Prompted at Sunday Scribblings: New Leaf
Reggie gives me a ride to the art department in her little Mini Cooper. Holly’s already there trying to wake up with a big mug of coffee while she puts the finishing touches on the northern lights in her Viking ship picture. “Oh good—I was hoping you’d come.” She looks like a bee in her yellow smock and black-and-white striped tights under her leg brace. I almost expect to see antennae poking up from the shaved spirals on her head.
“Holly, this is Reggie. She’s my aunt, my mom’s sister. Reggie, this is Holly, an incredible artist.”
They nod, smiling slightly as they acknowledge each other. “Wow,” Reggie says. “That is incredible. I’ve never seen the aurora.”
“Thanks–Neither have I.” Holly rummages through the box of pastels. “These are the northern lights of my own mind.”
Reggie pulls up a chair. “Can I draw something too?”
“Of course.” I get out pads of paper and pencils and paints and charcoal, everything I can find. Then I start working on my painting of Valkyrie Grrl.
Reggie looks at both of us. “What is this? Are you guys on a Nordic trip?”
“Yes, it started when I brought my Garmarna and Hedningarna CDs to listen to while we work. They will for sure put you in a Nordic mood.”
Reggie makes a rough sketch of Valkyrie Grrl riding on the back of a stag. She’s not happy with it, and she keeps erasing and trying to fix the proportions. “I’m so out of practice. Eileen and I used to draw all the time as kids, mostly horses.”
“Really? Now Mom does stuff with clay, and you’re writing all the time. How come neither of you ever draw anymore?”
“I don’t know. Maybe bad memories? One time Eileen drew a horse she was really proud of and she tried to show it to our dad. He wouldn’t even look at it.”
That gets Holly’s attention. She puts down her pastel. “That sounds like my father.”
“He had this huge sense of entitlement. He seemed to believe all of us had no other purpose in life other than to meet his needs. He told Eileen that it was impossible for him to be interested in her or to want to look at her silly drawings because she hadn’t tried hard enough to please him. Then he dragged her over to the piano. It was her job to keep it dusted, and he sighted along the top of it with a flashlight until he found a spot that she missed. How could he possibly be interested in a daughter who cared so little about pleasing him that she didn’t even dust the piano properly?”
Holly is scowling. “Guess I’m not the only one with a mean father.”
“Actually,” Reggie says, “my dad committed suicide recently. My sister and I have been getting together and talking a lot, trying to make sense of the whole thing. It’s hard to know why we did the things we did, let alone why he did what he did, but I suspect that sort of thing might make someone choose a different creative outlet, something new and fresh.”
“That totally makes sense,” Holly agrees. “Survival. But it’s not complete survival.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have your writing and they can’t take that away from you, but they did take the drawing away from you. You gotta take that back for yourself.”
“I’m so out of practice I don’t know if I can ever get it back, though.”
“You were a kid when they killed that part of you. Be a kid again, make clumsy kid’s drawings and go from there.”
Reggie picks up the box of Crayola crayons and starts making some weird, organically-shaped buildings under a dark-blue sky with lots of big, lopsided yellow stars. “This is not at all what I expected when I came with you,” she says to me.
I’m grinning at her. “I told you this place was awesome.”
A couple of other clients drift in. Vincent and Nan are regulars along with Holly, and I introduce Reggie as my aunt who hasn’t drawn since she was a kid. I’m feeling responsible for Reggie and a little bit protective. I hope they won’t scrutinize her stuff, which I have to admit isn’t very good. I have a feeling she’ll get it back if she ever had it, but only when she stops trying too hard and lets herself relax and get comfortable.
“Arggggh!” Reggie wads up the paper and throws it at the wastebasket on the other side of the room. It goes in on the first try. “Well, that was an exercise in humility,” she says. “When they said ‘back to the drawing board,’ they weren’t kidding. I’m going to have to slog through a period of serious suckage before I even get back to how good I was as a child.”
Vincent scratches his patchy brown buzzcut which hasn’t grown in evenly since his craniotomy for a head injury from a motorcycle accident. “That’s the first rule when it comes to doing art—you are allowed to suck.”
Nan’s wearing her red-and-white calico flower-print granny dress with a loosely-crocheted gray yarn vest. She wears that dress a lot, and her frizzy, gray hair hangs down past her shoulders. She looks like an old hippie who’s come up against a few decades of hard times. “Yeah, he tells me that every time.”
“I do not!” He takes out the canvas he’s working on, a dark forest with undulating foliage that makes me think of Emily Carr’s work.
“Well, maybe not in those exact words…” She shows Reggie the psychedelic poster she’s making. “He doesn’t like this old flower power stuff. He said my stuff is like Martha Stewart deciding to do a sixties-style project.”
Reggie bursts out laughing. “Well, I’m from the sixties, and I love that stuff. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Buffalo Springfield, Taj Mahal, Indian bedspreads… your work is beautiful!”
“You and mom, both,” I say. “She’s always playing that old music too… okay, we’re all allowed to suck. You wouldn’t believe how bad some of my stuff is.”
“Me, too,” says Holly, though I seriously doubt if anything of hers ever sucks. Even her Converse high-tops are works of art. She’s got a cartoon face painted on each toe, one happy, the other one sad.
One thing I like about Reggie is that she doesn’t give up. She’s drawing a horse now, and I can see it’s starting to come back to her. The horse is running, flying across the desert, mane and tail streaming.
“King of the Wind!” I say.
“Yep.” She grins at me.