain but in this moment I believe the newly created work is not questioning it’s selfish purpose or concerned with it’s future consequences. I feel obliged to answer it’s questions of inconsistencies, reasoned intentions, clarification and historical references. I work like a repairman, fixing, patching and tying up the loose ends. It is the end of a long day. My dad would say, “when the work is done the mornings are sad."
Looking back, I wish I had walked away when we were still full of potential, tripping over each other in the dark, fumbling through awkward conversations and feeling obsessively connected. Next time.