The Serendipity of Parent Matching

I sat in the molded red plastic chair in the hallway, staring at my bare feet. I tried wiggling one big toe and then the other. They wiggled appropriately, but I still sort of wished for a magazine or something, if I were able to read.

“NEXT!” called out the voice, booming down the empty corridor. I looked to my left and my right and saw no one, so I hopped down and toddled into the office. It was full of bookshelves filled with musty books. The dust motes caught the sunlight and sparkled, a legion of fireflies.

“Name?” came the voice again. I tried to peer over the edge of the desk to see the voice. All I could see was a podge of thinning brown hair, combed over neatly to cover a burgeoning bald spot.

“Um, don’t have one yet,” said I, tremulously.

“I know that,” was the impatient reply, “What do you wish to be called?”

“How about Brunhilde?”

“Surely you’re joking,” the bald spot bobbed and weaved as he turned another page of the massive book in front of him,”Best to choose a nice inoffensive name, like Sarah or Ellen. That will give you a lot more choices.”

“I think they should pick my name,” I offered, doing my best to keep the sulky out of my voice. “I mean, I hope I can find a pair with good taste.”

“What else?” His voice was disinterested, rather the aural equivalent of picking one’s nose and flicking it at the wall.

“Well, I’d like it if they were smart people. The kind that you could talk to about Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln and…um, paradigms.”

“Don’t pretend you know what any of those things are yet. What else?”

I crawled up into the arm chair across from the desk, but it was still a low squishy well of leather. I did manage to see the voice’s eyebrows, though; they were like ungroomed caterpillars and rather expressive.

“They should be funny. Not take each other too seriously. Maybe they could sing while they vacuum. I’d like it if they could laugh at themselves and at me too. Maybe the dad could teach me how to make funny faces in the mirror and how to dance like he’s starring in a Cecil B. DeMille musical. Maybe the mom could show me how to mummify a Barbie Doll and how to direct a room full of unruly people into doing what you need them to do.” I piped up, in a voice quite unlike my own, “It’s called ACT-ING!”

The caterpillars crawled across the furrows of his brow to a quizzical position, “This seems like a fairly specific request,” he said, rather suspiciously, “You haven’t been peeping in The Book, have you?”

“No sir,” I said, meek, hands folded in my lap in the primmest fashion.

He sighed and flipped a few more pages, the fuzzy wiggles of his brow descending towards the type. “There is one possibility here,” he said dubiously, “There’s a couple here that fulfills your requirements.”

“Really?” I perked up instantly, “Will they take me on trips to museums and nature trails and force-screen awful science fiction movies and black and white classics? Will they love me and help me, even when it’s questionable that I deserve either? Will they put me to sleep with Booshky Cream and sing You are My Sunshine and Side by Side and The Monkey Song? Will they make me cry when they sing On Top of Spaghetti with a fatal ending? Will they encourage me to write and sing and dance and do all manner of things which are not profitable in the world?”

The book slammed shut indignantly, “You, miss, have been reading The Book! How would you possibly know all that?”

I gave the only answer I could: “Because it’s my destiny.”

Finally, the voice and the bald spot and the eyebrows worked in conjunction and almost looked and sounded as though they were smiling, “Well. Well. Door 11C.”

“Thank you!” I chirped and wandered down the empty hall till I came to 11C. I opened the door and walked into the great white light and towards the parents I was meant to be with.

—–

This post is dedicated to my parents, on their anniversary. I’m not certain how I ended up with wonderful them, but this seems as feasible an explanation as any.

Fate, I owe you one.

by Artist 3001

Book Review:To Be Sung Underwater

Article first published as Book Review: To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal by Anna Meade on Blogcritics.

When I was little, my father taught me to sit cross-legged on the pool bottom. We sat in my underwater kingdom, holding breath as long as we could and then go bursting up through the surface. The light refracted in those mesmeric patterns that are only found beneath, when the light pours through bluely chlorinated water. Below, we would have nonsense conversations and sing little snatches of song to each other that sounded like the distant keening of whales.

So the title drew me in and the book held me underneath, until I popped up gasping for air. In To Be Sung Underwater, Tom McNeal has written a gently yearning novel, one you will quickly read to find out the fate of these characters. The plotting is deft and the characterization of these flawed people is so believable that they will stay with you long after the last page.

Judith Toomey has a model life, the one she has arranged perfectly for herself: a rewarding job in the film industry, a wryly handsome husband, a teenage daughter who occasionally allows her a kiss goodnight. Then one day she discovers a crack in the veneer and slips sideways out of her life; the past she has so neatly boxed away starts to whisper to her.

Judith gives a name for herself that she hasn’t used in years in order to rent a storage unit, simply to reconstruct her bedroom from her teenage years – a bedroom where she loved a boy. The longer she stays in this facsimile room, the more she remembers about the past she tried to forget and the boy she left behind. Her real life, with her job and husband and daughter, slips away like shadows on a wall. Judith follows the memories back and back, like tugging on a pull on a sweater, unraveling until she is left with the truth.

To Be Sung Underwater paints warm vistas of two lazy Nebraskan summers for Judith, one endlessly vibrant with newly-discovered love and one that offers recovered love. That’s when the book really sings. It explores the secrets we keep from our parents and loved ones, the ones kept in boxes tucked away, snippets of first loves and forgotten dreams. This book’s siren song, the temptation to return to your one true chance at happiness, is the one sung underwater. From a great distance, it calls Judith back to the plains of Nebraska and the memories of a boy she once loved.

Visit Tom McNeal’s website.

*Book preview video best if music player turned off at lower-right corner of blog*

3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick

*Please note: this 3QV features mature work and themes by a very talented artist. Please do not click through if this is something you do not wish to see or read*

This post is the seventh of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

Cynthia Cusick
3 Question View – Cynthia Cusick 
Sculptor and Ceramicist, www.cynthiacusick.com
Anna: 
You describe your work as introspective, with a focus on sexuality and maturity. As an art historian, I’ve been trained to see “girl parts” in every flower and fruit, so it’s relieving to see it as clearly intentional. Why do these themes inspire you? How has living in Manhattan and now Kentucky brought different influences to your work?

Cynthia:
Being raised Catholic initially helped shape my views on sexuality as something to be hidden, confined, and separated from the self. The lip service was, ‘Yes, sexuality is a natural thing.” The unspoken message was that it was dirty, to be shunned and private to the point of being completely denied. This conflicting message made sex and sexuality an uncomfortable experience for me. I learned to avoid any sexual references, intellectually and emotionally, personally and collectively. As I grew older, I finally reached a place in my life where I assumed I had everything figured out. Instead, my marriage fell apart; I initiated the process without realizing it. I was out there alone and became acutely aware that I knew nothing.  I avoided things of which I was fearful, that scared me or made me uncomfortable. So I made the choice to face head on all of my fears and ask, “Why does this scare me?”

Making tangible objects out of intangible fears makes my fears approachable. Being alone was the biggest fear of mine at the time but it forced me to reconcile myself without outside feedback and approval. Sexuality and sexual identity elicited an uncomfortable response within me; it made me intensely curious. In current American culture, we view it as a power element rather than what it truly is: a biological construct that exists everywhere. I combine sexual elements or references with ambiguous, natural elements as a reminder of our most natural part of ourselves, that keeps us connected to the rest of the world. Some of the reactions to the genitalia-like parts of my work are thoughtful, some are repulsed, some reactions are funny. All are part of the mix. I respond to the quirky, unexpected and humor aspect. Humor eases the discomfort and make the scary less scary. 
The Incidental Observer

The Incidental Observer (Detail)

Living in Manhattan for over 15 years allowed me an environment rich with diversity of culture and points of view, the importance of being true to yourself in a sea of humanity. When I came to Kentucky, I came to fulfill my childhood dreams in an environment that inspired me. NYC has some amazing green spaces and parks, but nature is experienced in a controlled setting. I love the uninhibited quality of my rural setting; it’s never quite clear who or what has the upper advantage. I love that sense of the unexpected. It keeps me focused on the moment at hand and my relationship with the natural world. I find a sense of humility in that paradox. 

Anna: 
One of my favorite series is “The 35 Symptoms”, an exploration of the common symptoms of Peri-Menopause. How did creating these works express your feelings about this transition in your life? How do you think your work has developed and matured?

Cynthia: 
The 35 Symptoms is a cathartic work for me. Knowing ahead of time as much information as possible gives me the illusion of having control over uncontrollable things. When I first made The 35 Symptoms, I placed the little icons around this womb-like sculpture. It made a nice presentation but became static for me – menopause frozen in a metaphor. This phase of peri-menopause, the 2-9 years before actual menopause (yes, that’s right, sometimes it’s nine years, folks!) is anything but static. And the process doesn’t just affect me, it affects those around me. I need to give some warning and acknowledgement to the most problematic symptoms so I’ve created a kind of a shrine to display them. I use this small stage to contemplate my most prominent symptoms of the day and, in doing so, the little icons help me keep perspective. They keep me aware of what’s going on within me, but with a sense of humor about the whole process. 
When I was younger, my art was paintings, drawings, photography, two-dimensional pieces that tended to focus on solitude, stillness and isolation. Now that I’ve moved into three-dimensional work, there is more literal and metaphorical depth. Because my work in clay and other sculptural media is relatively new, I have a ways to go to feel as if my work has matured. Yet my perspective is that of a mature woman so I think I am able to use my experience to reflect and ponder some deeper experiences and questions that confront us. 

Feeling of Doom
Disturbing Memory Loss, in situ, in Adaptation Exhibit

 

Anna: 
Now for a little whimsy – you create personality by putting little feet on most of your pottery mugs and cups, which are historically utilitarian. It’s endearing and yet simultaneously earthy and organic. How did you come up with the idea of foot-ing your drinking vessels? What about the idea of usable art appeals to you?

Cynthia:
Many terms in pottery are derived from the human body so it’s a natural extension to turn a utilitarian object into something more human-like. Terms used to describe parts of cups, bowls, and bottles are things like “foot,” “lip,” “belly,” “body,” “neck.” Moving from pure utility to personality feels natural. I find that I enjoy making functional work that behaves more like an evolved creature as opposed to making very traditional utilitarian work. My talent lies in the clumsy dent, the falling handle, the bowed-out edge and then seeing what that flaw inspires. Nature, itself, is not perfect. Nature contains many flaws, mistakes and bumps in the road but it has this wonderful capacity to adapt and evolve from those points into something even more exciting. 
I find my passion lies in seeing the form and then letting myself go back to being a kid again and using my imagination to ask: what does this look like to me? Is is a little monster? A queen? A slithery underground creature? A twisted plant? Carving, pinching and sculpting things I can still use for everyday functions transports me into those imaginary worlds and moments. For me, it makes drinking a cup of tea a much more expressive act.

Chubby Cup

You can order Cynthia’s work on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/shop/teahorsestudio

Cynthia’s portfolio website: http://www.cynthiacusick.com

You can visit Cynthia’s blog, reflections on art and life: http://cynthiacusick.blogspot.com