AN AFTERNOON ON MONTMARTRE on the Right Bank of Paris, 18th Arrondissement—or, is it MAIN STREET, OLD SAYBROOK?—with my granddaughter, Victoria.
We had just had a scrumptious lunch at The Paperback Café—the character Sally in When Harry Met Sally had nothing on Victoria when ordering her meal—an egg and veggie wrap, no cheese, no mushroom, avocado on the side, carrot sticks instead of hash brown, etc., etc.
I mentioned the movie title to her; she had not seen it yet. Experiencing a momentary lapse in memory (surely, not a senior moment just yet!), I tried to think of the actress’ name and said:
“Oh, you know who, bla, bla, bla…” Couldn’t think of it.
To which she replied:
“Oh, that narrows it down!”
That’s our Victoria. A droll wit, very observant, very direct. She came right out with her experience recently of her sister Chelsea going off to college a week ago:
“My sister left me and I made thirty dinners and froze them.”
It explained all.
Further, she is likely to make unexpected announcements, like:
“I made a broccoli-based salad, since I didn’t have lettuce,” and give an impromptu lecture on the nutritious value between almond milk and rice milk. Victoria is bold, creative, informative—one of a kind—sharing her discoveries and astute life observations readily with whoever cares to listen. I thoroughly enjoy her company.
We were to take Amtrak to Richmond, Virginia during the week to visit friends for a few days, until Amtrak “ran” from Hurricane Earl, canceled our train, and here we were wanting to enjoy a day doing what pleased us—or, her, mostly, because it was to be her final getaway before school began.
I had hoped she would pick a leisurely walk on the beach at Hammonasset, or the well-received movie, Mao’s Last Dancer, but no! I cringed, though hardly noticeably, when I heard her choice of activity for the afternoon.
She wanted to go to the Clayhouse paint-your-own Pottery Studio and create. You paint on a blank ready-made clay form, and when the art is finished they glaze it, fire it, and make it look beautiful.
She picked out a white square platter, visualizing a fall scene of trees, pumpkins and swirling leaves. It was to be her autumnal cookie platter.
Pretending joyful anticipation I chose a wine goblet for my friend Gail’s birthday. Gail is a wine connoisseur.
I thought of taking the easy way out and stenciling grapes on the cup, but since I couldn’t find grape cutouts I was already at a loss as to what to substitute.
“Ah, acoustic jazz!” Victoria sighed, the little music aficionado, appreciating the background music, then closed her golden-brown eyes for a moment:
“I’m in Zen…” she sighed, then leaned over her plate and began her confident, whimsical brushstrokes with her carefully selected paint
Art is in my blood, the appreciation of it, that is. Otherwise it’s a taboo subject. Living on the shoreline I am surrounded by galleries I visit frequently. I have a lot of artist friends and I marvel at their gift. But the thought of putting pencil or brush to a blank canvas horrifies me. Back in the dusty nooks of my childhood a mean second grade teacher–who didn’t approve of the snowman I drew–made me stay after school until I drew one to her satisfaction.
It took 200 snowmen for her to release me, and I went home that day with a firm conviction that I had no talent whatsoever as an artist.
As if tuning into my rhapsodic memories, Victoria chides me for my resistance:
“There are no mistakes. Only learning experiences.”
The insight has a familiar ring to it. Didn’t I coax her mother with the same words decades ago?
Victoria generously offered her help, showing me around the studio, leading me step by step, but when it came to choosing colors on the plastic-wrapped mini-palette she drew the line:
“Choose whatever colors you want, it’s your picture,” she declared and moved away from me, ck to her awaiting project. Abandoning me to my plight.
And there she sat across the table from me, with a rosy blush on her cheeks, plunging into her sea of creativity, completely engrossed in her project. She saw her picture before she began to work on it, the way I see my characters when I’m writing a story.
So many colors, so many different shapes and sizes of brushes, sponges, and other tools besides! Decisions, decisions, decisions! And my mind froze in fear of choosing the “wrong” ones.
Sadly, for me, nothing emerged out of the great mists of subconscious. Fear ruled, in the form of the dominatrix second-grade teacher.
Years ago I had thought of working through this issue of mine, it had haunted and limited me long enough, I decided, and planned to attend an art workshop with Tommi Di Paolo, at Omega Holistic Center in Rhinebeck, New York. Tommi was a children’s book writer and illustrator, with just the right attitude of anything goes I felt I needed to open up to the experience and give myself permission to—whatever! Providing me with a carte blanche to creative self-expression.
I never did.
And now here I was, sitting across from my 16 year old granddaughter who never needed permission to do what came naturally to her—drawing and painting, dress design, singing, acting, figure skating…
I surveyed my palette: did I choose the absolutely best colors of paint? Would others do more justice to my reluctant-to-emerge image?
In an excellent effort to procrastinate I began reading one of the many design idea books. That lasted about ten seconds, then I exclaimed:
“I’m just not good at following directions.”
I felt a little dialogue was in order to pass the time, and continued my walkabout monologue:
“I suppose the idea is to learn the technical elements first, then begin with a basic foundation…” I veered off wistfully, looking for a graceful way out of my predicament.
I’d much rather be walking on the shore… No emotional block to break through there!
“Use some technique, then use some of you!”
Victoria never even looked up from her evolving painting, yet the casual words from my little guru sounded eminently sensible, now if I could just put it into action.
Then she looked up, beamed a smile, and added the magic, transformative words:
“You can’t fail.”
Surely I had said something like it to her mother eons ago and my message was returning to haunt/encourage me!
So, I plunged into the vast unknown, grabbed the blank piece of bisque, and began to paint.
I painted engrossed for about ten minutes straight, then stopped and took a very deep breath.
“I forgot to breathe!” I exclaimed, coming up for air and she snickered in that Oh, Grammie! way of a tolerant teenager, bemused by the foibles of age.
She took 2 1/2 hours for her masterpiece and knew just exactly when it was complete. (I have written a 400 page manuscript and still don’t feel quite finished!)
And, she knew she didn’t need one more pumpkin in the opposite corner of her fall scene—my suggestion, which I promptly withdrew.
I was done in approximately 30 minutes. Got an iced coffee from across the street, went back, watched her concentrated effort, did a bit of dancing-in-the-aisle to some mellow background music to limber up—then sat down abruptly, because suddenly, I began to see! And to know that there had to be one or two more droplets of pale pink flowers upward on the stem of the goblet, to connect the base with the cup—sheer genius!
The Muse had finally taken me by the hand.
At the end, I was proud of my accomplishment.
My girlfriend, Gail, may open up her gift and cry out with glad recognition: “Oh, Tuscan poplars!” or, she may exclaim: “Oh, what a lovely mish-mash, very expressionistic!”
Whatever. I had heard it’s the thought that counts.
What a relief it’s over, though!
P.S. I know, I know: Meg Ryan!