An Artist’s Life in the San Luis Valley

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At the Historical Novel Society Conference I met a couple of women who live in my “hood” — the hood is as big as Connecticut but it’s a hood nonetheless. They collaborate on historical mystery novels and so we instantly formed a writer’s group. Earlier this week I went to one of their homes for lunch and our first meeting. Since I’ve never worked with other writers, it was an interesting experience and it will be a little challenging for me NOT to be an English teacher. I was upfront about that and asked, “You sure you want to deal with an English teacher?” so they are getting into it with their eyes open — not that I’m picky about stuff as the stereotype of English teachers would imply, but…

And, this week, I hung some paintings in a show in a coffee house in Alamosa with three other members of the Monte Arts Council. It’s a small show (not much wall space) and I hung only four paintings. This one, the largest:

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Selfie, 20 x 16 oil on panel

and these…

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September Snow in South Fork, 5 x 7 watercolor on panel

Berkeley Pit Mine

Berkeley Pit Mine, 8 x 10, Oil on canvas

Honeycrisp

Honeycrisp, 5 x 7 oil on panel

It’s fun to have a social life after months of virtually constant solitude (which was also fun). I’ve learned of other painting opportunities that I am going to pursue.

The Valley Arts Co-op store is something else. I do not think paintings will move out of that store, but I’ve made note cards that might when I’ve finished with the packaging and so on. I think selling paintings requires a real gallery where people go intentionally to look at and maybe buy paintings. I do know that if nothing of mine ever sells in the co-op store, it will not be worth it for me to remain a member and mind the store 16 hours/month.

How does this relate to today’s daily prompt? Well, last year when I wrote this prompt, I was five days from driving away from California. I didn’t know where I’d live, what my house would be or even where it would be. Now I’m here and life opens a little more every day. Knowing ahead of time what will happen would steal the fun from the moment and from the future. I stand by my Bible verse: Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not ye be busy into the morrow, for the morrow shall be busy to itself; for it sufficeth to the day his own malice. (Wycliffe Bible)

If you want to read what I wrote last year (it’s a good post and I’m proud of it!) it’s right here:

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/advantage-of-foresight/

Kindness of Strangers Reprise

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DAILY PROMPT The Kindness of Strangers When was the last time a stranger did something particularly kind, generous, or selfless for you? Tell us what happened! (July 1, 2015)

I never really knew those people even though our lives were intimately intertwined. The action they took that night was probably not especially kind, generous or selfless, yet without it? I wouldn’t be here. There’s some generosity there. I know my grandmother would have thought so. Life was a gift of parents to children. She believed this in her innermost soul.

“Mrs. Beall, you have seven children already and your family is dirt poor! Don’t you think you could at least say ‘No’ to Sherman?”
“It wouldn’t be right, sir. I think of all those little hands reaching down from Heaven wanting to live.” (This from a woman who NEVER entered a Catholic church and NEVER saw actual plaster angel hands reaching down for the dead at the Last Judgment). And so three more children entered the house of Harriet Emma and Sherman Beall of Hardin, Montana. One of these was my mom.

***

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I’m pretty sure it was the first of May, 1951, the anniversary of their engagement. My dad was a grad student and my mom a school teacher. They weren’t rich, but I think they might have been able to go out to a nice restaurant that night and probably even dancing.  I’m guessing they went to Little Pepinas, back then a fancy Italian restaurant in North Denver. It was red-checkered tablecloths, Chianti bottles hanging from a latticed ceiling, tall wine glasses and red sauce.

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They might have gone dancing at Elitch’s Gardens; it’s very likely. It was nearby and the dance floor and band were the best in Denver at the time. My mother probably wore a wrist corsage of gardenias.

After a romantic evening, they came home in the 1949 Ford. Home at the time was a rental house on South Cherokee not far from the University of Denver. And then? She left it in the drawer. Nine months later my little hands found their way into the world.

fordbigAs for whether this was an act of selfless generosity and kindness on the part of strangers, I cannot say. My dad didn’t want a family and mother did, desperately enough to lie to my dad about her diaphragm. That I wasn’t especially cute, friendly or easy to deal with might have been the karmic debt my mom had to pay for having lied to my dad. But I’m glad I’m here and grateful that they had that wild night on the town back in 1951.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/the-kindness-of-strangers/

Root Beer Reprise

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Daily Prompt In the Summertime If it’s autumn or winter where you live, what are you most looking forward to doing next summer? If it’s spring or summer where you are, what has been the highlight of the season so far for you?

Last time I wrote this prompt was April 2014. Generally, it’s too early to know what the highlight of this summer/spring will be and so far the highlight has been reconnecting with a friend during the Historical Novel Society Conference, about which I’ve already written. So….

Daily Prompt Reprise: In the Summertime by Krista on April 6, 2014 Theoretically, summer will return to the polar-vortex-battered Northern Hemisphere. What are you looking forward to doing this summer? If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, what are your fondest memories of Summer past?

22646-vtMohammed’s Radio first inhabited a 1964 Ford Galaxie 500. Mungo Jerry’s song blasted out of it pretty often from KSSS (kiss) radio. I was working at the A & W Drive In on North Circle. We still made rootbeer and served it in frosted mugs. We actually had a freezer in which the mugs were kept. No knowledgeable person puts ice in rootbeer, by the way. Yeah, I’d been a car hop, but certain events, well, let’s just say I became a cook. Better job, anyway, even without the tips. My best friend and my neighbor, Glenn, got a job as a cook, too, and we had a blast juggling pickle slices and cleaning the grill. Being a cook — and often the only cook on the shift after the dinner rush — also made it easy for me to give my brother free “Baby Burgers” if he rode by on his bike, hungry. He’d run away from home and was living on the streets of Colorado Springs.

Summer was coming. Prom, senior trip and graduation were all on the horizon, but we had no idea what after that — sure, I had plans. A scholarship to a woman’s college in Denver (my mom’s dream) and Glenn? He had no clue. “Gonna’ work construction.” Glenn had gotten into the rock climbing “groove” which I now know was a phenomenon of my generation in Colorado. I kind of thought he’d be a climbing bum for a while, and he was.

So, the song came out. The boyfriend, David, (first sexual relationship) had not yet dumped me. We were planning great stuff together for the summer. He  (or his parents?) hadn’t yet decided  he would go work as a counselor in a summer camp in Woodland Park. I didn’t yet know my heart would be broken, but so would Glenn’s. Glenn came down to my house in late May with a plum on which he’d cut the words “I love you” with a pin. When I answered the door he said, “Close your eyes and bite.” When I had he said, “There. Now you know.”  I didn’t yet know I’d go rafting on the Green River with my church group and lose my glasses in the current (placid current. I was dozing, holding them and when we hit a rough patch they fell out of my hand — should’ve left them on my face, right?)I didn’t yet know that late in the summer I’d end up dating my junior high crush and that in only two years I’d marry him. I didn’t yet know that summer I’d also become a camp counselor and love it and want to do that forever (what’s teaching English, anyway?). Desperately eager to leave home, I didn’t yet know that leaving my family would be so hard and that I’d worry constantly about my dad and brother.

The months before summer were the hazy honeymoon period before the graduation ceremony walk (which Glenn refused to do) and the end of innocence.

https://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/2014/04/06/2691-root-beer/

The End of the Conference

Cheeseman Park, Denver, my old and much loved neighborhood

Strange how the Historical Novel Society Conference weekend turned out. My name was in the local paper (Aurora, a suburb of Denver) and my best friend from my 20s saw it, got in touch with me and we had dinner together so I missed the banquet. It was worth it. Then, the next morning, Saturday, I was supposed to meet with the only agent I ended up scheduled to meet, a man I didn’t feel much enthusiasm about meeting, but… As it happened, I got sick in the night (an evil confluence of blood pressure medicine and a single martini, I think) and ended up awake until 6 am, so I slept through the agent meeting.

Essentially, I figure, I paid $300 so my old friend — whom I was THRILLED to hear from and see —  could see my name in the paper.

At that point, I decided the best use of my time was to go into Denver and revisit the city I loved so much 30 years ago so that’s what I did. Saturday evening I did the book signing for Martin of Gfenn and Savior and happened to be seated next to two women who collaborate on historical fiction mysteries AND (Yay!) who live in the San Luis Valley. As this is a remote area and very unpopulated, that was amazing. Some old friends (high school!) showed up for the book signing (with their books!) and we went out for dinner.

However, Friday afternoon, I did meet with a semi-famous writer of historical fiction mysteries who’d agreed to mentor writers. That was demoralizing and confusing. All he had to say was:
  • The names and number of characters were confusing
  • It reminded him of Tolstoy (this is an insult?)
  • The boys’ mother would have had a child every year so there was too big a gap between Andreas (age 19) and the baby.
  • I need to avoid using words like “get” “very” and “too”
  • I need to identify which version of the Bible I’m using.

He made a potentially useful comment about POV (that from the POV I’ve chosen I cannot “get in my character’s heads”) but as my editor didn’t mention that and it hasn’t bothered anyone else who’s read it (like my cousin who’s a medievalist, an English major and a PhD) it confuses me whether that is a problem or not.

Since I based the family EXACTLY (including years of separation between the births of the brothers) on my OWN family tree, his comment annoyed me. I know well that just because one has sex one does not necessarily get pregnant. The bit about the Biblical source was off target, too, because the first chapter of a novel is not the place for that.

I left that experience wondering what he had actually said — so I sat down and wrote down what he DIDN’T say and decided that his silence on matters of flow, characterization and dialogue might have come about because he saw no problems with it OR because he didn’t care. But I also thought that — having sent Martin of Gfenn out long before I should have — that maybe I should go through the manuscript again with an eye to the POV problems before I approach an agent, face-to-face or via email or paper.

Otherwise, the conference was surreal, fun and cute. It was mostly women 40+ years old with a few in their twenties and a few men, most 60+. The majority were either there to learn how to write or were, like me, self-published authors. There were girls/women who were so into it that they had elaborate costumes which were featured at an event I missed, but I saw many of them. I began to see that for many writing historical fiction is an elaborate, verbal role-play. The majority of dress-ups were Jane Austenesque and Scarlett O’Haraesque with one or two dipping their toes into ancient Greece or the dark streets of Elizabethan England.

I sat next to a fascinating man at the book-signing (historical thriller) who had a career in the NSA in the middle east, and when he looked at my books he said, “Your books are as unusual for this place as my book is.” That was an interesting comment because looking at the program I’d felt like I’d landed on the wrong planet. His book was a Philip K. Dickian futuristic thriller with a plot that depended on ancient (i.e. Biblical) history. I asked him why and he said, “Most of these writers write bodice rippers.” Just then a young (30ish) woman came by wearing a corset that was designed as underwear, but she had it over her white blouse and plaid skirt and, as she was a person on the verge of exceeding plump, it was mildly horrifying and amusing at the same time.The two women from nearby towns and I formed a writers’ “group” which will probably be beneficial for us and we’re going to have lunch tomorrow.

Overall, I had a great time and I think even though I spent $300 for a conference I didn’t attend, I got my money’s worth — and I sold one book. Not much but 100% more than I would have sold otherwise.

Deja Vu All Over Again

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Daily Prompt Generation XYZ Think about the generation immediately younger or older than you. What do you understand least about them — and what can you learn from them?

Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ: January 30, 2014 — Think about the generation immediately younger or older than you. What do you understand least about them — and what can you learn from them?

Truly I resist all but the MOST general “facts” of this generation stuff. Learning — knowledge — is passed between people constantly, individual to individual most of the time. My perception of “diversity” is just that; regarding each person as a distinct, unique entity. Perhaps I learned this from the “generation” before mine but I think I learned it in the agar culture of childhood which comprises more than the years in which my parents gave life to me, their lessons, school lessons; it’s much more than that. On the other side, my life has been spent teaching young adults. This began when I WAS a young adult and the term “generation gap” was coined. It was — as now — a technology, wealth and opportunity gap. Sorry. I can’t play in this sandbox… This prompt was egregious the first time so I’ve reposted my original response.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/generation-xyz/

Good Times

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Daily Prompt Celebrate Good Times You receive some wonderful, improbable, hoped-for good news. How do you celebrate?

Months ago I sent in my $300 for the Historical Novel Society Conference because I thought I should and it was going to be in Denver — relatively close, right? I registered to sign copies of my novels for the public who, I know, will not be massing in droves for the opportunity to get my bookmarks, flyers and signature or buy my books from the Conference bookstore. I knew this. I did this with the idea that someday it might happen that I publish a book conventionally and it becomes a book thousands want to read. And then, when someone says, “You need to be in Boston for a book signing,” I would have had the experience.

When I sent in my money, there was no schedule of sessions for the conference. It was a gamble, but I had hopes that there’d be some I wanted/needed. The schedule came out and no, nothing. I was annoyed and checked to see if I could cancel and get my money back but no. The schedule and the cancellation date more or less coincided. I was stuck.

I did my research to learn how to get people to attend a book signing and sent out most of the 100 invitations I had made. I was happy to learn that friends wanted to meet me and go out for dinner, so I began to regard THAT event, at least, as a kind of party.

and then…

Thursday afternoon, while I was in Colorado Springs, and my friends had gone to set up their band, and I was hanging with the dogs, I got an email from a woman who was my best friend while we were both in our 20s. I have only seen her occasionally over the past thirty years because her life turned out to be extraordinary and for a long interval we lived on opposite coasts. She lives in Denver now.

The email said she’d seen my name in the newspaper and learned I was going to be signing books Saturday night at this convention. She’d gone to Linked-in to see if I still had a profile and email address, and found a Christmas message from me telling her I’d moved back to Colorado. She wanted to see me, and I certainly wanted to see her.

We met last night for dinner and we celebrated good times — the good time of being reunited and living in the same state again and the good times we shared years and years ago and the few in between. We caught up, we joked and reminisced a little. She had visited me in China. She recently digitized her slides of that journey and we looked at them on her iPad. She also brought me a DVD with the photos on it, too.

The way I figure it, I paid $300 to get her attention by getting my name in the paper! Worth it. Oh, she brought me the paper, too, for “your scrapbook.”

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Fame

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/celebrate-good-times/

Historical Novel Society Conference, Day 1

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Last night I drove through the Heavenly San Luis Valley, over Poncha Pass and down into Colorado Springs from Salida through the Arkansas River valley. The Arkansas River is very high because of all the late spring snow and rain. Beautiful to see everything so incredibly green.

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Arkansas River

The dogs and I arrived in Colorado Springs at our friends’ house and I got to go hear my friends’ band last night and have a great meal at The Margarita at Pine Creek. When you go back to old haunts and stomping grounds after years and years, you might experience — as I have — some strange convergences. It was at this place that my brother and his friends had their one and only art exhibit back in the mid 70s…

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Jazzbeau’s New Review

Today I drove up to Denver for the conference. So far — as the conference hasn’t officially begun — there’s not much to do. There are lots of sincere people wandering around looking bespectacled and shy. I received a “goody” bag that was filled with book promotion book-marks and postcards and an actual novel. I cannot imagine (the cost alone would be deadly!) of sharing 300+ copies of a book just like that to people who might not want it. Anyway, I was freaked out and intimidated a couple days ago, but now I’m here, I’m not.

It seems like an English teacher’s convention so I fit right in.

Thought the conference does not officially begin until tonight, I was obliged to come this afternoon because I had a pre-arranged meeting with a semi-famous author who was going to “mentor” the first chapter of the novel I’m working on. He had some good suggestions, but overall I don’t think it was his cup of tea. Hard to say. His job wasn’t to encourage me, but to offer a critique and give his reaction response. I did appreciate his pointing out in a concrete way problems with point of view. Others have said, but no one showed and I had no idea what they meant exactly… His comments are similar to those made by people in the RIP writer’s workshop, that it’s hard to follow the characters. No one who has read the whole novel has mentioned that as a problem at all so… I am not saying he’s wrong; I’m simply inclined to wonder if he considered that he’s read 10 pages out of 270. “It’s like Tolstoy,” I hear again because it involves more than one main character and a major turning point in history. I love Tolstoy, especially his novella, Prisoner of the Caucasus. :)

Otherwise, I just don’t know.

Tomorrow morning, I’m supposed to be pitching the book to an agent and after that I’m free for a few hours and I might go see my former home town which has turned into an upscale suburb of LA, as far as I can tell so far. My hotel is in the southeast suburb of Aurora (I think) in a spot that was, when I last lived here, so far out of town that savvy people figured the whole “industrial park” would go bust in five years. Clearly it didn’t and it’s no longer in the back of beyond.

Tonight I get to see a goodl friend from my youth. I haven’t seen her in about 10 years so that will be wonderful.

 

The Golden Hour

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The “Golden Hour” is the period of time in which the plaster on which you’re painting your fresco is PERFECT. It is the moment when the plaster will take your paint and respond gratefully. It’s not saturated with water and it’s not too far along in the curing process (plaster doesn’t really “dry”). For anyone who doesn’t paint fresco I suppose this chemical and artistic fact could be a metaphor for “seize the day” or “strike when the iron is hot” or any other common saying we use to remind ourselves and others to take advantage of the moment.

I love the paintings of Piero della Francesca. Here is a website with a tour of his Legends of the True Cross in the chapel at Arezzo.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/the-golden-hour/

Serving the Task

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Facebook — OK, now you know where this started.

This article, “In Defense of Being Average, showed up on my timeline a couple of times in the last week. My first thought, “Average needs no defense.” Ha ha. I read it the first time and thought, “What? Seriously?” Then it was posted by someone I’m close to, and I responded.

I got a Facebook Lashing and an Unleashing of Patronizing Misunderstanding.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and a conversation with a friend last night opened my eyes to an interesting phenomenon I’d like to test.

The power of television. The idiocy of comparing oneself to others.

First of all, I’ve learned since then that people really ARE influenced by the media and people really do compare themselves to others as a way to evaluate their own personal worth. I know, I know, everybody knows that but I didn’t.

A family member had an epiphany one day a few years back that he’s just like other people. He’s not “special.” He’s a Gen-X’r and I remember from friends of that era and students during that time that “special” was an attribute inculcated by their parents (it got worse). In his case, he’s a brilliant, talented, handsome, shy, socially insecure person who responded to being an outsider with “I’m better than you, anyway.” A comparison. When he realized he’d be happier if he accepted that he WASN’T better than anyone else, he made the choice to be happy. (Pretty amazing, to choose to be happy, and it was an INDIVIDUAL choice.)

I had some problems with the philosophical underpinnings of his decision not to be a rock star, but I could definitely see how he’d made his world larger by “deciding” to be “normal.” I figured that sooner or later he’d see that we all live in a world of other people and must do what we can to hold our lives together and we all fight with our individual demons (and angels) and that being or not being a rock star had more to do with luck than with skill. He doesn’t see that. He still evaluates himself against other people. I’ve realized, too, that he’s far more affected by early life exposure to television than I am or could possibly be. A comparison but enlightening. I believe it’s both a generational and a family culture difference. I know that when he and his brother were staying with me and my ex, they weren’t allowed TV and that was hard on them.

TV wasn’t as pervasive in my growing up world. Not even as pervasive as it was in my little brother’s growing up world. On top of that, we were restricted from watching more than an hour a week and THAT we watched with our parents. Sitcoms were “verboten.” My parents’ take on sitcoms was that they were time wasters with canned laughter. “If it were really funny, they wouldn’t need that canned laughter,” my dad insisted. “They’re shows about families. You have a real family.” True. I did. What I COULD watch with my dad was The Outer Limits and Rocky and Bullwinkle. 

Those restrictions loosened up as I got older, but by then TV didn’t interest me, and I still missed most of the shows my peers talked about. I know that Betty and Bud were the teenage kids in Father Knows Best but that’s it. My dad thought sitcoms were propaganda devised to brainwash people into a certain kind of behavior, mainly to make people dissatisfied so they’d go to stores and buy things. Maybe my dad was right. Now I know shows affected peoples perspectives on themselves or on their lives.

Same with peer pressure and fashion. If I came home wanting something the other girls had, the immediate parental response was, “You’re not other girls. You’re you.” End of story. Not that I was better or worse. I was simply NOT them.

Another friend recently confided that she wished her family had been like the families she saw on TV. What if she hadn’t had TV? What would she have thought? Would she have seen her family differently? Would she have chosen different action in response to her family if she hadn’t seen the “perfect” families on television?

I can’t say this kind of dissatisfaction was new with TV; of course not. The Bush gave Moses a list and on that list was something about envy. I imagine back in the day people looked at the family next door and saw what they had, imagined an idyllic back-story, and made themselves miserable by comparing themselves to their neighbors. But, as a friend once said to me, “No one knows anothers pain.” That is true. It’s entirely possible that Hebrew farmer with the beautiful wife and ox was dying of lung cancer and didn’t know it.

As Kerouac said, “Comparisons are odious.”

I would like to be a conventionally published writer and get money from writing. Being “famous” seems like a kind of trap, though. Fame takes a private person free to live her own life and write her own stories and transforms her into a public person who belongs to other people — her stories, too. The moment comes when some voice of the public says, “This isn’t like your other books and I’m disappointed.”

There is also the fact that I might be the world’s best writer (in an absolute sense) but that does not mean that my work will ever be published conventionally or that I will become famous. There is no cause and effect relationship. That does not mean I should not write, but I’ve been told many times by so-called friends that my chances of being published are slim so it’s stupid even to try. For them, too, the whole POINT of doing something depends on being recognized for it.

Back to the article — my (strong) objection to the whole thing is that it never says, “Be yourself.” It just says, “Accept that you’re no better than anyone else.” When the focus of our attention is on comparing ourselves to others — real or fictional — how can we ever be happy? Ultimately the writer of this article makes the point that living our lives well is what makes us happy. Where he and I never meet is in WHY do something (like write novels about the Reformation or the middle ages that no one wants to publish and few people want to read). The reason he never mentions is love for the work itself, “simple” joy in doing it for its own sake.

It’s All Here…

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Daily Prompt All About Me Explain why you chose your blog’s title and what it means to you.

The title of my blog is based on some lines from the song “Punkrocker” by the Teddy Bears and featuring Iggy Pop. The song is at once affirming and defiant — pretty much summing up my feeling toward my own writing. Some readers have written to tell me they find the name of my blog “off putting” and “like you’re bragging” but it’s not that at all. It’s explained on my “About” page. Self-knowledge is not bragging and the moment that led to many major changes in the past two years of my life was tied to, caused by, hearing this song randomly one evening…

I heard it in my car one night driving (down the street) home (35 miles) from teaching a class that was OK. I hadn’t heard the song in ages. I know of NO radio stations that routinely play it or ever did. Listening to the words,  I saw behind the whole “shadow show of appearances” (Walt Whitman) my job and my expectations of my students, and I knew “I was bored with looking good” and I was “listening to the music with no fear.” That’s what writing is. The truth under everything? I’m a writer; yes I am.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/all-about-me/