Would Mrs. Nordstrom Approve?

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I was complaining yet again to my incredibly patient husband about my inability to draw and how it prevents me from self-publishing my stories. He had the audacity to suggest I learn to draw and do the illustrations for my stories all by myself. Learn to draw?

I proceeded to go on a rant about how I can’t draw and how he had no right to put that pressure on me, blah, blah, blah.

But I thought about it for a few days, looked at art courses online, and now I’m wondering if I should give it a shot. What harm could it do?

When at the beach as a child, I liked to make sand sculptures–mostly faces. One day, I did a pretty good George Washington. A man walked by and asked my mother who did the sculpture. He said he was an artist and he thought it was very good. He took the cigarette he was smoking and stuck it in Washington’s mouth. I was over the moon. A perfect stranger told my mother I was good at something.

But I can’t use sculpture in a picture book.

I took an art class in high school. At the time, in New York City, it was actually a required course. We did a little bit of everything, including learning some calligraphy. I had the most eccentric art teacher you could imagine.  Mrs. Nordstrom. She was an older woman with straggly gray hair and tinted glasses. She smoked cigarettes in one of those long, thin holders, like an actress in a silent movie. While in her class, I did a watercolor painting of waves breaking on the shore. It was featured in the school art exhibit that year. I enjoyed the class and did learn a few things, despite of my lack of natural talent.

But can I learn enough to illustrate a picture book the way I think it should be done? I hate illustrations that look slapped together, but can I do any better? In Mrs. Nordstrom’s class, I found it easier to paint than to draw. My hand just doesn’t seem to know what to do with a pencil. I think I can manage scenery and inanimate objects passably; but what about characters and facial expressions? I can see these things in my head, but can I get them to paper?

I guess I’ll give it a try. I’ll start on my own with one of those “how to” books and go from there. I may come up with material I can use. Or I may end up owing illustrators everywhere a lavish apology.

A Much-Needed Walk

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As I’ve told you before, I really hate my day job as a medical transcriptionist. The worst part about it is the lousy pay. In fact, lousy is too light a word. Insulting is more appropriate. My employer had the audacity to call me on Saturday. Now, I don’t work on Saturday, being a Sabbath-keeping Christian, and she has known this for 12 years. Nonetheless, she rang my phone off the hook Saturday morning; and when I didn’t answer, she started on my cell phone, finally leaving a voice message and an email.

I responded to her email, reminding her that it was the Sabbath, and asked why taking care of the issue that was so important to her that it warranted (in her mind) violating my religious convictions. The fact that I work the other six days of the week just didn’t matter to her.  She had lost the files I sent over a couple of weeks ago. Mind you, the files were for a doctor she has repeatedly told me is not important and does not pay his bills on time. I sort of lost my cool at that point and let her know what I thought about the situation.

Of course I still have a job. I’m extraordinarily good at it. It’s just that every time I say I want better pay, I get a list of excuses, usually centering on the doctors’ unwillingness to pay more. One day soon, maybe by this time next year, I hope to be able to say, “I quit,” and turn to writing full time.

Well, by Sunday I was pretty much stuck in a rather deep funk. It was a beautiful day, so I cut my workday short and my husband and I went to the park for a nice long walk. During our walk, I took the photo you see at the top of this post. Autumn is in all it’s glory right now.  I know I’ve been terribly cooped up lately, working extra hours to make ends meet (my husband lost his job last month); but I didn’t realize how bad it was until we got home from the park and I had to step inside the house again. I didn’t think this tiny house could feel even smaller, but it did.

I have slipped back into that pit of not being able to write. I know my currently untreated depression is largely responsible, coupled with the financial stress we’re under. On the other hand, my brain comes up with story ideas every now and then. I dutifully jot them down on one of the color-coded index cards in the purple box on my desk.

Right now, I can’t break loose from the circumstances surrounding me. I can’t work on those ideas in the purple box today, but I can keep putting ideas in the purple box.

 

When Jay was Killed

I had a friend in grade school named Jay. He was one of those quiet, goofy kids who didn’t have too many friends. When the other boys made fun of him, he laughed along with them. If it made him sad, he never let on. We spent the first through third grade together in the same class. The nuns liked to seat us alphabetically, so Jay and I always sat next to each other. Sometimes, the nuns had us exchange test papers with the student next to us and we would go over the answers as a class, marking each question right or wrong with a check or an X. It used to drive me crazy when Jay checked my papers because he always used an orange crayon and made huge checks and X’s next to my very neat answers. I even yelled at him for it once.

Jay and I lived on the same street, my apartment closer to Third Avenue and his above Fourth.  We often walked home from school together along Fourth Avenue where the sidewalks were smooth. Our school book bags had four metal feet on the bottom that were ideal for sliding them along the sidewalk, and a smooth sidewalk was essential to the game of seeing whose bag would go farthest. We parted ways at 69th Street and didn’t see each other again until the next day at school.

Back then, we had school friends and friends on the block. Our school friends were just that. We hung out together at school; but when summer vacation started, we didn’t see each other again until September. After school, weekends, and summer vacations were spent with our friends from the apartment building. Looking back, it seems like a strange arrangement–an inexplicable segregation that meant I never saw Jay during the summer, even though he lived just up the street.

The summer after third grade, during our annual trip to Tappan to visit our cousins, Jay was killed. He had run out into the busy street, chasing a ball, and was hit by a car. This happened in 1972 and parenting was different back then. Nobody sat me down and gently told me what had happened to the kid I’d sat next to every day for three years. The news was conveyed to me as a passing comment, sort of, “Oh, by the way…” It wasn’t until I got back to Brooklyn that I learned the horrible details from the other kids. Jay hadn’t just been hit by a car. The car had run over and crushed his head. I learned that the car was black and the woman driving it said her brakes had failed. Jay had been killed adjacent to his front steps. I wondered if his mother saw it happen or if she saw him lying in the street afterward.

My father clipped the newspaper article and gave it to me to read by myself. They had used Jay’s first communion picture for the article. There was Jay, smiling, his hands clasped as if in prayer, wearing a suit. Reading the article, I found out that Jay was actually his middle name. He had an older sister. I don’t remember anything about his father, even before the accident, and I don’t remember the article mentioning him. I was glad I was away when Jay died. Had I been home, every kid on the block would have run up the street to see what had happened. I might have seen Jay lying mutilated in the street, and I would have remembered every detail.

About a year later, I was in Herman’s Stationery with my mother. Herman’s sold greeting cards, magazines, and school supplies. On the magazine rack, I spotted one of those “true crime” rags. On the cover was a drawing of a woman whose head was about to be run over by the wheel of a car. I turned and walked back to my mother. I never said a word, but I can see that cover plainly even today. I felt sick and scared, but I said nothing because I knew I would receive neither comfort nor sympathy.

Several years later, when I was about 13, I was spending the night at a friend’s apartment. Her mother was out at a bar and we were staying up late, watching a movie.  I think it was called “Lady in a Cage” or something like that. It was about a crippled woman whose home is invaded by a group of thugs who terrorize her for hours. In the end, with the leader of the gang standing behind her, the woman jabbed her knitting needles into his eyes. He stumbled out in the street, screaming, and was promptly run over by a car. The scene ended with him lying in the street, knitting needles sticking out of his eyes, his head next to the wheel of the car. I lost it. I began to feel that sick, scared feeling again, and I sobbed uncontrollably. It was the first time I had shed a tear over Jay. I told my friend what had happened to him. I don’t think I ever spoke about it again after that night.

I was in Brooklyn last year, the first time in many years. I walked with my husband all over the old neighborhood, showing him all the important sites from my childhood. But I still couldn’t look at the spot where Jay died.

To this day, the sight of an orange crayon makes me stop and think of Jay, and I feel guilty for getting so mad at him for marking up my papers with it. I’m sorry I got mad, Jay.