Self Defeating Behavior 101
And then all too late, I realize the water is boiling, and I'm the frog.
An opportunity to muse about life and art. Mine in particular, other's in general.
Monotypes. Acrylic plate, Oil on Paper 1995 ~ rediscovered in my map drawers
My father was a draftsman and geologist by profession. He worked in the field a lot when I was a girl. My memories of him from childhood are of a man either coming home, or going to a job site in a red Jeep Wagoneer that was rustic and loaded up with rock picks and heavy canvas bags full of dusty things that I wasn't supposed to touch.
One of my father's field cronies had taken a diamond encrusted drill bit and scratched his name in the rear window of that Jeep. His name was Leon and he was a crusty, slightly menacing (to my child's eye) sort of man who scarred the glass with his mark. I felt unnerved by this act. That this man had marked my father's territory as his own. My father allowed it without a word said and yet clearly he was irritated by the deed. I also remember thinking at times about the curiosity of that man's name as being Leon or Noel, depending upon whether I was a passenger, or standing in the driveway waving goodbye. Memories are odd. Why some are more vivid than others I simply couldn't say, but this one is indelible.
My memories of my father contain many images of his possessions, his tools, the material things that in many ways defined him. He owned a double stacked set of oak map drawers that held the plat maps he drafted. His drafting table and the Rapidograph pen set that sat upon it is where I can imagine him sitting, looking at me over the top of his half glasses as I stood in the doorway. There were lettering tools atop the table, and a talc filled muslin bag that was used to blot and set inks to paper. I remember the dryness and smell of the talc, and the office that contained the man and his tools.
He was free with his affection as a father, but in many ways he was a rigid man. Maybe not so rigid as constrained. He was a disappointed man, an unfulfilled man, a fearful man. He had a litany of life experiences that made him hold onto things too tightly, too jealously, too fiercely. He lost a lot somewhere along the way. He lost too much. He lost security, stability and pride. An ability to trust was damaged from losing his father to alcoholism. His family lost homes, moving instead of paying when the rent was overdue. He knew that his father couldn't hold down a job as well as he could hold down his liquor. He knew he had to shield the family he had from the view of the families around him.
My father needed to keep all the wrinkles and tears in the fabric of his life ironed or obscured to maintain the illusion of normalcy and control, a degree of control and stability that didn't exist for him as a child. I don't actually know this to be true, It's how I've come to understand who he was by the pieced together bits and snippets of stories he told and how he told them. Stories told in a comic way of his very petite mother throwing his drunken father up the stairs to get him out of the view and awareness of the children. And stories were told to me about the many houses they lived in and left, until his father got sober. He harbored an irrational resentment that it was his mother rather than his father that secured the job that allowed them to buy and stay put in a home. There were more stories that were never told and there were gaps in those that were, that I knew weren't to be explored or exposed.
I inherited from my father that rigid constraint that inhibits me from losing myself in pure expression or experience for fear of losing myself completely. Maybe I'm inhibited by a fear of doing it wrong, but in juxtaposition, I also learned to override that inhibition at times. I inherited a great strength of character, and with that a willingness to explore my potential and to take the risks required. I want to hang on too tightly, I want to guard jealously the things I can't afford to lose, but know that I may lose them anyway. I learned these things from watching my father.
I hope I learned from my father about strength and a willingness to keep trying. I hope I learned to hang on to stability, but not to hang on too tightly. I hope I learned that everything is temporary and to accept those wrinkles and tears as my history. He was unwilling to let go, and from that I learned that letting go can be a key to possibilities, and even to being able to hang on, if only by the seat of my pants.
When my father died, I inherited his map drawers, and I have them in my studio. I store my works on paper in those map drawers much like my father stored his works on paper there. I revisit his history and mine as I rummage through these drawers. Having and filling these drawers is analogous to keeping him with me, and through me, continuing on with what he started and couldn't finish. I think of these map drawers as an anchor of sorts. To anchor me to my past, present and future.
In my imagination, I look over the tops of my half glasses to see my son standing in the doorway. Maybe my son will have learned from me what I learned from my father and more. Maybe he'll be able to accomplish for himself what I couldn't finish. I hope he learns how to do a better job at living in his own skin than I did, and my father before me, and to let go of fear well enough to embrace possibility.