Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My father passed away last Saturday. I'd finally gotten home after a long, long day when my brother called and said to come over because our dad might be dead. That simply could not be, I thought. My brother hadn't checked him properly. How often had we joked how our dad was like Mr Burns, no matter how old and decrepit he became he was just too mean to ever die? He would keep going on forever. So I pulled on my coat and shoes and rushed out the door hanging onto that word might.

But at the house a fireman told me he was gone before I entered. Inside I found my brother leaning against the stove in total shock, a policeman gently questioning him, and my father on the floor covered with a blue blanket. I sat beside him trying to accept the fact that the familiar person lying in front of me was now just an empty shell. I wondered if his spirit was there somewhere coming to terms with the same thing. I hoped, prayed he'd gone in his sleep. But why was he on the floor then? Had he been trying to go for help? "Because he was an alcoholic, remember?" my brother later said, something the paramedics could tell, he informed me, without his having to saying a word.

Yes but...

I wanted to run my hand over his hair in apology for not getting there earlier when I could have actually spoken to him. And might have if only he'd looked a lot more asleep and a little less dead. He didn't have the peaceful look of someone who'd known it was his time. He looked like he'd accidentally vacated his body which only made me picture, again and again, what his last days and hours might have been like.
When my sister arrived we discussed what to do. Whether burial or cremation, a cemetery here or the Philippines, a funeral mass or a simple memorial service. I suggested we each speak and invite friends and family to do the same but my sister shook her head. "I know you feel guilty, Cheryl, but I don't think that's necessary." I resisted the urge to say that if any of us felt guilty it was her for not speaking to our father in over two years, for having been here since August yet failing to patch things up, for bringing three of his grandchildren over here yet never letting him see them even once. But what would be the point? Besides, our mother was in the next room. And I knew this was my sister's way of dealing with overwhelming feelings. Moreover, tired of being their go between, I'd stopped trying to make peace between them ages ago. I could have brought the girls over to see him myself, in spite of how my sister would have reacted, or at least told him she and the girls where here just blocks away from him...but I never did. So, a few hours later in a noisy all night diner, between sniffles and tears, I reminded her of all the funny stories everyone told at our grandfather's funeral and how nice it would be if dad had something similar. "Not everyone hated him," I added. "Okay," she sighed.

Monday, my mother and I made arrangements at the funeral home. Afterwards, she told me how, when they'd asked about him, and I'd talked about how he loved opera, fishing, fine art, fine food and travel and hoped I'd have a funny, touching enough story to tell at his memorial, she'd remembered the days when she was working two jobs and just before she was about to pay off a bill she found out my father had already used the money on something completely useless. When she'd confronted him about it, he'd replied, "So? Sue me!"

"Oh, so that's why you didn't say anything," I said. "I thought you were too sad to talk."

"No! It was because when she asked us that all I could think was the words, so sue me!"

It's been four days. His home is being cleared, his bills and accounts settled, obituary written (by me) and sent in to be printed, friends and family informed. Not the way I thought we'd be spending my sister's last week here before she and the girls returned to Fiji. She was right. I do feel a lot of regret. Out of the three of us I was the one who got along with him, who'd put the past behind us and found a way to let all the horrible things he sometimes said go in one ear and out the other. I've jokingly called him asshole dad here on my blog. But he was just my dad, I loved him and I regret not being there for him towards the end.

My sister and brother, on the other hand, have their own list of regrets. And my mother, who has known our father since high school, who hasn't slept in days, is going through her own grieving process.

His memorial service is this Saturday and I'm still not sure what to say. Then, sometime next year, I'll have to go to the Philippines for the first time in my life, along with my father's remains, so he can be placed beside his mother and twin brother. That, I'm guessing, will be a strange, emotional trip. More on that later.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New paintings

Photoshop CS3.
Gouache, in some cafe in Berkeley.
Gouache, Sunday Oct 10th in Golden Gate Park with the Blue Angels flying overhead.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Uncertainty is a good thing

so claims Deepok Chopra who says uncertainty is where creativity and freedom meet. And since my August and September were filled with uncertainties of the most physically and emotionally draining kind, my October is looking to call on all my creative recourses to see myself through. Not sure about anything at the moment so I apologize for the lack of detail in this post. But it's hard to describe even how I'm feeling, which is an unusual thing to say for someone who experiences the world through feelings. In some ways it's the worst place to be, but I think I'll probably look back and realize this was where things finally changed for the better.

Sunday painting in a Napa winery...

Getting paid to paint for a good cause at Nordstrom's TOMS shoe event...
Vivienne looking a little too much like Justin Beiber...

The hardest part is what to leave behind, ... It's time to let go!
-- Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My week in bits and pieces

Things - Strawberry flavored makeup. Playdough confetti stuck on my rug. Half eaten Oreo cookies. Welch's grape jelly. Corn dogs. Pop tarts. Goldfish. Hannah Montana songs. Minnie Mouse drinking cups. Sponge Bob Square Pants. Caillou. Elmo. Cotton Candy. Candy. Hot dogs. Pizza. Teddy Bears.
Words - Cheryl, I want...--Mommy, I want...--Hey, that's mine! --No, it's not! It's mine!--No!!!--Gimme!--Can you..?--Can I have...?--Can we go...?--I'm so starving!--Why you hit me?--Go to sleep!--One more sound and you get a spanking!--Stop it!--I hate you, stupidhead!--Stupidhed! Stupidhead! Stupidhead!--Be quiet!!!!--Are we there yet?--How long is it?--Ten minutes.--How long is ten minutes? One show or half a show? - I put makeup on my wips. See? Smell. - On your wips? - No! My wips!
The girls trying on my shoes ^

Places - Capitola Beach, Half Moon Bay beach, every playground in Alameda, Golden Gate Park, some place in Napa where I had the best Tuna & Wasabi burger, and...

Santa Cruz. Olivia and Lili about to ride a roller coaster on their own for the first time...
Vivienne's camera face...
All wrapped up for a California evening at the beach...
Some sketching bits and pieces I've done in cafe's, workshops, and during train rides...
which about sums up all the artwork I've managed to create lately.

Lili's family portrait...
Two months and half a week to go...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My life right now

1. One sister, three nieces, five people, one small apartment and one car...for another two months and one week. (Long story, but basically two of my nieces need special schooling for two months for dyslexia, something they can't get over in Fiji, and with my sister's ridiculously high mortgage, the most practical solution is to squeeze in with me for a few months.)
2. One story to write. And rewrite. And rewrite again.
3. Four more community service hours...
4. One kickball game I was really looking forward to (because kicking things is really good therapy)...canceled. Darn.
5. Five blessedly solitary hours to write...or not write.
6. Six nights (and counting) sleeping on the floor.
7. Three totally free (ahem) art programs to install on my computer...if I only knew how.
8. One horoscope reading by an astrologer friend who basically said all this plus the drama, heartache, disappointment and frustrations of the past year is because that tiny, faraway planet Pluto has been and will continue to press down on me until April 30th, 2013. For my own good supposedly. Out with the old, in with the new, big changes are being forced upon me. And the more I fight this weeding out process the harder I'll make things for myself.

So, with that in mind, instead of getting frustrated over all the words constipating in my head maybe I should instead see this as an opportunity to write a rather simple but long needed blog post and to eat a big bowl of peach ice cream--(worse for you, cholesterol wise, than a plate of spare ribs, someone told me recently. But I am choosing to forget that pointless bit of information.) As for the four visitors who've taken up most of my living space, including my big, comfy bed...It is nice to be needed. Within limits. And little Vivienne is awfully cute.

Still, can't help wishing it were 2013 already.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I like to play

I went to an underground dodgeball game the other night. Having grown used to open skies, soft grass, even softer nerf balls, six to eleven players on each side, and the pretty casual feel of it all, I was not prepared for the super caffeinated, Road Warrior experience of night time underground dodgeball. Concrete everywhere, lots of noise, florescent lights, thirty plus players on each side, dozens of hard rubber balls flying back and forth at potentially damage causing speeds. For a full hour and a half. It was, quite simply, overwhelming.

My life, lately, has felt like that. Nonstop hard rubber balls coming at me from all sides. An almost steady barrage of one thing after another. Look away for a second and---THWAT! A few times I just walked right into it, like some dumb, wide eyed baby, not realizing I might get hurt. Other times I realized I'd been hearing warning whispers for weeks, "Look out for that fast ball that will come at you from the right, Cheryl! Here's a cough just like you know when to remind you to keep your damn eyes open!" Other times I saw the ball coming, nice and slow, giving me time to think, ok, hmm, what am I going to do here? Step out of the way or try to catch this one?

I admit I was tempted to turn back after sizing up the situation in that underground car park. I wondered if I should have stayed home, saved myself the gas. Choosing safety and comfort over...what? Who knows how every decision to stay and join the game might affect the rest of my day, my week, my life? I wanted to find out. Even if I might get hurt again...

Besides, it's
not in my nature to stay home. A friend, in college, once told me I tended to carefully deliberate over things...only to impulsively go ahead and do what I want anyway.

True. I look at a situation, try to predict all the possibilities, what I might do in each...and then I step into the game and generally surprise myself each and every time. Life surprises me each and every time. Hopefully, I have grown wiser and better at self protection since my college days. Though I don't think I have grown any better at predicting what I will do. But I have definitely grown more resilient in any case. I play, I fall, I cry, I heal, I get up and join in again. Then I stumble, I dust myself off, I go play some more. I rest a bit, gathering my bearings, then I dive back in.

Just this last week, for example, a few hard ones have hit me squarely and most painfully on the face. 1. The death of my beloved laptop, taking two month's worth of writing, and all my art programs, with it. And 2. a very bad, very demoralizing job interview, precious hours I will never see again --- for a job I didn't even want, no less. But, at that moment, could not afford to turn down either. Even dance therapy wasn't enough to make me feel better afterwards.

But some wonderful things have happened, too. Things I could never have predicted, reminding me how every moment is filled with potential, how I am never alone, never without support, and my life is as joyful as I allow it to be.

today is a new day. Old friends and new are inviting me to come out and play. Tonight...some kickball. Or will I end up playing underground dodgeball again? I'm not sure yet. Then, tomorrow, dancing. And Saturday and Sunday, maybe some kickball again. Or who knows what? Can't wait to find out.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Through a child's eye

Hey everyone, still here, but am getting over a pretty bad cough right now so have stayed away from posting (i. e. complaining).

Anyway, had lunch with my sister and her family last week at the airport during their stopover at SFO before they headed the rest of their way back home to Maryland. During the lunch I gave my camera and my sketchbook over to my nieces to play with. And Vivienne, the two year old, who has been learning about ghosts and devils from her older brother Sam, drew this monster...

First she drew in the details, then she covered it over as if to erase it. Some kind of infantile coping mechanism? Maybe. The figure hovering behind the monster supposed to be me, btw.

Vivienne drawing the monster...
Lili's portrait of me...
Interesting how they both drew my hair in exactly the same way.

These are the photographs Lili took...
Sam (above) and Philip and my sister (below)
Me looking tres thoughtful and deep (of course!) Am actually eating, thank goodness she didn't get a shot of me dribbling food off my chin...
Baby Vivienne...
Lili's self portrait...
Happy fourth of July everyone!!!

Monday, June 21, 2010

It Takes Two

Dancing is a wonderful training for girls, it's the first way you learn to guess what a man is going to do before he does it. - Christopher Morley
Anyone who has read Jane Austen probably remembers the Netherfield Ball when Elizabeth Bennet dances first with Mr Collins and then Mr Darcy.

“Mr Collins, awkard and solemn, apologizing instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it gave her all the shame and misery which a disagreeable partner for a couple of dances can give. Her moment of release from him was ecstasy.”

With Mr Darcy, on the other hand, their dance begins even before they step onto the dance floor when he, -

“took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand that without knowing what she did she accepted him.”

Austen makes no mention about how he dances, which, in Austen speak means he’s an excellent dancer. Instead she focuses on how they communicate. Elizabeth’s good natured teasing brings him out of himself. Darcy leads Elizabeth one way, she reciprocates in another.

How a man and woman dance together, Austen implies, says a lot about what kind of couple they’d make.

With this way in the back of my mind, I went to a beginning tango class last Friday. Note to self: if I really want to learn to dance the tango, best not to dance with other beginners.

This being a small class, I had the choice between two dance partners. The first was a guy with such large feet that I found myself continually thinking, must steer clear of clown feet, must steer clear of clown feet, must steer clear of clown feet. Didn’t help. Kept getting stepped on anyway. Until the teacher came over to explain the obvious—because of our pretty marked height difference I had to compensate by taking longer strides.

Second partner, height was not the issue, his being only an inch or two taller than I am in heels. All the same, the dance did not go well.

“I want to do more turns,” he said, “but you have to loosen up more.”

“But, I can’t tell where you’re leading me.”

He responded by squeezing my right hand while his other hand remained as limp as ever at my side.

Well, he’s trying, I thought. Give him the benefit of the doubt.

But while we were pouring ourselves some wine another student had brought, he said, smiling, “That ought to loosen you up.”

Uh - huh,” I said, thinking, Excuse me, but I’m really starting to think you’re a dumbass. Then again, this was my first official tango class. What do I know about tango?

Then, dancing with a new partner, a latecomer, I made the mistake of telling him this was my first ever real tango class. “Okay,” he said, taking a teacherly tone, and suddenly I felt my every step being closely evaluated. “Okay,” he said again after a while, “First, you have to loosen up.”

Again with the loosening up?!! I thought. But was it really me? Or was it because I couldn’t tell where he was leading me either. From the few other times I’d danced with more experienced tango partners, I never had to guess where they wanted the dance to go. They led. I responded. It was fun.

But this...was so not fun.

But this also being my first official tango class, I just agreed with him. What if I had it wrong? What if the woman was supposed to lead as much as the man?

At least I tried to tell myself this. But my gut refused to believe—I was the one going backwards, after all. I couldn’t even see where we were going. The man had to take a stronger lead.

Dancing with partner number two again, and again finding myself playing guesswork against his indecisive lead, I told him about dancing the tango in Union Square not too long ago with some old timers who kept a firm grip on both my hand and my waist so that I always knew exactly where they were leading me. And of dancing, once, with a swing instructor. I didn’t even know the steps, but because he was such a strong lead, I found it easy to follow him just the same. But with his way of leading, using only one hand to direct my movements, I couldn’t help but feel uncertain about where to go. Straight backwads? Backwards left? Backwards right? What did he mean? It was really hard for me to tell.

He took it better than I thought he would. “I did not know that,” he said. “I’m glad to have learned something new.”

And, I was tempted to say, you were wrong for putting the blame entirely on me. Dumbass. But I didn’t.

Talking with partner number one during a break, I mentioned my little Austen theory, how you can usually tell what kind of partner a man will make by the way he dances with you.—(Like dance partner number two, I thought, but did not say, would be a total blamer. Anytime anything went wrong in the relationship, his first impulse would be to blame the woman. Probably an only son. And partner number one, a sweet enough guy, but...twleve or more steps to turn me around? Oh, so clueless I’d be tempted to send him to a professional for lessons. Also, needless to say, the weak lead thing...not at all appealing.)—And, only half joking, I said that every couple even thinking of getting more serious should be forced to take a tango class together first.

“Oh!” he said, “I don’t know about that. I know this one couple who never danced together at all. They even cut the first dance out when they got married.”


Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Beauty of a Woman

From women's eyes this doctrine I derive:
They are the ground, the books, the academes,
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
(Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost)

FWI: this post contains images of partial nudity.

Went to Dr. Sketchy's this week at 111 Minna. Artists gather there once a month to sketch all night and hopefully sell some work...

In the adjoining room, more artists gather to sketch burlesque performers. This time the models were the striptease duo, Fishnet Follies...

Truly Beautiful Women

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears,
the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair.

The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes,
because that is the doorway to her heart, the place
where love resides.
(Audrey Hepburn)

Course, always wearing really gorgeous underwear---even if you're just running errands or playing in the park---doesn't hurt either! That way you're always ready to do a spur of the moment striptease! Hey, why not?

(Viola! Photoshop painting from a 20 minute sketch.)

From women's eyes this doctrine I derive.
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
They show, contain, and nourish all the world.
(Love's Labor's Lost)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blah, blah, blah...

A low self-love in the parent desires that his child should repeat his character and fortune.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.
Dr. Seuss

There is, I used to think, the me that I like best, the me who only comes through when I'm in a good mood, when I feel cute, when I've had enough sleep or enough to eat, when I feel a sense of all is well in the world and in myself. The me who can go to a party where she doesn't know a single soul and, because I am being the me I like best, others gravitate towards. She is sweet, funny and light hearted. She likes herself and she, you sense, likes you too just the way you are.

The flip side of this is the other me. The me I don't like so much because I haven't slept in two days, because my hair has decided to do its own thing, because I feel disappointed or worried or scared. This me tends to hide behind her sketchbook or her shyer, quieter facade because she is afraid you will judge or hurt her. This me must be coaxed out of her shell as if she were a wild animal. She longs to join the party but because she doesn't like herself, you instinctively worry she may not like you either.

It is an exhausting, sometimes maddening, push me pull you path between these two extreme me's. Because being the best version of me is always on condition of something else being this way or that. And so I waste a lot of energy trying to ensure that the conditions I encounter are supportive of the me I like best.

But, maybe because I've made myself suffer enough, maybe because the time was ripe, maybe because I sense deep down that the only way forward is to get off this roundabout path, it's dawned on me recently that the me I like best is not the me who appears only when conditions are favorable. That this me is simply me. The real me.

So...I visited my father a few days ago, not because I wanted to but because I was doing a favor for my brother which meant going to my dad's place to get a few items out of my brother's room---which is usually locked because my dad, using a logic all his own, likes to throw his children's possessions away when they aren't looking.

And when my dad, after finding I had locked the room behind me, began to scream about some guest he was having over, one of his coworkers who needed a place to stay for a few nights, so I had better fucking open that door or else---I naturally didn't believe him. Instead I pointed out that he was showing this (fictional, I thought) coworker more consideration than he was showing me, his own child. And he basically said, well you fucking deserve to be spoken to this way, you...

I tried to cut him short with a, "Don't talk to me like that!" Slam! But he followed me out the door continuing to say fuck you and other nice things until I drove out of sight.

I'm not laying blame here. I've long since forgiven my father for, well, being who he is. And I drove away more amused than anything else. Oh, asshole dad! There you go again! What I'm saying is that he, in large part, is how I learned to view myself in this either or way. If I am nice enough, if I do this or that, if this or that happens, then I am my number one fan and like to assume that everyone else wants to join the club. If I don't, if I can't, if conditions are not right then da fences go up again.

When I told this latest dad incident to life long friend, Lita, she said my response should have been, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Dad. That's all I hear when you talk to me that way."

"Ooo, wish I'd thought of that!" I said. "Next time."

Yeah! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, asshole dad.

And if I should find myself fretting because I have fallen back into the either or habit, I will tell myself, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Cheryl. That's all it is. Because you are love. You are lovable. You love.

I am love.
I am lovable.
I love.